Back in the golden age of audio, namely from the 60s all the way into the 80s, there has been a great deal of high end audio gear. One of these pieces of gear are what is known as a vintage stereo receiver. Although vintage receivers are known to sound absolutely amazing, there are certain models that have been introduced over this golden age of audio. These models are some of the best vintage receivers ever to exist. Just be-aware as due to the popularity of these models, you will be paying to own them.
The Definition Of A Stereo Receiver:
A stereo receiver is essentially an integrated amplifier with a built in tuner. Some vintage receivers can have other built in components such as an 8 track player, a cassette deck, and even a turntable. 75% of all high end vintage stereo receivers have a built in tuner and a magnitude of inputs that a receiver can accept. Stereo receivers with less built in components often sound better although I’ve heard some really good multi component models. In this post however, I’m going to be focusing on the most legendary models that really showed just how obnoxiously powerful these very well-built beautiful stereo receivers have become. All four of these models were introduced during the height of the stereo receiver wars of the 1970s. The receiver wars started when in 1975 when the Federal Trade Commission enacted a law requiring anyone who manufactures any type of audio amplifier to cite the actual RMS power ratting. This was due to the fact that many manufacturers were citing fake numbers in order to harness sales. After this new at-the-time law, manufacturers could no longer stamp fake power ratings on their gear. This included receiver manufacturers like Pioneer, Marantz, Sansui, and Technics. This led to the stereo receiver wars where many manufacturers were trying to introduce their the most powerful stereo receiver in the attempt to outdo each other.
The Pioneer SX-1980 – One Word, Power:
The Pioneer SX-1980 was introduced right at the peak of the stereo receiver wars in 1978. The Pioneer SX-1980 produces a conservative 270 watts RMS per channel at no more than 0.03% total harmonic distortion (THD). This huge power rating didn’t come without it’s downfalls. The SX 1980 retailed for just under $1,300. This was back in 1978! Adjusting for in inflation, that comes out to around $5,000 in 2019. Not only this, the SX 1980 weighed in at 78 pounds while being 22 inches wide, 19 and a half inches deep, and a height of 8.25 inches. The Pioneer SX-1980 was not only an absolute beast, it was and still is Pioneer’s most powerful receiver to this day.
Marantz 2600 – Unique Look With A Touch Of Power
The Marantz was yet another brand participating in the stereo receiver wars of the 1970s. Marantz outdid Pioneer with an extra 30 watts per channel with their beautiful Marantz 2600. The Marantz 2600 weighs significantly less than the Sansui G-33000 at just under 60 pounds while still being able to pump out 300 watts per channel. With a THD of 0.03% at 300 watts for channel, the Marantz still sounds very good. Many have criticized the Marantz 2600 for sounding a little vague. The Marantz 2600 however is loved by many and regularly sell for over $5,000. Just look at that unique Marantz look. The Marantz 2600 looks like a work of audio art with it’s optional wood case. The optional wood case is very rare and truly adds beauty and value to this beast.
Sansui G-33000 – Beauty Armed With Audio Power
Just when you thought Marantz had won the stereo wars of the 1970s, Sansui took a stab at it. Their take on a stereo receiver not only meant power, it meant beauty. The Sansui G-33000 has an amazing symmetrical look to it. Not only that, Sansui had really payed attention to detail especially around the tuner dial. That light blue-tinted glow just speaks for itself. Sansui didn’t cut any corners on design either. The Sansui G-33000 features separate power amplifier and pre-amplifier pieces that attach together as one. It is commonly argued that the Sansui G-33000 is not technically a receiver. I consider it one however as not only did both pieces come together, you can’t use the power amplifier with any other pre-amplifier. One of my favorite aspects of the Sansui G-33000’s design is the fact that all of the input/output connections and the speaker wire terminals are located on the sides of the receiver rather than on the back. This is a huge plus as this Sansui weighs in at just shy of 100 pounds. This weight however isn’t just paper weight, the Sansui G-33000 is capable of 300 watts per channel with no more than 0.009% THD killing the Marantz 2600’s THD of 0.03%. That is even more impressive than the Pioneer SX-1980. Even while stopping Pioneer and Marantz dead in their tracks in terms of power ratings, Sansui themselves were beat.
Technics SA-1000 – Take That Marantz and Sansui!
Technics was probably one of the most competitive manufacturers that participated in the 1970s stereo receiver wars. It’s clear that they cut corners in terms of the Technics SA-1000’s looks. Technics however did make up for it in the amplifier section. With 330 watts per channel with no more than 0.03% THD, Technics was the winner of this war. Although you more than likely not notice the 30 watt per channel difference, it did give Technics the lead. Technics themselves clearly were happy with their accomplishment as they were the only manufacturer that actually stated the rated power on the face plate of the Technics SA-1000. The Technics SA-1000 is believe it or not, the rarest receiver on this list. You will more than likely not find one for sale. If you do, it’s not going to be cheap.
Out of these 4, my favorite is the Sansui G-33000
After all said and done, I have to say, Sansui had got everything right with the Sansui G-33000. Not only does it look absolutely beautiful, the Sansui G-33000 has the lowest total harmonic distortion of the other 3. The idea of separate pieces that attach to each other was also well-thought-out by Sansui. Although I would kill to have a Sansui G-33000, Sansui has also released smaller sister receivers to the Sansui G-33000. These include the Sansui G-9000 and Sansui G-8000 which I’m planning to own at some point. If I ever got the opportunity to buy a Sansui G-33000, I would in a heart beat. An audiophile like me would kill to own one. For now though, if you know of any receivers that I haven’t mention, feel free to post them below in the comments section.
15 thoughts on “The Best Vintage Stereo Receivers Ever Built”
Born 1953 – lived thru best music – and (a bit later) best stereo stuff. (at least at reasonable prices we could afford, with effort)
I have (still) “Tandberg” receivers – warm – Made in Norway (!) and quite good looking. (With nice teak or walnut cases too!)
Another brand pretty good back then was Harmon-Kardon. But a lot of guys (with a bit of money) just got a nice big Marantz and showed off with that!
I have to find a Tandberg receiver as warm sound is what I crave.
After recently getting hooked on JBL speakers, I also really need to try out a Harmon Kardon receiver. I’ll definitely keep a look out for them.
Born in 59 and having the pleasure to grow up during the 70’s. I was a Music Guru. I bought in 1977 my Pioneer Sx980. Matched with the HPM100 Speakers. Later I purchased the Sx1280. I had it for about 10 years and then sold it for 1000.00 10 times what I paid for it. I still have my SX980 and the Hpm100 speakers along with my 1973 Pl10 Turntable. The 1280 was insane as far as Power. But my 980 will shake the Plaque from your arteries. Yes I should have Hearing aids today because of this baby!! Love my Pioneer!!
The Pioneer HPM100s are a set of speakers I hope to own one day. That is for sure. Definitely good to pair them with one of Pioneer’s beasts from the era. I’d loose my hearing too.
If you can’t get your mitts on a G-33000 there is always the G-22000
Interesting article. I had them all except the Technics. By the time I listened to the Technics I found its sound poor and no better than the other 3 listed. While I liked the Marantz, mostly for its beauty, the Sansui probably sounded best, but none of them really sounded good. At that time Onkyo and Yamaha’s first series of receivers were coming into the country and far exceeded the sound of any other brand. When those two companies introduced their second series to America, each of them were starting to cut quality like the aforementioned companies had and none of it was all that good anymore. All that said, these bring back great memories and if you want nostalgia and something that is better built than the current mass market junk, you’d be far better off with one of these.
I agree with you on the sound quality part. The beasts I discussed were being built in the middle of a power ratting war. They were going for numbers over sound quality. There are a ton of much better sounding receivers with much lower power ratings. One of my favorites is the MCS receiver that I run with my desktop system. It needs a recap yet still sounds great. It’s only rated at 25WPC yet can absolutely scream on sensitive speakers.
Thanks for the comment.
I have Dahlquist DQ-20s and have been told that they need beastly power to drive them. I did have a Pioneer SX 1280 at one point but now everything with massive power seems out of my budget.
Those speakers look interesting. While they can handle massive amounts of power, I recon you will be fine with around 70 watts per channel RMS. One newer receiver I can recommend is the Kenwood KR v126r. They’re much more affordable then the 70s silver face plate recivers. Mine currently drives a set of JBL S312s. You can feel it on your chest.
This is despite the fact that I’m barely giving them half of what they can take.
Good luck on your receiver hunt. Don’t forget to check locally for good deals.
The Definition Of A Stereo Receiver:
A stereo receiver is essentially an integrated amplifier with a built in tuner. Some vintage receivers can have other built in components such as an 8 track player, a cassette deck, and even a turntable. 75% of all high end vintage stereo receivers have a built in tuner and a magnitude of inputs that a receiver can except….should read accept, not except.( a retired English teacher writing) Interested in obtaining one very good vintage receiver from reputable company, not a private seller.
Not sure you understand how rare these receivers are. You just can’t buy them from a reputable company. The best way of getting your hands on one is from a private seller. Remember, the receivers I’ve discussed here are around 40 years old. As far as I know, there really isn’t any “company” that restores these beasts. There are however local shops that restore them and sell them if they ever get them in. Which, is pretty rare to say the least. So like I said, your best bet is to buy someone’s gem off of them. Good luck and happy listening.
Having been born in 1960 I lived through the so called stereo wars of the 70’s and 80′ and man let me tell you I will never forget the first time I heard Crosby Stills Nash & Young on a truly fine stereo! That my friends was indeed a life altering experience- today they’d call it EPIC! Today? All I can say is made in China sucks the big wazoo! Yeah, put it in your pocket, that’s convenient but to have quality, to have truly beautiful sound to experience the ‘EPIC’ sound of music you have to have the pure analog power of of a big stereo system and a record player!
The best vintage receivers are definitely worth the price. In all probability they will only appreciate in value if cared for properly. I appreciate the background information on receivers as I have to admit I’m not an expert on the subject. i wasn’t aware for example that the FTC enacted a law regarding actual RMS power rating due to the fact that manufacturers were siting fake numbers. I have to agree with your choice in the SANSUI G-33000. Not only is it a really sleek design with the blue-tinted glow, the output is really outstanding at 0.009% THD. I would be interested to know if you get a chance to own one of these and I will check back to see how the search is going. Very informative post, thanks!
Many thanks to you for sharing such an excellent article with us and for having such wonderful discussions about the history of vintage stereo receivers. I went back to the golden age for a while .You’ve talked about some receivers that introduced many amazing sound and audio into the golden age .vintage receivers have four track players, a cassette deck and even a turntable-like element .The PIONEER SX-1980 is one of the best multi component models I have ever had .It released the tune without distortion and it is also known today as the Pioneer’s most powerful receiver, as I learned from your article.This has seemed to me the best Vintage Stereo receiver to date.I saw it in my grandfather and it is very interesting to me today .Lastly I think you article was very informative and everyone has got a lot of knowledge from here.
Hello Rhett, I must say that this article is very helpful and informative. I am surprised with THE PIONEER SX-1980, it looks so powerful although it is vintage stereo, I remember my grandma had a similar one, can’t remember much. I must share this text with my father, he truly likes to know more about these things.