Everything Old Is New Again?

We’ve had a cascade of things happen around here lately, that have brought me back to my misspent youth.

It started in the usual way – my wife decided to buy the basement home theatre seating we’ve been dreaming of for so long, and suddenly I was ordering a new subwoofer to “complete” the (arguably already completed) home theatre sound system. Now I had the “old” sub available for the living room, and I quickly scoured Kijiji (like Craigslist, in Canada) in search of some quality old book shelf speakers to accompany it. My turntable came out of hiding, my venerable integrated amp came back from garage exile, and a semi-vintage CD/DVD player magically appeared from the depths of the basement. All these pieces easily built a solid 2.1 speaker system for our main floor room, and I was crooning with Abba on vinyl, Rush on CD, and lamenting my missing mullet. Okay, maybe not the last part. But still…

We found ourselves at the local record store and… wait. Those still exist? You bet yer Rubik’s Cube they do! Vinyl, CD: both formats were well represented. The store was bustling, with a surprising number of twenty-somethings perusing the stacks. Totally tubular! Or, at least circular!

I was a wanna-be audiophile back in the day, without the budget, but managed to find budget pieces that got rave reviews despite their prices. My lovely PSB monitors, for example, circa 1988, frame the projector at the heart of our movie system. Happily I still have many of these components, and they’ve aged well. A quick look on internet auctions and local classifieds indicates that everyone else’s have too, and they’re getting as much or more for each piece as we paid new in the 80s and 90s! The word “vintage” now gives items a certain cachet. (As an aside, Canada really does have some stellar speaker manufacturers).

This trend for vintage has been permeating automotive circles for years.

Groups like RADWOOD celebrate the rad rides of old, and the prices on these old rides are beginning (or in some cases continuing) to trend upwards.

What is it about the old stuff that has captured people’s imagination again?

I think there are many factors, but one of the foremost ones for me is simplicity. This age of no owner’s manuals included is ironic, given how complicated things have gotten. What could be simpler than a 5 speed manual transmission, or hooking up a pair of speakers using actual copper? Imagine a throttle cable or a volume knob directing your intentions exactly where and when you want them! Nowadays it’s CVT-drive by wire, while adjusting the vol level on your bluetooth device via touchscreen.

Longevity is of course the other draw to the old stuff. In this age of short warranties, even shorter contracts, and continually changing software releases, it feels like planned obsolescence goes hand in hand with truncated product life expectancy.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for technology, and enjoy the new stuff as much or more than most people. I’m currently shopping for a quality digital to analog converter (DAC) so I can feed Spotify, via a fibre optic cable, into my 80’s era amp’s analog inputs. Meanwhile, on the road, Android Auto runs in my 1999 daily driver, while the 97 Paj-Evo answers bluetooth calls through a 7 inch touchscreen double DIN. (At least there is no CVT involvement).

Sometimes a tasteful melding of the vintage with the cutting edge achieves a beautiful synergy. For proof, check out a Radwood Show. Or visit your local record store. (Don’t look for the video store though. That ship has sailed. 😉 )

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