Friday, 20 May 2011

Sonic Reducer

Watching Lord Sugar on The Apprentice telling the assembled cast of mental age fourteen year old wannabe capitalist movers and shakers sat in front of him that he is an electronics expert and knows all there is to know about consumer based gadgetry got me recalling my first ever proper "hi-fi", and I use the term as loosely as the resulting debilitating effects of the previous night's fiery curry!

This behemoth, bought on hire purchase some time in 1977 or 1978 for the princely sum of £130, plus interest, spread over three years (!), was purchased from a furniture shop (no, really) and bore the name Amstrad. Now, Sugar's company is rightly credited with popularising the home personal computer and I've no doubt with other innovations, although none spring to mind. However, their so-called hi-fi systems were another kettle of fish entirely. The one I bought was at the lower end of their already budget range and consisted of....

A turntable from space!..

LPs 32 & 7/12 rpm, singles 44 & 5/8 rpm....sometimes...with the wind behind it.

This little beauty while looking fab, was powered via what appeared to be an elastic band looped round the base of the three-pronged platter and then over the motor spindle. In the picture you can see the band but the spindle is hidden from view. Sounds fine in theory, but due to the poor quality of the band (or worse, it could have been the motor) the speed of rotation that resulted was, shall we say, variable. Occasionally hitting the right speed but usually running slightly slow, this had a weird effect on the sound produced, as you may imagine!

By the way, although this is not a pic of my old record deck, long since binned, I too added a Dust Bug, the object at the back of the pic whose job it was to rest on the LP and remove dust while the record played. This probably did not help with the speed fluctuations!

And now, introducing...a really ugly amplifier!..

Note the tasteful Fablon finish..
I could not find a pic of my amplifier exactly as I remember it, but this is very close. Instead of the toggle switches mine had clunky sliding switches that made loud thumps when changed from the up to down positions, as the toggles shown probably did too. The aural assault produced from this Neolithic construct could be manipulated from woolly all the way down to muddy, although that may have been exacerbated by the quality of the speakers provided. Coupled with almost enough wattage power to make a mouse wonder what that faint rumbling might be, you'll note the volume sliders set at max in the pic as this was the only level anything approaching a decent noise could be produced. This pic comes from a recent online auction, and it would not surprise me if the volume sliders are stuck in that position given the antiquity of the goods.

I was soon disappointed with this box of tricks, and wired the turntable through my old valve radio instead. It may have been mono, but the sound produced was much clearer and more importantly at a parent (and sister) annoying level.

I suppose beggars could not be choosers, but I wished at the time I had done more research before taking my first journey into the wonderful and frightening world of hi-fi. If any of you have similar tales of woe, or indeed triumph, I'd be honoured to read them.

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