Cornerstone: On the prowl for a home stereo


Joshua Whitney

Joshua Whitney, Challenge Editor in Chief

A couple weeks ago, I promised a column on buying a home stereo, and if you’re interested in getting the most out of your music, then I’m here to help.

I may not be an expert on sound and electronics (although I can portray one on the Internet), but that should underscore the ease getting much better sound than you’re currently getting out of your computer or iPod.

It’s not all that hard – I promise.

To begin with, you’ll want to avoid those systems that have everything combined into a single piece of equipment.  While they sound may sound better than those Playschool radios they make for toddlers, it’s not by much.

And those console stereo that look like an outdated piece of furniture really are outdated pieces of furniture.

You’ll get much better sound out of a multi-component system, and good sound is what we’re after, right?

It’s pretty simple: all you need are a receiver (aka integrated amplifier), a turntable, a CD player, and a couple of speakers.

For the receiver, be sure to look for one that has an input for “phono” and make sure it’s not banged up too much.  If you can find one that says “Yamaha” or “Pioneer” or even “Sansui,” you’re off to a good start, but if you find something else and it’s cheap, then go ahead and get started.

For the turntable, look for something that has a detachable head shell.

What is that?  Well, the head shell is the thing that holds the cartridge that has the needle that plays your records.   If you’ve got a detachable head shell, then you can upgrade your cartridge, which will be one of the best ways to update your system.

If it doesn’t have a detachable head shell, it’s really only good for target practice, and that goes for most of the Crosley systems you’ll find at Barnes & Noble.

As for your speakers, first make sure that the foam surrounding the big circle on the front of the speaker (the woofer) is intact and isn’t cracked or anything.  If it is cracked or missing, keep looking.  Also try to listen to them if you can.

You could move on up from there, but that’s really all that’s required for a good starter system.

So if you’re ready to go shopping, let’s get started.

One of the first places in the area you should look is the Goodwill Computer and Electronics Store at 1700 S 17th in Lincoln.

As with all thrift stores, finding something good is hit or miss and depends on when you show up, but I’ve seen a lot of good equipment inexpensively priced.

You’ll want to be sure and test anything before you take it to the counter, but you should be able to find a lot of what you need at this store.

To test the equipment, take it to the table set up for just this purpose and hook it up to a couple of speakers they have there for testing and see if it works (just put the red wire to the plus sign and the black wire to the negative sign).

The store uses a colored sticker system to deeply discount some items, so you may be able to get what you need really cheap.

You could also check out other area thrift stores, but your chances at this Goodwill location are better than elsewhere.

If you’re willing to spend a little bit more, you can find some good equipment in the back of a couple of Lincoln’s record stores, Lincoln Vintage Vinyl (see note below) or Backtrack Records, located on north Cotner Boulevard.

As a bonus, the equipment you’ll find there will be great quality, and the customer service will be better than you’ll find at a thrift store.

And while you’re there, you can start or add to your music collection.

Another Nebraska shop I’d highly recommend would be Electron Addict in Papillion off of South 84th Street.

Electron Addict has a great selection for beginners or for those of us trying to upgrade what we’ve already got.

The owner, Lee Lipman, is very helpful and friendly and can put together a system that’ll get you hooked.

Yet another option would be to check Craigslist.  Like thrift stores, that’s really hit or miss, but sometimes you can find some really good buys, especially if you’re a little patient.

In fact, the stereo in the picture that goes with this story is currently available on Craigslist in Lincoln for $175, and you could probably get it for a lot less if you or a friend knows how to haggle.

Garage and estate sales can be a fun way to go, too, and you may find a lot of other things you can’t live without while you’re at it.

Ebay is yet another possibility, but a person really has to know what he or she is looking for.  Right now on Ebay, there are over 10,000 listings for “turntable” in vintage electronics.  Where does a person begin?  That’s an excellent question.

I’m sure there are some good buys, but there’s a lot to wade through and a lot of competition, so it’s not recommended unless you’re going after something really specific.

But once you’ve got your components, hooking them up is only slightly more difficult than changing a light bulb.

To hook up a stereo, use RCA cables to connect the CD player and turntable to the receiver (red goes to red and white goes to white), connect the ground wire from the turntable to the back of the receiver, connect the speakers (positive goes to positive and negative goes to negative), and plug it in.

Then sit back and enjoy.

And if you’d like to get even better, there are a million and one ways to do so, and they aren’t all expensive, either.

If this sounds like a fun project and you’d like to talk about it more or ask some questions, just drop me a line.  I’d be happy to chat about it.

Until then, have fun.

Note: Lincoln Vintage Vinyl, located in the Meadowlane Shopping Center at 70th and Vine, opened today and is a welcome addition to Lincoln’s collection of record stores.

The owner, Chad Breasseale, is off on the right foot; he bought a huge collection that once belonged to Jeff Loos (the previous owner of Backtrack Records), and his store if full of great stuff at reasonable prices.

In my visit this afternoon, I pulled out a great Muddy Waters collection I’ve been haunting eBay for, Iron Maiden’s Killers and Cinderella’s Long Cold Winter, and there are many others I will be going back for.  I’m already looking forward to the return.