Audiophiles are experts at self-torture: “Is the VTA just a hair off?” “Would the titanium spikes be better than the silicon steel ones?” “Should my chair be half an inch lower?” “Does the sonic signature of the pre-amp clash with that of the cartridge??”
Don’t laugh. You’ve done it. Admit it. We all have.
One of the perverse joys of collecting old audio mags and catalogs is the ability to wallow in the deals missed in bygone years. Yes, it’s largely a pointless time-machine exercise, but who hasn’t had daydreams of having bought Apple stock when it was first listed? —while we’re already off-track: had you bought 1,000 shares at 15 in 1985, and just held them—thanks to the succession of splits, you’d now have 56,000 shares. Yep, 56,000. Your $15,000 investment would be worth about $8,400,000.
Sigh. But I digress.
Anyway: look in ads in Radio & TV News from the ’50’s, and envision the pallet-loads of Altec 755s you could’ve bought for $22 new, or surplus WE versions at six bucks a pop. Check the classified ads of Audio or Stereophile from 50 years ago, and you can beat yourself up for not getting that Marantz 7c for $60, those KLH 9s for $120. Even compensating for inflation, terrific deals. Long gone. More recently, the late Walt Bender‘s Audiomart anticipated Audiogon by providing serial gear-buyers their fixes. Pretty much every state-of-the-art piece from the dawn of electronica through the ’90’s ran through there, often at giveaway prices.
I do have copies of Audiomart somewhere, along with ’60’s and ’70’s catalogs from mail-order audio dealers. I will likely need to refer to them for future columns, and need to locate them. Hey, it’s only been 2 1/2 years since I moved. I can’t be expected to have everything unpacked….
One fascinating catalog I do have on hand is a massive hardbound book called “Radio’s Master”—I’d guess it’s a couple thousand pages, but the pages aren’t numbered. I have the fifteenth edition, from 1950. Mine has the name of a company called Federated Purchaser on the cover and end-papers; I’ve seen other copies labeled with names of other companies. Apparently the catalog was produced by United Catalog Publishers, inc., of New York City, and used by a number of electronics wholesalers.
The first thing I do when I encounter an historical resource like this is look for the familiar favorites. From this vintage, those would include Altec—yep, there’s the 604b and the 755. Presto—look at that cool 64-A Transcription Turntable! $495 in 1950—nearly $5,200 today. HH Scott—yup. early on with a clunky logo and with awkward-looking products. Leak Point One w/ that weird umbilical preamp.
Once past the familiars, it’s always interesting to see long-dead brands that I’ve never heard of, but which apparently were once a THING. Masco? They’ve got 20 pages of audio and PA products in here. EF Johnson? Don’t they make outboard motors? Boonton Radio? 10 pages of pretty sophisticated test gear. Same thing with Precision Test Equipment—yes, that’s a brand name.
I have mixed feelings about some of the massive gear of that time, which today could be replaced these days by an iPhone app—or a much smaller device, anyway. How about this impressive/Frankensteinian o-scope from Browning? Your average $400 ‘scope has pretty much the same capabilities…minus the imposing presence, of course.
Catalogs like this are an incredible time-sink. And of course, when dealing with old books, catalogs, or any paper goods that were handled by humans and have survived through the years—you never know what fascinating, unrelated artifacts will fall out as you flip the pages. Should we call this sub-ephemera?