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Vintage amps: my experience so far

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First post, by keenmaster486

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So the other day I decided to finally upgrade my hijacked-cassette-player amplifier (hadn't before, due to pure laziness. Yes I know, that was a really crappy setup to be using.)

I happened to have two old receiver units lying around. One Yamaha CR-640 from the 80's (solid state), and one Pioneer SM-Q300 from the 50's - 60's (tube-based).

The speakers I'm using are mid-range Polk Audio bookshelf speakers.

My input is a stereo USB DAC hooked up to my computer playing Spotify at the highest streaming quality (320 kbps).

I hooked up the Yamaha first and I was astounded at the difference in quality. I could hear things I never noticed before on these speakers. I was well pleased.

Then I remembered about the Pioneer and decided to give it a shot. I thought well, it's a lot older, it's probably a less advanced circuit, etc., you know, I love the sound of tube amps but will I really get as good quality from a circuit this old? This is something from the age of close to the infancy of hi-fi equipment.

I am listening to the Pioneer right now. And let me tell you, this thing packs a huge punch. It's as good or better than the solid-state Yamaha. Plus I get the warm, buttery-smooth tube amp sound that I love. I really can't detect very much distortion at any frequency range. The base sounds less choppy. The mids are pleasant. The highs are crisp and clear. Of course, the noise floor is terrible but you know, I don't care much about that - it adds a kind of character to the whole experience. I even prefer this to listening on my dad's Audiotechnica ATH-M30X headphones, which previously were my favorite listening experience.

This is really freaking cool, if you ask me. This receiver was built some 60 years ago, and it's kicking absolute butt with everything I'm throwing at it - modern pop music, classic rock, choral, classical, EDM even - it sounds good on everything.

Any thoughts? Similar experiences?

(on a side note, what is the better approach to use: cranking the receiver volume all the way and adjusting it at the computer, or cranking the DAC volume all the way and adjusting it at the receiver pot?)

I flermmed the plootash just like you asked.

Reply 1 of 79, by shiva2004

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keenmaster486 wrote:

(on a side note, what is the better approach to use: cranking the receiver volume all the way and adjusting it at the computer, or cranking the DAC volume all the way and adjusting it at the receiver pot?)

From my point of view, adjust the DAC to about 66-75% (to avoid possible clipping) and adjust the volume at the receiver.

I myself love the sound of 70's amplifiers/receivers, well balanced, full, warm and with good electronics already.

Reply 2 of 79, by Kreshna Aryaguna Nurzaman

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Welcome to the club.

My beloved Sansui AU-7900. Originally belonged to my late dad to power a pair of JBL 4311. Very dynamic, lively sound. Then in 2013, I really wanted to buy a pair of vintage JBL 12 incher to replace the missing 4311. I got myself JBL 120Ti's instead, auditioned using NAD C326BEE integrated amplifier belonged to the showroom owner. At first I disliked the speakers, because the HF sounded harsh when I tested it in the showroom. But I ended up purchasing the 120Ti's anyway. Then I tested it at home using the Sansui AU-7900, then I was floored. The harshness was gone, replaced by clean and clear HF, especially cymbals. So it was not the fault of the speakers, but that of the NAD amplifier instead! This song is a proof that Sansui AU-7900's warm, tube-like sound and JBL 120Ti's titanium dome tweeter is a match made in heaven. Sure, there are many better-sounding, cleaner-sounding amps, but the AU-7900 is always my most favorite amp, especially when powering JBL titanium series loudspeakers.

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My Sansui A-40 drives a pair of JBL L20T's in my garage. Again, a combination of Sansui sound and JBL titanium series. The A-40 doesn't sound as clean nor as powerful as AU-7900, but it still has Sansui sound nonetheless, and it's still a great amp to drive JBL titanium dome tweeters. Warm, tube-like sound, but not undetailed. And plenty of bass when the source material calls for it.

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But while we're at it, how about vintage surround processing too? Yes, for games I certainly use a traditional AV receiver --Dolby Digital and ProLogic and the likes. But for music, I have always wanted to test this passive Hafler circuit with my Sansui amp.

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Anyway, has anyone tried using vintage quadraphonic receiver with Aureal 3D sound card?

Kreshna Aryaguna Nurzaman wrote:
Too bad these two never met. :( […]
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Too bad these two never met. 🙁

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They're made for each other, really.

Never thought this thread would be that long, but now, for something different.....
Say no to online installer.
Kreshna Aryaguna Nurzaman.

Reply 3 of 79, by Kreshna Aryaguna Nurzaman

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No love for old amplifiers? 🙁 This is actually a thread that would get better with pics. 😀

Never thought this thread would be that long, but now, for something different.....
Say no to online installer.
Kreshna Aryaguna Nurzaman.

Reply 4 of 79, by Skyscraper

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Kreshna Aryaguna Nurzaman wrote:

No love for old amplifiers? 🙁 This is actually a thread that would get better with pics. 😀

Give a week or two and I will upload some pictures. The livingroom is bit of a mess at the moment as I'm renovating another room.

You have some nice gear!

Main PC: Dual Xeon X5690@4.6ghz, Evga - SR-2, 48gb memory, Intel X25-M g2 SSD and a Nvidia GTX 980 ti.
Retro PC #3: K6-2 450@500mhz, PC-Chips m577, 256mb sdram, AWE64 and a Voodoo Banshee.

Reply 5 of 79, by keenmaster486

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Oh my goodness I almost forgot about this thread.
Final exams and all for summer classes, sorry!

Kreshna, that's some awesome stuff you've got there.

What do you usually use as an audio source?

I flermmed the plootash just like you asked.

Reply 6 of 79, by Standard Def Steve

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I'm going to raise my flame shield here and cautiously admit that I've recently switched from being an vintage audio enthusiast to a modern audio enthusiast. 😊

I used to have a pretty awesome vintage audio setup: a set of Infinity Kappa 6 speakers and a passive 13" Dahlquist DQ-1W subwoofer, all powered by a Pioneer SX-780 receiver. I just loved the sound - warm and analog, and the sealed Dahlquist put out some tight, tuneful bass. I used that system purely for music, retro gaming, and Laserdisc viewing. Upstairs, for movies and modern games, I used a 2010 Pioneer VSX-1120K receiver to drive a set of Klipsch towers, surrounds, center channel and subwoofer. That combination was OK for movies and games, but several things made it less than ideal for music. First, the tweeters in the Klipsch speakers were extremely bright, which made listening to most music quite hard on my ears, even at moderate volume levels. Second, I found the midrange to be quite weak. I'm not sure if the lack of midrange was caused by the speakers themselves or by an inadequate amplifier, but if I had to take a guess, I'd blame the amplifier. That modern Pioneer AVR was a bit of a weakling compared to my old SX-780 downstairs. Third, I found the Klipsch subwoofer's bass to be a little too boomy for music. For movies and games it was fine, although its output below 30Hz was basically non-existent.

Last year, I completely overhauled my home theater system. I splurged on the receiver and subwoofer. To handle processing and amplification, I chose Denon's flagship AVR-X7200WA: a 40 pound, Japanese-made beast of a receiver. It's not as heavy as the vintage SX-780, but unless you go with separate power amps, I don't think any modern receiver is. But take a look at all of the ins and outs on this beaut:

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For subwoofage, I went with not one but two SVS PC12-Plus subwoofers. For music, they're just as quick (and actually a bit cleaner) than my beloved old Dahlquist sealed sub. For movies, they play ridiculously flat all the way down to 19Hz (with sizeable output to around 16Hz in my viewing room).

I tested several speakers before finally choosing Philharmonic Audio's Affordable Accuracy bookshelf speakers (seven of them, for a 7.2 setup). These speakers are amazing for the price, and were easily the best of the six or so different speakers I tested in the $150-1000/pair price range that I was shopping. They're some of the most neutral speakers I think I've ever heard.

As I listened to my movies, music and games on the new system, I was astonished to find that, not only did it sound about a thousand times better than the old Pio/Klipsch system, but I actually was hearing things in my MUSIC that I didn't hear from my old SX-780 based setup. I mean, up until then I didn't think it was possible for a modern system to outshine my old school rig, but outshine it did! I've even started paying more attention to classical music--a genre I previously ignored. But let me tell you, 24-bit FLAC files on this new system sounded so sweet, and the dual PC12s added a such a tremendous sense of power to the low end, that I decided to sell my vintage HiFi. It's amazing how much money people will spend on old school audio equipment. I made a pretty penny selling the SX-780, Kappas, and Dahlquist--good thing too, because I spent way too much on the X7200WA and dual subwoofers. I kept my old turntable, tape deck and laserdisc player. That stuff is all hooked up to the Denon now.

Just last night I was listening to Holst's The Planets and was just blown away. Having one system handle it all--and handle it well--is oh so nice! 😀

I'm currently in the process of setting up a dedicated theater room for this new system, so I don't have any good photos of the complete system yet. I do have a Youtube video that I made back when I was experimenting with the system in its old location. You can see the PC12-Plus subs behind the TV:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WxjjyW5LS4U

Reply 7 of 79, by Kreshna Aryaguna Nurzaman

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Skyscraper wrote:
Kreshna Aryaguna Nurzaman wrote:

No love for old amplifiers? 🙁 This is actually a thread that wpuld get better with pics. 😀

Give a week or two and I will upload some pictures. The livingroom is bit of a mess at the moment as I'm renovating another room.

Now that's the spirit! 😎

Skyscraper wrote:

You have some nice gear!

keenmaster486 wrote:
Oh my goodness I almost forgot about this thread. Final exams and all for summer classes, sorry! […]
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Oh my goodness I almost forgot about this thread.
Final exams and all for summer classes, sorry!

Kreshna, that's some awesome stuff you've got there.

What do you usually use as an audio source?

Thanks, both of you. I use my daily PC as audio source, with foobar2000 and AudioQuest DragonFly DAC. But for my secondary system in the garage, I plugged the amp directly to the motherboard's Realtek audio output. It doesn't sound bad, really. Of course, unlike the AU-7900, Sansui A-40 is not really a clean-sounding amplifier to begin with. But it sill has the distinctive warm, tube-like "Sansui sound" which manage to mask audio imperfections --if any. Mind you, I'm not a signal purity fanatic, because I also listen to pop music (mostly 80's songs) and game music, whose mastering is not "audiophile grade" on the first place. I have to note that, despite the so-so Realtek ALC662 audio quality, it still gives me impressive stereo imaging.

Standard Def Steve wrote:

I'm going to raise my flame shield here and cautiously admit that I've recently switched from being an vintage audio enthusiast to a modern audio enthusiast. 😊

No sweat, I'm also a modern audio enthusiast when it goes to home theater and gaming sound system. And despite being a vintage audio lover, I still use modern sources like DAC and CD player. I'm pretty much pragmatic; my vintage audio gears are mostly limited to speakers and amplifier, but I still use modern gear for audio source.

And for video games, I even use modern amplifier. That is, modern AV receiver. Because vintage amplifier cannot do Dolby Digital and DTS and such. I don't really mind, because for games, I prefer crisp and detailed sound rather than lush and warm sound. So for video games, only my speakers are vintage (1980's JBL titanium series, that is).

I still, however, want to use surround sound for music, but not modern surround format. Instead, I'm going to use Hafler circuit (implemented by Dynaco QD-2) for surround music. That way, I still use lush and warm Sansui amplifier for my music. Crisp and details are good for games, but in music, too much crispiness and details cause listening fatigue, and that's why I prefer warm-sounding vintage amps for music.

Never thought this thread would be that long, but now, for something different.....
Say no to online installer.
Kreshna Aryaguna Nurzaman.

Reply 8 of 79, by sf78

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Here's my stored away receivers, only the H/K (bottom of the pile) is in use. The Marantz set was saved from a trash container.

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Reply 9 of 79, by Anonymous Coward

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Kenwood%20KA-9100%20Integrated%20Amplifier.jpg

I need to get my Kenwood KA-9100 back in service. It needs to have the pots cleaned, and I have to get a 120V to 240V converter.

"Will the highways on the internets become more few?" -Gee Dubya
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Reply 10 of 79, by gdjacobs

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The transformers on your Kenwood might have a center tap for 240v systems as they're common for US, Europe, Japan, Australia, etc. The KA-9100s from some regions had a slide switch for voltage selection.

All hail the Great Capacitor Brand Finder

Reply 11 of 79, by Unknown_K

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I don't have room for vintage audio, but I do like it. A year or so ago I snagged a Panasonic SV-3800 DAT player for my stereo and a Technics RS-BX501 tape deck. I also snagged a technics Sl-MC400 110 CD changer. The receiver is a Technics SA-DX1040.

My old Technics gear is in the basement lab, purchased new back in the 90's.

Speaker design has changed quite a bit since the 90's with most manufacturers using smaller drivers.

Collector of old computers, hardware, and software

Reply 12 of 79, by shiva2004

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Kreshna Aryaguna Nurzaman wrote:

No love for old amplifiers? 🙁 This is actually a thread that would get better with pics. 😀

I love them well enough, but I can't afford them 🤣.

Reply 13 of 79, by Anonymous Coward

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gdjacobs wrote:

The transformers on your Kenwood might have a center tap for 240v systems as they're common for US, Europe, Japan, Australia, etc. The KA-9100s from some regions had a slide switch for voltage selection.

I'll take another look at the service manual. Several years ago I looked into it, but I don't remember finding an obvious path for modification. As you pointed out, there were several different versions available, but mine is pretty specific to North America. No switch either.

"Will the highways on the internets become more few?" -Gee Dubya
V'Ger XT|Upgraded AT|Ultimate 386|Super VL/EISA 486|SMP VL/EISA Pentium

Reply 14 of 79, by r.cade

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I don't have anything going back to the 70's, but I do have a couple 80's NAD amps which I love...

A 7140 doing work as my PC-sound setup, and a T750 as my main HiFi listening room setup (well, the T750 is 90's...)

There's also a NAD Viso Five upstairs on the main TV in the living room.

Reply 15 of 79, by Standard Def Steve

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Kreshna Aryaguna Nurzaman wrote:
No sweat, I'm also a modern audio enthusiast when it goes to home theater and gaming sound system. And despite being a vintage a […]
Show full quote
Standard Def Steve wrote:

I'm going to raise my flame shield here and cautiously admit that I've recently switched from being an vintage audio enthusiast to a modern audio enthusiast. 😊

No sweat, I'm also a modern audio enthusiast when it goes to home theater and gaming sound system. And despite being a vintage audio lover, I still use modern sources like DAC and CD player. I'm pretty much pragmatic; my vintage audio gears are mostly limited to speakers and amplifier, but I still use modern gear for audio source.

And for video games, I even use modern amplifier. That is, modern AV receiver. Because vintage amplifier cannot do Dolby Digital and DTS and such. I don't really mind, because for games, I prefer crisp and detailed sound rather than lush and warm sound. So for video games, only my speakers are vintage (1980's JBL titanium series, that is).

I still, however, want to use surround sound for music, but not modern surround format. Instead, I'm going to use Hafler circuit (implemented by Dynaco QD-2) for surround music. That way, I still use lush and warm Sansui amplifier for my music. Crisp and details are good for games, but in music, too much crispiness and details cause listening fatigue, and that's why I prefer warm-sounding vintage amps for music.

That was exactly my approach not too long ago. I used my old SX780 and Kappa 6's for music, and a modern AV receiver+excessively bright Klipsch speakers for movies and games.

But it doesn't have to be this way! After nearly a year with my new setup, I'm thoroughly convinced that modern electronics+speakers can be even better than the old stuff, not only for movies and games, but for music too. Like I said in my rather lengthy first post, the new Denon, Philharmonic Audio speakers, and SVS subwoofers revealed some very subtle details in my music that I never noticed through my old Kappas. And yet, the new Philharmonics are so neutral, so easy on the ears, that I can crank them and listen for hours without discomfort. One system really can do it all. 😀

Lately I've been listening to a lot of classical music, and some of it has been on 5.1 DVD-A and SACDs. Absolutely beautiful. Classical is probably the only type of music I'd listen to in 5.1, though. Well, maybe some prog rock too.

Reply 16 of 79, by gdjacobs

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Anonymous Coward wrote:
gdjacobs wrote:

The transformers on your Kenwood might have a center tap for 240v systems as they're common for US, Europe, Japan, Australia, etc. The KA-9100s from some regions had a slide switch for voltage selection.

I'll take another look at the service manual. Several years ago I looked into it, but I don't remember finding an obvious path for modification. As you pointed out, there were several different versions available, but mine is pretty specific to North America. No switch either.

The service manual doesn't diagram the transformers, just the FWR bridge and forward as present on the PSU board.

All hail the Great Capacitor Brand Finder

Reply 17 of 79, by Kreshna Aryaguna Nurzaman

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r.cade wrote:

I don't have anything going back to the 70's, but I do have a couple 80's NAD amps which I love...

A 7140 doing work as my PC-sound setup, and a T750 as my main HiFi listening room setup (well, the T750 is 90's...)

There's also a NAD Viso Five upstairs on the main TV in the living room.

Pics please. Seriously, this thread would benefit greatly from pics.

Never thought this thread would be that long, but now, for something different.....
Say no to online installer.
Kreshna Aryaguna Nurzaman.

Reply 18 of 79, by keenmaster486

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What if I built my own tube amplifier?

Any thoughts? I don't even know what circuit I would use. The thought just occurred to me the other day.

Has anyone else done this?

I flermmed the plootash just like you asked.

Reply 19 of 79, by keenmaster486

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So I just acquired a Sears Silvertone 3026 receiver/amplifier unit and accompanying speakers for $40.

This thing is an absolute humongous beast.

And it sounds way better than it looks.

Just thought I'd throw this out there.

I flermmed the plootash just like you asked.