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Vintage Stereo Owner's Manual

For us, vintage stereo equipment begins at the dawn of stereo in the mid 1950s up until the early 1980s. This varies a little, depending on the brand.  The economic crash that followed changed everything.  Most manufacturers switched to using more plastic, especially in turntables.  Receivers and amplifiers were built in a pan or clamshell.  Analog switches and controls were abandoned in favor of proprietary integrated circuits microprocessors, and cheap calculator buttons.  This cut manufacturing costs, but results in making service much more difficult, and often not cost effective.  Unfortunately, sound quality took a dive as well with these early malaise era electronics.  

Now some think all vintage gear is superior to all modern equipment.  While true in some cases, there are many modern examples that are equal or superior.  McIntosh for example, has always produced very high quality equipment.  A bit more affordable example is the turntables and amplifiers made by Rega Research.  The Rega amps and turntables are fantastic. Our benches sport Rega amps as reference units.  

This is a general manual of sorts for vintage component stereo systems.  Some of this information will be applicable to all in one stereos and modern equipment, but the focus is mainly on audio equipment made from about 1960 through 1980. Or, what we consider "vintage stereo equipment". 


System Setup

Here's where most mistakes are made.  Some errors will just harm the sound quality, like reversing the + and - leads on one speaker.  Others can potentially damage your equipment.  Be especially careful with speaker hookup, as allowing the positive and negative to touch with the chassis or each other with the power on can cause serious damage.  All connections should be made with the power off.  Better yet, with the power cords unplugged.  


Ideally, speaker cable should be at least a 16 gauge wire.  Wire gets bigger as the number goes down.  16 gauge is about the size of an AC power cord.  In fact, cut and stripped AC cords can do just fine as speaker wire in a pinch.  Just be sure to strip only 1/2 inch of insulation, and twist ends so that all the filaments are in a single bunch.  Connections at the amplifier (or receiver) end, and speaker end can vary on vintage audio equipment.  Most common is a push button with a hole intended for a bare wire. We recommend against using metal connectors or oversized cables with this type of connection.  

You might be using modern speakers with a vintage amp.  Most modern speakers use what is known as a five way banana connector.  

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In this photo, the wires have plugs installed.  You can also connect bare wire, by unscrewing the connector on the speaker, and inserting the speaker wire in the hole on the side of the threaded shaft.  If this isn't possible, wrap it around the post in a clockwise direction.  Ideally, plugs should be insulated, or formed into a pair. 


Bare wire connections are perfectly fine, and can actually be a better connection.  Just be sure that no copper can touch.  Also be sure to match red and black terminals at the speaker and at the amp.  

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Here we see the back of a typical vintage amplifier.  This model can support two sets of speakers.  The "A" set, and the "B" set.  Most users will just use the top connections for speaker set "A".  This type of connection is made for bare wire.  You simply push the button, and insert the bare end into the hole above the button.  Make sure the connector grabs the wire securely, and that no bare copper can touch.  Some may be tempted to use metal plugs with small pins.  This is risky, and best avoided.  

Speaker Placement


This is crucial for the best sound.  One common mistake is to place the speakers at opposite corners of the room.  It might be counterintuitive, but you are better off placing speakers too close together than too far apart.  If your system includes a turntable, you should not place the speakers on the same piece of furniture as your turntable.  Speakers should be elevated to ear level.  Very small speakers should be on a stand, a shelf, or even hung on the wall. 

Setting up the amplifier or receiver


Your turntable, disc player, media receiver, and so on, will connect with standard RCA type patch cords.  This plug type is also referred to as a phono plug.  A good quality cable should be used, but beware of exotic heavy cables.  The plugs can damage connectors on some vintage amps.  

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A vintage turntable should connect only to the phono input.  This input is special, in that it adds a "pre amplifier" stage required by all vintage, and many modern turntables.  Only a turntable may be connected to this input.  This amplifier allows the use of two turntables.  ​On turntables with a ground wire, be sure and connect it to the ground or "GND" terminal. 

If your amplifier or receiver does not have a phono input, you will need a separate phono preamplifier, or a turntable with a built in phono preamp.  

The "tuner", "tape" and "aux" ports may be used for just about any other component.  A disc player, the sound from your TV, a phone or tablet, and so on.  You may also use the tape deck connections for additional components other than a tape deck.  Just be sure to only use the "play" or "in" jacks.  Do not plug anything other than a tape deck into the "rec" or "out" port.  

Turntable setup


Those new to vinyl often find this part intimidating.  If you bought your turntable from us, it has already been setup, and you can skip this.  Otherwise, this is extremely important to get right.  Incorrect setup can result in poor sound, and in some cases, record damage.  The cartridge must be installed correctly, and the tonearm balanced and set to the correct weight or "tracking force".  

Once it's all setup and connected, the next step can vary with the type of turntable.  If you have an automatic turntable, you can simply select "Start" and in a moment playback will start.  Manual and auto return turntables will need you to move the arm over.  Most turntables have a "cue" lever or switch, that raises and lowers the tonearm.  You move the lever back or select "cue up" move the arm over, and lower the cue lever.  Some very early turntables do not have the cue feature, and require a steady hand.  


Stylus and Record Cleaning


DO NOT touch the stylus with your finger.  It is wise to periodically clean the stylus, but you should use a brush or device designed for that purpose.  We recommend the Ortofon stylus brush.  If you hear the sound become distorted, or "fuzzy" it likely means that you need to clean the stylus.  Some users do this on each record change.  


Handling them from the edges, and keeping them in the jacket will minimize the need for cleaning.  We recommend using a recording cleaning brush or device designed for that purpose.  Often, just using a dry brush is all that is needed.  If you do use liquid, use only a tiny amount.  An overly wet record brush can do more harm than good.  Cleaning records improperly can do more harm than good.  

Power it up

With the volume all the way down, switch the amp or receiver to the desired input, and switch the power on.  There is often a delay of up to 10 seconds before you will hear sound, so advance the volume slowly.  Some amps will make a small "thump" sound when turned on, and this is perfectly normal.  

Most stereos from this era were designed so that about 2 to 3 o'clock on the volume control is the maximum safe volume.  Playing at a higher level can damage the speakers, or even the amplifier.  If you feel that the volume at this setting is inadequate, you may need a different amplifier and or speaker combination for your room.  Or it may simply be that you need to better place your speakers.

Bluetooth and Streaming Audio

Vintage audio is not only completely compatible with digital audio sources, it will often sound better through this equipment.  A Bluetooth adapter can be had very inexpensively.  Better quality sound is from a Wifi Streamer.  These are a little more expensive, but do not rely on a Bluetooth connection for streaming.  We sell devices that can allow you to stream internet audio.  



If you made it this far, you should be all set and ready to enjoy your music!

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