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September 2014
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Audio Perfection
Roger Skoff muses on hi-fi since the "good old days".
Article By Roger Skoff


Bozak  When I was ten or eleven years old, my parents had a Silvertone "Home Music Center" a floor-standing piece of furniture, in probably a "cherry wood" finish, that included both an AM radio (no FM, yet) and some kind of a record changer and to hear music, all you had to do was to open the top and turn on KFAC (1330 kHz for classical) or KHJ (930 kHz) or KMPC (710 kHz) for other music, news, sports, and all of the great radio comedy, drama, and variety shows of the time. Or, if you just wanted to play your own music, you could put a stack of records on the changer (If I remember correctly, it was a four speed [Wow, hot stuff!] that played 16.66, 33.3, 45, and 78 rpm; every recording speed available) and sit back (or dance around or even sing along, if you were young and "with it") for as much as a couple of hours with nothing else to do but enjoy yourself.

It was mono, of course this was way before stereo and the sound was undoubtedly quite awful, even though it had a 12-inch "full range" speaker, but it was what we had, and I loved it... until that fateful evening at Emmons Audio when, at the tender age of twelve, I was first exposed to hi-fi and changed forever. After hearing what music could really sound like and, for the first time ever, having heard real bass (a pipe organ, no less; on a Bozak B310!!!), my poor Silvertone forever lost its glory and became, instead, a daily reminder of the wonders I had once heard but could never hear again. Well, not exactly never; I could try to modify the Silvertone to make it at least a little better, and that was exactly what I did.

Bozak B310When my parents tired of the Silvertone, preferring, instead, the joys of television (Jackie Gleason, Ed Sullivan, Jack Paar, Liberace, and even Korla Pandit, each at one time or another capturing their attention) it was passed on to me and I commenced my program of (at first enthusiastic but completely untutored and begged, "borrowed", or scrounged you know how kids never have any money) DIY improvements.

The very first thing to be done was to add a tweeter: A simple CalRad unit, which cost just a couple of bucks at Valley Electronic Supply, and may have been (sorry, but I really don't remember) piezoelectric. The tweeter probably made a pretty big difference, but with the phono cartridge also being piezoelectric ("crystal" cartridges were near-ubiquitous in those days because of their really high output [sometimes as much as two volts] allowed for really cheap, low-gain amplification), and with AM radio's  effective top-end limitation to only about 4 kHz, it was hard to tell.

So the next step was a Heathkit FM tuner kit to build (you could buy many of the kit brands already built, but the kit was always cheaper) and plug into the Silvertone's "AUX" jack. Having FM's spectacular 15 kHz highs was nice, but it just made the crystal phono cartridge sound even worse by comparison, which meant that the next step had to be to score a (used) Garrard changer and fit it with a (then, the hot setup) GE "variable reluctance" cartridge which, because of its relatively tiny output (as compared to a crystal or ceramic cartridge) meant that I had to buy a Fisher one-tube pre-amplifier ($13!) to bring it up to a level usable by the Silvertone.

That was a definite improvement, but the better highs I was then getting from both the radio and the record-player just made it more obvious that, even though the speaker was large, its bass (probably because of, among other things, the flimsy and open peg-board back on the Silvertone's cabinet, was definitely not thrilling. I imagined that a bass boost might help, but the Silvertone's amplifier had no tone controls, so I went for the next best thing, and replaced its volume control pot with a Fletcher-Munson compensated "loudness control" from Switchcraft which, if you set the compensation up and the volume down did add some bass.

Eico HF-20It still wasn't enough, though (especially after I had heard that organ on that Bozak speaker) so, in order both to be able to play louder and to get some real tone controls, my next project was (I was working after school by that point, so I was able, by saving and pinching pennies, to start really feeding the hi-fi monkey on my back) to buy and build an Eico HF-20 integrated amplifier kit.

As I had by then learned was customary, the improvement from that, and each subsequent improvement thereafter, only made the need for more improvements easier to see, and I started on the long and apparently endless road of adding more and more improvements and goodies not to make my growing System perfect, but just in hopes of getting rid of its obvious flaws.

After the amplifier came, over time, a new Rek-O-Kut turntable and arm to replace the changer; a new real-live-honest-to-goodness Bozak speaker of my own (a B-302, but still, a Bozak!!!), a tape recorder, (actually a series of tape recorders) and finally, the conversion to stereo, so I could double everything (if not identically, at least to the degree that I could afford it) and start the whole thing all over again!

There's an old story about a farmer who, when he was accused of being obsessed with adding more land to his holdings, supposedly said "I ain't greedy; I just want what joins mine! That's, I think, how it is with Hi-Fi Crazies: We're not looking for perfection; we know perfectly well that that's a fool's errand, and can never be achieved, no matter how much time, effort, intelligence and money we pour into the quest,  but we DO want to solve the problem at hand whatever it may be.

And that's where that whole approach falls apart: The fact of it is that hi-fi is not just an "on or off", "got it right or got it wrong" function. Instead, it's got a multiplicity (let's call it an "alphabet") of characteristics that, all together, make up the listening experience, and, two rules always apply: The first is that no matter how good your system is, if you listen to it long enough, you'll eventually notice something ("Thing L") that's not quite up to the standard set by the rest of the alphabet, and the second is that, once you've got that fixed (IF you get it fixed), something perhaps just the fact that the problem with Thing L is no longer there to mask it will cause you to notice that some other letter of the alphabet isn't quite up to snuff.

It works like this: You're sitting and listening to your System and just below the level of consciousness you notice that something's not quite right, but it's minor, and you're not sure what it could be, and, besides, the System really does sound great, and, whatever it is, who cares? That continues for an hour or a day or a week or some time, and you finally notice that there is a problem, and that it's Thing L. Satisfied that you've finally isolated the problem, you dismiss it as trivial -- after all, if it took you that long just to figure out was it was, how bad can it be? Having resolved that, you relax and go on listening and as you do, no matter how long it takes, that "minor" problem with Thing L eventually becomes the only thing you hear when your hear your System. Finally, it gets to the point where you can't stand it any longer and you break down and take the time or spend the money to fix it perhaps by making an adjustment or by  buying a new component that gives you a really terriffic Thing L, and all is well with the world and your System until, "little by little, a little later" (Thank you Ken Nordine) you notice a slight  not really noticeable, in fact really quite trivial; not actually a problem, at all something about Thing B, and it's off to the races, all over again.

Did you ever get to the point where you long for those good old days when a "Hi-Fi" console maybe even a Silvertone was sufficient? When it was the music and not the sound that mattered? When, with no concern at all for perfection or for alphabets and audiophilia, you could just relax and...

Enjoy the music?














































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