Working around components that aren’t working perfectly

Week of April 2, 2006

Q: I am writing to comment on your recent column about repairing equipment, and bad experiences. The reception on my 20 year-old Sony receiver got very poor. (The amplifier was OK.) I knew it wouldn’t be cost effective to repair it, so I went to Circuit City and bought a comparable unit. The new one had such a multitude of tiny buttons, most of which would seldom be used, that I found so user-unfriendly I returned it. I compliment C.C. as they gave me a refund without a hard time.

Since my neighbor had had his vintage receiver satisfactorily repaired at a local shop, I took mine there and asked if he could fix it. That was six months ago. Several parts were replaced at a cost of $135 and when I brought it home last month , although reception was improved, it still wouldn’t produce a stereo signal. After complaining, it’s back in the shop awaiting a transistor and a diode.

-Jeff Hamilton, Beaver, PA

A: Your experiences mirror some of my own regarding the repair of audio equipment. It can become a money pit without satisfactory resolution. Whenever taking a chance on a repair, be sure to get a guarantee for satisfaction as well as the repair itself. If you do not like a store’s policy, shop around for a different one.

The reason I am publishing your letter is because an end-around solution exists. The amplifier section of your receiver still works, and apparently you still like the unit. Why not buy a separate tuner and use it through one of the inputs, as if it was a tape deck or a CD player? You can get a new tuner for under $100, and a used one via eBay or a pawn shop could probably be had for $25. It’s much less than a repair, and likely to give you years of good use, even if purchased used. Because the separate tuner is separated from the heat-producing amplifier section of the receiver, it will be exposed to much less heat and last much longer as a result.

If you are a real FM fan and willing to spend a bit more for something amazing, look for an Onkyo T-9090 tuner. The T-9090 was made in the 1980s but is considered a classic, much sought after for its amazing reception and stellar sound quality. Expect to spend around $250 for a T-9090 in good condition. That’s not much more than your receiver repair thus far, and I doubt any inexpensive receiver tuner ever made can come close to a T-9090.

Since I seem to be rambling on the subject of FM, it’s time to pass on one of my best, most cost-effective tips. The antenna is all-important for receiving any kind of broadcast signal, and one of the best FM antennas available is a simple $10 set of TV rabbit ears. Just go to K-Mart, Sears, Target, etc. and get the simplest, least expensive, unamplified set they sell… no need for a fancy amplified “Hi-Fi FM antenna” that are sold for $40 and up. With the rabbit ears connected to your tuner, you will be amazed at all the new stations you will be able to receive, and how clean, clear and quiet the reception is on all the stations you received before. It’s the best $10 you will ever spend on your system.

Q: I have an Aiwa shelf stereo (AM/FM, Dual Cassette, CD), with a 3 disc CD carousel on top. The problem I have occurs when I want to play a CD. When a CD is placed in the stereo, the carousel just spins around without stopping. The stereo does not see the CD or some sensor is defective?

Is this a typical problem with CD carousels, and is it fixable? What can I look for to troubleshoot this problem?

-Paul Holm

A: CD carousels are prone to more problems than single-disc units- a price paid for the convenience. It is probably fixable, but it may not be worth the expense. If you are seeking a repair I definitely recommend getting the estimate for free- particularly because the end-around solution recommended above will work for you, too.

Almost all shelf stereos have an auxiliary input in the back.   The AUX button on the front selects it. (Some units call it a video input). Just buy an inexpensive DVD player- even a carousel, if you want- and connect it to the input. Instead of sinking money into an old component you get a new DVD player, which can be used elsewhere if the rest of the stereo goes kaput.

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