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.