Betsy – My Pioneer SX650

Who cares about soundstage?

Well, I for one did not. Listening to music thru Betsy was a simple and uncomplicated leisure interest.
Betsy was the Pioneer SX 650 receiver which was the heart of my first stereo system – a HS grad gift from my parents. Together with the rest of the gang which consisted of a pair of CS something Pioneer speakers, a Technics SL1500 turntable, Sony CT80 cassette deck and an Akai open reel, Betsy and I spent many musical nights together.

Musical and as mentioned earlier – uncomplicated.
Fuzz ball on the cart? No need for those boutique stylus brushes/cleaners. My forefinger with a dab of saliva did the job. Motown records bright? A flick of the loudness switch or a twist of the tone controls was enough to party on again. VTA off the whack? Who cared? Azimuth not aligned? Azi who?
Ok, It definitely did not sound like Naims driving Magicos but that was 1975 and I didn’t know any better then.
Ignorance is bliss!

That state of ignorance and affair with Betsy would stretch onto college life up until the night before I tied the knot. Some guys spend their last bachelor hours in wild stag parties filled with booze and your occasional strippers.
I spent it quietly at home with Betsy.
That was my last night with Betsy . . . until now.

This is her story.

Joe Jackson’s Breaking Us in Two – ominously, that was the last song I played with Betsy on the eve of my wedding.
Married life opened up a new chapter. A new home – a converted garage, actually, couldn’t afford me the space of a stereo system so the gang, Betsy included, was left behind at my parents’ house.
That was 30 years ago.

A new chapter in audio also unfolded that has kept me busy these past 30 years.
Long story short, went thru the HiEnd merry-go-round of audio, temporary burn-out, and went back again, but this time dabbling in vintage audio gear.
And in one of my vintage hunts a few years ago, I saw her – a Pioneer SX650, sitting lonely atop an old aparador. Cosmetically, she was in bad shape. No deep scratches on faceplate but some slight oxidation here and there. The MDF casing was flaking all around. The veneer was blasphemously Pyloxed industrial grey.
Still I had to have her.
And without even any audition, off she went to the trunk of the car.

Me: Hey! It’s been a while.
Betsy: Yes, 30 years . . .You could call it that. I was hoping you wouldn’t notice me. I’m a mess.
Me: Mess? No worries! What are friends for?
Betsy: Friends? You didn’t even say goodbye.
Me: Oh that . . . well uh . . . yes, I always wanted to talk to you about that.
Tell you what. Why don’t we have coffee or something?
Betsy: Ok, but give me time to slip into something more decent. This grey dress is so worn out.
Me: Great! I’ll give you a call later.

I never did call.

Not knowing the condition of the SX650, I didn’t fire it up the day I got it. Instead, I quickly turned it over to my tech for a complete once over. Again, long story short, it took 2 years before I was able to get her back from the tech for a complete cosmetic restore. The wood casing was beyond repair so I had a new walnut colored case made.

Knock knock
Betsy: Oh it’s you. What’s this? A peace offering for making me wait 2 years?
Me: Uh . . .You might call it that . . . ok, I know I was a jerk.
Betsy: Jerk doesn’t even describe half of what I think of you now.
Me: I don’t blame you . . . sorry . . . I know this can’t make up for it but I got you that walnut- colored jacket you always wanted.
Betsy: Dammit! You still remembered?
Me: Yup.
(Longer silence)
Betsy: Ok let’s have that coffee.

We had coffee, reminisced old times; laughed, and talked liked we were in high school over again.

Being a 35 watt/ch Japanese consumer receiver, I knew the SX650 wouldn’t be at par with the spades of amps I’ve come across. So I didn’t bother with any critical audio evaluation and opted for just some casual listening instead. One thing I noticed though was that it could play louder than I remembered.
This is not to say that volume is a measure of quality but it does seem to play louder than most 35watt receivers/amps that I’ve heard driving the Liverpool 200 II speakers. It still maintains that vintage 70’s sound albeit less refined than most receivers in my collection. For non critical background listening, the sx650 suits me just fine.
It was a casual reunion party with old friends like Janis, Jimi, Stevie Ray, Carlos, Walter and Donald. Frank and Ella also dropped by. Even Donnie and Marie showed up!

Coffee stretched on to dinner and drinks where talk took a turn to a more serious tone.

Me: By the way, you look great.
Betsy: (laughing) Is it me or the jacket?
Me: Seriously, you do look great. The 30 years seemed to do good to you.
Betsy: Yes, 30 years . . . a lifetime for some . . . I hear you’ve been keeping yourself busy.
Me: (teasing) So you’ve been thinking about me all these years?
Betsy: Yes.
Me: Well actually, me too.

It’s a little past midnight. With everyone asleep, I had the living room all to myself.
Why not give the 650 a serious listen and get to know her better?
I positioned my work chair between the speakers trying to find that ‘sweet spot’ and put on my audiophile cap.

For speed and punch, the 650 gets passing grades. I caught myself foot- tapping to Steely Dan’s Bodhisattva and Ian Pooley’s Curacao Tambor. But although the slam was adequate, it lacks the ‘restraint’ I heard in the Tono Personal. … al-part-2/
There is a midbass hump more evident in old Nat Cole tube recordings which gives an exaggerated vocal chestiness. Same is true for Cliff Richard’s Legatto Ad Un Granello Di Sabbia.
Timbre gets my nod. Strummed strings in America’s Three Roses is quite realistic but still needing the harmonics I hear with the Sansui AU111.
Like most vintage gear, soundstage presentation is larger than life. Although lateral staging is acceptable, the head of Diana Krall is way up there – so much so that I find my head tilting upward listening to her sing They Can’t Take That Away from Me. But this unnatural presentation has its own merits on some recordings. The horns in Tower Of Power’s Sparkling in the Sand envelops you with the sound, embracing you from head to toe.
There is a lack of air around instruments making pinpoint focusing an area of deficiency. The brass section on Super Session’s Harvey’s Tune are bundled up with little separation.
Layering is also wanting. 2 or 3 layers at the most but not as deep as I want it to be.

Going head-to-head even with today’s entry level offerings, the 650 would find itself struggling in an audio competition. For sure, it has its sonic deficiencies.

But in spite of all the 650’s faults, I ended up listening all the way past 3 AM.
Non fatiguing? Musical? I really don’t know, but it must have cast some spell on me.
It was then I realized how much I missed her.

Having been bitten by the vintage bug, I have slowly embraced its sonic signature. One for me, though lacking the merits of a true Hifi system, is still a pleasant listen.
But after the session, I knew that the 650 would hardly win any audio shoot outs. . .

. . .What it will win though is lot of playing time at home.

It was a wonderful night getting to know Betsy over again.
And as we were walking back to the car, she asked –

Betsy: So will I see you again after 30 years?
Me: Nope. You’re coming home with me. . .

I smiled. . .
She smiled back. . .

Who cares about soundstage? . . .

pio sx650

2 Responses to “Betsy – My Pioneer SX650”
Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] Betsy as my daily driver these past months have been fun. Betsy – My Pioneer SX650 Not much serious listening; more of a plug and play type with the iPod as source. My toxic calendar […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: