Nearly 500 years ago, civilization was said to be in a “dark age.” We think of that era as a rather undesirable time in which to live and have appropriately named it so. The renaissance took shape soon after, and bridged the gap to modern times. Now, we enjoy daily what our ancestors would have only dreamed of. Even so, I can’t help but wonder what I have missed. If it was so undesirable to live in those times, then who would want to visit the past, if such technology were available? As much as we have gained I can’t help but wonder what we have lost.
Being an audiophile, I pose the question: Why even do vintage audio? Everything we have today is all we need. What we have now can do everything that anything we used to have could do and more. Isn’t doing vintage audio like going back to the dark ages? Why would you want to do that?
If you could hop into a time machine to last century and check out the music scene, you could look at the era more objectively and compare it with our own. What do you think you would find? If you played 5 songs from pre-2000 era mixed up with 5 current tracks, even if you had never heard them before, you would probably notice some patterns. The 5 pre-2000-mixed songs would sound different than post 2000. It would be hard to describe the individual differences, but in general you could come up with some good points about both groups, not just the current music. There would be extraordinary elements irrespective of which group the song came from.
Now, if only you could have a song with the best of both worlds in one song, what would you get? What if all the exceptional characteristics of every song in the history of music could come together? What exactly would it sound like when all these powers combine? It would sound great! That’s exactly what vintage audio is all about. Finding the extraordinary and weeding out the ordinary.
Audio gear improves year after year as makers close the gap between current offerings and the ideal. As the old is replaced with the new, the sound coming out of the studio changes. A trained ear can tell what era a song is from just by listening for the clues and even an untrained ear can sense “differences”. These differences are generally considered bad shortly after their demise, but by and by our perception changes. After a while everyone is accustomed to the new sound. It becomes the norm, and interestingly, it starts to lose its glamour. So the search for something different begins. You may find that the “character” of an older piece of gear degrades your sound in a good way, or even a bad way that works in a good way for your particular song!
You see, somewhere along the way in the name of progress we got rid of some things by accident. New music sounds more and more perfect every year, but that doesn’t always translate into “better.” Often it does, but sometimes not. These unique corner cases or exceptions can be amazing discoveries!
The goal of the vintage musician, then, is to go back in time and find these unique treasures and return them to the present. Together with the modern, they unite, create something cool and unique, something better.
So, no. Retro audio isn’t about going back to the dark ages and staying there. It’s about going full circle and coming back to the light. If you can successfully bring a tarnished gem into the future and restore it with a new modern sheen, the reaction you get from your fans can be overwhelmingly positive.