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Diggin’ in the Mags: How Glossies Represented Sound Culture During the Peak Hi-Fi Years
Classic Marantz, Klipsch, JBL, and Garrard advertisements from the peak Hi-Fi era.
Fifty years ago when magazines were the dominant source of information on listening and hi-fi culture, the demand for the latest news on gear, technology and advances in stereophonic sound reproduction sparked fierce competition among publishers looking to connect advertisers with buyers.
Magazines including Audio, Stereophile and High Fidelity targeted a generation with disposable income and a fierce love of listening to music. Dense with brands promoting then-fresh, covetable gear that a half-century later inspires both wonder and desire, the publications employed full-time reporters, editors, designers and illustrators whose monthly mission was to enlighten the massive American middle class on the wonders of stereophonic listening.
Though they didn’t realize it would at the time, this writing and these ads on the ins and outs of high-fidelity remain an incredible resource to those curious about the history of the technology driving quality sound.
Below, some choice advertisements from the peak hi-fi era.
What kind of people don’t use a Marantz in their system? “Blah people. Middle-of-the-road-people who only listen to the midrange because their power amplifier DISTORTS the high and low frequencies,” that’s who. Judging by the volume of ads that the company placed throughout the 1970s, Marantz’s campaigns worked. Hundreds of thousands of various models were sold, which is why so many remain in circulation.
Here’s a tip from a smart commenter on the Klipsch website re: securing a secondhand pair of Belle Klipsch speakers: “If you live near a college campus, knock on fraternity doors and ask, ‘Do you have any old house speakers sitting in the basement?’ Back in the ‘70’s these things were favorite party speakers in fraternity houses from coast to coast, usually in unfinished oak veneer cabinets. Even if the cabinets are soaked in 40 years of spilled beer & barf, they are worth owning. Rescue them! Refinish them and put them in your audio room.”
The early 1970s saw manufacturers bet big on cassette technology. Unlike the front-loaded components that became standard in the 1980s, most decks from the 1960s and ‘70s are designed to be top-loaded. This ad references the noise-reduction technology Dolby, a patented process that eliminates high-end hiss — but also reduces detail.
These little JBL beasts cost $300 new and on the used market now go for three times that. Gorgeous and powerful — “Two Lancer 55s and your 10-watt amplifier can get you evicted,” the ad boasts — the speaker was designed with a smoked glass top, a hand-rubbed, oiled walnut finish and three color options for the speaker fabric.
Not only is Garrard considered the most desirable turntable brand, their ads were miniature lectures on achieving quality sound. Read the text and tell us you don’t want to dip into your savings and splurge.
Need graphics ideas? Glossy stereo magazines hired fantastic print designers and illustrators. Here’s one example as a teaser to a future post on hi-fi graphics.
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