These days, great sounding speakers seem to becoming smaller yet, the sound quality is better than ever(shameless self plug),. So, I was pondering the question: “How good was Hi-Fi in the late 50’s and 60’s when stereo first became popular?”
Let’s go back to 1961. If you weren’t here, pretend you were. I’ll put together a high end system for the time that was actually owned by my late uncle. For speakers, let’s go with KLH9 Electrostatic speakers. The Nines were the first full range electrostatic speakers produced in America. Their diaphragms were extremely light and they didn’t use boxed enclosures, which eliminated all sorts of audio problems exhibited by most of today’s boxed speakers (present company’s speakers excepted). These speakers still sound fantastic today, rivaling or surpassing many “high end” speakers. Powering these speakers was a McIntosh MC275, an all tube power amp along with a McIntosh MC20 tube Preamplifier. These classic McIntosh pieces are revered by audiophiles and command a hefty price. Even today, the amp and pre-amp combo’s sound quality is stunning.
To augment the bass, let’s choose an 18 or 30 inch Electrovoice woofer and a Marantz tube electronic crossover and an additional amp. The Empire turntable and cartridge delivered excellent sound quality. Back then, you could also buy stereo reel to reel tapes that sounded great.
Even some of the more affordable tubed stereo receivers from companies such as Fisher, Scott and Harman Kardon still sound great along with modestly priced speakers (like ARs and KLHs).
Also, in the 50’s and 60’s the recording industry had some great equipment, which delivered high quality record albums. For example, the Neumann condenser microphones of the 1960’s sound as good as any microphones of today and can fetch enormous prices. The analog tape recorders did an amazing job of capturing all of the sound.
Yes, the industry has made a lot of refinements. Great sound has become more affordable. But make no mistake about it, the early days of stereo in the 1960’s were far from the dark ages.