Saturday, December 27, 2008

Pioneer SPEC 4 Amp Repair

I first saw and heard a SPEC system set up back in 1980 when I was stationed in Guam while in the Air Force. I never forgot it and 20 something years later, I finally got a chance to get my hands on a SPEC 1 pre-amp and a SPEC 4 power amp in very good condition. I had already had the other pieces of my system and was using a nice Pioneer SA-9500 II to power the restored Bose 901 Series IV's, which took me the better part of a month to bring them back from the dead. When I hooked up the SPEC 1 and 4, there was no comparsion. The depth and clarity of the music that the SPEC components produced went way beyond what the 9500 II could muster. I was in heaven...... for a while. About six months later, I got up one morning and went to turn on some tunes like I did every morning and flipped the power amp switch on and nothing. No lights, no nothing. I knew I was in trouble. I live in North Alabama and there was no repair shop anywhere around here that was capable of this kind of work, but I took a chance and carried it to a local electronic shop anyway, mostly out of desperation. Here, let me give a word of advice to anyone who needs a vintage stereo component repaired: if the place you take it to has alot of TV's sitting out, turn around and walk back out the door you came in. That guy kept it a month and was no closer to repairing it than the day I brought it in. Finally, I'd had enough and starting looking around on the net for a real repair shop to ship it to. I looked a several ads and read their sales pitch and then I saw and read the reviews for Austin Stereo Repair in Austin, Texas and knew this was the place I wanted to work on my SPEC 4. Mike, the guy who runs the shop, was very nice and kept me informed of everything and every step of the repair process that he was making. The turn around time was a bit longer but that was entirely my fault. He told me exactly how to pack the amp to ship to him and like a idiot, I didn't listen to him and tried to save a few bucks by not wrapping it in bubble wrap. The amp arrived with a busted bumper on the back. It could have been alot worse and I learned my lesson. If you ship to him and he tells you how to pack it, take my advice; do it! Finally, I got it back and let me tell you, I cannot write a good enough review for the work Mike performed. It sounds better than it did before it died! Also, this guy must be a clean freak because you can eat off the inside of this amp! Austin Stereo has my business from now on. Thanks Mike!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Encore from Gothenburg

Johan Persson has kindly provided several more photos of his collection.

First up are a pair of snapshots of the diminutive component that I commented on in the earlier post. It is another marque that I have never encountered (or even heard of!): Skantic. I love the simple elegance of these northern European designs. I must say I am still a bit perplexed as to whether this is actually an integrated amp or a preamp. The bird logo is very reminiscent of Fisher. The legend above the knobs and switches just cracks me up. I would guess volume, balance, bass, treble, phono, tape, radio (duh), and power...

The single external transistor really has me puzzled. It says stereo on the front??!! I really need to know my Din connectors better to sort all this out. It also seems to have 3 fuses, generous for such a tiny package. Update: it was actually easier to see via the blog. Interesting. The speaker connectors are far right and left, above the fuses. And Mike says the single external transistor is part of the regulator...

And last, but not least, is an absolutely gorgeous Ravensbourne tuner/integrated pairing from Rogers, down Angleterre way. From the photo Johan has the original literature as well. I am incredibly jealous.

The large screen on top of the tuner case would suggest this is a tube tuner?? It would seem to have a tuning eye to the right of the scale. These are just lovely. My semi-useless Orion Blue Book lists the amp as being produced from '73 to '77. I have my doubts, these would seem to be earlier items. I recall this is Orion's default time frame for those moments when they are clueless. Time to email Johan for some more information...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Goteborg Chapter

It seems The Stereo Club has a previously unknown chapter in Goteborg, Sweden.

Goteborg, city of the Goths, and otherwise known as Gothenburg to those of us in the states, is a nicely sized city of half a million on the southwest coast of Sweden. It is home to the largest university in Scandinavia, as well as the bands Ace of Base and The Soundtrack of Our Lives. (Hmm, not so different from Austin, Texas.) I confess the former band is a guilty pleasure and the latter is a not so guilty pleasure.

I have recently had the pleasure of exchanging emails with Johan Persson, an avid collector of '70s stereo components from Gothenburg. Johan has a very substantial collection of Pioneer, Marantz, and Tandberg equipment, as you can see from the following. First up, Pioneer::

Here is a stack of Marantz gear:

And a very tasty selection of Tandberg equipment:

I really need to find out what the little amp on top is. I am a sucker for smallish Euro amps.

Johan says this is a stack of a Swedish DIY kit amps sold in the '70s under the names Sentec and Semicon:

I have never seen these before.

And some Akai gear:

All the above are normal obsessions, although in total perhaps a bit extreme. My wife sends her condolences to Johan's wife. However, the following obsession with headphones is new to me. I have the normal 7 or 8 headphones. This is truly impressive:

Johan: thanks for the photos! And welcome to The Stereo Club!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Apex Jr.: Your Source for Affordable Electronics

About a year ago I was poking along down the Information Highway, doing a bit of research on the Realistic Minimus 7 loudspeaker. I stumbled into a thread on AudioKarma that suggested an interesting tweeter replacement could be found at a site called Apex Jr. ApexJr.?? Whatever is an Apex Jr.? I followed the link and answered that question.

It turns out that Apex Jr. is the nom de web of Steve Slater. Steve is pretty much a lifelong veteran of the electronic surplus business and "Apex Jr." was originally how he answered the phone as a kid at his father's surplus business, Apex Electronics. About 16 years ago Steve started his own business and those of us with gear to fix (or build) are the beneficiaries.

Apex Jr. is an online electronic surplus store that specializes in audio components. Steve has a healthy selection of subwoofer amplifiers (see this earlier post), including both the Miller and Kreisel 150 watt and 250 watt units. For the speaker builders and restorers among you he has a host of speaker parts including drivers, binding posts, capacitors, resistors, and wire. Like all good surplus stores he has his share of those uncategorizable items that make for a fun browse. Here is a sampling of some of my recent purchases from Apex Jr.:

Starting from 12 o'clock: a BMI 33mfd/450v axial capacitor; a Nichicon 12000mfd/50v capacitor; a truly huge rubber foot; rca connectors with strain relief; a pair of heavy duty speaker binding posts; a Nippon Chemi-Con 15000mfd/63v capacitor. In the center is the Sonance tweeter that can be used with the Realistic Minimus 7.

Steve's prices are extremely reasonable and the quality of the merchandise is first rate. The 15000mfd caps above are a huge bargain at $2.99. They are a no-brainer power supply upgrade for a significant number of '70s receivers. The binding posts are very heavy duty, and are much better than replacement quality.

I highly recommend the 16 piece test lead set for $9.99 pictured here. Mike's comment on seeing mine: 'That's old school.'

I have placed 3 orders with Steve and each has arrived within 2-3 business days, nicely packed. Steve takes credit cards, but has to charge a 3% upcharge to keep his overhead low.

Give Steve a call at 866-4-ApexJr. For those of us more numerically oriented that is (866) 427-3957. Oddly enough, he does not list his business hours. I know he has customers as far away as New Zealand, so I bet he gets phone calls at some very odd hours.

Steve is based in La Crescenta, California. His main warehouse (of 3) is located by the 2 and 210 freeways and vistors are welcome, although by appointment. It should be noted that Steve has many more items than those displayed on his web site. Here is just a portion of one warehouse: