How to Choose a Vintage Stereo Console
If you already know why you want to buy a vintage stereo console, now you have to decide how to choose a vintage stereo console. There are many options that might be important for you. Choose wisely!
Typical stereo consoles are between 32 and 60 inches across. It fits perfectly under a wall mounted flat screen tv instead of those Ikea bookshelves you still have from your first apartment. the width is usually between 16 and 20 inches, mostly because LPs are maximum 12 inches across. This is a good size for a regular living room.
Heights vary based upon style, but usually are between 28 and 40 inches and inversely proportional to length. In other words, the longer the length, the shorter the height and vice versa. If you are planning to move in the near future, think about whether you have more or less space in the living area.
In our opinion, a top location is the ideal position for the turntable. Changing a record is much easier and doesn’t run up the chiropractor bill. Front loading turntables are nice if you was to display things on top of the stereo or don’t intend to use the turntable much. Your satisfaction may be greatly affected by this selection.
Similar to turntable location, we believe that the top electronics control location is the preferred location. Easier to make changes to the world’s greatest music discovery service ever: the radio. However, most stereos have the controls front facing, which does look good in pictures, but is less than ideal. It’s like having dishes in a low cabinet: always bending over to press buttons or turn the dials. One bonus of this front facing style is that your friends will think it looks cool, but usually won’t bother figuring out which button means what.
Every 3 or 4 years, there is a noticeable difference in the materials and finishes of the stereos. This coincides quite well with what was happening in cars during the same time.
- Late 50’s – Rounded corners, plastic knobs and mono audio. Lots of gold trim. Turntables have some green and bronze with plastic tonearm. Two channels are merged into one for any mono audio device.
- Early 60’s – Angled lines, plastic knows and stereo audio. This is the earliest that I would buy a stereo if you really care about the quality of the sound. Turntables are more light brown and stereo sound.
- Mid 60’s – More straight lines, metallic buttons and starting to look “space-age” and earliest circuit board layout on the inside. I love these for the combination of audio quality and looks. This is the last in the series of tube electronics where there is a delay in hearing music once you turn it on. Turntables moved to black and silver with metal tonearms.
- Late 60’s – Very space age with more silver than gold and the first of the solid state machines that require no warm-up time for the music to start.
Keeping in mind the main topic of how to choose a vintage stereo console, the brand is a personal decision. We at the HiFi Clinic are partial to the great German devices built by Grundig. This was our first ones and we’ve found the style and quality to be quite good. There is a fair second hand market from the original owners for these.
A second popular brand is Zenith, which was a Chicago electronics behemoth in the 60’s and 70’s. The problem with these is that the style felt quite “heavy” and was clearly not influenced by the great mid-century design of Denmark.
A few other brands that are available out there are Telefunken and Motorola.
A big win is when you get the cabinet that you want and it already has the color that you prefer. It is possible to refinish these consoles, but the margin for error is small because the woods are all a walnut veneer so care must be taken when sanding off the original finish.
- Dark – I love this look because it feels very modern and hides a ding or a dent. Combined with a glossy finish, this color really shines in photos.
- Greenish/Light Brown – Fairly rare and not one of my favorites. It’s kind of in the middle without the benefits of either end of the spectrum.
- Blonde – A great look that shows the wood grain and is light to contrast against other dark furniture.
- Custom – If you have a flat coat on the console, you can undertake a custom color option. The wood veneer is about 1/16” so only a couple of passes with a rotating sander is enough.
Record Storage Size
Most of these stereos are not designed to have a lot of record storage. In order to give these machines the best sound, internal reverberation space was required, which limited the amount of record storage space. However, there are a few different options to consider:
- 75 – I haven’t seen any cabinets that have a larger space for record storage. This is obviously convenient as you get started with your record collection, but if you go to far, this clearly won’t be enough. The downside of record storage this large is that it will grow the minimum size cabinet that you need. Tread carefully because there are many other options for record storage.
- 25 – There’s not much in-between sizes so this size is only good for a small collection.
- Tape Drive – Many times I’ve seen stereos with a tape drive location on top taking up valuable real estate. I’m not a fan of throwing away an original component like this, but if it’s missing, one creative solution is to use the space to store your 5-10 favorite records. Usually they will be laying flat, which is not the right way to store them, but this is an option. Alternatively, we have a how to for converting a reel-to-reel to a streaming music device.
A very important addition if you want to sometimes drift into the modern times and stream music through your stereo. Your friends will be blown away. Any professionally restored stereo should have this feature. Music streaming may have killed iTunes, but it can’t kill vinyl.