1970s Component Stereo Geek ~ Tech Demystification

| March 18, 2013

Gosh ~ I miss my ’77 Wintec amp …

The 1970s were the heyday years
for audio and music.

There were amazing advancements in not only the quality of recording and studio technology, but also for the audio consumer. A lot went on in those short years.

In the 1980s there was a frustrating destructive “DEVOLUTION” of sonic quality …

By destructive, I speak of Walkmans, cassette tape and “Boom Boxes”… As we went into the 1980s, everything just got really LOUD and thumpy. There was a long slide away from quality and into a solid-state, 1 and 7/8 IPS audio hell – and the CD didn’t help anyone really except the record labels combat those drop-in-a-quarter video arcades.

steely_dan_ajaBut I digress …

Let’s go back to those happy times of ear candy …

Actually sitting down to listen to an entire record album was an event.

Like when Steely Dan’s album “AJA” (pronounced like “ASIA”) came out in ’77 we all piled up in the living room of the buddy with the best system and it was an amazing time for all !!!

There was the friend who had a car and there was also the guy who had the killer component stereo that made friends just as quick.
There was a buddy who’s dad made it very clear on regular occasions that the living room and especially his stereo was completely “off limits” to all – but we didn’t ridicule him to the fact that his system wasn’t as good as even the smallest one the various teens had. Back then we had more respect for our adult members.

Another buddy had a high-end Fischer system his dad got while serving in the Air Force in the late ’60s that was absolutely killer and tube powered. He gave us unrestricted full access after being sure we knew how to treat it.

jeff-wayne-war-of-the-worldsIt was on that system I heard Jeff Wayne’s double album masterpiece “War Of The Worlds” with a who’s who of performers including Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues with the song “Forever Autumn”. Narrated by Richard Burton. What an amazing experience!

By ’77 I had saved up enough to buy a Wintec 6004 amp and a Technics SL-D2 turntable with a cartridge and stylus that cost almost as much as the amp. I was still working on getting better speakers. We had actual “stereo shops” back then with audio geeks with long hair as salesmen. They were good at cutting a good deal with the younger guys. Radio Shack was a joke.

We all knew that a real stereo was made of components, not an all-in-one box with two speakers hanging off of it.
The main center piece was the amplifier.

Then a good pair of speakers and a quality turntable. The cartridge and stylus (don’t dare call it a “needle”) was a separate consideration of course.

All album paper jackets inside the cover were replaced by better quality lined jackets. I put all my albums in heavy clear covers after removing the factory clear shrink wrap.

disc_washerThere was a cleaning ritual every time a record would be removed from the jacket, played and then returned to its jacket. Even the stylus had a special cleaner device and liquid made especially for it. Just a drop or two to remove vinyl residue after an album was played.

The extra luxuries were a tape machine and maybe a tuner.

The tape machine was generally used to make recordings of music to play in the car. The tuner was a babysitter while doing house chores. Tape hiss and static were to be avoided if possible.

Our first introduction to listening to music were our parent’s record player or “console stereo” which was like using a stone tablet with a chisel. Those big, honking consoles were a long piece of furniture that could close up and hide everything inside its cabinet.

plastic_crap_record_playerA record player was a box (on a stand if you were really well off) that opened with a lid to reveal the turntable.

They were really cheesy and tinny sounding. All had speakers built in which had the sonic quality of comparing a telephone with two tin cans with a string …

Over that decade there was an amazing advancement in what you could get.

Studio recordings became better. Engineers and producers became more skilled and creative.

The musicians wrote better music.

Albums were full of good music, not just a hit or two with filler.

jacked_in_audio_cablesStereo components became better and cheaper to buy.

Quality went up and prices went down. The EQ (equalization) of the sound was the only thing we liked FLAT

That’s what I liked about the Wintec amp I got – it did have a good bass and treble control that was quite musical, but there was a big switch in the middle labeled “DEFEAT” which turned it off without disturbing the settings.

vintage_solid_state_stereo_amplifierEverything was solid state – that is, transistor amplified.

The really expensive stuff was electron tube.

My Wintec had a great sound. It was rated at 30 watts per channel – which you may think is not very powerful … but i bench tested it and it was actually 36 watts per channel and perfectly calibrated.

Maybe I should demystify some basic audio misconceptions …

Don’t worry – I won’t drift off like an esoteric James May on UK Top Gear talking about piston engines during World War Two … (although I’m sure we’d have a fascinating conversation together on most subjects if I ever get the pleasure to do so)

Here is a crash course …

The human ear hears sound in a non-linear fashion. To put it as simply as possible, to raise the perceived volume so it sounds a step louder, you have to double the power. Once you get above 100 watts a channel, all you do is waste your ears and money …


Your ears naturally adjust to loud sound. Be good to your ears !

You should never listen to an amplifier with the volume setting above 50% … if your amp has increments of 0 through 10, then 5 is best – above that you start clipping and introducing unpleasant noise in the mix …

If your amp goes to 11 … then you’ve been watching too many music “mockumentaries” and no doubt get stopped in airport security areas with a foil covered cucumber in your trousers ;-)

vintage_stereo_speakersThe lower the frequency of sound, the more power it takes to amplify it. Also, low frequencies in the bass means the larger the speaker must be to push the air and recreate the sound.

The lower the frequency, the more omnidirectional it becomes. Bass tones seem to come from all directions where high sounds – like a bell of bird chirping is perceived as more directional.

The “tweeter” in a speaker reproduces the higher frequencies while the “woofer” reproduces the lower frequencies.

Tubes manipulate power by shooting electrons through a vacuum not unlike an incandescent light bulb to simplify it …

There is nothing for the electrons to hit (impurities floating around) since they are in a vacuum … however, they are delicate and wear out.


power_transistorsTransistors are “solid state” made of solid material so they are very durable and can take shocks and have no need to warm up like tubes do …

Tubes are VOLTAGE OPERATED while transistors are CURRENT OPERATED …

Since electrons are passing through solid matter then there will always be impurities the electrons will smack against so they are inherently noisier …
HOWEVER – enter the MOSFET !!!

An FET is a “field effect transistor” and is voltage operated like a tube while still being solid state.

MOSFETs are a “metal oxide semiconductor” FET …

So a MOSFET amplifies like a tube but is durable

A MOSFET is just a good sounding as a tube.

Sorry tube geeks – in a blind test you will loose all your bets on the tubes …

A good, quality MOSFET amplifier will give you great sound while giving reliable operation. Same goes with guitar amps also – which a vintage guitar amp colors the sound more by its cabinet and speaker than the tubes …

Dark_Side_of_the_Moon_coverThere ya go …

So I’ve been itching to put together a vintage component stereo system. Not a wigged-out hoity-toity foo-foo thing but something solid like most guys had then – I still have vinyl that’s been following me around since back then.

I still have a limited number metal master pressing of “Dark Side Of The Moon” by Pink Floyd … I bought it at Record Bar for $20 in 1977 …

Love to hear that disc again on an SL-D2 …

Category: Tony Rollo Blog

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