Guides, Overview, Thoughts

Owning vintage audio equipment

So you want to finally own that piece of gear you dreamed about but couldn’t afford when it was new? You are getting back into Hi-Fi and want to relive that amp you sold off 25 years ago? Or maybe you just like the sound and craftmanship of vintage gear better? whatever the case might be – I fully understand the drive to own and collect vintage audio equipment – there are a ton of reasons why I personally like the 40-year-old hardware. But there are things you need to know and need to consider before jumping out and spending a lot of money. It is not for everybody.

10 Things every vintage Hi-Fi owner should be able to do

Below is a list of the most fundamental advice I could give anyone who is thinking about pursuing vintage audio. If as a collector or for the home system. Use some of these points as a checklist for yourself – and consider what is right for you.

Check DC offset on your amplifier (Or checking tubes!)

Checking and adjusting DC on a Marantz 140

When you buy a new amplifier or if you take your old one out of storage after a long time, it is a very good idea to get to know the “state” of the output amplifier. For transistor gear this is usually fairly simple and can be done with help from the service manual, a variac and a multimeter. The idea is to measure the amplifiers speaker outputs for a DC signal. The lower the better – usually below 50mV is preferred and can be considered “safe”.

Personally i always use a variac so that i can monitor amperage and slowly turn the gear on full power (AND this can really save older capacitors – just plugging it into the wall, is the same as taking an old car straight onto the race-track) After i reach the normal voltage-supply i wait for around 10-15 minutes, nothing is smelling and there is no audible noise. I make sure volume is turned down, and I put the selector on a Line-level signal (Like AUX). and measure the DC for each speaker, both left and right. I write down the result in my logbook along with the date and the serial-number. Next time i take this piece out, i can make sure it hasn’t drifted too much, which would mean a service.

When it comes to Tube equipment, tubes doesn’t last forever, and there are warning signs that the tubes might not be up-to-snuff. I don’t own any Tube-gear, but I do know that you never (EVER) turn on a piece of tube equipment without having a set of speakers plugged in – and that if you do not know what you are doing, don’t poke around inside! Capacitors in both tube gear and transistor gear can kill you even after the machine is off the mains.

If you want a more technical run-down, please read EchoWars magnificent explanation on Audiokarma.

Check and adjust Bias

Just like checking and adjusting DC, Bias is the supply voltage for the Transistors and the tubes in your amplifier. The service manual (usually) has a good outline how this is measured and adjusted, I always check and set Bias on my gear, and write it down for future reference, if I need to make sure that it is still “Healthy”. Sometimes i even dial it down a bit, if I know this piece of gear has a tendency to run hot or to spare hard-to-get parts.

Knowing, and checking for the most common faults.

Let’s say I buy an old pair of vintage speakers. I buy an original pair, and they are in good condition. The seller uses them every day and they play heavenly when i take them home. Now the bass driver has foam surrounds, which I know deteriorate over time – but mine are fine. Problem is, I don’t know for how long – so I need to make it a habit to check for common faults or mistakes. every now and then i inspect and feel to make sure they are not breaking, as breaking could lead to a burn voicecoil and even worse destroy my amplifier. On a record player I normally get a sense of the time it takes to reach the normal speed, does this suddenly change my motor might need servicing.

On my Marantz amplifier i know exactly how hot it needs to be – not by reading, but with touch. a couple of times a week in long listening sessions i put my hands on the sides of the cooling fins and make sure it is alright.

It is not rocket-science, but it is different from piece to piece. Think about owning a vintage car; you will need to spend some time listening and adjusting in between trips, to make sure it runs smoothly and properly – it is the same with vintage audio equipment. And this is a point where we typically see a lot of people going for new gear instead. It just works, and it doesn’t pose the same hassle day-to-day.

Only trust yourself.. And your repairman

I wouldn’t trust anyone other than myself and my repairman to tell me my gear was healthy and in good working condition. More often than I would like, have I bought a piece of gear from a person, it looks perfect and we are listening to it before i haul it with me, only to find traces of bad repairs inside when i get home. It could be output amplifiers with different output transistors, one of two capacitors that were changed or fuses wrapped in tin-foil. When calling the seller, they have never had it opened and they didn’t know.

I have collected gear for almost 15 years now, and it has taken me a long time to find a repairman i completely trust with my equipment. I know everything and I mean everything has been thoroughly checked. A good and trusted repairman is as valuable as a multimeter and a screwdriver.

knowing when it is just a pretty face, and not worth your time

Some pieces of gear is easier to own than other pieces. It might be a design that wasn’t built to last for 45 years and are starting to deteriorate. It might be built with components that are completely impossible to source today, or it might be built, in a way that is cannot be serviced. More often because of these things have I changed my pursuit away from one manufacturer to another. Not because of sound quality but build quality.

This other day one of my dear friends got his hands on a long wanted dream amplifier – the Luxman L58A. It is a very lovely and well-sounding amplifier. But he found a minor fault with it, (The tone control circuit would introduce a loud hum).  We took it apart to see if we could easily locate the error – it might be a cold solder joint i similar – we didn’t locate the error, but all over the boards where burn-marks from the transistors running hot, the machine was in a dire need of a proper service. Along this we both know that if a single one of the output transistors die, we cannot source new pairs as they are No Longer Available. After a couple of days thinking, he decided that it went back to the seller – The Luxman L58A would pose more trouble to own, than the joy it would bring.


Luxman L58A
The Luxman L58A – photo by Louislang89


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