Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmas Shopping, Stereo System: 1958 v. 2009

In 1958, the “best stereo sound equipment" Sears had to offer was advertised for sale in its Christmas catalog for $84.95 (pictured on left above), boasting that “You’ll be amazed at the ‘living sound’ you’ll hear on this newest development in portable phonographs. Four tubes per rectifier. Hear every note, every shading of tone.”

I doubt anybody today would be too amazed at the sound quality of that 1958 state-of-the-art stereo equipment, and nobody would trade his or her iPod for that system, especially considering that the "time cost" of today’s iPod (12.51 hours of work at today’s average hourly manufacturing wage of $18.59 to earn enough income [ignoring taxes] to purchase a $229.99 iPod at Wal-Mart ) is almost 71 percent cheaper than Sears’ best stereo equipment in 1958 for (42.9 hours of work at the average wage of $1.98 per hour to earn enough income to purchase the $84.95 stereo in 1958).

Read more here at the Enterprise Blog


At 12/15/2009 10:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Poor comparison. The ipod is not the best Sears has to offer. The Adcom 7.1 Channel High Definition AV Receiver With 1080p comes in at $2,899.99 requiring a 231.8 Time Cost at $18.38 / hour to purchase and does NOT include speakers.

That means you would need to work additional hours to purchase other components in order to enjoy it.

If you're going to compare the "best", then perform consistent comparisons instead of cherry picking to make a dubious point.

Let's assume you're buying a simple record player that you and all of your friends could enjoy at your cocktail party, not through headphones. Sears also offers The Crosley Memory Master - USB Turntable & Album and Cassette CD Recorder at $399.99. That one features a 31.97 Time Cost. We saved 10 hours of Time Cost, but we're also not comparing the "best" of 1948 to the "best" of 2009.

At 12/15/2009 10:19 AM, Anonymous morganovich said...

this seems to be a pretty inexact comparison. the ipod doesn't have a speaker...

add in the $299 bose sound dock, and the price more than doubles.

while there is no question that nothing drops in price over time like consumer electronics, i suspect that you overstate the drop here.

$528 retail and 28.71 hours of work for an ipod and a speaker dock seems a better comparator.

it's also worth noting that such a system is nothing like the current high end.

speaking as one who is a bit of an audiophile, i can tell you that even the low end of the current high end will easily run you $10k. it's easy to drop that just on speakers. even decent speaker cables are going to run you over $1000.

obviously, comparing such a system to a sears 1958 phonograph is a bit like comparing a 911 turbo to a studebaker. however, this leads into the whole concept of hedonic quality adjustments - just how much better is a 2010 911T than a studebaker? (some might even argue that it isn't, though i certainly wouldn't)

both get you from place to place, but not in the same way. is there a value people derive from owning the best? (there is enormous evidence that there is - it's very difficult to argue just on capabilities that a 911T is worth 4-5 acuras) should we be comparing like capabilities, or should we be comparing best to best, medium to medium etc?

people's preferences obviously include much more that just capability and even more confusing, also include a large relative aspect to their peers. economic simulations show, over and over, that given a choice between having $5 and another person having $7, or having $4 and another having $3, people take $4. relative position matters more than absolute. i saw hits verified multiple times studying game theory in college.

this is what makes hedonics so such a difficult and subjective field.

how much more pleasure do i get from a bel canto amp and talon chorus speakers than from a 1958 sears phono (or from a new ipod with a bose dock) and from what does that pleasure derive?

an armani suit doesn't keep you any warmer than one from macy's costing 10% as much.

price is really our only guide here, but even figuring out what to compare to what gets very, very difficult.

people buy them, so someone must think that a belcanto/talon system is tens of thousands of dollars better than an ipod.

but how do we decide which to compare to a 1958 turntable?

if you want a really difficult one, how do you compare a visit to your family doctor in 2010 to one your parent paid to theirs in 1958?

once we introduce such notions into our concept of inflation, the whole thing becomes subjective.

the only way to avoid this is to only compare things that don't change like corn, oil, khw of electricity, etc.

however, that leaves out most of what we actually buy.

sorry to ramble on so long, but i suspect that few people have given much thought to how difficult it actually is to measure inflation and it's worth thinking about.

At 12/15/2009 10:38 AM, Blogger W.E. Heasley said...

Anonymous and Morganovich:

Please revisit the pictures above. The two picture are “portable stereo” systems. Yes, in 1958 they made portable stereo systems. Note the temporarily opened top and carrying handle on the side.

It was common for young people to carry the portable systems from home to home right through the mid 1960’s. Carrying the systems from home to home is somewhat akin to the fashion/style of carrying the Ipod today.

Hence the comparison holds as they are both personal portable stereo system.

Next time you go on the attack, be sure you gather all the information available.

At 12/15/2009 10:50 AM, Anonymous gettingrational said...

Mr. Heasley, I second your remarks that this was a portable system and thus a very good comparison. I think the next progression was the "boom box".

Things that seem to add appeal are sleek industrial design as well as tactile feel. The look and feel of a consumer product like an I-Pod is so much more important these days then utility was in 1958.

At 12/15/2009 10:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To add one more criticism to the cost comparison, I think it inappropriate to ignore taxes when computing how many hours of work it takes to purchase something. We purchase most things with after-tax dollars, and it is undeniable that taxes are significantly higher today than in 1958.

At 12/15/2009 10:56 AM, Anonymous morganovich said...


portable or no, an ipod still has no speaker and is useless by itself for group listening.

so, as i said, you still need a speaker dock.

further, if you choose a high end ipod rather than the low-middle one, price goes up further.

the "portability" of the sears system is pretty questionable. sure, you can carry it around, but you could makes the same argument about an mac computer, which is about as portable as that record player. do you consider the mac a "portable" system? the early ones even had handles.

perhaps before you accuse others of not reading before criticizing, you ought to take your own advice.

At 12/15/2009 11:57 AM, Blogger Mark J. Perry said...

Anonymous: I think that personal income tax rates were actually higher in 1958 than today. The lowest rate then was 20% and the lowest rate today is 10%.

At 12/15/2009 12:00 PM, Blogger Mark J. Perry said...

First anonymous: My point is that an ordinary iPod today has higher quality sound than the "best portable" system available in 1958. I believe that most iPods do come with headphones, no? So even without a separate speaker system, you have a fully functioning sound system that you can travel with, listen to on an airplane, car or bus, or while walking on the beach, etc. Try that with the 1958 phonograph.

At 12/15/2009 12:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ahh, nothing like sitting around the old Christmas tree with the family listening to a set of Ipod headphones...

I think you have missed on this one Dr Perry.

At 12/15/2009 12:46 PM, Anonymous gettingrational said...

Ptof. Perry did write "ignoring taxes" in his post but now that taxes have entered the discussion:

I remember my parents bought a similiar type stereo system for my sister in probably 1962 when she was ten years old.

The State sales tax in 1962 was around 4% and gasoline tax 7.5%. The sate (WA) sales tax is now averaging around 9.5% and gasoline tax is 54.4% per gallon.

According to an article in Forbes, this year, the Effective Median Family Federal Tax Rate was 8.3% in 1962 and is now around 6%.

I think that state and local taxes are where people are really clobbered and contributing to degradation of current living standards.

I know this is a separate discussion (argument?) but so I digressed.

At 12/15/2009 12:56 PM, Anonymous gettingrational said...

Correction to my comment above: the gasoline tax is not % but rather cents per gallon in WA.

At 12/15/2009 1:17 PM, Blogger W.E. Heasley said...

Regarding the portable stereo system of 1958: a forgotten option on higher end automobiles of the same era was the 45 record player in the glove box of the vehicle. No kidding! The turn table sat on springs to cushion the ride. It was somewhat like/akin to the AUX Port now available to play an Ipod on a vehicle’s stereo system.

At 12/15/2009 1:18 PM, Blogger QT said...


fortunate, isn't it that food, car and electronic prices have come down since 1958. isn't that the point of this and related posts?

Was half expecting your post to end with the traditional "bah, humbug"??

At 12/15/2009 2:37 PM, Blogger KO said...

A comparison also needs to include the costs of albums back then and now. I would guess that shows a similar reduction in hours required to buy some vinyl versus a downloaded song.

At 12/15/2009 8:15 PM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

Anon, as usual, your comments are literally brain damaged.

a) The Adcom unit you speak of has a great deal of additional functionality which was not present in the original sears unit specified, to wit, full switching capability, both audio AND video, along with a lot of other features totally irrelevant to the task of the original sears phono spec. Further, it doesn't actually DO anything with sound -- it's a flinkin's switch, nothing more. Which is the source of your complaint, though idiotic... it doesn't DO anything one actually NEEDs done -- it provides a high degree of convenience when you have multiple audio/video sources. So clearly you don't even grasp, really WTF this device DOES. You just looked for the highest-priced A/V item in the catalog, near as I can see. You would have been just as correct to complain about how the price of the 1958 stereo matched up with the price of a new Kenmore refrigerator.

b) Your "comparison unit" is also ignorantly, stupidly selected, since the original unit is portable. The AV switcher you cite is not intended to be used as a mobile unit. YOUR choice would be more aptly comparable to a floor-standing stereo console of the time -- a piece of actual furniture the size of a bedroom dresser or even larger.

c) Mark's choice is a responsible match for comparison purposes in terms of the functional aim. If you were going to complain, it would be more accurate to complain that iPods are WAAAAAY overpriced. A more apt purchase would be a similar sandisk solid-state unit costing about 2/3rds the price or even less. So the ratio is even worse than Mark specifies.

At 12/15/2009 8:36 PM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

> speaking as one who is a bit of an audiophile,

Morgan, you're not being very reasonable, either -- audiophile equipment is not the kind of thing found in a sears catalog, for one thing, so it's not comparable THEN any more than it is NOW.

And you make the same error as anonydufus, by even THINKING of audiophile equipment vs. that 58 unit -- it's portable. While I suppose there may BE "portable" audiophile gear, it is, again, not comparable to that 58 unit since I doubt if someplace like sears carries it.

The bose sound dock is at least a reasonable note -- but is that unit designed to be portable, or is it supposed to stand in your bedroom or somewhere and never get moved?

They do make portable speaker setups for iPods as well as other portable audio systems. What does SEARS -- not some company from the back of "A/V Purist magazine" -- carry in this vein? Then you'll have an apt pricing comparison.

> further, if you choose a high end ipod rather than the low-middle one, price goes up further.

Indeed. And if you choose a much cheaper Sandisk unit, you get all the sound quality and most of the features. For music alone (which is what we're discussing), the iPod is vastly overpriced. The only difference between a $40 Sandisk mp3 player and the top end iPod, for mp3s only, is the capacity. There is no substantial qualitative, functional difference. Yeah, you can get more features -- iPod Touch for games, and so on -- but that's another ball of wax.

> the "portability" of the sears system is pretty questionable.

No it's not. That was what people had back then. It was how you took a player to the beach (and ran down your car batteries!).

Nowadays you would not think of lugging something like that, any more than you would think of carrying around something the size and bulk of one of the original Compaq computers -- which were initially called "portables" though the term "luggable" became the vogue when "lunchbox" computers (later followed by "laptops", and then "notebooks") became available. They weighed 40 pounds! Try slogging THAT through an airport! But people did.

> an armani suit doesn't keep you any warmer than one from macy's costing 10% as much.

But the armani suit fits one hell of a lot better. While I don't think you necessarily need to spend 10x as much on a suit, there IS a definite, observable difference between an expertly tailor-fitted suit and an off-the-rack job.

> W.E. Heasley said...
"Spot on!"

> Ahh, nothing like sitting around the old Christmas tree with the family listening to a set of Ipod headphones..

YES, BECAUSE YOU DO THAT SPECIFICALLY WITH A PORTABLE SYSTEM. One that is specifically selected for its portability. MMMhmmm.

Apples. oranges. To idiots they look just the same, apparently. :-/

At 12/15/2009 9:35 PM, Blogger DRM said...

goodness...despite thinking twice about wading in here, I'll point out that the PORTABLE iPod can be connected almost interchangeably with stereo components and speakers of varying quality using a simple cord. The digital audio file, while not of the highest quality at standard settings, will deliver the same data to each component. So, the iPod is both a personal portable music device and am auxiliary component for other stereo systems. That's a higher level of functionality than the portable LP player can claim.

At 12/15/2009 10:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This looks like the BEST they have to offer which comes in at $245


At 12/18/2009 1:55 AM, Anonymous Stalid said...

And MP3s have worse sound quality than vinyls.

What does your economic theory say about quality reversion?


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