Sears and Realistic
I got hooked on audio gear at an early age. The first stereo system I owned—I was about 12 years old at the time—was an AM/FM receiver with a built-in cassette deck and record player, purchased from Sears, Roebuck and Co. The set came with a pair of lightweight bookshelf speakers that were wafer thin with nonremovable brown grilles. I hooked up the system on Christmas morning and was absolutely thrilled with what I’d received.
Thinking back on that Christmas morning 43 years ago, I suppose it was my dad that got me hooked on upgrading my stereo equipment.
We opened our Christmas gifts in the living room of our home, the way most people did. Later in the day I was preparing to move my newly acquired stereo down the hall to my bedroom, where it would take up permanent residence. Then my dad did something that planted a seed that continues to blossom to this day. Even though my stereo system was brand new, my dad made me an offer: “You want my speakers instead? They’ll sound better than the ones that came with your system.” I was skeptical at first. “Are you sure?” I asked. He was sure: “Yes. They’re bigger, nicer speakers.”
And so instead of taking the Sears speakers back to my room, I took my dad’s twice-as-big Realistic MC-1000 bookshelf pair. Realistic was RadioShack’s house brand, and they made some pretty good speakers at the time. Check out this excellent site with all the RadioShack catalogs from 1939 to 2011. The MC-1000 is in the 1972 catalog on page 30; they retailed for $50 each at the time, and came with walnut veneer, an 8″ woofer, and a 3″ “wide-dispersion tweeter.”
My first stereo upgrade happened the day I got my first stereo, and looking back, I suppose that’s what started it all.
Over the next couple of years, I would upgrade my stereo system every Christmas. Somewhere in the late fall I’d start looking through the Sears catalog at all the stereos available—and there were many, at many different price points—and I’d see what looked best and what I knew was within my parents’ budget. Occasionally we’d go to the mall where the Sears store was located, and I’d get the chance to walk through the stereo section and see the setups firsthand. This was fascinating to me.
After those first two or three Sears stereos, I was finally taken into a Circuit City store. I must have been 14 or 15—this would have been around 1982. My whole world was turned upside down. I’m sure many of you remember the basic layout of the Circuit City stores: there was one room near a back corner with large sliding glass doors. Inside was a shelf lined with bookshelf speakers that ran the circumference of the room, with floorstanding speakers arrayed below it. There was one huge rack of components hooked up to a switcher—the salesman could cycle through the speakers on display with the touch of a button. This is where I became aware that I really had to listen to components to see what I liked.
Around my 15th Christmas, I received my first stereo components purchased from Circuit City. The setup consisted of a JVC receiver and cassette deck and four Criterion floorstanding speakers. The Criterions were big three-ways, and with four of them, my system could absolutely pound out AC/DC. I ended up taking that system with me to college a few years later. I recall that in my first apartment, when my annoying neighbor would crank his R.E.M. too loud when I was trying to sleep, I’d put on some AC/DC and shake the walls with those four Criterions. He would get the message pretty quickly and turn his music down. Sometimes I didn’t return the favor, though.
Circuit City went out of business in January of 2009.
Bose and McIntosh
My girlfriend while I was in college had an uncle who was a musician. He played in some rock bands and had a set of drums in his home and all sorts of recording equipment that amazed me. One Christmas—I was probably 19 at the time—I was visiting my girlfriend and her uncle had gifted a stereo system to her younger brother. I didn’t like him that much—he always seemed spoiled to me—but boy did his new stereo system rock. It consisted of a pair of Bose 901 standmount speakers (don’t know the series) shoehorned into a bookcase, a McIntosh MC2100 stereo power amplifier with a matching MX113 preamplifier-tuner, and a source component I can’t recall. We were all in his bedroom the day he fired it up for the first time. I remember he played Van Halen and Eddie’s guitar just ripped out of the speakers. My JVC/Criterion setup did not sound like this. Say what you want about Bose 901s, but I can assure you they made an impression on my 19-year-old self. I had never heard such equipment before.
For the next few years, I’d chase McIntosh gear. I did acquire an MC2100 and an MX113, and I later upgraded to an MC2200 power amplifier. You may recall that the MC2200 was the 200Wpc model without the meters—and the MC2205 had the blue lights. I actually liked the simpler aesthetic of the MC2200, and I absolutely loved my Mac gear. I had a Carver CD player as the source component and a Pioneer cassette deck along with some Klipsch speakers. That was a sweet system and I was content with it for several years.
MartinLogan, Adcom, and Krell
I was around 22 when I walked into my first high-end store in Durham, NC—this would have been around 1990. I lived in Wilmington, NC, at the time, so Durham was a little over two hours away. The store—Kerr’s Audio Vision, Inc.—was like nothing I’d ever seen. I recall walking in and seeing a pair of MartinLogan speakers for the first time. I had no idea how those speakers even worked—I could see right through them!—but I knew they sounded like no speakers I’d ever experienced. That store was also where I saw my first Adcom gear—a GFA-555 power amplifier, designed by Nelson Pass and introduced to the market in 1985. The salesman told me that Adcom was a great company and that the inside secret was that “GFA” stood for “Great Fucking Amplifier.” I thought it was so cool to be in on the secret.
Then . . . everything changed.
I walked into Audio Vision’s highest-end room and there, newly unboxed and warming up, was the thing that would become the new object of my desire: a fresh Krell KSA-250 stereo power amplifier. I’d never seen anything like it. It was the most beautiful audio component I’d ever seen, and it looked like nothing I’d ever imagined. I would, a couple of years later, acquire a KSA-250 from a used-equipment store in New York City. I have many fond memories of that amplifier. I was probably 25 at the time and had my first real job.
So from the very beginning, the upgrades have always been part of the hobby. Over the past 30 years, I’ve grown my fascination for audio equipment. The hobby led me to seek out a career in the industry and SoundStage! has afforded me the opportunity to enjoy an entire world of amazing gear for two and a half decades.
But I credit my dad with giving me those Realistic speakers.
That started it all, and I’ll be forever thankful for my first stereo upgrade.
. . . Jeff Fritz