Re-Tales #13: Getting your hi-fi fix(ed)

Lately I've been hearing stories about people getting back into hi-fi, often from the people themselves. Some are buying new gear, but others have dug out and dusted off older equipment. Demand for electronics repair services was surging even before the pandemic. Once it struck, once and future audiophiles stuck at home plumbed their basements, attics, and storage units and pulled out old hi-fi components, hoping to resurrect them, only to find they weren't working, or not well.

Should they get 'em fixed?

There's much to consider: The type, age, quality, and condition of the component, how it was stored, how much you're willing to spend to restore it, and how much patience you have. Repairs may not be straightforward. Parts may be scarce. Schematics may be missing. Your area may lack technicians with the necessary skills. And yet, some things are worth fixing.

I recently spoke with John Pravel of Luxman's North American sales division about the surging demand for electronic component servicing. Skilled, experienced technicians are scarce, he said, and their numbers are dwindling. "Analog circuitry isn't being taught at 2-year colleges," Pravel told me. "We need to find older guys to mentor younger guys. We need more people doing this."

Luxman frequently gets calls from people who want to have, say, their 40-year-old amplifier repaired. "We just don't have all the parts," he said. Service centers they work with do their best to source and stock parts.

Over the decades, Luxman, a 95-year-old brand, has undergone several changes in ownership and shifts in priorities. Knowledge has been lost. Parts have been destroyed or disposed of to save space. It's the same at other companies with long histories. And many have vanished, leaving little behind. Sometimes parts are quarantined due to liability concerns, Pravel told me: They exist, but you're not allowed to use them.

I visited an old audio service shop in Cincinnati, Ohio, Stereo Advantage, which refurbishes, repairs, and sells used gear: 1940s radios, turntables, electronics, and more. Their owner, Allan Howard, who took over in 2011, says they're busy. The average turnaround time on repairs is a few weeks. Sometimes it takes longer. The place was jammed with gear.

I also spoke briefly, by phone, with Bill, Stereo Advantage's main service technician (footnote 1). "We've been here 42 years," he said. "I'm about to turn 68 in a few days. It's getting harder and harder to work on this microsurgery. ... We try to fix everybody's problem. We always try; sometimes we succeed, and sometimes we fail."

Not everything's a treasure. "A lot of it is just junk, really," Bill told me. "If it's made in China, throw it away." They sometimes receive mid-fi to higher-end gear from makers like Marantz or McIntosh. If the condition is good and parts are available, it may be worth repairing.

Speaking of McIntosh: Mike Holtzman, that company's regional sales manager, told me by phone that they get calls "all the time" for repairs of older equipment. "Consumers will wait a little longer for out-of-warranty repairs than for newer equipment," he said. "If it's older and needs all new caps and resistors, for instance, it could take more time." McIntosh repairs usually aren't too difficult, he said, because the "[circuit] boards are well laid out and simple," especially for tube gear. "The design of the guts, the accessibility to repair the product, have made repair techs' jobs easier—even to get the probes inside for testing," Holtzman said. "That's what they tell me."

For repair potential, tube gear generally fares better than solid state. "It's the transistor units that are more difficult because of the more complex circuitry," Pravel said. Tube circuitry is simpler. Point-to-point wiring can be easier to work with. New and new-old-stock tubes are more widely available than vintage transistors. "Harvesting parts from several [donor] units to get a good working one—it can be done if the end user is patient enough."

One problem is that old solder contains lots of lead, which doesn't comply with current environmental directives. It can be hard to remove, and newer solder isn't as compatible with older circuit boards.

"It's really an art to get vintage equipment repaired today in a quality way," Pravel said. "Backward-compatible parts, soldering techniques, and so on ... require patience and bench skills, and lots of experience and test equipment." Customers can expect the process to involve a bench fee, then diagnostics, an estimate for approval, parts sourcing, and so on. It probably won't be fast, and it may not be cheap. Some dealers are adding or expanding repair services at their bricks-and-mortar facilities. It's a profit center, it serves clients' needs, and it gets people in the door where they can see what's new.

Why not just buy something new? Sometimes it makes sense. A guy I know has KLH Model Twenty speakers, a Technics SA-5200A receiver, and a Technics SL-1300 direct-drive turntable in his basement. A former electrical engineer, he could fix his own gear; he has done so before. But he's more interested in streaming. He wants to watch movies, too. "I wanted a receiver that could do both two-channel and home theater," he said of his decision to buy newer components. "It's also easier to integrate my subwoofer. I also have a Chromecast audio device that allows 24/96 Chromecast that I run into the receiver's digital audio input. So I can get audio through a few different means."

Whatever audiophiles do with their gear, old or new, the good news is that, thanks to streaming and vinyl's continued resurgence, more people than ever are listening to more types of music in more ways than ever before.


Footnote 1: Bill, who's also referred to as "HorrorBill," declined to give his last name.

COMMENTS
rt66indierock's picture

In my case Carl Richard died years ago so my AR-4x speakers have one good crossover schmatic available from a former Snell engineer. Other repairs are straightward. My Herersy's will require out of state travel for repairs. My office Amp is hot rodded and the builder is long retired. Finally the vintage NAD 3020 for the Heresy's can be repaired/restored by a company in Eugene Oregon.

That information took years to collect and none of people are within 800 miles of The Valley of the Sun.

tonykaz's picture

There is probably a Vintage TV repair shop in your Area, these folks have taken to repairing all manner of "repairable" gear. They can often work without Schm. diagrams ( visually looking for failures. )

I'll contend that the majority of Chinese sourced gear will be unserviceable and many Large Corporates like Apple will not tolerate small shops working on their stuff, although there is a "Right to Repair" legislation movement in progress. See Louis Rossman on. YouTube , he's a NY,NY based Apple freelancer leading the charge for repairable gear.

Is your 3020 a vintage piece or one of the New 3020s that NAD actively prevents the service of ?

Repairable Gear is the only gear that maintains it's intrinsic Value!

Tony in Venice Florida

rt66indierock's picture

You didn't read my post. New is not vintage my 3020 was made in 1980. There is no company I would use in the Phoenix Arizona area to repair any of the vintage equipment I use.

Use a vintage TV repair "is not even wrong" and there are only well reasoned opinions and poorly reasoned opinions. So mentioning Chinese gear and Apple gear makes no sense in a post directed to me. Neither apply to my audio equipment so poorly reasoned.

Finally, I trust my abilty to find the right people to fix my vintage audio equipment. Sad so many have passed away or are in poor health.

nwAudio2's picture

Old designs with new parts of better quality. Three years ago, I built a tubes4hifi amp based on the Dynaco ST70. I hadn't soldered in 25 yrs but when I turned the power strip on, all I got was music. As for getting stuff fixed, they're responsive and have an active forum with way smarter people than me.

I also inherited a Thorens TD125mkll which vinylnirvana overhauled. It's connected to my amp via PAT4 preamp that I rebuilt with updatemydynaco kit parts. I also recapped my Klipsch's with parts from Crites (just a happy customer of all the above). My modern stuff doesn't get used anymore.

As for local help, I tried to go to a well known guy here in Bklyn and he turned me down. The internet got me sorted out just fine thank you.

rt66, Erhard-Audio in Tucson could possibly help with "vintage" gear.

rt66indierock's picture

I wouldn't mind a road trip to Arkansas if Crites can restore my Heresy's but I don't see restoration offered as a service. I could go down the Buffalo River again and remind myself how Harry Pearson failed America when he stopped writing about enviornmental issues.

Erhard would be perfect if my vintage amps were tubes but I gave them to my son years ago.

Thanks for the information stay safe.

Stephen

Julie Mullins's picture

Tony, good point about the TV repair shop possibility. But I'd imagine those places might be suffering similar fates if knowledge isn't being passed on to newer folks.
On the new gear front, the Right to Repair legislation is an interesting story to keep an eye on.

tonykaz's picture

We are all suffering from Corporate attempts to block consumers from servicing products 'Owned'.

There is a widespread attempt to restrict product repair to Authorised Repair Systems accompanied with restricted technical details and blocked availability of Service Parts.

Combine the above limitations with Chinese Manufacturing language barriers and you get a consumer marketplace populated with products designed to have a shorter service Half-life culminating with premature replacement and greatly diminished residual $ Values.

Thanks for writing, I follow your reporting , you are an important asset.

Tony in Venice Florida

PeterG's picture

My son has some terrific vintage components that he picked up for a song, required no repairs, and serve him very well as an audiophile on a budget. But it's funny to think about repairing hifi gear from 40 or so years ago. I guess it looks cool and has nostalgic value. But people sure aren't doing it as a rational means to get great sound by 2021 standards. Just a few hundred dollars in labor is likely to destroy the bang for the buck equation

MatthewT's picture

actually like the sound of vintage gear.

Jack L's picture

Hi

"Some of us" surely not include yours truly. I hate vintage sound.
Which is usually slow, opaque, 'tuby' & lack of detail, etc,

So I always upgrade vintage gears avaiable to me to make them
sound like modern designs today. I want to make them sound fast, transparent, detailled like the finest modern gears.

Many years back, a friend donated me his Dynamo PAS-2 which sounded pretty vintage, unacceptable to my ears. So I upgraded it by replacing the entire HV power supply with latest 'audiophile' grade design but keeping its original 12X4 fullwave rectifier tube.

A good HV PS is critical to fine sound. So I redesign/built it to a cap+choke+cap+high-tech regulated PS. First filter cap I used oil-filled motor cap, & ALL other following filter caps I used superfast computer grade electrolytic caps with film caps bypass. I adjusted the regulator output voltage to +210V.

A no-compromise hi-teck HV power supply that you can never find ever used in any tube commercial phone-preamps, irrespective of price, IMO.

All signal coupling caps are replaced with metallized film caps.

A bypassed switch to bypass the entire tone-control linestage to make it PASSIVE straightline signal bypass !!!

Who needs any vintage tone-controls in line-amps today, anyway.

Now this 60-year-old Dynaco tube phono-preamp, after my resurrection upgrade, sounds fast, super-tranparent, very detail, & quiet. By comparison, it beats so many commercial tube & solidstate phono-preamps sonically.

Listening is believing

Jack L

PS: That said & done, it is now only a show piece as my design/built tube phono-linestage I am using now sounds even so so much better. Better design topology than the vintage Dynaco for sure.

rt66indierock's picture

Peter, what you consider great sound in 2021 will probably not play my reference albums or recordings. It isn't bang for the buck, it is what works. What is high fidelity to me? This is an edited version of something I wrote in 1983.

The room is a box with the floor 0dB and the ceiling 102db. Go no higher or suffer hearing loss.

A wide stereo image which means corner loaded speakers and maybe a center channel.

Reproduce from about 35Hz or 40Hz to 13kHz well because that is where the music is.

Be able to play my nine reference albums.

Be able to play my three reference recordings, harmonicas, banjos, and Cajun saw fiddling.

The room is most important.
a.How the room will interact with a speaker.
b.How will a speaker interact with the room.

Connect your amplifier to a pair of Klipschorn speakers and turn the volume down. If you don’t hear anything the amplifier is quiet enough.

Remember what you are trying to reproduce.
a.Studio or live the experiences are different.
b.You are listening to music amplifiers live or in a studio, grit and distortion are often intentional.
c.The skill of the recording engineers is the most important factor in sound quality.
d.Emotional impact.

PeterG's picture

Thanks--these are great points. One interesting case study when we talk about artist intentions might be the recent Giles Martin versions of Sgt Pepper, The White Album, and Abbey Road. All sound magnificent and "way better" than the originals. But of course, the boys never expected that we would hear them as we are now. Cheers

rt66indierock's picture

His work sounds good but he moved George Harrison from the place he normally occupied live so interesting, fun but unrealistic.

Jack L's picture

Hi

Really?

My 2-way KEF large bookshelf loudspeakers on steel tripods placed some 7 feet from my audio rig back wall, & the right channel loudspeaker placed 3 feet from the side wall (no choice!).
Both loudspeakers are virtually freestanding away from any sonic
obstacles - to provide soundwaves emitted from loudspeakers moving freely AROUND the speaker boxes with minium defection.

Such sorta free standing loudspeaker arrangement (no need any centre channel loudspeakers as you suggested) provides me precision imaging & lifelike soundstage.

The loudspeakers sonically vanished when the music is on with the music performance 'seen' far back & beyond the audio rig backwall.

Soundwaves from the loudspeakers must be allowed to move around the loudspeaker cabinets FREELY, this is physics.

Listening is believing

Jack L

rt66indierock's picture

The proof I'm right is in a book case in my office, I'm sure you can still buy the book. Ken Kessler reviewd the book on his site and mentioned the proof.

In any case what you wrote is why the hobby is in trouble.

Jack L's picture

Hi

What book? Please name it.

My question to you: what TROUBLE is this hobby in with what I just wrote ?????

The late Less Kessler was a medical man & a hi-fi journalist.
What makes you consider him as the Almighty of HiFi?

FYI, my education is electrical engineering with decades engagement in the electrical power engineeering industries. I've desogn/built audio electronics for decades as my hobby to supplement my addiction to vinyl music. What makes you think what I wrote here above would make "trouble in HiFi hobby ??????????

Please check up my above post for my uncompromising upgrading of a vintage Dynaco PAS-2. Then you should know I don't just talk blank., pal.

Awaiting yr response to yr claim !

Jack L

PS: please check up my signature logo on my every post here:
The 3-twin-triode phono-linestage I design/built & have been using for many years now, probably the most compact tube phono-preamp ever built in this planet. I love DIY audios.

volvic's picture

There is some older gear like my beloved Tandberg 2060 that hold their own quite admirably next to my modern equipment. There is a reason why original 40 year old Naim gear, still serviceable by Naim and by AV Options in Chicago command top dollar. Even older Fishcer, Marantz and Luxman gear can offer many years of musical pleasure without breaking the bank. I suppose one can find older gear like Counterpoint, Meither, Conrad Johnson and continue to upgrade the innards with good quality parts and have a better product than the orginal. There are some that offer specialized services for some of these products. The key is finding someone who knows how to do it, as the article states this is getting harder and harder.

PeterG's picture

Great examples--thanks. One other example might be vintage reel to reel. Now I have my fingers crossed that my 10 y.o. NAD and 5 y.o McIntoshes will outlive me!

Julie Mullins's picture

Yes, whether or not an item is worth repairing seems very much to be a case-by-case basis. And of course, as others have noted, it depends whether one prefers the sound of vintage gear, particularly solid-state.

Herb Reichert's picture

For exposing everyone to the carpeted work benches and windowless shops of a once proud trade.

My professional career in audio began with my repairing and refurbishing vintage tube gear from (mostly) MacIntosh and Marantz, so I can testify: this type of work is difficult, mostly joyless, and severely underpaid.

Repair humans deserve our respect, and a good show of financial gratitude.

hr

MatthewT's picture

Is the best. I like to think I pay him more than what he's worth.

teched58's picture

...working on old tube gear, that is. I am frankly concerned, as I get older, that a moment of inattentiveness will result in a problem. (All the more so since, even with precautions, it's never a sure thing what an old box that hasn't been plugged in for 20 years will do.) For these reasons, I try to stick to working on equipment with discretes.

Jack L's picture

Hi

Yes, HV can be lethal.

I still recall many many years back I picked up quite unexpectedly an antique radio for 10 bucks in a neighbourhood garage sale.
An Northern Electric AM radio in an pretty old painted-white bakite case. 1035s ?

To make such old old radio would not blow over my face, I insisted the garage sale man to power it up before I paid for it.
It worked with loud hum though.

So I got it home & fixed it. Now it is a show piece at home.

Jack L

Julie Mullins's picture

Jack, if you like vintage radios you'd love the place I mentioned.

Jack L's picture

Hi

Good point.

But I live up north of the USA border. No way to travel down long distance to Ohio.

Jack L

Julie Mullins's picture

...and for your kind words. I feel like I must have known that but appreciate the reminder your experience.

PeterPani's picture

my non-digital devices are all pre-60's. I can maintain the tube-amps (from vinyl- and tape-headamps up to power amps) by myself. And the really good thing about old amps is that I can improve their performance from year to year (better caps, better wiring, better tubes...). I guess, this is the main advantage of old equipment. E.g. my Thorens TD 124: got a better chassis, than a second tonearm, than a third, than a motor unit with better bearings, than a better bearing for the main platter, than a modified steel platter without magnetism, than a outboard control unit to improve the rpm by adapting the frequency of the AC. You cannot do this with an expensive new turntable.

cyclebrain's picture

During my first year of college I answered an add for a project that was a bunch of parts for a Crown D150 without a case. The owner had his own case and could not get it to work. He was using shielded wire for all connections between PC board and power transistors on heat sink. Sounds like good idea, but instead was causing major oscillations. I rewired using normal wire and amp worked just fine. Lately I have been building amps based on Nelson Pass First Watt designs. Lots of fun and not as easy as one would think just following his designs. Parts selection and layout makes such a difference.

Julie Mullins's picture

Hi cyclebrain, are you familiar with the Burning Amp Festival coming up? Since you have experience with Pass amps, I'd assume you might be.

ok's picture

..what chinese vintage hifi actually means.

volvic's picture

I have an old Tandberg 2060 that I adore; its FM tuner section and sonic capabilities bested a new Linn LK1 & LK2 amplifier I bought in the 80s. I no longer have the LK1 & LK2 but still have the Tandberg. It oozes quality, and I wish I had room to buy more Tandberg products as they are stellar. Sadly, the condition of the ones I have been interested in is not very good. I tracked down the offical Tandberg repair fellow who lived in NYC and sent the 2060 to him for repair in another state. He did stellar work, but it did not come cheap, but it was well worth it as I get to keep this excellent receiver for another 40 years. As mentioned in the article, the issue is the age; he's in his 70s. Has he mentored anyone? The key is to mentor a few who can do this kind of work as some of the older solid state gear can still compete with the newer equipment and provide musical satisfaction for many years. It's too late for me, but I might have followed my passion instead of higher education if I knew then what I know now.

Jack L's picture

Hi

Backfire is so easy.

Without higher educationm to make more money, where we could get spare money for our "passion"?

For sure, I never wanted to earn my bread & butter by servicing electronics ! Right: what a stressful & "joyless" job !

Higher education enabled me to make enough leisure money for my hobbies: vinyl music & DIY audios at home & vacation travelling with my wife off shore !

Though I don't need money for our livelihood at all, I am still working - to keep my life productive & more enjoyable in my hobbies.

Jack L

Julie Mullins's picture

Yes, as discussed, some components do seem to be worth fixing. Many factors to consider.

volvic's picture

I am not sure the act would help tremendously in our field or if it directly helps repairing current vintage gear, but it could foster a new growth industry of third party repair shops that could contribute to a renaissance of hi-fi repair shops. One can only hope.

Hopefully the federal law, if passed has teeth to make a difference.

https://www.recyclingtoday.com/article/new-york-senate-right-to-repair/

https://www.tweaktown.com/news/82014/youtuber-stacks-42-broken-ps4s-to-promote-right-repair/index.html

jond's picture

I find the audio forums are full of threads with folks complaining about repair times who have no idea how difficult such repairs can be.

Jack L's picture

Hi

Taking brief or long time in servicing audios depends solely on what type of gear to repair. It will surely take longer time for ordering replacement parts.

I fixed a large vintage tube tester in 3 hours even without its operation/service manuals for my friend. In return such brief service, he bought me an Italian fine dine.

What really sweated my pants was repairing my SME S-shaped black arm with its left channel no sound some 4 yeas back. I never serviced SME arms before.

Thanks goodness, it took me "only" some 6 hours to fix it! Only when I dissembled the arm entirely, I knew I opened up a hugh can of worms. It was the left channel signal wire, fine like human hair, inside the armtube broken.

Knowing too well ordering a complete set of signal wire harness from SME factory might take for ever & cost a fortune assuming such old model parts still available.

Thanks goodness, I've stocked up quite a quantity of silverplated oxygen-free pure copper fine fine computer inter-wires. They are still larger than the factory SME superfine signal wires but I got no choice!

So I replaced the entire signal wire bundle inside the tiny armtube & reinstalled the arm back to my direct driven TT. Realignment of the arm to offset the extra weight of the new signal wires.

What an unforseen repair 'advnature' I've ever taken !

Jack L

Julie Mullins's picture

Good to know...

Julie Mullins's picture
Quote:

I find the audio forums are full of threads with folks complaining about repair times who have no idea how difficult such repairs can be.

This seems to be the case—opening a proverbial can of worms (or wires)...

Fizzicyst's picture

Most of my gear has either been home-built (I took all the classes required for electronics service technician but got into manufacturing instead) but I do own a couple of pieces that I really love. One of those is an Adcom GFA-5800 (one of the few Adcom amps designed by Nelson Pass). It blew a cap back in the early oughts and so we stored it in a closet. Once the pandemic started I pulled it out and ordered a few parts to fix/upgrade it.

Got it working beautifully. I love how much power it has. Thought it is a beast to move at 25.6 kg!

Trevor_Bartram's picture

I've been lucky with my electronics (so far), the most common failure being CD/DVD/Blu-ray drives wearing out (after heavy use) or poor quality (many modern drives). However I have found that failed Blu-ray players will still play DVDs & CDs and failed DVD players play CDs. My current CD player is a 25 year old Panasonic DVD-A110 with superb DVDaudio DACs.
My 35 year old Snell speakers were sounding a little odd, with a lack of bass and other noises. So I pulled the grilles off to find the bass/mid driver foam surrounds had disintegrated. I looked into DIY kits but it looked risky and you get only one chance at repair. So I checked out refoaming services and chose: DHS Speaker Service of Feeding Hills, MA; a local company. The owner, David Shirley, responded to my emails quickly and offered helpful advice, highly recommended, and the Snells are back in service.

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