Tuesday, February 7, 2012


I am new to blogging but not new to writing nor new to audio. In this episode, I'll share with you my climb out of audio ignorance. It's a bit longer than I would have liked but I hope enjoy it.

My first exposure to high-quality playback came from my Latin teacher way back in high school. He had a small tube system with litle bookshelf speakers sitting in the shelf of his office. I strolled in one aftenoon seeking help with syntax and found him shuffling papers and scratrching notes - as one would expect. But then the magic happened and sweet sounds etherically appeard from those two tiny boxes. The sound was so different I was instantly hooked, mesmerized by their uniqueness they stood apart from anything else I had ever heard. I was fourteen years old when first bitten and the bug bite is still with me today.

I remember going home that day and looking smugly at my own monophonic record player, a Sears hand-me-down from my sister consisting of a single tube output device. I was too young at the time to understand the innner working of this mystery, but all of that would one day change.

My next run-in with this audio bug came at a party in my junior year at a cheerleader's home. The usual sound blared from a Spartan system similar to mine and all were happy dancing to the popular sounds of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, and the like. I was more of a geek or nerd back then, thin and unathletic, hanging with the members of what today is called the glee club or band members. Although my social status was as thin as I was and the women only casually interested in me, my eyes spotted yet another masterpiece sitting ignored on a shelf in another room. It was a Knight Kit KA-25 stereo amplifier, popular with DIY folks in the 1960s.  A silver and brown chassis gleamed in front of me, inches away from my fingers, taunting me to turn it on and marvel at its sonic purity but I was not able to listen to it, a sad tale but true.

I searched far and wide believing that speakers made all of the difference in sound and came across a furniture store that sold console systems. In a heap near the back door were a pile of alnico speakers of various sizes. I recall saving everything I could to buy just one of these bright, shiny toys and one day came home with an Eminence 10" woofer (although at the time I had no idea what it was).

I found an old lamp cord, stripped the ends off, twisted one end on the terminals, and twisted the other end onto the terminals of the other speaker. Setting the bare speaker on top of the record player, I had built my first DIY system. It sounded terrible but better than the miniscule 4"x6" driver resting behind the front panel.

This was my first experience of listening with my eyes and not my ears. I suffered from the "I did it therefore it must sound great" syndrome and my ego inflated hugely. I was literally bonkers believing I had just built the best system in the world. Sound familiar to any of you out there?

The road to true high fidelity was a long one and it came while I was in the military. It was 1968 and I traded my bass guitar and amplifier for a friend's entire Fisher stereo, a 500B tube receiver, Fisher XP55 speakers, and Fisher turntable less a base. with a ceramic cartridge

I built a base for the turntable out of mahogany and plywood and used this system for years until I went to college. One day, I traded my 500B with my brother-in-law for his Sausui AU-70 tube integrated amp and I was in audio nirvana. This was a really fine piece of gear for the time, I was 25 years old, and totally happy.

All I needed now was better speakers...any of you recognize this pattern? You see, everything was great but yet I wanted more...more bass, more highs, more...well, you get the idea. The bug was back.

I was in the engineering school at Oklahoma State when I started cruising the local stereo stores  in Oklahoma City and subscribing to Sterephile magazine. I landed a job at Tinker Field in the base PX and immediately assigned to the stereo room. Here, I saved my money and eventually purchased a McIntosh MX-110 tuner preamp and MC-2100 power amp, AR-5 speakers, and an AR turntable with a Shure V-15 Type II eliptical cartridge. An Akai 1730D-SS reel-to-reel tape deck one day found its way into the den and I was set.

Combined with the AR-5 speakers and the AR turntable, this system stayed with me until one day my wife had a bad day at work. She came home and cranked up the system with Harry Nillson's "Jump into the Fire" at full blast. She toasted the speakers and launched me into another career. I'll never forget coming home that day from school where I found a note taped to the front door saying simply, "I'll never do it again." Completely baffled at the purpose of the note, I opened the door and there kneeling on the floor, hands folded, was my wife with another note taped on top of her head that said simpley "Please forgive me."

How could anyone get angry at such a person, and I truly loved her anyway so there was nothing to forgive. It did, however, really put a cramp in our listening experiences since we had not planned on any purchases but rather to just finish school.  I sent AR a letter and they agreed to repair the speakers under warranty but this took a while and left us without any speakers.

Without tunes, my wife encouraged me to find something for us to play. I found an old pair of 8" full range drivers and I put them in mixing bowls.  I then approached my Fortran IV instructor asking for some flexibility in homework assignments. I wanted to write programs to design crossover networks and inductor values for class credit and he agreed. Soon, but not before bringing down OSU's computer several times in the process, I was armed with enough information to design my own crossover networks from the tables I created in the course.

I was intriuged by the acoustic suspension speaker designs still reasonably new to this field, and designed a simple 3-way sixth order system using a 12" CTS woofer, 4" Altec 405-A midrange, and a Philips 1" dome tweeter. I built the box with an 8" skill saw and covered it with plastic wood-grain veneer. It actually sounded pretty good, and now I was on my way again to audio nirvana.

The AR speakers left, sold to someone who already had a pair of AR-3A, and after graduation we moved to Colorado for the next phase of our life. In the next episode, I'll share more about my march to the top of the audio mountain.

Yours for higher fidelity,
Philip Rastocny

I do not use ads in this blog to help support my efforts. If you like what you are reading, please remember to reciprocate, My newest title is called Where, oh Where did the Star of Bethlehem Go? It’s an astronomer’s look at what this celestial object may have been, who the "Wise Men" were, and where they came from. Written in an investigative journalism style, it targets one star that has never been considered before and builds a solid case for its candidacy.


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