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May 2002 Editorial

Look back in anger...or not? (newer = better?)

Author: Lucio Cadeddu

If you are already familiar with our attitude towards HiFi you may already know we - usually - don't believe the hype (said with a strong Chuck D's accent :-)).
More precisely, we don't believe the equation newer = better has one, unique solution. For this reason we sometimes suggest to have a look at the second-hand market (see, for example, our precious S/H HiFi Buying Guide) as we feel one can get more "bang for the buck" with pre-owned pre-loved gear.
I'm not jusy saying used gear is good when you have a tight budget. No, I'm pretty sure there are HiFi components from the past that can easily outperform new ones, both in the same price range and above.

There are many reasons why a component is discontinued and "obsolete sound" is rarely an option. Sometimes the market asks for a new product every year, so manufacturers are forced to design something new (or newish) even if there is no serious technical reason to do that.

Other times a manufacturer is forced to "upgrade" a model because some internal component is no longer available or has just become too expensive (caps, coils, power supply transformers, DACs, chipsets, tubes etc.).
This has nothing to do with "good sound research"!!! It's just a market law.
Do you need some example? CD transports! Are you sure older Philips CD transports are worse than today's standard? Take a CDM 1 (or a CDM 4) and compare it to the new, 100% plastic transports used today.

Not satisfied? Have a look at DAC chipsets. Are you 100% sure the old TDA 1541 S1 or S2 sound worse than today's chipsets? Don't be. Many "new" 0-oversampling DAC's - which are all the rage nowadays - are based on TDA 1541's.
Similarly, you'll be surprised to know how "wanted" are older CD players from Marantz and Philips. I'm referring to CD 960's, CD 94's, CD 94 mkII's and similar machines like Revox B226's etc. Actually, the TDA 1541 has been one of the most widely used chip in "audiophile" CD players (early Meridian's, Naim's, Micromega's...)

Even if you look at the hi-end market things don't change much: many audiophiles consider older Wadia transports and DACs (WT 2000 + 2000 DAC, WT 3200 etc.) still competitive with modern digital gear, if not better. Have you ever compared a Wadia 2000 DAC to some new design? You'll be surprised, to say the least.

Puzzled? Then what about very good sounding tube amps and preamps of the past? Think for a minute: vacuum tubes were the same (if not better!). New circuits are rare, being mainly variations on a Williamson's theme. Good passive components and output transformers were available 30-40 or even 50 years ago as well.
[Excellent Naim Nait inside view]
Naim Nait 1, excellent internal view (circa 1983)

Solid state? Good solid state amplifiers were available even 15-20 years ago. I'm preparing a "look back" article on Naim gear where I'll try to prove that 25-30 years ago stuff was good even following today's standards.
For example, there are many "Naimologists" who swear older versions of the Naim Nait were better sounding than the new ones. I'm lucky enough to own a (mint condition) Naim Nait 1st series...an amplifier that can be a threat even for many "modern" audiophile integrated amps.
Have a look at the excellent layout of this 20 years old little gem. Good components, law and order everywhere, a damn good Holden & Fisher power supply transformer and everything that makes an amp sound good. Do you think modern, opamps-filled, "audiophile" amplifiers can beat this one? Think again.

Loudspeakers? Are you 100% sure hi-end speakers of, say, 10-15 years ago, can't be competitive with modern stuff? Have you ever considered or compared even older designs such as Quad ESL 57/63, Klipschorn, Tannoy Westminster? I'm sure these old babies can trash more than a modern design, even of the so-called "hi-end" crowd.

The bottom line is: don't count older gear out too easily. We'll try to keep an eye on some bargain from the past, give you good advices on what to seek for and report, from time to time, on our findings. As you can imagine, these things take time but we promise to bring you more "Oldies but Goldies" articles.

Personally, I'm working - as said before - on a review on vintage Naim gear (Naim Nait 1st edition, NAC 12 & NAP 120 preamp + power amp, 3-digits serial numbers!) and on Revox HiFi components belonging to the beloved "B" series.

Of course, everything should be taken with a grain of salt. Do not try to solve the equation older = better on your own, as it can become dangerous, expensive and unsatisfactory in the long run.
Generally speaking, good things from the past are good even for today's standards. Mediocre and bad sounding stuff from the past can be horrible.

Finally, be wise! DO NOT BUY overpriced stuff just because it is old, claimed collectible etc. Many things from the past are just...PLAIN OLD, nothing else.
Take this warning seriously, as I've seen many overpriced components for sale on the Web (E-bay etc.). Just to name an example, immediately after we published the series of articles on the old Garrard Zero 100 turntable (suggested price, if mint, 80 $/Euro), I saw Zero's for sale at 200 $ or even more.

Keep your eyes (and ears) wide open!

© Copyright 2002 Lucio Cadeddu - http://www.tnt-audio.com

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