Written by 4:57 am Audiophile • 25 Comments

Chasing Classic Cars: Audiophile Edition

Jerry Del Colliano looks at audio components from the past that still get his juices flowing…

You watch Chasing Classic Cars with Wayne Carini on Velocity Channel, right? If not, you are missing out. The elevator speil is a Baby Boomer car freak stalks the most exotic and obscure automobiles, often buys them, restores them, shows them in concourse d’elegance, and then sells them. It’s a fun show. Sometime Wayne finds a 1930’s Bugatti dormant in a garage for 50 years or a Lamborghini from the mid-1960s looking for a new life and a new home. Sometimes it’s a beach-tastic VW bug or a Porsche “bathtub” that needs some love and a new home. In short – it’s totally DVR worthy. 

AR-carscarscars1a.jpgThis brings me to my question for you – “What are your own garage find audiophile products? I once got a call from a friend who found a McIntosh 225 tube amp in a basement in Connecticut. It was from 1964 and had the original box, packing, manual and receipt. I had Audio Classics restore the amp the best we could and took a new look at the product. Ultimately I sold the amp (as Wayne often does with his finds) but I had a good time with the project overall and someone in Asia got a very cool, classic McIntosh amp for their collection. 

So what products do you want to find the next time you stumble into an old record store selling vintage audio gear or some random estate sale? Below, I have created my list and some justifications to go along with each component. 

MartinLogan CLS Electrostatic Speakers (circa: early 1980s) 

AR-MartinLogan-CLS.jpgThese speakers were the start of many audiophiles’ time of being an audiophiles including both Andrew Robinson and Dennis Burger. These impossibly hard to drive electrostatic speakers had little if any serious bass. And to optimize their imaging took hours of micro-adjustments. Also, you need TONS of current to make these speakers get up and even speak to you. So, you need to factor in the investment in high-current amps (think: Pass Labs Class-A amps) to get started. And even with a stupidly large investment in power, you’ll need subwoofers to get any level of impact, let alone the impact you can get from a $1,000 Paradigm or GoldenEar speaker. But, how do these speakers perform today, 30 years after their game-changing launch? Stick with me – I might have a follow up article that goes down this rabbit hole. (estimated price in today’s used market: $3,000 to $5,000 per pair). 

Nakamichi Dragon Tape Deck (circa: late 1980s)

 AR-Nakamichi-Dragon-Deck.jpgWhile other Nakamichi tape decks could flip a cassette tape at the end of a side like a teppanyaki chef loaded on sake hunting for tips, the Nakamichi Dragon tape deck was the ultimate in personal recording in the analog domain in the 1980s. Endless controls. Japanese precision. What is not to like? Cue up a Journey record and record it for your non-removable-head-unit car stereo and you are to old-school audiophile bliss. If you see one of these suckers in the wild – don’t forget to add in the cost of a refurb job before you plunk your Platinum card. (estimated price: $1,250 to $2,500). 

Cello Audio Palette Program Equalizer (circa: mid-1980s) 

AR-Cello-Audio-Palette copy.jpgNot long after Mark Levinson’s fabled departure from Madrigal, he started his next uber-high-end venture, Cello. Cello’s products like the Audio Palette, which I sold as a college kid back in the early-to-mid-1990s sold for $26,000 per component and it wasn’t even a preamp, just an analog equalizer. 30 plus years later this lust-worthy audiophile component is still used in the best mastering labs in the world. If you have one, call me. 310.860.9988. I want it. (estimated price: $10,000 to $20,000). 

Mark Levinson No. 40 AV Preamp (Circa: 1990s)

AR-MarkLevinson-no40.jpgThis was the first true audiophile AV preamp to ever hit the market. Yes, the Meridian 861 was great, and I owned both, a No. 40 and the Meridian 861at the same time, the Mark Levinson is more rare to this day. A two-chassis AV preamp with no HDMI input and a price tag north of $20,000 is stupid-defined but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t swipe one up if you ever see one on the junk heap. This is one hell of a collectable AV product; (estimated price: $2,000 to $3,000). 

Sony Qualia 006 Rear Projection Rear Projection Television (circa: mid-1990s) 

AR-Sony-Qualia-006.JPGMan, did Sony mess up by bailing on their Qualia line of products after only a short time on the market. Qualia meant “screw ES (elevated standards) – this is the highest end stuff we can make at any level and for any price” and within a year or so after Qualia’s launch Sony reverted. But before pulling the plug Sony made a camcorder, a video projector, headphones and this sexy-ass rear-projection TV. HDTV? No, not really as you are kinda missing the point. The Sony Qualia 006was the best projector in the world flopped upside down and made to sing for you in an rear projection format. By today’s standards, this TV is outdated even when compared with a $699 TCL (which is quite good BTW). By historical standards, this TV is the kitsch you want to own as a collector; (estimated price: free to $500). 

Apogee Grand Loudspeakers (Circa: Early 1980s) 

AR-ApogeeGrand copy.jpgJason Bloom has been long gone but his ribbon speakers live a quiet legacy that some audiophiles in the know, know are worthy of leveraging some debt. Not easy to amplify, Apogee Grands took some of the hardest falls ever in the Northridge, California earthquake in 1994 thus many pairs sold in my old stomping grounds of Christopher Hansen Ltd. are now dead. If you see this audiophile ghost and get the itch – take action as you may never see them again. Explain to your children that their Ivy League education has been sold out for legacy speakers in a different but equally difficult conversation. Krell founder Dan D’agostino, a total Apogee fan boy says the real pick is the more simple (no active crossover) Apogee Centaurs. Other industry insiders say the Apogee Scintilla’s were the real amp-killing stars of the Apogee line, but I’ve never seen a pair of these in the wild, so you are on your own there. (estimated price: $2,500 to $5,000 plus and God-help-you on shipping/transportation and-or a potential repair someday). 

Krell KSA-250 Power Amplifier (Circa: very-early 1980s) 

AR-krell_ksa-250.jpgSpeaking of Dan D’Agostino’s, one of Krell’s most famous amps, other than perhaps the Aragon 4004, is the Krell KSA-250. Aged by today’s standards, this monster could power any number of the day’s beyond-demanding speaker designs. With perhaps the best bass performance of a decade, the KSA-250 also has that mean edge that could be softened a little bit by matching it with something like an Audio Research SP-9 tube preamp which was a hot setup from the era. (estimated price: $2,000 to $3,000). 

Honorable Mentions

 I could make this list really, really, long but I want you guys to chime in with your picks but others that come to mind include: Wilson WATT-Puppy 3.2 speakers, Marantz 9 amplifiers, Audio Alchemy DDE-1 DAC, Meridian MCD CD player, vintage JBL L-100s (think: Maxell ad) and Quad ESL-63s. There’s so much more we could get into here. 

Now, it’s your turn. What audiophile garage find would cause you to do something stupid to own, and why? What would you pay for it? Have you ever done anything silly like actually buying one of these products as I did with the McIntosh 225? Chime in below in the comments…

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