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Updating electronics in an old stereo cabinet

Discussion in 'AV Receivers' started by JoeFish, Dec 4, 2010.

  1. JoeFish

    JoeFish Well-Known Member

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    I found this beautiful old stereo cabinet at our local Habitat for Humanity Re-Store. The price was ludicrously cheap, so I had to take it home.

    Turns out, it works and sounds great! I don't know if someone replaced the speakers at some point (there's a date of 12/1965 on the back on the cabinet), but the speaker boxes are solid, and well insulated. Each side has one big woofer and 4 mid/tweets.

    As much as I like the groovy look of it, I'd like to replace the receiver with a modern unit. The turntable just died today, so that will need replacing too.

    Does anyone know if receivers with that form factor, preferably with a built-in phono preamp, are still made? My searches so far have turned up nothing.






    -Joe
     
  2. gene c

    gene c Well-Known Member

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    That's a beautiful cabinent. My uncle had one similar to that in the 70's (Packard-Bell I think). I remember it weighed a ton.


    I really don't see an option for replacing that receiver. Maybe check the vintage electronics section on ebay or some used stereo stores and repair shops. You like flea markets and garage sales? But if you plan on getting that lucky then buy some lottery tickets instead!


    Have you considered fitting it with some new gear? You could use the existing speakers or upgrade them as well. Just a thought.
     
  3. JoeFish

    JoeFish Well-Known Member

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    Yes, it does weigh a ton :) I did manage to get it out of my pickup and into my house by myself with some creative wrangling.


    I do want to replace the electronics with new gear. I was hoping to find something in a similar form factor, though, so I don't have to do too much modification to this lovely cabinet. I have a feeling I'll be SOL.


    What I may do is keep the faceplate from the original electronics - pull out the guts but leave all the lights and stuff - and hide a modern unit in the cabinet underneath.


    -Joe
     
  4. Charles Smith

    Charles Smith Extremely Talented Member
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    Very nice!

    These old hi-fi/stereo consoles can be wonderful finds, stylistically, but don't expect any kind of audiophile quality performance from them. I picked up a ca-1960 Fisher in a beautiful cabinet with Garrard turntable and tube electronics that I'd like to get working -- just for the fun of spinning an old record on it now and then. This inspires me to get that project back on the list.


    Normally I'm less attracted to later models, especially those with run-of-the-mill solid-state innards. I can't quite make out what's in yours. What's the make, and is it tubes or SS? The thing I like about it is what I'm seeing as a Danish Modern style, which for my taste always looks great and goes with anything.


    Interior looks nice, too, but that's where I'd differ and not hesitate to modify it and replace both turntable and receiver. Put a nice 1960's Dual turntable in there! Easy to find, as are the mounting instructions. The receiver section, not so easy. But as others have said, you're in lotto territory if you get lucky enough to find actual replacements with the same mounting. Maybe go to something more contemporary and reliable that has rack mounts?


    Remember, the components in these things were never high end. To my knowledge, anyway. They were furniture to make you feel luxurious and impress the neighbors. They were, in fact, usually quite LOW end, such as the Sears disaster my parents bought. I remember as a kid being envious of any friend or neighbor who had a "nice stereo" like this. The ones that included reel-to-reel decks were even more of a holy grail.


    Enjoy!
     
  5. JoeFish

    JoeFish Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for the reply, Chas. As I said above, I do want to replace the receiver and turntable with modern units. I just want to do it in such a way that it looks nice and doesn't ruin the aesthetic of the original. That's why I was asking if any modern components are made with the controls on top instead of on the front.


    But it seems that finding something like that is a pipe dream, so I'm looking at putting modern components in the cabinet underneath the existing electronics. Now I have to research turntables and phono amps. All I know so far is they're not inexpensive ;)


    It is a General Electric solid-state component. But all of the pots for volume/tone/etc are pretty well shot, and there's a background hum. The speakers sound great, though.


    -Joe
     
  6. Charles Smith

    Charles Smith Extremely Talented Member
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    When you're looking at amps or receivers, don't let the lack of phono input limit your choices. There are some very small phono preamps that I think would be easily hidden inside that cabinet, which you'll plug into any available line-level input on the amp.
     
  7. Jeff Hipps

    Jeff Hipps Well-Known Member

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    I haven't seen one of these units facelifted in some time. There are several issues trying to upgrade the electronics to a more modern receiver.

    1. That form factor doesn't exist.

    2. That unit is probably suspended by the face plate and most modern receivers don't like that.

    3. Unless your modern receiver has a fan to aid cooling, it relies on convection with heat rising vertically through the vents in the top cover. If you mount the unit vertically, to mimic the existing chassis, the heat won't dissipate as designed and the unit may suffer premature failure.


    Jeff
     
  8. JoeFish

    JoeFish Well-Known Member

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    Thanks Jeff, that's basically what I was trying to determine. I'm going to take a completely different direction, I think. Something involving touch screens :) I'll post up pix here once I start gathering components.


    -Joe
     
  9. CB750

    CB750 Well-Known Member

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    Joe,


    My two cents. Years ago I tired to turn a beautiful but much smaller Magnavox HI FI, mono console cabinet with two front doors into a stereo rack for my stereo components and replace old turntable under the lid with my new phono. When I started to take the cabinet apart I ran into all kinds of problems as nothing was the right size for modern components. The my first of all my turntable was much to large to fit in the space that the old turntable had. The space where the old receiver was housed was too narrow to fit my components. I would have had to completely rebuild the the inside of the cabinet from scratch and even if I did I didn't have any of the original cherry wood or original stain to make fill in pieces for the front. Sad to say I gave up.

    However, I do see one option for you. If you could find a way to place or house all of new components in that center section and then use a Harmony remote to control everything the same way you would if the components were housed in a closet. You could put the components in backwards from the back so that you wouldn't have to touch the front panels and then put the whole unit on casters so that you could move it away from the wall for service and access. The space for your turntable looks large enough to house a modern unit. It also looks like you have plenty of room on either side to hide some large book shelf or short tower speakers behind those original grill grill cloth.
     
  10. JoeFish

    JoeFish Well-Known Member

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    Ok guys it has begun. Hope you don't mind lots of pictures. I picked up this Harmon-Kardon HK 3490 receiver from NewEgg to replace the 1965-vintage electronics. First order of business, pull out the old receiver and turntable. Pretty straightforward once I figured out how they were mounted.





    I was left with an absolute bird's nest of wires.





    The left speaker cabinet has two wires coming out of it. The right one has 5. Huh? So I cracked it open. See the thing in the far top-right corner?





    It's a light bulb! It shines out through a hole in the face of the cabinet just above the left speaker.








    Which is wired in parallel with another light bulb in the "Record Saver". It's got a felt-lined slot, presumably for a record, and the light bulb inside that hole. Anyone know what it's for? Oh, also the 5th wire inside the right speaker cabinet goes from the big woofer's negative terminal to the metalized sheet you see underneath the Record Saver. Not sure what that's about either.





    Anyway, found some instructions in the cabinet :)





    Then I unpacked the H-K. It is one sexy beast. The volume knob is very cool - it's a hollow ring that lights up on the inside.








    Not sure if the remote is for controlling the receiver or hitting people. It's enormous.





    FM and Phono sound really good. We hooked up a computer to the CD input via the computer's headphone jack and it was really thin in the midrange, but I haven't done any tweaking yet.


    Here are some pics of the old receiver. This thing is crazy :)











    -Joe
     
  11. chuckg

    chuckg Well-Known Member

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    I love old stuff! Very cool that you are updating it...hope it turns out way cool!


    Here's a shot of the record saver in action - don't know about the lights.



     
  12. CB750

    CB750 Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for keeping us updated on your project, looks like you are making progress and having some fun. Are those the original speakers or did you do an upgrade as it's hard to tell in the picture.

    While you cabinet looks to be in good shape are you planning on refinishing it? If so be careful with the use of strong strippers and heavy sanding as most cabinets from that era where plywood veneer so you don't have a lot of real wood to work with. I have had excellent results with trying to melt off the top layers of old finish with a mixture of wood grain alcohol and a bit of stripeze wood stripper (methylene chloride) using fine steel wool and then whipping it down. This is the basic system found in those Formby refinishing kits.
     
  13. JoeFish

    JoeFish Well-Known Member

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    Little more progress today. Stuck the receiver in the cabinet - it had to go in from the back and fit with 1/4" to spare. Turns out the Radio Shack IR repeater I got doesn't work with it, so I guess I'll have to find an H-K one.


    I also dropped in a spare phono I had lying around. It also fits like it was made for it.


    Rewired the stock speakers, and they sound great! Next up: Atom PC and flat screen monitor.








    -Joe
     
  14. JoeFish

    JoeFish Well-Known Member

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    Hi Bill, sorry I missed your post before.


    The finish on the cabinet is still very nice. I'm just going to maintain it and not refinish it.


    -Joe
     
  15. CB750

    CB750 Well-Known Member

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    Joe,


    Looks like you having fun and moving nicely on your project. It's also great that you don't have to refinish as sometimes you can run into problems. When you are all done you might want to give it a quick polish with some lemon oil treatment. I use it on all of my wood furniture about every 6 months. If you have any discoloration that the lemon oil will not fix I find a 50/50 mixture of boiled linseed oil and turpentine rubbed on with a rag also looks great.
     
  16. Philip Hamm

    Philip Hamm Well-Known Member

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    Dude! A Realistic LAB-440! I have that same turntable. Nice piece!
     

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