For audiophiles, there’s no doubting the appeal of vintage audio equipment. Part of it has to do with rarity, the thrill of hunting down a Marantz stereo receiver from the 1970s, heritage speakers by Klipsch or JBL, or a vintage Thorens turntable. Part of it has to do with fidelity, that the old stuff sounds better. And part of it has to do with charm and character. Vintage units just have that special something that modern equipment lacks.
“I constantly use the analogy of vintage cars running parallels with vintage audio,” says Mike Garry, owner of Hudson Valley HiFi, which specializes in buying, restoring and selling vintage audio equipment. “The early 1970s muscle car may not be as reliable or perform as well as a modern one, but there is just something cool and fun about the 50-year-old model.” Like with vintage cars, vintage audio depends a heck-of-a-lot on restoration. Old gear naturally breaks down over time and needs new parts to perform at their best. A lot of these vital parts, also, aren’t being made anymore because they’re so old, so restoring them isn’t a quick fix for technicians at these vintage audio shop. For consumers, this means they are either finding non-working units and getting them restored, or likely paying a premium on restored units.
Garry’s shop, Hudson Valley HiFi, is located in Cornwall, New York, on the western shore of the Hudson River, and it specializes in both modern and vintage audio gear. “Unlike most audio equipment businesses out there, the most common equipment we sell is two-channel stereo,” he said. For vintage restoration, Garry says that they work primarily on the 1960s vacuum tube gear and 1970s solid-state. To get a little more insight, we asked Garry to share the most popular receivers and amplifiers that people come to his shop for. The answers, in all his own quotes, are below.
Some of the below quotes have been edited for brevity and clarity.
“The Fisher 500c was a wonderful receiver made in New York in the early 1960s. It was one of the first FM stereo tuners to use multiplex, which is the same system for FM stereo used today. It utilized a variant of the 6L6 power tube 7591 which provided 32wpc powering most efficient speakers at that time. The 500c was a little over $400 new, which at the time was a good chunk of change. The prices of Fisher tube gear have skyrocketed and it is difficult to find good clean examples — now but they are still out there. I highly advise against playing these units without proper restoration, since wall voltage is quite a bit higher than when these were new and this increases the voltages in the amp. There are many mods we do to Fisher gear to make them safer and run a little cooler on modern wall current.”
Price: $1,800 (restored); $1,400 (eBay)
“If any marketing team wants to see a successful campaign from the mid-1970s, they can check out the brilliant ads for the Marantz 2270. Ads included a story of a fire in an apartment building in which a beloved 2270 fell through the floor yet survived only requiring a new power cord since the original had melted. Thanks to their marketing, Marantz sold a ton of 2270 receivers and it became an icon. The aluminum faceplate with beautiful dashed knobs, three sets of four buttons below a blue backlit dial, has such appeal even 45 years after it hit the market. The sound of the receiver is so enjoyable even Marantz’s current two-channel amps are voiced similar to the 2270.”
Price: ~$1,300 (eBay)
“In the later years of the 1970s, the big receiver builders were at each other’s throats building the biggest most powerful units they could. The Pioneer SX-1250 is not the biggest or the most powerful — but it is huge, heavy, and has plenty of power. My feeling is the big receivers of Pioneer’s SX-x50 series were the best-designed receivers from that era. Huge toroidal power transformer with massive filtering capacitors created a well-designed power supply to feed the beast. The silver faceplate and dial with very elegant lighting, wrapped in walnut make it one of my favorites in terms of looks. These, like many big receivers, do need a ton of work to restore, but once done they are just plain fun to play.”
Price: ~$3,500 (Reverb)
“There are many well-known hi-fi brands but McIntosh always seems to be a common ‘name drop’ when someone wants to emphasize quality. They’re built-in Binghamton, New York from essentially scratch, Mac tube amps have been increasing in value tremendously in the last decade. Using their proprietary auto-bias system for power tubes and beautiful potted transformers these amps are easy to roll tubes for different sound characteristics. The McIntosh MC240 is a 6L6 push-pull power amp making 40wpc, hand-wired point to point design, and has a very robust power supply. The iron is very heavy on this amp which any valve amp builder will tell you the quality of an amp can be measured by the weight of its transformers. We see many Mac tube amps but the MC240 is definitely the most common coming in for restoration.”
“Today, the big appeal of the Dynaco ST70 is that [it’s usually] fairly reasonably priced. The amp can be restored with its original design intact or, if one desires, it can be heavily modded just by removing the driver board and replacing it with one of the many modern boards available. By replacing the board you essentially change the entire circuit design and gives you the ability to use different driver tubes than the original difficult to find 7199 triode/pentode. The ST70 is easy to work on since it was designed as a kit and with push-pull EL34 power tubes, there are many options to tube roll to change its sonic characteristics.”