Vintage versus modern

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Vintage versus modern

If you have a stereo relic from years ago, is it best to match it up with other relics or venture forward into the sphere of modern equipment?

A friend of mine recently faced this decision, and it's not an easy one to answer.

He was gifted a beautiful pair of vintage JBL corner horns. These were designed and built more than 50 years ago with the expectation they would be connected to same-era electronics: low power vacuum tube amps, soft-sounding preamp, and phono stage.

The question posed to me was rather simple. "If modern day electronics are so much better than the vintage pieces that were intended to mate up with those speakers, would the synergy work? Would the better modern-day electronics overwhelm the old speakers and expose their many flaws?"

The first piece of information one would need to answer this question is a pretty standard one.

What is it you're hoping to achieve?

If your goal is to build a nostalgic way-back machine, then the answer's pretty obvious.

But my friend wanted only to build the best sounding high-end audio system possible, with these relics at the heart of it all.

Biting my lip from gently nudging him just to spend the money and get a better pair of speakers, I knew that wasn't in the cards because what he wanted was great sound while enjoying the look and vibe of a classic piece of audio history.

Of course, I recommended modern electronics: a pair of BHK 600 monoblocks and all the good stuff to drive it. In the end, he was thrilled.

This whole interchange was interesting because it sparked a long-ago memory for me. A memory of an adolescent itch to own a '63 split window Corvette Stingray. I knew that old Corvettes drove like clunky Chevy trucks, rumbling and roaring in unappealing ways to me.

What I really wanted was the look and style of the StingRay with the quiet and elegance of my Tesla.

It's often helpful to separate the wants and needs of how something makes you feel from the long-term benefits of real performance.

It is possible to have both.

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Paul McGowan

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