If you are someone who takes great pleasure in listening to music and really cares about audio quality, then like me, you likely have opinions on analog vs. digital recording, vinyl records vs. mp3 files, and of course the systems that you choose to place in your home.
There is really something to be said about sound quality when it comes to making a choice on a new receiver. Many people are concerned with brands or high priced products, but that is mostly due to either market ignorance or the need to have a flashy brand to show your friends. Famous name brands and high priced products don’t always necessarily equate to quality, and this is especially true when it comes to audio receivers.
With a little research, you will find out that back in the 70’s, stereo manufacturers were utilizing all of their resources to compete for the highest quality receiver in terms of audio, and many of them carried a fraction of the features that today’s models boast. These features are now eating into cost of production and thus audio quality. The 70’s was a time when these manufacturers (such as Pioneer, Sansui, or Marantz) were trying to build their brand. As with any new company, if you want to become relevant, you start with a high quality product that outperforms what’s available in the market.
While there are many benefits to the features available in later model receivers, such as the ability to carry high-res video signals, Bluetooth capability, and of course remote control, when you really get back to sound quality there really isn’t much that will be one of these vintage receivers from the 70’s or even the 80’s.
Audiophiles use words like “warm” and “crisp” when describing the quality of audio from these vintage units. You don’t have to use vinyl to get this level of quality, but if you want to take it to the next level, pair one of these with a record player for the ultimate audio experience. Neil Young recently spoke in an interview about how audio files have had to be compressed into the newer formats beyond vinyl and tape, such as cd and mp3, and as a result the sound quality has suffered.
Receivers have come a long way in the last 30 years, but the sound quality hasn’t necessarily kept pace with other updates that manufacturers have made. Consumers now spend more time purchasing from online retailers, basing their buying decisions on ratings and reviews. It’s becoming rare for someone to walk into an electronics store and turn up the volume on a receiver to gauge sound quality before making the purchase.
Back in the day, sound quality was king and consumers spent hours dialing in the levels and showing off the quality of their new stereos. These days, it seems, consumers spend that time connecting devices and ensuring all of their peripherals are running in sync. It’s becoming a features game – user interface, Bluetooth, Dolby processing, HD Radio, multiple HDMI inputs and outputs, iPhone receiver control Apps, and auto-setup – oh my!
Manufacturers are working tirelessly to bolt on features – features that more times than not are sourced from third party manufacturers. Market demand for these features coupled with the constant changes in technology have continued to drive this behavior.
The fact is that these features are attractive to buyers. The more features that a receiver boasts, the higher the potential for a sale. When we sit down to read through the ratings and reviews online, these features are pushing those grades up and garnering the more complimentary reviews.
Upper mid-range receivers own much of the market, and are typically found in the $250 - $500 range. This hasn’t changed much over the years, but since the number of features has started to far outweigh sound quality, much of the cost of building one of these has been turned away from quality and toward expensive features. Budgets are now spent paying those third party manufacturers for the hardware and software, and paying out licensing fees for the pleasure of serving iPhone users, satellite radio subscribers, Bluetooth, and others. Manufacturers used to spend the majority of their resources working to outperform the competition from a sound quality perspective, and have shifted to a more features-based competitive landscape.
There is hope! Many of these older receivers are still available if you spend a little time looking. Beyond audio quality, another great thing about vintage receivers is that you can find them relatively cheap. If you aren’t into shopping at Goodwill or digging through your grandparent’s attic, plenty of options are available on eBay. They are also surprisingly affordable, even as everything vintage has become trendy enough to warrant price increases resulting from an expanding market. You can still utilize that fantastic video signal that your HMDI cable carries from your Blu-Ray to your television, while using analog outputs for your new vintage receiver. You will likely be surprised at the difference in sound quality it will make!