We Can Make Classic Cars Outperform Today's "SuperCars": Why Not Vintage Audio?

If you spent $2M on a modern "Supercar", you’d arrive at the end of a quarter mile 2 football fields behind the quickest highly-modified "street legal" cars from the muscle car era. You could show up at an Autocross event in your late model "track ready" sports sedan, and be embarrassed by a lady pushing a 1986 Monte Carlo between the cones.

There’s a lot of resources and talent in the automotive aftermarket. Many of the brightest minds earned weekly paychecks in their "past lives" at major auto manufacturers. There are various disciplines involved including complete engine and drive train replacements, serious add-on/mods to existing components, bigger/better brakes, track-ready suspensions, etc. They can even slide a complete new high-performance rolling chassis underneath popular models.

So, why not vintage audio? Well, we do dip our toes into this a bit. There are popular speaker crossover replacements for the DYI crowd. But, these fall sonically short of their contemporary "high end" counterparts. The automotive equivalent of replacing a 2 BBL carb on a cast iron manifold with a 4 BBL carb on a cast iron manifold -- while keeping the original single exhaust system intact. We can do simple mods to improve the sonics -- like upgrading an original power cord that you wouldn’t want to use on a 2-splice toaster, much less a high-current amplifier. The really smart guys need to come to the rescue for true audiophile grade solutions.

Understandably there has to be a "high give a s--- factor" related to this. The speed parts industry is fueled by a wildly enthusiastic crowd while vintage audio owners are, like: "whatever". So, the chances of a superb $5k amp/preamp module that drops into a Marantz 1060 chassis and slays any modern gear near it’s price point may not be coming to a town near you anytime soon.

I think this can be incremental if we put our minds and wallets to it. You "car guys" know there are 3 basic types of collector cars. "Showroom stock" represents as close as possible the vehicle as it rolled off the assembly line. "Personalized" generally follows a stock appearance with performance and cosmetic improvements. Generally speaking, the car can be reverted to showroom stock at some point the future. All the original parts are carefully cataloged and placed in safe storage. "Modified" has the appearance of a race car, and performs like one. Often modifications to metal are performed, and in some cases there’s no going back. We can follow similar guidelines as well. We understand the motivation to keep things "stock". We can also understand the audiophiles that love their vintage gear would be open to the concept of a significantly better listening experience while maintaining a stock appearance and functionality. Chopping up an Auburn is a really bad idea. But, upgrading the input terminals on an integrated amplifier may be highly palatable for those cherished collectables.

I also get it that the ROI would be questionable. An amp that has a current market value of $2k with $5k worth of mods might still be worth $2k -- or less.

What say you?


Hey, guys.

Thanks for the great posts.

It occurred to me that we’ve been "hot rodding" audio for quite some time. We’ve been demoting OEM cables and storing them in their original shipping containers and replacing them with premium cables for quite some time. Even modern gear benefits from newer and/or better thinking, and we don’t need a soldering gun or mechanics tool set to improve their sonics with devices we plug in or insert into the factory chassis. As @jonwolfpell indicated, in the case of the Mac MC275, a lot of modern offerings are "factory hot rodded" versions of older (even Vintage) models. Factory authorized "hot rodders" have been around for long time in the car industry, too. Guys like Shelby, Yenko, Roush, Cosworth, Saleen -- even Hertz (I’m sure I’m missing some of your favorites, sorry) have gotten the full factory blessing -- including keeping the original warranty intact.

It was not my intent to agonize over comparisons between cars and audio. My examples were simply that the (very successful) automotive aftermarket can produce impressive results -- including topping the "best of the best" of modern day offerings in some respects. I tried to take the discussion out of the stratosphere of unaffordable cars and into the real world with the Monte Carlo reference where a mid-sized sedan with the right aftermarket setup (and, a skilled driver) can appear to break the laws of physics and hold it’s own in twists and turns against modern sports sedans.

I remember some words of wisdom from my old home automation days: "Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should." We need to take the "measure twice, cut once" approach to modifying our gear.

As with vintage cars, your approach to vintage audio is highly relevant on how you, individually, approach the hobby. It depends on if. and how, you drive it, race it, show it, see it as in investment and just wipe it down with a diaper on a daily basis. IF your time behind the wheel is just as important as your admiration for the marque, then upgrading the performance,saftety, and comfort are rational choices (could save your life in a precarious situation). And, there are pretty of resources to make this happen. As mentioned in an earlier post, IF you cherish and listen intently to your vintage gear the ultimate tribute would be to take the performance of the piece to a level that the original designer could only have imagined.

And, just for fun ...

"Big Red" Camaro

No need. My vintage amps sound exactly like my newer amps and "improving" them won't make any difference in the sound since any differences would be beyond the level of audibility.

It's already being done. The Gerard 301 and 401 turntables, the Thorens 124, various broadcast tables, etc.

In speakers, horns and electrostatics, mainly because few modern manufacturers are producing them, and when they do the prices are eye-watering.

Ditto with tube amps - circuit design hasn't advanced, but materials have.

A buddy just bought a vintage 1976 Marantz 2125 receiver for $2000+.  Why?  I don't get the attraction of vintage gear that is 46 years old.  Granted it was re-capped, but still, I have to assume that SS gear must have improved significantly over the last 46 years, in circuit design, capacitors, transistors, power supplies, etc.  So what is the attraction of old receivers, for example?  I understand that some tube designs are classics and sound great, like the old McIntosh 275, but SS gear?  what is the attraction?

@jssmith Glad your still loving the music produced by your old gear.  In your case, I wouldn't touch it either.