writer, musician/DJ, conservationist, webdesigner

Saturday, 31 January 2015

My stereos - a history

My Stereo(s) (Hi-fi) The rise and fall and rise again. A History of my stereo endeavours.

Part 1 - from a radio to the Pioneer

Part 1 | Part 2 | My stereo in June 2015

This is no boast but I love my stereo. Having a good stereo is the centre of my life and my only essential possession for someone who is not really into possessions.

Early days

I started my stereo life with a radio my Grandad gave me. Then I got my Dad's old setup (record deck and Sinclair System 2000 compact amp) which I added another one of my Grandads radio's to.

My Dad's amp was like this only black:

Sinclair System 2000 - pic from: www.sinclairzx.com
The Pioneer compact hi-fi

When I got a proper job I was able to start saving for something better and I bought a Pioneer compact Hi-fi which after a time I really started to hate. The Pioneer quality was lacking from this unit and really a lot of it was for show, like the twin display spectrum analyser. I hated the way the cassette and cd decks clunked about. Many things frustrated me with it, like the lack of external connections. It did sound good with surround optional speakers. We are talking a record deck, two tapes, radio and twin CD, epic specs!

It was one of these but without the 6 disk CD (pic stolen from ebay):

Pioneer Compact Midi System

The Pioneer separates:

I decided the answer was to buy separates to replace it. This Pioneer setup which at the time I thought was 'it' for me and the stereo for the rest of my life. I intended to keep it for as long as it would last, which taking into Pioneer's reputation for "finish like a Rolls Royce; with build quality like a Volvo" I really hoped this would have been true. I was so in love with this setup:

Core components

Amp: Pioneer A-777 4/12/91 £399.99
CD: Pioneer PD-8500 13/11/92 £199.80
Tape: Pioneer CT-676 30/12/91 £199.80
Speakers: JVC SP-X990 floor standers 8/01/91 £199.80
Total: £999.39

Misc components

Headphones: Sennheiser HD 530 II 12/10/94 £79.95
Tape 2: Pioneer CT-540 8/3/93 £35.95
Radio: Technics ST-X933L

Interconnects

Cobra 3 interconnect from CD to AMP
Carnival Silver Plus speaker cables
Homemade rack
The misc components were second hand and cheap

I started buying the components in 1991 one unit at a time. I used to fawn over the catalogues but the 3 main separates were the components I really wanted. They didn't come easy, and it wasn't just a matter of going out with £999.39+ and getting just what I wanted. First of all I got the amp and paid top whack for it on a "buy now pay later" scheme, it was the worst thing and hung over me all along until the payment was due and I vowed never to do it again. With the other units I was lucky: I got the tape and speakers in sales, they should have been £80 more each. The CD I left far too long and by the time I was ready to buy you could only get the ugly 1 bit machines. I just happened to visit Peter Watts Pioneer Dealer in Bury St. Edmunds (Suffolk UK) one day and there was the CD I had wanted all that time... and... £200 cheaper than new! Therefore my stereo core components should have cost £1359.39 so I saved £360 on marked price. I often went into Peter Watts from '89 onwards and I guess they got to know me, so when I was ready to buy they knocked a bit off the price. Peter Watts is now closed down (perhaps they were too generous!) the original compact hi-fi came from them too.

Pioneer A-777 Amplifier
My Review: It is based on the minimal A-400 which was a prize winning amp in its time with a very transparent sound. The A-777 is a fully loaded version with much greater power and every knob and twiddle you can think of. Reviews were not too favourable in the hi-fi magazines saying that the sound was hash. The amp weighs 19 kg with its massive heat sinks and transformers: as there are two of everything and each channel has its own components. Personally I love the way it sounded and dislike the 'warm-fuzzy' sound of other amps, however the so called harshness of the sound can grate at higher volumes for a longer listening period. This can be a quiet detailed listen or turn it up to let the monster breath.
95+95watts at 8ohms, 140+140watts at 4ohms. It also had more connections than you could wave a stick at.

Pioneer A-777 amp


Pioneer PD-8500 CD Deck
My Review: I know little about what the media said about this unit, all I know is that it was only a current model for one year and the following year all Pioneer cd players were 1 bit units. Mine was a 28 bit unit. I find the sound very clear but just on the side of too clear. Cosmetically it is a babe and has minimal front panel buttons, most of the functions are relegated to the remote. I was utterly in love with this unit.

Pioneer CT-676 Tape Deck
My Review: This one I know is a winner and it was given rave reviews at the time for its sound quality. I loved the powered cassette door, just needing to press play to have the door whip in and play to start! I also loved the Super Auto BLE where you can match the cassette exactly for recording. The machine analyses the tape and sets its Bias, Level and Eq accordingly. You do get great recordings from it. All topped off with a real time tape counter and display off button.

JVC SP-X990 Speakers
My Review: Yet Again I have little idea what the media said. They were not so expensive as far as speakers are concerned. They were a 3 way setup with 25cm bass cones. They standed 858mm tall. The sound is a little too glaring sometimes, but it is hard to know if this is the fault of the amp (etc). They can play quiet but they have real abilities to pump out the bass. In the picture I have taken the grills off, but usually they run with black grills over the speakers.
100watts, 200 watts music
Speaker update: My son (3 years old at the time) put his fingers through the tweeter and midrange on one side of the speakers. I contacted speakercity USA and ordered 2 Peerless tweeters and 2 Vifa 5 1/2 inch midrange. I then replaced the lot on my speakers. The sound is exactly what I wanted, less glairing but more detailed, speakercity USA delivered on the speakers but unfortunately their communication and ordering process leaves something to be desired.

Sennheiser HD 530 II Headphones
My Review: The Hifi mags said these were best suited to Jazz and to start off with I found the sound odd. But over the years they have "broken in" and I like the sound very much. They are able to handle all music very well from techno to classical. The bass weight is perfect and the detail stunning. Build quality is second to none the only problem was needing new foam for the ear pads, but this was after 10 years use! Before these I had a string of top of the range Pioneer headphones, all of which fell apart in less than 2 years. (I still have these in 2015)

Chord Company Cables
My Review: I have replaced my ageing IXOS cable to the CD and QMM speaker cables with Carnival Silver Plus speaker cables and a Cobra 3 interconnect from CD to AMP from the Chord Company. There is a great improvement in sound quality, much more detail and the 'flabby' bass sound, which I blamed on the speakers, has gone.

Watershed 2006 on 19/3/06 all components taken down dump and chucked away. It is all very well to have these ideals but sometimes life doesn't work out that way.

Small Info: Little things that annoyed me, but trifles really. The size of it started to get me down, a great slab of stereo and the box it had to stand on had to be a big lump to take the 19kg amp alone. Then the speakers were big floor standers which ended up as a huge lump of black of a stereo up the corner. Ok it still sounded good, but I wondered if new ones sounded better, also technology was catching up with it and not being able to play mp3 on the cd was frustrating. What was the point in being able to have bone crunching loud music when you can never turn it up as it will annoy the neighbours? Having said that I do wish I still had it.

Final Info: There were many other issues involved not just the ones above but that is all in the past now and best forgotten, there is no point putting the private info here and has nothing to do with the stereo. We can plan many things in life, but sometimes it is just not so simple, who knows what is round the corner.

JVC SP-X990 (with new mids and tweeters)

JVC SP-X990 (before my son put his fingers though the tweeters)

The other bits

CD and Amp

 Part 2 - after the Pioneer - NEXT >>

Links:

www.speakercity.com
www.pioneer-eur.com
www.jvc.com
www.sennheiser.com
www.chord.co.uk

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