Vintage Business #8: Your New Stereo

To you youngsters out there reading this - here's a history lesson.  The retail experience was very, very different than it is today. Not necessarily better, just different.  Let's compare and contrast, shall we? We'll use buying a stereo as an example.


You walk into your electronics super center, and without much thought, pick out a stereo.  The super center employees are no help whatsoever - they're minimum wage workers, with no training and non-commission, so their incentive to learn the products is absolute zero.  The stereo is made in China, will last a couple years then inexplicably stop working.  Meanwhile, you're still paying for it on your high interest credit card.

A grim description, I know. But it's fairly accurate nonetheless.

In the early 1970s

The stereo store was generally a locally owned small business, and the guys working there were pretty knowledgable in their products.  They were commision salesmen, so they were akin to used car salesmen in trapping you into the most expensive items.


Stereos back then were insanely expensive, so a lot of thought was put into the purchase beforehand.  Plus, they were built to last.  My dad had the same stereo for easily twenty years before retiring it to the attic, and it probably still works fine.

And, of course, the stereo itself was dramatically different.  Today, they're a tenth the size, and usually reserved for your TV's surround sound - not playing records. Yes, they were once the focal point of the living room - pop's pride and joy.  Buying your new hi-fi wasn't all that different than purchasing your new car.

Indeed, fiddling with dad's stereo was playing with fire. Accidentally blowing out the speakers would land you in some deep shit... not that that ever happened to me or anything. I'm just stayin'.

1971 Decor


  1. Ooooh. My dad's stereo had a HUGE volume knob that I was always hypnotized into touching even though I knew it would have cost me my hand. You're right, it was his pride and joy. He would always watch Austin City Limits back when they had TV simulcast through the FM stereo.

  2. Ooooh. My dad's stereo had a HUGE volume knob that I was always hypnotized into touching even though I knew it would have cost me my hand. You're right, it was his pride and joy. He would always watch Austin City Limits back when they had TV simulcast through the FM stereo.

  3. Whoa, the invasion of the giant turntable! Pretty amazing that someone used that photo in anything.

  4. I didn't even know there was such a thing as buying stereos in a store anymore.

    Although - turntables/vinyl record albums have made a come back.

    Everyone I know has an ipod. Not me though. I have some stereo equipment from the early 70s/mid 80s.

  5. Oh Man that turntable is great! Like it's saying to the reel-to-reel "MMMmm old technology gonna eat you up! Nom Nom Nom!"

    I loved my Lafayette stereo. It hummed and it buzzed and it cranked!

  6. Even in the early 90's, stores like Montgomery Wards & Sears had pretty decent stereo departments, with lots of components to choose from. Best Buy is a shadow of what it once was back in 1992 so far as stereo equipment goes. My town is bigger than it was 20 years ago, but there are fewer places to buy stereo components. Good luck finding anyone at the stores now that knows what an integrated amplifier or phono pre-amp is.

  7. I remember the first stereo purchase I made as a teenager, bought a Sharp component stereo with a linear tracking turntable at the close out sale at Crazy Eddies, off Fordham Rd in the Bronx, right before they imploded entirely. Sounded great for the price, under $100. Historically though, it was priceless.

  8. They were built to last. You can go to an old person's house and they will still have a functioning radio/record player. The stereos today look like robots and space ships.

  9. Now this is my kinda topic! There are so many comments I can make here.

    Back then, even if a person had a part-time summer job in an electronics store, he would learn about the stuff and become pretty knowledgeable. Today, someone can work at Bust Buy for two years and not care enough to know anything.

    My Dad is still using the stereo I bought in 1985 in his shop with all the heat, cold, and sawdust. I bought an even better one in 1987.

    Stereos were awesome! The sound quality of so much music today is so sub-par. The producers don't expect anyone to have decent speakers so they only make the music loud, not dynamic.

    There used to be sound-proof rooms of speakers. You would go into the room and switch between the different speakers to see which best suited your type of music. Sometimes they even had an easy chair or overstuffed sofa in there encouraging you to take your time.

    Yeah, I got blasted for messing with my dad's stereo a couple times. In fact twice. After that I didn't want to face the pain again, so I was able to resist.


  10. Some Best Buys are called Magnolia and they have a more elite section of equipment, even closed-off rooms with seating. We bought our poor lightning-stuck Pioneer Elite plasma there. (It's coming home from the TV hospital next week!) We have a place nearby called Stereoland, which is where we got our Marantz AV receiver and MartinLogan speakers. They're small and still care enough to move speakers around the store while we tried out various brands/models.

    I have my brother's old Marantz 1060 integrated amp down on my workbench right now. He retired it many years ago. I made a point of inheriting it after he died last year. It still works like a champ, except the power switch is worn out, so it doesn't stay pushed in. I took the switch apart and had it working 75% of the time. Naturally, after I put it back in and buttoned everything up, it stopped working again. :) Arg!

    Wish I had an old Teac real-to-real and a tuner to go with it.

  11. My dad had an early-60s reel-to-reel tape recorder, the size of a huge TV set, and made of steel...You dropped that puppy on your toes? Your new nickname was "Hobbly!"

    Lasted for years and years. I snagged it in the early 80s, and made all sorts of oddball recordings on it, using it's 3-speed (!) recording settings, and full stereo double mike recording ability! Wow!

    Al Bigley

  12. We purchased our stereo system at Del Padre's on Worthington Street in Springfield Mass in the fall of 1970. It was last year's model at the time. The original price was $259, but we got it for $159. I still have the original receipt for it and the booklet. The stereo looks and sounds great. I would never part with it. It's like a part of the family I knew and loved from my past.

  13. My husband sent me the link to this site. Here in Connecticut, my husband and his partner who've been restoring vintage hi-fi for quite a few years now have ventured into a opening a non-profit. The non-profit is the Vintage Hi-Fi Museum in West Hartford CT, We would love to include a link on our website to your site here. The Vintage Hi-Fi Museum: