Herb Reichert: Ancient Audio – Golden Eras of Hi-Fi Page 2

Audiophiles like these typified the First Golden Era of modern hi-fi (1955-1965).

They read magazines named Audio, HiFi/Stereo Review, and Stereophile – which was founded by J. Gordon Holt in 1962 and published initially without advertising. JGH's declared editorial policy was to evaluate audio components by listening to them – a heretical idea in those days of meters and measurements. "Dammit," said Gordon, "if nobody else will report what an audio component sounds like, I'll do it myself!" Holt’s Stereophile was a staple-bound quarterly that struggled to print more than three issues per year.

Then music and audio changed instantly in 1967 when Jimi Hendrix’ album Are You Experienced?

arrived on the scene. Playboy bunnies, cocktails and starched white shirts were instantly over. Neat, clear – low-distortion – sound suddenly became ‘your father’s sound.’ Jazz and classical music were replaced by electric guitars, feedback, noise and distortion. Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, and others spliced the harsh sounds of war, social injustice and revolution into their drone and scream-filled records.

Between 1965 and 1975, I and my baby-boomer pals left our clean homes in the suburbs for pot, bad wine, and protest on college campuses. The rockers brought JBL or Cerwin-Vega speakers; while folk-and-jazz-clinger types brought AR or Advent boxes with beige grills. (I packed Dynaco A-25s). In those days, most everybody was using Japanese electronics with shiny faceplates, countless switches, and enticing luminous displays. These early solid-state receivers and integrated amps achieved commercial dominance by advertising ridiculously-low distortion specifications. Dual and Technics now dominated the turntable market. Light-tracking moving magnets dominated the phono cartridge scene. During this period the emergence of big-box stores with ads featuring massive discounts on Japanese electronics put neighborhood hi-fi dealers in retreat. From 1965 to 1975, mainstream audio hobbyists based their purchases on watts and switches-per-dollar plus reviews-that-weren’t-reviews from measurements-oriented scribes like Julian Hirsch at Stereo Review. Pay-for-play was the main game. But then…

HiFi’s Second Golden Era (1975-1985) was initiated by two radical innovations that only appealed only to the most underground audio connoisseurs.

The first of these innovations appeared in 1975 with the introduction of audio’s first mini-monitor: the 12-inch tall LS3/5a, which had been painstakingly engineered by the British Broadcasting Company as a recording monitor for use in trucks and other remote locations. Encouraged by reviews in Britain’s Hi-Fi News and Record Review, sophisticated audiophiles began placing these diminutive speakers not on bookshelves, but out into their rooms on slender open stands. Instigating a sonic revolution that had officially (but unceremoniously) begun with Spendor Audio’s BC1 three-way full-range studio monitor, introduced in 1972. While the BC1 was the first loudspeaker to get off the shelf and out into the room (on 10-inch stands), it was the much smaller Rogers LS3/5a that popularized the stand-mount mini-monitor concept.

Speaker cables were suddenly visible laying on living room floors. Now that every guest at a cocktail party could see the speaker wires, something had to be done to make that unsightly incursion acceptable: By 1977, Bob Fulton and Matthew Polk were marketing upgrades to the ubiquitous zip cord as essential audio accessories. (Monster Cable appeared in 1979.)

The stand-mounted LS3/5a took stereo descriptiveness to a new level of acuity which was enhanced even further by A.J. van den Hul’s 1977 invention of the Type-1 line-contact stylus profile. Previously, phonography was mainly handled by high-compliance low-mass moving magnet cartridges that tracked at forces of one gram or less. The superior information-retrieval of A. J’s invention spawned a re-introduction of heavier, lower-in-compliance, but most importantly, lower in moving-mass, moving coil cartridges. Moving coils with Van den Hul’s profile exposed tons of new, previously unheard information from familiar records. Most of it was spatial and ambient. Audiophiles responded enthusiastically. This new combination of fast open-sounding cartridges and small, low diffraction speakers on slender open stands generated conspicuously wide, deep and amazingly coherent s t e r e o sound-fields with shadow-like illusions of actual musicians standing between the speakers. If you were not there at the birthing, it is impossible to imagine how exciting these newly-discovered spatial illusions were.

Initially, only a small percentage of audiophiles noticed or cared about these audio-sonic phenomena. But those who did notice and care were likely subscribers to audio’s second subjective-review-based audio magazine: The Absolute Sound – founded by a man in Sea Cliff, Long Island, named Harry Pearson. “HP” as he was known to his fans wrote about high-performance audio gear with unprecedented authority and captivating intimacy.


Everclear's picture

"Glory Days" .............. Bruce Springsteen :-) .............

Everclear's picture

"Old Days" ............ Chicago :-) ................

Richard D. George's picture

Thanks for the history. In the 1980’s my first system had a McIntosh integrated amp (solid state), a B&O turntable, Advent speakers, and Kimber Kable (bare ended). I had a decent collection of vinyl albums. Loved that system...