Vintage Electronics – the road left behind
I always envy people whom spend thousands of dollars on high end audio equipment in search as always for the best sound. Nowadays there’s a trend towards vintage audio. I do not know what drives this because it encompasses valve/tubes, semiconductors and always analogue, really old stuff. Nostalgia plays a big role. It has to, modern semiconductor amplifiers are far superior in reproduction quality to their older brethren. Vintage equipment had one vital difference, there was never any skimping on hardware – solid construction, over-rated power supplies and enormous cooling. (mostly).
I have heard bad things about class-D audio. I have heard exceptional things about class A audio. I believe SET (single ended triode) and OTL (transformerless tube) amplifiers are the best. I’m from old school – hype is a mysterious thing and we will remain like the mythical Lemming. My personal experience is that SET and OTL are hype, I have heard class A with exceptional quality and of course class A which sounded downright dodgy. We put it down to the output transformer, the transistors used, Chinese tubes, Silicon diodes and of course the magical speaker wire and even power cables.
Vintage Electronics Power versus modern speaker drivers with cones made from concrete
Here’s the thing though… as amplifiers (audio) go up in power the loudspeaker has become less efficient. Years back one could be reprimanded for pushing against the paper cone of a loudspeaker. Nowadays you can take a sledgehammer against the cone and it will hardly budge. Car audio must be the worst. Learn about SPL. Personally, I often wonder whether the SPL ratings as advertised are that accurate. Kapton voice coils, liquid cooling and gigaflux capacitors. Here, you pay for what you get. I have used two cheap 15″ bass drivers on a pro-audio amplifier and did a comparison with a much more expensive albeit 18″ pair of woofers and the pressure level difference measured at 200W RMS per channel was like night and day. (same program material). Modern materials has allowed much more powerful loudspeakers to be manufactured and in my opinion some of the better known brands can handle way in excess of double their power rating without failing. (do not try this at home).
Turntables – turning rumble into music
Having a great turntable on display, especially an expensive one, always enhances the snob value of your home equipment. I have one argument though – where the hell are those linear trackers? I did some research on turntables and unless you are specifically looking for a linear tracking TT you will find most audio equipment using conventional turntables. Many enthusiasts in fact don’t like linear tracking which I find strange. For more details on turntables go here… If you are really interested in getting yourself a top-notch turntable have a look at the images under Google and make your own. Maybe even buy one, direct drive or belt is the best and then apply the modifications. Garrard used to make quite good turntables at a very affordable price – unfortunately most of the turntables I either owned or came across in the Garrard line were ones with idlers. I used to DJ in the 80s and used two PS-X7 (Sony) – they were direct drives. Extremely reliable. Gave them away. Pity!
Best Buy on eBay or Vintage Electronics at a Price
The best way to do research on vintage equipment is through eBay. See a well known model, do a specification search, do another model, spec search etc. I have done this numerous times and the one thing that always stood out – modern audio from a well known manufacturer always works out cheaper. Modern home theater audio amplifiers lack the robustness of the older generation stereo units especially regarding the mains or power transformer’s load handling capabilities. It is after all the most expensive part in the chain.
Reel to Reel – But Tascam can be cheaper
Reel to reel and cassette recorders offer you the biggest challenge when purchasing without opening and testing. Idlers, belts and switches eventually give up the ghost. Front panels are difficult to restore unless you do it through a professional service. The sad part is that unless you are recording at very high tape speeds they just do not compare to a digital device with built in analogue converters or DSP. Even the more expensive RTR and cassette decks have atrocious signal to noise ratio. Often they require recapping and once this is all done and dusted you then need to find a supplier of good audio tape. Before rushing out please do some homework – classy audio tape is expensive. Can the bias handle the tape type? RTRs look really great but only have nostalgic value unless you go the whole hog and get a reputed professional unit. I think a Tascam MTR looks much better and of course, works better as well. Have a 1947-48 Chicago wire recorder at home – any offers?
Vintage Electronics: Where to go, where to go?
Of course, eBay is a fine way to start. Know your seller and make sure you have a solid returns policy in place. Overseas shipping is always a problem, especially if you have to return it, usually at your cost.
- World Tube Audio Portal – note that some of the links are outdated but still a great place to find links
- Electronic Studio – they sell parts as well.
- Musician’s Tech Central – lots of links
- Schematics (Polish) – lots of great information, mostly English – for educational purposes only 😈
- Heard of the Big Muff? – here’s some great stuff to keep you glued to guitar effects technology.
- The Radio Museum – either upload schematics or pay a one time joining fee. Exceptional information.
- Vintage Audio – Dynaco Tube resource
- One Electron – semiconductor/tubes
- Free Info Society – One of our personal favourites. See also Guitar Effects, stompboxes – suppliers
- Ampslab – as the name implies
- Eservice Info – one of the most popular websites, portal to thousands of schematics
To sum up, unless you are really prepared to buy old vintage electronics understand the reason why first. Nostalgia does play a role and there is nothing wrong with this but going high end is going to see you grossly out of pocket for possibly mediocre returns. You may be shocked to find that your vinyl collection was a local and very inferior press. Buy the best program material. Your European copy may sound very different to the one purchased in Africa.
And yes, I just love big VU meters. Maybe that’s what makes vintage electronics that much more better looking!