Within the span of a couple weeks, I went from a vintage equipment show, Vintage Voltage, to Axpona, a show with a ton of brand-new gear where the only vintage items were the attendees (badda-BOOM).
That’s really not fair: there were more youngish attendees than at any show I’ve been to in ages. However, while wandering the halls looking at the megabuck systems, it occurred to me that one of the significant differences between new gear and old is that the old gear has a history. I don’t just mean history in general, “McIntosh Laboratory was founded in 1946….” or whatever, but that individual vintage models or units invoke a personal history related to either former ownership or associations.
Here’s what I mean:
Why do 65-year-old men buy ’69 Camaros? Beyond the innate coolness of the car, it’s usually because they either owned one at some point and have fond memories of the cars, or—and I think this is more often the case— they lusted after it when they were 16, but had no ability to buy one at that time. You certainly don’t buy a 50-year-old car for everyday transportation: the noise and lack of comfort or reliability would rule that out in a heartbeat. There has to be something else behind the purchase. And that something else is the miasma of mental and emotional associations surrounding the car. Back in the day, there was repeated exposure to the car through stories in Motor Trend, ads on TV, the much-read brochure from the local Chevy dealer.
If it’s a specific ’69 Camaro, one that belonged to a friend or relative, there may be memories of 12 people packed into the car going to a drive-in movie, making out with Mary Jane in the tiny back seat, narrowly losing a street race to that jerk with the Challenger…well, you get it. It’s not just a car, it’s a rolling Remembrance of Things Past, the trigger of a string of life memories—or even potential memories, what could’ve or should’ve been.
Guess what? Audio gear is exactly the same. We hunt for the JBL 100s that sounded so insane in that dude’s dorm room— never mind the fact that we were likely wasted when we heard them, and we’ve become far more discerning over the intervening years. The thing is not the thing itself, but a touchstone.
Odds are, they sounded better in a dormroom crowded with people.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. In a weird way, we buy new gear for the same reasons, hoping for pleasant future memories, recollections of time spent enjoying music with family and friends.
To the future!