What’s wine got to do with us? As is often the case in the notoriously-fluid English language, the word “vintage” has morphed from a noun— meaning the year in which grapes are harvested and wine is produced from them— to an adjective with a broader meaning. “Vintage” in mainstream usage refers to items of high quality or excellent design, from an earlier period.
Confusion comes from trying to define the term from the perspective of different folks: “vintage” clothing to a 20-year-old may mean skinny ties, hip-huggers, and fringed leather boots. A 70-year-old might view such things as “the stuff in the back of my closet”.
Audiophiles and audiophools are by nature contentious, and few things will cause flame-wars —the sedentary-audiophile equivalent of bar fights— to erupt, like the topic of vintage audio.To look at craigslist, you’d think that a $199 GPX rack system from 1993 was “vintage audio”. To a 19-year-old, used to soundbars and Bluetooth speakers, that rack system may seem, umm, awesome and bitchin’. To a (cough) 60-year-old who has spent much of his wasted life carting around massive, dusty amplifiers and speakers that take up more living-room real estate than his couch—well, that rack system would just be…crap.
Who’s right? Maybe both. Our expectations are formed by our experiences, and to the 19-year-old, raised in the era of lightweight injection-molded products, that forty pound rack might seem both hefty and bulletproof. To the elder gent, having played Indiana Jones in old movie houses and carted off Western Electric gear by the half-ton….it’s crap.
Everyone has certain hot-buttons, things that trigger memories and wistful associations of another time, and those nostalgic longings are tied to the era of upbringing. Our 19-year-old may get verklempt at the sight of Magic: The Gathering cards and a Mazda RX-8; for our 60 year-old, it may be Pong and a ’68 Road Runner with a 440 Six Pack.
Realistically, it’s more likely that “Hey 19” will go for the Road Runner, beep-beep horn and all, than “60 is the New 40” will find the RX-8 irresistible. The ‘Runner is big and brash and noisy, totally unlikely Mom and Dad’s Altima. Old dude may not even fit in the Mazda, and find its charms elusive.
Applying that same logic to the audio world, Millenials/GenZs/whatEVer may well find the heft and industrial chic of ’50’s-’70’s audio gear alien and irresistible. AARP-ers are unlikely to find most gear from the ’90’s captivating. That’s our theory, and we’re sticking to it.
In weeks and months to come, we’ll look at products from the past and the companies that made them. We’ll focus on the period from the end of World War II to, oh, the late ’70’s. Our subjects will largely be American, but side-trips to Europe and Asia can be expected.
There WILL be history, biography, engineering, and economics involved. There will NOT be a test. We hope to show that the past is prologue, and by knowing more about the products of the past, we can better appreciate those of the present day.
Or…we may end up thinking the new stuff is all crap. We’ll see.
Bill Leebens has bought and sold vintage gear since the days when it was new. He regrets that a goodly number of classic American components now reside in Japan, because of him. Mea culpa.