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Fisher 500c Receiver, professionally restored. Includes spare brown base output tubes, original Fisher Manual and schematics. Dimensions: 18.5" W by 7.25" H by 15" D (with wooden case). Weight: 45 lbs.
Two-channel FM receiver. Tube complement: seven 12AX7 (phono, tone control, phase inverter stages); four 7591 (output stage), 6HA5, 6HR6, two 6CW4, three 6AU6/EF94 (tuner stages). Output power 30Wpc at 0.7% harmonic distortion (14.8dBW) into 8 ohms from 8 ohm tap, 75Wpc "total music power." Frequency response: 25Hz–25kHz, ±1.5dB. IM distortion (60Hz/7kHz, 4/1) 0.7%. Tuner: IHF FM usable sensitivity: 1.8µV. Signal/Noise Ratio: 70dB. Selectivity: 60dB. FM channel separation: 35dB. Power requirements: 105–120V, 50/60Hz. Total power consumed at full output: 235W, 270VA.
1. 4 12 ohm resistors
2. 6 Auracap capacitors
3. 4 new tubes: 6AU6, 6HA5, and 2 12AX7 Mullard tubes
4. cleaned all connections, knobs and sockets
5. 6 .047uf 600v
6. 2 .1uf 600v400y
7. 2 15000uf 63y computer grade sangamo
8. 4 3A 600y diodes [bridge]
9. 2 3A 800y industrial bead diodes
10. 2 bridges
11. 1 alan brady 2 watt bias resistor
12. 1 power switch [nos]
The Fisher 500-C stereo receiver by Peter Breuninger, June 19, 2005:
"Back in 1964, Avery Fisher, founder and president of the Fisher Radio Corporation, wrote a short note for the 500-C Stereophonic FM Multiplex Receiver owner's manual. In that note he said, "a door has opened for you, and your family, on virtually unlimited years of musical enjoyment."
Little did he know how right he would be. Who could predict that, 40 years later, Avery Fisher's crystal ball had been spot on—that thousands of units of this American audio engineering classic would be the centerpieces of the music and fidelity pastime, of vintage audio?
Forget everything you've read or imagined over the past 20 years—vintage gear does not necessarily sound rolled-off, soft and woolly, or fuzzy. This stuff is as far from windup Victrola sound as HDTV is from 1950s black-and-white TV. It is serious high-end audio, and offers a bouquet of endless multilayered soundscapes, pinpoint and holographic images, startling frequency response, and exceptional pace, rhythm, and drive. It's what we look for in our hobby, and it's been here all along. I've invested many years chasing the best cutting-edge gear our industry offers, yet I've never been more satisfied with music and audio since finding a home in yesteryear with all those dead guys with ears.
Vintage audio offers something for everyone. It's an affordable entry point for those new to the audio hobby. It's ideal for second systems or modest living spaces. Best of all, it gives us gray-haired hi-fi veterans a respite from the spiraling expenses of new gear, and it can offer the intrepid audio explorer sonic performance that I feel can be comparable to that offered by modern gear.
The era of vintage audio, roughly 1965 through 1970, comprised the gilded age of hi-fi and the ripe years of RCA Living Stereo and Mercury Living Presence records. This era of audio embodies the work of such names as Saul Marantz, Hermon Hosmer Scott, Rudy Bozak, James B. Lansing, Paul Klipsch, David Hafler, and Henry Kloss—dead guys with ears. These guys used the absolute best minds available to design and engineer sonic marvels that have stood the test of time as icons in a world now dominated by home theater.
The Fisher 500-C stereo receiver was the pinnacle of high-fidelity reproduction in 1964. A conservative estimate of the number of 500-Cs built runs to more than 100,000 units. It was a technological tour de force that combined a full-function control center (preamp) with a 35 Wpc power amplifier and a stereo multiplex FM tuner that offered the highest sensitivity rating of the time. It's interesting to note that FM tuners from those days continue to offer outstanding performance—witness the $2000-plus resale prices of Marantz 10Bs on the Internet. There is a reason for this, and it's not just nostalgia.
Frequency modulation (FM) was adopted for stereo broadcasting for its ability to reject spurious signals and noise—such as the sound of your vacuum cleaner, static-electric sparks, or lightning. This rejection ability, plus a wide distance between stations (200kHz vs AM's 9–10kHz) gave FM ample room for more than twice the basic audio bandwidth (20Hz–15kHz) required for stereo broadcasts without impinging on adjacent stations. FM stereo combines the left (L) and right (R) audio channels in a technique called multiplexing, in which an L+R signal is broadcast simultaneously with an L–R signal. A summing-and-difference amp decodes the two signals as discrete left and right channels. Fisher used the same multiplex decoder in all its tuners and receivers. In fact, many identical parts were shared across Fisher models for cost savings and production efficiency. Today, ultra-rare units such as the Fisher FM1000 Broadcast tuner can be maintained or repaired from beaters and discarded Fisher stereo receivers. Fisher tuners were (and still are) revered for their sound, and were built to such high standards that Fisher maintained tube-based production designs well into the solid-state era.
A Fisher 500-C sold for $369 in 1964. That seems like chump change today, but in 1964, $2368 bought you a brand spanking new Ford Mustang (the 1964 New York Auto Show was the pony car's debut). Collector-condition Mustangs now trade for between $10,000 and $15,000.
Setup and features
The Fisher 500-C uses a solid-state full-wave rectifier for its front-end circuitry, and half-wave rectification for its B voltage rails, the latter smoothed with RC Pi filters. The output and power transformers, filtering caps, and output tubes are at the rear, the line stage and FM front-end tubes are in the middle, and the faceplate and tuning dial are at the front. The faceplate is brushed aluminum, anodized a soft platinum gold color. It's not half an inch thick and is not machined from solid mil-spec stock—40 years ago, designers had yet to discover the sonic "benefits" of thick faceplates. There are six control knobs on the lower half of the faceplate, and two on the top, one at each end of the ruler dial for the FM band. The knobs are brown plastic with brass endcaps that come unglued over time, fall under the couch, and disappear forever. Don't worry; replacement endcaps are available from the Fisher Radio Corp. through the "Fisher Doctor".
The FM section has enough options—Auto Stereo, Stereo, De-emphasis, Mono—to make you pause a moment before tuning in to NPR or Air America. I live in Philadelphia; we have only two noncommercial music stations, not one 24/7 classical station.
The 500-C's amplifier section has five front-end inputs: two phono inputs and a tape-head input (all three of these use the phono stage but with different equalization options selected), a monitor input, and an Aux input. The phono/tape-head stage uses one 12AX7 tube per channel for about 20dB of amplification. A Sumiko Blue Point Special high-output MC phono cartridge is a good match gain-wise, but for lower-output MCs, it's best to use a step-up transformer to lower the noise floor. The 500-C has dual phono inputs, one labeled Phono High for old ceramic cartridges, the other Phono Low for mid- to high-output magnetic cartridges. I place the transformer in line with my low-output moving-coils, test the level, and compare both inputs for noise, dynamic range, and headroom optimization. The 500-C's phono stage is very good, offering wide dynamics, punch, and drive. The soundstage is wide and deep, giving up only a thumbnail of grain to cost-no-object designs
Tone it down
The best features of the 500-C are its tone controls: Bass, Treble, and Loudness Contour.I always thought that tone controls wreaked havoc with transparency and added unimaginable amounts of hash and grain, but the 500-C's rudimentary equalization is surprisingly nondetrimental. Little did I know how much it can enhance the listening experience and transform previously unplayable recordings. For instance, played "flat," the open-reel tape of Frank Sinatra's September of My Years sounds terrible (Reprise FS-1014, 4-track, 7.5ips)—hot, horribly bass-shy, with a truncated lower midrange. It sounds as if the woofers have been turned off. An aggressive low-frequency boost is the ticket. A flip of the Fisher's Loudness switch plus a boost of the Bass knob to 2 o'clock turns this unlistenable dog into a great recording. Magically, Sinatra's voice takes on lifelike, three-dimensional presence, emerging from the mix in seductive, you-are-there naturalness. It's amazing. Think of how many bad recordings you have in your collection. Perhaps a nip and tuck of the treble, or padded-down midbass bump, will turn those ugly ducklings into majestic swans.
After you've cut and boosted and contoured that nasty first-generation Mamas and Papas CD, you look at the time and the kids are asleep. Don't panic—chill out, plug in your Sennheiser headphones, and crank it up. The 500-C's front-panel headphone jack gives you the full power of the 7591A EH output tubes. The very same reference sound your speakers see is what the jack delivers. But before you put the phones on, be sure to turn down the volume pot—the jack is always connected to the sound source.
I placed the Fisher on Walker Audio cones for vibration control and wired in a set of banana-plug speaker-terminal adapters, available from WE Audio in Hong Kong (footnote 5). 1960s-vintage speaker lug terminals are narrow binding strips that predate today's fancy spades and bananas plugs. Also, the input jacks on the 500-C are so close together that it's a tight fit for exotic RCA plugs. Seek out cable brands that use standard size jacks. I've had success with Kimber KCAG, Nordost Red Dawn, and Acoustic Research.
No matter how much I like music, I like the sound, too. What suits me best is a big, full-force dynamic-range system that can image and be delicate at the same time. I'm not satisfied unless a system can excel with both a willowy 16th-century motet and a Count Basie big band. I also demand neutrality, and, believe it or not, this vintage stuff delivers. I always thought the old stuff would sound overly colored or warm. However, the biggest surprise of vintage gear was finding that this was not so. I'm not an antique audio collector or an apologist for single-ended triodes (SETs). I coax great sound from solid-state and tubes. I would never go vintage because it's cool or hip. I'm gaga over vintage for the sound.
I've auditioned many classic vintage amplifiers over the years. The Fisher 500-C is very special, with that rare ability to draw me into the sound and the music. It's in the same league as the first wave of SET all stars: Baby Ongaku (footnote 6) Wavelength Cardinal, Welborne Laurel, Komuro 845, and Wright Sound WPA 3.5. The Fisher's line stage is clear, concise, and crisp, though not as crystalline-pure as the Convergent Audio Technology Ultimate's.
The Fisher's foremost sonic attribute is its uncanny ability to reproduce enormous spatial presence. It reproduces ambient air and natural reverberation better than all but a few, exceptionally priced pieces of audio art. "The Sunne Rising," from Paul Hillier and Nigel North's Rags of Time: 17th-Century Lute Songs (CD, Harmonia Mundi HMU 907257), offers one of the greatest spatial palettes I've heard in recorded sound. Hillier reads the poem, accompanied by lute, in what appears to be an old European cathedral. (It's actually the studio at Lucasfilm's Skywalker Ranch.) If you close your eyes tight, you can smell the stale air and renaissance odors. It's remarkable.
The Fisher's dynamic range is explosive. Its bass is tight, punchy, and electrifying. It grabs you around the knees and rips your socks off. If your taste borders on the bizarre, spin the syncopated rhythms and cut and scratch samples of Bryn Jones' Muslimgauze (his later body of work). If you have the nerve to turn it up, "Marble Mosque," from Hummas (CD, Soleilmoon SOL 104CD), will test your speakers' low-octave abilities. The out-of-phase explosions of electronic ripping and shredding will grip you by the throat and leave you gasping for air. Jones' low-frequency effects are terrifying; when he combines them with startlingly sharp cymbal attacks scattered throughout your room, you'll stare in disbelief at this 40-year-old tube receiver. It's a lottery win for your ears.
The 500-C's soundstage compares with anything out there, whether single-ended, push-pull, or solid-state. My test for this is Dick Hyman's Age of Swing (LP, Reference RR-59), a once-in-a-lifetime record that does everything right. The band is hot, and the sound is front-row center, the players set up in a virtual-reality semicircle inches from your face. It is the most enveloping recording in my collection, and my número uno desert-island LP. The Fisher retrieves the instrumental spatial cues perfectly and nails the images firmly in a realistic soundfield that's as close to live as a recording can be. The layers are exact, and the width extends beyond the speaker sides. The speakers "vanish." The Fisher's transient attacks are clear, and packed with harmonic overtones. Instrumental decay is somewhat better than leading-edge definition due to the masking effect of a subtle but voluptuous lower-midrange plumpness. This, an often good thing for early digital releases, is one of the few faults I hear in the 500-C, and is apparent only when the Fisher is tested against my reference Komuro Audio Labs 212 SET.
Why is the Fisher 500-C so magical? It does not have audiophile-approved parts. It has no resonance-control stuff or secret potted circuits. Nothing is cryogenically treated. It's built on a standard steel-plated chassis. With its active tone controls, it's the antithesis of the purist audio approach. I suspect its magic is based on good engineering, intelligent voicing, and high-quality transformers.
I'll be first to tell you that the Fisher 500-C does not have the effortless headroom or bass extension of a Krell Full Power Balanced 600 (slight cost difference). It does not have the purity of tone or crystal-clear naturalness of the flea-powered (3.5W) Wright Sound WPA 3.5. However, it has more pace and drive than the Wright, and can mate with a greater number of speakers. The Fisher's 35Wpc is comparable to a Dynaco Stereo 70's, as is its second-hand price. I've lived with both, and I now own five 500-Cs and no Stereo 70s. The Dynaco is a very good amp, but it lacks that nth degree of palpable realism that the Fisher delivers in spades.
The Fisher has a big, robust sound. Like an Islay single-malt whisky, it's delicate but raucous and can kick some serious butt. It's detailed without being sterile, musical without being sappy. It's the "All of the above" box on the audiophile SAT. It's also remarkably affordable and a simple mouse click away.
Avery Fisher's 500-C may unlock new worlds for the adventurous audio thrill-seeker or it may simply be an affordable solution for the summer home. It will definitely put some fun back into your listening obsession. Avery Fisher was right about those "unlimited years of musical enjoyment." The Fisher 500-C will blow apart your expectations of vintage audio." [footnotes omitted]
This ad was originally posted on US Audio Mart.