Vinyl Guy

Vintage stereo equipment finds new life in digital age

By Seth Sandronsky
January 2020

Steve Messinger, owner of Fly HiFi in East Sacramento, services, restores and sells vintage high-end stereo electronics, amplifiers, receivers and speakers made in the U.S. and Japan from the 1960s to the 1990s.

Messinger graduated from UC Davis with an English degree and began his business after catching the audiophile bug. His initial step on that path was as a consumer.

“The first thing that I did was to buy records, and a cheap stereo receiver and turntable,” Messinger says. “Later, I wanted to upgrade my system but was flat broke.”

As things turned out, financial necessity played a part in his entrepreneurship. In Messinger’s case, a lack of cash to buy better stereo equipment was a way forward toward owing a small business.

He learned the basics of electronics engineering and stereo repairing with partner Ben Johnson, owner of Delta Breeze Records in Downtown. It has been a fruitful collaboration.

The men met five years ago. Gradually, they acquired the basic technical skills for the business, one project at a time. Each day was a learning quest. Local audio engineers and techs provided advice, as did scores of sources on the internet.

Johnson recalls meeting Messinger. “He came into my shop when it was located in West Sacramento,” Johnson says. “We hit it off.” Later, the duo sold refurbished stereo goods on consignment. “It was cool to learn the business together,” he adds.

Spending time with baby boomers who are expert in all things stereo has made a difference. “Most of the guys who work on this stuff are retiring,” says Messinger, who faces another market challenge. “The stereo gear is getting harder to come by locally with internet sites such as eBay.”

One of Messinger’s business tactics to dodge big online firms is to work with estate executors for stereo equipment. He recently bought a pair of speakers from the federal Department of Energy in Livermore.

“People also come by with stereo equipment they no longer use, almost always not working,” Messinger says. “I make them an offer.” He uses social media and has out-of-state customers as well. However, word of mouth is the primary way he connects with customers.

On a recent midday, Messinger played classic tunes on a Threshold Audio amplifier made decades ago by designer Nelson Pass, now based in Auburn. Call this business a labor of love.

As a stereo consumer and entrepreneur, Messinger seeks an elusive “perfect sound” on vinyl records. They are more pleasing played on stereo equipment versus digital formats, he says.

“Many of my customers are age 50 to 80 years old, trying to put together the stereo system they could not afford back in college and the like. Others want to replace their digital stereo that they bought in the 1990s to 2000s and reunite with the analog stereo they used to have and return to vinyl.”

Some customers never left vinyl behind. “The flipside of retirement-age customers are the guys and occasional gals my age who want a vintage stereo to properly play their growing vinyl collection. The vinyl boom of recent years has really aided my business.”

Why? “Analog is making a comeback as people return to music quality over convenience,” says Messinger, granting digital formats credit for making music on-demand the new normal—faster but not better.

“Nothing modern that’s affordable can compete with vintage stereo from the era when this stuff was being made,” Messinger says. “The competition back then caused a revolution in sound reproduction.”

Fly HiFi, located at 4736 J St., is a by-appointment business. Messinger has about five to six customers a week who want to buy, sell and trade stereo equipment. He offers buyers a 30-day service warranty on all equipment in his shop. 

For more information, visit flyhifi.net.

Seth Sandronsky can be reached at sethsandronsky@gmail.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

 

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