Popular Posts

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What is that burning smell?

When a piece of your favorite stereo gear expires it is a sad thing, but the fact that it comes in many variations keeps it interesting.  I find that there are three categories within which one can place most audio death.  The first, and probably most common is the "Peaceful Passing" wherein you turn the machine off, and it never turns on again.  You jab at buttons, wiggle your connections, check to make sure the slackers at the electric company aren't playing games again (the minute you plug in a: "Class A for the first 5 watts" amp they know they've got you.  Sometimes I can hear them whispering and giggling through the wall outlet.  I had better order some of those Japanese hospital-grade receptacles for $200 each), all to no avail.  No sound, no lights, just that awful, final silence.  Then as you sit in your listening chair thinking about the good times, you wonder if the ten lbs. of cat litter that has accumulated in the power supply from crunchy toes scampering over the heat sinks had anything to do with the problem.

Then there's the slow death preceded by bouts of totally inexplicable behavior that is something like "Audio Alzheimer's" complete with dementia.  You turn on your digital integrated amp, select SACD and get the tuner output instead, followed by a high pitched screech, a voice you could swear sounds like Brit Hume saying: "Shazbot," more tuner, nothing for a few seconds, and then finally the SACD player, as if nothing was ever wrong.  At other times everything works fine, lulling you into a false sense of security.  "Did the display really read: BITE ME or was I just imagining things?"  Or the display blinks some cryptic code number at tenth-of-a second intervals, which you stare at unblinkingly for an hour trying to decipher before you jump to your feet and inform your wife that  the Emperor is signalling you to start hunting down the Jedi and you're off to Kashyyk.You tell yourself things just need to "warm up" before everything works properly- that's normal, isn't it?  When you finally realize that the thing has gone completely and totally bonkers, you scramble frantically to unplug any component plugged into it- as if the symptoms could spread like a stereo social disease.  The most frustrating event happens even later, when the repair shop leaves you a message that says in short: "Couldn't replicate the problem, cleaned all connections, left on bench for three days next to much more expensive gear with far more serious problems in order to teach it a lesson, total charge: $500." 

The last category is, as with most things that are inherently dangerous, the most exciting.  It is also the type of death experienced by the Sony GX9ES 2 channel receiver I acquired earlier this year.  It is pictured above in happier times, but I really didn't do a thorough inspection of it before powering it up, which I should have done as it had been sitting idle for years (it was new in 1988, so who knows how many of the last 22 years it has been out of operation).  I've learned that for cars, people and stereo equipment, idleness leads to problems.  Cats however, should remain idle, as the busier they are the less idle their owners can be.

The category of which I speak is the violent, action-movie-type death.  First there's a flash, loud report, followed by smoke and swearing (kind of like when a pistol tucked into your waist band goes off, only without the burning sensation).  Sometimes, if you're REALLY lucky you get shrapnel and/or fire as well.  As an owner of vintage equipment, I take the fire possibility pretty seriously, so I don't turn gear on and  then go on vacation to Paris.  Who am I kidding, I never go to Paris.  Fire prevention is another good reason to keep a beer close by.  Seriously though, don't pour beer on an electrical fire. For reasons why, go here:
(Check out the Christmas tree fire video.  S-C-A-R-Y.)

At any rate, that's the exact death that the GX9 experienced.  The fuse was definitely blown but a quick replacement (not so quick- the 8 amp fuse is hard to find nowadays) did nothing to help the problem.  If you follow this link:

you can see pictures with the hood off (bonnet open?) and notice that the capacitors are bad as well.  For the past few months I have been trying to convince myself to try fixing it myself.  At long last, I decided to practice my repair skills (read: butchery akin to Civil War surgery, I don't just tin my leads while soldering, I tin my fingers as well) on a less worthy patient, something that didn't cost $1200 when new in 1988. That's $2148.33 in 2010 dollars, for those of you playing along at home.  So I made the call to the good folks at In House Stereo repair (see the link at right) to see what they think.  If the amp is salvageable they can do it.  I'm not sure what arcane arts they practice (there wasn't a chicken feather in sight last time I was there) but they do fantastic work.  The 444ES is a great example- that amp (which is even older)sounds great.  Update to follow. . . 

No comments:

Post a Comment