Old vs New Amps. What gives?

I came across this in another thread and I began to mull it over as I have before. Just what is it about using an older product maybe using older tech that people like or prefer?

It maybe just down to preference in the end and maybe a non issue. But it just got me wondering. I am sure there are plenty on the forum willing to educate me and others as to what it is about older gear that makes them all warm and fuzzy inside too.

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This can be really YMMV thing. And very difficult to make generalizations, too.

That said, I can think of several reasons.

  1. Price. Except very few exception, outdated products are sold at very low price – below their values. Very often such products are technically competent even in today standards. Note that ‘survived’ products are kinda state-of-the-art when released.
  2. Performance. It’s not a secret that audio market is now bi-polarized. And cheaper sides tend to over-utilize stronger negative feedback and active dc servos to get nice-looking measurements. Arguably these approaches, if overused, take out musicality and (emotional) involvement in general, which make overall sound flat and boring. Outdated named products have much lower chance of such case.
  3. Sense of uniqueness or specialty. Owning a flagship or totl product at a price of entry model today is associated with emotional satisfaction. Well, maybe it’s only me though.

To clarify, I am not a huge fan of old products, mainly because I prefer “plug and play” and “no worry for unnecessary thing”. But sometimes going for old thing may work. I enjoyed several great successes on B&W and JBL out-of-production speakers via ebay lurking.:smile:

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Some reasons for interest include:

  • No-nonsense controls
  • Nostalgia from those who grew up with a system or wanted it when young
  • A unique look and feel versus contemporary products
  • A desire to avoid the issues of living on the cutting (bleeding) edge
  • A (perhaps) misguided belief that older tech was better than new tech
  • Price, as it’s usually much cheaper to buy one generation old technology. The depreciation has occurred and the new generation often isn’t much better. [See luxury car lease returns when 3.5 years old.]

If you use older technology, quality is really tricky to objectively judge. As with some of those who buy records, the choice can follow the interactive experience rather than the end goal of hearing the music.

Technology improvements are much more obvious with cars and computers than with audio, as the early generations involved a lot of functional compromises. However, the car collector/customization market focuses on simple and maintainable tech. Note that early cars had crank starters, insane control systems, manual chokes, no A/C, and awful tires. A computer built in the 1980s might have cost $5,000 to $30,000 (graphics workstation) when new and still looks fantastic, but will under-perform even the cheapest PC or tablet sold today.

My coarse rules of thumb for older audio gear include:

  • [YES] Brand name – consistent reputation and a history of quality products
  • [NO] Cutting edge on release – many dead ends, false promises, and better 2nd generation products
  • [YES] Heavier weight – it cost more to build and ship, so someone cared originally
  • [NO] Obsolete formats – good for curiosity but not use (see Techmoan at Youtube)
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I haven’t really gotten into the “old” headphone amp world (yet) but in the live audio world (which is where I have spent most of my audio time) I am a lover of older gear.

Whilst the advances of technology have offered the possibility of reducing weight, size and price, there is still something about the older gear that just makes me smile. I find new digital mixing consoles great but I will always prefer the “feel” of dialing sound in rather than programming. While there are amazing line array systems that can be transported and set up with very few people, I will always love the old huge line arrays that need a team of 30 to set up (as long as roadies are available :wink: ).

This has brought me to have some amazing sound systems that were at least 2 digits less than a similar sound quality system if today, however, it has also lead me to needing 3 storage places to store all this stuff since I moved into an apartment (I miss my country house!!!).

Anyhow, I think this is a long winded way of saying that I find the present day to be much more “handy” but I miss having racks of gear and 50 kg amps, there is just something special about it :smiley:

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I definitely agree that nostalgia can play a significant part. Who doesn’t like to roll back the years and tinker with older stuff. And as has already been said, you can get more bang for your buck.

I don’t have any knowledge of older Audio equipment or for that matter any experience using it. But does it offer any sonic advantages over the newer stuff. Maybe tube amps do and if you want to add Dacs into the equation then things could become interesting. As I suppose there is more scope for a Dac to influence sonic change.

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As I understand it, the 70s were a bit of an audiophile golden age when it comes to home audio. People were into sound quality and to a large extent that drove the stereo home audio market. First with the advent of VHS and then more so with the advent of DVD, consumers increasingly focused on “home theater”, which is more driven by features than audio quality. If you look at an old stereo receiver, it includes a few interconnects, 2 channels of amplification and maybe an AM and FM tuner. If you look at today’s low end AV receiver, it includes DACs, surround sound decoding, a zillion interconnects, 10 channels of amplification plus a subwoofer crossover, WiFi streaming, etc. Both from a cost perspective and from the perspective of trying to engineer something with that much capability crammed into a single chassis while keeping noise down, it seems pretty easy to guess which of the two can deliver better sound quality for the dollar. Audio Science Review has been testing some modern AV systems, and for the most part the low end ones perform disappointingly from a pure measurements perspective.

Something else to keep in mind is that unlike computers, whose cost and performance are driven by integrated circuits which continue to advance at a rapid pace, traditional discrete amplification doesn’t benefit from the same rapid pace of improvement. Class D amplifier designs might be an exception to this, but they still seem kind of niche.

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Thanks as always you’ve brought up some great points. Of course you’re correct in saying that the older technology had fewer things to pack in and that the technology as a whole was simpler.

I wonder has Amplification design changed that much over the years? I know circuit board and chips have become cheaper to produce and things are smaller as a result of better chip yields. But in simple design terms is an Amp an Amp? Are Amps as good as they are going to get?

I know there are different designed Amps, as in how they achieve the end goal. But is there still innovation in how Amps are designed or is it simply a case of tweaking existing ideas?

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From a practical perspective, by which I mean an amplifier playing actual music from a high-quality source (CD is ample), into a normal listening environment, at usable listening-levels, then we got there at least 20 years ago.

From a theoretical/engineering/measurements perspective, improvements are still being made. From an audibility perspective, they’re rounding-errors on rounding-errors, but they’re still technical advancements.

Better is better … but those obsessing over a change in measurements at -120 dB in an environment that, in the best case, might have 60 dB of exploitable dynamic range (maybe 90 dB if we’re generous and consider that in an open environment you can “hear into the noise floor”), is to pit one set of objective criteria against another … and only one can apply.

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Thanks for starting this thread. It brings up a whole host of issues.

@VimStory and @generic nailed most of it down. Nobody has yet pointed out “because I already own it, and have used it for years, it’s like mowing an old familiar lawn, where I know every hole and root.”

Reasons for liking older equipment vary a lot from person to person.

It’s that and more. The entire human interface of home hi-fi from about 1950 to 1985 just works. It’s purposeful, and even if that purpose is some sort of background music, it’s localized. Your equipment is in a certain place in the room. You go to the equipment and you physically interact with the equipment.

You don’t have to remember what screen the source selection is on. There is a knob, usually with a clear set of markings. Phono, FM, AM, Tape, and AUX. If you were into taping, you might have a couple of tape selections, but you know what they are for.

How do you find your local FM music stations? Why there’s a knob, just as your Deity intended, which lets you move a visible indicator to the station that always announces WQXR 105.9. (OK, 96.3 before 2009). If you wanted to play a record, you put one on the turntable, or a stack of them on the record-changer spindle, and either manually or by pushing some lever began the process. Since you were playing a phonograph record, you moved a knob on the amplifier/receiver to phono. If you had a new-fangled CD player, that was what AUX was for.


My wife longs for controls like that. Volume knobs. There wasn’t really that much more you had to do to get the music you loved.
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AND WHAT YOU LOVED would be played OFTEN This is a fundamental difference in the enjoyment of older stuff in it’s day. Unless you were a 1/10th of 1%er like @Torq, You had a few familiar stations, and a limited amount of records or CDs that you listened to. You got your new stuff live, and with friends, or when the radio happened to play something new, or if you tuned in to a broadcast concert. There was no plethora of esoteric music streams, curation of content by persons of questionable taste, or automated discovery recommendations.

There is the matter of price/performance. as @Torq points out, as far as performance on the higher end, we were there 20 years ago. Much of the fundamental design of audio circuitry hasn’t changed that all much since the 50’s and 60’s, we can just add all sorts of bells and whistles much more cheaply. When you drive a vintage car - I have a '64 Olds - you know it’s vintage and will handle and brake much worse than a modern car. It is heavy, it has a solid axle rear, the tires are small compared to today’s cars. The bench seat doesn’t hug you, although your companion on the bench might.

Not so much with a well cared for piece of audio equipment. The piano concerto will not sound like it’s played honky-tonk.

I think @generic has a very good point about 1 or 2 generation older tech. It’s still easy to evaluate. It is much cheaper than new. When you go back much further, you have to know what you are doing and why you are doing it. You may want the controls or feel of older equipment. But you can find some new equipment that tries to mimic older style.

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I’d like to write more, but the wind has picked up and I have a new kite to try.

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As always a pleasure to read your thoughts. Thanks for educating me.

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