How I started
It all started when I was bought a record player for my 11th birthday. This wasn't the ordinary valve-based Dansette of the early sixties, but a transistorised battery-powered Philips record player with a detachable 'speaker. Being battery powered it went everywhere, and lasted for many years.
By the time I got to doing A-levels, I had built a turntable from bits salvaged from old radiograms, and using a Sinclair z12 amplifier and a home-made 'speaker, I was beginning to get the bug.
At University, I set up my first "proper" system. A Connoisseur BD1 turntable, a homemade arm, a pair of home-brewed Mullard 5-10s and two-valve pre-amp and a pair of Goodmans TwinAxiom 10 drivers in home-made bass-reflex cabinets (huge!) and I had the best system in college. (I thought!) Actually, it probably was, as most people had Dansettes at that time. A friend had his system based on a Ferrograph R-R recorder, with Ferranti designed amplifier, but it was only mono, and another friend had a Heathkit amplifier, an AT6 turntable, but with a ceramic cartridge and Goodmans Axiom 10 drivers in Goodmans designed cabinets, so it was debatable as to who's was better.
The home-made arm was then changed for a Transcriptors Fluid Arm, and the lot mounted on a Howland West Plinth. I bought the arm mainly on looks (couldn't afford the Fluid Reference to go with it) and that it was a lot cheaper than the SME, but it was never terribly successful. With the high-compliance cartridges of the day (I had a Goldring G800 Super E), the pivot damping was excessive, and removing some fluid made the arm unstable. As soon as I could afford it, I replaced it with an SME 3009, and all was well. The photo below shows the turntable and arm with a Shure V15III cartridge, to which I upgraded after the G800SE.
On the front of the plinth is an RIAA phono stage from a Radford ZD22 pre-amp. At the time (1973) this was probably the best RIAA pre-amp available, based on low noise, low distortion, RIAA accuracy and massive overload capability. I managed to persuade Radford to sell me the card as a spare part, and incorporated it into the plinth with a home-made stabilised supply. The card was mounted on a plug-in module, together with line driver amps and meter drivers. Output was balanced using a pair of Sowter transformers. Either side of the plug-in module containing the RIAA stage is a pair of meters used to set the gain. It was set so that 5cm/sec velocity at1 kHz = 0dBu output. As the line drivers allowed +24 dBu output, this meant I had 24dB of overload capability.
I acquired a Brenell 510-2 tape deck, which I also mounted into an HW plinth, with home-made replay amps. I never got round to building record amps, so only used it to replay those tapes I had previously recorded at work.
The deck was fitted with Bogen heads.
In between the turntable and tape deck, I had a home-built control unit.
This consisted of a remote control panel (photo above) which controlled a 1U rack unit into which was a 4x2 audio router and an FM tuner (both self-designed and home-made) The audio router had balanced inputs and outputs and switched the audio to the volume control and out to the power amp. Considering that the total cable distance between source and power amp was no more than 1.5 metres, the use of balanced signal paths was total overkill, but I was very young and making my way in pro-audio, so had to have the same stuff at home as I was designing professionally.
The power amp was based on the Linsley-Hood 75 watt amp that I had upgraded to give 93 watts (very proud of that!) using a stabilised power supply. That too had balanced inputs...after all, the distance from the control unit to the power amp was at least 15 cm.....
Amplifiers have changed from valves to Solid State, then back to valves, (I designed a 100 watt stereo PPUL amplifier using 6550A valves and Sowter transformers) back to Solid State (Quad 405II) and then I discovered active 'speakers over 25 years ago and haven't had a separate power amp since.
Turntables came and went. After the BD1 came a Linn Sondek, then a Gyrodec with Kuzma Stogi arm and Mr Brier cartridge, which I kept for two or three years until I sold it together with all my vinyl. Then a gap of almost 20 years until I started wanting to "play" with hi-fi again. CDs make by far the best music in my view, but they aren't fun to play with. I wanted to mess around with stuff again so bought first a Pink Triangle then Ariston RD40 and finally the four I currently have.
My speaker choices have also been something of a saga. During my first job, I was asked by a local Hi-Fi importer in Kingston-upon-Thames to evaluate a range of 'speakers they were intending to import. These were the German Heco range, and they wanted me to make some measurements to see if they met the manufacturer's specification (Those were the days, when importers actually cared!) I measured the two middle ones in the range, using the importer's own anechoic chamber!!(Yes they really had one!) and found them to be rather good, so I bought the second from the top of the range (P4000) at an excellent price, and sold my huge home-mades. The Hecos continued in use until earlier this year (2012) when one was dropped and the tweeter broke, and I couldn't get access to inside the box. It seems to have seized on, the rubber seal presumably having turned to glue, so couldn't get inside without breaking the box. Sad after more than 35 years, but nothing lasts forever.