Fans search out the golden oldies of tech

Sony introduced its last Beta video player in the United States in 1993. The only consumer Super 8 movie cameras, aside from a windup Russian model, are secondhand. Eight-track tapes, turntables, vacuum tubes? These complete an honor roll of over-the-hill technologies.

But hold on.

Absolute Beta, a dealer in Remington, Va., does a lively business repairing Beta machines and selling refurbished ones. Kodak continues to sell Super 8 film. And don't tell Jerry Raskin that turntables have vanished. His Needle Doctor in Minneapolis stocks 2,200 replacement styluses and over 100 different cartridges. New turntables, meanwhile, continue to be made much as they were two decades ago.

Despite the pace of new technology, the lure of products of yesteryear remains strong. Hanging on to old equipment often reflects a commitment that can't be severed. Ray Glasser, a Mayfield Heights, Ohio, deli clerk, tenderly cares for 2,500 Beta tapes of movies and TV shows. "The picture quality and color rendition of Beta is better than VHS," he says.

Mood music. Warm, natural, smooth: Those are words used by lovers of LPs who find digital CDs "cold and clinical" and by golden ears who swoon over equipment that uses tubes. "People want to feel a humanity, and that's what tubes do; they make your shoulders drop, your neck feel less tight," says Kevin Deal, owner of Upscale Audio in Upland, Calif. New tubes and gear that uses them are still made, but older items--lovingly preserved equipment and never-used tubes from years ago--are often prized. In Salina, Kan., meanwhile, 38-year-old Chad Kassem has turned an old church into a studio for recording blues on LPs and sells them by mail from his company, Acoustic Sounds.

Some compromise may be necessary. Kassem also sells CDs--"to help support the vinyl." And people who shoot home movies--3 minutes, 20 seconds per 50-foot roll--may wax about the romance of the film and camera, but their shots are mute because 8-mm sound film is no longer made. Most also own camcorders.

Aficionados of the old technologies can find all kinds of justifications for their hobby. Malcolm Riviera of Hickory, N.C., offers this endorsement at 8-Track Heaven, a Web site devoted to the clunky, continuous-loop format of the late '60s and the 1970s: "Eight-tracks and players never get stolen."

Copyright (c) 2002 U.S. News & World Report, L.P. All rights reserved.