Marantz TA170AV (1987): I always love rooting for the underdog! Without question, the Marantz TA170AV is probably the least appreciated of all the Great Stereo Receivers. The 1987 TA-170AV, weighing in at almost 35 lbs., was the most powerful of a group of "component receivers" cynically marketed during the mid-80's by a handful of manufacturers (H.H. Scott, JVC, Kenwood and Pioneer to name but a few). In concept, they were receivers designed to look like separates, but in a bigger, mostly air-filled box. I susect that these were mostly sold through departments stores.

Despite its gilded plastic facade the TA-170AV was rated by Marantz at a rather surprising 170 wpc RMS at 0.05% THD (see the specifications at right) and has an excellent sounding amp. section, with 8 discrete output (DOS) transistors: Toshiba 2SA1301s and 2SC3280s (see 'em all in the interior photo, far right), identical to those used in some higher end gear I've seen. The MSRP in 1987 was a surprisingly reasonable $650.00 for a TOTL Marantz Receiver with a remote control, left and right independent 5-Band EQs, primitive video switching and and pre-out/main-ins out in back. Certainly, a good value.

And, despite the all the skeptics, it almost met its spec more than 20 years later.

Unfortunately, I've never been able to find a Test Report on the TA-170AV. So, the debate as to whether it is a legitimate "contenda" will go on. And, I've never seen any advertising for this series which is  probably why they're so anonymous. However, no less an authority than Audiokarma's "SoCal Sam", who has owned every one of the Great Stereo Receivers, had this to say in one of their forums (discussing the lower model TA-100): "I used to have the TA-170AV which is from the same lineup as your 100 set. Despite the cheapest plastic that would be suitable for product packaging, the 170 sounded great. For laughs, a buddy and I compared the TA-170AV to the King Of The Hill 2600 receiver to see and hear how far Marantz had fallen. Soundwise, it turns out to be not much. The TA-170AV has credible full range sound that hits far above the pedestrian looks." He echoes similar sentiments elsewhere.

As much as people might snicker at the TA 170 and its plastic-paneled ilk, it was still part of a product lineup that included iconic pieces like this PM-94 and shared much of the same basic circuit design and audio technolicy. However, I doubt it will ever be coveted by collectors and, as such, will labor on as the "Best Bang For The Buck Receiver".

By way of pedigree, the TA-170AV was manufactured in Japan by Standard Radio, the same outfit that made the legendary 2325s and 2600s.

Also of some note is that the TA-170AV came out just before Marantz hit "rock bottom" with the 1988 Marantz SR-3600. This Receiver was rated at 120 wpc/ch in "bridged" mode and and was the first Marantz Receiver to feature Dolby Surround at 40 wpc/ch x 4, in "normal" mode. (The last receiver with bridged mode was the Sylvania RQ-4748 of the early 70's.)

However, unlike its predecessors, it was not made in Japan by Standard Radio. It was made in Taiwan, possibly by NEC. The "face" was actually nothing more than three (3) thin plastic strips that were glued on and would fall off when the bond deteriorated (see photo at far right). What was essentially the same Receiver was marketed by Vector Research as the VRX-9200R. The faceplates were somewhat different, but the back panels are identical, a dead giveaway (compare the back of the VRX-9200 in the Vector Research brochure, top half lower right, on the left with the back panel of the SR-3600 on the lower far right).

Kyocera R-861 (1986-1987)
: Kyocera's time in the audio ring didn't last long, only about 4 year in the US, although their products were outstanding, including this TOTL MOS-FET Amp.-equipped Receiver. It first showed in 1986 at a MSRP of $1,200.00 rated at 100 wpc RMS.

The R-861 had all the most advanced features of the time including: a Toroidal Transformer, Freon Heat Pipe cooling and "dual mono" design. It also had the most comprehensive set of parametric tone controls of any Receiver ever. It was heavily based on the previous Cybernet R-851 and was remote controllable with the separate RC-101 controller. The R-851 had originally started out as a Cybernet product, however, Kyocera bought the company and then revised the R-851 so that it became the R-861.

The R-851 and R-861 Receivers are the units on the bottom on the photo at right. An ad for the R-851 is at the far right.
   
   

Marantz Model 18 (1967-1969):
No list of Great Stereo Receivers would be complete without The legendary Maratnz Model 18. It was the very first Marantz Receiver and the progenitor of all that followed. In fact, it was the last Marantz product created by the dreamteam of Saul Marantz, Dick Sequerra (creator of the legendary Marantz 10b and the later Sequerra FM-1 Tuner) and Sid Smith (designer Marantz 7 and Marantz 9), the people that created the Marantz reputation, and it was manufactured by hand in New York State, unlike the follow-up Model 19, many of which were "Made in Japan". Simply put, the 18 is as pure a Marantz product as you can get.

The 18 featured much of the technology and circuit design of the legendary Marantz 10b Tuner and the 8c Amplifier. And, it was the very first receiver in the world with a built-in Oscilloscope, side-mounted heatsinks and the first Marantz product ever to feature the signature Gyroscopic Tuning, which became a Marantz hallmark, even to the present day. Here's a video I made of the 'scope in action.

The 18 cost a whopping $700.00 when new in 1967 and was rated at 40 wpc RMS, but this very conservatively rated (it was actually tested at almost twice that in the Test Report at lower right).

The 18 was followed by the 55 wpc RMS Model 19, which is generally similar except for a lightly revised faceplace, and a slight increase in rated power (although I'm sure the circuitry is virtually the same), and ended production in Japan around 1971.

For comparison, the 18 and 19 are shown to left (19 on top, 18 on bottom). Be sure to read the contemporary Test Report about the 18, bottom right, as well. This is one Receiver that deserves its legendary status. I've compared mine with the highly regarded Luxman R-117 (one of the most powerful receivers ever made) and the 18 beats it handily in overall FM reception and clarity and gives up little in overall sound until the volume levels get uncomfortably high.
   
   

H/K 990Vxi (1989-1990):
Harmon/Kardon's top Receiver offering for 1989 MSRP'd for a lofty $1,099.00. But, it sure doesn't look like it cost that much and it offered only 90 wpc RMS but, IMHO, these were some of the best sounding watts you could get in a stereo receiver, not to mention just about anything else that sanity could afford, since the 990's square wave response from 20-20kHz was almost perfect.

I have seen this tested myself and will attest that no other receiver I've seen even comes close to reproducing square waves so accurately and consistently all the way across the audile spectrum. It is truly the "Square Wave Champ".

Harman Kardon was really late to the game with infrared wireless technology and so the 990 was also the first h/k Receiver with this feature...in 1989! It seems almost unbelievable that an audio company whose origins went back to the early 50's would be so late to the party.

But, all is forgiven. Ultra-wide frequency response and high current (60 amps)/high voltage output circuitry no doubt contributed to the 990's stellar performance. From a listening standpoint, the 990 literally lifts the veil over all the delightful nuances in most music that solid state electronics mask to one degree or another.

The most glaring flaw of the 990 is that it was (almost unbelievable) HK's first remote controlled receiver and the implementation of the remote functions can be very confusing. I am sure that more than one 990 owner throught their unit was dead when, in fact, the "remote" settings were wrong.

Despite their pedestrian looks, the 990s still have a fairly passionate following in E-Bay. If you can get beyond the "Plain Jane" appearance, the 990 really delivers. However, the ones that I have owned tend to be unreliable.
 
   

H/K 795i (1987-1988):
Before the 990Xi, the Top of the Line HK Receiver was the 795i. It was Harmon/Kardon's top offering from 1985 to 1988 and MSRP'd for $695.00. Unfortunately, it was one of the few TOTL Receivers of its era that did not include a wireless remote.

The 795i was also the last of h/k's legendary "Twin Power" Receivers which originated in the early 70's with the 930. Gone, were the twin power transformers (those disappeared with the 670i), but there were still twin sets of filter caps, one set of two for each channel.

The 795i was the ultimate version of the series starting with the 680i (and succeeded by the 690i) that emphasized the sonic theories of Dr. Mati Otala. Rated at 70 wpc, it has exceptional square wave response. Following the 680i came the 690i. The 795i and the 690i are virtually indistinguishable on the outside, however, the 690i is rated at only 60 wpc.





   
   
Marantz SR8100DC (1983): The champagne-toned SR8100DC was designed in 1982 by my friend Tom Ishimoto, while he was head of product development at Marantz, as the spearhead of Marantz's new "Solid Gold Sound" advertising campaign. It is now relatively obscure, but those who have one, really enjoy it.

As one of the first Receivers to incorporate a microprocessor, the SR8100DC was (I believe) the very first to incorporate a built-in digital timer allowing owners to have it turn on and off to a specific function each day. It also had a "three martini" sounding 70 wpc RMS DC Amplifier. And, for $750.00 MSRP it simply looks fantastic!

Tom updated the phono pre-amp of my 8100DC to modern standards and doubled the filter caps so it can be bridged with another SR8100DC to produce a 200 wpc RMS "Super Receiver". I'm looking for that second 8100DC now.

I was very fortunate to find a review of the SR8100DC from Stereo Review and the Technical Specifications, lower right, which clearly establish the SR8100DC's excellent overall performance.





Yamaha R-9 (1983-1984):
Not really much to look at, except for the bright red displays, the $900.00 MSRP TOTL Yamaha from 1985 had something no other Receiver has ever had, a true Class-A amplifier!

Yamaha called it "Auto Class A" since it was only good for 30 wpc RMS max and, beyond that, would automatically convert to a conventional Class A/B output up to its rated 125 wpc RMS.

However, be warned, when in Auto Class A mode, the R-9 can run very hot. Great for a BBQ

I must profess that I am not a big fan of the "Yamaha Natural Sound", which lacks critical detail to my ears. However, you can clearly hear a difference when the R-9 is in Class A mode. The music is sumptuously detailed indeed and is rich and full in comparison to the ordinary Class AB mode.

The tuner section on the R-9 also bears some comment. It is in fact two tuner sections, one with a Quartz Synthesizer and the other with an analog "comparator". I must admit that I am quite impressed with this Yammie's ability to track difficult stations.

But, oh what a pleasure those 30 Class-A watts are! But, be careful, the R-9 can be a stove.

   
   
McIntosh 4100 (1978-1985): Yes, I paid way too much for my 4100 (over $800.00 five years ago!), but I must admit that it is well made and just seems to get better as time goes on. In 1979, it was the world's most expensive Receiver with a jaw dropping MSRP of $1,999.99, although it was no monster, rated at only 75 wpc RMS into 8 ohms.

Some people erroneously claim it has a 100 wpc output, but that is only into 4 ohms, as you can plainly see from the manufacturer's specs, on the right.

Nevertheless, the 4100 is true classic in every respect and made in the USA! Someone was even inspired to make a video about one. The MAC Receivers, for their rated power, were simply the most expensive ever made.

Incidentally, the 4100 also had an unusually long production run, from 1978, at the height of the power wars, until 1985, long after other manufacturers had moved on to quartz synthesized digital tuners and remote controls.

A true iconoclast, just like a Rolls or a Bentley!
   
   
Sony STR-GX10ES (1987): This was Sony's last great stereo receiver. Rated at 150 wpc RMS for $1,200 MSRP it featured the "Gibraltar" acoustically inert chassis, made out of a heavy anti-resonant composite material to eliminate standing waves. This was similar to what Kyocera attempted to do earler with their ceramic bases. It also had a huge conventional transformer. And, some internal parts and the back panel were copper plated. Nice.

It was sold with the RM-103 leaning remote control, an industry first.

The photo at far right shows the GX10ES paired with the matching CD Changer.







 
   
Luxman R-117 (1987-1991): Without question, this was Luxman's best Receiver ever. Unleashed in November 1987 at an MSRP of $1,200.00, just before the advent of the Home Theater Revolution, the R-117 had almost unbelievable "dynamic headroom" of 700 wpc RMS into 2 ohms! It restored the Luxman brand to the head of the pack (as exemplified by the awesome M-6000 Power Amp. of 1975), a position it lost in the early 1980's when it was taken over by Alpine Electronics.

The power supply featured a dual-rail design with a "triple-shielded" power transformer. The tuning section was superb as well and the control flexibility was unrivaled. It also featured the proprietary "Star Circuit" design and Luxman's critically acclaimed "Duo-Beta" negative feedback circuitry. Although perhaps not the best sounding stereo receiver ever, it is at least in the "Top 5" and it is without a doubt one of the most capable.

The R-117 will no doubt be remembered as the "The Last Great Stereo Receiver". One of my R-117s is shown at the upper left atop the 200 wpc M-117 Power Amplifier from the same lineup. The M-117 was designed to be mated with the TP-117 Tuner-Pre-Amplifier (with twin digital tuners) as Luxman's top separates setup of that era.


   
   
Carver 2000 (1987-1988): At an MSRP of $1,595.00, the Carver 2000 was one of the most expensive Receivers of the '80's, tied with the NAD 7600, and only beaten by the McIntosh 4200!

For 200 wpc RMS, the Carver was a real lightweight at only 32 lbs., but that was because of its Magnetic Field Amplifier. It also featured Carver's other "classic" signature circuits: Sonic Holography and Advanced Charge Coupled Detector. I can hear little difference with the former, but a dramatic loss of hiss on FM Stereo broadcasts with the later. However, overall, the sound quality of the 2000 is somewhat less than enthralling, although I love the styling, and especially the power meters!

My Tech tells me these were made for Carver in Japan by an outfit called "Bennyton". Unfortunately, they have some issues. But, unlike the prior MX130, there are no burned areas around the resistors as you can clearly see in the photo.
 
   
   

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