Vintage Hifi to us is pre 1980 Hifi, anything after has been designed with limiting cost in mind & that usually means sound is thin, lifelessly artificial & grainy. The quality after 1977 generally becomes lower than previous years & 1979 is probably the last year of “classic” Hifi. Market forces dictate the average buyer will accept average goods as they know no better but expect them to be as cheap as possible. 1980 wasn’t anything as harsh as 2013 where cheap rubbish quality is often the only option left. If this mass-market post 1980 stuff is all you’ve ever heard, then even the entry level end of Vintage with better focussed sound & even a proper Bass Response will please you much more than anything made post 1980. Not all Vintage Hifi is Good Hifi, plenty of average cheaper items as with any era & cheaper items can be transistor amps as low as 10w which isn’t much use for modern tastes, see the very low wattage classic era Marantz go unsold for this reason, though they look the same as the 40w+ ones. We are trying to steer buyers with the interest in seeking out better sounds where to start. Reading hype saying a 1980s ES Sony Amp is Top of the Range High Quality Sound we know is simply untrue. Even 1979 is 34 years ago & the amps will have been used & aged. Servicing can make many amps as good as nearly-new & provide years of pleasure. All there for you to discover, which is the hard bit. Buying an amp is like buying a car: different styles appeal to different tastes. You might prefer the grainy treble, no midrange & boomy bass of what is considered “Hifi” of today, then this site’s not for you, so please leave. If you don’t like that, read other pages & get a glimpse of what you’re missing. He who learns something new is a Happy Bunny. But look on ebay & most amplifiers are boring modern tin boxes & some with £500+ prices and even £5000+ prices. When you know they all are just impostors of music delivery & you can understand why, then you are hooked. Any person buying a £5000 hifi item is a fool & in this era of internet people are still believing these way overpriced modern things are worth that money seriously need to do some Googling.
Buying: The Only Possible Answer on What Exact Amp Should I Buy is…
We don’t know your Life Experience, Musical Tastes, Items You Know & Own or Have Had, What you expect from Hifi, How much you’ll be spending on your Hifi System or what other advice & ideas you’ve gained along the way. We don’t know what you’ll be playing on it, using it with. A list of your Hifi is no use to us as it’s unlikely we’ll know it as we’ve never sold Hifi in a street shop. You may like it loud & louder or you may crave the subtle details & still like it loud or you may prefer something more gentle & soothing that won’t shock the life out of you on loud bits or sound too much like reality. You may be under 25 & like ‘monster bass’ and not really care for detail or finesse, if that’s you, go read another site, nothing for you here. Our Hifi tastes are wanting to hear every detail laid out in front of you so you can almost feel like you are there… Real Mashed Potato or Instant Smash? Hand Crafted Solid Wood or Laminated Chipboard? How much is Realism important to you? Any other comparisons of Quality to Mass Market apply also, which do you prefer? Or maybe you’ve never thought that far? A musical sound is still the same on a tinny portable radio or ‘Ultra-Fi’ after all. Only knowing the better gets you wanting more. The person happily listening to a Portable Radio then getting a ‘proper’ hifi will never be happy with his portable again. Or we could, if we were here to just sell things, do as they do in Hifi shops & say you should just buy this as we’ve had it for ages and want rid of it as you’ll find with ex-demo gear. If you like Hifi, it’s like Finding A Partner, you need to try a few & then stick with the one you like. There is no definite answer. You might find an amp we rate “Excellent” mismatched to your system & think we are wrong, but without realising things are mismatched you’ll never know the truth. Only buying one that is rated “Excellent” as we rate it highly is wrong too, it might not suit your uses at all? Their are many other options than ours, our way is one we’ve learnt over decades & we are looking for the best vintage gear without spending silly money. But good speakers & good turntables sadly do cost high prices, the best has doubled in value over 10 years, if in our Record Dealing, we see many records are worth much less than 10 years ago if a few are still the same price as 20 years ago. So if you want us to Tell You What To Buy, really the only answer is to see what we have to sell & have you read our Review of it. All amps on that page will play music after all, some are exceptional & some rated ‘Great’ or ‘Average’ are still good enough for 90% of listeners who will see a marked improvement over cheap 1980s stack systems and some we rate as hopeless you might be using now.
Care Needed To Match The Quality…
If you have a decent but only budget-midprice sort of system, beware buying one high quality or expensive item will outclass the rest! Or perhaps not reveal it’s quality and make you think you’ve been cheated. Rubbish in – Rubbish out was the old Hifi saying, always so true if not very helpful. The best amp & speakers but a cheap turntable-arm-cartridge will only sound as good as the wekest link, the turntable. Weak amplifier but great turntable & speakers will suffer from the weak amplifier & predictably weak speakers, ie anything with Bass Drivers under 10″ despite all the hype of satellites & subs, will just be the same. If you are Happy with the sound of your Current system, think carefully before upgrading anything. In upgrading the insides of amps, we have to upgrade the lot as a weakness will be too obvious. Buy a great amp & be sure you’ll buy better speakers & a better turntable very soon after, if the penny drops. If you are a little vain, “he only likes the best”, again you may like it but do you understand it? Seeing great amps we’ve upgraded offered back in trade or seen up for sale tells us the person didn’t understand it & probably will never be satisfied as they are Chasing Their Tail. In some cases, giving up & just getting “a cheaper one” doesn’t last long, neither does paying a high price in hope the cost means it’ll be better. If your available money to buy isn’t too great, before jumping in, sell off all the Hifi you don’t use or want, but keep one amp & speakers so you can compare your new item with it. This way, you’ll have a bigger budget, but also you might have missed the amp you wanted, usually our amps go fast if early in the year isn’t hifi-buying time. The weakest link in your Hifi will grow to annoy if it’s all you have. As with anything, try a few, find what you like best & sell it on. The amps we get we only know by the circuits possibly what they are like, some are great, some are lousy but upgrade well & some just don’t inspire much. The more you try the more you know, but to try the outside gamble is our way, as to just stick to the easy road in hifi isn’t our way. Look at the ratings & read the write-up, does it appeal to you?
Pre Amp & Power Amp Combinations
The problem here as we found servicing two of the 1995 Spectral DMA90 100w power amps is they sounded very different even adjusted exactly the same. The owner using the preamp we’d not been sent said both sounded the same with the preamp, all are 110v units so 2x step down transformers would be needed, so one at a time. To us using just the Soundcard output using the computer’s volume control avoids the need for a preamp but it does bring up the background noise fron the Soundcard as the attenuator is amid the Soundcard, not on the output. So the Spectral preamp will have an impedance that will match wither versions of the power amp. The Rev. D version sounded flat to uis but the earlier Rev. B version became brighter from 1kHz upwards & sounded awful for it. The DMA90 we could play at 100% volume showing the preamp has gain. Using our 100w valve power amps to go much higher than 30% would be loud enough. It all depends on the design & this is where swapping between brands for power & pre will often catch you out. We noticed this first with the Quad II which played low volume using our preamp but at the right volume using the Quad 22 preamp. So to stick to the preamp that was designed for the power amp is the best idea. High gain preamps like the McIntosh ones played on our power amps had a loud background hiss as mismatched & were too loud, as with speaker matching it can end up messy. Here high gain preamp with high gain power amp is too loud & can be hissy if the volume control has another valve stage after it. High gain preamp, Quad 22, with low gain power amp, Quad II, works prefectly as designed together. Even if you get the gain matched, the impedance matching could catch you out too with a sound too damped or not damped enough resulting in too dull or too bright. Clearly the DMA 90 Rev. D was altered to be more universal with other preamps if is a low gain power amp with the preamp being high gain. For our own valve amps we have low gain preamp & high gain power amp which seems to be a better sound & avoids preamp hiss. Some amplifiers have a pre out-main in connection & at the time we had a Rotel RA03 amp on the computer & using it’s power amp stage it revealed to be a high gain power amp with a low gain preamp so actually sounded decent.
Sensible Buying of a Hifi System today
This is what you want to know as we still get asked about matching an x with a y. So we’ll look at it from a 2014 viewpoint with not much to spend, we did similar in the early 1990s & Hifi is still popular desite the i-Pod revolution as people want to hear it in their home not through tiny earphones. Assuming like most people looking for help, ready funds are what you’ll be using not credit, so to spend not much is the aim. Look at what sells on ebay, most is £200 or less with those new AV amps of about £400 about as far as most can afford. So our advice really will be aimed at buying a good Used or Vintage system, these items are supposedly long past their use-by date compared to modern 5 years max & bin it ideals of today, but old Hifi is better made & avoiding complex IC control systems, many amplifiers are forever repairable. As we’ve mentioned elsewhere, if it’s old, get it Serviced if you plan to use it & you may have 10 years good use before it needs another Service. But as with anything, quality costs, but if you find a bargain there is a reason why, it needs repairing or is missing parts. Next what to buy depends on the amount of Money you have to spend. Considering most quality Amps we sell are under £400 even when we’ve serviced them, your £400 new AV amp compared to a quality Vintage amp doesn’t seem such good value or sound anywhere as good, especially when you see the used price of modern electronics that are only a few years old. Assume you have about £250-400 it needs splitting up into amounts to spend. Firstly today is very easy as your Source will likely be a Digital source, an i-Pod, a CD player or your Computer Sound card which with a computer means no money to spend as Computer soundcard outputs plug into the amp with ease as do i-Pod. A CD will go into any CD/DVD drive so why bother buying a CD player? We sold ours long ago. You can plug your TV or Digital TV box into the amp too, though some have Digital only outputs needing a converter. For Vinyl lovers, like those we sell Records to, a decent old Turntable can be bought for £50-100, ones like Technics & Garrard SP25 are where to look, avoid any all plastic midi system junk, you want ones with metal turntrables & proper arms with adjustable weights. A Cartridge may come with the used Turntable or a resonable budget one will be £30-50 new. Sources now sorted, the next important parts are the Amplifier & Speakers, assuming you’ll not just use Headphones of which we have a separate page on both. Speakers are certainly the hardest item to buy & we used to make our own as you can read elsewhere, most speakers of any age unless top quality and with large drivers are generally pretty awful. The amount you spend on the Amplifier should be about the same as the Speakers & best to buy ones of the same era, ie a 1972 amp will not sound good with 1992 speakers, about 1977 is where the lines are drawn, see the Speakers page. The Amp you buy will depend on what you need: a Phono stage, a Tuner in a Receiver & the amount of Power as well as number of Speakers to connect. There are far more Black fascia amps around as 1980-1995 era sold a huge amount though quality of sound is hugely varying & even 100w ones can be bought for £100 or less and can sound OK if you’ve not heard better Vintage yet. The better sounding your Hifi is, without listener fatigue from rough sound, the more you’ll delight in playing it. The earlier Silver era amps of some quality generally sound better even for a 25w one if high power isn’t needed, but any amp over 20 years needs the Servicing & that will cost unless you DIY it. From Silver-era amps we’ve had, the majority are going to be more pleasing than the post 1980 era though as with anything if it looks cheaply made then it is best avoided. Don’t spend too much on any cables as another page of ours states, an interconnect for 99p is a waste of effort, but a £10 one will be adequate & you’ll keep it as you buy better. Similarly with Speaker cable, any 5A sized cable for Mains or 50p a metre in-car use will do, don’t fall for the hype. With Today’s world where Used Hifi in High Street shops & Junk shops we knew are now mostly a memory, buying online or at markets or fairs is the only option & beware of wasting your money on utter rubbish as some sellers don’t play fair. Ask to see it working if buying in person, or walk on by if they won’t, online you can return it at your cost even if the seller has not been fair. We get pleasure out of trying amps, write loads of pages on & then sell it on, so it certainly is possible. For those wanting hints on Amplifiers, our Top Amplifiers page rates many & the brands pages give more info. Find an amp you like, go Google for info. Some are more popular, some are known to be problem amps but sites like ours actually listening them are not too much around & those that are clearly haven’t heard many amps, have a trained ear or know servicing & design. A good range of Vintage Hifi is out there anytime you look, but what condition it is in & how long it’s been left unused or if it works properly or needs a Service to work right should not be forgotten just because you’re not spending much. Remember how a Car needs maintenance & testing to be safe to use, same with Hifi.
Really Bad Ideas In Hifi That Are Accepted
The worst & most illogical way of pretending your Audio System is Hifi is to go along the way of Bi-Amping, Tri-Amping, adding extra Tweeters & a Sub. But a lot of people do this because they have a very badly matched system & believe the rubbish in Forums about trying to make a Bad System into a Good one. You hear of multi amping, there are microseconds of delay between a simple circuit path & a more complex one so how can bi-amping be good? There are even triple amps for 3 driver systems, all pointless. Only the room blurring the sound will hide their inaccuracies & phase errors. Be sure to cover for Bad Matching one amp they play the Treble & Bass higher, instead of getting a Preamp with Tone Controls. We had a person ask about this, they used a total mess of mismatched 8 & 15 ohm speakers as well as several amps for specific parts of the Audio Frequency. We told him his system was awful as it clearly is, what sense of musicality must they have to believe this awful mess is any good. They thought our reply “was aggressive”, well sometimes it has to be… You read our site & see we tell it like it is yet you ask us about Bi-Amping that we mention already is a bad idea. This person needs to get a reality check on what Good Hifi sounds like: One Great amp with Speakers that Match it properly. No need for extra Bass & Tweeters then. We play our Tannoy Golds with Valve amps. They need Tone Gain to fit the room but then sounds just right. Perhaps the Bi-Amping horror systems just need a good amp with Tone Controls. We know Hifi is a minefield with very little common ground anywhere & we write our pages about info we could never find & over 20 years we’ve worked it out ourselves. As the Old Hifi Books say, you need a Good Sound Reference, not necessarily a Concert Orchestra as an LP is multi miked close up, not 10th row back on the left. Hearing a group play live in a small room gives a better idea though many used to play too loud to hide their flaws. To think you can patch up a lousy Audio System, we’ll not call it Hifi, by adding bits on is ridiculous. If you have a crack in the wall, you need to break the weaknesses away from it to repair it & if the foundations are unstable, like the hugely mismatched Audio System, you tear it down & start afresh. We’re not here to massage egos & if you want us to praise a poor system, we won’t as it’s of no benefit, we pull no punches & if you don’t like that, read more of our site & try something new, we’re here to Advance your Hifi enjoyment after all. We know it’s very hard trying to convince those who have Strayed from the Real Hifi Path, but be sure once they do Cross Over to the Greener side, they realise what they’ve been missing. Hifi is a Religion after all, except this one is based on facts, not an old storybook. For more ideas on What We Call Good Sound, read other pages, like Deciding top Amps etc.
Power Ratings are the deciding factor & some will sacrifice Audio Quality for High Power ratings, despite having no need for 100w, 160w or even 300w like some late 1970s Marantz, Pioneer, Sansui & Yamaha can offer. You can read we seem to favour amps of 40w-50w. There is a reason for this, you’ll want to crank up the volume. Vintage hifi without overdesigned circuits can go much louder, one 90w Sony we had was a pathetic volume, yet we have an 18w 1966 Coral amp that plays loud enough to play Dr Who with it’s loud sound effects, if not really going much further. Of course if you only play your music or TV low volume, 18w will be more than enough. There is even a 7w Pioneer from the 1970s but what use is that? Ther answer is for background music & many radiograms these low powered amps & receivers replaced were 10w or less. For a typical UK sized room, a 40w amp should be adequate, with smaller rooms you can get away with less power as the volume builds up more in a smaller space. If you have a huge room then 80w or more is more your power. Those buying 100w+ amps yet have no need for the power either are collecting the top ranges or are boy racers still, all are customers after all. For our Upgrading, we say 40w or more simply as once you hear the improved sound you’ll want to play it louder & if the 18w amp was upgraded, you’d not get your hit of high volume. In terms of the sweeter sounding amps, the 40w to 50w range is where the best sounds are. Amps over 50w are usually only post 1971 & use different designs to the earlier ones. The fact few of the 300w amp buyers realise is the 300w isn’t going to be much louder than a 100w amp as the wattage is voltage (volume level) x current (driving power for inefficient speakers or awkward loads). Having played the Pioneer 200w C-90/M-90 the volume was feeble for it’s overblown design, the preamp being particularly lousy. But looking at power ratings as the 1970s go on, in 1970 40w was high power, in 1978 40w was an almost budget amp. Amplifiers as we’ve written much about matter more for the quality of sound than the Power Rating. This is why we rate that 18w Coral amp excellent when we hated the 250w Musical Fidelity A308CR pre-power.
Are You A Lost Hifi Soul Forever Searching?
After dealing in Hifi for a while, the pattern of the Clueless Buyer emerges. Sadly they have little idea of their subject & usually have never actually bought anything, or if they have, they are never satisfied. We’ve done Forum Reading to see other’s opinions on Hifi & the idea there is any amp however good or bad will have it’s followers. Not many people will have tried over 100 amplifiers & receivers like us to understand Vintage Hifi properly & opinions on mediocre amps can be imbalanced. The issue of Speaker Matching comes into play & a Top Amp of Ours can sound poor if used with Mismatched Speakers, which is why we use Headphones to level the field before testing them on our Speakers. We’ve had buyers buy one of our Best Upgraded amps only to hear they are still buying others in search of better. The reason is Hifi insecurity. Our Opinion is just an Opinion after all, but ours is a very qualified one, if with our own bias to what we like. Just look how much we’ve written on Hifi & then find the credentials of some amateur on a Forum who says an amp we rate as mediocre they think is great. Experience is the difference as with anything in life. Dealers see far more goods than all buyers do as we can buy to try & sell on, after all this is how we play it with Records, as select45rpm is a Records Sales site after all. Dealers seeing a lot of a certain type of item often become elistist & lazily ignore the “lesser” stuff missing out on finding lost gems, we’ve always Championed The Obscure & rated it against the best & be sure our Hifi pages have revived the scene as we’ve discovered many great Records that are now wanted after being sleepers. Another sort of Buyer jumps in & buys a difficult amp again based on unqualified Forum opinion despite our rating of it being honest in how difficult the amp is. They still want to buy a more modest one of ours but only choose the one that has better Forum reviews, ignoring our opinions & the fact ours is Serviced & Upgraded. The one the Forum rates higher actually was pretty mediocre as original, but showed upgrade promise, but ultimately the build quality stopped us going further with upgrades. The better one they ignored was a rarer item that sounded much better as original, with both upgrading to be about similar. Does the amateur buyer bother to understand that? No. They are so clueless they ask how much it is to upgrade the difficult amp they’ve never even heard yet. By this time we realise they are timewasters & probably will waste their money on things forever being unaware. Be sure the difficult amp will be sold on fast & they’ll be none the wiser. That is the Bad Hifi buyer, dear reader, be sure not to follow their mistakes.
If Vintage Hifi is so good how come it’s not worth as much as Modern?
The basic terms of Knowledge of an item & availability & demand, as with any collectable item. Also Vintage gear needs servicing to keep it in good order for years more use. Most buyers of say an Arcam FMJ A32 integrated for £700 new will nave no idea of the 1970s amps that sound better. We bought the preamp version of this amp in 2003 & sold it on quickly as it was only mediocre & the awful user interface was hard work & inside it was all nasty surface mount junk with ceramic capacitors. Not Hifi to us even then, but the Phono stage wasn’t bad as of an ‘old style’ design. Modern items of any sort have a Retail price new, it drops by a small or large percentage & things only rise in value as more people appreciate & want them. If not, everything would only be worth what they cost new, but our sales prices in many categories show buyers research things & then pay collector prices which rise & fall. Hifi is still very young, in Germany it is more advanced, but it’s only based on buyers wanting them from having read about them or looking & seeing 100w+ power. Not many buyers of Hifi are Collecting them as ornaments, though we know it’s hard to sell ones you like. Many buy to use them to play music on & as they learn more these buyers will buy other amps, but beyond the Hifi mags of today doing the odd Vintage review, we think we are the only ones doing what we are doing & this we hope will change as more find interest in these amps. There are those who wisely bought these 20+ years ago when they were unwanted & kept them as they liked them, now they will see a profit selling the better ones on. But once again, we’ve never had a Vintage Amp we’d not need to Service & never expect we will for the age of them. As time progresses, buyers hopefully will see how good these amps are & prices for the best Serviced ones will keep rising.
A lot of Vintage gear is Multivoltage, to take 110-120v or 220-240v. This is easily done via a switch or connector. Job done. But a good amount may only be 110-120v or 240v with no option to adjust things. This can limit buying certain hifi & care is needed, as USA Yamaha or Pioneer are usually 110-120v only, not multivoltage ones. The reason is sometimes on post 1975 ones to comply with certain countries interference regulations, but generally it’s cheaper to put a single voltage transformer in than the complex multivoltage one. Step Up or Step Down transformers are buyable & work fine but it means hiding an ugly big box nearby. Some transformers can be altered as extra wiring shows as per the circuit diagram & we’ve managed to put 240v on some marked 110-120v due to windings, but this is advanced stuff, it’s playing with the mains after all. If a 1976 Pioneer SX-850 says 110-120v then there is no option but to get the step-down transformer, we tried but it’s how Pioneer cut costs. Accidentally plugging the wrong voltage into any item will possibly trash it beyond fuses, putting 110v into a 240v amp might draw excess current. Also, if you buy a multivoltage amp from the USA, be sure to set it to your own voltage rather than be too excited, forget & then trash it.
Too Elitist? Cheaper Options Required?
There is always the issue of ‘the best’ ending up too expensive & outpricing most buyers. If the highest model is out of your pocket range, go for one of the smaller models & still be in the vintage hifi scene. With 1970s Hifi a 15w amp in the early 1970s was still a good amp, if by the late 1970s to look for at least 25w is required as the volume isn’t as loud due to design “improvements”. Amps of lesser power won’t be able to drive speakers loud enough, but there are many owners of the Leak Delta 30 which is a 15w RMS rated amp that still puts out a decent volume. Looking at Yamaha, the big receivers are the ones that make the money, but the smaller ones will still have a similar sound signature of the bigger ones. As silver fronted amps were gone by about 1982-83 you can pick up silver front amps of 20w to 30w on ebay for about £50. These will be modest but they’ll have a Phono stage & still have the richer sound of the bigger amps. This is how you get hooked, you enjoyed that 20w amp but it’s not worth upgrading, so sell it & go buy a higher rated model for under £100. Buy a few if unsure & compare them keeping the one that suits your needs & speakers best. If you don’t need to play it very loud, you’d be surprised how loud early 20w amps can play, read the 1967 JVC section on the Top amps page, it surprised us. For TV sound & general music levels a 20w amp will be more than adequate, but as with anything, the lower power amps are designed to a price so as an example of prices new, the 1979-80 Yamaha amplifiers were CA-2010 120w £488, CA-1010 90w £400, CA-810 65w £293, CA-710 45w £213, CA-510 35w £151, the last two still being a good power rating.
Do Really You Need a Big One?
Amplifier power that is. The typical sized room an amplifier will get used in is generally quite small unless your house is worth a few million. Most people therefore will actually be adequate with a 25w amp if the speakers are of high quality, large & of high sensitivity such as at least 95dB. We played the 18w 1966 Coral amp on Tannoy Golds playing Dr Who’s loud bassy soundtrack with no problems of not enough volume or clipping. If your speakers only have 6″ bass drivers then you’ll need more power & some bass boost as the speaker will sound thin. A while back comparing some B+W speakers to the Tannoys to have a second set for computer use, the amp needed ‘2 notches’ more volume, about a 25-30 degree volume up rotation to make it probably twice as loud for the difference of 95dB to 88dB, it appears this is near as 10db is ‘twice as loud’ on sound calculators. We used to read What Hifi in the 1980s & used to see the dB level with many commonly found speakers being 86-88dB but the odd ‘useless’ ones of 82-83dB which would need the volume twice as loud-twice explaining why there are amps over 100w, the LS3/5A are only 83dB. A typical PA speaker is 98dB to 105dB & with 100w that will deafen you. But when you get over 100w into the realms of hifi bought more to show off with by those who have ego issues or may use our heading as their excuse elsewhere. On ebay you see some stupid huge amps, £20k with 700w into 8 ohms & 2800w into 2 ohms. Who has 2 ohm speakers beyond those equally dumb huge car stereos? We hear about Hifi from quite a few with this site & one £20k amp we were told our modest upgraded amp was much nicer sounding than the £20k one. On ebay as of typing a £24,000 Accuphase 100w Class A amp is buyable, but it’s had little use says the seller. Hot enough to fry the cat if it slept on top, why would anyone need an item like this? An ugly Burmeister for £13,000 looks more like a wood burning stove & the thing is for sale despite the last owner putting solid silver cables inside, hope they don’t tarnish… These sort of ‘stupid’ amps we’ve only tried with the Sumo ones & thought they were very boring with not much life at all. These sort of big amps likely get bought & sold over again if clocking up little use. Could it be they don’t sound very good too? This scene of Hifi We Don’t Like was led by the Hifi Press starting in the early 1980s with Linn & Naim & their hair shirt ideas, the USA scene got the infamous Krell, but the fact these items are often for sale means the owner didn’t like them, rather than needing the money apart from to try something else a magazine reviewer ‘praised’ to be the Best Ever. People will dream of getting an ‘xxx’ & when they do, likely it’ll be tired of within a few months.
Problems with Vintage?
Vintage Hifi will deliver better sound quality than modern Hifi, but it’s not a trouble-free experience. Firstly the item is Old, it is 35 years old if from 1979 & 47 years old if from 1967. But don’t let that put you off, but you do need to be realistic. All amps over 20 years old need Servicing to bring them back to their best. Assuming the amp is undamaged & no parts need replacing a Serviced Vintage amp will give good service still on the vintage parts if the seller has Serviced & tested it properly. But what may happen after a few month’s regular use is not possible to predict. Most we’ve used for longer periods have been fine still after much use. Some we’ve recapped & improved as stated elsewhere, but you don’t need to do this to enjoy an Amp. If you do recap it & do it properly, it will be nearly new again. Capacitors are wet electronic items that do age unpredictably. One thing you will notice if only used to post 1980 Hifi is there is a Background Hiss with the earlier amplifiers. With high sensitivity Speakers & Headphones you will hear it in a quiet room or at night. But the fresher sound will make up for that & you’ll soon ignore the mild hiss. Later amps, like a 2000s NAD C370 were overdesigned to give more NFB to hide the Hiss giving better than -120db ratings but with a high damping factor of 150, a 1968 Sony STR-6120 states -90db on Aux , but only -70db on Phono but it shows no damping factor value but we estimate from the sound it’s about 40. You will hear minor background hiss on the Sony, but none on the NAD with regular domestic speakers, but the NAD will not sound as pleasing for music as the Sony. With any amplifier, if you select Phono & turn it up loud with no music playing, you will hear background noise as the Phono (or Tape Head or Mic) input amplifies it’s input whereas the Aux doesn’t. Some Mic inputs are variable depending on the Mic impedance & the Yamaha CR-1000 for example takes a very wide range of Mic from 3mV to 450mV so unsurprisingly with no Mic plugged in, leave the Mic turned on & the background noise on any input is noisy. Learn your Hifi is the answer.
Is it Better to Bi-Wire & Bi-Amp?
No it isn’t. These are rubbish ideas popular in the 1990s because of Hifi mags wanting to help sell more cable no doubt. The idea of Bi-Amping is around in the Late 1960s with one company selling a 3 stage Bi-Amp & even Sony making something similar. The fact that Bi-Amping still exists today as tiny Satellite speakers & a Sub shows it’s not a “High End” thing. It’s a cheap compromise & we say it’s all Rubbish. Why? Bi-Amping means using two different amplifiers to play the same sound. This is Totally illogical, the Full Range sound from one amplifier correctly loaded is perfectly fine & vastly superior to all this Group Amping-Wiring nonsense. Imbalances with amplifier matching, the fact the signal going through an amp meets a delay of microseconds means you’ll get Phase Errors & Blurry Sound. It is always better to have Just One Amplifier playing into Just One Speaker, with the speaker’s crossover dealing with the rest. Biwiring is less foolish, but having tried it, it makes absolutely no difference. the idea is the length of wire puts a resistance between the Treble & Bass driver so “they don’t react together”. Again utter rubbish. The fact is the tweeter works on a limited audio range by the crossover blocking low frequencies & the bass driver crossover blocks the high frequencies, Having extra resistance between the drivers will sound different, but there will be complex issues beyond our site ideals, such as ringing effects & phase distortion. Sadly the late 1980s-1990s Hifi mags scene was responsible for a lot of Turkeys, the infamous Green Pen lie & the ridiculous scene where paying £200 for a mains cable of £40 for an ‘audiphile’ fuse is oddly justified by a paid advert review.
Speakers: Pre 1980s Connectors
The standard type of speaker connector today is the 4mm Banana plug, though H+S regulations actually don’t like them as they are a bit like USA mains plugs. Also the Spring bare wire connector. Ignoring that & prizing out the plastic stoppers on post 1980s amps, these are easy to use & the risk of shorting is lessened, though the huge area of outer bare metal these have can mean a bit of metal could short the amp still, though some are plastic encased. The earliest amps we cover, ie 1963 Trio & Rogers Valve amps have a basic Screw connector. These are actually excellent connectors, if hardly anyone uses them properly. The idea is to solder the U shaped or hoop ended spade type connectors & tighten the screw onto them. Tabs on the screw holder side on later ones stop them coming loose & twisting round & shorting. But just about everyone just puts a bit of bare wire round the screw after twisting the strands together & hope it will tighten up. This is very risky as one strand will be enough to short an amp out & it appears to happen quite often by amps we’ve had & repaired. Also the wire is not fixed very well & pulling loose isn’t hard & risk of shorting again. If you can’t find the spade connectors, you can buy gold plated blocks for McIntosh & Marantz amps from China on ebay & these have a 4mm banana hole & tightening screws. But to cut a long bare part of the wire & make a loop or spade then solder the end into a solid piece will do. These screw connectors last until about 1971 on amps. Pioneer from 1967 made a similar screw block that plugged in but gave a better way to connect with a bar between the + and – and the 1967 Sansui did similar as a fixed bar on the amp with the raised bars between to keep strands apart, as did the McIntosh. Next you get Spring Connectors like Marantz had from 1971 or a similar square block that took the wire in from the side. These are the easiest ones to use & these blocks are still made today. The only minus is you can only use thinner wire, 13A mains wire may be just too big. For European amps the DIN plug appears to be foolproof, which is why they were used so much. Sadly the wires inside the plugs can come loose as soldering is all that holds the wire on & again shorting is possible, so either buy new cables or fully check the old ones first. Then came binding posts with a 3mm plug as on Sony amps from the late 1960s. These are good & offer two ways to connect if the risk of shorting wires is possible if you cut the wire ends too long, so always check carefully. Technics used a push bare wire in & turn locking system which worked well, but the turning part is just on two thin tabs so be sure many got broken. The Sony type led to the 4mm Banana plug, though the Banana plug is pretty lousy really as the plug only contacts on the spring parts even if it’s a more advanced 4 spring plug. To use the binding holes is the better idea. You can get screw on 4mm plugs, solder on & even crimp on ones that Hifi shops will do, though we found these type a bit fragile on the plug. To leave the Speaker connectors as Original is our advice, unless they are broken, though if 4mm sockets can be fitted neatly it won’t put a buyer off, but a hacked up Rogers Cadet III instead of the small board of screws just looks awful. Risking Shorting cables is the problem as you create a zero resistance + to – and the current builds within 2 seconds to trash the amp & an expensive repair is likely.
Shop or Home Demos are Useless.
Unless you can try a piece of Hifi in your home with your other Hifi in a room you are familiar with… what will a Demo teach you? Nothing beyond “it works” & also unaware of the other items used in the Demo which may be well matched to bring the best out of an Amplifier, or even cynically hide it. Most amps are deliberately limited on Bass by the manufacturer so searching for rich open Bass may just get you quickly believing some falsely bassy speaker is delivering it. You get it home & use different speakers, beyond the Matching issues as on our Loudspeakers page & you’ll think you bought a piece of junk. We know this from years ago. Years ago some big Hifi shops used to have a big Comparator to put 100 speakers & amps together for quick demos. Again pretty useless after the first few tries as we know with our multi amp tests. The first one you hear is your Reference for that session & it takes multiple other compares with other amps to really tell the differences. Better to some is no more than Different after many comparisions over many more tries. For the fact we see a need to upgrade most amps shows you’ll never find your perfection. Buy the best you can afford that fit your requirements & then live with that Amplifier until you decide what it’s missing or you’d like more of. Educate yourself in Hifi slowly, to jump in right at the top without understanding it is a foolish game. Similarly why Rolls-Royce cars aren’t used for Driving Lessons.
Tune Your Listening Room!
Even the Best Hifi can sound awful if the Room is of poor acoustic quality. You’ll have heard about Concert Hall acoustics, your own lounge or front room is no different, if smaller & not full of 500 people who like to cough a lot. Big rooms need more power & bigger speakers to fill the room with sound. But most people in UK live in smaller properties & if you’re unlucky, your Hifi room will sound poor. Modern housing is often cheaply made with plasterboard walls, not brick or some sort of composite block built & lined with cement and plaster. A ‘proper’ building is easier to get Hifi to sound good in. Plasterboard walls & the nasty internal walls that bend are rubbish for everything & be sure they’ll sing along to the music. If Hifi played loud means much to you, don’t live in a modern ‘cardboard’ house or flat. Beyond that, what you fill your Room with matters hugely. The modern idea of Ikea minimalism, aka we can’t afford furniture, means fake plastic flooring with wood patterns printed on is common. Better ones are real parquet type flooring or midway some veneered MDF or ply. The floor is hard on your bare feet & hard surfaces reflect sound making things bright, go into an empty room & clap your hands & hear a sharp echo. Fill that room with your belongings & the sound dampens down. But if you live minimal, you have a hard ceiling, walls & floor all creating hard sound reflections that are overbright. We’ve played with echo & reverb on Computer audio programs as some 1970s tracks should be in Stereo & to play via Headphones a bit of Stereo-ness makes a nicer listen, if on speakers it doesn’t work so well. The settings give reverb reflections of huge to small room sizes with warm or bright furnishing reflections. You don’t want a totally dead room like those anechoic chambers lined with spiky foam as speaker testing rooms are by manufacturers. That’s the reasoning behind rooms sounding so different, but how to tune them? The answer is to fill them to absorb enough sound to sound ‘right’ yet not too much that the sound is too soft. Years ago, jokers sold squash balls & told you to place them here & there and naturally fools believed it as shysters are everywhere & people generally are a bit gullible in things unknown. But things you need are domestic things you have or would like. Typical things are big furniture: a cabinet or sofa, thick curtains, wall hangings & pictures. A mirror is still a hard surface so reflects in more ways than one, but enough other items can counteract hard sufaces. Plants, cushions, taxidermy or suits or armour even, all will absorb sound to tune the room to one more hifi friendly. Avoid rattly things near speakers. Speakers always sound best flat against a wall with about 30cm gap behind & near a corner. The old idea of toeing in speakers is actually useless as the Stereo sound blurs in the middle, having the line of the speaker straight gives far better Stereo. All this Room Tuning can be a problem as Domestic Arrangements mean another might not like a certain thing, but that’s for you to decide. In the late 1970s a Speaker was made like a Victorian Card Table with a big lace doily tablecloth over to appease the Dragon. You may laugh, but most guys today have become too compliant as we state lower down with a certain “P” word. Your choice on what you can get away with to make the Hifi sound less harsh, but guys love their Hifi & probably aren’t getting the best out of even the Best Hifi.
Hifi Post 1982 is built to be Disposable.
Sadly this is true for the majority of post 1982 transistor & IC hifi made for mass market sales. Valve amps are still made to traditional quality by some makers. Small companies selling more specialised items aimed at “Audiophiles” will generally be far better built, if not always. The Vintage Transistor Amps to about 1971 are the best made & are forever repairable & in decades to come could be recapped a second time & still be good. But the post 1982 mass market gear is made to be used, thrown away & another one bought, as this is what trade is about. Not caring if it doesn’t last 2 years is how mobile phones are made & this cheaping out on reliability has got worse as time goes on. Some post 1982 Hifi we’ve got working after Servicing, but to actually repair or upgrade it can end up being unreliable. Don’t avoid post 1982 hifi if it’s in good condition & working, but based on our researching with upgrading, the post 1982 hifi doesn’t take well to it. So having binned one we could have sold, there’s not much point trying anything else new or modern, unless it’s a high quality item & made properly. Weak boards inside with very thin track means soldering however careful you are will cause issues. If a modern amp is damaged it’s worthless, the amount of faulty AV amps you see going unsold proves that. Parts are usually discontinued after a few years anyway & they will be expensive to buy when available as the makers don’t want you to repair. Similarly with DVD players, Phones, Computers.. anything electrical. Unless goods are expensive when new, to get 5 years out of modern items is sadly your lot. The sell price is cheap & you must keep on buying.
As in “Buying Something Better” is what we see on overpriced ugly modern amp listing headers to tempt easily-convinced buyers who obviously believe they should by the few that do sell. “Upgrading?” as a teaser on a listing title usually means “oy, idiot. we are selling some mediocre overrated item & hope you have £3k spare” and if you do, you can get caught out with some lousy stuff. But WHY do you want to Upgrade? Do you really want to spend all that money on a new amp & not be sure you’ll like it even? Is your amp noisy on controls? Get it Serviced if you otherwise still like it. Is it tatty looking? A clean & respray or sand down the wood case & relacquer can transform a sad beast into a smart item again. Does it Smell of Damp or previous user storage? Clean out the insides & leave it with lid & base off out in the air for a week if required. Is it Ugly? If it is, then it’s probably a cheaper item as expensive Hifi looks nice. The Wife Doesn’t Like/Want It? A Happy Guy is one with a hobby or twenty & is one free of anyone telling them otherwise, be it clever dumb or bewildering, but if you are being told to sell it for no reason & money isn’t the issue, matters need questioning deeper… See more towards the end of this page about this. It is Not Working? Get it Repaired if you still like it. Are you Just Sick Of It? Sell it on ebay & get funds for a new one, out of love with it, out it goes. Have you Read some amazing review of another amp Online? Beware who is hyping it & see what their tastes are. You might not like the sound of our amps & prefer some loud rough sounding amp as it’s more exciting to you. The Amp is Too Old. No it isn’t. If serviced right an amp from 30-50 years ago can perform as good as it ever did. It Didn’t Cost Much & I Want Kudos. Splendid, you are likely to overspend as Hifi Shops love people like you. There is no hope for you here, so just go & spend it & feel better… I’ve had it for 30 years now, time to change. Some buyers bought a great amp & want to get rid as buyers did in the 1960s-80s & the better amp was usually the one they put in the attic, but the new one was better as they believed the hype. Good job they did as quality 40 year old amps we can buy today may have only had 2 years use. The “new & improved” sales hype is usually BS, in any item a curve as quality grew, then the nosedive as profits mattered more.
You Want More Power?
This is the main reason why people upgrade. A fool’s game if you are happy with your Vintage 45w amp yet want a 100w one as the gain might not be much in volume, you will lose the quality of sound trading a 1969 amp for a 1979 one. If your amp at 45w is not clipping out at the volume you use, keep it. Being “told” you need a 100w one by some idiot “expert” is their narrow ideas best ignored. One fool with a 110w Sansui 9090 says it’s the best amp none can better. Our reply was it has ICs in the Phono & Tone as well as Doubled Transistor Outputs adding to the imprecise sound. If they heard the Sansui 3000A or 4000 they would not want that 9090 one, but you can’t tell them too much. Your sweet sounding amp will be sold & this lousy modern thing will bore you. Best advice if you are easily swayed is keep the old reliable one, use the new one for a few weeks & then go back to the old one that served you well for years & see which you prefer. The decibel gain for extra volume, ie 45w is 16.5dbW & 100w is 20dbW says one converter, but the amp’s master volume will make a nonsense of this as some play low at 5 & others are way loud. For more volume get bigger speakers, 15″ bass drivers will have a high sensitivity compared to bookshelf speakers & the gain in the fullness of the sound is well worth it. 84db bookshelf speakers to 95db bigger speakers is a hefty 11db gain, the dbW & db maths is complex but in real terms a 84db speaker needs volume at 6 to get the same volume a 95db speaker can deliver at 3-4 and at 6 you’ll be heading into distortion, but at 3-4 the amp will be coping well. Pre & Power Amps & within Integrateds
In the early days of Hifi with the 1956 HFYB a preamp ‘control unit’ and a separate mono power amp ‘monoblock’ was the thing. Stereo arrived, Preamps went dual channel & monoblock boxes bought doubled. More sales meant making the Stereo Power Amp on one Chassis. Then came Valve Integrated Amps & then the Valve Receivers combining Tuner, Stereo Preamp & Stereo Power Amp on one chassis which would need to be a sizeable item. Transistors made the Receiver a more popular item and Power ratings grew from 45w max in 1967 to 300w in the late 1970s. But by 1980 the HFYB shows the old Preamp & Power Amp ideals were returning. Valve amps are sometimes found as Stereo Preamp & 2x Monoblocks as well as Integrateds. The idea to make an Integrated Amplifier able to be separated into a Pre Out & Power Amp in we first note on the 1967 National Panasonic SA-65 & Trio-Kenwood KA-6000 from 1969 & after this many integrated amps & receivers have this feature. A not really so useful feature that generally means if you are using only the Pre or Power of an Integrated it’s either damaged or you can’t afford to buy a full higher spec amplifier. We’ve compared Pre & Power amps with some amps especially the Yamaha ones. The basic idea is that matching the output-input levels is not as easy between brands & that the Preamp stage is where the most difference in sound is. When we had the Quad IIs & a Rotel RA03 here over 10 years ago the same preamp was used to power our main amp, the Quad II power amps & the Power Amp of the Rotel RA03. The Quads needed 1.4v for full power, not the usual 400mV ratings other amps have. We were a little disappointed that the cheap Rotel actually sounded pretty acceptable compared to the other power amps, so much for spending £££. But it’s acceptability soon found to be all it was, the finesse & quality the extra money buys reassuringly was the better option. The idea to use only the Power Amp of an integrated we see as just a compromise & with swaps we’ve done to test this out, a 25w Leak amp from 1978 used with a 100w Yamaha power amp stage sounded still the limited sound a 25w amp must be or it’d clip out too easily. The preamp of a 25w amp is matched to the power amp of the 25w integrated. The idea of using a pre of one with the power of another is really only any use if you’ve damaged one. Seeing one guy use a Quad II preamp, the awful clunky stereo one we had with the power amps, together with an enormous Pioneer receiver as the power amp stage & he wondered why it didn’t sound very good. He used a Garrard 301 with a SME 3009 but an ordinary cartridge & Tannoy HPD cabinets but with replacement drivers non-Tannoy. You can’t mix & match quality of things & expect it to sound good.
Beware Misleading Power Ratings
See our ‘Power Ratings’ page for more. Beware of sellers amateurishly reading the full power rating as the supposed RMS rating, some low powed amps of 10w RMS could be 75w max power, as in drawn from the mains. Also there are typos galore out there, the Trio-Kenwood KA-6004 is a 40w RMS amp but buyers have not bothered to research & take a false 80w rating as true. Also seeing 15w in Transistor power is very low, but 15w in a valve amp can play as loud as a 60w transistor amp.
Types of Music.
suited to certain amps is what you will read of. “It’s Suited To Rock” meaning it plays loud & brashly without much finesse or focus & that’s what Rock listeners want (eg. Pioneer late 70s amps). “It’s Good For Classical” meaning the sound is polite & with the limited dynamics contains loud crescendos within an artificial soundstage (eg. Luxman & Sugden). Do Classical Buyers want full force of a 100 piece orchestra scaring the life out of them after a tender solo? “The Thing For Reggae” meaning that Bass is accentuated by limited power on treble & midrange. The old Reggae DJs in the 1960s used big old KT88 valves & amplifiers probably long in need of service & the loud bass was accentuated. “Ideal For Acoustic” and that touchy-feely close miked music you hear in reflective moments on TV shows, that we ffwd through as it grates. Any amplifier however bad can play that sort of music as it’s undemanding, slow & without any loud peaks to bother. A relation saying Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay” always sounded good on any player was an early Hifi memory, an acoustic track with nothing complex is easy to reproduce. The sort of Muzak you hear if you get put on hold on the phone. To us styles of music suited to an amp means… it’s not a very good amp. The best amps can play all with equal conviction. To hear a fiercely loud record like “Anarchy In The UK” and hear the wide stereo, the confused racket now defined into a focussed sound of many & then notice the clumsy edit 2/3 the way in where a line was almost edited out means you have reached extremely high music resolution. If that matters to you then your search for the best Hifi will require upgradecing up one of the better amps, no amplifier delivers that sound “as-is” though you can reveal it. Disappointing isn’t it…
Rock, Classical or Reggae Amps?
The ideal amp can play all styles of music equally well at any volume into any sort of domestic room. But in the real world, buyers funds are limited so they pick an item to suit their needs. Based on what though? If you like it Loud, you’re still young odds are a 100w amp of any type will do as playing Loud hides the fine details, but gives a good kick. That’s you sorted, off you go as we’re not a site for you, matey. But you’re not a Boy Racer anymore, you’d like to hear your old music at home but the missus won’t want it waking up Junior even though he can sleep through an earthquake or your squeaky bed he must have silence and so must you… Hang up your ‘Soul’ on the door handle as you leave, there’s nothing for you here. Or buy some Headphones. But fortunately life is more a compromise as are many amps. They can sound nice & not shake the overpriced Clarice Cliff out of the cabinet. To hear Music at low speaking volume is how most music is heard as people will talk over it and not barely notice, little beyond background mood music. But the trouble here is the listener with a fine ear for good sound isn’t going to find it in a cheap Midi system. Unless he’s a wannabe & puts his Classical CD on to play thru dinky 4″ speakers sat atop his silent grand piano, and invites all to listen & wonders why the room clears. No, a good ear for sound is a learnt thing from trying & living with the thing day & night & getting to know all it has to offer and do for you. The more effort you put into Hifi as with anything the more you’ll get out of it, there is no easy option, unless money isn’t an issue. But then the issue of Money has to spoil your dreams. Most people wish for things they know they’ll never get: most people are unsatisfied. Anything good isn’t cheap unless it’s broken or unfashionable. Classical Hifi buyers were those that started the Hifi revolution & the early books & Stereo records & Tapes were for them, not Pop buyers. The thing is we play many types of Music except Classical & yet we prefer the accuracy that is traditionally the desire of a Classical fan. If you aren’t so fussed & are more concerned about Wicked Basslines on Reggae, a Rock type amp power rating but without the rough sound those cost-cut Pioneer SX-950s, oops overrated amps have, you’ll be looking for a high powered quality amp more like a Yamaha CR-2020 as that does bass very nicely. So do Valve amps. Classical again is the unanswered issue, do Classical music listeners play it at full forté wishing to blow out the French Windows with a rousing finale or do they want a piano or violin solo delivered with crisp accuracy at no louder than general talking. They want the lot don’t they. So do we, do you? Loud music of Quality is for solo or gatherings to enjoy, not chatter over. Amps to play Classical well are what we rate as our Premier Amps, and don’t be put off as they can play all other music styles with equal quality, if perhaps too clean for an aging Led Zep refugee of the 60s to like as it’s “too there”. So Horses for Courses: The Rock Fan or Younger Buyer buy anything loud & it’ll do you, you find them going way into distortion almost trashing the amp as they don’t realise. “He has a 20w (transistor) amp & likes it loud and the bulbs flicker to the beat”. Reggae-ites love deep thunderous basslines which takes good power & a quality amp to deliver. Classical is apparently where the money needs to be spent to realise the layers of sound & bring a good focus, but any music benefits from more detail. Today’s pop music is very minimal with nothing busy sounding, the reason why is so you can play it on any old cheap rubbish, even out of a Mobile Phone speaker & uninitiated fools can enjoy it still. A step down from Radio Compression, make the music so simple it doesn’t need compressing. Then you can buy a £200 modern amp on Amazon & think it’s great too as noted above. Hifi is about playing music, to hear more amps, buy them, or talk to people you barely know, some may hide secrets you never knew about their music & Hifi tastes.
Today’s format sadly is a MP3 download, or an MP3 made from a CD or other analog source converted to digital. Music Quality matters little today, look at the pathetic Speaker Systems on modern TVs that oddly use HD TV picture. Best Picture + Mediocre Sound = Imbalance. There is to be Super HD even, yet still no better sound than Variable Bit Rate MP3. We play music recorded from Vinyl to CD or the computer in .wav files. If recorded well, the 44.1kHz Digital format is no limit. Only bad mastering makes for bad Digital data. MP3 is limited by the Variable Bit Rate to limit the size of the file, we use a low quality VBR to do our Soundfiles on our Record sales samples. Early MP3 was not VBR & it made a mess of loud & busy parts of a track. Even some MP3s we got from Napster before it went to Streaming sounded artificial & we don’t like to play them & many we’ve re-got from Vinyl again. The Best sound formats to use if you are going to bother buying a better Hifi is either Vinyl, Radio FM, Tape or CD. MP3 will be OK on small players & cheap systems, but with more definition, MP3 still sounds like a bad CD of vintage music that has been de-hissed to leave a very unnatural sound. To have a music collection of MP3s only is not a good investment, not that the idea today is to think of anything beyond next week & disposable. Music post 1980 is generally OK on CD, but music from earlier years is often poorly mastered so we seek out the Vinyl Record & record that, noise & all. Be aware the better the Amplifier you get, the better it will resolve the music & for tracks not recorded so good it will reveal too much & it will reveal the limits of MP3’s heavy compression. We just compressed a 40MB .wav mono track to a reasonable MP3 VBR & it’s now 3.6MB, so is under 10% of the samples of the original recording. How good or bad that sounds depends on what you play it on. Our old V+HD box & the new TiVo only have optical Audio outputs. no Phono sockets to connect to the amplifier. You either buy one of those hopeless 5/7.1 receivers stuffed full of ICs or use an external DAC, or do as we do, SCART from TiVo into DVD player, select Aux1 & connect preamp to the DVD player, a pain but the DVD has a better DAC than some £40 cheapo DAC box.
These are a strange idea of Hifi as all they are is a Volume control (& selector) in a box. Nothing amplified. You’re just buying a Volume Control in a box. Stepped Attenuators are popular in this Hair-Shirt side of Hifi, personally we hate stepped Volume controls as the Pioneer SA-9500 had & out it went for a proper “infinitely placeable” rotary control. Assuming all your music is perfectly balanced & your Room is acoustically perfect to not need Tone Controls (miaow…) then why not try one? For testing amplifiers we use Headphones that can be played flat on Tone so in effect you can use the Computer soundcard & Volume Control as the same thing? Sadly not. The background noise on the Soundcard unless an expensive external one, is very high but with music playing, you can at least take advantage of your Amp’s Power Input sockets if the Pre & Power have connector-links, also to use just a Power amp. The difference in sound just using the Soundcard’s volume compared to the Preamp of an amplifier can vary much in quality from barely different to very much so. We tried our Valve power amps like this when rebuilding them & the sound (using headphones) was so solid & accurate it was a delight. But there’s the rub, we then used the old preamp we’d not rebuilt & it was so similar just revealing minor issues. Try it with a Transistor amp & the differences will be much more depending on how “busy” the preamp is, if it has 12 transistors in the preamp, of course it’ll sound better without all that. All the “jolly-gosh I hear more detail” comments only shows the Eureka-moment-experiencing one has a poor preamp, be sure it’s a post 1980 transistor one. The fact a Passive Preamp buyer may not be aware is some amps can work from the unit fine, but others need extra gain to drive so will be nearly at full volume to get a weak sound out of the power amp, a question of matching. Another thing is Passive Preamps can’t run long wires over 10m and will deteriorate over 1m even, there are ways around this, such as what are 100v speaker outputs for on PA amps? Any of these add-on things are just a half-assed way of admitting you should really buy a better amp, or get it upgraded internally. Hifi selling involves selling a dream that will always be “improved” shortly after, making you feel the old one was rubbish. Don’t you believe a word of it, “improved” always just means “different” and not always what you want or would dream of buying. Digression: Look at Dr.Pepper, a soft drink first made over 100 years ago, John Lennon’s fave, yet the arrogant makers have stopped selling the real sugar one & put fake sugar poison Aspartame in it instead, under the guise of “Improved”. Just a tiny design change, but not even realising, the bottle of it we had wasn’t enjoyed until the OMG-WTF moment of seeing why it was “improved”. Be sure more profits without the usual sugar which is the real reason. If you like your Passive preamp Volume control in a box, then good for you. But be sure you’ll tire of it very quickly.,.
How To Buy.
Unless you find a rare shop that sells Vintage Hifi & charges double for having to run a shop, your only way is to research it, buy it & try it yourselves. You may find people owning the item who’ll play you theirs or let you borrow it, but often the risk of it being damaged in borrowing can lose friends. Ask them to do you a Demo in their home with familiar tracks you’ll bring along & let them operate it & stay friends. If you see many people at work etc, talk Hifi & you’ll find a Hifi buddy eventually. Read up on it, learn about it. If you don’t like it, sell it on. If we recommend it on this site be aware we tell it how it is, if it’s good but flawed we say it. We have no agenda in hyping mediocre goods, though we do sell most items we mention at some point. As with any item, a multitude of reasons why something or someone appeals is hard to put in words, you need to “have it” in it’s particular way to be aware of it & see if you want to keep it. Buying amps with knowledge is like Dating, only after experience will you know for sure if it’s for you. We may rate an amp highly & it may be too strong for you or whatever. Buying Loudspeakers is even harder, you need to hear them in your home with your hifi & your music in your own time. Shop demos are generally rushed & pointless on our experience. And if the demo is good, unless you buy every item, you’ll find differences.
The Problems with Vintage Hifi We were getting old hifi for small money first in the early 1990s. An amp made 1972 was only 20 years old then & we could plug them in & they were usually working fine. But now those amps have doubled in age & will have been most likely stored in attics or garages & age will become them. To buy a 20-25 year old amp now means you are buying Mid 1980s to early 1990s, perhaps the last years of big Hifi sales. For how they are made, they are probably often in worse condition than the early ones. They are cheaper made & parts get dirt & aging as they are more open. Some amps have a huge open grille area letting in all. So to buy any pre 1990 amplifier, you will need to Clean & Service it to get the best out of it. Some 1980s amps we’ve had can sound awful with erratic operation, only to be fully serviced & adjusted & sound as good as new. Read the REPAIRS & SERVICING page for more. To buy a 20 year + old hifi item & expect to use it often with no problems is highly unlikely, unless you have bought a serviced one. Even ones little used will still have aged. Some servicing you can read elsewhere what to do, but some is advanced & service manuals are needed. If repairs are needed, the 1979-90 more recent Vintage era could be tricky as the higher power amps used custom parts that are long obsolete & not even any data is available to use equivalents, so if an amp of this era fails, it might be unrepairable simply as parts are not available.
Are They Reliable? Will buying a 20, 30, 40 or 50 year old Amplifier be worthwhile if you plan to use it daily for several hours? Ask the same about an old Car & what you will wisely do before risking your life driving it… have it Serviced & Checked by a person who knows their trade. Hifi uses 240v mains. Read more on the Servicing page, it is important to do. Depending on the amplifier & how it’s made & with which parts, the usual weak points are noisy controls & failing capacitors. Sounds bleak? Not if it can be restored. Look on Amazon at the garbage sadly masquerading as Amplifiers of today, £200 is the usual price. It may last 2 years then fail, read elsewhere how built-in obsolescence is the thing today. It’s actually pretty common for new items not to last long, they are price cut to the bone & buyers expect things to be below cheap but don’t think of how long it will last. Fashion & mindless updating of popular items decides how often things get updated these days. You can buy some amps we rate on our Top Amps page for £100 that will outdo any new item, spend the other £100 getting it serviced. You are on a good chance to get 10 years use out of it without a problem & then get it serviced again & carry on. A good quality vintage amplifier can in effect be kept working for another 30 years, you may need to recap it but if it’s from 1968 in 30 years it’ll be 74 years old & likely still working if maintained. We have a 1932 Radiogram that needed servicing, but still works fine & it’s 80 years old, but only gets used maybe twice a year to see it’s OK. We are at an odd time in History, revisiting 30-40 year old amplifiers & putting them back into service. But in 60 years how these old amplifiers are viewed & used will be interesting, but that’s more for future generations, so make sure they are aware of them whilst you can or they won’t care about them.
The Looks can Influence Vintage Hifi from 1963-80 that we cover on this site is now in an era that Younger Folk haven’t lived through, or were too young to know. They call it Retro when older people may be sick of those old looks. The visual styling of these Amps will be more appealing than some, based on what any buyer knows or has seen. If you remember your Grandad had a big Silver Yamaha amp with a nice wood case & flickering meter needles then odds are you’ll be looking to buy one of those. That’s the thing too, Grandad could be 60-65 now & bought his hifi at 20-25 years old & may still have it in the loft, so go ask him. Those liking Valve Amps, Wind-Up record players & Radiograms will probably have seen those at Great-Grandparent’s houses or hoarder’s houses when they were pre Teens. Time means they are all long gone but those stylings may appeal to you. There are a lot of ‘Scenes’ more so in the USA than UK for sure, but living a theme in decor is what younger buyers like. Victorian furniture is deeply out of fashion, but many Victorian items are still cool. That word ‘Cool’ still sells garbage to impressionable fools despite being used by 1930s Jazz Cats. You might only know the Black 1980s Stereos with flashing lights, off you go, nothing for you here. That stuff was crap new & is still crap & worth very little. The Vintage stuff we cover is usually well made & after a service or repair will still be good, read other pages on here. The thing with Hifi is people can accept a few age-related visual issues, but with ones we sell, we often need to tidy up the wood cases to make them look smart. People don’t live like they did 30 years ago & a tatty item that might have blended in then will now look just tatty. Retro Chic, Distressed Look & Funky Retro may help a person sell a tatty item, as will poor photos, but looks are important in Hifi. See our Best Looking Amps page for some we like.
Some people starting in Vintage Hifi like the small Leak Delta 30 or Delta 70 amplifiers, they are a good budget start into the pleasant sounds of the 1970s, go ask your Parents or Relations, they might have one in their loft still, but it’ll need servicing, if not too hard on these. The bluster about Pioneer, JVC & Technics that was around in the 1980s still continues, most aren’t that great really. The Monster Receivers of 1976-79 are hugely oversized tuner-amplifiers with buttons for everything & seem to be ever popular for the sake of big must be best to generally not very aware buyers. But read what we think of 2 big Pioneers. The Rotel & Nikko amps are also good value even if 30w or less. Any on our Top Rated Listings are with a better sound, though they vary a lot in many ways. Start modest & then if you desire more, dig deeper.
A very rough idea to quality
is by picking it up or reading the specs. If it’s over 10kg then it’s worth your effort trying it. It might only be 25w but it’ll be 25w of Quality. Looking at construction isn’t quite so helpful, old fashioned connectors like DIN plugs, spring loaded speaker connections sadly even found on big £££ 70s Marantz and a fixed mains wire are found on cheap & quality alike. The pre 1975 amps often had wood outer casings which add to the visual appeal & show money was spent, though 60s amps with wood cases & those long B+O receivers with phono & DIN inputs, but DIN speaker outputs, similar budget long-type receivers in wood by Goodmans (Module 80) & other similar makes will too. Any amp with a hardboard back or base is ultra budget & needs careful buying. Beware old amps weren’t rated as RMS watts as today, peak music power is a worthless value to quote. Look generally for the lowest Watt rating for the real watts, but be aware Watts doesn’t always mean how loud an amp goes, read more elsewhere. We’ve seen many amps up close & personal & more as found on other Hifi sites & Forums. The well made amp is usually a fine sounding amp & will have been expensive when new. But in the pre 1978 era many Midprice Amps were less well made on the casing but still had good quality Electronics that are reliable & produce a good sound. A few amps are a bit ugly but can still sound good if the weight of construction is there.
If You Want The Best Vintage Amps… then your choice is limited to buying an already good amp, such as ones we rate the highest below & to upgrade it up. What ones there are beyond our noted ones is the hard part to find out. You will find excellent results with our Top Amps & we rate them high simply because they are good. We have no interest in hyping junk as a read of some sections show. There will be other amps that would get rated highly, but we’ve not tried all we’d like to yet. Spending the most money only lightens your bank balance, careful buying will yield the best results. There clearly is the potential to get the sweetest, most accurate sound from an amp that is over 40 years old. There are some exceptionally good vintage amps available for around £200-300 that is small money compared to the quality you’d get spending £300 ion a new item. The best vintage amps are great value. Some brands sell for a premium, but often are not any better sounding than lower priced ones.
If You Want A Reasonably Good Vintage Amp…
then your choice is much wider. There are still many pleasing amps findable for about £100-150 for a good working & possibly serviced one. Only once you’ve tasted the better will these not be good enough, but not everyone is as hifi-fussy as we are. Only amps over 50w will be heading above the £100 level & higher power doesn’t often mean better quality. If you have the time & ability to sell items, buy a few, keep the best one (or two) & flog the rest. It’s only what we’ve been doing to write these pages. You can see the brands we like in search of the better sounds so there is a start. If You Like Vintage Music Then Buy A Vintage Amp.
Sounds like a Hard sell script perhaps, but Today’s music appears to be very Simple & suits the Simple format of MP3 & the Simple i-pod-Phone type players the buyers of Chart Music buy & simply consume like socks. To follow fashion & only like the Boring Disposable Pop Product Artists of today that are high profile shows you don’t really need a particularly good system to play it. Or us telling you to explore the huge wealth of older & non chart music that might sound actually quite similar as Retro music is New Artists pretending they are cool but doing it not very well, usually. You want great old music to hear? YouTube has much, but look at our Record Listings pages as we add 60-90 second samples so you can hear real old music & know more about it by seeing the Original Vinyl. Back to Amps, this simple “hifi” generally what is sold today, a look on Amazon for “Hifi Amplifier” brings up some very poor items & the “high-end” in mass market selling is £180-£270 Denon & Yamaha. A look a Richer Sounds shows some brands selling better items like were around in the 1990s, no doubt higher power, lesser sound & plenty of ICs & NFB. But if you like Vintage Music which today must be anything pre 1993 for it to be 20+ years old, then you will prefer it on an Amplifier of the era or earlier much more than today’s product. Our Music Tastes based on a new batch of 900 singles we need to record still go to 1992 & they still can sound much better with a Vintage Amp 1967-79 to bring out the complex layers that music still had. Yes even pure pop like Kylie will sound better on Old Hifi, but if it could talk it’d say ‘How Dare You.’ and yearn for something “better”. If you player older Mono music, the quality of an amp actually matters more as the trick effects & mixing of Stereo even in the early days of 1958-59 were criticised as masking the real music & that Mono done well was still preferred. Mono tracks even going back right to the early days, ie 1929 even, can still sound fresh on old 78s even with the background noise. The music will be one entity & the disc noise can be so clearly focussed it doesn’t interfere with the music quality & your ears can almost ignore it. If that sounds odd, a 78 played on a poor system with have music & noise mushed in together & be an unappealing murky racket. The chances of getting that sort of sound are in the best amps from 1967-72, anything after that can be good, but just not as good, though there are a very few exceptions. Love Music, Love Hifi. Only liking Modern Music when you are over 30, ignoring your previous Life Soundtrack tunes, or having advanced into Vintage & Vinyl collecting, you will have liked stuff that was for you as a Teen & then deny you liked it as it’s ‘not retro cool’ (yet) will come back to haunt you. Soon you will want to hear it again, even 25+ years after you last heard it, it has an emotional-memories thing & becomes Nostalgia: we know that with our 900 singles batch. Some are very familiar after going unheard in decades. People age, go cranky, lose their spirit etc, good music may go in & out of style until it becomes Vintage, but you can’t kill a great song even if it was played to death when new. If it’s 20 years or 60 years old it can be ageless & you can gain more pleasure from it than any Chart Artist. Younger people do like Retro as they can see it has a soul that modern stuff lacks, these thinking sorts need full access to your Music Collection to keep it alive. Go play it to them & yourself on the Best Hifi you can afford, you deserve it. Stuff an i-pod with hundreds of old tracks & give it to younger relations & just let them play it, without saying it’s 20 or 50 years old. Odds are they’ll love it.
Nobody Knows Nothing No More.
We were a little surprised to find this is the Norm on buying new items today, sellers are not educated in their stock like Shops used to be “Back In The Day”. Companies don’t even appear to know their goods, repair people are more interested in doing a job & getting £200 out of you than finding out the real problem. “Oh it needs a new xxx.” means they have no idea what is wrong but think you’re gullible enough to pay & then the problem is still there you notice when they’ve gone. Forums are mostly Hot Air with very little of worth amid all the irrelevant comments, we rake through them for info occasionally & find it very frustrating as the answer is rarely there. Reviews of products like on Amazon rarely are in-depth & for the fact some items have no reviews or proper info how on earth are you going to know what to buy? From reaction to these pages we are finding readers are finding our pages useful. If it helps you buy a better sounding item knowing what to listen & look for, then we are pleased to help. We write with a qualified look on things & with a knowledge of what we are after & with strong expectations of items, if they are lousy we don’t pull our punches. We wish we could find pages like this about subjects we want more info on, but beyond trusting Wikipedia, info on things is generally found lacking. Some we get annoyed at & go research it ourselves & as with Headphones were appalled at the misinformation even the makers dish out. We are not sheep, we do not accept the crapulence as what we must accept today, but we are clearly in the minority as the world becomes more conformist & dumbed down. To think for yourself is a Sin. The truth today is unless you research it yourself deeply, you are really unlikely to know much as there are very few authoritative places to go for to find worthwhile Info. Mags like ‘What Hifi’ we tired of in the 1990s as each new amplifier was a huge improvement over the Award Winner that they rated so highly a few months before or the reviews were more ego trips than anything about the amp. There are no end of totally useless reviews & forums that you really need to deeply rake through & almost translate if you are trying to buy an item as we & our Headphones problems. It’s very Fashion driven today, the most popular is the best sort of sheep thinking. Buy a TV, Phone or Computer it’s not as hard, though not easy either, but Sound is proven to be impossible to rate by THD & db ratings, only a trained ear can really tell how good an Audio item is & the trained hand to be able to service & better items & know how to judge correctly. Also a modern TV, the settings & presets were awful, no-one knows what a good TV picture is anymore. Took a well shot show to set it all to perfection. Not changed it since after months now. But being of a certain age, the World of Today isn’t really your world anymore, you can like certain parts of it, but past 30 your ideals are long formed & you don’t really want too much of the modern things as they are mediocre to the past things & ideals. So for you, welcome to Vintage Hifi. If you love all modern & hate all old then get off our site, there’s nothing here for you. We’ve written a few words to help you along…
Don’t Buy A 1970s Quadrophonic Amplifier
unless you have a collection of suitable records. These 4 channel amplifiers are often very low power even on the 2 channel mode. More circuitry fitted into a cabinet means the quality won’t be as good as a Stereo 2 channel one. More to go wrong too. But for Hifi Collectors, these will be Rare Items & with the looks of the Stereo versions, for the fact 2 channels will remain unused they are not useless. FM in Quadro or Dolby FM never arrived in the UK, making any machine with either of these obsolete. But when Analog Radio is turned off probably not for a long time, the Tuner part of any Amp will be obsolete. Not that UK FM where we are has many stations.
Starting Modestly is No Sin To a buyer starting out into Vintage Hifi, an amp like those 6/10 ones is a good start. You might not like the higher rating ones or understand why we rate some higher than others until you’ve lived with any Vintage amp. You may start out with a Leak Delta 30 or 70 or a 30w later 1970s silver fronted receiver in the vinyl wrap cases or a lower powered one by the bigger names. It may have ICs in the preamp stages on the lower models of higher rated amps but it is still going to be a big step up from the 1980s stuff you see by the skipload. You might not like Vintage Hifi at all, but you’re reading this so you’ve got an idea you might, so go buy something to understand if you are in the right place. To buy one of the huge Monster Receivers for high prices isn’t recommended to start out on, or a valve amp yet. Keep it modest. Your first Car was usually some aged bargain thing & you dented it up as it didn’t matter. Our tastes now are 20 years later & we knew valves & the audio quality from doing design type upgradecing, but if not the Transistor amps so well so were really still in our early days on starting these pages. Us writing all these pages is us learning Transistor amps & finding surprises & disappointments along the way. A Valve amp user looking at Transistor amps & trying to find ones (nearly) as good as Valves is the point of this, the fact we’ve typed it up, added other pages is what you’re reading now & will be a unique viewpoint away from the usual Hifi mags or Forums views. The fact we are getting comments from buyers following our random pages is pleasing as it’s put online to help further the Vintage Hifi scene.
We only want a 100w plus Amp.
Many buyers do based on unthinking ideas that you need 100w, boy racer style, but the trouble is not all 100w amps sound as sweet as the Lower Powered ones. A lot of amps under 40w don’t have enough kick & we read even a modern 85w Yamaha on Amazon for £300 new doesn’t play very loud. We at last have got the Yamaha CR-2020 to sound very like our 1967 receivers, but if the amp is overdesigned & a poor design too as the 100w Yamaha CA-1010 is, then there’s little you can do. Our 45w Sansui 3000A can put out a good loud volume to match either of the 70w Yamaha CR-1000 or 110w CR-2020 unless you want to go extra loud, it shows 45w is an ideal power rating before design gets difficult. Read more on other Sound-related pages of ours. Why a Low Powered Amp can Trash your 80w Speakers. This we found out years ago when we were starting fixing-wrecking hifi as the Sony APM speakers frazzled & we didn’t know why. Firstly a line from the Philco-Ford page… Doing the sine sweep again gets the hum noise & it starts at 7kHz & continues up to 22kHz. It is the power amp complaining, lessening treble & upping volume gets it, clearly just it running out of power. The high frequencies are clipping so a DC signal is basically playing at full volume, ‘safe’ with coupling capacitiors, but the reason why lower powered amps burn speakers out easier than high powered. Not a test to leave playing too long as the amp could go bang. Output is 12v clean so 12w as similar low powered amps. Our loud treble music source is a bit much for this amp as treble clipping adds small bump noises as the sine sweep reveals. For normal types of input source, you’ll not get this, but interesting to hear how a 12w amp copes… The amp clipping hits max voltage output & as it has nowhere else to go with the design, the “~” wave turns into “|_|” on the curved parts & the ” _” part is pure DC. At high frequencies the clipping is much more often so a state of nearly pure DC is on the tweeters. We’ve frazzled supposedly 250w PA tweeters, once the Dynaco amp we had the input cable got knocked out & as the amp was designed not to allow a safety feature here, a loud squeal then silence in the tweeter. The amp was 35w & the sound was very loud, pure DC fried the tweeter. Another amp probably 30w we fiddled with to get a huge bass sound out of, it was early days & seemed fun, but then the Sony APM bass drivers cooked & no more. The bass was way too loud for the preamp & 30w power amp so again pure DC being a lot of the signal, it fries the speaker coils until they go open circuit. You have to replace the coils to get it work again. We use a 100w power amp with our 50w speakers, they can play loud, the speakers are efficient & probably never see more than 20w. The 100w amp & the preamp will never clip out so the speakers are safe.
No Shop Bought Amplifier is All You Want It To Be… Amplifier makers aren’t going to give “the best stuff” away in one amplifier, as you’d never buy another. One amp that actually did very close to this is the Sansui 3000A from 1967, though it has other problems. Many amps sound soft & murky or thin & grainy & this isn’t just a cheap amp either. Designers use certain features to purposely hide a roughness of sound to get away with cheaper design or to rarely even hide one you made too good. Just about all Transistor amps are a compromise & probably with good reason as Leak & others got complaints & modified their amps in later runs. Domestic Hifi is not PA or Studio Quality Hifi, though many are as good & can be subtly upgraded & improved as you wish. It is possible to tune an amp & hear what it needs to improve it or even if it’s worth doing more with, though knowledge of raw vs upgraded amps is needed. You may not care for limits in music or life, so research how to overcome them. Some may be ultra clean but bass light or lacking in volume kick, some may be too thick in the upper bass or some may have cheap components spoiling an otherwise good sound. The Vintage Retro bass sound which is pleasing is actually a result of bandwidth limiting. To remove this limiting to extend bass actually generally loses the rich sound. Most of these a person with knowledge can rectify with upgradecing, but most buyers of Hifi aren’t like that so have to pick the best compromise that they can get at the time for the money. Our values in amps as of typing this later, are not so much listening to the amp, but hearing the better bits & hearing if quality is there & knowing better could be got out of it. This indeed is a gamble & there is no way of knowing how good the amp will be once “maxed out”, so do your changes to make them easily put back to sell it on after. We must now admit there is one amp (Teac AS-100) that we got a better early one of & it sounds remarkable as original, though a likely unique exception & my, we are fussy now.
We like the Sound of Vintage Hifi, but is there any New Hifi that sounds like that?
No. You need to look at the Economics of the time. The 1970s were much more free in terms of commerce despite the VAT & Inflation of the 1973-74 period, Hifi could still be made luxurious & sold at a price that people could afford. Any item today that costs £1000 is more than the average 2 months wages, but people still buy on Credit or similar. The cost cutting in Hifi started about 1973 and by 1978 the effects were very clear, though some did still keep a quality, such as Yamaha with their 1977-78 range, but by the 1980 range cheaped out with ICs. By the 1981 Hifi Yearbook, the market is free of the excesses of the late 1970s Monster Receiver Wars, oversized overspec amps that were popular are gone, but to us they were still not the quality of earlier years, huge 160w Trio-Kenwood with an IC block power amp is a ghastly cheapout. Most 1980s Hifi isn’t much wanted in terms of selling prices, even a 1985 Sony TA-F 550ES of 90w is hyped as being a top sound amp of the time, we found it boring sounding low volume with just no life in it that the 1967-74 amplifiers do have. Onto the 1990s we had a Marantz PM62, a hard to find 70w amp though we bought one new at the time, it didn’t stay long. It sounded better than that Sony, but on getting one recently, it still sounded thin & unexciting until we upgraded some 1970s design into it, but still limited by ICs. Then on tiring with the heat from our Valve amps in the Summer, we sadly bought a Musical Fidelity expensive amp, read the MF page, and got rid of it extra fast as it was awful. We did buy a Rotel RA-03 slim silver £200 amp to use as a Computer amp, it was not bad, but again cheaply made with IC op-amps it was pretty dull if competent, this appears to be the level of today. as a comparison, if you like 1960s Rock you’ll not like to see the 70 year old Rolling Stones badly redoing their old classics, a favourite film remade with modern ideals will usually be offensive in how rubbish it is. Reading Enid Blyton books but only getting the PC censored modern versions instead of the pre 1950s ones will equally waste your time. Getting ‘Ringos’ crisps you loved in the 1970s & then getting the “original recipe” modern revived ones, except no salt, no old-style cooking oils & the original recipe base of the crisp unsurprisingly tastes awful laid bare. Similar with ‘Mars Bars’ these were nice until they were made to reduce fat by 25-50% & these now are inedible. No, you want the Original Thing, you can buy a 1960s Rolling Stones 45, but sadly not a bag of 1970s Crisps, but you can buy a 1970s amp, service it & have it working good for many years. Market forces of 1972 are very different to 2012. So there’s the answer: if you like the sound of Vintage, there is no other option: go Original go Vintage. Buy a good one, get it serviced properly & it’ll still be good after 10 years daily use.
We did for the Hell of it upgrade the 2007 Marantz PM6002 45w amplifier to see how good it could be. We were a little disgusted that beyond a decent design, every single opportunity to dumb the sound down was taken. It took just over 120 changes to waken up the sound. The lower noise floor is a benefit of modern transistors, but upgraded there still is some noise after opening the sound up. The extreme dumbing down did keep it quieter to give unrealistic specifications, but it sounded mangled & boring despite the tiresome hype of DEsigns Being Better Each Time. No they aren’t, they are just different with more gushing BS hype to hook the unwary believing buyer who’ll never be satisfied & go buy the next model 1-2 years later. That’s how it works after all. After our 120 upgrades the sound approached the sound of the Best Vintage once upgraded, but beyond making more severe changes, the 1967 Vintage Amp sound wasn’t there with still a duller sound lacking in the openness & wide Stereo imaging of the best vintage. The PM6002 still had one IC in the preamp as well as the Tone stage was all ICs. Until we find a modern amplifier Free of ICs without the excessive amount of transistors that blight the post 1977 era, sadly there is little else to say. Plenty of minimalist modern amps out there with No Phono and No Tone stages, yet are well overpriced & be sure they are stuffed with as many limiters as today’s screwed up ideas of Hifi & CE certifing etc require, it’s pretty bleak.; We’ll keep looking though…
Fear Of Germanium Transistors? From knowing the UK amps like Armstrong 526 that use the Awful UK-EU AD140, OC etc type, we initially dismissed Germaniums as stinkers. But as with getting hifi, you “get one by mistake” that puts the old ideas away as not entirely correct. This amp is the 1966 JVC MCA-104E & a sweeter more honest transistor amp probably doesn’t exist. These are using Japanese Germaniums, totally superior product to the Awful EU-UK ones made by Mullard Philips etc that weren’t properly sealed or made so the transistor tin coating, not the Germanium, will grow ‘hairs’ shorting out the transistor, see a video on YouTube “Metal Whiskers Inspection” showing inside, news to us, reading others guesswork implies the Germanium is the problem, not so. This Tin Whiskers “furryness” that some metal grows is known with other metals too as well as crude iron-steel in a Ferrograph amp growing severe grey dust oxide, but not brown rust. This was known about in the early days of portable radios as some had 4 legs as one could be snipped to get it working again, for some reason we’ll have to research. The Japanese ones were in TO1 cases or TO3 ones, properly sealed so no issues. See Wikipedia for more on Germanium, it’s too reactive with oxygen to be found naturally & named such by the German who discovered it, not that it never existed before. Fear of Germaniums, if the Japanese ones, is misgiven fear, these beauties sound so smooth & detailed in a comparable circuit compared to silicon, the JVC uses 8 of them for the driver & output stages & the accuracy of sound is a revelation when we think we’ve heard it all with silicon transistors. There are early transistor amps like Fisher that use Germaniums but they don’t all use the good ones, the 440T uses USA RCA ones but another Fisher uses the UK-EU ones, see the Other Amps page. As with valves, Germanium transistors are clearly for more advanced users, Guitar amp users like the sound from these, but also like the fuzzy ceramic capacitor sound that is bad for hifi. We found an all-Germanium amp since & with no Silicons, the sound is so unlike any other transistor amp.
Rubbish Hifi This goes last on purpose, readers don’t want to be told their Hifi is rubbish, but sadly quite a lot of it is. Mostly it’s post 1980 which is no surprise & looking through ebay you’ll see skiploads of the stuff with ugly plasticky looks, in black & silver. As with goods today it’s disposable & having tried enough of them to know, it’s hard work to get them even working right in servicing. In all eras of Hifi there is rubbish, there will be rubbish Crystal Radios from the 1920s to those who know that scene, there are certainly a lot of rubbish valve amps but ones we’d dismiss still make decent prices to others, one man’s rubbish is another man’s dinner after all. The more you get to know a scene, such as Hifi, the more aware of bad Hifi you become. Even in Cars the DeLorean ‘Back To the Future’ car is hailed as an all-time classic but those knowing cars say the engine is rubbish, but Edd & Mike had one & upgraded the engine to stop it overheating & rubbish it stopped being. In Hifi, it’s possible to upgrade the rubbish out of Hifi, but as an Amplifier is not made to take the roughness of being driven on the road, build quality can be very poor. We had a 1975 Teleton that looked interesting as a very retro look, but it ended up in the bin as build quality was awful & despite the circuits sounding good, it was just too unreliable. The Best Transistor Hifi is made 1965-1977 & there are plenty of great amps & receivers. But then you get rubbish like Armstrong & their bulk-buy of obsolete & unwanted Mullard lousy UK Germanium transistors, not to be confused with the superior Japanese Germaniums, & were selling this rubbish in 1974 before finally bringing out the 600 series which was still rubbish from TV grade parts. You may think it’s easy to spot the rubbish, but without mentioning brands, some ‘respected’ brands sold you rubbish too. Very low spec, heavily cost cut, rubbish design that was unstable, impossible to get a zero DC offset, hum noises & picking up RF noises for the want of upgrading them but having to put it back as the design couldn’t take it but earlier & better quality amps could. We’ve tried a lot of the UK& EU brands & found them much lacking in the quality of the Japanese & USA brands as well as impossible to properly upgrade as they used axial caps, you can read which ones are risky on the Top Amps page. Despite their popularity, B+O amps are not well made… Build quality was very high with the early amps with metal cases with wooden outer cases over them, costs got cut & the inner metal lid vanished as did the real wood veneer. Some amps never had the metal lids but when you put other Hifi on top, it’ll pick up hum. All those post 1977 boring tin box amps look so bleak when a little bit of style was the norm a few years before. We tried the 2007 Marantz PM6002 heavily upgrading it to see if a Vintage Sound was in it & to a degree it was, but it still sounded too controlled & again the rubbish design & very feeble construction of modern items made it too unreliable to sell. On breaking it up, it was so easy to break the boards as they were weak & thin, if you ever find post 1980 hifi with broken boards it’ll never repair. Getting more into design, any Amp using ICs for Audio is rubbish, the V-FET mid 1970s Sony may work fine but if you damage the output stages it’ll never work again unless someone designs a new output stage. This means some highly prized 100w+ amps we note on the ‘Other Amps’ page are rubbish too in our opinion. Any STK IC block amp is rubbish, Sony, Pioneer, Sansui, Trio-Kenwood & Yamaha all used these at some stage as well as making some great hifi too, only Marantz seem to have not used ICs pre 1980? These big brands peaked in their best amps at various times, dipping in quality & coming back with a winner, but by 1980 the market had changed so far after the Monster Receiver era that the 1981 HFYB is very disappointing with midprice ranges taking over. Our pages give ideas about the good or bad Hifi, but we know some are with problems, but if they can be overcome we’ll not want to dismiss an amp that others could enjoy, the STK amps are out there in their millions pleasing the owner who can’t afford or doesn’t know about the Best Hifi or perhaps doesn’t really care. After all, as a kid you had a crystal radio, portable radio, Ghetto Blaster, Walkman, portable CD or i-pod/phone for your music today, the sound was generally awful but the music mattered. Years ago people used to whistle pop songs as they had no music device, hearing anyone whistling or going ‘de-de-de’ to a song as they go about is so rare as everyone today is so up themselves & miserable. Only with hifi experience do you want better sound & rarely find it. The person still happily playing a MW portable radio & not wanting for anything better is the lucky one perhaps?
Women and Hifi…
This is still unchartered territory & is at the base of the page now for the dedicated reader as some may not like our opinion… Women like Music, they need things to play it on, but generally aren’t too bothered in any sort of way as Males are about the Degree of quality or the Specifications. No different to Cars, there are women race drivers but do you ever see a female car expert on the glut of Car TV shows? Appears you do, but only on the UK ones such as Jodie Kidd & 5th Gear. The same with Hifi, are there any women with boxes of resistors & capacitors who repair & fiddle with Hifi? By the Laws of “Am I The Only One” there will certainly be some who are. Women who are into Hifi, Cars & Collecting Records are usually part of a Couple into the General Retro-Vintage scene. Years ago, a woman bought our 1949 Murphy A138R radiogram as she was furnishing her house in that style, but it was more a furnishing item than for the Hifi credentials it has been noticed for since. We sell records & women customers are occasional, though a female record dealer is a rare thing, they are about & not just because of being a couple or having effects to sell. We put the outdated style ad info on the Hifi Yearbooks-Hifi News page as there is a lot of it! Onto today, we know wives of a certain older age are telling husbands to ‘get rid’ of too much Hifi and the men are weakly obeying. The thing here is of a certain age you started off with nothing much in the late 1960s-early 1970s & the rules of house were set before the Hifi came along: she stayed at home & cleaned it daily, so you thought, so it was her domain, not yours. You should have involved her more in the Hifi so she used it & she’d want to keep it as much as you do. Today all the gadgets are used by both male & female equally, so you’ll never hear anyone under 40 being told they have to get rid of things, beyond hoarding, as the rules are different. We Hifi dealers will always have a certain amount of amps around, most will be sold & thinning out does happen, but as time moves on, familiarity and the better ones becoming ‘old friends’ sets in & guess what, you’re a collector. Being told you must get rid of ‘your friends’ & sell your soul won’t be a welcome comment, to the point some will have been told ‘they go or I do’ which is bullying & fairly answerable with ‘see ya’. But to get that far off harmony is not a good idea. Instead, the Hifi aficionado should involve her in things hifi, play the game women play by playing things their way but having you ‘decide’ but they’ve actually decided and you’ve agreed overall, to stack the deck for success but not let you know how you won. Both are then happy, but being good at being tricksy can lead into darker avenues. If you can convince her she needs a Music Playing Machine, whatever DAB-MP3 units are in the modern idiom of reproduced analog audio pleasure, then to show how that plasticky Bose overpriced crap actually sounds pathetic, but this smart looking amplifier & speakers plus sources sounds so much better, especially
the Vintage stuff, then if her level of liking is only saying “the teak one instead of the black one” then she has an input into the Hifi & will think of it more as yours than just his hifi. Of course, such diplomacy & persuasion is not for everyone to master, but massaging games of any sort are the way ahead. To get anyone else to like what you like, there has to be something in it as a tempter: many girlfriends sat bored stiff at sports events just because he liked it and she wanted him to be her beau & guys sit around like on death row in shopping centres whilst she goes shoe buying because they were on a promise. Those men who still sat around with no gain for them are missing the point…
But The Missus Doesn’t Like It…
All those wires: iIt looks messy. And you’ve got 4 amplifiers but only one head to hear them with. Ooh. Get rid. We hear quite often that the Distaff side of the Household over a certain age, ie 50+ isn’t too keen on all the Guy stuff from Hifi, Cars & all other types of collecting. Ignoring the fact she probably has 25 dresses & 25 pairs of shoes & 15 handbags (or more) that he doesn’t use, or admit to doing so publicly, and they cost a huge amount more & have low resell value, the fact is if guys didn’t have Hobbies they’d be chasing women half their age around as they’d have nothing else to do except Work. Wires (not Wives…) are an ugly mess that sit around doing nothing much though you can tidy things with cable ties & routing them tidily though the lazy way of today with mains adaptor plugs means tidy is still a dream for most. The back of our TV even with today’s gear is still an ugly mess, a sales opportunity still untamed & with the amount of plug in adapters today it’s worse rather than better.
Having several amplifiers that you like for differing reasons means you are a collector & as long as they get some use, stand your ground, or decide yourself some should go, to go buy more, right? But piles of broken hifi that you’ll hope to get fixed one day turns you into a hoarder & Jasmine Harman will come round to tidy up your house, which is reason enough to become a hoarder perhaps. Beyond more social comment or saying the guy being told is usually the sole provider, the domestic world is supposed to be a sort of happy compromise or best abandoned & those who just work, sleep, eat & get drunk at the weekend are unsatisfied shallow souls who never had a hobby or interest beyond casually liking mainstream things with zero thought. If the actions of one upset the other, as in one say this must go or be done like that then a balance has gone & so has the shreds of happiness. The balance should be he gets his Hifi, she gets what she wants elsewhere: it’s a shared house married or not, so compromise is the idea if funds allow. A guy wouldn’t want the main bedroom all pink & frilly as masculine performance would be a loss, but if your house has extra rooms, make the Woman Cave as she wants & the guy gets his Man Cave & hifi in the Lounge. The usual trick is for neither to say how much it cost… Vintage amps can be big & with big speakers & lots of wire, your other option is some shoe box size mini system with a false ‘exciting’ sound that is barely good enough for background music. But Man Size hifi with big heavy items & a great sound is well worth having if this is your thing. If you get some of the best looking ones as we picture elsewhere, be sure their looks will appeal.
But often you see tearful surrendered Guys of that certain age on TV having to sell Guy Things they love & want to keep not unreasonable amounts of & look so emasculated as she wields the sword groinwards. You’ll know that’s you when the Dog or taking endless boring Facebook photos of everyday things gets more interest… Or you can just fade away into cosy old age having long since lost your Cojones & going “Oh Yes” every few minutes in conversation like an aged relation did as he had nothing to say but wanted to let us know he was still alive, waiting for his very strong wine to ferment so he could blot his empty life out. A family joke was his wine he made in the garage was only good for drain cleaning but having got one in later teen years, man dat stuff was good, very smooth strong wine-sherry well distilled. He was a genius undiscovered, poor man. The typist only ever saw him ‘come alive’ once on helping us on a job but he quickly settled back to the before, sad. The growth of the Man Cave in USA TV shows reveals guys are having their interests sidelined with the Missus often preferring blandness, no dust & no clutter instead of not allowing the man, who probably pays for everything, to have his say. So he ‘rebels’ by making the Garage his haven: the loser out in the cold. Really this is a modern problem & guys today you can read are MGTOW which is a feeble idea if ever, emasculated guys fooling themselves that they aren’t. But you look back at life in 1964, 50 years ago, and the things you had in life were very modest if robustly made for decades of use. A TV, a Radio, A Twin Tub & a Morris Minor was your lot, no jet-setting holidays, no computers or gadgets beyond a Spong mincer. Even those into the early 1980s lived like this, with the family running the junk shop we took home anything good we hadn’t had before, playing expensive but then unwanted TV video games etc. But new tech, much of it useless & forever “improved” is invading creating unhappiness instead of enjoying how great it can be if you bothered to work out how to use it properly.
But fear not, women are becoming as addicted to tech & gadgets as guys are, especially smartphones. Many people walk around with the phone in hand, desperate to get a ‘hilarious’ photo or not miss a ‘deep & profound’ text about what’s for dinner or talking in shop queues “I’m In The que waiting” they say, be sure the typist listens to every word as they want an audience. Years ago people talking walking down the street usually had a squeaky wheelbarrow& foraged in bins for carrier bags, but today it’s rudely everywhere & the eccentrics are sadly hidden. Perhaps in years to come the balance will be closer as life roles get more blurred, look how girly young males look, even with their silly manbeards, compared to Blokes of the 70s who still were sexist like their wartime dads. The upsurge of the ‘Confirmed Bachelor’ lifestyle with what was main-channel TV becoming not for Blokes anymore meaning you need a reminder of better times when TV made great Blokey TV shows that women liked too to see how unmasculine mainstream TV is now. We know grown men watch X-Factor & the like, simply as there is nothing else on. Sad & the typist will never succumb to that. This being the typist’s opinion now, what will it be in five years? Only History & discovery show Bloke Shows now & ITV4 repeats all the old classics. Domesticated Corporate Sheep Driven Society is the Utopian dream after all, no need to think anymore, it’s all done for you. You can see we love our Hifi like we loved Records when it was still exciting. It keeps you interested in life even when the rest of life many live is so dull & we certainly have attitude in how we deal with our Hifi, wanting the best out of it & pushing it further than anyone else would dare try. There. Some social commentary on a Hifi & Records site, we must admit to taming this section a little since it was on before, but generally this leopard ain’t changing their spots…
So here is the best Vintage HiFi components we found as a result of many months of research to build your living room HiFi audiophile system (and not to break your budget):
Vintage HiFi peakers:
Wharfedale Diamond 10.1
Infinity Primus P252
Zu Audio Omen
Pioneer HPM 100
Vintage HiFi Turntables:
REGA PLANER 3
Vintage HiFi Stereo receivers and amps:
Harman Kardon Citation II
Harman Kardon Citation 12
Electro Research A-75 (most interesting)
Bogen DB 230 A Gold Series with 6AV5 GA tubes (most interesting)
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