The Buyable Past

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After a 1946 Fortune magazine feature devoted 11 pages to a fledgling phenomenon called high fidelity, many music lovers were quick to purchase equipment made by Fisher, a little-known firm whose products were ranked “best … in price and performance.” Since most of the era’s prominent makers of radios and phonographs ignored distortion and neglected difficultto-capture treble frequencies and solid bass tones, their small, quality-conscious competitor prospered, so much so that its owner, Avery Fis

A McIntosh MC240 amplifier, from the last days of the tube era.
 
mcintosh laboratory2006_3_14

After a 1946 Fortune magazine feature devoted 11 pages to a fledgling phenomenon called high fidelity, many music lovers were quick to purchase equipment made by Fisher, a little-known firm whose products were ranked “best … in price and performance.” Since most of the era’s prominent makers of radios and phonographs ignored distortion and neglected difficultto-capture treble frequencies and solid bass tones, their small, quality-conscious competitor prospered, so much so that its owner, Avery Fisher, later gave New York City’s Lincoln Center enough money to have a concert hall named for him.

Fisher and such men as Frank McIntosh, Sidney Harman, and Saul Marantz, whose surnames still appear on the nameplates of new audio components, built hardware that reproduced music as accurately as possible, and 40 or 50 years later many of those products still perform impressively enough to attract audiophile collectors. The vacuum-tube circuitry that vintage electronics use is a significant lure. Some audiophiles say tubes sound more mellow than the solid-state circuits that have almost universally replaced them.

Collectors do listen to their classic audio components, and last year Stereophile magazine began publishing new reviews of old models. The first one spotlighted Fisher’s 500-C stereo receiver from 1964. Vintage hardware, the writer explained, is “ideal for second systems” and represents “a respite from the spiraling expenses of new gear,” which at the high end commonly sells for fourand five-figure prices.

You’ll find a host of vintage hi-fi models selling for less than $1,000 —including the Fisher 500-C, now $600 or less depending on condition—but the very best cross that mark. A 40-watt McIntosh MC240 stereo amplifier, which sold for $288 when introduced in 1960, could cost as much as $3,500 today. In top shape, a Marantz 10B, the most coveted vintage stereo tuner, might bring $3,000 without the original wood enclosure, which would probably add a couple of hundred dollars to its price. To put those figures in perspective, compare the 1964 Fisher, apparently introduced at $369; the Marantz, unveiled the same year at $600 without cabinet (a figure that seems to have increased before long); and a car that made its debut at the 1964 World’s Fair, the Ford Mustang, which had a base price of $2,368.

Resources

Numerous vintage audio components, along with literature and spare parts, are available at Audio Classics ( www.audioclassics.com / 607-766-3501), a Vestal, New York, firm that specializes in the category. Audiogon ( www.audiogon.com ) auctions off used hi-fi components online. Stereophile’s Fisher 500-C review appears on the publication’s Web site ( www.stereophile.com/historical/605fisher/index.html ).

—David Lander