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. 


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.