Saturday, March 17, 2007

Don't make 'em like they used to, eh?

Jennifer and I took a drive to Cincinnati today for the purpose of wandering their large downtown to take pictures. I confess that my mood was bordering on unpleasant due to the ridiculous cold, but it changed quickly when we stopped at a store front window so she could shoot a road bike. I peered into the window and saw GOBS of stereo equipment piled up all over the place. When I say gobs, I mean hundreds of pieces, and all vintage.

As we were walking away, the shops proprietor unlocked the door and asked if we'd like a closer look. We gladly accepted the invitation to peruse his treasure trove of goodies. Vintage stereo gear, cameras, mechanical watches, and bicycles. This is no junk shop, the guy has some serious taste and a great eye for quality.

He was quick to point out that there is nothing in the store (at least stereo wise) post 1984. Why, I asked. That's about the time they quit making good quality stuff. Though some of the gear (not all) in there was very good in terms of sound quality, I think much of it was just well built. That is, it won't break down after playing one record. He was quite proud of his collection and its remarkable durability compared to new stuff today.

While Jennifer discussed photography with him, I pondered quality a bit in this context and what it must mean for modern stereo components. There is a ton of what I would call great quality stereo stuff being built every day (much of it in Lexington, KY...ahem). It just happens to cost a lot of money, probably much more so than it did 23 years ago before the dawn of poor quality. And, much of it is being built by much smaller outfits such as THIEL that aren't owned by a massive, faceless corporation.

Often, when I hear people say things like "They don't make them like they used to..." or "It's better than the junk foisted on the public these days..." I think they're referring to general build quality. Things like heavy metal chassis and heft were much more common among general consumer level gear pre 1984. Their newer mass-market kin are more likely to be constructed out of plastic and can be carried with one hand.

Many people who claim the above statements are either unaware or dismiss the undeniable fact that we've now got 23+ more years of learning and experience under our belts and can now make gear that sounds way better than it did back then! But, to do so and still maintain a very high standard of build quality costs so much money, the companies that create these modern masterpieces never make it to the radars of those heralding the good ole stuff. To recognize a 'mass market', many of these companies gave up a lot in terms of quality to satisfy a price, reach more customers, and make more money.

The 'good ole' argument unfairly compares the mass market of today to the stereo market of pre 1984 when determining quality. If they compared the audiophile market of then to the audiophile market of now, surely they would see that we are making even higher quality stuff today than we could back then.

Your not-so-vintage yet high quality service guy,

PS - I will not publish more than one comment about me not being old enough to know jack about vintage audio :)


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