Yamaha CA-410 Integrated Amplifier

Sold for: $205

 

This one I paid way too much for, mainly because I pulled the trigger and purchased it before doing a little research. Still, I made a little coin on the back-end, so all OK!

The CA-410 is the baby in the Yamaha CA-X10 lineup (with the CA-2010 at the top of the tree). This series is perhaps the most famous ever produced by Yamaha, and in many ways was responsible for positioning the brand as a serious hifi producer in the public consciousness. The CA-410 is rated at 25 watts RMS into 8 ohms and weighs about 8kgs.

These smaller models are some of the best vintage buys around. Most buyers chase after horse-power, but when it comes right down to it, we do most of our music listening using only a few watts. My first ever amp, a Pioneer SA-7100, was only 22 WRMS but it was good enough to last for 15 years of music-making and loud enough at numerous parties to get a visit from the noise police! So, if you are on a budget but still want vintage, then this is the way to go. Not too much seems to go wrong with these Yamahas; in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever had to repair one of this series beyond cleaning and lubing pots and switches.

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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!


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:


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!


Teac A-X750 DC Integrated Amplifier

Sold for: $230

This was Teac’s top-of-the-line integrated amp from the late 1980s. I picked it up from a friendly South African immigrant who was living in a small cow town down the line. Yet again another nice piece of hardware that had its origins outside of NZ. It is also a good example of why I take issue with those who say that ’80s gear was crap. This series of amps—the Teac “DC” amps—can be picked up at bargain prices and they are, in two words, damn fine! They are easily as good as Sony and Yamaha gear from the same era. This amp has a thick, black anodised brushed aluminium fascia  with a layout similar to Yamaha. Other notable features are a midrange tone control, MC & MM positions for turntables, and discrete, separable preamp and power amp stages.

I would heartedly recommended that any new owner get inside the case with some contact cleaner and start giving it the shotgun treatment. On this model, I couldn’t even feel the detented central position on the balance knob until it had been given a good soaking. And don’t forget all the switches!

Soundwise, it’s a bit of a stonker, especially when using the CD Direct setting.

Specifications:

90 watts RMS per channel into 8 ohms.
114 watts RMS per channel into 6 ohms.
Weight: 12kgs
Inputs: Phono, CD/VCR, Tuner, Tape 1/DAT, Tape 2
MC & MM Phono Stages
Speakers: A, B, A+B


Kenwood KA-3300D Manual & Specifications

Manual and specifications for the last ever (and possibily the greatest) flagship integrated amplifier that Kenwood produced. See here for a high quality pdf of the manual:  Kenwood KA3300D.


Technics SU-V8 Integrated Amp Advertisement

One of the reasons why Technics outsold Pioneer by 4 to 1 in the 1980s. While Pioneer wandered off into strange plastic, computer-age gear, Technics stuck to the basics in terms of styling as well as offering more than most in terms of power. Also note how the Technics ads from this era are much more visually appealing that the dry, colorless Pioneer fare:

Technics SUV8 amplifier