Posted by: davidbowerkingwood | June 15, 2012

Music and Movies at Home, by David Bower

Accidental Exposure

I suspect I was no more than around 8 years old when I accidentally discovered classical music. My mother and step father were not particularly interested in music but when they did listen it seemed to be mostly country-western.

I remember that Sunday afternoon with great clarity; it was quiet and boring so I decided to turn on the radio and see what I could find. By accident I found a broadcast of the New York Philharmonic and discovered a whole new world of sound that I didn’t even know existed.

I was instantly transported by the music they were playing and it became engraved in my memory never to be forgotten; much later I discovered the music I heard was the “Donna Diana” Overture by Reznicek. This was the beginning of a journey which has yet to end, my pursuit of classical music and the reproduction of “high fidelity” music at home.

Many years were to pass before I got my first classical recording, a 78 RPM recording of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 by the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Serge Koussevitzky. Although all of my 78 RPM records were sold by me when the new LP’s came out I was able to acquire an LP mono recording of this same performance which I’m looking at as I write this, RCA LM 1047.

My Next Big Discovery, Component High Fidelity

As I began the shift from 78 RPM to 331/3 RPM LP records I realized I had to get a player that could play them and found a small Philco tabletop player that could handle both. That had to suffice for several years and was all I had even after I got married which followed rather quickly; I was 19 years old when we got married.

In 1951 I joined the Naval Reserve and by the time I was a student at TCU I had become a Naval Reserve Officer Candidate. As part of my training I had to attend training at the Naval Station in Long Beach, California. While there I made another life-changing discovery, I discovered component high fidelity equipment while in Los Angeles.

This was just about as big a discovery for me as the Donna Diana Overture had been years before. I had no clue that reproduced music could sound so good. When training ended I returned to Ft. Worth and went to the Ft. Worth Library and asked about books on high fidelity. The librarian said they didn’t have any books on the subject but had just ordered one. Would I like to be the first one to check it out; you can imagine how quickly that yes came out of my mouth.

I read the book and was totally fascinated by what I read. The only home music I had heard was from Magnovox type open-back cabinet systems that were better than nothing but only just.

Public Address to the Rescue

I started looking for high fidelity equipment in stores but I couldn’t find any “high fidelity” stores in Ft. Worth that sold that sort of equipment. By accident I was visiting an audio supply store which sold intercoms and public address systems and asked the clerk if they had any hi-fi equipment and he said they had some in a back corner. You can imagine my excitement as I walked to the back of the store to see what was there.

The nature of the store should have immediately provided a clue as to what I would find; what was going on was public address equipment was being adapted for home music systems. The first hi-fi amplifiers usually had volume controls for microphones as well as for phono inputs; this was public address equipment being adapted to home use.

Even the speakers were being taken from the public address domain; a famous early hi-fi speaker like the Klipschorn used drivers and speakers designed for public address use.  Once I had discovered a possible source of equipment I started touring and calling all of the audio and electronic stores and checking out the hi-fi equipment they had in stock.

I Take the Plunge

It didn’t take too long before I could no longer resist the call of that equipment. My challenge was to figure out how to do that on a very slender shoestring budget; for me, that was part of the fun. The aforementioned Klipschorn was completely out of the question as it cost in 2012 dollars over $5,000 for a single speaker.

Klipsch made a cheaper version of his folded horn called the Klipsch Shorthorn which was available as an unfinished cabinet only model; that was just the raw wood enclosure without any speakers. I could just barely afford that and so that’s what I got.

Next came the challenge of the speakers so I decided to match the Klipschorn as closely as I could. All of the speakers components except the midrange horn and the crossover network were stock PA equipment so I decided to match those items for my new system.

Klipsch made the midrange horn specially for his big speaker and it was both too large and too expensive to use in my Shorthorn version. His mid-range driver, the University SAHF, was, however, stock PA equipment and was not too pricey so I ordered that along with the PA horn to which it was normally attached but this introduced yet another problem with which I had to deal. The Shorthorn enclosure was too small to hold even that mid-range speaker but the problem was only in height, not in width.

Klipsch had solved the mid-range problem on the Klipschorn by building a separate enclosure on top of the folded horn so I did exactly that with my Shorthorn, I added an enclosure on top.

 

My Very First Hi-Fi Speaker

  I was surprised and pleased to find this photo, I wasn’t even sure I had one left. What doesn’t show up in the picture is the beautiful top or the beauty of the wood finish. I applied five coats of finish to that wood and it was a thing of beauty, at least to me. As I recall it was just over five feet tall and had to be placed in a corner of the room.

The final product had the same speakers and drivers and crossover network except for the mid-range horn that the Klipschorn had for a fraction of the price. From a hobbyist’s perspective that speaker was a major accomplishment, 90% of the big speakers sound for just a fraction of the cost.

The balance of my first system included a Pilot 10W amplifier and a Garrard record changer with a GE monophonic cartridge. The fantastic efficiency of those PA speakers permitted a hugely magnificent sound from that 10W amplifier let me assure you!

Next time, the draft board has unexpected plans for my life.


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