Vintage Hi-Fi Reviews
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CLASSIC HIFI: Revived, Restored, Upgraded & Reviewed.
This is Page 2 covering 1972 to date.
The main page was getting too long...
See our FULL REVIEWS INDEX 1957 to Date on the MAIN PAGE
*** Note the ↑ takes you to the INDEX on the main page.
1972 Akai AA-8080 receiver ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Very Good. UPGRADED: Excellent. 30w.
SC, DIFF. A more obscure Akai receiver, no easily-found service manual, similar to the AA-8030, but worth a try from Akai successes. This is a well made heavy item, the weighty lid is like early Trio & inside it looks similar to the NAD 160 in build style. This is a nice amp with a punchy detailed sound as mostly Serviced if original. The true rating is actually 30w. HFN/RR reviewed this & we all consider it 40w as Akai themselves quote this, but only the Service Manual says "60w RMS output" which is 30w per channel. One of the Akai good ones to go with the AA-7000 & AA-8500 above. Semi Complimentary with a Relay, not sure if a Differential as it sounds fresher. On Rock it's pretty decent, the old spec keeps it a bit off best, but the basic sound is of quality, so for a 1972 amp it has the earlier sound. Having played a 1977 amp the day before, the sound of this as original is more our style & it has good dynamics with a kick to the sound that actually betters the 1970 AA-8500 we've had. It has all the right qualities & is better than we expected as was the 1973 JVC 5521L below. Looking at the circuit to recap, it is a Differential amp, usually they aren't this detailed, shows good design as early. Recapping & upgrading the Tone & Power amp so far, with no circuit may seem reckless but we know circuits to know what they do by looking at the board now. Fidelity is much sweeter, never heard a Differential amp sounding this crisp. The main caps, Phono & Power Supply board to do & it has 2 hot resistors, one at 70°C & the other is 55°C, the hotter one naturally right on the 85°C rated small capacitors. Looking at the NAD 160 as the design looks similar, not quite but Akai makers built NAD, explaining the quality of that amp. This is a high quality amp, Akai are certainly underrated, but only the pre 1973 ranges are good, but today more known as a budget brand. You only need to see their 1970 'Pride In Quality' brochure (on HFE) to see these were more High end than Sony at the time. Now Recapped the Sound is very pleasing. On Rock it delivers the sound well with confidence, good kick & control. Pity there wasn't a 75w version of this, the sound makes you want to crank it up more. REVISITED... well sort of, if only a few months later on getting the Service Manual as we had two of these. Faults in amps can be a good excuse to dig deeper & despite us liking this amp before it had to be tamed a little as controls were noisy. Here bad power supply & hissy preamp to repair & see how feeble the spec is which is surprising for 1972, we've had 20w amps from the 1960s with better spec, all to save a few pennies. BUY-RAW RATING: Power supply board will usualy have too-hot problems otherwise Good. COOL RATING: 7 violet-tinged fascia with decent sized controls & sensible layout, will have vinyl effect side cheeks. (2016)
1972 B+O Beomaster 4000 receiver ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Recommended. UPGRADED: Very Good. 40w.
CC. An improved version of the 3000(-2) with 40w now. Still a lively sound if not as high fidelity as others & we recapped our first one partly as it needed it & brought out a very nice bassline the original design hides. Only made with a black fascia that needs a well lit room to see all the buttons clearly. Probably the best sounding B+O with 40w if still a more domestic sound. B+O capacitors if not the 1976 era dark red ones are generally good on these, only later B+O from 1971 start to get to be unreliable. After having had several B+O we rate this their best one. After not having a B+O for well over a year & so many Very Good amps of higher quality, the B+O 4000 now sounds quite ordinary. Recap-upgrading but not more fine tuning betters the bass but the quality of sound is still not as precise as the big hitters on this page as the power supply is weak. Build quality is not the highest. B+O do sell more on style than sound, B+O used to be a status symbol in the 1980s, and the sound is good enough for most but our researching these amps has found it lower down the ratings on this revisit. They are also a pain to service & fitting any new power supply caps takes creativity. All 4 bulbs must be good or not all will light as with the 3000. No cloudy sliders with the 4000. All DIN sockets, with no Aux but use Tape 1 or 2. Phono is MM & all inputs have adjust pots to match the Tuner volume. Suited the Tannoy Golds perfectly sounding pretty decent with wide Stereo if lacking the ultimate fidelity of other amps as the midrange was a little soft it was still good on bass & treble. After trying the Beomaster 4400, playing the Tuner is similar on both if the Tape 1/2 inputs are a weakness on the 4000. BUY-RAW RATING: Always in need of a good Servicing, bad switches & controls are common raw. Capacitors on later B+O often bad. To take the front panel apart is risking insanity. COOL RATING: 6 this is basically the Beomaster 3000 upgraded, but the black finish is hard to see in darker rooms so loses the cool appeal to us. (2014)
1972 Harman-Kardon 930 receiver ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Recommended-Very Good. UPGRADED: Excellent. 48w.
SC, Diff. The highest powered HK receiver until the ones that appear in the 1980 HFYB. Oddly there are no specs found, a 1972 test shows 48w if it puts out 32v clean sine in line with a 55w-60w amp. We've wanted to try one of these for ages, but they are hard to find. Did have what was the later 1977 if similar looking 40w Harman-Kardon 730, from looking at inside pics, found in about 1991 at a car boot for £20 when these were deeply unfashionable & did find it sounded nicer than the B+O 3000, so a need to get the 45w one. The double transformers & 4 main capacitors, a progression from the Sansui 3000A that uses separate windings from one transformer, to make the power amps an enclosed monobloc pair. It looks quite like the Teac receivers & Sansui 4000 in looks, inside quite like Trio-Kenwood, despite being a USA brand it's still made in Japan. Rare with the wood case, a plain teak lid that goes over the leatherette vinyl covered metal lid. Inside 2 transformers of good size & 4 main capacitors, not much tuner board area compared to some if AM/FM. Red lit power switch & green tuner display only lit when tuner is used. A smart looking amp. The boards are unmarked, no components noted at all is unusual. Underneath it looks 1969-71 style with Alps pots & Elna caps but not looking familiar in construction like other Japanese made amps. The added stickers to show 240v use give the idea not many were made for UK-EU sales. Proper Aux on this unlike the Sansui 4000. Transistor counts are Phono x2, Tone-Pre x4 with circuitry usually only seen in earlier amps, Power Amp is x8 with Differential, driver, bias & the driver-output PP stages, no fussy protection circuits to spoil the sound here, just a 3A fuse on the speaker outputs. the 6800µf power caps are unusually large for the era. First try it was very weak sounding as the Power Amp had aged badly in direct sunlight by the bleached wood case, but just upgrading the Power Amp brings a significant improvement with bass now & a quality of detail improved similarly, though suspect the caps were too aged for the difference. The extra separation & individuality of the double transformers is noticeable here on Stereo and headphones. The FM stage here is modest on board with 3 ICs, but it has a detailed neutral sound that is not often found, only the NAD 300 tuner sounded like this. The design of this amp, once upgraded, reveals the double power supply removes a blurriness to the sound with peaks having a separate power supply to aid definition, but as original that's not so obvious. Of amps we've upgraded, this can upgrade a lot from original as does the Pioneer SA9500, the original amp we have to rate quite averagely as even if yours has better original caps, the sound is uninvolving, maybe why it's a rarer one. BUY-RAW RATING: Good, if can sound very average until serviced. COOL RATING: 7. Without the wood case it's just a Sansui 5000 looking amp of no real style but tuner lit up it looks smart to be a 6, the rare but plain wood top lid gives it the 7.(2015)
1972 New Acoustic Dimension (NAD) 160 receiver ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Very Good. UPGRADED: Excellent. 45w-55w.
SC, DIFF. The nicest sounding early NAD, see 1975 for the NAD 160a, with a fine bassline & clarity though sound can vary a lot if biased wrongly & running warm. We've found the 1971 Sherwood S-7200 is almost the same design as this, if the Sherwood is a better built amp, so much is exactly the same with just a few changes, as in comparing Phono, tone, Power amp & Power Supply. so much for NAD being great, they just nicked an idea from another amp that their Japanese makers had already designed for Sherwood, talk about recycling. Has a power supply overheating to sort before it can be used safely. Unfortunately NAD power supplies on the receivers were lousy with overhot resistors, clearly no-one bothered to test these & sellers of the day used to report these as unreliable. But the few 160 or 160a's we've had always get the power supply recapped & that hot resistor replaced with a 25w one fixed to the casework. The inner of the 2 big resistors hits 90°C. This for the lack of the Bass filter circuit & the 'rare' early name one wins points on the later NAD 160a. Having got another one and now having the Circuit Diagram we got to upgrade it better. We've had a few of these now as it's an amp we like & the one we upgraded having got the circuit delivered a very fine sound. The best NAD amplifier by far & it looks nice too in the wood veneer case. This is an amp we like & have had a few now. We actually had one that failed so early that it still smelt like a new amp inside, how could NAD be so hopeless? See the 1972 Akai AA-8080 above, the boards are the same manufacturer as those who make Akai & similarities in design. The big NAD 300 receiver still has overheating regulators, then again most Yamaha of the 1973-77 ranges are similar, was it deliberate? For a midprice amp, it's good value & the fact we've had several of these means we liked it & fully upgraded one to see how it did. We rate the 160 higher AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced) simply for the bass-limiting circuit in the 160a, get rid of it & they are no different sounding. A seller of these at the time noted they were a bit unreliable, if only for this one issue. BUY-RAW RATING: Beware failing overheated power supplies, else beyond that it's a good amp. COOL RATING: 8 cute looking amp like the 1971 Yamahas with nice reeded control knobs & a wood veneer lid. (2014)
1973 Photax Concertone 800B amplifier ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Very Good. UPGRADED: n/a. 32w.
Cute & obscure amp together with the matching tuner, Very Good lively sound that is really just a little less focussed than others. In real Teak veneer too. A Very Good little find, nicely made & worthy of recapping to bring out the sound further. Looks quite like a Sansui in construction. It does have ICs but ones basic & early enough not to worry at this level & we still rate it a 'Very Good' for what it is, belatedly appears in the 1975-76 hifi books. MORE INFO: BUY-RAW RATING: Good. COOL RATING: 6 wood veneer lids with basic looking fascia but with the tuner it looks cute. (2013)
1972 Pioneer SX-828 receiver ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Very Good. UPGRADED: Excellent. 60w.
SC, DIFF. As the SA-9500 was far better than we expected, so time to look at Pioneer afresh after the rough sound the SX-950 type has, but seeing development & a mix of ideas in these earlier ones. The SX-828 is their 60w top of the range receiver incorporating new fully complimentary design which is early for 1972, most were still semi-complimentary. A very well built receiver with top cages on the top half like the KA-6000 above has & a place for a MC Phono transformer that was an extra, unlikely many bothered. Very clear from the preamp that the SA-9500 design started here though it does still have some 1970 style boards underneath. The power supply has some heat issues. The sound is lively with good bass & the treble is of a good quality if not quite what we could get out of the SA-9500. The fascia is a particularly attractive one with the blue lights on black with purple-grey anodised controls that looks smart. The top lid is a bit thin but again smart in real wood veneer & edges. This was £281 new when the 45w Marantz 2245 was £279. This has large capacitors, decent transformer, densely packed underneath with the preamp on a classy double sided PCB. This looks a very good quality amp. The amplifier equivalent is the SA-9100 if it has extra transistors on the power amp, 11 vs 8 on the SX-828. The one we got has had little use & sounds so unlike the SA-9500 did when it arrived, the sound is like our upgraded SA-9500 became but this is all original. This amp we hear started the receiver wars, if the SX-838 is the big sized one & maybe inspired Yamaha to up their game to the CR-1000 quality. But looking at the Trio KA-6000 it led the way really... BUY-RAW RATING: Good. COOL RATING: 8 smart looking receiver without the gaudy looks of later Pioneer with a slanted front, purply control knobs and blue tuner. The best looking 1970s Pioneer receiver. (2014)
1972 Realistic STA-220 receiver ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Very Good. UPGRADED: Excellent. 60w.
CC. Made & Designed by Hitachi with many Hitachi symbols on boards & parts. Short lived 1972 model that didn't make it to the yearly catalogs as Hitachi stopped making for Radio Shack as Fostex took over. The IA-1000 power amp board is #251839 & the STA-220 power amp board is #251968, for the IA-1000 being 1971 this has to be 1971-72. We've known of the Realistic brand sold by USA Radio Shack & UK Tandy since getting the STA-2280 below. The 1980s ones aren't so great, but the 1970s silver ones are very different quality & there are USA valve ones going back to 1960. But the higher power ones aren't much around & then we get the 1975 SA-1500 which is very impressive & then this one. Large sized receiver, 490mm wide, 383mm deep & 140mm high shows quality from the outside with the weight & the inside really is built like a tank which for 1973 is unusual & betters similar Marantz & Pioneer easily. Probably the last of the 1960s style build quality amps. A one-year model as it still uses capacitor coupling if the STA-225 that followed in 1974-75 was the Semi Complimentary type. A 1974-75 catalog findable online shows the similar Hitachi built STA-150 (31-2047) "65w RMS" likely 32.5w+32.5w as it's £199 but no STA-220. Best of Japanese build quality here. On first try it sounds aged, transistor hiss & rustling, but high power amps got used more & this is a prime example of an amp needing a full recap & upgrade. Beyond that, the sound isn't far off how the SA-1500 sounded, the tubby restricted bass, both punchy if a bit soft & blurry too with a bit of treble grain & spitting on highest treble show it needs work, but people will use good amps like this & put up with it below it's best. Front panel has lettering in white that's less readable if the room is less well lit. Sliders for Volume were a 'trend' in the era, if we'd prefer a rotary volume & balance, but not awkward to use. Loudness needs pushing in to defeat else it sounds too bassy, looking at the board this was actually a design error. For the issues here, it needs the work done save risking damaging it as there are several issues with this. The build quality is what impresses with this, just before the 1970s financial crisis a USA company could make an amp like this without needing to cost cut. Sold for $459 in 1973-74, seems this is a rare one which means no service manual, the STA-225 is totally different inside if outside looks similar, built by Fostex now. We can upgrade without manuals, but to see the circuit does help. Unlikely we'll ever find one as not even Radio Shack has any info, how many did a limited availabilty amp sell in the Oil Crisis era? Cat no 31-2051 searches show others want the manuals, but none found. But the STA-220 doesn't even show on the Radio Shack manuals site. But experience tells us what that board does, what that part is for so for us to upgrade as we've done with a few others with no manuals is possible, if takes more work as is always the way. After a clean & service it sounds more lively, the low original spec is noticeable if you can't hide the overall strong punchy sound. As with the SA-1500, deep bass is very limited for the user of the era who used cheap gear with quality amps, but the SA-1500 improved very nicely. The power amp is fitted on a frame & undoes to lever up, showing thought for servicing given which some amps like Marantz don't. The display 8v 0.25A cartridge bulbs are still buyable. Preamp recapped & new transistors, no hiss now, very silent background actually. Interesting hear the low spec of elsewhere now just the preamp is upgraded. 'Realistic' Compares, as at the same half upgraded stage, power supplies original. The tonal balance is slightly richer on the 220 as higher power if the 1500 has the same treble & midrange. 32v clean sine rates it a real 60w & the same as the 1986 STA-2280 if worlds apart in quality. The 'magic tune' is similar to what Yamaha did in 1977, touch the tuning & the meter lights, the dial pointer goes red for stereo or white if mono. A pity this has no manual as the more amps we get, the less good ones there is & this is probably the last "old style" amp & it could upgrade a lot further. Very good tuner stage too, even getting a detailed sound with wide stereo from the heavily compressed FM pop stations. The Dial Pointer shows if FM is Stereo if red & goes white if Mono as well as Mono for noisy FM Stereo changes to orange. Doesn't match the 1969 Tannoys as too midrangey, if here the Midrange control sorts that. as with the 1975 Realistic SA-1500 this got a compare after the Trio-Kenwood TK-140X. The sound certainly has quality if the part-recap so far does reveal more needs doing. But in terms of sound as part done, it's got a sound like no other 1970s amp, the sweetest treble, very well balanced sound & punchy sound. For circuits, the SA-500 amplifier from 1972-73 will have similarities if it's only 15w. Trying to work out a preamp isn't too bad, but the power amp is too tricky, if it is a Hitachi board & has some similarities to the Hitachi IA-1100 amp & SR-1100 receiver, if is a better design. The design isn't quite a standard one as the mid 3 caps reveals, if it can be worked out. It's a Hitachi design too, as the preamp reveals features like the Hitachi IA-1000 & SR-1100. We've liked the sound of this on speakers for months if now to dig deeper into the circuit as we'll never find any manual. To trace track & know design, preamp is 2 Gain stages & a Buffer. The Hitachi amps used 3 Gain stages & it was a bit too upfront. The more we look at the design of this, the more it impresses. Very few amps have the preamp then the Volume after as to design this to avoid clipping on max tone is difficult. Here it has preamp to sliders, avoiding a balance control & then to the power amp. The Hitachi 1000/1100 don't have this. The STA-220 power amp being so close to the SR-1100 & IA-1000 designs makes it easier to understand now. STA-220 is autobias (? as the STA-150 does adjust on these) so has 2 less transistors & the 3 larger caps are understood. On getting the STA-150 below, the odd white print on silver makes sense: the STA-150 has a black fascia. Either the STA-220 should have had a black fascia or they forgot to use black ink. The Volume slider controls can crackle on these from repeated use as they wear a bit, but possible to service to keep them quiet. BUY-RAW RATING: Good if the transistors used will usually be hissy which shows on speakers. COOL RATING: 7 large size with nice fascia if white print a little hard to read on silver if has a heavy walnut veneer lid that suggests the quality inside. (2016-17)
1972 Realistic STA-150 receiver ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Very Good. UPGRADED: Excellent. 32.5w.
CC. Made & Designed by Hitachi with many Hitachi symbols on boards & parts. Short lived 1972 model that didn't make it to the yearly catalogs as Hitachi stopped making for Radio Shack as Fostex took over. The IA-1000 power amp board is #251839 & the STA-150 power amp board is #251942, for the IA-1000 being 1971 this has to be 1971-72. Comparing board numbers to the STA-220, the STA-150 (31-2047) was just earlier & the STA-220 the bigger spec version. The STA-150 is the same size hwd, has a gunmetal-black fascia, no Tone on/off switch, no front Aux/Dub sockets, 2 speaker pairs & the Tone controls are L+R together, else much the same. The Amp is lighter than the 220 for no big heatsink & Amp stage tray. The Tuner stage looks the same. Power supply caps on the top & a smaller amp board. Output Transistors are on the back in small cases like the Hitachi SR-1100 uses. Underneath the preamp board is similar to the 220 if a different board #251941. The back is a simplified version of the 220 with less inputs, if the odd 'use mains cable as FM antenna' isn't much use as it only has 2 core mains. The design here is pleasing as is the 220, build it how we want it quality, not cost cutting, a transformer like a 50w amp would have & big size to not cramp boards up. this has to be the biggest 30-35w receiver out there, if both 150 & 220 are rare. We hear in USA this was priced $349.99 if discounted to $249.99 once the next range arrived. Quite a high price for Realistic, so the next ranges were made to be cheaper for less quality. To find both as UK versions within 6 months of each other is how Hifi goes, no-one's read the STA-220 section to realise how good these Realistic-Hitachi receivers are. On first use, it's much like the 220 was, not too great as obvious hissy-noisy transistors & a bit dull sounding, if otherwise a similar sound balance with wide stereo & good dynamics. This is how vintage hifi arrives to us: tired & need of quite a bit of work. The amateur seller can say "it works" however aged it sounds. The noise here will sound on speakers & isn't really acceptable to use is the truth of it. The back transistors get a bit warm too, showing it badly needs servicing & adjusting at the very least. To us, doesn't matter as we'll upgrade it, but to you buying it, we think you'd complain it was noisy. Output transistors are 50w rated 2SD180. After servicing & adjusting, to try it. Some sort of AC bias is the 2 pots nearer the mid of the amp, if the STA-220 needed to be fully to min & AC balance are the other 2. Totally silent with volume to zero as volume is after the Tone stage as the STA-220, a rare feature. But up the volume & it's a steady sea-shore type hiss if now no rustling, at 3 on headphones it's a loud hiss though. A softer sound with a tubby retro bass as the STA-220 had originally hides how great it sounds once upgraded. Comparing the upgraded STA-220 it's overall similar as designs are very close, the tubby retro bass now a fuller more extended bass with a crisper treble. Serviced the sound is far better, a very musical amp here. The deepest bass is lacking if it doesn't sound so tubby on the bass as it's crisper, if we can see the circuit limitations as the STA-220. Preamp has the buffer stage if only one gain stage for tone & the power amp lacks the protection stage, buffer, driver, P-P drivers, outputs. On headphones 32.5w to 60w sounds no different. We'll upgrade it like the STA-220 & then see which sounds best. Still only 2200µf main power cap at 65.6v with 70mV AC ripple, but it sounds great. Outputs clean 24v sine putting it amid 35w range. The STA-150 preamp is a more minimalist design than the STA-220 & why it sounds so like our upgraded one. On closer comparing with both STA-220 & STA-150 upgraded, the overal sound is much the same. The only real difference is at 32.5w, almost half the 60w STA-220, the dynamics are a little less hard hitting. Both are enjoyable with wide lively Stereo. The tuners appear the same boards so the same quality tuner here, ours works fine in Stereo, touching the Tuning knob changes the meter colour as does FM Stereo-Mono or using the Mono switch. The Volume slider controls can crackle on these from repeated use as they wear a bit, but possible to service to keep them quiet. BUY-RAW RATING: Good if the transistors used will usually be hissy which shows on speakers. COOL RATING: 7 large size with nice fascia, has a heavy walnut veneer lid that suggests the quality inside. (2017)
1972 Rogers Ravensbrook Mk III receiver ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Average. UPGRADED: n/a. 15w.
SC, Transformer coupled. The Rogers brand was only ever Midprice on the Cadet series, earlier ones & the HG88 were aiming at a Higher Quality, but the two big selling Transistor amps Ravensbrook & Ravensbourne are very lousy. Very basic UK crap thing played very loud on headphones as was not a standard design but sophisticated it wasn't even on speakers and well made it wasn't either. Cheap retro appeal is about it's lot. Cheaply made was it & after the Valves until the A75 Panthera Rogers are best avoided as pretty much junk. Front panel flexes on the controls as so cheap. Oddly had coupling transformers in the output stages but very hard to bias so will likely run too hot. Surprising what crap was sold in the 1970s when there were much better amps from UK manufacturers. Just not very impressive, we see buyers paying too much for these Ravensbrook & Ravensbourne amps, but we'd not try one again, the rating is harsh but we don't really see a 'Recommended' in it. REVISITED 2016 IN THEORY: Looking at our pics, the amp innards are made like a 1960s EU radiogram, it has a one-board amp-phono-power amp-power supply if the tuner is on another board, as it's a combo of amp & tuner in one. Upgradeability would be possible but not worthwhile. It still looks cheap junk & one in person is cheap junk as you'd find. The ROGERS RAVENSBOURNE amp developed into later models but is a better quality 45w version, if that's foolishly hidden as 25w into 15 ohms in the spec. But again axial caps, not worth us trying having to recap those & not be able to give it the quality. This is why we generally avoid UK amps: axial caps. BUY-RAW RATING: Good if usually full of dust & much from casing gaps. COOL RATING: 6 wood veneer case & minimalist design looks smart if cheaply made. (2012)
1972 Rotel RX-800 receiver ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Very Good. UPGRADED: Excellent. 40w.
SC, DIFF, Relay. Been a long wait to find one of these, we saw the EU version with DIN sockets ages ago, if we've got the UK one. Rotel didn't make many receivers, the 1970 FAX-660 was only 30w & we've never seen one to try. 1974 HFYB has RX-800 (800A is a typo) 60w into 4 ohms-40w into 8 ohms £178 as on our List of Receivers page & by 1976 it was replaced by the RX-802 55w at £222+VAT. The fascia has a nice look with the Tuner Dial & 2 meters, a line of buttons including a dimmer swich for the lights & what looks like a line of LEDs, if they are 5mm bulbs. Below is a aluminium panel with the rotary controls. It looks very purposeful, if sadly the lid is only a vinyl wrap if a well made one, it may fool you it's wood. The back doesn't look like any other amp brand with an unusual AM antenna hinged part, 2x Phono, 2x Aux & 2x Tape by Phono inputs plus Tape DIN pair. Pre Out-Main in connectors & 3 fuses. Some sort of pseudo 4-ch effect with the rear switch, 2 pairs of speaker sockets like the Marantz type spring connectors & a 3-core mains. Inside has the power amp board plugging in between the heatsinks, Tuner early stage under a metal cover with an upright board on the right that is the Phono stage with a metal shield. The Tuner front-end has '7245' date in the same style that Yamaha used. Underneath has 2 slim boards like the Sansui AU-999 has plus another metal cover over the base of the main tuner. Two front boards for Preamp & Tone. Sold as a non-worker but worth a gamble. No-one's been inside it before & it looks good & a few tests say good too. Why doesn't it work? The rear 3 fuses... are empty, nothing in there. We know this one from being a kid, the parents take out the fuses to stop you using the 'Stereo' because you were naughty. Re-fused, a bit of a 'dry service' & plug it in. Why it had no fuses makes sense now, unusual fault but we like this amp so it'll be fixed, not a quick repair, needed a major rebuild on the power supply. Strange how someone kept the amp for at least 42 years without getting it fixed, a few bulbs out, maybe it got 2 years' light use. Now playing Music likely for the first time since 1974, obviously it's been long asleep. An amp unused for this long has stiff rotary controls & quite a dull sound that does awaken a bit. A bit perfumey smelling with non-smoker dust says it was a woman's amp & be sure with the sound we can hear already they were upset it failed so kept it for so long. If bought by a 35 year old in 1973 she'd be 77 now, time doesn't stand still & only likely cleared out for life status. Tuner works fine too. For left unused for so long & stored inside in the warm, it'll never awaken enough, so an amp like this would need a recap to bring the crisp sound back as it's too warm sounding, needing +2 on Treble & -2 on Bass to sound more normal. Service Manual on HFE & elsewhere is a lousy photocopy job & it misses half of the tone stage board. As the pdf versions are all incomplete, missing an unknown amount of the Tone stage & poor quality, this rare amp deserves better so £17 to buy a real printed one from Canada makes sense, 14 days by Surface post. The pdf versions actually only miss about 1cm of the printed version but without it you'd never know. The boards with circuit numbers are unreadable and as the boards aren't numbered to follow the circuit would get errors. The Power Amp is of a good design differentials, driver, bias, p-p drivers & output. Relay is the protection circuit. Tone is 2 transistors. Phono is 3x PNP transistors unusually if typical for the era. The manual shows the power amp plug in board varied probably due to available plug-in sockets from the very early ones, ours is the AF-33D one if Phono board the upright one on the top right changed from 2 to 3 transistors by the Apr 1973 dated manual. If you have the 2 transistor phono, no circuit shown. First try once the Power Amp recapped, one leaky capacitor shows to use an amp long unused wouldn't last long, if now sounds a lot more as you'd expect. Needs about 10 mins to run in new caps. Now reveals the weaknesses in the preamp & input stage, volume at midway shows gain isn't as good as it should be at 40w. Some alterations later, better volume & better sound. Testing a few tracks & it's now a very different amp. Punchy amp now if the ceramics still sound on the preamp. Has Tone Defeat switch much like the Heathkit AR-1500 which does make a difference to the sound until it's upgraded. As with the Heathkit, another great sounding Differential amp, proving not the Differential the problem in later amps, but poor design & over-design. The sound does remind more of the Heathkit than the Realistic STA-220, a more weighty sound. Fair to say even at this stage, the best Rotel we've heard, the later RX-603 was nowhere as lively as this. An unusual sound, good volume, crisp treble, rich sound with a precise sound with deep soundstage & punchy dynamics. Not the usual 40w sound, if that's why it was dumbed down. Time to try on the Tannoys, DC offset is fine with a test speaker load. Matches very well, very clean punchy sound with crisp treble & thundering bass. In comparing to the STA-220 after using the Rotel on the speakers for a few days, the tonal balance is different. The STA-220 is a more open sound, the Rotel is more 'designed' to sound more punchy on cheaper speakers & impress you. It's a more Domestic type balance, plays well at low volume & doesn't sound thin. A great amp to have tried if we prefer the more open PA type sound on speakers. The sound of this will compliment most speakers better than a more open sounding amp that can sound thin & harsh. We need to try more Rotel, the big RX-1603 type amps, if they are usually too expensive to buy to upgrade & outprice them is the risk. BUY-RAW RATING: Ours was unused for 40+ years, if should be generally good if used more. COOL RATING: 6.5. Advanced controls of a later era with lilac tinted controls if the vinyl wrap loses it half a point. (2017)
1972 Rotel RA-810 amplifer ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Very Good. UPGRADED: Excellent. 40w.
SC, DIFF, Relay. This is the similar Amplifier version of the RX-800 above, the same amp board. Quite different to the similar RA-610 as below, this is a bigger amp than the smaller size of the 610. Looks more 'pro' looking on the fascia too, so 'Nice Amp' is the first opinion. Insides still with the odd preamp & tine boards fixed right on the Buttons & sliders, looks a little cramped up instead of using bigger boards in the larger case. Not seen this one before, early Rotel as with the RX-800 at 40w are Rare Items. 1974 Hifi Yearbook shows the RA-810 £116 60w which is a typo as it's the 4 ohm rating, the User Manual shows 40w per channel RMS both channels driven at 8 ohms, ie a true 40w amp. That shows also there are no wood sides on this, just the vinyl covered metal lid if the controls look more 1974 & nicely made. "Possessing an abundant 180w music power" on the Manual is the sort of nonsense power rating soon outlawed, if sugary descriptions still live on. If you couldn't afford the more expensive brands, the Rotel which usually sounded better than the typical 1972 amp was a smart buy, based on the RX-800 & RA-610. the Phono board again is a small raggedy thing tucked next to the power amp if with a metal shield, Rotel overall made a great amp here if the Pre & phono boards should have been done better with more space available. Multivoltage amp with a proper 3-core cable is unusual in the 1972 era. Now all recapped, we found the volume a bit low & not good enough to return as an upgrade. But the RX-800 has similar pointless input circuit to reduce the level which is totally unnecessary. So we alter that to see how good the amp is. Now back together all clean it looks very smart, good looking amp, a similar sort of black & silver 'Industrial Look' that the Teac AS-100 has. Sound is now more the sound we expect & a lively sound here. On Rock guitar it plays it convincingly with good weight for a 40w amp, certainly betters quite a few to do that. Just a pity Rotel didn't do higher power in the era. One of those amps we could upgrade further as it has the 'right sound' & that would tighten the Focus & better the Slew Rate, it is punchy sounding if some blurring on midrange, if you'll need speakers beyond the range of this quality Midprice amp to realise. BUY-RAW RATING: Should be fine beyond usual age & servicing. COOL RATING: 6.5 Smart Silver & Black looks rather nice & the odd side fascia fin-notch panels give a bit of style. (2018)
1972 Rotel RA-610 amplifier ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Very Good. UPGRADED: Excellent. 32w.
SC, DIFF, Relay. Another lower powered amp with a nice sound, a little warm on midrange detail - not on the revisited one below - but nice with it to still deserve the rating. Well made semi complimentary design would upgrade up well to lose the midrange imbalance. One certainly worth buying if 32w will do, more sophisticated than the similar Leak. A nicely made amp. One we had early on in our Amp testing just to see what there was, a nice amp but not one we'd try to upgrade now as there are many better, but a good starter amp to buy. Another 2012 rated amp, Rotel are a good brand if finding ones of high power beyond the big late 70s receivers isn't easy, the 1977 RX603 reveiver below was the only other one we tried. REVISITED 2016: Not had one of these since 2012 if we liked it. 1972 is the early years of the Comet era where a lot of hifi will have been sold, if just before cost cutting got heavy by 1974. £69 new when a Sansui AU-555 at 35w was £109 puts this as midprice, but good value. Still has a good look, with Tone sliders the only difference to some amps & not a problem to use, the rest of the controls are Rotary or push-button. The Service manual available now is far better than the one we got in 2012 so can see the design better. Transistor count is still decent: Phono x2, Pre-Tone is similar to the Sony TA-1120A with x4, Power Amp x8 with obligatory differentials if a good basic circuit. Some of the design is a bit 'soft' in spec & for 32w it could be upgraded. First play of it after a service shows it has a fresh sound, the sound is decent if the usual low-spec sound, but certainly not bad. The midrange here sounds balanced, the previous one was not so accurate if hifi in this era often got dumbed down in later production models as buyers with budget gear complained. The Rotel is midprice but with a quality of sound showing more quality. Construction of the Tone & Preamp isn't great & may be tricky to upgrade. You can see we've played lots of amps now & for this to get full songs played without facial expressions when it goes rough shows the RA610 is a bit of a good amp. We can instantly upgrade the rating from 'Recommended' to 'Very Good'. The background is silent on headphones, some of the earlier amps aren't so silent. On Rock that needs some clean design & grunt, this is a little soft but doesn't embarrass itself either, sounding musical & punchy for it's 32w and there are many amps that fail miserably on Rock. Cranking it up a bit it keeps control well if the low spec limits it, sounding not grainy but a little splashy on high treble, if not too offensive. It'll be recapped & upgraded for a customer. Given our high spec upgrades to a certain level, it deserves an "Excellent" for the clean treble, solid midrange & extended bass. Of course for 32w it's a little limited to not clip out too easily, but we never expected it to be this decent when upgraded. It's not in the league of the best late 1960s gear but it delivers a quality enjoyable sound. On Rock it doesn't really have the midrange punch to do it as other amps can but at 32w you'd not expect it to, but it is clean sounding. On cranking it up a bit, treble needs one notch less to balance the sound which fills it out better. Trying it on the Tannoy Golds, it actually matches perfectly, suggesting for the clean sound that the design despite differentials, is still like the late 1960s designs. Compared to the UK Leak & Rogers amps that we say are good starter amps, this is your next step up. They aren't too hard to find either. BUY-RAW RATING: Good. COOL RATING: 6 smart looking amp if the sliders lessen the looks. (2012-16)
1972 Trio-Kenwood KA-6004 amplifier ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Very Good. UPGRADED: Very Good-Excellent. 40w.
FC, DIFF. The fully complimentary follow up to the KA-6000 has a high quality fresh open sound that has potential to be upgraded out. FC here is the earliest we note, 1973-74 is more usual. Having had the KA-6000 again, the KA-6004 we have to say betters it in some ways if being about equal ranking overall. A very accurate rich sound with a fine deep bassline, probably the very last of the classic era amps before cost cutting & over-design took over. Nice looker if switch covers fragile, so we made a set. The switch covers you can make from alu pipes & rods like model train sellers have. As later than the KA-6000 there are things better & others less good, but still an amp of quality that sounds superior. The preamp-tone board looks very expensive, a double sided effort of quality & then the scrappy boards in the centre as well as the power amp board being way too cramped up. Sadly Trio after this 1972 range cheaped out for ICs & cheap sales, others did too especially sony, but Trio-Kenwood you can see didn't recover as the 'Other amps' page reveals some of their big receivers are hideous IC stuffed nightmares. But their 1967-72 era has enough good amps to make it one of the best brands. We've not tried any Trio later than 1972 as the quality dips off & ICs become Trio's way to stop us being interesred, see all the Trio amps we've looked at on the 'Other Amps' page in search of a later one. BUY-RAW RATING: Good. COOL RATING: 7 smart looking in high grade if plastic wrap side cheeks & the fragile switch levers are hard to get perfect. (2013)
1972 Trio-Kenwood KA-4002a amplifier ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Very Good. UPGRADED: --. 18w.
CC. Well that's how it goes, not had a lower power Trio in years then two come along. Appears this Trio KA-4002 is the one we first got in 2011 to start the interest in Vintage Hifi, we wondered which after hearing the modest small sound of the KA-2002, but to know the 4002 was the one now makes sense, it does sound very decent for 18w. This is the uprated 18w version of the 13w KA-2002(a) that internally is much the same amp if it has TO66 output transistors, not the 15w rated TO220 ones on the KA-2002, this has 2SD155 25w ones to give extra headroom, if there are obviously other changes, the KA-2002 42v HT is now 52v (on a 50v cap). The KA-4002a styling adds an extra rotary control for A&B speakers plus 2 extra push buttonsfor Lo & Hi Filter as they label them, if Filters can sometimes be too complex plus asdds a front 'Tape Dubbing' 6.3mm jack. Silver Aluminium control knobs & silver push buttons instead of black looks more 1972. The transformer is bigger for the 13w to 18w upgrade, 66mm length now 90mm, looking more like a 50w transformer. Case is still the same size. Rear panel adds an extra speaker pair if unusually the Main Fuse is 2A on the KA-2002 but only 1A on the KA-4002A. But 60w (60VA) rated KA-2002 to 115w (115VA) rating to the KA-4002A, which also adds 'Mono Out'. From the uprating & transformer size plus VA rating, the 18w of the KA-4002a suggests it's a modest 18w. The back panel info plate is screwed on & under it as suggested by printing borders, it shows 'Kenwood' instead of the UK-EU 'Trio' branding. After Servicing & a bit of a run-in, to hear what it sounds like. The KA-2002 was a little thin sounding as it was kept tamed for the 15w output transistors, the KA-4002a is a fuller sounding amp, a punchier sound that gives Rock guitar some weight. This is still the 1967 design style as on earlier Trio if by 1972 it was 'out of date', Trio still used this design further into the 1970s, as why give up a good design. It still sounds aged & a bit blurry, with deep bass limited as typical, but overall the sound is more pleasing than the KA-2002 as original. To compare aged KA-4002a to recapped-upgraded KA-2002. Quite a difference here, the KA-2002 sounds quite small in dynamics to not overdo the small output transistors. Both have that classic early Trio fresh sound though. The KA-2002 is got used to again & still puts out a nice sound, but it is a smaller soundstage that does struggle with fast transients blurring them off. But not everyone wants to Rock The House & the KA-2002 has given it's owner many years of pleasure & for our recap-upgrade they'll enjoy it more. Back to the KA-4002a & the bigger more dynamic open sound with crisper focus is the difference. The KA-2002 is fine if you don't want a loud amp, but the KA-4002a has the sound heard more in higher power amps, even as original. Once Recapped. With upgrades it sounds smoother with a better bass without having the extra high treble & deepest bass of higher power amps. The early Trio-Kenwoods are always good sounding if some need more upgrading than others, the good honest Trio sound. On our Tannoy speakers it sounds good & gives enough volume at 18w to fill the room on 95dB speakers, if it'll not go much louder without flattening off. We've considered 18w to be the starting power for Hifi with other 18w amps & this confirms it too. We didn't try it from the Pre Out to a higher power amp as we've found before the sound will still be an 18w one to not clip. Next when Biased to our usual way it makes the amp sound fresher than the original setting that had it run a little warm. An oddity on this is 2 sets of Speakers, select A/B for each, but if connecting 2 sets it only works with 2 sets as it does them in series, so it'll be silent on A&B with one speaker set attached. Running 2 speaker sets on 18w a little optimistic, if this stops overloading. BUY-RAW RATING: Grille lets in the dust, but upgrades well. COOL RATING: 7 with the wood effect side panels this is a cute amp, betters the earlier 4002 look from the 1971 range. (2011-18)
1973 Armstrong 625 receiver ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Average-Recommended. UPGRADED: n/a. 40w.
CC. Cheaply made with bad power supply capacitors & plastic bases, it actually sounded better than average, but for how badly made it is in certain areas we'll not rate it more than this. In 1973 the 525 matched the B+O Beomaster 4000 in basic spec at £110 vs £193 of the B+O. The big capacitors are explosions waiting to happen if not blown already, best to avoid this brand. Did we say Armstrong Are The Worst Hifi Brand Ever? They've been around since 1929 remarkably. Don't waste your money on their earlier ones, see the 1966 & 1968 ones... We hear a very late 1970s Armstrong newer model made just before they closed is good, but no details findable & nothing on the HFE site though circuits are findable on one site. Armstrong on their 400 & 500 range used obsolete Germanium transistors, buying up unwanted stock cheap & were still selling the 500 range until this 600 range arrived. That is The Biggest Hifi Swindle ever. Read their ads in the 1972 HFYB & they have the cheek to say their awful 500 range is better than anything else. The remarkable BS hype of the 600 range in the 1976 HFYB ad gives the idea the range is the 'best ever made' in the sort of gushing hype that surely would be illegal now. The amp is cheaply made with no quality in construction, messy wiring with low TV grade components. The Goodmans UK receivers were a far better buy at this time. This sort of false hype gives British Hifi a bad name... Not one we'd want to buy again as full upgrades would not get a buyer as these are budget buys today. To be fair to it, the cheap construction apart, it could upgrade to a better rating, but not for us. BUY-RAW RATING: Risky as the main capacitor is usually bad, else not so bad if the casework is intact, but it's budget gear once sold with dodgy hype. COOL RATING: 5 the piano key switches add some style if it'd be below average otherwise. (2012)
1973 Heathkit AR-1500 receiver ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Very Good. UPGRADED: Excellent. 60w.
SC, Diff. Heathkit best known to UK buyers for the 1959 valve Heathkit S99, see the other amps page. Their transistor kits are much harder to find in the UK & this is the 1973 version of the 1967 50w Heathkit AR-15 and in 1974 was the (same?) Heathkit AR-1500A 60w, then the digital tuner AR-1515. No earlier than 1973 as no Heathkit UK ads show it even by Mar 1974. The AR-1500 first appears in the 1974 HFYB for £191 as a kit & with the wood case, if £252 by 1976 as likely the 1500A, £302 by 1977 then Heathkit vanished to return with just one in 1979. USA ad says $457.90 inc the wood top lid. To build a simple amp is quite a job, having had a S99, but a receiver is much more complex. Heath Daystrom were a USA company & in the 1960s the Hifi News ads show they had a London showroom & must have done well with their high quality kits, but as the Discount Stores & complexity grew, this was way beyond the majority of buyers to build. Maplin took on the kits market by the 1990s with Velleman kits, if long gone. In 1968 Knight-Kit were offering even more adventurous kits, see the Amplifiers list page. But the AR-1500 is a good looking receiver with different styling to the 1967 AR-15, with all transistors in audio stages. All Phono socket inputs & 4mm posts for speakers, this looks an impressive amp, the brand is rated online by USA owners & the AK site has the schematic. The quality of the amp seeing it first time is very impressive, 17kg amp 47cm x 34cm x 14cm & a heavy cast fascia with a medium-dark walnut veneer case, a very classy looking amp indeed. Wood lid off reveals a full metal case, like the Fisher early amps, unlike other main brand amps that are just an unshielded wood top. Inside the boards look of high quality, a 1967 feel to things as it's based on the 1967 AR-15 & the board are edge plug in types that have the socket on a pivot so to aid testing. Quite a few axial caps in here that don't age well & the MW antenna needs pulling out fully to get to the input & speaker sockets & doesn't fold away with cables connected which may limit space. A pitch coated huge transformer too, nothing cost cut here. All the inputs have adjust pots like McIntosh preamps so there is a lot to service. The power amp board unplugs making it easy to work on to build or repair, the 70v axial caps are all equally old leak-crusty just a bit, but on cutting open they are still good, a production error probably. No bias adjust pot on this amp, as the 1966 Coral had, but it measured fine. The sizeable cast iron heatsink & solid metal control knobs shows how well made this amp is, we are impressed with how logical it all is with the plug in boards, so nice to work on with no wires hanging off them. The only less easy part is the 2 front control boards, 3 of the front switch covers need removing to free. The small control by the Headphone is a FM Squelch control. Semi complimentary design with 9 transistors on the power amp. Power supply is 70v-75v axials if no leaks here. The inputs board has a similar input stage to the B+O 4400 with a PP buffer stage. Our one looks so professionally built it might have been a ready-made one as there was the option as this is advanced work to do, if they wired the headphone socket round the wrong way. Scope out V/H is part of the construction testing features as are the bulldog clip wires on the transformer. So it looks like McIntosh in some ways & also like the early transistor Fisher amp, two of USA's top Hifi brands. The looks & solid build quality leave many amps behind. Trying it, the sound improves with use as long sleeping, a clean strong kicking sound is here. Rock sounds accurate to rate it highly, if not a bassy sounding amp as is typical of differential amps. Matches well to the Tannoy Golds if perhaps not a perfect match as original, certainly a good match. After recapping, it brought the treble out quite a lot more, leaving it a bit rough sounding, but it can be improved. Using Tone Flat does make a noticeable difference, even after upgrading. The 6000µf original capacitors we've left in as spec is good still. The clean honest, if unsophisticated original sound of this amp is prime for upgrading into a great sounding amp. After playing the JVC amps & Duetter germaniums since last trying this, the Heathkit reveals itself to better others with it's pleasing sound. To the point we'll keep it longer & do more as this great looking amp has let other less neutral amps put it away. Despite hours of trying testing & recapping, the Tuner working eludes us again, it's very difficult without a service manual & proper tuner test gear. BUY-RAW RATING: This is a home constructed kit by an unknown user, but generally these survive as they were a success. Some were sold ready-made. COOL RATING: 9 the styling here is Very Good, chrome plated cast fascia, green lights & a walnut wood case, looks as classy as McIntosh gear, Underrated. (2015-17)
1973 JVC 5521L receiver ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Great. UPGRADED: Excellent. 22w.
SC, not Diff. Yet another of those amps left in the attic for 40 years & a home for optimistic spiders, but why it got dumped is a mystery as ever. It sounds great even unserviced & louder than 22w suggests. We've championed this brand with their excellent 1960s amps & this is no lesser beast. Styling a little updated from the 60s ones & a semi-complimentary design. The main caps are only 2200µf 35v like 1960s spec still. The user manual is dated '373' so it is 1973. We're playing it as typing still unserviced & it's got a clean open sound with wide stereo if only deepest bass is a bit shy but still there & does improve with use. Build inside is updated if still the phono, pre & power amp on the long board & very well labelled. The front sticker says "4 Channel Ready" if how they consider this is a mystery as it's fully stereo only with no extras like some Sony amps have to control 4 channel. Only a FM Det out for the Tuner suggests 4 Channel FM could be used if it never existed. The SEA graphic equaliser puts buyers off these if they are very clean & you'd only use the 40Hz & 15kHz ones like a tone control & it's defeatable. As most semi complimentary amps by 1971 are with Differentials, doesn't appear there is here, explaining the cleaner sound. All transistors in the Audio stages unlike the later JVC 5535L which has one in the preamp, if shows no differentials in the 5535 either. Not that differentials are bad but circuits often are very compromised as the differential gives better specs for less quality. A VR5541 is a higher model if it still says 150w (VA rating) & rated 34w RMS. The 5521L works on ±28.5v HT. It's got enough kick to make Rock sound convincing too even at 22w, more the volume & confidence of a 45w amp. The sound here betters any other 1973 amp with ease if power is going to be less & may not suit cheap speakers so the unaware who barely used it missed out on the accurate clean sound. Heavy wood case if only vinyl wrap but smart. As this sounds so good & needs upgrading, a service manual is buyable. Reveals it's semi-complimentary if without the Differential & the power amp is just 6 transistors explaining the fresh sound. Phono x2 & Pre-SEA is x2 transistors. The Power Amp design is still like the earlier designs, none of the low spec the Differential ones get & old-style values, making this probably the only brand to not use Differentials with SC output since the few 1965-67 ones above. We like that. For a 22w amp the circuit is as good as any 45w one, no obvious limiters & sensible design. Early JVC are the hidden gems in Vintage Hifi, though what their bland silver box era are like we've not tried, if the JVC JAS11 has a STK output block, the big 80w JVC JAS71 looks more typical of a 1977 amp if all transistors. Recapped it now & there's the quality of the earlier JVCs. For 22w it has good volume & a solid bassline without getting into problems. As it lacks the differentials which often flatten the sound in some amps if not well designed, this is open & fresh still like the pre 1970 amps. This liitle 22-watter has all the quality of our best 1960s amps. BUY-RAW RATING: Good. COOL RATING: 6 the early black fascia JVC are a little functional looking if neatly done if in a Retro Pad sort of way that has guy appeal if a little stark for all. (2015)
1973 NAD 90 amplifier ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Very Good. UPGRADED: n/a. 45w.
SC, DIFF. The amp version of the 160, probably from 1973. The sound is very similar to the NAD 160. Early NAD were still midpriced but did have a fine sound, but the best NAD buy is the 160 receiver, the 90 amp version was a lesser beast in sound & construction was a bit junky with a card between two inner boards looks a bit amateurish. Strange the receiver version is so much better. The NAD 90 lacked the sound focus of the NAD 160 & actually looks like it was built very differently to the quality of the 160. A 2012 review & we did try one later that was trashed & found it not worth bothering with again, unlike the NAD 160(a) that we've had a few of. BUY-RAW RATING: Good. COOL RATING: 6 lacks the confidence of the receivers & looks a bit cheap beyond the fascia. (2012)
1973 Nikko TRM-500 amplifier ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Recommended. UPGRADED: n/a. 22w.
SC, DIFF. Sounds more like a 35w amp & looks more 1971 in design, semi complimentary, punchy sound could easily upgrade to improve the treble focus. Another Hidden Gem & a Bargain to buy. We liked it better than the similar small Rotel noted above. Nikko made lots of amps & receivers if they're not much around. For only 22w it played louder & coped well with bass within it's design spec. Looks like Trio & Teac inside & sound is lively and you get real teak veneer. A higher powered version would be interesting. Actually only 22w but clearly a punchy sounding amp. Not tried any other Nikko since this, not many around to try, but we'll keep looking. BUY-RAW RATING: Good. COOL RATING: 6 smart looking with wood veneer case if quite typical looks otherwise. (2012)
1973 Photax Concertone 800B amplifier ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Very Good. UPGRADED: n/a. 32w.
Cute & obscure amp together with the matching tuner, Very Good lively sound that is really just a little less focussed than others. In real Teak veneer too. A Very Good little find, nicely made & worthy of recapping to bring out the sound further. Looks quite like a Sansui in construction. It does have ICs but ones basic & early enough not to worry at this level & we still rate it a 'Very Good' for what it is, belatedly appears in the 1975-76 hifi books. MORE INFO: April 1974 HFN/RR introduces this brand. On looking inside the amps they look more late 1960s for build design if an IC on the preamp & later power transistors. One of those better Budget brands if wood veneer is unusual by 1973. The advert shows the whole Photax range & they are related to the Camera company. amplifiers 420, 620 & 800B. Tuner 620X and receivers 22 and 333. The 620 amp is rated 24 watts, also a 2000P turntable & 3 speaker models. But their timing in the mid of the 3 day week early UK 1974 problems kept this one obscure. Perhaps the better finish costing more put buyers off in the more budget range, if they did exhibit at the 1974 Hifi exhibition. BUY-RAW RATING: Good. COOL RATING: 6 wood veneer lids with basic looking fascia but with the tuner it looks cute. (2013)
1973 Pioneer SA-9100 amplifier ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Recommended-Very Good. UPGRADED: Excellent. 60w.
FC, DIFF. This amp is getting silly over-excited reviews (by sellers naturally...) saying that this is the "Best Pioneer Amp" & it sounds "Absolutely Fantastic". "Not So" is our verdict knowing other Pioneer of the era. But it certainly is the nicest sounding Pioneer Amp if only based on upgrading it & knowing others on this page. The original spec amp is disappointing: it lacks the kick you'd expect at this sort of power, the treble is soft, the bass is limited & sounds artificial, as well as the over complex pre-tone stage is a professional opinion. We know the 1974-75 Pioneer as you'll read below & it seems these silly reviews are by those who have never heard the 1965 Sony TA-1120 for example. Pioneer foolishly let their Hifi be sold in Discount Stores, unlike Yamaha & seeing 30% discounts in 1972-73 on amps like this sadly meant Pioneer had to heavily cost cut yet still make out their products were good. This means specs of design will be cost cut & to those who see past amateur opinions, these 1973-76 Pioneer are sadly Rough sounding with No Bass. But as below shows too, Pioneer are still Very Good amps, the circuits are good, but only after some severe upgrading, revealing what they should have sounded like & probably did nearly when designed, before the cost-cutting began. The circuitry is very like the SX-838 below & it was a tough one to upgrade properly as so much was dumbed down, but it did sound Very Good, if not World Class, once upgraded. On seeing it, a bit smaller than you'd expect knowing how huge the SX-838 is, 429mm wide x 309mm deep x 134mm high & 13.6kg. Small hole spring speaker sockets, better than those awkward plugs, still the same 1967 style voltage changer-fuse block & pre out-power in sockets with level controls for Phono 2, Aux 2 & Speaker B if oddly still early double mono Mic input sockets. Phono impedance selector too, so several things like the SA-9500 has. The Phono uniquely has L+R on separate boards, if perhaps more to fit in the amp than a design idea. The fascia is soberly laid out unlike the busy receivers, but noticeably odd is the two Bass & treble controls that seems to allow Tone shading, the 20kHz one is a bit pointless as it has two Filters & the strange Volume level set option plus another for Muting, a bit neurotic here. Not too different from the Sony TA-1130 in terms of features really beyond that. Has a smart walnut real veneer lid, unlike the tatty effort on the SX-838. Inside is neat, a cage over the preamp & power supply if it is a bit cramped up. The original spec in this amp as we look to upgrade it is typically weak, but sadly this is the Pioneer way after the discount stores ruined the profits. It looks well made but every penny spent in what doesn't show has been saved, very bad business sense. But these Pioneer do upgrade very well. The power supply board is awful as it gets too hot under the cage & fries the board risking failure. The stepped tone controls are hard wired unlike the PCB mounting of the SA-9500. Underneath is the protection circuit & filter amp with the other half of the phono boards at the front corner, the rest is passive switching. The 15000µf 50v power caps are very high value for 1974. The small board in the middle top is the first stage of the power supply, with the left front board the regulators, quite like the SA-9500 in part but hiding hot regulators in a cage with just a few vent holes is the weakness here, The rest we are impressed with. It looks quite like the 1969 Trio-Kenwood KA-6000 too, rather than the more modern Yamaha range. So to play it, unserviced & raw, to see what excited hypists are hearing: beyond noisy controls, the sound is more like the SX-828 when we got it than the less impressive SX-838. It has quite a lively sound that will impress, but we can listen deeper with known tracks & hear the foundations aren't so solid. Bass is there if in that retro way with a slightly boomy mid bass that impresses the unaware, if the deep bass, as with Pioneer & many other amps, shies away. Treble is smoothed off, a bit rough edged here but known tracks lack the open treble top end. compared to sound we got from the 1972 HK930, this is a cardboard version, but shows upgradeability is here. The more tracks we play, the more artificial it sounds, the one-note bass isn't right & it's clearly tailored as the spec shows, but it will impress the inexperienced hifi listener as it does have a good sound. Onto some Rock and it brings contorted facial expressions as the low spec hits with Punk-Rock Guitar sounding quite soft & rough even up loud, no real bite or kick, if decent to many still, it's weak to us. Stereo width appears decent if hard to be sure as the treble detail is soft. As all-original, we'll rate it 'Very Good' though it's not serviced but has been used recently that will have woken it up. In comparison to a raw 1977 Yamaha CA-1010 with a much more confident sound, the SA-9100 is polite & inoffensive but certainly adequate, if lacking the precision that makes Excellent amps. Loud midrange detail in a track can be heard breaking up as the spec doesn't have the confidence to allow full resolution, this is the Pioneer sound by this era. The false one-note bass does becomes tiring after 20 minutes on headphones. Looking at the amp innards as we work on it, very nicely made if pretty cramped up, you can see why the SA-9500 was so much larger. One issue is the Low Filter switch needs to be set upwards else it still filters bass through a small capacitor, you'd have thought midway as the others are for Flat would be more sensible, if actually the power amp already has a subsonic filter in the circuit, again doing things doubly is the deal here, the spoilers-designer must have had personal issues to be so wary & spoiling the sound, be sure it was designed to perfection & dumbed down as much to stop the public moaning when using cheap gear with it. Now upgraded, not easy with the tightly packed amp, but you can see it's worthy of an Excellent as it certainly is: clean, crisp, correct bass without the thick limited original sound shows this is a very fine amp once upgraded. On putting it all back together, the feet are too small so it sits too low, needs 1cm more height to aid ventilation. BUY-RAW RATING: Surprisingly Risky for the cramped power supply board overheating-low spec, the one under the cage on the left. No easy buy here as with the Yamaha CR-2020 as it'll fail for sure if not sorted, but once upgraded a great amp. COOL RATING: 7 smart sober looking amp if a little excessive on the controls makes it a bit busy. Real wood veneer here. (2015)
1973 Sanyo DCX-8000K receiver ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Very Good. UPGRADED: Very Good-Excellent. 40w.
FC, DIFF. First thing, rethinking Sanyo: a brand later tainted by much Dixons quality crapulence in the 1980s onwards, ignore all that & look at this 40w fully complimentary amp from 1973 like it deserves. Looks very like a 1973 Sansui Eight or a 1973 Pioneer & inside like Teac or Hitachi, Sanyo designed & made Transistors & ICs so are well worth a try for early Hifi. Smart looking silver front with the usual quality of a 1971-73 receiver. The power amp section is caged. This amp is all Transistors if typical Tuner ICs. Transistor count is decent: Phono x2, Tone-Pre x4 with 2 of those as Buffers, Power Amp x10 if the last 6 are the push-pull stage so it'll sound good & upgrade well. Headphone resistor a little high perhaps. 4700µf 50v main caps is typical for the age if a little mean. In a 1976 shop ad for £132, probably end-of-line price on a £180 item, but still decent midprice quality amp with a quality sound, more advanced design as very focussed, accurate & clean on the midrange. As original Bass is a bit retro-limited & Treble with likely ceramics is a bit fizzy but but easily deserving a 'Very Good' for all-original as the quality is there with an accurate sound balance. Not much with Sanyo apart from the 1968 30w receiver DC-60, others just low power. Betters the NAD 160 which is a similar sort of receiver in quality. A good find. Probably exported more as one seen on ebay.de. A bit low spec overall originally, probably to keep the sell price low, but it deserves better as it's a good amp. So after giving it better spec on Pre, Power Amp & Supply it transforms into a different amp with deep bass sounding as good as many of the above amps. As buyers will be cautious of Sanyo, we'll not go further upgrading it to keep the price accessible, but Judge Not the brand name on their earlier gear. But in tests with other amps (as recapped & upgraded), it didn't ashame itself at all & is worthy of upgrading further as the sound is clean & honest. You'd never think it was this good. Sanyo's Golden Moment. Sounding fresher than the Pioneer SX-838 with ease, the sound is like the 1971 Yamaha without their weak preamp. The range the 8000 appears in with the 4000 & 6000 appear in a 1975 HFYB advert, but never the book pages, boasting of Direct Coupling & Pure Complimentary Circuit. BUY-RAW RATING: Good. COOL RATING: 6 typical looks of the era copying Pioneer if undistiguished for any higher rating. (2014)
1973 Sony TA-1150 amplifier ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Average-Recommended. UPGRADED: n/a. 35w.
FC, DIFF, IC, DOUBLED OUTPUTS. Not such a good design on this cost cut amp compared to the similar TA-1140, it's is a bit disappointing with an IC in the preamp driven by poorly matched resistors so the voltage is imbalanced adding roughness to the sound, but it can be bettered. Phono IC also. More average Sony though a 1975 later TA-3650 amp gets rated higher, the 1150 still looks better with classic Sony looks still here. One we used on speakers & headphones, it wasn't a bad Sony, but the IC & the sloppy manufacture put it as not worth trying to upgrade. On getting the TA-1130 & using it similarly, the 1150 was clearely a lesser beast in terms of sound, both as all original. First one we had was £5 at a car boot in about 1990, looked like it was out of a skip, in those days no circuits findable if we tried to fix it, it must have been with more problems & no way to find parts, it didn't go further as the fuses kept blowing. Now you know why old amps went up in the loft, to save for another day when information was easier found. It'd be an easy fix now, but it shows hifi that still exists has to be ignored & forgotten, many we get are just like that. The Outputs here are Doubled & the small sized 2SC1060/2SA670 that are 30w rated Regulators often so instead of putting a TO3 bigger transistor to do this odd design. BUY-RAW RATING: Good. COOL RATING: 6 sliders & push buttons lose the style of early Sony if still purposeful. (2010)
1973 Sugden A48 Mk I amplifier ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Very Good. UPGRADED: n/a. 40w.
FC, if no DIFF. the only FC or SC amp beyond the 1960s ones not to have the Differential. A very sweet UK made amp but too polite sounding & a bit ugly looking with the wood case looking like a Leak one & a bit cheaply made. Very Good phono stage, but for 40w doesn't kick enough for us. One of those amps that could take some smart upgradeing to bring more out of it, the design is tidy if a typical English sort of design like Ferrograph if much better sounding. Hard to recap as typical UK style axial caps. Of UK brands we tried, Sugden outdid all noted here (Ferrograph, Radford, Leak etc) for the fine sound it delivered, perhaps could improve up but with the axials. Beware the odd presets on the tone board that need fine adjusting with test tones or the sound balance will be wrong, we never tried to upgrade ours any further. Beware of fools replacing the volume control as it loses the power switch, it's not faulty. So many of these & the earlier Richard Allen ones have been ruined by those who don't know they were made only to give a better volume at half-setting as the user booklet states, don't mess with them. We bought a new set of original push buttons from Sugden, but they said supplies were limited at the time. But no denying Sugden were much better quality than Leak, Rogers & similar UK brands at this time. The amp turned up on ebay Feb 2017, buyer made a modest profit. We've not bothered much with UK amps since if did try a Goodmans Module 80 again. UK hifi always has a crappiness to it, years behind the quality of Japan & USA amps, low spec grainy sound & axial capacitors. Even Rogets Cadet III & HG 88 III were never high-end type hifi. Past 1980 Sugden continued & made amps that are popular, if we've yet to try any. HFE site has very little service info & later Sugden are in the league of Musical Fidelity if hopefully better quality inside. It's just the unknown with UK hifi & knowing the general crappiness of the 70s brands. The recent Sugden A21SE is a 30w Class A amp, one on ebay for £2200 which we've already proved with the Yamaha CA-800 II that Class A makes no difference on upgraded amps. You're buying an expensive hot running dream. BUY-RAW RATING: Good if it needs the tone board inside pots properly calibrated & beware volume control replacement. COOL RATING: 3 very plain looks in average quality case didn't inspire us to use it much, really not good enough. (2012)
1973 Yamaha CA-1000 amplifier ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Very Good. UPGRADED: Very Good-Excellent. 70w + 15w Class A.
FC, DIFF, FET. Their first 70w amp with Class A, a warmer midrange balance loses it detail if very clean otherwise, but we got the CA-1010 just as we finished ours & sold this too fast. Takes a lot to get it working right & for this, some deeper exploration could bring back the detail if you like design, we thought it sounded a bit warm & soft even after recapping, if the quality was there to rate highly. The only minus is some boards are a bit cramped as is typical with Yamaha though we've upgraded several now. This was the first Yamaha we upgraded as the amp needed work & led to a whole heap of Yamaha as you can see. One of the better Hifi brands especially in the post 1972 era but pity there are no 1960s ones. We saw our amp later on ebay & thought to get it back to go further with it, but didn't, the seller had agreed it was a bit soft sounding, but it may also be more neutral in comparison to amps we've had since. We should try another one, as the CA-1010 we've found very different. Not an easy one to find though. BUY-RAW RATING: Good. COOL RATING: 8 classy looking minimalist pro looks, well laid out, certainly a male appeal amp if too stark looking for all domestic use. (2012)
1973 Yamaha CR-800 receiver ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Very Good. UPGRADED: Excellent. 50w.
FC, DIFF. A particularly good sounding & well made receiver, punchy wide spaced stereo with a sweet sound and more bassy than Yamaha usually made. This is the 'easiest' Yamaha to buy & use just serviced, with a high quality sound balance from buying one all-original. Not as loud & upfront as the CR-1000 and actually more listenable to for a longer session we found using headphones on our upgraded one. Getting another one later after getting amps like the Nat-Pan & the Marantz PM6002, this still does sound a Very Good amp & without the loud CR-1000 to compare it too by itself it certainly pleases, treble is detailed and certainly not lacking punch on Rock. Trying it unserviced it was warm & a bit raggedy sounding, but after it tightened up the sound very well. Pity it's only a vinyl wrap case, though to reveneer in teak or the CR-1000 type american walnut is a nice idea. The USA 117v version and the one with the 3 mains outlets & 190w noted is vinyl wrap too sadly, they all have the same veneer pattern. But there is a rare DIN sockets-only version with added German wording. The CR-800 builds on the CR-700 sound and is much better built, this is a bargain amp for how good it sounds. To upgrade & recap this was too tempting & we'd like to go further still knowing it's the Yamaha we like best. The result was in the league of the CR-1000 & CA-800II if a fuller bassier sound than either. The only minus with Yamaha overall is they don't match to all speakers, the pre 1975 Tannoys don't match many. As you can see, it's our favourite Yamaha amp. Playing a Serviced but Original one the sound is bassy, reasonably crisp & lively if lacking a cleaner focus. Treble is typically fizzy on loud Rock as most amps are for the cheap ceramic capacitor which we upgrade to film. In comparison to the competing Pioneer SX-828 & SX-838 this betters them, as based on all original. Unlike the CR-1000 below, this was a Very Good match to the Tannoy Golds which was unexpected. Recap & upgrade later, it reveals a clean sound and sounding more neutral than the bassy original sound with cleaner focus & a good punchy sound that is not tiring. Of all the Yamaha amps we've upgraded, this is capable of the most neutral sound. BUY-RAW RATING: Good. Needs a deep service to sound it's best else it's a bit soft sounding. Bulbs are usually in need of replacing. COOL RATING: 8 the classy Yamaha looks if more friendly looking for domestic use. (2014)
1973 Yamaha CR-1000 receiver ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Recommended-Very Good. UPGRADED: Excellent. 75w.
FC, DIFF, FET. Rewritten 2017. Great amp, the first vintage Yamaha we got in 2012, but is a very upfront one that may not be everyone's taste & later versions do vary. It can sound very hard & harsh with not much bass as original, it can be a poor match to speakers also. It's one of those amps they dumbed down too much, if upgraded it is truly excellent. The best of the 1973-78 Yamahas to us, if only once much upgraded, read on. On getting an earlier serial number it reveals there are several versions of this & the power amp board has numerous versions, the sound on speakers does vary. A 1900 serial matches pretty well to early Tannoys, but the later 4400 serial was very dull, even with tone not used. The NA6401 is the original board, our 1900 serial has the NA6402 if the 4400 serial with the CA-800II design phono stage has a NA6408 power amp. Buying an all-original one needs a deep service to sing it's best to give an extremely revealing upfront Pro sound that will shamelessly reveal post 1975 era speakers & any headphones as being inferior or a poor match if it sounds hard. Before servicing it always sounds dull, soft & nothing special & we've had four now. A big upfront kicking sound best suited to a big room: it is strong, accurate, tight bass & impressive but a louder sound than most domestic amps & is great at resolving music to the right master level, but can be overpowering too as a more Pro-Sound volume than Domestic Hifi sound the CR-800 is. It can be quickly tamed if required just with the loudness slider to mellow it back so you can have a more domestic balance at 3-5 on Loudness, if then it loses fidelity. It is one of the Best Built of the amps we've had & after going very deep into the circuits, we found the upgrade potential of this amp is very high & later see there is more still in it. After the pretty average 1969-71 Yamaha, the step up in quality is huge & will have set the tone for other manufacturers. The regulators still get a bit hot like other Yamahas but can be altered. Our top Yamaha also for the looks & wood case. One minus is the input phono sockets are thin plated grey-ish gun metal on copper & usually found a bit crusty & not really upgradeable as fixed to a plastic panel, if can be polished to a lighter colour perhaps if the plating is thin, also the mic slider must be set to off as it has a wide variable gain & with nothing plugged in it's noisy. There are 2 phono stage versions, the later 7 transistor one is decent after some minor changes. Phono stage with the later NA06460 board delivering a clean detailed sound without the Bassy bloom of most Phono stages. The reason why Yamaha could make their superior 1973-77 range we found out by seeing a 1972 ad for the CR-700 etc. They wouldn't have their products put in the discount stores, but Pioneer, JVC & Akai did and so became heavily cost cut. The sound of this amp is close to the 1973 Realistic STA-220 if that's still a capacitor coupled amp. A wise choice, if Yamaha had allowed Discount Stores to get their 1971-72 range, we'd not have got their Classic Ranges. The odds of this receiver existing if it wasn't for the Pioneer SX-828 is interesting. These amps are what started the Receiver Wars, if some of the 1967-68 ones above are comparable. As with the CA-1010 below, the Pro-Sound volume & it can sound 'Clinical' on the wrong sort of small speakers as you need 15" ones & ones later than 1975 to do the sound justice. Buy it to use right & Excellent it is, but it could be too loud or mismatched for most speakers is the serious caveat here. REVISITED 2017. One we've not had for nearly 3 years & for how poorly it matched our early Tannoys & for the above opinion of sound, this is needing a revisit. This is a much earlier serial number than the 4xxx first one we had & the one in the Gallery pics. This is an early 'General' model without the AC outlets, if it multivoltage & has a proper factory fitted 13A 3-core mains with a 2 pin+Earth fuseless EU plug, instead of the skinny 2-core most have. Also the pretty useless FM aerial that is like Digital TV on this is the more typical 75ohm TV aerial type, plus other options. This being a 19xx serial has the earlier 12 transistor phono stage NA 06368 compared to the redesigned 14 transistor one, an alternate manual does show the later design introduced from serial 3031 onwards. The input Phono sockets on ours aren't crusty, but whatever thin plating they use over the copper base, as we've found before, always ages, here they are dull grey. Still one of the best looking receivers ever. What does it sound like to us now? Beyond transistor hiss that is another issue, it is an upfront sound & not too unlike the Realistic STA-220. The upfront sound is precise but it's a bit scary for how upfront it is, compared to softer more Domestic sounding amps this is a bit much, but intriguing too for it. It delivers Rock well for this upfront sound. Unserviced it doesn't have so much high treble or stereo separation if bass goes deep. After knowing the 1984 Sansui AU-G90X this does have ideas of sound that 130w amp does, if that's not everyone's idea of hifi as it is a little too upfront in it's presentation. We have the 1975 "The Yamaha Collection" catalog that shows this & others. By this time the NS-1000 100w speaker is available & it has to match the CR-1000 correctly. Sadly one to buy by serial numbers or alter the circuit to the orig spec, if possible. The amp rates 70w but the clean sine rates 90w, so to see the early NPN-PNP output transistors are just 100w rated is a similar sort of issue the 1975 Technics SU-8080 has, simply as technology on these was still early. To rebuild each board & test it to see how different it sounds, checking the boards are the original number ones or to see what they changed. One board done, hiss not solved but reading the above it sounds very different, much more detailed & open sounding, if certainly has the kick it had before, if more sophisticated. We played the Trio TK140X earlier so have that as a reference. Enjoyable listen actually, more in the style of the Realistic STA-220 & it's precise sound, which is why we wanted to try this one again as that's been on the speakers for a few months now. Next board done, solves some hiss if not all of it. Sounds very different again, the reasons why we design-upgrade to bring the best out. Now it shows up the power amp with it's weaknesses if it didn't really show before. The hardness to the sound eases back further to reveal the real sound, it appears more than a few amps are designed to perfection then dumbed down to 'not be that good' to sell & be more universal in use. Playing Rock it's very clean if the ultimate power of it is not quite resolved yet as it gets a bit untidy. The Power amp NA06401 is exactly the same as the CA-1000 NA06331 except for the few Class A extras. What they altered over time is what lessens the compatibility with speakers, our NA6402 will be compared... The only difference 6401 to 6402 is a transistor changed as obsolete, one capacitor altered & 2 labelling errors noted on resistors if all are the same & one board labelling error, another error is on the power supply, a line missing no less & apparently preamp voltage is virtual as it's not connected to the power supply at all. We've upgraded ours a lot & fitted LEDs for the bulbs which suits well here, see the Mar 2017 blog. The harshness gone as it's been very opened up in sound, a very rich bassy sound with high detail treble is really all you'd ever want from an amp. But not quite... the Preamp having the Volume early on leaves a hiss that sounds on 95dB speakers. The CR-2020 solves this by having a five gang volume control including balance, so 2 volume controls at different stages operate together. The CR-1000 tries to de-hiss by putting the FETs on the Filter board. Some amps have the volume before the Power amps, this means the Preamps are running at full volume even with Tone which is hard to stop distortion. Our skills into a tricksy amp is the result, to review the upgraded sound is a little beyond an amp review. But there's always a catch, the Volume control comes early on in the amp stages so it has a background hiss that is slightly audible on 95dB speakers, but on speakers the sound is very impressive. 4mm plugs onto our plug-short wire blocks, never to alter connectors if they can be used in some way. Very precise sound one much upgraded, it's not a domestic sounding amp as the Realistic STA-220 sounds much more polite on speakers, the CR-1000 is an amp to annoy the neighbours with. To upgrade as we've done is a very involved job, but it's one we wanted to finally get right after learning skills with other amps. We suceeded. Now what? BUY-RAW RATING: Good if needs deep servicing to bring it alive. COOL RATING: 9 serious kit, high-class looks if rather daunting looking with sliders & switches aplenty. (2012-17)
1974 Leak 2000 receiver ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Recommended. UPGRADED: n/a. 30w.
DIFF, FC. A capable, decent lively sound & much more reliable than the Delta 75 receiver, as with most Leak good midprice-quality value & readily findable. Also sold as 'Wharfedale SXP receiver' with a different fascia but same innards & back. This is the one we'd best suggest as a Good Budget Buy to start into vintage with, if the Leak 30 or 70 are similar sounding. It'll not better a Yamaha of the same era in any way, as the rating suggests, but for the price these sell for it's a wise buy. The only weakness are the silver paddle switches like on the Delta 75 that can break. Build quality is much better than the Delta 75 and after 40 years it has survived far better. As with the Delta 75 there are many design changes through the run including a rare black export version. Various fiddlings with protection & putting polystyrenes in the early ones as well as the DIN sockets being in a line or staggered. It has a strange bridging feature to make 30w stereo into 60w mono. An amp that tries to appeal to too many with the extra features. The display sometimes is too dark unless the blue plastic has aged darker with more use. The fascia bizarrely comes into many pieces, as not one piece. A basic phasey surround feature too isn't much use either. The silver paddle switches grow bigger as do the teak sides shrink as the run went on. REVISITED. Got one of these a few years later, 2015, just to see if it's worth upgrading more. We had a few of these early on but the "Recommended" rating as upgraded is quite old now as in 2012. We tried a Leak Delta 75 again so to try this is worthwhile. Still all UK made but looking inside it is well made unlike the D75 which is a random mess. Amp on top board, tuner on the bottom, preamp-tone on the front & modular in construction. TV grade capacitors as noted before if quite a few expensive polystyrene capacitors in the Phono stage do show quality. Of all the UK amps we've had, the build quality on this is in the league of the Sugden & to trythis one instead of a Goodmans Module 80 was preferred as the Goodmans is a bit crudely made. First try of a long stored one shows a good Service is needed to sort user issues. The sound is adequate if far from from Hifi after servicing but does show it's not bad either. There is a smoothness if a grainy sound too from low spec as is typical with UK hifi. The sound isn't too far different to the Delta 75 we tried a few months before as a revisit. It does have a bit of kick to it on hard transients but on Rock it's not got the drive, if few transistor amps can reproduce the Marshall valve stack sound well, this can only but suggest it. Probably why this one has had so little use. We'll bias it once it's run in as it gets a bit warm & this affects the fidelity. The main transformer is quite small for 30w into 8 ohms, 35w into 6 ohms & 40w into 4 ohms, so we'd not think it could be upgraded too far. Outputs are fully complimentary if the manual doesn't give the codes, the transistors show 'M 441 Z 189' and 'M 504 Z 188' which is unfindable, the manual shows '504.09' and '505.03' equally useless Leak codes, if these rarely are found faulty. Bias is way too high always so it runs hot, the manual actually states 90mA, we ignore that & it runs cool. It's still a very decent budget-midprice amp, it has enough quality & power to please many users, if not in the high league, but as we found before, doing too much to it outprices it, so we'll just sell it as original as it's reliable & tidy. Our previous upgrading was only recapping, so as it's not being upgraded to our current standards, we'll revise the ratings to what we hear today. LEAK 2200 AMPLIFIER is basically the 2000 without the tuner board & 45w supposedly, it looks the same board as the 2000 if maybe higher voltage for 45w not 30w. Looks a bit random on the outside as it tries to use as much of the 2000 parts as possible. BUY-RAW RATING: Good, needs a good service for rough controls. COOL RATING: 6 some style of the era here on the teak ones, a bit Legoland with the buttons, but in all-black as export ones are, it looks very odd so only 4. (2015)
1974 Pioneer SX-838 receiver ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Very Good. UPGRADED: Excellent. 55w.
FC, DIFF. The next one on from the SX-828 that we were impressed with. We'd never have tried these 1970s Pioneer after not liking the SX-850-SX-950 ones very much, but the SA-9500 Mk I has got us back into trying Pioneer & this is perhaps the last one to fill the gaps. A huge increase in size compared to the SX-828, this is nearly the size of the SX-850 if 4cm less deep. What a Big Amp for 1974. Shares some construction ideas with the SX-828 but mostly it's more like the SX-950 if less of a tin can despite being lighter, it is certainly a nicer made item. No power amp cage at all which is odd after the SX-828 & the Tuner board is right by the Power amp. Lilac tuner meters if sadly Vinyl Wrap not veneer loses it points on looks for such a big amp. Has metal casing on the pre-tone board, a few tantalums & the switches board is double sided with much ground track. At last those awful Speaker plug blocks are gone, now with bare wire spring connectors. From the progress from 1970 to 1972, this being 1974 betters the 1976 range so is very likely the Best Pioneer Receiver for sound quality, but the rating of "G-E" on the SX-828 compared to just "G" here suggests not so, as original, if both upgraded well. For the rough Economy of the year, not an easy one to find. Still a hot resistor on the power supply to sort out & some poor soldering there too. The SX-828 is the better amp of the SX-828 & SX-939 to us, the Transistor counts are (828:939) Phono x 3:4, Tone x 3:4, Power Amp x 7:10, the 939 adds a Differential in the Phono, 2 more gain transistors in the tone if no FET & Power amp has Doubled outputs if HT is 44v on the 828 to 45v on the 939 so it'll not play any louder for it's 75w. The SX-939 power amp circuit is remarkably similar to the SA-9500. The first signs of the Pioneer overdesign showing here in the 939 preamp, the 828 has more potential. This has audio qualities the SA-9500 has after much upgrading but looking into the Circuits, there still are quite a lot of deliberate weaknesses & spoilers, not as harsh as the SA-9500 but the sort to weaken the sound quite noticeably still in all ways. Upgrading was well worth it. The Sound of the Amp as unserviced if recently used was quite decent & after servicing to rate it Very Good is possible. But the many limitations in these Amps for us hold the real sound back quite heavily. With an eye to upgrading most amps we get now, we can see good potential, but these later Pioneers need a huge amount doing to make them the sound we demand from amps now. Upgrading was not easy but the results are excellent. This is the Best Sounding Pioneer of all we've tried with upgrades recently, a wide open sound with clean treble & extended bass is what hides in the limited original design. The SA-9100 maybe a more sophisticated sound if it's sound balance was a little wrong. REVISITED: We only had one of these a year ago & it was one we liked if difficult to deeply upgrade as is typical with the 1974-76 Pioneer. This one is a bit of a mystery. The first one was more used & darkened on the regulator board, but this one is like new. It works fine first try beyond a service so why was it lofted so fast? Odds are it was too big & they bought a "better" music centre as people often did. But 38-40 years left sleeping is often too. It'll clean up to look Mint & we don't even feel it needs recapping before servicing even as so little used. Time will tell. BUY-RAW RATING: Good. Power supply has a hot resistor & bad soldering on our first one. COOL RATING: overall it's 5 good looking amp with black tuner, purposeful if not scary looking but the cheap vinyl wrap case really lets it down on a second to top model, 8 for the fascia as it looks pretty if only 2 for the lid so 5 overall though if you veneered it in American Walnut or Teak it be higher. (2014-15)
1974 Realistic SA-1500 amplifier ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Very Good. UPGRADED: Excellent. 35w.
SC, DIFF. Not found any other worthwhile Realistic amplifier to try before, usually they are the 1980s receivers, one as reviewed below. So to find an amp, the bigger 60w one is the SA-2000 & later SA-2001, both seem less findable than the receivers. HFYB lists at £140 in 1979, more expensive than similar Trio. Realistic we only saw the very low power & PA amps by the mid-late 1980s, they only sold the more powerful STA- receivers. These are custom made for Tandy-Radio Shack by the same company Fostex that builds Rotel apparently, so well worth a try. The earlier STA 220 & STA 150 are made by Hitachi. First things noticed the smaller size 386mm wide, 120mm high & 287mm deep inc fixings & then the weight of it. Inside the oversized transformer is good to see, more the size of a 60w amp. TO3 transistors on an internal heatsink. The foil covered card over the preamp a bit cheap but the top lid is real wood veneer & many amps have no shielding. looks are very like the 1973 Pioneer SA-9100 range & the Realistic brand isn't a cheap budget amp as proved, no ICs in this amp & the service manual findable. 400w is the VA rating which is double what other 35-40w amps state similarly. Impressive array of inputs that you rarely see until later years, 2x Phono, Tuner, 2x Aux & 2x Tape loops one as a DIN also. Speaker outs are less good, either DIN plugs or RCA phonos as outputs. The open grille lets 40 years of dirt through unfortunately so a good clean needed. The build inside & out is impressive though, better than we'd have expected. Design looks unusually good for 1975 also Phono x2 transistors, then a buffer for all input types, Tone x3 inc a buffer, Filters x2 as buffers. Power amp is the typical Differentials then just P-P driver & P-P outputs. One extra as a protection circuit. This a good design, adding buffers usually not seen until 1977 Yamaha amps to stop switch noises & gives a tighter sound for impedance matching better. Overall it seems to be a c1971-73 type design as Semi-Complimentary adding buffers. Pioneer & Sony never did this. From the circuit, sound should be clean & precise if bass is always limited to stop fools complaining. Lots of features on this: Overload light, Filters with 2 options, Tone is Bass, Midrange, Treble & is defeatable. Speakers out 1+2 and 'Quatravox' some sort of mock surround mode. On taking apart the whole long top board covered with the shield is the Phono & Preamp. No Relay, quiet in use on speakers. Does look a bit like Yamaha & Rotel amps in a few ways, if by 1975 many are more standard parts. All cleaned & serviced, to try it, plays music fine for the first time in likely over 30 years. Even aged & unused the sound is very decent, much like the Akai AA8080, no grainy low-spec sound here, sounds much better than the Pioneer SA-9100 or 9500 did on first play. For the overspec transformer & good sound, another unexpected winner here. To be recapped & upgraded, as getting a decent sounding Differential amp is not so usual by the post 1972 era. The amp has an unusually punchy & wide sound for a 35w amp, the sound is well presented if deepest bass is noticeably absent, but this is as designed & has that sort of 'retro' slightly tubby 'ringing' bass that will be real Bass to most until you've heard upgraded amps. Finding worthwhile amps that interest us instead of getting some boring post 1978 amp gets harder as less are to be found the more we get. Finds like this still keep it interesting, upgrading boring 1980s general quality amps has no appeal. Played it for over an hour, the played the 1969 Trio TK-140X all recapped & upgraded. Differences in sound, the Realistic is wider sounding & with the buffers it does seem more precise, deep bass is very different & takes a few minutes to get used to the Trio sound. Back to this one & the sound is preferred, but as we say elsewhere, once used to one amp, others will "not sound as good as they did before". The tubby retro bass is a little unwanted, instead of full deep bass & only by recapping-upgrading will we see how good this really is. On speakers it's interesting, the limited bass is more noticeable if the sound is very decent, plays louder than some amps if not really for use on 15" Tannoys. The Midrange control is a useful one that will solve speaker matching as too midrangey or too dull is the range it shows on use. The clean sine on this is higher than 35w suggests, 28v is more like a 50w amp. The HT is ±39.5v. The 35w rating is underselling this, 35w at 1% distortion 20-20kHz (if no ±dB given) & for the steep bass cut, once upgraded this will be a 50w amp or 50w at 1kHz as other amps rate. The big transformer confirms this. Some unusually advanced circuitry in here, as well as buffers stopping switch noise, the small circuit board tagged on the top board mutes the preamp on turn-off & discharges the main caps to stop noises. Other amps would do this via relay. This amp impressed so much we got a 1974 Realistic receiver on the way. a quick play of this after the 1969 Trio-Kenwood TK140X reveals a very similar sound in this amp, clean & precise. Still not fully recapped but for a supposed 'cheap' amp to sound this good was unexpected. Headphone circuit is not standard & explains why volume needs turning up higher than usual, so we alter that. Now recapped on all except the main caps which at 6000µf are still decent, takes a few minutes to run in & the bass to appear. Then it sounds like... the STA220 with a fresh punchy but tight sound. Sounding much better than the similar Pioneer SA-9100. Realistic early amps are seriously underrated, it may not look much & the lid grade isn't ideal, actually tided up better than expected, but the quality sound is here. As this has differentials, has to be the most 1960s sounding amp of this design. The sound is clean & detailed, Rock plays convincingly if not quite the grunt of more powerful amps. Not as sophisticated sounding as the STA-220, if look at the difference in sizes. This could take some redesign to better it further, if to be, er... Realistic about the sell price of it. It sounds like a 35w amp, so we'll not oversell it for a higher clean sine rating than usual. Interesting amp to find, we'd not have tried the mighty STA-220 without knowing this. BUY-RAW RATING: Will likely be dirty inside, open grille, but ours was fine beyond dirt. COOL RATING: 6 looks like a smaller version of the Pioneer SA-9100. (2017)
1974 Yamaha CR-400 receiver ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Very Good. UPGRADED: Excellent. 16w-18w.
One of the lower range of the 1973-75 era ones. Appears in the 1975 HFYB for £148 new if the CR-200 also 16w must be a more basic version. 16w at 20Hz-20kHz if 18w at 1kHz, 18w to us once upgraded as most amp limit the extremes of bass & treble. What to expect from a lower model? The CR-1000 to CR-800 show a huge difference in build & sound balance. This CR-400 still has the nice looks, the fascia with the usual levers & switches, no filters, a loudness switch & 2 sets of speakers on 16w seems optimistic. Volume & 'Balance' on one control. Heavy vinyl wrap wood case is high quality still, compared to some feeble lids. The back has the usual Yamaha connectors, there is a DIN version also. No Pre out-Main in pair on this if Phono, Aux one Tape loop & there is a Pre Out only. Multivoltage with AM antenna, AC outlets & "80 watts" as 80VA power capability which is good on a 16w amp. Inside is easy to see it's Yamaha, a bigger preamp board than the CR-800, one board for Power Amp & Power Supply & one for FM-AM tuner. The power amp is the smaller TO-220 size transistors that many amps use & are 40w rated ones. Heatsink is a bent piece of aluminium with a small extra part screwed on, doesn't hide any IC block. Main caps are 3300µf 50v. A modest amp but it certainly looks good value for what we see & hear of it, not the cheapest as the 25w Sony STR-6046 is £120 & the 16w Sony STR-6036 now £76, but Sony ended up in Discount Stores, Yamaha stayed away & kept the quality. See the 1971 STR-6046A review, it was ok but STK amp blocks & lesser build quality & the 1971 STR-6036 was very poor quality. You get what you pay for. First play of it, apparently 'not working' but sounds fine, if needs servicing. Sound is far from what you'd expect, no soft 16w sound here, it sounds lively with a sound nearer to the CR-1000 & it does deep bass well, have we plugged in the headphones to another amp? Not so, it's the CR-400. Simpler design than the CR-800 gives a fresher sound & it certainly has volume. But at 16w it'll be interesting to hear it on speakers, can it drive them? Will be recapped & upgraded, a better mains cable & seeing a 13A fuse in the plug is foolish, 3A is typical & the amp uses a 1A on it's mains fuse. Has to be the best sounding 1970s 16w amp we've heard, the sound is way ahead of others. We can hear it could do with some upgrades, but the basic good sound, based on the CR-1000 sound makes this one a bit of a surprise. The punchy sound reveals the Pre Out would be useful on a 50w power amp as it's not got the small sound the Leak 3200 from 1978 has on using that as a preamp. The User Manual shows the intended buyer for this, one who needs telling all the Warnings that are more typical of today. The comments, based on complaints likely received, assume you barely understand anything as you only had a Radiogram. Odds are most buyers used cheap speakers & never heard how good this amp is on Headphones. The circuit of the amp is minimalist, not unlike some 1960s designs beyond the Differentials & could certainly upgrade well based on the sound, if to keep it within the power. Seeing the circuit it's a surprise it sounds good on headphones, a similar low-bass feature as in the Sansui AU-666 meant it sounded awful on speakers for the lumpy bass. So what's this CR-400 like on our Tannoys as all-original? The CR-400 sounded great on speakers as unserviced & original. A little limited & noisy controls, but if it was the only amp to use, we'd not be upset having to hear it for TV sound. Not bad going considering we watched hours of TV with the CR-1000 just earlier. Looking closer at the amp, it's still well built if the layout of the mains input & outlets so close to the power amp transistors isn't great. Now recapped & serviced, brings the amp to life more. The trouble with amps that have the main caps on the main board is to fit new ones neatly, in this case the amp at 18w wouldn't show much benefit uprating the main caps & making new holes just looks messy, so we left those be as they were good. You could upgrade the amp a lot more, but again at 18w to avoid being too dynamic to get into clipping too early. Puts out a clean 18v sine on the 'scope, 20v is typical for 30w amps if they have more current. Once Recapped-Upgraded. It doesn't sound like a 20w-ish amp at all. The CR-1000 we have & it has a similiar overall fresh balance. Sounds good with a fast sound that is not typical for the power. Bass sounds very decent for the power if not as big as a 70w amp else it'd distort if it does sound more like the CR-1000 upgraded than the softer sounding CR-800 from the same range. It certainly is better than any other under 20w amp past the 1960s. BUY-RAW RATING: Beyond needing a service, Good. COOL RATING: 7. Minimalist Classy Yamaha looks if still far better looks than 20w amps of the era. (2017)
1975 Goodmans Module 90 receiver ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Recommended. UPGRADED: n/a. 30w.
FC, DIFF. Early ones look Glam Rock cheesy-awful with white controls but still a surprisingly good sound for a budget buy & less need to recap this than the 80. A much better sound here than the looks suggest. But it is basic but the money was spent making it sound good. Later ones had tamer black buttons. But it's still all DIN connectors. The 110 & other higher number model we've not tried yet & they are later too. as with the Module 80, these don't make much money but do sound good for the trying. Not one we'd choose to fully upgrade as it'd outprice it. We found the pictures set we had when selling this. It looks very TV-grade compared to the Module 80 & the looks & build of it are truly hideous with the white buttons. spec looks better explaining why it sounded pretty decent, but the thing has no class lookswise. BUY-RAW RATING: Good beyond stiff sliders. COOL RATING: 2 to 3 the one with the white buttons looks truly awful if would appeal to a Teen Glam fan of the era, later with more sober black buttons but still only a 3. (2012)
1975 Luxman L-100 amplifier ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Very Good. UPGRADED: Very Good-Excellent. 110w.
FC, 2x DIFF. Beware of buying a messed with one. Requires deep servicing to get the luxury sound with a calm refined quality & at a price. Beats a Sugden amp in similar mannered territory, as in it's not as fresh & lively as simpler designs so down a peg in ratings. But having looked at the circuits more recently, we can see upgrades to give it the lively sound it never had, what was there was clean & accurate, but the weal master volume was hiding the amp's quality rather heavily, just as the 1978 Luxman R-1040 receiver did. Not really an amp to party with despite the watts. Before servicing it was a very soft feeble sound which was surprising, after servicing it sounded lively but fine detail seemed oversmoothed from the inadequate voilume though the bass was lively. We recapped our one fully & found it was just not as wide & open sounding as others for the gain issue if it had refinement in design elsewhere ahead of anything of the 1970s. Awkward 22-step volume control with no solid zero stop may cause problems, even after servicing it & making the zero stop more obvious it still felt unsure, perhaps this one needed a volume control replaced? The relays are important but hard to find if messed with as ours was. One amp we got just to see what is was all about & never really used it much for our reasons as noted, it just didn't stir the soul. It is a memorable amp for how heavy & stylish it is, but sound wasn't so hot which is the point of hifi. An amp that often has got fiddled with & the MTA56 connectors taken away & soldered which is bad. 3 old style relays may be risky too. The case is too thin wood for a heavy amp like this & with the odd collar piece it's a bit awkward. The phono stage sounded poor too. But this amp we had to get 2 missing relays & redo the MTA connectors as it was fiddled with. To us based on this high model, Luxman are a bit overrated & therefore very overpriced based on this amp, this one makes a good price & was high new at £680+VAT in 1979, but many lesser models get offered way too high, like Marantz do too, but we don't see sales unless realistically priced. On getting the R-1040 receiver later, the same sort of sound deal there too, but it was found to be weak on master volume gain unlike how loud other amps of similar power could go. What holds the L-100 back will be similar as the R-1040 as original needs volume past midway & still doesn't go loud enough. This is one of those 2012-rated amps that we may question our rating. The quality of it was apparent as the rating shows, but it was a fussy design & having tried the R-1040 receiver since & finding we weren't too keen on certain aspects, Luxman is a bit of an unfinished story. There are many Luxman valve amps & other transitor amps we've looked at on the 'Other Amps' page. BUY-RAW RATING: Good if needs good servicing & beware the volume control or bad repairs. COOL RATING: 7 slightly awkward attempt at classy style, the lever switches look strange & rosewood used on amp cases always looks cheap despite it being a premium veneer, it looks too try-hard on a thin case. (2012)
1975 NAD 160 'a' receiver ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Recommended/Very Good. UPGRADED: Excellent. 45w.
SC, DIFF. The slightly updated 160a usually has a Bass limiting Low Pass circuit between the Pre & Power amps on the underside & the Power Supply still runs hot, if not all models as stated just below. Based on hearing how awful a similar circuit made the 1970 Sansui AU-666, odds are this will sound awful on speakers too, for the lumpy thick false bass. But maybe not all had the limiting, it's a pair of tag boards with small capacitors on underneath. Still Semi Complimentary too. Just for the Bass limiter, we'd rate it just less than the 1st version as all original with the bass limit circuit, but upgraded it can be as both are so similar, read more in the NAD 160 section above. NAD 160 has an FM Muting push button, NAD 160a uses the same as Loudness instead, a few minor differences inside too. UPDATE: We got one in 2016 with a 43xx serial that doesn't have the Bass cut circuit underneath. The 160 we had before as on the 'Solds' section is a 39xx serial. This 160a has larger value main caps, 13000µf 63v compared to 8000µf 50v, has to be the early run version before the lousy Bass cut circuit was fitted as it's untouched inside where it would be. BUY-RAW RATING: Beware failing overheated power supplies, else beyond that it's a good amp. COOL RATING: 8 as with the earlier version, cute looking amp like the 1971 Yamahas with nice reeded control knobs & a wood veneer lid. (2013-16)
1975-76 Pioneer SX-850 receiver ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Recommended. UPGRADED: (Good potential). 65w.
FC, DIFF. **Updated** We had thought these were Cheap & Nasty things for a long time after having 4 of them, they always sounded Rough way too soon & quickly ran out of power which for their rating was pathetic. But Pioneer are seriously underselling themselves as we've found out upgrading the SX-838 & SA-9500 as the design once upgraded is very high quality. These two suffer from weak sound too, but our upgrades are getting serious now not allowing anything weak in these Pioneers. And does it pay off. Heavily cost cut is what these amps are & it looks on the surface that Pioneer were mass market price-cut efforts out for big sales, being priced £100-150 less than similar powered Yamaha & Marantz. It is very clear the 850 & 950 have a huge scope to upgrade. They sound very rough as the design is very limited with many spoilers & a severe lack of deep bass, so really as-is only deserve a 'Recommended' but upgraded right they do 'Excellent' not that we've had the 850-950 to upgrade yet so won't add this here yet. The power amp is similar to the SX-939 & SA-9500 so shows much potential as the 838 & 9500. The 1980 range including SX-980 are very different with ICs & even more cost cutting. The SX-850 & SX-950 have real wood trim & veneer, the SX-750 is vinyl wrap. We've not had an 850 or 950 since 2012, but have tried many other Pioneer. the trouble is they need so much low spec upgrading they take a huge amount of work, but as the SA-9500 proves, it can rate highly. the SA-9500 power amp board is actually very similar to the 850/950 one so with a huge amount of upgrading, they could do very well, but we'll leave them be for the while. BUY-RAW RATING: Good. COOL RATING: 6 oversized tin can with too much bling & cheesy looking wood veneer & trim to appeal to Ford Capri drivers, garish looks but there are many who like this look & it was the look for most hifi until 1980. (2012)
1975-76 Pioneer SX-950 receiver ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Recommended. UPGRADED: (Good potential). 85w.
FC, DIFF, DT. **Updated** We had thought these were Cheap & Nasty things for a long time after having 4 of them, they always sounded Rough way too soon & quickly ran out of power which for their rating was pathetic. But Pioneer are seriously underselling themselves as we've found out upgrading the SX-838 & SA-9500 as the design once upgraded is very high quality. These two suffer from weak sound too, but our upgrades are getting serious now not allowing anything weak in these Pioneers. And does it pay off. Heavily cost cut is what these amps are & it looks on the surface that Pioneer were mass market price-cut efforts out for big sales, being priced £100-150 less than similar powered Yamaha & Marantz. It is very clear the 850 & 950 have a huge scope to upgrade. They sound very rough as the design is very limited with many spoilers & a severe lack of deep bass, so really as-is only deserve a 'Recommended' but upgraded right they do 'Excellent' not that we've had the 850-950 to upgrade yet so won't add this here yet. The power amp is similar to the SX-939 & SA-9500 so shows much potential as the 838 & 9500. The 1980 range including SX-980 are very different with ICs & even more cost cutting. The SX-850 & SX-950 have real wood trim & veneer, the SX-750 is vinyl wrap. We've not had an 850 or 950 since 2012, but have tried many other Pioneer. the trouble is they need so much low spec upgrading they take a huge amount of work, but as the SA-9500 proves, it can rate highly. the SA-9500 power amp board is actually very similar to the 850/950 one so with a huge amount of upgrading, they could do very well, but we'll leave them be for the while. BUY-RAW RATING: Good. COOL RATING: 6 oversized tin can with too much bling & cheesy looking wood veneer & trim to appeal to Ford Capri drivers, garish looks but there are many who like this look & it was the look for most hifi until 1980. (2012)
1975 Pioneer SA-9500 Mk I amplifier ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Recommended. UPGRADED: Excellent. 80w.
FC, DIFF, DT. From August 1975 says a sales brochure. Our pages were missing one of these big SA-9000 Pioneers, so we got one at last. The original amp once serviced has not much bass surprisingly & gets rough sounding too early, as the low spec & many spoilers catches it out explaining the medium rating as original. It's a way better built amp than the SX-950 type & is in a very different league to those mass market receivers. From looking at the circuits, we see the SA-9500 as the pick of the bunch with SA-9500II being a different later design, SA-9900 the 110w one in the 1976 range getting into overdesign & the SA-9800 being later but ridiculously having 23 transistors in the power amp, the 9500 has only 10. The SA-9800 is an awful design yet it sells for £k prices as people don't understand excessive circuitry sounds bad if the 0.005% THD is pointless as it's only for excessive design & heavy NFB. The SA-9500 with 0.1% THD actually sounds fresher like a much earlier amp, very low 30 damping factor & minimalist power amp circuit beyond how dog rough it sounds until serviced & adjusted. This amp was plentiful on ebay, a real sleeper dismissed with the rest, but that can upgrade into something excellent, but it's stuffed full of 'spoilers' & low spec hiding what is an amp of high quality to stand with the Yamaha amps even. Only when upgraded do you get a kicking bassline as well as a very clean neutral sound like the best pre 1972 amps, but it's only for upgraders to reveal. It's the second-top biggest difference original to upgraded amp we've had. For the sound of it serviced but original it is hard to be fair to go higher than we've put, it isn't anything special. The Mk II version quickly introduced in Nov 1976 is a very different basic metal box design with less quality in design if dual mono power supplies. Our opinion is this amplifier only once upgraded has the potential to be one of the best amps post 1972, if the original version with a huge amount of extraneous rubbish circuitry to hide the quality is actually pretty average, the hugest difference Original vs. Upgraded we've found. But to upgrade is a huge job as we found out & still there are other amps that sound fresher post 1972 such as the Yamaha & Luxman. Others are naming the 9500-9800-9900 Pioneer amps as "The Best Ever", based on limited knowledge & lazy ideas of long ago. Clearly we are the only ones to know the truth by deep investigating to upgrade & see how hugely cost-cut & dumbed-down these Pioneer are, the ones 1973 onwards are a swine to upgrade. The 9500 Mk I is a Very Good amp to upgrade, but ultimately the switch board is the limiter. Upgraded the 9500 Mk I was decent but as original & unserviced, it was truly awful, and on both we had resulting in the switches making noises on use which needed care. REVISITED 2017: We get another of these to upgrade for a customer, this one is a bit different, a 220v model with 'kettle plug' socket like Sony used. 220v to use on 240v means the voltages inside will run a little higher, how reliable that is depends on spec & tolerance. Customer reports it cuts out which these often do as they needs servicing & a recap. The 'Tone' lever switch always makes a slight noise as it switches between 2 stages. This one isn't much used & doesn't sound as rough as the earlier two were, these amps do age badly if used heavily. Bass is still limited & it's a little soft sounding. The stepped volume control is useless, to put a rotary one is far better to use. The Phono stage is Phono 1 fixed gain, or Phono 2 which only allows gain cut if adds impedance alteration. The Phono is clean sounding & compared to similar it's a decent one. BUY-RAW RATING: Good, but unserviced it sounds absolutely awful if well used. COOL RATING: 7 a big chunky amp with odd side connectors, ahead of it's time if too stark for the domestic scene unless it has the rare wood case to tame. (2014)
1975 Sony TA-3650 amplifier ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Recommended. UPGRADED: n/a. 60w.
FET & DIFF preamp, FC, DIFF. Actually didn't expect this to be much good after the decline of Sony in the 1973-74 era, but this plain looking amp actually sounds very decent. Big ALPS volume control like Luxman is unusual here. Accurate, punchy & clean if not much on the Bass, but considering the TA-1150 only got average rated this was an unexpected improvement. Part of the V-FET series of 1975, this has no V-FETs & is better for it. After researching the Receivers, we've decided this 60w amp is the best one to try. Beyond a few nice touches it is still budget in the casework that leaves it looking a bit cheap compared to the earlier ones & the power supply is a bit pathetic just a board perched on top of a double capacitor. One we'd try again as the first one was a water damaged unreliable thing we broke up for parts as it'd never be good to sell, the perils of mean ebay sellers... BUY-RAW RATING: Good. COOL RATING: 5 budget looks of no real style at all, just another silver amp. (2013)
1975 Teleton TFS-70 receiver ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Recommended. UPGRADED: Very Good. 33w.
An amp that caught our eye for it's very 1977 kooky looks, if a 1975 design. By 1977 it was sold under the "Masti" brand as HFN/RR adverts show, odd rename. It has a very decent sound for what it is. Sadly construction & soldering are very low Clock Radio quality & ultimately it will just end up being a failure which is a pity, unless yours is high grade perhaps. 33w of power with Elna capacitors, no ICs in the audio stages & proper TO3 output transistors. But it forever making bad noises even after recapping & more got us tired of it despite the odd looks & then finding proper quality in the Sony STR-6850. Looking at the 1975 Teleton catalog it's the best looker by far in their way with the plastic silver outer case & horizontal sliders. All DIN sockets & German wording means few made it to the UK if it's in the 1977 HFYB. The volume control loudness step from 4 to 5 is awful. It was worth a try but generally disappointing. Other seen online look neglected & despite the good sounds only one to buy in high working grade to get the ratings. BUY-RAW RATING: Very cheap construction & messy soldering will limit your success here. COOL RATING: 7 has a 1970s Space Age retro silver painted plastic appeal which is why we got one, but needs to be in high grade else it looks a bit sad. (2014)
1975 Yamaha CA-800II amplifier ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Very Good. UPGRADED: Excellent. 55w + 10w Class A.
FC, DIFF. This is the II version of their first Silver range with alterations in the tonal balance, but not all markets got the II versions so they are scarce. The power amp is full complimentary & a 'Tone Jump' direct switch. After doing every upgrade trick the CR-1000 got to the CA-800II reveals the 800II as a slightly warmer sound if better suited to most users who might find the CR-1000 a bit overwhelming. If the 800II is this good, the CA-1000II uses the same phono as the later versions of CR-1000 & actually is a superior sound. One recapped & upgrade by us revealed Class A made no difference at all. Has high upgrade potential & we'd rate the CA-1000II similarly. Typical Yamaha too-hot power supply on this amp is an issue. BUY-RAW RATING: Good if overheated power supply transistors are risky. COOL RATING: 8 classy looking minimalist pro looks, well laid out, certainly a male appeal amp if too stark looking for all domestic use. (2014)
1976 B+O Beomaster 1900 receiver ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Recommended. UPGRADED: n/a. 30w.
FC, DIFF, Darlington outputs. Stylish & futuristic, sound is as good as the 4400 but an amp that is hard to buy a good one as they aged bad, unfindable sliders fail, visuals wear out so we'll rate it down a bit. For us to get one of these again won't happen as sliders go bad, those dark red caps go bad, too high risk. A real bastard to open & try to service especially for soldering, you end up with one large floppy board with all the components on. No real difference in version -2 or the 2400 remote control version. One we'd run a mile from trying again as it's poorly made & there is too much to go wrong with these. An interesting amp, but having had 3 of these to make 2 good ones from, it shows they aren't made to last. ANOTHER LOOK in 2017: Seeing this first advertised in the Oct 1976 HFN/RR the technology here is a Real First with the touch buttons that rely on you grounding the transistor the pad connects to to create a tiny bias voltage. The trouble was the Volume Control didn't have enough steps especially at low level when too quiet-too loud even in daytime levels could be annoying. The construction of the outside case is fine, but the insides are done too cheaply, the one large floppy board & difficulty in working. The bad capacitors & limited space plus the bulb often burnt out the sliders plastic window that showed the level. The sliders themselves were feeble & of a sort you can't replasce so as said above if you want one, buy 2 or 3 & cobble together the bits to get a working one. Sound was decent, but the money was spent on the casework & touch buttons. Deserves to be in a Museum as First Of A Kind, but to find one & use it daily for the weaknesses is not a good idea. Even recapped the risk of the sliders breaking or wearing out is the problem here. BUY-RAW RATING: High risk of parts noted failing & poor capacitors. COOL RATING: 7 very stylish on first look but a bit cheaply made & not Very Good in use. (2012)
1976 Technics SU-8080 amplifier ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Very Good. UPGRADED: Excellent. 74w plays 55w.
FC, DIFF. A higher quality Technics, the Panasonic 80A with the new trade name, if no 80As exist. Still based on the high quality National-Panasonic as ones above show, this amp is the Top of The Range answer to what Pioneer did with the SA-9100, giving a 'new breed' of sophisticated amplifiers where higher power but still good quality, before brands cheaped out. This has Double Transformers, an idea sometimes used as in the Harmon-Kardon HK930 above that doesn't really add much in reality, much like Class A, but gimmicks sell. This you could be mistaken for thinking it's a 1984-86 amp for the Gunmetal Grey finish, LEDs & solid controls, the fascia is aluminium if thin but it feels more solid than the 1984 Sansui below & on taking it off, it's actually a solid cast piece of some weight, quality. Two LEDs on the amp switches & a bulb on the power if styled as an LED. The build of this amp is very pleasing, if the front on two layers wil be fiddly to work on as was the Pioneer. The power amp section has a crazy 11 adjust pots, the 'Technics' can shields 6 transistors, it's not an IC, it's a double FET. Sadly the Tone is a generic 7136P IC which is bypassable, but be sure you'll use Tone if you have it on Speakers especially. The sound on first try of one we got to work on for a customer, after a little servicing, is showing this is a Quality Amp, a precise clean sound, Treble isn't as extended as some & deep Bass appears a bit restricted & lumpy if maybe not awakened from enough use yet, if Stereo width is very good. Using the Tone stage with the IC, the quality loses focus, if it takes a trained ear to hear this & on Speakers it'd barely show, but on Headphones it does. We've played it part Serviced, the sound isn't rough like the Pioneer SA-9100 was. This is a bit of a "Sleeper" amp as are the earlier Nat-Pan ones. For 72w it has a punchy sound & has good upgrade potential as well as being a good looking amp before things got plasticky. We'll compare it to Sansui AU-G90X next, we keep that as a latter-day Reference Amp. The 90X has a very tight precise sound that some may think is Clinical, the Technics isn't far off in Fidelity if has a different 'softer' sound if is a good listen even as original. Looking to upgrade, the speaker sockets are hopeless, it tightens thin bare wire only onto a poke & tighten way that by the chew marks shows it's no good. To refit better 4mm sockets is possible. Phono stage is unfortunately into overdesign with a complex P-P design like Yamaha & others used. The Tone stage is sadly mediocre with a common 7136P IC instead of putting a few transistors. It has a heavy bass filter in the stage & really doesn't want you to enjoy deep bass that a 74w amp craves, as noted by the first play above. Both of these stages are a case of 'see what it sounds like upgraded'. Beyond that, construction is very pleasing all well labelled & nicely spaced, making the Tone IC unforgivable really. On trying after recapping the front stages, the Tone when switched in does noticeably deteriorate the signal, but played flat it's of high quality. For Speakers you'll usually need Tone. The front panel board aren't too well supported inside & putting the fascia back on is fun (tilt the unit upwards). With our upgrades the Bass is much improved, tight & deep. It does sound clean & punchy but does lack a little realism, if the power amp needs doing next. Interestingly for a 72-74w rated amp it only uses 80w rated transistors, but has a 'power limiter' aka soft clip circuit. Seems unusual as higher power transistors are fully complimentary & at this time the specs were only this for matching NPN-PNP pairs. To use as it stands rather than alter seems wisest. For a 1976 amp this is early days of this type of design & will explain other unusual design. An interesting amp, going for a radical new design that Yamaha took note of for their 1977-78 ranges. The power limiting & Tone IC isn't good, it is a compromise, but for what it is, this is a pleasing amp & an important one in the development of Hifi into Fully complimentary design, if perhaps a liitle early. Not like us to say a later amp would be better, but an 80w Technics amp with improvements in parts spec may indeed better this, if the trouble is by 1979 cost cutting ruined the quality. SU-8600 is a 76w one in 1978 or SU-8088K at 85w in 1980. As Technics are National Panasonic, there is the 1967 SA-65 reviewed here. For the power limiting, to consider it a 72w amp won't really give you the right idea. Consider it a 50w amp & the clean sound will certainly please. But compared to a 40w amp like the Akai AA7000 from 1966 as we've just done, "where's the bass?" will be a question. For the 1972-77 era, this is a quality amp with a precise sound, if not as exciting as you'd want it to be. We've recapped & upgraded this with our usual quality parts & it's certainly a high quality sound. Midrange is accurate, treble is punchy if some vagueness is noticeable on busy tracks. But it does sound too mannered, a little restrained. Playing deep bass Reggae it does bass well with a tight controlled sound suggesting the design is a good one, if it's just a bit tamed, compared to the fresher sound of the 1965-69 era amps. Differentials always seem to be the cause of the safe sound & for 2 sets of diffs rather a lot of pf caps are needed to contain it. The fresh high treble seems to be softened on known tracks which trying the IC tone stage can alter this but the fidelity is way off on this tone. If this was our amp, tempting to get rid of the power limiting stage but with the IC tone stage it'll still be there. Certainly some good design in this amp if ultimately to try a later model without the IC & limiters is our advanced view. A more down-to-earth view is it has enough grunt for Rock & Reggae & will please. We'll play it for a while then try the Sansui AU-G90X. The 90X sounded a bit like this did before we upgraded it. The 90X has a tighter sound but is so detailed it shows a far deeper dynamic range to the sound. Adjustments done it gives 32v clean sine output, 72w isn't what you can expect in reality, a 48w amp can match this, so treat it as a 55w-60w amp in use. On our Tannoy Golds this actually sounds as good as the Trio TK-140X from 1969 if both set flat, the only difference is the 8080 doesn't really do much on the Tone as rated ±7.5dB gain, the TK-140X is ±10dB and gives a far better match. Our rating of "Excellent" is the highest we'll give to keep it realistic, certainly excellence is here if the Tone Stage is really only 'average' & can't be improved. BUY-RAW RATING: Good if the open grille means it'll be dirty inside. COOL RATING: 6 the origins of early 1980s non-silver amps solidly made with well sized controls, you'd think it was more 1986 by looks until the heavy build quality is noticed. (2016)
1977 Akai AA-1030 receiver ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Recommended. UPGRADED: n/a. 30w.
FC, DIFF. Adequate silver fronted amp that could upgrade up well, but it was just nothing special at all but certainly not bad either & well enough made, not just a one board job. A higher powered model would give us a better idea. Is that all we wrote? Construction was typical for the era & midprice type but overall just another general amp of good enough quality. Just not very inspiring, we didn't touch Akai until the 1966 AA-7000 above & now see the brand as underrated, as were JVC & Yamaha before we wrote how good they were. These were commonly found in the Discount stores as the mag ads reveal. •UPDATE: Not had one of these since, but we've since got three earlier Akai from 1966-72 & these show where the quality in this amp started out, but this one was despite 30w the lower end model. Didn't fancy upgrading this when we had it in 2012, the construction looked less promising as do most 1977-79 amps & the sound to only get this rating will have been fairly unexceptional, if Mid Priced still & the AA-1050 was the 50w top range one, pity they didn't do 75w-100w ones to compete with Pioneer & Yamaha, we reckon there is still quality in these Akai, despite the later 1980s gear not having much cred & getting mixed up with Aiwa doesn't help, Akai quality as the 1966-72 ones prove, Aiwa appears a cut-price brand today & by the 1980s, but seeing impressive 1976 ads for their cassette decks, once again early Aiwa may be worthwhile. Maybe we should get an AA-1050? The AA-1175 is a 75w one & the Akai AA-1200 is a 120w from 1978-79, no ICs & looks a good design. BUY-RAW RATING: Good. COOL RATING: 6 typical product of the era as undistinguished as the amp itself if smart enough. (2012)
1977 B+O Beomaster 4400 receiver ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Recommended-Very Good. UPGRADED: Very Good. 50w.
FC, DIFF, Darlington outputs. A more recent look at this amp since the ones we had early on reveals this is a superior amp to the Beomaster 3000(-2) & 4000 with higher power. Sleek looks still in the 3000 style & at last better buttons that are lighter to use. Construction is still quite crude & a lot of circuitry is crammed in quite insanely on the preamp stages. But having recapped one fully, the sound is much more punchy than the 4000 we recapped too with a good loud volume less restrained. But the cramped design does quite limit how we can upgrade & the amount of tiny ceramics was a job too far. The phono-preamp board still has spaces for Phono sockets but the 4400 never used them. Build quality is better than the 3000 & 4000 with lighter levers & the sliders are metal encased. Some odd construction such as axial caps up on end with the wire bent over as space was too low to use all Red caps, which are usually long past their best. B+O are very overrated beyond the 3000, 4000 & 4400. But as is typical with B+O, you can't say they don't look smart in nice grade with Rosewood or rarer with the Teak lids, certainly the best looking of the early design ranges. The sound all original is based on one with good capacitors & of little use, as with the 3000 the quality can vary once used more though there are no BC147s to affect. Once fully recapped & serviced the sound was much improved. It's not going to better the Big Brands for ultimate sound after upgrading but does do better than we expected so gets a nice rating. The Tuner is good on these Beomasters & the 4400 goes the full 88-108. The 4400 betters the 4000 on using Aux inputs, but the Tuner sounds quite similar. A 1978 B+O ad for this amp is a little bizarre "The transistorised receiver for those who still prefer valves". Yes it really suggests it has Valve capabilities in it's design, as well as misleading those who think it does have valves. The ad goes on about technical spec, ideas some put forward in 1976 about lack of musicality in audio & the 'transistor sound' yet only suggests the 4400 is as musical as a valve amp with the doubled output stages. Our less than excited verdicts above shows B+O are talking out of their behinds just a little. BUY-RAW RATING: Good but beware faulty ones as it's awful to work on & the Red capacitors are usually past their best. COOL RATING: 8 based on the Beomaster 3000 if bigger, has a certain look of opulence & confidence. (2014)
1977 Marantz 1152DC amplifier ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Recommended. UPGRADED: Very Good. 76w.
FC, several DIFF in all stages, DT. We have previously put this amp down based on bad experiences with one early on that clearly was faulty. Ignoring the messed with amp we got & based on the ideas of receivers on this page being pretty good there are enough similarities to ignore the bad amp we had in our ratings, but to point out the issues. The oddly low-volume sound is otherwise decent, the volume before distortion for a 76w amp is pathetic & we couldn't do much with it in our earlier exploits. Bad construction design loose fully pinned boards & poor soldering throughout make this our least liked amp ever & it wasted much time & money. Looking at the circuit on adding the FC, DIFF notes, the circuit is awful, multiple Differentials in all stages & other excesses explain the poor sound. Ridiculously overdesigned in search of meaningless specs, and musically void. We noted it had a deep bass on recapping it, if the midrange was 'cardboardy' and the treble was rough even once biased right. Not one we'll try again willingly, but horses that threw you need a new ride or it spoils you. Overall, based on the 2 receivers, Marantz have a big name but the sound isn't as good as others from the era & Marantz always seem overpriced therefore. Would we try another Marantz amp tro update the 2012 opinion? Yes, if not this one. Many are findable, but are very overpriced for the power rating, this 76w one is rarely seen if the 10w-30w ones are. BUY-RAW RATING: Risky due to bad soldering & poor connections on top board. COOL RATING: 7 always better in the wood cases, has a certain confident look as does the B+O 4400 above, without the case dips a point. (2012)
1977 Marantz 2265B receiver ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Very Good. UPGRADED: Excellent. 65w.
FC, DIFF. Sweeter sounding than the 2245 & a bit of an exception to the rule that later is worse. Compares well with the Pioneers & Sonys above even all original & certainly surprised us. But we sold ours on quickly as others bettered it. Are they worth the money they sell for today? yes, as others are too cheap in comparison,, but many of the low power ones get overpriced & go unsold. Ours was damaged on one channel & needed a lot of parts  replaced showing there are no fuses or much to save almost trashing the amp which is a bit of a worry as is the useless plastic on the bulb fascia which will break away as aged from years of bulb heat. The circuit is much better than the awful 1152DC amp above & see how the ratings are better for it. The construction is a bit budget in places compared to how well made similar age Yamahas & Pioneers are made. BUY-RAW RATING: Good. COOL RATING: 8 in the wood case, a bit plain without it so 7 if the blue lights on silver look smart to take it above the Pioneer looks. Later ones now with the cute hex nuts but Marantz stuck with this design for so long as it is just so right. (2013)
1977 NAD 300 receiver ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Recommended. UPGRADED: Recommended. 80w.
FC preamp, several DIFF, DT. Appears a huge impressive & classy amp with useless Dolby stage let down by a less than acceptable power amp stage & odd wiring routing, FET preamp delivers a fine if un-upgradeable sound but the power amp section is just not very good and keeps it's ranking lower than the 22kg bulk of it suggests. Sadly it has the overheating power supply with hot regulators hidden away with no ventilation that mess up the PCB even. It also doesn't play very loud, the NAD 160 plays louder than this easily. "Going past the 1 o'clock position it's not very loud and the stupid thing starts distorting, yet it's 100w." we wrote originally. A disappointing buy after the NAD 160 quality & the NAD 200 big amp version we hear is similarly low on the volume. Only one not-very-good way to get more volume & that upsets the output severely as the power amp is a poor design as evidenced by the last minute chops to the design. This should be a winner, but several things keep it down, overdesign is the problem very noticeably. Probably our most disappointing upgrade. For the big classy unit this looks, the inside technology is just not very good at all. Would we get another one to revise the opinion? We can now see why it plays so low volume, the Luxman R-1040 has the same issue & solution. It or the NAD 200 amplifier are rare amps to find, but in light of new knowledge, perhaps it needs another look. Seeing another on ebay 2017, it just wasn't very good compared to the NAD 160. Volume was weak, the Dolby could be problematic, bad soldering on overheating power supply & all FET preamp didn't allow much upgrade, FETs have no place in a preamp as the spec is too limited. Huge 22kg amp looks impressive, but it had poor cabling that picked up hum as audio went right by the power supply. We last had one 5 years earlier but found it frustrating. Knowing the problems with amps stops us wanting to try another one. BUY-RAW RATING: Good if power supply overheats like the NAD 160 does. COOL RATING: 8 classy looking huge receiver with glossy black lid, no wood case on this one, still with NAD 160 friendly looks. (2012)
1977 Rotel RX-603 receiver ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Very Good. UPGRADED: Very Good-Excellent. 45w
SC, DIFF. Looks more 1972 inside from the design as the SC proves, pity the cheesy plastic front & handles, but a very good sound here. Pity Rotel didn't go higher power on earlier ones as they are decent sounding. The higher ones in the range have the similar looks & overbright display losing appeal to some, but the sound is pleasing. Cost cut as was typical, but still a nice design & for the decent sound one that would improve well & hints the bigger models will be worthwhile if the looks appeal. REVISITED: The last one had fascia condition issues so not worth upgrading, but the design was decent quality with a good basic sound, so another one just about Mint externally is worth upgrading. Still looks years earlier than 1977 inside if nicely made with no ICs beyond the Tuner. Not sure why a bridge rectifier needs a heatsink, it's not even warm as we'd expect. Transistor count per channel is Phono x2, Preamp is x3, Power Amp x8 with 4 extra as L+R protection. This is impressive for a 1977 amp. We didn't bother much with the earlier one as condition wasn't nice, but this is so gets more respect. 45w RMS min into 20Hz-20kHz if a 350w max VA rating shows spec is good here & upgrade potential is good. So to try & it is clean for the decent circuitry, wide stereo with no grain at all. No slouch on the bass either which is unusual, again a high grade amp with little use is a better amp on first try. As with all amps, the sound reveals cost-cutting on spec but for a raw amp, Yamaha don't sound this precise & detailed. It could be a case of 45w is the perfect wattage to get the cleanest sound unlike the higher power ones with more complex circuitry. As all original, it plays Rock guitar pretty well if lacking the ultimate weight of valves, it's not a blurry mess either. Playing it louder on Rock does reveal the low spec as it becomes a little harsh, but compared to some it's still very impressive. The Luxman R1040 was nothing like this for example. The Power Amp is oddly only Semi Complimentary, by 1974 most were FC. Big amp with boards well spaced inside if the power amp board is quite tight. Recapped with our upgrades brings it alive further, a clean accurate sound with much quality. It's not the most weighty sound as is typical of Differential era amps but bass is still good. Still one of the better post 1975 amps though if you like the looks. BUY-RAW RATING: Good if plastic handles intact & plastic fascia is good, else it looks tatty. COOL RATING: 6 on revisiting a Mint one without condition issues it looks so much smarter. The tuner lighting is a bit plain as are others in the series & the rack handles aren't everyone's taste but mint they are unoffensive. Not classy all-metal like Yamaha though. (2015)
1977 Yamaha CA-1010 amplifier ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Very Good. UPGRADED: Excellent. 100w + 20w Class A
FC, many DIFF, DT. Hefty 100w Yamaha amplifier. Offers Class A in the Power Amp & nice meters. Looking later as we go through the FC, DIFF notations, Phono is Push-Pull with 9 transistors, an IC for MC & 2 differential pairs, Preamp-Tone is 10 transistors, push-pull with 3 differential pairs, but this is a challenge to see what we can do with it, as we didn't like it much before. Power amp is 21 transistors, 2 differential pairs & doubled output transistors. Getting one back again, it's an impressively large amplifier, the faceplate is 460mm x 150mm. The front with the big needle meters & well placed controls is a nice amp to use as are Yamaha usually. The user manual shows a different wattage of 90w+18w but the Service manual states 100w+20w. A well made amp as the one on the Solds page shows, the CA-810 lacks the class of this. In terms of build quality, this is what we like to see & apart from the power supply hidden underneath to get hot, blackening it undeneath. Very first play is nothing like the earlier opinion, the total opposite actually. The sound for an unserviced original amp is balanced & clean. Bass is certainly here with known bassy tracks doing deep bass very nicely with no sign of brightness or bass-lightness as we always got with the previous one, no thickness or unnaturalness. The way it plays deep bass is a bit of a joy actually, not heard many transistor amps sound like that. There has to be something to getting high grade little used amps as the latest CR-2020 proved too as it sounded very different. Trying Class A was interesting. Starting off in Class A it was cleaner & more precise with the same tonal qualities, flicking back to Normal (Class AB) was noticeably reduced & back to Class A was an obvious tightening of the sound. But we've had Yamaha Class A amps before & once we've upgraded the amp, the difference becomes almost impossible to tell apart, as per the CA-800II above. Well after playing this high grade amp, it's rubbished our earlier opinion of the amp, but that is sometimes the game of Hifi, needing another one to be sure of the opinions. The last CA-1010 we couldn't play for very long as it was so rough sounding, this one we can play for 30 mins easily even unserviced, even the CR-2020 as original we found a bit edgy. But even in Class A, we can hear there is weaknesses in the sound, ceramics are always in Yamaha amps. Trebly Rock reveals this more, but listening through that, the sound is still balanced. This is a loud amp, a kicking track like Jam 'Start' on 3 on the volume doesn't quite hit 10w but is as loud as you'd want it on headphones. We'll service it & compare to other amps before we rate it again, but this is unexpectedly good. The doubled output transistors add to the current to give more kick & the circuit is designed to take better advantage of this. Got to try it on the Tannoys to see how it matches... thankfully they match very well, leaving the 1971-75 Yamahas possibly not a good match to earlier speakers. Compared to a recapped CR-2020, which is crisper for the upgrades, the sound is as wide on Stereo with a lively sound. The Doubled Transistors add an extra solidness to the sound as does the 1965 Sony TA-1120 that has doubled outputs. Class A makes absolutely no difference on Speakers though. Looking inside, the power amp board is neater than other Yamahas but has 14 ceramics per side which add to the rough sound as it ages, but we upgraded them on the last one & it still sounded rough. 2SA745B & 2SC1403B output transistors are 70w rated, an odd choice, if doubled they'll give the higher wattage. After servicing it sounds crisper if the nice bass is still there. Now it's rather like the CR-1000 for the louder Pro-Sound if this still sounds very clean on Class AB mode. We did have trouble with the CR-1000 on the M20 headphones too as it was too harsh & thin, the CR-1000 has got revisited already. It appears this is more the reason why in some way, but this one is cleanly focussed on treble, the previous one was raggedy. Of all the 1973-77 Yamahas, this is the only one not overpacked on small boards. The preamp-tone has what seems like a lot of transistors, but it's nearly all direct coupled, 2 FETs, others are not so obvious, but likely 2 power supply, 2 drivers, 4 push-pull output-buffer stage, complex but a very clean sound for it. Power amp shows high impedance is used here, with 21 transistors looking excessive, but again it relies on many of these for regulation & Class A use, ignore those and doubled output transistors adding to the count & the circuit is actually fine. But understanding what many do likely is the basis of what we see put into later ICs with Current Mirrors etc but done in transistors. Phono has MC input with an IC & the MM stage has another IC, these are 1G164 (or 00164) and Y-K100 67, total unknowns though we suspect they are a differential pair in an IC instead of transistors, an odd choice as space isn't an issue. The design once unravelled more is actually a very advanced design yet it still sounds like the CR-1000 if noticeably cleaner. No Loudness setting to tame the powerful sound on this amp. To rate this less than Excellent now Serviced would be wrong, the Pro-Sound volume & it can sound 'Clinical' on the wrong sort of small speakers as you need 15" ones to do the sound justice. Buy it to use right & Excellent it is, but it could be too good for most speakers is the caveat here. It was taken on by the 1984 Sansui below that seemed 'better' but as with all testing, it goes back & forth a few times, but now this Yamaha beats the Sansui with ease. The CA-1010 upgraded is awesome. In comparison to the CR-2020 upgraded at the same time, they are obviously quite similar, if the CA-1010 is more neutral. BUY-RAW RATING: Good, some minor overheating underneath though if not as severe as the CR-2020 so no issues here. COOL RATING: 8 again the blokey minimalist looks but classy, pity these only had the flush lid, the CA-1000 type bigger case looks nicer. (2015)
1977 Yamaha CR-820 receiver ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Very Good. UPGRADED: n/a. 55w
FC, DIFF. Very like the CR-2020 if less power, one of the sweetest sounding silver Yamaha as in playing all-original ones, with the CR-800 just ahead & a Very Good buy as they seem to have sold well when new. The CR-800 & CR-820 are wise buys with fine sound if you don't want the bigger models. The 1977 ranges were cheaper made than the earlier ones, but this was how Hifi was by then. Not one we'd try upgrading for the one tightly packed board layout is only really optimised for the spec used & there are a few regulators that are a bit hot as was usual with Yamaha. Don't even bother with the CR-840 as it has a glut of ICs as Yamaha unwisely relied heavily on for the next range. BUY-RAW RATING: Good. COOL RATING: 7 typical Yamaha looks if the silly row of buttons loses it appeal. (2013)
1977 Yamaha CR-1020 receiver ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Very Good. UPGRADED: n/a. 70w
FC, DIFF. Less powerful 70w to the CR-2020 if really no obvious difference in sound to the CR-2020 beyond power rating & will have similar upgrade potential. As found much used it is clean & punchy but usually warm & soft on fine detail that is a bit disappointing keeping most 1020s as a 'Very Good', if not always. Only a high grade little used one rates the higher 'G-E', if these are rare. These sold well but often got used to excesses, look for dark marks on the top grille for the party-hearty ones though all can be rebuilt. We've never upgraded the CR-1020, only having one in 2012 that was like new, but it is so similar to the CR-2020 the same rating will apply. See the CR-2020 below for more on this fine amp. Don't even bother with the CR-1040 as it has a glut of ICs as Yamaha unwisely relied heavily on for the next range. So similar to the CR-2020, read further there. REVISITED: The CR-1020 is usually multivoltage, the CR-2020 is usually only one voltage as the transformer would be too big. Having a 1020 here at the same time as the revised 2020 opinion one, the sound really is no different on a high grade one & the 70w to 110w difference would only be noticed with very inefficient speakers. The CR-1020 looks a little bare, or more minimal, as it lacks all the CR-2020 buttons such as Tone variants & defeat & the FM blend, muting & OTS features, as well as a few extra LEDs for them, but are they that important anyway? The 2020 is found more readily than the 1020. Phono just lacks the MC stage leaving the Phono section at the back of the Tuner board partly empty, else the rest is the same. We had a CR-1020 bought in Singapore that was multivoltage & in the big USA style case, probably this was the Japan home model. It had a bill of sale for early 1981 from the Yamaha shop & the buyer got it for a remarkable S$645 which was just £135 as an end of range item by then, oh how wrong Yamaha were. The International Guarantee card gives 12 months warranty with exceptions on fragile external parts as wood & glass, items usually long lost but in the original box of this one, a huge 67x51x29cm sized box with 2 large polystyrene clam parts & hard card square tubes in the corner, neat. Sounds the same as the CR-2020 on the Tannoy Gold speakers. BUY-RAW RATING: Risky as power supply overheating will need repair with no exceptions. COOL RATING: 8 more smart Yamaha looks, a big impressive amp & even better in the big USA style wood case. (2015)
1977 Yamaha CR-2020 receiver ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Very Good. UPGRADED: Excellent. 110w
FC, DIFF. Has to be the best ever of the post 1974 receivers for sound & 110w is a powerhouse but always in need of work as it overheats on the power supply. Sound is sweeter & richer than the CA-1010. First appears in shop ads by Sept 1977. As found much used it is clean & punchy but usually warm & soft on fine detail that is a bit disappointing keeping most 2020s as a 'Very Good', if not always, see below. Only a high grade little used one rates the higher, if these are rare. It can be upgraded into something much better than the poriginal sound, in 'Excellent' territory. Build quality not quite in the league of the CR-1000 though this is a 1977 design but is one of the best post 1974 receivers after upgrading. The phono board on the tuner board is a bit of a cheapout, but for 1977 perhaps these are the best receivers for realistic prices. Other brands were using ICs even on top items, Yamaha only uses an IC for the MC stage. Looks even better in the big USA full case, though the USA model adds Dolby FM input but is 117v only. We had a CR-1020 bought in Singapore that was multivoltage & in the big case. The CR-1020 is usually multivoltage, the CR-2020 is usually only one voltage as the transformer would be too big. An amp often found in lesser grade as well used & usually failing sooner or later is the risk. REVISITED: Getting another one after being without one for a while, to try this afresh. The usual overheating issue, even on a lightly used one that got stored away very quick by the looks, maybe a year light use tops as the lid is dark still. Always nice getting a 2020 as it's so big & classy in it's 1977 cool styling, put legs on it & call it a Coffee Table, after all it's on our Best Looking Amps page. But from having upgraded three of these over a few years it certainly does usually hide itself under the typical limited spec, though to a user just using one raw it still is Very Good or better, but they are still going to get the overheating failure. We'll try it on the Tannoy Golds later to see if it matches, hope it does & it does match very well. But... we've had the 2020 before & thought it was dull & muddy "soft" as noted above, but this one with little use isn't like this, on a second try after it woke up, treble is much crisper than a 2020 usually has & the thick bass isn't here. We've found before that Yamahas vary in sound on others of the same model. How Yamaha never noticed the overheating is remarkable though, the top regulators read a remarkable 83°C with the lid off & nearly 100°C with the lid on we read before. The extra kick of the 110w doesn't really make it much louder than an early 45w amp if it does it with more authority, this amp certainly has some kick once turned up a bit. Even after upgrading, it's a good but not perfect match to Tannoy Golds, bass & treble are Very Good but the midrange is just a little too forward. On Headphones, it has a punchy lively sound, the 100w gives it enough kick as well as having enough to fill out some hard guitar riffs. Still a more Domesticated sound compared to the CA-1010, but one that is listenable for hours without user fatigue, as usually later 1970s amps get for being too hard sounding. Sadly Hifi News doesn't review this amp, only the CR-620 & CA-810. These seem to have sold well & prices being offered at on ebay for ones untouched & still overheating can be unrealistic, but for a 1977 amp it's certainly the Best Receiver we've tried, with other brands using ICs in audio stages & cost cutting, the Yamaha still retain a quality, if by the CR-2040 range from 1980, they lose out for ICs to excess. ONE MORE... Got another one with the least use ever seen on one of these, for the usual aging seen, but even with probably a few months' use before shorting the outputs & having a joker fix it with not a TO3 but a TO264AA which is ridiculous & never worked so we can see one with such low use. Remarkable how a top amp like this would be treated this way, but thinkers aren't all of us. This one is still original. not recapped it beyond sorting the power supply. To hear as close to what it would have sounded like at the time, before it ages & the ceramics are noticeable. The sound is rich & full but treble is crisp & clean, we've heard more used ones sound muffly & a bit harsh, We actually played it after the 1984 Sansui in testing a few others but this is unusually good. Stereo is wide & detailed, not as dynamic as an upgraded amp but one we can enjoy. We've had a few CR-2020s & they all seem to sound different from dull & too rich to unexcitingly lifeless & edgy sounding as original. The serial number on this is high 2xxxx if others were 0xxxx series. Beware the current "internet misinformation" that the Power Switch "tends to fail" this is totally untrue on all those we've had. REVISITED 2018: We seem to get one of these a year, if with ebay overpricing & the amount of work in this amp to bring it up to our standard, it would be getting over 4-figures for us to sell on & that price does limit the market. The one we get Jan 2018 is a rarity, one owner since new, original box, lots of dust inside the open grille but non-smoker so the power amp wire cloth piping is bright white. This one needed the Power Supply rebuild, there is no way out of this & we expect there are loads of these amps sitting around not working for this. It needs our redesign & for the age of the amp it needs a full service too which is a big job as the whole fascia section needs taking apart. Once the PS rebuilt & amp serviced, to try a high grade little-used one is a rare chance. the customer didn't want the Power amp recapped which we see as a wasted opportunity as that brings a good improvement to the sound. On softer music the CR-2020 sounded pretty decent, a solid sound with a neutral quality, bass was acceptable if not to upgraded spec. But the treble on playing 80s rock & synth we found rather unpleasant, a splashy blurry grainy mess that lets this amp down heavily. Of course the CA-1010 sounds like this too, but flick on Class A, the CR-2020 doesn't have Class A, and the roughness disappears leading some to think Class A is better. But as the CA-800II & CA-1010 both upgraded reveal, Class A then makes no difference. The CR-2020 may sound acceptable on Loudspeakers that aren't too detailed, but on Headphones & our Tannoys it just doesn't please as original. Interesting to hear what Original High Grade amps sound like, but we'd not like to play it with the rough edgy treble. BUY-RAW RATING: Risky as power supply overheating will need repair with no exceptions, beyond that it's very reliable, but a big issue to overcome first. We see these making good money now as they deserve to, but yours won't last long as the design overheats on all. It'll start turning off on the relay & maybe won't start again.**We offer a power supply upgrade on this amp, our own proven design that keeps it reliable, see the Upgrades page. This is best done with a Service also for the age of the amp. COOL RATING: 8 more smart Yamaha looks, a big impressive amp & even better in the big USA style wood case. (2015)
1978 Luxman R-1040 receiver ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Recommended-Very Good. UPGRADED: Very Good. 40w
FC, DIFF. Part of the Luxman 1977-78 receiver range L-1030, L-1040, L-1050, L-1070 & the earlier L-1120 of 30w to 120w. They done few receivers & the lower ones in this range seem to have sold fairly well so we get one to try, if 1978 is quite late, we've only had the L-100 100w amplifier above. The L-1040 was £330 in the 1980 so more than a similar 40w B+O or 38w Marantz. Inside the design is pleasingly different to the typical era with a unique heatsink & big gap in front of the power amp with boards on a beam chassis. Main caps 50v 10000µf is high for the era too. But being 1978 flashing red power output LEDs are a bit naff but Pioneer & others had this by 1980. It sounds controlled with a clean accuracy. No treble grain, certainly listenable with no 'eeks' on playing several tracks & after using & trying the next day it has woken up to sound even better. Power amp is a nice design with just 8 transistors. The looks are a bit busy looking with the LEDs always on. Oddly it has no Relay. The Power amp board has unused components spaces but no other amp or receiver uses them. Looking at other models to see Power Amp Transistor counts reveals the L-1050 has 10 with an extra differential pair & has a relay, the L-1070 needs 16 with 3 differentials, if the L-1120 only 12. The L-1040 therefore is potentially the sweetest sounding one, if all have a similar preamp. Preamp & Phono are 4 and 2 transistors each. This has enough quality to upgrade further than we went with it's tight clean but lively sound. Unlike the overdesigned 1975 L-100, this has similar qualities of finesse in sound if with a lively sound the L-100 couldn't give even after recap-upgrade. The volume on playing rock isn't as loud as others in the power range, but the sound is very clean, but as with the L-100, master volume is too soft on these amps. We altered ours to play louder (in a correct way) than the rather soft original volume & sold it like this. It sounded Very Good on the 1969 Tannoy Golds with the better volume upgrade. In comparing our part upgraded one to the 1969 KA-6000 & TK-140X this has a fairly similar smooth detailed sound which is unusual for a later era vintage, if it's not in the Yamaha CA-1010 league. But the low volume of the original will put many off, turning it past midway is wrong & then no more volume much past that. This sadly knocks our rating back as we try more differential amps. The amp can upgrade well, if not to the best. We found it a bit budget in several ways & to take the tuner window off to clean will try your patience. BUY-RAW RATING: Good. COOL RATING: 4 gaudy looks, annoying LED meters, naff rosewood & plasticky fascia, if very 1978 that will have high kitsch retro appeal as no other amp range looks like this, thankfully. But you may like it. (2014)
1978 Luxman R-1050 receiver ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Recommended-Very Good. UPGRADED: n/a. 50w
FC, DIFF. Details much as the R-1040 above. We have the rare "Luxman Lifestyle" version as a L&G R4000 which has a more classy fascia than the very 1978 looking original range, quite like a 1976 era Sony. But oddly it only has walnut effect vinyl wrap not the usual Rosewood veneer. It is the same power amp board as the R1050 & seems a much better made amp than the midprice R1040 for just the extra wattage, much heavier item & a less jokey looking heatsink, the preamp is one big board not two tiny ones. The extra weight is as the transformer unusually for a Luxman is multivoltage 100-120-220-240v & it has a relay unlike the R1040 which was £330 when the R1050 was £430. Getting this one working & serviced for a customer means we can rate it. It plays louder than the R1040 which was a bit feeble & the sound to most will be a lively punchy sound. But to us, it strongly lacks the finesse of amps from the earlier 1970s even as original, the sound is that typically thin underfed blurry & not too focussed sound, which is a shame. We didn't upgrade it but knowing how much the R1040 improves, if not to Yamaha qualities, there is potential in it. It still is made like a typical 1978-79 amp lacking the quality of earlier years as cost cutting was severe by now. On the basis of these two, Luxman seem very overrated & overpriced, the 1975 L-100 above wasn't too exciting & even the 1979 LX-33 valve amp below need a lot to bring the best out of them. But as there is a R1070 70w & R1120 120w the quality will be higher on the top models. BUY-RAW RATING: The one we had needed servicing to work even which is unusual, if beyond that the rest was good. COOL RATING: 5 the looks on this are much more mellow on the R4000 version than the UK R1050 but with only vinyl wrap it loses points, would be at least a 6 to 7 with veneer. (2015)
1978 NAD 3030 amplifier ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Very Good. UPGRADED: See Below. 30w
SC, DIFF. The Next Generation of NAD after the brief NAD 200 & 300 amp & receiver after the earlier NAD 160(a) & less convincing NAD 60 & 90 amplifiers. The NAD 160 was a good one as based on the earlier Sherwood S-7200 as we found & the amps were unrelated designs. So to try the NAD 3030, available in 'silver' initially if a black fascia shows it was around past 1980, if the HFYBs totally miss the brand by this time. These are Multivoltage if resoldering connectors is required on the 3030. Rear has all Phono inputs unlike some of the earlier NAD which had DIN only for some inputs, if DIN duplicates the Phono Tape Loop. Has the Marantz style bare wire spring sockets. Odd to not be Fully Complimentary by 1978. 6800µf 35v Nichicon Gold Print main caps suggests a certain quality & ours tested fine. Inside one main board with Input Selectors, Tone & the Power Amp & Power Supply with extra boards for Volume which is the Preamp-Tone stage & 2 small ones for phono as L+R on separate boards. No Bias Adjust if it's done by soldering in different resistors underneath which isn't user friendly when an adjust pot does better. The upright board to the left inside is the Meter board with adjust pots. From a look at the Circuits, no nasty Aux to Phono stuff here, all transistors if a few limiters as 30w would suggest but overall the circuit is a decent one & we'd expect it to have a fresh sound which would be untypical of later 1970s amps, which is good to see. But Servicing any amp will cost more than you'd get for it is the reality, so it's a gambler's game. sound is as expected, a fresh sound with very wide Stereo. But a slight hum on Headphones that'd barely sound on speakers, if we tried everything to sort that as stated below. This is much better sounding than the earlier NAD 60 & NAD 90 amplifiers. In terms of Rise Time, this as original is a Fast Sounding Amp, 15v/µsec is the spec which is unusually high, with Fast Recovery <1µsec so no sign of grainy treble played Flat. Bass even on a long-unused amp is decent, not as deep as a recap-upgrade but no limited ringing sound. No harsh sounds on dense midrange. Rock does better than many amps as original, if not quite having the weight it's uncluttered sounding if for 30w it's not bad. Overall a bit of a surprise for how '1960s' it sounds. Recapping this reveals the same sort of edge-soldered boards as Yamaha CR-2020 first used. The 2 small Phono boards are too small at 5cm square to have 5 transistors & 5 capacitors on, plus the other small caps. Difficulties in this amp are the awkward biasing system with soldering resistors not adjust pots. We done a lot to upgrade this, but we got caught out by the construction. Sadly it has unshielded cable for Audio inside, so it picks up a slight hum as played on speakers, it'd suit lower sensitivity smaller speakers & sound fine, but not 15" 95dB ones. On headphones the hum is more obvious. It is what it is, but instead of getting a nice price for it, to move it on to cover costs which is a pity. It's a Budget-Midprice amp & by 1978 things got cynical, we've seen unshielded audio cable in other amps. We try these amps just to see what they are about, if the post 1977 era can be unpredictable for the tight pricing & cost cutting. It does sound good, worthy of an 'Excellent' based on just the sound quality as upgraded, but the inside cables pick up Hum that is perhaps more hidden by the original design, so it's not rated higher. Later testing as Upgraded on our 15" Tannoys shows the amp matches very well & sounds great with deep bass. The Hum in daytime is barely audible, if on Headphones it is a bit much. To use like any amp & for late-night silent outside listening, the Mute button is there as designed to lose the Hum & up the Volume control a bit. The cost cutting of the era sadly, if we'd have expected better. to rewire all as shielded cable would be many hours work if it'd give a far better S:N ratio, ie losing the background noise. For the one main board with no ground shielding there is likely some Earthing issues in the design as wrong earthing brings hum in the most unexpected way. Because we can't get the expected price for this, we sold it off explaining the issues. You don't win them all in Hifi, if surprised at NAD, if maybe why it's not a known one. We'll look for HFN/RR reviews. BUY-RAW RATING: Good if top grille lets in all the dirt. Mains switch has a suppressor underneath that is likely to have failed so one to be cautious of if unchecked as it's right by the Headphone socket. COOL RATING: 6 pleasant enough if pretty generic looks if meters add interest. (2017)
1978 Pioneer SX-980 Receiver ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Recommended-Very Good. UPGRADED: --80w
SC, DIFF. The Last of The 'Monster Receivers' range by Pioneer as by 1980 the Marketplace was very different. The SX-1980 270w & SX-1080 120w were the two higher models. The 1975-76 SX-850 & SX-950 seem to have sold well if these 1978-1980 ones aren't so easily found. Since first getting a SX-950, we've found Pioneer are good designs but so heavily cost cut as Comet got hold of these, the Dec 1978 HFN/RR ad has SX-980 RRP £473, Comet £390 & SX-1080 RRP £555, Comet £450. Compared to similar, the Pioneer are much too cheap for similar Brands & Power, if prices are findable, eg a 52w Marantz 2252 RRP £495, Comet £365 shows you an 80w amp is probably underpriced by £100-£150, if here's where Pioneer cost cut to get big sales. Lid off, it's very different to the SX-950 & for a 1978 amp it's still impressive. it's Big.. 527mm wide, 175mm high, 390mm deep if 436mm deep inc fittings. Base lid off shows it's big for the sake of being big, like the Sansui G8700DB was, space to put about 1.5 house bricks under the tuner section. Front controls & boards similar to the SX-950. Huge transformer for an 80w amp. The fascia is quite like the SX-950 with a pleasing look with 4 black meters unlike the SX-950 & enough knobs & lever switches to look the part plus an odd tiny Balance one. Rear panel is typical if well laid out, 2x Phono if only 1x Aux, 2x Tape inc one DIN, Pre Out-Main In loop, AM Antenna & screw connectors for aerials, Multivoltage & Two speaker Pairs with push button bare wire holes that only take 2mm cable plus a 'Kettle' mains socket. The speaker connectors let it down, if all amps of this era are similar, but so far cost cutting isn't too obvious. Main caps are 18000uf 63v that are very high spec for the age. Improvement over the SX-950 is having the Power supply on the top to cool better, only the Relay is underneath. The lights section is a large perspex piece with 3 bulbs which are push-in blade types so unlikely any LED of that style & probably not easy to find replacements either. Power amps with an oversized if quite thin heatsink with L+R boards at either end looking very different to the SX-950. Build quality for a 1978-79 Monster receiver is better than the Sansui which had some poor ideas. Now for seeing where costs are cut.. The Phono stage sadly is an IC, for the huge space underneath this isn't good, the SX-950 was all transistors. Aux goes to the Flat amp after the switching sections with a FET into Tone with just 2 transistors per channel. Filter is a passive one unlike the messy ones some 1970s amps have with Filter amps. Protection by 1978 is more sophisticated with an IC, much like the 1984 Sansui AU-G90X has. Power amp is only 9 transistors, far better than some very overdesigned 70s amps. The output transistors are a new NEC type with 4 pins. 2SD 746 & 2SB 706 which are findable on ebay as of typing, Bipolar ones if not fully used as one pin isn't used. "200w Silicon Triple Diffused Transistor" if the datasheets are so blurry hard to tell what the extra pin is for. First Play of Sound Quality after a bit of a Service reveals it needs a full service, the sound is rather soft too. The stepped volume control as with the 1975 SA-9500 is a bit coarse, if to see what type it is once apart. Very quiet background, not totally silent especially using Treble tone shows it's not tamed too heavily like more modern amps that must have -120dB noise floor. Playing it a bit louder on Headphones, it has that 'flat' sort of low spec sound with a slightly Surreal Bass that does go deep if not totally convincingly & Treble-Upper Midrange a bit too edgy to please us, typical Pioneer sound & this is where the costs are cut. Bass sounds a little 'Retro' as not fully extended, it has some kick to it but the soundstage is very average, Stereo isn't too wide & depth is limited. On the usual Rock tracks the sound isn't very convincing, it's blurry, weight isn't solid & it all sounds a bit confused. No doubt as with Pioneer selling more to Rock buyers it'll get cranked up loud so it'll give the noise but not the quality, grimaces aplenty on playing Rock or high treble Ska & deciding it's best turned off as it's just too imprecise. Oh Pioneer... you make good amps with good designs but really crap out on the required spec to give good sound. But so do other 'Comet' brands. The 1973 range was first noticed with this sound as 1971-72 Comet got Pioneer. Looking on ebay, another one of these sold Feb 2018 for £785, the seller write-up shows we are on a different planet for describing sound quality... "The sound quality this machine delivers is absolutely sensational. It can handle an infinite range of music from jazz to rock and sounds exceptional with something a bit more laid back. The sound can be described as 'warm' and 'silky', Bass is handled with ease and the treble shimmers with such a perfect clarity." Well it shows from our Valves & Upgrading we are much higher up the Listening Ladder to tell what we hear it as. It's a huge learning curve & to most listeners, that description probably is what they'd think. Is an unserviced one worth that money? Would it upgrade well & be worth upgrading fully to see how good it is? Well we're recap-upgrading this one if not an extreme upgrade that we'd do if it was ours, so read on. It's a great looking amp, great facilities if only 1 Aux, but the sound is still that cost-cut Pioneer one. It's a big unit & needs a sideboard to sit on, no shelf unit here at 19kg. The Tuner picks up FM Stereo easily & a typical ICs one if it sounds lively if with the usual 'fizzy' sound on treble as all Tuners with ICs have. Why anyone would use muddy AM on a Receiver like this was at the time, many Stations were AM/MW only. On taking it apart to see the front panel boards, it appears a simplified version of earlier boards with not much on them, even the Power Amp boards appear sparse, not what you'd expect. The Volume Control is a proper stepped one like the SA-9500 uses, not just a rotary pot with indents. The Phono stage HA1457 IC, a 6 pin single-in-line type has an internal diagram in the manual, it's a complex if typical differentials & push-pull amplifying IC, if it contains 15 transistors & 8 resistors. But where is the Phono board in this huge amp? Tucked away on the Push Buttons right side panel meaning a lot to take apart. The rating as original taking in consideration what Servicing brings, we rate it rather low as you see, this may shock some, but it's the reality of the Pioneer cost cutting as well as aging of the amp. Mostly Recapped now except the Power supply, including Servicing at the same time, the Recap-Upgrade makes it sound a lot better. To re-read the initial opinion, the average soundstage & Stereo width is far better & bass is improved from the limited original sound. Rock is hugely improved from the disappointing original sound, the grimaces of before are gone on the testing session, it's not fully upgraded yet but it is far easier on the ears now. At last it delivers the sound it should, we were wondering seeing the boards & untidy wiring, but again the Pioneer cheaping out can be improved on. As with the 1975 Pioneer SA-9500, the first try mostly upgraded makes a huge difference. Playing more heavily Bassy tracks, it really doesn't have the weighty bass an 80w should be capable of, this is where we'll 'fine tune' the upgrade to give it a bit more, if it's possible to do within the job pricing. It's a fast sounding amp with strong dynamics, if not the weight & richness that other amps can do. At lower volume it still sounds a bit flat & cardboardy, if turned up louder you'll get more pleasure, explaining why Pioneer are more Rock amps than Classical-Jazz type. Whether it'll reach 'Excellent' as upgraded is to be discovered, currently it's just shy of it for weak Bass.
BUY-RAW RATING: --. COOL RATING: --. (2018)
1978 Technics SU-C01, SE-C01 & SH-C01 preamp, amplifier & power supply set ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): 110v version Recommended. 240v version is Too Dangerous. UPGRADED: n/a. 50w.
FC, DIFF. This is part of a very innovative micro Hifi system, 'The Concise', also you can get a ST-C 01 tuner, though a cassette deck would be too large at this time still & no CD yet. This is the Origins of all the cheap micro systems of today. 1980 HFYB lists SU-C01 preamp £153, SE-C01 50w power amp £296 though there are two versions of the SE-C01 power amp, the usual one has the external power supply & multivoltage. The rarer one-box SE-C01 is stereo amp or is bridgeable to a 100w monoblock, maybe it's 117v only as no room to fit the extra parts for the 240v in it. The size will surprise, it's about the size of a big UK city phone book, typically 297mm wide, 210mm deep & just 43mm high. So where does the transformer go? The preamp SU-C01-XN has a small one for just the preamp, but the one box or two box uses a switch mode power supply, again a design common in modern electronics. We looked at the Sony TA-F5A from 1980 that uses the same pulse supply though the rest of the amp was mediocre. The pre & power at £450 in 1980 is far from cheap as our Amps listing page shows. So what's the deal? Firstly, the power amps & power supplies don't age too good & we hear to find them not working sadly is the usual way, so this one needs repair before we can hear it play. The preamp, as are all the parts, is a heavy cast aluminium case like early CD players were, with the base lid removing. Construction of the preamp for it's size is excellent. Phono is MC with 4 transistors into MM stage with 6 transistors. Tone amp sadly is an IC as the Phono stages take up much space & isn't defeatable. Beyond the M5213L Tone IC full of the usual excesses, the rest is nicely made using typical quality controls of the era. The power amp of the two-box version is nearly half as a heatsink to fill it out. Only a meter range switch, headphone & the power output LEDs that are well graduated yet go to 160w on a 50w amp. The IC by the meter switch is for the relay & 2 ICs for the meter display control. The rest is all transistors again all is very neat with quality parts. The power supply box is the one with problems, so to take it apart & look. Nearly half is a metal can that hides the pulse power supply, the left is the power switch & voltage change with the power supply in the middle. Loads of screws undone later, looking inside the pulse supply. For the age & voltages here, to recap is a must. The one-box power amp we have here is a 100v Japan only version, and has a smaller pulse PS & caps as well as a bit cramped with two board layers & lots of wire. Similar to the 1979 Luxman LX33 valve amp, it has text on it telling you how good it is, the Power Amp has a graph on it showing THD... "This power amplifier is a "personal component" for audio enthusiasts, and incorporates the Technics' latest technology to make sound reproduction even better". The design of the 110v version of this amp is ahead of it's time but the 240v one has some very strange design features involving remarkable direct to mains connections, no way would that be allowed just a few years later. A case of being very clever in design but too clever to realise more obvious things just aren't so good or are reliable. Ideas actually used today with many non Hifi items not having mains transformers now. But as a design to make the tiniest Hifi system in 1978, it succeeds, but it is a bit insane on the design. The 117v version. On getting one of the one-box 100-117v ones working, the sound on just using the Soundcard volume is still the quality Retro sound with it needing a higher volume than some direct to Power Amp, so more gain will be in the preamp. The sound is balanced and detailed if nothing too special about it, if we'll run it in next. Now biased right the sound is much improved, the basic high quality sound if a lack of spec in the small case, it has a punchy sound it's not got the kick of similar 50w amps, but for a Lifestyle product as this would be today, be sure it sounds better than any of those things could dream of being, this is still proper Hifi, not just a gimmick item. The Power Amp by itself rates 'Very Good'. But there is a Preamp so it gets a try & the sound is not pleasing, much thinner sounding with bass almost absent, if the treble & mid are still much as before. Very Bass-light preamp therefore fairly knocks the rating, but it could be upgraded. The 240v version power amp-power supply we gave up on getting it working, as we'd not want to sell such a dangerous item. It uses 240v mains direct to a regulator, the relay & a big resistor. How it passed even 1978 safety standards is ridiculous, This sort of dangerous rubbish will have influenced early 1980s safety standards. These get a Review in 'Hifi News' in March 1980 together with other Micro systems. It says how hot the Technics gets, the 117v version runs pretty cool, but sadly they don't take it apart or even mention the insane power supply. But it getting too hot to touch explains why the old capacitors are so bad, as well as all being stacked so closely with little ventilation. Typically THD is mentioned but nothing about how Bass light it is or how it is a bit grainy too, to assume this sound was considered normal or the amps being new sound better than decades old. the only opinion is they sound harsh played loud if they read 60w, but having seen the basic power supply, the sound isn't surprising. **BUY-RAW RATING: 110v ONE BOX VERSION: This is still a risky amp working direct from 110v mains but is repairable without much bother as we found. 240v TWO BOX VERSION: AVOID Ridiculously High Risk & Unsafe, Lethal & Dangerous, if actually working. Live Mains goes direct to two points & must be put together to even try it as grounding is via casework, not wires. If this doesn't work, it can be considered too dangerous to try to fix even with a workbench isolator & we'd not be happy selling it so got rid. If it does work, get it recapped fast but be very careful of it for the 240v reasons. Uses high voltage capacitors that age like valve amps, really not recommended as it could be lethal. Do not buy this amp is our opinion. If-when it fails, it'll not go live, but just too risky in many ways. COOL RATING: 7 very cute tiny micro system, the purposeful yet miniaturization makes these a bit special as the first ones, need to be high grade though, but awful dangerous design is best avoided really. (2015)
1978 Technics SU-7100 amplifier ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Average. UPGRADED: n/a. 40w
Bottom of the range IC power amp, but not as bad as we expected, it's better than a lot of the sub £50 amps you see by the ton. Laughable hardboard base if the fascia looked more impressive. Still very much entry level to vintage hifi & not worth upgrading. This is what 10 years of progress does: 40w used to be a high power now the lowest one is 40w & made very averagely for the mass market to lap up. Sadly this cheap Hifi got worse as in 1979 so many identical looking gear of no real quality including from brands that had quality early on. To consider even buying this when the page is full of Very Good amps is a wasted effort, but it will still sound better than some £100 new amp off Amazon. Not worth upgrading a entry level model & finding higher models worth upgrading this late is not easy. BUY-RAW RATING: Good. COOL RATING: 6 smart silver fronted amp of plain but functional looks, with the tuner it looks rather appealing, unusual on base range gear to look like better quality. (2012)
1978 Leak 3200 receiver ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Recommended. UPGRADED: n/a. 25w
For a 25w amp this is surprisingly good if obviously power limited & sadly the last year of the popular Leak range, made in Japan by a non-brand company who manufactured Rotel & others but still a UK design with DIN sockets. All transistor era Leak we'd easily recommend except the early Stereo 30 with germaniums & the risks of the Delta 75. Phono stage is an IC which isn't Very Good, but of the era & price range. The 80w Leak 3900 is part of this range & we'd expect it to be decent too. Pre-out connectors mean you can use it as a preamp though the sound from the preamp is still kept modest in dynamics for the 25w rating. Still a semi-complimentary design showing Leak was using 1972 technology still as with the Leak 2000. But no Mono switch was a miserable omission. Not worth upgrading a entry level model & finding higher models worth upgrading this late is not easy. BUY-RAW RATING: Good. COOL RATING: 6 rather plain looking in the grey vinyl wrap case & the Leak wording a bit too big, a touch of the Yamahas here though. (2012)
1979 Consort CA 4000 amplifier ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Recommended-Very Good. UPGRADED: n/a. 40w
Oddball amp UK brand made in Japan, looks budget goods but a pure lively enjoyable sound quality in a simple circuit that deserves it's ranking for it's good sound, copes well even with peaks tipping 80w on the meters, just limited by what you could upgrade into, a very rare amp though. Looks a bit empty inside with the main board facing down out of shame if it was all transistors & not much else beyond the basics. Not one we recapped, but it's sound was pleasing for what it was. Minuses are DIN connectors & an IC phono stage. We did contact the Consort guy who remembered it well but perhaps it was a costly failure & they never replied back, read on for why. We appreciated the amp though it's a bit too basic to be trying to upgrade it further, but we liked it in 2012 to rate it highly when we got Bang & Olufsen amps. The mystery of the Consort range unravelled further by a Jan 1980 HFN advert by Laskys, who we remember being in their Brent Cross branch as it closed in the very early 1980s. Their ad shows the CA4000 40w amplifier making the slider balance control a key feature, the Consort CT4000 analog tuner that boasted 'a Stereo beacon' & a Consort CD4000 cassette deck, as a job lot for £180 discounted from £200. Odd that CD meant 'Cassette Deck' for Marantz too, if not for long. The ad has similar midrange big name items totalling £300 so this was touted as budget-midprice, but as it was 1979 some sense of quality was there. These were exclusive to Laskys who were a big name in the 70s by their adverts but Consort never made this quality budget gear again, a pity as it bettered the Panasonic 1979 effort below. BUY-RAW RATING: Good. COOL RATING: 4 cheesy looks with a grey fascia a bit like later NAD, it looks budget gear if sounded Very Good for what it was. (2012)
1979 Luxman LX33 Valve amplifier ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Average-Very Good. UPGRADED rating is difficult, read on. 30w EL34 Valves.
See the end of the 'Valves' page & 'Other Amps' Luxman section for more on this amp. This is a 1979 30w EL34 Valve Amplifier, a more minimalist version of the SQ38 range that started in 1968 & had several versions by 1978 & was even revived in recent years. The LX33 is a version of the Luxkit A1033 without the option of switching output stage between triode & pentode. OY15-5KF output transformers appear the same as the earlier versions if only 8 ohms on the secondaries, earlier OY15-5 had 4, 6, 8, 10 & 16 ohm output options. The LX33 is a hefty 19kg amp with an open top grille that lets all the dust in but lets you see the valves if behind a regular amp type fascia with small light panels. We have one of these to service & upgrade to what we want it to be & are still altering things over 3 years later, so we can tell you our learned opinion: It's sadly just not 'very good' as the original design. The basic idea of the amp ticks many boxes as we list on the Valves page, but despite the hype written on the front, there is some very poor design in here from our knowledge of how it should be done & us re-building the TT amps below. On the good side it uses regular valves EL34, ECC83 on preamp & 2 of the power amp plus an ECC85 as the mid one. But the worst thing to us is the Heater circuits for the 7x ECC valves: it has AC heater on the mid power amp valve & an awful way of getting DC heaters for the other 6 valves, would you believe it uses the negative voltage Bias circuit daisy chained across 6 valves? The transformer hasn't enough current to do 12v regulated DC properly & space is tight to fit another TX. There is a remarkable spoiler in the circuit too. The speaker connectors are awful as per Luxman 1978-82 type ones, plastic head screw bare wire things that are usually chewed up as they don't tighten up well. The 3 valve shields on the preamp are actually for only the Matushita 1979 smaller glass case size so useless for modern valves. Pic online shows the first Phono one & last preamp one of the 4 plus the mid power amp side one have these. The sound as all original & serviced is very polite, limited, safe & just not very interesting if hints of valve quality, we can see why the one we saw got put in the loft for 30+ years. It sounds way too soft, like the 1978 Luxman R1040 but even less lively. The design is aged & lazy with tired old ideas accepted, very likely not much away from the 1968 SQ38 first 30w one, that never gets updated even seeing it in the 1993 Tube Technology amps. We're not here to massage egos after all. Our 1975 Luxman L-100 review above tells a similar tale, the sound just doesn't please. It makes us wonder how amps with this uninteresting sound get so hyped, but after all the Naim-Linn gear came shortly after. Knowing the better pre 1970 amps this falls way short of even a Rogers Cadet III for sound enjoyability. We find the other pre-power CL32-MQ3600 Luxman made was designed by Tim De P, a noted valve 'guru', but we've already said the circuit has some poor design in it, is it possible he designed it properly & Luxman dumbed it down? BUT... after all we did say this ticks a lot of boxes for Valve Amp Perfection & has a huge scope to be in a much higher league than the boring amp it was. If you buy this amp & use it as-is but serviced, you'll be disappointed in it is our opinion & it could be made hugely better, if the work involved to do it will be as involved at the 'famous' Trio WX400U we mention above. To the level we upgraded the one we had, it improved hugely, but needs full DC heaters & an advanced amount of redesign to be it's best. Sadly with valve amps, the designs are poor all too often, but the idea is to gut the thing out almost & rebuild it properly. Then it'll be much nearer how great valves can be. One for advanced buyers only. BUY-RAW RATING: Beyond deep servicing, re-valving & fools fiddling, it didn't have an Alps Blue as original, it should be good. Be aware most are Japan 110v versions, the 220v or 240v ones are elusive. COOL RATING: 8 the looks are unlike a usual valve amp, but it oozes class with the line of valves & big transformers, 19kg of amp here. (2015)
1979 Luxman L 2 amplifier ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Recommended. UPGRADED: Very Good-Excellent. 33w. Looking very much like mid-late 1980s-today gear, this slimline minimalist Luxman looks pretty generic, but it has a decent weight 7.5kg & still all 'proper' hifi components, no ICs or double main capacitors in one can like a 1975 Sony one has. Getting the lid off is impossible, but to save you trashing yours, the top of the transformer at the rear right has a rubber foam pad that has stuck to the grille, so by loosening each hole the lid will slide off once unscrewed, if still far from easy as you'd expect & there are 4 rubber pads on the sides that will stick too. The inputs are strangely hidden underneath which may suit 1979 cables but thicker ones need taller feet by the pads a previous owner added, we put taller feet on & also the nasty Luxman plastic screw connectors are hopeless so to fit 4mm sockets can be done neatly. We have this one to recap-upgrade & to decide what is worth doing, if already knowing the lack of ICs which for the year & power is unusual. Power Amp board at the rear & one of those amps to take fully apart. Main caps are only 3300µ 50v which is Budget spec like an Eagle amp we got just for the Tx spares. As with the 1978 Luxman receivers, it's a strange built amp for where sections are put. On first play we are rather surprised how pathetic it sounds. On a positive side, it has a smooth sound that would Upgrade well so on that basis is Recommended, if needs a lot done to better it. But what we hear is a flat sounding boring no-bass amp. Very little to please here, no depth or 'friendliness' to the sound, it's Boring. Only just before trying it. we'd played some Vinyl on the... Luxman LX33 valves & that amp as original despite valves sounded as boring too. Once Recap-Upgraded it sounded a lot better but as a paid upgrade we didn't think it was quite good enough, so went back to do some more upgrades. This brought the sound quality into focus far better. Upgraded we rated it cautiously as on Reggae it could party along well for 33w if on Rock, the design couldn't quite deal with fast detail as well as other lower power amps can. 24v RMS clean Sine output puts it into 35w-40w league. On the Tannoys it matched pretty well, enough power to give a decent bass & treble was too. Not a perfect match as a little tubby in the upper bass but that's what 15" speakers will do, on 6" speakers that will likely fill out the sound better, as in speakers way outclassing the amp, but we like to try them all. BUY-RAW RATING: Good if getting the lid off is a struggle. COOL RATING: 5 actually looks very contempary to today's amps, rather plain but purposeful looking & not cheap looking for the tidy fascia print. (2018)
1979 Panasonic SU-2800 amplifier ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Average-Hopeless. UPGRADED: n/a. 40w.
This & the matching Tuner was £20 delivered so a cruel try was worth a go. Budget IC power amp STK block thing that was true crappity crap budget gear, but it did have the 70s magic sound in there if you didn't expect much volume from it's 40w where it descended into quite awful fuzz of distortion on clipping. Worth a try to see what it was like & to sneer it & put a salty review online. It was mediocre. The 40w amp of 1979 is the low budget model, yet 12 years before 40w was high power. Reveals how cost cutting & giving more as lesser goods was the deal. This is utter junk. BUY-RAW RATING: Good. COOL RATING: 3 boring slimline looks that were common in 1980-82, even the tuner doesn't give it any appeal, but might do to those who remember it in the future. (2012)
1979 Sansui G-8700DB receiver ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Very Good. UPGRADED: n/a. 160w.
The largest amp for physical size we've had on our desk if others were higher power & heavier, this is one of those Monster Receivers. 560mm wide, 203mm high & 475mm deep in total, just slightly less than the 35kg Pioneer SX-1980, if this is 21kg. Unusual for 1979 it has a Digital Display for the tuner, if still the analog tuner as the tuner pointer suggests. The fascia is very nice, classier than Pioneer or Rotel did, nearly symmetrical with Dolby FM decoder, much as the USA version of the Yamaha CR-2020 offers, but Dolby FM never happened if Wikipedia explains why this has Dolby FM. The lid has a sticker on saying 'simulated wood grain' if it looks very like the real Rosewood veneer Luxman used. The rear has the heatsinks for the 8 output transistors, if a little surprising to see a skinny 2 core mains cable on this. The side has a 120v sticker, if it's multivoltage. For UK use this really should have a more substantial 3 core mains, the 1975 Pioneer SA-9500 UK model used a thick 13A mains cable. The speaker connectors for 2 pairs again are a surprise, they are those awkward screw posts like the Luxman 1978-79 range had, even our LX33 valves had these. The idea of those was to use basic spade-fork connectors, but ones you see today have all metal cases & for the vagueness of how these connectors grip, you'll probably short the amp out using those & risk similar using bare wires too. Not ideal. It's good to keep original features, but when the original parts are not of a quality you'd expect, to make the amp more user friendly is an alteration that buyers & owners are happy to get. Be sure you'll find those who'll untidily cut a big hole for a kettle plug socket, only subtle suits our ideas as our Amps Gallery shows. The Inputs are on the right side panel, matching similar of the era that for some reason are able to be split into 2 parts. 2x Phono, 1x Aux & 2x Tape loops. This must have been a USA model as the 75ohm FM antenna is the bare coax cable screw & bracket type. Inside it's got the appeal of 'well made' like the 1973 Realistic STA-220 has. 133mm toroidal transformer, 12000µf 100v main caps. Power supply board not dissimiar to the Yamaha CR2020 in some ways, the other 2 boards are the Power Amps. The IC-looking thing is a double FET which is no problem. The large cast heatsink is like the 1971 Heathkit AR-1500, things like that show quality that is usually long gone by 1979. The big risk with these high power amps is who's fiddled with it before. Base cover off reveals a pre(amp) power supply & relay-protection board. At the front a decent sized Preamp board & the Dolby board. Powered on, a subtle warm lighting, unlike the garish Rotel range. Peak power meter is always on. The tuner display is only on when the tuner is used, so it'll not fade like VCRs did. We've been working on the Trio TK140X just earlier so have an 'ear reference'. Bearing in mind it's unserviced, the sound has some kick but not the most exciting sound if not particularly rough. The bass isn't too realistic with the design proving where, a tubby slightly 'retro' sound does seem unusual for a 160w amp. The soundstage, on tracks we just played earlier on the day of writing this now, has beyond the bass, a precision if it sounds very flat, as in the soundstage doesn't reveal the layers of sound & 'open out' as the 140X did. The sound overall is of quality, a service will improve it but for the huge amount to service in this, if it was ours, we'd recap & upgrade at the same time. Comparing to the 60w 1973 Realistic STA-220, ah... there's the nice open 'bouncy' sound again with much wider stereo & depth to the sound. What the G-8700DB would sound like with all our upgrades is a little hard to tell, the sound the STA-220 has is for the unusual design, here a busier amp can be limited in upgradeability. There is a slight background hiss on this that we'd not expect on a 1979 amp, without looking closer to see if some transistors are the cause, the STA-220 had the same issue. Back to the 8700 with a heavy bass Reggae track & this delivers a smaller more intimate sound with the lack of openness. To try the Joan Jett track we usually use for it's hard guitar, the 8700 delivers it with punch if the lack of bass weight shows & it's a bit edgy, the midrange isn't so precise. The STA-220 even lacking high spec new main caps does it far more convincingly. The obvious question by regular readers is how does it compare to the 1984 Sansui AU-G90X. The 90X has a very tight sound & we have upgraded the 'easy life' out of the 90X & it rightly stays as a reference. The Joan Jett rock track has huge ambience & accurate hard grunt that Rock guitar needs to not sound weak. The 8700 after hearing that as a reference again reveals the flatter soundstage, it has enough kick to fill the guitar well enough if the deep bass isn't there. Now after testing the subtle part of it, to crank it up for Rock, on headphones, the meters go to 1w power. Here it plays loud well, it comes alive with loud playing & most wouldn't miss the deep bass, but the above ideas of not having subtlety define true Hifi & the best can do subtle & kick hard too. The opinion of this amp, being a 160w one, is the design keeps on the right side of overdesign compared to some. We've written about Monster Amps before, this is a more sensible one, if that lack of sweet quality is with this, but if cranked up loud it sounds more together. It could upgrade well with redesign to give a more fresh deep sound, but that would certainly be a big job to do. It's a great amp for loud Rock, but it lacks the subtlety at lower volumes that we crave in the Quality & Detail so we're forever upgrading amps in search of it. We've tried to get the 1960s sweeter sound from the Yamaha CR-2020 before, got pretty close in some ways, but it just can't fully get there with a busy design. For an amp of this age, we recommend to at least get a full service & check, a lot to do in this, plus fit some better speaker connectors. To recap & upgrade would be great for us to try, but for a customer, it'll may outprice the amp compared to it's likely selling price, but if they want to use it regularly for years, then it keeps it in the best condition & gets it upgraded which will improve it's lower volume performance. The psueudo-stepped volume control notches are ok on headphones, but on speakers as always with any stepped control, it doesn't give enough precision. It puts out 52-53v clean sine, the exact figure is limited by the volume control notches. The 130w AU-G90X puts out 50v, so 30w extra only gives a modest extra. All serviced it sounds very noticeably better than the soft boring sound we found it comparing to other amps before servicing. The job of servicing is a complex one, but we're glad we didn't have to recap this as it is a much bigger & awkward job than expected, as is found with some amps. The construction for such a large amp is sadly that 1979 quality, for such a large amp the power amp boards are very cramped & offer little scope to upgrade, if we found that with the Sansui 5000X to a degree. How the previous owner managed to break the relays board is why amateurs shouldn't fiddle, if it was patched up. It's one you could use serviced for several more years, nothing noticeably problematic. Would we want to get one to fully upgrade? The sound certainly is much improved for servicing, there was a lot to do. To upgrade could be interesting as the basic quality is here, if for the huge amount of work compared to a likely sell price & for the huge size, too big to keep around, Other amps are fresher & more livelier, this is still a polite amp, yes at 160w, Stereo not especially wide. The design plays too safe. Tracks that the best upgraded amps make sound exciting are left not catching the interest, the Sansui AU-G90X has a very different sound to 1960s amps but once upgraded it does bring a smile, this leaves us wondering what's for dinner... Rock still needs playing louder than normal to reach a certain standard. Still with a proper 13A 3-core mains & losing those awful speaker connectors for some subtle 4mm sockets, makes it far more the beast it ought to be. On our Tannoys this actually sounds more impressive than other post 1972 amps. Midrange correct & Treble-Bass gain works well. The difference to an earlier amp tested straight after is noticeable for the 'proper' bass, depth of sound & much wider Stereo that the 8700DB seems not to bother itself with. After running it in for several hours, on speakers to try again. Matches well to early Tannoys, has a precision but again it sounds 'cardboardy' but it certainly could upgrade well. Having it on looking at it, the amp wants you to look with the lights & displays. For the buyer of an amp like this, they're buying it to crank up, for us who crave the finer details in music, this isn't really our sort of amp. It sounds best to us with Reggae as that's not densely produced, but give it something more complex in Rock or Soul & those deep layers are lacking. 'Very Good' if this is the sort of power you want, if try earlier amps for more musical value. BUY-RAW RATING: Good if not partied hard, be careful of ones others have fiddled with. COOL RATING: 7 smart & purposeful without going into the ugly side of Monster amps like Pioneer & Rotel. Very large size may put you off though. (2017)
1980 Pioneer SA-508 amplifier ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Average-Recommended. UPGRADED: n/a. 25w.
FC, DIFF. This is one of the 1979-80 fluroscan range & at 25w the lowest power model. Appears to have sold well & we got one someone found in the Bins behind Cash Converters when they first started. So that was over 20 years ago. It actually sounded quite decent & only had the volume control in need of the nut tightening. For the budget range it still sounded pretty good, the thing remembering back 20 years proving no IC block here but transistor outputs in all these, unlerss it was another model number? All these are pretty much the same at this budget level anyway so this stays if it's the only one not 100% sure of the model number. On using it the naff blue meters we found annoying & the graduation in power was next to useless. As it's Pioneer, the prices get overpriced but seem to have sold well. BUY-RAW RATING: Good. COOL RATING: 5 just average budget amp looks, the blue meters we find naff & unnecessary. (1992?)
1981 Sony STR-S5L receiver ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Average-Hopeless. UPGRADED: n/a. 40w.
It looked computery & the misleading 100w description on a 40w mass market average piece of junk, we wish we'd not bothered, average sound at best. LED volume is a cloth ribbon over a lightbulb. Piece of crap Sony as sadly much of their post 1972 stuff is beyond ones we note above & on the Other Amps page. One board type of amp not worth even thinking of upgrading or trying again. BUY-RAW RATING: Good if bulbs will need replacing. COOL RATING: 6 got this for the computery looks, but it's a bit of a crock & not what it seems. (2012)
1982 Luxman L-410 amplifier ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Very Good. UPGRADED: Excellent. 75w.
We know the earlier Luxman 1975-79 era in both valve & transistor, so to get this one in to service & upgrade after seeing it was a decent one is an interesting find. As most amps by this era are, it's a tin box if with a nice fascia with good sized rotary controls This one in Silver still, 75w weighing 13kg. The L-430 is a 105w version & L-510 is the 100w version, if in reality 25w extra won't make much difference, it is a bigger amp. Inside the 'advances' of the 1979 era in construction are obvious if when on it looks like an Xmas tree inside with several red LEDs glowing. This one has been recapped, if with a mix of cheap unbranded caps & some that are good, why use cheap stuff in a good amp? The layout will need working out if there is one op-amp on the front half for Phono plus 2 strip ICs. On the main board with the LEDs are more strip ICs, but these are just dual FETs on one package, no problem. The op-amp is a typical cheap-out of the era that nearly all 1980s-on amps have, no wonder CD sounded better. Whoever recapped this just done like-for like & the sound shows the amp is basically a quality one, but with the usual limits & low spec. Again, it does have the basics of a good amp. It really does seem that past 1980 only the amps at 75w or more have quality, if the sound was a bit weak on upper midrange-lower treble & deeper bass was filtered off as typical, but overall a better 1980s amp. Construction isn't quite as you'd hope compared to earlier ones, the weedy heatsink won't get hot if adjusted right, but if it gets problems with 13 transistors on it, not much cooling. The Phono stage ICs are disappointing on what would have been a higher midprice amp, maybe there were side wood cheeks for this as the slightly open fascia gap, but the manual shows it has small plastic edgings, probably removed for a 1982 cabinet. The rest seems good, several freestanding bigger transistors if the board track is still substantial unlike ones you see by 1984 when computer design could space tiny tracks very close. Now upgraded with our spec the amp is better than we'd expected for a decent midprice amp of the era. Sound is certainly improved from the 1978 range we've had as above, tight sound with a very solid bassline. Treble is a little soft compared to more open sounding earlier amps if it could upgrade further, it'll not bring much improvement. Soundstage is a little flat if the sound has speed & a punch to it. Stereo is adequate, the softer sound restricts it, if it's not grainy, it's just not as impressive as some. On Rock it fills the sound out better than a lot of post 1970 amps if plays safer in the freshness & dynamics, so lacks excitement. Phono stage with ICs is adequate if light on bass as is typical. But for a 1982 amp via Aux this is still one of the best ones we've heard, but to compare it to the late 1960s amps puts it in perspective. On vintage Tannoys for the upgraded amp, it matches very well on Bass & Midrange, but the weak treble lets it down. BUY-RAW RATING: Good overall. COOL RATING: 6 fairly standard looks if the big cast control knobs add to the appeal. (2017)
1984 Sansui AU-G90X amplifier ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Very Good. UPGRADED: Excellent. 130w.
FC, Diff, FET, Direct Coupled, Balanced. A very interesting later amp we got to try, but despite it initially appealing as quite different, it was soon found to be lacking a bit of quality as the spec is low to average in critical places, they didn't want you having it too good for sure. But we can upgrade after all... The only one of the AU-G range to have no ICs in the audio path, it is a bit of a gem for the era. The AU-G30X & AU-G90X predate the AU-G33-99X series which have ICs for tone & phono. But it does upgrade well & has a MC transformer, not the IC of the next range. Clearly the 'Audiophile' version & a hidden gem amid the IC riddled typical 1980s wasteland. It has separate power supplies for the L+R Power amp with a modest ±31v on the caps if with no ground reference & from the same transformer, but as it's got no ground reference in reality it sees 62v HT. Oddly the 45w Sansui 3000A from 1967 we have at ±39.1v, if in a different way. The technology is interesting: 'X-balanced' is based on studio amp's balanced transmission line design if no XLRs here, a Jan 1985 ad says "the input, output, power supply, drive circuit & even the NFB loop are all fully balanced" and "all parts of the amp operate independent of the ground" if it's clear we found the spec on certain areas is typically dumbed down so the hype of "the signal remains as pure as driven snow" is just a lie sadly, if it's in the amp before it was dumbed down to sell. The X-Balanced design once upgraded does reveal the technology is a worthy move-on from the best 1977 could offer, if typically 'domesticated'. All the AU-G series have this design if all, apart from the AU-G90X, have ICs in the pre-tone stage, which defeats the purpose surely. The Jan 1985 Sansui ad for the 90X says the Sansui B2101 & C2101 pre-power pair are this design also, see Other amps page as we have a closer look. On first play, it has a thin but punchy sound with a quality that is certainly different if a little dishonest in the upper bass from the spoilers & needing all 10 adjustments to be done right, else it will sound light on bass. If not all adjusted right, the Sansui has a dip in response at 125Hz to make the midrange sound more distinct. Only repeated tests reveal this, but we know how to test them to find out which is really the best amp. Putting a -4dB cut at 125Hz when playing the Yamaha CA-1010 regained that same tonal balance in the Sansui. The Sansui's low spec has a rather harsh edge to it with gritty sharp treble, losing the point of the advanced design, yet it gets THD & Intermodulation Distortion (IM) both rated at 0.003% showing how meaningless those ratings are if it sounds rough. Oddly the back speaker posts aren't real 4mm sockets, just an empty hole for the first 12mm of the 18mm deep hole, which is illogical, but that's the 1980s for you. Similarly, where is the Mono switch for Mono vinyl? The piano gloss plastic wrap wood effect edging is nicer than the AU-D11 II gaudy lid if the plasticky buttons are typical 1980s. But for a 1980s amp, it's revealed Good Ones do exist, if you need to look long to find another. Oddly has glass bulbs for the input selector, if LEDs on the other lights. To alter to LEDs need DC, the bulbs you can buy are white, too small & too bright. This has AC for the bulbs, so a little work needed to design for LEDs which we did. Almost the same as the Sansui AU-D11, Filters, Loudness, Phono switches, Input selector differ & the 90 has a nicer lid, if the AU-D11 II is just about the same if without the inside shielding. The later AU-G99X with the light meters & flat push buttons has some differences in sound balance from the circuits, the 90X seems more a purists amp if it still has Loudness. Some odd features are the huge 'toroidal' transformer looks like a regular one potted in a round can, but closer looking suggests the square bit is some sort of packing in the resin. 4x big power caps, 4 pairs of output transistors with a modest sized heatsink. These are like 4 separate amplifiers of 'Hot' and 'Cold' as there is no Ground reference for the X-Balanced design. The chipboard sides are part of the amp & oddly there is no metal casing to shield them. MC has a round can transformer, not the usual IC gain stage. PCB track is properly thick like 1970s if the track is a bit weak. The Schottky Dual Rectifier Diodes, D11 & D12, that look like TO-220 Transistors are CTP-2S & CTP-2R, not the manual typo. Unfindable specs, but similar type MBR20100CTP are 10A units. The Power amp circuit is one that initially appears overdesigned, 29 transistors per channel, 6 are output ones, but it does sound good which is rarely the case in ones we've tried, certainly would not dream of getting one otherwise without getting a try of it. The sound on this amp is very precise with huge dynamics, it could benefit from a little warmth & tidying some rough edges, but for what it sounds like, the depth of soundstage, does make this amp very special amid 1980s hifi, if there are certainly earlier ones to better it in terms of musicality. The Sansui just has that 1980s upper midrange harshness & that lack of 125Hz bass was noticeable, if it has deep bass kick if certainly lacking higher up. the low spec really does sound to us yet it does have a sound that is appealing if a little contrived for all the circuitry and/or low spec, if a better 1980s amp for sure, so Is this the Best 1980s amp we'll get? The AU-D11 Mk II is touted as the 'same amp' as the AU-G90X, but as always we can see it's nearly but not quite, Phono, Power Amp driver & others differ if power supply & Power Amp main board are the same codes. Biasing is tricky & the right order to do the 10 adjustments is: Preamp, Main amp, then the driver boards lower & upper pots which take many goes to get right & it may stay in protection until adjusted right. Of 1980s amps, it is unlikely there is much better than this, the cost cutting & basic construction beyond the boards at least gives an appealing amp still, if one that probably sounded way ahead when new compared to the usual 1980s grainy low-spec sound. The later AU-G77X has ICs in the preamp & phono stages, the lower models are a simpler design. Some needle meters would better the look, if the AUG-99X has big bar meters that fade like VCR displays, but it is a lesser beast in several ways: 99X has no case shielding inside, only 2 large power caps if 160w & extra space for the heatsink if a smaller transformer too. The 90X is the winner therefore. This amp does upgrade well to be the Best amp from 1978-date with ease, but as with all later amps, the amount to upgrade is huge. With other amps coming & going, this doesn't get played much, but when tests get serious, the accuracy of this amp puts the others aside, if the others weren't too imbalanced in tone to tune the hearing off, your hearing compensates like an EQ. It appears to sound dry & bass light compared to softer amps which it's not, it's just so precise & it certainly is musical with our upgrades which were difficult. In compares we have to use +2 on Bass but soon can do without it as it's 'sound' or precision comes through or the ears tune in. It can put valve amps aside for the knife-edge precision which is a little worrying. Trying this again after knowing the Akai AA-7000 & Nikko TRM-1200, the 90X still impresses. Certainly a different Bass to the earlier amps if very neutral & detailed. Amps like this can sound too thin compared to poorer designs that aren't neutral, but with a similar neutral amp the beauty of our upgraded amp is obvious & very musical to us more into 1965-67 amps & valves. A Reference Amp for us, all amps get compared to it now. The Tone gain is rated ±10dB but sounds more like ±5dB in use which limits it, if it can be altered. Phono Stage we've upgraded too, if it's certainly the best non-Valve one we've heard, very precise & detailed. Not good to miss a Mono switch if we've put Mono temporarily on the input to try vinyl, for the balanced design & Phono precision to Mono the input works fine. The AUG30X which is slightly later as it has no bulbs but LEDs puts Mono before the Filter stage. The Phono stage has differentials & Push-Pull that we'd run a mile from having heard many lousy ones, including 1977 Yamaha ones that aren't very good, but again the AUG90X changes opinions as they clearly done it properly, if the MM loading isn't quite right & it does show as a tiny bit edgy, later shows a slight midrange hardness, both we alter. A perfect Reference Amp for sure, if very hidden in the original spec, but always the way. BUY-RAW RATING: Needs a proper service to be it's best, cut-out issues can exist for aged parts & biasing is critical as well as complex-insane, as if some settings are too far out, it can have no bass & sound bright, or even won't start. COOL RATING: 7.5 big impressive amp, thick plastic covered side cheeks & all black fascia a bit hard to read & some plasticky buttons, but in terms of 80s amps it's got the look unlike the later AU-G99X. (2015-16)
1984 Sansui AU-G30X amplifier ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Very Good. UPGRADED: n/a. 45w.
FC, Diff, FET, Direct Coupled, Semi Balanced. Part of the apparently rare but extremely good AU-G30X, AU-G50X & AU-G90X range so after the 90X being so good, got to try the smaller version. The 50X isn't even listed on some sites if the later 33X 55X etc range is far more findable, if these 1985 ones lose the quality for ICs in the preamp. The 30X has ICs for the MM-MC Phono stages but the rest is all transistors, only 2 bias adjusts unlike the 10 of the 90X. It's still the partly Balanced design in circuit but here the Speaker Ground is case ground. To hear how they compare is why we try it. On first seeing it, certainly of higher quality than the typical 1984 era amps, if plastic sides seem strange & the front buttons lack confidence. On first play it actually plays a bassline which is unlike other 1980s amps too. It's certainly not as clear as our upgraded 90X but the basic high resolution sound is here. Again one of those amps you wonder why it gets sold as it betters so many amps. There will be low spec in here holding it back as was the case with the 30X but this is a good amp for sure. It's quite weighty on guitar rock, certainly convincing if a blurry top as it typical with low spec. It certainly has some kick too, rather than softening the dynamics and stereo is wide. Compared to the 45w Marantz PM6002 from 2007 we had recently, even after the huge amount upgraded on it, this sounds far better even as original. A weighty 8kg for a post 1979 amp is unusual. On taking it apart to service, the front is held on with 4 plastic clips similar to the 30X tuner we have. A little disappointing no metal framework if many 1970s amps had wood lids with no metal so care needed in siting as hum may be picked up. The Phono board does have metal side shielding though. Different & better than the 90X the selector lights are LEDs & it has a Mono button, suggesting it came after the 90X. The sound of this as Serviced is way better than the rough sounding Technics & Yamaha below, this has quality & a proper musical sound with a bassline, very unusual for 1980s hifi in it's price range or higher. BUY-RAW RATING: The only issue is the Balance control wears on the track & can't be replaced, else good. COOL RATING: 5, just typical black plastic 1980s amp if not tacky looking as LEDS are subtle. (2015)
1984 Technics SU-V505 amplifier ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Average-Recommended. UPGRADED: n/a. 50w.
FC, no DIFF, computer control IC. Initially we found these interesting for the early Computer drive which was (allegedly) based on their hugely expensive SE-A1 & SU-A2 £10k pre-power combo. This was one of the Follies in Hifi putting expensive ideas done on the cheap into a Midprice amp housed in Budget grade casing. Look at the rubbish speaker connectors & thin metal lid. Heat pipe design unsurprisingly sounded rough beyond the apparent good idea. The sound was basically decent but so rough & thin sounding, but the one-board design is pretty un-upgradeable. We've looked again at this amp to see if it or the 707 are worth upgrading, 'Hell No' was the response, awful cheap one-board type of amp & the weak board track as was typical by now. BUY-RAW RATING: Poor as servicing needed else controls etc will be bad. COOL RATING: 5 typical post silver era looks, purposeful looking if the ones in silver add a point. (2012)
1984 Technics SU-V707 amplifier ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Average-Recommended. UPGRADED: n/a. 90w.
FC, no DIFF, computer control IC. Initially we found these interesting for the early Computer drive which was (allegedly) based on their hugely expensive SE-A1 & SU-A2 £10k pre-power combo. This was one of the Follies in Hifi putting expensive ideas done on the cheap into a Midprice amp housed in Budget grade casing. Look at the rubbish speaker connectors & thin metal lid. Heat pipe design unsurprisingly sounded rough beyond the apparent good idea. The sound was basically decent but so rough & thin sounding, but the one-board design is pretty un-upgradeable. It still sounds gritty at low volume & if turned up louder it sounds harsh. Perhaps the slow computer for bias adjustment is holding it back rather than improving it. If bulbs are dead the LEDs don't all work as we found out on our one, so 12v 55mA axial bulbs you'll need. On our one all we upgraded were the ceramics that tidied the sound a little, but with too much low spec when we looked again at this amp to see if it or the 707 are worth upgrading further, 'Hell No' was the response, awful cheap one-board type of amp & the weak board track as was typical by now. BUY-RAW RATING: Poor as servicing needed else controls etc will be bad. COOL RATING: 5 typical post silver era looks, purposeful looking if the ones in silver add a point. (2012)
1985 Yamaha A-720 amplifier ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Very Good (in Class A mode). UPGRADED: n/a. 105w.
FC, 2x DIFF. The only 1980s amp we've heard that appeals, very good focus in the Class A mode if could be upgraded further, no ICs in main amp, just the phono. A one-board type amp that gets very hot in class A, heatsink a bit feeble as too thin. Only sounded it's best in Class A otherwise just a 'Recommended' score as it was quite rough. Needs servicing & a good run in else it sounded awful. Loudness control isn't what you'd expect it to be. There is a temptation for us to get this or the A-1020 to upgrade to see how good an 80s amp could be, but the one board design decides against as the very thin track is too risky. We've looked again at this amp to see if it is worth upgrading, the weak board track as was typical by now plus limited space in the layout & the feeble heatsink put us off. BUY-RAW RATING: Risky, needs good servicing else controls will not work right. COOL RATING: 5 average black fascia looks with lots of plastic buttons, nothing stylish here. (2012)
1986 Pioneer M90-C90 amplifier ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Average-Recommended. UPGRADED: n/a. 200w.
FC, multiple FET, multiple IC, multiple DT. This we had long ago as a repair, but the parts were unfindable so it got abandoned, but as typical they turn up on ebay eventually. But by then we hated the thing, it was rough condition & we couldn't care less so outed it as spares-repairs. The preamp was a disgrace, stuffed full of ICs & later versions had even more. A rat's nest of unshielded computer cable connectors all over the top of one big PCB with extra boards for power supply & phono. The phono was very overdesigned with loads of transistors then an IC probably for MC gain. It sounded flat & boring as we tried it with our valve amps, though it did have the Pioneer tidy midrange it was lousy. The power amp was a huge 20kg lump & looked the part with big bar meters at the front, with huge heatsinks & capacitors. Typical useless copper plated screws on a thin chassis that scratched the paint a bit easily & chipboard end cheeks that age badly. The power amp boards had a double FET package that was unfindable but then appeared on ebay as did the bias IC that we suspected was faulty & at least got rid of it, never to be seen again. But the power amp at least worked right on one channel so to rate it is possible. For 200w the volume was pathetic even using the preamp. This sort of high powered rubbish we noted as a poor volume with some Sumo amps, so we review those too. The rating of average is for the preamp, the power amp if working right was a much better item, but the low volume keeps it down. Preamp has loads of ICs for control, relays & audio mangling, if a transistor power supply. Power Amp has 3 differentials inc FETs, IC for biasing-switching circuit & 8 output transistors per channel 2SA1516 & 2SC3907 which at least aren't expensive to buy if damaged. BUY-RAW RATING: Beware obsolete PCB mounted parts if faulty. COOL RATING: 7 these have that 'High End' look with the power amp having subtle lit meters & plastic covered side cheeks, the flap once missing kills the looks, but as most 1980s things are, quality of a rough one shows how the veneer of class is a thin one. (2013)
1986 Realistic STA-2280 receiver ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Average. UPGRADED: Recommended. 60w.
We bought one new in 1987, but revisiting in 2012 & recapping to the max got a decent sound at lower volume but then but it sounded rough too early for 60w, for the sheer hell of it revealed how much ICs strangle the sound whatever you do, very restricted on bass on the original design. Unshielded audio wires in ribbons all over the place, nasty limited bass even with Loudness & the laughable IMX Stereo expander. The power supply was clearly low spec to sound so weak. Tuner was poor as digital but hold button type & memory battery long dead. Full of ceramics too. Almost impossible to get Stereo FM even at 5 bars signal as adjusting never worked. Budget cheapo stuff good for your first ever amp, but that's about it. As original, we'll stand by the poor rating. Upgraded it barely scrapes a Recommended but for the Stereo FM uselessness, it stays as it stands. BUY-RAW RATING: Good. COOL RATING: 6 very 1986 looking with plastic aplenty if the digital tuner & meter add retro appeal, after all we bought one when it was new. (2011)
1986 Sony TA-F550ES amplifier ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Average. UPGRADED: n/a. 90w.
FC, IC, DIFF. We got this in 2011 looking for a later Sony to see if it'd be good enough as a second amp for playing vinyl with, but it fell way short of what we expected... Certainly the most boring 'premium reference' amp we've ever heard, poor design STK block that runs hot for pre amp if transistor output stages. Phono stage is a Differential pair & an IC containing 14 transistors and a FET. Tone-Preamp is just the STK controlling IC with 2 differentials & the usual junk. Here music sounds cold & awful as designed to kill any musicality: devoid of life, interest & not even a decent volume despite 90w. If this miserable sound is modern "hifi", then buyers are being conned or deserve to be. Rubbish sold as ES premium, oh dear. The only interesting thing with this amp was it has a piece of red velvet inside. The sound was so unappealing you'd reach to turn it off fast & this sort of crap is what mass market hifi is sounding like today. How Sony thought this miserable effort was acceptable just 18 years after the STR-6120 shows how far off the music dream 'hifi' became. This amp was bought to be just a Computer system amp as the TA-1150 we had tired of but it failed to deliver. But it got us trying the 18w Trio TK-150/KA-2002 amp & on noticing how nice it sounded, we went looking for more. The result you've been reading. There is no point us trying to upgrade amps with ICs or STK blocks, so we'll stand by our low rating. BUY-RAW RATING: Good. COOL RATING: 5 typical bland looks, better in lighter champagne than the grey-ish one, but as interesting to look at as to listen. (2011)
1990 Aura Evolution VA-100 amplifier ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Average-Recommended. UPGRADED: n/a. 70w(?).
We bought this from Cash Converters when they used to get better gear in around 1992, got our fax machine there too, the plug on this was sold as hardwired across the fuse so dangerous to sell, clearly untested. Silly chrome faced thing no tone controls, typical gold plated connectors but an IC on the preamp & probably Phono too meant it didn't last long as it wasn't very exciting listening. One big board & MOSFETS means just everyday audio gear of no real quality. Not rubbish but nothing special. Bought the E30 below after this. BUY-RAW RATING: Only known as nearly new. COOL RATING: 5 chrome fronted minimalist thing, can't hide averageness with a bit of chrome. (1992?)
1991 Sumo 'The Ten' power amplifier ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Recommended. UPGRADED: n/a. 100w.
These we had on demo taking them home before buying the TT valve amps. It may be from 1998 but we remember them & have a blurry photo. Huge rackmount black handled things with a big meter & 2 rocker switches. We assume they are "The Ten" 100w yes but not Class A as they didn't get hot. Cranked them up on the 200w 15" Fane speakers we used at the time & the meters hit 60w with ease but they weren't very loud, assume the matching preamp was a higher gain one. A clean sound was here, but so clean it was boring with the sound quality being rather soft without much kick or anything even natural sounding. Tried them for long enough to find them of no use. Perhaps the preamp for them would be a better match as they may need a higher input voltage to sing, no specs known. Next tried the TT valve amps & was much more pleased with those & bought. Both amps the shop was desperate to get rid of so they were going cheap, probably the shop system for early AV for a while. Oversized, boring & stupid is our unfortunate verdict of a Sumo amp & no doubt any of these huge amps that seem to be more a USA thing, but the sound being clean if boring means they deserve the rating for those into that sort of thing not having heard how lively earlier amps are. To us, they're not really Hifi in the same way the beauty of a 50w vintage amp can be. BUY-RAW RATING: Only known as ex-demo shop stock. COOL RATING: 6 big stupid but impressive looking things with huge meters, if you like women like that, this is the amp for you. (1998)
1992 Marantz PM-62 amplifier ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Recommended. UPGRADED: Very Good. 60w.
FC, IC, DIFF, Darlington. We bought one new in 1993, revisiting in 2012 it wasn't a bad amp, but not a lively sound like pre 1979 as typical of the era so we upgraded it into a more 1970s sound. It has tone controls & phono, if they are via ICs that do limit the fidelity. Phono IC& Tone-Pre IC with differentials, current mirrors, cascade bootstrap, six foot long shoelaces, incontinent elephants etc, all designed to trip you up & crap on you. Once upgraded it was pretty decent in terms of early hifi testing, but not really comparable to the 1977 Marantz 2265B for sound as by 1992 a thin bass light sound was the normal as overdesign & ICs were the normal in the CD era. We did upgrade this to a certain level to make it sound less thin, but again the ICs & quite averageness of a 60w amp will never be beyond this & perhaps is the best we'll find with Post 1980 amps without going into the 'High Price' ones. BUY-RAW RATING: Good. COOL RATING: 5 plain black fascia looks to match the CD-52, just nothing special at all. (2012)
1993 Musical Fidelity Elektra E30 power amplifier ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Recommended. UPGRADED: n/a 100w.
We bought this new ex-demo probably in about 1995-96 & used it with a Marantz Receiver & then the Rogers Cadet III done as a preamp only. Crazy times but the E30 unlike the A308CR nasty thing below wasn't too bad but even at the time thought it was very ordinary & it probably had ICs too. It lasted a while until the TT valve amps arrived as it packed in for some reason never to sing again. Surprising to read it's 100w never thought it went very loud. The step up to the TT valve amps after this was quite a huge leap in sound quality. BUY-RAW RATING: Good. COOL RATING: 5 just a plain glossy fascia box with a button on, what's to get excited about. (1995?)
1993 Tube Technology *Valve* Genesis Monoblock power amplifiers, Prophet 2-box preamp & Seer Phono preamp ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Recommended-Very Good. UPGRADED: Excellent 100w.
All valve. These we bought very cheap ex-demo in 1998 as they had been round all the shop's branches unwanted as the shop was quite a mainstream one into AV more than Hifi. We lapped them up & as the 2 preamps were so cheap bought the lot, much to the shop owner's delight. And ours. Despite temporarily selling them tired of the heat they put out in 2002 quickly bought another power amp pair back again not more than a few weeks later. They've got rebuilt now for the 3rd time & sound very clean, way ahead of the blurry sound we had thought was Very Good from previous upgrading. The original TT designs are very mediocre if they are attractive & well made. The circuits are very safe with what looks like just copying Mullard designs from the late 1950s with the valves running very cool especially on the preamps giving a boring sound. The Prophet pre unwisely uses regulated HT which we ripped out within a year of getting them & the improvement was very noticeable. As the TT amps go as all-original they are clean sounding if rather boring sounding, so to rate them modestly showing there is much potential is right. The price of the Genesis amps has kept quite steady over the years if way off the original selling price. Ones to buy to upgrade is the best recommendation. They do make a room very hot in the Summer as do all bigger valve amps is one minus. BUY-RAW RATING: Only had since ex-demo new, nothing really to go wrong. Beware these should have black fascia panels on the Genesis amps, we've seen several that take these off but lose originality. COOL RATING: 8 the power amps look very stylish if the black front panel others aren't so keen on, we had ours painted gold that looked far more classy, if back to black it fades away a bit. Preamp similar if just a closed box. (2014)
1995 Sony TA-FA3ES amplifier ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Never Worked. UPGRADED: --. 70w.
MOSFET, DIFF, Mains Choke, Direct Coupled. Got one of these to Repair & Service, if you want to spend money on your amp to have it up to spec again it's usually a good one the owner liked, so don't be wary of trying us with your amps if you like them. With Sony we rate their 1960s amps highly if quality does vary over the years & the 1986 TA-F550ES we didn't like. This one in 1995 was in the pre-Internet era when CD players & even the "Tape" inputs say formats DAT (Digital audio Tape) & MD (Minidisc) both which showed promise but failed. "MOS exclusive design" says the front wording. The styling is pleasing with contours instead of square edges & has a Remote as was typical by now. Inside the open grille lets life in. Compared to the lousy 550ES this is far more sensible, large main caps 10000µf 56v, large MOSFET outputs on a copper sheet with a large finned heatsink. Toroidal transformer plus a smaller one which remarkably is a mains choke harking back to valve designs, you'd think they'd use a regulator, quirky. IC controlling means sealed relays for switching. Standard build quality by now means construction looks smart as did the 2007 Marantz PM6002 but the trouble is it's not substantial enough in places & why this one is in for repair. It's not been iopened since new, but if it had already been worked on, the risk of not being reliable is a problem & why electronics today are disposable. They don't make them like they used to. The speaker connectors are proper 4mm sockets unlike the 1984 Sansui AU-G90X, the typical way of putting stopper plugs but pry them out & there's a 4mm socket. Has MM & MC Phono if it looks a basic one as one IC op-amp & a few transistors. Tone is passive & comes after the Volume which isn't such a good idea as volume will vary it's quality. The User Experience with these Remote Control era amps will always suit the modern user, but the sound of later amps is rarely anywhere near the fresh sound of the earlier amps. How will this one do? Price when new was probably around £350 by the tone of other reviews, a modernised version of the 550ES say some but it's totally different. The mediocre looking Phono stage looks like an afterthought & to get you into Digital. Prices secondhand we saw one with no remote for just £80 which is amid general quality amp prices today, another with no remote made £170 in Germany but it'll still need what the one here needs to keep it reliable. Remotes are the problem, a piece of plastic handled & trod on for 20 years means many are gone, but the amp is still useable without, remotes generally for selector & motorized volume. But... this one as a repair was a failure & we did give the customer the option to quit or continue twice. Optimism helps get amps fixed if it's no guarantee & we even done some free fault finding to try to solve it. We get 90% success with amps, but the construction & design of this amp is awful, one fault brings another & this is the cynical junk of today. Later with another "non capacitor coupled" amp it becomes clear why so much trashed, the Built-In Obsolescence of these modern items to be sure once it fails you give up. They got 20 years use, lucky you. Now go buy a new one, even if it lasted 3 years. A cautionary tale on disposable later amps even if the were £400+ new: don't get involved if they don't work, despite being told "it mostly works". Even a 70w Sony amp from 1995 is disposable, we didn't like the 1986 Sony above but this looked more promising. BUY-RAW RATING: Looks decent, but bad construction with the supposedly better 'direct coupling' & design means if it stops working, get rid of it as it's a money pit. COOL RATING: None as it's generic. (2016)
1995 Spectral DMC-30 pre amplifier ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Very Good (once Serviced). UPGRADED: n/a.
110v only. This is the matching Preamp to the below DMA-90 & we got this in late 2017 to service as the owner was having issues. To have both the earlier DMA-90 & the preamp will get this tested better. The preamp is 484mm wide x 104mm high x 320mm deep & is heavier than the power amp. Inputs are 6 line level with no Phono, Tone controls, Filters, if a Mono & Phase button as well as a Tape loop. Balance & Volume are via push buttons on the logic based boards. Inside under a heavy top lid, it's got loads of ICs, not what we expected, if no info found online to know what to expect. Relays, DIL switches & rotary pots to adjust an output volume. Inputs are Phono or XLR connectors, the front does say 'Studio Reference Preamplifier'. Build quality for this USA brand is top quality with one main board with control & inputs and one front board for button controls. The central preamp stages on a raised board. This has 12 of a 14 pin IC, the MPQ6700, MPQ6502 which are actually NPN-PNP 'complimentary pair' drivers in one package and MPQ 3904 which is 4 NPN transistors in one case. It saves space & there are benefits in having matched driver pairs, if the same thing could be done with regular transistors. Sadly these sort of amps have no Service Manuals, the idea is to return to the manufacturer which for heavy items UK to USA is going to cost. AFTER SERVICING & A LONG RUN-IN. The Sound from the Preamp is basically clean, detailed & accurate. It was rather dull & slow sounding before servicing. It does still need some Bass Gain on our soundcard to fill it out to match the 'sound balance' we are used to & a little 16kHz cut to tame the highest treble which is a little harsh. It plays Music well then with good detail, but it's not as good as the hype & buy-price suggests. The sort of amp that buyers of our Rebuilt Vintage are comparing to & finding ours is far more Musical, if not the same power, who actually needs over 100w? Trying Rock it just doesn't have the grunt to deliver guitar riffs, it sounds too thin if again EQ can better it. Not the fastest sounding amp therefore, the dynamics are a bit limited for what it claims to be, ie Studio Reference. Our newly arrived 30w 1978 NAD 3030 has better speed & dynamics on just a serviced amp. A natural compare of the Pre-Power pair is the 1984 Sansui AU-G90X. The sound then on headphones is like veil off & windows open, the Sansui shows the Spectral to be pretty average beyond it's detail resolving, the huge dynamics of our upgraded Sansui version are very different to the stock version. We found the Power Amp itself was better sounding than the preamp which sounds very Bass-light on other power amps. The Spectral offers no scope to upgrade or even repair for the computer board fine double sided track, we've tried to repair computer boards & 'no chance'. Some like these sort of amps based on Hifi Mag hype & Bought reputation, Always interesting to try though. BUY-RAW RATING: The preamp gets very hot inside, poor design & unventilated sealed unit. This is only obvious after longer use we noticed, life of certain capacitors will be limited. Direct Coupling can cause issues with the power amp reacting to an aging preamp for the excess heat by going unstable with rustling noises, if to try Pre & Power apart with Non-Direct-Coupled amps brings no noises & shows the Direct Coupling is the problem. Not Repairable for the double sided fine track. Very expensive for the problems. COOL RATING: 7 this looks very purposeful with all push buttons & a subtle LED display, high 'bloke appeal' with the power amp, minimalist if all very nicely made if not repairable for it. Pity no Phono or Tone for us Vintage fans. (2017)
1995 Spectral DMA-90 power amplifier ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Very Good. UPGRADED: Excellent** (biased to our spec). 100w.
FET, DIFF, 110v only. We got one of these to service-upgrade as it has issues, but certainly don't mind trying quality modern gear if cheap modern gear we'd not be bothered with. This is a USA stereo power amp of 100w in a slimline rackmount type case. It's 110v USA voltage only. Why it needs a 2MHz bandwith when most humans can't hear beyond 20Hz to 15kHz is a bit pointless, if a much argued point by others. The way we see it is why waste power amplifying RF & hash? Construction we saw was very impressive with much care in components, high quality sensible parts & few use the expensive silvered micas as the pillow-shaped brown parts are. 2SK135 & 2SJ50 output TO3s are 100w FETs, There is an op-amp looking device NPD5566 but it's a dual J-FET not an IC so is for the differential like the Sony STR-3650 first used in 1975, a two transistor package. Playing it direct from the soundcard via our headphone box it has a quality sound, clean treble, decent bass if a little soft in balance compared to the Trio WX400U valves & Heathkit AR1500 we played the night before. Some amps are loud enough with 20 on the soundcard, this needs 60+ for a volume suggesting the preamp will be a high gain & a 1.6v output pre is recommended in the user manual as are fussy ideas about 'high current preamps' which makes you buy their preamp too, right? The sound before servicing whilst decent doesn't really excite like the other two oldies, it's a bit restricted in the speed of the music so dynamics seem muted, hard transients don't fully extend as even a 22w JVC can, even using a different headphone box setting shows it's a bit limited & shows a lack of focus more as it plays louder. Nice clean bassline if edging on the tubby perhaps & midrange though, but we aren't using a preamp which is often limited. It claims to be 'ultra fast' but we hear a definite weakness in the lower treble to high treble as many amps have. But without a service manual what we'd upgrade will stay unknown. After servicing, the construction looks good but has some issues that lead things to come loose, such as loose screws & cables without much grip. Biasing is critical as once set right the sound hugely improves on the treble and makes a good listen unlike before when it was pretty average. As the Spectral hits the quality once biased to our spec which may not be the official one based on what it read originally, to rate it as 'upgraded' is possible if the rest is original. The Owner of this amp was delighted how much better it sounded with our 'upgrade' if it all adds to our knowledge of post 1979 amps that generally are pretty lousy, this amp shows there are still Great Amps out there which we like. The ** reveals a problem here. Spectral don't use serial numbers oddly, but on servicing, the one we liked has "Rev D" printed under the main amp board, the same owner monoblocked these so has two & the other one is a "Rev B" but with four soldered alterations which are updated as board track on the D, but there could be other differences too. First play of this serviced & adjusted exactly as the other one wasn't pleasing at all, thin & rough sounding. But on testing the output to test tones the treble rose to 15% higher than 30Hz to 1kHz suggesting an impedance change between versions. Together with the fact we only had the Power Amp not the Preamp sort of leaves us not knowing which version suits the preamp best & it may too come in differing versions. For the buyer new or as used to match the correct preamp to the power amp version could cause issues, you might get both 'bright' versions or both 'dull' leaving this a bit of a concern to match it correctly. The only test would be test tomes to read if the output is essentially flat the full range. But the owner of both of these using the preamp we've not had here yet says they both sound the same & as good as eachother. The preamp impedances will be why & it shows power amps do need the correct preamp, so we'll add this to our 'Buying Advice' page. See the above for the problems with these amps. BUY-RAW RATING: Keep it serviced, biased right & it'll be fine. COOL RATING: 5 just a plain slimline box with a huge rocker switch, minimalist if all very nicely made. With the preamp it's a better look overall. (2015)
2002 Arcam FMJ C-30 preamplifier ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Recommended. UPGRADED: n/a.
IC, Surface Mount. We got an ex-demo one to possibly use with the Musical Fidelity A308CR power amp after tiring of their preamp. The thing was very user-unfriendly to use with buttons to press to access features, clearly the designers never bothered to use it. So naturally it got opened up. The Phono board was a traditional components type board & actually was as good as our valve Phono at the time. But the main PCB was the awful surface mount "technology" with ceramic chip capacitors & other modern IC junk that is not hifi. The Tone has ±12db gain as it is microprocessor controlled but it did little on the speakers. All a waste of money but buying at ex-demo price to sell on was easy enough. To recommend a very awkward to use preamp with ceramic surface mount tech compared to "proper" hifi of earlier years is tricky, but if you are only after modern gear this is probably very much what the buyer unaware of earlier Hifi would be happy with & get little enjoyment from it too. BUY-RAW RATING: Only had new ex demo. COOL RATING: 6 purposeful for the era, silver front & LED displays but fussy to use (2003)
2002 Musical Fidelity A308CR big pre/power amp combo ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Average. UPGRADED: n/a. 250w.
FC, IC, DIFF. We needed to rewrite this Amp review as it was based on opinions from 2002, and since finding our Speaker mismatch theory, we've thought more on this, if not tried one again, but you can't hide a lousy amp. We got the big pre & power amp of the A308CR, model numbers used on an integrated amp too confusingly. It was bought ex-demo on a whim, tired of the heat the valve amps made in Summer. A bad idea indeed, but at a giveaway ex-demo price we managed to get out of ok with ebay. Huge metal casing & cast bits to impress visually, but the inside was miserable & looked like an empty box for most of it, very average spec. The Phono stage on this "High End" thing was a sodding 75p Op-Amp. Everything was just so Ordinary Quality with cheap Ceramic capacitors & a whole lot of circuitry that we found was killing the sound. In fact we used these on either the 250w 15" Fanes or the Tannoy Golds & the sound was just so boring. the amp had no Tone Controls & the Golds do need a bit of Tone we notice on testing later amps. But even then, the Bass was very artificial, it seemed the excess NFB lost bass so they put a circuit to put Bass baclk, sadly no circuits are findable. It actually gave us a Headache & we don't get Headaches unless a bit dehydrated. But the 308 gave headaches each time it was used so it had to go & the TT valve amps bought back again remarkably a few weeks later, if not the same ones. There may be a chance of mismatch on the Power amp, but we did try it with the Valve Preamp with Tone & it still sounded so unappealing. The Damping Factor gives away the high NFB at 180, when Vintage amps are usually 40 to 60. Because Hifi Reviewers aren't as honest as we are, Payola, oversized overpriced merde like this still sells well to those affected with gullibility... Our rating is considered fairly for the false sound it delivers. Ah but the case looks nice which is more important to these MFs. Musical Fidelity are modern mass market crap cleverly sold via Hifi Mag hype to those poor souls in search of Good hifi. Go buy a cheap Leak 30 or 70 & then tell us it doesn't sound more pleasing than just about ANY post 1980 amp. Overall we just didn't like the very average quality of the circuits beyond the flashy outer case work, money spent on casing not in proportion to the electronics inside. BUY-RAW RATING: Only had it when new. COOL RATING: 5 again big stupid oversized fakery like the Sumo, it'll appeal to a certain crowd, but to us they are a bit naff for spending so much on the oversized cases but little on the circuitry. (2003)
2004 Prima Luna ProLogue 2 *Valve* amplifier ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Recommended-Very Good. UPGRADED: Very Good. 40w.
One we got to upgrade & repair so a chance to try a Modern Valve amp that we'd not otherwise get to try. The PLP2 is KT88 40w valve amp with selector & Volume control, a passive preamp therefore. The build as others say is excellent with experienced builders here (in China) if the brand is in The Netherlands. KT88 valves are the ones Reggae Sound systems used to use as a PP pair can put out 100w. The sell price of this amp for the construction is great value, but be sure corners are cut in the circuitry & overall spec, which is more important. It has an autobias circuit that is useful for valve newbies, but overall we prefer to set it ourselves. We get the idea the autobias tries to cover some design weaknesses on the cheap but does it successfully enough. Stick with the PrimaLuna valves, they are much better than "Upgrades" using rubbish valves like the JAN ones. First try, using those "upgraded" valves reveals a lively upfront sound with enough attitude to impress on first listen, but to us we soon find noticeable weaknesses in the sound. Power supply spec is low spec for a start & it becomes harsh quite easily, making Rock especially a hard listen as it runs out of power. The spec is decent in places, but where it matters the sound is left wanting & we soon turned it off, rather than play a few hours like amps we like get. Later using the original PL valves the sound is much more pleasant, if still revealing weaknesses. One stage is a lazy cheapout that others have copied for over 50 years, but it loses a lot of the fidelity. No circuits findable on this, but we found it has AC heaters on the 4 front valves so any upgrading may reveal heater hum, though the design has no noise beyond typical valve noise on Headphones. The trouble with the passive preamp going straight to the power amp is that volume has to be high enough & most amps are with a preamp give a higher signal voltage. Here they just drive the valves a bit excessively creating the hard sound that we still found tiring after upgrading some. But we are listening to Hifi we upgrade to our own non-conformist standard based on Valves & PA quality so know the weaknesses in this amp & tried to overcome some without getting into issues. But for the price these are New or Used on ebay, they are Very Good value. No Phono, except a miserable op-amp IC add on, No Tone, No Headphone, No Mono & No filters may put some off, but if you can live with that this is a Very Good starter amp into valves. On speakers the sound was impressive,, but a bit of a hard edge to the midrange being unbalanced stood out more than via Headphones, but still good enough to rate Excellent. We tried it as a Power Amp using our valve pre with Tone, but this just accented the peaky midrange. For the price, it's a Very Good starter valve amp, easier than the 1960s ones whivh need work done, but soon you'll tire of it's lack of finesse, though our upgrades did improve it quite noticeably, but if deep pockets allow it'll still have impressed to make you want to buy a 'proper' valve amp with the expected features, instead of this basic gear. This was an interesting amp & be sure it's way better quality than the odd Chinese brand ones. It looks best with both cages off, if that reveals some finish issues. Just a shame they have to cost cut the circuitry and spec & skimp on not having a better preamp when we can see they know how do it better than this. But the price is the attraction. There is good upgrade potential in the amp is our opinion after having upgraded the one we had in, but not really worth going too far. Free upgrade hint: ditch the ECC82 (12AU7) for ECC81 (12AT7) as the sound is much sweeter. BUY-RAW RATING: Good. No need to revalve usually. COOL RATING: 6 appealing in a minimalist valve amp way, but looked better with the cases off. (2014)
2007 Marantz PM6002 amplifier ↑
AS-ORIGINAL (Once Serviced): Recommended. UPGRADED: Very Good. 45w.
FC, multiple IC & multiple DIFF. Because it was cheap & looked nice, the temptation to see what a 2007 amp by one of the Top 1970s Brands was too good to miss. First of the PM6000s range that currently is at PM6005. All are 45w amps if mostly black fascia & later ones with a DAC. "Proper" looking on the inside with Toroidal transformer, heatsink, power caps, output transistors. Nicely made in Silver if like a DVD player & no duff capacitors as 2007 often had, Marantz used quality parts. Finally get it working, the sound is competent but very tamed, treble a bit bright & deep bass limited, but most vintage amps after 1967 are low on deep bass too. Not a rough miserable sound though & to be fair as a first play we've heard many vintage amps sound much worse though they suffer from age & being unserviced. On trying Rock it sounds a bit thin without the kick it needs & focus is a bit unsure sounding. Surprisingly they still use messy glue to stop the big caps falling out, vintage amps without the glue coped well so why glue here? We tried it on the 1969 Tannoy Golds expecting a mismatch, but not so. The Tone + to - test showed a noticeable change if not a perfect match. Stereo was wide but overall the limited sound became boring for the deep bass limiting giving a one-note bass & lack of fuller dynamics. But to be fair, on Speakers way beyond it's usual partnering, this amp didn't disgrace itself at all. The Phono stage is cleaner than the awful IC Phono stages of old if soft on detail. The omission of a Mono button is a pity & no Pre Out-In sockets. Source Direct gives buyers the idea it's Amp Input to Volume to Power Amp, how naive. It just bypasses the Tone stage but nothing else. This was a Five Star 'What Hifi' Amp (as most are...) when new. The current PM6005 has no ICs in Audio & adds Digital inputs, but it will be as 'sound mangled' as this one is despite the sales hype. But Marantz still make Turntables. The PM6004 & 6005 hype about no ICs with transistors allowing more design ability, well that's what we said on an early "We Hate ICs" page (now Valves -ICs page) 'An IC is just a general purpose design'. Did they read our page & use our reasoning? The Cold Hard fact is Marantz sales hype gives the impression they are improving all the time, which is not true. After making Transistor amps since the late 1960s you'd think they'd sell better goods than how unappealing the PM6002 sounds raw. We upgraded ours & it improved a lot but still not better than the 2265B we upgraded as noted above, but to score it 'Very Good' is fair, but hardly worth the effort, we just done ours for the hell of trying. Progress in analog audio is a myth. We had a look at the PM6005 current model, it just adds a DAC to the PM6004 & also the higher model PM8004 just has too much additional circuitry to not sound as good as the PM6002 upgraded did. We did upgrade the PM6002 doing 120 changes as so much is dumbed down, but ultimately the fragile build quality is not repair-upgrade friendly to sell it on which confirms how disposable modern electronics are. There is a reason the PM6005 is only £299 new, it's just going to be e-waste in a few years, just like every mass-market cheaply made amp made since about 1982 is. Shocking. See the 'ICs Are Not Hifi' page for more. BUY-RAW RATING: Good but beware Volume control issues. COOL RATING: 6 basic but smart silver fascia for modern life, but otherwise just a plain tin box. (2014)
We've added many pages of photos of the actual amps we had & were taken as they were sold. An unique archive of Serviced, Cleaned & sometimes Upgraded amps with many photos inside & out.
*MORE AMP REVIEWS
See the "Other Amps" page for others we looked at but didn't like or try yet for various reasons, plenty of amps there get a look.