Why is old audio gear superb

The 1980s gear, known for enduring quality, solid construction, and luxurious user experience, reflects a bygone era.

Sony Es User Manuals3

My audio journey goes a long way. Growing up in the late 1980s, every household had a stereo which I curiously inspected when we paid a visit. My parents owned a sleek Sony slim component system with Wharfedale Laser speakers.

Those were delightful times. I fondly recall my brother and me recording songs off the radio, frustrated whenever a chatty speaker interrupted a song. I remember neighbor borrowing our tape recorder when double decks weren’t commonplace.

It’s a nostalgic tale, reflecting a time when sharing music meant tangible connections, a far cry from the swift digital exchanges of today’s youth. At age 14 I scratched all my savings and  bought my own tape 3-head deck and a CD player, opting for Sony as the brand had grown on me. At the age of 15, I began taking on summer/holiday jobs, enabling me to acquire an integrated amp, my first set of JBL speakers and a minidisc recorder. By the time I turned 16, I assembled my first home cinema system.

My fascination with the peak level meter of a 1981 Sony TC-FX3 tape deck was endless.

The pinnacle model of the 1990 ES cassette decks lineup: the K970ES boasts more substantial build than the rest of the decks.

Chasing high quality audio evolution

As the equipment gradually evolved over the years, so did my pursuit of high-quality audio reproduction. It all began with exhaustive testing of numerous speaker positions. Attending various audio fairs and listening to other people’s systems made me realize that I had set high standards for myself right from the beginning. Regardless of the systems I encountered, those with 1980s gear consistently delivered the best sound. Whether it was Sony, Technics, Sansui, Onkyo Integra, or any other Japanese brand offering pricier gear with elevated standards, the audio quality stood out.

Fifteen years later, when I acquired a measuring device, I came to the realization that I had always preferred (and actually achieved) a flat response with a slightly elevated low end. A characteristic akin to the Harman Curve that many strive to attain. At that time digital amplifiers were coming along, the cable tales were at a blast and people were spending tens of thousands of euros on their systems. Yet I preferred the old gear without a hesitation.

It’s like an old Mercedes that lasts forever but with the performances of today’s version.

Timeless quality

Significant improvements occured in hi-fi audio technology from the 1970s to the 1980s. Advances in integrated circuits, transistor technology, digital audio, materials, and speaker design led to better sound quality, reliability, longetivity and overall performance during this period. 1980s gear was built to last. Often, there was no compromise, the quality was bomb-proof. High quality materials and refined mechanics were used, elements that hardly anyone pays attention to these days. The craftsmanship of the Sony ES series was unmatched, no other Japanese manufacturer has ever approached the same level of precision, mechanical robustness, and opulent user experience. Top-tier units that cost 5000 deutsch marks at the time (2500 €) would easily demand a price of at least 15,000 € today, considering the advanced prefabrication processes required in the current manufacturing landscape. Sony played an important role in the audio world by co-developing the CD format in 1982 and introducing or improving various audio technologies.

It’s uncommon to find a professional studio without at least one piece of Sony equipment.

My use case involves combining old gear with newer equipment to achieve the latest immersive sound experience.

The evolution of audio

The technological progress in the audio industry has been notably sluggish. The accompanying developments bring drawbacks such as cutting corners, outsourcing component production, built-in obsolescence, favoring style over substance, and prioritizing advertising over creating a quality product. Repairing and servicing have become more intricate while the lifespan is predetermined. No doubt, you can snag some seriously high quality audio gear today, but be prepared to throw your budget into a mosh pit!

1980s gear radiates an unbeatable price-performance ratio, proving that good sound can come with a side of vintage charm and a wink to your wallet.

The overlooked reality

Keep this in mind: regardless of how pricey or top-notch your gear may be, the room where you place it plays a pivotal role. While some are willing to splash out on a cable, they often overlook the significance of acoustics. Neglecting acoustic considerations could result in a 3,000 € setup sounding superior to a 50,000 € one.