Vintage Hi-Fi - I'll attempt to explain what many audiophiles debate day in day out - the truth about vintage Hi Fi, is it better than new? the pros? cons? hopefully my experiences and opinions will be useful to those reading this.enjoy!
To fully appreciate the hype around vintage hifi, we need to cast ourselves back to a time where quality, craftsmanship and innovation were king and high margins and share prices were less significant.
That time of course was the late 60's and 70's where many famous manufacturers such as Marantz, Sansui, Pioneer and Akai to name a few made their mark on the audio world. their aim was to 'out do' their competitor through quality, innovation and craftsmanship where the product sold itself rather than a cheap price point. if you ever get the opportunity to read old advertising articles - you will know that each brand markets attributes such as quality, strength, durability and power! price hardly gets a mention! In fact, the importance of such attributes lead most of the top manufacturers into bankruptcy. Many of them invested so much into the product that their profit margins were so low that they became unsustainable forcing acquisitions and mergers.
From this point on the agenda changed forever. It was all about profit there after hence why so many have renewed their interest in vintage hifi as an alternative. So with all these thoughts in mind, whats better you may ask? new or old? My opinion through owning and listening to over 100 vintage amps and receivers, is that vintage hi-fi provides better value for money and differentiation.
To explain the value for money equation it is important to note that its very easy to spend a few hundred dollars on a system, however the game does not end here, the trick is to do research and buy a mid to top end unit in its day. A quality vintage amplifier or receiver will vary between $150 and $1500 depending on the brand, model, rarity and specifications. Remember that price does not dictate how loud or good the product will be. Having said that, people do pay for quality and if a vintage piece appears to expensive there's generally a good reason why it is! Make sure you keep within your budget and more importantly understand what purpose the system will be used for. For some a vintage piece may be used in the rumpus room, for others it will be their prime set up - either way is fine as long as you have the right product to support your needs. As a general rule try to stick to a reputable brand and model - don't be mistaken, there are some brands and models out there that I call 'sleepers' that can offer a surprising listening experience for a fraction of the price of the more well known brands. However if you prefer to be more mainstream, as a general rule, most mid to top end vintage units from the major manufacturers from the 70's such as Luxman, Marantz, Sansui or Pioneer (there are many others depending on your taste and budget) will definitely impress you with a clean detailed listening experience for a fraction of the price of a new amplifier. If you wanted to match the quality of sound and power of a vintage amplifier with new you would need to spend many thousands and more importantly none of today's equipment carry the sweet characteristic finesse and class of a vintage amplifier. Nothing beats in my opinion brushed metal fascia's, VU meters, plenty of metal control knobs and some weight! The best you'll find today is boring dark boxes with flimsy plastic buttons....
Convinced yet? So far, we have spoken about the benefits to owning a vintage hi-fi system, but what about the cons? My biggest criticism would have to be the servicing component. Don't be alarmed, vintage hi-fi can be reliable as new if they are properly serviced and maintained. Its important to note that even thou these products were made with higher levels of precision and stricter quality control measures, they are still 25+ years old. Would you wait 25 years to service your car? Probably not so why would you wait to service your treasured piece of vintage hi-fi? Key electrical components such as resistors and capacitors or globes may need replacing to maximise the efficiency and listening experience. If you do find a quality hi-fi system you want to keep, i strongly recommend that you invest in replacing these key electrical components to ensure you truly have the best possible listening experience. Many parts are available through your local technician or online.
I hope this review has given you a better understanding of the many advantages to vintage hi-fi and invites new comers to an increasingly popular hobby..enjoy!