I grew up in a small village in Germany, and I think pretty much the only music my parents subjected themselves to in their early years were the local church choir – my mum was an active and enthusiastic singer – and the church’s brass choir – my dad played the trumpet. My mum used to sing hymns occasionally while doing the housework when she was in a good mood. This sounds bad, and doesn’t give an accurate picture of my parents. Especially my mom was actually a very forward thinking woman and extremely liberal in her political views – just musically ultra conservative, I guess.
One day my dad brought home a cheap TT – not for music, but my mum wanted to play records with kid’s stories – fairy tales and the like – for my brother and I. The LP he brought home with it was Little Red Riding Hood. I remember my parents hooking the thing up, and us being full of anticipation, but it didn’t work. So the next day my dad took the turn table back to the store, and brought home another one – not only the same model, but with the same fault as well.
This experience ended my family’s involvement with TTs and vinyl, because the following day my dad brought home a cassette player – one of those cheap mono devices that were ubiquitous in the 70s. It was tapes from then on. Pretty soon my dad also had a mono radio installed in the car – a little Fiat 127 – with a single speaker right in the middle of the dashboard. He still likes to tell the story how he cleverly managed to get my mom to approve of that purchase by extolling the virtues of being able to play those fairy tale tapes to keep the kids quiet in the car. That of course necessitated a radio with cassette player, but my mum saw no sense in making it stereo – my dad’s holy grail! The music he listened to on it when we were not in the car was German Volksmusik – the stuff commonly associated with the Oktoberfest. We spend several Sunday afternoons copying records onto tape at my uncle’s place, who did own a TT and a sizable collection of vinyl by our standards. His favorites were military marches, but thankfully my dad didn’t go for that.
Under the grid in the bottom right corner of the picture is the single speaker for my dad’s car mono car radio cassette player. Also note the wrist watch attached to the dash board! As an aside, the bridge coming up at the horizon is Fehmarn Sound bridge.
Volksmusik is what all the neighbors around my dad’s place used to listen to all through my youth, and I know from my brother that they still do. You can’t step out of the house in summer without hearing it. I’ve always hated the stuff with a vengeance. Later, when we got a TV, my brother and I used to grab the TV guide that came with the local newspaper and blacken out all Volksmusik shows with a marker before my dad could get to it. My dad used to complain a lot about the kids drawing in the TV guide, but he never really clued on to the fact that the completely blackened out sections were the ones when his beloved Volksmusik shows were running on one channel, while a kid’s program was on the other – there were only two channels at the time.
Together with my brother I grudgingly joined the church’s brass choir when my mum insisted. Since I hated the music we played, I never acquired any skill with the trumpet, and my brother was just as bad. As time went on, we had to do more and ‘fake playing’; that is just holding the trumpet to our lips and make finger movements as convincing as possible so that people wouldn’t notice we did not and could not play. I have to give my brother credit for having the good sense of putting his foot down with my mom, and insist that we were allowed to quit before we were found out. It is still a miracle to me that nobody ever noticed our faking in a brass choir of less than a dozen people! As an aside, the religious conservatives in that choir were deeply convinced that any music involving drums was the work of the devil, and there is no way any type of percussion instrument would have ever been tolerated in church. Of course you can’t imagine Volksmusik without big drums, but most people into that stuff spend Sunday morning in the pub instead of the church.
One of my dad’s friends must have been a total revolutionary, because apparently in their youth when he was at home he used to play some jazzier tunes on the church choir’s trumpet in the Louis Armstrong style. My dad still talks about that with admiration, but I gather it was eschewed by most. The advent of pop music and rock & roll a la Elvis Presley, Beatles etc. etc. went largely unnoticed in my village, or was seen as a weird thing happening in a different world.
It took me until I was 18 and acquired the freedom of a driver’s license to have friends outside of my village and discover pop music. One of my two best friends helped out in an audio store, and used to bring home stacks of CDs every week, which had just made it onto the scene. CDs were initially fairly cheap in Germany – about DM10 a piece for new releases. I guess this was to promote the new medium. Prices gradually went up to about DM30. Anyhow, we used to sit most nights of the week at my friends place, talk about stuff that teenagers talk about, and listen to new CDs. Interestingly, that friend never had a TT or any vinyl, but he diligently copied CDs onto tape. He had two tape decks running 24×7 for years to keep up with demand, and he sold the necessary cassettes – mostly Maxell XLII 90s. He must have made a small profit that way. A cassette used to cost DM6, and a lot of the money I had at the time went that way. I still have all of those tapes – about 200 of them.
The first ones were of Jennifer Rush, Tina Turner and The Dire Straits. My mum didn’t mind the stuff, but my dad loved it – especially Jennifer Rush! Immediately he got his own tapes of her music, and played them in his car for years, long after Jennifer had gone out of fashion even in Germany. I think it made him feel very progressive.
My mom always listened to the radio a lot, and she always had it set to the station with pop music rather than the one with Volksmusik, joining my brother’s and my disapproval of that genre. She was mostly interested in talk radio though, which was interspersed with the music. I guess the pop channel had most of what she liked, and she had to put up with the music. The only tapes or CDs she ever owned were Reinhard Mey – German songs with very clever humorous and political lyrics.
My room at home was so small that I mostly used it for sleeping, and saw little point in setting up a stereo system in there. What I spend heavily on was my car stereo system. I started with a little Panasonic radio/cassette player, and a nice set of McAudio speakers, but kept upgrading and went via several nice Alpine radio/cassette players until I ended up with a fabulous all McAudio system including some of their biggest speakers, a huge amp, and a 6-CD changer in the trunk of my little Fiat Uno. When my grandparents, who lived in the same house with us passed away, I got a bigger room, and I spend DM2000 – a huge sum for a teenager at the time – on a Denon receiver DRA-425, CD player DCD-810, and tape deck DR-M12HR. They were all matching chrome with mahogany side pieces! After having been stored for some years, my dad started using the system again in December 2008, and has it hooked up to a satellite receiver and flat screen TV for a nice 2-channel home theater setup.
Already firm in the belief that speakers are usually the weakest link in the chain, and therefore investment in that area brings the greatest gain in terms of sound, I spend another DM1000 on a pair of ATL HD304s bookshelf speakers in matching mahogany wood. They are virtually unknown in the US, but ATL are speakers are legendary in Germany. I still own this pair, and they leave my Paradigm Atoms for dead!
I was 28 when I met my wife, a New Zealander, and she introduced me to classical music. Her mom was an accomplished piano player and a huge classic fan, who used to take her kids to concerts even when they were babies. My wife is a chemistry professor now, but studied classical music as well as chemistry. I have been told from friends of her’s who are professional musicians that she was easily skilled enough on the violin to have chosen that career path instead. Unfortunately her current job leaves her no time to play the violin, and in the 12 years I know her, I have only heard her play a handful of times. She listens to classic all the time though, and owns about 200 CDs with classical music.
Over the years we have lived in many different places, moving from Europe to the USA, to Australia, and back to the USA. Since Europe and Australia are on 240V while the USA is on 120V, we did not consider taking electric appliances with us worth the hassle, and I abandoned my trusty Denon stereo system in Germany. During our first stay in the USA in Colorado, as well as during our time in Australia we made do with cheap compact stereo system with detachable speakers, buying used and selling them when we left for about the same as we payed. However, as soon as we settled down in Ohio and had bought a house in 2003, I decided to fill the place with sound. I believe at the time I got most of my advice from the Audiogon forums, and one of my best friends in Germany had long had a large Nakamichi system, and had always talked very highly of NAD gear.
Simplistic design and a legendary sound make the The NAD 3020 integrated amplifier a true classic. Not one of my cheaper pieces of gear, because I had to have the electronics restored. In the photo with matching NAD 4020A tuner.
The plan was to have a home theater (HT) system in the living room, a main 2 channel stereo system in the family room, and cheaper 2 channel stereo systems in the bedroom and by my computer. For the HT system I acquired a 5.1 channel Dolby Surround Nakamichi AV-500 audio video receiver and a Toshiba SD-4800 DVD player. At the time, the Nakamichi AV-500 had an excellent reputation as a very musical AV receiver, which also did very well in 2 channel stereo operation. It lacks digital or optical inputs, but the Toshiba SD-4800 supports it perfectly with analog 5.1 channel outputs. I really did not know any of the speaker brands that were popular in the USA, but had heard great things about Paradigm from a friend in Australia. For the HT system, I chose pair of Paradigm Atoms, a Paradigm PDR-8 subwoofer, and a relatively low cost set of Sony center channel and rear surround speakers. For the family room I got a classic setup of NAD 3020 integrated amplifier, a NAD 4020A tuner, Nakamichi 482 tape deck and Paradigm 11se MkII speakers. The bedroom got a Nakamichi TA-2A receiver, Nakamichi CR-3A tape deck, my trusty pair of ATL HD-304s speakers from Germany, and a cheap all-zone DVD player, which would allow us to watch DVDs from the US, Germany, and New Zealand, as well as listening to CDs. For the computer I bought a Nakamichi Receiver 3 and another pair of Paradigm Atoms. All that gear was bought second hand an compared to the price of the house the cost seemed marginal, even considering that shipping expenses for some of the items, like the Paradigm 11se MkII floorstanders was considerable.
I’ve always liked the look of Nakamichi gear, and the sounds is fantastic – if it works! Unfortunately serious reliability problems and a complete lack of service have forced me to give up on Nakamichi.
So far the plan. Where it fell down, was on the reliability of the gear. In short succession the NAD 3020, and the Nakamichi TA-2A gave up service. I actually send the NAD 3020 in for repair, but the relief was short lived when other problems with the amp developed. Both tape decks also quickly failed. I always knew that I lacked the funds replacing the faulty equipment with new gear, and if I bought second hand again, who was to say that the replacements were going to be more long lived? Sending audio gear in for repair also proved uneconomical, and a local repair person was not to be found. In the end I settled for using the Nakamichi AV-500 in the family room to drive the Paradigm 11se MkII, for which the Receiver 3 clearly didn’t have the necessary power. The Receiver 3 was set up in the living room with a pair of Atoms, and mostly used by my wife. The cheap all zone DVD player was basically unsuitable for music listening, so that the Toshiba shuttled back and forth between the two audio systems as well as occasionally being used as a DVD player. Especially my wife also found it vexing that the DVD players lacked a track display. Overall, the situation was most unsatisfactory, but I felt helpless and we made do like this for several years. The only changes were the acquisition of a Sony CMT-NEZ30 Audio Micro System for the bedroom, so that my wife could listen to CDs at night. I never used the supplied speakers, but connected it to my pair of ATL HD-304s. The quality of sound that the combination of an inexpensive compact system with these speakers produces continues to amaze me to this day, and I still have it in operation. That notwithstanding, the low point in our audio career in Ohio came when we re-arranged some furniture in the family room and retired the Nakamichi AV-500 to storage in the basement.
The only reason for the Paradigm 11se MkII to remain in the room was that I was too lazy to carry the heavy things downstairs and they sat there for several months without being connected to an audio system. When I finally decided to sell them, I stumbled across a site called AudioKarma, and inquired in their Dollars and Sense forum about a realistic selling price. Well, I had good intentions, but had come to the wrong site to give up on Audio equipment. Before I knew what was happening, not only had I been convinced to keep the big Paradigm floorstanders, but get some bigger Infinity RS-4b in addition, as well as a selection of amps and receivers to drive them all, various CD players, tape decks, turn tables, and so on, and so on.
Turn Tables are cool – my Mitsubishi LT-20 with Audio Technica Signet cartridge.
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