Classic hi-fi is in. Okay, so it’s not in in such as cycling shorts, Tik-Tok and The last of us, but the hi-fi realm is undoubtedly going through a movement with many manufacturers reinventing classic loudspeakers and electronics for new releases. JBL, Wharfedale, Mission, NAD and Fyne Audio, to name just a handful of brands, have all launched modern-retro kit in recent months. As our global technical editor was able to point out, it was all over the place at the High End Munich Show last year.
Some examples above have proven that it can be done exceptionally well to combine today’s technologies with the aesthetics of yesteryear. And it got us thinking about which vintage cars we’d like to see reinvented to take on the 21st century. Alas, we have come together to make a list!
However, we must make a caveat in saying that this is very much wishlist Products; some will almost certainly not come true, not least because not every brand still exists today! And as much as we’d love to see modern Sony Walkman Pro WM-D6C and Nakamichi Dragon cassette decks – two choices that popped up in the penny of our initial lengthy list – we can’t quite see the tape rebirth happening any time soon.
Of course, if you have your own wishes for classic hi-fi that you would like to see revived, please ask them in the comments!
Pink Triangle Tarantella (1998)
Founded in 1979 by Neal Jackson and Arthur Khoubesserian but forced to close in 2003 after declining vinyl sales, London-based manufacturer Pink Triangle made a huge impact on the high-end turntable market in a relatively short time by combining striking aesthetics with high performance – and the Tarantella was a two-page ad just for that. The triangular chassis lit up pink, the power supply and speed change were housed in a neat little ‘hornet’ box, and when we were shown the company’s entry-level turntable, we quickly enjoyed its open, transparent sound and refreshingly crisp dynamics. . Some noted speed instability issues, but nevertheless, it gained legendary status.
We could actually get lucky with a Tarantella revival, or perhaps a similar design, as Pink Triangle is now back after a 20-year hiatus! And if the ‘first’ turntable – the £8000, highly customizable Blue Danube, said to possess “the lowest wow, flutter and rumble ever recorded” – is anything to go by, the British company seems to be starting where it left off . We look forward to hearing more at the 2023 Bristol Hi-Fi Show.
Heybrook HB1 (1983)
While it now has plenty of company, the Heybrook HB1 was the first product to win three Which Hi-Fi? Awards in a row (in 1983, 1984 and 1985). The entry-level bookshelf speakers were designed by Heybrook co-founder Peter Comeau, who many of you will know as the speaker designer behind the Mission 780 and 782, Volare V63 and Elegant E8, and Wharfedale’s iconic Diamond range, to name but a handful to name . Heybrook was named after Heybrook Bay in Devon in the UK where the company operated, arriving in the late 1970s at a time when other UK hi-fi brands such as A&R Cambridge and Rega were also starting out.
The first speaker was perhaps the company’s most iconic, the HB2, but Comeau and his friend and co-founder Stuart Mee wanted to make a true budget speaker at around £100. Comeau has previously said that the popular HB1 once made about 15 percent of the sub-£200 speaker market. A true classic that is alive and well on the second-hand and restoration market, and one that we imagine could be revived to give the very few class leaders in today’s entry-level market a run for their money.
Acoustic research AR18 (1978)
In the 1970s, Acoustic Research was one of the biggest hi-fi brands out there. You wouldn’t know by looking at the website today – it’s a world away from the brand it used to be and, like Pioneer, Onkyo, Klipsch and Jamo, is now owned by Voxx – but the Massachusetts-based company has made a huge impact in the hi-fi market with its popular turntables and AR line of acoustic sprung speakers, one of which was the highly imaginative AR18.
Following on from the legendary AR7, the AR18 became one of Acoustic Research’s most famous products. They were considered to be a very simple design when they arrived in the late 1970s – two-way, sealed box, in-house manufactured standmounters with a 20cm paper cone mid/bass, a rather unrefined 32mm tweeter and minimalist crossover design. But this formula led to one of the funniest little speakers in budget market history, not least one of the best.
Liveliness doesn’t often take the top spot when tuning budget speakers these days, so given a sweeter, less rolled treble, a redesigned AR18 could do very well indeed.
Roksan Darius (1986)
The year after Roksan (and its debut product, the Xerxes turntable) came into the world courtesy of co-founders Touraj Moghaddam (now van Vertere) and Tufan Hashemi, so did his first pair of speakers. Named after the Persian ruler ‘Darius the Great’ (Moghaddam was very interested in the Persian Achaemenid Empire from 550 BC to be mechanically isolated from a bass unit using springs), a remarkable exoskeleton stand and a high performing direct, dynamic sound output.
The Darius S1 that arrived in 2014 actually bore little resemblance to the 1980s original – from both a technical and aesthetic point of view – although it was also a two-way design and also performed impressively for its price and time. Sure, Roksan has later been celebrated more for its electronic craft than its speakers (which are no longer in the catalogue), but we wouldn’t say no to a true homage to Darius with a very dynamic and accurately depicted sound.
Pioneer A400 (1990)
Pioneer absolutely knocked it out of the park with the A400 budget stereo amp in the early ’90s just like Onkyo did a few decades later with its budget A-9010 integrated so you can imagine how much we anticipate the UK return of these home audio heavyweights at the Bristol H-Fi Show. Indeed, it’s been a while, and the entry-level market could use a new competitor to take on the largely untouched class leaders of Marantz and Rega.
At the time, the A400’s combination of class-leading detail, agility and dynamism sent the competition, from Arcam to Cyrus to Denon, back to the drawing board, bringing major changes to the field.
As we said in our Which Hi-Fi? Hall of Fame: The best hi-fi setup of the 90s, where the A400 stands proudly, we heard systems where the amp was flanked by high-quality sources and speakers, yet smelled like roses – a rare feat for any budget electronics.
A&R Cambridge A60 (1976)
Amplification & Recording Cambridge (now of course known as Arcam) created a dazzling first product. The A60 amp laid the foundations on which the British company built its success and, priced at £190, was regarded by many (including us!) throughout the 1980s as the ideal upgrade from the popular entry-level models at the time – your NAD 3020s, Mission Cyrus Ones and Kenwoods.
Its 40W per channel output power wasn’t anything special and might struggle a bit to drive current speakers, but we’d revisit the punchy, rhythmic and dynamically expressive A60 – as long as it had a wooden case too, of course.
Several years ago we listened to the A60 against Arcam’s current A19 model at the time and while the latter was indeed the better sounding amp overall, the veteran showed a thing or two about how to really entertain.
Musical Fidelity A1 (1984)
The first integrated amplifier from Musical Fidelity (which succeeded The Preamp and designer Dr Thomas Power Amp two years earlier) is a bona fide classic that has sold some 200,000 units. This Tim de Paravicini design used Class A amplification and produced a mellow, tonally warm, slightly colored sound that many considered to have a valve-like character – a resemblance also accentuated by the A1’s tendency to get quite hot (Class A, quite high power consumption and small housing will still do, even if it delivered ‘only’ 20 watts per channel.)
Over the next few years, revisions were made to the mid-range A1 and a number of limited edition models were launched, while a modern A1 sequel (also featuring Class A amplifier modules) arrived in 2008 with digital connectivity. It was good, but we’d be intrigued to see how Musical Fidelity would approach an A1 tribute draft today.
Naim Nait 2 (1988)
This iconic shoebox-sized gem of an amplifier requires little introduction to Naim loyalists, which is why the Nait 2 is perhaps better left in the past. But a 50-70 watt per channel version, and maybe even analog only, for the current market to take on Rega’s Brio would nevertheless be intriguing to see happen – perhaps even as a product celebrating the 50- anniversary limited edition this year. After all, there is still a solid second-hand market for 1980s/90s Nait 1s, 2s and 3s, and there aren’t many models of that ilk to choose from these days.
As we mentioned in our 2023 audio and AV product wishlist, as the more expensive models in the Nait range were advanced in mid-2019, with both the (now Which Hi-Fi? Award-winning) Nait XS 3 and Supernait 3, you could say more affordable Nait components are on their way.
14 of the most legendary hi-fi products of all time
7 examples of high-quality audio engineering for you to enjoy
10 of the craziest high-end hi-fi products in the world