Then And Now: Putting Audio Technology Into Perspective

Moving forward with an eye to what's come before

By Karl Winkler March 6, 2013

Vintage muscle cars now commonly sell for $30,000. What the heck is going on? I mean, come on – those cars were never truly “great,” were they?

I suppose it’s a subjective matter, with some nostalgia thrown in for good measure. Now that the teenagers of the 1960s are middle-aged folks with disposable income, they’re fueling a demand that seems, well, largely unfounded.

But that’s how value works, doesn’t it? Supply and demand. There are relatively few of those cars remaining, particularly in “showroom” condition, and those who want them have deep pockets. But compared to today’s models, they’re unreliable, unsafe, inefficient and difficult to maintain due to parts scarcity. So what’s the appeal?

Vintage audio equipment can be viewed in much of the same light. Modern gear is more compact, more efficient, more cost effective, lighter, and with more channels, more DSP and more blinking lights. But what about sound quality? That’s where it gets interesting.

Let’s return to cars for a second. Vintage muscle models did have certain “features” that can’t be found on today’s machines. Among those is their sound – the V8 rumble of a 442 that can’t be easily (or cheaply) reproduced today. And there’s an emotional aspect of the “old school” to that sound that grabs people.

Another factor is relatively easy servicing. I remember helping my dad work on the family’s 1970 Pontiac Firebird with a V8 (35o) and Muncie 3-speed manual transmission. It was so sparse under the hood that you could nearly stand in the engine compartment without removing anything. Think about trying that with a modern model.

And just recently, I worked with my father to fix his vintage 1978 Dual turntable. Even though the mechanical design was complex (ever looked under the hood of one of those?), the electronics were simple. The power supply had quit and it turned out to be the usual suspect – a dead electrolytic capacitor. With a new one soldered in and a few minutes of re-assembly, we were listening to LPs again in no time

Older audio equipment can indeed be relatively simple to maintain due to the “through-hole” nature of the circuit board construction. Discrete parts can be changed out and modifications are easy to make. But what do you do if your modern 32-channel DSP/FPGA-based mixer goes down. Is it the firmware? The hardware? The power supply? A microcontroller?

In the manufacturing world, we both marvel and cringe when we see the sand-grain sized electronic components that populate the surface mount circuit boards inside things like miniature wireless system transmitters. To imagine repairing these by hand with a soldering iron is nearly inconceivable.


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About Karl

Karl Winkler
Karl Winkler

Vice President of Sales at Lectrosonics
 
Karl serves as vice president of sales/service at Lectrosonics and has worked in professional audio for more than 25 years.

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