Over a year ago, I found this curious KLH sound system on Craigslist and fantasized about buying. I didn’t. 14 months passed.
Then, miraculously, it reappeared last weekend, posted by the same party in Martinez. Kindly recognizing my psychopathic aversion to telephones, Martha called and made an appointment to view the turntable and matching speakers.
It was the perfect Saturday adventure. We drove 30 minutes inland, through green hills to the East Bay suburbs, and arrived at a ’70s-era rambler. Piles of junk and tattered La-Z-Boys spilled out of the fenced yard into the driveway which was occupied by five cars, all but the pickup in disrepair. My hopes sunk a little. Was this the home of a Danish modern collector?
Steve greeted us with a hearty handshake and how-do-you-do. His clothes were ragged, and his hands were black from either engine grease or just plain lack of washing. His speech was country.
He led us into the side yard, past the heaps of trash, to the object of our journey. There they sat — three gorgeous wooden pods, floating atop white metal bases patterned after Eero Saarinen’s famous “Tulip” design. It’s named for a flower, but the Finn must have had water in mind when he drew these shapes. After a droplet submerges below the surface, the water recoils skyward in a form very much like Saarinen’s, with a bead of liquid on top. In this case, the beads are walnut boxes — two house stereo speakers, and the third, a turntable and radio hidden inside a lidded cabinet.
Steve found the system in his dad's garage, barely used. He nursed the wood back to health with sandpaper and oil, but the guts needed no repair. This, Steve proved with a disc of Grateful Dead. The spindle dropped the record and the arm gently alighted on the vinyl, releasing that singular phonographic sound. The guitar was warm, and the bass as deep and true as Steve’s voice. “I haven’t heard this album in years,” he chuckled. “Damn! Still sounds great.” He stared longingly at the player. Whether it was genuine or for show, we detected some pretty heavy seller’s remorse.
After the briefest haggle session of all time, he let it go for $45 under the asking price. I arrived that day, ready to play tough, but Steve’s story of all the hours he spent restoring furniture so he could feed his family of five — well, it softened my heart.
We left to get cash and returned to find Steve’s family in the yard, standing around the stereo. His youngest daughter sat cross-legged, directly in front of the console, on a chair that was another of his projects. They were listening to Scrooge, 1970 — the musical. “The kids loved the movie so much we bought this on eBay,” Steve’s wife said. “Never had a chance to play it until now.”
I smiled to myself. “If these kids can appreciate Leslie Bricusse as much as I do, I feel a lot better about giving up on the haggle.” Also, I guess they should be fed.
Steve chatted us up as we loaded the car. He talked about how much better it is to live away from the city, and his early decision to drop AutoCAD and stick with the oddly more lucrative job as a drywaller. We said goodbye, but he didn’t stop talking until we actually pulled away — repeating his recommendations about oil and polyurethane right through the passenger window.
As we drove off, Martha observed that it felt like we were leaving family. As if we were visiting old relatives and going home with some inherited piece of furniture. “Bye! Byebye! Yes, we’ll take good care of it. Bye!”
Indeed, I’ll take good care. My first record player is also the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. Thank you, Steve.
Facts about the KLH Model Twenty-Plus (AKA 20A or 20+):
- The cabinet and speakers were designed by David Price.
- It was produced in the 1960s to early ’70s, and sold for $525.
- Apparently, it’s a rarity, at least among KLH models. Steve’s only seen one other, and information on the web is scarce.
- The turntable is by Garrard.
- The speaker covers came in many colors, as far as I can tell. Mine are dark blue.
- What made the Twenty and Twenty Plus systems so popular was that for the first time you could own a high-fidelity setup which was easy to buy, hook up and use. Previously, components were researched and bought separately -- usually including an amplifier, tuner, speakers and turntable with the associated wiring. A company brochure suggested this model if you listened to music at something approaching concert hall volumes. It featured 50 watts of IHF music power with a very low harmonic distortion of 1 percent. It came with the largest speakers, each having a 10“ acoustic suspension woofer and a 13/4” wide dispersion tweeter. On the back of each cabinet is a 3-position, high frequency level switch to adjust for varying room acoustics. Most impressive was the fact that KLH guaranteed these speakers to match within 1 db over the entire audio frequency range.