McIntosh’s MC275 may be the most famous tube amplifier in the history of high fidelity. Designed and engineered by the company’s co-founder Sidney Corderman and the McIntosh engineering team, the MC275 (2 x 75 watts per channel) was the most powerful McIntosh stereo amplifier in its day. Some say it was the Harley-Davidson of American amps, and with the big chromed chassis and exposed Gold Lion KT88 power tubes, the MC275 certainly looked the part. The retail price was $444 when the amp was introduced in 1961, and the mono version, the MC75, debuted the same year.
The Nagra I was the first portable reel-to-reel recorder. Before it arrived in 1952 tape machines were so big they were housed in large trucks and the microphones could never be more than a few hundred feet away from the recorder.
The Onkyo TX-SV7M is said to be the first Dolby Surround A/V receiver sold in the U.S. and Canada, way back in the all-analog days of 1987. Dolby Surround was the consumer version of the theatrical Dolby Stereo format that was used in movie theaters in the 1980s. Dolby Surround soundtracks were matrix-encoded into stereo formats such as VHS tapes, Laserdiscs, etc. The TX-SV7M was a four-channel receiver, with front left, right, and two surround channel amplifiers (the surrounds were monophonic).
The Klipschorn was such a revolutionary speaker, it can still hold its own with some of the best of today’s home theater speakers. Paul W. Klipsch founded his company in 1946 in Hope, Arkansas, and built his first 12 Klipschorn speakers in 1947. They were fitted with Western Electric 713A compression tweeters and 12-inch JBL or Jensen woofers. The Klipschorn was designed to fit into the corner of a room, using the walls and floor as extensions of the speaker’s bass horn.
Even before I heard the JBL L100 Century I knew it was going to be great. It was 1970, when hi-fi speakers all had drab cloth grilles, the L100 sported a brilliant orange "waffle" pattern grille, and when every other speaker had grey or black woofers, the L100's was white. I'll never forget the first time I heard a pair, and the big JBLs lit up my Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix LPs, it really was the ultimate "rock" speaker of the day. The L100 sold for $273 each, way too pricey for me.
The Acoustical Manufacturing Company’s Quad ESL-57 was the world’s first production full-range electrostatic speaker. It debuted in 1957 when hi-fi speakers were big boxes and used moving-coil drivers, so the ESL-57’s flat-panel, downright minimalist design not only looked like a radical advance, its thin-film diaphragm’s low-distortion and lightning-fast transient response sounded truly revelatory to 1950s audiophile ears. The speaker’s introduction came not so many years after the transition from 78-RPM records to higher-fidelity LPs took place. The market was primed for a more transparent transducer technology, and Quad had the best-sounding speaker of the age.
The Sennheiser HD414 was a game changer in 1968. In those days hi-fi headphones were all big and bulky, closed-back designs, and the compact HD414 was the industry’s first “open aire,” on-ear (supra-aural) headphone. It looked, felt and sounded like nothing else and forecast the future direction of headphone sound.
Over-performing little speakers were always part of the high-end scene, but NHT’s SuperZero was the one that broke the mold. I recently spoke with NHT founder and president Chris Byrne to learn more about this classic speaker. The model that preceded it was, naturally enough, the Zero, but it didn’t take off, so it was redesigned with a different tweeter, a Japanese 1-inch soft dome made by Tonnegen. The woofer was a 4.5-inch treated paper cone driver, made in San Diego. The SuperZero sold for $230 per pair in 1993.