Building a system from the ground up? Start with the speakers. Some sage advice from a 1975 essay in High Fidelity magazine.
The whole thing can be overwhelming, building a sound system, especially for those whose listening habits have been shaped by device-to-eardrum headphones, which have no concern for the environmental pleasure that comes from filling a room with sound.
But broken down, a stereo system for playing records need only involve four elements: Amplifier, turntable, cartridge and speakers. Each piece is essential, of course, but first on your list should be speakers.
That advice stems from the truism that a system can sound only as good as its speakers. The reasoning is simple, as hi-fi writer Norman Eisenberg so eloquently wrote in the November, 1975 issue of High Fidelity magazine, one of a half dozen expert glossies covering the then-thriving audio entertainment market.
“The speaker is the mouthpiece of your system: it is the device that stirs the unwilling air in your room into the patterns of molecular compression and expansion that you perceive as Mozart or Mancini, Chicago or the Chicago Symphony,” Eisenberg writes.
“Your big, fat, dumb amplifier just sits there devouring AC power through its umbilical line-cord and converting it into electronic replicas of sound,” the writer continues. “It couldn’t care less, for its basic operation, whether it reposes in a high-ceilinged restoration of an 18th-century drawing room or in a four-by-four planked outhouse. But your speakers are much fussier. They have to bite into their acoustical environment — to taste that environment, so to speak. If they are displeased by what they taste, they will let you know at once, like a kid with a plate of spinach.”
Eisenberg’s essay makes an incredibly convincing argument, and is worth reading in its entirety.