Compared to fancy new equipment, the value of high quality vintage equipment can be an amazing bargain! It can also be a headache, unless you know where to get it checked out, revitalized and rejuvenated. Take a good sounding 1970s solid-state receiver, for example. It was worth $700 when the receiver was new back then. In today's current dollars however, that same receiver should cost about $2000 to $3000. Instead, new ones of comparable quality sell for twice that amount! Meanwhile, the "both channels working" '70s receiver sells for only $25 to $150 on eBay. In fact, comparing a $5 yard sale Harmon Kardon HK 330B receiver against the $2000 Roksan Caspian integrated amplifier, the two amplifiers were very close in basic performance. With good tubes, vintage Dynaco Pas-3 Series II compares favorably to other modern tube pre-amplifiers. A$150 vintage Pioneer M-22 amplifier holds its own against the wonderful $6000 Nelson Pass X250. Except on really loud or difficult passages, there were not significant differences. Most of the time on my 15" Klipsch Khorn bass bins, I could not tell which amplifier I was using.
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Are they better? Sometimes. But not usually. They are often quite close – a "different difference." Are they a bargain? Yes. The Altecs are a wonderful value. Vintage bargains allow tweaking audiophiles to save their money for the pieces of home theater music and movie reproduction systems that you can't be easily or inexpensively found on the used markets. Vintage equipment requires repairs, rebuilds or refurbishing. Refurbished electronic products are not merely used ones. They are normally tested for functionality and defects, like they do with certified pre-owned automobiles. Vintage refurbished tube amplifiers typically have bias, resistors and capacitors checked, and if necessary, replaced. They may also have their potentiometer knobs, connections and motherboards cleaned.
So refurbished vintage equipment has real value, even if you can't control it with your tablet or smart phone. In fact, a stereo magazine survey a few years ago found that most tweaking audiophiles have some piece of equipment in their system that is a dozen years old. Something sounds good, we keep it.
One problem with tubes though, is they don't suddenly quit, like when a chip is gone. Tubes slowly wear out, so the unit just doesn't sound musical anymore. Vintage tube equipment needs refurbishing. So add a few hundred more to an old unit, plus several weeks for the refurbishing of tubes, capacitors and any other worn out parts. Then these revitalized babies compete with many new tube amplifiers costing thousands more. With vintage integrated tube amplifiers, you can find wonderful bargains for only a few hundred. I have heard vintage Scott, Eico and Fisher integrated tube amplifiers compete very favorably with new tube amplifiers on Big Ole Horn loudspeakers.
With vintage amplifiers, like the old Dyna Pas vacuum tube preamplifier, "the savings are dependent upon how much you do yourself and how up to date you want it. Van Alstine says that if you have a good original unit, then it makes sense to install our basic Super Pas Three kit and enjoy thoroughly modern vacuum tube performance." One advantage to rebuilding vintage electronics is that in general there are no repair charges for fixing circuit problems as all the old circuits and their problems end up in the trash can without need for troubleshooting and repair. Van Alstine says, "we do need good power transformers, chassis integrity and some of the basic controls."
"In general, in comparing the cost of one of our new amplifiers or preamplifiers to that of rebuilding your existing Hafler or Dyna unit, you are saving the cost of the chassis because we reuse yours. If the musical performance is the important thing for you, then by all means have us recycle your old chassis and save the money (typically about $200). The savings are greater yet if you rebuild your Dyna preamplifier yourself with our rebuild kits."
There is an upper limit to what you should do to a vintage Pas amplifier though, which is defined by the price of a new amplifier, such as Van Astine's Transcendence Eight+ SL pre-amplifier. His new T8+ SL amplifier includes new tubes, new gold jacks, a premium selector switch, 15 amp modern polarized AC outlets, and functions unavailable on the old Pas chassis, such as tape-to-tape monitoring capability and a built-in headphone amplifier. "Because the old Pas chassis is labor intensive to work on, if you had us install the Super Pas Three kit instead of doing it yourself and added factory installed gold jacks, new tubes, and a new selector switch too, your total cost would be comparable to buying a new factory-wired Transcendence Eight+. That wouldn't make sense as the new T8 is a much nicer unit overall."
He says rebuilds are the most value for those who already own a good old Hafler or Dyna unit. "It is already paid for and you know its condition."
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He says his shop specializes in the repair of all audio products. Deltronics repairs any new, vintage, tube and solid-state audio. "Our greatest achievement is our reputation and our ability to repair pretty much anything that comes in our doors."
The company has been in business since 1986. They have two locations. Their drop-off fee is $50 per unit, "this will apply to the final bill when repairs are completed." Mike says a quote will be provided once the estimator looks over the unit. It is usually less than one week for a quote. Total turnaround time is usually less than three weeks. Customers who decline the repairs can leave the equipment for recycling "if a customer would like us to." Units that are repaired and abandoned are sold on eBay.
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"Now a days that is harder to do because I no longer have the reference tapes to do an accurate playback calibration," Voth says. "However, if customer invests in their own reference tapes, then all that is do able again." Voth’s prices are in Canadian dollars, so US dollars would be less. Shipping across the border is a costly hassle, he is sorry to say. A package that would cost $10.00 to ship to a US border town would cost $30.00 to ship to Winnipeg. He warns that you have to label the product clearly as Goods for Service for it to be returned to the USA. Otherwise, you could be hit with Duties and Brokerage charges as well. Voth says the cheapest way to ship across the border is USPS, but packages can be stuck at the border for weeks in the postal service.
Turnaround time he says depends on the situation. If necessary, the unit can go on the bench right away. Estimates are $25. If the customer approves the repair, the estimate cost is just an integrated part of the cost of repair. It is not an extra fee. His hourly bench labor rate is $50. He says people rarely abandon or leave equipment. Voth's worst repair nightmare was a tube bass amp that would oscillate under full output only because of an unshielded grid input. He is particularly proud of designing an effects loop for the Hammond B3.
I asked these shops for guess-timate over email about a vintage solid-state amplifier with a dead channel. Voth says a failed power channel is most common fault and the worst-case situation for a power amplifier. "For this repair, parts are typically between $50 to $100 and labor is four to six hours. Anything else that could cause this would be cheaper. It is better to prepare the customer for the worst and surprise him with a smaller bill later than the other way around."
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Brown says that people do some times "leave equipment behind, for different reasons, sometimes because of cost of repair, or because of a loss of interest in having it repaired (something better comes along, etc.) In these cases, if the machine is in good enough shape, I will complete the repairs or restorations and either, A) keep the unit, or B) Sell the unit to recover the cost."
Brown charges a bench fee of $25. "Sometimes I will wave this," he says, "on certain conditions, client's receiver doesn't work, check it out and its fine - the client improperly hooked it up at home, etc." He says the cost to repair an amplifier with one channel out really varies, "something that has one channel out, it could be as bad as blown output transistors, or as minor (in the case of a recent Pioneer fix) as a bad output fuse on one of the channels. The cost is very easily around $100, a good estimate for repair is $100 to 150. One bad channel he says, "sounds like either a bad capacitor or a blown output transistor, depending on the color and smell of the smoke, which is a great indicator of what went wrong."
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Ostby works strictly on tube-based electronics, but he avoids certain kinds of limited repairs. Vintage units that either reached or are approaching the 50-year mark, he does "complete restoration/rebuild or I'd rather not get involved since doing any type of "fix what is broke" type work will just end up with both parties unhappy as the next 50-year old failure prone component fails." With more modern tube gear from the 1980's and up, he says he will do basic repairs.
"My father learned from his father," Ostby grew up helping his father work on all types of tube based electronics. His father's favorite side line business was buying and refurbishing WW II era ham radios. His day job was electronic repair of all types of household appliances. "I helped him all through my formative years in both ventures. I kind of ventured away from the business/hobby for many years until I reached my 40's (2001 to be exact). At that time, just by chance, I stumbled into the Klipsch forum about a problem I was having with some Klipsch computer speakers and found many folks were using old tube based vintage integrated, preamps and tube power amps with Klipsch speakers. I knew I was capable of working on this stuff and decided to get one myself."
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"Well honestly, I’d say," my greatest achievement, he said, is "making a full time successful business out of this for the last almost 13 years while keeping a stellar reputation." His typical turnaround time varies, but for the most part somewhere between three and five weeks. Ostby’s minimum bench fee is $125 for repairs, but he rarely does specific repairs like those mentioned above. "I don’t really charge by the hour. My labor charge for most vintage integrated amps is from $185 to $285. It just depends on the model.
People rarely abandon or leave equipment, "when it does its usually because the cost of repair is beyond the gears worth or the part required to repair is just not available. I might have three or four abandoned projects on hand and they just sit waiting to see if the owner ever claims them. At some point I will have to just call them mine I guess. In most cases with gear, with say, bad transformers or something like that, the customer and I negotiate a reasonable price as a parts unit. I keep here for spare hard to find parts."
Ostby's worst repair nightmares are "projects I take on are units sold on eBay advertised as "gone over by my tech" or worked on by a novice DIY type. Those unknown technician or novice DIY can do some really strange things under the hood and you often have to go over the units chasing down poor quality work. These situations can really hurt the schedule and bottom line when you do things as a package deal and not hourly."
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"My Father was always passionate about music, and his passion more than anything, is what inspired me to learn the craft. He is a pure music lover. He always had a Sansui kicking out some old tunes, and he still listens constantly, to a Sansui of course. Speakers were and are, never anything but Klipsch in his house. I got more into the arts that play the music, than the music itself. I was always, and still am to a degree, fascinated at how this or that could make a difference, and how different pieces influenced the sound experience. I wanted to know what was in the boxes. Started out blowing stuff up, then I finally fixed one! From then, I was hooked, and still am. I knew I fixed it, but this was not enough. I wanted to know why the unit failed, and why what I did, fixed it. I took Theory, Audio Circuits, Components, Power Supplies, and Test Equipment courses when I growed up. Learned some, like how to test components, use test equipment, and some diagnosing skills, etc., but it was not 'till after I spent time with a real audio technician, that I truly learned what made things what and how."
Dale Field is his name, an electronic magician, and we are still great friends to this day. He beat allot of things into my stubborn young head at that time, and I thank him for it. His voice still rings in my head from time to time. "Why did it fail?" he would always ask after I fixed something.... Very frustrating, yet effective, nonetheless. "Hovenega's typical turnaround time is about three weeks or so, depending on parts availability and the occasional life circumstances. But he has a wait list, which is currently about 10-months at present.
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By The Job
He says people rarely abandon or leave equipment. Yet he does have a couple units that have been here for a substantial amount of time. "I suppose I could claim them, but they are not mine, and I tend to be too nice I guess. I have had people tell me to keep a unit, or agree to sell to me at a fair price if I can see a potential use for the item."
Inserting a smiley face, Hovenga says one of his remarkable achievements is "never poking my eye out with a hot soldering iron ;>) No, speaking previously about the worse nightmare, this Marantz 2500 must go into the remarkable achievements category. I also must mention the positive responses from my customers, as a remarkable achievement. I get great joy in knowing I made someone happy with the work I done. I love my job. Each and every day, I look forward to working on something broken, and it is even still, greatly rewarding."
A dead channel on a power amplifier he says is tough to say without getting some eyes inside. "Could be a single component that gave up the ghost, to a massive meltdown." He doesn't do guess-timates for repairs. "Guess? Ain't no guess... It's what it's gonna be "Ever seen the movie Water Boy? But seriously, see above answer to the same previous question. Just too many variables in electronics to nail down something accurate. I can provide estimations on pieces that I know well, but even then, I don't know if someone hacked it up in previous repair attempts. This stuff is getting up in age, and very rarely, am I the first one inside anything that comes through here."
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