Thursday, October 15, 2015

Once upon a Tandberg

A "Throwback Thursday" memoir

One night in early 2000, I went went through the electronics department at Goodwill. That was an almost guaranteed waste of time - that Goodwill seemed to have nothing but components from blown-up rack systems. Still, one might win Goodwill Electronics Lottery, and find a pair of Quad ESL-57 speakers. One never knows.

That night, I did find one of my rare finds: an old Tandberg TR 2025 receiver.

I recognized the Tandberg name (maybe because I'd heard of their open reel tape decks). It was clearly an older receiver - it had veneer sides, and a light up tuning dial. (Later, I'd learn the model was mid/late 1970s.)

Finding the Tandberg receiver wasn't like winning the Mega Millions, but it was at least like winning a $100 in the state lottery. Maybe more. At the time, I was having trouble with my existing amp, and maybe the Tandberg could tide me over.

I can't imagine I expected much. Indeed, I probably could have come up with a list of Audiophile Approved Reasons to expect nothing:

  • It was old (1970s) and newer is better!
  • Plus at 15-20 years old some components were probably worn and not performing optimally.
  • It was a receiver, and we know that most receivers are compromised products!
  • It had lots of controls, and we know that the simpler the signal path, the better!

But I hoped the Tandberg could allow me to play a few records. If I could listen to it - without running for the door, covering my ears, and screaming - it would be worth it.

It certainly was a better bet than the cheap receivers with integrated 8 Track players that were common at that Goodwill.

I got the Tandberg. Then started the long process of getting it installed in my system. It used DIN connectors, and so I had to craft adapters. The worst part was finding someone who had the speaker connectors. But I tracked a couple down at an old TV repair shop. They were something like half of what I paid for the Tandberg. Yikes! This was running into Big Money by thrift shop standards!

Finally, it went into service in my system. Back then, I had a late 80s/early 90s era system, with an entry point Linn LP12/Linn Intek amp/Linn Index II. Proving I wasn't Linn or die, I did have a pair of Sound Organisation speaker stands.

As I said, I did not expect much. And at first it did sound pretty bad. (Not surprising since the TR 2025 might not have been used in years.) But as I used it more, I became more impressed.

I can't remember the exact sound, but I do recall that at the best of times it was quite listenable. I seem to recall it having a warm sound. It had good enough tonal coloration that one could tell instruments apart.

The biggest failing was when the volume went up to a certain point, its control of the speakers seemed to suffer. Although I never heard outright clipping - it was, as I recall, more of confused sound. The TR 2025 was rated at 25 watts in one Tandberg catalog; I suspect it would have been its happiest with power efficient, easy to drive speakers. The sound wasn't crystal clear, either. It could be even grayish sounding.

Another thing I noted: the phono input was not as good as my Linn Intek. Using the Intek as a phono stage got a noticeable improvement. Part of that was not unexpected - when the Intek shipped, Linn was very heavily into turntables. I also have to wonder if the adapter I was using wasn't a problem. A cable from the turntable, terminated with a DIN connector, would probably be easier on the delicate signal than my flung-together RCA to DIN adapter.

Flaws aside, the Tandberg served me well. I was able to play records without cringing. And I found myself really liking the radio tuner.

Meanwhile, I was questioning whether I'd fix the Intek. That questioning started well before the Tandberg came along. However, I seem to recall that the Tandberg did so well that it added fuel to the fires of Intek discontentment. Yes, the Intek was better - but frankly I thought at times the difference should have been a lot more dramatic, given that the Intek was newer, and a more purist product.

Today, I wonder something: what would my impressions have been had I tried the TR 2025 in a carefully matched system?

Back then, I did think of the TR 2025 as a keeper of sorts. Not for the main system - I expected to get a used modern amp. However, I had a vision of the TR 2025 as the base for a second system. Indeed, one vision I had was a system in a living room. The TR 2025 could be a conversation piece, work for TV sound, and supply background if I were having guests.

Unfortunately, though, disaster struck. In order to use the radio tuner, I had a cheap rabbit ear antenna. One day, that fell down. It didn't just fall - it flew, and hit the TR 2025 AC plug. It somehow knocked it loose enough for the antenna to hit the live prong on the plug. There was spectacular electric storm inside the Tandberg. And with that, it fell silent forever.

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