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Webcor. Remember the name? If you don't, you soon will. A new line of Webcor products is being launched into the great consumer market, after a Webcor-less hiatus of a good many years. The new firm, however, is an extremely distant relative of the old, and so it is interesting to see this once familiar trade mark, beloved by so many of us oldsters, being revived for a quite different group of items that does not even include a separate record player-the staple of the old Webcor line of popular products.
The reasoning of the new management, Leisurecraft Products, is that research indicates to them that the name "still has a very high consumer recognition and is associated with high quality equipment by dealers, buyers, and consumers." True, at least above a certain age. In my own "hi fi book," first published in 1952, the very first recommendation for a home separate unit turntable was, I see, the Webcor. Excellent quality, if in a modestly priced area. And a good history of satisfaction in use by thousands of us back in those days. Those old Webcor changers powered the front end of vast numbers of modest early home hi-fi systems, and I must say I feel a lot of nostalgia at the mere thought. Who didn't own a Webcor? Their heyday came right along with the first blossoming of componentry, through the late '40s and into the '50s, and in those times you could buy a top-of-the-line Webcor for maybe $45 (or a V-M or Garrard), minus cartridge, while the low priced leaders went for $20 or even less. Optional mounting base, $5 extra.
The new Webcor line is aimed squarely at a sales area which--allowing for two things, inflation over a quarter century and the immense increase in sophistication of all our equipment over the entire spectrum--is precisely where the old Webcor brand was immensely successful. What finer reason for reviving a good name? Now, of course, that price region is not up in the hi-fi stratosphere, the price-no-object area that seems to be so inordinately expanding right now.
Heavens no! For the cost of one state of-the-price amp (no name need be cited) you could buy one each of the entire new Webcor line, if with a few duplications here and there. Webcor isn't even in the "affordable" area-which means less than you thought (but much, much more than you can afford). So how shall I phrase it? Let's say for the moment that neither Nakamichi nor Yamaha, nor McIntosh, Lux, Phase Linear, Sansui, Technics, Scott, Fisher, Crown--I could go on & on-not one of these estimable hi-fi lines is going to be discounted downwards far enough to compete directly with the new Webcor equipment. Webcor has 'em beat, pricewise.
Low in cost, really down there. And yet there is no end to the miracles we can do now in our home-type equipment, at least as far as externally useful features are concerned. You should gander this Webcor stuff.
Quite stunning and no other word for it, though perhaps a wee bit reminiscent of other brands. Of course, there's only one way to get beneath the shiny surface of hi fi and that is not my job. Testing, testing! But I was indeed impressed and astonished, at Webcor's premiere showing, by the visible outward impact of this new line with the old Webcor name. It would be hard to believe that such a handsome and well turned out exterior could hide, as they used to say, a mess of pottage. Price for price, it's got to sound good.
Separates & Consoles
Back in the old days, we used to feel that a big distinction between acceptable high fidelity and "ordinary" home stuff was between the then new component separate units, as we called them, and the vast bulk of low-cost mass produced soundware of the radio-phonograph sort, mostly one-piece including the (mono) speaker.
Ours was the old loving-care argument. Separate components, we said, were basically hand made and produced in small quantities (!) with quality standards impossible for any mass factory operation. We pointed with scorn to the monster manufacturers of radios and phonographs, the arch-producers of lo-fi, and generally we were right. The American people were quite happy with the sound they got out of their millions of radios, phono attachments, consoles and portables, and we in the new hi-fi field had to find ourselves a small place somewhere alongside the professional and public address audio industries--a bit below the pro but maybe a wee bit above public address. Class A, instead of AB. We didn't know how lucky we were. The mass-production equipment makers obliged by ignoring us with total unconcern. Thus, their products and ours remained easy enough to tell apart. Our hi fi looked suspiciously like public address (remember Bogen's pioneer models?), utilitarian and all too professional.
Theirs was still Second Empire or Regency or Maple Moderne (and still is today in plenty of areas!). No conflict.
Not that the prices didn't overlap--if you really tried, you could buy a roomful of Regency for thousands of bucks. But you could also, so to speak, buy for a song. A cube radio-remember?--for $5 & up and a record player attachment, 78, for not much more.
On the other side, our hi-fi side, you could put away your Webcor and acquire a non-changing, non-stopping manual-play Rek-O-Kut table for the fi of it. The name explains itself.
The Rek-O-Kut, one of the first "hi-fi" tables, was a massive affair with a big hysteresis motor and enormous rubber rollers directly adapted from a line of professional studio tables often used for disc cutting. It had one major advantage, aside from hi fi; when that table was turning you could put your whole weight on it via a hand and it would merely sprain your wrist without slowing down. Such muscle! Superb for cueing up.
Later on, hi-fi componentry began its well-remembered expansion, though, to be sure, the basic principle of separate and carefully made units exists to this very day and with remarkably few compromises, considering our volume of production. This, needless to say, at last began to catch the interest of the Regency-type outfits. Not that they could do very much on their scale of operations, nor wanted to. (Those who tried were doomed to failure, proving our point handily.) But a certain handwriting was to be seen on the wall, namely, that at least the outward and important conveniences of good hi fi equipment were beginning to impress a great many people including manufacturers of Maple Moderne.
We have now passed through the worst of the imitation that followed.
For years, every department store had rows and rows of "hi fi’s," ranging from updated Regency with shiny knobs through an immense mass of sleazy look-alikes, with impressive speakers mounted in cardboard, to such reputable name-brand hi fi as Scott and Fisher. Imitation, in fact, has simply run its course and come out the other side. There is now a large scale blending, and no two ways about it. No longer is there a dividing line of any sort. Equipment for home sonics ranges seamlessly from top to bottom.
Of course, there are still hi-fi horrors and sometimes they look pretty good, too. But there now exists a very legitimate new area, a large one, in which many of the virtues of mass-produced home audio have been neatly assimilated into legitimate points of hi-fi componentry, money for money, value for value, the good along with the bad. It is an increasingly important area, if not state-of-the-art hi fi; and decidedly it is not one where we can afford to stick our noses in the air. It is always possible, you realize, that we are ourselves becoming somewhat over priced for the values we offer. A matter of opinion-and sales-but it won't do for us to be complacent just because we do have state-of-the-art equipment. Ingenuity and price competition can bring forth incredible ingenuity in the market place. Our low-priced competitors keep learning and, just maybe, might give us a run for our component money with their own products.
Without so much as an audible sound from (new) Webcor, I think you can look at their new line and see what I mean. Everything is there that the sophisticated buyer (not particularly hi-fi oriented) could want, really covering the field. Cassette decks? Of course. And with two meters, choice of bias and equalization, built-in Dolby B, and all the proper in/out connectors plus click-type volume controls, solid up-down switches like those on Phase Linear (and in other models, horizontal sliders), all the very latest in hardware and most pleasing to the touch. Stereo receivers-one has a built-in 8-track record/play and the other a devilish device that plays both cassettes and 8-track through the same front slot without adjustment. These models are finished off in handsome brushed silver but there is also a matched pair á la Nakamichi in jet black with thin white lettering, an integrated stereo amp, 17/17, and an AM/FM tuner.
And so it goes. A svelte and knowing line of goods if I ever saw one.
To be sure, the two speakers that come with some of the units are unidentified and (as I noted) extremely compact in size. And the two receivers in the line give forth with, respectively, 5 watts and 1 1/2 watts per channel, which can't quite match the latest power in price-no-object fi. You will doubtless find other economies appropriate to Webcor's low prices. But if this new Webcor line doesn't give a lot of other makes a run for their hi-fi money I will be surprised. It neatly bridges the gap that isn't there any longer.
"You got the order backwards! We wanted 16 resistors of 160,000 ohms each!"
(Source: Audio magazine, Aug. 1977, Edward Tatnall Canby)
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