A close friend and I were talking a few weeks back about audio. He’s been to our home rather frequently and has picked up on the reality that I have “some pieces” of audio around the house. It definitely makes an impression on people when they enter your home and discover that you have a vintage audio stereo system in almost every corner of the house. I’m not even embarrassed about it. Music is art and vintage audio is on display in our home.
My friend owns a Sonos system that has not been working for almost 6 months; it has been an exhaustive journey for him that has entailed dozens of emails, phone calls, firmware updates and just an overall feeling of frustration. The Sonos S2 streaming app is pretty slick, so it’s rather disappointing to hear just how hard it’s been for him.
He turned to me and said, “it shouldn’t be this hard.”
During their last visit, both he and his wife asked me about getting into vintage audio. It’s true. I’m am the Vintage Audio King of Buffalo.
They asked me intelligent questions. They wanted to know how hard it would be to source good components, where to look, what should they look for, and how much would all of this cost them?
I smiled when they replied, “when do we start?”
It was a moment like this that I absolutely live for. Being able to help people find and assemble a great sounding system that is affordable.
With all of that as background information, I invited them over to spend some time going through the basics. Don’t assume that people know what you think they might know. We took a tour throughout the house and I conducted what I’m going to call “Vintage Audio 101.”
I never really planned to spend a full sixty minutes explaining the differences between 2-way and 3-way loudspeakers, sealed vs ported, the different types of loudspeaker technology, and the differences between the various brands – but we did, and it was very worthwhile.
We spent some time talking about power and what all of the various specifications actually mean.
We moved on to receivers and amplifiers and immediately eliminated tube components because they have two young sons who were very likely going to investigate the bright “light bulbs” inside the new family stereo.
Safety is important with any electronics but even more so with vintage audio components that might not have tube cages or top covers designed to keep curious prying fingers out of trouble.
The focus then became solid-state receivers; the Marantz 2245 (45 watts/channel) and the Harman Kardon 730 (40 watts/channel). Both components are mid-1970s designs which offer excellent sound quality and unique industrial design.
My friend was amazed to discover that 40 watts of power could fill a relatively large room with sound listening at conversation volume levels. He agreed that 40-60 watts was probably the sweet spot for a vintage receiver and that it was unlikely that they would ever need more power than that.
When we started discussing current prices for both components, he gasped somewhat when I explained how much the Marantz unit was likely to sell for now. To be honest, it surprises me as well. The prices have inflated quite substantially and it’s really a case of scarcity and how much people are willing to pay for it.
The Harman Kardon 330/430/730 are a different story; it’s still possible to find any of them at relatively fair prices.
Having completed that portion of our tour, we did the next most logical thing. We drove over to their home and took a look at their room where this new vintage audio system was going to be installed.
It was a fairly large room without any odd dimensions, but it did have some windows that were a cause for concern. We agreed that the ideal placement position for a pair of loudspeakers would interfere with both the windows and the overall aesthetic of the room.
The hunt was on for the “right” pair of loudspeakers because the final setup location was going to be somewhat problematic. Possibly.
As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, sometimes you just get lucky. You stumble upon a component that manages to fill a very specific need.
We found a pair of Design Acoustic PS-10 loudspeakers locally for a very reasonable price. Design Acoustic started in California and was owned by Audio Technica at one point; fans of the brand always felt that the quality of the loudspeakers went downhill after the acquisition and subsequent move to Ohio.
The DA PS-10 are a small 3-way loudspeaker with a downward firing woofer. The cabinet is covered with a walnut-grain vinyl veneer and measures 14 inches high, 11 inches wide, and 13-3/4 inches deep. It weighs 23-3/4 pounds. The PS-10 sold for almost $500 in 1983.
The PS-10 had a nominal 8-ohm impedance and a sensitivity rating of 90 dB. The overall frequency response of the system was rated at 48 Hz to 22,000 Hz, and the speaker was intended for use with amplifiers rated at between 15 and 250 watts per channel.
I know that they were originally designed to be operated close to ear height, although not necessarily against a wall. The depth is certainly problematic for bookshelves so I’m rather curious how people set them up in the 1980s.
The PS-10 are “point source” loudspeakers for the audiophiles at the back of auditorium raising their hands. Sit down and let me finish the story.
It’s weird, but we could not have found a better fit for the room.
We contacted the seller and much to my amazement, he was another vintage audio nut and someone that I’ve communicated with on IG during the pandemic.
He explained that he was comfortable letting the PS-10’s go in an act of “thinning the herd” – weird choice of words at the moment but he’s a reputable seller and we agreed to pay a visit and listen to his system.
On Saturday morning, we drove over to his home and listened to the loudspeakers which he had placed atop a beautiful set of Klipsch Quartets. I wasn’t totally sure what to expect but they sounded much better than I had imagined,especially for such a small loudspeaker.
We chatted about vintage equipment, the Grateful Dead, and would have cracked open a case of beers but it was only 10:30 in the morning. Who said people in Buffalo are not classy?
Oh right. People from Toronto.
It was a very smooth transaction and I loved meeting another local vintage audio fan.
Community is a huge thing. We like to rip on segments of the audiophile community sometimes for being dogmatic and snobs, but they are still part of the community.
It could be worse. They could be from Toronto.
Buffalo was a fun place to grow up.
Back to our little journey.
We now had our loudspeaker, but still had not decided on a receiver. I pulled the Harman Kardon 730 from my collection and packed up my Technics SL-1700 that was recently displaced by both the Marantz 6300 and Dual 701.
I really like the sound of vintage Harman Kardon equipment; the “twin power” of the 730 is actually two mono power amplifiers built inside one chassis.
I highly recommend the HK 430 and 730. The Technics SL-1700 has treated me well for years and recommend it as a vintage turntable that is reliable and easy to maintain. We grabbed some loudspeaker cables, banana pins, and were ready to put this system together.
Installing this system was quite easy; there was something oddly satisfying about removing a Sonos wireless loudspeaker and replacing it with these superior sounding components.
The Sonos unit is actually rather well built; I have nothing against the brand and know plenty of people who own them – it’s just not a sound that I am used to.
We added an Amazon Echo Input and ran a 3.5mm to RCA cable to the HK 730 so they could stream from Apple Music.
Long-term, they should really use their smart phone and a Dongle DAC to get better sound quality but this was huge for them.
I truly love it when people listen to a vintage audio 2-chanel system in their home for the first time. My friends and children were so happy when we fired up the system. I gave them all a quick tutorial around the Harmon Kardon receiver and explained what all of the buttons actually did. Harmon Kardon receivers had a “contour” button back in the day (their version of the loudness button) and I let them dial in the bass and treble settings and just sat back and let them enjoy the music.
I’d like to thank Scott for parting with his Design Acoustic PS-10’s and for allowing us to listen to them driven by his Dynaco ST-70 and Dual 1219 turntable. As I mentioned, community is a huge part of this journey and you never know whom you might meet along the way.