Our audio equipment

We take our sound testing very seriously and have a variety of hi-fi separates that can be configured for all musical types. Originally, our goal is to create a high quality authentic sound from the time when vinyl was in its heyday, the period between 1972 and 1982. That's why most of our equipment is from that period and either the Linn or Thorens TD124 turntable, Yamaha CR2020 Receiver and Castle Acoustic Conway speakers is, to our ear, probably as good and authentic a sound as was possible for that time.

It's not that we believe that there isn't some fantastic (and very expensive) kit made these days, there is. It's just that we tend to prefer our sound more neutral and warm rather than precise and detailed. Like all things it's a matter of taste and preference, we happen to prefer the rich grain of a photograph created using film rather than the pixel sharp precision of its digital equivalent.

That said if we hear something better, then we'll buy it! That's why we've recently invested in a pair of B&B 804s. The quest for perfection continues...

Decks:

 Linn Sondex Vintage Turntable, SME 3009 series ii Improved tonearm

1974 Linn Sondek, with a 1978 SME 3009 tonearm and Ortofon VMS 10E cartridge/stylus (fitted with Ortofon 210 Capacitor chip)

Many would argue that the Linn deck is the finest turntable ever made, ours is an early Sondek so originally it came without a tonearm. We have a 1978 SME 3009 series ll improved (fixed head) fitted on ours. In keeping with our 70’s ish vibe* it has an Ortofon VMS 10E stylus and cartridge - yes, we actually have 2 original new 10E styli, probably the only ones left on the planet! To keep the output pure there’s an Ortofon CAP210 installed on the back of the cartridge, because as Ortofon put it “it keeps things flat between 10k and 20k hz”.

How does it sound? It has an easy, relaxed demeanour, it’s fantastically crisp and clear, picking out individual elements with a rounded fast, 3-dimensional soundstage. It’s perfect for classical, unplugged instrumental and vocals.

Thorens TD124 SME vintage turntable, 3009 series 2 improved tonearm

Update. Our Thorens TD124 with a 1979 SME 3009 Series 2 Improved tonearm and Ortofon VMS 10E cartridge/stylus (fitted with Ortofon 210 Capacitor chip) is currently away on furlough and being serviced by Dominic Harper of Northwest Analogue. When it's back and healthy again it'll be reunited with the SME 3009 and the custom made Rosewood plinth. Dom has suggested replacing the VMS 10E with our Shure V15 lll cart and a Jico SAS Hyper Elliptical Stylus. Well, he is the expert, so we'll give that a try and hear how that sounds. We can't wait to drop it back onto the plinth!

Thorens TD124 turntable Vinyl Clear Best 60s turntable

Just over 4 months later, here it is, restored and working. We're still tweaking the set up but so far the 124 has a relaxed, detailed clarity that is very easy to listen to. That will only become more detailed as we refine the settings and make it sing. Already, we're liking this 60s icon a lot, actually more than a lot.

 

Thorens TD160, don't be fooled by it's looks, even with the 70's chic (or just plain ugly) standard TP-16 tonearm, this is can be a surprisingly detailed deck. Especially if you pimp the hell out of it, and we have. An 18mm MDF rubber coated baseboard sitting on three adjustable spikes makes the whole plinth more rigid, improving the resonance and deepening the bass. A Platter Damping Ring, Adjustable Motor Thust Bearing, 3mm Felt Platter Mat and Spindle Damping Device eliminate much of the unwanted feedback and turn it from an ugly ducking into a beautiful swan. It may not have the PRaT of the Linn or the rich musicality of the Thorens TD124 but it is very rewarding to listen to, and we do as it's our 'work horse' turntable.

Pioneer PL12D. Yes we know it's not the best deck ever built, but it's a good early budget classic. It's a touch agricultural in the way it delivers, subtle it isn't, it's the difference between a six clyinder Audi and a four clyinder Volvo engine. It'll get you there but won't be as smooth, relaxed or refined as a more upmarket marque. That said there is something about its honesty that we love. Oh, and a PL12D was the first serious deck we ever owned as teenagers!

Our Amplifiers:

Actually at Vinyl Clear we prefer a receiver to an amplifier. Why? Well they just look so cool! We have a preference for the Yamaha CR because we haven't yet found a receiver of the period that sounds better - and we've listened to, and owned a lot. For example we have had (and have still own) a number of Pioneer SX receivers of the same vintage and they just seem dry and two-dimensional in comparison. We often trial modern amps, including some very expensive and customised models, but so far haven't found anything we would swap the Yammies for.

yamaha cr2020 receiver

Yamaha CR 2020.

This is as good as it got in the late 70's - actually IMHO as good as it gets period. Built for quality and accuracy just before the time when the bean counters started taking countrol of many hi fi company boardrooms and dumbing down the quality for higher profits. Apart from the 110w per channel of crystal clear, pure natural sound, we bought it for its MC cartridge phono option.At some point we'll buy a Magnetic Coil Cartridge for the Thorens td124 to hear what difference it makes.

In the meantime, we couldn't help but plug it in to drive the 804s. It really needs to go away to be checked out by our engineer, but not just yet. We just love the clarity of sound produced by this big, heavy, beautiful beast.

Specifications

Tuning range: FM, MW
Power output: 105 watts per channel into 8Ω (stereo)
Frequency response: 10Hz to 100kHz
Total harmonic distortion: 0.05%
Damping factor: 40
Input sensitivity: 0.05mV (MC), 2mV (MM), 120mV (DIN), 120mV (line)
Signal to noise ratio: 95dB (mic), 100dB (MC), 85dB (MM)
Output: 150mV (line), 30mV (DIN), 0.775V (Pre out)
Speaker load impedance: 4Ω (minimum)
Semiconductors: 6 x IC, 3 x FET, 109 x transistors, 58 x diodes, 7 x zener diodes
Dimensions: 540 x 167 x 415mm
Weight: 19.3kg

 

Yamaha CR 1020 Receiver

At the top end of the CR range the 1020 is known for being neutral, detailed & transparent.  Ours has been fully serviced and recapped where needed, so it’s the best it can be and with its legendary build quality it should be going long after we’ve stopped.

Specifications

Tuning range: FM, MW

Power output: 70 watts per channel into 8Ω (stereo)
Frequency response: 10Hz to 100kHz
Total harmonic distortion: 0.05%
Damping factor: 40
Input sensitivity: 2mV (MM), 120mV (line)
Signal to noise ratio: 81dB (MM), 100dB (line)
Output: 120mV (line)
Speaker load impedance: 4Ω to 16Ω
Semiconductors: 4 x IC, 3 x FET, 109 transistors, 58 x diodes, 7 x zener diodes
Dimensions: 540 x 167 x 415mm
Weight: 18.8kg
Year: 1977

Our other Receivers are:

Yamaha CR 1010 Receiver
As good as the 1020 but with slightly less grunt.

Yamaha CR 800 Receiver
We own 2 both of which need a service to get the very best out of them. They don't get much use because of the 2020 and 1020.

Yamaha CR600 Receiver
The baby of our Yamaha family but we have a real soft spot for this receiver, it's in 'as new' condition and even came in the original box with all the paperwork.

Pioneer SX 550

We love the retro styling of this mid-range Pioneer receiver and it pairs well with our Pioneer deck.

Our Speakers:

bowers & wilkins 804s floorstanding loudspeaker

Bowers & Wilkins 804s

A recent addition to our speaker stable, from circa 2014, these floorstanding 804s have a depth and detail we've not heard before. They project a rich 3 dimensional soundstage at all volumes that is a pleasure to listen to. Relaxed and refined, the 804s are currently our favourite speaker, especially for instrumental, classical and vocals.

 

Castle Acoustic Conway 2 hifi loudspeakers vintage 70's reference

Castle Acoustic Conway 2 and 3

These unique 80s speakers are a hidden gem, in a world of chasing audio perfection, tweaking, testing and regular hardware updates these are definite keepers and have been since we stumbled across them. We were lucky enough to pick these up from an ex-employee who’d worked at the original Skipton factory. He told us they were a one off, carefully constructed from a design based on the Conway 2, built as an early prototype for the Conway 3 but ultimately they proved just too expensive to manufacture. The original factory labels on the back of the speakers support this as they are marked as both Conway ll and Conway lll. Eventually the Conway 3 became a tower speaker, so our Conway speakers were archived, until they were bought by the employee and sold to us 30 years later.

The build quality is exquisite with 30mm mylar cone/dome tweeter, 80mm doped paper cone midrange and 210mm pulp cone bass unit placed symmetrically within a flame walnut veneer that is matched across all sides of the large cabinets. At 3’6” tall with the matching stands they are a big speaker, with an equally big sound. With a frequency response of 63hz to 20khz +-3db at 2m ( -6db at 38hz at 1m) with crossover points 750hz and 4khz you’d expect these to sound good.

They don’t disappoint, driven by our Yamaha CR1020 they become invisible projecting the sound around the room. The 52 litre cabinets give plenty of rich bass, usually with most good speakers your hear the depth and complexity of the bass but with these you feel waves of air vibrate around you. Then the exacting, clear midrange builds the a complex and 3 dimensional soundstage, with the sharp high-end filling in the spaces. Fast and detailed, these speakers just fall on the crisp side of neutral, almost too much so with the wrong amplifier (they just didn't sound right with our Pioneer SX500 or the SX980 we used to own), but with a well serviced, re-capped Yamaha they just sing. These speakers are detailed enough to expose any weakness in your hi-fi set-up.

 Jim Rogers JR 149 clyinder 2 way speakers red logo vintage

Jim Rogers 149 (red logo)

A world-renowned speaker maker, these little beauties are the iconic ‘can’ shape. The drive units used were from KEF: the classic B110 bextrene cone bass unit and matching T27 Mylar tweeters. We’ve found the JR149 is best placed close to the wall, with some toe-in, we do have some original wall mounts but have never used them. This little speaker really does produce a big, typically 70's warm hi-fi sound from a small cylinder. To be honest it's a little too warm for our taste, that said the soundstage is expansive and the JR149 does a pretty good job of ‘disappearing’.

We often run the Conway's and the JR149's together as they seem to give a depth and complexity to the soundstage. We're currently looking for another set of speakers to run with them.

Can you improve on our hi-fi equipment?

There’s always room for improvement, so we’re always looking for new bits of old kit. If you have a mid 70’s Marantz 2270, 2275 or Sansui Receiver in good condition, then we’d be interested in buying it. We're also looking for a good pair of JBL L100's, Spendor DC1's, Bowers & Wilkins DMA 2A's and Kef 107's. If you have any of these why not send us an email?  

*Why focus on mid/late 70’s audio equipment? Well, the 70’s was the peak of analogue recording and the quality sound systems around at that time were designed to maximise the analogue sound, often irrespective of cost. The build quality was fantastic and the sound even better, more musical and warmer than the current trend but perhaps less detailed. So, we tend towards the very best equipment from that golden age of vinyl.