A Hi-Fi question to think about.

Discussion in 'Music' started by Garrett Lundy, Jun 18, 2004.

  1. Garrett Lundy

    Garrett Lundy Producer

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    Is Hi-Fi still Hi-Fi? Is Mid-Fi real? Is Low-Fi even a word? I was thinking about this earlier today.

    Often you'll see an advertisment, or read a review, or hear somebody talk about something old.... For example I overheard two old guys talking about a restored '55 Chevrolet today:

    "Boy thats a nice car, They sure don't make 'em like they used to".

    Of course they don't, even a modern Chevy metro could run circles around this ancient heap, but it was old and so people tend to forget things like crappy 8" drum brakes (with no power assist), hydromatic, tires that lasted 7 months, 6-volt, and the idea of planned obsolecence in which a car was designed to fall-apart after two years, just in time for the new model.

    I was wondering if the same were true of audio? If I ran a side-by-side comparison of yesteryears "great" stuff, would it still be great? Would it suck? would it compare to something else?

    Heres where I need help. I don't happen to own any audio magazines from the past so give me some ideas: what were popular hi-end amps, sources, and speakers?

    Something tells me with a little looking , a VISA card, and access to Ebay I can recreate a vintage (say, late 60's) super-awesome system. Then I can compare this system to a modern system.

    My guess: A modern crappy Lo-Fi system will sonically be superior to the Hi-Fi system.

    Why do this? Because I'm bored. And I like the idea of a Sony AVR beating a McIntosh tube amplifier... I just think its funny [​IMG]
     
  2. Philip Hamm

    Philip Hamm Lead Actor

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    Garrett I think your supposition is wrong. I'll bet that an older hi-fi system is equal to a new one. Even a really old one. I'm running a vintage 1973 amp for my sub (Crown DC-300A) and it completely kicks ass. Audio technology matured for the most part many years ago, listen to some old recordings like '50s Jazz such as Cannonball Adderly's "Somethin' Else" or Miles Davis' "Kind Of Blue". Audio reproduction has been great for a long time.
     
  3. Kevin C Brown

    Kevin C Brown Producer

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    I 100% agree. Just because something is new, doesn't mean it's any better. [​IMG]

    I bet that '55 Chevy has a bigger engine, is faster, and would keep you a heckuva lot safer in an accident than a Geo Metro. [​IMG]

    There are quite a few classic components from the "good old days" that would blow the doors off most stuff produced today. And ... they go for pennies on the dollar.

    Good sound is good sound whether it's 1975 or 2004...
     
  4. Kevin C Brown

    Kevin C Brown Producer

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    I 100% agree. Just because something is new, doesn't mean it's any better. [​IMG]

    I bet that '55 Chevy has a bigger engine, is faster, and would keep you a heckuva lot safer in an accident than a Geo Metro. [​IMG]

    There are quite a few classic components from the "good old days" that would blow the doors off most stuff produced today. And ... they go for pennies on the dollar.

    Good sound is good sound whether it's 1975 or 2004...
     
  5. DanaA

    DanaA Screenwriter

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    I recently listened to a friend's "old" system, consisting of circa 1970's Luxman integrated amp and Klipsch Heresy speakers. That system is outstanding. I have Klipsch Reference speakers in a secondary room. The old, imo, is better than the new here. A few years back, I bought an Onkyo receiver rated at 100 watts/channel X's 5. I had told my daughter that she could have my old stuff, "just wait until you hear this new receiver!" Boy, was I disappointed. The new receivers power supply paled in comparison to my old Onkyo, bought in the mid to late 80's. Had bought a new Harman Kardon CD changer at the time, but it wasn't nearly as dynamic as my old Onkyo. Sold the Onkyo after less than a year and the HK has been replaced by an Arcam and now sits in a closet until I figure out what to do with it.

    I'm also a bit into headphones and have participated some over at Headfi.com. A lot of people over there by things like vintage Marantz receivers for the more than adequate headphone jacks. A lot of receivers now come with lousy headphone jacks, if they have them at all. The same goes for phono stages, etc.

    I'm not saying that there isn't some excellent new gear out there, but just that I wouldn't personally give a summary dismissal to what used to be out there.
     
  6. DanaA

    DanaA Screenwriter

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    I recently listened to a friend's "old" system, consisting of circa 1970's Luxman integrated amp and Klipsch Heresy speakers. That system is outstanding. I have Klipsch Reference speakers in a secondary room. The old, imo, is better than the new here. A few years back, I bought an Onkyo receiver rated at 100 watts/channel X's 5. I had told my daughter that she could have my old stuff, "just wait until you hear this new receiver!" Boy, was I disappointed. The new receivers power supply paled in comparison to my old Onkyo, bought in the mid to late 80's. Had bought a new Harman Kardon CD changer at the time, but it wasn't nearly as dynamic as my old Onkyo. Sold the Onkyo after less than a year and the HK has been replaced by an Arcam and now sits in a closet until I figure out what to do with it.

    I'm also a bit into headphones and have participated some over at Headfi.com. A lot of people over there by things like vintage Marantz receivers for the more than adequate headphone jacks. A lot of receivers now come with lousy headphone jacks, if they have them at all. The same goes for phono stages, etc.

    I'm not saying that there isn't some excellent new gear out there, but just that I wouldn't personally give a summary dismissal to what used to be out there.
     
  7. Rachael B

    Rachael B Producer

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    Garrett, today's speakers are better than 1970 speakers. Speaker design and tweeters have come a long way. Wood or wood veneer was pretty much standard back then though. There were alot of good looking speakers back then.
    The other, better half of those vintage components from back then would compare well with today's, I mean the boxes and sources. One of the nicest, best built components I ever owned was a 1972 Tandberg TCD-300 cassette deck. All metal construction, dual capstans, beautiful ergonomics, killer deck! I'd stille use it today if the relatively minor parts were available. It would be a very above average tape deck now too.

    Today's recievers ALWAYS have a lousy radio tuner, never have wood side panels, have buttons instead of nobs. The silver faceplates looked good with those wood side panels back then. I always admired Marantz's styin' back then. I never ended up with any Marantz stuff back then though. My first Marantz didn't come till 2000...

    Today's recievers cut corners to squeez in all the excess features necessary for A/V, IMO. Stare-e-o was so simple-er.

    In 1972 my stereo was:
    Dynaco SQ-8o integrated amp with matrix 4 or 3 channel modes, Dynaco A-35 speakers with custom grills, a Scott tuner I got at a pawn shop, Phillips 212 Electronic turntable with Shure, I think, M91E cartridge, and the before mentioned Tandberg tape deck. Back then all the equipment was so much sturdier built than now. That glares at me!!!

    The biggest problem with 2-day's equipment is the software we have to play in it, IMO. Speakers, the all important speakers, are better than ever. So much of today's software is so inferior sounding IMO. The cost of CD players to attempt to fully exploit the format, is awful high these days. In the 70's you could pick up good turntables for less in, indexed dollars, me thinks. It was easier, cheaper to exploit the vinyl format IMO.

    Given what equipment most of us enthusiasts have here in the now dayz, it's ashamed we have to scrap so hard to get good sounding software. Sure, the audiophile labels put out some good sounding stuff but the majors are now so mediocre, day in and day out. They put on a show now and then but....
     
  8. Rachael B

    Rachael B Producer

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    Garrett, today's speakers are better than 1970 speakers. Speaker design and tweeters have come a long way. Wood or wood veneer was pretty much standard back then though. There were alot of good looking speakers back then.
    The other, better half of those vintage components from back then would compare well with today's, I mean the boxes and sources. One of the nicest, best built components I ever owned was a 1972 Tandberg TCD-300 cassette deck. All metal construction, dual capstans, beautiful ergonomics, killer deck! I'd stille use it today if the relatively minor parts were available. It would be a very above average tape deck now too.

    Today's recievers ALWAYS have a lousy radio tuner, never have wood side panels, have buttons instead of nobs. The silver faceplates looked good with those wood side panels back then. I always admired Marantz's styin' back then. I never ended up with any Marantz stuff back then though. My first Marantz didn't come till 2000...

    Today's recievers cut corners to squeez in all the excess features necessary for A/V, IMO. Stare-e-o was so simple-er.

    In 1972 my stereo was:
    Dynaco SQ-8o integrated amp with matrix 4 or 3 channel modes, Dynaco A-35 speakers with custom grills, a Scott tuner I got at a pawn shop, Phillips 212 Electronic turntable with Shure, I think, M91E cartridge, and the before mentioned Tandberg tape deck. Back then all the equipment was so much sturdier built than now. That glares at me!!!

    The biggest problem with 2-day's equipment is the software we have to play in it, IMO. Speakers, the all important speakers, are better than ever. So much of today's software is so inferior sounding IMO. The cost of CD players to attempt to fully exploit the format, is awful high these days. In the 70's you could pick up good turntables for less in, indexed dollars, me thinks. It was easier, cheaper to exploit the vinyl format IMO.

    Given what equipment most of us enthusiasts have here in the now dayz, it's ashamed we have to scrap so hard to get good sounding software. Sure, the audiophile labels put out some good sounding stuff but the majors are now so mediocre, day in and day out. They put on a show now and then but....
     
  9. Iver

    Iver Second Unit

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    No, it's spelled Lo-Fi.

    Well, your point about cars is interesting. But if cars have improved over time, the same cannot be said for low-cost audio gear.

    If you go back before the mid-1960's, even clock radios had tube amplifiers. And tube everything else too.

    Many of the changes which have come about are oriented towards reducing manufacturing costs, not towards increasing quality.

    I'll give my old Technics receiver as an example. It's constructed out of discrete components (resistors, capacitors, inductors, diodes, transistors, transformers). About a year after my receiver, Technics made the transistion, as have all mass-market gear makers, to including more and more integrated circuits.

    Now, IC's are not inherently bad. They do give you more bang for the buck. But there are many cases where discrete components will perform better.

    Another good thing about older gear is that it usually packed fewer components into a larger space. There was ample breathing room. You couldn't cook an egg on the older receivers (unless you poured it right over one of the final amp stage transistors after cranking Led Zeppling for an hour or two) as you can on top of the cases of many modern receivers.

    Now, the older receivers also packed in less functionality. Basically, the typical receiver had an AM/FM tuner, a phono input, a tape loop, a cassette or reel-to-reel input, and an auxiliary input. And, of course, with the exception of Quadraphonic models, the older receivers were stereo only.

    There's more going on in the newer gear. Digital to analog conversion. Five, six, or seven channels of amplification. DD/DTS decoding. Video source switching. The new A/V receivers do more.

    But they lack one thing. And that is a soul.

    Moving right along....

    Rachael's point about tuners is good.

    Digital tuners get to different frequencies by using varactors. The varactor is a type of diode which changes its capacitance (making it unusual for a diode) depending on the voltage applied. This lets you have the fixed frequencies of a digital tuner. However, in most cases this only allows tuning the exact frequencies. Unlike with a tuner employing a variable capacitor (or a gang of variable capacitors), as was the norm with older receivers and tuners, you can't tune to a slightly off frequency. You can't nail the signal down exactly right. It all depends on the station and your receiver's digital tuning circuitry being exactly right, which is not always the case.

    If you look at a really nice tuner, like one of those $1,000 babies from Canada, what will you find, but a gang of variable capacitors. Just try to even fit a gang of variable capacitors inside a modern A/V receiver.

    Now, as to whether one of the older (I guess people call them vintage now) bits of audio gear will sound better or worse, most likely it won't sound that different. If it does sound different, it will probably sound somewhat better.

    Basic audio circuit design has not changed that much over the years. There is a certain amount of tinkering around the edges, but the underlying operation of the circuit, its basic design, is going to be pretty similar in, say, a Class A/B amp from 1978 and a Class A/B amp from 1998.

    Where the older gear will tend to get an advantage, as is the case with very expensive high-end gear, is in using good quality discrete components and installing them with care.

    But the only way to know for sure is to start scouring yard sales, or e-bay, find yourself a Technics SA-103 receiver, and stack its sound up against something modern.
     
  10. Iver

    Iver Second Unit

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    No, it's spelled Lo-Fi.

    Well, your point about cars is interesting. But if cars have improved over time, the same cannot be said for low-cost audio gear.

    If you go back before the mid-1960's, even clock radios had tube amplifiers. And tube everything else too.

    Many of the changes which have come about are oriented towards reducing manufacturing costs, not towards increasing quality.

    I'll give my old Technics receiver as an example. It's constructed out of discrete components (resistors, capacitors, inductors, diodes, transistors, transformers). About a year after my receiver, Technics made the transistion, as have all mass-market gear makers, to including more and more integrated circuits.

    Now, IC's are not inherently bad. They do give you more bang for the buck. But there are many cases where discrete components will perform better.

    Another good thing about older gear is that it usually packed fewer components into a larger space. There was ample breathing room. You couldn't cook an egg on the older receivers (unless you poured it right over one of the final amp stage transistors after cranking Led Zeppling for an hour or two) as you can on top of the cases of many modern receivers.

    Now, the older receivers also packed in less functionality. Basically, the typical receiver had an AM/FM tuner, a phono input, a tape loop, a cassette or reel-to-reel input, and an auxiliary input. And, of course, with the exception of Quadraphonic models, the older receivers were stereo only.

    There's more going on in the newer gear. Digital to analog conversion. Five, six, or seven channels of amplification. DD/DTS decoding. Video source switching. The new A/V receivers do more.

    But they lack one thing. And that is a soul.

    Moving right along....

    Rachael's point about tuners is good.

    Digital tuners get to different frequencies by using varactors. The varactor is a type of diode which changes its capacitance (making it unusual for a diode) depending on the voltage applied. This lets you have the fixed frequencies of a digital tuner. However, in most cases this only allows tuning the exact frequencies. Unlike with a tuner employing a variable capacitor (or a gang of variable capacitors), as was the norm with older receivers and tuners, you can't tune to a slightly off frequency. You can't nail the signal down exactly right. It all depends on the station and your receiver's digital tuning circuitry being exactly right, which is not always the case.

    If you look at a really nice tuner, like one of those $1,000 babies from Canada, what will you find, but a gang of variable capacitors. Just try to even fit a gang of variable capacitors inside a modern A/V receiver.

    Now, as to whether one of the older (I guess people call them vintage now) bits of audio gear will sound better or worse, most likely it won't sound that different. If it does sound different, it will probably sound somewhat better.

    Basic audio circuit design has not changed that much over the years. There is a certain amount of tinkering around the edges, but the underlying operation of the circuit, its basic design, is going to be pretty similar in, say, a Class A/B amp from 1978 and a Class A/B amp from 1998.

    Where the older gear will tend to get an advantage, as is the case with very expensive high-end gear, is in using good quality discrete components and installing them with care.

    But the only way to know for sure is to start scouring yard sales, or e-bay, find yourself a Technics SA-103 receiver, and stack its sound up against something modern.
     
  11. Iver

    Iver Second Unit

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    This site has information and reviews on vintage tuners and follows the sale prices for them on e-bay. It also has links to other sites specializing in the audio equipment of yore:

    tuners
     
  12. Iver

    Iver Second Unit

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    This site has information and reviews on vintage tuners and follows the sale prices for them on e-bay. It also has links to other sites specializing in the audio equipment of yore:

    tuners
     
  13. John Watson

    John Watson Screenwriter

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    Here's a fascinating read on the DETERIORATION in sound, much of it done by modern audio engineers

    http://members.aol.com/searsound/articles2.html

    As for the functionality and appearance of modern audio gear - it gives me a lot of "features" (bells and whistles) I don't need, loses nice and simple features along the way, makes usage difficult (tiny stupid buttons, displays) and packs them into ugly sharp cornered black boxes with wired spaghetti jungles to link them.

    My recent adventures with a new Denon CD player are disheartening [​IMG]
     
  14. John Watson

    John Watson Screenwriter

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    Here's a fascinating read on the DETERIORATION in sound, much of it done by modern audio engineers

    http://members.aol.com/searsound/articles2.html

    As for the functionality and appearance of modern audio gear - it gives me a lot of "features" (bells and whistles) I don't need, loses nice and simple features along the way, makes usage difficult (tiny stupid buttons, displays) and packs them into ugly sharp cornered black boxes with wired spaghetti jungles to link them.

    My recent adventures with a new Denon CD player are disheartening [​IMG]
     
  15. John Watson

    John Watson Screenwriter

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    I also agree with Rachael's point about too much packed in : AV in particular.

    But the suckers go for the complexity and "universal", and suffer the consequences.
     
  16. John Watson

    John Watson Screenwriter

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    I also agree with Rachael's point about too much packed in : AV in particular.

    But the suckers go for the complexity and "universal", and suffer the consequences.
     
  17. Phil A

    Phil A Producer

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    Basic amplifier technology has not changed all that much over the years as compared to what has changed with home theater processers where something is semi-obsolete feature wise is a relatively short time. New processer technology often means more circuitry to go thru and sharing of power supplies and other things necessary to get the product to market at a particular price point. I've owned and sold so much gear over the years and I'd still bet much of that older stuff would still be better than many A/V things today by a significant amt.
     
  18. Phil A

    Phil A Producer

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    Basic amplifier technology has not changed all that much over the years as compared to what has changed with home theater processers where something is semi-obsolete feature wise is a relatively short time. New processer technology often means more circuitry to go thru and sharing of power supplies and other things necessary to get the product to market at a particular price point. I've owned and sold so much gear over the years and I'd still bet much of that older stuff would still be better than many A/V things today by a significant amt.
     
  19. andrew markworthy

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    I think that mid and lo-fi probably are better today, but a large part of this is down to use of digital technology (it's far easier to get a CD or minidisc sounding half-way decent than an LP or cassette). Compare a typical music centre of the 70s with a modern music centre - no contest.

    At the high end of the market, I think it's a more debatable issue. I've never heard old speakers that I liked, but some older turntables, amps and tuners can more than hold their own.

    So I think overall things have improved, but with many notable exceptions.
     
  20. andrew markworthy

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    I think that mid and lo-fi probably are better today, but a large part of this is down to use of digital technology (it's far easier to get a CD or minidisc sounding half-way decent than an LP or cassette). Compare a typical music centre of the 70s with a modern music centre - no contest.

    At the high end of the market, I think it's a more debatable issue. I've never heard old speakers that I liked, but some older turntables, amps and tuners can more than hold their own.

    So I think overall things have improved, but with many notable exceptions.
     

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