The Story of Home Audio: The Golden Era of Hi-Fi

4 min


Magnetic sound recording and vinyl, which became widespread after World War II, changed the acoustic ecosystem in people’s homes. They not only transformed the approach to listening to music, but also changed the music itself. We tell how this happened.


Photo Markus spiske / Unsplash

New formats

Magnetic tape and long-playing records, which appeared after the Second World War, changed the musical culture. New recording technologies and materials have increased the volume of drives, and more music began to fit on them. The same twelve-inch vinyl could fit up to 23 minutes of audio, and a bobbin – about 30 minutes. Up to this point, it was the norm for musicians to release only one song, but then whole albums began to be released, often united by a theme.

Pioneers of the “concept album era” rightfully think The Beatles and their “Rubber soul“- he came out in 1965. Soon the work of other groups followed – “Aftermath” from The Rolling Stones, “Pet Sounds” from The Beach Boys and “Blonde on Blonde” by Bob Dylan.

New sound

New formats have become a space for the expression of musical ideas, which is not always possible to translate live. A vivid example is “Nowhere Man” from the already mentioned album “Rubber Soul”. In the recording of this song was used overdubbing – so during a live concert it sounded much easier than on the album.

The imprint on the music was left by the technical features of the formats. The tape could be regularly recorded and rewritten, and musicians began experimenting with the new sound. For example, The Beatles became part of the song “Tomorrow Never Knows” from the album “Revolver” five film samplesplayed in different directions and at variable speed. Some musicians even cut magnetic tape with audio recordings into pieces and assembled original compositions from them – the practice was called tape splicing (“Gluing tape”).

After repeated dubbing, the magnetic tape began to degrade, which affected the sound. Musicians also used this feature in their works. Among them was a British composer and one of the founders of the ambient genre. Brian Eno. He used the effect that the degraded film applied while recording the album “Discreet music“.

To fully reveal the sound of new acoustic techniques, more advanced home audio equipment was needed. And it began to appear in the 50s – 60s of the last century – the period are called Golden Age Hi-Fi.

Golden Era Hi-Fi

This is the period in which the sound bar was set and consumer expectations formed. It was in the 50s that shelf speakers appeared in the USA. The Acoustic Research brand, founded by the inventor and popularizer of closed-type speakers, was one of the first to introduce such a device Edgar Vilchur (Edgar Villchur). Their columns were released in 1954 under the name AR-1. Compared with competitors, the device was small and had good sound quality. However, Acoustic Research became popular only five years later, with the release of AR-3.

Each of the AR-3 speakers contained three speakers: a conical woofer, a dome tweeter, and a mid-range emitter. The AR-3 quickly became classics, raising the bar for home audio equipment.

Acoustic Research even arranged “Blind tests” in the format of concerts, during which the music was alternately played by a live orchestra and speaker system. According to eyewitnesses, the differences were almost imperceptible. Until 1966, the company held almost a third of the American home acoustics market – an achievement not surpassed either before or after.

In parallel with the acoustics market began develop the market for audio amplifiers. For a long time, the Dynaco ST-70 tube amplifier, first introduced to the public in 1959, remained the leader in this category. Over thirty years of the model’s existence, more than half a million copies have been sold – and the modern version of the ST-70 manufacturer delivers now.


Photo Fred von lohmann / CC BY / Pictured: Dynaco ST-70

The power race began in the 1970s. Then amplifiers came to the market McIntosh MC3500. These devices are still popular and go under the hammer at auctions for decent money.

At that time, record players developed. The first “turntable” with direct drive – without causing excessive vibration of belts – Technics SP-10 came out in 1970. This kind of players has become popular among disco DJs, and led to the emergence of hip-hop and electronic music. But do not think that in the golden age of Hi-Fi everything was fine.

Then audio equipment was usually expensive, and many American installations regularly failed. Due to these shortcomings, the US market (as well as the global one) gradually began to capture Asian companies – Pioneer, Kenwood, Sensui. They produced cheaper equipment and conducted active marketing campaigns. The result is obvious – to this day, when we talk about affordable Hi-Fi, the names of these manufacturers are the first to come to mind.

In any case, the market for audio equipment in the “golden era” was very stormy. Over a quarter century of competition and technological racing, a culture of music lovers has been formed.


Additional reading on the topic in the Hi-Fi World:

How home audio evolved – from song evenings to first players
How Home Audio Becomes Massive
How Home Audio Developed: The Vinyl Era
Theremin: an instrument of the future comes from the past
“Bake until ready”: who rescues rare tapes in this way
The history of audio formats – the era of cassettes and the development of speech synthesis technologies



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