How a Digital Guy Fell in Love with a Vintage Stereo Receiver

To enjoy music like an audiophile, light up your living room with 1970s hardware

My Sansui 9090

I’m in love with my Sansui 9090 receiver. It’s big and it is beautiful. And so is the sound. Oh that sweet sound! Get a vintage receiver too: It’ll fit right in with your Hipster Hay interior and you’ll fall in love again with your music; you’ll hear things you didn’t hear before. Your life will be better.

Vintage what?

A receiver is a tuner (radio) and amplifier in one box. The Sansui 9090 was one of the big receivers of the 1970s and a famous model for all audio enthusiasts. It is the predecessor of the fabled Sansui 9090DB and has 110 watts per channel; that’s enough to fill every little corner of your room with your favorite music. It weighs over 50 pounds, so make sure you have a sturdy place for it.

The Looks

OK this is what we’re talking about:

Wood, aluminium and lights...
Check those knobs!
I love beautiful wood.

Why is this such a great receiver? Even after 40 years?

In the beginning I had to adjust my mind a little to its old style, but now I really enjoy the wooden case, the meters, knobs, switches and lights.

The lights are bright enough to illuminate your living room with a soft blue glow on a dark December night. Perfect for a pure listening atmosphere or a cosy come together on a soft rug in front of the receiver.

The sound

The first time I pressed the power switch and started listening I was immediately impressed by its big soundstage: you don’t hear two speakers, you hear a jazz band, and it’s everywhere! You can hear where the sax is, how the strings of the bass are touched and where the singer sits. The other thing was the character of the sound, I just liked it. Precise, warm and non-fatiguing. But I knew the sound could be improved by a recap.

Recap

In an amplifier are capacitors: little electronic thingies that hold and release electricity. But these thingies tend to lose quality after so many years. They don’t hold that electricity as well nor transfer it as quickly anymore, and this influences the sound coming out of your speakers pretty significantly. Replacing these capacitors is called a recap and mine was handled by an expert who also serviced it too.

The guts of my Sansui 9090 after service & recap.
The power transformer really does contribute to this heavy weight champion.

The sound after recap

I was already really happy with this beast of the 70s, but after the recap it I can feel the butterflies flutter in my stomach! The sound is more refined, accurate. The bass isn’t a woooooffff but a boom, the trebles and highs are more subtle, dynamic and precise.

The soundstage is as big as it was before the recap, but now it has more depth: you can hear if the sax is in the front or in the back of that jazz band.

Do these soundbites sound like Hifi Hindi to you? Really, I’m not a 100% pure audiophile: if I can hear it, you can. A recap is well worth it.

Digital?

I’m a digital guy, so my music is digital, but with my DAC I get all my digital sources into the 9090. Do you use Spotify or Apple Music? Cool, but know that these streaming services give you really compressed files. The quality is good enough for designing or coding with earbuds in, but not to really enjoy music: it sounds flat and superficial. You might want to upgrade to a high quality lossless streaming service like Tidal, and use a stand alone streaming device or one that works with your phone or tablet.

This 40-year-old pal is now going digital.

Get your own

The path of finding yourself a nice vintage receiver is awesome: forage flea markets, garage sales or the vintage electronics section on eBay for receivers, amplifiers or head right to the Sansui 9090. (Or its lifelong competitor the Marantz 2325.) Google around for expert reviews and buying advice. Hunt one down for a nice price and get it recapped.

Price

The high end models of Sansui, Marantz & Pioneer can easily go for $1000 on eBay. But you might find the same model for a far better price at a local store or friendly neighbour, plus there are of course cheaper models. A recap can set you back $200, but it’s well worth it. You’ll hear the difference and it’s good to go for another 15 years. Vintage hifi is on the rise and so are the prices, so it might even be a good investment. But you’ll probably never sell yours after spending some time with its sound and looks.

More pics?

Check the Flickr-stream of Rainer to see a whole range of vintage receivers and decide what type fits your style.

And look at this pretty feminine Philips MBLE Stereo tube amplifier. You might use it to bribe your girlfriend so you can buy that Sansui beast ;)

Philips MBLE Tube Amp, found on eBay

Enjoy! Oh, got a question or want to tell your story? Please let me know, or respond below.


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