The time was late 2001, and Tweeter (formally Bryn Mawr Stereo & Video) on Rt. 40 in Catonsville was going out of business. The crappy stereo we had was, well, crappy, and it was time for an upgrade. A going out of business sale was just what we needed. I say we, but I'm pretty sure my dad's wallet was not part of the "we" I'm describing. Regardless, I wasn't expecting to get anything from a moderately higher-end store like this. We strolled in to look around and see what was left, and there it was. The Pioneer Elite VSX-35TX. We took a listen and it was beautiful. And the sales guy said if we bought a whole system (speakers+sub+AVR) he'd cut us a deal. Once you heard it, there was no going back. Everything else sounded terrible.
I think in the end, we got the receiver for $425. I have no idea how much the Mirage speakers (which I also love and am still using) cost, but I'm sure it was a lot. But the sound. It was just... beautiful.
I watched countless movies in glorious (at the time) 5.1 surround, thanks to this guy. I listened to SACDs, also in glorious 5.1 surround, thanks to this guy. And then of course, probably more than anything for me, the music. It got loud. Really, really loud. But the distortion never came. I loved it.
The whole system followed my dad around for over a decade until he passed away a few years ago. I couldn't bare to part with it, so I brought it home and hooked it up in my living room with a 5-disc CD changer. It briefly filled the role of my family room AVR before I got a more capable unit, then it went back to the living room. I used it occasionally, but not a lot, until about 6 months ago when Chromecast Audio became a thing. Since then, I've used it quite a bit. At least several times a week, sometimes several times a day.
Then a week or two ago, it started making some horrible noises. I gave it a bang on the side, but no luck. Over time it's become worse, so I finally made the decision to pull the plug and retire it. In it's place sits a Pioneer Elite SC-05, the first AVR I ever bought for myself. On paper, it's a much better receiver; more power, class D amplification, less noise.
But I'll still miss the receiver that started it all.
I really should have dusted before I took that picture.