Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Legacy of DS Audio

Another integral component (no pun intended) of the life of Lose is high end audio. Our fascination with this started in high school. There were several stereo shops in the Reading area, but only one of them sold the GOOD stuff......and that was DS Audio. They had the good stuff, alright....Audio Research, Klipsch, Advent, Crown, Luxman, Tandberg, Dahlquist. The other store, WES Audio, was mid-fi at best....Yamaha, NAD, Bang and Olufsen level. To us, that stuff was junk. No wonder the owner, H David Smith, hated us.......we'd make it a point to hang out there every Friday night and generally be a nuisance....but never bought anything!!! We were so fanatical that even one time, we had a snowday, and walked 5 miles thru the unplowed streets to get there. There was a salesman there, Jim Breslauer, or "Bres", that was a deadhead, and we'd listen to the Grateful Dead's "Skull and Roses" album over the various systems. It took us well over a year to save up enough cash to even purchase the entry level systems, mine was the Onkyo A5 integrated amp/Advent Loudspeaker/Connoisseur turntable set up. I think that was $650......about what I pay a month these days just for gas. Back then it was a freakin fortune. Eventually DS opened up a store in Lancaster, and Bres was switched to there, so we would make the trip to Lancaster to hang out and cause trouble. For high school graduation I got a Nakamichi cassette deck, for $600, what was then a huge amount of money. It was supposed to be state of the art. That was used to make tapes for the car system. Eventually I replaced the Connoisseur with a Denon turntable. Then CD players started to come out, around 1985, and I got the Denon DCD-1000. Hell, I even had a job for a while selling stereo equipment, at Listening Booth. It was stuff like Kenwood, EPI speakers, Pioneer, I think we had Dokorder open reel decks. I got fired from that job for not selling enough. How could I sell junk??

The trip in the snow to DS was legendary in the annals of Lose. Not only was it a nearly impossible trek in the cold deep snow, but we met one of our first loves at the Friendly's across the street. Her name was Fern and she attended to our cold wet bodies to serve us up some ice cream. What the hell were we doing eating ice cream in the dead of winter? I remember seeing the Dipwell behind the counter where they wash out the scoopers. It remained a source of amusement for many years. I loved Fern, but alas, she didn't love me. Loser again.

There was one guy that started working there after Bres left. His name was Dick. He didn't know anything and we would go in there and drill him with questions and then set him straight when he got it wrong. One time we got him so pissed, he turned red and yelled "I'm getting hot under the collar" and almost threw us out. H David had to come over and settle him down and decompress the vein in his head.

On one trek to the Lancaster DS we had some week-old hamburger to get rid of. Don't remember why we brought it in the car with us, but we had to get rid of it. It stank and was all slimy and green. An unexpecting chick was walking down the street and we thought it'd be funny to whip it at her as we drove by. We hit her right in the head. I guess she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Too bad for her.

We stayed loyal to DS even when they moved over to Penn Street in West Reading. Although by then, we were already tired of dealing with the shrewd and rude owner himself. Hi-end audio was on the way out at that point and was being supplanted by "home theater". Of course, all that home theater stuff is junk, but cleverly marketed. Even the cheap entry level stuff was good enough for most people, and when Circuit City started selling the stuff cheap, that marked the end. H. David disappeared and probably ended up selling used cars. Bres probably overdosed on weed listening to Pig Pen and the boys.

Even today it's tough to find a high end store that hasn't gone under. There's Overture in Wilmington... Stereo Barn in Reading carries McIntosh....I can't even think of any others. It's easier to get the stuff on eBay. I get stuff mail order from Audio Advisor and Music Direct, too. You can score mint used Audio Research and McIntosh gear. Tweeter used to be decent, but now is pretty much degraded to Best Buy level crap. Of course those places are good for TV's and stuff, but not audio. Those "home theater" receivers that you can lift with one finger are a laugh.

As for now, well, it's taken me 30 years to finally own an Audio Research preamp, the SP16, and I had to get it on ebay for $1000. That's paired with a Rogue Stereo 90 tube power amp, a Philips CD player, and a Rega Planar turntable all going into Klipsch Forte II speakers. I don't use the table much, even though vinyl is still supposed to be the best. It's just too much hassle.
The Klipsch speakers we've been a fan of ever since we heard the Klipsch Heresy's at DS Audio. No doubt about it, for hard rock, they are the speaker of choice. Of course, Klipsch did some poor business moves and tarnished their image by marketing a line of junk stuff at Best Buy. They came to their senses, somewhat at least, by recently re-introducing their classics like the Klipschorn, LaScala, and Cornwall. The Rogue I got used off some dude at the Philly guitar show, to replace an Adcom power amp, a good amp but still "mid-fi", since it's solid state. The Rogue has four KT88's that give you those sweet, sweet highs and smooth mids. I had it modded right at the factory in Brodheadsville, where I met the owner. Nice dude. Of the original 1977 system I still have the Advents and Onkyo. Still got the original Denon CD player, too. And yeah, it still sounds good, 30 years later. After replacing the rotted Advent woofers, that is.


Blogger Donnie (aka Shadowtwin) said...

I got a Sylvania system, that is top quality stuff, right? I kid.

I was never able to afford any of the more expensive audio equipment, however, I did have a good eye and some pretty decent luck, and was able to locate some decent sounding stuff at yard sales throughout the years. Stereo receiver is a Kenwood from the 1970's, it is a godawful pink and cream twotone with a chrome front. There are so many switches (none of those fancy knobs for me) on the front of it that to this day I don't really know what half of them do. While it isn't much larger than your standard receiver, it has to weigh in excess of thirty pounds (it does have an odd smell when you get up close to it -monkey boy used aluminum foil for a fuse in a pinch and managed to burn out the B speaker circuit). I have bought some inexpensive tuners over the years, but nothing compares to the sound that I can get out of this old clunker.

That all runs through an ADC equalizer that looks a lot like this. I don't know enough about audio to know what is actually good, but I know that I am able to get just the sound I want between that old receiver and this equalizer. Not to mention that the audio in/outputs allow me to plug my guitar into it and mix my own sound with a cd which works great for practicing.

The speakers for the whole thing are also a yard sale find. An old (probably mid 70's) set of Fisher speaker cabinets. They were empty when I got them, it took me a couple of months to get the speakers and crossovers to complete them. I don't remember what went into the Frankenspeakers, but they produce a pretty impressive sound (provided you are okay with sound coming from a simple two speaker setup; of course being an audiophile, you probably scoff at anything that isn't true surround sound).

Then, much like every idiot on the face of the planet, I completely neglected to note rule 1: the system is only as good as its weakest link. So everything is connected with the flimsiest rca cables and speaker wires known to man, thus making it sound no better than your standard Symphonic boom box from the local Wal-Mart -but at least I know that.

As a post script, one of my friends here in town is a huge audio freak. He is always looking to buy, sell or trade equipment. Being that he is older, he has an innate fear of all things internet related, so he curretnly finds all of his equipment through catalogs and newspaper ads. (his audio set-up cost more than what he paid for his house, and that is only partially because he bought his house thirty years ago) If you happen to know of any good used sources (particualry on the East coast, as he knows of many sources on the West coast), do tell. I will forward the information to him and he will no doubt be grateful. He is certainly not the type that is into the newest (excepting his television, but that is one thing that has significantly improved since the 70's) equipment, but he gets giddy if he sees an old junky stereo component with tubes.

11:16 AM  
Blogger Dip said...

The dude I got the Rogue from at the Philly show is the guy your buddy need, then. I'll get his card and post the name/number. He always has an assortment of vintage, good stuff.

1:23 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home