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Iconic Sansui Amplifiers: Exit to Vintage Street

One of the most iconic Japanese audio brands, vintage Sansui amplifiers have become super hot on the used market and we know why.

Sansui AU-999 Vintage Amplifier

In my last year of high school, my brother came home one day with an old integrated amplifier. His boss at his part-time job (where he stripped and refinished old furniture) was clearing out his basement and gave it to him. Surplus to requirements.

I had a system of my own already but do remember thinking it looked somewhat cool. Black brushed metal face plate. Silver knobs. Black selector switches. Homemade wood case. Even then, in the early ‘80s, it was a retro-looking piece.

Not sure how much use that old amp got as my brother wasn’t a huge music nut. I was never aware of him having speakers or other equipment to use it with. He had a monster JVC ghetto blaster that probably got more use. I went off to university the following year and didn’t think about it again.

Sansui AU-555
The Picture: Sansui AU-555 picture attached to email from my brother.

Fast forward 35 years. I get an email from my brother asking about the best way to get rid of his old amp. Photo attached. Sansui AU-555. At this point I’m just getting (back) into vintage audio. “Best way is to give it to me” was my immediate, excited reply. And so it came to me, and after a short stay with That Old Retro Store getting checked over and re-capped, became part of my then small but growing vintage audio set-up.

A bit about Sansui

Japanese audio was hot from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. With quality high and prices low, North American consumers bought up equipment from brands like Pioneer, Sony, Technics, Sansui, Kenwood and others by the truckload. And now, with the resurgent popularity of vintage audio, these brands are again hot commodities.

In my mind, Sansui is the iconic vintage Japanese audio brand. Luxman and Accuphase fans might object to that statement and I can’t disagree from a quality perspective – but we’re talking about a different level of affordability. Few Japanese audio brands have the same, close-to-rabid following, particularly when it comes to integrated amplifiers and receivers. Yes, they made respectable tuners, speakers and turntables, but amplification was their jam; the proof-in-the pudding is reflected in today’s rarity (they’re around, but folks don’t like to part with their treasures) and high prices when they do come up for sale.

Sansui AU-7700
Sansui AU-7700: One of many great Sansui integrated amplifiers.

Sansui Electric was established in 1947 and released their first tube amplifier into the market in 1954. Several other amplifiers and receivers followed, but it wasn’t until 1965 that they really made a mark with the AU-111 tube pre-main (integrated) amplifier, known as the “black panel ancestor.” At 40 watts per channel, the AU-111 was something of a powerhouse for its time, and it would stay in production into the early 1970s. To buy an AU-111 now takes crazy money.

In 1967, Sansui introduced their first solid-state integrated amplifier, the AU-777. This was followed in 1969 with several other models in the XXX series, including the AU-555 and the AU-999. Release dates are hard to pin down as individual models were introduced haphazardly (not in organized series groupings), but rough estimates have:

  • AU-X500 models (9500, 8500, 7500, etc.) released in around 1972,
  • AU-X900 (9900, 7900, etc. along with an 11000 and 20000) starting in 1975,
  • Japanese “07” series (or “17” internationally, including the AU-517 and AU-717) in 1976/77, and
  • AU-919 in 1978.

Several series of receivers were also released in the late ‘60s and through the ‘70s, including the venerable 800 in 1968, The “single digit” series (Eight, Seven and Six) in 1973, XX1 series (881, 771, 661, etc.) in 1974, 9090 in 1975, other X0X0s (8080, 7070, etc.) in 1977, and the G-series receivers starting in 1978 and through to about 1982.

Sansui G-22000
Sansui G-22000: Not Sansui’s most monstrous receiver, but close!

As the ‘80s approached, business took a downward turn for Sansui. The Yen appreciated in value, impacting sales of export models (on which Sansui had become highly dependent). Strong unions and a tradition of “lifetime employment” in Japan made it hard to cut manufacturing staff to deal with cost pressures. Corners were cut elsewhere, including use of cheaper, lower-quality parts.

Quality took a hit, as did Sansui’s reputation, and sales fell further. Sansui shifted away from exports to focus on their domestic market, and slowly unravelled over the ensuing two decades. Sansui went out of business in 2014, but in truth had not been a force in the audio world for some 20 or more years before that.

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My Sansui Amplifiers

In addition to the AU-555 passed on to me by my brother, I also own a “top of the XXX line” AU-999, purchased on eBay about a year after getting the 555. I’d read about the wonderful tube-like sound of the 999 and lucked into one in good cosmetic condition at a reasonable price from a local seller, so no need to worry about shipping damage or added costs for this 38.5 lb (17.5 kg) monster to get to me (the seller even delivered it to my office downtown). I count myself lucky as I’ve watched this model almost double in price in the four years I’ve had it.

Sansui AU-999 Vintage Amplifier
Big Bad Sansui AU-999: Top of the line as the ’70s began.

The Sansui AU-555

As mentioned, the AU-555 needed a recap to get it running properly. In the five years since coming back from the shop, it has been rock solid. This 20 watts/channel amplifier (all you really needed in the early ‘70s driving efficient speakers, the norm for the times) has a big and beefy sound, with solid bass slam and control, and balanced detailed midrange and decent treble extension.

Sansui AU-555 Recap
Sansui AU-555 Recap: 40 new in, 40 old out.

I’ve run the AU-555 in both integrated (pre-main) and pre-amp (through an external power amp) modes. As an integrated amp I’ve run Klipsch KLF-30s, ESS PS4As and B&W DM1200s with no trouble, and the sound quality was wonderful. The juice-loving KEF Calinda’s (83 dB @ 1 watt/1 meter efficiency) present perhaps a challenge-too-far for this little amp, but that’s a common issue even with my higher-powered amps.

Sansui AU-555
Sansui AU-555 In Action: Drove Bowers & Wilkins DM1200s beautifully, with Arcam CD73 as source.

In pre-amp mode with my 150 watts/channel NAD 2600, the AU-555 performs well, particularly with the KEFs. I’ve also run the AU-555 as pre-amp with the 35 watts/channel Dynaco ST-70 tube amp. The little Sansui’s pre-out is quite hot, so gain on the NAD needs to be dialed back to allow for fine volume adjustment and full-range use of the volume pot beyond an ear-blasting 2. With the Dynaco, gain can’t be controlled in this way, so things get loud pretty quick.

The Sansui AU-999

Although good things are written about how clear and tubey the AU-999 sounds – realistic presentation of room ambiance and dynamics, pearlescent midrange, and smooth, warm and organic acoustics overall – it also has a reputation for a lean low end. It’s definitely cleaner-sounding than the 555 – more refined and “audiophile” – but in its native state does have less bass slam. 

The 999 was a different story service-wise. Not long after I got it, I started to notice some crackle in both channels at low volumes or when nothing was playing. Not surprising really with an almost 50 year-old amp. I figured I’d probably need to take it in for a service soon when I bought it, and so in it went.

Sansui AU-999
Sansui AU-999 Leftovers: Bits and pieces removed and replaced.

Turns out it needed more than just a simple recap (although some capacitors were replaced). The amp suffered from a pretty severe channel imbalance, which was rectified with a new volume pot and replacement of the output transistors. As per mod discussion (KevZep) on AudioKarma, the subsonic filter was removed, and some other circuit tweaks were done to improve bass and clarity. The result was a more muscular sounding 999, benching 55+ watts/channel and with better (still not massive, but improved) bass response.

Sansui AU-999 with Dynaco ST-70 tube or NAD 2600 solid state power amps
Strange Bedfellows: The AU-999 is a fine amp on its own, and pairs nicely with the Dynaco ST-70 tube or NAD 2600 solid state power amps.

I’ve used the AU-999 in similar set-ups to the AU-555, with the same speakers and as pre-amp with the same power amplifiers. On its own (in integrated mode) it has a more audiophile presentation than the 555 with less “thickness.” It displays more authority with the inefficient KEF Calinda’s, but I prefer it combined with the NAD 2600 with those speakers. I like the AU-999 in integrated amp mode but love it as a pre-amp both with the Dynaco ST-70 and the NAD; both power amplifiers negate any bass deficiencies and allow the wonderful musicality of the Sansui to shine through.

A Sansui Wish List

In spite of “issues,” I’m very satisfied with my AU-999. I love the AU-555 too, but it doesn’t get a lot of use these days; I keep it more for nostalgic reasons than anything (a topic I plan to address in a future article).

Sansui AU-999 in stereo system
Sansui AU-999 As Centrepiece: And what else from Sansui would I want to add to the collection?

I haven’t heard any of the other Sansui products from their golden age, but there are several that have piqued my interest. Of the XXX range, I understand the AU-777 (or more precisely the AU-777A) is the one to own from a pure sonic perspective. The AU-9500 is also desirable for its combination of sonic purity, clean appearance and power (75 old-school watts/channel is pretty solid for an integrated amp).

For pure power and refinement, I’d love one of the BA series (3000 or 5000) power amplifiers to use with the AU-999 as pre-amp, or one of the CA (control amplifier) range of pre-amplifiers. And then of course, the ultimate would be the one that really started it all for Sansui: the AU-111 pre-main tube amplifier. That would be a blast!

What else should I consider? Would love your input on an expanded wish list. Leave a comment, or drop me a note on the ‘Gram at @audioloveyyc.

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33 Comments

33 Comments

  1. Lash

    June 3, 2021 at 1:18 pm

    I had a Sansui in the mid 70s…can’t recall which one. Perhaps the 555. I sold it an got an Onkyo A 10. I’m not into vintage stuff these days, but I would love to have another A 10. Great amp.

    • Eric Pye

      June 3, 2021 at 3:37 pm

      Another excellent Japanese brand in the ’70s!

  2. Mark Ewing

    June 3, 2021 at 4:59 pm

    Excellent article on an excellent brand.i own some of these receivers and love them all.each has its own personality.

    • Ian White

      June 3, 2021 at 5:39 pm

      Mark,

      Thank you for the kind words. There is a lot of interest in vintage Sansui. Way more than some other brands which is interesting.

      Best,
      Ian White

      • Mohamed Jaffer

        September 24, 2021 at 5:57 am

        I still own a Sansui AU 919 which I had recapped. It’s a 1978 model, rated at 100 watt RMS per channel at 8ohms and it weighs 23kg. It’s a beast which has 2 power supplies. One for the preamp and power amp. What is this amp worth should I want to sell. Cosmetically it’s also above average condition. Regards Mohamed. My email is: onscreen@iafrica.com

        • Gregory Graves

          June 4, 2022 at 2:12 am

          I have the G 7700 120 watts per chanel It is a Monster Sansui preformes flawlessly looks like new. I can only turn the volume to about 4 otherwise the neighbors will complain. On 4 I can walk two blocks away it’s loud and clear all channels work flawless.

    • Eric Pye

      June 3, 2021 at 7:03 pm

      Cheers Mark. As with the amps, there is a special kind of love from owners for Sansui receivers. Awesome that you have some in your collection.

      • Arnie

        August 6, 2021 at 5:54 pm

        Fully agree with all the Sansui accolades – I have an original Sansui 5050 receiver connected to a pair of new Klipsch Heresy iii speakers. Ive yet to hear a superior overall soundstage from any other system regardless of make,model and price. And ive heard most of them over the past 40 years!

  3. Yves

    June 4, 2021 at 8:20 pm

    Great article !
    I’ve bath in Sansui’s sound as soon as the early 1970 as he came back from Osaka’s international fair of 1970 with an AU 555, TU 555, a turntable SR2050C and SP 2000 speakers !…
    I rediscovered that magnificent sound 10 years ago with a AU-555 and dropped all my appetite for … Accuphase, McIntosh and other big names … It was clear to me that there was the graal I was looking for since the 80’s. I realized as well that dad’s Speakers although Sansui were not matching my ears as were the Klipsch I had.
    Now, and to answer your question, if you have only tried the 555 and 999, I encourage you to listen to the 9500 and also the 919 !
    I have one 919 and although less warm as the XXX can be, it’s still a fantastic and very powerfull amp delivering 100 WPC. It has a bad reputation because of failures caused by deficient caps knowned as ‘Black Flag’ but a full recap brings the unit to it’s best !

    • Eric Pye

      June 5, 2021 at 5:25 pm

      Thanks Yves. Am curious about both the 9500 and 919 as you suggest, along with the 9900. A friend has the 9500 and 9900, and I look forward to giving them both a listen when lockdowns are behind us. You’re right; the Sansui sound is addictive!

  4. Bjorn

    June 12, 2021 at 3:42 pm

    Interesting article! I found an au-7900 for $25 as a box of bits and pieces about 10 years ago and had it rebuilt. It was my initial foray into real quality amplifiers. It’s a finicky beast, I like how it sounds with the right speakers, it sounds thin and requires too much fiddling with my full range drivers and lacks the detail and extension of my 6wpc SET amp. But if I want to hear Zeppelin cranked, I pair my paradigm 7se’s to it. Not great for critical listening but for rocking out it’s all you want 🙂

    • Eric Pye

      June 12, 2021 at 8:31 pm

      I understand the X900 series (9900, 7900, etc.) was a bit of a departure from the Sansui “house sound” of earlier years. Dryer and more accurate. Too bad it wasn’t a 7500 or 777 you found!

    • Les Crew

      November 23, 2021 at 3:38 pm

      Great article Eric. I love Sansui equipment. I worked for the distributor of the product from 1973 until 1985 when the distributor went out of business. I worked in the service department repairing those beauties so I got to play with every model. I have a friend in Vancouver that I worked with back then that has a collection of old Sansui products.
      It’s great to see others that appreciate the brand the way I did.

      • Solomon Stewart

        November 23, 2021 at 7:55 pm

        I had the au999, au919, 8080. The au919 is special but it also require excellent technicians.
        The Sansuis with great sound at reasonable price are the receivers, 800, 1000x, 2000a and 4000.
        A brand which is often overlooked by vintage enthusiasts is Sony of the late sixties, early seventies.
        Those Sonys were extraordinarily built and offered great sound.

        • Eric Pye

          November 25, 2021 at 3:57 pm

          Would love to get my hands on one of those old Sony VFETs.

  5. Arnie

    August 6, 2021 at 5:55 pm

    Fully agree with all the Sansui accolades – I have an original Sansui 5050 receiver connected to a pair of new Klipsch Heresy iii speakers. Ive yet to hear a superior overall soundstage from any other system regardless of make,model and price. And ive heard most of them over the past 40 years!

  6. Colin

    August 25, 2021 at 3:22 am

    Hi Eric,
    Thanks for the great read. I’m about to own my first Sansui (my Dad’s). It’s a 1000X. I was wondering if you know anything about them. I love it for it’s nostalgic value as it’s what I listened to when I discovered music. My dad bought it in “73 I think, along with a 212 turntable and Sansui speakers. He also had a teac tape deck.
    I’m assuming this will be just my frst Sansui amp and so really appreciated the article. I’m on the lookout. Not as many around here in Oz though.
    Thanks
    Colin

    • Eric Pye

      September 3, 2021 at 2:56 am

      That seems like an awesome amp. I’d love to find a FET amp or receiver in reasonable condition. Seems like you scored there!

    • Solomon Stewart

      November 23, 2021 at 11:18 pm

      The 1000x is a beautiful receiver with a warm sound. It has a very good tuner and carries pre out – main in connectors.
      I have one in active service.

  7. Andrew

    August 26, 2021 at 5:25 am

    Hi Eric,

    It’s Andy (you and I had some back and forth about your now departed Yamaha YP-701).

    Just happened on your blog on the Sansui and wanted to let you know I can confirm that the AU777 is a wonderful amp. I just happened to fall into contact with a gentleman who has decades of electrical experience and had just finished a full (and I do mean full) recap and restore of a 777 non-a version.

    I received it last week and it’s an amazing sounding amplifier. Depth, soundstage, clarity…everything you could ask for.

    I highly recommend finding one. You just may retire your 999 after your hear the 777 in your system.

    The only bad news is the prices on the 777 have gone absolutely nuts. I paid a premium but still considerably less than others I’ve seen that are not recapped as mine is.

    Good luck and keep your eye out. When I good one presents itself at a reasonable price, jump on it!

    Best,

    Andy

    • Eric Pye

      September 3, 2021 at 2:54 am

      Cheers Andy. Yes, I always have my eyes open and will jump on triple 7s with or without the a. Thanks for the confirmation.

  8. Paul B

    November 4, 2021 at 1:46 am

    Hello
    Want to mention Sansui’s turntables SR-838 (1979) which I own and the SR-929. They also made very signifiant FM tuners:(analog) TU-X1, TU-9900 and (digital) TU-X701 & X711.
    I’m less familiar with their speakers.
    Thanks
    Paul

  9. keith leprieur

    November 9, 2021 at 1:53 pm

    Another Great read. love your take on vintage gear Eric. I myself have fallen in love with Sansui and through the years have tried many. My favorite where the AU7900 and AU6600. Amazingly though I’ve ended up landing on the AU222 with a TU777 tuner, love them. Only 18WPC of pure Sansui joy.

    • Ian White

      November 9, 2021 at 5:50 pm

      Keith,

      Eric’s column has become very popular because he’s focused on these great options from brands like Sansui, Dynaco, NAD, and soon McIntosh.

      I don’t want to give anything away but great things to come from Mr. Pye.

      Ian White

    • Eric Pye

      November 13, 2021 at 5:16 pm

      Thanks Keith. Yeah, love your Sansui set up. Their whole triple-digit series was amazing.

  10. Herman

    November 23, 2021 at 5:43 am

    Loved reading this article. Thanks for sharing.

    My love for Sansui began around 1978. Dad was looking for a stereo system. He ended putting together a lovely system. Powered by a Sansui G5700 receiver (75 wpc), a Technics SLQ3 turntable, a Technics RS-M33G tape deck, and a pair of Sansui XP-X6700 speakers.

    I grew up listening to everything from classic rock (Beetles on vinyl), to crooners, the Platters, Roy Orbison, Johnny Mathis, Gordon Lightfoot, and so much more. As I started buying my own vinyl, we added stuff like Prince, the Beastie Boys, and Van Halen (hey, it was the 80s).

    Over time I added different speakers (Bose, Sound Dynamics/Energy, paradigms, Axiom, PSB), and more gear (amps, Marantz receivers, etc. But, to this day, I still have the full vintage setup. I use the Technics as my ‘daily driver’ turntable, and don’t care to look at any others.

    The G5700 will find a spot in my new office, and I’m looking to get the tape deck cleaned up to do some home recording (kid is singing and playing guitar now). The old SP-X6700s still look new and sound great with 80s rock.

    So nice being able to walk down memory lane with others sharing the same passion.

    • Ian White

      November 23, 2021 at 3:21 pm

      Herman,

      We’re happy that you found us. Eric has done a superb job with his vintage column. The vintage audio market is very popular right now and prices are going through the roof.

      Best,

      Ian White

    • Eric Pye

      November 25, 2021 at 3:52 pm

      Cheers Herman. I too have inherited my parents’ old equipment, including a Technics SA-500 receiver, Technics SL-DL1 linear tracking turntable and ADS L420 bookshelf speakers, all purchased in the early ’80s. The sound signature of my youth from that combo is imprinted on my brain, and it’s like coming home whenever I listen to it.

  11. Michael Byrne

    November 23, 2021 at 2:05 pm

    Bought an AU-7700 on ebay last year and purchased a set of Sansui LM-330’s at Goodwill in Houston along with a set Optimus Mach 3’s that I’ve reconed and the rich warm sound along with bass, midrange & treble adjustments reminded me of the original true stereo sound from the 60’s 70’s & 80’s that I’ve forgotten now with 5.1 and 7.1 channel systems I own now which is great for movies but playing vinyl, 8 track, cassette 0r reel to reel recorded music they sound shallow or hallow? But when it’s ran through this vintage Sansui AU-7700 & vintage speakers with 15″ woofers you can feel the Base in your balls! Great article Thanks Byrne

    • Ian White

      November 23, 2021 at 3:22 pm

      Michael,

      Sansui is getting very expensive suddenly. It’s definitely worth holding on that level of vintage audio equipment.

      Best,

      Ian White

    • Eric Pye

      November 25, 2021 at 3:56 pm

      Yes, the sound of the seventies (and sixties and early eighties) is quite unique and addictive. While technical advances have been made, I’m still drawn to that organic, engaging signature.

  12. Janie

    December 28, 2021 at 11:02 pm

    Hello, Sansui speakers SP-277 just came across these. They appear to be in great shape. I was wondering if anyone knows their value?

  13. Rett Russell

    January 1, 2022 at 8:27 pm

    Through the military exchange in 1974 I bought a Samsui Eight Deluxe receiver rated 55wpc (along with a pair of AR-3a’s, Akai reel-to-reel w/Dolby, and Garrard Zero 100).
    The build on the Sansui was amazing…solid, metal knobs, precise buttons, and beautiful sound.
    Essentially gave it away to a cousin when I got Conrad-Johnson amp/pre-amp and Klipsch corner horns.
    Wish I had kept it now!

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