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Lefisc 08-22-2011 10:12 AM

Classic Audio Gear and Classic Audio Stores

You ask some time ago about our favorite classic gear. This, recently, sparked a discussion between my brother and me regarding our old gear and the stores we bought them from.

We decided that our first step into the modern world was in 1958 or so, when, using our father’s Bell and Howell 8mm projector we bought a 5 minute film of “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.” It was silent with sub-titles, but that showed that we were early adapters of Home Theater.

After WWII (which was way before my time), houses and apartments were wired for not just electricity, but telephones. This caused a new marketing sensation, at least in New York: Appliance stores. There and in the department stores like Macy’s, people bought their music players. Stereo came in about the mid 1950s, and I remember people getting stereo record players and large FM units that often had Short Wave radio in them too. They got records that played, in stereo, ping pong games and trains coming in and out of stations.

Stereo magazines were not “in” yet and everyone we knew used Consumer Reports as their source for good equipment.

We don’t think of Hi Fi stores as appliance store, but they really are specialized ones. I remember them opening in the early 1960s. Most did not have TV or any video stuff in them, although many appliance stores were loaded with TVs.

Buying TV sets then was also buying furniture. Our first was a Dumont TV/Radio/phono combination that came in a big and beautiful finished wooden cabinet. as so many did. They were living room furniture. That lasted throughout the 1950s. Our family had then inexpensive separate radios and an Emerson Record Player that cost $40 in 1963. Stereos has names like “General Electric,” “Westinghouse,” and “RCA.” Sony was beginning to introduce very small TV’s that could be watched playing them on your stomach.

Our first foray into stereo came from a store called Lafayette. Lafayette was store similar to Radio Shack but had its own brands. My brother bought, in 1965 or so, A Lafayette receiver, Criterion speakers and a Gerard 55 (?) Turntable. We think that the needle was a Shure V19 or V91. Lafayette and Radio Shack also sold something we don’t think of anymore, replacement needles for record players. That was a big thing then. Lafayette did a great mail order and we always got their oversized catalog. This was the first time I heard real bass coming from a system, hot socks!

By then Audio stores like Harvey’s and Stereo Exchange began to flourish. As with Lafayette, they offered substantial discounts when you bought a complete system, more on that later.

At Harvey’s in 1969 or so my brother upgraded his system and got a Pioneer 707 (which, as I recall was made in England, not Japan); Dual 1212 Turntable and electrostatic speakers, whose name we forget.

My brother moved out and took his stereo with him!!!! I went to Harvey’s in 1971 and bought a Sansui receiver, a Dual 1215 (?) turntable and ADVENT speakers which were great. The system cost $400.

In the 1970s, NY still had the “fair trade” was passed during the depression. This meant that the manufacturer could set the lowest retail price for an item and there could be no competition. An electronics story, with TVs but no major stereos, opened called JGE (So what’s the story, Jerry?) and tied to defeat this. They offered lower prices, but you needed a union card.

In 1978 or so I wanted a more powerful system, and went to another store, in Brooklyn that was trying to beat this law too. It was a small mid fi place that had just one store, Crazy Eddies. His prices were not yet insane. And he did not yet have video! I bought there a Dynaco Preamp (PAT-5); a Dynaco two channel amp and Electrosomething speakers. The sound was incredible! I kept my turntable, but wanted a 1975 ADC Accutrac 4000 Turntable that, in an era before CD, you could choose your tracks!

Not soon enough to save JGE, the free trade laws were both thrown out and repealed and the competition was on. And stereo stores seemed to thrive, but Lafayette went under. But you could now buy electronics at below the msrp.

Stores offered manuals and guides to buying and setting up stereos. I will try to post one here. If you want one, and I can't post it, please email me and I will; send it to you! I scanned and made it a PDF

Next I will tell the first time a stereo salesman insulted me! And the start of home theater with a Laser Disc player.

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