Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Vintage Hi-Fi Sighting: Philco Console Hi Fi

I recently spotted this vintage Philco Hi Fi at one of my local thrift stores.  It was made by Philco and offers AM-FM radio and a turntable for vinyl records.

I don't know much about these consoles. When you pull down the door for the record player, hidden pulleys and strings present the record player for easy access.

These vintage hi fi sets use tubes rather than transistors.  I'm sure that this one would be an interesting project for a collector.  This was probably made in the 1940s or 1950s.  I would imagine lots of wiring would have to be replace and the circuitry would need to be cleaned.  Perhaps some of the tubes would need to be replaced as well.

Notice that this Hi-Fi unit sends its signal to one large forward facing speaker in the bottom.  You might also note that the AM band is labeled "Standard Broadcast."  FM radio became popular in the late 1950s and 1960s.

The final historic touch to this old Hi Fi is the dusty Joan Baez album on the turntable.  Overall, I'm sure that in the right hands, this old Hi Fi unit will be a great project and provide fun for years.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Thrift Store Encounter: Magnavox Astro Sonic Console Stereo

I recently encountered the cutest Magnavox Astro Sonic Console Stereo in a local thrift store.  We didn't buy it because we don't have an SUV and didn't relish the thought of lugging it up to our third floor apartment.  But, I'm sure it will be a great buy for someone.  It was compact, intact, and seemed to be working fairly well for a nearly 50 year old stereo system. 

The Stereo indicator LED didn't seem to illuminate properly when the stereo was locked on a station.  But, you could easily tell from the sound quality when a station was tuned in properly.  The FM Stereo certainly sounded good.

I'm not sure that stereo indicator bulb is working!

The controls on this system are straight forward and fun to work with.  There is something cool about manually dialing in an FM station.  This system apparently had some capabilities for adding Auxiliary components and extra speakers.

The Heart of the Magnavox Astro Sonic Console Stereo

The turntable even seemed to spin just fine.  However, it wouldn't have been a surprise if the system needed a new needle.

This photo makes the system look a little larger than it actually is.  But, it shows the overall finish and the look of the system.  To make this really look good, it might have needed a stereo refinishing or a coat of more contemporary paint.

It looks far more dainty in this photo.  While this is a big and substantial piece of furniture, I'm surprised that console stereos have disappeared.  Nearly every stereo enthusiast has a spouse that is considerably less enthused by a constant jumble of wires and unsightly speakers.  A console stereo has the capability to blend in with the rest of the living room.  That has to count for something right?

This system was only $60.  I should have bought it.  But, I doubt we could have got it home and up the stairs in working condition.  Still, it would have been an interesting buy.  I found a nice write up of a similar system here on Retro Thing.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Vintage Speaker Review: Realistic Solo 103 Speakers

My wife and I went on a thrift shop expedition recently and I came away with a small treasure:  a pair of Realistic Solo 103 Speakers.

Realistic is or was a well-regarded Radio Shack house brand.  Even today you can find positive references to them on enthusiast websites like Audiokarma.  

Back in the late 1960s, a pair of speakers like these cost $15.96.  I got them for $13.96.  Of course, at the thrift store, they were a bit of a gamble.  The front grills don't appear to be removable without causing damage and the back of the speakers don't reveal any information about their specifications other than they are 8-ohm speakers.  This posed a little bit of drama because I didn't want to blow the speakers on my modern receiver.  When it comes to technical information on the Realistic Solo 103, you are pretty much on your own:  Solo.  Eventually, I found Solo 103 speakers listed on page 22 of this circa 1968 Radio Shack catalog.  As best I can find out via the internet is that these speakers are 15 watt speakers with a frequency response starting at 30 hz.

When I got these little speakers home, they continued to pose a challenge because they didn't have conventionally labeled black and red connectors.  Instead, I just had to hook them up with an extra effort towards being consistent about which wire went to which color on the back of my stereo.  I'm not sure what would have happened if I had got the wires crossed up, but they worked fine and my stereo worked fine.  Here is my primitive connection job on these ancient speakers.

Of course, the big question is:  how do they sound?  My answer is they sound pretty good.  Without the profound bass of a big woofer, these speakers sound a little bright.  However, they have nice heavy magnets and they are in fairly heavy wooden enclosures.  Thus, they don't sound tinny at all. They sounded great for listening to jazz on public radio and listening to various news and commentary station.  The jury is still out on rock.  In an apartment, I find that these speakers are a good choice for low to moderate volume listening when you don't want to transmit bass to your neighbors.

I'm sure that I could open these enclosures up and see if the speakers needed to be replaced or restored.  Overall, for $15, these little bookshelf speakers turned out to be a really great little find.  I'm glad I picked them up.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Vintage Speaker Review: Bose Interaudio 4000 Speakers

When it comes to audio sometimes it is time to say out with the new and in with the old.  I recently bought a pair of vintage Bose Interaudio 4000 Speakers to replace my fairly new Pioneer bookshelf speakers.  While I thought my Pioneer speakers were pretty good, there is only so much a bookshelf speaker can do---particularly in the bass department.  Enter my "new to me" Bose speakers.

Bose is known for creative and somewhat gimmicky speaker designs.  The often feature tiny speakers backed by a subwoofer.  Many people have found those designs problematic because they rely very much on good speaker placement for success.  Fortunately, the Bose Interaudio 4000 speakers are large, old-school, speakers that rely on straightforward speaker design.

In size Bose Interaudio 4000 speakers are somewhere between floorstanders and bookshelf speakers.  They have a big woofer, a smaller tweeter, and two forward facing bass ports.  Each cabinet is 13-inches by 22-inches.

According to the specifications plate these Bose speakers are recommended for amps with 10 to 100 watts of power and the impedance is 4 to 8 ohms.  Maximum continuous power is 75 watts.  Some of that seems like hocus-pocus and additional specifications don't seem to be available.  The ear is the ultimate test.  To my ears, the added bass provides a fuller, more present, sound than my prior bookshelf speakers.

You won't find many old school Bose speakers today. Now the speaker maker is focused on personal audio, audio for computers, wireless speaker sets, and headphones. But, if you search hard enough, you can still find some Bose bookshelf speakers.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Thrift Store Stereo: Philips AZ4000 MP3-CD Sound Machine Boom Box

I just hooked up our latest thrift store find. It's a Philips AZ4000 Sound Machine.  It's an interesting boom box from the 2001-2002 timeframe.  My wife was drawn to it and we bought it at a local Goodwill store for only $16.91.

 It has an electronically tuned FM stereo receiver and according to Amazon.com, the product also has the following:

  • 20-track CD programming, repeat and shuffle play; firmware upgradeable
  • 3-band equalizer and Ultrabass 2 bass boost enhance and customize system sound quality
  • 2-way speakers with 4-inch woofers, dome tweeters, and bass-reflex cabinets
  • Runs on 6 D batteries (not included) or AC power (cord supplied) 
Of course, this is a vintage boombox from 15 years ago.  But, if you'd like to read the original Amazon reviews, they are available here -

Philips AZ4000 Dimensions

The unit itself has low and deep dimensions.  It stands about six-inches tall and is about 12-inches deep.  It's fairly heavy and the few available Amazon reviews characterized it as a bulky for a portable boombox. This unit is cosmetically challenged with some melted spots on the left-hand side of the unit.  (I think a previous owner may have set a hot curling iron or something on top of the little boom box.)

Philips Sound Quality

The sound quality is actually, truly, outstanding.  The unit got 4.5 stars our of 5 from Amazon reviewers back in the day.  It has 4 front-facing speakers and two rear-facing bass ports.  You can adjust the bass and the trouble by hitting the bass/treble button and adjusting the volume knob.  The changes you dial in show on the digital display.  Ultra Bass is activated by pushing the button.

The CD player is a top-loaded unit and should be able to read MP3 files from home made CDs.

The Philips AZ4000 CD Player

The Philips AZ4000 Digital Display

Philips AZ4000 Drawbacks

I found the controls to be intuitive and easy to use.  Apparently, the Philips AZ4000 supports a remote control of some sort.  However, this thrift store unit didn't have a remote.  Fortunately, we don't seem to be missing any of the essential controls.  The worst feature of this unit is the lack of an auxiliary input.  While it does have an earphone jack, this vintage portable stereo precedes the Smartphone era and there is no way to hook up devices to this old school boom box.  That's too bad because the speakers are great.

Philips AZ4000 Headphone Jack
With great quality sound, this $17 thrift store special Philips AZ4000 Sound Machine might be a great affordable alternative to an expensive Bose Wave Radio.  For under $20, you can't go too wrong.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Thrift Store Find: iLive Mini Bookshelf Stereo

This little Bookshelf Stereo was made by iLive. They make affordable consumer electronics. Typically, you'll find mini stereos and boomboxes that cost less than $100. In the first store, this little stereo was selling for $30.

iLive Mini Bookshelf Stereo
It looks like the stereo real deal with a subwoofer and a pair of 4-ohm speakers. The drawback is that this unit was made for an old school iPod. While that socket might have been convenient at one time, it makes the unit look a bit dated now. More modern devices will have to use a Y-connector cable.

iLive Mini Bookshelf Stereo (front)

The speakers on this unit were pristine.  I'm sure that it has lots of life left in it as a bedrooom stereo in the right home.  It's a compact and sleek looking unit.

iLive Mini Bookshelf Stereo Speaker (grill removed)

I suspect that strength of this little stereo unit lies around the back.  It does have an auxiliary input (Aux Input) and it also has be inputs and outputs needed to be hooked into a video system.  While this truly isn't an audiophile system by any stretch of the imagination, it just might suffice in the average persons bedroom or office.

iLive Mini Bookshelf Stereo (Back)

There are plenty of small, inexpensive, bedroom systems on the market from companies like iLive or GPX.

Of course, many of these little low cost units have their issues. For example while this iLive unit looked good to me, some mini stereos have fake speaker units built in. You'll find that a tweeter or a mid-range driver is actually a non-functional piece of plastic included for "cosmetic" reasons. If you experience that kind of disappointment, a name-brand unit with a great reputation starts to make real sense.  Names like Onkyo, Sony, and Yamaha may be more expensive, but they are also more trusted by consumers.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Sony APM-990 - Vintage Monster Speakers from Sony

Here are some pictures of a huge pair of speakers that I encountered in a thrift store recently. They were Sony APM-990 Speakers. Apparently, these vintage speakers were known for having square woofers.

I haven't found much information online about these monsters. But, according to the label, these vintage floorstanders were 220 Watt speakers designed for 8 ohms of impedance.  One of the thrift store workers hooked them up to whatever stereo receiver was available on the shelf and they had enough power to boom big sound throughout a fairly large retail store.

It's amazing that such brawny speakers can be obtained for about $40.  This pair seemed to be pristine.  Even the particle board cabinets didn't have any obvious chips.

The music pumped from these monsters wasn't from a genre I particularly like and the volume was cranked way to high.  I can't really say I got a good feel for the sound quality of the Sony APM-990 speaker system.  Does an Accurate Pistonic Motion create better sound?  I'll never know and our new apartment doesn't offer the space to find out.  (Plus, our new downstairs neighbor seems nice!)

Are these the greatest speakers of the 1980s?  Probably not.  Of course, the audiophiles over on Audiokarma.org seem to think they are crap.  But, with $40 and an old Van Halen CD, you probably can't go wrong.