Friday, July 24, 2015

Tube Amp Project!

I have been spending a lot of time in the work shop working on vintage electronics. It's has definetly been a learning curve, but bringing all this beautiful old gear back to life is really rewarding. 

I have always wanted to learn more about fixing tube amps so thought a good place to start would be building a kit. 

I ordered this kit from The kit I went with was the K12G Stereo Amp made by S5 Electronics. . It is just a straight amplifier with 8 watts per channel and the only control being the volume. 

The instructions were super easy to follow. 

They provided a circuit board that labelled where all the parts need to be installed. 

It took me two evenings to complete the project with approximately 3 hours total invested. 

This amp absolutely blew me away in sound quality. It's definetly a very crisp loud 8 watts per channel. I just have an external phono preamp between it and the turntable. 

Future project will be to build a tube phono preamp. 

I was nervous of having all of the components exposed so I ordered a tube cage to cover it. Very happy with the end result. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Sansui AU-8500 Integrated Amplifier

I have never been more excited to find a piece of vintage audio gear.

The Sansui AU-8500 Integrated Amplifier was manufactured in the early 70’s. Weighing in at a little over 45 pounds, this machine is a beast.

Here are the specifications:

Power output: 60 watts per channel into 8Ω (stereo)
Frequency response: 15Hz to 30kHz
Total harmonic distortion: 0.1%
Damping factor: 50
Input sensitivity: 2.5mV (mic), 2.5mV (MM), 100mV (DIN), 100mV (line)
Signal to noise ratio: 65dB (mic), 75dB (MM), 85dB (line)
Output: 100mV (line), 30mV (DIN), 0.8V (Pre out)
Speaker load impedance: 4Ω to 16Ω
Semiconductors: 58 x transistors, 2 x FET, 33 x diodes, 5 x zener diodes
Dimensions: 140 x 500 x 347mm
Weight: 20.5kg

This amp looks as good as it sounds. The black front plate and sexy stainless trim, these are commonly referred to as “The Black Face” amps.

This amp has two headphone inputs. The first will shut the speakers off when being used, but if the second one is used alone, the speakers will stay on. Nice feature.
Also there are two phono inputs in the back allowing me to have two turntables set up and ready to go. I love this feature as I like using my fully manual table for everyday listening but like to use my automatic turntable while relaxing in the evenings (so if I fall asleep listening, the player will shut off).

This is my new pride and joy of my collection and will definitely be my “main” amplifier for the foreseeable future.

My three year old daughter loved my new toy and insisted she take a picture of it. This last shot was taken by her!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Record Case Restoration Project

Often while crate digging in attics, basements and barns I come across some nice retro pieces that are music related. I’ve been picking these up and storing them in my shed and recently found time to start some restoration projects.

This week I chose to refinish this vintage record carrying case.

It’s made out of tin, and while it didn’t look pretty, there was only light surface rust and decades of grime.

I tried a few household cleaners to bring it back to life, but it turned out to be too far gone. I decided to repaint it instead.


I bought some fine grit sandpaper and steel wool and smoothed the surfaces as much as I could. I started to restore the hinges and handles with brasso, but I stopped before I made it to far. I kind of liked the tarnish look of the hardware so left some to add character.

I used about 4 coats of spray paint, in between each coat I would smooth It out with the steel wool.

I’m very pleased with the end result.

It holds about 25 vinyl records at its max but works better with only 20, leaving enough room to flip through the albums rather than having to pull them out. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Vintage Record Cabinet

Regardless of the recent vinyl resurgence, LP’s are still far from being the dominant music medium. Sales are gaining in momentum, but the convenience of digital music is going to limit vinyl to a niche market (however a larger market which is only working in our favor).

When vinyl dominated in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, most households needed some means of storage for their music collection.

Today, it’s a bit tricky to find some affordable storage that will fit these 12 x 12 sleeves. Milk crates used to fit records when it was sold in gallons, but when milk converted to litres, these crates became just a little smaller no longer fitting albums. (Old milk crates still exist and are becoming quite sought after from collectors).

It seems that almost every shelving unit that is available at department stores is always just a little too small to fit an album, or they are not strong enough. Of course there are exceptions to this such as the Ikea Kallax (formerly Expedit) series shelves. These are super strong and fit albums perfectly, plus they are cheap. However, some people like myself don’t have an Ikea close by making this a difficult option (note: You can order the 2x2 kallax from Ikea and shipping is only $20).

But since many people had storage cabinets and shelves for their records in the 50’s-80’s, some of these units are still around. Most of the time condition seems to be an issue as they have been abused over the years, but every now and then you can find a nice vintage piece for cheap and in great condition. I lucked into one of these finds last week.

The only maintenance I did to this cabinet is a thorough cleaning, treating the wood with lemon oil, and polishing up the brass handle with steel wool and brasso. Very happy with how this turned out.





Saturday, April 18, 2015

Back From the Dead Turntable: Sansui SR-222

The latest turntable on the work bench is a Sansui SR-222. This table looked pretty rough when I picked it up, but is now looking brand new. 

The belt was old and needed replacing, and I upgraded the cartridge to a new Shure M92E. After adding a few drops of oil to the motor, and completing the usual adjustments and alignments, this table is running beautifully.

The majority of the work needed was cosmetic. There was years of grime on the body and it needed a thorough cleaning. No matter how clean it got, it was still unattractive because of all the scratches and marks on the dust over.

I read online how people restore covers with automotive headlight repair kits. Without doing any more research I bought one of these kits and made my first attempt. I used the provided sandpaper and went through all the steps but the cover came out very cloudy.

I brought it to my friend Daniel and he told me I made a mistake using the sandpaper. After two evening sessions of Daniel doing some heavy repair with rubbing compound and extensive polishing, he has this cover looking brand new. A big thanks to Daniel for all of the help.

Here are some before and after photos of the dust cover. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Mike Oldfield - Tubular Bells

Richard Branson and Nik Powell opened a mail order record store in London specializing in Krautrock music. As the record store grew into a success, they decided to branch out into new interests and started their own record label in 1972. They called it Virgin as they were all new (virgins) to business. Their first release was Mike Oldfield's progressive rock album Tubular Bells, which stayed on the British charts for over 5 years, topping at number 1. A pretty good feat for a label and musician’s debut. 


Mike Oldfield recorded Tubular Bells when he was only 19 years old, playing most of the instruments himself, which was uncommon in the early 70's. While the writing and performance is amazing, what really helped this album become huge was using the opening riff of the title track as the theme for the movie The Exorcist. This launched Oldfield's music to a very broad audience. 


This 49 minute instrumental album went on to win a Grammy for instrumental composition in 1972. Globally it has sold 16 million copies to date and was a major player in making Virgin Records one of the most important record labels in history. Not bad for a 19 year old Mike Oldfield.  


Tubular Bells launched a long and respectful career for Oldfield and he is still releasing new material. To date he has 25 studio albums released with three of them landing at number one on the UK charts. Tubular Bells was actually not his first number one. Oldfield released his second LP, Hergest Ridge, in August 1974 and this album debuted at number one. With the new publicity, Tubular Bells again gained popularity and climbed the charts (where it had never left, just dropped) beating out his second album for the top spot.


It seems that Oldfield and his labels were always trying to recapture the magic of Tubular Bells: releasing Tubular Bells 2 & 3 and even rerecording the original album in 2003. While this other material is good, it pales in comparison to the original. Besides, it would be hard for them match the publicity originally from being the theme to The Exorcist.







Sunday, March 1, 2015

Miles Davis - Green Haze

Miles Davis was born in Alton, Illinois in May, 1926. His parents encouraged him in music at a young age, giving him a trumpet and starting him in lessons (his father gave him the trumpet while his mother encouraged the piano). Davis moved fast and started playing professionally locally at only 16 years of age while still in High School. After graduating, he moved to New York City where he began music studies at the Juilliard School of Music. While in New York he began playing regularly at jam sessions in some Harlem nightclubs. Eventually, Davis dropped out of school to concentrate on performing, bouncing between many jazz bands including a stint with Charlie Parker Quintet where he also contributed on their recordings. After Miles and Charlie Parker separated ties (band friction caused by drugs and money issues), Miles began working mainly as a freelancer. Fast forward several years of playing with some of the most influential jazz musicians and battling a heroin addiction, Miles signed a contract with Prestige records in 1951 where he began his solo career.

Green Haze was released in 1976 and is a rerelease of Miles’ first two albums with Prestige Records: The Musings of Miles; and Miles – The New Miles Davis Quintet.

The Musings of Miles features Red Garland on piano, Oscar Pettiford on bass, Philly Joe Jones on drums and, of course, Miles on trumpet. This is the first 12" LP released by Miles, however he had released some budget 10" LP's with Prestige prior. It was recorded June 7th, 1955 at Rudy Ban Gelder's home studio (Gelder was a fames Jazz recording engineer). This is a great introduction to Miles, an easy listen with 4 traditional jazz songs and 2 originals. Wait until you hear the sound quality they achieved in the 50’s... if only all albums were mixed this good.

Following the release of The Musings of Miles, Davis’ band made a few switches. Paul Chambers replaced Oscar Pettiford on bass, and John Coltrane was added to the lineup on tenor saxophone, forming The New Miles Davis Quintet. The Miles album was his second full length LP but there were actually recordings made between this album and The Musings of Miles. After Musings was released, Miles played at the Newport Jazz Festival where he was noticed by Columbia Records executive George Avakian, who offered them a contract. They reached an agreement where they could start recording, however, the material could not be released until after Miles fulfilled his contract with Prestige. So, while the album Round About Midnight was recorded in November 1955, the previous month, they could only release it when they were released from Prestige (this album was eventually released in March 1957, their first from Columbia).

This album has a mix of Jazz standards and pop with “The Theme” being the only song composed by Miles Davis. While I really like both of these albums, I’d have to pick The New Miles Davis Quintet as my favorite. Of course, the obvious introduction of John Coltrane to the lineup sways my choice, but also Paul Chambers' addition on bass also plays a major role. Chambers' bass playing is very modern sounding for the time period, almost sounding like he could handle all of the rhythm alone with his fast scale runs and tight timing. It’s pretty impressive considering that the liner notes insists he was completely wasted drunk during these sessions. He proved to be very influential to the genre.

I really like these early Prestige recordings of Miles, now begins the quest to track down all those early 10” releases.