The electronics companies of my youth had, in retrospect, some of the coolest names.
Zenith television sets? The absolute peak of technological advancement, judging by the name. How do you get better than Zenith?
I bet that name moved some TV sets all by itself.
(The name “Zenith” looked good across a sports jersey, too, as it happened. But that’s another story from the frozen provinces.)
The name Magnavox was pretty killer, too, with its pseudo-Latin overtones suggesting mountains, vast plains and all-encompassing sound.
Magna vox = “big voice,” more or less. Maybe even “biggest voice.” I bet Wagner’s Ring Cycle sounded pretty good running through a Magnavox stereo. Or at least, that was the subliminal sales pitch going on at stereo dealerships across the land.
Maybe that deft bit of branding helped reel in my grandpa in the late winter of 1967, when he went out and bought himself a new stereo.
The Internet tells me nothing about “Downes & Smith,” though a little poking around suggests that “Downes-Smith” was the name of a now-closed appliance retailer on Viaduct Road in the city of Stamford.
A 1949 newspaper article floating around on the interwebs describes it as “the county’s biggest and oldest electrical supply and maintenance firm.” That might explain why my grandpa bought a stereo there: He would have been one to spend his money with a known quantity.
I don’t know exactly which model Magnavox he bought. But, thanks once again to the Internet, we can get a pretty good idea of what his unit looked and sounded like.
These big, monster-console home stereo setups were already yesterday’s news when I was growing up in the late 1970s and into the 1980s. They look positively like dinosaurs now, in an age of iPods and docking stations and phones that play music.
Still, it’s worth remembering that, once upon a time, trees died to make these stereo systems; and people made room in their family or living rooms for these big beasts. Perhaps music meant a little more to people then, back when a stereo system took up serious real estate.
(If you were gonna drop coin for one of these parlor-barges, you wanted a big voice. Nay, the biggest voice. What were we saying about that a little while ago?)
Ironically, my dad — who is something of a sound-snob, though not obsessive about it — told me a while ago that the Magnavox didn’t really sound all that good.
I don’t have an exact record of the conversation, so I could be wrong. But I could swear I remember him telling me that he was not that impressed by the sound of the Magnavox.
A shame, that. You’d expect any piece of equipment that big and heavy and serious to have cold-gin highs and melted-butter lows. Perhaps the biggest voice was not really as impressive as it seemed at the time.
Of course, the real question is what my grandfather would have played on his new stereo. I’m guessing the classic Greatest Generation mix — equal parts classical and Mantovani. I’m sure my dad will jump in and correct me if that’s wrong.
Either way, I’d like to think that the big Magnavox provided the soundtrack to many relaxing hours at 1107 Hope Street. And that’s what really counts.