A Look At A 1960s Tube-Based Magnavox Concert Grand Console Stereo

Back in presumably the early 1960s, [David]’s grandfather bought a console stereo featuring a record player, AM/FM radio and a rather astounding stereo speaker system that would be more than enough to cover a small concert hall. Having inherited this piece of auditory art after his grandfather’s passing, [David] has given the console stereo a prominent place in his living room, which is where we start the tour in a new video on the [Usagi Electric] YouTube channel.

Plentiful I/O on this 1960s vintage piece of Magnavox audio equipment.

Being a 1950s-vintage design that got produced into the 1960s in a variety of models, the Magnavox Concert Grand is an all-tube affair, with the only presence of semiconductors being the three transistors found in the ‘Phantom’ remote control. [David] unfortunately does not posses this remote control, although the receiver module is present in the unit. It appears to be similar to the 1960 1ST800F in possession by [electra225] over at the Classic HiFi Care forum, which can provide 50 Watt per channel, yet as noted in the forum post, the 44 tubes alone draw about 250 Watt, with [electra225] recording 377 Watt total with everything cranked up. Clearly a high power bill was a price one had to pay for having high-end audio back in that era.

After [David] takes his unit apart – made very easy due to the modular construction – he goes through the basic circuitry of the power supply, the amplifiers and even has a peek at the circuitry of the remote control which appears to use basic frequency modulation to transfer the intended action to the receiver. All of this is made quite easy as full schematics are available for the entire system, as was standard back in those days. Interesting is also the I/O module, which features an MPX section, for demodulating stereo FM which wasn’t standardized yet at the time. Finally, tape drive connectors are available, which would have been likely a reel-to-reel unit for maximum HiFi enjoyment.

With the only broken thing in [David]’s unit being the snapped wire on the tuner of the radio module (ironically caused by the disassembly), all that was changed before reassembly was a good clean, after which the console stereo was put back and tested. Reflecting an era when HiFi equipment was supposed to blend in with other furniture, it will likely continue to do service for [David] as the world’s fanciest TV soundbar for the foreseeable future.

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1960s Stereo Console Gets An Upgrade

Faced with an old console stereo from the 1960s that was barely functional, [Sherman Banks] aka W4ATL decided to upgrade its guts while keeping its appearance as close to the original as possible. This stereo set is a piece of mahogany furniture containing an AM/FM stereo receiver and an automatic turntable from JCPenny’s Penncrest line. As best [Sherman] can determine, it is most likely a 1965 model. The old electronics were getting more and more difficult to repair and the tuner was drifting off-station every 15 minutes. He didn’t want to throw it away, so he decided to replace all the innards.

The first thing was to tear out the old electronics while retaining the chassis proper. The new heart of the entertainment center is a modern Denon AV stereo receiver. This unit can be controlled over Ethernet, has a radio tuner, inputs for SiriusXM and a turntable, and supports Bluetooth streaming. [Sherman] next replaced the 1965 turntable, and then turned his attention to connecting up the controls and indicators.

The potentiometers were replaced with equivalent ones of lower resistance, the neon stereo indicator was replaced with an LED, but the linear tuning dial proved to be a nearly two month challenge and resulted in a cool hack. In brief, he connected an optical rotary encoder to the tuning knob and used a stepper motor with a linear actuator to control the dial indicator. All this is controlled from an Arduino Mega 2560 with three shields for I/O and LAN. But there was still one remaining issue — without vacuum tubes to warm up, the radio would play immediately after power-on. [Sherman] fixed that by programming the Arduino to slowly ramp up the volume at the same rate as the original tube receiver. And finally, he installs a small HDMI monitor in the corner to display auxiliary information and metadata from the Denon receiver.

Check out the videos below the break. We wrote about a couple of similar conversions in the past: this one from 2018 was also a Penncrest, and from last year this COVID isolation project that emphasized the addition of a new liquor cabinet.

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This Old Console Stereo Hides A Liquor Cabinet

There was a time when consumer electronics were statement items, designed to resemble quality furniture that would be shown off as a centerpiece of the home. Televisions in ornate wooden cabinets, or stereos looking for all the world like sideboards. [Zethus] had just such a huge record player and radio combo in a sideboard, and having little use for the cream of 1950s home entertainment technology, he rebuilt it as a concealed liquor cabinet with electronic controls and a much more modern stereo that forms part of a Logitech Media Server multi-room system.

After removing the tube-based radio chassis and Garrard jockey-wheel turntable it was time to gut their supporting woodwork and install the platform derived from a standing desk. With suitably impressive lighting and a pair of VFD displays for the music choice, there is the inevitable Raspberry Pi running the show. Control is achieved by a set of hidden capacitive buttons, and there’s a Web interface to allow both music and magical appearance of alcohol from the comfort of a smartphone. The whole can be seen in the video below the break.

Whenever a piece of vintage electronics is gutted in this way there will always be people who find it disquieting, but the truth is that these all-in-one stereos were made in huge quantities during the mid-century period and do not have a significant value. This one may have lost its original electronics, but it lives on safe from the dump that has claimed so many of its brethren. Happily this isn’t the first one we’ve seen saved with a Pi.

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