The vintage “crap shoot”

Long story short, vintage electronics can often be a crap shoot, especially if you leave in a remote area, far away from service facilities (like Maui, for example).  But mid-fi modern electronics, with their inferior build (and sound) quality are guaranteed to be crappy – they were designed and built in our “disposable age”.

That leaves a couple options.  Pay exorbitant prices for quality modern gear, which will easily run well into five digits for each component, or try your luck with some extraordinarily high quality vintage gear from the “golden age”.   Don’t get me wrong, vintage gear isn’t for everyone.  I’ve done tweeter surgery (Trust your ears), retro-fitted cabinets to accept spec’d tweeters since the originals are no longer available, blown two power amps beyond repair, and fussed around with isolation platforms for turntables since their original vintage ones are grossly inadequate (Denon DP-790W turntable review).

But for those reasonably handy with a soldering iron and willing to do some DIY modifications and/or repairs, vintage gear can be a veritable gold mine.  And, not all vintage gear requires tinkering, I’ve acquired three preamplifiers from the early 1980s (Nakamichi CA-5, Threshold FET Nine, and Audio Research SP9 MkII) and one power amp from the late 1970s (Audionics of Oregon CC-2) that are all performing just fine without any repairs or modifications what-so-ever.

Beware of over priced vintage gear however.  Marantz had a classic styling that is fetching prices that simply aren’t commensurate with their sound quality compared to other vintage gear of the same era.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Marantz gear and I also love their styling from the late 1970s, but you will be paying extra for that signature Marantz look and feel (see photo above).  If that’s important to you than by all means go for it.  A 1966 Jaguar XKE would totally suck on a race track by modern-day standards but is worth over $140k now since it is so collectable.

While a vintage Marantz receiver isn’t going to “totally suck”, it’s possible to find higher end components from the era at less cost.  And separate components will nearly always out-perform integrated (Integrated amps or separates?).  I used to sell these Marantz units back in the 70s when they were new and they were the bread and butter of my audio resale business (I was 16 years old at the time and worked at Audionics of Oregon after school and summers).

They have outstanding phono stages, great build quality, and descent power plants, were reliable and all wrapped up in very nice packaging with attractive real wood cabinets.  That’s why they have become collectable and some sell for nearly 10 times the prices they did back then, as does a lot of the gear of that era.  And… like so many collectable things, there is nostalgia associated with them and their distinctive styling.


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