Tuesday, March 15, 2011

the McIntosh

this past thanksgiving my parents visited. i had asked my father to bring up his old stereo that was being stored in the garage. the mcintosh!

it had been sitting in the garage for at least 5-6 years. though, for a piece of equipment that is slightly older than me, and has been sitting in a garage for the past half decade, it was in decent cosmetic condition.

my father purchased the mcintosh ma6100 integrated amplifier in the year 1978. my earliest audio memories involve this very piece of equipment. one can easily recognize it's signature walnut case, brushed aluminum knobs, black glass face, and green backlight. a couple of cerwin vega house speakers accompanied the amplifier during my days of growing up. when mom and dad left me home alone, i'd put in my favorite tape (and eventually cd) in and crank the amp to just over 1/2 volume. this is the point in which the china in our china cabinet would start to dance around on the shelf due to massive vibrations. i was literally rocking the house. needless to say i loved the power of the mcintosh.

but as i got older, and technology pressed forward i started to realize what was really important about home stereos. the mcintosh didn't have a remote control, nor did it have an lcd screen. my friend's parent's house systems had more lights, buttons, and do-hickeys than the simple 1970's style mcintosh amplifier. most of these systems were sleek black plastic, space age, not old and made of wood. i eventually started to despise the mcintosh for being outdated and ugly. soon after i was granted my own stereo, complete with digital tuner and all the cheap plastic crap that comes along with low budget audio. i loved it. this must have been the early 90's.

though soon i realized that the sound from my plastic and portable sony stereo was nowhere near that of the mcintosh + cerwin vegas. dad's system would literally bring the house down at 3/4 volume. (a few wall hanging items did fall off during one of my listening sessions). at 3/4 volume my sony made all songs sound like a microphone held up to a whoopie cushion at best. this is the first time i took notice to sound quality.

it wasn't until an earth shattering day in san diego a few years ago that i put 1 and 1 together. i was at my friend's house. he had just spent a bit over $3,000 on a pair of speakers. and the second i heard these speakers, i knew exactly why he paid what he did. i was changed from that moment on. i was only able to listen to three or four songs on the $3k speakers, but i was hearing songs that had 40-50 play counts on my ipod, for the first time.

it took me almost thirty years to fully appreciate audio quality. following this event was an 8 month search for a pair of studio monitor speakers, resulting in the purchase of my mackie hr824 mki's. which to this day, i love. in fact i'm listening to them as i write this post.

around this time is also when i understood and appreciated the mcintosh. i recalled my father telling me that before the cerwin vega speakers, he had some bigger and better mcintosh speakers. at the time i didn't really care, those pink rimmed cerwin vegas pumped louder than anything i had ever heard, or cared to. but somehow i held the information that dad once owned mcintosh speakers in the recesses of my mind.

fast forward to this past thanksgiving. i hauled the 40lbs mcintosh amp up two flights of stairs only to find out that it was completely inoperable when connected to speakers. a few weeks later, and my wallet $465 lighter, the amp was back in my possession. but an amp is no good without speakers to accompany it. i immediately started looking at the going price for cerwin vegas. that is, until i got the idea to search for mcintosh speakers.

this is when i came across a craigslist posting for two mcintosh xr-5 speakers, the exact model that my dad originally purchased with the ma6100! i went to alameda on a rainy night with my brother riding shotgun and $450 in cash. i came home with two 76lbs. speakers in tow. i forgot my cd for testing audio in the car, so i was forced to test the speakers to fm radio. 96.5 had a nice strong signal, and luckily they were playing bryan adams - "everything i do, i do it for you". so i blasted it, and listened for any imperfections. then madonna's "borderline" came on, and i blasted it again in order to detect any possible speaker distortion. i guess if a pair of speakers can play those two songs loud and well, then they're good enough for me.

i had successfully recreated the system that my father had purchased in the late 70's.

i'm still far from done, as you can see there's no shelf in this picture. but i'll save additions to this setup for future blog posts.

oh, and everything sounds fan-tas-tic!!


Post a Comment