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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.

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: