If you’ve got the skills, then upgrading or restoring stereo equipment on your own can be quite rewarding. There’s been something of a boom in recent years in the vintage market, as audiophiles take a second look at everything from the direct drive Technics SP-10 mkII/MKIII turntables to receivers. But what if you don’t have the skills to do it yourself?
Then, friends, you need a good tech. One of the very, very best lives near me in Springfield, VA. His name is Bill Thalmann. He works at a business called Music Technology. Thalmann, who was born in 1951, served in the military before going to work for Conrad-Johnson as its technical director for twenty years. There seems to be nothing he cannot tackle. He is one of two techs licensed to restore Apogee loudspeakers.
This week I picked up my Messenger preamp, which he substantially improved. Thalmann had already installed, about a year ago, a very complex soft start in my VTL Wotan amplifier, which had been tripping 32 amp breakers because it’s so power hungry when you turn it on. In the Messenger, he installed a soft start, an automatic mute on start-up, and two manual mutes for the line section. If you look at the picture I’m including, you’ll see the timer with the label GE1A on it. The timer was supplied by Tom Tutay of Transition Audio, who is based in Fort Walton, Florida, and is a crack technician himself. In addition, I should single out the erudite Elliot Midwood of Acoustic Image, the distributor of the Messenger, who generously supplied the schematic for the older version of the preamp.
A soft start, as you may know, prolongs tube and equipment life. It allows the voltage to increase gradually rather than allowing the capacitors to seek to charge up immediately and create a kind of surge. My version of the Messenger is the original one with a separate, hefty tube power supply, but it did not have some of the features that later models enjoy. In addition, Thalmann upgraded all the diodes, installing Super Stealth ones that dramatically increased the speed and dynamics of the preamplifier, which was no slouch to begin with. Thalmann is also extremely courteous and diligent. I almost feel a little sheepish publicizing his work because he’s already overwhelmed with it. But the pictures that I’m including of his mods on products like the Sony SACD-1 and the Apogees tell the story better, I think, than I can.
The good news is that some fine techs are out there that can help you construct the stereo of your dreams, which may include equipment from the past. Whether you want to go down the upgrade or restoration path can be a tricky question that involves questions of cost and the value of a piece of equipment. It’s a labor of love, but in my case, I’ve found the returns to be extremely gratifying.