GALVESTON – Dave Osenbaugh remembers that his fascination with audio equipment and electronics began when he was 3 years old, watching the record player on his parents’ console stereo drop the albums to the platter to be played.
“I was amazed by this turntable spinning those records,” he said.
Soon after, he got his own record player.
But his uncle really cemented his love of electronic equipment with showing him the first true high fidelity (Hi-Fi) stereo system Osenbaugh had ever seen.
His uncle bought a piece of equipment in 1976 that was only made from 1976 to 1977, and the 6- or 7-year-old Osenbaugh wanted it because it looked so cool.
Osenbaugh’s uncle stopped using the piece in about 1990, Osenbaugh said. He completely rebuilt it six years ago.
He rebuilds a lot of electronic equipment nowadays out of his home in Galveston, both for himself and for others. He also has a recording studio, Mixit Recording, that he runs when not working his usual job installing sound systems across the eastern part of the United States.
“I started refurbishing things in the ‘80s,” he said.
He worked as a repair technician at H. H. Gregg and now he’s on his own, finding equipment in thrift stores or on Ebay or acquiring stuff that’s been given to him to add to his collection.
“I now own all the stuff I wanted as a kid,” he said.
And he also repairs other people’s equipment, mostly working on classic equipment from the advent of transistors to the early 1980s.
Is the older stuff better?
“In my humble opinion, yes,” he said. “It was better built, better standards. They put a lot more time and effort into it.”
He’s refurbished just about everything he’s got, whether it’s as simple as replacing belts on turntables or replacing capacitors or as complicated as taking it all apart and rebuilding or re-soldering parts.
He has three reel-to-reel tape decks he uses to get a better, warmer sound for albums he records that will be put on vinyl. A friend of his who was a sound engineer at WMDH 102.5 FM told him they were getting rid of equipment, and he snagged the 16-track reel-to-reel.
“This is the tape deck I listened to on the radio as a kid,” he said.
It’s not just the equipment that has stories.
One of the items framed on his wall is his first check from Lucasfilms.
THX sound was the standard for a time — a process that would ensure that all THX movies would sound exactly the same in any theater. Someone needed to tune the sound systems after they were installed.
“I was lucky enough to be one of the techs that went around Indiana making sure they all sound the same,” Osenbaugh said. “So in a sense, I got paid to go watch movies.”
Osenbaugh started doing studio recordings and media transfers around 2002.
“I didn’t intend to do the studio to record anybody,” he said. “And I intended to use it to turn all my albums and tapes to digital and eventually get rid of my stereo equipment,” he said.
“It got really old carrying drum kits down the stairs [to the basement studio].”
He ended up doing about 500 projects in the basement before rebuilding the old garage on his lot in 2008. It took six months for him to build it to his standards, he said. That meant getting rid of termites, then putting in walls, floors and ceilings with extra insulation (for sound purposes and energy efficiency). And meticulously running thousands of feet of wiring in specific directions to prevent electrical runs from adding any potential hum or buzz to the sound.
Since moving into the new space, he’s done about 2,100 projects, including turning videos into digital files for people and doing other media transfers and completing the recording of at least six full-length albums, most by local artists.
Meanwhile, his love of taking apart and restoring older Hi-Fi components continues. He can work on more current machines, but he tends to send those to his friend, Dennis McCollum at Electronix in Carmel. McCullom, in turn, sends Osenbaugh older electronics to restore.
Replacement parts for this older equipment can be hard to come by in the U.S. “You have to go to Russia to buy tubes. For belts for turntables, you have to go to Bulgaria,” he said.
Transistors are tricky elements for replacement, and some just aren’t built anymore.
“Those are built with very specific parts,” he said. If they’re not the same, it changes the “voice” of the machine.
The knobs for the old machines are also impossible to find if they need replacing.
Osenbaugh prefers not to scavenge equipment for parts to repair others, essentially combining two broken pieces to make one.
“I feel like these things have a soul to them. I feel everything should have a chance to live again,” he said. “I do what I can to have everything get a new life for it.”
However, he has done it when it was necessary and one could no longer be saved, he said.
Osenbaugh doesn’t see himself doing this for the rest of his life.
“It’s more of a hobby than anything,” he said. “I know enough things in enough areas that I can make a living.”
Osenbaugh sells some of the equipment he buys and rebuilds, and some of the equipment he’s refurbished is going to his 11-year-old son, Jonah.
Jonah is also turning into an audiophile, he said.
Jonah has a receiver now, but Osenbaugh has put away a high-end turntable for when his son turns 16.
“It’s something for him to look forward to,” he said.
Osenbaugh can be reached through his studio, Mixit Recording, at 765-274-2380. He also sub contracts work through the Record Farm next to the State Theatre in downtown Logansport.
“Since the Record Farm opened, I’ve been doing a lot of restoration and repair jobs for folks who drop off items there,” he said. “Some then turn around and put them up for sale at the Farm. It’s pretty neat to see this great old gear fully restored and on a sales display in a local shop.”