The Ones That Got Away

I have a firm rule that, in my increasing age and, or so I flatter myself, wisdom, I try to apply to three categories, corporate stocks, guitars, and motorcycles: only buy; never sell.

In the first instance, the benefit is obvious: if you only buy-and-hold, you never take a loss (other than on paper), and in the long run your grateful heirs will be rich. (You, however, will be dead.)

In the second and third—well, every guitar or motorcycle I’ve parted with, and there have been many, I have come to mourn, sooner or later. And this includes units that I despised at the time: the 1950‘s Gibson ES-225 that wouldn’t stay in tune and howled with feedback at any stage volume above 2-1/2; the Norton Atlas (with Dunstall 850 kit!) that tried valiantly to shake itself to pieces and so exhausted or assaulted me in kickstarting it that I needed a full night’s sleep, or orthopedic surgery, or both, before I could ride the damned thing.

Fortunately, I never applied this rule to audio gear—if I had, I’d need two or three bays down at the local U-Stor-It. (As an aside, what a peculiarly American industry, fueled almost entirely by divorce. Is this a great country, or what?). But if I had….

…the Marantz 7C preamp and McIntosh MC-30 power-amp pair that served as the B-chain in the electronic music studio at my small college. Being the studio TA/resident tech, I could easily have convinced the relevant powers to trade in these creaky antiques, which had been gifted by an upgrading alumnus, for modern, transistorized Phase Linear equivalents, at the local Tech HiFi franchise where I worked part time.

…the Braun L-710 three-way speakers that anchored my first serious audio setup. In retrospect, these were only pretty good speakers, but their white-lacquer finish and Teutonic perforated-aluminum screens were so echt Bauhaus, I loved looking at them even while turned off. (Around the same time I also had a Braun TG-1000 open-reel deck. When tweaked to a fare-thee-well these could kinda-sorta give a Revox A77 a run for its money, but they were hideously unstable and finicky. But man, what a great-looking piece of kit, shown above.)

…the KLH 9’s (one of the first electrostatics) that I fostered, on a couple of occasions, each one for a few weeks at a time. Driven by my pair of bridged, modded Dynaco Stereo 70’s, and set up just so—about one third out into the room, with a single listening position 8 feet away—reproduced audio didn’t get much better, and still doesn’t. A few years later on, this same pair of 9’s, with their owner’s home-brew 15-inch subwoofer in his acoustically treated, very small listening room, still rates as one of the best hi-fi’s I've ever experienced, all these years later.

…the original Advent 100A outboard Dolby B encode/decoder. These were rare as hen’s teeth even then and are surely certified unobtainium today. (If not, please don’t tell me: some things are best left to memory’s rose-colored glasses.)

…the Thorens TD125 mk. II turntable with a Rabco tangential-tracking tonearm I picked up for quite literally nothing, in an elaborate trade. After the novelty of the Rabco—a classic good-idea-on-paper bit of engineering—wore off and I tired of having to align the damned thing every couple of LP sides, I put an SME-III tonearm (which I got free through a hook-up with a buddy at Shure) with Shure V-15 Type IV cartridge (see buddy at Shure, above), which was far and away the best-sounding, nearest-perfect-tracking phonograph solution I ever owned, and which cost me next to nothing. (Audiophiles loved to scoff at the moving-magnet Type IV, but its trackability was the best ever devised and its sound superb; it just had the misfortune of carrying the “Shure” name, kind of the audio equivalent of “Ford.”) When somebody offered me the price of a beat-up Corolla for the whole layout I couldn’t resist.

And that’s consistently been the problem: someone with actual funds always comes along and wants these things more than I do. And since the dentist, the vet, the cable company, electric utility, or mortgage company always seemed to have one hand out and the other banging on my door at around the same time…

Probably a good thing. Think of what I’ve saved on storage-bay rental.