HiFi Ramblings

MY FIRST HiFi: A TALE OF INNOCENCE

Where did my whole HiFi malarky start? Let me tell you! Here’s a run down of my first ever system, piece by piece, component by component (as memory will allow, at any rate)

My first ever record player was a Dansette-type, all-in-one, box-like classic but I’m here to talk HiFi. We all began our HiFi adventure at some time and some place and mine began when I was what, somewhere between 15 and 16, my mind is little fuzzy on that detail. I was also therefore, still residing with my parents.

Back then, my parents owned a sort of Acme brand of HiFi, no doubt sold by the same people who supplied Wile E. Coyote with his his dynamite and rockets. 

MY FIRST HiFi: A TALE OF INNOCENCE

Back then, my parent’s HiFi looked like a suite of separates from the front but, if you spinned it around, you’d see that it was actually a cheap all-in-one one unit. The speakers could be picked up with a little finger and the turntable? Well, the turntable moved. That’s the best I could say for it, really. 

My folks – bless ‘em – thought it was fine. They had no issues with it. Which was great for them.

Yet, even then. Even at that age, I realised that my growing vinyl collection (which was tiny at that time but – I had big plans) was going nowhere near that thing.

How did I come to this realisation? I knew this because the HiFi magazines I had been buying from my local WH Smiths newsagent, told me so.

HiFi magazines have a lot to answer for.

MY FIRST HiFi: A TALE OF INNOCENCE

More than that, during school lunch times in my home city of Liverpool in the UK, my friends and I would wander down into town and slowly peruse the HiFi sitting on the shelves in the likes of Laskys in Dale Street (a place where I saw my first Revox reel-to-reel, incidentally).

Oh, how I drooled.

There was a second Laskys (I think it was Laskys or was it Ace Audio?) in St John’s Market and an independent called Beaver Radio on Whitechapel (oh, the school-boy humour that emerged from that one) who’s shop front opened to a street packed with traffic, making listening demos a challenge.  

MY FIRST HiFi: A TALE OF INNOCENCE

I wasn’t aware of specialist dealers back then. The High Street was where it was, at least for me. 

On the shelves? Flashing lights dazzled me, the acres of aluminium reeked of quality while I had seen some local houses smaller than the shop’s floor standing speakers. I was dazzled. Dazzled enough to pretend to know what I was talking about to my friends (nothing much has changed, eh?) Again, I had been soaked in HiFi magazine knowledge so I was an expert, wasn’t I?

So we would scour the magazines, my friends and I, plus the shop shelves to see what was accessible and we would talk and plan our future HiFi systems together. All based on our combined wealth of around £1.50.

MY FIRST HiFi: A TALE OF INNOCENCE

Dale Street, Liverpool. You can see the actual Lasky’s I visited on the lower left of this image – I’ll feature a blow up of the shop sign below. (Copyright: Mirrorpix)

Even if part of our research was a little Alan Partridge in its execution.

Have you ever seen this comedy TV programme? 

MY FIRST HiFi: A TALE OF INNOCENCE

There was one early episode I recall when Mr Patridge is granted exclusive access to Norwich’s Tandy shop in the UK (Radio Shack in the US). This was an after hours visit. As a ‘top personality’ he was granted unfettered access to the techie glories packed on the shelves, without the public in attendace. He was on his own. Well, with only the fixed-grin staff in attendance. As he walked through the isles, he stated in a voice over, “It’s aways nice to be able to mooch around without fear of being threatened or pick-pocketed.” 

MY FIRST HiFi: A TALE OF INNOCENCE

So why am I telling you all about Alan Partridge? During his perusal, he walks up to a compact HiFi. Then he reaches and presses the cassette eject door. Then he steps back, pauses and while the door of the cassette deck slowly and smoothly opens and he declares, “Nice action.” Pauses again and, “Very nice action.”

I purchased my first set of headphones from here – well, a future version. This is a shot from the 50s.

Oh how I cringed while I watched! I did that! I said that! What sort of monster was I back then?

Beaver Radio (as above) in sadder times as it finally closes. Not sure of the time frame. Sometime in the 90s perhaps? Any help on fixing the date would be welcome.

I’ll tell you what sort. The sort of monster who waged unfettered psychological warfare on my parents. Bombarding them with propaganda and reasoned arguments as to why they really needed to invest in a decent HiFi. After all, it would transform mum’s Barbara Streisand records, wouldn’t it? 

As for my dad’s Neil Diamond LPs? It would surely bring new meaning to Sweet Caroline. No problem.

God save my mortal soul. 

Well, they crumbled like the wall in Berlin before my critical analysis, didn’t they? I stood triumphant and ran off to the HiFi shops to buy as many accessories, in preparation, as my saved pocket money would allow. 

One of the reasons my Mum and Dad agreed to fund my (their?) HiFi

What follows is a component-by-component list of that first system in all its glory (or otherwise) and in all its naivety. The result of a combination of reading too many HiFi magazines, listening to too many friends, focusing on too many wrong things, buying with too little knowledge and, you know what? Having a ball.

If I could have that time again. I wouldn’t change a thing. 

This was sometime around 1979, 1980, that kind of time period. So that meant no DACs, no streaming and shock horror, not even a CD player. This was a world principally occupied by vinyl.

This system was built on a low budget, lots of compromise and entreaties to my parents. This was the result.

Oh and let’s work backwards shall we? First I’ll list the accessories. Then the headphones, the cassette deck (with a ‘nice action’, of course), speakers, amp and finally the turntable.  

THOSE ACCESSORIES

To begin, I had been told by the HiFi magazines (again) that my precious vinyl was in mortal danger. Mainly because the grooves were or could be caked with more grime than a techno DJ’s hard disk. 

MY FIRST HiFi: A TALE OF INNOCENCE

I bought a felt padded-brush to clean that vinyl but that would only tackle loose dust. So I bought two ‘high end’ accessories that were my pride and joy(s) 

Both were produced and sold by that great HiFi accessories outfit, Milty. Back then, I was a Milty Man. I was a frequent visitor to Planet Milty.

The first was a Zerostat gun, to kiss goodbye to the dust-attracting static. To my mind, the Zerostat was truly ‘hi-tech’. In fact, Zerostats are still sold today which, I have to say, shows incredible longevity for any product, never mind a HiFi product.

This was the colour I grabbed

Although, saying that, the one I bought was bright red in colour.

The earlier white model

I’ve seen pictures of white Zerostats but never in the flesh’, as it where. I only ever see blue nowadays. Odd.

I actually have a review of this gizmo on this site which you can find HERE.

MY FIRST HiFi: A TALE OF INNOCENCE

The second was the mighty Pixel Roller. This looked and performed like one of those lint rollers you use on your clothes to remove fluff. Although back then, lint rollers where around but not yet a major thing. At least, not where I lived. I had only ever seen their HiFi application.

The Pixall used sticky paper to do the job. You ripped off a layer when clogged with muck to reveal a freshly sticky layer underneath. Sticky roll refills were a costly bill for a vinyl fan back then. 

I bought the Mk.1 with the larger barrel. Later on, I bought the smaller-barrelled Mk.II (see image above) with integral sticky paper cutter which, remarkably, I still own. 

Finally, I bought one – one, mind you – TDK MA metal cassette. I looked after this thing as if it was made from precious jewels. The price of the tape? It might as well have been. In addition to that, I bought a single TDK SA chrome tape and a couple of TDK AD normal tapes. That’s all my budget would allow. The AD variant was my daily driver, you might say. I bought all of these because, again, the HiFi magazines told me so.

 

https://theaudiophileman.com/zerostat/

I then bought a pair of speaker stands for the forthcoming stand-mounted designs I had my eye on.

These look like the stands I originally bought although I don’t know if the items pictured here are original or cheapo copies. I’ve forgotten the name though. Does anyone out there remember the brand/model of the original designs? They were well reviewed in the mags around 1979-1980 ish

The brand I’ve now sadly forgotten but they were metal and telescopic. 

Oh and I also bought myself a batch of 79-strand QED speaker cables but ran with the default, out of the box, stringy interconnects of the time. Ah, innocent youth.

HEADPHONES

These were tested in that HiFi independent I mentioned earlier, Beaver Radio. Back then, by the large door that was permanently opened to a stream if noisy traffic outside, there were a string of headphones sitting on hooks, full of music and just waiting to be tested.

The headphones were the only piece of HiFi I had any real chance of testing before I bought. Despite the traffic noise, the Sennheiser HD420 headphones were, to me, far superior than anything else on that rack. 

They were just sublime. 

I actually ended up using the headphones more than my speakers because the final HiFi setup was positioned next to the family living room so I had to use them so as not to disturb anyone else. Same thing if my folks popped off to bed and I was left to prepare myself for the full glory that was Genesis’ Supper’s Ready at one in the morning. 

So yes, they experienced full use, did those headphones. 

CASSETTE DECK

Quite by coincidence, I found myself on the cusp of a major change in cassette deck technology and I wanted to ride that tech wave to my living room. The change was the move from the classic piano key-style interface to touch-key control. I was thus balancing on the very tip of the cutting edge and loved every moment.

I chose the front-loading JVC KD-A33. This silver beauty was a full logic, twin head machine with twin VU meters, JVC’s own ANRS noise reduction, built-in headphone amplifier, a couple of mic ports (which I never used), a mechanical door eject and wonderfully clunky toggle switches to select the tape variants and inputs. 

I adored it. One day, I will buy another. One that works. Just for old time’s sake. It was ideal to make copies of vinyl albums to share with friends and play those copies that friends made for me.

SPEAKERS

I had been impressed by the reviews of recent speakers by Wharfedale. But what type to grab? Money was the issue here. I had had my eyes on a pair of Dentons (which are around £50. £53?) but I wondered. Could I possibly? Could I wangle a pair of Sheltons for £65? Next up from the Sheltons were the Lintons which were priced at just silly money. I had no chance of those at £80. Not a chance. 

MY FIRST HiFi: A TALE OF INNOCENCE

I tried asking my parents for the Sheltons and incredibly they nodded (with tears streaming down their wallet and purse). 

The Shelton was part of the company’s XP2 range and would, I strongly suspect, be completely outclassed nowadays but back then they had a great ‘tone’. I thought they were absolutely terrific back then. 

MY FIRST HiFi: A TALE OF INNOCENCE

More than that, I loved the weird blue-coloured tweeter the company used and the wood veneer cabinet.

The only issue I had with the Sheltons was this: I thought I could sing like Jon Anderson from the prog band, Yes.

When both my parents were out at work on Saturdays, I would crank up the volume to 11 and sing my heart out to Yes’ debut album. Annoying neighbours, scaring their children and triggering the howling of dogs. 

MY FIRST HiFi: A TALE OF INNOCENCE

I also blew my tweeters on two separate occasions. No couriers back then so my Dad and I took them to the railway station, they were weighed by the Post Office on absolutely gigantic scales and shipped via a train to Wharfedale for repair. Which took ages to return back to my impatient ears.

My Dad was a patient man.

AMPLIFIER

The HiFi magazines said that the NAD 3020 was the best budget amplifier on the planet and I needed to buy one of those. Every reader who asked about buying advice in the Letters page was advised to buy a NAD 3020. Even if they didn’t want to buy an amplifier. Even if someone asked these HiFi magazines, “What time is it please, Mr Editor?” “Go and buy a NAD 3020,” was the reply. That’s how it was back then. 

MY FIRST HiFi: A TALE OF INNOCENCE

Trouble was, my parents couldn’t afford one. 

So I had to put my thinking cap on. I had to do more research. I had to find a NAD-a-like. And I did. It was created by a company called Denyo. A company who also produced a tuner. That was it. That was the range. 

This was a company who promptly disappeared (at least in HiFi terms) soon afterwards and it’s a company I knew little about back then and still know little about now. In fact, if anyone out there can tell my about Denyo, I’d love to hear more. The only Denyo I’m aware of is a Japanese industrial company but I’ve no idea if they were one and the same. 

MY FIRST HiFi: A TALE OF INNOCENCE

Finding images of the Denyo amp was pretty tough

The unit I had was called an AU-3000M. Mine was in black but I’ve seen one example in silver on the Internet but nowhere else. 

This was a beautifully big, chunky, metallic and yes, industrial amplifier punching out 35W (so memory tells me, at least the black variant offered that) and was resplendent with similarly chunky knobs, toggle switches and VU meters. And the HiFi magazines seemed to like it because it received good reviews from the staff who referred to it as a poor-man’s NAD 3020.

That would do for me because, oddly enough, I was a poor man. And again, I loved it. I never regretted grabbing one. NAD who?

TURNTABLE

Back then, you would think of turntables and the word ‘Technics’ would pop up at some point. 

According to my hallowed collection of HiFi magazines, I really should have been buying a Linn Sondek but that was just fairy tale talk to a young man who was currently in the process of begging for a HiFi system from his parents. Parents who spent most of their lives struggling to pay the bills, never mind indulge in technology they couldn’t afford. So no. 

MY FIRST HiFi: A TALE OF INNOCENCE

Rega Planar 2

Apart from that, even so-called budget turntables of the day were just way too expensive. Even a 1977-era Rega Planar 2 back then was way out of my league. 

Today’s whippersnappers really don’t appreciate how lucky they are to have such a wealth of choice in budget turntable terms. Back then? Well, thank goodness for the likes of Technics, that’s all I can say. I did muse upon Dual – incidentally – but I think even that was slightly out of reach too. 

Technics’ low-cost turntables were not amazing. They wouldn’t blow your socks off in sonic terms. They did a job, though. They got you going. They were of a good standard. Not amazing but good. They were solid, they sounded decent and they could be upgraded to enhance their basic sound output. 

MY FIRST HiFi: A TALE OF INNOCENCE

Technics enabled me to get up and running. To get into HiFi. To play my vinyl. They were my entry point and I’ll always be grateful to them for providing a suite of turntable designs that allowed that entry. 

I grabbed the best I – or rather my Ma and Pa – could afford. I grabbed a Technics SL-B2 belt driven turntable. Twin speed, strobe light, composite materials around the plinth, rubber mat, S-shaped tonearm, SME-style headshell. I think it used a DC motor and electronic speed controls. 

Again, I fell in love with the SL-B2. It served me well and provided sterling service.

CONCLUSION

In fact, this entire HiFi system (blown tweeters apart) provided solid and sterling service for many years. I thought it sounded great, thoroughly enjoyed myself and then did what all HiFi owners should do at that point. I forgot the HiFi and concentrated on the music.

 

OK, I did tweak a bit. I eventually upgraded my cartridge to a Grado, although I can’t remember what it was. A ‘G’ series, perhaps?

Oh how I remember drowning in HiFi and music back then. Then there were those Sundays when my mum and dad would shout to me from the sofa, “So, can we hear some Neil Diamond then? On our HiFi?”  

“Eh, what? Your hif…? Oh yes. Hehe. Right. Sure. I’ll sort that now.” 

After a quick burst of Sweet Caroline it was back to Genesis and Foxtrot, Relayer from Yes, Human League’s Travelogue and Kraftwerk’s Computer World. 

I tell you what folks, back then? With my HiFi and my music? Life was good. 

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18 Comments

  • Reply
    Ian From Berks
    19th August 2022 at 4:15 pm

    Ah Laskys, HiFi on the high street , and yes I wish they were still around.

    Thank you Paul, enjoyed the article

  • Reply
    Trevor Rea
    19th August 2022 at 8:44 pm

    Nice article as always.
    My first system was purchased in Manchester and Midland in Lisburn Co Antrim. Rega planar 3 with the old S shaped arm, NAD 3020, and a second hand pair of JR 149 speakers. The system didn’t really sing until I added a Quad 33 pre and 405.2 power amp. Even though today I have a system which costs many times what those early systems cost, I’m not sure I get as much fun as I did listening back in the 80’s

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      20th August 2022 at 10:41 am

      Thanks Trevor and yes, it’s not quite the same is it? I really love my system and the sound is wonderful. Still…

    • Reply
      Anthony Copp
      21st August 2022 at 11:13 pm

      Wonderful article, What Hi fi and the big Comet adds had a lot to answer for. I still have my XP2 Shelton’s in the loft, carefully wrapped for 20 years, with at least one replaced soft dome tweeter. My Sennheisers went through many replacement ear pads before finally giving way to Grado over 20 years ago. My NAD 3020a bought in December 1983 when I was 18, has been used virtually every single day since. It remains in great working order and is the only integrated stereo I have ever owned, itt has seen off 4 or 5 turntables and countless cartridges. ( It currently runs a modified Project Debut Pro with AT540ml ) I might however ask for a new one for my 60th birthday . Or maybe not, we have grown old together.

      • Reply
        Paul Rigby
        22nd August 2022 at 1:05 pm

        Lovely stuff – thanks for sharing that, Anthony. And thank you.

  • Reply
    Colin
    20th August 2022 at 10:45 am

    I once owned speaker stands very similar to those in your image. I think they were named Activity Play speaker stands, does that jog any memories?

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      21st August 2022 at 12:25 pm

      Thanks for trying, Colin. Much appreciated but that doesn’t ring a bell I’m afriad. Unless they drew inspiration (or vice versa) from the stands I had?

  • Reply
    Ron Heskett
    20th August 2022 at 9:23 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this article, thank you. It reminded me of my own adventures into the world of hi fi and started my love of music to this day. You are so right when you say it is all about concentrating on the music, but a great sounding hi fi really helps that appreciation.

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      21st August 2022 at 12:26 pm

      Very nice of you, Ron. Thanks for reading.

  • Reply
    Wizweird
    21st August 2022 at 10:05 pm

    Well I also remember my first stereo. Somehow my brother got a hold of a wurlitzer jukebox… Well, half of a wurlitzer…. Lol from the selector buttons up, it was just… Gone but, down in the bottom was this huge mass of wires, tubes, connectors etc. I removed everything, and hooked it up on my bedroom floor. I got the biggest set of bookshelf speakers, and a Garrard turntable. Wow! That thing was so ugly, but so loud! It was from the 60’s one of the first stereo versions. Later on, I got an eight track player, and found out about input levels. I would run the speaker outs to the jukebox input, and WOW it was way louder, and that old amp took every bit of it. I ran that for years, until it gave me the magic smoke. But what a stereo! And about ten years ago I swapped a guy some herb for this old, heavy pioneer stereo. I used it to run subs, and it was LOUD. Looked it up a while back, and turned out it was the Euro version of the pioneer 1250,160 wpc with caps the size of beer cans in it. I guess they are getting anywhere from 2k to 5k for them! Next project… Lol

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      22nd August 2022 at 1:06 pm

      Gracious! Quite a set up you had there 🙂

  • Reply
    Irwin Klinger
    25th August 2022 at 8:18 pm

    Thanks Paul. Your article brought me back to my first ventures into the world of stereo, and as a novice I read all I could about equipment. Stereo Review was one of my go-to publications because the systems reviewed were more in my price range, but when I wanted to dream, Audiophile was the publication I devoured. My first stereo system was one my uncle had for years, the speakers he built himself paired with an amp I can’t remember the name, the turntable was an old Garrard. I thought it sounded grand until I visited stereo shops in Chicago and heard systems that were better. A company called Musicraft had stores all over Chicago and I started going to high-end stereo shows at the hotels, big mistake! Some of the paired systems were in the $50,000 plus range and that was just for the speakers! I fell in love withe the sound of the British Spender speakers, heard the electrostatic Quads, but could afford neither. I finally settled for Infinity 2.5s with a Sony elliptical turntable paired with a Denon cartridge, an integrated SAE amp and a Denon cassette deck with all the bells and whistles. The Denon deck made great sounding tapes and I spent many hours making copies of my record collection sitting on the floor with my Koss headphones on and adjusting the equalizers on the Denon deck to get the best sounding tapes, this was in 1983 and I still thrill to see all the new stereo equipment at the hi-fi shows!

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      28th August 2022 at 11:13 am

      Thanks for that, Irwin. Retaining a sense of fun is very important in our hobby, as you allude to in your description of the Denon cassette deck here. It’s all too easy to become super serious about HiFi. Keeping a sense of wonder about HiFi and the music itself is part of that. Thanks for sharing your memories.

  • Reply
    Trevor Riley
    25th August 2022 at 10:03 pm

    Great article and video Paul. Really stirred up memories of my first hi-fi. I started very early 1970s and like you persuaded reluctant parents to provide most if not all the funds. I was also seduced by the hi-fi mags and scoured the reviews and the “discount” stores price lists.

    Eventually a Comet opened up not too far away and from there I got my first system comprising a Pioneer PL12D turntable, Pioneer SA500A amp and, I think, Celestion County speakers (the ones without the port).

    Later I added a matching Pioneer tuner and a second hand Akai GXC46D cassette deck.

    Over the years l have made a few upgrades as funds allowed. My favourite set up was probably in the 1980s when I had a Leak Stereo 70 amp and Leak Stereofetic Tuner with Kef Concerto speakers. Eventually I had to downsize speaker-wise and bought Spendor SA1s which I also enjoyed.

    I actually still have the Pioneer deck but have recently bought a Project deck partly on the basis of your review and have to admit that the sound is on a different level.

    Lack of funds will never allow progression to audiophile standard but I will always love listening to music in as much detail as possible and so your channels provide a wonderful resource.

    Many thanks.

    Trevor

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      28th August 2022 at 11:08 am

      Thanks very much for your kind words Trevor and thanks too for sharing your memories.

  • Reply
    Phil Newton
    3rd September 2022 at 2:01 pm

    I enjoyed your article Paul and like others I look back on that time with a sense of great fondness & nostalgia. My first system was put together in the early 80’s when I was about 16. My folks did not have much money. A Linn LP12 was just a pipedream. I remember my music teacher took me to a Hifi shop in South Manchester (I think it was in Northenden but can’t remember the name). I left there the very proud owner of a 2nd hand Logic Tempo turntable, a new Creek 4040 integrated amp and a pair of the original (1st version) Mission 700 speakers which I still rate to this day. I too was very into Yes at the time and my pressings of ‘The Yes Album’ , ‘Fragile’ , ‘Time and a Word’ etc were well played indeed. My current system is a better system but it is perhaps my earliest foray into the world of ‘hifi’ that I remember with most fondness. Your article struck a parallel with me, as I’m sure it did with many others. It was a different era back but one I too will always remember. Part of who I am.

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      5th September 2022 at 12:39 pm

      Hi Phil – things were indeed different back then, Phil. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and memories.

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