So often, people talk like vintage audio equipment in today’s market was more for the average Joe than it is, but there has always been a market for very expensive audio equipment. For example, let’s start with the E.H. Scott company, not to be confused with H.H. Scott stereos. From 1924 to 1945, Earnest Humphrey Scott designed and built some of the world’s finest radios, many of which, although nearly three quarter of a century old, are still treasured by their original owners.
One of their best known radios was the 57-tube EH Scott Quaranta Radio. It used an 18-inch woofer, two 12-inch midrange and three tweeters. Pictured here is one in a modern cabinet that allows you to see the drivers. Also pictured is a Quaranta in an Art Deco Cabinet.
Maybe the most impressive part was the tube tuner pictured here. It has to be the most elaborate and biggest radio ensembles ever designed and built. Depending on finish, the Quarantas cost around $5,000 in 1937 which would be $84,000 in today’s money. Let me remind you: That was for a mono AM and shortwave radio.
Well, let’s slip forward to the early time of stereo, where vacuum tube amps were the only choice, and low-power ones at that. So, speakers were large and very efficient. In the mono era, you only needed one speaker and although large, it could be put in the corner of the room and people could sit around it and listen together.
So in 1957, JBL introduced a one-cabinet stereo speaker known as the JBL Paragon. It had an introductory price of $1,830 which would today be $15,700.
I have only had a little time listening to the Paragon being driven by vintage tube McIntosh equipment. The sound had beautiful tonal color and was very dynamic, but it was overly warm and lacked in midrange detail. It also had a bit of a cupped hand coloration and it had little to no soundstage width, depth or height. Still, it was a fun system to listen to. Admittedly, there are many speakers today that costs ten times that much but there are also speakers like the DeVore Orangutan 0/93 which will significantly better the Paragon in almost every way for considerable less money.
A vintage speaker that held the test of time was the original Quad ESL released in 1957 for 57 GBP each. The pound was worth $2.79 in 1957 so that would make them around $300 a pair in US dollar in 1957. Adjust them for inflation and that would be approximately $2,500 a pair.
Above are two advertisement photos for the Quads; one is an English advertisement and the other is for a French advertisement. I bet you can guess which is which. These are the speakers I owned in college and several years afterwards. In my March Beatnik column, The Beatnik on Wayne Picquet’s Restored Quad ESL 57, I wrote about these classic speakers. Without a doubt it would be wonderful if you could buy a pair today for $2,500. There is surely nothing at even three times that price nearly as good.
When Quad introduce the Quad ESL speaker in 1957, they said the only amp to use with them was the Quad II. Like classic tube amps from Marantz and McIntosh, the Quad II has also held the test of time in both design and sound. It is a class-A, push-pull mono amp with only two active stages. It puts out 15 watts per channel and uses a pair of KT66 output tubes. I’ve been lucky enough to have both an original pair and a pair of the Qaud II Classic reissues that were brought out about 10 years ago.
In 1958, a pair of these great would cost you $459 and in today’s money that would be about $3,800, which makes the price of the Quad Classic that came out at $2,700 for a pair seem like a real deal. For small scale music, these amps sound very right, but when you go to big band, full orchestras or rock they come up a little short. They also lack the openness, transparency and texture of some modern designs.
Well, that leaves us with turntables. I have written enough about Garrard 301s that you all know how much I like them, and few modern tables are as good as a well implemented 301. Problem was most of the ones I heard in my late teens were in such poor plinths that they seemed to have a problem with rumble and vibration. I now know better, this is an incredible turntable.
A Garrard 301 without plinth or arm was $150, so about $750 today. Man oh man, if you could still buy a new one for that price there would be no need for any other tables between $2,000 and $15,000. For most, no need of any other table.
I would like to close by mentioning the price of LPs. In 1959, an Audio Fidelity 12-inch long play Stereodisc, as they called LPs, was $6.95 which would be $57 today. That same year a London ffss 12-inch long play stereo LP was $5.98, which would be $49. Lastly, in 1959 50 anti static, dust proof record sleeves sold for $5.50 which today would be $41.00. Makes LPs and record sleeves not seem so expensive today, doesn’t it? I know LPs got cheaper before they got more expensive again, but the quality went down as well. Anyway, I’ve gone on about this subject for long enough, keep boppin’ along until next month.
Empire 598 1974 $350 = $1,800 in 2015
Empire 208 in 1962 was $222 now would be $1,750
Dual 701 1974 $350 = $1,800 in 2015
Garrard 301 without plinth or arm was $150 today $750
ESL tonearm and stereo cartridge $850
Thorens TD-124 would be $850 without plinth or arm
AR 1975 $89 = $488
RR Tape Players
1962 a Tandberg 6-44 4 track stereo was $500 which would be $3,900
Audio Technica Model AT2OSL in 1974 was $150.00 today that would be $770
Empire 1000ZE/X was $100 that would be $508
Grado Laboratory Stereo was $50 in 1962 which would be about $395 today
Shure V-15 III was $75.00 that would be $382
Pair of Marantz Model Nines in 1962 was $650 and today would be $5,100
Pair of Quad IIs in 1958 would cost you $459, would cost you about $3800 today
Pair of Marantz Model 2 amps in 1958 would cost you $400, today would cost you about today $3,300
Fisher 500B FM Reciever 30 watts per channel was $385 in 1962 which would be a little over $3,000
Harmon Kardon’s Citation II was $230 in 1960 which would now be about $1,850
Marantz Model 7 was $265 would now be $2,100
Fisher 400 in 1958 was $200 would be $1,015
Dyankit Pass-2 kit was $60 in 1960 today that would be $480
The one cabinet stereo speaker the JBL Paragon was released in 1957 at an introductory price of $1,830 which would today be $15,700
Magnepan Tympani III in 1979 would cost your $3,900 which would be $13,500 today
Altec 832A Corona Speaker a pair in 1958 would cost you $850, now they would be $7,900
AR LST were $600 would be $3,050
AR 3as were $270 would be $1,375
Jensen TP-250 TRI-PLEX II3-WAY SYSTEM for a pair in 1958 were $590, that would be $4,900
1959 Audio Fidelity 12 inch long play Stereodisc was 6.95 which would be $57.00 today
1959 London ffss 12 inch long play stere LP was 5.98 which would be $49.00
1959 50 anti static, dust proof record sleeves for $5.50 today would be $41.00
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