A Stereo Journey

A Stereo Journey

Written by Bob Wood

I was a kid about seven when I refused to speak.

A neighbor was the sales manager for RCA in Philly and as such, would get some of the earliest gear when it was introduced: a projection TV, color TV, and back when I was kid, a tape recorder. His son showed the tape recorder to me, babbled into the microphone then played it back. I was amazed. He told me to speak. I was too intimidated.

I have sometimes wondered if my entry into a career in radio was actually influenced by my failure to utter one word into that amazing machine.

E.J. Korvette was a big box department type store. They had cheaper Webcor tape recorders and I managed to scrape the bucks to purchase one. All I remember was that the microphone was crap, it had a cool “magic eye” record-level indicator and the recorder didn’t record. Back it went.

Fast forward to high school years (1960-64): I would visit the local stereo shop almost weekly (Soundex, in Ardmore, PA). There was always soft music playing. Many pieces of audio treasure…and a Roberts 1040 reel to reel tape recorder. I lusted for one. But I couldn’t afford it.

Who wouldn't want one of these? A Roberts 1040 is on the left.

After maybe some years of snow shoveling, lawn mowing and saving what I’d earned and from my allowance, I finally managed to buy that Roberts. It had two heads, erase and record/play, built-in speakers, and did work. I bought an Astatic microphone which at least appeared hardier and more serious than the Webcor one. I spent hours recording things like “check check test one two.”

At Korvettes I bought some prerecorded music and one tape in particular impressed me: Enoch Light and the Light Brigade. Bombastic music with a twist – I believe one channel was slightly delayed and gave a more spacious sound.

I began to lust for a three-head deck. And save. I then was able to add echo to my “check check,” thanks to the third tape head. The deck was a Roberts 1057.

I borrowed the church pulpit microphone to record a band.

I recorded a Stan Kenton concert for Armed Forces Radio.

At one time my father took me into Philadelphia to buy a birthday present, a speaker! We went into an electronics store and I purchased an open-backed 8 ohm speaker in a cheap enclosure without knowing anything that would have allowed me to make a good purchase decision. It was the kind of small PA speaker you’d see in classrooms for announcements by the headmaster. It sounded terrible.

Time flies, and sometimes loses luggage.

My folks were very much not into playing music, but, through Mister RCA, had purchased a big console type of stereo with everything built in…boomy open-backed speakers, a cheap turntable. When drinking, my father might once in a while play one of a few singles: Vaughan Monroe’s “The Cry of the Wild Goose.” My mother would play “Canadian Sunset” by Hugo Winterhalter.


My father would sit and drink or read with show tunes playing on the radio (if not baseball). This inspired me to buy some recorded Broadway show tunes. By the way, Bali Hai is calling you. We got trouble, right here in River City. The corn is as high as an elephant’s eye.

Somehow I discovered the Ventures, a guitar band of covers and originals. But they sounded lousy on that stereo coffin.

I needed good sound in my room.

I went to a hi-fi store and explained that (after much advance work on my parents) when I brought my parents in, the owners should explain what they needed is what I wanted, another combo built by KLH.  They got it and It didn’t remain downstairs long; after all, my folks didn’t play music often. So, it migrated into my room. And sounded good!

My love affair continued. I wanted a pro tape deck, and couldn’t afford a Magnecord which I really wanted, but settled on a Newcomb TX10. It had three heads, took 10-1/2-inch reels, and the microphone inputs were balanced! I could get a pro microphone to use with it.

Along the passages of time (shout-out to Al Stewart) I bought a low-powered Sony receiver which paired nicely with the speakers, and later, an AR turntable with Shure V15-type cartridge.

I began running record hops for the big DJs in Philadelphia, and had acquired a pretty impressive PA system with column speakers, a nice tube amp and great mics.

This led to hanging around WFIL radio, which had come on strong in 1966.

And, in 1968, jumping from college to radio, a DJ now unafraid to speak.

That lead to hearing more pro gear and then, when I got into voice work, seeing and hearing studios, lots of them. Wish I had kept count. Over a hundred easily, maybe hundreds.

But before that wisdom I had a station engineer build me an amp kit – The Super Tiger (from Southwest Technical Products Corporation). And, impressed by their marketing, Bose 901 speakers and a Soundcraftsmen graphic equalizer, all of this around 1973. I found myself adjusting it for every single song. But didn’t get the sound I wanted. Ever. Sold the speakers to a housewife via an ad in the paper. By then I was in Hamilton, Ontario, and their stereo store had some tech that interested me: squeezy things for tweeters on top of a line transmission woofer cabinet. ESS AMT-1 tower speakers. I fell hard. Bought them.

ESS AMT-1 Limited Edition loudspeakers.

As my voice work continued I had traded work for a pair of JBL 4311 studio monitors. By then I was in Montreal (1976) and had heard those speakers sound great in studios or homes. (What I didn’t realize: each time there were tubed McIntosh amps feeding the JBLs and adding a lot to the sound.) I had the ESS speakers and the JBLs. Having traded voice work for more gear, I soon had Crown amps – 2 DC-300As, plus a Crown DL-2 preamp. I also bought a Denon turntable.

Crown DC-300A power amplifier. This was a real status symbol for some, back in the day.

Still, I could never get the sound right. It would be years before I’d know what those amps were doing to ruin the experience. And the highs were clean and bright on the ESS speakers, but the bass just wasn’t there. I sold them.

Years passed. I was in San Diego – this was around 1985 – 1990 – and had an ADS CD player. No matter what I played or which speakers I used, I got headaches. Local stereo store suggested I try an Adcom amp. Huh. I had no idea amps could make that much difference (a duh moment). After a weekend I took it back as it was a loaner. A store employee asked what I’d heard. “Better, more open, no headache…” “You liked that? Try this.” Yup. A used Mark Levinson ML11.  Liked it? I bought it. Many years later I sold it for almost what I paid.

I had given up on the ESS speakers and had them stored in my garage. A delivery guy noticed and asked about them. I said I’ll make you a deal. I will give them to you and only ask after you’ve enjoyed them to pay me whatever you think they are worth. He took the speakers. I never heard from him again.

I do feel vindicated in having my ESS “thing” because look, air motion transformers are everywhere now.

Remember the AMT-1’s tweeter? A short little thing built into the speaker. AMT stood for Air Motion Transformer and Its difficult load was known to challenge even Phase Linear amps in the day

My current ADAM-A5 studio monitors have AMT tweeters.

The next milestone was throwing the JBLs into storage and buying Klipsch Chorus speakers in the early 1990s. I had been previously spoiled, as perhaps the most engaging sound I’d ever heard was on a friend’s Klipsch Cornwalls running on maybe a Sansui receiver.

I heard the speakers, after he sold them, in the new owner’s room. Magic lost.

I even demoed a pair of Cornwalls at home. My explanation of the sound in my room was as if someone was shooting a pistol. Loud, harsh, but hey, I still had the “PA system” DC-300s. Don’t judge.

So I got a pair of Klipsch Chorus speakers. And I must say they sounded pretty good with the right material.

Then I had the Klipsches on VTL Tiny Triode amps, an Audio Research LS5 preamp and a Theta DS Pro Basic 3 digital processor and transport. In a big room. Didn’t suck.

Audio Research LS5 preamplifier.

I would visit the local audio store time to time, and persuaded our radio station chief engineer – a hip young guy – to go with me to check out other CD players. They sounded good, each with its own sonic “interpretation.”  There were a pair of speakers pushed to the corner and I asked what they were and if we could just hear them for a minute? When they played, the engineer and I looked at each other and started to giggle. I said to him, I’m going to own these. All I had to do is figure out how.

I bought those Wilson Audio WATT/Puppy 5.1s. Then went up the whole ladder of Transparent Audio cables, upgrading from their lesser to more expensive cables over time. I needed a 30-foot pair of speaker cables. Today I look back and think I was crazy. Eventually sold them to a Russian in Florida.

Bought an Audio Research VT-100 power amp. More power.

Added two PS Audio Power Plants.

A Sony SCD-1 top pf the line Super Audio CD player replaced the Theta boxes. Back then mods for the SCD-1 were popular and I went through rounds of them, replacing resistors, caps, the clock, etc. A revision would come out from one of the modders and I’d go for it. Confirmation bias? I don’t think so. I heard changes for the better, usually in the bass and top-end air.

Sony SCD-1 Super Audio CD Player.

Years flew by.

I got it in my head to upgrade the speakers and try a transistorized amp. By then the Wilsons were up to WATT/Puppy 7s I think, and I sold my 5.1s and moved up, a nice improvement. Cleaner, clearer, dynamic and more (though I did miss that Klipsch Cornwall punch but that was also a combination of the speakers and the room I had them in.)

More years went by, and I moved to a Classé CA-2200? Maybe a 2300? amplifier. Big one. I can’t remember the model. It was fine.

Then I started leaning more into PS Audio stuff. I had picked up a Power Director power management unit originally, then more power regenerators – a P10 for each PS Audio BHK Signature mono amp, driven by a BHK Signature preamp. I now have that gear along with a DMP Audio transport and DS-DAC, and mostly Audience SX cable with one of their power conditioners running just one of the DMP boxes because that sounds better to me.

But wait, there’s more.

The last step was another Wilson Audio speaker upgrade, this time to the Sasha 2. My room is treated and of good dimensions for good sound. Honestly, I’ve finally arrived. And my upgrade-itis has gone away because I find so few discs that are really that good sonically, let alone musically.

Wilson Audio Sasha 2 loudspeaker.

I finally found the sound I wanted. It only took about 50 years.


Having Audio Research just a few miles away from where I lived at one time was cool whenever I’d need another Audio Research fix. Had the preamp modded of course, with REL caps, a removable power cord, different tubes.

I tried cascading a couple of PS Audio power regenerators and blew up my amp, which was then the Tiny Triode.

On the then-young internet I befriended a guy who was building and trying to sell amps. His website was so awful I volunteered to make him a better one just because I was able. He sent me one of his amps for photos and I listened to it. Huge swimming soundfield. Serious issues with phase, I think.

I became a writer for SoundStage for two big reviews and they told me I sucked and kicked me out of the nest.

I’ve tried various tweaks. I hear differences but it too often sounds too much like an effect layered over everything and not true to the music. Way back when I had what we called “phase fu*kers,” sound “enhancement” devices that did seem to present a more 3-D image. Can’t remember the model of the thing but it was bettered by the Carver version: Sonic Holography. I heard it, but I didn’t bite. I even bought the ADS Acoustic Dimension Synthesizer unit and mounted the speakers it came with high on the rear wall in an effort to get more spacious sound. But then, why pretend to be listening in an auditorium, club or cavern? Bad purchase, but it did come with nice speakers I ended up using elsewhere.

My pal and I would visit stereo stores and try to get the salesman out of the room so we could put on Supertramp and play every speaker (on selector switches) before the guy’d come running back in, fingers reaching for the volume knob.

As I recall, EPI 100 speakers sounded real.

Advents were good for the price.

I got a summertime job in the store where we purchased KLH speakers. Was fired about two weeks into it. But that’s another story. Before the store opened for business I’d play AM radio on the big Bozaks.

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