Sunday, August 1, 2010

My Midlife Crisis: A tale of Woe and Redemption

My tale of woe begins nearly forty years ago when I was a young man in my early twenty's. Those were relatively carefree days. No family to provide for and few responsibilities. My paychecks mostly went towards stereo gear (this is before all my discretionary funds went to woodworking tools). Usually at the top of my priority list was the newest – biggest – baddist stereo receiver or speakers. Crossing off an item at the top of that list meant saving all my "extra money" until I could make the trip into Seattle and procure the object of my desires. Back then all my monthly expenses (rent - food - utilities – etc.) could almost be met with a single week's paycheck. But this stereo stuff was expensive and often required several weeks of savings to put aside the necessary funds. During this time of saving and waiting I would wear the advertising literature to tatters while imagining how complete my life would be once I had in my possession the new piece of gear. As I neared the payday that would put me over the top, the excitement would build and keep building until I found myself in the store making the big purchase. With the merchandise loaded in my red Volkswagen bug, I would make for my apartment as fast as four small cylinders would accommodate me. The excitement reached a feverish pitch as I unpacked and set up the new gear. At long last the new component was in place with my stereo turned up loud so my neighbors could savor the moment along with me.

The problem was - the initial excitement soon faded as I realized my life had not changed in any dramatic fashion as my imagination had led me to believe. This epiphany was soon followed by another more profound epiphany "There is yet a bigger, badder piece of stereo equipment that I do not have – and I am certain that my ascension to cosmic consciousness will be realized once I posses it!

Ultimately, each revelation and each new component was followed by yet another revelation and yet another component. My imagination repeatedly told me that nirvana would be within reach if only I were to keep my eyes on the prize and persevere on my path to the ultimate stereo.

But alas, I lost faith. I told myself enlightenment was not to be found in the acquisition of stereo gear. Somewhere deep inside though, there persisted a meager glimmer of conviction that I had stopped too soon – just one more trip to Seattle with a small pile of cash would be all it took. Maybe my faith should have been stronger, but I am only human and weak. Woe was me

Nonetheless, I picked myself up and moved on with life. I eventually got married and had kids which entailed commitments and responsibilities. My carefree days were behind me and a thing of the past. Eventually my stereo gear did not even make it as high as the back burner on my priority list. Some of it even got sold off instead of being repaired.

Many years have passed now and my kids are all grown. A couple of years ago I was at a garage sale and came upon a Sansui 5000A receiver for $20. I had this same model way back when and needless to say it had cost me a lot more than $20. I instantly forked out the cash without haggling. Something was re-kindled deep inside me. I was having another one of my revelations – I could see salvation on my horizon. My faith was being restored. My quest for the bigger badder stereo gear could be realized at bargain prices by way of garage sales, thrift stores and craigslist. I was on a quest. But as we know, sometimes a quest can turn a little nutty. I had many years of suppressing my stereo desires to deal with. I needed therapy – and by therapy I mean amassing and hording (a primordial survival instinct) as much of this gear as possible. This was turning into a midlife crisis, but it was a lot easier on the pocket book than a shiny new corvette.

The feeding frenzy that followed my latest revelation left my shop floor cluttered with vintage audio gear and less room to work. This stuff could be found for little to nothing and sometimes free! I had not kept my eyes on the original prize but opted for quantity over quality. I needed to re-focus and gather up those components that were to have brought me fulfillment back in 1973. At the top of this list were a set of AR-3a speakers and a Marantz 2270 receiver. I had previously owned a pair of the AR's but sold them thirty years ago when they needed repairs and I needed cash. These speakers have become legendary over the years and can command a premium price. I eventually procured a pair in need of "minor" repair – "minor" being a subjective term. The story behind these speakers is a saga in itself, but after much time and consternation, I have a faithfully restored pair of Ar-3a speakers along with a pair of Greene & Greene style speaker stands which I made especially for them.

The next on my list was a Marantz 2270 receiver. Actually any Marantz with "22" in its model number held magic for me and unfortunately for lots of other people as well. The Marantz 22-hundred series, like the Ar-3a, had become much sought after. Many of these units are collecting dust these days though and not everyone is aware of their worth. By watching craigslist like a hawk, I was able to secure not only the 2270 but its bigger (badder) brother the 2285b and its littler (less-badder) brother the 2252b as well. I have since thinned out my vintage gear down the bare-bones minimum of a mere 7 sets of speakers along with 6 receivers and various CD players (not vintage but gotta have them to play cd's).

I have my best system set up in our living room – this space is my stereo sanctuary. I am not looking to my stereo gear as I was forty years ago to make my life complete - but I am getting immense pleasure from it this time around. Few material things bring as much satisfaction. Life is not quite complete but nearly so, when closing my eyes and listening to a Beethoven symphony or the Kronos Quartet on my vintage gear - sounds like heaven to me even though my ears aren't what they used to be ( lots of years in a woodshop is not good on the ears). And I must give credit to my long-suffering wife for being so understanding about arranging the furniture in the living room for the optimum listening placement.

That burning desire to have the biggest baddist has almost been eradicated from my being. BUT - If by chance you have something bigger and badder in the way of a 70's Marantz receiver or Acoustic Research (AR) speakers – AND you offer me a killer deal – I might just see if nirvana is in fact obtainable with that next piece of gear.


  1. Your youth and mine are amazingly similar except substitute the Marantz receiver (excellent choice) for a Scott receiver (even better IMHO). I used to drive down to the Federated store every Saturday to make sure MY receiver was still there.

  2. Very enjoyable post, Darrell. I have to say that I'm surprised to see mention of Beethoven rather than the Beatles. How does Rubber Soul sound on the "new" system? How about Pet Sounds? Please tell me you've played Pet Sounds. :)

  3. Marty - do you currently have your Scott receiver?

    I listen to stuff like the Beatles,Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and the Beach Boys during the day in my shop where I have 2 sets of Ar2-ax's in the bench room powered by a Sansui 5000A (soon to be replaced by a Sansui 9090). I have listened to the (re-mixed)Rubber Soul on the "new" system and it sounds great - especially Norwegian Wood. Sorry - not yet Pet Sounds on the new system (Sloop John B one of my favorites!) but I will remedy that very soon.

    In the evening when I listen to my new system,I tend towards stuff that makes me drift without reference I have also been getting hooked on SACD (Super Audio CD) - there's a lot of astoundingly superb (sound quality & performance)recordings available in Classical Music.
    When I listen to the Beatles and other older music I seem to drift back to the 60's. When I listen to classical (and such) I tend to drift unrestricted - sometimes ideas for furniture designs come to me while drifting.

  4. As a matter of fact I do. I blew it up at a New Years Eve party in the 80's and I could never get myself to toss it because I spent so much on it initially and it was my first real purchase of something with my own money.

  5. Marty - sorry to hear of your treasured receiver's demise - there is an entire subculture out there dedicated to restoring vintage gear - maybe someday you can bring it back to life.

  6. There are several companies that do that sort of thing. Oaktree in Colorado and Mapleshade in Maryland. Up until reading your post I hadn't thought about that receiver in a long time but now...Damn You Darrell Peart! :)

  7. I came here when looking for information on Greene and Greene style speaker stands.

    My current speakers are a pair of Bose bookshelf speakers that use a pair of dying AR2-AXs as speaker stands. I am an amateur woodworker and fan of the Greene brothers and was thinking of making some real stands.

    I bought the ARs from a friend in the late '70s who had replaced them with electro-static speakers. He regretted the 'upgrade' for years after. I wasn't aware until I came here that those are still worth fixing.

    BTW, the stand for the AR3 is very nice.

    Thank you,


  8. Grset story and how easily it could be applied to many things like wood, tools etc -Ha. If only I had that tool, I could do better work!

  9. I have read this blog entry several times and each time it is a like I was looking in a mirror. I like the fact that we woodworkers have other interests and can put those thoughts and such into printed words for others. I look forward to reading your next story.

  10. Wow, what an excellent flashback down memory lane! I had a pair of AR3s too, but with dark brown grills. That was many moons ago and now I drool over expensive hand planes. AndyW.

  11. Darrell I found your great woodworking site last year and am just now seeing what an audiophile you are. I too have been chasing the audio pot of gold since I was a kid, and now that I'm 50 I think I have bought my last big system. I am currently building a new audio equipment rack, G & G style of course, to house my new audio nirvana gear.