Grundig V-1000 Amplifer & T-1000 Tuner

Sold for: $325 

I was so looking forward to trying out this pair when I bought them (along with a Grundig turntable & a pair of Wharfedales speakers). All of this gear had had very little use as it had been in storage for many years. Grundig gear is rare on this side of the world, so I was excited about getting my hands on some of that mythical German build quality  and engineering!

Well, they both worked perfectly (after a little contact cleaner on the amp’s volume and balance pots) but, really, what a major disappointment.

These pieces are clunky, quite poorly made in comparison to most of the Japanese gear of the same era, and they are not overly pleasant to listen to. The amplifier weighs in at 10 kgs, has a massive transformer but is only 35 watts per channel into 8 ohms. It also has two large Siemens 15000 uF caps??? It should be twice as powerful as what it is! What were the Germans doing?

The tuner is perhaps a little more interesting than the amplifier as, although it is analogue, it is enabled so that the user can preset  seven stations and access them via the row of small pushbuttons beneath the dial. I’ve only seen something like this before on Bang & Olufsen analogue tuners. Apart from this function, not even the tuner has much going for it — it even failed to detect several of the FM stations that my Pioneer TX-3000 pulled in with ease.

Overall impressions are that these look better in photos than they do in real life, and that they are both average pieces of hifi gear. But again I got lucky, with two bidders pushing the price up $100 more than I expected to get!

New DVD Player vs. Vintage CD Player: What to choose for your audio system

Not long ago, I read an article that asked why anyone would buy a CD player when a modern DVD player could perform the job of playing music equally as well.

I also recall that soon after I began buying and selling audio gear, I had a similar conversation with a friend in which we discussed the future of the CD player, and especially the used and/or vintage CD players. This particular conversation was sparked by the fact that I would often buy complete systems, from which I would end up with all sorts of CD players that I thought no-one would want. Indeed, a year ago I found it difficult to even give these players away; these older CD players were not even worth the hassle of selling.

But a year is a long time in  audio, and good condition, functioning, classic CD players are becoming sought-after commodities.

So what has changed?

For a start, the 30th anniversary of the compact disc and the CD player is nearly upon us, and this means that one, nearly two, generations have always lived in a world where CDs have always been around. This timeframe is also long enough for a certain nostalgia to take hold, and for a number of people to start looking back fondly on these earlier players. More and more I am seeing both serious collectors and “assemeblers” chasing after older CD players. What do I mean by “assemblers”? These are the people that realise the interesting design styles and characteristics of early CD players which makes them stand out in comparison to the blandness of modern players, and these assemblers are adding vintage CD players into the classic audio systems in their super-cool homes as a talking point. (Interestingly, I’ve seen an surge of interest in cassette decks too for this same reason).

I too have come to  appreciate more and more the aesthetics of these early players. Even the 15-20 year-old players have a beauty, a solidity that has almost disappeared in recent CD and DVD players.

Most sought after are from the follwing brands: Philips, Pioneer Stable Platter, Sony ES, Marantz, Onkyo Integra, Technics AA & MASH.

Benefits of vintage CD players:

1) Fast loading of discs.

2) Detailed display.

3) Multiple play options available on the front of the deck.

4) Quiet operation!!!.

5) Fucking cool looking (Check out the Onkyo below. More buttons than you will ever push).

5) Some great, classic DACs to be found in 20+ year old decks.

6) Can often be found cheaply.

Against vintage CD players:

1) Laser strength and longevity are a lottery.

2) Parts (mainly lasers) are impossible to find for many of the better models.

3) Expensive and sometimes difficult to  fix.

4) No remote control (or it’s gone missing).

5) Often don’t play burned discs.

For DVD Players:

1) Cheap!

2) Generally good 192/24 DACs — good enough that it is often impossible to differentiate between low and high end gear (confirmed by blind tests).

3) Lasers can read anything thrown at them.

4) They have optical and co-axial outs, so can be used as adequate transports.

Against DVD players (when used for audio).

1) Slow.

2) Noisy.

3) No display.

4) Shit styling.

5) Lightweight (The top of the line Sony DVD/SACD player below only weighs a couple of kilograms).

Conclusion: if you are just a casual listener that doesn’t really care about sound quality or style, go for the DVD player. Otherwise, jump into the murky world of vintage CD players and hope you get lucky. As for myself, I think the solution may lie somewhere in between, namely buying a high-end older DVD player. There is some amazing quality pieces out there that can be had cheaply as rich people are getting rid of them in order to upgrade to HDMI and Blu-Ray. Look out for big Pioneers, Yamahas, Oppos and Denons as these all used quality DACs.

Pioneer A-40 Integrated Amplifier

Sold for: $240

This amplifier comes from a very interesting series — at the top of the range was the massive 200 watts RMS per channel Pioneer A-90 (or A-200 in Japan), the biggest integrated amplifier that Pioneer has ever produced (and many consider to be their best integrated).

But the interest in this particular amp lies more in the era in which it was produced and in its distinctive styling. Introduced to the market in about 1984, this line of Pioneer amps seems to be a lightweight attempt to regain some of the kudos of the silver-faced seventies era after the failure of the early 1980s computer-new age-modern-plastic styling that no-one now wants. In fact, history now sees these as transitional models between the failed computer age and the dominant black-faced equipment that characterises the late 1980s and beyond. The fascia is brushed aluminium but the insets and knobs are plastic.

Sonically, these amplifiers are exceptional — they use the same non-switching design that was first popularised in the now-legendary SA-x800 series at the end of the 1970s. This technology would feature in all of the upper-end Pioneer gear until about 1994. It is an effective technology, producing clean, almost clinical, sound with an nearly unbeatable separation of instrumentation throughout the soundstage.

I do not, however, much like the design, as the volume and balance knobs remind me of the smokestacks at nuclear plants. Still, a couple of people liked it enough to get into a bidding war. The eventual purchaser told me he had bought it on a nostalgic whim as he clearly remembers seeing this model in audio shop windows when he was a youngster.

And here are the specifications:

Restoring wooden speaker veneer

So there I was, with a classic pair of vintage speakers but with the wood veneer in terrible condition. Here’s the thing: audio equipment in poor aesthetic condition is difficult to sell (even if it’s working perfectly), to the extent that you can knock off, perhaps, 50% of the value. It’s very rare now that I will bid on equipment that isn’t in excellent condition.

I knew these speakers were worth doing up but I had no idea of the best way to do it. So I went to a local cabinetmaker to investigate the possibility of having the speaker cabinets re-veneered. Well, he laughed, and told me that it wasn’t a viable economic proposition. The cabinetmaker — Terry, his name was — then gave me a can of Howard’s Restor-A-Finish and sent me away. He asked for no money or contact details from me, and this man had never even met me before. All he said was this: “Pay me if it works for you.” (Isn’t it nice to come across some old-fashioned trust and “done-on-a-handshake” values!)

Well, I paid that man less than a day later and I’m still using the same can of Howard’s more than a year later.

The genius of this product is that it’s made for lazy bastards like myself: each speaker took me about 10 minutes to do and there is no prep or messy clean-up. Just wipe in on with an old rag, then wipe it off. Wonderful

Check out these “before and after” shots and you’ll see what I mean:




Technics SA-1010 Receiver Advertisement

I may be wrong, but I do believe that the style of audio featured in this advertisement is never going to be collectable. Despite the futuristic aesthetics, the brute power, and the funky lights, hifi hunters have passed this era by! Instead, the next wave of classic audio gear that is starting to rise in price is the mid- to late-eighties upper end equipment. In other words, this early ’80s stuff has been  completely disregarded. One seldom sees these receivers for sale — did they sell in small quantities or did they break down and get tossed in the garbage? I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the latter as Technics (and many others) around this time put chips into their equipment that made them essentially unfixable if they failed.

Bowers & Wilkins DM14 Speakers

Sold for: $525

B&W DM-14

When I bought these, the photo that was used to sell them on line was one of the worst I’ve ever seen — it looked like it had been taken by a alcoholic on a fall-down-drunk binge at night without a flash. The sales pitch gave no model number, no substantive information or specifications . But I could make out just enough to know what these speakers were, mainly because I’d bought a pair of B&W DM1400s (pretty much the same speaker) a week earlier.

The couple selling me these babies lived quite close — about 10 minutes drive away. Their apartment was in a gated compound built on the side of an extinct volcanic cone — it was all high rock walls, red iron, buzzers and swing gates. They met me outside the front door—a brother and sister—and they were both young: he was about 19, she about 17, with naughty, high-class English accents.

And they were both stinking drunk!

I could smell the gin as soon as they opened the door! A couple of tactful questions later and I’d found out that both Mummy and Daddy were overseas and had left them all alone. My next thought was: “Am I buying the “family silver” so these kids could buy some more gin?”

But because I know a mighty deal when I see one, and because I’m a bit of an alkie myself, and because I have no morals, I forked over the cash and they forked over the B&Ws. Deal done! And as we say, a large result!!!

About the speakers themselves — these are largely bulletproof because they have protection circuits to prevent drunken teens from blowing them up. The first thing you need to check is the tweeters as these can fail, but they are generally repairable. The tweeters on these DM14s were both working, as were all the other drivers. Ahhhhh, what a fucking bonus!

These are superbly built speakers and would give most modern numbers a right thrashing! Although not much bigger than a large bookshelf speaker, they weigh in at nearly 18kgs (42lbs). Check out the numbers on these (and ignore the official B&W spec sheet on these — it is wrong): these are acoustic suspension speakers with a frequency range of 30Hz — 22KHz. Yep, they go real low and with heavily damped and well-braced cabinets, they handle that deep thrust with aplomb. Add to this some real wood veneer and not only do these sound fantastic, they look brilliant too.

Note that they LOVE power — at least, AT LEAST, 100 watts RMS per channel on your amp, and more if you’ve got it. Sure, you can run ’em on less, but they will sound, well, kinda bland.

Dimensions: 560h x 260w x 300d

Pioneer QX-8000A Quadraphonic Receiver

Sold for: $375

When I turned up to buy this receiver, the guy that was selling it to me had, like, totally forgotten that I was coming. Why? Because he was blasted off his box on weed! Not that I care;  I’ve bought a lot of audio equipment from druggies in the last year, and God knows that there isn’t too many vices that I ain’t tried! (Has anyone else noticed that amplifiers that have been owned for a long time by stoners exude a grassy, resinous smell when they warm up?).

This particular monster—these are big amps in terms of both size and weight—had been in the same family for almost forty years, and both the case and fascia looked like they hadn’t been cleaned in that time. All the pots were very scratchy and there was some DC leaking into the system.

Well, I pulled it apart, soaked all the knobs in bleach, gave the fascia the Blue Magic treatment, and sprayed all the pots and switches. Under the grime there was barely a scratch. Take a look — she’s a beauty. The real-wood veneer case got a treatment with some Howards Restor-A-Finish and all the  damage and scratches disappeared. The internal cleaning didn’t resolve all the problems, so it was off to see Fred at the electronic repair shop. Several dry joints and a couple of faulty caps later she was working good as new.

As far as sound is concerned, these are very mellow, warm sounding with not a huge amount of detail. They are, therefore, perfectly suited to the technology of the time, namely vinyl and cassette. Put a classic set of speakers on these with at least a 10″ bass driver and you will be more than happy. And you will smile more than ever when you look at that blue-lighted tuning dial. Remember also that you can configure these as home theatre amps! Yes, that’s right, home theatre. That’s because you can split these machines into two separate amps and send  different signals to front and back. Home theatre is, after all, merely a variation of quadraphonic!

Technics SU-Z960 Integrated Amplifier

Purchased for: $60

Sold for: $146

These are the sorts of amps that Technics sold in vast numbers during 1980s. They were cheap, came as part of a complete set of rack separates, and they were usually extremely powerful (if the specs could be believed). What’s more, they were minimalist cool and black, and therefore oh-so modern compared to the no-longer desireable silver monstrosities that characterised the previous decade. This particular model is from about 1986 and was heading towards the top of the range; it was rated at 110 watts RMS per channel into 8 ohms and weighed about 9kgs.

But before we go on,  lets break this down a little.

A few years earlier, an amp putting out this claimed rated power weighed twice as much. So what changed? Looking inside, the transformer is nowhere near as heavy as earlier models. Furthermore, the amp is not capable of driving four speakers at the same time, nor is it capable of safely driving 4-ohm loads! That’s right — many of the 1980s amps are characterised not by what they can do, but what they could no longer do compared to their earlier counterparts. As a further means of saving both weight and expense, take a look at what Technics does at the back of this amp. What you see is a cooling fan, one that comes on when it gets too hot inside. And the reason why it might get hot? Because Technics saved money by only putting in  very lightweight cooling fins. These amps also have very weak spring clips for your speaker wire and these are prone to breakage and failure.

But don’t get me wrong, Technics was still making some excellent gear during this period (but this amp does not qualify). It looks plasticky but most of it isn’t; it is that particular Technics alloy.  If you are on a budget and can find a good one, these sorts of amps are still worth buying. They sound fine, can generally take a pounding and if it breaks down, just throw it away and buy another.

Here’s the general rule(s)-of-thumb when it comes to buying vintage Technics: (1) if it has a fan for cooling, avoid it; (2) if it can’t drive 4-ohm speakers, avoid it and; (2) if it can’t drive two sets of speakers simultaneously, avoid it.

Ignore all this advice if you can buy it cheap!

Pioneer PL-400 Turntable Advertisement

Pioneer PL-400

Pioneer TX-410 Manual and Specifications

For pictures of the Pioneer TX-410, please see here. For a high quality pdf of the manual, please see here: Pioneer TX410 Manual & Specifications.