Memories of Sounds Past

I am doing some reminiscing. As a hobbyist speaker builder, I run a fair number of speakers though my home. I like to build but at some point I have to sell a few or they create spousal issues. So I reluctantly sell them, usually way below audiophile value. Tonight, sitting in the dining room sipping champagne watching the snow close down all of Virginia, I started to miss some of those speakers.

I few years back I built some nice MMT speakers using the then new Vifa MG series drivers. They had cool yellow cones and no breakups to deal with in the crossover. These speakers measured fairly well but sounded like 1970s speakers. They had a lot of punch and that rock-n-roll feel. I liked the sound. I took them to some DIY events and all the golden ears said they were too this or too that and not what we should be building. But every time I had them in the system, I craved “Radar Love”, CSNY “Carry On” or the Beatles “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite”: via LP of course. I could never love these speakers because nobody else could love them. It was like that girl we all dated who was fun and we really liked but was just not cool enough. I miss those speakers like I miss her. One day I was selling some amp and during the demo, the guy asked about those speakers. He was interested and I threw out a random price and he took it. And now he has “Radar Love” and I don’t.

Another time I built these really cool speakers with a in a wedge shape and put the tweeter below the woofer. The woofers had wooden cones that added some mystery to them. These speakers were a ton of work to get to sound right, I had to change the crossover maybe ten times and even changed the cabinet size. A fair number of people liked them so they had some cool factor. I thought they had a delicacy to them that many of my other speakers missed. I could not put my finger on it but they just sounded different in a good way. I recall nights listening to classical music and just feeling enveloped in the sound. The more delicate the music, the more these speakers sang. One night a colleague of my wife was over for dinner: a conductor of early music groups and music professor. I talked about my hobby and took him upstairs to listen. He listened for about five minutes and said “I have never heard a system reproduce theorbos like that”. He asked and I threw a price out I thought he would take. He said he would not pay that for those speakers and cut me a check for a couple of hundred more right there. I miss those speakers.

One day I got a call from a guy who said he needed to sell some “ProAc clones” quick because his baby is on the way. I know this design is all over the internet and I did not have much interest. He said he knew the speakers sounded wrong but he needed the money - and I am a sucker for sob stories. So I gave him about 50% of the cost of parts and he was thrilled. Well, they did sound horrid. I could not figure out why because from what I could see, they were built to spec. I had some old PSB cabinets in the garage that were very nice MDF with vinyl over them. I decided to rebuild these clones into the PSB cabinets and see what happened. The idea was that if I could make them sound good, I would rip the vinyl off the old cabinets and put on real wood veneer. I found the updated crossover on the internet and rebuilt them as the Troelsgraven “ProAc” clones version 6 (obviously now not remotely ProAc). At that time I had four pairs of speakers in my listening room and I was using (the evil) ABC switch. These clones were lower sensitivity than the other two speakers on the ABC switch and always sounded off. I ignored them for months until I needed to make room. So I put them up for sale as-is (covered in cheap vinyl) just to see who would wander in. I got a hit on the ad and went in to clear out the other speakers in the room and set up the clones all alone. The moment I fired up the system with these as the solo songstresses, I knew I had been the fool. The guy shows up and we listen for about 45 minutes, the whole time I am thinking “don’t buy”, “don’t buy”. But they were awesome and the guy paid asking price. I miss them.

While I think about it, I also miss my speakers from the 1970s. They were home built (by someone else) monsters, I think a variation of the Patrician DIY kit of the day. They had 15” short throw Electro-voice woofers. Two University horns: one 15” and one 6”. They were built to be in a corner with the backs open in the very back. If not the Patrician, they may have been an attempt at a Klipsch clone, but they were not that close. Anyway, I picked them up at 6am one Sunday at the Marin County flea market. I think they were $10 for the pair and weighed about 150 pounds each. They were the size of washing machines. By today’s standards, these speakers probably sound like crap. But not in my memory. They were full range, they pounded the lows, they sang the highs, they were amazing - in my mind’s eye.

There must be a book on this phenomenon: the sweetening of the mind’s eye. There may even be a set of encyclopedias on the topic. If there is, it will have a whole volume on sounds remembered. Why did the Keystone Berkeley sound so good back then? Why if the Keystone was sound was so good am I deaf now largely due to hanging out there. What about the outdoor Greek Theater Berkeley? Even Candlestick Park and Winterland sound great to my memory. What is up with that? This screwy memory thing makes me want my Rek-O-Kut turntable back, even as I remember the warm rumble it overlayed onto everything. That thing had such a heavy head shell it could clear out a record groove in three playings. But in my mind’s eye is was great!

Maybe I want my Dynaco ST-120 back. I actually heard that about five years ago and it sounded like crap. I’ll never know if it only now sounds like crap or always sounded like crap. This is the Stradivarius conundrum: the reason we cannot make a Stradivarius today is that we cannot make a 400 year old violin. If Stradivarius were alive today, no doubt he would say he distinctly recalls that the violin sounded better 400 years ago. I have a Marantz 2270 in my bedroom. I play it maybe ten times a year while folding laundry. It sounds pretty good. In this case, it is not about how it sounds, but how it looks. I may only play it ten times per year, but l look at it every single day and relive the teen lust I carried for this babe.

I think the memory thing screws up more audiophiles than anything else. Do the Wilson Maxx3s really sound better than the old Maxx2? Everything sounds better in the first week. But after a month, the doubt creeps in. Maybe those old cables sounded better. Maybe that last speaker position really was better. Did my system sound better last year? How was I set up then? How did I make that magic? Maybe, maybe, maybe! The lust for better sound is a wrestle with a wily bitch and she ain’t cheap.

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Copyright: Peter J. Smith 2012 Return to