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lots of New Sections since Jan 2017 that add a wide range of Hi-Fi & Tech related subjects plus opinion on Hi-Fi News 1970-1980 as we read through.
Includes New Articles on this page's subject. This page has been updated & read through with 2017 ideas & with an Index to navigate.
HOW WE DECIDE ON THE TOP AMPLIFIERS
Vintage Stereo Amplifiers Ranked against other amplifiers & receivers. What's the Best Vintage Receiver? What's the Best Vintage Amplifier? What Vintage Hifi is worth buying? Has anyone compared lots of Amplifiers together to rate them purely on the basis of sound quality? Which Vintage Amplifiers or Receivers are worth buying or are any good? Are Valve Amplifiers better than Transistor Amplifiers? Are Monster Receivers any good? Are 1967-1972 amplifiers too old to bother with? Why are Luxman amplifiers so highly rated? Why are late 1970s Pioneer so rough sounding?
Dozens of Amplifiers & Receivers mostly 1963-1978 & a few later. Rated by Direct Comparing with many others based on AUX input only.
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BEWARE any Vintage Amplifier will not sound anything like it's best if not properly Serviced & Adjusted first. Some amps we've had sound about 20% of their later self in terms of Sound Quality for just Servicing them. You'd not drive an old car without having it checked & serviced first, an amplifier raw out of a loft after a 30 year sleep is still asleep & ones used for 20 years regularly are now more tired than you may imagine.
PAGE INDEX...↑ TOP
Be aware this page has sections written since 2010, some later page sections are duplicated in theme as written earlier as it states we've noticed. But for how hard it is to edit & risk losing interesting info, it all stays if it's been read through in 2017 to see it makes sense, if a bit on the random, but that's the appeal of Blog-type sites. Enjoy.
A Fresh Look At Vintage Amplifiers ↑
This page contains sections written at various times, to edit it all again is too much & some of the older sections may seem a bit contradictory. But after all this is a Blog-Based Hifi site, not a literary masterpiece, but is fresh info you'll not read anywhere else. Use our "Search" or the Browser Search (Ctrl+F) to look for specific info. See the New Blog Page for lots more sections.
We being of a certain age only first properly noticed Vintage Amps in 1990 in junk shops & car boot sales not having much cash to replace a wrecked Realistic receiver. A £20 note could buy you vintage goodies like a Goodmans Module 80, Bang & Olufsen 3000-2 or the Marantz silver receivers as they were out of date & unwanted. For years before we saw all sorts of Radiograms, Music Centres & general audio gear from Portables to Valve radios. These early amplifier related finds we do revisit on this site, and further ones for the want or need to try more over years that followed. Got a first valve Rogers Cadet III in about 1991 & then on discovering our current Valves Hifi in 1998 didn't take too much interest in Transistor Amps until wanting one better than the Rotel RA-03 we'd got for the Computer & the bad-idea Musical Fidelity as the hot valves were hard to live with in the Summer. The brand names will have been familiar on some but unknown on others as they'd long since vanished, eg Leak & Rogers. We never really saw the better end of Hifi in our youth as all we saw were music centres or the family Philco-Ford separates system & all on these pages were unknowns tried with research or just a gamble. The better Hifi was kept longer or stored away, only in later years has it surfaced. The Hifi we cover here was bought more by Record Collecting Buyers with Musical ambition, the non-muso buyer just bought a system of varying quality and cheapness was the thing rather than quality of most of those.
We have no formed opinions not having lived Hi-Fi through the 1970s or caring much for opinions that some amps have gathered, our view is how we see each amp regardless of it's low or high standing at the time it was new. Not all expensive are great, not all cheaper-midprice ones are average. Many amps are great & many are a pain. This site is clearly getting a lot of hits & people are surprised on buying amps we like & are viewing old amps with new eyes. To Cherry Pick the best of the Past & offer it to today's buyer is what we do with Records too, this is a 45rpm Records Site after all & the Hifi pages today was one obscure long page started 2010 until early 2012, if based on Hifi we've had since 1987-90. From 2006 we've had Sony TA-1150 with one Sony TA-1130 that we got back again after selling it & keeping the TA-1150 as it was adequate then & got a faulty Sony STR-6120 for £20 on wondering what it was about. TA-1150 replaced with Hacker GAR550 in the idea of a 2nd basic system by the computer, but then tried a cheap but lively 13w Trio KA-2000/TK-150 & then thought... "What Else Is There" and the rest is this Hifi site. Together with enough knowledge gleaned from past things to fix & service amps to their best & beyond & make a list of amps we've had & write about them. The future of this site depends entirely on what we see to try that interests or is worth a blind gamble, it's now grown into selling upgraded Hifi, we don't get so much now as we get Upgrade jobs to do on cusromer's amps. To go too far away from the basic content into modern esoteric & the Linn-Naim types isn't going to happen, if we'd like to try & review them. But there are only so many worthy amps & receivers that were sold in the UK so we did the Hifi Yearbook Amps & Receivers page for what interests us, if there are still others that were imported so the range is wider.
Experts Say This Is One Of The Best Amps Ever!↑
Oh Really? We hear this sometimes by an excited reader, but read what we know & have written dozens of pages on. then look at your "expert" and find how little they really know. There are Experts and Authorities, we've been called an Authority on Vintage Hifi based on all these pages we've written for the progress of this subject over the last few years. You can decide yourself as we write so much & it has influenced the market, giving confidence to buyers realising they should have stuck with the pre 1980 gear as the modern 'Prestige' gear isn't very enjoyable. In Hifi Forums you'll read of just about every amp having it's devoted believers, but be aware they might only have tried just that one amp. Look at all the amps on our Reviews page plus many more on the Other Amps. For our Upgrading skills, unique as they care not for accepted old & lazy ideals, we can look at any amp with a photo & a circuit diagram & tell what it's like. This is the basis for the Other Amps page after all. So to be told a 1963 Lafayette KT550 with EL34 valves or a mid 1970s Altec Lansing 704 receiver of 12w is "great hifi" we'll likely see in a few minutes that to our knowledge of Hifi, that these amps may give a taste of the Classic Vintage Sound, but will be much lacking. For the valve amps we've rebuilt-redesigned a few now & they need an enormous amount to make them to a high standard that is actually 'easier' to do with transistors, these can take 6 months to get to a good level & still need more. The 12w transistor one may likely have the clean sound our 12w Philco Ford amp had, but the design & spec was very basic & for 12w it clipped out way too easily & the harmonics on treble were awful for the feeble power supply. As with any realm of collecting or interest, he who jumps in deep & tries all there is will be the most knowledgeable one. Only by having these amps to try will you learn them & their strengths & weaknesses. Being a dealer you get to try so much more than the typical collector who only buys what they need. When Record Dealing was better, we could try any record that we didn't know & if our gamble was good, we'd establish it as a good one. We're still finding great records even now & finding out how rare some actually are but haven't quite made it in terms of value-being wanted. Now even great records sit unsold for years which is sad. But with Hifi, our pages tell our opinion so all can read it.
What Do You Need An Amplifier For? ↑
For Newbies to the World of Hifi... Today's user will be a MP3 i-pod or mobile phone music buyer. Those stringy earphones sound very limited & even good headphones sound disappointing through the unamplified headphone stage which is a Line-Out stage too, like a Computer soundcard. But to Amplify the sound with a proper Amplifier, to play through better Headphones or Speakers as you tire of just having music in the ear & not to fill a room and party. Those plastic box things the Gadget Show keeps saying are great to us are pathetic, but suited to a market starting into music played out loud & not too bothered with quality yet. To buy a 'proper' big box amplifier & plug the 3.5mm headphone jack into the Aux on an amplifier via a stereo Phono plug connecting cable will give a much fuller sound. To us, the artificial MP3 sound, which is often how it's mixed, is very obvious though there is a crispness & bass as no plug in box amp & speaker job can do. Ignoring the fact MP3 & music today rarely has ambience or air to suit modern playing tastes, you can be pleased with the huge improvement in full sound you can get using a proper amp. You can buy any modest powered late 1970s amp on ebay for £50-£100 & start there, assuming it's working right. The black fascia amps of the 1980s-1990s & ones of today are far less pleasing in sound despite the hype, the rich pre 1980 sound will delight you, a £120 cheap new amp from Amazon you'll find tiring. The more money you spend will get better sound quality, but to believe some plastic box with a built in speaker is good enough, even those overpriced Bose alarm clocks, will only leave you wanting to buy a better one soon after. Read more on the 'Advice On Buying' page.
The Peak Years of Hifi? ↑
Well a look at our Top Amps will see 1967-72 is clearly our favoured era for a Transistor sound quality that will please one who uses & designed their own Valve amp & pre. There are a few quality 1973-77 ones too, if only Yamaha got to impress us earlier on. We based it all on the Sony STR-6120 sound that set the standard if since more have become our references. If you believe 1978-80 are the Peak Years, if some of the Monster Recivers were a little earlier, then you really need to hear how wonderful a quality one from 10 years before sounds. No more gritty treble & disappointing bass with a 1967-69 one & in the big wood cases they look so great too. Some amps continued this sound until 1972 and a tiny few especially Yamaha keep the better sound alive. The trouble is there aren't many higher powered models in 1967-72 like 1978-79 which limits choice but when you see our list below there's still a choice. 1979 was a heavily cost-cut year, nasty all-in-one circuit boards for most amps & many IC riddled nightmares, cheaply made boring gaudy looking things, look inside to see why. The Discount Stores & buyers with unrealistic expectations of what their money would buy led to the lessening of quality. By 1980 the Hifi bubble had burst & the 1979-80 ranges were more cost cut & back to midprice gear than the 1977-78 ones. One of the best ones we've had that could be bought in 1979 was the Yamaha CR-2020 though the early ones just can beat it every time & still 45w will deliver plenty of volume even with headphones.
The Best Amplifiers & Receivers by era. ↑
The valve era appears to have the best in the Japanese made Sansui, Trio & Pioneer receivers, if they are still quite limited in spec. The USA McIntosh, Fisher & Sherwood appear to be of high quality but aren't in the UK usually to try. The UK brands like Leak, Lowther, Rogers, Quad as well as other small brands can be nice though they are less advanced than the Japan & USA product. Look for 10-20w for the best quality sound, an amplifier of 15w equals about 60w in transistor volume. But generally valve amps pre 1970 are nice but not as good as you hope they'd be...
By 1965-68 Transistors take over. There are very few receivers of 40w-45w & we seem to have found the best ones are the Japanese brands as noted below. Amplifiers of this era are only really the Sony TA-1120(A) to go over 40w as our List Of Amplifiers page shows. Some of the best amplifiers are receivers with the tuner, such as Sansui 3000A & National Panasonic SA-65. Others like early Trio-Kenwood & Pioneer we've found enjoyable. The only problem with these is the age, an amp pre 1969 is best used fully rebuilt & upgraded, to use them raw & aged will have them seenm to be not very good.
By 1969-72 Hifi is onto it's 2nd & 3rd generation in transistors. The Sound can be of high quality though the richer bassier valve sound is not around now. Still enough decent 40w+ amps & receivers though you will find cost cutting on some brands. The highest rated domestic Hifi beyond Sony pre & power combo is 65w for the Teac AG-7000 & Sony TA-1130, both are excellent amps which we've had. The Sony TA-3200F power amp is 100w, the Sony STR-6200F is 60w. Generally these are Capacitor Coupled designs if some Semi-Complimentary Direct Coupled ones are around. The quality is still good in this era, the era of wood cases with real wood veneer shows that cost cutting hasn't happened yet.
By the 1973-77 era Hifi gets into Discount Stores & the Cost Cutting Starts. This is pre the Receiver Wars era of 1978-79 and due to economics, there is a lot of budget hifi of not much quality starting around 1971 & by 1973 there are so many rubbish cheap amps sold it's not easy to see the better amps as few stock them. Some brands dip in quality with Sony & Pioneer generally making midprice quality with heavy cost cutting. Sony go low power & cheap by 1972, JVC-Nivico waste time with Quadraphonic & never recover the earlier quality. Pioneer suffer harsh cost-cutting as they sell well at big discounts, a foolish waste if a money maker. There are exceptions and Yamaha thrive in this era with many fine amps & receivers, they stay out of the Discount stores from their 1971 midprice range & the clasic 1973-78 range. By the 1976 era there are amps of 100w being introduced & from what we've noticed looking at circuits, there can be the odd top range gem amid the lower spec averageness. We've rated Pioneer as being heavily cost cut & the SX-850/950 sound rough & very limited in spec. But then we find the big SA-9000 series amps are very different, with the SA-9500 at 80w has a very good simple circuit, but cost-cutting is obvious, but the SA-9900 at 110w goes too much into overdesign & the later SA-9800 is ridiculously overdesigned. At this point by 1976 the top of the range item is overdesigned, the lower ones are cost cut with ICs but the one second to the top can be the best one. Also with Yamaha, the CA-800 is a nice design but the CA-1000 starts to get overdesigned resulting in the poor CA-1010 that is 100w but way too overdesigned. The CR-2020 can upgrade well but the amp as original is too warm & unfocussed. The CR-3020 looks way overdesigned too.
By 1978-80 the Receiver Wars are the game & much insane overdesign with the need for 300w is the deal. 300w is to drive very inefficient small speakers that need high current, totally against our ideas of Hifi. By this era many look the same, garish design based on the Pioneer SX-850 & even UK Leak copied this style & got theirs built in Japan. By this era Yamaha dipped in quality with the CR-2040 range having many ICs in the audio, Pioneer's SX-980 goes similar. The Receiver Wars were over as the 1980 HFYB proves as even Marantz go back to lower powered midprice gear after their excessive 300w & 340w receivers. By 1981 the sort of Hifi you could still find in 1991 was the deal, if silver was now black & progress in Hifi appears to have got even more cost cut with higher power as the Amazon & Richer Sounds type amps show. After 1980 there are an amount of 'exotic' type amps, many stuffed with ICs that claim to be better Hifi than they are, delivering a cold boring sound. The 1965-77 era is the best in Vintage Hifi, even buying a modest 25w will sound so much better than the majority of post 1980 gear.
Amplifier or Receiver? ↑
You can see we've had more Receivers than Amplifiers, simply as the Receivers sold better when new & some ranges had higher power in Receivers than the Amplifiers. In the first few years of Transistor domination 1967-70 usually the Receiver was the higher powered item. Only really do the Sony TA-1120(A) & Trio-Kenwood KA-6000 stand out as better items, in both looks & sound. With a Receiver you get an FM radio & sometimes MW too, but FM is Hifi on some stations so a Free Music source is a Receiver & the added Tuner sections usually make a plain amplifier version into a more attractive receiver. The idea of a Tuner in with the Amp is no limitation, though the boards take up space, they see a better power supply & the lack of connecting cables. We are finding some amps with dead tuners & as it's usually the Front end Tuning stage, sadly they stay 'not working'. Even with Valves, the Stereo FM era ones are large items with good space for big transformers if usually no higher power than the usual 10-20w amplifier. FM Radio is still very much alive in the UK as DAB still hasn't taken off as it's not much good in Cars. For Home use, Radio is in many items, Internet radio & on TV channels too with more channels than an FM Tuner has. In the late 1970s, the Receivers were again higher power than the Amplifiers with some over 300w, though what use that is can be argued. Often the receiver can have more Retro appeal than the plain amplifier, though to get the matching Tuner can help a lot in looks. As ones who deal in Vintage Hifi, Tuners are usually reliable & maybe need only a minor adjusting, if they work. The early transistor tuners from 1967 can be difficult, though a Tuner tech should be able to sort things out, but where are they, it's a dead format now. A bright tuner display on always can be distracting if you're using the amp for TV sound though several receivers by 1969 did have the tuner only lit when used, saving the bulbs. For the need to have an aerial, the receiver might just only be used as an amp, but free music is there. Recently, tuners have caught us out with faults which is a pity as good receivers with a duff tuner are devalued & we certainly try all we can. Later thinking sees not many actually use the Tuner, but to know it works adds to appeal.
Preamps & Power Amps? ↑
The first Hifi in the early 1950s like the Quad II & various mono-stereo preamps were a two box pre & power, with three for stereo, until manufacturers made Stereo power amps like the Leak valve range. Later came small 10w integrated amplifiers by about 1959 as our Amplifiers lisat page shows. By 1963 the Japanese were making a unit with FM Stereo tuner, preamp & power amp, such as the Trio WX-400U. These were successful units if the tuner valves were always on adding to the heat. By 1967 several transistor receivers were made with 45w-50w power & the integrated amplifiers were the lesser power items beyond a few like the 50w Sony TA-1120 from 1965. Until about 1978 the integrated amplifier or receiver was King & these could be excellent items, if many budget ones were made also. Only Quad continued with the transistor pre-power units but these often had pro uses if we find them mediocre. But by 1978 ideas changed, more for charging you more for two boxes than one it appears, as pre & power amps of just 50w were made. The trouble with Hifi by 1978 is Overdesign and ICs & be sure these will be much overdesigned losing the "real sound" of the pre 1971 era even more in search of worthless THD specs. Looking at the designs the excess amount of differentials other nonsense that went further with ICs to us makes these transistor pre-power items not of our interest. We had the 1986 Pioneer M90-C90 pre-power 200w, the preamp was ridiculous with it's excess of ICs & messy unshielded cabling. The power amp had difficult double FET & bias ICs that had failed. A transistor preamp to us is pointless when an integrated amp can do so much better: the feeble power supply the Yamaha C4 preamp has is pathetic. In an integrated the power supply is much higher spec, as similar with feeble tuner power supplies compared to a receiver. But there is a problem with having the preamp near & the power amps far away. The output from the preamp using efficient speakers on a high power amp can be 10mV. Losses occur in a length of cable so treble gets softened. With an integrated this isn't a problem. The option is to have pre & power linked with 1 meter of cable or to use an idea the 100v PA speaker-amp uses, a carrier voltage so there is no sound degradation. The idea in Hifi circles still is the pre & power amp is better, but for the 1965-72 era there are very few & we don't see the need for them if an integrated ampfier or receiver can do as well or better. For us, with transistors, the integrated amplifier or receiver is better, it's matched pre to power with no signal losses & a better power supply. Unless you feel the need to use huge 200w+ power amps, an integrated amp still is a better item for domestic use. To buy one brand of preamp & use another brand of power amp will guarantee mismatch in impedance & volume level. If you want a pre-power, stick to the pre & power amp that were designed to be used together.
Complicated Circuitry? ↑
Why does any amplifier need Complicated Circuitry. It doesn't. It's to get meaningless High Specs but always at the expense of sound. A Valve amp has 4 double valves in the preamp for Phono, Tone & Preamp. The Power Amp has two valve stages for Driver & Splitter plus usually two output push-pull output valves. The best sounding Transistor amps are the ones with the least amount of transistors, usually per channel x3 for Phono, x3 to 5 for preamp and x5 to 8 for power amp. Power amps can have extra transistors for Protection circuits & preamps can have extra for buffers & differentials. The pre 1971 transistor amps sound closest to the Valve Sound, with the 1965-67 ones being very closely based on valve design & the 1969 second generation getting a little more complex. So to see a preamp with 10+ transistors and a power amp with 20+ is clearly overdesign. Not all is 'bad' overdesign, the 1984 Sansui AU-G90X looks overdesigned but it's a good intelligent circuit but it still doesn't sound as lively as the earlier 1965-70 era amps. Differential-era amps can sound very good too, but as it's often in the cost-cut type amps, the differential can give high specs but not sound so good for the cost-cut design.
Our References... ↑
2017 rewritten version... These Reference Amps have changed a lot since first writing this in 2014. We have the 1965 Sony TA-1120, the 1969 Trio-Kenwood KA-6000 plus others that come & go, hget offered for sale, get thought about & pulled back to upgrade further. The amount of good vintage amps we've not tried gets less with each new find. A recent find was the Realistic STA-220, a 60w 1972 Hitachi design better than any of the Hitachi amps we've had. The Yamaha CR-1000 once fully rebuilt & upgraded is another reference. The 1984 Sansui AU-G90X we've had for a while & it has been used in comparing often, if it's not one we use on the speakers for TV sound so it gets offered for sale to an unaware market. Over the years since this page started in 2010, amps steadily grew in quality to a point where a few are at the same 'top' level.
The Criteria For The Best Hifi ↑
As we read through the Hifi News magazines we have, some of their articles are prompting our opinion on their ideas. This is about a June 1968 article "Seven Hi-Fi Fundamentals'. Here there are actually eight, so 1. Frequency Response, 2. Non Linear Distortion, 3. Signal To Noise Ratio, 4. Mechanical Performance, 5. Transient Response, 6. Power Handling Capacity in amplifiers, 7. Dynamic Range of original recording & 8. Stereo separation.
4 is almost redundant as no Tape today if Record players can vary. 1 still is important as modern amps are still limited on high treble & low bass as they desperately try to make their boring amps universal so they get no complaints about non-compatibilty. The buyer is unaware how dumbed down the gear is so accepts it. 3 can cause problems on some older gear as parts age if generally it can be sorted to be acceptable to modern use. Generally older gear has a slightly higher noise floor (hiss & hum) as the designs are more open sounding. Often heavy dumbing down gets the 100dB noise level at the expense of liveliness in the sound, earlier amps sound fresher but can have a slight background noise especially on using headphones. 8 is very important we feel as it reveals how natural the amp sounds, the wider the Stereo, the less junk circuitry to squash the life out of the music. The best Hifi has a very wide stereo image as found using headphones. These wide Stereo amps therefore will sound great on speakers, assuming both match well. 6 is dependent on the amp you buy if today 50w is a typical wattage even on the budget gear. a 15w early amp can still put out a good volume, but later 15w ones are hopeless. 7 is difficult as we find commercial CDs of pre 1980 music are so badly mastered with no treble & 0db clipping the track, vinyl we find gives all we need for our uses. This leaves 2 and 5 which are both dependent on high spec in an amplifier, if it's cost cut & current limited, it'll sound flat & undynamic. This is where our upgrades can transform amps. The vast majority of amplifiers ever made have low spec due to their age & later for cost cutting & making sure the gear isn't too good.
Musicality & Subjectivity ↑
The Hifi Press picked up on this quite late into the Hifi Scene that started for real with 1956 & Hifi News in the UK, only 20 years later by 1976-77 did they realise how far less Musical the current amps were to the Valve amps. Before that, it was just objective with meaningless graphs & specs that said nothing of the sound the buyer would get, if their system was correctly matched. In Nov 1977 Hifi News there is an article on this, for us it mostly waffles about nothing & won't have made much sense to most readers. So we'll put our view on what Musicality Is. The very simplest way to know is if you can listen to the Hifi for a few hours & not become tired of it, the sound gives pleasure, if many people used to be happy with a portable radio. True Hifi musicality depends on Audio Awareness, the more hifi you hear the better at judging the best Subjectively from the others & with our upgrading we take this a lot further. We use some test tracks often in testing amps & the best one is always the hard guitar riff: does it sound Musical like you hear at a Gig through the Marshall valve stacks? The majority of amps fail miserably to recreate the Musicality, weight & drive these riffs can provide. A cartoon in the same 1977 issue shows a guy buying the New Whizz system but throwing it out of the window & preferring the Dansette. A bit simplistic really, but it does show a realisation, the over designed cost cut gear of 1977 lacked a pleasing Tone that a simple Dansette actually has, if very little full range Fidelity as Bass & Treble are very limited so can never be Hifi. The 1957 Pye Black Box table top gram had the cheek to put "High Fidelity" in gold letters on it's undamped box, inviting much derision in the Hifi press at the time to the point Pye altered the badge. Hifi is a man's world though women do love the music, what Hifi quality it has seems unimportant. The closest women to any male genetically are his mother & sister, or later in life his daughter once an adult to see how different similar people can be. The typist used to do Tapes & CDs for both & now they know some great but obscure music they'd never know otherwise. But neither were into Hifi, mother used to use a portable cassette player & the one in the car and on first hearing our Hifi with big speakers, the big dynamics were alien to her & it all seemed too loud. The sister used a mini system & could hear how much clearer our recorded CDs were to shop bought ones, but again they are listening to limited range audio gear, far from Hifi. So if big dynamic Hifi of clean quality sounds harsh to women as they understand dynamics & volume differently, is it any wonder Hifi is a male thing? Another one you'll encounter past 35 is buzzy ears as you have a big clump of earwax vibrating on your eardrum so if older people can't stand Bass, it's their poor self-maintenance. We play lots of different amps & the hearing adding EQ to balance the lacking of the sound is a problem. To the point one amp can be enjoyed one day as the mind tunes to it, but on hearing known references it pales in comparison. But both can be Musical & not tiring. Musicality is a vague conception purely in the mind & requires audio education to tell what is better than the other, but the female mind hears it as harsh as the big dynamics are not realistic to how they hear music. Never read anything like that before, why hasn't anyone studied it? Some huge dynamic Hifi on first play can sound alien to us but the mind tunes into it, perhaps the female mind can't do this so well? On recently playing some amps, a valve one with huge dynamics & a very deep soundstage it sounded remarkable, but with the deeper fidelity it also sounded a bit harsh & was considered a bit tiring. Trying transistor amps with their smaller dynamics, one was found much more pleasing with a natural lively sound. It lacked the huge openness of the valve amp but was preferred on headphones. Musicality is all in the mind based on what you know & what you like. In testing amps, not many sound neutral & smooth on the first play of hifi in the day on headphones, but on speakers, the many room reflections helps tame down the sound so an average amp that may be tiring on headphones can sound acceptable on big quality speakers.
High Power - High Current Amplifiers ↑
We don't appear too keen on these. But that's not strictly true. Loudspeakers of a bigger size 12"-15" do sound better with more Current behind them to get those big cones moving more accurately. A High Current amplifier usually has Double or Triple Output Transistors, meaning 4 or 6 per channel instead of the usual 2 for push-pull. the Transistors are used side by side, in Parallel. Not one after the other which is the basic idea of Bridging Amps to get more power. Bridging is first used in the Quadraphonic amps so you can get 4x25w or 2x50w. Not an idea we like at all as designs show the same signal goes through both amp stages together, of the 2 used to make 4 channels is combined for stereo, & is combined at the output, so unless perfectly adjusted the sound will be blurry. Parallel output transistors does not sound blurry, initial ideas it did were revealed to be low spec elsewhere. So the 1965 Sony TA-1120 must be the first to have Doubled Output Transistors, probably more to get the 50w than to deliver higher current, the original 2SD45 outputs were only 50w rated not allowing any peaks to be higher. On Headphones, this amp can match other 1967 amps well, but on Loudspeakers, it has an extra authority & weight that the others don't quite get. The Pioneer SA-9500 has doubled output transistors, a Very Good amp stage if a messy preamp with excessive spoilers, once removed still leave a soft sound, not really giving the weight the 1965 Sony has. The 1977 Yamaha CA-1010 has the doubled output transistors too & once much upgraded reveals this amp to be of the best ever in Transistors, certainly no post 1967 amp can sound this good. So onto a 1984 Sansui AU-G90X, it has 4 pairs of output transistors, but they aren't Doubled: instead it's a Balanced design with each Push-Pull half having a 'Hot' and 'Cold' half with no ground reference. The Block Diagram shows the H+C halves are opposite phase with Headphones via a transformer. This X-Balanced idea should be perfection, but it suffers from the usual 1980s thin harsh sound, even as upgraded. With Bass deep but not full sounding, the harsh midrange can quickly tire as it sounds unnatural to us being used to the Valve sound. To tune it to sound 'nicer' is possible but construction is difficult by this era. So onto the huge 500w type amps, typified-stereotyped by Krell who used to get much Hifi Mag space in the late 1980s-mid 1990s but why would you need such huge amplification? A hair-shirt fad of very low sensitivity 'monitor' speakers that needed huge power to get a sound out of them seems illogical to us, the mere 16w of the 1966 Coral amp could fill a room on 15" 95dB speakers. the Coral is the equivalent of the 'Cute Bird in a LBD', but the Krell's 500w++ forced into tiny stubborn speakers is like 'Walking behind a Fat Bird Overflowing her Spandex' to us. We'd rather not. But these huge amps are more for big rooms, not tiny UK ones. Even Tannoy's new Canterbury GR is 600w Peak, not continuous, so where does a 700w get used? Or does it never see more than 50w? We can hear the effortless sound higher current 100w amps can bring, but it's still not as powerful sounding as 30w of Valve. Sadly no Krell service manuals out there. But a Mark Levinson 27.5 100w 'dual mono' power amp has the circuit, similar balanced design to the 1984 Sansui with Quadruple output transistors if just 100w yet it requires a 15A power source if this is probably for USA voltage. This amp looks like an amp beyond any Vintage amp, but how 'real' will it sound compared to the 1965-67 amps, for just the detail & openness? Appears a seller of a ML No 436 350w, RRP k sell k, suggests B+W 802 speakers at £15k, still with only 8" bass drivers if two in a tall column. Sounds Very Good value doesn't it? It's not about Value, it's about Bragging Rights, perhaps as non-vain types we just don't understand those who live at 120MPH 18 hours a day & are burnt out by age 45? Still, if anyone wants to lend us some of these 'Prestige-High End" amps to try, we'll give them a Review... If they make our Vintage sound like a Joke, then we'll join a Monastery. The buyer of that 16w Coral said it was so more musical than a £20k amp he'd got to compare it with.
Why Bother With Germanium Amplifiers? ↑
Germanium Transistors are a difficult subject. The UK-European ones are unreliable as they age badly & the insides of the cans grow "tin whiskers" which as metal based will short or limit the transistor. to avoid ALL the OC-type ones therefore. But The Japanese & USA ones clearly brand marked are still good, so don't avoid these. These "good" Germaniums are used by Fisher, JVC, KLH & other brands on their earliest transistor gear. We've had enough experience of these & in terms of upgrading the problem with Germaniums is their very low spec. Guitar preamps using Germaniums are favoured for the sound, but in Hifi we've found these not good enough to the point of failure if better design is used. But the TO3 output transistors are of high spec as they are the output ones & give a very different sound to Silicon TO3s. Silicon ones have a very high bandwidth that isn't necessary for Audio, Germaniums are different as the spec sheets will show. For this difference & others, the Germanium output transistor has a far more subtle sound, it's smoother & overall the sound differs hugely from Silicons & Valves-Tubes. With the right design, Germaniums are the sweetest sounding of all. The sound without the Silicon 'edge' may seem a little duller, but play trebly music & hear it's still there but delivered differently. For "The Germanium Sound" you can get it just having Germanium output drivers, to have Silicons as all other still retains this captivating sound. You can se from our Reviews we've tried a few Germanium amps, ignoring the lousy Armstrong ones, Germaniums are like Valves-Tubes, you really should hear them to understand how beautiful music can be delivered.
Our Pages are Forever Updated... ↑
Certain pages are updated very often, so check back to see what's been added, what's been deleted or revised. Currently the pages most often updated are: the new since Jan 2017 Hi-Fi Blog page, the Reviews page including putting results on the Power Ratings page. Some are still much as they were a few years back, if now we are re-reading, editing slightly if not losing the earlier ideas & adding indexes. Adding 'Search' on lets some pages stay random & a bit rambling which, after all, covers what this site started as: Our Thoughts On Hifi based on Years doing so.
How To Tell Which Hifi Is Better Than Another. ↑
The Best Hifi should reveal all detail of the music fully with no character or colouring of the sound. The trouble with that is you need to be Audio Educated to tell the Best from what is otherwise good. The idea used to be go to Classical concerts, but the trouble is you sit in one place & the studio will multi-mike it up to make a balanced recording, so the Live Performance will only tell part of the story, if it'll let you hear natural instruments & their rich tone, the big drum sound is the most unlike-hifi sound you'll hear. With all our amp testing & more importantly Upgrading, to go further with the Best Amps to hear how good they really are. It usually means undoing all the cheap-out spoilers put into an amp so you don't get something too good, as you'd never buy another. The earliest Transistor amps didn't realise this, so some of the 1965-68 amps are actually too good. But by the Second Hifi Generation, the dumbing down started & it hit further by 1974 & by 1980 it was at the level it more or less is today, complete with ICs to mangle the sound more. So showing we do know what The Real Hifi Sound Is, it is sold to you in quite a few amps, but dumbed down hugely as we said. As that is a tease really as you'll never find the Best sold in any shop, we'll explain what we hear after doing extreme upgrades, such as the 120 changes the 2007 Marantz PM6002 took to sound better than expected, still grainy & rough but some quality there, if still there would be several dozen more to get the Best out of it which we never did. So you know a track that is cleanly recorded, the mic is close to the vocalist & musicians, as in a 1950s Capitol track. To not make it too obscure, we'll go with Frankie 'Tender Trap', other ones we like are earlier & UK 45s were not mastered so lively as the UK 1956 45 on Capitol CL14511. We are talking about 45s we've recorded on our Valve Phono & the 45s were pristine. The audio is deeply lush with a good sense of the studio acoustic with the high quality Nelson Riddle Orchestra. The music is smooth & lush but with strong dynamics, crisp focoussed treble with no trace of grain. The amplifier won't fail on the odd mastering weakness "some starry night" the 3rd word is a bit distorted. This is where the mastery of a good amp comes in. Does it make you wince as the amp throws harsh harmonics & unresolved mess at you, or does it stay contained? Other more obscure US Capitol 45 by Roy Hogsed we use as test tracks as his 1953-54 singles 'Dice' and 'Chiefs' are exactly this. The harsh clipping notes can really grate on lesser hifi. But on the best, they are produced honestly with the distortion contained rather than bleating harshly. This sound is possible in both Valve & Transistor amps. Other mono tracks reveal high precision & again the studio acoustic, even 78s from 1929-35 reveal themselves very cleanly with eerie imagery of the studio, but we recorded these properly, flat, no RIAA unlike every single transfer of a pre 1954 78rpm record is wrongly done. Stereo is sometimes artificial, it can be enjoyable, but it's a mix of 16 tracks or more, so a Live Mono or Stereo track with no overdub or splicing is best in tests. In Stereo we remember how awful David Bowie hits 'Rebel Rebel' & 'Jean Genie' sounded on everything, to the point they usually only got a bit played. But in playing them now, these tracks are now coherent if amateurish as the idea of a live session. As on other pages, we state feeling the room acoustic, but it seems this is not a skill many have, as in being psychic or memory skilled. So no harshness, no listener fatigue, smooth yet fully detailed as everything cleanly focussed sounding precise, natural as a studio recording can be. The amps we've found this on we've just about rebuilt, the amps as original were far from our sound, but showed promise. It's why we upgrade so many, it's the only way to find the hidden gems & can not be worthwhile sometimes. But here's the deal... you need Headphones to tell this detail. On Loudspeakers, thewre is no way in a domestic situation to escape from room reflections & decay times. In testing many amps on speakers, some that were not so great on this fidelity sounded fine on Speakers. But be sure, the amp that sounds as good as we state will sound superior on Speakers, if the difficulties of matching are not an issue, see the Loudspeakers page for how we test Speaker matching.
Hifi Buyers Can't Be Satisfied... ↑
You've seen those listings on ebay where 'fools' buy & decide to sell an expensive amp before even trying it properly & the steady stream of £1000+ modern 'esoteric' amps sold as the "Used for 5 Hours" listings can be excessive in more moneyed times. These highlight the problem with Hifi: Buyers are Never Satisfied however much you spend. We know we are never satisfied by needing to keep getting ones we've not had & upgrade them, in hope of Finding The Winner & until all have been tried it'll not end. This is what some buyers do too, rushing into buying, as often it's the only way as where can you get a 7 day Home Demo? All Amplifiers Sound Different. Not One Sounds The Same as another, sometimes even with the same Model Number. In Upgrading, we can level the field more, but in Dealing In Hifi we find some get a great Amp yet because the Art of Matching To Loudspeakers is often guesswork until you try, good amps go unappreciated. This is why we Rate Hifi based on Headphone Use firstly as it removes the hugely varying effect a Speaker can have playing an amp. Finding out 'there is better' from having read about it can be dangerous, even if to the same quality standard, 'different' is often all it is rather than 'better'. Money can be the issue, the 'old useless one' bettered by 'the new broom' is hastily sold to cover the double-money-out situation, yet when time is given to think, a rare thing perhaps, the folly of the new beast is revealed. You'll not get it back but will feel obliged to forever try to find it & better it. Look how we compare amps, it can take several amps over several months to decide & be sure our opinions change & the fact some can slip in our opinion only to become the top one again, after upgrade ideas learnt were put in as they were found, can make the whole thing very messy. To sell the known good one often happened after one bettered it but didn't last so long. As time moves on, some amps stayed as references but often only until they were deemed 'bettered' to move on rather than collect them. A 'New Broom' earlier on could shake things up & upset the ideas, but then be up for sale shortly after. Sounds deeply random which it is really. A liking for the Best Looking Hifi as on our other page influences too, as we try harder to better the nice ones. So what should the undecided Buyer do? If the amp you've used still satisfies you & you've not heard a better one in your own home, firstly ignore false opinions gathered with totally different gear in very different types of place, secondly other people's opinions including ours may not match your ideals. Whatever you do, you should 'upgrade' at a time when you can keep Both for a few months, just to be sure and compare at your leisure. We soon realised the folly of selling valve amps in a hot summer to get the lousy Musical Fidelity pre-power yet the valves were back within about 6 weeks, if a different set. Quickly selling up & rushing into new-found Hifi is often guaranteed to be a wrong decision unless you keep both old & new for a few months to use the New one, go back to the Old for a while & then try the New again. Try them one after the other in one day & then try the second one first the next day. Then you'll know which you like. Ignore the price you'd get selling one, just do it by what sounds right more often than the other. Having decided & sold the lesser one, enjoy it & then be sure you'll be playing the same either-or game another day. And remember how the one you sold did that. And regret it. There is no easy answer except to keep everything you ever had & liked. And be a Hoarder.
Safety: UK 3 Core Mains + Earth ↑
We now fit 3-core mains to all Amplifiers pre 1974 & test the 2-core ones after this to see if they have any AC votage 'floating' compared to Mains Ground. There are a few Amps & Receivers noted below from 1967-69 that really do require 3 core mains with Earth, not the 2 core Continental-USA type skinny mains wire. This isn't to scare buyers off but we've noticed a mild electric shock if touching the metal case and something that is grounded, like the desk lamp. Using the meter, you'll find up to 120v AC potential. This is not a fault & for years CRT TVs were exactly the same, it's just the Receiver or TV had a "floating" Earth reference but was actually supposed to be grounded elsewhere. But as Audio & TV tech changes, a Ground connection via an amplifier, which was usually grounded with a Turntable-Record Player, is becoming less usual. Many other amplifiers from the early 1970s onwards have a different design inside & the case does not have the "stray voltage", such as Pioneer, B+O, Yamaha & Sony often used 2 core wires but have no issues. Modern 2-core appliances are 'Double Insulated', though surprisingly the 2007 Marantz PM6002 doesn't connect Earth mains to anything, the pin is unconnected inside. The way Hifi was imported at random in earlier days might mean a UK person bought a non-UK model amp & used the amp unaware, or maybe caught the low electrical shock & threw it in the attic out of fear. Also a Valve amp of any age MUST be properly Earthed to the Mains, the Trio WX-400U we used for a while with the Computer soundcard grounding it, so no issues. But trying it on the main speakers away from the computer with only TV source, there was no ground & "issues arose". The 100-140v stray voltage can naff a soundcard if you plug in with the amp on & deteriorate the fidelity if not fully silence it, an amp with no earth cable needs to be switched off before connecting inputs therefore. For this reason, we now rewire any amp we see needs this done & are going to use for a while in our tests & offer other amps for sale with the option of the buyer to choose the 3 core wire upgrade. How do we know an amp's case is with a stray voltage? Multimeter to the case when plugged in to Ground on the Mains sockets reveals this easily. You can read further on UK Mains Safety online.
The Best Hifi: It's Got Designs On You ↑
The best Hifi is all down to the Circuitry & money spent on quality spec parts to give that design a chance of being good quality. There are great amps & also lousy or just ordinary ones in the 1965-1978 era. From this page you can see there are just not many great or excellent amps after about 1972 beyond Pioneer, Luxman & Yamaha. Cost cutting & the Comet heavy discounting that led to further cost cutting is the main reason why post 1972 Hifi just isn't as good, the manufacturers unwisely stopped caring less year by year for those who wanted quality & only sought the bulk cheap sales. The Differential that became ubiquitous by 1971-72 does affect the sound to only a minor degree, but it sadly led to Overdesign & ICs in audio stages, with some brands previously noted for quality later losing their good names with overdesign, ICs & cost cutting oddly seeking ultra-low THD ratings that meant the musicality was ignored for specs. Nearly all the big brands like Pioneer, Sansui, Sony, Trio-Kenwood & Yamaha took the wrong choices in design & whereas some can be upgraded, those by Sansui & Trio-Kenwood especially have ICs in major areas including output stages. Remarkably some of those later 1970s amps are still wanted amps, but based on old reputations, not our recent digging deep into hifi to find out the truth of it. Once an amp gets into FETs or ICs in pre or power amps & then more than one Differential, the overdesign is there. This is why we draw the line at 1978, as by the 1979-80 ranges, the one-board designs with overdesign as well as cost-cutting are too obvious, even on higher models. Reading our pages is a bit dangerous, it'll get you realising your Hifi isn't quite as good as you read we are finding with other amps. There are a lot of amps we've not tried & still live in hope of finding some post 1978 gems, but the likelihood beyond the obscure & expensive sort of makes us wonder, especially after trying to upgrade a 2007 Marantz PM6002 stuffed with every spoiler & limitation possible to keep it sounding weak. Any amp with an op-amp IC in the preamp is never going to be the best, it could be Good or Great depending on the use & rest of the design, but no chance of it being Excellent. Any amp with IC block output stages, beyond Darlington ones, similarly will struggle to be anything better than 'Good' which may upset Trio-Kenwood KR-9600 (KR-9060) owners. You'll naturally find forum waffle by cave-dwellers about how great these IC output amps are, living in ignorance, grading their turds... Thankfully there are a lot of better amps out there that are sensibly made & don't insult the buyer with general purpose circuitry. Read far more on our other pages including our criteria for picking what is a good amp.
Q: Let me put it this way - is an amplifier being musical the result of it being simple? ↑
NVA Hifi Site has a 1992 interview we were told of, as it hints much the way we think in someways. So to answer just that question ourselves is worthy: As we & they state valves with less amplifying stages can mean a purer signal & an amp with 25+ transistors in a power amp, not all used directly for signal amplification can often mean a less honest sound. But it's not that simple. The design on either has to be free of low spec & cost cutting. It has to be designed right to give the most lively clean sound. There is at least one great sounding 1984 amp, the Sansui AU-G90X appears overdesigned on first look & the 1966 Armstrong 221 valve amp is utter garbage. There is no strict rule though designed "to perfection" the valve amp can outdo the majority of Transistor amps, but not all. A valve amp can be 8 valves in total, 2 phono, 2 tone-pre, 2 power amp driver & 2 power amp output. Some of the great early transistor amps have low transistor counts, yet that 1984 Sansui is much heavier in transistors & still sounds up there with the best once upgraded. It is easier to make a valve amp, but to build a transistor amp isn't one we've tried, but we've rebuilt-redesigned several Valve amps now.
We are British UK based, but are we keen on UK Hifi? ↑
Looking down the lists & seeing quite a few UK brands like Leak, Rogers, Quad, Hacker, Sugden, Armstrong, Ferrograph & Goodmans shows we've certainly tried these amps. Not many are even half as advanced as the Japanese product which is always a better item from when Transistors started to get popular from 1965-1969. In the earlier years, British Hifi was touted as "The Best In The world" with Leak, Rogers & Quad being the main brands. But note how they ended up only making lower end gear by the early-mid 1970s, they couldn't compete. In Oct 2016 we decided to try upgrading-rebuilding the 1970 Goodmans Module 80 with our high spec to see if it could compete with the best Japanese & USA hifi. The answer is... yes it can if pity it's only 25w. UK 1960s-70s hifi sadly used axial (longways) capacitors that aren't so upgradeable, but the '80' has different Radial Leaded types that we prefer. This shows the design in the '80' isn't the weakness, it's the TV grade components. The design was a good one, but sadly it's the only one we can find of 'our era' that is worth maxing out.
1980s-Today Amplifiers: Any Good? ↑
The vast majority of 1980s-date amplifiers sadly are just general average ugly nothingness, ICs for everything & a rough low-spec grainy sound with no bass was accepted by the buying public, as were graphic EQs & flashing lights & meters. The added precision of CDs over cheap Record Players allowed the manufacturers to sell low-spec rubbish even more freely & it was lapped up. But amid this awfulness, there are some crazy high technology ideas that aren't always delivered too well in the amplifiers. The first 'interesting' amp from the 1980s we found was the Technics SU-V707, this has computer control biasing in 'Class AA' with a heatpipe like a fridge & initially it did sound impressive, but the very low spec of the amp soon become tiring, Technics unwisely put ££££ ideas based on their top of the range Computer controlled amp into a budget-midprice amp. The idea never returned. Sansui go into Professional Balanced Hifi territory with the 1986 Sansui AU-G90X largely based on the Sansui AU-D11 Mk II. The amp has no ground reference instead the power amp is 4 channels as 'Hot' and 'Cold' so the sound has a realism generally not in any Hifi amplifier. But as is typical to us as we upgrade amps, lots of low spec deliberately put to spoil the sound so it's not as good as it could be, as it was designed. This dumbing down sadly becomes the Normal by the mid 1970s. Class A amplifiers have been around many years in Transistor amps probably the Sugden A21 in the late 1960s was the first, though plenty of Class A valve amps going back to the 1920s. These amps run very hot & having the Yamaha CA-1010 with it's 20w Class A stage, once upgraded, there is absolutely no difference in Normal or Class A mode to the ears. Class A amps are forever tried as trying to find a cooler running version, but they don't last more than one hifi series as they never catch on. Valves come & go, the fact is Luxman never stopped making Valve amps in the 1968-84 era. A Renaissance came in about 1979-80 as our Valves page shows, but it quickly faded. In the early 1990s Valves came back with some good quality designs, but today valves are still alive but generally so budget made that the early 1990s ones are far superior. The Problem With All Hifi is None Of It Is Perfect, all of it is just someone's Idea of The Best, but the ones that are nearest perfection have to be dumbed down so not to be too good or too expensive. If you Believe the Hype That companies like Marantz openly lie by saying "Improved" then having had their 2007 Marantz PM6002, basically it's nothing At All New Or Improved beyond typical 1977-79 circuitry, if the only differences are unwanted ICs in Audio Stages & the hideous amount of Spoilers put into the design, we counted a remarkable 110 deliberately dumbed down circuit items. After upgrading the lot, it sounded very much like a 1977-79 amp if the preamp-tone ICs still limited it. The Only Thing that was New And Improved was their way of hyping the same-old-same-old into a new packaging. Much like the New Improved food item today usually tastes worse, there is less of it yet the Price is still the same. As with 1980s Hifi, there have to be more interesting amps, for us not having Hifi Yearbooks after 1981 means amps after 1980 are a bit unknown to us. The Game will have changed & brands that lost quality could have made the odd great series before dipping back again. Sony, Trio-Kenwood, Sansui & Yamaha all had their high & low points. The advent of CD will have got makers upping their game, if only temporarily, as well as others cheaping out as CD hid how poor amps could be, compared to cheap record players CD was a huge step up for the Average Buyer. But you reading this aren't interested in the Average stuff. We'll keep looking for good 1980s amps & any suggestions are welcome & we'll write them up on the 'Other Amps' page. Usually if an amp is heavy & it has No ICs in the Audio stages, it is a better one, this is really the only guide involving literally picking up potential better 1980s-now amps. Some slimline 5kg item is not going to interest us.
We see no point in bothering with most quadraphonic amps in a quest for Great amps. Not to say collectors don't like these, some are great looking as well as rare, but 4 channels is only really any good if you have the varied formats of Quadro LPs issued in the 1971-74 era, very few UK LPs were made. Quadro failed as the time was bad with the 1970s economy & too many formats that weren't compatible. Today's surround sound uses 5 channels or more, so just 4 is of little use. For the extra circuitry & high chance of ICs in the Audio stages, to buy one just to use as Stereo needs reseearching. Some do actually run the 4 channels bridged to make higher power as 2 channel Stereo, so to try one can be worthwhile, but what Bridged Amps sound like is another thing, it could blur the sound. JVC especially made a lot of quadro amps. But as interest in them is limited, you can find bargains amid ranges that'd usually be more expensive, in Pioneer, Sansui etc. If the amp lacks the decoder to use it only Stereo makes it pretty useless as a quadro amp, why would anyone buy a quadro amp & not have the decoder? The Marantz one we had in the 1990s was similar, can only assume these were sold off cheaply when quadro failed & no decoder to keep it cheap. The Bridged Stereo idea will require both power amps to be identical or it'll sound blurry, as stereo a Harman-Kardon one drives both power amps & the outputs are linked to bridge.
Much More to an Amplifier than what it Sounds Like All Original. ↑
Many buyers of Vintage Hifi just use them, often Unserviced & certainly never upgraded. This to us misses the whole point of using Vintage Hifi as beyond age requiring a Service, the thing is Every Vintage Amplifier & Receiver Can Be Improved. We've read Marantz sound Soft on their 1970s amps which is true as all-original, but Upgrade from their reliance on low quality parts into a much livelier sound. Pioneer are noted as Punchy on their mid to late 1970s, but the truth here is Pioneer are hugely cost cut & dumbed down so they actually sound Rough rather than enjoyable & they need a huge amount of upgrading to sound their best. We know many amps & for us to Upgrade them to bring their best out is possible, see our Upgrades link at the Top of the page. We have been upgrading these for a while now & getting more advanced the more tricks are learnt & tried.
Credit Where It's Due... ↑
Our work with researching Vintage Hifi would have been nearly impossible if it wasn't for The Internet & especially free Service Manual Schematic info sites like Hifi Engine (HFE) and Elektrotanya as well as Transistor Data Sheet Archive sites for their endless supply of vintage Transistors data. Early on we found The Vintage Knob (TVK) site useful & also German Hifi sites are sometimes useful, the Japanese ones are not always on Google as not in English. Forums we find useful to get obscure manuals & see inside photos, but find the unqualified waffling & random opinion of them not so useful, neither is them using our research to give themselves kudos as 'experts', but that's humanity. Before the internet, all we remember was going into or phoning shops like Cricklewood Electronics & asking if they had an equivalent for a transistor & their reference books were not as complete as what can be found today with a good amount of effort. There are other sites where you have to pay for Manuals, Sony ones especially, but the idea this info should be now be worthless to the Manufacturers means it should be free for those who wish to keep the Vintage Hifi alive. It is possible to repair Hifi without Manuals, but impossible to fully understand a circuit without a Circuit Diagram. We see a cheeky ebay 'Top 7 Amplifiers' page that appears just to list some of ours, if in the wrong order, yet doesn't elaborate beyond inaccurate specs as we can or properly upgrade to see how good they are. No-one rated those amps as anything beyond aged curiosities until we started these pages... go read forums from 5-10 years ago to see the general opinion back then.
No, We Do Not Play Classical Music. ↑
Hifi until well into The Late 1970s was Only Really For Classical Music Buyers. The idea was the General Unwashed Public couldn't afford The Good Stuff, so Why Put Pearls Before Swine? This Patronising approach will have put many off Hifi for the Elitism you had to Suffer buying from a Scary High Class Shop in London. Take this, what we wrote on reading an article in a February 1967 Hifi News... mentions the forthcoming ideas about Radio just as the Pirate Stations were becoming outlawed. The magazine reveals it's awful narrow Classical Music view "..Now, having made it quite clear that we are opposed to commercial radio and its attendant 'pop' fashion ethos..." well our response to that Blued the air. How Dare They think they should dictate what the majority should have, we have no interest in Rap or Stadium Pop but others are entitled to it regardless of our opinion. The two jolly chaps on the front cover, with a certain 'educated-superior' look are still a menace today. We've played from both sides of such life so have a very wide view on things. In 1967 it was the Psychedelic-Power Pop-Mod era with lots of Soul & reggae, 1967 is a great year for 'Pop' music, on counting our tracks, 1966 & 1967 had the most tracks by year. This tedious rag, which we buy as it at least gives an idea of the times, is still stuck in Regimented Formal Conformist ideals we really have no time for. Classical Music to us of a certain age is well known with the 'riffs' of Classical very familiar, but we care not for who authored it 200 years ago. Classical is generally just 'cover versions' done with little freedom of expression or variation, with as huge orchestra it can only be very mannered, not some Blues Jam or 30 min long Prog track. This is not music, some inspired teen in 1966 bashing out a classic in the Garage with his buddies is (? & The Mysterians, Count Five etc etc). If you want to 'waste' your Hifi just playing 'safe' Classical, do so & if it pleases you, good for you. We as Record Dealers have heard every Genre in the Years That Mattered & that's where we find our Musical Pleasure. Ahem... The Hifi Snobbery was generally the way in Those Dark Years, the Stereotype of the early Hifi Nut was one that played Loud Stereo Percussion LPs at full volume showing how Dynamic his set up was. Thankfully from the amount of Hifi pre 1977 that exists, many braved the Offputting Sales staff or bought it at a more friendly shop or discounter. We knew a Hifi shop from the mid 1990s to 2010 & we tired of their ideals of trying to sell you what they wanted Rid Of instead of trying to sell you what you want. Being educated in what items interested you was the way to overcome their ways. But it works both ways, in 1998 it got us trying some of their Ex-Demo big amps that had been round all their branches but unsold & it got us the Tube Technology valve amps at a very cheap price. For Shop Demos they were more into AV than Hifi but by 1998 no-one would dare force Classical on you, to bring in your own music was encouraged. In testing amps, some tracks get played often for testing, rather than enjoyment, but to tire of them & go looking for another track that brings out Good Fidelity, we play 1920s 78s to 1950s Jamaican Calypso, Rock & Roll and RnB to 1960s Reggae, Ska, Soul, Psych, Garage-Beat to 1970-94 era Stereo tracks in Rock-Pop to soul to Reggae using a good mix of Stereo but Mono is usually more telling, with the early Jamaican tracks revealing how focussed & accurate the amp is. We don't use slow tracks at all, from beyond not being as appealing, they don't test a Hifi. Classical music beyond very loud crescendos doesn't put Hifi to much of a test either. How clean it can deliver a Hard Guitar Riff, deal with a Spiky Synth Beat or cause Emotional Mayhem with some Deep Dubwise Basslines is a lot more meaningful.
Revising Earliest Ratings. ↑
In our earlier tests pre 2012, we use Audio Technica ATH-M20 headphones, These were clean sounding but we needed to use the Bass Tone Control to balance the sound. Fortunately we took them apart & they happily broke, the new stock of M20s thankfully sounded lousy as the construction 5 years later was pretty poor. After some frustrating efforts buying other headphones, see the condensed story on the Headphones page, we found the Audio Technica ATH-M50s that we still use today. They are as honest on the treble & midrange as the earlier M20s were, but now we can play music Flat on the Tone, which does give a huge benefit, instead of listening to Tone stages, all of which aren't equal in their frequency points. Because of knowing the limit of the M20s, we've tried many of the amps again, giving updated comments & ratings. any review with 2013 is based on the M50s & only since mid 2014 we've used the Tannoy 15" Golds to try them on speakers. We purposely didn't want to try Amps on Speakers in the early days to understand transistor amps for what they are in a more intimate Headphones listening way, similarly we ignored putting the valve amps on headphones to not spoil the learning curve. The first time we tried the Valve amps, which were upgraded-designed on the speakers, they sounded way better than the B+O 4400 that was our "Top Amp", as the page title suggests. In the earlier days we rated amps as Number One to No 33 before it got too difficult & the current version makes more sense. But going back to amps tested 2012 or before, we weren't sure we've done them justice as we are aware our opinion influences buyers, we loved the Leak Delta 75 initially on getting ours recapped & upgraded in 2012, but trying several more revealed what a bad amp it was & a recent one proved finally it's a stinker & best avoided. But there was one amp we had a hard time with: the Yamaha CA-1010 & only over 3 years later do we dare to try another one, as it's one of the last 'important' ones we've not revisited. Once Bitten Twice shy is not the way to test vintage Hifi, especially if it's pedigree suggests it should be better than what is found. So for our ratings, the ones 2010-2012 we might not agree with if we tried it again, if most have been revisited now. The earlier year dated ratings were based on use on good speakers so are still valid if based on emotional memory of them. Ones below still with a 2010-2012 review dates we've added comments to based on this.
Tonal Balance Can Vary A Lot ↑
In upgrading amps, we can usually get all amps to sound of the same quality, upgrading will follow a set of rules that works in some amps & is used in others, if with some fine tuning to space & capability of power. If we can make an obscure 20w amp sound as clean as the 45w-50w ones from the late 1960s, then a comparison can be made. The upgrades can remove low spec & remove amps being rough sounding, bass light or too dull. In effect all amps could be made to sound the same going further into the design, but there is little point in that. Reasons why are not being arrogant: once removing the deliberate cost-cutting low spec & bass-light components, many used to stop buyer complaints, the amp, if designed properly should be at it's best. Any amp design is just basically a pile of resistors, transistors, capacitors & diodes, the skill of the designer in making the perfect mix of the parts is the challenge. To then have a level playing field with amps is then possible. There are 20w amps that are fresh & lively with good bass as well as 50w amps that are soft, blurry & unexciting sounding. But buyers might prefer the soft sounding cosy sound instead of the all-kicking & dancing sound. Known blanket descriptions of Hifi brands with their 1970s ranges are Marantz amps sound soft, Pioneer sound loud but rough, B+O are more style than sound, McIntosh are one of the most respected brands, Luxman are refined, and Yamaha are still quality when others cheaped out. Brands like Sony, Sansui & Trio-Kenwood changed their standing in Hifi often, from their 1960s gems to the cost-cut items most of their post 1971 ranges are. UK & European Hifi to us has an opinion of being too midprice in quality with dated spec giving a rough sound, others do love these, but perhaps have never heard the superior Japanese & USA product.
Tonal Balance: Messing with Your Mind ↑
The trouble when comparing amps, is the mind of the listener is very capable of being fooled. Playing a great sounding but dull amp, or over-bassy amp, your hearing compensates for this, making the EQ of your hearing adjust to brighten the sound to the usual sound you are used to. Psychoacoustics & the like is a complex issue, but humans can pick out a single conversation in a noisy place by having selective hearing. Your hearing balancing the sound to cover the failings, if giving a flawed version of Reality, not too different from Beer Goggles. The dull sounding amp can sound wonderful because your hearing balanced it, but in comparing to several other amps, the dullness can be singled out, as the other 4 amps were brighter sounding. It could also be all 4 of those amps are of an overbright balance too, but testing over & over with a different amp as the Reference first amp learnt that day will eventually find the dishonest sound. The danger here is the dull amp makes your hearing brighter & then to go try an amp that sounded great before, the hearing compensation will make that great amp sound rubbish. We've noted this as it sounds bright & smeary. It's not the great amp with the problem, your hearing compensation for the dull amp is. Go try that great amp again as the first one you play one day & it's greatness will mysteriously return. Humans are very suggestible, you can be fooled so easily as that "Your Bleeped Up Brain" show revealed, and the issues of Love & Lust can make humans do really dumb things in belief it's right, if realise how wrong it is later. Audio can fool people a lot, but you can easily change it, but in other foolish often-regretted things, Tattoos are not so easy to get rid of, but fools still get them for unthinking reasons. We've heard the flattest sounding 'Hifi' systems, no bass, no treble, but the owner loved it as it was their only reference. One shop in London had a very loud PA midrange-treble horn speaker with normal domestic speakers, the treble was at least 20db louder, but it was playing loud everytime we went past, user unaware. To have three amplifiers maxed out with every trick we know so they all are sweet & detailed, but one can be Neutral, one can be a bit Thick on the Bass & another can be a bit Bright on the Treble. The last two are the problem ones as they can hide how much more listenable the Neutral one is with their unbalanced excesses. The best way to tell which is the Neutral, the Thick or the Bright is to do a 20 second quick test of all in succession, before your mind becomes used to one & equalises your hearing to one. Only them will the Neutral one reveal itself after perhaps you rated it as a bit Dull in comparison to the Bright one, or Bass-Light compared to the Thick one. Neutral is not Average, it's a more faithful representation of the True Music, but again it's a sense of hearing that is learnt over time. Neutral sound can be as Dynamics & fast as any amp, it's the Sound Balance that you hear that matters. No tests of Tone accuracy really mean anything, look at Phono stages that claim to be 0.5db true to the RIAA curve, yet some are thick & muddy whilst others are fresher & more open sounding. For ones we rate "Excellent" there is a finesse of Sound here with the wonderful Retro Hifi sound that lets your music breathe. All are slightly different if you compare, but to use one will be a delight.
There's Actually Not That Many of Them ↑
A look through the Hifi Yearbooks as our two pages show that Amps that today's user would use, ie 30w or more, are not that numerous. Even looking through the 1971 one shows many are 10w or less & definitely not Hifi then or now, more like Radiogram innards & looking similar. There are a few PA type amps by Crown as well as the odd very rare experimental ones, but generally 50w is the highest power until the mid 1970s, the Teac AG-7000 and Sony TA-1130 both at 65w from 1971 is unusual. The quality brands have a wider range through the years, ones like Marantz have far too many & some like Sony start out with quality but by 1972 smell the faster money is selling the average. Some amps we seek out as they are early & of a good power, 45w RMS with the 1967 Pioneer SX-1500TF & Sansui 3000A we write loads on are the highest power until the mid 1970s newer designs. We'll keep searching out ones we like though the amount of worthy models is finite & some were not sold as intensively as some in the UK making importing the usual way to get a McIntosh or Fisher. We've since written a Receivers page & were a little disappointed of what we found in the pre 1970 era, not many indeed.
We Rate many Amps together from Comparing ↑
We have the nerve & knowledge to rank vintage hifi amplifiers & receivers against others. Early on we gave number ratings & put them in order, but we've advanced much more now & our Ratings explain better than number scoring. Reading forums & seeing what others rave about gives us the idea they've not heard many amps & are raving about an amp we'd consider mediocre. As we've gone along, many have got ranked somewhere but sold on, only a few remain & are now put into the list. Many reviewers say how great one brand or item is but without comparing to others that is just too limited, as only by comparing many & having a reference can you rate amps. Other people's opinions don't really matter much unless you know their criteria for stating what they do, many opinions are worthless without. Experts are usually self-appointed & to us are trivial. We are Qualified Techs with years of experience on & off and are still learning as any person not claiming to be an expert should admit. Real Experts are like Psychics: the real ones don't want to be labelled together with the pretenders. We have an ear to EQ a good sound out of the poorest source, such as whisper quiet 1930s Cartoon film soundtracks lost in a Sea Of Hiss. We get things wrong & do dumb things like anyone else, we are humans after all, to learn from errors is a must, but how fast you notice your error is the decider between Genius and Idiot. We don't like Mass Market 'Popular' Ordinary things & crave the obscure, just see our Record Stock to see we dig out the unknown gems. Our reference is our own highly redesigned Valve amp that was sonically based on how the first Sony STR-6120 we had sounded after recapping & upgradecing a few years ago & then valvified to the max, based on ideas known then. Looking at that valve amp years on, it's a bit untidy but daily use has proven it good & only the minor alteration has been needed. But to rebuild them afresh would be nice. On finally hearing our valve amp through Headphones, we made one minor change based on a previous room being a bit bass light. Not bad for designing the sound by ear. Not surprisingly the Sony STR-6120 we have still rates very highly as original or now recapped into better than ever, though others have surpassed it now. Many times since we've started this has our Number One changed only to change & change again as some amps reset the whole thing. To the point we've long given up on Numbering. Is there a better transistor amp than any we've tried so far that we've yet to try or even consider? Probably not. The Sansui 3000A was a remarkable find, but the Sony STR-6120 recapped & upgraded is still a truly remarkable amp also the Sansui 3000A & Yamaha CR-1000 if many others have proven to be 'high excellent' since.
Near Instant Comparisons. ↑
Unlike most unreliable subjective reviews that listen to just one amp based on the "memory" of another, we test several in one sitting, having cables & headphones for swapping within the minute. We could swap amid 10 amps within a 30 minute sitting as described below, but be sure some took a relistening after to accurately rank them, based on the ideals of the found Top lot. We know only too well how your opinions can be swayed the wrong way only to think otherwise at another listening & put it back in context. Overloud or overbright amps are the worst ones to offset your mental ideal of sound, though a musical memory is possible if one amp resolves a test track better than other amps & hearing the same track on a lesser amp you can tell it doesn't quite deliver it right. You can play too loud & bring out bad noisesm distortion & harmonics, that spoil the listening for subtleties & using Mono & Stereo tracks is needed. We used more Mono earlier on, but with too many amps being rated highly, using later Stereo tracks made it easier & also made lofi mono tracks sound better as an amp great in Stereo will do Mono much better, but in a different way. Stereo can hide the real feel of the music as the wide effects mask the sound, so always test with Stereo & Mono tracks. It takes a few moments to tune back to Mono as it's in the middle of your head, not wide like birds flying either side of you as Stereo can be. But to really be sure you need other amps to compare one to, and on later days to check the opinion wasn't a skewed one. We are not interested in other's opinions except to see how wildly they differ, all unaware of their tastes & sound experience, as this is our website & for our views, controversial or non-conformist they may be, but with one ideal in mind... the Sound. For the issues of Impedance, to connect several amps together by input & be able to swap in a second by headphone plugging actually didn't work out as all were connected & 'affecting' each other. Only really the old way of Shops selling with a Comparator that switched the source to the individual amp would work, involving loads of cables & still the unknowns of impedance, we'll stick with one cable plugged into each amp as it's used.
No Amplifier is "Perfect" ↑
All amplifiers ever made are just someone's budget-compromised idea of a good amp for a good price & hoping to shift a good amount of them and make a profit. Not too good or you'll never want to buy another, to tire of the old thing is why the new is desired. Not all big selling amps are poor quality & not all cheaper ones are either. Some expensive ones are awful. Some amps that are of Midprice manufacture can sound excellent. Amps can not be designed to "perfection" with cost no issue & then expect buyers to pay 3x as much for what basically is a 50w amp for example. Makers who do generally don't stay in business for long or diversify away from their folly. Modern amps are priced higher than older amps as resell prices stay high but vintage is often sold for less than the price new even though 30-40 years of inflation has taken place. Modern Budget amps are priced very low for what they offer, built as cheaply as possible & do set the price for what Vintage sells for until the item is accepted as being worth more. Vintage amps are still growing in popularity & price. Those who are more advanced in Electronics & know design from seeing & improving other amps can make the best amps into better, well usually. There are no guarantees in any "improvements" and we have found the upgrade route is a big gamble. There used to be the £10K+ Audio Note type amps of minimal design but huge price for ridiculous exotic parts, but that market is long gone. Some of these amps can be upgraded into something better & we've tried quite a few & realised some can be wonderful even in the raw original state & some we wish we'd not spent the time on as they sound boring. Then there are others that have very high potential & are amongst the best commercially sold amplifiers, but are a long way from being top hifi but are worth a try. Some are particularly good but just something holds them back even if you max them out. The others in our Top Amps still hold potential for greatness but we'd not finished with them yet as of typing. To be harsh, the best sounding valve amp will beat any of these though only a strong hint of the best in valves are in the Trio WX-400U & Rogers HG88 III but these are limited again in several ways even if maxed out to the limits of doing major surgery. Our valve amps we did do major surgery on by gutting them out & rebuilding from scratch, at a point they were not in good order, ie a damaged output transformer on the power amps. At a point like that you can do as you wish, got a new transformer as a freebie & not really mind if it's good or not. This sort of anarchy is what brings the best results. But to butcher a classic amp is not advisable as if you come to sell it, no-one will trust it. Our upgrades & upgrades are done to a high standard & are tidily done so resell or undo is possible to keep it acceptable.
How Reliable Are They? 30-40-50 years old? ↑
First Answer: One Recapped & Upgraded, they are as reliable as any new amplifier & probably more so even. Second Answer: As All-Original it is impossible to tell as amps age from the amount of use, or if only used for 2 years when new, how they were stored, damp, dry or too hot, as it affects the Capacitors. But back to the Recapped & Upgraded... we use our Upgraded Amps on the speakers watching TV for hours a day. For example at Xmas, the Amp is on all day long, meaning 12 hours on for day after day. We've used the 1967 National-Panasonic SA-65 & it has resistors that get got by design, but it's ventilated. No problems at all. Other older amps like the Sansui 3000A or Sony STR-6120, again no problems at all, leave them on for hours, leave them plugged in overnight but switched off, no problem. But that is because they are Serviced, Recapped & Upgraded to be 'as good as new', actually better than new in spec. They are safe & reliable. We'd not trust any amp on the speakers unserviced or checked. We'd try a reliable amp with 1967 capacitors just to try it, but for the unknowns of age & storage, it'd only be for a brief try. But on headphones, we've used all-original 1960s amps, once serviced & checked, for hours with no problems. We used to sell hifi still with the original capacitors & we'd run them in, powered up, for several hours to be sure they are at least reliable. But we now fully recap most of the amps we sell to offer a superior product, we can tell when getting the amp raw if it's had much use & on some amps the main capacitors are still good enough. Recapping means we use the best quality capacitors for the job, there are cheap ones on ebay for a fraction of the price the quality ones are, having found these in amps we got & replaced, they are very cheaply made to the point of being unreliable as you can find online. Only the best we use, without going tro the needless "exotic" ones.
Our Earlier Pages Told More... ↑
The Hifi Brands pages told what seemed like more information, but as with any progression to write about finding optimistic but dead spiders found in Hifi as well as bad repairs & damage gets a bit pointless as we read over the old pages. All the important info has been put onto the particular amp on this Top Amps page & more matters more general are put elsewhere. We've found that putting any hints to solve problems further than what is stated here got others taking bits of info unrelated to their amp & trying it out. To make one point a certain big receiver sold in 1978 always has issues, we told a little too much it seems & found one seller had amateurishly tried to do advanced work & made a mess of it & sold his amp embarrassedly & very cheap. We got it going but had to undo their mess & do it properly. We can only assume Car Garages get the same deal with fiddled with cars & know the signs as we do. Our advice is, having learnt the hard way, is if you don't know how to do it yourself, pay a Pro to do it properly. We don't know how to hang wallpaper successfully so we'd pay for it to be done right. We see how some mains plugs are wired, which is why moulded plugs are the way today only quite recently though, 25 years ago you had to buy a plug for an iron.
What is "High End" Hifi? ↑
A term used by sellers in the same way inexperienced record dealers use "Rare" for common chart hit records. It has no real meaning. In the 1990s 'High End' we assumed was a Hifi item over £2000 to buy new, the High End of the pricing scale where you paid more for the outer casework than the electronics. The sort of hifi that didn't really sell & you never seem to see any for sale used. But seeing a budget-midprice Sony TA-1140 amplifier called 'high end' and also the budget TA-1150 similarly shows it means nothing anymore. Buzz words get over-used & become redundant. We also see mediocre 1980s amps called "Rare" which is amusing as no-one collects mass-market hifi. Flagship or Top Of The Line/Range is used too for the biggest, if usually most overdesigned amps in a manufacturer's range from the late 1970s onwards.
Overdesign in Late 1970s Hifi ↑
This factor is a difficult one as overdesign hides cost-cutting to give good specs on lousy sounding amps. The early Transistor amps 1965-69 were straightforward, had more advanced circuitry & very little cost cutting. They often sound Excellent as all-original once serviced. We make comments about "ridiculous overdesign" as was seen in the 1977-79 era top of the range amps, but wanting to dig deeper, we'll still try them & then try to unravel what the overdesign is about. You'd need to have studied 'advanced' hifi design to understand why three sets of differentials are used, but amps like Yamaha helpfully have a 'signal route' shown, which reveals not all transistors or FETs are in the audio path. There are current regulators & other 'nonsense' like Cascade Bootstrap, Emitter Follower & Current Mirror, all of which the Marantz PM62 has in it's power amp early stage IC. But the early amps needed none of this and sound fresher for it, the Sony TA-1120 from 1965, not the 1120A 1967 revised version, is the Best Vintage Amp we've encountered. We've recapped & upgraded transistors, but every 50 year old resistor is kept as the design is so good & it's sounds wonderful on the Tannoy Golds. So if that amp can be so good, why do the later amps need these extra stages? All a 1967 National Panasonic SA-65 has, another of those Best Ever amps, are gain stages & buffers. This overdesign started with the 1977 amplifiers, Sony amps used to describe the circuit stages which makes regnosing them easier, but the complex Yamaha CA-1010 actually sounds great but has strange stages that need understanding.
To explain the stages noted above, we'd like to know further, so we'll write it as we research it. Wikipedia has pages as linked on these & for how militant they are, these pages are reliable.
Emitter Follower is the easy one & one that is good if not essential to have: it's a Buffer stage, Common Collector, with no gain but isolates the previous stages from the next ones. This is useful where differing impedance can affect the signal and we've noticed in our Valve Preamp that it needs a buffer to stop Tone, switching in Phono & connecting a cable to Record the sound all affect the impedance. All therefore need buffers & for the size of our valve preamp case, we've just about given up on it. Buffers stop switch noise boops & clicks, the Yamaha CR-2020 is one of the first to use buffers like this & it makes it a much nicer amp to use, earlier amps do make noises as switches are used.
The Dishonest Self-Correcting Circuitry ↑
Cascade Bootstrap has a Bootstrap page to explain further, it's a sort of buffer to stop impedance mismatch as one Marantz amp spec states. The Bootstrap applies Positive Feedback to raise the Impedance. It seems to be to alter the characteristic of a IC op-amp, which sounds like covering for failings of the IC yet they still use it, other ideas on the wiki page appear to suggest it's a cheap way to get good specs with cheap circuitry. To us, Cascade Bootstrap sounds one to avoid as it treies to hide low spec with 'fancy' circuitry. The thing here clearly is Balancing Impedances. But Impedance is a 'virtual' value, you can't read it on a multimeter though it relates to resistance, it's a Mathematical term.
Current Mirror is the last one, Wikipedia states "is a circuit designed to copy a current through one active device by controlling the current in another active device of a circuit, keeping the output current constant regardless of loading" which is best copied direct. It sounds like a regulator of sorts, if related to ICs & MOSFETS. In Audio, we're not keen on FETs as they are not variasble like a transistor, the gain is fixed by the FET spec. This is why most amps that use FETs keep them in the early FM stages or just one as the first of a preamp or power amp stage. The Sony TA-1130 amplifier uses just 3 FETs in the tone-preamp & we found it not possible to upgrade much as their spec was all you can get. again the MOSFET type amps appear to try to do quality in a cost-cut way, making up for weaknesses in ICs & FETs that no 1967 amp had problems with. It's like making things cheaply & papering over the cracks to still get good specs but just selling rubbish.
So this reveals that any Amp with ICs, MOSFETS, Cascade Bootstrap & Current Mirrors is not really Hifi at all, just a cheat to get better specs with cheap self-correcting circuits on General Purpose Audio "Stereos". They use substandard ICs & add tricks to make them read better on the Specs but still be lousy. The cynical designers don't care if it sounds good, you bought it as the Specs were good & a paid advert in a Hifi mag said it was the best Amp there was on the market. Crap. How far from the wonder of the 1965-69 designs they strayed, never getting close to the superior sound.
You Just Want Something 'Perfect'...? ↑
This is what us Humans naively expect an item to be: All You Want, The Quality & Ease Of Use at a Price less than you'd imagine. But you go try to buy things today, from Headphones to Apps to Cleaning Fluids to Cars to anything else. Nothing is perfect. Nothing is more than a compromise with things you don't like amid the good. Most things in life are mediocre & disposable if you are one who has tasted better & usually you only find out by paying your money & wasting your time on it & then go find something new & start the game all over again. It's called being a Consumer, not a 'Buy-it-&-keep-it forever-er' like Granny with her 1930s Washing Tub that still works 80+ years later. So to relate that to Hifi, again all are a compromise. The ones we've found 'more perfect' than others you can tell from below. Some you can 'perfect' more than others with improvements of your own. Others may not like your ideals of perfection & say you are wrong. Perfection is in the eye of the Beholder. So our Beheld Hifi we note on our Top Amps page. To buy a good Vintage Amp or buy a £4000 modern ex-demo obscure 'High Cred' thing is the question. Your vanity, your depth of pocket, your knowledge that the pre 1980-sound is far more enjoyable & a like for Retro Goodies will be your influence. If you want to buy that £4000 new thing, get off our page, there's nothing for you here...
Specifications Generally Are Of No Use. ↑
The story about Specifications getting "better" yet the sound not being as Musical as earlier simpler designs was first noted in early 1976, with a quote on p16 of the 1977 HFYB. It mentions tests done in a March 1976 'Hifi For Pleasure' and a June 1976 'Practical Hifi & Audio' magazine articles. Note these are not mass market Hifi titles or even Hifi News that started the HFYB series. Listening Tests showed the advances in Technology were not matched by a pleasing Sound, after all that is the point of Hifi.
Our self-quote If they were more honest they'd rate it as "Percentage of the real sound we actually lost in search of high specifications" is possible to test if you compared the input signal to a scaled down version of the output. If the peaks are lesser then the sound has been mangled & usually blurred to a degree. This is the sound all Hifi post 1974 delivers. All the Overdesign in Technology with excessive Transistors is the problem & overuse of NFB which needs very fine tuning by a trained ear playing music, not just putting it to mathematical ideals.
The main spec noted is THD - Total Harmonic Distortion. Harmonics are echoes of the original tone that bring a violin to live with a unique character, or results of bad design giving audible tones that are not Hifi at all, the worst Harmonics we heard were in a 1963 Armstrong 221 valve amp, awful design. So THD allows harmonics but only measures how distorted they are. You see 0.01% THD which is supposed to be impressive, but in truth THD was first noted at 0.1% with post War Leak valve amps when NFB was first used commercially. THD is a bit pointless to note, the amp should be clean & adequately powered yet amps boasting such low THD are often overdesigned & much limited squashing the life out of the real sound. The original signal flattened out & homogenized is a travesty of the original signal, but can still be 0.01% THD in specs. The best Hifi we've had is the from Transistor era 1967-73 when designs were clean & simple delivering a fresh, lively & open sound that is a delight to hear. Valve amps can do even better, but Vintage ones are too old spec to do this right. No Shop Bought Hifi can be the "Perfection" they lie about it being as you'd never want to buy another, all are limited & dumbed down to a degree. This is why we Upgrade amps mostly to see what a decent amp is hiding & not all reveal quite the quality we'd want, but the 1967-73 era ones usually do.
The next spec noted is Damping Factor. Valve amps usually have a DF of 15 but some high power modern ones have a DF of 250+. A modern higher DF amp can be made with our upgrades to sound as clean & nearly as lively as an early amp, but overall you can't match a 1974-modern amp to the musicality of the 1967-73 ones. The sound with the overdesign (& ICs) will be flat & too tame. It can have the older amp sound balance but never the speed & fluidity of the simpler designs that were based on Valve design if progressing it further than the late 60s valve amps. Damping Factor is due to NFB & the higher DF means too much NFB has been used. We've played with NFB & the fine line between not enough & too much is where Hifi designers get it wrong, or more likely deliberately overcook it to get 'better spec'.
THD-Harmonic Distortion: In Your Face. ↑
To put it bluntly, the reliance on THD in maker's specs is utterly worthless. It means Nothing in terms of how the amp will sound. Harmonic Distortion is worked out using a Sine Wave & reading how it distorts on it's Harmonics, read elsewhere about good & bad harmonics. So the 1kHz test tone gets 0.01% THD, how fun for those who listen to test tones. Music is a multitude of frequencies all at once, it relies on the speed & reserve of the design to reproduce it. Square Wave distortion is another one quoted in reviews, slew rate & ringing. All amps rely on a design based on mix of a large quantity of transistors, resistors, capacitors & diodes. The designer may know how to fully bring the best out of a circuit, but then comes the brutal dumbing down so you don't get the Good Stuff as you'd never buy another amp. The only true test for Distortion is how the Source compares to the Output, it will usually be tamed down to not be so dynamic, deep bass will be reduced, treble can be blurry or smeary. With today's technology, to sample 5 seconds of music at the Source & at the Amplifier Output, scale them to the same visual size & see where it goes wrong. That peak got reduced by 10db, that transient didn't resolve correctly, the Sub Bass has gone missing. The "Distortion" could be of several Hundred Percent where it fails to resolve complex signals of Music, not easy Sine Waves. Go on Hifi "experts" put that idea into your sales hype & tell the truth how mangled your crappy amps are. Then stop dumbing them down so heavily like 120+ changes were needed to better, if not possibly perfect, the 2007 Marantz PM6002. Hifi should be much better than it is.
Amps on Speakers or Headphones ↑
Headphones give far greater insight into Sound Quality than Speakers as the sound is right on your ears. To realise the extra precision found testing via headphones, without room reflections. Amps can sound 'good enough' on speakers but on headphones it usually reveals weaknesses that we upgrade to improve & then the improvement shows on speakers. Explains why mediocre amps are kept as better quality sound isn't understood until you hear it. We never tried all our Transistor amps on our big Tannoy Golds until establishing our upgrades, to be sure they were right on headphones first, though they got tested on smaller speakers, the need to try them to compare how well they match is now what we do. To trust any amp on speakers like these could be risky, but you can read how we Service & Test amps to be confident. The more amps we test on Speakers, the more it opens up a different dimension to just using Headphones. Headphones are great to hear the fine quality & crisp focus that the sound from a speaker bouncing around a room can't do. Hearing our valve amps, previously upgraded on speakers, later on headphones showed they weren't as crisp & focussed as they could be, but sounded great on Speakers. It comes to a point when we don't need so many reference amps so to use them for a few weeks on the Speakers for TV sound to get used to them to decide & then sell one on. This happened with two of the best: Sony STR-6120 & Sansui 3000A. We had used the Sansui on the speakers for a few months already when rebuilding the valve amps. So the Sony got a few week's use to compare. On headphones, the Sony was the better sound, but on speakers the Sansui was far better. On headphones the Sansui is a little soft on the midrange but on speakers the Sony didn't get played so loud for the graduated volume control & it didn't sound as lively on the speakers as the Sansui did. The Sony was sold. Other amps sounded great on Speakers like the Luxman R-1040 but on headphones it was good if unremarkable. The more we test, the more we'll get to find an amp that sounds great on both, though the Sansui with it's very low Damping Factor will be hard to beat on Speakers, except by Valve Amps.
Why Your Modern Hifi Sounds Rubbish! ↑
The Sad Fact is it's all down to pricing, profits & cost cutting. If a manufacturer can save 0.1p over 10,000 items they will. They know you'll soon tire of it & go buy a "new better one" hoping you'll suffer from Brand Loyalty. This is cynical & a big insult to your money, but why should they care, you come back again & again. The Worst sheep effect by far is with Apple i-Phones, the fools spend £500 every year or so for the "latest greatest" one if reviewers more honest will tell you it's really not that good. Big bucks though & forever changing "what is better" has Sheep in Droves buying as they've been told it is better & they must have it. Fools. It's Commerce & if you, dear Reader buy into it, then You's a Sucker, buddy. But you'd not be reading our pages if you were A Sucker so freely tell anyone who believes the rubbish hype of today they are a Sucker & see what they say... get them to prove it & you'll find they only can quote "Paid Expert" glowing reviews, they know nuttin'. Back to Hifi, it's no different except the Phone scene was 30-40 years ago if not so aggressive as today. Hifi grew from WW2 research & by 1964 Transistors were becoming more common & took over by 1967. Valves might not existed if the Diode valve was put as two together as a transistor is sa the older Hifi books. But by 1971 the economics changed & with the roller-coaster of the next 20 years the idea was the Greedy Buyer wanted "more" for his money than he was entitled to. He got his "more" but at the expense of quality. We have often thought Hifi amps were designed to be the designer's current perfection then dumbed down & cost cut to the miserly Finance Manager's request. Of course such rubbish means they can still say 40 years after Marantz made it's first quality amps that they've improved it, but we see beyond ICs the technology is no different at all, if more needless rubbish to make the cost cutting not so obvious. So your Hifi sounds rubbish because... 1] You demand too much for your money. 2] It has been cost cut to the penny. 3] Quality of spec is cut to the bone. 4] Magazine reviews tell you the latest one is always better than the last. Be angry: they sold your rubbish before if the New One is "so much better".
New Hifi Sales Hype is usually Just Fluff Talk. ↑
The way modern Hifi is sold, with meaningless Fluff Talk about pointless things being "important" as it's worded to sound important & of course they are forever "improving" things. Sadly the same rubbish has been spouted since the mid 1980s when the Hifi News & What Hifi mags became bigger & more influential, when the Hifi itself was, in retrospect, at it's worst. Stuffed with ICs, thin bright sound to make dull sounding CD sound better, mid 1980s Hifi is generally vile. The biggest joke was how Marantz made out that copper plated screws were important & you can bet many believed it. Copper plated screws were actually a security measure, a bit like Pioneer & others putting screws with bumps on the case contact are of the head that scrape so they can see you opened it & voided the warranty. Copper screws tarnished on the edges where they'd not be handled, giving the game away. All the hype about 'improved design' is 100% sales hype with stupid ideas that Class A preamps are something special. But nearly all preamps to 1977 were Class A anyway. Most of the utter BS hype these gushing prose writers spew out are actually nothing new at all, with ideas well established but written in 'Important' sounding BS language to make out it's something special. As a lesson in decrypting the BS, a Denon amplifier by a mass market brand famed for a million cheap AV receivers delivers this nonsense for a modern amp... "The PMA-1520AE’s re-modelled Advanced UHC-MOS Single Push-Pull Circuit for instance or the twin transformers with leakage cancelling technology prove, that Denon always finds ways to advance their famed 2-channel products. The Precision Direct Mechanical Ground Construction thoroughly suppresses vibration thus minimizing adverse influences on the output signal. The power transformer, a major source of vibration, has been “float” mounted using a variety of vibration-resistant materials and a radiator stabilizer. It further owns separate power supplies for analogue and digital circuits. A chassis construction with independent blocks and the large high grade volume potentiometer further suppress external noise and unwanted interferences between the parts. All relevant ingredients have been strictly selected to deliver the high sound quality for which Denon is renowned. The high-performance phono equalizer makes the PMA-1520AE the best choice also for vinyl lovers. Everything is protected by a thick aluminium front panel with the Denon logo engraved." Note it's remodelled, so the old one was rubbish, right? 'For Instance' or similarly 'Thanks To' in any hype is a red flag to mean they are telling you lies. 'Always Finds Ways.. famed.. products' is part of the slimy lies of retelling Fairy Stories as Blockbuster Films, ask Shrek. Leakage Cancelling Technology makes no sense unless they mean the transformer is in a metal case. 'Precision Direct Mechanical Ground Construction' is hilarious, they mean the cheap plastic feet with a bit of foam rubber on. Power Transformers have been rubber mounted for decades not that a balanced design on a 50v AC transformer would even need it, but big valve amps do. Seperate Power supplies means a resistor dropper just like Prewar Radios or a Regulator, as Digital stages use low voltage, nothing special there. It suggests the Volume Pot is a saviour of all ills, utter nonsense as usual as Volume Pots on our 1932 gram are metal cased doing the same thing. Strictly Selected Revelant Ingredients again the oozing slime that they care as they take your money for mediocre product as you believed it was true. The Phono stage will be an IC & the same lazy design as used 25 years before. All is protected by a front panel, my we are fortunate, again the fake carey slimy prose of today. But you believe it don't you, as you bought one.
Modern Hifi Should Be Better Than Old? ↑
To decide to buy Vintage means you've Rejected Modern Hifi as it sounds Lifeless and Boring. But TV & Phones are better, yet Hifi today despite the hype isn't that much different to the 1977-83 pre CD era design. Beyond extra ICs & tedious sales hype, you're getting a lesser product than buying Vintage. There is a lot of mediocre products at any time in Audio History, but we are interested in the Best & there are plenty of good amps in the 1967-77 era. We'd have thought a 2007 Marantz PM6002 would have advanced from a 1977 Marantz 2265B but the truth is the only difference is a lower background noise & a sound devoid of the freshness even that 1977 amp had, which was less than a 1967 one. Knowing the Marantz PM6002 which still has ICs but uses Transistors mostly, their design we could do 120+ changes & still never get the free flowing early sound. Be sure these Denon things are stuffed with every spoiler & limiter like the PM6002 has. On upgrading it we saw every opportunity to f... muck the sound being taken & some were very severe. So you've shunned Modern Hifi realising all that too, Welcome To The Land Of Milk & Honey. Or is it? You need that Vintage Amp servicing to get the best out of it. But even buying a modest Vintage Amp by a known maker will deliver so much more Musical Enjoyment than anything modern.
Which is Best: British Hifi or Japanese/USA? ↑
As we are British folk, we have tried quite a lot of British Hifi. Until the late 1960s, the UK Hifi sellers generally only stocked UK brands until Trio, Fisher & Pioneer started being imported as FM Stereo Multiplex receivers were higher spec than the UK ones. Plenty of UK brands like Leak, Rogers, Quad, Radford, Ferrograph & Sugden lasted for many years & some are still around today. But the truth is once you've tried the hugely superior Vintage Japanese & USA brands pre 1980, comparing them to the UK made product really shows no competition. UK had lousy brands like Armstrong who used obsolete Germaniums until the 1973 range finally went to Silicon & UK made Hifi often has axial capacitors & build that looks a lot older than the Japanese product. Compare the rare 1965 Sony TA-1120 to anything UK made even up to 1970 & the Sony is way ahead in every way. We've not been keen on the UK sound quality either, rough & grainy is often the sound. UK made hifi can be very lazy beyond Armstrong with Ferrograph designing a 20w amp in 1968 & still selling it in the early 1980s under a third case design! Leak & Rogers were only midprice items, they sadly never made higher powered amps, Quad in the Vintage transistor era with those clunky small units made for building in cabinets we have looked closely at but never wanted to try. Radford transistor amps are truly awful. Only Sugden we found more pleasing, the A48 amplifier had a good sound if the typical UK build in a cheap wood case. Other UK brands only offered budget gear like Alba, Amstrad & the glut of cheapo amps made post 1972 for the Comet discount shop chain.
Reading more of the Hifi News magazines shows how the Japanese & German brands, of notably superior quality, were generally introduced by Open Reel Tape Recorders. A good amount of Scandinavian makers also became familiar this way. But to most British buyers, Japan & Germany still had WW2 connections that will have made buyers cautious. But in those days, good manners were everyday & these industrious folk making excellent technical goods, when the British brands were a long way behind making little progress, will have been welcomed by many for the quality of the goods & those countries looked on in a new light of trust, forgetting the past. It has been noted that these countries worked hard to make High Quality electronics, if it still was based on advances made in WW2 such as Decca's FFRR & Leak finding a use for NFB in amplifiers. But good ideas by British makers were sat upon with not much progress over the years, look at Lowther, a very lazy company. But fresh ideas especially from Japan with the transistor, once Germaniums were made obsolete, shows a genius that can only come from hardship as you strive more to be better, than being a sleeping contented fed cat. The Sony TA-1120 again is one of the first all-silicon 50w transistor amps & has to be the best transistor amplifier ever, yet it's from 1965 & was quickly dumbed down as it was realised it was too good. Unfortunately genius can lose the original inspiration after success which is why ICs were so common in 'audio' by 1980 yet these brands did later turn away from the IC. To us, an amp with an IC in the pre or power amp is not Hifi, but still some great ones have basic Phono stage ICs, but op-amps & 14 general purpose transistors in one tiny package is of no interest to us. We won't pretend to know about modern hifi of the 21st century, but most of it will now be Made In China & despite the technological advances made in Japan & South Korea by what TV shows reveal, once the idea becomes the accepted item, it gets made as cheaply as possible. Are there any UK manufacturers of the 1960s left? Sugden are still around, all the others are long gone, by failing to keep up with the Japanese brands. There have been many Cottage Industry Hifi makers as the 1990s Revival of Valves showed. Some brands are just a name owned by a corporation so don't really count. Read on Wikipedia about the huge Japanese brands like Sony & Yamaha with history going back decades before you'd heard of them.
Minimum Wattage For Volume ↑
This varies by type of amp and age: Valves give more volume per watt as the design is simpler. We've had 10w valve amps that don't give enough volume on big speakers, so suggest for valves 15w is a minimum for getting room filling volume on big 12" or 15" speakers. If you don't need such high volume, valve amps 3w to 12w can still be good, but they will generally not give enough gain to drive speakers well. For Transistors, this again varies. For the early amps from the 1960s you'll find many at 10w-20w that can still give a decent volume, but it does vary by amp depending on the design. The 1966 Coral amp at 18w gave adequate volume to play Dr Who's bassy soundtrack nicely & the low powered Trio-Kenwoods still give enough volume as does the 20w JVC that played like a 35w amp. We'll try 15w-35w amps that interest, but see 10w in transistors just too low. But as years go on the design gets more complicated & volume is less for the wattage. The 1971 Sony STR-6036 at 16w was laughably weak with full volume not very loud and pure distortion without being anything loud enough. For a late 1970s amp such as the Leak 3200 at 25w was a bit limited. By 1986 we found the 90w Sony TA-F550ES a very low volume & with the excessive design it was just not good enough. The rough idea for a good volume will be 15w for Valves, 15-20w for 1960s Transistor amps, but generally by 1971 with the differential era you need at least 30w.
Differential Era Amps Don't Sound As Good As Earlier Ones... ↑
2017 opinion is Differentials need good design & good spec to sound good, sadly the post 1972 era is Cost-Cutting era too, it's not the Differentials spoiling the sound. With our upgrading amps being very advanced now, it has become clear the earlier amps, except for 1969 Teac AG-6000 that does sound more like a 1960s amp, generally pre 1971 just have a deeper soundstage that the differential amps can't do. It's like they forgot how to design a lively but rich detailed enjoyable sound, instead of that harsh bright thin sound. But after some intense upgrading to another amp, the differential is not the entire weakness, just that it allowed designers to cost-cut further with it as the so-important THD numbers still read unfeasibly low. The Yamaha CR-2020 has other sneaky weak design beyond the deliberately bad power supply as upgrading the Teac proves with it's very listenable sound which helps get the CR-2020 pushed further. There is a difference still, the pre differential amps have a more valve like smoothness, the differential is with a different sound, just less smooth as treble is handled differently, it would need harmonics & square wave tests to reveal exactly what. For play testing we are now more used to the pre-differential amps & the CR-2020 still brings a distortion that we cannot seem to remove, even on a very clean sounding CR-2020 with every upgrade done, the treble appears smeared which sounds like harmonics crashing, the earlier amps can be upgraded to have none of this. Ignoring that, the sound otherwise is as wide in Stereo as well as fast & accurate as earlier amps if not quite having the midrange solidness even the 1967-69 JVC have as original. Be sure the Yamaha CR-2020 was 'designed to perfection', all the buffers to keep switches silent proves much care was taken & like all amps the mean swines thought "what can we take out the fools won't notice?" But the 'fools', actual aware people, do notice these things, even if they don't know anything about electronics or design. They know if it sounds good or not. The heavy cost-cutting in Hifi was down to the cut-price retailers like Comet who were big by 1972. The buyer can't have both low cost & high quality though the marketplace will make you think you can. Hifi sounds mediocre because of user greed & user gullibility in believing the New was Always Better as it wasn't after 1972. Deep solid bass does not come cheap. It is possible to upgrade some of the best Differential era amps to sound more like the more musical earlier amps, but once overdesign & ICs come into the design, it'll not work out.
Some Amps Are Designed To Perfection... ↑
But then dumbed down with deliberate spoilers, deliberate cosat-cutting & delibereate 'built-in obsolescence' such as weaknesses & overheating parts that will fail. Shout rude words at them, they are selling you dishonest products! For the "pre-Comet" era, ie pre 1972, a lot of the better Hifi is upgradeable to be a truly great amp. Noting our upgrades are often purposely maxing out certain amps just to see how good they are, just so we can write about it more. Which amps are great is on the 'Top Amps' reviews page. There are also amps that appear to be good but are so harshly cost cut getting them good, after we get into them, is a hard job as upgrading reveals more weaknesses the further you go. 1972-76 Pioneer especially. Some amps are a bit of a disappointment: a rated brand with an amp sold as a premium price, but it's a bit of a cheaped out average design that can never be amid the best. We had wondered if the Differential, the main difference between the pre 1971 & post 1971 era was the weakness, but two of the better ones have revealed this not to be the case. Only the cost-cutting & cynical deliberate dumbing down of a top class circuit is what keeps the sound away from it's best.
Some Amps Are Better Than They Appear ↑
Some midprice to budget gear can have good circuitry but a cheapness in construction that makes deep upgrading not so worthwhile for the sell price, but unlikely gems like the Sanyo receiver & the Goodmans receivers have potential to do better. But the awful Leak Delta 75 receiver with bad design in multiples was so rancid of the 4 we had, only the first one survived & we tried one again late 2014. The Teleton receiver had a surprisingly good sound but the thing with these cheaper ones is you need a high grade one to start with, as the cheapness elsewhere can put it in the bin despite best efforts. We got the 1967 JVC 20w receiver with the Graphic EQ just because it was a JVC & we'd not tried one. Well made & sounding great, if just not enough in it to drive big speakers. A 1966 Coral amp of 18w another early surprising amp, as are the small Trio-Kenwood early black fronted rocker switch amps. But there are a huge amount of cheap & nasty amps, especially from the UK brands from the early 1970s onwards. Mass sales through Comet was their purpose, to undiscerning folks. A new amp for £40 in 1972 when the best were £200 plus, what do you expect? There are rubbishy valve amps & rubbishy 1960s amps too, Armstrong is the big name to avoid, but even some of the small under-10w valve amps still are of a good basic quality.
The Trouble With Hifi Mag Reviews... ↑
The biggest example of how these are Fails is 'What Hifi' forever saying a newer item is a FIVE STAR item when clearly it's just nothing of the sort. Their outlook is perhaps based on what is available at the current time to compare it to & the finger pointing saying the reviews are paid advertising has been said for decades. We used to buy What Hifi before tiring of it's mass-market approach & went to Hifi News until tiring of it's egotistical waffle. The joy of the Internet & hindsight means we as unbiased lovers of Hifi & Music can take the entire History of Hifi & rank these amps against each other. For years, the idea commericially was the newer item was better, in 1967 the hifi was hugely better than 1957, but by 1977 to us hifi is not as good as 1967, look at out Amp Reviews & see we rate the 1967-70 era the best. Not to say Hifi of 1977, 1987, 1997 or 2007 is not going to play your music to a level you can enjoy, if unaware of the best, it's just that the quality of sound of the earlier hifi is just more pure & without heavy cost cutting. All commercially sold Hifi from 1967 to date is cost cut to a certain degree to firstly not make it too good that you'd never buy another, secondly not too loud that it sounds like a PA to annoy the neighbours & thirdly so it can be priced keenly to the market based on what similar items of the same quality sell for. Some brands had an inferiority complex & never ventured past midprice, such as Leak & Rogers sadly never did, but others made ranges to cater for budget to big money. Not to say the big money ones with 300w are the best either. But the amount of Hifi we upgrade shows even the best ones need help to sound their best, the earlier Hifi can easily outdo anything once it's upgraded. In the early 1980s JVC was seen as Top Hifi by The Man In The Street, but seeing how low it sells for means JVC isn't actually that great & was more a brand given cred by slick advertising "Ullo Tosh Gotta Toshiba!" "Tee Dee Kay... TDK-AD" "Me Ears Are Alight" and Bang & Olufsen being sold to Social Climbers as a way to be Classy if their hifi to us is not particularly reliable compared to others, for using poor capacitors, but once recapped they'll be good again. A later-modern brand that has cred currently is Technics, based on the SL-1210 turntables, but most of their Hifi is just mass market. Oddly the earlier National-Panasonic gear is of much higher quality & Panasonic were hot in around 2000-2004 for TV & DVD gear before it was realised the DVD players only had 2 years use before failing.
Forum Opinions Of Amps... ↑
We found out long ago that the majority of Forum users really have very little knowledge of Hifi & can be prone to uneducated Scaremongering. The natural way today is to websearch to get differing opinions on Amps, we still do in search of data & specs. You'll probably have found our opinions, with our Servicing, Upgrading & Design knowledge are more worthy than some fool saying an amp stuffed with ICs sounds "valve like". Long ago we followed a dubious forum opinion on the Sansui 5000 so avoided getting one. But on getting the Sansui 4000, the exact same "dangerous diodes" were in it too. Being annoyed for taking notice of a forum idiot, we jumped in & bought one & found their wrong ideas were based on the amp being incorrectly adjusted as Not Serviced. Well any amp that is not Serviced & Adjusted can have problems. The Sansui 3000A released in 1967 got 1971 mods to belatedly deal with issues that arose with age & not correctly adjusting. Our intention on this site has been to ignore every other opinion & accepted idea and to start afresh, many old ideas are out of date & can be lazy ideas too, so we get amps we like the look of & decide ourselves. Before we started these pages, the Vintage scene was just late 1970s Monster Amps and now the interest has certainly broadened. If forums are liking amps we recommend & ignoring the limited opinions of old then we have furthered the scene as you'll find plenty of Vintage Hifi sites, but none with opinions & ratings of so many amps together. Looking at forum posts still online from 8-10 years ago, they just dismissed the late 1960s transistor gems without taking them seriously as they were £10-20 in those days, but to us the 1967-69 era has the best sounds. Only by being a Dealer do you see a huge amount of items & we've done the same with Records by discovering & progressing good unknown 'sleeper' items into ones being sought after. We still look on forums for data, photos & circuits, they have proved very useful, but caring much for opinions of those who are using Unserviced Amps is a risky business, as we've found revisiting amps we had 20 years ago & changing opinions. Opinion is based on experience & knowledge. If you asked stranger's opinions on your partner based on a 5 minute chat, be sure they'd get the person rated very differently to how you know them for far more time together. Experience is the thing, forums are generally newbies with limited funds trying to piece info together & apply it to an unrelated amp. We get them fishing for free info if less now having worded certain pages to stop it. This is why Hifi forums chirping aimlessly is often a dangerous opinion to be taking notice of. But with Guitar Forums where valves-tubes are involved, these guys are far more aware as they are actively using valves & getting far more experience with them.
Sound & Design Varies Amid The Same Model ↑
This we have noted on a few amps. For reasons of buyers tediously complaining, manufacturers gave in & dumbed down hifi, this is why Deep Bass is lacking even in modern hifi as by the 1969 Second Generation of Hifi Bass was already being heavily limited even on high power hifi. Those with rumbly turntables had to be accomodated & RF interference for simplistic reasons, again users using cheap gear with quality. Money Spent in Hifi by the user doesn't mean Hifi Intelligence so we all get the dumbed down version. Issues of cost cutting don't apply amid the same model, though the long-running Garrard 401 turntable from 1965-77 became cheaper made in less critical areas. Back to the Hifi, the Leak Delta 75 was altered several times adding limiters & a MW antenna inside. The Sansui 5000X comes with an earlier power amp board or the F6013 one. The Trio-Kenwood TK140X comes with 2 different power amp boards also. The Yamaha range especially CR-700, CR-800 & CR-2020 vary quite a lot in the sound. One CR-700 was bright & thin, another was fuller & bassier as components were clearly different as the preamp board was a different code. The CR-800 can be over bassy or much cleaner sounding. The CR-2020 we've had 4 of now, previous ones we thought sounded dull & over bassy, but a recent one was not like this at all, it was a bit lacking in deeper bass but was very crisp & lively which is like none we have before, we've had a CR-1020 in similar barely used condition & it didn't sound like this. Also this doesn't cover heavily used hifi, a Sony STR-6120 or B+O Beomaster 3000 in high grade barely used sounds hugely better than a tired well used one, but the tired sound can be dealt with by upgrading & recapping.
Hiss and Hum ↑
A modern hifi item can boast -100 to -120db noise levels so you hear absolutely nothing via speakers of 92db or less, as the maths would suggest & even loud PA speakers with 105db can have a silent background if items are chosen. But such a low noise floor means there is a lot of NFB & the design is not running to the top specifications, all to please today's buyer. Looking at Vintage Amps, plug one into 92db speakers & unless you get right up to the speaker you'll hear nothing except in the total dead of night with no outside traffic etc noise. Play headphones & you will hear a trace of noise, our Audio Technica ATH-M50 headphones are 99db sensitivity. All amplifiers will give the Noise Floor db rating, aka Signal to Noise Ratio, it varies as a -db or just a db rating but means the same. To see ratings on some of our favourite amps follows, so a 1968 Sony STR-6120 rates as -90db on Aux but only -70db on Phono so you will hear some background noise. The 1971 Sony TA-1130 is similar. The Sansui 3000A is noisier as it's a 1967 with -75db on Aux & -70db on Phono, though upgraded the noise level is nearer to -85db at an estimate. The 1977 Yamaha CR-2020 is now -100db on Aux and -95db on Phono. A 1986 Yamaha A-720 is -106db on Aux & -92db on MM Phono. We can't find db ratings on valve amps though 1961 Trio KW-60 one states it in mv with Aux as 10mv noise & Phono-Tape Head as 80mv noise. The thing with vintage valve amps is they can be run on 'cool' spec to give very little noise, but to optimal spec the background noise can be quite high to perhaps -60db, but when music plays you'd never hear the noise but for music with lots of 'quiet' the noise will be obtrusive. Valve Phono stages can be designed to give very low noise levels though for a MC Phono the level a MC cartridge puts out can be a problem, though we've never heard of any hair-shirt wearers using a MC cartridge to try one.
The Best Era For Transistor Amps... ↑
Our Top Amps page will reveal this as being the 1967-69 ones where designs were based on Valve design & cost cutting was not an issue, though it did start as early as 1970-71 we've noticed. The amps raw are now over 45 years old, but upgraded we can just get a far more pleasing sound out of these than later ones. No roughness or grain, a deep soundstage even in Mono revealing more of the layers of the music, wide open Stereo & a valve-styled Bassline. We've tried upgrading several of the best from 1971-75 & still never reach the heights, read on for why. Here the Headphones are the decider as the drivers are right up to your ears, with Speakers there are still many 1969 onwards that sound great on Speakers, but lack the finesse & focus of what the best reveal on Headphones. Our Top Amps reveals (in no order) National-Panasonic SA-65, Sansui 3000A, Sony STR-6120, Trio-Kenwood KA-6000 (also the TK-140X is in the league) are the pick of Vintage 1967-69 once upgraded, only 45w to 50w but the sound is so sweet. Why do you need more than 50w, these amps all play loud on speakers as 80w amps do. We've tried upgrading the better 1971-75 amps like Pioneer SA-9500, SX-828 & SX-838, Sony TA-1130, Yamaha CA-800II, CR-800 & CR-1000 but they just can't do that knife sharp focussed sound the earlier ones can, also the 1978 Luxman L-1040 with it's fresher sound is still heavily cost cut. The SX-838 & SA-9500 come near though. A brief idea of why the post 1971 amps don't sound as good takes research into Differential Amplifiers (see above) that amplify the difference between the 2 signals flattening the freshness of the sound in search of specs not musicality, then they add crap like Current Mirrors to supposedly better it. Also cost cutting to save a few pence adds up over a big run, so if the manufacturer can put a lower spec part in that the masses won't notice, be sure they will. The spec on these earlier amps in certain places is much higher than later ones. To put the older higher spec into modern amps probably won't work out, nor will ripping out the differentials as be sure the transformer will only be designed to give enough for the weak original design.
Sound References? ↑
For the decades Hifi mags used to say Going To a Live Concert is how you experience the sound of real music, No it isn't. You are usually a long way away from the music & the room resonances & damping by hundreds of people means you are not hearing music correctly. Only by being in a Studio when the Music is recorded will you have an idea of how it sounds, only an idea mind, as music is recorded with more than one microphone & mixed, you are a sole being standing in one place. This gives the idea that Sound Quality depends on what the person knows or cares about & is entirely subjective based on how good their ears & mind are. With Uneducated Ears & Woolly Brain this is why few really understand Sound Quality...
Try The Brands Amp By Amp ↑
Over all our testing of vintage amps, to dismiss a brand as lesser by having just one amp just doesn't work. We've even had another of an amp that wasn't so great over the years & realised that the one that gave us the opinion was with it's individual problems, but find a good one & things change. Some amps get upgraded amid the same model number by adding extra codes, but not always. We've found the Sansui 5000X which is a better version of the earlier 5000A actually has two distinct versions. Exactly the same with the Trio-Kenwood TK-140E getting totally redesigned as the TK-140X & then the X has a redesigned tuner & power amp. That's just confusing though on these we've noted the 'better' one. The big brands like Luxman, Pioneer, Sansui, Sony, Trio-Kenwood & Yamaha did vary in quality over the years & these brands we have tried several models of, and with upgrading them we get to know the circuits very well & can see some brands weren't as good as they could have been or have a high reputation based on few items. Some brands churned out many models descending into mass market goods after starting out making quality & others started modestly & peaked but then declined. Some are hit & miss as well as some made one outstanding amp & the rest can't touch that one. Old favourites get bettered & revealed as high quality still, but not the highest with our upgrading. A few we wish we'd not gone so deep into upgrading as they are revealing too many weaknesses, but we manage to sort them out eventually. The more we try gets us looking for more of the same brand, or having given the brand a fair go, finding out that we've had enough of them now. It took 3 Armstrong amps to realise the brand are rubbish as a harsh example. Some amps we look back at our photos & see the design was a bit messy & not amid the best ones, but a chaotic amp can still be a good one, but a pain to work on.
Valve-Tube Amplifiers & Receivers ↑
We've tried a few of these now as well as doing a huge upgrade on the Trio WX-400U, see the Valves page for more. The thing with valve amps is the medium of Valves can be the best sound if designed right. But with the last few valve amps being from 1967-69 the age of these is the problem. Designs are weak in many places, noise, AC heater hum & more mean to upgrade a 1960s valve amp again just never gets enough out of the amp as limitations reveal themselves. Much progress was made in Transistor design with some 1967 ones being the best & also valve amps saw progress based on similar transistor improvements & the Guitar Amp scene still preferred valves for the sound & effects possible. Modern valve amps are much around now but sound very safe & boring as the designs are lazy & still just copy 50 year old designs. But valve amps reappeared from 1979 with Luxman & 1980 with Radford & these are perhaps the best way to get the best of valves & still being in the Vintage Golden Era.
Suitable Power Ratings by Era ↑
A 30w amp may be a good amp by a rated manufacturer, but the trouble with 30w is the sound will be designed to be within itself even if played quite loud. This means the sound will only be a 'mid audience' level like the B+O Beomaster 3000 at 30w is. We could upgrade it to sound much sweeter but then the owner will want to play it louder as it sounds so clean but then get caught by clipping at the low 30w. Amps of 40w+ increase in the upfrontness of the sound, a 1967 45w receiver can give a near 'front row' sound but a 1974 45w receiver still sounds a few rows back. This relates to the sound with an orchestra, not a Rock gig with huge PA rig. The sound softens in impact as you go back a few rows & by mid audience the dynamics are much softer. By the back rows the sound is just a blur. This explains the pricing of tickets. In terms of Hifi you'll find there are some earlier amps of 30w or less that try to give 'front row' volume but very soon run out of power, these are not very good designs therefore. The power ratings do increase as the years go on in Transistor amps with 40w-45w in 1967 being the best sound, but by 1971 60w-65w gives the best sound & by 1975 70w-80w. By 1977 a 100w amp is the required power to get a decent upfront sound but sadly the overdesign & needless high power of later ears makes Hifi by 1979-80 a very different deal. As you can see with the Power Ratings max voltage output ratings you don't get much extra clean output for 20w extra, the 85w Pioneer SX-950 is 20w higher than the 65w SX-850 but 20w only gives 2v more headroom, if extra in current. There are still good 40w amps in any era, but the sound is never as dynamic as the higher powered ones as this is how they were designed by the mid 1970s. The 40w Teac AS-100 despite the IC sounds excellent but then as we found, you want to play it louder as it's so clean sounding but it soon runs out of power. Using Tone Controls takes a lot of the Power headroom, max Bass can draw 80w on Bass peaks, yet set Flat it might just tip 20w on the meters, as we found with Yamaha amps.
Our References for our Hifi Ideals ↑
(2014-15 opinion) This changes quite often, so we'll list the more notable ones in some sort of order & highlight ones we consider reference amps. We started by just trying Transistor amps & not using our main amp at all in the comparisons, to learn the Transistor era totally as it came to us. The Sony STR-6120 we highly rated & designed out TT valve amps to it's sound several years ago. In our current Hifi exploits which started quite modestly we thought the modest Trio-Kenwood KA-4002 to be a pleasing sound & Bang & Olufsen Beomaster 3000 also early on with it's modest but fresh sound being appealing. The Leak Delta 75 which we recapped was kept for a while too. Trying other amps without really going into the bigger amps suited as it was interesting to learn them. Pioneer SX-700TF was an amp that changed the outlook on amps & we tried more Pioneer. Trying more Sony found the TA-1120A & TA-1130 to be better amps if after some alterations on the 1120A. By now we could tell the Pioneer SX-950 was a rough sound after. The NAD 160 & Teac AS-100 headed into better amps with the first Yamaha CR-1000 arriving just because it was big & cheap. Then trying the big CR-1020 & CR-2020 receivers & the NAD 300. The Yamaha CA-1000 was the classiest of the amps we had but sold it on too fast with the CA-1010 arriving, it's bright sound hiding the quality of the more mellow CA-1000. One of the worst amps was the Radford HD250 that added confusion too with it's hideous sound. This caused a few amps we tried again to be found better than we rated them before, a honest learning curve. Missed the Yamaha CR-800 being a quality amp for a start. But amps that stayed longer like Teac AS-100 & Pioneer SX-700TF became the first true reference amps. By now we could tell the Sugden A48 was a quality sound if now seeing it's limitations when the Pioneer SX-1500TF was just so much better. But one gem turned up next, the mighty Sansui 3000A, an amp we consider one of the best ever made, if it's quirky & needs work doing. Took some time to get it right as did the Trio WX-400U again once rebuilt one of the best ever again. Returning goodies like Yamaha CR-1000 got upgraded into something very special but weren't used as much for pleasure as the Sansui & Trio. The big Luxman L-100 was found to be too tame sounding & it barely got used after rebuilding it quite extensively from old messings. Some fascinating & much liked amps came & went like the Trio-Kenwood TK-140E, the Teac AG-7000, the Hitachi SR-1100 & the Rogers HG88 Mk III that we fully rebuilt. After the disaster of the Marantz 1152DC the balance was redressed with the likeable Marantz 2245 & 2265B but they were sold on pretty fast as not being any better than others. We'd been upgrading & recapping plenty of amps by now & skills got better each time to the level of what we found with Valve amps with the Trio WX-400U being almost perfected with the disappointing valve Sansui 500A proving to be a far lesser beast than the 3000A. Amps come & go as there is no point hoarding amps we don't play so some of our much upgraded ones have been sold to delighted buyers so we decided to offer our Upgrades Service, if knowing we are way ahead of the market & finding despite what we write that it's not understood the amount of work involved. Selling our own Sony STR-6120 & Yamaha CR-1000 as they weren't being used if visually admired leaves a general amp to be the Pioneer SA-9500 MkI that got courier damage on the fascia so knowing it could be treated as we chose, the best way actually, and after it sounding totally awful our advanced upgrades made the stubborn beast into something remarkable. So after that 'journey' the current references are ones we've much upgraded & that could take the upgrades as not all can. These amps bought raw are often a different thing though & for all the amps we've tried, the best ones to 'plug & play' after servicing to go beyond just general good sound was the Teac AG-7000 & the NAD 160. What the future of our Hifi exploits brings will be more limited looking for the better & hidden gems depoending on what turns up. The truth is that many amps hide their quality through limitations & 'spoilers' the makers put in to limit the sound, keep the amp universal so they get no complaints about fool users using poor items with them & to keep you coming back to buy a new one 2-4 years later or they'd never sell another thing.
Treble Is The Thing... ↑
The decider in ultimate Hifi quality is how good the Treble is. If it's smeary & a bit 'eek' to listen to certain tracks then the amp may either have too many 'spoilers' in it or just be an average design with a mediocre power supply. To know what to do to remedy is a Dark Art, between getting it right you can go too far & the limitations of the design may become a problem. The loudest brashest music can actually be so natural & not a head-mush on the best sounding hifi as the sound is not mangled or giving listener fatigue. You'd not believe 'Anarchy In The UK' from the 1976 single can actually sound clean & well focussed with wide Stereo revealing all the edits in the song. Treble is also a key to the quality of the rest of the sound as the frequency decreases as the Midrange will be inaccurate too. Most Hifi 'rings' & is 'bandwidth limited' is the Tech reason why, these are called 'Spoilers' too. Treble should be as fresh, natural and lively as Real Life music, the crispness of metallic percussion is your decider. In amps we upgrade, when Treble is done to perfection, the amp actually sounds a little dull as there are no fizzy edges that is with all Hifi Transistor or Valve. But on playing the music the music's treble is fully defined, precise & smooth. Anyone blamiing 'Transistor sound' has never heard how good Transistor amps can be if it's really only the 1965-71 ones pre Differentials that are capable of this. Valve amps can sound fizzy too. But the reason why no Amp has Treble as good as you'd want it, that's if you've heard it, recognise it & want it, most are unaware, is sadly is because in the early 1970s buyers complained that the crap items they used with a good amp were causing problems from RF to Rumble. So tired of buyers complaining the manufacturers thought if buyers are this unaware, why bother giving them the best sound they were previously happy selling their amps with. They 'dumbed down' the sound so the amps would work with any old Junk. So dear reader, don't complain for your failings or they'll give you crap, reasons why Food of today is so miserable compared to 20 years ago before the Salt & Fat ninnies ruined it. Now they realise Sugar is the evil, can we have the old normal-fat recipies back? Hifi saw First Generation Transistors in 1967 & by the 1969 Second Generation it was already different. It's your talent & gamble to see if any amp can reveal that desired sound. Most can't. If you like our ideals of Hifi, we can possibly upgrade your amp, see the link at the page top.
Some Music We Test With... ↑
We only use tracks we've recorded to Digital over the last decade or so direct from the original Vinyl, LP or 78. We use our own Valve Phono Preamp that only follows RIAA on the below 1kHz frequencies, but the rest is flat. It's the only way to resolve fine detail in vinyl & not need to rely on any Tone Controls which on Headphones are always set flat. Tone stages vary in Gain & the Frequency points, so to use an amp fully flat is a bonus. As you can see, we are Record Dealers & play all types of Rock, Reggae & Soul music, if never caring for Classical, though we've played the £££ UK Stereo LPs on HMV, Columbia, Decca & Mercury to know what they are like. Some are actually quite rough sounding, the Mercury 1960 ones are the sweetest sounding. We don't like pure Pop & slow tracks are usually avoided as not challenging for Hifi. For tracks we test with, we start with Stereo tracks from 1977 to about 1994. Certain ones get used over & over as the sound is familiar, but to not confuse & alienate readers with very obscure tracks, we'll list some familiar ones. These are all from the Original 7" 45rpm single. Firstly the Stereo 1977-90 era: In Reggae from 1970-1980s we use Bob Marley & Wailers 'Is This Love', 'Jamming' and 'Redemption Song (reggae version)" as these are cleanly mastered if 'Is This Love' has a tape squish at the start. Dennis Brown "Love Has Found It's Way" gets used often too. Plenty more mono UK 7" reggae from I Roy, Errol Dunkley, Lovers Rock artists & many more. In Rock we use Synth, New Wave & Punk tracks a lot as these are very lively tracks with Synth recorded direct giving accurate sharp sounds. The Sex Pistols first three, 2 Tone usually gets the Specials tracks played, Madness 'Night Boat To Cairo', Gary Numan Tubeway Army the first 2 singles & 'This Wreckage', Human League 'Human', OMD 'Electricity' and 'Locomotion', Jam 'Start' and 'Down In The Tube Station', Joan Jett & Blackhearts 2 hits, John Foxx early few, Kraftwerk hits, Queen 'Crazy Little Thing Called Love' & Yes 'Owner Of a Lonely Heart' are all good test records. For Soul, plenty of the 1980-88 hits with sharp production like Cameo, BB&Q, Evelyn King, Joyce Sims, George Benson, Inner City, Jacko 'Billie Jean', as well as the Acid-House type with punchy production.
As an example of one track, Sex Pistols 'Anarchy In The UK' from a high grade original UK EMI 7" single, this has proved one of the best Test Records. We've been playing this, from our Valve amp based Digital Recording, as a test for a long time now starting with the early amps that were serviced but not upgraded. It was a joyous mess loud & crude. But this is revealing substandard Hifi: the track played on 'the best' is actually a very high quality EMI recording. The Stereo width is very wide & the raucous Punk racket is actually well recorded Hifi. The higher up the Hifi ladder we go, this track reveals how cleanly it is recorded, edited out of several takes & it takes much hifi quality to resolve the detail into a powerful but defined recording. Most amps make a mess of it which adds to the Dirty Rock appeal of amps to some souls, but resolved cleanly it can sound as clean as Frankie at Capitol.
For Older music 1920s to 1970, Mono requires muddy sounding records to be resolved right & Early Ska from Top Deck & Studio 1 can come alive. Some well recorded Mono records you can hear the studio acoustics as well as the depth & distance of the players. Mono done right is as important a test in finding out Stereo is wide & clean. We rarely play anything 1950s-60s hit though the Rock & Roll obscurities get played as they have lively productions. The thing with knowing so much music is you've played most of it to death years ago. For 78s some from the late 1920s to early 1930s cut with all the noise & crackle actually sound very clean, the mind can filter the noise & the sound can be resolved well by a good amplifier. In this case, if the music sounds like music & the 78 noise is a separate entity, the amp is resolving it well but if it all blurs into a vagueness then the amp is lacking. As you can gather, playing slow music is pretty pointless for Hifi Testing. Classical Music some swear by (or at), but the reality is most people today buying Hifi don't play Classical, which is just cover versions of 18th Century 'pop' really just as 1970s-80s pop was Our Pop. Gimmicky Stereo records with Moog & Percussion used to be Test Discs years ago, but they have little music value or descend into Background Mood Music. The idea of using filters to dull noisy 78s is pointless as you lose the music quality, to resolve a noisy 78 on top quality amp makes it more listenable, not making the noise more obtrusive. The only noises on 78s that are a bit eek. are when the needle smashed the grooves on a bass note leaving a 'rip' sound.
We Know What 'Perfect Hifi Sound' is. ↑
On a Valve amp, once all tuned correctly, the sound is almost surreal, it has zero listener fatigue even on a loud Punk track, it's almost like there is no music playing as it has no tangible presence as a harsher amp has, but you can hear it deeper in your head with Headphones, quite an eerie thing. It's is so effortless to the point it's a little unsettling, but wonderful. Bass is sweet, deep & mellow but again being effortless in it's attack it's very different to how Hifi as sold in shops sounds. They don't want you having this sound.
Back in the real world... we got a Pioneer SA-9500 that had courier damage so was an abandoned amp. It got working after much work & metal straightening, but as it had 'no value' why not do an extreme upgrade on it, knowing that failure wasn't an issue. Doing this proved Transistor Grain is non-existent and Valve sound can be put into a Transistor amp using valve amp ideas. The Valve sound that we see, based on a fully upgraded amp, not the aged wallowy blurry sound, is when the amp actually sounds a bit dull as there is no 'grainy edgy sound' yet when treble is in the music, you know it's there & it's natural. This sort of sound takes getting used to as it's nothing like the sound Hifi is sold with. The rough grainy sound is all in the circuitry, we replaced no transistors at all & even the doubled output stages we previously thought added to the grainy sound were proven not to be the issue. This 'Perfect' sound is a subtle sound, nothing grainy or rough, no thick bass or anything that sounds unnatural. In fact if you compare an amp like this to most others you may think it sounds boring as you are used to the brash sound of a normal amplifier. It takes ear education to appreciate this deeply refined natural sound & on doing the SA-9500 you have to unlearn in your mind how rough it sounds & find yourself looking at it realising your headphones or speaker is plugged into that. Natural recorded sound is different to natural live performance sound, but to be free of grain and harshness is the aim. Very few amps can upgrade into this 'ultimate' sound. There are hints on our Top Amps page, but to say xyz can do this when likely other amps we've not gone this far with can upgrade too would paint an unrealistic picture. Any amp we get now if we see it as worthy will get the SA-9500 ideas tried on it as success was certainly unexpected on that 'rough old Pioneer'. There are a few we've had & sold that we'd like another try on.
As with anything, ideas of "perfection" are based on what you know, we upgrade these amps to see how good they can be, not especially looking at the resell value, but to research & add to our techniques. The more amps we try, the less good ones there are & many have got revisited. One such amp that we'll not name demonstrates the "perfection in sound". The sound must be rich, fast, detailed, full bass, croisp clean treble with solid realistic midrange. No amp is sold sounding like this as you'd never buy another & our upgrading is gambling really, we can see an amp is good but what it'll be like upgraded is not predictable. One we thought was impressive then had to be tamed down as it was "noisy" in use, loud clunks that no buyer would be happy with. It was a differential amp & once we tamed it down, the sound that we had got from it was gone back to an ok but unexciting sound. One we thought was far too trashed we rejected as too far gone, but next day, no you don't... you get rebuilt & after 8 hours work it was singing again. OK for us to do this, but to charge "how much!" to do this for a customer is another thing, though be sure we can fix it. This amp we rated before & realising it was "one of the best" to fix it & do all it needs to upgrade was the appeal there. Our boxes of spare bits from failed amps shows not all are going to get this treatment.
Loudspeakers vs. Headphones Woes... ↑
In all our testing we firstly use Headphones, these work through a resistor & do not affect the sound of an Amplifier like a Speaker does. Read more on the Loudspeakers page as we've done tests. Generally Speaker matching is unpredictable & if you read reviews of a Rated Speaker with someone saying it sounds bad, it's just their amp doesn't match it. We test all amps with headphones as it removes the matching difficulty. Some amps suit our Tannoys well, but as that page shows not all do, some sort of match & some are a perfect match. Once an amp is accepted as good, we try them on speakers for a while, days, weeks, months. But Headphones is where the good sound is first found, as our 15" Tannoys can make any amp sound good, it's not exactly a place to startt & risk expensive speakers on unproven amps.
Soundcard Woes... ↑
To use Hifi on the Computer using the Soundcard is likely to be the way many will listen beyond using a Portable MP3 player etc. Soundcards differ in quality, some have a better Treble Fidelity though there is no real need to go beyond a £50 Soundcard unless you mix in 7 channels & Dolby Digital. For us Earth Dwellers who use Stereo & Mono only, it still pays to buy one of these better soundcards. You can use the Motherboard Soundcard but it's not as good as a £50 one. But the Woes are that some amps are overlimited in their design & you can hear RF Computer noise on the amp via the ground cable. How this occurs we'll try to find out on the next amp that has this, but RF is made audible by a ringing effect of the limitations & it's there always. You can pick up Mouse movement noise similarly too as well as Broadband and Phone noise. All very annoying.
Highest Ratings ↑
The amps we rate highly as 'Excellent', are the best we've encountered. There aren't too many of them. None are 'perfect', but not all are the same sound either, if they have the requirements for the Quality we desire. The Messing with your Mind section above reveals this. The ear can compensate for much in playing music, but the unknown with harsh discordant sounds is what gets you grabbing the Volume control to turn it down. Distortion can be 'learnt' and your ears can compensate for it, as a built-in Graphic Equaliser. Some amps can be very focussed & precise but exhibit a 'colder' sound where a more analytical sound without the full bassy richness of others appeals to some. Some can be overdesigned with too much NFB and sound Hard with a sound that doesn't keep you playing the amp. Some can be ragged or harsh on treble making you turn them off fast. Other amps can be 'warm & cuddly', meaning a thick slow accentuated bass, a recessed midrange & a softer treble. This is the Classic wallowy Sound a Jukebox or early Valve radiogram plays & it can be very pleasing, but without the crisper detail, real Hifi it isn't. Some amps are designed to sound 'safe' with the less detailed sound & bass limited, this is a Bandwidth limited amp and we've found a few like this masquerading as Hifi with dishonest designs that we can't improve on without major surgery. The Valve Sound many go on about is a Fallacy & Often Misunderstood: a valve amp made with a modern timeless design can be very like the best Transistor amps. Older Valve amps will naturally be old with low spec original parts that are aged & failing. This sound is what people think is the Valve Sound which is not how we view it, the 'Knackered Old Amp' sound is what it is. They can be rebuilt to sound fresher but will often be limited too much by the old design. So you can get crisp sounding amps that are Bass light or Bass rich, very few are in the genuinely Bass rich category without Bass limiting design to create 'ringing'. Duller sounding amps with limited bass & treble like most under 30w are will suit the less fussy buyer, they sound OK but are not Dynamic enough, as if a 30w amp used 100w amp ideals it'd clip out & distort too readily. Or you can chance unserviced aged amps that have a wallowy surreal sound but are risky to use. The sound of a 1932 Radiogram we have was 'Hifi' of it's day as it was the State of the Art of the time. Today it sounds ancient but pleasing in a retro way. In another way, Music heard in a public place ie a Jukebox or a Nightclub DJ will gain some group pleasure for it being a shared experience. From a few thousand dance 45s from 1986-93 we had recently, people bought these Club Tracks to make them big chart hits, but you can be sure hearing them on a crappy 'Stereo' they didn't get played much as the magic was gone.
Small Ones Are Usually The Sweetest. ↑
The fact some are impressed by a 300w amp still reveals buyers of amps like these don't really understand Hifi at all, they are just Boy Racers impressed by 300w with 0.001% THD. All very far away from our ideals of hifi & their 0.001% THD is actually bullshit as the amp has so many transistor stages & local-global NFB it chokes the fidelity of the music. We've thought this for quite a while & did use this heading before and our self-quote If they were more honest they'd rate it as "Percentage of the real sound we actually lost in search of high specifications" we wrote over 2 years ago. There are stages of amp power that suit all users, some will be happy with a 10w transistor amp & some 100w amps we've had are enjoyable to use. But in terms of Hifi there is a Sweet Power Rating, when, if the design is done right, the best sound is possible. This rating is 40w RMS to 50w RMS & by looking at our Power Ratings page this more accurately means 25v to 32v clean Sinewave output with varying current outputs giving varying Wattage of 35w to 65w. These 'Sweet' Amplifiers often have good clean minimalist design & the Lowest Transistor Count we've encountered in one of these amps is Phono & Tone with 2 transistors per stage & Power Amp with just 7 and it's including a protection circuit. Minimal amplification & NFB keeps the sound potentially very clean though the rest of the design must be good also. Later amps have Buffer Stages which don't amplify (actually a tiny loss) so can be ignored. Other clean sounding amps in wattage from 40w to 80w have 10 or less transistors in the Power Amp & the truth of more being less is the deal here. As of typing, our Top Three Amps are 40w-50w though one at 80w appears to contradict the header here but actually has a very low Transistor count using the sensible straightforward design of the lower power amps. The ideal Transistor count in an amp (ignoring Buffers) is Phono and Tone 2-3 transistors & Power Amp 7-10 transistors. You encounter Differentials that are 2 transistors as well as Protection Circuits which are usually 1-2 transistors. The truth about the "Small Ones" is the spec is usually enough to keep the sound high, only when it comes to higher power, does the Cost Cutting reveal itself.
Older Style Connectors ↑
We don't down-rate any amp for it's style of Connectors. Some amps have DIN sockets & awkward Screw Speaker Connectors. There is nothing at all wrong with these if you get decent connectors & improvise a little. A piece of 5A solid core mains cable & those plastic cable screw blocks means we can use DIN speaker sockets or small hole bare wire spring connectors with our typical 4mm Banana plugs. No need to chop or change anything. Most amps are RCA Phono sockets & if they aren't spaced too closely they are easy to use. DIN inputs are no problem & are as good Hifi as any other 'better' connector, so we'd never alter those either. To use a Y-shaped 'Mayware' DIN to 2x Phono adapter is fine & when you see how thin the wires are inside all amps because they don't need to carry high voltage or high current all that matters is the cable is shielded & not all amps do that inside. The DIN speaker connectors you need to be careful as the pins are so close & need heatshrink to be safe, but you see badly soldered ones or those screw-fit modern ones that are a bit rubbish. The ones we use as DIN speaker plugs are 40+ year old ones rewired & heatshrinked to be as good as new & trustworthy. See the "Advice On Buying" page for more.
We Are Aware We Are Setting The Scene... ↑
We always keep looking online for amps & ebay prices show that people are taking our recommendations seriously as the amps we rate Great or Excellent are getting a lot more interest. Ones we aren't keen on we've seen dip in popularity, one noticeable one is the Yamaha CA-1010 that used to make high prices but now seems to be ignored. We fairly slated it as being not a good Yamaha when others are much better sounding like the CR-800 & CR-820. We do see many sellers put our 'Serviced' prices on their unserviced items & there they sit unsold. You can see some don't look & still go buy a Leak Delta 75 or an Armstrong germanium. The amount of overrated modern gear at high prices going unsold when there are many bids on a decent Vintage is reassuring too. Some prices on the other Leak Delta 30/70 are usually too high on buy it nows, the 30 is only 15w & the 70 is not much louder despite 35w rating. We've decided to offer our Upgrading for Quality amps and hopefully it'll get us trying out amps we haven't had yet. See the top page link.
Not So Straightforward Now... ↑
We've been testing a good range of amps for a while now & have concentrated on the pre 1972 era mostly as it gave more Highly Rated Amps than the later years. We have tried a few Valve Amps on the way & did rebuild a couple, but the idea was to find the Best In Transistor without spoiling the quality-detection by using Valve Amps. We do use our main Valve Amp daily, but only for TV sound. Music gets played through whatever Amplifier or Receiver we were testing or kept as a Reference. We can see the amount of interesting amps is not what it was, maybe as with other subjects when someone wants these things, they become available by Karma payoffs but that doesn't last too long. We've been trying Valves with the Rogers pair & a disappointing Armstrong, but have had the Trio WX400U as long as we've realised Yamaha were a better brand than most. But the Trio was quite poor & in bad aged grade & has got much work done but we've got tired of it several times & offered it for sale knowing that no-one would ever buy it, but it gets it tried again quicker knowing it's up for sale & might go. After liking the Sansui 3000A despite it's quirks, we found their best valve receiver was the Sansui 500A & got one. It got recapped & it sounded great but odly the Sansui 3000A bettered it, perhaps for the need of revalving. The Trio was up for sale again when the 500A naffed a valve so hasn't been used since as we looked for replacement valves. The Trio got another play & sometimes you get in the mood to be remarkable & solve things that befuddled you before. The Trio got lucky & so did we for how it sounds. The Sansui 500A appears quite modest in comparison to what the Trio has had done. It sounds so effortlessly clean & accurate like no Transistor amp can do, though a few do come close. The thing is the Trio sound has now spoiled the want for Transistor sound & the third visit of the Sony TA-1130 means it's getting Valve techniques put into it, like no other Transistor amp has had before. How that works out will be interesting. In comparison to the Trio, the wonder of the Sony STR-6120 has escaped us now we are so high up the ladder from it & it got sold. The buyer of it was delighted with it, but to us it had been bypassed & for the troubles the 6120 has with wiring coming loose & only one fuse we though it was best to sell & try another Sony as opportunity & fate play with us. The day we decided to sell the 6120 early one morning we had someone ask after it with an email sent the night before. So in our upgrades to Transistor amps, we came to a level that worked well on a few amps, but now Valve techniques will take this further. Whether it works out will be written up later. All these ideas are way ahead of what an amplifier as-bought sounds like. Of course it is all just experimenting, but only by experimenting & applying good ideas from elsewhere becomes progress. The best ideas can be put in your Hifi too, see the page top link.
Keep it In Proportion ↑
We get messages about these pages & thankfully it seems most are on the right track with what they are using, ie a proper amplifier, some adequate speakers or headphones. If the interest catches & funds are available, be sure they'll be buying better items & having the fun of trying many amps before finding one they are happy to use for a year or ten. But as with most things in life, there are those who are without a clue. Hifi you'll be happy with will be within it's own kind, ie a budget amp with budget speakers (eg £50-100 used items) go together well & are a good start. To want better & go for midpriced items (eg £150-250 used items) can get you better quality than the price. To spend £500+ will get you some of the best but sadly much is overpriced for the sound delivered. It is foolish to use "the best" of one item with ultra budget other items is money wasted & the risk of damaging the better item with junk or just thinking the better item is not very good & abusing it. Buyers have been doing this for decades & complain unaware of their folly. It is very easy to trash a speaker driver especially a tweeter with DC as the sine wave clips out to a flat line which is a DC voltage if played way too loud by foolish use or faults. Not many people know what clean sound is to realise distortion that is ready to fry their speakers.
More On The Music We Test With... ↑
We've had a lot of interesting Records from 1926-93 over the years & have spent ages getting back every track beyond some unissued acetates to have a library of music from the Original Vinyl. As Dealers you can imagine this covers every type of music beyond Classical that we don't play at all. Certain Tracks that are dynamic & punchy in sound get used as First Test Tracks on any amp to gauge where we are with any amp. To start with, we use Stereo tracks recorded from the Vinyl using our own self-designed Valve Preamp-Phono which reveals the full resolution from vinyl, not the muddy sound RIAA usually is, read the Phono Stages page. Certain tracks such as spiky New Wave are a good test of fast transients, Stereo Imaging & Dynamics. Tracks with a known Bass kick tell if an amp is too thin or too thick sounding. Loud Guitar tracks like Punk are essential to reveal how much detail the amp can resolve, the late 1970s Pioneer haze is not Hifi to us. Tracks of a synthetic nature as a lot of 1980s music is are mixed right into the recording, not via a Mike so can sound more direct. The Stereo effects mixing of the era can be useful too. But Stereo is easier to play than Mono. Mono requires the sound to be inside your Head, not outside it as Stereo is. To reveal a solid crisp detail, not a thick dense sound of flat Dynamics is not a good sounding amp. We play Reggae a lot which is often Lo-Fi recorded in the pre 1977 era & is ideal to test how good an amp resolves detail, many can't & just deliver a muddy sound. To hear the muddiness gone & a definable focus to the sound is where the best win. Old 78s we have going back to 1926 & that track from a High Grade UK 78 gets used often as it can reveal the ambience of the studio. Mid 1960s Ska where the big Instrumentals are a big loud densely recorded sound when resolved right can also reveal the room acoustics. We've mentioned this to others & perhaps it's not a sense many have or have heard even to know. People buying the Best Hifi just to play light Classical or other mannered music are not getting the best out of it, it takes a lot of risk to try anything new. Only the most dynamic music in any genre reveals how good an amp is, from the full Fortissimo of an Orchestra at full level to the power of a Punk track. Simple 'folky' music like the breathy/whiny singer-songwriter style of today (yuk) is easy to reproduce as it is of small dynamics & suited to portable & cheap players. We rarely play slow tracks as these are not a challenge to a Hifi unless they have a wide soundstage to reveal. Also slow tracks are generally not the interesting tracks & as record dealers, now not much slow music is bought compared to modern Chart music where cloying ballads & emasculated male vocalists singing trite lyrics appear to sell better than uptempo.
Quality Hi-Fi Sound ↑
This page puts together a few previous pages as One as it's the Criteria of How We Rate & Judge Hifi.
The Easy Answer... ↑
A Valve Amp is the best way to get the Best Sound, probably. Valve amps are very tuneable to the sound you like, which is why Guitar Amp buyers prefer Valves over Solid State. But most Valve-Tube Hifi is designed on the cool side of what the Valve can deliver. To upgrade to run on the 'hot' side means the level is of PA quality, not a cosy warm wallowy sound some think is valves. You'll read of Valves Biasing Hot or to have Soft Attack on Guitar sites. Transistors can run similarly but have different ways of treating Distortion with Odd & Even harmonics when a valve can have higher distortion than Transistor, but can sound much more pleasing. Plenty of Valve theory found on the web. But Valves need maintenance to keep at their best.
Transistor Amps are more user-friendly, no need to keep testing the valves are running to spec. Once an amp is Serviced & Adjusted it'll often be fine many years later. But Transistor amps are the Hifi type that got Hifi popular, gewnerally Valve era Hifi was more for enthusiasts, Transistor Hifi is for anyone to just plug in & use. The trouble then is Transistor Hifi must be made 'safe' and 'universal' as the earlier Transistor amps were often modified as buyers complained. Sadly the manufacturer has to take notice of the Stupidest Person & dumb down their amplifiers to keep these fools happy. They complained of Rumbly Turntables, so instead of idiot complainers buying a better one, manufacturers just limited the Bass response. Then amplifiers can pick up RF noise from Radiowaves & we've had a few that pick up noise when you move the computer Mouse. So again to keep the masses quiet, they limited the Treble in various ways & increased NFB. For all the limiting the amps sound so much different as the years go on & the Generations of Hifi are detailed on the Hifi Golden Years page. If you compared a 1967 amp compared to a 1977 amp then a 1987 amp if you care for the quality of music, the 1967 one will be preferred every time.
Today's "Hifi" Embarrassment... ↑
The trouble is, most people just do not understand how much better Audio can be. We get buyers starting out believing all sorts of Lifestyle Junk is Hifi of today. We've got them interested in a great amp & tell them to slow down & hear how great one of our Upgraded Amps sounds before going into New Audio gear that will disappoint unless you throw £K's at it & even then results can be uninspiring. The Gadget Show 6 Nov 2015, more a pod cast with so much padding now it seems too shallow. This week they tried to show if higher quality Digital audio FLAC 1411kbps would succeed against MP3 160kbps & 320kbps. we use .WAV files which are 1411kbps too, which is CD quality. a CD is only as good as the source that created it, we record vinyl through valves using our own design & resolution is extreme. But as with any dumbed-down TV tech show, they played uncompressed FLAC on highly damped modern amp & not using 'true' hifi like values & pre 1970 amps, so unsurprisingly they couldn't tell the difference using cheap earphones, quality headphones & a £20k modern system. When Napster was pay per track, we got some tracks & saved as CD quality. We've never played them as they sound awful. We've recorded commercial CDs & similarly never play them, we only play music we've recorded 'our way' from Vinyl. The low sample rate of MP3 ruins treble even on high MP3 resolution, it should have a smooth treble but is so gritty it hurts. You can see the amps we use, from Valves to Germaniums (Japanese not UK ones) & Solid State. The best Hifi is pre the differential era of about 1971 as the resolution of these amps, only once upgraded unfortunately, as the spec can be limited by availability 40-50 years ago, can be the best you'll hear. How FLAC differs to WAV you can read elsewhere, but .WAV 44.1kHz is as good as you'll need.
The Best Amplifier in the World ↑
As in the Utopian World, it's one that almost processes any rough sounding music into a properly balanced sound free of background noise & crackle. There are no amplifiers like that sadly. Some CD mastering companies think they know how to do this & render the sound lifeless as they overprocess it. No Computer can imitate the Mind of One Who Is Educated In The Best Sound. Tomorrow's World had a Computer mix a track & it recessed the sound to hide any detail & yet some fools voted it the best one. That's the point: It's All Opinion. What we like to Hear In Sound you may not like as it's too Real, Too Clinical or Not Relaxing Enough. Many buy awful sounding modern "High End" unaware of the Beauty in Sound that many amps pre 1979 can deliver for not much money. Even the Best Amps we list we have found others over & over in earlier times of writing that kept bettering the last "Top Amp". To understand no Hifi manufacturer is going to sell the Best Amplifier as it would put all out of business as no-one would ever need buy Hifi again, be sure there are many limiters & spoilers in the design, but those who know design from many other amps & trying things out you can open up many amps to their best. We have found a few amps that were designed to near perfection, but the worried manufacturer purposely limited as it was too good for it's price range. But when you put in one great idea too many, you can easily spoil the 'perfection' one amp had & then it'll just sound like the rest, but it's a challenge then to find that limitation & improve that. There can never be a Best Amplifier In The World that everyone agrees on, but there can be many more Great Amps that their owners are happy listening to for years, until they hear something better & find weaknesses in their own. The Other Man's Grass is Always Greener? If this bothers you, don't look over the Fence or at his Missus sunbathing either as you'll never be happy again if you see better than what you got. Until a fully digital power amplifier is possible that relies zero on analog or any other sorts of amplification, perfection will be an individual thing. But the truth is The Horn in early Hifi could do just that, a big enough horn used to fill a Cinema with a few Watts in the early 1920s.
No difference with Valves or Transistors? ↑
You may have noticed we don't care much for accepting other's designs as the final word. To be able to upgrade & improve an amplifier is actually redesign. We could do the maths & end up wasting our time with specs & THD but frankly we couldn't care less about that. To fine tune by ear with knowledge of past successes is how we do it. So onto Valves and Transistors. We have been searching for this "Holy Grail" for quite some time now and have never found it before, maybe 80% of it at best. Valves with less circuitry may appear easier but getting clean valves sound is as hard as getting transistors to do the same. A transistor amp always sounds bright as 'spoilers' & limitations to keep the design safe being aware the buyer won't realise. Buyers are prone to use poor quality items with a good amp, so manufacturers being tired of complaints, dumb down all transistor amps & have done so since 1969, becoming more limited as the years went on as buyers still complained. The limits, planned or from poor design, in an amplifier design create roughness & ringing of what is being suppressed, creating 'transistor grain' as transistors exhibit different Harmonic Distortion to valves. With the 'ideal' amp the sound you hear is surreal, it doesn't have the transistor edge to it making it appear to not have any treble though when real treble is in the music, it lets you know. The transistor edgy treble is nothing to do with Class AB vs Class A either, there is no benefit to using Class A unless the amp is full of spoilers giving the Class A just a little more focus through the limits. When real treble is in the music is it clean and open sounding without the fizz of treble hitting the wall aka ringing created by the limits.
Do We upgrade Amps for Customers? ↑
Appears we do, see the page top link. We sell on our upgrade amps and have had only one buyer complain as unsurprisingly they used poor items with it creating a bass issue. To just give up & just put the limits back in the amp & the unaware buyer was happy again. This is why we're reluctant to do upgrade work, the job to learn the amp is often a major one, we don't know how good the amp is until we do it & the results we like may show up the rest of your gear as being substandard. Also we don't rush or hurry any jobs, it might take months to learn the amp to get it to it's best. Bear in mind the Yamaha CR-2020. We recapped one as it needed it & done some upgrade. We've since learnt more with the 1960s amps to decide to do another CR-2020 upgrade 15 months later. This one got sold, but then from further work on other Yamahas we got another one & it became our 3rd upgrade 9 months later again. That one got sold too. Tricks learnt meant we could upgrade a CR-800 when we've never tried one before as the amp is densely packed. It was done within a week and was definately worth the effort, if an advanced job to do by now. Still having the CA-800II here after various events on doing the CR-2020, CR-800 & more on the CR-1000 we use, well why not try more on that. It'd been here a year as we'd been interested in it & now seeing it with new eyes we went a lot further with it and have found a remarkable sound in it by using every trick. Some of these tricks actually 'rediscovered' as they were used several years ago in our own hifi. We feel our upgrade skills are at the top now, leaving an amp still looking very like it originally did, sounding way beyond what the manufacturer wanted you to hear, but suspecting the designer worked to this level & then dumbed it down. There are no harsh upgrades with us. If anyone wants us to upgrade an amp, why not ask? Not interested in any IC preamps or power amps. Valves or Transistors we can do including repairs possibly to that amp. We are not interested in doing just Hifi repairs. It'll not be cheap & it'll not be done fast, though it all depends. We may wish we'd never bothered, this is all very new territory after all.
What do we consider "Good Hifi Sound"? ↑
The idea is simple, the reality of getting a capable amplifier is another thing. To find a believable recreation of the recorded sound with full life & soundstage ambience & naturally extended treble & bass to accomodate any sound played with an effortless that is free from any spoilers giving harsh artifacts or ringing. This takes a good amplifier with a good simple design & a good power supply. "Good" being intentionally vague. It'll be based on what you've heard, you'll realise better turns up, in the most unlikely places. For Valves 15w can do it & with Transistors it varies, 4ow to 75w is needed depending on designs. The low transistor-count circuits which were based on Valve circuits will always sound livelier, more detailed, have a wider soundstage and are less tiring to play for hours than modern overdesigned high NFB, high Damping Factor & IC riddled amps.
Have it Dirty but Delivered Cleanly. ↑
This is what you can get on the best sounding Hifi, other things this may imply aren't covered here. It means what a Top Amp upgraded to be better can deliver. Extra Distorted tracks are delivered so "clean", as in fully resolved detail to what there is & done very listenably, to only play 'safe' music like Classical is limiting how good a resolution an amp can have. That's why we play Reggae from rough old 45s a lot as it needs the extra resolution, oh and we like them a bit too. A simple track any amp can get sounding OK, not much of a challenge, but some Hideously Distorted basslines with crisp treble is what you can get & played right it's a world away from the muddy murky sound most amps will deliver it as. Other music we play is generally 1970s now & much is in Stereo & cleanly mastered if with a bit of vinyl noise, all served up with the crackles as a separate entity not a blur. It shows up the splashy treble of MP3 on crisp treble notes simply as MP3 doesn't sample enough, though it can make a MP3 more listenable for reasons above. We'd rather hear the Vinyl version, tiny crackles & all. To hear recording studio ambience on 1960s Ska & even Prewar 78s is the mark of deep resolution. Few amps can do this. From the Yamaha CA-800II section... Ska from 1965 you can feel the size of the studio is quite small from the acoustic info as they are playing loud in it, all from a mono 45. Lower quality 'rural' tracks like this show the extra focus of a good amp & recapping will bring it out more, mono tracks reveal more about Fidelity of an Amp than a trick Stereo track can as you are hearing wide sounds. With changing from wide Stereo tracks with the sound outside the headphones, to Mono where the sound is inside your head and a single point sound is easier to gauge for quality. A track with huge musical appeal can be seen to be poorly recorded & distorted but served up accurately by an amplifier warts & all without harshness to sound 'authentic' is the mark of a good amp. A poor amp will not resolve the murky distorted sound beyond an even more distorted poorly resolved mess and will get you turning that music off, instead of hearing more of it. This is why we've been playing more Stereo tracks as the Mono ones that sounded decent on the main Hifi with Speakers sound spiky & rough as most Transistor amps cannot resolve the sound.
How Do You Know What "The Real Sound" Is? ↑
Beyond going to hear it Live & listening under Studio conditions, Amplifier Sound is the best-efforts recreation of the Recorded Sound as offered to the Vinyl or CD etc by the Recording & Mastering Engineer. How to recreate the Real Sound would involve a circuit that introduces as little loss & degradation of the signal as possible. To hear a track from Vinyl with a scratch that gives a loud click & the amp can fully resolve it's full volume without blurring it is a mark of a sophisticated amp: Fast with Ample reserves for any transient. Look at the Rogers Cadet III circuit, it's a 10w valve amplifier. To simplify it, use a Vinyl Record on the "ideal" record player. The sound signal goes through the Phono Stage valve, then the Flat Amplifier then the Tone Control amplifier. It then goes to the double stage output valves & then to your Loudspeaker. Phono uses 2 valves, flat uses 1, tone uses 1. Volume control in between & then to the inverter stage of the output valve then the output stage. 6 amplification stages. If the design is original, the components good, the sound will have little difference to it. There is very little NFB in the design except where necessary. It will sound excellent, the rich open sound with a wide & deep soundstage you can easily sense. On a further deep valve angle, some users like the totally NFB-free early 1920s valves, 4w Single ended directly heated whatever. The sound will never be full bass or treble, but the sheer beauty of the sound you hear will entrance. To hear a 78 played on an acoustic wind up player with an 8 foot horn is another remarkable sound.
The Way To Compare ↑
Start with the amp you consider your best. Play lots of tracks on it & get used to them. Tracks with dynamic sound with deep bass, loud treble & a solid midrange all giving a very good test track. As much as we like pre Stereo era music, we play a lot more 1977-1993 tracks for the main testing. Mono tracks are useful though for revealing how good an amp reveals detail, as Stereo music is easier to play as it is created of spatial phase altered sounds to give the sound a wider image, to mimic a live performance. For the deep bass you may be surprised to know that all amps are limited on bass to keep them universal and not to output bad clipping to ruin speakers. Treble is usually ragged by virtue of poor design & imbalances & the large amount of 'spoilers' and limiters all amps have, again to keep them universal. Only a couple of the 1967 receivers were less limited & be sure buyers with their poor hifi used with them complained. Then the question of the level of the midrange compared to Bass & Treble. Setting an amp flat doesn't mean the sound really is flat as this is the whim of the designer to create a softer or more upfront tonal balance. So there is where your problems lie: in all aspects of the sound. As that apparently negates any point of comparing as you may never find a 'perfect' reference sound, the deal is only to find an amplifier that stirs your soul more, reveals more fine detail & depth to the music be it Stereo or Mono. A Mono track reproduced properly can reveal the room acoustic size, though perhaps the ability to notice that is not a common one as is absolute pitch in music. Any amp that produces a grimace on your face on loud treble sections is not delivering music clearly. Harmonic Distortion & clipping is why you turn a small portable radio down as it sounds rough.
Bass is all some want... ↑
Read forums & talk to people about Hifi & all they go on about is the Bass. Bass is fun & we want it is why. Bass is only part of the Audio Spectrum, Deep Fundamental Bass, Bass itself, Mid Bass, Upper Bass, Lower Mid, Midrange, Upper Midrange, Lower Treble, Treble or 'Top' and High Treble. These can all be grouped into ranges of frquency, ie Deep Bass is 10-50Hz, Fundamental Bass is 10-30Hz etc. No amplifier can be called "Hifi" if it heavily accentuates or heavily limits the extremes of Frequency as Humans can hear, usually 20Hz to 18kHz though teens can hear higher. So We Want Bass: But You're Not Having It Because You Bloody Complained. is why nearly all amplifiers are limited on low Bass. Look at the Yamaha CR-1000 it is rated 70w at 20Hz to 20kHz but at 1kHz it's rated 80w. To us it is an 80w amp, but the design has to be limited for Domestic use. Yes, people complained of Rumbly Turntables, flapping speaker cones from excess deep bass from hifi sat on bad floorboards & picking up RF noise from not using Hifi properly. So the makers dumbed the amps down more & more until the bland sound that was from 1980 onwards was what was left. Some of the 1967-69 Transistor amps were not limited on Bass, but by the 1971 3rd Generation amps, the Bass was rolled off, sometimes quite heavily & the Bass "rings" as it is limited creating an artificial created Bass that satisfied the average buyer, but be sure we can hear it's artificialness. The Realistic receiver we had we later found was extremely limited in Bass to the point using the awful Loudness & IMX expander was 'needed' to give it some Bass. It sounded awful, but younger music listeners are ignorant to what quality is in Sound & sadly many never evolve. Just like Drawing & Art, if you don't develop you still draw a Dog like 8 year old you did. So just about any amp you'll buy of any age will be Light on the Bass. You can recap & redesign the bass back in, but that's not easy as Bass can be limited in non-obvious ways. So generally, fully extended Bass isn't what you'll get, as in deep Bass that you can't hear but can feel. As if life ever gives the truth in any way anyway, Hifi & Bass must similarly be tamed for General Consumption.
It Sounds Like A Valve Amplifer. ↑
Yeah, Right. This is seen often on ebay sales & other reviews pages. The odds it sounds like Modern Valve Amp designed to run "hot" as in the Sound, not heat produced, is extremely unlikely. We know what a Valve Amp like this sounds like as we got a Tube Technology one, gutted the insides out & done it properly with many ideas gathered over time. It sounds "as it should" with no character, no fizz or sizzle, no dullness, no boomyness & zero roughness. Headroom is enormous & the preamp designed to never clip on normal 0db level. It sounds fluid, effortless & flowing with a huge soundstage with no limits or ouch. bits. For some amateur to say some modern transistor & IC heavily regulated thing sounds like valves is a Joke. Old Valve Amps that are aged & off-spec is what most know as "Valve Sound" a wallowy soft rich bassy sound with detail rolled off. This to us is Retro Valve Sound and can be enjoyable, but Hifi it isn't. Modern Amps of Cottage Industry type design that use expensive & oversized 630v capacitors for a One Volt audio signal, yet are stuffed with ICs & regulators without adequate anything else are the culprits. High End & Audiophile are other terms used by a hack seller of a Conrad Johnson MF80 80w probably as 160w into 4 ohms noted. These sort of amps bored us in the Hifi mags of the 1990s. Having tried Sumo huge monoblocks, we found them very boring, huge NFB, not much volume & then we got our Valve Amps, even as they were, a bit lifeless, a huge improvement on the "muscle" power amps that were once the thing. Most transistor amps have a grainy sound from being underspec designed, else you'd never buy another one. upgradecing can improve any amp, but how far it'll go depends onmany factors. Transistors CAN sound like our Valve Amp, but much upgrade design & upgradecing is required & most amps are just not good enough whatever you do. So if you read "Valve-like" ignore it as it's just hype told by one who doesn't know what top valve sound is like. We do & hear it daily.
High End? ↑
A term that started cropping up in the early 1990s Hifi mags. Basically it means "we want you to pay more for something that isn't much better or even any better than unhyped good quality amps and certainly isn't as musically enjoyable as the best from the 1967-72 era". A touch cynical perhaps, but cottage industry Hifi of minimal appeal to enthusiasts is what the general ideas are. They often have very bare PCBs & ICs galore, look like a home made design & often have branded parts from RS as they didn't make many of the item, not that RS or Farnell sell anything but quality parts. High end is an Elitist thing, the 1965 Sony "ES" range that includes our TA-1120A is noted often as the first High End. As a term, best to ignore it. For having exotic parts, oversized foil capacitors rated 630v but only carrying a below 1v audio signal is often the case. Reading the fluff that accompanies much Hifi of all levels even since the 1960s shows they all claim to be better than their previous models, better than their competitors. An amusing one is the Sony TA-1150, a mediocre amp with poor design, poor matching of critical voltage resistors & and an IC claims to be the best thing there is. Nonsense says we. Washes Whiter Than White is all that is: illusionary to get sales & few buyers buying new compare it to the old one once they are used to the new. Different is not better. High End should really mean the premium items, top of the range, state of the art even. But in a world where "Rare" is overused to the point your eyes ignore the word, what is High End? A term to help justify to yourself that you paid £2500 for a cliquey hifi item that probably is less musically enjoyable than ANY of our Vintage Top Rated Amps.
Small Ones are Generally much Sweeter? ↑
We are talking about Amplifier power ratings here from the mid 1970s onwards, though it can apply to other pleasing tangible things equally. Quality not Quantity is another similar phrase. But some Big Ones can be of Good Quality too, though much rarer to find... We are finding in many, if not all Transistor amps, especially from 1975 onwards, the high power ones aren't generally as musical as the 40-60w or below ones & the lower power ones are too cost cut. Kind of makes it Early Ones are Generally Much Sweeter really. In the 1967-73 era the typical highest wattage was 40-45w, but to prove the theory is not universal, Sony TA-1130 from 1971 at 65w was a decent amp, Yamaha CR-1000 from 1973 is 80w & excellent, two rare receivers Hitachi SR-1100 from 1971 at 55w and now the 1969 Teac AG-7000 receiver at 65w still has the high quality sound. The truth about the "Small Ones" is the spec is usually enough to keep the sound high, only when it comes to higher power, does the Cost Cutting reveal itself.
Who Is This "Master Volume" Guy? ↑
Based on Guitar & PA-Pro gear there are 2 volume controls, one for regular Volume & one as a Master Volume which can equate to running the sound "hot" in valve terms, or to make it sound more Background and "soft" in a similar way. We prefer the "hot" Master Volume as it matches the true volume the track was recorded at as best as possible. This does not mean too loud, just fully resolved to it's natural level, not a shouty level. Overloud is a very quickly wearying sort of sound. Look at those PA Speaker stacks & realise what their Power Output is yet it fills a Stadium or an outside event sounds clear. This uses the Master Volume technique & set to Max in a domestic situation it is a huge wall of sound that is enough to put you into a state of shock as in the Medical meaning as the room saturates with sound. Not one to try too often, but fun it is. This Max master volume is what PA systems use. It's related to NFB, a domestic amp has lots of amp stages but may not play like a PA. The PA uses as little NFB as possible to get the volume is the basic idea. Looking at what PA Speaker stacks are rated at, they lie about ratings, saying 1000w then say 500w peak each added together but then 250w RMS. Sensitivity of speakers is important with 105db giving a huge gain over the feeble 86db domestic speakers most own. If Domestic Hifi could play at PA levels there would be anarchy as those awful estates where thump thump is all you hear, with PA gear, you'd hear every word. This is why most Hifi sounds limited for sanity's sake of those not wanting to hear. The balance between sounding soft or being too hard is oddly called "natural" and sadly is hard to find in hifi, some of it sounds pretty artificial at best. This sort of accurate sound balance is what gets people saying "I've never heard that detail in that song before". It can get you to pick out the ambience from an early high grade 78 made in the late 1920s.
Reading the still-relevant G.A. Briggs Hifi books, they filled 1000+ people halls with music played through a pair of 15w Quad IIs & hifi speakers of the c.1959 era this was done, so why are these transistor amps so feeble with higher wattage?
What is Hi-Fi? ↑
High Fidelity: Anything that's not Lo-Fi like a telephone or mobile phone, yet people listen to music on phones & did back in the 1970s with Dial-A-Disc. Portable MW radios that are still used today are not Hifi, but will suit many people & for those sniffing at the thought of such, the first music you will have known as 'Your Music' if of a certain age, will have been via a Lo-Fi source. Hi-Fi is therefore not Lo-Fi, but it cannot be measured despite what "experts" say, all those THD readings of 0.01% in an amp with 20 transistors in the power amp, a high Damping Factor and many stages of NFB are what the public is told is Hi-Fi & many without time to think will accept it. You reading this are tired of the con & want to better your lot. Based on how high up the ladder of Audio you are, note the 'Audio' word to cover Hi-Fi & Lo-Fi, what is Hi-Fi to some is nasty sounding to those with a trained ear. Our ear is very trained now, our brain can be fooled quite easily which is why amps get retested again & again. Even general ebay sellers are remarking how much nicer old amps sound than the modern items they keep. So why sell it? They played this amp yet decided to sell it? ASre they insane? No, they don't realise Old is Better in Hifi & probably best they didn't know either.
Our own quote from when we were writing other pages & though how well it sums up the whole Audio scene is If they were more honest they'd rate it as "Percentage of the real sound we actually lost in search of high specifications" The quantifying of Hifi cannot be measured by technical instrument with a single tone sine wave. Music can be dozens of different notes, tones & harmonics all at once, to differentiate between as many as real life can is the target. Only a trained ear that has heard many amplifiers as well as with design & technical knowlege can really tell the best ones. Those over-designed amplifiers with a lifeless sound lack true Hi-Fi worth as we see it.
Reading old Hifi books, the term Hifi meant The State Of The Art in audio design for the time. One 1969 yearly magazine notes how Hifi from 10 years before, in 1959, now is not really Hifi in a 1969 way, but expects that another ten years, the 1969 ideals would be equally as antiquated. Lack of confidence or what. In terms of our pages, 1969 is the Pinnacle of Transistor Amplifier design for the best sound. You'd not use most of the 1969 Cartridges, the only 1969 turntable arm you'd use is the SME but amplifiers, turntables & speakers are still much wanted from 1969 & before. A 1969 amplifier can be used with modern equipment with ease, Phono plugs, DIN sockets & various speaker wire connectors are still what is used today. The only things liable to become obsolete are Radio Tuners as one day the analog signal will be murdered like the TV one, not that anyone missed that, but Radio as FM & MW is still more popular than DAB so we read. If 1969 is the Pinnacle of Hifi Sound to us, it isn't to the Vintage Hifi buyer who still sadly overpays for 1977 Monster Amps with their mangled sound & thinking 160w is what you need for a Lounge Hifi. We are hearing people are buying our rated amps & are amazed at how good they are. Be one of the new converts, try a vintage amp today, you'll never look back. Your "high tech top specs" modern amp may read flat with perfect specs but it's not as musical as these 1969 era amps, and this situation got stronger as the 1970s went on, the specs & overdesign really took over & why many people are surprised at how great these old long-ignored amps sound.
Keep Designs Simple for the Best Sound. ↑
Our main valve amp has 4 ECC83s on the preamp, 8 stages of double triodes, 2 per channel for the phono, 2 for the Flat-Tone. The power amp pairs have 1 stage then the splitter then 4x EL34s. You don't need any more. The earliest Transistor receivers from 1967 such as the Pioneer SX-1500TF & Sansui 3000A are 45w, the Trio KA-6000 & even the Yamaha CR-800 is 45w. The Sony TA-1120A is 50w & the STR-6120 is 50w. It appears 45-50w is the best power output for a pleasing sound & once they start to go 60w, 70w upwards the designs get more complex & the sound quality suffers as more circuitry. The amps from 1977 onwards do tend to have more circuitry, so more NFB & the quest for 0.001% distortion when in fact the sound in to out is probably way more distorted & mangled. If you want quality, stick to the 40w-50w amps, if you want it loud & less sophisticated at lower volume, buy the 60w+ ones. This does seem to be the turning point. Amps 15w to 35w can play reasonably loud but some are limited to stop you overdriving it with the sound more restrained. To count the amount of amplifying transistors, ignoring buffers, voltage regulators & protection, in an amplifier will reveal how natural it will sound: less is more fidelity.
Volume: Want It Loud Or Not? ↑
What volume will you be playing the amp at? If you want it Loud Loud Loud then a higher powered amp with not much finesse can get away with it. It's why most Monster Amps are popular: loud & brash is what these buyers like & the Rock styled distortion probably adds to the less sophisticated buyers preferring them. Some high power amps have reasonable fidelity when played at lower volume, but a 40w-50w amp can always do better. Valves loud don't have the same effect on us as transistors loud do & in an extreme case, the Musical Fidelity nasty amp caused real problems. We just had a session with the 100w Yamaha CA-1010 & the 15w valve Rogers HG88 Mk III, both capable of loud volumes until you get weary. Those saying valves don't have the attack of transistors clearly haven't heard the right amp, or are confusing it with an overbright sounding amp. It's all subjective. But on trying lower volume, the Yamaha didn't quite do it so pleasingly, still lacking the pure joy of how the Sony STR-6120 sounds recapped & upgraded, but the Rogers was good at lower or loud. Smaller wattage amps we've found are sweeter sounding & around 40w is an ideal power if you don't need it loud. The Sony's sound at a low volume is still focussed, rich & detailed & rated 60w. With other less sophisticated amps, a feathery graininess seeps in.
Play It Quietly. ↑
The ability of an amp to play pleasingly at low volume is a huge idea of quality, anyone can shout, but few can sing in sotto voce. We note now much sweeter the 1967-72 amps sound at low volume, many of the the 1973-onwards ones just can't do it so well. An amp that plays low volume sweetly with no grainy roughness is the sort we prefer. But a valve amp can do this too. Less circuitry = sweeter more natural sound. Many amps at lower volume sound ghastly & gritty and only really come alive played loud.
ICs in the Tone, Pre or Power... ↑
Will sadly always be second rate or worse. Many brands cheaped out with nasty op-amps & STK amplifier blocks & no-one was aware of this at the time. ICs were seen as progress & better, no doubt ad-men writing hype to sell you crap. Read our ICs page for more. If you are aware how gritty & rough amps with ICs are, do as we do, see an amp that interests, then Google search etc for the Service Manual & circuits. Many times we've turned the air blue in disgust at seeing ICs, the worst have to be a Marantz 22, Sansui 9090 and especially the Kenwood-Trio KR-9600 aka KR-9060, a 160w amp with STK output blocks. Some Yamaha 1980 range are choked with ICs. Lots of the Pioneer & Technics amps have ICs. Buyers are aware of this & if you see what appears to be a good amp going unsold & unwanted, beware of the ICs. If you don't mind ICs or don't understand why they are a no-no for proper Hifi, then this site isn't for you yet. Phono stages are even more likely to be a nasty op-amp even in overrated trash like a £2k Musical Fidelity A308CR preamp, "be wise before you buys" says we. If you'd not use the Phono stage, then it may not matter so much if the rest of the amp has no ICs, beyond the Tuner or Dolby stages, but the rest of the amp may be cost-cut too.
Looking For Clear Thumping Bass? ↑
We saw that one on an ebay listing and wondered. You're reading this page as it's a bit different to the dry Hifi pages so you probably have an idea of what music should sound like. In the 1980s people of poor taste had 500w Car Stereos that hit you in the chest with their exaggerated slow bass that had little vocal level or treble detail. Those with no taste had the cheap version & didn't fit it properly so the Car rattled each whoomp. Bass to these people is a slow coloured reverberating mess, as thick as they are. Bass is as fast as any other note tone depending on how it was made. Reproducing it properly with fast decay is real hifi & why we don't like or mention speakers much as most are awful. Cheap "Stereos" of old copied that thick heavy bass sound, as people of low hifi-intelligence (ahem) liked it. Middle-aged people hate it as they've never had their ears waxed & it buzzes... Bass is important, but it should be believable amid the rest of the body of sound, a point women & silicone matters rarely ponder. Thin sound is tiring to listen too, an upper bass boost sounds slow & equally tiring. Thumping Bass is never Clear Bass is the joke. You don't need any bass at all & can enjoy the music as it sounds realistic, our 1932 valve radiogram has a 4w output valve & is very limited probably 200Hz to 3kHz is all it can manage though it still sounds believable in it's ancient rich spooky sounding way. But how people can listen to thin hugely distorted music through a Mobile Phone speaker shows people's ideals today. Oddly little different to the tiny screetchy Transistor portable of ago. TV pictures are HD and 1080p upscaling, yet sound today is heavily compressed MP3 or older tracks with all tape hiss & ambience removed. Hifi really hit it's peak in the 1970s. But you go hear "proper" hifi & realise how much more satisfaction music can offer.
The Best Sounding Hifi is Always from 1965-1977 ↑
See our Vintage Hifi Reviews page for proof. This page was written a few years ago, we've put a few updates, but it's mostly a 2013 effort. Some is duplicated above, but this is far too long to edit down, so Index it & let you read it as you wish.
Hifi: The Golden Years? ↑
A brief idea: Hifi grew out of the 1940s post WW2 efforts when things like Decca's FFRR system helped record morse code onto disc. Enthusiasts had been making Cat's Whisker Wireless Radios since the 1920s & by the early 1930s a Radio & Radiogram started to become a popular household item, WW2 again brought a great need for a home to have a Radio. The 1956 Hifi Yearbook reveals how little branded Audio Equipment there was, most turntables were autochangers in Radiograms still. Only really a few Turntables like the Garrard 301 are still regularly used today, the rest of these early Hifi valve items are nice but too old & limited for a modern user, though you used to read much of 1920s rare valves being used for 4w limited bandwidth music but of a pure nature lost in time. Only by the 1960s does Hifi become of age, sadly despite the hype & prices original 1960s valve amps are just not good enough compared to quality modern era ones, though major surgery could solve this. The transistor started being used with Germaniums in portable radios in 1956-58 & some similar amplifiers were introduced about 1962, though Hifi stayed with valves for a few more years.
The Ages & Eras of Hifi. ↑
Comics have Golden Eras so we'll Establish this for the Hifi World, based on our deep knowledge of hifi... This section was written about 2012 so the above will add more depth, ah but why delete it, it's worth a read to show our progress...
The Valve Era 1953-1967. ↑
The Red Era, as valve heaters glow Red & so do the anodes if you push them too hard. Red era. The first amp we can call Hifi is the Quad II which started as early as 1953 & stayed in production until the Transistor era. Others such as Radford, Rogers & Leak fit well into this Era if generally the USA & Japanese ones are only noted in Europe by 1962-64 bringing Trio, Pioneer & Sansui. These are Early Valve amps after all & can be upgraded to much better spec if the price of some is too high now.
Transistor Golden Era 1965-1970. ↑
This is the era we've championed with this site. Find old forums from 2005 & you'll see these early amps were found for in USA thrift stores & not really understood, if the owners were surprised at them. We've made it our goal to try as many of the 40w-50w ones of this age as our Amp Reviews page shows & we've found some real winners here. More Receivers than amplifiers in this era as they sold in Army stores to be send back home by those in Service. The designs here are based on Valve ideas & some of the most remarkable sounding amps are in this era, before the manufacturers realised they were "Too Good" and made later ones less good. a key example is the 1965 Sony TA-1120 that was swiftly updated to the TA-1120A just over a year later. This era has good Germanium amps too, only the Japanese ones use good germanium transistors, the UK ones deteriorate, as those in Armstrong amps show. also this era has some of the Best Looking amps ever made in their luxurious wooden cases, they are great design items too. But they are old now & do much benefit from upgrading to prove how great they really are. We put 1965-70 as this generally defines the capacitor coupled output era, if some 1967 receivers are semi complimentary.
Transistor Silver Era 1971-1978. ↑
By 1971 in Japan, the Differential was the "new great idea" in Hifi if some UK amps don't catch up until 1973 ranges. The Differential isn't a bad design idea at all, we've fully upgraded a few to see the Differential is not a problem. But in terms of Fidelity, manufacturers could get very low specs using less quality parts & more transistors, compared to the Golden Era. By now, the capacitor coupling was gone, semi complimentary was 1971 & by 1974 fully complimentary was the design. Two of the 1967 receivers are semi complimentary but have coupling transformers, so not quite the same. There are still many amps we rate as 'Excellent' once upgraded, so you can buy a less aged amp from this era & still find it a delight. Go on, you know you want to try one. It'll put your boring sounding post 1980 hifi in the dumpster. There is a huge amount of average Budget gear especially from 1972-74 that needs buying with caution as some of it is very ordinary to sell to ex-radiogram owners. The Comet Discount stores were responsible for this & Pioneer got in these unlike Yamaha, explaining why Pioneer we review as being so cost cut on spec.
Transistor Modern Era 1979-Today. ↑
Note the turdy colour, not a coincidence... Hifi of this later era generally sounds boring, it is weak & thin with a roughness & lack of musicality. Others are so overdesigned the spirit of anything musical is well flattened & you'll reach for the Off switch fast. Compare this to the early amps, we can do a 4 hour session on Headphones & not find this tiring, but these later amps barely get a whole song played as they are gnarly & unnatural sounding. Go hear a live semi-pro rock group with a Marshall stack & then play similar on your 'stereo'. Very few amps can deliver the weight of a hard guitar riff, some are excruciatingly poor. By late 1978-1979 the Monster Receiver Wars were raging & a boom in the economy after the hard years just before. Hifi had at last become Mainstream for the first time if attempts were made 1972-74 by the Discount Stores, as many still used Radiograms, we used to see lots of these even until 1990. Hifi & 'Stereos' were the most popular ever judging by how huge the Dec 1978 Hifi News is with every manufacturer & shop wanting your money. But popularity means prices are competitive & to compete you have to offer 'more' for the money so cost cutting got fierce. Amps were one board jobs with a cheapness in construction being obvious after the quality some 1977 amps could be. By 1980-81 the economy dipped hard again & the Hifi scene totally changed to Rack Systems & low powered ordinary gear, the big brands fell off the edge of offering you the best stuff. This led to overrated 'cottage industry' brands like Naim, Linn & the like offering items we despise for their hype. By now the computer industry was booming so naturally ICs, that were generally only in Tuner stages, were now everywhere as the awful 1980-81 Yamaha CR-2040 range reveals. ICs had been around since about 1967 with a few amps using obscure output blocks & V-FETs, all unfindable as spares beware, but seeing how cheap a Rack system could be made, ICs were everywhere & generally this is what is considered acceptable as "Hifi" today, if some brands try to fool you that they are still improving, utter BS, on seeing the 2007 Marantz PM6002 it's design is little different to a 1977 Yamaha if every possible spoiler is used as we found. There will be more gems like the Sansui AUG90X we found, but generally this era doesn't interest us & after reading the Hifi Mag's bias we really aren't too interested, unless we get something here to try as we did with that Sansui. Valve amps bubbled along with a mini revival in 1979-80, more in the 1993-97 era & still today with many cheap valve amps that you really shouldn't bother with from those we've seen, but it's a glimpse of better. To be fair, some amps after 1978 can still be the quality of before, but so many are severely overdesigned with High Damping Factor, ridiculously low noise floor & excess NFB and spoilers, to find a good amp really is like finding A Grain Of Salt in the Proverbial Haystack. the Pin one is easy. We've had these pages online for a few years now & have yet to be challenged on this beyond some Krell fool who gave no argument. So if anyone knows good amps free of ICs & Naim type nonsense, we'd love to know & we'll tell our verdict. We certainly are opinionated, but to find new things to change ideas is what we do want to know. But sadly We Are Only Told things by 'Daily Mail'-type readers who think Our Capitalisation is 'wrong'. Does it look like we are bothered or care to conform to established narrow ideas? In our exploitis we Question Everything because usually the accepted ideas are Lazy & Just Plain Wrong, many ideas in life today are decades old & unchallenged, but not many can see this so it stays thay way. WWII terms FUBAR & SNAFU show the truth of the BS in life was known early on in the post Rural 1930s Uptown NY style life that started around 1935-36 as the Cartoons of the era closely reveal, but what can we do about it except type words that go online?
The 1965-67 era... ↑
For the 1965 Sony TA-1120 the Golden Years are still 1967-77 as the majority of 1965-66 amps were still Germanium or Valve based, though the TA-1120 certainly is a gem. But for UK buyers, where did you get them? Looking through adverts in 1965-67 Hifi News magazines most sellers only stocked the UK brands which is why some amps like Leak & Rogers are so common: it's all you could get. Brands like Pioneer, Sansui & Trio-Kenwood advertised themselves but had just one distributor. The October 1966 Telesonic 2-page ad lists a range of Amplifiers & receivers as Armstrong 126, 127M, 226, 227M, 221 & 222; B+O 1000, Chapman 310, Clarke & smith HMV 655, Dynaco SCA35, PAS-2, PAS-3, ST35, ST70 & 120; Goodmans Maxamp; Leak Stereo 30, Varislope Mono/Main amp, Varislope II/Stereo 20; McIntosh MC225 amp & preamp; Pye Brahms HF30T; Quad 22 pre & II power; Radford STA15 III, STA25 III, SC2 pre, SC22 pre; Rogers Cadet III & HG88 III; Scott 260 amp; Sherwood S5500/III amp; Trio KW33L, Tripoletone 8-8 and Truvox TSA100. This is all there was buyable in the UK, no mention of the TA-1120 or Coral amp we had, both of which came from those who bought in the EU. No Pioneer or Sansui are in any adverts either, just their own ads. A mix of UK valve amps, UK Germanium amps & the superior Japan-USA silicon transistor amps with only the Goodmans being silicon too. Only really the Tape Recorders were showing more exotic brands like Akai, Ampex, B+O, Brenell, Ferrograph, Philips, Revox, Sony, Tandberg, Telefunken, Truvox, Uher & Vortexion. Any others shown in the HFYB as our Amps & Receivers pages show will have been limited distribution by one shop only, as Imhofs of Oxford Street imported the USA Fisher valve & germanium transistor ranges. The big 1967 receivers like Sansui, Trio & Pioneer often made it to the UK as these were bought in Army & Navy Stores & shipped back home as they were easy to adjust voltage as multivoltage. The Fisher ones were still marked 110v but the transformers allowed alteration with rewiring by the UK distributor.
In 1965 Sony introduced the TA-1120 amplifier with all silicon transistors & others like Sansui had similar in 1965. In 1966 the Akai AA-7000 is a high quality amp. By 1967-68 still really the First Generation and ones we've had like the Pioneer SX-1500TF, Sansui 3000A & Trio-Kenwood TK-140E are still great sounding amps today if recapped & working right. By 1969 the Second Generation starts & there is a broad range of quality Amplifiers and this grew until about 1971-72, with quality & good sound perhaps at it's peak in the entire life of the Amplifier before & since this 1969-71 era, look at our Top Amps lists. Economics, higher sales & a strive to "improve" if perhaps not improving the sound as claimed continued by the 1973 ranges, the differential era. The 1969 Trio-Kenwood KA-6000 is a remarkable amplifier, but the KA-6004 from 1973 loses the musical quality. The Sony range has it's last quality amplifier with the 1971 TA-1140, but by the 1973 TA-1150 ICs & cheaper less precise design is the deal & sound quality takes a big dip in quality. Bear in mind most loudspeakers of the pre 1973 era are generally awful, few are like the premium large Tannoy series, so buyers would likely not have noticed.
Getting Too Budget. The 1973 Hifi Yearbook shows a big change in Hifi goods being sold. In 1972 the Alba UA700 15w amplifier selling for under £38 was getting the sort of "we don't like to admit it, but it's good for what it is" type of reviews from the Hifi press. Alba made good use of this recommendation in their Ads & in the early days of Discount Stores like Comet, be sure they sold by the lorryload & the 1973-74 years were hard with Strikes & VAT hikes so the undiscerning Joe Public lapped these cheapo goods up & still does today. Other manufacturers made sure they got their cut of this with many cheap under 15w amps & also this year brought Quadrophonic into the game, very bad timing. These cheap amplifiers were only the mass market end of things, by 1970 Sony had started making low priced everyday Audio items, Trio-Kenwood & Sansui dipped in quality similarly. The high quality well designed Hifi of the early Transistor 1967-70 era quickly vanished but the midprice items thrived. But there was still quality around, you just had to look for the higher priced items to tell. Of the Big Brands Sony, Trio-Kenwood & Sansui peaked in their pre 1972 years. Oddly Pioneer & Marantz improved from their earlier years but usually dumbed the amps down hiding good design with low spec, but in our Upgrading we've found Pioneer from 1973-75 are at their best & Marantz 1977 range bettered the 1971 ones as our Top Amps shows.
The coffin nails for the real Hifi sound came in by 1976-77 when the ability to read meaningless Distortion Data appeared to be the only thing Hifi magazines were interested in only led to excess overdesign to compete with too much circuitry & NFB in the aim to get silent backgrounds & ridiculously low 0.005% distortion.
If they were more honest they'd rate it as "Percentage of the real sound we actually lost in search of high specifications" (3rd time of that on this page...!)
But using Sine & square wave tests not real people hearing music has been the dumb ideals of Hifi design ever since. So it's no wonder the pre 1980 Hifi sound is getting more popular, even a bottom end 1978 Technics amp we had with a nasty IC amp block still had the basic good rich sound of the era. By the CD era, mid 1980s onwards, amps were so cold & thin sounding, the "better quality" of CD was said to be too bright, users clearly being used to muddy sounding music. The most recent big money amp we had was the Musical Fidelity A308CR pre-power & hated it's false sound, though even a £200 Rotel RA-03 amp we used briefly as a computer amp could still sound OK if musically boring. Go Vintage & hear music how it ought to be heard: with some Life in it.
Hifi Brands In 1959 ↑
These are very early Hifi items, many historically important if very little rated to be worth of Hifi use today, only the Garrard 301 & Tannoy speakers are used still. The valve amps still do sell, but we suspect these are usually kept original & used once a year, so more as collector pieces. The Advertisers Index shows the marketplace, as our List of Amplifiers shows, at this time British Hifi was ahead & led the Hifi scene, paints a very different picture of UK manufacturing if a lot of these brands once familiar failed by ther time Transistors took over by 1967. The only foreign brand is Grundig in the Jan 1959 issue with a GMU3 mixer unit for a tape recorder. Feb 1959 shows RCA with the 'New Orthophonic' range, the ad is for the VHF/FM tuner which is full range 87-108 Mc/s (MHz). April 1959 has the USA kit brand Heathkit with the S-88 & S-33 amplifiers. Nov 1959 has Telefunken with the 75K-15 sitcase type tape recorder, distributed by Welmec, London WC2, if they are more in earlier months not showing Telefunken in the index.
What went Wrong in 1968-1969 ↑
In one word... "Comet". Yes, the big electrical discount store. Resale Price Maintenance was made unlawful in 1964. as Record Dealers, we know the EMI group vinyl started adding in about March 1964 to April 1969 the familiar "Sold In U.K Subject To Resale Price Conditions. See Price Lists". This appears to be against the RPM law but EMI managed to get away with fixed prices for 5 more years. As with any new consumer ideas, it takes time to catch on. We not being born in 1964 only know what we read & the Jan 1970 Hifi News explains how RPM kept the Quality high instead of pricing to the penny for smaller profit on higher sales. This RPM will have allowed the EU & Japanese electrical items to have been sold more openly, as before 1964 there were very few non UK brands in the Hifi adverts or listings. Competition may be good, but today we are often frustrated by a selection only of "cheap rubbish" in our search to buy items. Cheap is the thing & if you want quality you often won't find it as there is no market. "The rapid conquest by The Second Rate" is the HFN term & looking at the cheap junk the Discount stores were selling compared by 1972 to the items from 1968, before Comet became big selling Mail Order from their Leeds & Hull stores & grew into the big chain. But it had closed by 2012 as the Recession hit it, meaning Comet were bypassed for those selling comparable junk even cheaper. Even in 1970 they noted that Salespeople were now till operators & those who still done retail had morons who didn't know their stock. Standards dropping is what you see as you go through your decades on the planet, it never gets better does it? But shed no tears for Comet, they & similar made the ultra-cheap 99p world of today so for them to be killed off similarly as they killed off the 'Mom & Pop' type shops. Comet ad in the Jan 1970 HFN shows they stocked Arena, Armstrong, Dulci, Goodmans, Leak, Linear, Quad, Rogers, Teleton & Truvox amplifiers as well as a Tandberg receiver. The UK brands were mostly ones around 10 years earlier, but few lasted the rest of the Decade. As the UK brands faded, Comet brought in Japanese brands like the lesser quality Akai yet Pioneer got caught up with their 1972 range being discounted by 30%. This couldn't last. This leads on to the next section...
Why Hifi Lost Quality After 1971 ↑
The reason is YOU, you wanted the best but you wanted it too cheap. Economics decides the price the punter will pay & the manufacturer will give you the "best" but priced to the penny & the rest used to storytell in adverts saying new is "better" always. Gone were the days of lush quality, a 1967 Ferrograph advert for Tape Recorders proudly stated ones from 15 years before are still giving good daily use, be sure they've needed servicing & maintenance, but they still worked good, but 1952 technology would be way behind 1967. To price to the penny was the ethic now by 1972, the Comet discounting was the deal. Where was any profit in that? Like 99p crap of today, we avoid it as it's rubbish. always buy a better one, if available, eg. a hammer made in the 1930s will be a better hammer than a 2014 £5 one & try looking for one more expensive on the general market: there aren't any. Looking in 1972 Hifi News magazine, we were a little surprised to see most sellers only had UK brands & the budget crap like Amstrad & Alba, but try finding Pioneer or Sony in the ads. By 1977 Hifi News the Japanese gear was the majority now, if not all stocked the top range ones. Not many stocked Yamaha, you probably only got the big CR-2020 in the main London or other big Cities, or to special order, though the economy was on the up by 1979 creating the scene for the Monster Receiver Wars. But you could easily buy the budget stuff anywhere you looked, mass market was the deal by 1972. Not all budget-midrange mass market stuff of the 1970s was rubbish, but none of it was expected to last long, just as today. The saying that The Undiscerning & Thoughtless will always be well catered for: Mass Market conforming equality is what you get.
Discount Stores Killed off Quality Hifi ↑
Reading the 1972-73 Hifi News magazines gives it all away. There were a few big Discount Stores, the main one was Comet. In the 1970 Hifi News, Comet just have two huge shops in Hull & Leeds, but wisely offered Securicor delivery for 12/- (60p) so clearly grew huge very fast as did Amstrad who were similarly growing huge in their budget ways. They could offer a decent Pioneer SX-828, retail price £293 for a 30% discount to £209 in 1972. Pioneer should have not allowed such huge discounting as it ruined the brand as all the amps, even the big ones, were cost cut to the bone. Discount Stores carried the usual UK brands, Leak, Quad, Armstrong etc, but these were only ever midprice quality. The ads reveal Pioneer, Akai & JVC were in the Discount Stores, if Yamaha revealed in a 1972 ad that they'd never be seen in Discount Stores. Sony were stocked by a lot of shops by 1972, if their earlier hifi is not much seen in the ads, if we've not got any 1968-71 Hifi News yet. Pioneer giving such a huge discount may have been an end-of-line discount, we saw a premium 1971 Sony STR-6200F in a 1977 advert going cheap as old stock. But usually the Discount Stores could give things away. The RRP was quoted by these stores but usually most shops were closer to the Discounted price than RRP. But the buyer is the fool: they think they can get high quality for little money. No you can't. Be sure the next ranges after 1972 were cost cut to give better profits to the manufacturer, meaning by 1974-75 the quality in even the best brands had dipped quite heavily. Pioneer made good amps up to 1976 ranges but cost cut the last penny out of them, we know as we've upgraded them to see how low the spec was. Budget brands were King by the mid 1970s, crap 'Stereos' like Amstrad, Alba & their seedy ilk were touted as Hifi which was a joke. Your greed, dear 1970s hifi buyer, is what Killed off Hifi. Quality now was limited to Yamaha & a few smaller brands, generally the mass market had sold out to cater to the Discount Store mentality. Sony cheaped out after 1971 but did make a few returns to better quality. By 1980, the overuse of ICs in hope of cost cutting further just about finished Hifi as the 1980s was a wasteland that really didn't recover until Premium Brands started in the early 1990s including reviving Valves. Today's Hifi buyer still has cheap crap to buy, look on Amazon, but there are a good amounf of Expensive £3000+ amplifiers still being made. Whether they are worth their high prices is beyond our scope. Looking at more of the Hifi News ads, the Comet price in 1976 for the Leak 2000 receiver was £146, yet several other shops had it for £10 less. It pays to shop around instead of just believing the Big discounter is the cheapest.
Discount Stores Dominating by 1978 ↑
The December 1978 Hifi News magazine is a very thick issue, crammed with a huge amount of ads. But this was The Winter Of Discontent when the UK was on it's knees. The typist remembers it hard as all that was an Xmas present were a few rolls of silvery tape & a pair of Kitchen Scissors, though be sure they denied it years later. This was the first Xmas in the Junk shop & it was hard from what was remembered. 1979 was better as that 'Simon' electronic game arrived if it got tired of quickly. But the Hifi mags being stuffed with all these ads is how Hifi was being sold. Comet remarkably have a 20 page section, all soberly done brand by brand, all showing their huge buying power with the discounts. They start with the main brands they cover with pricing: Akai, Alba, Amstrad, Armstrong, BSR, Celestion, Connoisseur (Sugden), Garrard, Goodmans, JR, Marantz, Philips, Pioneer, Rotel, Sansui, Sanyo, Solavox, Tensai, Trio & Wharfedale. Only notable by their omission are Bang & Olufsen, Luxman, Panasonic-Technics, Sony & Yamaha. Others like JVC & Leak were not with ranges in 1978 if included before. So you had to be in Comet to survive. But the discounting whilst great for the buyer caused the heavy cost cutting as profits had to be made, maybe the first ranges Comet had were still higher quality but with Pioneer being at Comet's pricing the quality did dip & suprising to see Marantz here & only the Connoisseur budget turntables if not the Sugden amps. Their listing pages start with Solavox a budget brand a SA2020 20w amp RRP £60 Comet £48, black fascia if typical 1978-79 looks. Marantz next is a bit surprising with the 2252B receiver RRP £495 Comet £365 a 27% discount but maybe an imported special as another site says it's scarce & Marantz made way too many models & discounting old stock was what Comet did. Also RRP was rarely a sell price, the 2226B in the 1979 HFYB is £203, here Comet RRPs it at £244 & sells at £150, still a huge discount. Next page sees Tensai amplifier TA2045 35w for £99 looking like a Rotel type amp will have seemed great value if an obscure brand as was the Comet-Dixons way. Rotel next page ses a 50w RA714 amp £119 if no HFYB price. then Akai tape decks a GXC730D RRP £415 Comet £265 is a bit away from their budget-midprice ranges. Pioneer get 3 pages from SA506 SA606 & SA706 to the big receivers SX1080 RRP £555 Comet £450, SX980 RRP £473 Comet £390 plus the SX590 & SX690, all with at least 20% off RRP if HFYB lists no prices on many by now. Next Sansui with the G2000 16w & G3000 26w receivers if only the AU317 50w amp for £164. Wharfedale only the lower ranges XP2 versions of Denton, Shelton, Linton & Glendale at £105 Comet price RRP £152. Garrard are their Plessey era budget-midprice turntables the DD130 RRP£135 Comet £90. Goodmans get higher spec speakers Achromat Beta, Kappa & Sigma if only at 15% off RRP plus others in their budget-mid RB range. This shows Comet cut big buy deals on some plus end of range and imported recent but non-selling ones like the Marantz 2252B to do discounts on. Pretty much how shops operated by the later 1980s on wising up to how well Comet played it, today Richer Sounds offer a similar range of budget to better, if we've never cared to look much there. The verdict here is by 1978 the cost cutting had already been done by the manufacturers knowing how their items would be sold & generally the Discount stores were probably not much cheaper than other shops unless they got in an end of line range. One quick glance sees a Goodmans Glendale XP2 just £5 more in a London shop.
Uncompetitive Independent Shops Pricing. ↑
We noticed this in the days of buying VHS & DVD recorders. Some shops only put RRP prices on items & straight away said "we can do 10% off any price" but as the internet grew past 2000 finding competing prices online revealed the best prices were often another 10-15% lower still & the supposedly 'friendly' shop were clearly overcharging as they were on commission and couldn't match that price & be sure next time as you'd found out their game, they weren't so willing to quote prices anymore. And now you wonder why there are so few independent Hifi-AV shops left. Even in the 1970s the Indies got annoyed at those who used their shops to look & demo the gear & then go to Comet for a sealed box. But the Indie shops spent time helping you get what you wanted so to pay a slightly higher price for good service is why we used to prefer the indie shops until realising they were not playing fair on prices. To get the idea they laughed at you for paying a higher price is deeply insincere, but be sure this was their way. But also they were good to get ex-demo gear very cheap, so as with anything, play it the right way & they are useful.
By 1980 Slimline Midprice Was The Thing ↑
After the excesses of the late 1970s Monster Receiver years where clearly UK buyers didn't indulge much & by 1980 things were geting financially tight again, the Hifi that was once big in wood cases was now slimline, almost overnight as the Decade changed with most Hifi looking like it was part of a stack system. The more expensive amps, still much cheaper than a few years before reached to, were now into the Preamp-Power Amp get them to pay twice. Pre & Power is worthwhile for 100w or more but there were 50w ones. This scene seems to have begun with the 1978 Technics SE-C01 & SU-C01 micro systems that are popular still today, if quality much less. In 1980 the Tower Stack System made of proper separates & rack mount type cabinets was a fashion coming from the slimline look. The natural progression sadly was the rubbish end of the market making these stack systems looking like separates but were just one big box stuffed as cheaply as possible, the double tape, the graphic equaliser, the plastic crappy turntable & a basic tuner plus 200w Peak Music Power naturally. No wonder vinyl was abandoned for Cassette & CD if vinyl was played on a plastic record player with a plastic arm & a cheap stylus. Bleak isn't it?
Why We Don't Like Many Amps After 1980 ↑
Look on ebay for the amount of amplifiers over £1000, there are loads of them & they don't appear to be selling either. Too many overpriced huge amps that buyers are tired of as they aren't very good really. The Golden Era of Hifi was over & the ideals of Sound were just getting further away from the best 1965-69 era. In 1976 Hifi magazine articles began to tell of how much better musically the Valve amps were if also 1976 brought along equipment to tell more about THD & IM that generally has little effect on the sound beyond designers strangling the sound in search of silly specs. Beyond the everyday black plastic flashing light 'stereos' the average buy sadly lapped up, there is a big range of these pre-power amplifiers, all making out they are something special. But if they were, they'd not forever be for sale, though there will be better ones that don't get sold so are not so known to us. The lack of the HFYB giving the year by year ranges ended with the 1981 edition & the 1978-80 ones were such a mess missing whole brands out, it's demise was inevitable. We've tried quite a few post 1980 & researched plenty too. Many photos online reveal both in Valves & Transistors that they aren't so great really, many just retread lazy old ideas. So for the owner of a £2500 to be told, or to realise for themselves, that it's overpriced junk comes as a nasty shock. They'll find this out from us asking for us to upgrade it & we'll instantly dismiss any amps with ICs in the audio stages which takes out probably 75% of all later audio gear, note we don't call it Hifi, as it's never High Fidelity in the terms we know the earlier gear is. As the supply of good vintage hifi is finite, not everyone should perhaps know how much better the earlier hifi is. The better as with any subject is only found by those being unsatisfied with what thjey have & doing their own research & learning.
Why later amps are deliberately made Boring... ↑
It's because of those who bought them. Amplifiers of higher quality in the 1967-70 era were designed & fully tested by the designers using items of a similar quality before unleashing a product onto the buying public, unaware if they'd be wise or woeful buyers. Sadly the woeful ones complained the substandard item they used with a better quality amp was making funny noises or did all manner of things the designer wouldn't have expected. Bad mains connections, Turntable Rumble & RF interference being the most common. Sadly this was found out quickly as people tiresomely will complain, unaware they are at fault. The weary manufacturer would take their prime Hifi item & deliberately dumb it down to placate the mindless complainers. One very obvious one was the chaotic Leak Delta 75 we had three of & saw several stages of 'modifications' to dumb the amp down. Sansui had to issue bulletins to update it's receivers, the 3000A updates we've not bothered with as ours is properly adjusted. Looking at 1967 amps they use decent coupling capacitor values, but by 1969 they were back to the very low 0.22µf, look at the Pioneer SX-1500TF to the 1969 SX-1500TD version for proof. These sort of buyers sadly help descend good design into mass market fodder and complain power will outnumber the person who really understands or is even just happy & says nothing. The fact many amps we get saw 2-5 years use then stored for decades shows the unaware owners were in the majority & never appreciated what they had. Good for us though. Most of this is unthinking Human Nature & the belief New Was Always Better was a myth carried over from genuine improvements made. But the truth we see is 1967-70 had the Best Hifi sound & design of the lot though there are amps up to 1977 that are still of a high quality.
Upgraded Improved versions by Marantz ↑
Marantz seem to play this silly game a lot & because the gullible believe all they are told, it still continues. The 1992 Marantz CD52 was a landmark CD player, an ugly beast but at last a standard in CD players reached. So what did Marantz do? Mk II & Mk II KI Signature. The 'Signature' version naturally sold for more. The BS of copper plating screws & metal bases is 100% nonsense if they look pretty until fingermarks tarnish them. A rated 2004 Marantz PM7200 still sells for about £300 but there is a "rare" KI Signature version. Rare because the hype was becoming ignored. We had a look at one listing & found. Because it's always good to burst myths, we'll quote what a Hifi Choice magazine review said: "Take the award-winning Marantz PM-7200 and then let hifi design guru Ken Ishiwata loose on it. The result is his trademark lucidity and wide-open soundstage. If you demand the last ounce of detail and the tightest soundstage, you'll love the PM-7200KI. A very assured, neutral and powerful amplifier with improved control over the basic model", "..the KI is a damn fine £500 amp in its own right" and another helpfully states what was actually done... "It's a an improved version of the regular PM7200. Differences? The KI model has a huge copper shielded Talema toroidal power transformer, most of the PSU cables are thicker and the chassis is copper plated to provide better shielding. Furthermore all the 8 power resistors got a copper shielding, too." OK you think, that sounds impressive, we'll pay £100+ more! Having tried to upgrade the 2007 Marantz PM6002 needing 110 alterations to still not sound as fresh as it should, and also doing some upgrades to the 1993 Marantz PM62, be sure the upgrades are just idiot hype. The PM7200 at least is all transistors in the Power Amp, ICs for control but one is a Pre Driver IC that then goes to the Volume Control, also Tone & Phono are all ICs so not so good after all if not dissimilar to the PM6002 in design. The KI upgrades are an insult in knowing BS pretence, thicker cables & copper plated chassis & shielded power resistors. Absolute nonsense the lot of it. It will make Zero difference, Ken Ishiwata is a Snake Oil Seller indeed, shyster design Guru, but a Genius say the Paid Magazine Advert-Reviews. (Insert rude descriptive words of your own choice). There is no difference with the transformer being any shape, it's the VA capabilities & internal design. This sort of nonsense is no more worthy than the old Green Pen CD edges hoax. What these amps need to 'be better' relates to low spec & cost cutting, the minute width of the board track will affect more than a few thicker wires. But like cynical Beauty Product Lies Women believe hides wrinkles, that are actually no more than hydrating aged skin temporarily, this is the 'Go Faster Stripes' lie that men as Hifi buyers are so ready to believe. It's utter crap & how these lies pass Advertising Standards is the sad reason why Hifi & Audio is so unimportant compared to TV picture of Super HD but a runt of an Audio & Speaker stage is what they put in.
What Went Wrong By 1977 in Hifi? ↑
Reading the January 1977 'Hifi News' magazine gives the scene away very clearly. They wanted to sell you crap. Yes, crap. Amstrad appear to be the Brand To Buy with Amstrad themselves having 6 page advert early on selling their ultra-budget crap. Sir Alan Sugar was certainly a canny trader, sell mass market 'value' crap at very low prices, still with the hint your IC based junk was 'quality'. By 1979 Amstrad gear actually looked a lot smarter as probably Made In Japan & you could stack the separates in a wood cabinet, but very soon Amstrad sold those nasty fake stack Stereos that were one piece with a false fascia. Don't blame him though, you the consumer at the time bought the rubbish & he was only exploiting a want the Public had made, they wanted more than they were entitled to for less than it should be. One 1972 Hifi News has one Discount Store proudly boasting it had the entire run of one 7w Amstrad bought until 1974. Yes, Seven Watts of IC based mediocrity. Reports at the time show Amstrad was often bought at the weekend & back in faulty on Monday, so their Amps got up to Mk III by 1977 and reliability was improved. These clearly sold well as many stores stocked them, but look on ebay for 'Amstrad Amplifier' and you'll find hardly any. Disposable junk long since binned like those nasty plastic one-piece 'stack systems', also made by Amstrad. But it's easy to knock these lousy amps but they sold well to general buyers likely upgrading from a radiogram. They wanted Cheap & be sure it's what they got. Other 1977 adverts show Akai & Pioneer were sold by many with prices much discounted & older amps out of production being sold off cheaply, as in the last ones bulk bought cheap, meaning a quality Sony STR-6200F could be bought cheap years later. But the trouble with all the budget gear is who will buy the better ones? We'll need to get some later mags to see how Yamaha CR-2020s were considered as these are regularly found, if with their overheating issues, but showing they did sell well. The Jan 1977 Hifi News shows what utter rubbish the reviews were, a three-way amp test with B+O, Sansui & Dansk is of no use to anyone. It gives mindless waffle about specs, pointless graphs of response & a very tedious way of writing about construction, but not a dickie-bird about Sound Quality. You read that article, avoiding brain-freeze & see if you can understand which one is best. We've read similar ones about the NAD 300 receiver & it is redundant in terms of giving anyone the idea of what the amps are about, unless you find specs & graphs of use. This aspect of Hifi you don't realise until seeing the magazines of the era. Fascinating to see how up their own behinds they were & you can see why What Hifi became popular by the mid 1980s as it's way of reviewing, however biased, at least brought more understanding to what you were getting. Having read the Hifi mags 1987-95 you rarely heard anything about comparing the current to the older gear, only Hifi News with it's Vintage Supplements showed the old gear was worthy. So no wonder so much great Hifi sat in attics as entertainment for spiders as it was never celebrated & only really the internet has advanced Vintage, but look back 5 years to forum comments & it was very narrow just liking the Monster Amps. You are reading the pages of one who has helped Vintage Hifi grow beyond the few 1977-79 over-powered Pioneers & Marantz receivers. Because we like it.
Hifi Generations ↑
This duplicates sections above & above further. But it's too much to edit so leave it here....
In Transistor amps we can divide up neatly now: As time went on from the First Generation of Transistor Amps & Receivers from at least 1963 to 1968, to the Second Generation 1969-70 ones and then go further to the Third Generation 1970-71 models which can still be upgraded back into 1967 ideals if they'll not match a 1968 speaker & then the decline with Fourth Generation 1973-75 ones after things got hard, these are often too far from the 1st & 2nd Generation now. Fifth Generation 1976-79 brought the specs wars at full expense of the sound at times & Sixth Generation 1980-82 brought in microprocessors & ICs by the ton.
To us there is no real defining point for Seventh Generation as Hifi in 1990 or 1999 was pretty much the same as 1982. Each time the makers put a dumbed-down 'feature' into an amp the complainers got less & less to the point nobody complained. Did anyone complain about how mediocre they sounded? Apparently not, the good amps we rate on our Top Amps were left sleeping in attics & cupboards for decades. The dumbed-down bits in Hifi stayed as it made their job easier and it seems no-one realised. The buyer over this time was unaware his Audio Equipment wasn't so good anymore & believed the BS about newer always being better. We only bought old amps in 1990 for the lack of cash to buy a new one & still did buy new ones later on but didn't like them as much.
A 1957 Amp was inferior sound quality to a 1967 one, but the 1967 one was superior sounding to a 1977 one & even that 1977 one was better sounding than a 1987 one. Makers realised they could cut costs by lessening the quality & still sell enough of their average items to the masses who never realised & probably don't deserve to know either. Pioneer were excellent at this & caught on quick.
There are those post 1980 who want to go back to the old Hifi sound, but it is now 40-45 years ago. Todays amps have RF emission, CE labels & Double Insulated (mains isolation) on by law so any amp can only be a compromise with those rules in place. As time goes on, what the public have accepted as Audio & Hifi has come to mean less, the Music Charts mean very little unlike even 20 years ago when Vinyl 45s were still being made. In 2016 there actually is a Vibyl 45s chart based on some indie shops, but it has little relation to the pop charts & the disposable product, it's more for indie or some older tracks.
Today a Super HD TV soon to be the thing in visual TV screen entertainment, 3DTV never takes off as History proves over & over, but Sound is still MP3 heavily compressed & modern flat screen TVs don't even have Audio Output sockets, just rubbishy built-in ones, like G.A. Briggs was saying were "weak & puny" in 1959 as he wanted better sound from his TV. In the pre Stereo days, people would build a brick cabinet to fit a 15" bass driver in their lounge, but as soon as Stereo arrived in 1958 two big speakers was too much for most, the public has never really understood what Top Audio is about. Today's Hifi user is very likely to be playing a i-Player or Mobile Phone MP3 into their Hifi. The fact the Phone & i-Player are not Hifi items is a little worrying, we tried our Nokia phone with music & it was very limited in sound to suit the tiny speaker at the back. On the basis of this, a Hifi amp has no chance of sounding it's best with a Rubbish Music Source.
Why we are Not Keen on Modern Amps ↑
Our bias towards pre 1980 amps is clear & the 1967-72 amps are the best sounding to us, though at this age they can improve greatly with recapping & upgradeing which not many can do. So many just buy a modern amp & put up with it. But we don't like the "modern sound" as to us it's way too much a compromise. We demoed oversized USA Sumo amps before getting our Valve amps, these were the first "high end" amps we tried in about 1998. At the time we used 15" Fane bass drivers in a home made cabinet as detailed on the Speakers page. These took 250-300w so we gave them a thrashing with the Sumos. The meters were going over 60w & it still wasn't very loud. On a few years to the Musical Fidelity folly & these had good volume but were so drenched in NFB the bass had to be faked up in the design & it gave us a headache as noted on the MF page. These were found tiring very fast though we got rid for no loss so a lesson learnt. Then early on in our amp quest that gets these pages written comes the Sony TA-F 550ES of which we wrote... This 1986 90w amplifier has been on our Power Ratings page, but as it was so unmemorable, we never appear to have written it up. We tried to improve it & thought it was awful. Still being dissatisfied with it got us trying all the other amps here. Nasty IC STK block as a preamp that run hot & even hotter after a minor upgrade to try to wake it up. No heat sink on it. Odd red velvet lined inside board that no-one would see, why? It just sounded boring, no real volume to it & clearly overrated crap. Turn it up to where it should be very loud for 90w & it was pathetic. No drive, no kick, nothing to awaken the senses in any way. The most boring sounding piece of junk ever. How different to their 1968-72 product.
But the only 1980s amp we rate on our Top Amps is Yamaha A-720 which when used in the Class A mode chucking out a huge amount of heat, it had some old-style quality to it. We've rated it 7.5/10 based on how we remember it. There were issues of light in the Bass & the grainy sound as is typical of post 1980 "hifi" that some may think is extra detail, it's ceramics & harmonic distortion really. We thought of buying one again to max out, or the A-1020 but looking inside it was one of those all on one board jobs & would have needed just too much done to it & based on previous efforts it rarely gives the wanted result. You'll see the 1984 Sansui AU-G90X now being realised as the best post 1977 amp we've heard
So YES, we do know enough post 1980 amps of quality enough to rate Early amps as being vastly superior.
As well as the three highlighted above, we've had that chrome fronted Aura amp, another Musical Fidelity Elektra E30 power amp, the modern Arcam FMJ31 preamp as well as the 1983 Technics Class A ones & even the 1986 Realistic receiver. The Marantz PM62 we bought new in 1993 & retried one recently, keeping it for a while after upgradecing a better sound into it, but ultimately the ICs limit the fidelity. We still had an abandoned Pioneer C90-M90 200w pre-power combo & the preamp was riddled with ICs to suicide point & sounded mediocre for it, the sound balance wasn't even flat at Tone Defeat showing how mangled it is. The R channel only worked on the power amp & for 200w it had a poor volume level. It has 8 unfindable transistors per channel, 4 per waveform half & with tolerances in gain, it must be a blurry mess. Having read the Hifi mags 1985-94 this era is well known to us though the need to try any of it never arose, finding better older items was more interesting & cheaper.
An Overview Of Vintage Hifi ↑
Vintage to us means pre 1980 Hifi. For a start, most items, even midprice 30w ones will sound more lively & enjoyable than the overdesigned boring sounding items of today. Use them within their limits & they will please you & get the foot tapping as is the human version of a dog tail wagging. No amplifier is "perfect" as there sadly has to be limits or you'd never buy another and there actually isn't too much variety in Vintage amplifiers as they were sold, though some have much potential to upgrade up. But they are wiser buys than buying some new box of ICs crap on Amazon for £250.
Modern items aren't made to last, the thought of anyone still using an electrical item 30-40 years after it was sold would end most execs of today: they want you to buy new every couple of years & like the sheep you are, you do. Break the Spell: Go Vintage.
Some vintage amps are well made creations that could still be working in 100 years, others are so crappy you have to doubt decisions made & feel conned at buying such junk. Transistor amps could be kept working for 100 years, but recapping take a toll of PCB tracks, a Rogers valve amp or other that is hardwired can be recapped as long as transformers are good. This is why Radios & Grams of the 1930s are still working. Many amps are not made as expensively as they could be & others are great value, based on original selling prices. Many amps have cheap parts or a lack of a few parts to elevate them beyond their generally fairly average limits, this is what upgraders do, or try to at least. British amps of the era are fairly plentiful, but for the power & fidelity, Japanese & USA Hifi is the best. British amps are often low powered & aimed at Classical Music or Tape Machine buyers of the day. There is a certain fizzy low spec treble sound that you do find that is characteristic of most Hifi. If you don't know the more focussed sound of modern Valves, then this sound may be the expected sound. We don't like it knowing better is out there, but many can be upgraded into wonderous items & some are a waste of effort. That fizzy treble sound is actually a result of cost cutting and losing ceramics in tone controls can be start to elevate an amp. A ceramic capacitor is the evil of audio, it has no place in any audio circuit and even tuner stage beyond the initial stages & replacing it with a better quality one will be the cheapest upgrade you made. If you read other Hifi sites & forums & the eternal quest for "perfect sound" is what some will spend thousands on, only to sell it for a discounted price after a few hours use. Laugh at them, they've not even run it in yet, let alone learnt the sound. There are some wise ideas out there as well as pointlessness & digging too deep. We thought early on we'd found the best transistor amp & started selling off others, only to get a Rogers Valve amp & realise the "best" one was an overcooked liar of a sound. Then the Rogers itself was found to be a compromise, if only down to old ideas and could be overcome. Only by knowing there is better & hearing it directly compared within minutes will you be able to tell. Our main hifi is valves, but we don't use it to compare with other amps which has made all these testing amp sessions the more interesting.
Transistor Hifi Growth & Decline ↑
1965 brought the first Silicon Transistor amps: Sony TA-1120 50w amplifier, perhaps the best amp ever made & Sansui TR-707A 25w receiver. 1967 was the first year that Transistor amps were accepted, by 1969 second generation ones refined but started to lose the early fresh lively sound. By 1974 designs were getting more advanced if souind was never as good as the earlier ones, costs were being cut, sales were high, the era of output capacitor amps was over as were those valve amp. 1965-73 are really the Golden Years for Vintage Hifi. Most Vintage Amp buyers like the 1977-79 Monster Amps, but are trading unused high power for a fresh quality of sound the earlier amps do have & the monster amps will never have. By 1977 the quest for pointless specs that read sine waves not music appeared to matter more & sadly is still why post 1977 Hifi mostly sounds boring. Read on...
What Killed Hifi Sound Quality? ↑
Beyond cost cutting & adding spoilers, in about 1976 a spectrum analyser distortion meter was invented & sadly Hifi from 1977 once manufacturers saw their amps getting low specs were forever them victim to having to be 0.005% THD as those tedious graphs were printed in Hifi mags fooling the public into believing this nonsense. This is why amps from 1977 onwards are overdesigned, have these pointless specs & sound worse. Look at the B+O Beomaster 3000 compared to the 4400 as an example of overdesign. Read the Hifi mags from the era, we found one from 1977 testing the NAD 300 & it was all about pointless measurements & graphs, yet little about the Sound. 1980 was another turning point after the Monster Receiver wars, 1980 was much more cost cut than the previous cuts from 1975 after the VAT & Inflation years. Before 1974 Hifi was more for Enthusiasts & average buyers were content with Radiograms & all in one Music Centres, sales were less & quality was there. By looking at the Amplifier & Receiver sections in the Hifi Year Books you can see the growth in Hifi year by year & by 1978 there were a huge amount & certain brands had many models, clearly the boom years, but by 1980-81 it had all changed. No more high powered amps & receivers in the amounts as before. You can find the NAD 300 review, Hifi News Apr 1977, with the Pioneer SX-1250 & Rotel RX-1603, all wanted amps if the NAD the lesser known in the UK. This review is a boring read, loads of specs tables & graphs yet not a word about how they sound subjectively. This was how Hifi reviews were until people wised up sometime in the 1980s. There are always exceptions, but this is a general idea that appears to be the case. On looking after 1980, ICs & digital were the deal though as we found with the 1986 Yamaha A-720 not relying on ICs was an unusual step back to better sound, if it was still with a thin 80s sound as had been common since 1980. From reading the Hifi mags, probably the last time Hifi was anything as popular as 1979 was 1992-93 with the Marantz CD52 being such a big seller. The overdesign that this "progression" from 1977 gradually brought does lessen the realism of sound, but only in retrospect can we see this. It was also a heady time of Inflation & costs had to be cut & ICs were used more to the point of choking point in 1980. ICs in Audio stages came in with Sony with the STR-1050 from 1973, though a Marantz from 1969 has one as does the 1968 Rogers New Cadet IC block power amp. 1971 does have the Teac AS-100, Marantz 2245 & Sony TA-1140 with the earlier sound, 1973, as makers used to do a new range every 2 years, brought the unimpressive Sony TA-1130.
1965-67 Hifi Beats Most 1977-78 Hifi With Ease ↑
The point is the 1965-67 ones have a sweet, open, bassy & detailed sound, some upgradecing will be needed to bring the quality out further, but even all original that lovely sound is still there. The 1978 sound is trying to be loud & detailed, but already with a thick veil masking detail & ambience as well as focus & sadly mass appeal Hifi never has recovered. Grainy gritty thin sound with no warmth, solidness or emotion is how the vast majority of Amps after the 1977 will deliver sound up. And if it sounds boring, no-one will bother to listen... 1978 was the peak year for Chart Singles sales, ignore higher sales of today as most selling is back catalog, the music bought in 1978 was mostly played on pre 1977 Hifi & people clearly enjoyed it more. Music today is mostly heard through white earphones with a sound little better than telephone quality.
Are The Very Early Transistor Amps From 1965-72 Worth Buying? ↑
Yes they are. The very best era for Sound Quality. Just look at our Top amps, we clearly favour the earlier ones & the best sounding ones are actually as early as 1967-68. Sony made the first Transistor amp in 1965 & Sansui shortly after. By 1967-68 they had perfected things with the Pioneers SX-1500TF & Sansui 3000A from 1967 & the Sonys STR-6120 & TA-1120A having the best musical sound, if the TA-1120A needs a little help. These amps have long been ignored as too early, by those who think a 250w Monster Receiver is the best thing in Hifi. No it isn't. The 1960s ranges were still using valve techniques & aiming for a perfected sound in the style of the valves, but the valve amps often were just not good enough in the 1960s, we've tried a lot with the Rogers HG88 & still it's behind the others, if enjoyable. The 3 receivers just mentioned are 45w+ and adequate volume for the majority of users. What you get is a sound not given in amplifiers since the late 1960s, giving such top sound would mean you'd never buy another amp. But these amps are old & many have been well used & will be off-spec, need repair & recapping as well as a proper Service as any amp over 20 years old will need. If 1967-68 is the peak in Transistor amps, by 1969-71 there are still some extra good amps, but by 1975 the cost cutting meant often a downward spiral until the hideousness of many 1980 amplifiers with ICs to choking point. But 1977 has the Yamaha & Marantz amps, so all is not lesser after 1971. These early amps are still around, especially in the USA & not expensive [apart from importing one] as only those reading our pages want them & we've sold some to delighted buyers. Pioneer, Sansui, Sony & Trio-Kenwood are the best brands in the late 1960s. Those after 1970 we were very impressed with are in the Top Amps tables. Any in the 'Also Recommended' may only be there due to low power, it seems about 30w is the minimum for a transistor amp to have enough kick, though valve amps are very different.
Hi-fi Comparing Woes
The Evil In Hifi is Comparing... ↑
You're happy with your Hifi, you've used it a few years, it behaves itself very nicely, it looks nice, the wife likes it & dusts it for you so you know it's true. Ah, but then you upset the apple cart & hear something else "may be better". You are Doomed. Well, more like you'll spend hours & a fortune trying to find the "better" and indeed you may find it. The truth in comparing we know as we upgrade amplifiers. We have our ideas that get used similarly on different amps so basically they are not too different. But they Sound Different. The tonal balance is different, one may have a weightier Guitar Riff slam than another, whilst another may be sweet & clean as a Daffodil at Easter. But no, you want Both Features in One amp. But it doesn't exist. Even with our Upgrading, we keep it looking as original as possible & some amps can only hit a certain height in quality but you can't make a 2N3055 into an EL34. Satisfaction in Amplifiers we know only too well, we used our 100w Valve amps for 12 years on the Tannoys, they got the odd upgrade & the preamp got rebuilt better. But as we tested all these Transistor amps, the Valves stayed away from headphones so we learnt Transistors as an entity, not by comparing. The result was trying the Valves once at our B+O 4400 as the 'Top Amp', the valves easily bettered the B+O. The valves were designed on speakers with the ideals of the Sony STR-6120 used to better it, as well as knowing the Quad II sound on the speakers. But as things progressed, the valves got tried again, oh dear they don't sound so good now. Rebuild this, rebuild that, leave it unused for months trying Transistor amps on the speakers. So to a new level with transistors & some can be exceedingly good, but ultimately we are back with the valves on the speakers, the amps with some sharp upgrades gleaned from various other amps. You, as the bewildered reader will want some of that too. There are our Review pages, the amps we now rate as "Very Good" will give high audio pleasure on speakers & headphones as All Original but Serviced amps. But sadly the "Excellent" is now reserved for upgrading only & there are several levels in that distinction, but we keep it just to that. There are enough good quality sounding amps out there to educate & delight you to try the Vintage sound, the Leak Delta 30 or 70 are great starter amps as are the Goodmans Module 80 & 90, these are easy to find & cheap. These have the wonder of that Vintage Sound & for you with your £2500 1980s amp, try one of those and wonder why that expensive thing still has houseroom. Musical Pleasure is much more in Hifi that you'd imagine.
The Rules of Amp Testing... ↑
This is where a one-time compare is easily proved useless. Shop Demos are equally useless therefore too after you've spend 10 minutes with one. The 1960s Hifi Shops like Larg's as in their HFYB ads used a Comparator to switch in an endless amount of options of Amp & speakers, all this will do is confuse you after just a couple of variations. Playing one amp to get your ears tuned into it & then to try others is the basis of Testing Amps & Ranking Amps. The trouble is on the first session your mind adjusts for weaknesses in the sound balance & it becomes acceptable after some time. As an example, playing Vinyl through the Sansui 3000A is a decent sound but still duller sounding than the Aux input. Trying all the amps to hand including ones found to be very highly rated was confusing & none of them sounded "right" after the ears had compensated for the duller Phono sound through an otherwise great amp. The amps with less wide dynamics suited better but before were not right. To bother testing any others is made pointless as you are off-tune. The best Ear Place to be in as regards sound is to hear people talking & general noises of life to reset your Ears to 'Normal'. It can make a difference in how good your appreciation is depending on mood, tiredness & not being 100% well too. So to become worthwhile, all Testing of Amplifiers is totally reliant on testing over & over with another amp as the sound learnt & then it can pick up weaknesses in others as well as better ones standing out. The Amps we give high ratings have been tried in many ways with other amps being used first & if one better than the lot is confirmed, then the ratings can change. One day start with one amp, use it for at least 30 mins then try others & rate them. Next day try the next best amp in your rankings & then compare. Again another day try another. This is how we used to do it on having several good amps & be sure the one you liked most one day you can find issues with the next as the sound balance & sound quality varies. But we got tired of that & started to do more valve-styled upgrades to level the field of the amps out. You can make the best Transistor amp sound very valve-like but poverall the Valve amps are the best in Hifi, if they need to be done properly. There are No Amplifiers that have been sold that are 'perfect' or what we'd want them to be. This has led yo our Upgrade Service as on the page top link, if you want your Amp upgraded by one who really knows what Hifi quality is, here is your chance.
Never Rate An Amp On One Listening Session ↑
We've been comparing several amps in a Listening Session for a few years now. It never, ever, can be conclusive. You can only start by using one amp, playing it for at least 20 minutes & then go try the others. By playing one amp to start with, your Hearing will tune itself to that Amplifier & it will compensate for every weakness in the amp. Yes, it can hide a bright sound by dulling your hearing, it can make a thin amp sound fuller similarly. But it can't hide a harsh sound, harsh is a term you'll have used to describe a sound, but how do you quantify it. "Unpleasantly Rough or Jarring To the Senses" says Google as a definition. What may be too much for you may be what another craves: one used to portable Audio gear of no Hifi credentials will find full range audio on big speakers a freak-out as they can't understand that sound can be this dynamic & defined. So assuming the listener is aurally-educated the self-EQing of your hearing can really mess with your opinion. There are three types of Amplifier sound, assuming all are equal elsewhere with clean sound: Neutral is the favoured one, but there can be Bright Amps that initially sound exciting but it makes you tired playing it & also Dull Amps that can fool you they are a more natural midrange resolution. Play a dull sounding amp, get used to it, think it's a good realistic sound, then go play a more neutral amp that has a correct treble balance, but then the second amp sounds awful as your hearing has added extra 'treble EQ' so it does to the amp that usually sounds neutral so you hear double the treble which usually adds a grainy sound. But the neutral amp has been tried many times & others have confirmed it to be neutral. You can play that neutral amp & think it sounds great instantly, rather than the self-delusion of "it got better as I played it". No it didn't: your own hearing just EQ compensated for it as you used it. This can cover the delusion of "it was better as it was more run in" or similarly sellers saying "it'll improve as it runs in". No it won't: you'll just get used to it & think it's great until you hear better or another person hears it. The big leveller is always, with using Loudspeakers, to play Music as you talk & find out how 'Real' your Hifi really is. So having explained that, what you do is keep a note of opinions of the Hifi. If playing 6 amps & one sounds less than you thought it did, you've found the Rogue one. If all sound awful, then the first amp was the wrong-un. If the amp tires you so you don't want to listen more, it's not because you are tired, it's the amp isn't so honest sounding & makes you prefer to do without. There is an alternative: to play just one song on each amp & record the opinion. We've done this & based on current opinions, to see how good that is... over three months of opinions generally the one-song compare matches well with the longer compare on one & then shorter on the others, assuming the first amp was a much tried one. To do the long test on a new amp that is not so familiar is generally an opinion that will get much revised. Amps that sound excellent & leave a sense of Euphoria at finding "an amp better than the others" are more often than not deemed to be false idols, with comparings revealing weaknesses & tonal imbalances that moved you before. This is why keeping Reference Amps is important & be sure as we Upgrade, a Reference Amp can drift in the rankings only to outdo the lot as new upgrade ideas are found on other amps & then given to the Reference amp, though as of typing this, there can't be any more to find, or are there?
Listener Fatigue ↑
If you can do several separate 2 hour headphone or speaker sessions with an amp over several days then it meets your general ideals well, even if you can identify some distortion or weakness then you've found a good amp & it can be upgraded if you know how. Get tired of it even if you are in the mood for music & there is a problem with that amplifier. It could be too harsh, too flat & lacking rhythm or just uninvolving. Time to leave it & try it another day & if you still find it lacking then get rid. We do. We kept any amp as a test amp & at one time had 10 to swap amongst to help confuse us. Of course you can be in the wrong mood or any other inbalance could make Music not for you today. Not one those under 30 need worry music about, loud music everyday was us at one time. We can still hear 18kHz too...
Getting Better Each Amp? ↑
We often have rated one amp highly, used it for a while, done recapping etc & then found one that sounds better all-original. This kept happening for a while, though there are less & less amps for us to try. We are finding the Receivers are more appealing in general than Amplifiers & from the ones we are holding on to, more are receivers, Looks has something to do with it too as well as wanting to better it. At one time we found an excellent National-Panasonic receiver, then the Hitachi, the early Trio-Kenwood TK-140, all since sold. Revisiting the Yamaha CR-1000 & using better headphones revealed it to be a winner. The best Yamaha amplifier we state is the CA-800II though there are a few we've not tried yet. Some stay a while, think to sell, change of mind & keep but then sell. Then we get the Teac AG-7000, a rare 1969 receiver & we knew how good the Teac AS-100 was & this betters it & scores the Highest Rating for an "as-is" amplifier, though we sold that too. Others that were rated high will get scored down as the standard found raises, though now the Ratings only improve if we can see more potential in an amp & the risk of marking down an amp because it annoyed does happen, only to be adjusted when revisited. To say how great an amp is, write it up & then to read it again later does get it edited as opinions have changed. There are certainly a bunch of amplifiers that we do rate highly & even if some are sold, they may have slipped in opinion for being sold & aren't there to refer back to, but we do make sure we've finished with researching an amp before it goes. The need to upgrade every amp isn't worthwhile, though many have had this.
The Way To Compare ↑
Start with the amp you consider your best. Play lots of tracks on it & get used to them. Tracks with dynamic sound with deep bass, loud treble & a solid midrange all giving a very good test track. As much as we like pre Stereo era music, we play a lot more 1977-1993 tracks for the main testing. Mono tracks are useful though for revealing how good an amp reveals detail, as Stereo music is easier to play as it is created of spatial phase altered sounds to give the sound a wider image, to mimic a live performance. For the deep bass you may be surprised to know that all amps are limited on bass to keep them universal and not to output bad clipping to ruin speakers. Treble is usually ragged by virtue of poor design & imbalances & the large amount of 'spoilers' and limiters all amps have, again to keep them universal. These 'spoliers' are the things we deal; with on our upgrades. Only a couple of the 1967 receivers were less limited & be sure buyers with their poor hifi used with them complained. Then the question of the level of the midrange compared to Bass & Treble. Setting an amp flat doesn't mean the sound really is flat as this is the whim of the designer to create a softer or more upfront tonal balance. So there is where your problems lie: in all aspects of the sound. As that apparently negates any point of comparing as you may never find a 'perfect' reference sound, the deal is only to find an amplifier that stirs your soul more, reveals more fine detail & depth to the music be it Stereo or Mono. A Mono track reproduced properly can reveal the room acoustic size, though perhaps the ability to notice that is not a common one as is absolute pitch in music. Any amp that produces a grimace on your face on loud treble sections is not delivering music clearly. Harmonic Distortion & clipping is why you turn a small portable radio down as it sounds rough.
This One is Better. ↑
More truthfully it is "Different" not better. Hacks may say this amp beats (based on what?) a Mission or Naim (as in overpriced modern amps) or it sounds Valve-like which is pretty unlikely except in parts. We've never heard Naim, Linn, Mission or other modern cliquey names & unless one arrives at an irresistable price, we are happy for our ignorance of their flat dull sound to prevail. Never liked them reading the Hifi mags in the 1986-93 time we bought mags, What Hifi moving on to Hifi News before it crawled too far up itself, Ken K.
You Are Just Fooling Yourself. ↑
Actually we all are. It's Psychoacoustics where you can tune out flaws in sound, ie it being too bright or too dull & tune your head into liking that sound, try another amp that is very different in it's tonal balance, be it more natural & the sound will be not what you are used to & you'll not prefer it. Sound is as tricksy as Love... But try the one you didn't like another day after you've retuned to the sounds of the real world you are familiar with including voices playing FM & it'll be your "reference" & then you'll hear things totally differently. Also your mood can affect what you like, one day you may feel mellow & prefer mellow sound, another day you could have got angry or excited & prefer a more brash sound. Oddly a valve amp can be both mellow and kicking. Transistor amps are generally either/or unless it's something special.
We are suggestible beings & we can easily be fooled by anything that appears 'better'. One day a duller sounding clean amp can be truly wonderful & your ideal, but play a more detailed one & that amp now sounds horrible. Play a rich sounding amp & revel in it's thick bassy sound & love it equally, but another day try an extremely accurate amp with remarkable midrange & fully defined treble & that amp can sound way too thick & murky. The other way round the detailed amp could be too thin & bright. The first amp you hear is your reference for that day, so many comparisons over many days is needed. Using tone controls will lessen the thick bass but it won't bring out detail on that dull amp. You can't compare a 4w Single Ended Triode with no NFB & a limited bandwidth directly to that ultra clean reference sound. But on different days you will love both, but compared together one will sound truly awful. During the day you hear voices & traffic or chirpy bird noises or voices in your head, all are natural ones. When you put music on, you are hearing what is recorded or via Radio, other natural voices, all are sound balanced to sound their best in a Domestic setting & will not have the huge dynamics of real life. Either sort of amp, bright & thin or muddy & warm will be learnt by you as your brain alters the sound and you learn it. Big changes in the unit you use can be so far from your current ideal. Some days you might like ass-kicking loud bright sound, others you may be weary & want it more mellow. Not just the volume control can alter that.
An amplifier is a mixture of components that will differ from amp to amp. One will have a different tonal balance to the other in a subtle way. If you have four amplifiers you can happily listen to for 2 hours without finding a problem, then you have found four great amps. Comparing them to each othe will reveal diffent balances in sound, but the Easy Answer is if the Amplifier or Receiver you are using sounds convincing, doesn't get you going "ouch" on rough bits and despite the odd flaw being noticeable, the amount of time you can play the amp without getting tired of it or becoming weary because of it proves it's one of the best amps in your Experience. Using another amp another day might find you hearing weaknesses in another amp that you rated but now you don't want to play: this is because the ear tunes into one amp & then another amp will be different & may sound harsh. Play that one another day first & then find the previously preferred one is a bit low on treble or bass. The Mind is your Toy in Hifi, but like people, if one interests you on any level, be sure you'll want to talk to then again, but the ones with dull chatter, bad smells or annoying voices you'll be avoiding. Also a less-interesting person with a mole might freak you out, but on others with many features you do like, said mole might be almost invisible to you. Hifi is a game of Love too, it's what you know though it's easier to turn off a Hifi until you want it again. What you may like in an amp may differ totally from us, you might love the fizzy rough late 1970s Pioneer sound for Rock, the boomy Loudness & Graphic Equaliser "teenage" sound or prefer the detailed more refined sound relating more to Classical & Jazz.