Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,

They Might As Well Be Edison Cylinders

Two years ago I packed up my stereo system and my hundreds and hundreds of lps and 45s and 78s and put them all in storage, along with quantities of vintage magazines and many boxes of depression-era dinnerware and appliances and a fair number of books. When I moved to my new place last June, a place with a large basement storeroom and a big pantry and a generous number of cabinets and closets, I began to empty the storage room, a few boxes at a time, and to organize my collections in my new place.

The very last boxes in the storage room contained the records and stereo system. Finally, only a few weeks ago, I set up a shelving system along a wall of my living room (thank goodness for high ceilings in older buildings) and bought one last bookcase, providing the space for it all. Now that all of this is back within my purview I plan to seriously purge, but I plan to do that at leisure, perhaps listening to many albums one last time before bidding them adieu.

The big problem here is that when I set up my stereo system it did not work. The receiver turns on and indicates that it is receiving input, but nothing comes out the speakers -- no hiss nor pops nor any sound at all. I tried various re-arrangements and I replaced the speaker wire entirely and I even replaced the speaker fuses (yes, fuses -- I just learned that this alone is archaic), but nothing worked. I no longer have headphones, for some reason, so I went out and bought a cheap pair to see if I could get sound through that jack, but it turns out that new headphones do not plug into old receivers. Are you sensing where this is going?

I bought my stereo system in the summer of 1976. A few years later I bought a nice new turntable (they had gone down dramatically in price by the early 80s), but I had to keep the 1976 model to play my 78s. (Even in 1976 a turntable that could play 78s was nonstandard.) So now I have to figure out what to do. The Fisher receiver is good quality and has served me well all these years, but I am perfectly happy to replace everything entirely (except for the turntables, both of them, which I require). I understand that you can now purchase decent speakers that are smaller than refrigerators; that would be a nice update.

To help me assess things, I went over to Best Buy to see what sorts of receivers are generally available. I was horrified to find that with only a single exception every single receiver in stock was intended to be the heart of a "home theater" system, to be used with DVD players and VCRs and television sets and multiple speakers (plus other things I didn't even recognize). This is horrifying to me for various reasons, ranging from the artistic to the sociologic to the cultural, but that's another topic and my specific issue here is that I have no interest in mixing up my television set (1980 Sony Trinitron, no remote control) with my stereo system; that would be like combining milk and meat in a kosher home.

The store did carry one basic receiver, which, according to the random helpful electronics geek I met there, was an excellent model at an excellent price. But when I turned the receiver around I did not recognize anything on the back. There was no place to attach an antenna (ok, I suspect that's because there is an internal one). There was no place to ground a turntable. More importantly, there was no place to plug a turntable jack. The electronics geek was quite helpful in many ways, but I realized I needed to do a lot more research before figuring out what to do.

By "research" I mean "call the guys on the Morris team". They live for this sort of thing. I called Matt, who explained a bit about why turntables require grounding (he even suggested that I might be able to get away with attaching the grounding wire to the body of the receiver, but that I really shouldn't try this myself) and offered various bits of advice and even told me of an electronics repair shop that would be a good place to start if I decided to see about repairing my old system. Matt began and ended the conversation with the advice that I really needed to talk with Bob R. (also on the Morris team).

Yes, actually I had planned all along to consult with Mama Bob, but asking Bob's advice on your home stereo is like asking Vladimir Horowitz to play Happy Birthday at your child's party, so I wanted to be sure I had learned everything I could first. Bob is some sort of high-level electronics engineer. So I called Bob, thinking at that point that I was definitely going to get a new system and needed to know what it would take to configure my old turntables with a new receiver. As I kept saying, over and over, I can't possibly be the only person on earth who wants to play lps.

Bob quickly asked a few cogent questions and figured out everything I was saying even in advance of my articulating it. The first thing he said, before I even had the chance to ask about configuring the old with the new, was that I didn't want to get a new receiver. He said that in 1976 the stereo companies were in a big competition with each other to produce bigger and better amps and equipment, but that's no longer the case. He assured me that it was pretty certain that what I had was much better than anything new I could buy. He then went through a few possibilities of what the problem could be (some involving corrosion).

Ok, I said, thanks, it looks like what I need to do is take this in to be repaired. Don't do that, he said, they'll just charge you money. You know, I had actually considered that possibility myself. When I pointed this out, Bob said that he should be able to fix it, or at least diagnose it; he does this all the time as part of his job. At this level? I asked. It seems that way, he said. No no, I said, I can't ask you to do for free what you do for a living, but he noted that it's not just his job, it's his hobby!

So I'm carting the darned thing over to Morris practice tonight and Bob is bringing a bunch of electronic diagnostics stuff and a couple of small speakers ("I have a few old model headphones somewhere around"). And we'll take it from there.
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