So there’s this puppy, and it likes to chase cars.
Not just any car, mind you, this puppy goes after certain black cars and occasionally silver cars too. It has no interest in other colours because pink or green cars cannot be taken seriously — but also because dogs are colour blind. The puppy is informed; it learns what is desirable from the adverts and reviews it sees in the newspapers laying on the floor while it is being house trained, and because it observes the adult dogs in the neighbourhood chasing after similar cars.
However, our puppy never quite manages to catch up because cars are fast.
As the puppy grows up it gradually gets side tracked by other interests and new chew toys. Pussies, too, become an instinctive pursuit. Still, our dog looks up and occasionally gives chase when it sees a flashy black car go by — but loses interest after a few metres.
“Nah, another time,” it thinks to itself, “every dog has its day.”
One sunny day our dog was basking in the front yard as a particularly flashy black car cruises by. The dog gives chase. The car slows down. The dog catches up. The car comes to a stop. The driver leaves the engine running and jumps out to quickly drop off something at a neighbour’s house.
Yes, the dog has finally caught a car!
So now what? Seriously… what’s a dog to do with a car?
Oh, this dog knows. It jumps in the seat, closes the door, and drives off. The dog is happy.
Or is it? After a few spins around the block the dog returns the car and scurries off home. It is not fulfilled. It wants more. A flea bug has bitten. The dog wants a better car.
That dog is me. I finally “caught my car”.
But the real chase has only just begun: after several years of collecting components and a similar number of weekends of woodwork later, last December I finally completed the Hi‑Fi rack I’ve been wanting to build since what feels like an eternity.
It’s a sturdy wooden rack with framed glass doors, six shelves stacked with Hi‑Fi components, a drawer for loose accessories, a space for vinyl records, and a nice beechwood top upon which rests a turntable. It’s a Sony.
All in all it’s a decent construction which has already been shuffled around twice because loudspeaker placement is tantamount. Room acoustics are everything. I’m already mentally designing a new one. And I want just got bigger speakers. I need a new room.
As for the components? They’re everything that I always thought I wanted as a youngster — and more. Three cassette decks is more than I’d use on a regular basis, and none of them is a Nakamichi. The Denon deck is a placeholder for a DCC and/or DAT player. Although I have two others in my arsenal, the Sony turntable will do until there’s a decent Kenwood or similar resting next to it — because yes, this rack’s built for two.
Oh yeah, the bug’s bitten. I want bigger, better, more! Hello, Shibata.
The chase is better than the catch. It’ll never end.
It began with the first music player I had as a 10-year old, a Toshiba radio/tape unit such as the one below. It didn’t take long to figure out what the “record” button does.
For years I listened to the radio with one finger hovering over it, and that’s how I filled dozens of tapes with clunky mono recordings off AM radio. In the early eighties I also went through a range of cheap Chinese Walkman knock-offs — but at least those were in stereo. Queen’s “Greatest Hits” was one of the first pre-recorded cassettes I ever purchased — and still have.
Sometime around 1985 the family finally got a music system with the unflattering brand name of “Funiki” and with which I gluttonously copied records onto tape.
It’s the familiar story of millions of teenagers who grew up in the eighties.
Cassettes were the medium of my youth, and I had control over their content and their design. I also started purchasing records — “The Power Station 33⅓” being the first one.
The Toshiba unit eventually gave way to a Goldstar stereo radio/tape unit but it wasn’t until 1989 that I could afford to splash out on a Sharp bookshelf unit. A year later it was joined by the first true Hi-Fi component: A CD player by JVC.
Now this was the dog’s bollocks!
The compact disc thus became the medium for albums worth “owning”. I completely abandoned vinyl and spent a good deal of cash (re)buying my favourite albums on CD while cassettes remained useful for random collections of tunes and occasional mixes.
Barely a decade later CDs themselves had become recordable, and then the internet/MP3 threw everything out the window yet again. The media landscape changed completely. Music editing/collecting is done via computer, mix tapes give way to mix CD-Rs.
Years pass. People age. Music systems come and go. None of them is a proper component Hi-Fi because time had become a scarce commodity where most listening is done during long, daily commutes. At one point, the car audio system was actually the best I had – and as good as I needed at the time. There simply was no point in a separate tower of components. Practicality had trumped quality.
Thus, for a long time, compact discs and DVDs were all the physical media I spent money on. In fact, during the mid-noughties I was on a weird buzz to collect CD-singles. Even my humble record collection had managed to find its way back home while even far larger amounts of records, tapes and CDs kept coming my way for free, and my Philips and Sony bookshelf units are quite adequate for discovering the sounds they safeguard.
For background music, there’s a dedicated laptop (since upgraded too) with my stash of ripped MP3 files. Occasionally I stream podcasts or techno mixes. People now tell Alexa which Sonos speaker to stream their Spotify or Qobuz playlists to. Cars have SD-card readers instead of CD players. Technology has certainly moved on.
Meanwhile, our dog sits in the front yard and watches the young pups go by with their smartphones and their silly little earbuds. Convenience had trumped quality.
He also notices that some of them have taken to buying new music on new records and new cassettes. He is pleased to see retro technology getting rediscovered, recycled and appreciated for all its analogue pops and warbles and flaws.
Just don’t bother trying to sell this dog old tricks in new packaging, though.
He’s sniffing out a different range of toys along the line of this or that or maybe this. Technology has shifted. It’s time to chase other cars and build something else.
This passion is an expensive pursuit.
Hover for image credits.