Tag Archives: buy buy buy

Stages (Parts 1 – 3)

Being cooped up in the house with the COVID stay-the-fuck-at-home orders has led me to express my shopping needs in other ways.  The subject at hand is my stereo system.  An earlier post reminded me that I’ve had this goal to recapture the stereo excitement of my youth for quite a few years now.  And that’s not to say progress hasn’t been made – it definitely has.

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It started with a cheap thrift store stereo, a tape deck, and headphones.  Then a CD player was added.  Then another CD player was added.  But still, very little listening was being done.  Then the milestone of having a dedicated room for listening was reached and I cobbled a new and different stereo system together using my powered studio monitors and a new preamplifier to handle inputs and volume.  A dedicated listening chair completed the arrangement.  This setup has worked very well for over a year.

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But I’ve been envisioning the real stereo experience, with a powerful amplifier and full-size speakers to go with it.  However, in these uncertain times, I don’t want to blow a wad of cash all at once, so I’ve planned out a phased approach to get there relatively quickly.

The primary hardware to complete the goal is really only two items: the amplifier and the speakers.  There’s also some ancillary bits as well, including furniture for the hardware.  I’ve kind of been stalled on progress because I didn’t want to buy the amp and the speakers all in one go, but I didn’t want to buy either one and just have it sit unused until I bought the other.  Then, I had a revelation, which came late, but probably at a better time.

If I buy an amplifier, it would be a waste until I bought my speakers, because my existing speakers have built in amplifiers without any way to bypass them.  My revelation made me realize that although the amplification in my speakers can’t be bypassed, the amplifier circuit in the right model of amplifier could be.  That would reduce the amplifier to only preamplifier functions, just like the preamplifier I currently own.

The search was then on for a receiver that had preamp outputs on it.  And the critical decision needed to be made: do I go vintage or modern?  In my original plan, I had current, modern products picked out and a pretty large budget for them.  And now, after experiencing a number of vintage CD players, I’m not sure I need anything more modern than them.  So vintage it is.  And in keeping with my nostalgia, I’m going to choose the Technics brand.  Justly or no, Technics has a bad reputation for their 80’s gear.  There are fans out there as well, but they get shut down often by "the ones who know better".

The model I picked was the SU-V98, which has the required preamp outputs and will also be suitable for my future speakers with 110 watts per channel.  That’s actually pretty respectable as many of the amps I had been looking at were 30-50.  As luck would have it, a listing just popped up on EBay selling one for $70.  Others were priced in the $150 range, so the purchase was made.  Step one complete.

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Now, the last step in the transition will be the purchase of the speakers.  I’ll be able to run everything right the way I have it now, simply substituting my preamp for this new Technics amplifier.  But, it’s not going to be a viable long-term option.  See, my stereo setup is on a long Ikea table.  Ikea stuff isn’t known for its durability and even with only a couple of CD players sitting in the middle of the span, I can see the slightest bit of sagging happening.  Adding a 15lb amp to the table isn’t going to make that any better.  So step two in the mid-term is going to be new furniture.

Replacing the Ikea table will require a new stereo rack and stands for the studio monitors.  In the final stage, the studio monitors and stands will be replaced with tower speakers.  Since the speaker stands are only temporary, I can skimp out on them, but I should get the stereo rack with the goal of having it be suitable for the future.  However, when shopping for speaker stands, there is a clear distinction between "good" and "good enough".  That difference is the size of the mounting plate on top.  In most all affordable stands, that plate is 5"x5".  My speakers are about 8"x10".  Balancing those heavy, expensive speakers on a tiny platform 32 inches off the ground doesn’t sound appealing to me, especially with cats in the house.

That alters my plans a little bit.  It essentially doubles the budget for the speaker stands.  But, to remain positive, the stand quality will be excellent and the speakers are already excellent, so there won’t be any unnatural need to rush to the last step and buy the tower speakers.  There will be time to enjoy and appreciate the configuration as it is. 

And that’s really the plan:  to enjoy the upgrade journey.  Sometimes when you get the end result all at once, you can’t appreciate al the elements involved, because you have no history of change to compare it to.  This is really the best way to grow a stereo system.  Will it ever end?  For a lot of people, it never does.  In fact, I do know one more step I can take after "the last step".  If I find my amplifier doesn’t sound as good as I think it could, the preamp outputs in the SU-V98 can be used for what they were designed for – running an external amplifier.

A New Piece, And A Little Less Peace

After lunch today, I had the idea to visit the Cash America pawn shop.  I don’t bother much with pawn shops anymore, and it’s rare that I visit them, much less buy anything.  I have the assumption that most everything there is overpriced or has some problem with it.  Although, I do admit, I bought two Wii systems from pawn shops and those have been just fine.  That’s probably my last purchase, a couple of years ago.

So today, I browse around and ended up spying and buying a graphic equalizer for my stereo setup.  It’s made by Technics and is the correct vintage for my CD player.  The model is Technics SH-8017.  The EQ was $25, but was marked down to $20 early for President’s day.  And when I checked out, they made it $20 after tax, so even a little extra. 

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But when I went to check out and pulled out my credit card, they asked for my ID.  I said, "That’s new," and the manager said it was, because, you know.  Yeah, pawn shop.  And then, I was completely set up in their system with an account.  Name, address, phone number, date of birth, the whole works.  To buy something!  midway through, I though this wasn’t worth it for $20 and almost pulled out cash, but also considered, this was going to happen sooner or later and the sooner I can get in the system, I won’t have to do it again.

But what a weird thing, to have to create a customer profile to buy something.  Then again, is it weird?  You do it all the time when shopping online.  It is weird when buying something over a counter.  But is it?  You usually give up all that stuff when you sign up for loyalty or reward programs, too.  And it is a pawn shop, after all.  Everything behind those doors is a strange legal limbo.

But anyway, with all that behind me, I took the device home and plugged it in.  Everything worked quite well.  I noticed no additional noise when running it inline with the Technics CD player.  The only thing wrong with it is it’s missing one rubber foot (not seen in the front right), which I’ll be able to buy replacements for easily enough.  I tested out its capabilities using my CD of ZZ Top – Afterburner, which is notoriously anemic; even more so through the Technics CD Player.  As shown, I simply boosted the lower two bands and that raised the bass level to something more appropriate.

Could I have done the same with the tone controls on my preamp?  Well, yeah, but two things: first, there’s no quick bypass for the tone controls, so I would have to adjust them every time.  With the EQ, I just turn the device off to bypass it.  Second, the bass control is probably centered around a higher frequency than the lowest two bands on the graphic EQ.  That usually causes some "boominess" and is why tone controls aren’t that good for sound shaping.

I recently read a quip from a blogger whose opinion I trust and he said while using studio monitors for music listening (as I do) is fine, they tend to make the music more clinical, whereas normal amps and speakers are designed to reproduce music with a bit more excitement or punch.  So now, I have to consider if I want to go that route and if so, what amp and speakers to get.  My setup has been pretty good to me so far.  I guess it’s time to go to the next level.

Not For A Lack Of Trying

Fresh off my success of building two CD shelving units, I set my sights on what else I could do.  I have plenty of resources available to me in both time and money, so I have a desire to use both of them up.  It’s a well-established habit of mine to try lots of different things and generally abandon them shortly afterwards.  In most cases, the abandonment leaves behind some investments in the hobby.

Looking back, I have some photography equipment sitting idle.  I could certainly pick that back up at any time again.  I have a decent GPS unit from my geocaching times.  I have a vinyl cutter and heat press from the derby days.  I actually have a vinyl sticker designed for one of my cars that I want to cut, but haven’t taken that step yet.  I have a sewing machine that’s been still in the box for months planned to help me hem my curtains and maybe for some other craft projects someday.  I have plenty of power tools, which actually were used in building my shelves.  Do I have all the tools yet?  Of course not.  So when I get a fresh idea, I have to buy the tools to execute that idea.

Before the shelving unit project, I did the most basic of woodworking projects: a rack for my sunglasses.  And when I say basic, I mean it.  Literally, cutting six pieces of wood, sanding the edges and screwing them together to look like:

As time has gone on, I have grown my sunglass collection and outgrown my storage.  Now I need a bigger rack.  Fresh off my success at building shelves, I figure I can build a nicer storage unit.  I did some research and found a design that I like and I should be able to replicate.

To have someone make this for me is $132.  It’s about $10 in wood, if even that.  The construction is interesting, using joints of some kind (dado? box? rabbet?  Hell if I know).  I have plenty of tools, but the ones I have are way too robust for working with wood this thin.  First, using a circular saw on 1/4" plywood would probably just shred it.  A jig saw would probably work, but in both cases, I have to consider that I’m losing a bit of wood each time I do a cut.  When your target size is only a couple of inches and you’re sawing away 1/8", that’s a fair bit of waste.  Additionally, the holes for the joints are pretty precise.  Too much for the jig saw.  I researched using the Dremel for this, and it probably would work, but it’s not the ideal tool for the job.

The answer to these problems is another tool, the scroll saw.  I am actually not a stranger to the scroll saw.  It’s probably the first power tool I ever used, way back when I was probably about 10 years old.  Maybe I used a power drill first, but the timeline is really close.  I have no idea how the Craftsman scroll saw came to the house or if it was even meant for me.  I can’t imagine my dad bought it for himself.  Regardless, my parents had just had the kitchen flooring redone so there was a lot of scrap wood around that I was able to saw up into nothing of any interest, since I had no goals or plans.  But I did learn how to use the saw, so I will be able to apply that old, old knowledge for this project.  Humorously enough, at the time, I never knew what the saw was called, so when I eventually broke all the blades, I couldn’t get any replacements because I couldn’t explain the device to the hardware store people.  All they offered me were jigsaw blades.  And with no blades, that ended my time with the scroll saw.

Scroll saws don’t have to be expensive, but they can be.  I bought the cheapest one I could find for $115 since I was not someone who would require a $500 tool to make a $10 sunglasses case.  The other tools I would need are a drill and I think I’ll be using files to square off the holes and make the openings precise.  I have both of these needs covered. 

While I’m waiting for the saw to be delivered, I planned out my design.  The design I’m copping needed the sizes boosted a little bit to accommodate the cases my glasses would be stored in.  Even so, I can still get all the pieces out of one 24"x24" sheet of wood, with a second sheet for the back.  Total size: 14" x 14.75".

So, to recap.  This is a $132 handmade item.  I’m spending $115 on a new tool and maybe $10 in wood.  I’m going to spend less money, test and expand my crafting skills, plus acquire a tool that I can use at any point in the future (like my camera, GPS, vinyl cutter, or sewing machine).  That’s what a hobby should be about – acquiring skill and junk.

What I’ve Heard Thus Far

I had mentioned in a previous post that I had a thing for buying cheap CD players, the reason for such was to compare the sound of each and see if I was able to hear any real difference between makes and models.

Well, this is what I’ve got in my collection right now:

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From top to bottom:

  1. Technics SL-P330
  2. Scott D980
  3. JVC XL-V311
  4. Onkyo DX-701

Of these four players, the ones that get the most play are the Technics and the JVC.  The JVC has a little bit better bass and the Technics, in the opposite way, has a brighter sound.  The other two, the Scott and the Onkyo, have a similar sound, which I feel is a little dulled.  The Scott has an additional handicap in that the display can display either the current track or the track time, but not both simultaneously.  All but the Onkyo have support for indexed tracks, and the JVC will show the current playing track and index.  I have yet to find one of my CDs that has indexes, though.  Still looking…

All four have headphone jacks; the Technics and the Onkyo have headphone volume controls, which is great.  All but the Onkyo can be run by remote control, and I purchased remotes for the Technics and JVC.  In both cases, the remotes were twice as much as I paid for the player.

And on the subject of cost, each player cost me less than $10, and each player was originally $150-$300 when new, so this is not an expensive endeavor.

Spending Money On A Silly Idea

One of the more dangerous things in this world is a man with extra time and extra money.  A danger to himself and to the world at large.  If it’s not an actual, you know, danger, then it’s just stupidity – a different kind of danger.  Semantics aside, I have some extra time and some extra money and wanted to get an answer on something.  With the entire knowledge and experience of the Internet failing me, or at least failing to convince me, I set out to get my own answer.  Am I going to change the world with my soon-to-be-found knowledge?  Fuck, no.  It’s so trivial, it hardly even matters to anyone.

To even appreciate what I am seeking, you have to be pretty involved in my hobby of CD collecting.  If you’re not, then the rest of this post won’t even really interest you.  Further, you have to be fairly experienced with technology and computers, otherwise, this won’t really make much sense.  So, warnings provided, now for the explanation.

In the early days of CD manufacturing, some CDs were pressed with “pre-emphasis”, which is a special equalization.  CD players as part of their manufacturing specification had to be able to detect pre-emphasis and apply a reverse equalization (de-emphasis) when playing back these early CDs.  Sounds pretty simple, right?  Over time (actually very quickly), pre-emphasis use was discontinued, so all CDs today don’t have pre-emphasis anymore.  That’s fine for the general public, but somewhat of a nuisance for early CD collectors like myself.

Now that you understand the situation, here is the problem in a nutshell: CD players – and especially computer CD-ROMs – do not have the capability to detect pre-emphasis anymore.  So if you play back an early CD, you do not get the corrective equalization applied to the music, which makes it sound thin and harsh.  This also applies to CDs that you rip on your computer.  There are software plug-ins that can apply de-emphasis to the files after they have been ripped, so the problem can be somewhat mitigated.  But aside from using your ears, because the CD-ROM cannot detect the pre-emphasis, you can’t know for sure if the CD you ripped has pre-emphasis.  Again, not a problem for anyone but early CD collectors.

And so what I am looking to know is:  I want to be able to detect pre-emphasis on CDs in my computer.  Thus, my project.

I’ve discussed the CD history, now for the computer history.  Early computer CD-ROM were literally mini-cd-players.  They had a headphone jack and a volume control and some even had a play button in addition to the eject button.  Additionally, on the back of the drive, there was a jack to run the audio from the CD drive to the computer’s sound card.  These old drives played audio CDs in analog.  They had build in DACs (digital-to-analog converters), but you can be pretty certain they were not of the quality found in home stereo CD players.  Still, because they were doing the digital conversion, they also had to support handling pre-emphasis.

As technology moved on, pre-emphasis was no longer a concern and also, Windows began reading the audio from CDs digitally.  So drive makers dropped the headphone jack, dropped the DACs and dropped analog output completely.  It made the devices cheaper and audio could be read at the drive’s full speed instead of the 1X speed of analog.  Technologically, a great step forward.  But in the process of simplifying the device, they removed the capability to read pre-emphasis at all – it wasn’t needed.

But now, I want to get an old CD-ROM that has a DAC and analog output so I can hopefully detect pre-emphasis when ripping a CD.  The problem is that all those old drives use the IDE interface, which is long, long obsolete.  Computers now use the SATA interface.  But that’s only a stumbling block because of course someone has made an IDE-SATA interface converter.  So, technically, everything is still possible.  I don’t have to go to the extreme of building an old Pentium computer from parts salvaged from the 90s, thank god.

Naturally, EBay is the order of the day.  Because this project is only for curiosity, I’m buying stuff as cheap as possible.  For $16, I have a 19-yr old CD-ROM and an interface kit coming by next week.  Then it will be a challenge to see if I can get my computer to see the new (old) drive, then it will be a challenge to see if the ripping software will talk to the new (old) drive, and if it does, will the drive report the pre-emphasis information to the software.

So, there’s still some unknowns.  For the $16 I’ve spent, I’ve purchased a lottery ticket for either frustration or a jackpot of, “oh, neat.”  What will I do with this incredible information?  Well, obviously, I’ll share it whenever I can.  It will be a good data point for my posts on Relative Waves and I’m sure some other collectors would like to know which CDs have pre-emphasis.

Road Trip In ATL

Over the weekend, I made a road trip up north to Atlanta to see some friends and explore some shops for CDs.  Before I left, I did some research on places I wanted to visit.  As is my default, I used Bing.  A lot of people dismiss Bing as useless, but it’s probably for the same reason that I dismiss Google – I just don’t use it.

Bing Maps has a neat feature where you can save places into an itinerary, and it will create driving directions automatically from the list.  This is what I came up with for Saturday’s run.

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The downside to using Bing Maps is that it’s not part of Android Auto, which is how I do the navigation in my car.  In the interest of being fair about the routing capabilities of Google vs. Bing, I took a look at Google maps to see if I could have done the same thing there.  What I found was that you can make a custom list of places, but you can’t automagically turn that into a multi-waypoint drive.  I suppose you could keep the list open and work your way through the items, choosing each in turn as the next destination.  So, it’s just a different way of accomplishing the same goal.  I’m not going to say "Google sucks, Bing rules" because that’s just stupid and we should all be more adult about this.

On one of the stops at CD Warehouse – a chain store that has been bankrupt for almost two decades; I have no idea how these ones are open – I found a CD to purchase.  It was a Japan pressing of an Eagles compilation.  I identified it as purchase-worthy because of the smooth case that had "Patent Pending" embossed on it.  These are some of the first CDs manufactured, when the jewel case was still a new invention.

I took the CD to the counter, paid and left the store.  After leaving, I snuck a peek at the CD and realized it was a common US pressing.  I was disappointed but unsurprised.  CDs can certainly migrate between cases, especially in a store that probably has a dozen of each title at any time.  I chalked it up as a buyer-beware failure on my part and moved on.  Later in the evening, I was looking at my whole day’s spoils and realized that the Eagles album was not in a smooth case.  I had been given a totally different CD instead of what I chose from the rack.

So I began debating if it was worth the effort to go back and demand the item I had chosen.  Would it still be there?  Would the staff just roll their eyes and say, "fuck off"?  Would I get the replacement and have it be no better than what I already had?  Was it worth the drive anyway?

I decided it would be worth the effort, and planned to go before driving back home on Monday.  My friends convinced me it would be better to try on Sunday because of workday traffic and were willing to sacrifice some of our day together to accomplish this.  So, with the store’s closing time quickly approaching, we set out for the store with the replacement.  We made it in the last 15 minutes.

I went to the rack and quickly found the same smooth case I had originally picked – they had simply put it back after I left.  I went to the counter and plead my case.  I had been rehearsing how to explain that I wanted this specific CD and not just any CD and had planned to try and be technical without being condescending.  At the most extreme, I would have to show them my Relative Waves website that explained the difference in CD masterings.  In reality, I was pretty awkward about the whole explanation, saying that I got a different CD, but it was the same, but it wasn’t the same.  Good job, Dave.  Way to explain it.

The guy at the counter said, no problem.  He went to the computer and scanned the old CD and my purchased CD, then retrieved the actual disc that was supposed to be in the case.  As he placed the CD in the case on the counter, he said, "there you go, Japanese pressing."  And at that point, I knew that he understood.  I didn’t need to say anything more than thank you.  And I left with my early pressing album.

Also on the list were some antique malls.  In my area, people seem to treat antique malls as consignment shops and as such, you can find people selling their personal CD collections (which technically could be antiques).  However, in this area, antique malls are filled with actual antiques.  Not of any benefit for CD hunting, but still a fun and interesting experience.  I did find some tiny décor items for the house, so it wasn’t all bad.

And finally, the thrift stores.  This is actually my second round of thrifting in Atlanta.  The first time was a long series of disappointments and this one was generally a shorter version of the first.  It just makes me more grateful that the thrifts in my area have some decent selection of CDs.  Maybe there are more collectors in Atlanta keeping the thrifts bare, who knows.

But the trip was not supposed to be about me and my hobbies anyway.  It was about the company and the experience.  In that respect, it was top-notch.  There’s plenty to be grateful for in spite of any success or lack of success in my hobbies.

One More Reason To Hate People

This is a problem I’ve been reading about with increased frequency.  A person will buy some thing, then fill the box with something else and return it, getting a refund and keeping the original thing.  In the cases I’ve been reading about, it’s hard drives.  A person will buy an external hard drive, open the case, switch out the large hard drive with a small hard drive (working or even not working) and return it to the store.

What happens is the store looks inside the box (maybe), sees everything is there and puts it back on the shelf for someone else to buy it and discover they got a tiny hard drive instead of what they thought they were getting.  That customer brings it back to the store and the cycle repeats.

This is very lucrative for some people, for people that lack morals, anyway.  But this happened to me on a less lucrative item, although no less infuriating.  I purchased an outdoor LED security light.  It wasn’t super cheap, in the $30 range.  I got it home and when I opened the box, inside was your typical two-light incandescent light mount, probably under $15.

Now, I am faced with a bunch of bullshit.  First is the wasted time and travel to return and replace this item.  Second is the thought that the store doesn’t really know that I wasn’t the one that made the switch and am trying to pull the scam off myself.  Third is the thought that the store may not actually take any action on this and put it back on the floor to repeat the cycle.  Clearly, something must be done here.

It’s easy to put the blame on the store, and I’m mostly in agreement.  I can understand the customer service part of no-hassle returns and wanting to make the customer happy, but they still need to verify the item being returned is the same as what was purchased.  And I think anything returned should be flagged with a label indicating it is not “new stock”.

And while this sounds great, reality says there’s actually very little stopping thieves from doing whatever they want to do.  How about the stories of people using self checkout to buy expensive things and ringing them up as bananas?  How about the rule that “loss prevention” is actually not allowed to engage with a suspected shoplifter?  Just keep on walking, they can’t stop you.  They literally can’t stop you.  And when shitty people learn this stuff, they just do it.

I had the thought that night that if I had used self-checkout, the mismatched product would probably have been caught because it would have a different weight.  The register would have said something like incorrect item in bagging area.  That’s great, but you know what really would have happened?  The clerk would have just overridden the register and I’d be on my way with the wrong item anyway.  Again, it comes back to the store, but they’re just doing whatever it takes to make the customer happy, because self-checkout problems are a sure-fire way to piss people off.  If you’re making the customer do the work, you had better make it easy for them.

But let’s just make it clear, customer service is a poor term when the customer is not even a customer, but only a thief.

A Christmas Burden

As a collector of CDs, sometimes I fantasize about coming across an old collection that’s up for sale, one with lots of old and rare CDs in it, along with CDs that I would also want to listen to.  I’ve read about people having experiences like that – they’re not common at all.  But Sunday, I was fortunate enough to have one of my own.

I had planned to visit my local flea market that day to check out and maybe buying a dart set for fun.  I have a board set up in my garage, but I don’t seem to have any darts anymore.  So I visited the booth with the darts and because there was only one set available, I decided to hold off another week until he got his order with different models.  My flea market doesn’t have a resident “CD guy”, so I don’t stop in very often.  But I did feel like getting some walking in, so I wandered the halls.

I found a couple of temporary sellers with CDs, but their selection was terrible and in poor condition.  Another seller had like 10 CDs out.  Sigh.  But, leaving that seller’s stand, I saw a booth across the hall with a couple of larger CD racks.  I went over to see what was there.  Within 10 seconds of browsing the rack, I could tell this was a personal collection.  There were items there that I never see anywhere else.  In one rack, there was almost the entirety of the IRS NoSpeak series, something I had completed this year.  I could have saved quite a bit of money, here.

Alas, I didn’t find anything in the two front racks, but when I stood back up and actually looked in the booth, there were six more racks and a couple of boxes of CDs.  Oh my god, if it’s all the quality of what’s out front, I’m in trouble.

And without dragging it out, yes, it was and, yes, I was.  There were two criteria I was working with at this booth.  The first was looking for stuff I wanted (duh).  The second was looking for any smooth-sided cases, which would indicate early CD pressings.  In the first criteria, I found maybe 6 CDs.  However, when it came to smooth cases, this collector was seriously an early adopter.  I was pulling out CDs 2-3 at a time and stacking them up into multiple piles.

The total at the end was 62 CDs.  The lady charged me a whopping $55 and even was willing to take a credit card when I explained I didn’t have enough cash to cover the purchase.  I was willing to do PayPal or some other method to avoid her getting a fee, but ok.  She was very happy to move so many of the CDs at once, and I was very pleased with what I had pulled out.

Back at home, I stacked the CDs all up and began cleaning the cases.

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After cleaning them, which took a little over half an hour, I had to step away to let my mind think about what I had to do.  I broke the incoming items into three piles: things that were duplicates of what I already had (and might be upgrades), things I definitely wanted to add to the collection, and the rest was going to have to be evaluated to see if I wanted to keep it.  I ended up with 20 definite adds, 6 or so dupes, and the rest was left for later.  Then I had to take another break.

What we’re talking about here is listening to 50+ albums.  Even being really aggressive about it, listening to one CD on the way to work, one on the way back, and maybe one at night, we’re still talking almost a month of new music.  And listening to an album once isn’t always fair when choosing to keep it or not, and I do want to be fair.  That means a whole lot of music has been dropped into my life.

And that quantity of music is overwhelming.  Believe it or not, I haven’t listened to any of it yet.  You would think I would have immediately popped in a CD coming back from the flea market, but I was too shocked at my fortune.  When you have over 60 albums to listen to, where do you start?  The genres are all over the place, so I could get anything, really.  What a first world problem.

I pulled out the 20 albums that were on the must have list and got them logged into my Discogs account.  It put my collection’s Max total over $20k.  Obviously that’s highly optimistic, but it’s still a milestone.  I compared the dupes in my collection to the newcomers and only swapped one out.  The other 5 have to get compared and posted on my other blog.  So I have plenty of things to do ahead of me next week.

Revelations

It was almost 3 years ago that I really started to rebuild my interest in having a home stereo again.  I had purchased a cheap stereo from a thrift store.  That stereo only had a cassette player.  Then, I followed that purchase up with a $10 CD player from another thrift shop.  At that point, I should have been done, and should have been happy to spend so little money on a stereo.  The alternative I had planned was a new system – amp/CD/speakers – on the order of $1200 or so.  My cheap CD player, paired up with the powered studio monitors I’d owned for many years, was a really good sounding little system.  At least that’s what I thought.

In the time since, I have bought other cheap CD players at thrift stores.  The reason for this was for experience.  One experience was the restoration and repair of the devices.  Of my purchases, one repair was successful, one wasn’t, and the latest one didn’t need any work at all.  The other experience was more audiophilic.  People that review stereo equipment have the ability to grade and rank such equipment and that’s really something the average person can’t really do.  No one goes out and buys five different CD players at $300-$500 just to compare how they sound.  But if the players are $10 each, well, that reviewing experience becomes just a fun little hobby.

The first player in my collection is an Onkyo DX-701.  It was made in 1992.  Being the first in my collection, it was my unofficial standard.  When I first set it up, I was thrilled with it.  It did exactly what it was supposed to do: play CDs.  For $10, it was all I needed.

The next player I got was a Scott DA980, in April 2019.  It cost all of $7.  There’s not a lot of information out there about this player, but its manufacture date is June, 1989.  It appears to be a Yamaha-manufactured device rebranded by Scott.  Unfortunately, it needed some work and I got my first experience repairing a CD player.  Comparing it to the Onkyo, I really liked how smooth and silent the loading tray was.  But what I should have really focused on was whether it sounded better.  To be honest, I couldn’t tell.  And that really disappointed me.  I thought I would be able to notice some difference, but I didn’t.  So at that point, I assumed that “digital is digital” and all decent CD players sound the same.  So then, I wouldn’t really need to focus on sound quality, but more on features.

Then, this month, I found yet another cheap CD player.  It was a Technics SL-P220.  It was marked at $16 and I happened to buy it on a 50% off day, so it cost me $8.  My luck in CD player purchases is remarkably consistent.  This player didn’t need any repair, just some cleaning.  Well, some of the cleaning was technically repair because the control buttons were intermittent.  I am a fan of the Technics brand.  It was the brand of the stereo system in my youth.  This player came out just about the time CDs were hitting the mainstream.  Just about the time I experienced my first CD at my friend’s house.  This is the oldest of the three players (June, 1987) and being that old, it would be expected to have the least refined technology for decoding digital audio.

When I did my first test play with the Technics, it was kind of a surreal experience.  It sounded different.  Way, way different, in a good way.  I put identical CDs in the Technics and the Onkyo and played them together, then switched back and forth to determine the difference.

And here’s where the difficulty begins.  When you read stereo reviews, you will usually find yourself rolling your eyeballs at the descriptions the reviewers use.  In fact, you will probably internally smirk at anyone that tries to describe the qualities of sound.  It’s just something that can’t really be done.  In my case, the first thing I thought of comparing the two is that the Technics was “brighter.”  And that’s a fair description.  Most people can determine bright sound vs dull or flat sound.  This is probably also what experts mean when they say “digital-sounding”.  But who knows?  What does digital sound like?

So, I had a word that I could use to describe how the Technics sounded better to me (that’s important).  But as I listened to it more, there were more differences and those were more painful to describe because it made me sound like a pompous high-end stereo reviewer.  I’ll not get into those descriptions and just say it sounded much, much better to me than the Onkyo.  As I always do when I get a new piece of equipment, I search for anyone talking about it.  And I found only two mentions of the SL-P220, one saying it was great and another saying they replaced it with something that was substantially “better”.

Here’s the thing for me.  This latest player has changed my interest in listening to music.  I’m now excited to hear music from it.  It has the same magic as when I first heard the albums decades ago.  This is something the other two players didn’t do for me.  It’s revelatory.  I’ve read over and over that you have no idea what you’re missing until you hear the music you love on a good system.  But… this is an early player and even at that, isn’t a top-end model, just standard-grade.  It’s a $300 player back in the day which was average.  And, considering what I hear and what experts say, this is an example of poor early-era digital reproduction – tinny, thin, bright, “not analog sounding”, blah blah blah.

So fucking what!  The Technics sounds incredible to me and when I try listening to the Onkyo afterwards, it sounds dull and lifeless.  So if I like the sound of bright digital, why should I be ashamed of it?  So yes, I have a new favorite CD player and it’s my new benchmark.  It’s not going to stop me from buying more cheapo players and comparing them.  Maybe I’ll find something even better.

Judged By The Company You Keep

In my state, you just cannot live without having tinted windows on your car.  Unless you actually want sunburn or cancer, that is.  When I got my MX5 nine years ago, I was dying during the few days between when I bought the car and I had my appointment for window tinting.  I had to keep a towel in the car to cover my forearm from the sun blasting through the glass.

Almost a decade later, I have a new car, a much bigger car, and this one also needs the tinting treatment for my own comfort and safety.  Maybe a bit surprisingly to me, the same shop that did the windows on my other car is still there.  Well, maybe it is.  It has a new name, but the logo is mostly the same, and the original name is now used by another shop elsewhere in the city.  Partnership gone sour, maybe?  Diversification?  Whatever.  They did a great job the first time, so I’ll go back there and generally hope for the best.

With services like window tinting, isn’t hoping for the best all you can do?  It’s not like it’s a service you utilize on a regular basis, so you build a level of trust in a company.  It’s highly likely you’ll use the service once before they go out of business (or change their name).  And it’s not even really about the business, it’s the quality and skill of their installers.  I doubt the same installers are there that did my first car.  So, it’s always going to be a crapshoot as to what you get.

Tint shops are sort of paradoxical. It’s kind of hard to find one that isn’t ghetto in some way.  I mean, window tint shouldn’t be anything illicit, but you know, it can be.  And those shops usually augment their business with stereo installs, which again, are not illicit, but stereotypically…  And that’s terrible that such a perception exists and that they seem to actively exploit it in their marketing and image.

But the paradox is that this is just the place you want to go.  Quality work comes from practice, so you want a shop that has done a lot of jobs, even if they are on ‘76 Malibus and Cadillacs.  Sigh, more stereotypes.  It’s kind of like certain dive restaurants that have incredible food for really cheap not only because they are more focused on the food than their image, but because they’re so busy with their cheap regulars that they are masters at cooking that food.

Back to my statement about not using window tint services often enough to build a relationship.  That statement was a little short-sighted.  Maybe you do utilize that service frequently if you’re in the cycle of buying $1000 cars and burning them out every 6 months.  I mean, that sounds horrible, but it’s the same as having a $200/mo car payment, right?  Seems almost legit.  Except you would have to get your new car retinted twice a year.  And those customers keep the installers well experienced.

So when I go in with my 2019 model car, the quality I receive could be built off the backs of people who don’t have the credit or ability to buy a car less than 10 years old and are in a constant cycle of upgrades.  Maybe not, but maybe.  What’s the alternative?  Find a high-end shop where they, for whatever reason, would not service those repeat customers?  Which is the greater evil?  Why did this post get so heavy?  I just want to not roast in my car.