|So, now it’s L.A. Audio
File’s turn to reveal its cards on recommended components. Actually
we’ve done it in the past, albeit infrequently. Around 10 years ago,
Roy did “A Cynic’s Guide to Audio Equipment Purchases” for The Sensible
Sound. It was written in response to the “component of the month”
syndrome that seemed to plague all too many audio magazines. At one
moment, a product will ride the crest of the consumer audio wave. The
next thing you know, the company filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy or, at
best, has gone into hibernation.
Five years ago, the topic was revisited in L.A. Audio File under
an article entitled “How About A Recommended Components List That Can
Withstand The Test of Time?” Well, it’s now 10 year after the original,
so we thought now is as good a time as any to revisit the subject.
Audio publications often fail to emphasize the investment risk that
you take whenever you purchase high end equipment. If you try to sell
the equipment you just bought, you’ll probably end up with a very small
fraction of what you originally paid. So, here’s the question we ask:
Is it possible to choose equipment based on factors that increase the
likelihood of good resale value? Is there a “profile” of a product that
can withstand the test of time? We think there is. There are at least
four factors that people can use for profiling a product with good,
long term resale value:
Factor 1 - The first question to ask is “how long has the
manufacturer been in existence?” For the most part, long-established
manufacturers are less of a risk than new manufacturers. With hall
other factors being equal, it is more likely that a twenty-year old
manufacturer carries a greater-expectancy than a start-up company.
Factor 2 - How long has the particular product been in production?
For instance, a product such as the LS3/5A, which has not undergone
any major changes for 20 years, holds its value better than similar
products that undergo model designation changes and revisions every
Factor 3 - Is (or was) the product a big seller? Big time products
usually do better at retaining resale value. The good resale value
of the Dyna Stereo 70 is due in part to the fact that so many units
were sold. Even though the Stereo 70 is no longer in production, spare
parts are available.
Factor 4 - Has the product been praised by the audio press
for more than five years? Audio journalists tend to be rather fickle
about their recommendations. A product can receive a heap of praise
for two years by two magazines. In the third year, another reviewer
decides that the product is not really all it’s cracked up to be.
Soon thereafter, it’s orphaned by the press. Five years, then should
be the minimum number of years for a heap-full of praise—even
more time wouldn’t hurt.
Given these preceding parameters, here is a non-exhaustive list of
components that pass muster under the test of time:
Advent Model 300 Receiver - Here’s one product that’s dirt
cheap and quite decent. It’s the one that put Tom Holman on the map,
incorporating his famous phono preamp. If nothing else, you can use
it for its phono section. Around $125 should get you one.
AR XA/XB Turntable - Another cheap but sound design with a lot
of history. The AR turntable was the inspiration for the Linn Sondek
LP-12. Robert Clifford did a restoration article for it awhile back
in L.A. Audio File. Mods also are available. Should be obtainable
for around $100 on the used market.
B&W 801 Matrix Loudspeaker - The 801 design has been around since
the 1970s, but the Matrix Series is the one that passes muster, now
in Series III configuration. The 801 represents the pinnacle of orthodox,
enclosed, dynamic-driver engineering. The price has held steady at
LS3/5A Loudspeaker - Despite its many flaws (a fat upper bass
and limited dynamic range), the LS3/5A remains a benchmark for mini-monitor
speaker design. Several would-be LS3/5A-beaters have come and gone,
but the old BBC design just keeps on ticking. Used units are the best
buy. New ones are outrageously priced (15 years ago, a pair of LS3/5As
could be had for around $450/pair; today, a new pair goes for $1,250).
Dynaco PAS-3x Preamplifier - It is not uncommon to be able to
pick up a used PAS-3x in good condition for $50-100—a price that has
held for the last 15 years. Units in mint condition can be much more.
The out-of-production PAS is a favorite among audiophiles for modification.
However, even in unmodified form, audiophiles have always had a soft
spot for this quite decent-sounding vacuum tube preamplifier.
Dynaco Stereo 70 Amplifier (the original) - Anyone who reads L.A.
Audio File needs no introduction to this unit. The Dynaco Stereo 70
is carved out of the traditional tube school of sound—i.e., a fat
and rather ill-defined on the bottom, very three-dimensional sounding
in the midrange, and a little bright in the upper midrange. On the
used market, the Stereo 70 goes for around $75-175—about the same
price range it sold for when new. The Stereo 70 is certainly not the
most accurate sounding amp around, but it’s the best vacuum tube show
in town for under $500.
Linn Sondek LP-12 Turntable - Keeping a turntable on this list
may be akin to committing editorial suicide. On the other hand, if
any turntable should be considered, it is this one. While low-to-mid
fi turntables may be sent to the graveyard en masse in this
age of the Compact Disc, there will still be place for high end turntables
in the minds of high end people—and there is no better turntable candidate
for longevity than the Linn Sondek LP-12. All of the improvements
offered to the LP-12 are available to purchasers of even the earliest
units. We don’t recommend buying new ($1690-3045, depending on options).
A good used one can be had for much less, although probably a bit
more than the original price of $300.
NAD 3020 Amplifier - This is, quite possibly, the largest selling
integrated amplifier of all time. The 3020 originally sold for $175,
and incorporated a Tom Holman-inspired phonograph preamp section (similar
to the designs of the Apt-Holman preamp and Advent Model 300 preamp
section), a power amp section that could play down to 2 ohm loads,
and provisions for hooking the preamp to a more powerful amplifier.
NAD produced the 3020A, 3020B, and 3120, which are all essentially
the same integrated amp, give or take a few features or refinements.
All remain excellent buys
|Onkyo T-9090 Mk II Tuner
- Back in 1991, this product made the honorable mention list for “products
that withstand the test of time,” but didn’t make the primary list because
we were sure it was about to be replaced by a Mk III version. That never
happened. The Mk II is still with us. Onkyo has always been known as
a good tuner designer, and their T-9090 Mk II remains a benchmark for
modern tuner design. $790.
Original Quad Electrostatic Loudspeaker - If you can find a pair
in good condition, nothing new under $1,000 can touch the original Quad
for transparency and low-level resolution. The ESL-57, as it’s apparently
now called by Quad, can be had for around $600-800 per pair. Watch out
for damaged units. Watch out also for a comprehensive article on purchasing
used Quads expected to be published by The Sensible Sound.
Rega Planar 3 Turntable System - Just about everything that can
be said about the Linn regarding value pretty much goes for the Rega.
In addition, the Rega is almost a bargain brand new. It comes included
with an outstanding tonearm, the RB300. The arm alone use to cost an
arm and leg, but Rega will sell you the whole Planar 3 package for $775.
Spica TC-50 Loudspeaker - An LS3/5A-beater that came and went, but
it still makes the grade. On the used market, it remains a good buy.
It sounds a bit lean without a subwoofer system, but it’s a more accurate-sounding
speaker than the LS3/5A. It’s now discontinued, but not a bad deal for
around $400 a pair on the use market.
Vandersteen 2Ce Loudspeaker - Vandersteen is a relatively young
loudspeaker manufacturer. But, the 2C and the newer 2Ci and 2Ce have
earned their stripes. Brand new, the 2Ce goes for $1,295 a pair. The
price has held steady, and for that you get a very pleasant (”musical“),
airy, transparent sound, with genuinely extended bass response. A used
2C/2Ci goes for around the high eights to the high nine-hundreds.
What about CD Players?
Given the proliferation of ”improvements“ to CD players, they are
categorically excluded from this list. Even the Rotel RCD855, which
got a lot of praise a few years ago, is gone from most lists. A true
audio cynic will just go with a cheap unit for now, like a new Marantz
CD63 Mk II or a reconditioned NAD 502—or even cheaper.
The Adcom amplifiers could have made it, but Adcom succumbed
to replacing the old 535/545/555 line with new models. The B&K
ST-140 amplifier did make the list five years ago, but B&K has
ceased production on it and the press is not as enamored with the
product as it once was. Still, a used one for around $300 is a good
buy if you want smooth, tube-like sound, with solid state reliability.
The clean-sounding and very detailed Thiel loudspeakers certainly
deserve mention, particularly the CS1.5 ($1995/pair) and CS 2.2 ($2,750/pair)
models. Price creep keeps them off the list. The same holds for the
Martin-Loggin CLS II, which is now $3,995, and the Quad
ESL-63 USA Monitor loudspeaker, which is now $5,995/pair.
Another British speaker worthy of mention is the Spendor BC-1—one
of the three legendary post-war British loudspeakers noted for midrange
accuracy (the other two are the Quad ESL and the BBCLS3/5A). It’s
now out of production, but a used ones go for just under $1,000.
Five years ago, we honorably mentioned the Magnepan SMGa loudspeaker,
but predicted it would soon be replaced by a SMGb. It’s been
five years, and it’s already now an SMGc. Still, at $690 a
pair, it’s a great buy.
The Krell, Threshold, and Mark Levinson amplifiers
hold up better than most of the other solid state high end amplifiers.
They too, however, have a tendency to go through name and number changes
more often than an audio cynic would like. They are also very expensive.
Audio Research and Conrad-Johnson are the vacuum tube
counterparts to the Krells and Thresholds. According, they also promise
better than average holding power.
Speaking of tubes, we can’t forget the four classics from Marantz:
The Model 7C preamp, the Models 8b and 9 amps, and the
Model 10B tuner. They are rather expensive, but the do hold
their value. Another classic holds its value is the McIntosh MR-78
tuner. It’s also very good and very expensive.
Another AR product with a lot of history and a Clifford favorite is
the AR3a loudspeaker. 'Not the most accurate speaker around,
but it has a nice personality (mellow, with a deep voice).
Certain accessories can probably withstand the test of time as well,
like the Nitty Gritty record cleaning machine and the Stax
In a year or so, the Cary Audio Design 300SE single-ended,
monoblock amplifier probably will pass all four prongs, but no audio
cynic will recommend a 12 watt amp that sells for $3,795.
Some of the Wilson Audio speakers pass the four-prong test,
but if you can afford Wilson speakers, you probably couldn’t care
less about obsolescence.
So, there you have it: L.A. Audio File’s own extended-life
recommended components list. What components will make the list five
years from now? Home theater products? Given the fluid nature of home
theater technology and the proliferation of changes that are occurring
(e.g., AC3, Dolby 5.1, DVD), we doubt it. On the other hand, maybe
some of the dust will settle on the CD player front. In any event,
we’ll revisit the subject in another five years or so to see if this
article has withstood the test of time.
- The Editors*
* Philip Richardson contributed some ideas to