Vintage, Vintage Whine

Written by Bill Leebens

There was a time in my life, not so long ago, when I spoke to longtime writers and editors who described the experience of cranking out an article in a rush of passion and excitement, convinced they’d produced something singular—only to discover they’d written a piece on the exact same subject, a year or two before. Back then, I laughed at those people.

Now—as the saying goes—now I are one. I have to review what I’ve already written about to ensure that I don’t blindly do it again. Somewhere, someone or something is laughing at the cockiness of the young Leebs who mercilessly mocked his elders…..

Reviewing the past can be a good thing. After all, that’s the basis of this column and all history, no?

But: looking back on the companies and characters that I’ve written about over the last three years of Vintage Whine makes me a little sad, as so many of the stories deserve more research and a more-complete telling of their tales. Some companies are so fundamental to, so inextricably intertwined with, the development of audio as a whole that they really require a multi-volume magnum opus to do them justice: the early days of Bell Labs and its commercial arm Western Electric are such a story waiting to be told. I wrote about Bell/WE back in issues 2 and 3, and barely scratched the surface.

Yes, there are books out there about Bell Labs, and I’ve read a few of them. Most are like Jon Gertner’s The Idea Factory, in that they don’t cover the early years of the Lab when it was undertaking research and development in sound—-the important stuff, as far as I’m concerned. Thanks to the American History Radio website, which I’ve mentioned before, you can actually ready important papers and articles from the Bell Labs Record. For me, and for any audio history geek, this is a treasure trove and a massive time-sink.

Another story waiting to be told is that of the whole Fairchild saga. The four articles I wrote (in issues 757677, and 78) barely scratched the surface of that remarkable group of companies. Their pro audio side alone is worthy of a book.

Sticking strictly to hi-fi, Acoustic Research—AR—deserves a book all its own. Just as Fairchild did later in the semiconductor world, AR was an incubator that developed talent and was directly connected to the birth of dozens of companies, and was largely responsible for the Cambridge area once being the hotbed of loudspeaker development. It’s unfortunate that so many of the principals— Edgar Villchur, Henry Kloss, and Roy Allison amongst them— have passed on. We need to get Copper contributor Ken Kantor’s AR stories down while we still can. The coverage in Whine (issues 5, 6, and 7) just covered the high points. [FYI: the first AR piece in Copper #5 is mislabeled. Keep reading!-–Ed.]

So what companies would readers like to know more about? I’m afraid that limitations on available source material would force me to stick to US-based companies. Don’t bother with McIntosh—our friend Ken Kessler’s already written the book on that company. I’m thinking Marantz, Fisher and Dynaco deserve a closer look, as well as the many permutations of companies associated with Irving M. “Bud” Fried. Maybe even Audio Research.

What do you think?

Thanks for reading for the past three years, and for all your feedback!

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