The Stereo and the Snowman: A Marantz Story

Marantz 2220B stereo receiver

It’s the mid-’70s. My dad is living in San Francisco, still has hair (which is huge), and taps into some wellspring of cool to purchase a Marantz 2220B to route his LPs of Cream and Santana through. A few short years later, he moved to Seattle, lost his hair, I was born, and my mother instituted the great “Now That You’re Married to Me, All Your Old Crap is Outta Here” purge of 1981. Cream’s albums curdled and the Who became “the who?” Somehow, the Marantz survived, living out a twilight existence piping soft jazz throughout my dad’s office.

Actually, this LP survived until I was old enough for it to baffle me.

Fast forward 19 years. I’ve grown a stubbly college goatee, and the Marantz has grown a scratchy volume knob and lost some of the cool blue illumination that graced its stylish face. As I buzzed around campus, the receiver sat there, for the moment forgotten. In the meantime, my friends and I were busy planning huge parties, developing ever stronger drink concoctions, and sometimes remembering to attend class. One of our better ideas was to throw an epic party dubbed “Gentleman’s Club 2000,” which gave the girls a chance to wear their prom dresses again (that is, if they still fit … freshman 15, you know) and the guys a chance to vomit on their ties. My friend raided his dad’s attic and liberated a few sets of huge CBS speakers and a brace of vintage amplifiers in preparation.

I didn’t end up actually doing the setup – the friend with the CBS speakers had a master plan, involving several channels of audio placed strategically around the room. Three decades of amplifiers were involved – a ’70s Pioneer, an ’80s Harmon-Kardon, and a ’90s Pioneer, haphazardly patched together with a maze of cables. Guests arrived, the red party cups burst out of their wrappers, and we were off. While I distantly percieved the bestial roar of six vintage speakers pumping out solid state analog gold, permeating throughout the house like the mating calls of several thousand humpback whales, my primary focus was sucking down “G & T 2000s” (gin and tonic, with a twist of gin and a splash of gin on top, followed by a gin back) and helping to sober up a too-drunk friend with a garden hose out on the deck. The sound also permeated to the Crawlspace Casbah, a makeshift hookah den where I lounged for an indeterminate amount of time. The vague strains of Led Zepplin I blended into a Pink Floyd interlude, before control of the CD player was lost to a cadre of drunken girls covered in the remains of an ill-conceived brownie baking fiasco. Things were copacetic. Very copacetic.

If you request Free Bird one more time, this eagle will kill you.

At some point, I stumbled upstairs, passing a friend taking a siesta in the decorative bark near the azeleas. My tie was long gone. My shoes would be found literally years later, under the host’s parent’s bed, for reasons that remain unclear. One friend had passed out in the laundry room doorway, his head acting several times as a doorstop. The garbage disposal was clogged with a burned brownie slurry, and the girls responsible denied anything and everything. As the room spun and I searched for a solid surface to adhere to, the siren song began with a simple, jangly guitar melody, cutting through the haze. Drawn forward, I rounded the corner, into a living room filled with air crackling with the sonorous strains of classic rock , as if a high-tension line was strung between my ears. The song was “Simple Man,” by Lynyrd Skynyrd.

The wall of sound emerged from one of those pre-Ikea glass-and-oak entertainment center monstrosities, studded with an

Stroby, in Skynyrd ecstasy mode.

obscene amount of vintage speakers and powered by the aforementioned trio of amplifiers. Across the room, past the couches and coffee table, there stood a plastic snowman. Snowby was a veteran of several parties, a mascot of sorts. But this time, Snowby had been enhanced with a strobe light strategically set up in his midsection, becoming Stroby, the seizure-inducing snowman of rock.  Stroby became the subject of some drunken obeisance as I celebrated the genius of combining a lot of gin, Skynard, yard decorations, strobe lights, and some huge CBS speakers with the wall o’ amps.

That is basically the end of my recollection, my analog baptism of sound. I curled up into a sleeping bag until the sun coaxed me back to life, stabbing my eyes like daggers in the process. A plan coalesced in the back of my mind. A hazy recollection of a classic stereo receiver, long residing in a cabinet in my dad’s office, swam back up from the obscure mists of time. Crappy vintage speakers, with their deliciously lo-fi sound, were a dime a dozen. I could festoon my college crash pad with that same wall of sound I’d heard the night before. The Marantz would be front and center, projecting what remained of its soothing blue glow forward into an endless array of possible room-based adventures.

Remember Winamp??? Damn I'm old.

And so it was. My friend retired the CBS speakers, with their 15″ subs and schizophrenic tweets, to my custody. In the midst of the glory days of Napster, I loaded my ancient computer with dubiously pedigreed MP3s and cranked them out through the 2220B into my room. I spent many a night falling asleep to a Winamp playlist of the Pixies’ best songs, annoying my neighbors with an angsty mix of Deftones albums, or placating my girlfriend by pretending to enjoy Nick Drake. The Marantz never complained, whether comandeered for party duty to pump out dance hits, or providing an output for Starcraft’s audio, or inundating the area with a concentrated dose of the classic rock it was designed to serve up.

The Marantz is still alive, returned to my dad’s office when I took my own turn in San Francisco, but it needs some TLC. In the meantime, I’m back. I still have my hair. No woman has thrown away my old jeans yet. And just like Skynyrd’s beloved south, the Marantz will rise again.

-Alex Kierstein

  • "Remember" WinAmp? Awwww… I still use it!

    Please tell me I'm not the only one?

    (Friggin' kids with their friggin frakkin I-this and tunes-that and shargaplakkin e-holes – get off my lawn!)

    • Like notepad, it does not do anything I do not tell it to, and therefore will live on the desktop forever. For the same reasons, I love analog stereos. Give me treble and bass knobs, and keep your damn "effects".

    • tonyola

      I use Winamp too on my Vista 64 PC. It's been updated regularly and works pretty great. I'm listening to the Technicolor Web of Sound internet radio ('60s and early '70s psychedelic) on Winamp as I type.

      • tonyola

        Gack. Did I say Vista 64? Brain fart. I meant Win7 64.

    • Han_Solex

      Cool. How's that Motorola StarTAC phone treating you? And your Commodore 64 runs Winamp? Impressive.

      • name_too_long

        Mock all you want but I have yet to find a modern phone that could even approach the reception on my old StarTAC. Thing was damn near a satellite phone.

    • RSDeuce

      Not only do I have Winamp, but it plays through a vintage (70s) Yamaha stereo. Oh, life is good…

      Seriously though, Winamp is so much better than everything else out there, and i have tried them all. Why isn't it so much more popular than it is nowadays? I never see new or better plugins anymore.

  • tiberiuswise

    Marantz equipment is not quite what it used to be but is rather affordable used on ebay. Rock on!

  • Han_Solex

    You kids are too adorable. Seriously, stop with it. Gagging … ohnoes …

    That's not going to wash out, I'm afraid.

  • coupeZ600

    My oldest brother still has his old Marantz Amp/Tuner, and every time I see it I remember being a little kid and waiting for my older siblings to leave for the night so I could rack that Iggy and the Stooges 8-track that they never played (they were all into the Beatles, The Dead, New Riders of the Purple Sage, even The Who was a little too hard for them). My parents didn't like their music, but they really didn't like that Iggy tape. I'd hear/feel Dad's footsteps coming up the stairs (he always wore boots and after a long day at work couldn't sneak up on anyone) and I would whip out that tape and jam some random Quicksilver Messenger Service or something tape in the deck just as he opened the door while I hid the Ig under my shirt. He'd storm across the room, yank out what he thought was the odious offender and wordlessly walk away leaving no doubt that in just a few minutes no one would ever listen to that tape ever again.

    Thanks again, Dad.

  • Maxichamp

    My baby boomer father was a Marantz fanatic! He also had I believe MacIntosh (?) speakers. And I'm not talking about Apple/Mac, I'm talking old school, almost vacuum tube era speakers for that HIFI experience.

  • Texlenin

    Ahh, love me some Big M action!
    Grew up with a 4240 Quadraphonic that mom got from a guy at work. Replaced that with a G-9000 I bought from the
    hippie on the other side of the duplex. It now has a dodgy volume pot, so a crap-can Midlands does duty thundering
    a pair of DBX towers I got from a guy at work.
    Somedays I go here: and just drool over the spreads…..

    • Thank you for something to spend every "working" hour drooling over tomorrow…

      • Texlenin

        No problemo. Have spent many an hour there myself on somebody else's nickel…

  • MrHowser

    Mmmmm… vintage stereo. My current home theater involves a 30-year-old Yamaha amp/tuner combo and a pair of same-vintage JBL's. My dad picked up both in the Navy, and has now passed them on to me.

    From the other side of the family, I inherited an old Kenwood mixing board/preamp and a HK Citiation twelve amp that's missing its companion pre-amp. I've been hitting up Goodwill to try and find a decent set of speakers for that to power.

    • Han_Solex

      I can't wait until I have a bigger pad to reconstitute the setup. Nothing too fancy – hopefully some full cabinets with 15" subs and decent tweets, the Marantz, and a good turntable. I don't really have any vinyl right now, but I think the lo-fi aesthetic works well for some albums. Dark Side of the Moon, I'm looking at you.

  • Anybody know what brand Joel's Fathers audio setup is at the beginning of Risky Business? It's been bugging me for far too long.

  • I like this already. Man, I have had a steady succession of Marantz recievers since I was a little kid. We had a Marantz Quadraphonic four hundred watt monster with a freakin' miniature oscilloscope when I was in sixth grade, with Heil Air Motion Transformer electrostatic speakers, and I worshiped that system. Built in Dolby noise reduction. A belt drive AR turntable, and I think a Pioneer reel to reel. I think it put out four hundred watts, warmed the den all by itself, and I was warned not to touch it without supervision. Since then, I've had I think three others, culminating with the little teeny 15 watt per channel Marantz reciever with crunchy panpots and potentiometer knobs that I have today. I'm on the road right now, can't remember the model number, but I traded like a bag of weed for the thing twenty years ago and it still works fine, except for the above said crunchiness. Old Marantz recievers are like the SBC's of audio, they just take an incredible beating and even if they burn a little oil, they still work fine.