The Budget Audiophiler is going to begin this week with a little rant. I need to vent about McIntosh. The folks in Binghamton have my utmost respect, but they have created a problem that they can’t fix. I’m laying my obsessive love for tube amplifiers at their feet. I remember the first time I saw a McIntosh MC240 stereo tube amplifier and just getting lost in the moment; almost becoming transfixed by the industrial piece of art and its illuminated exposed tubes.
At some point, I will own a McIntosh tube amplifier, but the cult surrounding these gorgeous vintage pieces has pushed the prices well out of reach. I’m a practical person. I have a normal day job like everyone else, kids, mortgage payments, and I did what any other sane person in my position would do – I sold one of my organs as a down payment on that amplifier. Just kidding. Instead of obsessing in the short-term, I began conducting research and one amplifier began showing up in almost all of my searches; the Fisher 400.
And so begins our little journey.
I’m a hunter. Not like Steve McQueen in his last film with the cool car chase in the tower in Chicago that ends rather violently in the river below – but a hunter of vintage audio. I hunt for audio bargains online and can smell one when I find it. The more I read about the Fisher 400 tube receiver, the more I realized that I might have discovered something wonderful that I never knew that I wanted. Finding a bargain in this scenario was most likely not going to pan out, but I was going to try.
Growing up in the 1980s, I remember Fisher as a manufacturer of mid-fi (I’m being polite) receivers and stereo systems. Sanyo had purchased the company and brand name in 1975 (from Emerson who bought the brand in 1969) and nothing was ever the same. The products produced in the 1960s and 1980s are miles part; both in terms of sound quality, and the level of industrial design. The original Fisher products were gorgeous and designed for people who cared about sound quality.
Avery Fisher started the Fisher Radio Corporation in 1945, and in the 1960s they focused on high-end tube audio components, consoles, and phonographs. The models that caught my eye were the 400, 500, and 800 (and their variants). Fisher was actually the first manufacturer to offer audio separates; McIntosh, Marantz, H.H. Scott, and Harmon Kardon would eventually do the same. “The Fisher” was the actual brand name that was marketed.
Fisher’s first receiver was the model 500, a mono AM/FM receiver using two EL37 output tubes. It had a brass-plated face panel and an optional mahogany or “blonde” wooden case.
All three had different features and power ratings, but they were all tube receivers or integrated amplifiers. I set out to find one of these models, but I was seduced by the iconic “bird” icon featured on the 400 and 800 model receivers. The more I hunted for one of these tube receivers – the more I found myself drawn to all of the marketing material and catalogs that the brand produced.
They knew back then what a lot of modern brands forget – this is about lifestyle.
The Fisher King
At the beginning of my journey two years ago, I was definitely in a learning phase in regard to tube technology. I had not yet learned how to solder and the last time I used a multi-meter, I set a small fire in my house. My wife wasn’t so happy with the Budget Audiophiler that weekend.
With my pride slightly wounded, I had the intelligence to focus on finding a “serviced” model. That term means very different things to a lot of people. When looking for any kind of vintage component you really need to ask a lot of questions. There are no stupid questions when it pertains to plugging a 60 year-old piece of electrical equipment into a power receptacle.
At the very bottom of the list is the seller who claims that the unit is “serviced” but is unable or unwilling to provide you with the information to determine If that is true. You should avoid this type of transaction. Been there. Done that. Not a good result.
Another seller might claim that the unit is “partially serviced”; which means that the unit has been tested and specific components that were out of spec or broken have been replaced. I would ask specific questions about which components were replaced, the timing of those repairs, and who performed them.
Any seller who gets weird when you ask these questions should be a red flag.
The final seller might claim in their advertisement that the unit has undergone a “full restoration.” The same comprehensive list of questions from #2 seller have to be applied here as well. I would also want to know which tubes (new or NOS) are being included in the transaction. Are they new or the from the original tube set?
You want a seller who knows the product and understands the nature of the changes that were made. If the “fully restored” unit is selling for an amount that seems too low (do your research), you might not be getting the full story.
After a few near hits and a month of comprehensive searches, I found an excellent version of The Fisher 400 and bid. I was not successful at winning this specific model, but I did discover the type of seller that you want to work with. “Frank” (whom I found on eBay) was very open about all of the changes and modifications that he made to the models that he had for sale.
What made him unique was that he focused specifically on Fisher components from the 1960s and was able to provide very detailed photographs and videos about each component. He was the type of seller who was methodical about the restorations performed. He only sourced the best possible examples of each model and had the entire component restored internally; brand new capacitors, new tubes (if required), new wiring, and with or without the refinished wood case.
After building up some trust, he informed me that he had one of the “best” model Fisher 400s coming in with the original “65 watts” sticker attached to the front panel. I decided to bite. We agreed to a fair price and I was elated.
The prices for vintage components like the Fisher 400 are rising. Substantially. Collectors know that there are a finite number of these prized components available, and that people are willing to spend to own one.
The Fisher 400 Arrives
Two very long weeks passed before I received confirmation that the unit was ready. I made the decision to not purchase the restored wood case because it reduced the price by a few hundred dollars. I suspected that I would be able to find one at a later date and what kind of Heathen would want to cover up so many beautiful glowing tubes.
The seller also made a point of providing me with test results from the unit before it was shipped.
When I received notification from FedEx that the unit could be picked up, I rushed out to get a case of my favourite cold nourishment, and drove home with a stupid grin on my face. The Crate & Barrel shipping box was a nice touch.
The Fisher 400 tube receiver that I purchased uses Electro Harmonix 7868 output tubes; the 65 watts of output make the receiver far more useful with more modern loudspeakers and its sound quality impresses me more and more with each new loudspeaker that I try with it.
The first night with the Fisher 400 was one of experimentation. I paired the receiver with Ohm 3X0s, Jensen Model 4s, EPI Time/Energy, and my prized Ohm Walsh F loudspeakers. All of them sounded amazing but I ended up keeping it paired with the Ohm Walsh 3X0.
The clarity from this amplifier manufactured almost 6 decades ago was startling. The detail, transparency, and level of engagement was superb.
I have since added a case and some right-angle spade forks so that I can use loudspeaker cables terminated with banana pins. Not a huge amount of money and far preferable to bare wire.
My experience taught me that there are some reputable sellers out there and if you do your homework, there is a great chance of finding a solid example of this amplifier or one of the other models from the 500 or 800 series of amplifiers.
As I mentioned, demand exceeds supply in this particular case so expect to pay in the range of $400 – $1,400 for the Fisher 400 tube receiver.
If you can find one inside a console at an estate or garage sale, I can provide you with some guidance on getting it repaired or restored — and help you find a case.
The Fisher 400 is one of my greatest finds and will be part of our home for many years to come.