Revamped amps part 1 – buying a vintage hi-fi amplifier

The recent Vinyl Revival series of blogs has received a lot of attention, including coverage in the hi-fi press. It seems that there is a genuine interest in buying and maintaining vintage audio equipment among our customers. With this in mind, we went back to our industry expert for advice and recommendations for people investing in electronics, in particular, vintage amplifiers covering the period 1960s to 1990s.

Photo courtesy of World of Design

 

Should you look for a UK-made amplifier or one made in the Far East?

This is a difficult question to answer for several reasons. Far Eastern amps often had good quality components in superbly-finished casework, offering decades-long life in many cases. Unfortunately, the beauty could often be skin deep only, with pretty mediocre performance in too many of the thousands of models released to market in the 1970s. The best examples are now appreciating classics and of course each enthusiast has their favourites, from the slightly clinical Yamaha integrated amps to the fruity, lush-sounding Luxman and expensive Accuphase examples of the time. Sadly, each maker had their classics and clunkers, so care must be taken.

As for the UK, the one cause for concern is that some manufacturers seemed to suffer from poor component quality, especially electrolytic capacitors. All the classic names in the 1970s suffered, including Quad and Radford, together with the late 70s pretenders Naim, for a variety of reasons. I’ve seen many examples of all three makes in dire need of service, some all but blown up due to component ageing. Lower-price UK makes such as Armstrong and Goodmans suffered even more, I think, as regards construction and component quality – although I remember the Goodmans receivers (the Module 90 and 110 were especially popular) performing quite well when they worked. By the 1980s, this was starting to improve and amplifiers started to become more reliable.

Can I make any recommendations? I know a good few but I’ll no doubt be leaving out others. From the Far East, some of the top models offered by several makers gave good power and sound. Some of the odd-ball types could sound amazing when new (Sony/Yamaha V-FETs) but they can fail catastrophically today and specialised parts may be long discontinued, transforming some of the amplifiers into heavy door stops .

As for UK vintage amplifiers, Quad and Naim are well-known and now very expensive for their age. Creek and Cyrus seem reliable, popular and easy to service and there’s much fondness for the old A&R A60, Creek 4040 and NAD 3020, if you can find a well-cared-for example. I’m personally fond of the very slim, quirky amplifiers from the original Cambridge Audio from the 1970s, but I fear they suffer component issues now and weren’t always reliable when new either.

One general thing is to make sure any amplifier you buy has short-circuit protection. If an elderly output stage fails, the protection will normally try to save the speaker. Ideally, ALL old amplifiers should be checked over by a good engineer; solder joints, even on battleship-grade Far Eastern amps, can dry out, often with disastrous results.

 

Revamped amps part 2 – tube or solid-state?

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