Vintage Hi-Fi Info
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*See our NEW Hi-Fi Blog page
lots of New Sections since Jan 2017 that add a wide range of Hi-Fi & Tech related subjects plus opinion on Hi-Fi News 1970-1980 as we read through.
Includes New Articles on this page's subject. This page has been updated & read through with 2017 ideas & with an Index to navigate.
Playing Records Like They Used To Be.
This page was where our Hifi pages started in 2010. One random page about Old Record Players that grew into the multi pages site of today.
What People Used To Play Records In The Early Years.
The 'Virgin Book of Hit Singles' takes over from the Guinness one & in the intro to the 2nd Edition it says 78s in the 1950s were being played on Wind Up Gramophones still. Really? Electrical Graphones & Radiograms were around from the late 1920s & the firsr "modern" upright one that doesn't look like the earlier wind-up ones must be our Pye G/RG with the Sunrise design, mentioned below. There will have been those still using wind-up players, but the majority of homes had invested in a Radiogram by the 1956 Rock & Roll era. For a start, a wind-up player tracks at several ounces, a loud cut 1950s 78 will have got it's grooves heavily worn after a few plays & few ever changed he needle each play as insttructed. So, Virgin, do your research & don't patronise with your ignorance of how music was played in the 78 era which was just about ended by mmid 1958. People used Electricity. The fact the same silly book says Singles sales are at an all time high with 152.7 million sales compared to 89.1 million in 1979 is stupid too as in 1979 you bought a 7" or 12". Today you hear an "Album" and buy the tracks you want from it & all then are 'Single Tracks'. How many LPs sold in 1979? Music sales are way down compared to 1979 if you read through the BS facts. Downloads now are 98% of music sales in Singles, oops the Hard Drive dies, all gone. Tee hee. A 78 is forever until you sit on it.
For many buyers in the 1950s & 60s a cheap Dansette or similar portable or table top type 45/LP player was a low-cost essential item to buy or hire-purchase & as the popularity of 45s & LPs grew, those by mid 1958 refusing both 45 & LP were Dinosaurs. But even in 1958 the amount of wind-up Gramophones even & the classy 78-only Radiograms from the 1932 Pye G-RG with the famous 'Sunburst' design, very smart in oak compared to the more ordinary Pye G radio in walnut, to the 1947 Decca Decola & 1949 Murphy A138R, a great design that looks like a rocket with a crazy sticking-out tuner dial part, with the more early-hi-fi designs, together with those ugly ones no-one wants now for a tenner were still in use must have been in the millions. The buyers of 78s by 1958 were more aged & only really buying a pop hit that crossed beyond the Teenage market as they didn't feel the need to ditch the 78-only player as their music was all on 78. But the pre-war grams usually faded away around this time (or earlier) as the primitive 'pepperpot' capacitors dried out, but replace the caps discretely & all comes back to life. Keep the old bits intact though. You sadly see these early grams butchered in the late 50s-early 60s & nasty cheap late Garrard or Collaro turntables put in, never a 301 though. A wind-up type or old heavy magnet arm early electric turntable using steel needles was too hard on a loud cut 50s 78, it weighed several ounces. All before the lighter needle pickups (eg Columbia & Decca pickups) & then the crystal ones from the early 50s. The 1930s arms suited lower cut 78s & with the weight stayed solid in the grooves, but a loud R&R 78 would get the grooves smashed with a steel needle as the weight stopped rapid movements loud 78s needed, just look at the grey grooves & lack of real sound. Playing an early Bing Crosby "Stardust" 78 on an early 1930s gram, all in working order, as it was played on at the time sounds really eerie especially with the creepy Max Fleischer type intro. The 1932 Pye G-RG with it's Mazda AC PEN output valve gave a less crisp sound than later grams but with an unique vocal volume and rich tone as this early 4w output valve gave, all harmonics & distortion but in a good way, just as it was heard at the time. The classy deco Collaro arm (no model number, must be their first electric one) in the G-RG tracks at a mighty 132 grams, over 4.5 ounces. Later Collaro were nearly as bad as BSR as many old companies cheaped out to survive. Any buyer of pre-war 78s should have an early gram to hear what their Grandparents heard at the time and have fun taking the moving iron pickup apart to redo the solidified rubbers & try not to naff the fine coil wire.
Any buyer of Wartime & 50s 78s really needs a Jukebox as more heard music this way than at home. Having a later 45s playing Gram like the Blaupunkt-Blue Spot with it's rattly glass cabinet isn't quite the same. That Murphy gram A138R (78s only) really played this era of 78 well & now it's a £££ one in the league of the Decola with it's 2 PEN44 output valves & using a steel needle still, if an improved smaller version Columbia "99" lightweight needle was kinder to louder 78s. Never had a Decola, though we had a mid 1930s Decca gram (nothing special in any way looks or sound) that a Japanese buyer paid a fortune to ship.
If you play the earliest 78s from the Acoustic era, ie pre 1925 when Electric Recording started, then the best authentic sound is from the large horn players, all mechanical & aluminium sound boxes. Hearing a prewar 78 on a modern hifi with the LP type EQ wrong spoils the sound, it should be played with no EQ & then the vocal sounds natural & the surface noise blends away very differently. Read online about the complex 78 playing systems some use. 78s even in the 50s had a different EQ to 45s, that big bassy sound is great on a jukebox, but it's not natural, see the EAR player below to see some makers realised this.
78s Are Actually Hifi Items.
Amid the surface noise, only a good pickup, preamp using variable EQ & ultimately amp can bring the music to life and prove how well recorded 78s are with good ambience & life that "restored" ones often kill. This from our Yamaha CA-1010 section: On playing noisy records especially old 78s as recorded with no decrackling, the music & noise appear a separate entity which is how a good amp delivers it up. Through the 78 noise the actually hifi quality of a 1929 recording is much higher than the "restored" horrors some offer up, all dull & bassless. Many amps make 78s sound uncomfortable to listen to, only a fast reacting one with enough power to deal with rapid clicks rather than clipping them will do. Even a 1926 recording just a year after Electrical recording started has a good ambience.
The TANNOY pre-war speaker you see was another junk shop find, it needed refinishing but didn't get new cloth as impossible to find in those days. It was dated just weeks before WW2 started so it spent its years playing out music & announcements somewhere in North London until it ended up in a shed for decades. The Speaker inside was a big 12" one, looking pretty much like the early dual concentrics, the 15" Monitor Black in particular. It had a bolt-on suspension for the speaker diaphragm assembly & was otherwise like a speaker of years later. The metal was a bit rusty but affected the sound only lightly, today you could get it repolished no doubt. The cabinet was a thin solid oak case & the attractive Tannoy logo was on an oak veneered plywood front for reasons of strength with the lettering. The back was ply with a Tannoy badge with 4 square holes cut leaving a cross shape middle & covered with thin gauze type cloth. There was a space were a transformer would have been & most of the Tannoy label with a late Summer 1939 date. You want to know what it sounded like? It had no tweeter at this early time and the cabinet was pretty open, but playing music through it to a reasonable volume, assuming it was only a 20w speaker, the sound & smoothness of it was very appealing & why Tannoy Silver & Golds are so popular. To mount it in a proper cabinet would reveal it's bass qualities, but we didn't try it. The accurate vocal must have chimed out the radio announcer's words perfectly & clearly and must have been considered a great item at the time. But to find one now will not be easy, thousands were made but how many survive? Ebay hasn't turned one up in ages though smaller bakelite ones have appeared.
These players in Portables or Grams were useful to stack up vinyl & have them playing for a good time before needing your attention. But they wore label edges as a record dropped "plop." onto another (great idea for 78s...) and as explained below caused scars to vinyl. Of a few Portables/Table tops we've had, read on for our verdict. The Pye Black Box gram was first made in 1953 with a strange chunky white armed deck & by 1957 it has the BSR UA8 deck and a very optimistic "Hi-Fi" badge, a ridiculously insanely hyped user manual where it gives the idea you have bought Hifi Nirvana instead of a rumbly turntable in a thin wood box with no tweeters or anything we'd see as hifi now. The scary autochanger bouncing away on it's pointless springs literally throws the arm across too quickly, but does settle down before it hits the grooves and is actually safe if serviced & adjusted unless it's faulty & must explain why so many LPs of the 50s & 60s have a heavy needle scratch in the first track. Later ones used Garrard decks with tweeters fitted & a superior amp & even gave way to transistors by the late 60s, but still in an open box, not hifi at all really, but a glimpse. There was even an early 60s large Stereo "radiogram" type version of the Black Box based more on the Pye 1005 Stereophonic Projection player but with a manual deck, a glossy topped (too high for a) Coffee table affair but oddly just a turntable inside & no radio. It was one of the first Grams we got to use beyond the home setup & The wide Stereo separation of the Everlys "So Sad" from a budget LP sounded great back in the day.
1957 High Class Portable Record Player.
Another old player we've had more recently is the EAR Triple Four with a Garrard RC120/4H deck that is not a bad unit with good hints of care in the design if too early to realise a thin open box ain't going to sound good as it's a 1957 model. Inside left is a large oval driver, a smaller one on the right & 2 small drivers at the front aiming to be tweeters. Selectable EQ for LP or 78 is a pretty unique one for a portable player to have too. The Garrard changer is naturally way better than the UA8 though the arm moves fast across at 78 it's better controlled though does drop the arm down a bit fast leaving an obvious needle bounce line on the run in. Explains why many hits have well needled run-ins & still high grade vinyl. The turntable has a Manual or Auto selector, but if you stack some vinyl & hit Auto/Start but leave the arm clip on, it goes nowhere, BUT.. on unclipping the arm, it's scarily under spring tension to the cue-in area & can leap across & whack a big gouge out of records, again explaining the big needle digs & damage at the start of unfortunate 50s & 60s vinyl. One we used for many years was a Sobell tabletop with a Collaro deck. Hardly sophisticated either, but as the changer was driven by an idler wheel onto the platter it moved slower and more controlled. These autochanger players are not refined objects as you can see. There are many other cheap cardboard cased record players from the 50s with a very basic turntable & manual arm, picnic hamper style. With one valve & a small speaker, a nice but thin sound was what you heard.
They Did What To Them...?
Many old pre R&R era Grams are sadly found long-since butchered with cheap three speed players put in, but find the model that went in originally and put it back together again, though the modern turntable will always have a bigger cut-out hole than the Garrards of the 30s so don't expect it to be easy. Some of these seemingly rare early spare turntables sell very cheap on ebay. Whilst on the subject of players the ubiquitous Dansette must feature, from the crappy plastic grilled ones to the better late 60s ones with a Garrard deck & vinyl covering & legs that now hit £300 on ebay. And if we're getting stereo-sentimental, the Hacker Centurion kept us entertained in the late 1980s in our earliest incarnation as a record dealer. Oddly the black & plastic lid one was had twice, yet you only see the earlier silver & teak wood lid ones around now from 1970-71. Best buy the GAR 550 as the GAR 500 with only 10w is still a bit lacking even after some redesign, the 550 has a whopping 14w but is better on the power amps and harder to clip. The LS1000 or similar speakers, though looking nice are too boxy sounding as thin sides & the paper tweeter & extra squawker (pre EMI oval driver) are not hifi but worth re-speakering the cabinets though.
Radiograms are Furniture Too.
Record Players & Radiograms are Furniture items, not in the same quality as Hifi separates, but still buy them as you like the oldness, the retro looks & the warm and sometimes fuzzy rich sound they were back then. If it works ok, leave it alone, if not, get it to work but keep it looking original as much as possible. Lofi old record players & grams? That's how buyers played their music & yet enjoyed it more intensely than us today for several reasons. Top 40 Music 1955-1984 was for many types of listener, but today's Top 40 is so narrow & how many classic tunes since 1985 are there compared to the 1955-1984 era? QED. Life pre Computers looks very basic & deathly boring in general to us modern folks & having a record to play was all you had & it meant much more. Similarly in the prewar years, Kids had their annuals & used to learn the poems by heart as that was all they had to do. Sadly they coloured the pages in too. Yet odd how much more miserable & unsatisfied we are today with so much more to do.
The USA market of quality Console Stereos that are upgrade Radiograms with huge speakers & a cool 60s Retro Pad look usually didn't make it to the UK, though we did see a few 1970s ones years ago that looked cool but a Console-Radiogram is never the highest fidelity. But for Retro Furniture items they will have a better value as decorator home pieces if you have the room for them & you get a music centre too. The idea of speakers in the same cabinet is a difficult one, even if the speaker enclosures are made like hifi speakers they are too near the turntable & the feedback howling sound is a problem, if you have one with bouncy turntable springs tighten them down & you'll get the feedback howl. Many hifi of pre 1970 was built into a console, a custom or home made unit usually stuffed with quality seperates like Garrard 301s, Quad IIs & one we had with a Dynaco Stereo 120 in. As the years moved on more items were made for free standing & the idea of having valves glowing for decoration instead of tucked away out of sight is a far more recent fashion.
(An early Hifi bit that'll stay)... Most pre 1975 hifi suffers from poor power supply design with high 0.2v AC ripple common on 40v but oddly not intrusive on a good design, deliberate limitations to cut bass extension due to rumble etc & the fact they need recapping if they are to be used regularly. Another bad design often seen is running Line Level (Radio Tape CD etc) thru a large value resistor to decrease it so it can be used with the low level phono stage. That is just crap in today's ideas, but few realise amps like Rogers Cadet III use this awful circuitry. £300 is where they sit on ebay, overpriced & not very reworkable. Also playing your Computer sound card thru a modern amp sounds fine, but use a vintage one like the Hacker mentioned above & it picks up ultrasonic noises from your computer that you can't lose.
The thing here is basically a price issue. Some high end Radiograms like the early hifi ones like the Decca Decola & the Murphy A138R as we mention above are the top of the market. There aren't too many very stylish Radiograms, most are boring walnut veneer efforts explaining why many aren't much wanted, but there are some Art Deco & very 1930s design like the Pye G/RG Sunrise radiogram. There was a fashion for "Blue Spots" aka Blaupunkt, but these shabby things with a rattly glass cabinet are naff to us.
Record Players were generally cheap items as they were aimed at teenagers, we have an E.A.R Triple Four which looks pretty smart in Grey or Dark Red, but only with the Garrard RC120 Mk I, others don't cut it. Dansettes & even an HMV late 1950s player are very cheaply made items, to the point barely worth restoring them, though the inflated ebay prices we find a bit suspect.
Then there are RADIOGRAMS, RECORD PLAYERS and MUSIC CENTRES and dare we say STACK SYSTEMS to consider...
This second part wasn't online 2013-2016, but it's worth reviving & for how odd some of it is, especially the Hifi Buyers stories... it'll stay unedited...
And onto the lower end... The ghastly Amstrad tower stack system, actually a one piece effort is what gives 1970s "stereos" a bad name. Based on genuine separates component systems that were put into racks & with carrying handles like Studios use, these cheap efforts were the low point of what loosely is Hifi. Looking through the Hifi Yearbooks, these systems, both cheap & expensive, never seemed good value & power outputs & everything else on a buy-all-as-one-item systems was a compromise as in 1979 who was going to spend over £500 on one of these as they'd buy separates instead.
Music centres we saw a lot of in the 1980s, some awful, some not bad though seeing the prices, the not bad's were £500 too. Cassettes were the thing at the time for us, recording Records onto Tape to play on the Portable Player of the "Ghetto Blaster" type, not that they played that loud really. Not money well spent as if you wanted a better turntable, the whole lot had to go. The Speakers were generally laughable at best, the boomy thin chipboard box with 4 or 5 drivers, some fake even, were what people hated & went to buy a budget pair of "proper" speakers.
To be fair, on some of these systems, taken what they are into consideration, if paired with better speakers, they weren't so bad. But in comparison to the sound of the "old junk" they replaced, ie the late 1960s-mid 1970s stuff we like so much, people were clearly fooled into thinking newer was better, even in the early 1990s we used to hear people say the better Music Centres they preferred to the new stuff of the day, but it's made a bit worthless when you realise what junk they recently bought.
A TRAGIC HIFI BUYER'S STORY...
This is based on fact as well as some likely scenarios. A lot of "Stereo" buyers through the decades only buy the cheapest items, comparing £ for £ in terms of buying power, see the "Pound" page, they paid a whole lot more in 1975 than they paid in 1990 black plastic box they now realise is rubbish. The cheaper end gets cheaper... In 1963 you bought a Dansette and it wore your records out quickly, in 1967 you bought a ex-display teak HMV Radiogram in the sale, in 1972 you wanted a fancy B&O Beomaster 3000 like the posh woman you do gardening for had, but instead saved a bit of cash and bought a Armstrong 526 from Comet that didn't last long. In 1975 when you got a better job, a medium-name brand Music Centre sounded the best so far as you blasted out "Rock Your Baby" to the neighbours at 2am, in 1982 an Amstrad stack system with a smoked glass door was "the thing" to buy said your brother-in-law as music centres were out of date & in 1988 a midi CD & Tape system in black plastic with square speakers & a graphic equaliser was bought out of a catalogue as the Amstrad rolled too close to the open fire & melted... You sadly bought crap every time except the Music Centre, you wasted your musical appreciation. In 1972 your £100 Armstrong bad buy, for £40 more you could have had that B+O Beomaster 3000 and grown in your appreciation of music, instead of using that £40 to buy...
Stories of unwise buyers saving a few pounds & unknowingly buying crap are more interesting than those dryly buying the top model every 4 years... We had one ebayer proudly tell us he bought a lousy amp we were selling cheap & he clearly got ripped off in 1974 as the HFYB Book price was £40 less even in 1975. The 1990s was still a cheap Black stack system as we saw others with, all ghastly sound & stupid graphic equaliser flashing light displays at the expense of sound. Probably didn't change much at the mass market level though we were long since uninterested & therefore unaware of what people used. Then comes MP3 & i-Pods & Smart Phones that play processed & bandwidth limited sounds through tiny earphones. How far down the musical quality ladder we have gone, even a 1970s Radiogram would be better sounding. Buyers are getting tired of earphones & hifi systems new & old are still selling, but the development & excitement of the 1970s era in Hifi is unlikely to return & younger buyers unaware of these real hifi items are missing out. Educate your offspiring & relations, play them your music on your player & they'll care for it when you're gone...
ANOTHER TYPE OF HIFI BUYER...
The buyer with more money to spend. They started out in 1962 buying a Garrard 301, Decca arm, Quad II amps, preamp & tuners & probably ESL57 speakers (we never saw those). They were built into a big wood cabinet as was the fashion, but they weren't used much after the Kids arrived in 1964. The wife of the Family preferred the Blaupunkt-Blue Spot Radiogram her Dad gave her so she could display her gaudy trinkets in the glass cabinet. Back in the days when Men were Men, not the Pussy-Whipped Moisturisers of Today, the Man wasn't having that, so in 1969 he bought another separates system as he was sick of the Archies & Banana Splits, all were in the latest Transistor designs. He bought well, his Sansui 3000A (or Sony STR-6120) together with his Tannoy 15" Golds (or similar) fitted out his home Office well. Now he had been promoted, he had money to spend. The Office was a ruse, it was the Man-Cave of today complete with TV & Bar. He bought a Goldring Lenco Turntable too, though he hankered after his old Garrard 301 still, but this would do & she'd now used the cabinet to put a delightful pot of Plastic Flowers on with a paper doily. Marry a stupid woman & suffer... it serves you right? Still, at least she was Pretty & could Cook, the rest you can imagine. This was the 1970s after all. The man who wasn't such a fool loved his second Hifi as it was still excellent quality until a transistor blew & as it was 1974, money was tight. He still loved his Stereo Jazz LPs and wanted to live back in that world which was fast fading away. He saw a nice Bang & Olufsen audio system in one of those glossy magazines she read & B+O meant you were posh & his South London roots still troubled him & the elocution lessons weren't cheap. But funds were tight & the nice Beosystem 3000 was £344, but the Beosystem 1000 was only £193.40 & it still had the same name so who'd know? Only later on cranking up Miles Davis did he notice it wasn't as powerful, but swig deeper into that friendly bottle & it mattered not anymore. The drink also helped hide his ageing waistline & the awful hairpieces & false eyelashes the Missus used too often as well as funny smells from the Neighbours place. One drink too many in 1976 and on hearing the Sex Pistols say "Fuck" on live TV was too much for him & he tripped up & spilled so much wine on his B+O that it electrocuted him. There, saves us having to pretend to care about writing what cheap & nasty Hifi he would have bought in the post Jubilee years, he'd have done no better than the one above. Life is only there to piss you off and annoy you to make you Kill yourself, isn't it? Keeps the population low, well it did until Labour Policies were introduced... The expensive Quad-Garrard system stayed with his wife who had turned to collecting Cabbage Patch Dolls by now & cared not for the box they stood on as it filled a space. Only her later suffocation on the filling from these Dolls as Rats got in as she never bothered to clean up after our Hero fried himself B+O wise did the house get cleared out to a Second Hand shop & via another came our way. How pissed he'd be to hear we got £1600 for the Quad 4 pieces, a price sellers have hoped to get since we sold them in 2002. We kept his 301 to this day & flogged the grey one as the oil one is better than the grease as it has no drag-damping the grease one has! Funny ol' world innit? Live now, reap the rewards & enjoy the best of life while you can...
Our Early Years Into Hifi & Record Players
The first amp we bought was the Realistic STA-2280 in 1988 and since revisited it on it's page on this site. We had access to many Record Players, Radio Grams, Music Centres & Stack Systems as the Family owned a Secondhand Shop, so you can see the interest was there.
Our first interest was in 78s as a pre-teen & getting an old motor from, ahem, what was done at the time, people butchered old wind up players to make drinks cabinets out of them. If you put a nail in the groove it makes noise, which was seen as a miraculous discovery to some! Some 45s came our way & we really did nail a Mint copy of Jackie Wilson "Baby Workout" to the shed, but after ruining it playing it with a nail. Other 45s by Russ Conway headed the same way, we used to look for ones with wider grooves as they played louder, ie short running 45s. It then progressed to getting a ceramic cartridge and fixing it to a stick and then getting a pencil thorough the 45 or 78 & spinning it to play the music, ever inventive! Then the family hifi was taken over after extremely long "repairs" to get a simple switch repaired. Then we got a batch of Beatles 45s as a 12 year old & recorded them all to tape. See the "Parent's Hifi" page for more on that.
After that junk shops & boot sales supplied older Hifi which we learnt the hard way with, though at the time it was £10-20 to buy these, some now are expensive! We bought a Marantz PM-62 amplifier after hearing it with Tannoy 609s, the Marantz CD-52 Mk II SE & a midprice turntable. Naturally it was a good match amid those 3 parts, but with our non-tailored sound older Speakers & dull sounding room at the time it wasn't so great after a while. Kept getting old amps from Rogers to Sansui to Bang & Olufsen to Marantz as well as Goodmans & other odd cheaper amps. They were for nothing back then, unwanted.
After this, we didn't buy new again until about 1998 buying the ex-demo Tube Technology amps. Then again a brief & rapidly exited foray into the Musical Fidelity nightmare in about 2002. For some reason we bought a Sony STR-6120, perhaps it being big & cheap was why, but it had a lot of problems. We recapped it, altered it a lot, still found the power amp was too unreliable yet used it as a preamp with the Tube Technology valve amps before they got redesigned. With the Sony as a sound reference! That STR-6120 we parted out in the end & sold the parts so well we made enough in effect to go buy a high grade one from Canada!
Wanting music through the Computer as things moved on though we still played CDs as Hard Drives were too small to have the whole CD collection on a Hard Drive like today. The first amp we used on the computer was a Rotel RA-03 slimline integrated amp, stuffed with cheapness but sounded better than expected when partnered with Tannoy speakers & using it as pre & power with valve amps. It got replaced with a Sony TA-1150 which we tried to improve but was lacking. It had an IC or two naturally. Then we wanted to play records so bought the Hacker GAR 550 which was Ok but soon found to be lacking. To buy an amp to fit inside the case got us buying the Trio-Kenwood KA-2002 at 18w it sounded so much better than the Hacker.
Realising this was fun as well as an earner on selling the Trio & the Sony on, the next buy was a brave one, a Sansui silver faced valve receiver from 1966, but with no FM multiplex. It looked such a mess of hard wired parts underneath, together with no FM Multiplex, a single (Germanium) transistor for the phono. Realising even if we recapped the whole thing, it has 2 weaknesses, it was sold on for a small profit. By this time other Trio-Kenwoods had arrived, a KR-4140 receiver was the computer-used one but then the Bug had bitten & all manner of amps you see written on these pages arrived. B+O Beomaster 3000 was an early buy as were the other Beomaster 4400s, of which we had more than one. Selling these on once serviced & cleaned up nice saw a chance to buy any amp we liked, research it, do it up & flog it on for a profit. The outcome of those exploits are these pages, now edited to be more meaningful with the less relevant "found a dead spider in it" type comments & early compares to others that are now covered by the Top Amps pages edited.