My Stereos, a history – retro style article

This text is very old originally but is now a “retro” article of old stuff

Early days until 2006

I started my stereo life with a radio my Grandad gave me. Then I got my Dad’s old setup (record deck and Sinclair compact amp) which I added another one of my Grandads radio’s to.

When I got a proper job I was able to start saving for something better and I bought a Pioneer compact Hi-fi which after a time I really started to hate. The Pioneer quality was lacking from this unit and really a lot of it was for show, like the twin display spectrum analiser. I hated the way the cassette and cd decks clunked about. Many things frustrated me with it, like the lack of external connections.

I decided to buy seperates to replace it. This Pioneer setup which at the time I thought was ‘it’ for me and the stereo for the rest of my life. I intended to keep it for as long as it would last, which taking into Pioneer’s reputation for “finish like a Rolls Royce; with build quality like a Volvo” I really hoped this would have been true. I was so in love with this setup:

Amp- Pioneer A-777 – 4/12/91 – £399.99

CD – Pioneer PD-8500 – 13/11/92 – £199.80

Tape – Pioneer CT-676 – 30/12/91 – £199.80

Speakers – JVC SP-X990 floor standers – 8/01/91 – £199.80

Total: £999.39

Misc components

Headphones – Sennheiser HD 530 II – 12/10/94 – £79.95

Tape 2 – Pioneer CT-540 – 8/3/93 – £35.95

Radio – Technics ST-X933L                             

Cobra 3 interconnect from CD to AMP

Carnival Silver Plus speaker cables

Homemade rack

Misc components, an extra tape deck and a radio, which were second hand cheap.

I started buying the components in 1991 one unit at a time. I used to fawn over the catalogues but these 3 were the components I really wanted. They didn’t come easy, and it wasn’t just a matter of going out with £999.39+ and getting just what I wanted. First of all I got the amp and paid top whack for it on a “buy now pay later” scheme, it was the worst thing and hung over me all along until the payment was due and I vowed never to do it again. With the other units I was lucky: I got the tape and speakers in sales, they should have been £80 more each. The CD I left far too long and by the time I was ready to buy you could only get the ugly 1 bit machines. I just happened to visit Peter Watts Pioneer Dealer in Bury St. Edmunds (Suffolk UK) one day and there was the CD I had wanted all that time… and… £200 cheaper than new! Therefore my stereo core components should have cost £1359.39 so I saved £360 on marked price. I often went into Peter Watts from ’89 onwards and I guess they got to know me, so when I was ready to buy they knocked a bit off the price. Peter Watts is now closed down (perhaps they were too generous!).

Pioneer A-777 Amplifier

My Review: It is based on the minimal A-400 which was a prize winning amp in its time with a very transparent sound. The A-777 is a fully loaded version with much greater power and every knob and twiddle you can think of. Reviews were not too favourable in the hi-fi magazines saying that the sound was hash. The amp weighs 19 kg with its massive heat sinks and transformers: as there are two of everything and each channel has its own components. Personally I love the way it sounded and dislike the ‘warm-fuzzy’ sound of other amps, however the so called harshness of the sound can grate at higher volumes for a longer listening period. This can be a quiet detailed listen or turn it up to let the monster breath.

95+95watts at 8ohms, 140+140watts at 4ohms. It also had more connections than you could wave a stick at.

Pioneer PD-8500 CD Deck

My Review: I know little about what the media said about this unit, all I know is that it was only a current model for one year and the following year all Pioneer cd players were 1 bit units. Mine was a 28 bit unit. I find the sound very clear but just on the side of too clear. Cosmetically it is a babe and has minimal front panel buttons, most of the functions are relegated to the remote. I was utterly in love with this unit.

Pioneer CT-676 Tape Deck

My Review: This one I know is a winner and it was given rave reviews at the time for its sound quality. I loved the powered cassette door, just needing to press play to have the door whip in and play to start! I also loved the Super Auto BLE where you can match the cassette exactly for recording. The machine analyses the tape and sets its Bias, Level and Eq accordingly. You do get great recordings from it. All topped off with a real time tape counter and display off button.

JVC SP-X990 Speakers

My Review: Yet Again I have little idea what the media said. They were not so expensive as far as speakers are concerned. They were a 3 way setup with 25cm bass cones. They standed 858mm tall. The sound is a little too glaring sometimes, but it is hard to know if this is the fault of the amp (etc). They can play quiet but they have real abilities to pump out the bass. In the picture I have taken the grills off, but usually they run with black grills over the speakers.

100watts, 200 watts music

Speaker update: My son (3 years old at the time) put his fingers through the tweeter and midrange on one side of the speakers. I contacted speakercity USA and ordered 2 Peerless tweeters and 2 Vifa 5 1/2 inch midrange. I then replaced the lot on my speakers. The sound is exactly what I wanted, less glairing but more detailed, speakercity USA delivered on the speakers but unfortunately their communication and ordering process leaves something to be desired.

Sennheiser HD 530 II Headphones

My Review: The Hifi mags said these were best suited to Jazz and to start off with I found the sound odd. But over the years they have “broken in” and I like the sound very much. They are able to handle all music very well from techno to classical. The bass weight is perfect and the detail stunning. Build quality is second to none the only problem was needing new foam for the ear pads, but this was after 10 years use! Before these I had a string of top of the range Pioneer headphones, all of which fell apart in less than 2 years.

Chord Company Cables

My Review: I have replaced my ageing IXOS cable to the CD and QMM speaker cables with Carnival Silver Plus speaker cables and a Cobra 3 interconnect from CD to AMP from the Chord Company. There is a great improvement in sound quality, much more detail and the ‘flabby’ bass sound, which I blamed on the speakers, has gone.

Watershed 2006 on 19/3/06 all components taken down dump and chucked away. It is all very well to have these ideals but sometimes life doesn’t work out that way.

Small Info: Little things that annoyed me, but trifles really. The size of it started to get me down, a great slab of stereo and the box it had to stand on had to be a big lump to take the 19kg amp alone. Then the speakers were big floor standers which ended up as a huge lump of black of a stereo up the corner. Ok it still sounded good, but I wondered if new ones sounded better, also technology was catching up with it and not being able to play mp3 on the cd was frustrating. What was the point in being able to have bone crunching loud music when you can never turn it up as it will annoy the neighbours? Having said that I do wish I still had it.

Final Info: There were many other issues involved not just the ones above but that is all in the past now and best forgotten, there is no point putting the private info here and has nothing to do with the stereo. We can plan many things in life, but sometimes it is just not so simple, who knows what is round the corner.

Creative Zen Vision M

Creative Zen Vision M 30gig was my new stereo for a bit. The sound quality was superb and with higher quality mp3 you would not know the difference. My whole cd collection fited on it and more. Now I could take my stereo where I wanted: in the car, at home at the office. I still have my Sennheiser headphones which I use with the Zen. Only problem is the harddisk was too small.

Apple ipod classic 2009

On 25 Feb 2009 my Zen departed to a new owner. Sold on Ebay for £72. I resisted for so long but I now have a Apple ipod Classic 120gb (black). The Zen HD was full for a long time. In comes the Apple for £170. Sound quality is good and will be a long time before I fill up the HD. I thought about a Microsoft Zune 120gb but they just don’t seem to get the support over in the UK. I do miss the FM radio of the Zen but it is not essential, especially as it won’t be long until they switch off analogue FM. I do find that the ipod lacks bass with some recordings and I don’t think the sound quality is as good as the Zen. I plug it into my stereo or listen to it on the Sennheiser’s. It does sound better through a dock.

My stereo options 2012:

Cambridge Audio amp and some floorstanding speakers which I plug the ipod into through a dock. I think I get better quality sound with this budget setup than I did with the expensive Pioneer setup. It was from Second Sounds, a bargain. I am very very happy with this current setup.


Interconnect: CAMBRIDGE AUDIO AUD100 1M £9.99

Speaker cable: CAMBRIDGE AUDIO SYMPHONY 200 £1.49 a meter, got 6 meters

Amp: CAMBRIDGE AUDIO A1 VERSION 3 (25watt) £69.95

Speakers: Q ACOUSTICS 1030i (100watt) £139.95

Desktop computer: Sound Blaster X-Fi Xtreme soundcard and Logitech 5.1 Surround Speakers.

Laptop (when travelling) with scratchy internal speakers.

Me and my music, in conclusion:

Crazy really, I have the most music I have ever had but not the quality I used to have. It’s probably that way with a lot of people in this day and age. Don’t misunderstand me. I love music and I do miss the quality I had with the old Pioneer. The best times were listening to it through the headphones as the detail from CD was fantastic. But now when I am travelling or so forth just having music to listen to at all over the dreadful tinny speakers of the laptop is a blessing! And the fact that I have 60gigs worth of variety even though it is at the reduced quality of mp3 is just a godsend. Yes I know I have lost detail in the music but the fact that I have not lost music altogether is the real joy. I always hope that one day I will experience the quality again.

2013 update. I have found that really there is not enough bass with the ipod. Now I use my laptop plugged into my pro M audio soundcard (that I use to play gigs with) which is plugged in instead of the ipod.

2024 update:

So, with most of my stereo equipment long gone, where are we now?

I still have the Sennheiser headphones, what a purchase they were!

I still have the Creative 5-1 speakers, though they are not setup.

Mostly I listen to anything with the headphones plugged into my laptop.

In-truth, I have issue with a lot of my music now. This is hard to explain, so I won’t try. Needless to say I don’t listen to that much right now. The headphones go on for making music or reviewing my own music. When I have worked out what I need to say about music I’ll certainly post it here, or somewhere on the website, maybe.