Frank Sinatra's Classic Hi-Fi System

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Frank Sinatra, at home with his three-channel reel-to-reel audio system.

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, America was producing some of the world’s best-sounding hi-fi gear by famous brands like Marantz, McIntosh, Fisher, Eico, Scott, Acoustic Resarch, and Altec-Lansing. Then in the 1970s, with the advent of transistors, many of the great tube amps, preamps, and speakers disappeared as they were replaced by mid-fi Japanese brands. Fortunately, since the 1990s, America’s hi-fi cottage industry has been re-emerging. McIntosh, an iconic American brand founded in 1949,  continues to be made in USA at their longtime facility in Binghamton, New York.

Frank Sinatra
Sinatra sets up a reel-to-reel tape. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

My longtime KCRW production assistant, Bob Werne, recently sent me a photo of Frank Sinatra standing in his living room alongside his hi-fi system. With a little help from my friends, Joey Cevetello and Yves Beauvais (who restores classic gear to showroom quality), we were able to identify most of Sinatra’s components:

McIntosh C-22 Pre-Amp
Ad for a McIntosh C-8 mono pre-amp. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)
  • Amplification: Console furniture with built-in components was quite common back in the day, so we can’t say what brand they are. I’m told that the three amplifier units down below might be Scott amps.
  • Preamplifier: McIntosh C-22 (pictured on top)
  • AM/FM Tuner: Fisher R-200 tube tuner
  • Loudspeakers: Either Altec-Lansing or JBL (James B. Lansing), but they look like they could also  be other hi-fi classic models of the day by Klipsch, Jensen, or Tannoy.
  • Turntable: Garrard or Reko-Cut in one photo;  the other photo has the turntable inside the cabinet under the Fisher tuner.
  • Reel-to-Reel Tape Deck: Correction:  Not a 350 series Ampex 3-track tube tape machine;  rather, it is a Presto 825 3 box/3 channel deck.  Thank you Bob Donnelly for that 411.  Also thanks to George Little for telling us The three units below the tuner and preamp the power supplies for the Presto tape unit amps.

There are some other professional-looking components Sinatra had that we weren’t able to identify, but that I’m curious about, so if anyone out there knows, please comment below or on my Rhythm Planet Facebook page.

Am I a hi-fi geek? Yes, probably. You can read my previous audiophile posts and decide for yourself. But I’ve kicked the audiophilia nervosa habit and even skipped this year’s T.H.E. (The Home Entertainment) Show in Newport. I have finally reached my own high-end, so it’s time to stop this madness.

PS. I like the Buddhas atop Sinatra’s cabinetry. Although, he sure didn’t seem like an adherent, especially back when he was hanging out with the Rat Pack.

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