Building myself a thrift store stereo system

A couple weeks ago I made a joke about wanting a gift of an upstairs stereo, which I put out as a great gift because I wasn’t going to actually buy it. In a follow up, on Christmas itself, I’ll declare that I am now building the upstairs stereo, but I’m doing it in a unique way, building it entirely out of used components.

Honestly, I had some of the parts already, I just had not actually built them into anything. A few years ago, I bought some vintage stereo equipment at an auction, because I make good decisions in my life, and then proceeded to just leave it upstairs gathering dust. I confess, I bought it because it looked cool, rather than because it had any real use. And, being an auction, I was swept up in a desire to prevent the other bidder from getting it. Auctions are, of course, partially driven by spite.

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The result was that I had a turntable, amplifier, cassette deck and speakers. The speakers, as it turns out, were blown, so they didn’t sound great. But the turntable works and so did the amplifier, meaning I was now part of the way to a nice stereo setup for the upstairs rooms.

To bring the stereo into the modern era, I had to find a way to plug in a phone, because as much fun as it is to haul out vintage media, sometimes you do want to listen to something modern. Luckily, I had the right cable for that, and could thus hook up a phone to a stereo setup that had its roots in the ‘70s. There was a victory.

Now the goal is to find speakers that aren’t blown and possibly a CD changer. My plan for this is to do it all using thrift stores. It’s the correct plan for two reasons. One, nice speakers from a proper stereo store are out of my budget. I’d love to be able to spend a pile of money on nice, fancy speakers for my main stereo on the main floor, but my bank account is quite forceful in declaring that this is not a good plan. Two, it will give the unit a fun personality, because it’s built from discarded equipment that can still work if used correctly. As a fan of old tech, this is exactly how I want to do it.

But this project is also making me realize that audio isn’t as much a priority as it used to be for many people. Look for a new stereo and you don’t really find the massive boom-boxes of my youth anywhere, they’re all much smaller and sleeker and more easily hidden. Outside of specialty stores, you get bluetooth speakers and small units, which work, but don’t give the same feeling as the first time I went to a friend’s house and saw a big stack of stereo equipment, a different shiny component for every type of music you could name. Nobody is doing giant stereo cabinets like the ones I grew up with, which took up an entire corner of the room with a giant wood console that had a radio and a record player in it. Sure, those systems tried to be hidden away, but they were also so large that the owners clearly wanted them to sound good and loud.

It’s not like people suddenly don’t care about music, but that we have found ways of getting it that doesn’t require the large investments of time and space that we used to make. But I am feeling nostalgic for the old systems, which made it feel like sound was a priority in the owners’ lives.

I want to have a system that says music is important, and maybe this eventual Frankenstein’s monster of a stereo will do that.

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