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February 2015
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Exclusive!
Breathe New Life Into Old Gear
Repair, rebuild and refurbish vintage audio gear.
Review By A. Colin Flood

 


Deltronics

 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.

 

Same Idea for Loudspeakers
Unless the cones or crossovers are shot, most big ole loudspeakers sell for a song compared to what new ones cost. My bedroom/office loudspeakers are thrift store specials. They are Altec-Lansing Model Ones, with 0.75" thick walls. They cost only $10, because the foam surround on their mid-range woofers crumbled to the touch! I replaced them with new drivers, with rubber surrounds, for $50. I use the Altecs in dozens of reviews for Enjoy the Music.com, comparing them to dozens of loudspeakers costing thousands more.

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.

 

Rebuilds In Minnesota
Frank Van Alstine at Audio by Van Alstine in Minnesota rebuilds vintage Hafler and Dynaco amplifiers, and makes new amplifiers. "Our rebuilds are the most value for those who already own a good old Hafler or Dynaco unit that we rebuild,' he says, "it is already paid for and you know its condition." Van Alstine doesn't think tweaking audiophiles should go out and buy an old used Dyna or Hafler units "too badly shot to be economically recyclable." Van Alstine says old Dyna or Hafler amps will blow up because they are so old. He cautions that "the cost for a hit-or-miss local repair may even be more that what we charge for a complete new amplifier in your box and the new Audio by Van Alstine amplifier will be state of the art for a lot less money than any other choice you could make."

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."

 

Repair Great Names In Chicago
Mike from Deltronics audio repair in Chicago says the key to any good sounding vintage tube equipment is the output transformer. "Most of the circuits are basically the same, with minor variations," he says, "Fisher units seem to sound pretty good, as far as vintage integrated tube amplifiers are concerned. Scotts are pretty good also. Eico had some nice audio gear, and it is usually cheaper to get than Fisher, Scott, or Macintosh."


Jim, technician at Deltronics

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.

 

Rewind Revox In Canada
"As old reel to reels go," Don Voth from iTronix in Winnipeg, Canada, says, "nothing tops a Revox for overall performance. Mechanically they are miles ahead and electrically they calibrate really well. Most of what I have been doing in the last 15 years is the pro products. I am known in the industry for repairing that which no one else can repair. Originally Voth started in the service business repairing home hi-fi systems." Then he graduated to Pro Audio and adds, "I do not see a lot of home hi-fi any more but I can fix anything where a schematic is available. Fixing without a schematic is doable as well but it takes much longer because I may have to draw out certain parts of the unit myself." Voth has extensive experience with both turntables and reel-to-reel tape decks. "I am familiar with both large pro reel-to-reels as well as table top units, he says, "I used to do detailed calibration on reel-to-reels. Including record path calibration to the customer’s preferred tape type."

"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."

 

Smoke Out Problems In Detroit
"The worst nightmare for me was probably the time when I had to have a vintage tape machine completely restored and ready to be picked up by the client, at the last minute during testing, the machine developed a severe fault and I had to spend all night working on it to fix it." Chris Brown at Brown Town Sound has a recording studio. He repairs reel-to-reel tape recording machines and tube gear from all over the world for about 10 years. Brown is located south of Detroit, nearer Toledo, in Michigan. 

Brown said "fortunately after a complete re-wire and replacing a few components the machine sprang into life and the restoration was a success. I must add, that the fault that developed was due to a resistor that someone added, It was not the proper size and caused a few things to overheat, usually the reason I do not recommend people to service things on their own without the proper tools or adequate knowledge." He got into restoration and repair of audio and electronics as a whole when Brown couldn't find someone to work on a few reel-to-reel recorders of mine. After searching around and spending a lot of time and frustration attempting to find someone who was reliable and skilled enough to do such work, he gave up. 

"At that point I decided that with the help of a friend," Brown says, "who actually was a former technician who lacked time to do repairs, I was going to learn how to work on electronics." Brown repairs consumer tube audio equipment, as well as professional tube audio equipment. His typical turnaround time is a week for most repairs. Restorations or a repair requiring a large stock of parts can take two-three weeks, "depending on shipping time of such part."

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."

 

Refurbish Valves In Michigan
I know Craig Ostby of NOSvalves in Michigan for over a decade on the Klipsch consumer forums. In the arcane world of tubes, New Old Stock refers to vintage tubes manufactured long ago but never used. Somehow, decades later, the supply of NOS tubes never seems to wear out. Valves is the British term for tubes. So NOSvalves means New Old Stock tubes. Ostby has an excellent reputation there for refurbishing vintage tube amplifiers. Ostby also makes the VRD amplifier with KT88 tubes (60 watts ultra-linear / 30 watts triode switchable). It is one of the best tube amplifiers I have ever heard on Big Ole Horn loudspeakers. He used to post a public queue for his repair jobs, but he no longer updates it. Nonetheless, the list is an excellent reference of vintage models. Ostby also has refurbished amplifiers for sale.

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."

 

Fledging Under Juicy Wing
"I was also lucky enough," Ostby says, "to have another forum member Mark Deneen, Juicy Music Audio and Paragon Audio owner take me under his wing for a first few years that I was mostly playing with this gear as a hobby. Well as I worked on the gear, I posted what I was doing on the Klipsch forum and the next thing I knew I started getting request to restore them for other members…. it wasn’t long and it mushroomed into a full time business. I now have customers from every corner of the internet and the world."

"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."

 

Repair Nightmares In Oklahoma
Paul Hovenga of Many Moons Audio says he had several misadventures. "Typically a piece that Fixer Joe, or Handy Man Bob thought they could fix with a blow torch and a pair of pliers. One that stands out above all, was a Marantz 2500 receiver that someone snipped most of the wires off of, then simply threw everything inside it, unfastened, and slapped the cover on it. I was kind of sick when I saw the inside of this one. Fortunately, all the pieces were there to make it whole. With the help of a blown up wiring diagram and some cussing, I was able to make it sing again."

 

Mostly Solid-State
Hovenga does not repair consumer audio tube equipment. "I do repair/restore vintage solid state gear primarily, and also some of the newer products, so long as video or surround sound is not associated with them in any way.... Tuners, receivers, amplifiers, integrated amplifiers, equalizers, mostly from the "golden age" of audio, as it is sometimes referred, are what my bag consists of. I do not specialize in any one brand. I am a domestic/import sort of technician. If I can get a schematic, I can fix the sucker."

"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.

 

Do It Once And Do It Right
His basic fee is $75 for control cleaning, lamps, and adjustments. "However, I always push for not only servicing and fixing, but at a minimum, a good amount of preventive maintenance to keep everybody happy. Most the pieces I work on are now over 40 years old, and a "simple fix" is no different than gambling. I prefer to do it once and do it right. If the piece is shipped to me from some far off land, I insist on a minimum level of this preventive maintenance, or a full on restoration. I bend from this rule for some local people because no shipping will have to be involved if something were to happen, but each and every one who chooses this method, knows how I feel about these types of repairs. If I simply fix a piece, and it fails a few months later, the customer who knows little about electronics, will always be upset about this, with exception to the few more understanding types. So I give fair warning in advance."

 

Price By The Job
Hovenega says he prices by the job. I always try to be fair with consideration to the value of the piece. However, sometimes a piece worth peanuts need as much or more work than anything else. Parts costs and difficulty level are what typically drive the pricing. Also, if I have to lug around a 70-lb monster, it is gonna cost you, he said with a smiley face wink. I also try to explain that even if the cost of the repair blends with diminished returns, most of these old pieces will give you far more value and better performance than buying something new, at the cost of fixing the vintage piece. It should never be about what money you can get out of the piece after repair or restoration costs. If you liked the piece before it broke, that is definitely worth something, no?"

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."

 

Other Services

  Turntables Reel 2 Reel Speakers

Audio by Van Alstine

N

N

N

iTronix

Y

Y

Y

Deltronics

Y

Y

Y

Brown Town

?

Y

?

NOSvalves

N

N

N

 

 

Company Information
Audio by Van Alstine, LLC
2665 Brittany Lane
Woodbury, MN 55125

Voice: (651) 330-9871
Fax: (651) 330-9822
E-mail: avahifi@comcast.net  
Website www.avahifi.com  

 

iTronix
341 Hazel Dell Ave
Winnipeg, MB R2K 0R1

E-mail: iTronix@mymts.net 

 

Deltonics
2911 N. Halsted
Chicago IL 60657

Voice: (773) 549-6635
Fax: (773) 549-6230

2003 W. 75th Street
Woodridge IL 60517

Voice: (630) 910-6630
E-mail: info@deltronicschicago.com  
Website: www.deltronicschicago.com

 

Brown Town Sound
Voice: (734) 807-2321
E-mail: chris@browntown.com 
Website: www.browntownsound.com

 

NOSvalues
Rose City Ship center
NOS Valves/Craig Ostby
2640 N. M-33
Rose City, MI. 48654

UPS and US postal Service or any other shipping service
NOS Valves/Craig Ostby
5009 State Rd.
Hale, MI. 48739

Voice: (810) 287-6135
E-mail: craig@nosvalves.com  
Website: www.nosvalves.com 

 

Many Moons Audio
333 South Ave. East
Collinsville, OK 74021

Voice: (918) 313-8141
E-mail: paulhovenga@manymoonsaudio.com
Website: www.manymoonsaudio.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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