Opinions on Recapping vs Repairing Vintage Receivers

MikeO

Active Member
This probably sounds like an unanswerable question but I am curious to get the opinion of people here. With the current price of good vintage receivers seeming to have gone through the roof does it make sense to fully restore/recap a decent but not top of the line vintage receiver or just accept the fact that they are old and fix what breaks.

My local tech is definitely of the fix what's broken school. And I don't necessarily disagree with him. I suspect that for many good but not monster 1970s receivers the price of the restoration will greatly exceed the price of the receiver. And of course Recapping doesn't necessarily mean it won't break down again. Switches go, transformers can go, irreplaceable components can go. So, while somewhat less likely, future repairs are still a very real possibility. So his belief is accept the nature of old stuff and bring it in when it breaks.

On the other side, the only thing that keeps me from running a nice vintage receiver in my main system has been the constant frustration with reliability. They always seem to be in need of some type of service. Whether it's as simple as deoxit on some knobs, one channel cutting out, or even some noise through the speakers, these issues have basically driven me crazy enough to pretty much stick with modern gear.

Just curious what approach others take in this area.
 

MikeO

Active Member
After searching online on other forums I discovered this may be one of those topics that doesn't go too well. I honestly had no idea. Since I don't seem able to delete it I would just clarify that I am not looking to debate the technical merits of recapping just whether those who have some decent but not crazy expensive 70s receivers spend a lot of money up front on full servicing even if it by far exceeds the value of the receiver, or just learn to live with the fact that it will occasionally break down and deal with it as needed.
 

JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
Having gone down both routes, when it comes to vintage solid state receivers and integrated amps I'm now more in the fix what is broken, deviating, or fading..and then leave well enough alone. This mostly stems from being disappointed in the sound quality of two pieces where it seems that the most expensive caps, etc, were arbitrarily thrown at them with the result being units that I honestly didn't like listening to. Unfortunately I don't know what either unit sounded like pre-recap, so its just an assumption.

I have had better luck with total recaps/rebuilds of tube gear. Much better luck, actually, as far as the resulting sonics are concerned.

When it comes to not-TOTL units I'd be even more in the selectively servicing camp. If it helps the topic, as long as something (specifically 70s solid state) has been adjusted and serviced, its been reliable in my use of them. I've had some bad luck with vintage gear but oddly most of my vintage receivers were pretty reliable.

Now, to totally contradict myself...I have known a very few techs that I'd go the full recap/restore/mod-to-be-better-than-original route. But I wouldn't take a middle of the road receiver to them. They're more folks I'd take something really special to.
 

Andyman

Junior Member
A lot of those receivers can be replaced with another for less than the cost of restoration, especially if you have to pay someone to do it for you. I'd run it as is until it really breaks and then make the decision to fix or pitch for something else. That being said, easy stuff like replacing lamps and cleaning pots are things I would think most mechanically inclined folks could remedy themselves.
 

opa1

Moderator
Staff member
I've been in both repair and total recap camps. A good point is brought up about the total recap costs. I did a 2230 recap not long ago. Used high quality caps. I really couldn't tell much difference in the SQ. If I were using a vintage unit now, I would just repair what's needed.
 
It depends. For Ex.- Regarding 1950'S Tube Amps: What you would do to a mint McIntosh is different than a trashed Eico.
Personally, if the Tranny's are good and the purchase price is right, I prefer the Eico's.
 

JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
I trust and believe you but also know that I've encountered experienced techs who have listed just as much experience, who have said basically the opposite. And this is also why, as a novice who doesn't have a technical background, I basically have given up on vintage and now use mostly modern gear. I've seen knowledgable people with vast experience almost come to blows over this question. That I've had good and bad experiences on both sides of the argument with no real personal opinion about it either way ....hasn't helped, either.
 

adaug

Awaiting Updated Member Status.
After searching online on other forums I discovered this may be one of those topics that doesn't go too well. I honestly had no idea. Since I don't seem able to delete it I would just clarify that I am not looking to debate the technical merits of recapping just whether those who have some decent but not crazy expensive 70s receivers spend a lot of money up front on full servicing even if it by far exceeds the value of the receiver, or just learn to live with the fact that it will occasionally break down and deal with it as needed.
HFH is the place to have this discussion without it turning into a heated debate.
 

prime minister

Site Owner
Staff member
I've had a bunch of gear recapped, and the experiences have always been from neutral to positive. Then again, I was always very careful who did the work and what parts were used. The two biggest improvements were, firstly, the the Scott 299d done by NOS Valves. Truly, the worst audio mistake I ever made, getting rid of that. The second was the Sony 808es integrated amp. its a lovely sounding amp to start with, but maybe a bit syrupy and lead footed. The recap kept all the good parts of the 808es, while just adding another level of clarity and just a touch of sparkle in the highs. It even seemed to add a little snap it didn't have before. Another big mistake getting rid of that!
 
I recapped my own Hafler DH101 preamp, mainly due to aging electrolytics. (Got it as a gift when it was new, and assembled it.) Thing is, even after 30+ years, I really heard no difference pre- and post-recap. It was more of a preventive measure due to age. I did fix one apparent design flaw in the power supply--I had lost two caps over time, and I am thinking they may have had too low of a voltage rating. So I bumped them to the next voltage level, nice and safe.

I have another Hafler preamp I am looking to get rid of (DH110)--oddly, it's a newer generation, but the controls on it are so finicky that I was having to deox them every six months. And I never liked the notched volume control. I actually preferred the sound of the DH101 anyways. The next owner can deal with it. 😉
 
It took me two years and 4 technicians to get my vintage rebuild right. The biggest "ghost" in these old machines that nobody ever really talks about is the grounding schemes. There is no less 6 grounding points in my amp. They are very sensitive to even minor changes.
 
Last year I purchased 2 Quad 303 power amps, both in original working condition, for the most part. One of the output caps showed early signs of leakage, prone to a repair. But when speaking about 35 years of age minimum, it was simply no option not to recap all of them, IMO.

I simply ordered the upgrade & revision kit from dada electronics, with several more parts included. Checking the old parts after changing them also showed that one trimmer and several resistors also were out of spec.

The only thing I regret in hindsight is not having substituted the trimmers by multiturn types. Would have made fine tuning much easier!

As I said, both amps were in working order when I got them, but after the revision their sound was much clearer, more vivid, and came with a slightly extended LF range due to higher output capacitance as compared to the original.
 

S0und Dragon

Moderator and Circus Hand.
Staff member
For me it really depends on a case by case basis. What are my end goals for the piece? If it is to enjoy it and leave it as close to stock as possible, a simple refurbishment and replacement of parts as needed is best. if I have a goal in mind, Then breaking the amp down and identifying and upgrading it is not out of the question. My general strategy is to identify where the bean counters cut costs and start there. Sometimes, upgrades and mods are already well documented. Other times, it requires that you get creative. its all part of the fun.....and pain.
 
I might decide one day to replace the electrolytics in my Nak PA-7. Since it's a piece designed by Nelson Pass, I'm hoping I can hold onto it. He has actually mentioned in the DIY Audio forum which parts could use refreshing. True, I'd love to sent it to Jon Soderberg and have him give it a proper refurbishing but again, I'd have to pay insured shipping cost, worry about it getting destroyed in transit, then pay the bill for the parts and labor. At that point it's going to exceed what I paid for it.

I still have an old Carver M-500t that needs a new home. It needs a full refurbishing. It worked when I last used it, but beyond those big analog meters on the front, I won't miss it. Again, there is a full bill of materials out there to order in and replace the stale parts, but there are also issues with the foil on the circuit boards lifting when they are worked on. To me it's not worth repairing. And it's also not worth refurbishing to resell it since again, this amp just wouldn't be worth it.
 
Hi MikeO, you specifically mentioned 70s receivers, so my opinion is about those. Any 70s receiver will now need a full restoration to be reliable. Your tech is happy to have you bring your equipment in only when it needs servicing = constant repeat business, probably a less time consuming repair, minimum charge for repair taken care of plus added charges, etc. A full restoration can be very involved however $$$$, and some receivers are easier to work on than others. I have a couple vintage Kenwood silver face receivers, both work, I am keeping only one of them and it is the less powerful of the two. I know that the capacitors all need replaced, and if I was to use it every day, eventually there would be smoke, so at the moment it is stored as a future project. Electrolytic capacitors have a limited life span (google "lifespan of electrolytic capacitors"). I would only fully restore the equipment you plan on keeping and using. Pass the rest on to others, who may have their own ideas on how they would like to restore the receiver. I do all my own repairs and restorations, and would much rather purchase an untouched unit, that I know has not been repaired.
 

mhardy6647

Señor Member
After searching online on other forums I discovered this may be one of those topics that doesn't go too well. I honestly had no idea. Since I don't seem able to delete it I would just clarify that I am not looking to debate the technical merits of recapping just whether those who have some decent but not crazy expensive 70s receivers spend a lot of money up front on full servicing even if it by far exceeds the value of the receiver, or just learn to live with the fact that it will occasionally break down and deal with it as needed.
One of the raison [raisons?] d'être for this site (at least as I understand/perceive it) is not to be like that.

You raise a bunch of points in your OP. I'll give my perspective (i.e., my opinions, no more and no less!) on a couple-three of them, FWIW.

1) Forty year old electrolytics are almost certainly bad. Forty year old audio equipment generally has a lot of electrolytics in it. Draw your own conclusions :)
2) Recapping is not repairing nor even rehabilitating.
3) Replacing old electrolytics is a good idea, even a priori. Replacing other types of capacitors far less so.
4) (merely) replacing capacitors in tuned circuits (radio sections of receivers) is a bad idea a priori.
5) There is much to be said for the robustness (and the performance) of better quality (not, typically, cheapie), newer audio components for daily use.
6) There is no shame in shelf queens.

There's a thread about ICE "versus" electric vehicles running here now that may be worth a look, as it has drifted into the interesting subject of why does one buy (or simply want) what one does.



EDIT: A question for the OP: Do you really "want"/"need" a receiver (as opposed to an integrated, pre-, or power amplfier)? There's just so much more stuff to worry about in a receiver, and the prices of "higher end" vintage receivers are high (especially nowadays), and the "radio" part of a receiver requires real expertise to "merely" rehabiliate and align, to say nothing of troubleshooting and repair), and ... are you actually going to listen to the radio often enougn to justify the additional cost and hassle of having one on the same chassis/in the same box as the amp/preamp?

Just rhetorical questions, of course. ;)
 
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JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
There's a thread about ICE "versus" electric vehicles running here now that may be worth a look, as it has drifted into the interesting subject of why does one buy (or simply want) what one does.
That topic has become, to me, the best argument for running vintage gear. Most of the other arguments have fallen down for me. It doesn't sound better than anything made today, though I have known some people who like the sound of aging gear. It isn't better built than anything made today, though it may be better built than some of it up to a price. What it looks like is subjective. And nostalgia is relative to the person's age.

But if it's what you like? If it's what you WANT to run? If it's what connects you to the music, for whatever reason even if it is or isn't about the sound quality? How can anybody argue with that?

That might be one of the reasons I bolted from other audio boards and now chill out here in this quaint cul de sac with its nice pub. I got tired of fighting about something that, in the end, is inconsequential to anything direly important, and that doesn't need a logical, objective, reason for choices... and if it does for any given person? Well, that's great too. Who cares? It's just a stereo. That should be a relief in today's world, not something to fight over.
 
For what it is worth, it depends on what sits in front of you. If it works and inspection shows no obvious cap problems then you don't need to recap. There are some caps which will eventually fail that is true . Recapping for some is necessary if there is leakage, or performance is detreating. Recapping because well you should at this age for me is a no no.
 

mhardy6647

Señor Member
The funny thing is that I have a (motley) bunch of '70s hifi components... but it's never been what I listened to regularly since I took my purchased-new Yamaha CA-610II "off line" when we moved up to NH (2013). Even then, the Yamaha was the family room stereo amp, used mostly with the TV and for 'background listening'.

The 70s stuff is all about nostalgia for me.
 
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