Did the Old Receivers Sound Good?

Before the high end started, we had all these receivers and integrated amps from Pioneer, Kenwood, Sansui, Sherwood, etc., all with incredible specs.  Then somehow we decided that specs didn't matter and we started moving to the more esoteric stuff from Ampzilla, Krell and whoever, but the specs were not as good.  My question is - Did the old Japanese stuff with the great specs sound better? I don't remember.  I'm asking because many seem to be moving back to the "specs are everything" mindset and I was thinking about all that old stuff with so many zeros to the right of the decimal point. 


many seem to be moving back to the "specs are everything" mindset

I`ve been reading this forum since the early 2000`s and I have not noticed this happening, at all. Some, here, use the various specs as a guide.

We all hear differently, and with different tastes. The mantra, here, has been- "let your ears be the judge" .

Then somehow we decided...

So, one day, we all woke up and decided... - no, not really.

If anything, it was a progression.

It was not that the old stuff measured well, it was a better build quality. Changes started to happen, and alot of the mentioned brands evetually made cheaper components so the mass market can afford their products. During the same time, they failed to address the niche market. Changes and improvements were occurring in speaker development that the "esoteric" market readily addressed.

FWIW, I’ve felt like the sound quality of my bought-brand-new-in-1978 Pioneer SX-1250 was bettered - significantly -  by every successive move to a newer amp I’ve made since 1986.  In order, and (as always) to my ears, the 1986 Denon 90 wpc integrated was clearly an upgrade, the Sony GS series HT receiver that replaced the Denon in 1997 was a lateral SQ move from its immediate predecessor but also clearly better than the SX-1250, and my PrimaLuna Prologue Classic tube (2018) integrated was a truly enlightening upgrade from everything that preceded it.  All of them were/are used with the same pair of JBLs (L65s) I bought in ‘78 for the SX-1250.

I love the old receivers, but seem to always be disappointed in their sound, whether refurbished or not...though some here feel they are the ultimate...

Try s pair of contemporary  speakers. That's where the REAL difference lies.

I still own several Marantz Receivers that have been kept up to par with maintenance: 2215, 2252B, and 2270. Although I like them I agree with carlsbad,  not by today's standards.

If you're driving an old gas-guzzler, your going to like them old receivers. Yes they look cool and have substance but they are not going to measure up to modern electronics. Starting in the early 90's well designed amplifiers took a big leap in sound quality. I bought a Tandberg receiver because I liked the way it looked and it was refurbished. I put it in the den. It sounded decent but it wasn't as good as what it replaced.

Before the high end started...

The high end started long before there were receivers. 

I have the feeling that those old receivers are still wanted for reasons like, nostalgia, looks, plenty of frills but not for the so many zeros. Could still serve for a vintage second system though.


carlsbad’s avatar


“ …. not by today’s standards ….”


They sounded good FOR THEIR TIME (/emphasis added).

I had the MARANTZ 2245 receiver with JBL L100’s back in the Jurassic Age of this hobby (the 70’s) that was considered a high-end unit for its time. It was a hit in the college dorm with floating wisps of Maui Wowee rocking out Doobie Bros, Jethro Tull, Moody Blues etc. etc. .it was a heavily coloured and exaggerated “California Sound” ( Google it ..” ) with a skewed roller coaster curve frequency response with pumped up bottom end bass and top end treble geared to the rock and pop recordings of its time.

Yep…it sounded “fine” under the wafting sedation veil of the Maui Wowee after the Coors or Molson’s beer and pizza.

The unvarnished truth is that it and all its peer “vintage” units get smoked by a modest integrated amp today.

The term “vintage” is just code for “old”, and its appeal today is just nostalgia appeal by a limited cohort reliving the fond memories of a misspent youth, but certainly NOT for any premium / “good” audio performance.

To my 74 year old lead ears my Pioneer SX-1050 and JBL L222 Disco speakers sound just fine. 😊

“Did the Old Receivers Sound Good?”

Oh yes! Especially the ones made in West Germany. 

Your mileage may vary. 

No… that old stuff is just old stuff. I have an old Marantz, and had a couple old receivers… but they are not remotely competitive with todays high end… or any high end at any time. There was a dip in performance when point to point wiring was given over to printed circuit boards… but high end audio far surpassed old receivers… well since the advent of high end. There are a few folks that were happy with what they had… which is good for them.

The NAD 3020 I took back to my tiny apartment for a shoot-out in the mid 1970's truly sounded better than the Kenwood KW-70 receiver I'd been using for the previous several years. It didn't make one whit of difference that the NAD put out considerably less watts. It was a move that revitalized my audiophile tendencies, tendencies I'd put aside when girlfriends & dating entered my life.


By and large - No. I had Kenwood’s Rotel, I don’t remember them all. Never liked any of them. Or we wouldn’t have Hi- end would we? Tho for a relatively modest investment I currently get great sound. I wish I had some of the $ I spent back on that stuff as well. Between streaming and modern equipment good sound can be had pretty readily and very cost effectively. Around 10 K for normal people it can be done. Many will scoff. I would spend more if I had it.

I would agree with Russ69, based on what I know now.  Back in the late 60's and early 70's, I wanted to upgrade from FM radio to something better and knowing nothing better I fell upon Stereo Review. That magazine was filled with advertisements for receivers, not separates, so I purchased a Kenwood 5150 in 1972, a Dual 1215 turntable and KLH 17 speakers, all for $500..  I was happy with it until a used McIntosh MA 6200 integrated amp and a new Denon tuner became available. That's when the serious upgrading started.

I can't speak for other brands, but I owned several vintage Marantz receivers, and to me they sounded smooth and pleasing, if a little lacking in dynamics. That was a pretty good achievement for that time though, because a lot of the solid-state gear then was anything but smooth.

After having demo'd and sold thousands of "receivers" in a Retail environment  from the mid 70's to the end of the 80's (Technics, Toshiba, Rotel, Pioneer, Luxman, NAD,Telefunken, Phillips and more) ... My opinion is that they Did Not sound Great then, and the addition of 40 or 50 years has Not Done Anything to improve their "Good, but thin and unromantic" sound. High End separates, many integrated amps and custom equipment, generally (by a WIDE) margin, sounded better and represented a more accurate presentation of the intended sound.

The Golden Age receivers were often Attractive, Well Built and sported Great Specs.... but that all came at a cost due to the very competative nature of the Business and the pursuit of Great Numbers, not Great Sound.


But it is not about specs,that's marketing one up-manship, keep in mind, the main brands made their reputations with receivers, then separates .... Of course old equipment needs to be checked/renewed by a pro, components drift out of original specs ...

You still have the split, TUBES or SS. And early Transistors vs later with better transformers ...

I have 2 Fisher 500C Tube Receivers,


One is at VAS getting it’s tuner aligned.

Main one, I loan to friends when their equip is in the shop. Everyone is surprised how good it sounds.

SS: I’ve got a Yamaha CR1040, two sets of speakers, shop and basement system, sounds darn good


Onkyo AVR, Current Sony AVR, they are nothing to sneeze at.

Many times we hear our better equipment thru the better speakers, thus


The Japanese electronics from the late 60’s -early 70s was inferior

to today’s same value gear adjusted for inflation.

It has to be.

In 50 years some progress has been made right?


Now if you go back to the pre transistor tube days maybe 

someone could make an argument.




No, they don’t stand up to todays gear.

Ive recapped/rebuilt several Marantz units myself, and while they have a certain charm to their sound, they don’t stand up to critical scrutiny in listening tests. 

Was just comparing a Marantz 7T with a Cary SLP-30 (Both had full recaps done by me recently) And while the Marantz is an impressive performer, the Cary is a more refined unit. Granted, I’m comparing apples to oranges here, but the question was about modern/vintage. And by some standards, the Cary could even be considered vintage now.

Yes, yes they did sound great, and many still do.

Memory based on sounds is faulty. Unless you have one with a modern component to compare, it's not a fair fight.

Had a real nice marantz integrated bought new in the 70s, very nice well rounded sound as stated by some here, but nowhere the clarity of today's equipment.

Bought a new Sansui AU 717 in 1978. Double mono design. I thought it sounded great.

Back in the day, I had tube and SS separates and a couple of different tuners and all of them were the weakest link in my system.  Having said that, David Hafler and Bozak sounded pretty darn good back then.

The Fisher 500 was a beautiful sounding piece of gear. Tubey and romantic, yes, but very enjoyable.

The old stuff sounds better. Uncluttered by the placebo effect of high prices today, the old stuff sounded great and performed great. 

I still have my Kenwood KR8010 receiver and use it in my 4th set up, and it still sounds very good, if in the Chicago area PM me and I will set up a listening session for you.

I had a Marantz 2270 back in ’76-’77. Sounded fine! Soon I bought separates (AGI 511, GAS Son of Ampzilla, Mitsubishi DA-F10). I should have kept the 2270 for use as an FM tuner. Now I think the vintage receivers/integrated amps are fine sonically. The old gear offered good to great sound per dollar. Today’s over-hyped over-priced stuff - NO!

Had a Sansui 90-90 ( I think ) in the late 70's sold it and went to Carver  separates  5 years later. The Carver blew the Sansui away. Really made my 901's sing.

Listen to any audio professional who has made a name for himself as designer and manufacturer, Mark Levinson or John Curl for example, they've all been on the record saying the ascension of advancing design and manufacturing technologies has led to much better overall quality of both the parts and thus the end products. Vintage gear has a certain easy laidback sound that I can enjoy, but head to head with an upper end Levinson or even Parasound system quickly reminds one what hifi sounds like.

Great question 

I have a set of the pioneer Z series separates in my main setup. 
Specs aside and ears alone this setup for $2,000 would turn heads 

in todays market. All four pieces have been refurbished. 

FWIW...my Sony STR-V6 sounds amazing through a set of Focal Kanta No.2 speakers. 

I used to sell audio in the heyday. The mainstream companies like Marantz, Pioneer and etc., seemed to save their audio goodness for their separates. They all made some halo products that to my ears were noticeably better sounding than their receiver lines. Of note, Sansui, Pioneer and Technics had high-ish end separates that really did rival some of the more esoteric brands and were priced accordingly. I know I didn't mention Marantz. To my ears, they didn't have the detail of the other higher end products, just my take. I had some early NAD which were a revelation for the money, but were unreliable.

I have a vintage family room system consisting of a pioneer sx1250, pioneer pl 630 tt and diapason adamantes as my speakers. It sounds really good. Not as good as my reference system but not nearly as pricey and beautiful to look at with all that aluminum and walnut. For my guests, who can’t tell sound quality, they love it immensely because it reminds them of their youth. They are stunned by the sound quality. I believe the synergy between the adamantes and the 1250 is way better than I expected and it all looks so damn pretty. 

In my experience with the receivers of the 70s many had good amplifiers, but few had preamplifier performance to match.  Integrated amps were no different in this respect.  This applies only to transistor gear.  I recall fronting a Sansui AU 5500 with a Marantz 7 tube preamp, using the amp-in jacks and was impressed that the amp sounded as good as the Crown amp I used then, but with the jumpers in, was lackluster, flat, dull.  The Crown D60 was indistinguishable from the Model 8 tube amp, with a/d/s/ L710s. 

I remember my mid 80's Harman Kardon and Carver receivers sounded really good to me at the time.  But then Harman Kardon went to "Green" power and they weighed about 3 pounds.  Absolute junk!  I had 3 fail on me.  Now currently have a Outlaw RR2160MkII Stereo Receiver weighs a ton and makes my Dahli Zensor speakers sound great.

I’ve had Sansui, Kenwood and Pioneer SX receivers for quite a while. My SX1250 is still what I use for casual listening in my gym area but for critical listening it does not compare to my main system. They sure do look cool though. 

My situation is a bit of a hybrid one vs a true old against new. I have a HK 730 that I gutted, only keeping the amp section. I put new filter caps in along with some other caps, and did some point to point wiring. I’m feeding it from an inexpensive integrated and it’s pretty excellent to me. When running the integrated alone, it pales in comparison. I’ll possibly upgrade the integrated (substantially), and that should give me better insights into how the amp section of the HK compares to a current and upgraded option.

Over the last 10 years, I have bought and sold quite a few pieces of gear ranging in age from 75 years old, to less than 10 years old. I've reduced this collection down to what I consider to be the best pieces. These are my opinions, far from gospel.

My tube separates, integrated amps, and receivers from companies like Scott, Fisher, Acrosound, Pilot, and Grundig, when paired with the correct speakers, can rival even the most expensive gear for sound quality. For the most part, these devices can last forever with a small mount of maintenance and care. 

My solid state integrated amps and receivers also gold their own against newer gear I've demo'd. These pieces range in watt output from 30-100, and again, paired with the right speakers can rival some quite expensive gear. These pieces from Luxman, Marantz, Sansui, and Harman Kardon offer excellent value and sound quality. 

For more established folks that have high levels of disposable income, there are wonderful newer products available that can offer pride in ownership as well as fantastic sound quality. For those of us that have less disposable income, but still desire excellent sound quality and pride in ownership, there are quite a few vintage pieces that can fill that need. 

It boils down to personal preference, and there is no one size fits all solution. The only way to prove or disprove your theory of old vs. new, is to start setting up systems, listening, buying, selling, and swapping components to see for yourself. I'm a strong believer in the fact you can't buy you way to the top. It doesn't matter what your hobby is, the most expensive item will not make you proficient in that hobby. You can buy the most expensive sports car, but if you can't drive it, it's only a showpiece. You can buy the most expensive fire arm or compound bow, but without practice, these won't perform any differently in the hands of a novice. You can spend piles of money on expensive audio gear, and without proper set up, and room conditioning, they become show pieces easily bested by much less expensive gear. 

Only you can decide what you value most in your system. There are quite a few pieces of gear I would love to own and live with. Most of these pieces I can buy any given day new or used. I place a very high value on my vintage tube gear. Some of these pieces would take years of searching to replace. I'm not willing to make the trade from something rare, to something common, only to find its a lateral move in sound quality, or only slightly better sounding. My end goal is always enjoying the music.         

Vintage gear has a certain easy laidback sound that I can enjoy, but head to head with an upper end Levinson or even Parasound system quickly reminds one what hifi sounds like.

Obviously, you only listened to one vintage receiver or integrated. Gave up the Levinson, CJ, Threshold, Mc, Carver, to go back to my Sherwood and A14 integrated. The sound is more articulate, detailed, and intimate with my older gear.

To get right to the OP’s point about "specs": The attempt to assign a number to audio performance is often a futile attempt to arrive at something meaningful. Those numbers usually fell into various measurements of distortion and it seemed inconsistent that more expensive, more exotic gear would publish inferior specs compared to the receivers. We later learned that the popular standards of measurements were less meaningful than other "below the radar" specs, or performance parameters that were not published at all. To take some anxiety away from potential customers hyperventilating over "specs", I used to tell them that there were only 2 numbers that mattered: The price. Can they afford it? And, the physical measurements. Will it fit in the room, cabinet, etc? I understand this is a oversimplification, but did put them at ease to open up a meaningful conversation related to what mattered most to them.

Related to the question: "Did the old receivers sound good?", my answer is an emphatic "YES!!!" If we’re refering to the delivering a musically satisfying emotioinal experience, I think I can site hundreds of examples -- from a customer index cards we collected from the 70s to validate this claim.

If receivers from the 70’s were a good example of "good", then the integrated amps from the 70’s were "better" and separates were "best".

But, time marches on. About 10 years later, Nakamichi teamed up with Nelson Pass and incorporated Statis technology in their receivers. With zero negative feedback and other innovations, these eclipsed earlier designs IMHO. I still have a TA2 and TA4 in my collection of "excellent" examples of stereo receiver performance of the 1980s.

A study of the performance of the "big boy" receivers of the 70’s will find a couple performamce constraints that can be remedied. One easy & cheap. The other a little a little more complicated. When the preamp jumper is replaced with an "audio quality" short interconnect/jumper they really open up and become more detailed. Time: 15 seconds. Cost: about $40. The second constrant is the power cord. Even the best receivers (and most separate power amplifiers) of the day had a power cord attached that would not be suitable for a 2-slice toaster, muchless a piece of serious audio gear. Replacing these with modern "audiophile" power cords and upgraded "protective" device" pays major sonic dividents. We routinely do these "mods" in our shop, and I am often stunned at the sonic transformations. Yes, you get the expected improvements in detail, focus and dynamic contrast. But, the bigger surprise (to us anyway) are the changes in tonality, chord structure, warmth, balance, etc. More relaxed, fuller, and musically engaging. The power cord upgrade can be a minimally invasive removal of the factory installed cord and install the better cord in the same manner as OEM (maybe with a slight enlargment in input opening). Or, if the user is okay with sometinig a little more aggressive, cut an opening in the chassis and install a male EIC socket, replacing the internal high voltage wire with better cabling. This allows the customer to not only select their own power cord, but upgrade the cord in the future. Does this make an old receiver sound better than the latest technology? No. But, if they love their old receiver and want it to sound better it is a worthwhile investment.

I miss the buying experience in the 70's.  Was in the Navy at the time and lived in Souther California.  Every Sunday in the LA Times Sunday paper there was a section called the Calendar section and it had all the ads from Pacific Stereo, University Stereo and the likes.  There were real stores where you could go and listen to real gear!  I got some pretty good gear on stuff they wanted cleared once they knew I was a struggling sailor! LOL.   I also had a NAD 3020 guy talked me into it and I was glad he did. SQ vertical climb and so few watts.  Looked like the future back then.  There was a wall of reel-to-reels at Pacific Stereo.  I had a philips.  I stuck with NAD all these years up to this time.  Sure miss hanging at the stores.

The Japanese electronics from the late 60’s -early 70s was inferior

How about the V-Fets from Sony and Yamaha, they do not look so inferior sonicwise even by todays standards.

You will have to be of a certain age to appreciate this. 99% of my listening is done through either Quicksilver or prima Luna tube amps with a Nottingham turntable and gallo or sonus Faber speakers. That said every once in awhile I will throw on a foghat or kiss album on a secondary system I keep around. Marantz 2220 receiver pioneer pl7 turntable and original Advent loudspeakers. Does the system sound anywhere as good as my main system? No. Is it fun? Absolutely. Takes me right back to sitting in a buddy's bedroom listening to Ted Nugent in the late 70s. I think of it like driving an old car. Any late model Toyota Camry will out accelerate handle and brake better than any of the sports cars I've owned but there is something so satisfying and pure driving an early 70s MGB. Nothing wrong with nostalgia.

As a college freshman I had only a "record player" with all electronics and speakers packed in the base -- dorm rooms are tiny and students are poor. Soph year I lived in a suite with an audiophile who supplied the music and wouldn't touch Japanese electronics -- European only. Ted read High Fidelity and from that source I learned basic concepts.Then Harry Pearson came along, so unlike most I never owned a receiver myself, only separates (some of which were badly mismatched!). Well, it's been a long learning curve. Owing to the development of sophisticated phono stages, I can't say how 21st century separates compare to my mid-1980s Bryston pre and B&K one-chassis dual mono amp. Meanwhile, analog stereo tuners of any quality have basically vanished from the market, so the old days were better in that respect. 


I’m still using my 1989 vintage NAD 7600 in my reference system. This was NAD’s best integrated amp and tuner put on the same chassis: 150 wpc into 8 ohms, 500 watts of dynamic power into 4 ohms for 200 milliseconds (ten times the typical duration for this spec). But specs are not the point, as has often been stated here. Sure that I could improve my system with newer amplification, I had a friend’s Primare A30.1 for several weeks: a dual mono design, award winning and with many faithful fans, made in Sweden in the twenty-teens. The NAD sounds more natural (more realistic instrumental timbre), creates a wider and deeper soundstage, and is better at specifying the location of instruments in space. Also tried another friend’s Outlaw; same result. The differences are very slight; both the Primare and the Outlaw sounded great (although I was disappointed with vinyl through the Outlaw, while the Primare had no phono circuit at all). But the NAD sounded just slightly better than these much newer units. The NAD has been checked out, but I’ve not had to re-cap it or in any other way modify it; even the hard-wired power cord is original. And the NAD, besides having a tuner, also has a first-rate RIAA equalized MM/MC phono stage, very useful "semi-parametric" tone controls, an indispensable powered balance control (you’d be surprised how important fine-tuning the balance is for maximizing the spatial effects), and other features not found on most "high-end" separates.

Richard Clark, Peter Aczel and others have done empirical studies confirming the relative unimportance of amplification, so long as one’s equipment is sufficiently powerful never to be driven into clipping. This should be taken into account here.

Finally, one might also note the astonishing sound quality of the earliest stereo recordings, made before consumer stereo was even available for purchase. Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra made recordings for RCA "Living Stereo" of Dvorak and Mussorgsky in 1957 (the Westrex disc cutter made the production of stereo records possible in 1958). Available now on SACD, these recordings rival anything made since for sound quality. That should tell you all you need to know in order to answer the OP’s question.