Imperfect Sound Forever Page 2

The “Garage Sale”

Thus I found myself traveling to Vancouver last month to attend Innovative Audio’s annual “Garage Sale,” where it sells off its surplus gear and also invites customers and other dealers to set up stands in the parking lot to sell gear, used records and memorabilia. It was an even more amazing scene than Sauck predicted: two parking lots packed with vendors, vintage gear enthusiasts, vinyl record collectors and classic rock fans.

Dozens of enthusiasts were picking through a huge collection of receivers, cassette decks and speakers, most of which were gone by the end of the day. Even a huge Altec theater horn speaker, 3 or 4 feet wide and perhaps 7 feet high, sold. I assumed the customers would all be middle-aged audio geeks like me, but I met kids as young as 18 there. I asked one why he was buying a Sansui receiver that was probably twice his age, and he replied, shaking his head, “All that iPod stuff sucks, man. This is way better.”

I asked Cam Steere, an obviously successful 40-something professional of some sort, which he considered a better value, old gear or new, and he said, “I have a home theater setup and it’s great fun, but personally I prefer buying vintage.” He then rattled off the model numbers of 19 pieces of vintage gear he owns — yet he couldn’t remember what kind of DVD player he had in his home theater system.

How Does the Old Stuff Sound?

Not only did Sauck give me a chance to listen to some vintage gear, he also gave me free reign to run whatever other tests I wanted to do. Because I drove up to Vancouver from Los Angeles, I was able to bring along my Clio FW and Audio Precision System One Dual Domain measurement systems, as well as a few pieces of reference gear and some test CDs.

For a couple of days after the garage sale, we conducted blind listening tests to compare vintage gear to new equipment. This proved easy at Innovative Audio not only because of all the vintage products in stock, but because the store has a steady stream of customers who were happy to donate their time for some serious listening. I later set up a test bench and ran technical measurements, with a large stack of old issues of Stereo Review (Sound+Vision’s revered ancestor) to give me tips on how to measure some old gear I’d only ever seen in pictures.

The most illuminating tests were the evaluations we did of receivers and turntables. Not only did the vintage gear generally hold up well in the comparisons, in a couple of cases (as you can read if you follow the links) it embarrassingly outclassed the new stuff.

I walked away from my five days in Vancouver with a new appreciation of the gear of my youth and the people who built it. Sure, I’ll always love home theater, but there’s something really special about using a piece of gear that was built in the same era when I bought my first copy of Led Zeppelin IV . . . on 8-track. And there’s no denying the appeal of the warm glow of incandescent panel lamps; the elegant, often-unique styling; and — best of all — having a piece of gear you can operate without having to turn on your TV set.