Older audio equipment is very much like our memories. Always different than they really were.

We tend to remember the emotional highlights of events—both good and bad. The sordid details and problems fade into the background but jump right back to the forefront once re-experienced.

One of my first loves was the Audio Research SP3 preamplifier. Big, warm, sweet and slobbery like those Cinnabons you know you shouldn’t eat. Musical? Not so much if accuracy is a consideration, but oh how lush its sound and how deeply you’re drawn into a performance. My memories are so tainted with the sweetness that I forget its lack of top end, its blubbery bass, its excessive white noise.

But sometimes our first loves turn out to be better than our memories of them. Like the IRS I first heard at HP’s home in Sea Cliff New York. From that one evening’s experience, I wanted that speaker system. Thirty-something years later I got it and realized it was better than I had remembered.

Vintage audio is always a crapshoot. You just never know if your recollection of its performance is better or worse than reality.

I’ve put together a bit of a video on the subject. In it, I try and counsel a young man on his journey through high end. You can watch it here.

Paul McGowan