Classic Hi Fi 1996
Hi-Fi News and Record Review, UK.
Classic Hi-Fi, Jun 1996
Restoration Drama by Ken Kessler
In late 1995, the Bugatti Owners' Club produced facsimile reprints of all of the issues of the Club Magazine, Buganacs, issued before WWII. It was telling to read articles from, say, 1938, about the trials and tribulations of working on even 10 year old vehicles, at a time when the original manufacturer still existed. To my relief rather than dismay, I learned that the problems differed little from those experienced today by Bug owners, even though another 60 years have passed. The bottom line? You can restore anything you wish if you have barrels full of dosh. But, like you probably, I don't. And, also like you, I love and use lots of vintage hi-fi equipment which needs refurbishing from time to time. Given my natural acquisitiveness, my passion for rooting around boot fairs and a tendency to pester local hi-fi shops with second-hand departments, I possess load of oldies, including no less than a dozen pieces of Quad valveware.
How appropriate, then, that after having Mike Pointer at Station Sounds rebuild roughly half of my collectionI took the rest to Quad to prove categorically that the company's world-class service facility is still with us. As with the chain of events which resulted in the rebirth of the Quad II [see feature in the main issue], so did a number of disparate events lead me to the full-scale restoration of a number of my older valve items, all of which provided me with firsthand experience of the restoration scene in the UK, circa 1996. And, gang, it's a veritable party out there.
It started with a phone call from a hi-fi enthusiast and music lover named Eric Jessup. Mr Jessup simply wanted to know how to dispose of his old hi-fi equipment, so I led him to such publications as Loot, Exchange & Mart and our own classified ads. And then I forgot all about it. Some weeks later, Mrs Jessup phoned me to tell me that Eric had passed away, and would I be interested in his old equipment? Not knowing what exactly was being offered Mrs Jessup unashamedly denies any knowledge of audio arcanaI agreed to purchase the equipment. Eventually I arranged collection, without even knowing that Mr Jessup's cherished old system would provide me with the raw material for a couple of features. He had good taste. The system consisted of mono and stereo Quad valve pre-amps and tuners, a pair of Quad IIs, a pair of ESLs and a Garrard 401. But I gathered that other interests occupied Eric's later years, so the system was in need of a complete overhaul. Mike Pointer dealt with the amplifiers, but I took all of the remaining Quad gear up to the factory.
And my arrival couldn't have been more poorly timed: I pulled up to Quad just as the service department was being moved and the administration was relocating to the Mission factory. But I was welcomed as a True Believer and was allowed to wander around, soaking up some history. And here's what I found, as of March 1996: Quad's legendary service department, overseen by David Timms, should remain off-limits to audio casualties. It's kid-in-acandy-store time, and you soon stop counting the Quad IIs and QA 12s in for a check-up. Every known model is still deemed serviceable, although some parts like the valve AM tuner's dial can no longer be replaced. But I was told they still serviced even the original corner ribbon, and that my stuff would present no problems. Lord know there's enough manpower. Timms' team starts with 30-year-old Rob Flain, who is the pre-amp (sorry, 'control unit') and CD player expert. He's only been with Quad for 13 years. Paul McConville is the speaker maven; he's a stripling, too, with just 12 years in the firm. And then there's amplifier and tuner specialist Ken Bunting, a quarter-century man who worked with Peter Walker himself. Between them, they turn around repairs in six working days, although the plan is to get that down to two. The work is fastidious, but cautious. They seem to feel that if it ain't broke, don't fix it, so valve gear, for example, will come back with only the tubes that needed changing being replaced. This is partly to keep costs down, too. So I dumped my pile of treasures and left with a sense of security, sort of like finding out that your kid's appendectomy is in the hands of ER's Dr Ross. But then word filtered back that repairs to the panels of the original ESLs were on hold for the foreseeable future. Maybe I was lucky and got in there just before supplies ran out, but others might not be. It turns out that ICI no longer manufactures a nylon compound called 'Calaton'. Timms told me that this material is dissolved and then placed on the ESL's diaphragms. And it's essential. But he also told me that Quad will not give up its quest to find a substitute, and that original ESLs will again be serviceable. Which means that you must be patient if you're nursing a pair of Peter Walker's first classics.
When I collected the speakers, I didn't recognise them. All of the woodwork? including the feet and the side trims, can be replaced, as can the bronze grille. Amusingly, the colour is now a touch more goldy, and it actually looks nicer than the bronze ones I saw bearing their original covers. The workmanship was all I could have hoped for, the speakers looking freshly-minted. And they sounded even better than I remembered... especially with the revived Quad IIs.
But one thing leads to another. A 'phone call to Russ Andrews, in response to his annual clearance sale, resulted not just in my acquisition of some Russian-made GZ32 equivalents but Russ's own solid state substitutes. He markets these cool Full Wave rectifiers for around 17.73 each, and they look just like an octal-base's valve with the valve missing. They plug in where your GZ32 went, and they offer a different kind of sound for those who could do without a bit of the lushness. Purists will find the notion of changing valve rectification to solid-state repugnant, but, hey, if it works... Best of all, you can experiment with the sound without performing some irreversible surgery. Then, wandering past Parrot Records to look in on the local Sevenoaks franchise, I noticed that it had changed its name to Q Audio and that the window was full of secondhand kit. A pair of Quad ESLs which I didn't need some cool-looking late period Leak gear, an outrageous Lux integrated and something I did need: a Quad 33/303 combination. I rushed home with it, plugged it into my rebuilt ESLs and mentally cursed myself for having let go of a set years before.
Hell, I cursed myself, too, for sacrificing a pair of old ESLs due to space considerations. But then a lot of people have let go of old ESLs and are now regretting their foolishness, right? Meanwhile, I had a couple of turntables which needed seeing to if they were going to be worthy of the vintage hi-fi display planned for the Ramada show in September. With Loricraft already having garnered enough favourable publicity, it was Slate Audio's turn, so I contributed a couple of pieces for Peter Super to 'replinth' and certify as healthy. Eric Jessup's Garrard 401 made the trip, along with my Thorens TD-124, one of the last worked on by the late, great Charles Trayhorn. I bombarded Peter with tonearms, including an early SME, a wooden Grace, a 'normal' Grace and one of the rewired Decca Internationals. But you'll have to wait until the autumn to learn the outcome of that saga. Luckily, my wife doesn't read anything I write, so I can tell you that I've spent about 2000 this year on both equipment and servicing. That two grand wouldn't have purchased a new amp on a par with an old Radford, or a turntable to equal the 401. It's re-inspired my lust for anachrophilia, while calling into question everything I believe about the current state of the art. When you fire up those 40-year-old Quads and hear music so real that it defies belief, you can only conjure up images of grandparents, eggs, and sucking. Only it's the new stuff and not grandma that sucks. RESOURCES Q Audio, Tel 01227-462787 RATA, Tel 01539-823247 Slate Audio, Tel 01525-384174 Station Sounds' Mike Pointer is relocating to Italy, Tel+39 652 3808.