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Thread: Who Can Speak From Experience About Comparing Vintage Gear to Modern Equipment?

  1. #1

    Who Can Speak From Experience About Comparing Vintage Gear to Modern Equipment?

    It is well known that certain pieces of vintage equipment fetch very high prices in certain parts of the world. A recent thread on the popularity and currently very high prices commanded on LS 3/5a speakers, over on the Pink Fish Media forum offers a case in point.

    The purpose of this thread is to request the comments of those who have experience with some of the so-sought-after vintage pieces. How do these pieces compare to current equipment or equipment of, say, middle vintage? Is the hype valid? Or simply the result of mass/shared beliefs?

    Part of the reason I ask is that, near where I live, a JBL Paragon speaker system recently went up for auction, fetching over $9,000. Comparable pieces can be seen on Audiogon for 15k. On the Klipsch Forum a post said that some of these old pieces were sonically inferior to less expensive, newer pieces. It is understandable that old driver surrounds may have stiffened, or be damaged, but a further point is whether the fundamental design may have intrinsic limitations which would render the sound "dated" by comparison to new designs and technology.

    From personal experience I can speak to the idea that some pieces of new equipment seem to be a breakthrough. I remember spending a day with a high quality passive preamp - it made the Naim 72/hicap I was comparing it to sound like a muffled, soggy muddle by comparison (note that I own and use a 72/hicap). But perhaps the sonic compromises with the 72/'cap were due to impedance mismatches between the preamp, interconnects and the vtl 225 tube amplifiers we were listening through? I don't know...

    Sometimes equipment must be carefully matched to demonstrate its full potential and those who denigrate it have heard it incorrectly set up. Information about optimized setups would also be very interesting.

    So, for those of you who have experience and can share them, having heard properly set up vintage gear, I'd very much appreciate reading your comments here. Of particular interest are the old JBL's, Altec 17s, 19s and other horn-based systems, tannoys, Klipschs, tubes, quads, electrostatics, etc.

    I hope others will be as interested in this topic as I am. Thanks, in advance, to those who can share their experience.


  2. #2
    Senior Member SUPERBEE's Avatar
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    Feb 2005
    Sunny San Diego California
    I have posted this story here before...

    Sometime ago I decided I should look around at modern gear and make sure I wasnt "Missing out" on anything so I went to several local high end shops. After seeing tons of speakers that were so ugly I wouldnt even have them in my home much less enjoy listening to them I found a set of somethings for about $4,500. They sounded GREAT in the store and looked like normal speakers on nice stands.I plunk down the card whilst explaining that I might return them Monday if I dont like them. Get them home and hook them up directly in front of my Olympus speakers. I invite a few friends over and we demo LPs and CDs for several hours going back and forth moving the Somethings out of the way and re-hooking up the JBL's up over and over again. Well EVERYONE, myself included agreed that the JBL Olympus sounded way better. We all seemed to use the same terms like "Fuller body" and "Richer tones" along with "More presence in the vocals and guitar work" Bla Bla Bla...... I packaged the somethings back up and returned them on Saturday instead.

    I am done buying new gear for now. If I ever hear something that sounds better than what I have, I will buy it.

  3. #3
    RIP 2009
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    Feb 2004
    Rohnert Park, CA
    I think one reason vintage equipment brings such high prices is that "they don't build 'em like that anymore." Think vintage cars, with big chrome bumpers, etc. A far less expensive newer car will usually be better in all features - reliability, comfort, driveability, etc., but some people just have to have that which they either desired earlier in life or as a pristine example of "the way it was...".

    Of course, with proper setup, a lot of older gear can sound quite nice, but I hazard to say, for the $9K - $15K to purchase a Paragon, a little research and listening would find current speakers that are capable of sounding far better...

    'Just my opinion.


  4. #4
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    Apr 2003

    Good question and its a case by case thing and you need to talk about specifics.

    ie Some sort after designs are timeless in that the design and materials have not altered for decades but may no longer be available hence the high prices on collector auctions.

    However, if you are comparing old hi end with mid new or new new hi end, as a rule the mid new or current models of hi end will always be better, particularly from the same manufacturer. The build quality of the premium brands as a rule does not change unless there has been a change in ownership.

  5. #5
    RIP 2011 Zilch's Avatar
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    Jun 2004
    Berkeley, CA
    It's not about the actual quality of the sound, rather the perceived "quality" of it, i.e., it's "character" and coloration.

    The technology has moved well ahead in 40 years, and doesn't sound the same anymore.

    No amount of expenditure on restoration, tweaking, or voodoo is going to bring "Vintage" up to today's standards.

    Primarily, it's about money, status, nostalgia....

    Some of it has esthetic value transcending the sound.

    Did I mention "Money?"

    Much of the rest is hype to inflate the price, is all....

  6. #6
    Senior Member SUPERBEE's Avatar
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    Sunny San Diego California
    I used to live next door to a retired audio engineer in the early 90s and he helped me with my early JBL and MAC stuff. He told me then that

    "today your new stereo amp could get up and make you coffe in the morning and your new speakers could drive your car to work for you but as far as sounding better.........No......Audo gear really it its stride and had its best inovations thru the late 50s to the early 70s"

    He was a weird old guy, Right but weird.

  7. #7
    As Homer Simpson once said:

    "Everyone knows that music attained perfection in 1974!"


  8. #8
    But seriously,

    I think the best of today easily beats the best of yesterday.


  9. #9
    Senior Member SUPERBEE's Avatar
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    The equipment match-ups I can recommend from my limited personal experience

    Mcintosh MC-75+Mcintosh MX-110+JBL Olympus

    Mcintosh 5100+ AR 4X (For a sweet sounding and looking bedroom set)

    Mcintosh MC-30s+Mcintosh MX-110+JBL Sovereigns

    Mcintosh 1700+JBL Dorians (A JBL MiniGon was added to this rig but later sold as it never sounded very good)

    Mcintosh MC 2105+Mcintosh C-26+JBL L-200s

    Fisher 500-C+JBL Paragon

    Fisher X-101-C+JBL 2060 (The JBLs are not much to look at but the whole system sounds pretty darn good)

    Things I will NOT reccomend.....

    Klipsch speakers
    Cerwin Vega speakers
    Sansui gear
    Any speaker that looks like a prop from the ALIEN movie franchise
    Drinking beer before vodka
    driving ANY Ford product

  10. #10
    Administrator Mr. Widget's Avatar
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    Apr 2003
    San Francisco
    Anyone telling you that a vintage LS3/5A is better than a new one is fooling themselves. As for Paragons and certain other models they are collected for a variety of reasons. I would guess that some are cherished for their unique sound, but many are collected for their historical significance, their wow factor, and their relative rarity.

    As for the older JBLs like the L300 and the Altec Model 19 and the like, I think some people like them because of the nostalgia, others because they haven't heard the many, many, many, newer better speakers, others because these used speakers are actually quite inexpensive... when you take inflation into account any of these speakers from the mid '70s would need to be worth over 4 times what they cost new to be the same price in today's dollars. Most of them are only worth about what they cost new and many are worth less than that on today's used market, and finally some people simply like the funky sound these vintage speakers make. I know there are times when I do.

    As for quality of construction of the drivers there are plenty of new examples that are every bit as well built as the best of yesterday, but in an attempt to keep prices ridiculously low many systems are engineered to perform exceptionally well using less expensive techniques and materials. I think in general the quality of the cabinet construction has actually improved across the board.

    You mentioned electrostats... many do not age well. There was an article in Stereophile a month or so back where a vintage Quad was rebuilt... I suppose as long as you rebuild them they are as good as ever. I am not sure if there is support available for every brand though. I was into electrostats for a time... I am back into horns now though... who knows, maybe back to ribbons next???


  11. #11
    RIP 2010 scott fitlin's Avatar
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    Apr 2003
    Brooklyn NY
    Some of yesterdays premium gear, especially speakers, had a warm sound to them. Although this warmth and full bodied tone is actually coloration, it sounded pleasing to the ear. Most of todays premium gear is far more accurate and coloration free, however, this doesnt always make for the most pleasing listening expereince. Ceratin colorations and exaggerations can make pre recorded music sound more realistic, and fun to listen to. And sometimes, with gear thats really accurate, people domt always love it, because what you put in is exactly what you get out. This means that if your recordings arent stellar, you hear them for what they really are.

    Many things from the past are prized for their sound. The fact that some of this vintage gear has a sound, instead of being neutral, or as neutral as possible tells the story that there is in fact coloration present. But, many folks like the tone of some gear that is inherently inaccurate. I know, I am one of them. I happen to be addicted to Altec 421-8LF 15in woofers in horn cabinets. They have cone breakup, resonance, and a midbass accentuation that makes them a bit boomy, and a wicked transient response, and this is exactly what I love about them, but, accurate they aint! But they are fun to hear.

    Conversely, todays premium gear has far lower distortion, greater power handling, and accuracy that yesterdays gear just didnt have due to the limitations of the technology available at the time.

    And yet, companies like JBL and Altec achieved remarkable results for the time these products were made.

    Its kind of similar to the -Digital -vs- Analog debate-! Digital recordings and digital processing are measurably cleaner, and have higher dynamic range capability, and yet, many still prefer the sound of analog, despite analogs warts! I know I do.

    Vintage audio can be a real PITA though. If you blow a speaker, and its a speaker that parts havent been available for many years, many times it never sounds the same with the parts you can get today. Same for electronics!

  12. #12
    Senior Seņor boputnam's Avatar
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    northern california
    Quote Originally Posted by SUPERBEE
    I have posted this story here before...... Bla Bla Bla...... I packaged the somethings back up and returned them
    Me too, and me too...

    In the most memorable, I took my measurement gear overseas for just this purpose. I had heard the system before, and didn't care for it - a host of reasons, but I wanted to measure the response.

    The measurements revealed why:
    - there was a steep roll-off on the LF
    - there was a deep and wide notch at the crossover point (~400Hz if I remember correctly. I emailed tech support with my curves asking "why and WTF?". They never replied but soon released a new improved line...)
    - the response was far from even

    - there was no bottom end
    - the mid-range was blaring
    - the highs were metallic

    They guy had all the elephantine cables you could dream of, and a monster class A amp weighting 300 lbs, and bass traps (because someone told him he needed them), but the sound was not good. There was great attention to the signal path but none to room acoustics (bass traps were the last thing he needed). I slipped in an EQ and filtered for the response of the room - it was a marked improvement, but was that system worth the cost? Not to me.

    These newer highly efficient and incredibly costly systems are too often just un-boxed, connected with railroad rails, and cherished. I can't justify their cost, but know the worry of applying the "cursed EQ" has compromised much of these systems' potential.

    Having said THAT, one cannot merely unbox the vintage JBL line of Studio Monitors, either. Their enjoyment benefits greatly from paying due attention to the acoustic response of the room.

    "Indeed, not!!"

  13. #13
    Senior Member Hoerninger's Avatar
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  14. #14
    Originally Posted by norealtalent
    Ignorance is bliss!!!

    I knew there was a perfectly logical explanation why I'm so happy!!!

  15. #15
    Senior Member Steve Schell's Avatar
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    Jun 2003
    Long Beach, CA
    My experiences in recent years have mostly involved experimenting with mountains of used industrial sound equipment, horns, compression drivers and tube amps, pressing it into service for home use because its capabilites for natural sound reproduction run circles around much of today's "high end" (hind end?) gear. It strikes me as a crazy situation, and quite unfortunate, but that is how I see it.

    An essay by Robert Fulton on the history of audio was reprinted in Sound Practices magazine a few years ago. His basic take was that audio has been in a downward spiral almost from the beginning, most design "advances" being made for non-sonic reasons like greater efficiency or lower manufacturing cost. I do know that my explorations have whisked me right back to the 1920s and 1930s, to directly heated triode circuits, field coil drivers, large horns and the like. Sure, a lot of modern stuff like SACDs and phono playback equipment is great, but audio certainly has a few kinks in that straight line of progress.

    Superbee hit on one important aspect. As late as the 1960s, better home hi fi gear presented the richness and body of musical instruments in a pretty faithful way, even if the extreme high frequencies were lacking. Over the past few decades the quest has been for imaging and detail, and a rather thin, tilted up tonal balance has been all the rage. These days warmth is described in audio mag reviews as though it's a problem. First transistors took over, then digital swept in. James Boyk of Performance Recordings used to sell a T shirt with a cartoon of a very mangled musical note and the motto "Digital finishes what the transistor began." Between the colder balance and the emotional distancing of modern technologies, I don't think it is coincidental that far fewer folks sit down and really listen to music as a pastime the way they used to.

    Despite the advances in some areas, I think I would have found more to like at a hi fi show in 1956 than in 2006. Also plenty of great stuff in the movie theatres in 1936!

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