ADVICE: Go Vintage!

1-sansuiAs many cool new products as there are on the market today, vintage hifi gear has a certain appeal that just isn’t quite matched by many of the offerings on the store shelves.

From the late 1960s to the early 1980s, both US and Japanese manufacturers spent a pile of money on R&D as well as casework. Gigantic power meters, massive aluminum front panels and rows of LEDs were everywhere. Most gear was either silver or black, depending on the year produced, and power outputs climbed, much like the muscle cars of the early 1960s. Every month, Stereo Review or Audio reviewed a receiver that had more power. It was a pretty cool era for a hifi nerd.

Considering that many pieces of classic furniture from Herman Miller and Knoll are enjoying a similar resurgence with mid century modern homes, it makes perfect sense to have a big Pioneer or Marantz receiver on the middle of your Nelson bench.

For me, it was Marantz, with the big blue tuning meters, and expansive blue tuning dial, with an FM tuner that could pull in Chicago’s WXRT on the right evenings all the way from Milwaukee, where I grew up. I can’t afford a mint 69 Z-28 Camaro, but a nice Marantz 2245 or 2270/75 will only set you back about $500 – $1,000 with the necessary tune up.

And you need a tune up. As much fun as vintage houses, cars and stereos look from the outside, they need work to provide years of trouble free operation. The big capacitors in the power supply and often some of the transistors can go bad, leaving a vintage component sounding noisy at best and going boom at worst. If that happens, you might need additional repairs, so if you find a gorgeous specimen, find a great repair shop to give your newfound treasure a once over.


AA MARANTZ BeforeI’m fortunate here in the Portland, OR area to have Echo Audio right downtown, and Gig Harbor Audio 100 miles to the North. They took care of my Marantz that you see in the opening image, but here’s what it looked like the day it arrived. If you are near New York, the crew at Audio Classics, though specializing in McIntosh has a great repair facility as well. We’ll be on the lookout for more specialists in this area to avail you to.

Having power supply capacitors (along with possibly a few others) and a few transistors replaced, along with a good cleaning and adjustment of the FM tuner section will usually run about $300-$500, so budget at least 50% – 100% of what you’ve spent on a receiver to make sure it’s in top electrical shape. As Jay Leno is fond of saying about classic cars, “If you haven’t spent at least the cost of the car (again) restoring it, you haven’t done it right.”

The good news is that once done, they will usually last another 30 years without issue. Should you have a handful of great FM stations in your area, you will be rewarded with amazing sound quality, and if you either have or are considering purchasing a turntable, most of these vintage beauties had great phono sections.

Much like hunting for a vintage car, go for the best cosmetics you can find; plan on paying premium for the best examples, keeping in mind no one has spare parts anymore. Electronic components can be sourced, but front panels cannot. Some restorers will substitute the light bulbs behind the front panel for newer LED’s, which never need replacement and are brighter, but some like myself, prefer the softer, gentler look of the incandescent bulbs. There’s no right or wrong, it just depends on your preference.

The last questions to answer will be whether you choose to go all vintage, complete with speakers and turntables or perhaps a reel-to-reel tape deck. Don’t laugh; cassettes are making a comeback too! But we’ll discuss that in another installment. For now, keep perusing EBay late at night and those estate sales; you never know where that bargain will pop up.


AA - my roomMy day job as publisher at TONEAudio magazine affords me the luxury of two dedicated listening rooms with clean power and an acoustically treated space to evaluate components, some with an MSRP close to my house. It’s a fun job, but when I’m working on articles for The Audiophile Apartment, chances are I’m right here, typing away on the couch or at the kitchen table. And as I now live in a smaller space and need to integrate my hifi system into my home, where it has to coexist with everything else, I face the same challenges you do.

We’d like to showcase your rooms, systems and record collections in this section of the site. So just like in high school speech class, I’ll go first to get the anxiety out of the way. My home system is a combination of new and old pieces. My personal home turntable is a vintage Technics SL-1200, upgraded with a Rega RB600 tonearm and Rega Exact cartridge. This is fed into a Rega Aria phono preamplifier and then into the Simaudio NEO 430HA. It functions as a preamplifier, DAC and headphone amplifier – handy when my wife is asleep and I still want to enjoy music.

The anchor of the system is vintage all the way, featuring an early 80s vintage SAE2200 power amplifier which was lovingly rebuilt by Ken Easley (and he did me a major solid, replacing the factory red LED power indicators with lime green ones!!) and a pair of Acoustat 1+1 speakers that were also rebuilt with new capacitors, wires and jacks. They still sound as good as they did 35 years ago. I know, I had a pair back then! Low bass is reproduced with a REL S/2 subwoofer that tucks in neatly between the couch and chair. Finally the whole thing is cabled together with Frey interconnects, power cords and speaker cables from Nordost, plugged into the wall via an IsoTek power strip. We will be featuring reviews on the current products very soon as we populate this site.

My home system is incredibly musical and with 9 1/2 foot ceilings, the nearly 8 foot tall Acoustats actually blend right in to the modern space. A few discreetly placed 242 acoustic panels from GIK Acoustics break up the rear reflections from the giant panels. It’s been really fun to revisit a pair of speakers that I owned in the 80s that still sound fantastic today.

As someone who just can’t stop playing with their hifi system, you’ll be seeing more reviews from right here…

REVIEW: Dynaudio’s XEO4 wireless speakers…

aa xeo4As the haunting beats of David Bowie’s Blackstar fill the room, my guests are all looking for the speakers, thinking something much larger is at work. Three pairs of floorstanding speaker systems sit by the doorway, awaiting a visit from the UPS man, all silent. Today’s entertainment is being provided by the tiny Dynaudio XEO4 speakers; their black cabinets hiding in the shadows of my apartment.

Dynaudio’s flagship Evidence Platinum speakers have been the benchmark by which everything else that comes through the door is evaluated, for about a year and a half at TONEAudio magazine, and they have had little, if any competition – as they should at $82,000 for the pair. Taller than me, these aren’t necessarily the first choice for the Audiophile Apartment, or anyone else that is challenged for space. Though they are very environmentally friendly, both in their slender shape and ease by which they integrate into the room. Bravo to you should you forgo other luxuries to install a pair in your apartment!

With so many of our readers living in smaller spaces, Dynaudio’s engineers have distilled an amazing amount of the natural tonality, wide dynamic range and low distortion that makes their top speakers so enjoyable down into a pair of tiny speakers that only measure 7” wide, 10” tall, and just over 9.5” deep. Available in either a satin black or white finish, they will easily blend in any décor. I highly suggest the matching Dynaudio stands, as they match the aesthetic and have plenty of mass; providing good bass grip and preventing floor dwelling mammals from tipping them easily.

In case you’re thinking $2,399 is a bit much for a pair of tiny speakers, keep in mind that the XEO4s are not only fully powered, but they also can accept digital source components via TOSLINK, coax or USB via the integral Dynaudio Hub. The Hub also features two analog inputs (one mini jack and a pair of standard RCAs), allowing the connection of an older television/cable box, a line level component or even a turntable! This is a ton of money you’ll save not needing an amp, preamp, receiver or DAC, not to mention the cost and clutter of the associated cables!

For the analog lover in a tight space, we mated the XEO 4s with the new Clearaudio Wood turntable and the ultra compact Lehmann Black Cube phonostage for an outstanding, yet compact analog setup. Each one of the XEO4s have a 50 watt amplifier for the woofer and soft dome tweeter, making this a 200 watt system. It’s easily enough power to get your neighbors pounding on the ceiling.

For the rest of our music loving audience not requiring a turntable, streaming your favorite digital files is a breeze. No matter what you connect to the input of the XEO4s, the hub detects it automatically – which means zero setup hassle. Just plug the powered speakers into the AC line, find a spot nearby for the hub and you’re ready to roll. You can connect to the source wirelessly, or via Ethernet cable as well.

The only real decision you have to make with the XEO4 (besides black or white) is whether you place the speakers near a wall, on a counter or out in the room. A switch on the back of the speakers offers three settings for the internal digital signal processor (DSP) to optimize the XEO4s bass response for where it is placed in the room; just follow the directions.

Going back and forth between the $82,000 Evidence Platinums and the XEO4s is an amazing testament to Dynaudio’s core values and how even these small powered speakers share the core aesthetic and sonic values of their cost no object masterpieces. The Audiophile Apartment is too young to start handing out awards, but these speakers are of that nature.

If you want high quality sound without the associated rack of gear, we suggest the Dynaudio XEO4. Should you have a bigger budget and slightly more space, consider the floorstanding XEO6.


The Dynaudio XEO4 powered loudspeakers