The sad parable of the abused Marantz

20 Jun

The Marantz 2230 receiver.

June 20, 2011

By Geoff Meeker

This week, I’m going to tell you a story. And pay attention – there is a lesson in here somewhere.

The handful of readers who knew me in the 1970s will remember my Marantz 2230 receiver. (A receiver has a built in amplifier, radio, and inputs to connect other components). I was living in Toronto in 1976 when I purchased the used system, which included a Thorens turntable and two JBL Decade 26 speakers, for $700. (The original owner bought it in 1973.)

It followed me back home to Newfoundland a year later, arriving via Air Canada Cargo without a scratch. Before long, word about the excellent sound from this system spread across Mount Pearl, and I was invited to numerous parties – on condition I bring along the stereo and my rocking record collection.

So things went, for 20 years or so, until I purchased a new RCA TV at the local electronics store. On a whim, and because it was cheap, I bought an RCA stereo receiver, designed expressly for the new TV. I connected the RCA to my JBLs, it sounded great, and the Marantz was relegated to a shelf.

Almost 10 years later, in 2004, I bought a new widescreen TV, with a Yamaha surround sound home theatre. It sounded even better than the RCA, which got reassigned to my office.

The Marantz? Well, I had just erected a metal shed out in the yard, one of those $499 ones you buy in the Sears catalogue. It seemed solid and dry, so the Marantz went out there, along with a bunch of other stuff that was overflowing from the house.

Fast forward two years, to a nasty winter storm with gusts so powerful, they popped the thin metal doors right off their rails. The wind roared into the shed, with no way out. The next morning, my formerly rectangular shed was now round, like a giant blowfish. It had come that close to bursting completely apart.

I walked around the structure, pounding the walls back into shape with my fist, while tapping down the roof with a shovel. It looked almost normal, but the screws and rivets had all been loosened and the metal torn in places. It was no longer weatherproof.

Fast forward several more years, to 2011. By now, the shed was a rusty eyesore; a blight on the neighbourhood. It leaked like a showerhead, and the doors blew open in every storm. I was in the process of pricing a new baby barn, when a driving lesson went awry. My son miscalculated, on pulling into the driveway, and the van hit the shed before he hit the brakes.

No one was hurt, and the van had barely a scratch. The shed was destroyed. Over the next two days, I purged that shed, putting most of the junk – now mottled and corroded from rain and snow – out to the curb, for the garbage truck.

The last thing I found, buried in the corner, was that old Marantz receiver. My heart sank. It was out here for years, exposed to the elements. It had been raised off the floor, yes, and covered under a piece of plywood, sure, but what could have survived such abuse? I felt negligent, like a parent who has locked his child out in the rain.

I brought the Marantz indoors, and let it be for several days. Through the cooling slots on the cover, you could see rust, dust, dead bugs and other corruption. I was about to bring it to the trash pile when my son asked if it still worked.

“Good question,” I said. I connected the JBL speakers, plugged in the Marantz, turned the volume down, held my breath and pressed the power button. It came on. I clicked the selector button to FM. The mode indicator lights on the display worked perfectly. The belt-driven “gyro-touch” tuning rolled as smoothly as ever.

I tuned to an FM station and turned up the volume. The room filled with the rich, sweet sound of Supertramp’s “Breakfast in America”. It sounded exactly as it did before I put it away, with crisp highs and deep bass.

This is something of a miracle, considering its age – almost 40 years – and the abuse it suffered. I googled “Marantz 2230” and learned, to my delight and embarrassment, that the receiver is widely viewed as ‘best in class’, with something of a cult following. There were raves about fidelity, frequency response, power and so on. And I can add one more: durability. The 2230 survived five years of exposure to Newfoundland weather, and still works. I’ve learned my lesson, and will nurse this instrument carefully through its golden years.

The moral? They just don’t make ‘em like that anymore. Old stereo gear should not be shunted aside merely because of age. Sometimes, that dusty old appliance is a rare gem.

Update, as of May 24, 2012: The Marantz worked fine for a while, but then it began switching on by itself. Either it is haunted, or has finally given up the ghost – which should come as no surprise.

Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about the local media scene, which is hosted at http://www.thetelegram.com.

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