Back to the Future: the sweet and soulful sound of classic audio gear

So of us guys collect baseball cards, cars, watches, or duck decoys, but audiophiles covet classic components.

The Audiophiliac poses with a mint condition '55 Chevy. Steve Guttenberg

If you're into cars you've probably have read a million stories about guys who invest tons of money and time restoring cars. You know the type, a baby boomer in Texas buys a '65 Mustang for $3K, and then over the next five years drops $30K to make it look brand new. But it's still a 42 year old car and no matter how pretty it looks, it can't compare, performance-wise, to any decent modern car, or for that matter, a brand new Mustang. The new one could blow the doors off the original, but it doesn't have the magic of the '60s models.

Point is, our passions are our passions, so whether we're into collecting cars, baseball cards, wine, watches, or duck decoys, rationality goes out the window. We're each free to blow huge amounts of cash on our passions and for me high-end audio is my drug of choice. If a new or old amplifier gets me a tiny bit closer to the sound of Jimmy Page's guitar in its full glory on "Dazed and Confused," it's worth it. The best stuff's sound somehow means more, so much so, it's hard to stop listening. That's what great audio gear brings to the party.

This Conrad-Johnson Premier Eight power amp is a beauty. Conrad-Johnson

Some audiophiles buy their fantasy machines and restore them. True, I doubt too many of us are tracking down our long lost Kenwood or Pioneer stereo receivers, but ten, twenty, and even thirty year old McIntosh, Marantz, Audio Research, Conrad-Johnson preamplifiers and power amplifiers are still sought after. These high-end designs they were built to last and for the most part can be used forever. Their beautifully machined, all-metal construction is devoid of flash or glitz, but the feel of the controls and switches, after a bit of restoration, imparts a sense of integrity no iPod will ever match.

Sonically the golden oldies tend to be a little soft around the edges, with mushy bass, and the treble detail may be a fading, but their soulful sound brings out the romance in music--it just seems to tug at your heartstrings more than today's mass market components. High-end audio of the '70s and '80s was dominated by American companies, most of which are still around, and still provide service for their products. McIntosh makes every effort to repair out of warranty products dating back a half century in its Binghamton, NY factory! A lot of the best Mac stuff still goes for big bucks, but Dynaco's ST70 was a classic 35 watt per channel stereo tube amp from the 1960s, and is still in the affordable range. It sold in huge numbers and is highly regarded as an entry level design. I found this one on Audiogon selling for $400 and it looks pretty sweet.

This classic could light up your life. Audiogon

About the author

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Home Theater, Inner Fidelity, Tone Audio, and Stereophile.

 

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