Attractive Stereo Equipment
July 1, 2020 2:12 PM   Subscribe

I have not been successful in searching for modern stereo components that look nice. I want a bluetooth-capable receiver or integrated amp that looks as nice as a ca-1978 Akai receiver, i.e. shiny or sleek.

I love vintage audio equipment because it sounds great AND it looks pretty. It doesn't even have to be all shiny silver or champagne colored. It can be an NAD or Adcom thing. Just not a matte black shell.

What I want is a reasonably-priced way to stream music that looks decent. Something that lives up to my sexy vintage AR speakers in appearance AND performance AND doesn't cost over a grand.

It could be a true receiver (AM/FM capability) or an integrated amp. Phone pre-amp optional but nice.

Basically, all those hideous black boxes from Best Buy are OUT. As are those budget micro-amps that clutter Amazon searches.

Any recommendations?

Also why the fuck doesn't someone sell this stuff anymore?! People would buy it! Or maybe I'm delusional. When friends see and hear my Sansui 5000x and my Elac turntable and my ARs, they are SMITTEN. I just want a secondary system that doesn't require twitchy add-ons.
posted by Caxton1476 to Technology (22 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
You can get an add-on Bluetooth dock that attaches to your vintage receiver. That’s the solution many people have gone with.
posted by Slinga at 2:15 PM on July 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Okay, I should have clarified: that's what *I* do now and it's fine. The secondary system in question: I'm helping my girlfriend set up a nice, clean, uncluttered system that is as minimally fiddly as possible. No buy this, then add on this other thing, then set it up, etc. E.G. an digital-to-analog converter to make it possible to play signals from a streaming service directly from a TV.

I mean, I know there's no reasonable contemporary version of a vintage Kenwood or whatever. I'm just dreaming, probably.
posted by Caxton1476 at 2:23 PM on July 1, 2020

Would the Cambridge Audio products meet your needs?
posted by whisk(e)y neat at 2:38 PM on July 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

You can go to far with 1970s cosplay (the current crop of tube amps do this IMO), but I think the Yamaha A-S501SL looks great.
posted by caek at 2:43 PM on July 1, 2020 [4 favorites]

I think the stylish look has mostly gone the way of sound bars. Which, by the way, are much better than they used to be. A good sound bar has directional audio, with an acceptable 3.1 output. Which, most media doesn't come in more than 3.1 these days anyway, so it's a good match for your typical watching behavior.
posted by bbqturtle at 3:04 PM on July 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

I have one of these. It's not incredibly beautiful, but it pretty much disappears next to the turntable, cassette deck, and cd changer. Bluetooth is rock-solid, and the sound from the Class-D amplifier is quite clear. It's been in constant use in my living room system for 3 years, no issues. The only thing it lacks is a radio tuner, which isn't an issue for me.
posted by transitional procedures at 3:20 PM on July 1, 2020

I mean, the NAD D3020 is a great compact stereo amp with Bluetooth and a good selection of digital and analog inputs. The new version even has an MM phono preamp. It sounds great and has plenty of power for reasonably-efficient speakers in a reasonably-sized room. But it is a matte and gloss black box. Perhaps that is mitigated by the fact that it is tiny (about the size of a Wii) and puts out very little heat, so you might be able to hide it or ignore it.
posted by musicinmybrain at 3:28 PM on July 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Tivoli's motto is "Audio Performance with Style." Honestly I don't understand your question well enough to know if any of their options match your request, but it looks good and, at least to my nonaudiophile ears, sounds great.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 5:00 PM on July 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

The new Marantz PM7000N stereo integrated amp might work for you. It seems to have extensive streaming connectivity and a phono pre-amp. Looks like it comes in black or silver.

I love my PM8005. It's got 70s style bas/mid/treble tone controls...that's right, TONE CONTROLS! I find them indispensable for apartment living, when I want to play music into the evening and not have the bass carry to the neighbours. The PM7000N has bass and treble controls.

I play my music on a vintage 70s turntable and off my iPad Pro (which has a pretty highly rated DAC) which I can control from my phone or laptop. Both sound fantastic to me.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:56 PM on July 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

That throwback Yamahas rely on an exterior dongle for Bluetooth. They do look nice.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:02 PM on July 1, 2020

I'm not sure anything lives up to that vintage look. The look is all of it. My Dad brought back an early '70s Yamaha and a Technics stereo, and that same set of Vietnam era Pioneer speakers you see in every Vietnam Vet's home even still today.

I loved that Yamaha when he gave it to me, and it drove those Pioneers just fine.

I haven't ever seen anything like it since. It's just not a thing anymore. It's all LED screens and a jillion inputs/outputs.

I would think Yamaha or Technics held that sort of style into the mid-late 90's, before those early alarm clock looking "LED" screens came into style.

The key is that analog sort of look. I get it, I feel it, I loved mine. I don't think you'll find a modern version.
posted by sanka at 6:48 PM on July 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

PS Audio Sprout 100. I have one and used to retail them in my record store. They're excellent.
posted by dobbs at 7:03 PM on July 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

You could go all the way to a Bluetooth tube amp!
posted by advicepig at 7:53 PM on July 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

One of the problems is that mainstream audio receivers - the hideous black boxes from Best Buy - have such long product lifecycles these days that they're still figuring out this Bluetooth stuff. My local big audio retailer is full of brand new receivers proudly touting Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, and it would be a crime to send any decently sourced audio through that. Yamaha's A-S501SL has already been pointed out; it really does look excellent, a lot of Yamaha's stuff still does, but they haven't updated most of that line since 2014.

Personally, if I was looking for a simple and straightforward receiver with decent style, I'd be looking more at powered speakers. Edifier, AudioEngine, Fluance, etc., are pretty much building full-on receivers into their speakers at this point. Kanto even sells powered speakers with a built-in phono preamp, which is nuts. There's also a wide range of design and form factor, to greater and lesser success. Personally, I think the AudioEngine HD6 looks pretty great. Or the Edifier AirPulse A200.

But if the modularity is the appeal, I'd recommend taking another look at the microamp world. Class-D amps do some pretty remarkable stuff, and there's enough out there that something is going to appeal. A vinyl collector buddy of mine has a mini-amp and a DAC in an acrylic rack and it's...kinda cool. (I believe it's this thing.) For brands in that world, Topping and SMSL have greater than average style and pretty decent products.

Finally, I'd suggest checking out /r/BudgetAudiophile on Reddit. Lots of reviews and guides on integrating modern and vintage audio components.
posted by ZaphodB at 1:32 AM on July 2, 2020 [2 favorites]

Could the Teac AI-101DA or AI-503 be suitable? (No personal experience; I just like that they’re small.)
posted by actionstations at 4:29 AM on July 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

I don't mean to contradict ZaphodB's general recommendations but my AudioEngines burnt out with very light play, just outside of warranty, so I take every opportunity to dump on that company (the only other company I hate as much is Iomega, so yes - I hold grudges a long time).
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:20 AM on July 2, 2020

Hey, bad experience and counter-recommendations are also helpful. For what it's worth, I've owned something from all of the brands I named except Kanto. My experiences were generally positive, or I wouldn't have named them. (Klipsch is unmentioned for a reason.) For AudioEngine, I owned a pair of their 2+ desktop speakers that were okay-to-good, and an N22 that is a phenomenal little thing.

That said, I'm not recommending any one product and I'll trust OP to do his research.
posted by ZaphodB at 5:46 AM on July 2, 2020

Seconding Cambridge Audio. And they aren't just good-looking. They sound amazing.
posted by terrapin at 7:35 AM on July 2, 2020

What you're asking for is unrealistic. Product cycles of analogue shelf audio equipment is measured in multiple years, while digital products can turn over in six months or less. Asking for an attractive shelf amp/receiver with the latest quality bluetooth protocol is like trying to whistle down the moon.

There is literally nothing wrong with getting a decent vintage amp/receiver with standard inputs and plugging a musician-quality Bluetooth adapter into it, hiding all the cables and junk behind a virtual curtain. This is the reasonable, practical solution that doesn't have any artificial limitations that are in direct contradiction to how electronics are made and marketed.

Sorry, but that's the truth. Buy two things and plug them together, problem solved.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:09 AM on July 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

You're just not going to be able to find this for a reasonable price. The Yamaha mentioned above is about as close as it's going to get, otherwise Panasonic has brought back the Technics name with a similar aesthetic, but it's pricey.

About the only company that never abandoned the high quality build and looks of vintage equipment is McIntosh, and, well, you need to be on a doctor's salary to justify the purchase of that stuff.

Here's what I do: I use restored vintage equipment and plug a streaming device into it. I use an older Apple Airport Express on my home office system, and an Apple TV on my living room system. Playing music from my phone is as easy as selecting a remote speaker on my iPhone and pressing play.
posted by TrialByMedia at 11:09 AM on July 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

Would something like the Wrensilva Loft work for you?
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 4:23 PM on July 2, 2020

I researched this for a long time and came to the same conclusion as dobbs - PS Audio Sprout 100 or Cambridge Audio are the best options if you want to buy new hardware. Neither of these options are cheap. In the end I went the vintage route and connected a super cheap and tiny Bluetooth module to a 90s stereo amp. No regrets.
posted by liliillliil at 10:46 AM on July 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

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