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Sunday, 12 May 2013

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I went on the search for some vintage gear a couple of years ago, lured by memories of my grandfather's amazing setup (he was a band director) and tales of cheap finds. I quickly learned that there was a big gap between what you can find on craigslist and garage sales (cheap but broken) and what's on sale at stereo shops (as much as new, but usable).

After a lot of looking, I crossed my fingers and got a decent-looking Pioneer SX-680 and matching 4-way speakers for $200 from a guy on craigslist. One channel blew after a year, but even with that repair i feel like i'm ahead, and i have a system that fits well in my house and needs.

Finally, for anyone in the market for 40s-70s tube audio items or repair, i recommend Vintage Music Company in Minneapolis (http://vintagemusiccompany.com/). They have an amazing catalog of 78s and gorgeous equipment for sale.

By all means play with old turntables and speakers but electronics - really not worth the trouble unless it's a completely rebuilt power amp or very straightforward preamp.
That Sansui is probably the very epitome of where solid state electronics went wrong for audio, in those days the only amplifiers worth listening to were likey to be built by small specialist companies - not huge Japanese concerns.
Audio electronics is a hugely complicated compromise to make it affordable, try to look for something that was (scientifically) designed to sound good rather than look good.

p.s.
Ivor Matanle's books are a great photographic inspiration even for those who have no desire to tinker with the strange machinery used to take the photos. Reccommended!

So, what does all this esoteric speakery mean when these Ferraris of sound cannot even be auditioned? I am sticking with my New Large Advents (original woofers repaired when the foam went away). I suppose they are something like Chevrolet Bel Air of decent sound. After four decades of stereo sound evolution technology in my lifetime, and the declining ability of my ears to distinguish high frequency sound, it is that "good enough" argument that wins. Yes, that same "good enough" argument in the world of photography which has resulted in cameras of less than stellar ability dominating the consumer marketplace. Same for my recently cleaned and relubricated direct drive turntable of plebian origin. 'Kind of how I felt about my pre-Spotmatic Pentax. Both technologies were great experiences, without Leicas or McIntosh's breaking the budget.

Yes vintage cameras are all film, but I certainly think the current rage of adapting old lenses, like the dead canon fd mount lenses to mirrorless cameras to be part of this "vintage" movement. Your point stands though since buying a short flange EVIL Camera + adapters may call into question the value of reusing that cheap vintage lens.

Yes Mike there are good vintage pieces out there to be had.

One shortcut is to find an audio society in the local area, and some of the members may be interested in unloading a good piece. You won't get quite as good of a deal, but it is more likely to be in good shape.

I have quite a few pieces of vintage audio equipment, e.g. Revox A77, Quad 33, 303, 405, FM3, Spendor BC1, etc. They were good when new and still are: fortunately I can undertake all my own servicing and restoration.
A couple of years ago, I bought a Leak Troughline valve (tube) tuner for £13.50 on Ebay. This tuner has the reputation of being the one of the best ever. After making it electrically safe, replacing some critical components (power supply electrolytics etc.) it was ready. Except that the onboard stereo decoder is awful, so I had to design and build a separate decoder, based on a UA758 IC. The result is sublime: it is the best tuner I have ever heard. Currently (because I am rebuilding my Quad 405 amp) I listen to it on headphones through my Lynx Hilo, another piece of stunning, although very 21st century equipment.
Vintage audio still has a lot to offer, if you choose carefully.

Mike (aka Woofer-breath),

I am still wondering the outcome of your speaker rebuild that you had promised would be in part 3.. ;-)

How do they sound?

What a coincidence - I recently bought that modern marantz amplifier to plug my now 25 year old Rega planar 3 into. Unfortunately the also-25 year old Linn K9 cartridge is full of crud and I'm trying to fit a different one. Hopefully the 25 year old Linn speakers are still good for another 25 years.
Anthony

My Sansui AU-717 saw me through my rock and roll days. That was back when I had a dedicated closet filled with audio gear and enough vinyl to satisfy most serious rock fans. Glad those days are behind me.

No more vinyl, multi hundred dollar interconnects, reel to reel, studio monitors etc. My AC load went way down after I cleaned out the closet.

Switched obsessions and I'm not looking back.

[...Peter Tosh.... --Mike]

Well, I'm not sure if my gear is considered vintage, but most of it was bought in the '80s and is still going strong with only some minor updates here and there.

That includes a SOTA Sapphire turntable and Tri-Planar tonearm (set up personally by the founder, Herb Papier, in Kensington, Maryland). The only change is an updated Lyra cartridge. And I still have my late 80s (or 1990?) Krell KSA 150 amp (one of the older Krells still desired by folks who now hate Krell and are otherwise strictly into tubes).

My speakers back then were Vandersteen 2's, and a few years back I decided to sell off my newer, ridiculously expensive, speakers and replace them with a more current version of the Vandersteen 2's.

So basically I'm close to where I was in the 80s. Is it good? No, it's still fantastic. But maybe not vintage, if vintage implies very inexpensive. Or perhaps 'higher end vintage.'

[Maybe that's "classic," like a Marantz 7 is classic while a Marantz 2270 is vintage. And hey, I knew Herb Papier! --Mike

P.S. I just watched a Model 7 go for $6,766 on eBay. Classic....]

john Gee Liverpool (yeah yeah yeah)

1992... club record playing system

5000 watt system
Technics 1210
mounted to brick pillar stand
straight to the foundations
new test record
blank track
1500 watts of surface noise!!!

what hi fi?

Film analogue
35mm negative 800asa on 16x20 print
grain! (noise)

try looking at the audio spec on an Ipad
no I'm not a fan boy

qualification comment
......bin doin' audio since 1959
However enjoying yourself completely different

mamiya 645 oly epm5+ Oly lens nex7 +r lens
also enjoyment to me
loluv very useful blog

Ta! john

My main desktop PC has been hooked up for several years to a NAD 3225PE amplifier, which acts as an interface to some old Goodmans speakers and various other things. The result is not high-end audio but still a satisfying blend of old and new technology, which sounds nice enough for computer-type things. The setup has also been used for transferring my old South American cassettes - Mercedes Sosa, Alfredo Zitarrosa et al - onto the PC. I also have a 1970s Goldring Lenco GL70 turntable which I always intended to hook into this setup, but there is no room on the desk.

Sentiment plays a big role here.

[But not the only role. Those Lenco idler drive turntables still have a fanatical following, and are often inserted in huge custom-made plinths. Google "Jean Nantais" for more--he's the Dean of Lenco fandom. --Mike]

Yeah, and back in the '70s we were nostalgic for the '50s and '60s gear: big Klipsch horns, AR2as, Scott tuners and Dynakit amps and Viking reel to reel tape decks and Ampex preamps. Nothing like those even harmonics, low distortion be damned!

For my money I'd rather have new than vintage at the same price point.

Trust your ears. You don't listen by reading someone else's opinion.

I brought a Sansui AU 555 home with me from the service in 1971. At that time the kit included a couple of big Nivvico copies of AR3a speakers, a Teac 4010s and a Dual 1919 turntable.
The only survivor of all this stuff is the AU 555. It still powers the sound system in our house but now it is getting it's content from a Sony cd changer and a Technics Wheel of Steel. The Nivvicos have given way to a pair of B&W in walls in the living room and a couple of small Boston Acoustics units in the kitchen. After 18 years it still sounds great to me.
That old Sansui was built to last.
I may not be the best person to give an opinion on the sound quality of of a vintage system.
At 63 my hearing is so lousy that you could land a Harrier jet in the front yard and I wouldn't notice.
I feel kind of sorry for the kids who have to listen to Rubber Soul without all the familiar clicks and pops.

[Clicks and pops are the weirdest thing for me. When I buy a new, pristine reissue of a famous record, if there's one tick or pop it drives me insane. But if I'm listening to an old record with lots of noise on it, I not only don't mind, I actually kind of find it comforting, in a nostalgic, comfy-old-slipper kind of way.

You should do some digging sometime to hear what people say about that little AU-555 (mostly known in the "a" version). It would make you feel better. When it breaks, just have it fixed, don't get rid of it. --Mike

Nice post. I really like the tactile feel of certain classic cameras. That's why I'm never considering to sell my Rolleiflex despite using it rarely. I quite enjoy a Hasselblad too, although most of the time I'm shooting with a Nikon D800 simply because it's convenient and produces high quality images, allowing me to minimize time spent for everything but taking the picture.

As for audio, I'm even more down to earth. I love over the top 70's metal front panels with knobs and lights. Vinyl has a cool quality to it. But I own none of those. Instead, I have basic speakers, good headphones, basic but new amp, decent DAC and suitable digital sources. I'm slowly transferring my CD collection to hard drives. I enjoy the music, but don't have time to tweak Hi-Fi; photography is more than a handful.

Disclaimer, tinnitus means my interest in audio and audio kit is sadly diminished now.

I'm sure speakers and pickups are difficult and still susceptible to improvement, but 30 odd years ago I heard a very convincing demonstration of amplifier quality by the late Peter Baxendall, FAES.

He took a pair of Quad transistor power amplifiers, probably model 405, fed a signal into the first and then attenuated the output back to the input level with a simple passive network. Conveniently the attenuated output was inverted from the original signal and the two could be subtracted passively as they were fed to the second amplifier. With the subtraction switched off we heard a wide variety of challenging music played through the speakers. When the subtraction was on we heard ... nothing.

This demonstrated that a good transistor amplifier designed forty years ago produced no audible artefacts or distortions, even with difficult sources, ie it was perfect enough.

hmm, i shoot exclusively vintage lenses but on digital cameras (ok, i have a few film cameras that i use for fun a bit, but film is too expensive). there's two big reasons for this:

1) i hate autofocus with a passion. it sucks all the joy out of photography and makes me change the way i compose. also, it sucks for taking pictures of kids. i know lots of people say they need AF to get their kiddy pics but i think they just don't know how to manual focus. even with a big pro camera and the latest 24-70/2.8 i get way more keepers if i just turn AF off. no fiddling with focus points or trusting the camera to choose them for you just focus while to track the kid and take the picture. anyway, enough of that rant – vintage lenses are better built for manual focus than modern ones (even the current zeiss manual focus lenses).

2) 30-50 year old (or beyond) lenses just have more character. modern lenses are mostly sharp everywhere (assuming you can get them to focus) and well corrected for most aberrations (seriously most people i see complaining about unsharp lenses on the internet just have AF problems... ok now i'm really done with the AF rant). back in the old days lens designers had to decide which imperfections they could leave and which they would correct since there was only so much they could do (before computers made calculations easier). i suspect this made them think about the type of "look" they wanted to a greater extent when they decided on the lens design. i have a bunch of lenses that produce amazing looking flawed images and i would never choose a modern perfect lens to replace them. my favs are the rokkors 58/1.2, 28/2, and 24/2.8, the c/y 35/1.4 and 85/1.4, leica m 35/1.4 pre-asph, 40/2 c-summicron, 75/1.4 lux. also the contax g 28/2.8, but that is an AF lens that i had to remove the optics from and stick in a manual focus helicoid to make it fully usable for myself.

with regard to vintage audio, i have an old pioneer 727 receiver and an old marantz 6200 turntable. i like vinyl for the experience not the sound quality (digital is just better quality just like with cameras :) ), so there was no point spending more than $50 on a turntable for me. the receiver was inherited but turned out to be a much better pre-amp for the TT than cheap modern ones or the one in my HK 7300.

despite doing a lot of elecronics testing and modification/repair for work, i've never bothered to do more than superficial maintenance on the pioneer receiver. i compared it to the HK 7300 and a cheap 7.1 channel kenwood receiver. the old pioneer is obviously warmer sounding than both and way more powerful than the the kenwood despite being rated at 40 watts per channel versus 100 watts per channel (i believe the method for rating amplifiers has changed). in blind tests of my friends most people prefer the old pioneer over either of the more modern ones, though choice of the pioneer versus the HK seemed less definite (none of my friends are audiofiles though).

I have a Sansui pre-amplifier and power amplifier in my living room (Harmon Kardon tuner). The speakers are Monitor Audio MA3's. I've had the speakers for about 40 years and I still love them so much. I learned not to twiddle the volume controls since they are noisy.

Today, I run sources through an inexpensive Mackie mixer so I don't have to adjust the noisy controls. And all is well.

Sansui made some high-end products that were truly amazing, and, at the same time, they made a lot of product that was totally unmemorable.

So if you have any high-end Sansui products keep them.

I have a stereo in the bedroom too, NAD amplifier and Wharfedale speakers, they sound almost as good as the Monitor Audio's.

I just love the British speakers from the '70's. Monitor Audio, Wharfedale, and B&W. The made in USA speakers from Altec Lansing and JBL just sound too hard for my ears.

You just can't go wrong with the Marantz, Harmon Kardon, Sansui, and McIntosh (too expensive for me) products from the 70's to 80's.

These amplifiers were class AB (I could not afford a class A amplifier), many amplifiers today are Class D and I find the sound to be hard and a bit harsh. Better for movies but not so good for Jazz and Classical.

"How good is that old stuff really?"

Does it really matter?

For a bouquet of reasons some of us older (mostly) guys develop fetishes for old audio gear (or cameras, cars, boats, guns, fishing gear, furniture, ...). It's emotionally-grounded, not technically or financially. Mercifully, I am not thus afflicted although I have rehabbed two old film cameras for the pleasure of doing so.

Believe and enjoy whatever your auditory nerve tell your brain, Mike. It's a sufficient pursuit warrant if it sounds better or more pleasing to you.

The easiest and most satisfying audio experience is obtained by forgetting amplifiers and speakers altogether. Forget the fetishistic fascination with vintage and analogue. Simply hook up whatever source you have to a pair of Genelec speakers (get the biggest you can afford) and wonder why you bothered with anything else.

Of course, some people like their sound screwed up. For those people there are old amps with degraded caps, tube amps, and any number of other pleasure devices. Eight track anyone?

[So, then...like this?

http://www.flickr.com/photos/genelec/8474796353/in/set-72157632772865240

--Mike]

Mike, in all this you're missing the most super-cool name in all of vintage advanced audio:

Nakamichi Dragon

always found the claim that scratching a diamond across a grooved piece of vinyl sounds better than decoding a pcm bitstream to be a tad dubious. major reason is a transfer function called the riaa curve. this compensates for the fact that you can't cut those grooves wide enough to record the lower frequencies as they were actually played. thus an important aspect of any analogue amplifier is the accuracy of its riaa filter. so how's that different than any of the digital filters required to make 16bit pcm data listenable? it's still a transfer function. it's still possible to error when you build it. or when the components drift from age ....

To answer the question..YES, IT'S GOOD!!

Don't ask me again.

I, about a year ago, bought an Ampex 440c 2 track tape deck..a Studio deck. I bought it to mix my music down to it. I paid $100 for it and sorta worked.

It was built in 1978 and I had this extremely heavy beast lovingly restored by an Ampex guru named, of all things, BOB. He did most of the work and guided me through doing some mechanical things. It performs above spec now, thanks to BOB. He was amazed at how clean the machine was for a used Ampex 440.

This is what my deck looks like

http://www.one-electron.com/AG440C/AG440C.jpg

I play my music on it and I just stare at the speakers and watch the thingies go round and say OMG!!!

..it is good.

[Take that, Nakamichi Dragon! (g) --Mike]

I worked at a high end audio store in the early 70's when I was a student at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. I sold a lot of the gear that has been mentioned in Mike's post and the comments section. Because of my employee discount, I also owned some of it. I also built my fair share of DynaKits and Heath Kits. I loved the sound of the equipment from back then, but, my memory is admittedly filtered through forty years of nostalgia. I mean...I was 20 years old at the time, everything was new and exciting--music, girls, politics--it was a great time to be young and part of the larger flow. Did "Dark Side of the Moon" sound incredible because of the audio system I played it through, or because it was just incredible music heard for the first time? Or, because my girlfriend and I listened to it on our first date? I'm afraid my memory of the sound is irretrievably intertwined with my life experiences of that time.

To answer Mike's questions I think I would need to formally A/B a expertly refurbished vintage system against a modern one--not very easy to arrange. And besides, why mess with the magic?

I grew up with a pair of AR2as, connected to a Sherwood tube amp and a Rek-o-Kut turntable originally (from something like 1963). And I never did like them very much.

My own first stereo had Heil AMT-5 speakers which were surprisingly good price/performance for 1975 I thought, and the rest competent but uninspired. My only piece of exotic audio gear was an SAE-5000 Impulse Noise Reduction unit (i.e. click and pop filter); I always hated the artifacts of vinyl.

The biggest improvement in my audio system was when I got my first CD player and got rid of all the surface noise and the clicks and pops. Bliss!

[You're like my friend KK, who was at one time a well-known dj in the Washington, D.C. area. He had the greatest record collection I've ever seen, but he pretty much cleared it out as early as it was possible, although he's been resisting switching to music files on hard drives. He hated the vinyl artifacts too. I was kind of shocked when he got rid of the last--rarest--vinyl records he had. He got a lot of money for some of them, too. --Mike]

I dunno how the "vintage" gear matches up against today's best, or even second-best systems. I'll never afford to hear them. But the value quotient of well-chosen gear from the past century is unbeatable.

By stopping by many, many thrift stores, pawn shops and the like, I've assembled four stereo systems that bring lovely high fidelity sound to five rooms of my house. Those five sets of speakers cost me a total cost of less than $200. First, long ago, I bought the little NHT Super Zeros, paying half price; that's half the $200 right there. Recently I dropped $30 on my bedroom system, adding probably the best speaker ever sold by Radio Shack- the LX5 (there's that Pentax & Panasonic prefix again), with a unique omnidirectional tweeter beneath a wire cage that casts a huge soundstage, far beyond the bookshelf-class aluminum cabinets. The next three speakers were thrift store finds, each for $15:
-Some older KEF large two-ways for my greenhouse system (it's anechoic!),
-a three-way Monsoon computer speakers set with exquisite planar magnetic tweeters
-two large Polk Audio RTAs that feature an unboxed dome tweeter atop a huge stack of twin copper coils, looking like a mad crossover experiment from Dr. Frankenstein's lab. In the cabinets, there's two midrange drivers whose back pressure that pumps a 15-inch passive radiator. Looks like a bass drum head, and sounds like one when the joint's jumpin'. The vocals this speaker reproduces are strikingly realistic, too.

I wouldn't claim any of these speakers is perfect, but they excel in the applications I've found for them. Their unique sonic personalities make familiar familiar music new again. I'd hate to lose them for some contemporary iPod dock, even the best of them. But because so many folks feel otherwise, they'll dump fine audio gear because it looks dated, or doesn't sync easily with mp3s, or the wife wanted to redecorate with fewer ugly boxes (like my Polks) sitting around. That's how I can afford to be an audiophile...

I'm not really interested in vintage audio (or any audio beyond having a decent 5.1 home theater setup), but for some reason, I clicked to see what a good $1000 turntable looked like. In the description, I saw:
"[The RP3] is arguably among this company's finest efforts...lower noise, wider dynamic range"... no mention of resolution, though.

I have an old Adcom amp, it replaced my Crown DC-150. My "new" preamp is a Classe, which replaced my Crown IC-150 (which came with its own individual distortion curves, almost no distortion, by the way). I have almost 25 year old set of Martin Logan CLS electrostats and an 18" subwoofer for bass. For what it's worth, all this is now driven by an ipod with 26GB, that's gigabytes, of music on it, mp3 distortion and all. My aging ears have been convinced they can hear the crisp clarity of the CLS's with chamber music. My CD's are stored, my vinyl sold. My camera though is a D800E with the three PC-E lenses, the best I can find... modern really is better, don't let them convince you otherwise. I have film cameras, an Arca 4x5, Hasselblad V, and Mamiya 7, with film in the freezer that likely will never be used. Sad, perhaps, but that's the way it is.

Hifi nerds = pixel peepers?

Best sound ever:

Les Paul Heritage Standard 80 coupled to Mesa Boogie Double Rectifier Head via 2 meter guitar lead and head coupled to 4 x 12 cabinet. Add drive in not to moderate amounts and turn power to max, grab any power cord and slam the ax. Prepare to feel pain, pure emotion and absolute power. No hifi can top that, bring that over, transduce that, inflict that presure, and blast around pure and undiluted rage.

Greets, Ed.

P.S. since I do not attend life (from punkrock to jazz and everything in between) concerts anymore I stopped listening to music alltogether. Best musical experience was Muse life at Haldern open air (in Germany) 2002....about 4000 people attended, the atmosphere was completely electric.

Those inclined to do-it-yourself projects may want to look at the low-wattage tube designs and efficient speakers at Bottlehead. Good, old-fashioned wires-and-pliers stuff.

I haven't built any of their stuff yet, because I have nowhere to put it in my present quarters. I've followed them for years though, even had a print subscription to their newsletter before they went 100% online.

You should try Luxman, Mike. For example, L430 and similar models. They are in completely different league than vintage NAD and Marantz models.

I agree with Thomas Hobbes about autofocus. (Except for action shots like sports that is). I have got a few shots with autofocus that I would have missed, but there are a lot more that I've missed because of it. I use a lot of old manual focus lenses with a Canon DSLR, but the main problem I have is the focusing screens. Even the EF-s so-called manual focus screen. Ok, it's better than the standard screen but quite dark. I still find it difficult to nail the focus in the way you could with something like an OM1 or Pentax.

NB regarding the OP - I'm not an audiophile by any means, although I listen to a lot of music. Back in my days of vinyl (60-70's) one of my big frustrations was the steadily declining quality of the disks themselves as they became increasingly flimsy and warped. I believe this was due to the oil crisis. Have things improved with reissues these days?

Old designs, new components? Perhaps you should try DIY? Seems there's lots of designs around and chances are you'll be able to fix it yourself when it breaks.

I always thought this looked interesting..
http://www.linkwitzlab.com/

And this looks interesting too..
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gainclone

I'm not sure it can be classified as 'vintage', but I own a Rega Planar 3 from the late 80s. I bought it in 2000, along with a Musical Fidelity X-LP phono stage and a Sumiko Pearl cartridge. After much headache and pain, due to a somewhat hostile listening environment, I finally got it to sound the way I like after mounting it on a DIY wall support and buying an Ortofon 2M Blue. This cartridge is a gem: it has everything, even if it can sound a little analytical at times. It has the best bass I ever heard from an affordable cartridge and negates the need for expensive moving coils. It's only let down by its tracking abilities, which can occasionally be challenged by some transients, but that's in comparison with my previous Ortofon MC 15 Super II, a. k. a. 'The King of Tracking'. Definitely worth checking.
Now I have a vinyl front-end that beats any mid-priced CD player and eats computer files for breakfast. Sometimes I feel tempted by the likes of the Thorens TD150 or the Garrard 401, but I don't really need them. The same with amplifiers: I feel curious about valves (that's 'tubes' for you american citizens), but it would take a monster amp to make the most of my ProAc Tablettes. There are many sweet-sounding transistor amplifiers out there.

My systems...

All CDs copied to hard disk as original uncompressed WAV files.

M-audio audiophile soundcard (office desktop) or Audioquest Dragonfly external DAC for the laptop (livingroom system).

Pioneer A300R Precision amplifier (British designed and modified by electronics whiz Tom Evans) and Pioneer A300 amplifiers

3 foor high 1970s Wharfedale Airedale speakers (original cost in 1970 $1,000) in both rooms.

Current Wharfedale Airedale speakers cost over $10,000.

Cost - £100 - £200 for each component from Ebay.

Sound quality - most people who hear it have never heard anything as good.

There's so much wonderful 70s gear on Ebay...

As someone that has put out both vinyl and digital releases, it amazes me that people still think of vinyl as an audiophile grade medium. If they knew the amount of compression that goes into cutting a vinyl record I think they'd reconsider.

A really good interview on the differences between recording mediums: http://www.npr.org/2012/02/10/146697658/why-vinyl-sounds-better-than-cd-or-not

"You should do some digging sometime to hear what people say about that little AU-555 (mostly known in the "a" version). It would make you feel better. When it breaks, just have it fixed, don't get rid of it. --Mike"

Thanks Mike
I did a little checking and was happy to learn my little amp has something of a cult following out there. I do have the AU555 and not the AU555a. At the time I bought it I was looking at an AU777 but that cost a months pay. The 555 was only about three weeks.
I sometimes wonder what happened to some of the more obscure electronics that were being sold on Okinawa when I was there. Dokorder, Kanazawa, these were popular brands on the rock but I never saw them after coming home.


About a year and a half ago, I bought a pair of Sonab OD-11s on the auction site, needing speakers for my small study/lightroom, and recalling these 10" cubes filling a small room nicely. They were listed as "restored", documentation was available and would be included with the speakers for the winning bidder. Of course, I now own them--and the receipt for the restoration was dated "1976."

As it is, I had owned a pair of these in the 70s, and got rid of them because they were too bright. Now, being a vintage listener, my vintage speakers sound just fine.

Just for the irrational fun of it, I purchased a Jolida integrated tube amp on eBay about four years ago. I've had fun experimenting with different cinfigurations of tubes. I bought a decent Marantz CD player, an HD radio, and a set of Audio Nirvana alnico full range 8" drivers along with the cabinet design from the AN out of St. Louis, MO. I built the cabinets. I added a powered sub woofer to the system--it fills out the sound even though I have its volume set to "1.5" on a scale of 1 to 10.

Overall, the sound quality is nice, very nice. It excels at reproducing accoustical jazz and female vocals. It sounds even better when my digital hearing aid is adjusted. I think the entire system cost around $1,500, plus time and materials for building the speaker cabinets. My only regret is that I wish I had built larger cabinets.

The rig sits in my lightroom. My clients enjoy the music and every now and then I wonder if a NAD solid state integrated amp would have been a better choice. However, the exposed glowing tubes look nice, and my younger clients are often amazed that such things as electronic tubes existed way before the advent of iPods. So, in the scheme of things, on a novelty level, the Jolida was a good choice.

A lot of old audio stuff is junk, particularly anything solid-state (except, perhaps, some Technics radio tuners).

There were many good turntables, mostly the pro-broadcast-level stuff from Garrard, Thorens, Technics, etc.

Many of the tube electronics of the 1950s and 1960s sound better than solid-state electronics today, but today's much more refined tube electronics are several levels better.

Many vintage speakers sound much better than stuff today. They are typically limited at both the frequency extremes, but the range from 50hz-14000hz or so can be quite wonderful. For one thing, the vintage stuff tends to be big -- a 15" woofer just sounds different than a 6.5" woofer. Also, speaker drivers were made differently then, mostly for lower power, higher efficiency, and narrower bandwidth. You can still buy 15" woofers today, of course, but many are prosound devices designed for very high output (dance clubs etc), which entail compromises when listening at lower levels. Also, pre-1970 Alnico magnets are generally better than what's available today.

For the most part, audio hasn't really advanced much in the last forty years, except for digital which has had some progress although it is stagnating somewhat today I think. A good vinyl turntable still sounds great; however, that is an expensive and fiddly thing, and of course you can't really get any new music for it.

Despite the never-ending progression of new designs, all with "best ever!" hype, the basic little-box bookshelf speaker was more-or-less perfected with the LS3/5A in the 1970s. Most "big" speakers today (Wilson Alexandria for example) are basically a little bookshelf speaker with an additional woofer. All of them use those little dome tweeters crossed around 3000hz, which max out at quite low levels. The typical 4-6" midrange cone is not really capable of very much in the way of dynamics and scale. This is where most of the music comes from, no matter how big the enclosure might be.

In general, I would say that typical high-end equipment from the 1950s-1960s (for example, a Harmon-Kardon Citation and a pair of Altec A5s or Klipschorns) sounds better than typical high-end equipment you'd find today (let's say a pair of Mark Levinson amplifiers driving speakers from Magico or Wilson). However, the better tube amplifiers and appropriate speakers you can find today are better than the best vintage. Speakers are especially rare: speakers that are suited for low-power tube amplifiers today remain quite thin on the ground.

You can learn a lot from listening to good vintage gear, but then you can use that to build something better today.

There is still very, very little out there today which sounds better than, for example, a pair of Western Electric 555 drivers on a 15A horn, driven by (for example) a Western Electric 91A amplifier. This setup dates from 1926, and was one of the very first electronic audio systems available. It was used for the first motion pictures with sound. You might think I am joking, but when Silbatone from Korea showed a Western Electric 555/16A system at the Munich High End show in 2011, it was generally considered the best of the show.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nFX392pNeiA

I have a vintage 90's : ) Sony surround receiver I picked up at a yard sale and use only for stereo output. I intend to replace it within the year for something better. My very vintage belt-drive AR turntable seems to have bit the dust finally so I plan to get something like yours. I finally bought decent (to my ignorant ears) big speakers, Canadian made Axioms, shipped free even to Alaska. Love them. They sound like musical instruments.

I've had similar thoughts along these lines regarding vintage motorcycles. I wasn't necessarily alive or driving when these things were new and am relatively late to the game as is. It's not as though one can go to the showroom to try any of this stuff out.

It's not just old audio equipment that sounds good, as I'm sure Zach can tell you. Vintage motorcycles usually sound good too.

I like the idea of a bike born the same year that I was; 1959. Say a nice slow revving Panther M100, famous for having just one power stroke every lamp post.

It would sleep in the shed next door to my Yamaha XJ750 rat bike, which is 31 years old and insured on a classic policy, even though I remember when you could buy the thing new!

If you need an excuse to referesh your turntable here it is.

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Ry-Cooder-V-M-Bhatt-A-MEETING-BY-THE-RIVER-new-180g-45rpm-2-LP-/110983645064?pt=Music_on_Vinyl&hash=item19d7240788#ht_667wt_1091

If memory serves this was done in one take on analog tape through tube type equipment.
However it was done, this is one of the loveliest recordings I own (mine is a CD).
I did notice that in all of this talk of vintage I didn't see much about direct to disc recordings.

http://www.ebay.com/itm/T-Misago-And-His-Tokyo-Cuban-Boys-Excitin-Latin-LP-Direct-To-Disk-Audiophile-/121105100844?pt=Music_on_Vinyl&hash=item1c326d302c

It looks crazy but these guys could play. The whistle solo on Brazil cries out for a pair of Klipsch corner horns.

In the 70's and 80's I was an audio nut aka an audiophile ;). I had friends that owned a very high end audio retail store and I got to go down and listen to the very best available at the time. Out of my electronics background I started up a little business doing upgrades and mods on peoples power amps, pre-amps and integrated units. For not much money in parts I could take units to the peak of their abilities.

Your photo of the AU717 reminds me of an incident in a mass market stereo store. I had recently upgraded a clients AU717 and he wanted to AB it against a stock unit to convince himself I hadn't hypnotized him into thinking it sounded way better once the mods had been done. We packed it down to Kelly's Stereo and asked the salesman if he would allow us to do our experiment. He was game so we hooked it up. Even through their crappy speakers the difference in all those things audiophiles get gooey over was astounding. The manager came out and instantly offered the guy the most expensive stereo in the store in exchange for his hotrod unit. The store wanted to leave it in their showroom setup so people would actually think a AU717 sounded like that. Fortunately the ethics bothered my client so no deal was done.

Personally I always liked the English Quad 405's and 303 power amps. Loved their pre-amps too. They have the tube sound I enjoy. Certainly not Mark Levinson's in sonic qualities and certainly not in price. However I did do my magic on them and they do sound a lot better than stock. For the longest time I used a kit Hafler DH100 pre-amp which had crazy great sound. Still have them and use them all the time.

@John Rodriguez:

LPs have serious technical limitations but dynamic compression isn't as severe as you and Scott Metcalfe may think.

From that NPR radio transcript, Metcalfe says LPs have heavier dynamic compression applied but "fitting more content" on the LP is only possible if the cutting level is kept very low or wider-spaced grooves are used, which may necessitate a "2xLP".

The former rarely occurs because it would make the LP very soft in volume. The alternative (making the volume louder) requires the label to spend more money on that 2nd LP.

So ... the "Loudness War" (i.e. reduced dynamic range) hasn't been fought with vinyl, and many new titles are indeed (and ironically) more dynamic in their LP iteration.

@Mike

I'm old enough to remember '70s audio. I can and do appreciate it. My feeling is that its popularity (audiokarma.org) is driven partly by nostalgia, partly by build quality and partly by sound quality but that none of that necessarily trumps modern equipment.

I thought I'd read you once had a Garrard 301. Or maybe it was a Thorens TD124 instead. If so, much of that same process applies to other vintage audio.

Stereophile reviewed a restored Fisher 500C and was impressed, and one of their writers uses the decks mentioned above as reference machines.

You have to know what you're getting into, approach it as the hobby it is, and be prepared for anything.

P.S. Be careful buying LP reissues. An original or early pressing from eBay or discogs.com can be cheaper and sound better. A record-cleaning machine is essential either way.

I don't understand how the snap, crackle hiss of a record doesn't bother other people. I really dislike when my digital versions of old music have an audible hiss, listening to stuff on a record player would drive me up the wall.

I recently had a Fisher 500C restored for less than $300 (though not upgraded -- that may come later) and then found a near-mint pair of DCM Time Window 1a speakers for princely sum of $200 -- for the pair. The sound is quite wonderful, though I need to place my turntable back in service as well as upgrade the digital front end.

So vinyl will continue to be a source of enjoyment for me, but the silver disc and streaming content will eventually be furnished by a Marantz UD7007, which plays DVD, BluRay, digital streamed from the network and, most importantly for me, SACD.

But the Marantz won't be stock; it will be truly upgraded to what I refer to as "NASA standards" by The Upgrade Company https://www.upgradecompany.com/index.php/

An extra grand isn't cheap, but I look at it as a lifetime investment. In the final trimester of my life, I want to truly enjoy the music.

I'm way late to comment but I thought I'd throw in my 2 cents (or just get my frustrations off my chest). For many years now I have had this strong urge to fix things but I have trouble fulfilling that urge. I never know what hobby to pick up and time and money tend to be limiting factors. I just love old things but I don't really have any hobbies that fit old things. Cameras and antique radios sound like fun but I'm a lousy photographer and I'm not really into music. I really just like to learn how things work and I want to get the satisfaction of making something old useful again. So far my restorations have been limited to older bicycles.

Many years ago I bought 3 Pentax Spotmatics and 1 Topcon RE Super at an estate auction and have been meaning to learn to do a CLA on them myself. I finally got around to working on the Spotmatics last weekend. I had been putting it off because just to set up to work takes about 30 minutes and I tend to have only 30 minutes of free time to devote per every few days. So I finally got all set up and...5 minutes later discovered I have to make a tool myself to get a part off the camera. That's pretty much why I knew never to bother wasting all the time setting up because I'd just get frustrated.

I still love to learn how things work so if anyone has any suggestions for items I can restore for CHEAP, I'm all ears! I still think I'd like old radios because I always wanted to learn electronics. Vintage audio equipment is just too expensive and most likely requires advanced skills and tools.

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