Audio-Way Back When

I collect old magazines. And (surprise!), most of them have something to do with audio or video. When I recently came across a copy of the June 1962 issue of the now defunct High Fidelity magazine, it seemed like a good time to have a look back at audio's past. Particularly since we sit on the cusp of the 2007 Home Entertainment Show (May 11-13 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel near Grand Central Station in New York City)

The issue of High Fidelity tells us a great deal about how far audio has come in the past 45 years, not to mention how print magazines have evolved. The cover, shown above, is remarkably understated. No screaming headlines about "1001 Ways to Improve Your Audio Love Life," or "50 Hot New Products Reviewed Inside." It's a simple, one color cover. And only two pages inside have any color at all—the same shade of red.

It's clear from the cover that the emphasis is on the music rather than the gear. There are seven articles about music, all of it classical. There is a review section on jazz, and another on less "serious" music, called, "The Lighter Side." But Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole are about as cutting-edge as it gets. And this was not some pre-rock, stone-age era, either. Elvis had been around, and wildly popular, for years, though the British Music Invasion and the Beatles were still a couple of years in the future.

The hi-fi coverage was limited to an article on FM (back when FM was important), three equipment reports, and a single page of audio news. But it's the prices that are the nostalgia triggers here. Note the cover price for starters. The equipment reports include a review of the Audio Dynamics ADC-85 Pritchard Pickup System, at $85 complete. This included both the tonearm and cartridge (the arm alone went for the princely sum of $39.50).

Most of the ads also include sales prices. What a novel idea! There is a full-page ad for the classic AR turntable: $58 for arm and table, sans cartridge. Grado cartridges are priced at $24.95-$49.50; a matching Grado Laboratory Series Tone Arm is $39.50. A Fisher speaker goes for $199 each, in oiled walnut finish.

Of course, these prices can be very misleading. Not only is today's equipment many times more complex and sophisticated, but also a very comfortable middle management annual salary in those days might have been $10,000/year.

The list of advertisers turns up names like Pilot, Empire, Pickering, AR, H.H. Scott, Soundcraft, Fisher, Rek-O-Kut, Harman Kardon, Heathkit, Bozak, Bell, University, Electro-Voice, and Sherwood. How many of those companies are still around today?

And of the few that remain, how many sell products made exclusively in the US? In 1962, they all did. Only a few imported brands are represented in the magazine, including Superscope (a $599 Sony Pro recording system in four pieces: the recorder, a pair of powered speakers, and an outboard mixer/control unit), and Tandberg (another tape deck). The imports were a clear sign of things to come, though at the time no one knew it.

A lot has changed since then. Stereo was well established on vinyl and FM by 1962, but this was 20+ years before the CD. Video was simply television. And it would be decades before anyone imagined the complexities that home theater would bring to the scene.

Will the coming decades bring changes just as drastic? Will prices march forward by another factor if 10 or even 20? Who knows, but one thing is certain: today's audio is beyond anything a 1962 audiophile could have dreamed of, and today's video is a long way from just television!