The Antique Collector Installment 3: More Scott Classics
By Steven Stone
Hiya fans. I hope that by now, our third installment, we may have picked up a few devotees. This installment, we were going to finish off Scott preamps, amps, turntables, and ephemera. Well, how about a temporary postponement? I just found a very neat piece of Scott gear I'm dying to tell you about.
As luck would have it, one overcast Monday midmorning, I happened to visit Bob Heenan at Q Audio, who happened to be clearing out his warehouse. Outside on the ground, leaning up against a chainlink metal fence, was some old tube equipment; Ampex tube equipment to be precise. On closer examination however, the tuner and integrated amp that lay next to the Ampex tape recorder bore more than superficial resemblance to equipment manufactured by H.H. Scott. Indeed the integrated amplifier was nothing more than a Scott model LK⌐72, a 35-watt per side, very stable, very common, and very boring unit, with an Ampex faceplate. Only the faceplate, the "Scott kit" stamp, and the Scott factory sticker and serial number made this LK⌐72 much different from many such units that have crossed my path.
The fact that Scott may have made gear for Ampex is not of insignificant historical interest. Although this gear has a Scott factory sticker, there is no way to know for sure whether these units were assembled in the Scott factory or not, as ALL Scott equipment have factory stickers.
We also know that these units were assembled from Scotts' kits rather than their standard factory production models by the "Scott kit" stamp on their chassis. It is very likely that Ampex purchased off-the-shelf kits and assembled them in their own factory. The insides of both units have solder joints that look like they were done in a factory. I've seen the insides of enough units to know a factory-assembled unit when I see one.
A final conclusive bit of evidence that these two units were assembled at the Ampex rather than Scott factories came in the form of a late night phone call. A gentleman who had worked as the production manager of the Scott factory from the late fifties through the late sixties called to congratulate me on the accuracy of my history of the H.H. Scott company in issue 50. To the best of his recollection, he never ordered any special faceplates or knobs, nor were Scott kits ever assembled in the factory except for a brief period between March and august 1961, a period of time that predates the LT⌐110B by three years.
The tuner that lay beside the other "Ampex" gear against the fence was a Scott LT⌐110B. Now, I just love Scott tuners (as you may have guessed), and this LT⌐110B is fascinating. The Ampex faceplate, which has a tanish brownish enamel finish, is offset by the heavily chromed vernier tuning dial, which is quite unlike anything available on Scott tuners. On Scotts, the dial is transparent plastic, engraved with a number scale, and backlit. On this "Ampex" the tuning scale is engraved onto the faceplate around the outside of the tuning knob. The other two knobs are also heavily chrome plated, and require a strong grip to operate, since they are un¬knurled, and very smooth. The chroming is perfectly mirrorlike and flawless.
The overall exterior design is very simple, with the Spartan look of a piece of military gear. There is elegance here; understatement coupled with the desire to do things the most expensive way. All the markings are etched into the faceplate, and filled in with white paint. To say that this unit is more attractive than a standard LT⌐110B is an understatement. It looks fabulous.
The tube compliment on the "Ampex" tuner is identical to a stock LT¬110B. When this unit was compared to a Scot 310⌐E, a tuner with better published specs than a LT⌐110B, the "Ampex" was the 310s' peer in most performance areas, including number of stations received, quality of reception of stations with transmitters in fringe areas, top end extension and detail, and soundstage size. The "Ampex" was actually superior one particular area: it had noticeably more midbass than the 310⌐E.
All early Scott tuners I've heard have "overripe" midbass, it's sort of a Scott "house sound.” This midbass hump is the fault of the original Scott multiplex design. When a Fisher MPX 100 multiplex adapter is compared to a Scott 355 multiplex adapter, using a Scott 310⌐C tuner, it is clear that the Fisher is much closer to a proper harmonic balance than the Scott. Later Scott tuners, like the 350⌐D, 310⌐E, and LT110⌐B, are better balanced, without this midbass hump. The Ampex’s harmonic balance is similar to these later units. Whether the "Ampex" is still on the warm side, or the 310⌐E slightly deficient in bass is determined more by listening volume and the nature of the rest of the system than by the individual characteristics of the two units. Depending on which of my systems the tuners are in, my opinion of which tuner is more "right" changes.
In My "Main System”
My main system consists of the following components as of 12/21/87: VPI HW⌐19 Mk 2 turntable with Souther Tri-Quartz arm and Souther-Souchy ClearAudio Veritas cartridge and Souther Super-litz direct interconnect. A GSI 5 tp manufactured 7/87 serves as preamp. Snell A⌐III speakers in oak are bi-amped using a Snell EC⌐2 crossover, driven by VTL compact mono 100s on top and a Belles 400A on the bottom. A meter length of FMS blue 2 runs between my preamp and crossover, two 28 ft runs of FMS blue 2 run from the crossover to the power amps. Speaker wire is AudioQuest Black BC⌐6 in four and twelve foot lengths, the "Ampex" sounds better. The Scott 310⌐E is slightly thin and lacks midbass punch and dynamic impact. The "Ampex" is ever so slightly on the warm side in this system, but it is never boomy, Robert Leursima, on "Morning Pro Musica" never gets chesty. The median output level for these two units is very different. For both of these tuners to have the same output level, the Scott 310⌐E must be turned up to maximum output, while the "Ampex" must be turned down to 1/3 of its' maximum output level.
In My "Video System"
My video system consists of a Sony 25 XBR color monitor, Sony HLF 900 Super Beta video deck, Mitsubishi VHS video deck, and Pioneer LV⌐700 Laser disk player, the three video sources are selected with the Sony XBRs' selector system which sends the audio signal through a 25 ft run of AudioQuest brown interconnect to Harmon Kardon Citation I or IV preamplifiers which send the signal through another 25 ft run of the same interconnect to an Audio Research Corp EC⌐21 crossover set at a 80 Hz crossover point, which sends its' signal to a Harmon Kardon Citation II amp driving a pair of Quad ESLs, and a Crown DC⌐300A driving a pair of rewired Cizak MG⌐27 subwoofers. Γ the Scott 310⌐E sounds more harmonically right. The LT⌐110B sounds a hair thick in the midbass, but with some adjustment to the subwoofer levels, either tuner’s sound can be made to sound right. There is certainly a great deal to recommend a bi-amped system, not the least of which is the flexibility to adjust for slight differences in the harmonic balances of various signal sources.
In My "Antique System”
My Antique system consists of a pair of Monitor Audio 852s, driven by a pair of Dyna Mark IVs modified by GSI, controlled by a Citation IV preamplifier. My turntable is a stock Grado turntable (circa 1962) with an original Grado laboratory standard tone arm (circa 1962) and Grado GTE +1 cartridge. The tone arm has had the original wiring replaced new silver litz. All wiring between components is with AudioQuest brown cables and speaker wire, the Scott 310⌐E needs the contour switch engaged for decent harmonic balance, while the "Ampex" sounds much too boomy when this switch is engaged. With the contour switch out, the "Ampex" sounds only slightly bass-shy. My phono source in this system, an original Grado turntable, original Grado laboratory standard tone arm, and Grado GTE +1, has more than adequate bass with the switch out.
I suppose the logical conclusion is that the "Ampex" does indeed have a bit much midbass, and the Scott 310⌐E is slightly deficient. This conclusion must be tempered by the fact that either of these tuners could be performing beneath their specifications. With over twenty year old components, generalizing about all Scott 310⌐Es by the performance of a single example is faulty logic, not unlike making generalizations about wire performance based on one listening in one system to one length of wire. I often hear audiophiles trashing this or that component based on their tests with one example in one system. I still need to hear several examples of a piece in several systems over an extended period of time to feel like I really know how a component actually sounds.
Well, it was bound to happen, since no one is perfect, least of all 'ol SS. Last installment I mentioned Scotts' "sonic monitor" feature, which when switched in, emits a tone when tuned into a station broadcasting in stereo. I said it was only found on the model 340 tuner/preamp. WRONG! This feature is also found on the LT⌐110B and 350⌐C tuners. It works very nicely, but since almost all stations are now multiplex stereo, it is a feature that is quite superfluous in 1988.
While this may be the third installment of "The Antique Collector", it is still being written "in the dark" so to speak. Since the first installment has just come out, I haven't any feedback from readers. I would like to find out what you think about the series so far, and what suggestions you have for making it better.
One of the most enjoyable benefits of writing this series is the opportunity to delve into the many different sources of historical information that exist on classic components. I know there must be some people out there who collect product sheets, brochures, and "wishbooks". I'd like to hear from you papercollectors in hopes of getting Xeroxes for reference. I'd also like to hear from some of you hardware collectors, especially those who are into Fisher, Harmon Kardon, and Dyna. Yes, I know I didn't include Marantz and Macintosh, but it’s going to be years (literally) before I get to these guys. Sorry.
I also need reader feedback on mod shops. If you have ever had a classic component modified by a technician or shop, and they did a fabulous job, I'd like to know about them. If YOU modify old components professionally, please drop me line, with some basic who-what-where-how and how much. Eventually I'm going to do a survey on mod shops, and I want to give everyone lots of time to stand up and be counted. Don't say you weren’t warned.
SOURCING (How do you find this stuff?)
The subject has come up, with regular frequency; how do I find components to review? I do not, contrary to popular opinion; have an attic that was conveniently stocked by its last owner with vintage hi-fi gear. I have to buy this stuff, just like everyone else. So, where do I buy this stuff? Anywhere I can find it. Finding equipment is the problem.
One source of equipment is the National publication “Audiomart”, published by Walter and Eunice Bender, of Crewe, VA, who is also contributors to TAS. "Audiomart" requires that all new subscribers be recommended by a current subscriber, a practice that helps curb problems with deadbeats and wankers. My local buy-sell tabloid "The Want Advertiser" is often a good source of equipment, as well as a convenient place to dispose of equipment I'm finished with. I never pass a junk furniture store, thrift shop, resalestore, or medium sized garbage pile without looking for old tube gear. Sometimes, I get lucky. The methodology outlined in Frank Doris's article in issue 50 on finding old records is also applicable to old equipment. Frank, why did you have to spill the beans?
Currently, there is a large gap between the prices of "collectable" old tube components like Marantz, and Macintosh, and "Off-brand" gear like Dyna, Scott, Fisher, Harmon Kardon, Eico, Pilot, Sherwood, Heath, Bell, etc. I realize one of the consequences of this series is bound to be an increased demand for this "off-brand" tube gear, which may put upward pressure upon their prices. Such is life. Except for rare lapses, I'm going to try to review common, available, and relatively inexpensive equipment. Waxing poetic over Scott 4310s, and Marantz 9s is, quite honestly, an exercise in futility. Already rare, these overpriced pieces, have received enough attention over the years. It is far more interesting for me, and you, to examine equipment that has yet to achieve "legendary" status.
SCOTT AMPS, PREAMPS, TURNTABLES, AND EPHEMERA
So, all right already, I can't put this off anymore so we might as well dive right in....we'll start with preamps, which will be short but not too sweet.
Scott 130 preamp
First introduced in October 1959, this unit was in production till July 1963, at which time Scott ceased making any separate preamps. It is a beautiful looking piece, with the curved edges and rounded corners that made Scott tuners so attractive. The 130 is a "fullfeatured" preamp with tone controls, contour, bass and treble filters, phase reverse (one side only), dual low level magnetic inputs, and a mono-stereo-reverse switch.
The tube compliment in the Scott 130 is ridiculously simple; four 12 AX7s, two 12 AU7s, and one 6x4. Each line input has its own trim pot for matching levels between input sources (a feature I wish was still available on contemporary preamps). Total advertised distortion is under 1% at rated output. The lit on this preamp also boasts of its low hum level due to its' aluminum chassis, copper shielded power transformer, and separate shielded compartment for the entire power supply.
I wish I could say all this technical sophistication and ergonomic overkill resulted in a nice sounding preamp, unfortunately this is not the case. The Scott 130 is one of the worst sounding, yet still functional, and as far as I can tell, up-to-spec, preamp I've ever heard in my life. We are talking really God-awful sound here. Even the line section is compressed, dark, hazy, ill defined, and bass-shy, with a rolled-off top end, shallow and very narrow soundstage and overall just plain yucky sound. The phono stage is no better than the line stage. This is one piece that sounds better turned off. Its a shame that this preamp sounds so bad, because it looks so nice sitting next to a Scott tuner of the same vintage. Perhaps it could be modified into some semblance sonic accuracy, but stock, this one is a Dog.
Recently, I was talking with a subscriber to Audiomart who owned a slightly modified Scott 130 (it had parts upgrades as well as a beefed up B+ power supply). He claimed it was the smoothest, most open (The term "open" is probably one of the most vague and least precise descriptions of sound I've ever had the displeasure to be exposed to. I've
yet to find two people who agree upon just what "open" means. The only thing that is clear is that it is the opposite of "closed" preamp he had ever heard. Naturally, I was rather surprised since my Scott 130 is such a sonic Bow Wow. Upon comparing serial numbers, it was clear that his is a much later unit, dating from 1963, while my unit is probably from 1959. Perhaps parts changes coupled with beefier power supplies can turn this sows' ear into a silk purse. If it is true, as Peter Aczel claims In issue #10 the Fall/Year-End 1987 issue which would have been Volume 2 #4 under the previous nomenclature. If you think that is convoluted logic, wait till you see the contents! He claims that a "restored" Harmon Kardon Citation 1 can sound better than an Audio Research Sp-11; perhaps a modified Scott 130 can be listenable as well.
Scott 208 power amplifier
This diminutive little beast was first made in April 1963, and was discontinued by July 1964. It was made as a companion piece for the Scott 355 tuner/preamp, and fit neatly behind the 355. It is the same basic power amp used in Scott LK⌐72, and 299C integrated amplifiers. The tube complement consists of four 7591 power tubes, a 5AR4 regulator tube and two 6AU6 input tubes. The 208 doesn't look like much, aluminum chassis, no front plate or cosmetics to speak of.... yes, it could be called ugly.
Like many ugly ducklings, the 208 is a swan in disguise. This is a very nice little 20-watt tube amp. It has a choice of two inputs with different sensitivities, 2.5 volts, and 1.5 volts. The transformers are pretty hefty (about the same size as on a Dyna Stereo 70), and dwarf the four power tubes. The 208s output termination strips have taps for everything from 4 to 16 ohms, and it even has a summed mono line level output to feed a mono subwoofer system. The unit I tested had all original vintage tubes, and actual original vintage dust I believe.
This is a very nice sounding little amplifier. It throws up an impressive soundstage, with admirable depth, and dimensionality. Lateral focus is good, as is image height. Harmonic balance is excellent, with remarkable bass from such a low power amp. When the 208 is pushed towards clipping, the sound gets smokier and the dynamics become compressed. While the 208 is not a very contrasty amplifier, it does have some dynamic range when not stressed. It's ideal use is as a tweeter amp, or full-range with very efficient speakers, in a small room. It mates pretty well the Monitor Audio 852s, but in my large room the 208 lacks the power to drive the 852s to satisfying levels with low distortion.
The 208 brings up one of the most maddening aspects of tube power amplifiers in general; the best sounding amplifiers lack sufficient power to drive speakers of equal sonic quality. It is much easier to make a reliable, good sounding 20-watt amp than a 200-watt amp. It is also a hell of a lot cheaper. There are many excellent small tube amps like the 208 in the world, but what do you do with them? Klipsch corner speakers may be one solution, but their size and space limitations make these speakers impractical for many situations. Even mini-monitors such as the Monitor 852 or the ProAc studio 1 need more power than a 20-watt amp can supply. How about someone making an efficient full-range speaker designed to be driven by small tube amplifiers? And while they are at it, how about a cure for the common cold?
Scott 290 Power Amplifier
This unit was Scotts' answer to the Marantz 8 and 8B power amplifiers. Just like the Marantz, it used four El⌐34 power tubes. Just like the Marantz, it delivers about 35 watts a side. Its' front end was very different from the Marantz which used a 6 BH6 and 6CG7. The Scott has a pair of 12Ax7s in the front end. The Marantz 8B and Scott 290 were comparably priced at $244.95 for the Scott while the Marantz was $249. The result of this similarity of price and power was that, unfortunately for Scott, most consumers bought the Marantz 8B. Unfortunately for me, not many 290s were sold, and few remain in operation today.
I don't really blame the audiophiles of the mid 60s for buying the Marantz instead of the Scott. Given the same options, I would probably have made the same choice myself. The Marantz is far more substantial and finished looking than the Scott. The Scott is merely and aluminum box with tubes and transformers on top, bias meter and level controls on one side, and inputs and terminal strips on the other side. It was not designed to be looked at; it was designed to be used secreted behind cabinets. The Marantz
sports that nice light brown metalized paint finish, with three massive transformers all housed under one metal cover, a bias meter right out of Buck Rodgers, and a heft that screams "hernia! hernia!". The Scott does not look like it is in the same league with the Marantz.
Due to its' rarity, I was very fortunate to find a Scott 290 to listen to. Unfortunately, my example had one blown output transformer, so that my listening was done mono-a-mono so to speak. The first thing that struck me about this amp was how smooth and refined it sounds. It is very laid-back, while not being gutless or lacking contrast. It has that classic sweet El¬34 midrange with good upper end extension and reasonable bass extension. There is a bit of a bass hump around 40 HZ, but it is certainly no worse than that hump of the 8B.
While one fellow I know claims the 290 is a better sounding amp than the Marantz 8B, I'd have to say the jury is still out on this one. This technician has a supposedly working 290 in his shop which I have seen, but he refuses to loan, rent, or sell his unit, which makes his claims even more suspect in my eyes. Because of its' rarity, the 290 usually commands prices comparable to the very collectable and in-demand Marantz 8B. Given a choice, I'd probably buy an 8B, for the same reasons that audiophiles chose the 8B in the mid sixties.
The Scott LK⌐150
Just as the Marantz 8B was direct competition for the Scott 290, The Harmon Kardon Citation 2 was direct competition for the LK⌐150. Both were kits with similar prices. The LK⌐72, first introduced in march 1961, listed for $169.95, while the Citation 2, first introduced in December 1959, listed $159.95. Both amps use two matched pairs of 6550 output tubes, and produce about 60 watts per side. The front end of the LK⌐150 utilizes two 7199 input tubes and two GZ34 rectifier tubes, while the Citation 2 has six 12BY7A tubes in its front end. Unlike the Citation, which was one of the first really wide frequency band amplifiers, boosting 5 HZ to 100,000 HZ without phase shift, the LK⌐150 includes a subsonic roll-off filter for frequencies below 20 HZ. While the LK⌐150 brochures do claim flat response down to 5 HZ as well, they make no reference to phase effects induced by roll-off filter.
The Harmon Kardon became one of the most popular kit power amps of all time, and is still readily available on the used market. This availability is diminishing, due, in part to Bruce Moore and his MFA 120 power amps, which use original Citation 2 transformers. His only source of these transformers is from old Citation 2s. I've heard his amplifier, and while it is very good looking and fine sounding, whether its birth warrants the death of so many original Citation 2s is questionable at best. Even HP built a Citation 2 in his youth, which given this fact, can not be said to be totally misspent. The LK⌐150 however, never achieved this kind of public acceptance, and is quite rare today. I've never seen or heard one. Maybe someday I'll be able to put one up against one of the two Citation 2s in my possession.
The LK⌐150 has an input sensitivity switch similar to the two inputs on the model 208 amplifier. It is interesting to note that according to high Fidelity/ Stereo Review’s article in the May 1962 issue, altering the amount of negative feedback, rather than other means changes the sensitivity. According to the article, the 1.5-volt sensitivity produces higher distortion because of the reduced negative feedback. It also has a built in bias switches and bias meter, as well as individual subsonic roll-off switches for each channel. The Lk⌐150 weighs 44 lbs, and according to the SR article took only six hours to build.
Next installment we'll try to finish up with Scott, touching on the integrated amplifiers and the Scott 710 turntable.