Fisher 500-C vintage stereo receiver In Modern Dress

Sidebar 2: In Modern Dress

Editor's Note: Because Peter Breuninger used either classic Bozak loudspeakers or exotic horns to audition the Fisher 500-C, I asked Wes Phillips to comment on the receiver's sound quality when used with a modern, more conventional speaker design. Wes auditioned S/N 58022S through its line stage only.John Atkinson

"Could you do me a favor?" John Atkinson asked. "We're starting a new feature on classic hi-fi components and I'd like you to listen to the first one, a Fisher 500-C."

Saying "No" would have been like telling St. Peter I didn't want my harp.

Like many audiophiles of my vintage, my love of high-end hi-fi began with a tubed system. In my case, it was a combination of old-school and (then) new-school products: an Audio Research SP-6 preamplifier and a Marantz 8B stereo amplifier. When I added an Oracle-Kiseki front end and a pair of original Quad loudspeakers, I wound up with a system so warm and intimate that it lives more vividly in my memory than do many old girlfriends.

So I thought I knew exactly what I was getting in the Fisher 500-C: a modestly powered receiver that would give me tons of warmth by emphasizing the midrange over the extremes—and, oh yeah, there'd be some classic tube noise in the background. Of course, when you "know" that much, actually listening seems a complete waste of time.

Chomp, chomp, chomp. That's me eating my words. I wasn't completely wrong, but I was far from right.

I installed the Fisher in an unquestionably modern system: Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista CD player, Sonus Faber Cremona loudspeakers, Kimber KCAG interconnects and speaker cables. I was stunned by how quiet the system sounded when I first switched the receiver on. Ah, I thought. It must take a minute or so to unmute.

Wrong again. I could hear some thermionic roar if I turned up the volume, but—at least with a loudspeaker with the sensitivity of the 90dB Cremona—I had to really crank up the volume to hear that roar anywhere except with my ear pressed against a tweeter.

My second shock was the bass. It wasn't as extended or as taut as that exhibited by the Conrad-Johnson Premier 350 power amplifier that is my current reference, but it sure wasn't flabby or missing in action, either. "Choctaw Bingo," from James McMurtry and the Heartless Bastards' Live in Aught-Three (CD, Compadre 56822), came across with guts and slam—and lots of harmonic shimmer from McMurtry's guitar strings.

So I was wrong about the top end, too.

Don't get me wrong—there are several areas where my contemporary references are far better than the 500-C. The Cremonas are capable of a lot more top-end sparkle than I got from them with the Fisher. They can also produce surprising slam, which the 500-C ultimately couldn't make them do, despite my surprise at what it could do.

Nor, I was startled to find, did the 500-C present a deep soundstage—depth and center fill were not among its strong suits. But I didn't miss them as much as I might have thought I would.

What the 500-C did extremely well was to make music sound compelling. I played David Russell's Spanish Legends (CD, Telarc CD-80633) and couldn't stop listening until it was over, despite my intention to switch it off after De la Maza's Rondea. Then I was tempted to hear it all again. This happened over and over during my all-too-brief audition of the 500-C.

Hanging on to the Fisher 500-C—now that would be heavenly.—Wes Phillips