When Everyone Was An Audiophile: Remember Your First Stereo System?

By | June 2, 2020

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Debbie Harry, lead singer of the new wave group Blondie, sits in front of some stereo equipment, circa 1977. (Photo by Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)

Hi-fi components... big stereo speakers... something called a receiver... and an equalizer... file them all under "things kids don't know about these days." Sure, listening to an album in the modern era is easier, as easy as scrolling through your phone on an app, but the music doesn’t sound anywhere near as good as that big old analog hi-fi sound. In the ‘50s and ‘60s, stereo equipment became affordable for mass consumers, turning everyone into an audiophile. Even if you didn’t have thousands of dollars to drop on the system of your dreams you could still put together a pretty good setup. Whether you were using a reel-to-reel to listen or a sturdy phonograph your system was personal; there was none other like it, it was yours. 

High-fidelity is a state of mind

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Frank Sinatra with his sweet home hi-fi. Source: kcrw

What does “hi-fi” even mean? We hear it bandied around quite a bit when discussing music and sound quality but it’s one of those phrases that sounds like nothing, unless you’re in the audiophile world. A “hi-fi” or high-fidelity system is how audiophiles describe a stereo system that’s designed to play sounds that are as close to their original source as possible. If you’ve got a great hi-fi and you’re listening to a live classical recording it should be like you’re sitting in the audience of an orchestra. This pursuit of perfect audio can be a bit of a trap, one man’s high-fidelity can be another’s lo-fi system. It’s all in your perspective.