Greener pastures

September 30, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

I think our memories tend to smooth out problems and give us a false sense of the past and its supposed greener pastures.

Often, those pastures are colored a rich green because our memories seem to leave out the pain and problems and remember only the good stuff.

I was reflecting back to the times of my parents, thinking for a moment of how uncomplicated their world was without woke cultures, social media, anger, pandemics, and computers.

And then reality hit: The Great Depression, World War II, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, The Holocaust, Korea, the Nuclear Arms Race, Cuban Missle Crisis, McCarthyism.

Kind of makes today’s pandemic, the Great Divide, and questioning truth feel more like a walk in the park.

I could go on with what my generation faced but I think the point’s well made.

Remembering how great our old HiFi systems sounded was likely more an exercise in remembering the great feelings they elicited rather than the hard truth they probably sounded far worse than what we have today.

The past might seem brighter but my guess is it’s only our incomplete memories that make it shiny.

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53 comments on “Greener pastures”

  1. Yes, I would love to have the chance to go back for a short comparison.

    I think we tend to concentrate on the in fact good single characteristics of equipment in the past, but tend to forget the rest.

  2. Firstly, you have to remember that our hearing was much better than it is today (say 40 years ago) & so audio *did* sound better.
    Personally, the fact that I didn’t experience a true 3D holographic soundstage & pinpoint imaging presentation from a/any home audio rig until the one that I owned back in 1993…& I’m talking about closing my eyes & getting a ‘true’ sense of hearing the drummer actually performing behind the other (front-line) musicians (true depth)…leads me to disagree with you Paul.
    Yes, it is human to romanticise the past, I agree with you on that point, but there are certain events that we experience, decades ago, that don’t happen again, for whatever reasons, & therefore stick in our minds as milestone events.
    Also, because I no longer smoke marijuana 🙁 , there is no more ‘smoothing over’ of anything home audio since 2015.
    Lastly, I suspect that if you spend enough money, you will be able to overcome any romantic nostalgia that you speak of here, in today’s PP.

  3. I can’t really make any grand comments by foretelling many about life experience. It goes without saying. I’m 41 years old.
    I need to play around on this dome a few more years.
    Once you hit around 60 or 70 I feel you can kinda use the expression “ well, back in my day…..” 😉

    I can say this though. The evolution of cell/smart phone technology has been interesting to watch, especially on a social and cultural level. Believe me, I don’t have a ton of nice things to say about it. Going from when I was 20 to 40 have been massive shifts in technology. That much I can say and in regards to portable/transportable audio gear that has improved tremendously.
    When I was 25 I couldn’t by DAPS or IEMS. I mean for what you can get now as an efficient hi end little travel set up is incredible and I’m really really grateful cause there was once a time I had nothing.
    Portable audio really started to take shape with DAPS and IEMS in 2014. Look at it now!! Talk about a 7 year boom. 😉

    1. You young punk, get off my lawn!
      Oh, wait. This is an apartment building. It’s the holding company’s lawn now.
      [Emily Litella font on] Never mind. [Emily Litella font off]

  4. I wholeheartedly agree with today’s post. 100%, no make that 200%.
    It’s called the disease of nostalgia a lot of us suffer from. I mentioned that several times.
    But… people are stubborn. Many will stick to their idea that the past was so much better.
    They “forget” about the disasters PmcG mentions.
    They “forget” about the (10 year !) Vietnam War (estimate 5 million dead) and that “Cuba” brought mankind on the brink of WW3. To name only a few small “incidents”.
    And audio…?
    Of course, most of today’s audio is way better than most of that of the past.
    For instance my Levinson amp is much better than the amps from the seventies, designed by (for some) holy Mark.
    That is not to say everyone will appreciate the sound of today’s amps, speakers etc. more.
    Sound and smell are connected with memories from the past. The sound and looks (!) of old gear will bring back memories and “thus” it sounds better.
    That’s just how the human mind works. Nostalgia is a very powerful feeling.
    Everything better in the “good old days” (my parents and grandparents said exactly the same thing) ?
    The only thing that WAS better is the fact that we were YOUNG. No one can argue with that.

    1. jb4,
      Bring me up to date…
      You went from your Theil’s back to your MAGNAT’s & now you have Dynaudio’s.
      (I’m assuming that your MAGNAT’s are back in storage)
      What model Dyn’s are you listening through & how are you finding them?

      1. Fat Rat,
        I did not use the Thiel speakers anymore for almost a year and listened during this time to my old (1986) Magnat speakers.
        Some 4 months ago I had the opportunity to sell the Thiel speakers. And although I could have lived happily ever after with Magnat, I wanted new speakers, without scratches and dents and, above all, smaller.
        And since I always loved the Dynaudio sound, a few months ago I bought compact speakers from this brand, the Heritage special to be precise. Small speakers with high end sound (whatever that may be).
        Perfect speakers for what i want right now in my life. I’m done with big monsters in my room.
        The sound ? If I were PmcG I would say : out of this world, the best i ever heard, WOW, amazing…
        But I am not PmcG, so I say : exactly what i like. Very transparent, neutral, open, more than enough bass, silky smooth highs with the (for my ears) best sounding tweeter in the world.
        The Magnats are now back to the attic. humming a little tune
        “We”ll be your substitute
        Whenever you want us, ooh!
        Don’t you know we’ll be your substitute
        Whenever you need us, ooh!”

  5. The timing of this topic is great. This past weekend I dusted off some old gear including my nostalgic EV speakers from college. My buddies and I thought they were amazing back in the day. Now, they are downright painful. When you crank them up, the mid-range is like a firehose in the face. The snare drum broke my nose. The bass drum sounds like hitting a phone book with a baseball bat. The treble is like brushing your hair with barbed wire. Is this what reviewers mean by “engaging”?

    1. B-O-B you nailed what everyone else misses: “.. my buddies and I thought they were amazing” and that is all that matters.

      Do we feel MORE “amazed” with our more accurate gear?

      My father’s Lowthet horns Leak valve amps raised the roof on those full blooded classics, Tchaikovsky, Richard Strauss and their ilk.
      It got me into the Classics.
      I doubt Paiul’s father with such a system enjoyed it any less than his modern system.

  6. There is no question in my mind that as bad as the past was, it pales in comparison to what’s going on in today’s world. I’m not sure how you can make this comparison of all of the past horrors in our world to today’s horrors. All of today’s horrors are happening at the same time and growing worse by the day. We are on the brink of extinction because of climate change and anyone who wants to stick their head in the sand will wind up with her ass burned. Evil in our own country is at an all time high because the crazies have come out from under their rocks. Most people don’t know who their neighbors really are anymore and shouldn’t speak in front of them or face possible reprisals. I’m sure you get my point, agree with me or not. I don’t think you made the proper comparison to audio in this post.

        1. I remember the greener pastures of ASCII character codes… Before emojis as we know them now were invented.
          Hold the ALT key down & key in the number… Special character right there.
          ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)
          Shame that won’t work with the sound system

  7. I’m fascinated by this comparison.

    Just compare the progress in television in the last 30 years compared to HiFi. I am talking about what the average household are using. 40″+ TV’s with HD are amazing and common.

    At the same time ‘real’ HiFi has almost disappeared, particularly with the younger consumers. When I tell people about my audio gear they are just not interested. The only way I connect with anyone these days is if they are selling something I might be interested in buying.

    Such a shame – they are missing so much!

    1. I remember chomping at the bits to go to a friend’s house and watch Hogan’s Heros broadcast in color on his new color television set in the late 1960s. The broadcast quality in those days was poor and the color hues were unnatural on most color TVs. Today watching Hogan’s Heros on MeTV is visually very different from the crude presentation in the past. The photography of the original film is sharp and clear when broadcast in HD and viewed on modern televisions. In fact, it is hard to believe the production quality was so high. Scenes were filmed with well-composed shots, artistic lighting and good coloration, something I appreciate compared to the inferior cinematic quality of shows like The Beverly Hillbillies, Barnaby Jones and the like.

      1. Correct spelling is “Hogan’s Heroes” with an “e”. For those of you who never heard of MeTV, it is one of those channels that shows television programs from yesteryear, like Perry Mason, MASH, Monk, Columbo, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Green Acres, Happy Days, Gunsmoke, The Andy Griffith Show, The Rifleman, Wagon Train, The Carol Burnett Show, etc. Now they are showing abbreviated versions of The Ed Sullivan Show. It is amazing what passed for entertainment in the early years of television.

  8. Paul is making a case on the basis of a false equivalency. Looking at events in the past is not the same as comparing today’s audio gear with that of the past.

    Events rely on memories, gear can be at hand, experienced in real time. I still have the Dynaco Stereo 70 I built in 1978. It still holds its own quite well on sound quality, even against some of PS Audio’s own current offerings. I have done the direct comparison with folks from my audio club.

    The Dynaco is an icon, and I don’t know how many other designs would qualify. I know the Quad 405 amplifier also does. I still have mine from 1977 running strong against today’s competition.

    Fortunately, we don’t have to rely on memories to remember that, at least in some cases, the sound of superbly engineered audio gear from a bygone era can equal the performance of many modern designs.

    Old grass can be greener, or at least just as green, as the grass of today. Perhaps that is not true of PSA designs past and present, but I would bet there are examples, other than the ones I mentioned, that can make a strong case.

  9. Dear Paul,

    I know you mean well, but I think this is one of your least well-considered posts in a long time.

    1) I feel you are making the classic and ubiquitous mistake of attributing your personal, subjective view to people generally. What is the objective, evidentiary basis for your thesis that “our memories tend to smooth out problems and give us a false sense of the past”? Just because this might be your personal opinion, why are you assuming most people feel this way?

    2) It is more mere personal, subjective opinion that you think current events are less problematic than current events were post World War II. I disagree.

    The growing wave of censorship, Orwellian doublethink, history revision, identity politics and the undermining of the values of individual liberty upon which the United States was philosophically founded make me more concerned for the future of America than I have ever been before in my life.

    In typically Boomer fashion just because you happen to have an opinion you automatically think your point was “well-made.”

    3) I agree with psalvet’s analytically correct criticism that you are “making a case on the basis of a false equivalency. Looking at events in the past is not the same as comparing today’s audio gear with that of the past.”

    4) Even your assumption embedded in your specific audio point today is not a matter of fact. Many simpler and modest audio systems of decades past using sensitive speakers made of cones or horns or both in medium-sized wood boxes with some internal bracing driven by low-powered tube amplifiers and fronted with record players are more musically engaging and emotionally satisfying than many of today’s heroically-inert box speakers fabricated of exotic materials and driven by high-power, technologically-advanced amplifiers and fronted by a stack of computer electronics outputting digital audio.

    This is not an academic point of memory. One can compare today an example of the former vintage types of systems with an example of the latter advanced types of systems, and decide for oneself which system sounds more musically engaging and emotionally connecting.

  10. There have been horrible things in the past and my guess is there will be horrible things in the future. The number of people who have died from Covid in the US is now equal to the number of people who died in the US from the Spanish Flu in 1918-19. There were, however, five times fewer people on the planet in 1918 than there are today. Thus the death rate was five times higher. There was no flu vaccine and little to no understanding.

    Here from a website called Grunge are some snippets that will really depress you if you aren’t already depressed.

    1. “There were, however, five times fewer people on the planet in 1918 than there are today. Thus the death rate was five times higher”.
      Correct, always good to put things into perspective.
      But you’re right, medical treatment was poor.
      Talking about numbers, worldwide the number of people who died from the Spanish flu was so high, that
      compared to that Covid numbers are still low.
      On the bright side : people became immune and the virus died out by itself.
      Can happen with Covid. If not, enjoy the time you have left on this planet.

      1. jb4, What is so sad is with modern knowledge and abilities we could seriously contain Covid and perhaps eradicate it, but instead of doing that we are not only fighting the virus we are fight ourselves. We have met the enemy and the enemy is us.

  11. Paul, I believe your statement is correct! Proof in point. Human being population should be greatly reduced onthis planet. If women could really remember what they went thru in child birth, they wouldn’t have more than one!

  12. “Nostalgia is history removed of the burdensome weight of reality”
    Very nice, nailed it.
    A wise man once wrote : “nostalgia is a symptom of our age, a yearning for a different time—the time of our childhood”.

    I personally feel that in the past people were honestly and truly nostalgic, but alas, “nostalgia isn’t what it used to be”…

    1. I love the quote. It is incredibly poetic and true, for many things. However, for the reasons mentioned above, not for audio gear. Applying learnings from some areas to another area can be folly. Failing to understand even the most obvious of differences is one reason mankind continues to make mistakes on a massive scale.

      PSA is in the business of marketing new gear on the basis of innovation and the almost cult promotion of brilliant designers. It would be suicidal for Paul to argue that vintage gear, including vintage topographies, can sound as good or better than current designs.

      Witness the return, and the success, of RtoR DACs, or the continued popularity of the Decware Zen tube amp, an incredibly simple and old design that is universally praised as among the most musical amps ever made. Producing 2.3 watts a channel, it easily equals if not bests in musicality PSAs and many other high end company offerings when using sensitive speakers.

      Which are, of course, the key. Unfortunately, simple designs made possible by sensitive speakers is not the trend today. I can’t blame the industry. That’s how growth happens, despite claims to the contrary owners get wealthy and, most importantly, jobs get created.

      We can, however, be discerning. The very wealthy can support the economy while the rest of us can enjoy the musicality of deserving vintage gear.

  13. While the quality of music reproduction technology has improved greatly over the past 50 years, the essence of enjoyment has diminished. I associate this feeling to the loss of communal enjoyment of music.

    Nothing will ever replace a live performance with friends. But 50 years ago we also shared listening with family and friends to live broadcasts and new releases of records.

    Today, we all live in our personal bubbles, listening on our personal audio systems, and rarely share the music enjoyment experience.

    That I miss.

  14. Even Archie and Edith Bunker in the 70s reminisced “Gee our old La Salle ran great” as Edith played on that old out-of-tune piano. Were La Salles really that great?

    I grew up in a large family in the 50s. My memories are not so wonderful: waiting my turn to use the single bathroom, horrible television reception, lots of canned pinto beans and cornbread washed down with powdered milk, looking forward to Halloween trick-or-treating for the once-a-year free candy, walking to school on icy cold mornings, mean teachers hitting students with paddles, forced church attendance, monophonic record player and no money to buy records. Then my memories of the 70s: poor college student with part-time jobs, living in a dilapidated cooperative living organization, studying 24/7, vulnerable to army draft (lottery number 71, based on birth month and day), no fun because everything cost money. In the late 70s and 80s, still poor, working my butt off 60 hours per week making my bosses rich, wondering how to afford my first car, then standing in a gas rationing line on odd numbered days during the Oil Embargo, appalled at the spiraling cost of everything from housing to haircuts, watching the news to see what the latest economic “Misery Index” reading was. The 90s, watching the rich get richer in the stock market ponzi scheme that wiped out many ordinary investors, when the bubble burst, starting with Enron, in year 2000. The turn of the century: more of the same challenges, with a big stock market crash in 2008-9. Today I no longer serve teachers and bosses, I am better off financially, can afford haircuts (but still cut it myself), have my own bathroom, much better television reception, live in a year-round warm climate, not at risk for being drafted, can drink whole milk and have virtually any food or candy I want (and die of clogged arteries or diabetes), and have stereophonic sound with CDs–what more could I want? A less risky stock market would help. Do I want to go back in time? No thank you.

  15. Same as it ever was, same as it ever was, same as it ever was,
    Same as it ever was, same as it ever was, same as it ever was,
    Same as it ever was, same as it … ever … was.

    –Talking Heads plus Brian Eno (1980)

  16. I still have my first audio system which I bought on eBay because I missed it. Technics SA-500 receiver, Technics SL-B2 belt driven turntable, EPI 180 speakers. So I don’t have to remember anything. I just play it and it sounds as great today as I remember it sounded 42 years ago. The reason is I picked out a great system with the help of my audiophile/engineer neighbors and my system blew away most anything I heard back then. The music blooms beautifully and each instrument hangs in space and speakers disappear. Zero coloration. It took me 35 years to find anything close to that system. My modern system does some things better but not everything, but it definitely looks better.

  17. Here’s one of my favourites.

    “The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true.”

    ― James Branch Cabell, The Silver Stallion

      1. Now that’s an interesting observation, Joseph. Do you truly believe that?

        Seems to me when presented with a myriad of facts one is forced to focus on some while paying less attention to others. This is what I think the crux of it is, not one way is right and the other wrong.

        I work with a lot of different people. The ones I am most closely connected with are optimists in that when presented with a problem they focus more on the yes than the no. They are neither ignorant of the nos are stupid of the problems.

        It’s about focus. Do we focus on a positive outcome and deal with the problems as they arise? Or, do we focus first on the problems and hope the outcome will be positive?

        Same facts, same intelligence, just a different perspective.

        1. Paul, I was merely reacting to the phrase “we live in the best of all possible worlds.” You and I both know that is not true. If it was “the best of all possible worlds” everyone would get vaccinated and we could beat this COVID thing, there would be no poverty, no hunger, no homelessness. Those who think everything is hunky dory sometimes overlook what is wrong that needs to be fixed.

          I am an optimist. I have been so in my professional career, motivating teams to navigate through and overcome what many thought were impossible challenges. But I am also a realist. We sometimes have to temper the optimism of ourselves and others if it is going down the wrong path. Optimism is admirable, but with a healthy dose of realism.

          Hope that clarifies.

          1. Further clarification: By “the optimist” I was talking about the optimist who said “we live in the best of all possible worlds”…not meaning all optimists, of which I am one.

  18. Hey Paul, Great response. The point as you mentioned is, which direction do you choose to focus upon. There isnt a time in which you can find all positive or all negative in the world. After working in a high stress management position in the medical industry and adapting my way of thinking toward fixing or addressing errors or meeting lofty production goals with less than the number of staff needed to get the job done, I now recognize how my thinking has been trained or directed. After a somewhat recent retirement from the workplace, I now am striving to re-direct my immediate way of thinking from finding fault and fixing issues to a more positive way of thinking.
    Its a struggle to re-direct your thought processes, but one which I prefer to change for a more positive outlook on life and what IS going right in my life.
    Thanks for voicing your point of views on this forum.

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