Past few years has seen an Increase in Popularity in Analog audio formats like Vinyl Records, Cassettes, Reel to Reel Tapes and even CDs are making a slow comeback. With this, Stereo systems have also gained popularity. So naturally brands like Sony, Denon, Pioneer have again introduced stereo amplifiers in the marker. Of course, brands which exclusively made HIFI equipment like McIntosh, Klipsch etc. have been continuously making stereo equipment. Even brands like JBL who had stopped manufacturing their purpose-built stereo speakers have relaunched their old popular models. Recently JBL reintroduced their L100 speakers, which were all the rage in the 80’s. They also introduced a new speaker pair called L82, which is a smaller counterpart of the L100. Even Brands like Technics resurrected and are introducing amazing Integrated Amplifiers and Turntables. (They again launched the SL1200).
But what about the time when these were all the rage and hundreds of companies and brands were competing to sell the best products in the market. The period of 1960-1990 is considered the golden age of Stereo Music, where brands from all over the world were making high quality equipment from Turntables to VU meters and Spectrum analyzers. This was the age of Flashing lights, big floor standing speakers, and amazing music.
This begs the question, “Which is better New or Vintage?” The advantage of New audio gear is that you get all newest technology in the market, you get the option of digital audio and you also get the sweet sweet warranty. How is Vintage different then? Vintage gear was made in a time where there was a huge demand for it so, the manufacturers packed their products with features, high quality components, and visuals like VU meters and Graphic equalizers.
Now if we see, or hear in this case, the sound of analog amplification and digital amplification is quite different. The amplification in older amplifiers was done through Vacuum Tubes or standalone Transistors. These gave a very warm sound without actually coloring the sound. The modern devices which use digital processing of the sound and use digital amplifiers (transistors in IC’s) are not able to produce this warmth naturally.
Moving to turntables, the vintage turntables have a cult following amongst collectors. These turntables also featured direct drive, good construction and features like quarts lock, multiple possible speeds and record support, adjustments for wow and flutter and anti-skate. These features are missing from most of the turntables we get now a days.
Even speakers of the time were designed to handle high power amps. They were true 3way speakers which covered the entire audible sound frequency without any trickery (ahem Bose). These produced amazing sound, with each brand aiming towards a particular type of sound signature. They featured a large woofer usually from 6 to 12 inches in diameter a true midrange and many types of tweeters. These tweeters included normal diaphragms, horn loaded tweeters, soft or titanium dome, piezo tweeters, or even ribbon tweeters. These are very hard to find in budget friendly speakers now. Also, these old speakers were designed to be played in large room homes. In the present where the size of rooms and halls have reduced significantly, floor standing giants have been replaced by tower speakers with multiple tiny drivers to give the same music throw of the old speakers with huge drivers.
There were also cassette decks, reel to reel players, separate power and pre amps, add on equalizers, spectrum analyzers and VU meters, mini hifi systems etc. which rarely have a modern-day counterpart. Going vintage has its advantages, but it has downsides too. The biggest is lack of warranty and lack of spare parts if repairs are needed.
Going vintage one needs to keep this in mind is that the equipment has already been used at least 30+ years and might need more care while using than the new gear. It would also be more sensitive to power and modern inputs like Bluetooth devices and online streamers.
So for a beginner I would recommend to start with new equipment but also to slowly get their hands on some vintage gear and experience the amazing sound of the 60’s 70’s 80’s and the 90’s.