By Don Lindich
Week 37, 2007
Q: Is there any reason to consider purchasing a vintage receiver for home audio-only use? I would use it for radio, records, cassettes and possibly a CD player. I know vintage receivers would not work for home theater due to technological limits of analog versus digital. Also, what brands would you recommend and any other advice for building a vintage system?
Tony Accettulla , Pittsburgh, PA
A: If you are building a system only for music, a vintage receiver is a great way to go. Vintage receivers usually have better amplifier sections than current home theater receivers. They also have better phono input sections (which many current receivers may not have at all) and better tuners. Receivers today cost about the same or even less than they did twenty years ago but they typically have to drive five to seven speakers and do surround processing, as well. Adding features while holding the price point means something has to come out somewhere, and that typically is the phono section and the quality and strength of the amplifier.
My favorite vintage receivers are clearly the NAD PE series from the 1980s, such as 7140PE and the 7175PE. These have clean sound, excellent phono sections which will provide outstanding record playback, very strong amplifiers (160 and 300 peak watts, respectively.) They can also drive speakers lower than 4 ohms, which means you can drive practically anything with them. Back in the 1980s almost any stereo receiver of decent quality could easily work with a 4 ohm speaker. Nowadays they are few and far between and it is regrettable. For example, one of the neatest speakers available for music lovers on budget is the $550 Magnepan MMG, which is a flat panel speaker from a storied high-end manufacturer that also makes speakers that cost well over $10,000 per pair. A good analogy to a Magnepan for $550 is a brand-new BMW for $12,000. Unfortunately, with few inexpensive receivers that can drive it well, it limits my opportunites to recommend it. You can see the speakers at www.magnepan.com.
Magnepan MMG flat panel speakers
A really fun mix of vintage and modern would be a pair of Magnepan’s MMG flat panel speakers for $550, an NAD 7140PE, and a turntable such as the Pro-ject Debut III. NAD 7140PE receivers usually sell for under $200 on ebay, so for a little over $1,000 you could have true high-end sound and some unique speakers.
Outlaw Audio RR2150 “Retro Receiver”
There are some modern pieces that would do the job for you as well, though they would likely cost significantly more than a vintage piece like an NAD 7140PE. The Outlaw Audio RR2150 has excellent performance and a cool art deco look for $649. You can see it at http://www.outlawaudio.com. Harman/Kardon’s HK3485 is sometimes available refurbished for only $199 at www.harmanaudio.com, a fantastic deal if you can latch onto one when they are available. Despite the Harman/Kardon’s low price, given a choice I would go with the vintage NAD or dig deep for an Outlaw RR2150.
Q: I notice a big difference in sound quality when I play music from iTunes over my home stereo system. The original CDs sound much better! Why does this happen and is their anything I can do?
Erik Harrie, Bethel Park, PA
A: The audio compression used to fit lots of music into a little bit of hard drive space can compromise sound quality. You can change to Apple Lossless Compression under the Importing options to preserve all of the sound quality on your CDs, but it will come at a cost of hard drive space.