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My Latest Acquisition

The other day I was tooling around E-Bay, and visiting old hunting grounds that I have not traveled in a few years, and lo-and-behold I came across this nice little gem. I used to be a fan of not just vintage gear but also the ones that packed the biggest "Johnson". I had always set my sights on a nice big Sansui 9090db, but never got around to taking the plunge. After all I have so many pieces of gear that I was super-saturated.

However, I have since turned away from having the biggest and baddest, and again concentrated again on tube audio, and very early solid state. Regardless of what some will tell you there IS a difference between tubes and solid state. Maybe it's not just the tubes, but also the way the rest of the circuitry is hooked up. For instance my Marantz 2250 sounds so tube like that it is amazing. But like the early Marantz, and some others, they are an exception. Only gear of the first few years of the change-over still retain that classic warm sound. And their weight too.

So I again went prowling around and somehow hit upon the Olson name and coupled it with 'tube' and came up with this.




What a beautiful and obviously well made piece of machinery. Just look at the way the innards are put together. I marked the auction for reference and keep prowling around. But I eventually came back to the Olson again, and went to Google and typed in the name and model number for reference. What I was looking for was whether or not I could get a service manual for it. We all know how important that is. Regretfully, no such luck. But I did find another member of one of the forums I frequent, who owned one like it, and had replaced the caps and had a fine sounding receiver. I even found where he had gotten on another forum and had even talked with one of the remaining Olson brothers, who is now 94 years young. Most interesting.

So I carefully reread the seller's advertisement, and having been burned several times in the past, decided to contact her(yes a her), and asked her some rather direct questions about how the unit REALLY sounded, hum wise, distortion wise, etc. Most sellers think that just because it works that is all that matters. Naturally we know better, don't we?

Anyway, she had already had several interested parties, who had inquired about this gem, but had not committed to the $205.00 "Buy It" contract. Now I have gotten to the age that I realize that some things are meant to be, and some are not. It's a religious thing. So, I realized that if it went before I committed, it would be for the best. With that in mind, I told her about my not being able to find a service manual, and how difficult it would be to repair it, and how I REALLY needed to know about it's quality of service.

Again, a frank and candid answer from her. I began to think I could actually trust this person. Also, she appeared to be very knowledgable with audio, so I took a deep breath, and went back to the auction. I immediately committed to the "Buy It" contract, and payed via PayPal right there on the spot. There had been seven bids by hesitant buyers, but they were not sure of themselves.

Anyway, she is going to send it out, completely encased in Bubble wrapping. This tells me that she knows what she is doing in the shipping end. I now have my fingers crossed and hope that my trust in her is not misplaced. I don't relish the thought of having to pay another couple of hundred dollars, or even more, bringing it completely up to spec, without having enjoyed it first.

I'll let you guys know how it comes out when it arrives.

PS: I never had an Olson store near me growing up, but I understand they were somewhat like a Radio Shack, or Layfette Electronics chain. Unfortunately, the Olson boys sold out and settled into retirement, unlike the Grommes business. Incidentially I have a Grommes unit too. Unfortunately, I believed the seller when he stated that it worked well, and it doesn't. But that's another story.
Cool unit! Looks like its in great shape. I used to hang around the local Olson store when I was younger and bought all kinds of stuff there. If I remember correctly that receiver was made by Kenwood for them. Another cool receiver like that is the Allied 333 which was made by Pioneer. I grew up with Grommes stuff as my Dad worked there. He was an engineer there around 1954 and was General Manager later.....

dhaen said:
What a lovely thing! I'm sure you did the right thing.
It's a shame there are very few receivers of this class that come up for sale in the UK.:cannotbe:
Having said that, I just noticed a Fisher 800C on eBay Fisher 800C ... and no, i'm not bidding (this time);)

I'll have to leave that up to you. However, consider that he has replaced all the tubes, or at least he says so. That is not the most important thing though. Most assuredly all the Power supply caps, and some of the output caps will probably need replacing to bring the beast up to 'snuff'.

The fact that it is local works in your favour though. Shipping will be low. I have a 500C, which is different from the 800C only in the absence of AM reception. It's a very well constructed baby. And too, the cabinet can be reveneered fairly easily, to make it look brand new.

On that note, have you seen my new speaker project over in the Single Driver Speaker Thread? I am just getting to the point where I am about to start veneering the two cabinets. You may get some enjoyment at watching me struggle through this thing. Veneering hexagon enclosures will be more difficult than working with 90% corners I'm sure.
DaveInVA said:
Cool unit! Looks like its in great shape. I used to hang around the local Olson store when I was younger and bought all kinds of stuff there. If I remember correctly that receiver was made by Kenwood for them. Another cool receiver like that is the Allied 333 which was made by Pioneer. I grew up with Grommes stuff as my Dad worked there. He was an engineer there around 1954 and was General Manager later.....


Interesting you should say this. I find that the employees of those old electronics companies are very loyal to their old jobs and owner bosses. On the forum that Mr Olson posts, the members have nothing but praise for the old company, and how they just loved their old jobs and the owners.

I suspect these companies had some very dedicated people trying to make things work. Unfortunately times change, and keeping up with the times produced winners and losers that were unavoidable. Now only Radio Shack and Grommes remain, and each took opposite paths to success.
Eli Duttman said:
I agree with John. That unit looks as well built as the proverbial brick outhouse. Obvious TLC has been shown to unit over the years too. I don't see all that much needed to put the receiver into tip/top operating condition.

Yes, look at the holding clips on the tubes. Obviously attention to detail was important with this unit. Everything seems so well thought out, I am very pleasantly suprised.

Now, if only I can come up with a service manual.

On top of all this, the receiver is simply beautiful to the eye. Even the Fishers and Sherwoods of that day would be hard pressed to outshine it in the looks department.

I have no idea as to what the casing is made of, but a nice custom wooden casing would further enhance it's beauty.
I never had an Olson store near me growing up, but I understand they were somewhat like a Radio Shack, or Layfette Electronics chain.

We had all three near my house as I was growing up. The Radio Shack, Heathkit, and Lafayette stores only sold their own brand items in their stores. The Olson store sold Their own stuff, and several popular brands as well. There were 3 Olson stores in the Miami area, 2 Lafayette stores, 2 Heathkit stores, and several Radio Shacks.

In one of my past lives I was the service manager for an Olson Electronics store (1971 - 1972). The Olson chain had been bought up my the Teledyne corporation. I could not get the service manuals for anything that was more than a year old, so the manual may be unobtainable. The store that I worked in was next to the campus of the University of Miami so we didn't see much of the older gear. We got new customer base every year and they were gone after 4 years. Even in 1971 we rarely saw tube equipment for service. Most of what I saw was in for obvious customer related damage (tube amps do not like beer), so they didn't die on their own. Getting parts (transformers) was nearly impossible and took forever. Many of the customers were affluent, so we sold a lot of high end stereo equipment, Fisher, Garrard, Acoustic Research, and even Lowther speakers. Teledyne also owned AR, so they were heavilly pushed.

The Olson branded stuff was specced out, and built by a contracted manufacturer. Kenwood (Trio) was one of the manufacturers. The Olson branded guitar amp was made by Electro Voice. It didn't sound (or sell) that good, so the price dropped until it was discontinued. I bought several at closeout just to get the 12 inch SRO speaker. The later solid state stuff was of varying quality depending on the manufacturer. Certain models had a high failure rate, contributing to the downward sales spiral. I got a job at Motorola and left Olson in 1972. The store which had been the #1 Olson store in the US, closed about 2 years later.
Someone mentioned that Kenwood did indeed make much of the audio gear, so it is possible that what I bought is really a Kenwood model that has only some superficial changes.

Anyway, it certainly looks well made from what I can tell of the pictures showing the inside. I'll just have to wait and see how things shake out when it arives here.
Tubelab.com, I do believe you are correct. It looks like the Olson was indeed a Kenwood. if you will compare this Kenwood receiver, obviously from early 60s and perhaps one or two model changes earlier, to the Olson, obviously of later 60s, there is still some similarity.

Note the placement of the knobs, and rocker switches. Also the power switch and headphone jack are in the same lineup. Most of the differences are strictly superficial.



With this in mind, I will be looking for a Kenwood receiver, and when I know the Kenwood's model number, I can interchange the brands, if I need repair.
Here is a Kenwood tuner of the same generation as the Olson. Note the knobs, and the rocker switches. But the real clincher is that there are ribbings running horizontally across both the Kenwood tuner and the Olson receiver.


I have no doubt that this is a Kenwood, in Olson name. Interesting what a little research can come up with. Anyway, it is still a beautiful unit, and if it works as advertised, should be a winner.

Also, most Japanese manufacters tended to make their models for several years before changing things. So it is possible that toward the end of this line, they subbed it out to companies such as Olson. If the Kenwood went from 1966-68, then Olson probably carried it from 1968-1970, which means it would have been a late addition with any upgrades. And too, this unit would coincide with the introduction of transistor components being put out at the same time. This unit was definately a 'transition' piece, the latest tube technology at the time. That is my thinking. I could be wrong of course.
Can't say yet. I just bought it today, and she can't ship until tomorrow. I may be lucky to get it this week, Friday at the latest.

I'm fairly certain it's a Kenwood, but would have to see the exact corresponding model and it's innards to confirm though. If she sounds like she looks, she will be a nice addition to my already oversize collection. I'm going to have to consider trimming back sometime soon. :xeye:

Perhaps I should try 'wasting' my time and money on more diy speakers?

Is that "Electra" a brand or model name? I can't find anything on google that gives me any idea what you mean.
John L said:
But the real clincher is that there are ribbings running horizontally across both the Kenwood tuner and the Olson receiver.

I had an old Realistic (Radioshack) solid state receiver from the same era with those same ribs. Absolute garbage of a receiver, but a nice wood case. I turned it into this ...


tubelab, glad to see another Motorolan here. I started with them in '76 at the Semiconductor Division (SPD) in AZ and spent 20 years plus with them...

I started in Plantation Florida in 1973, and (for now) still work there. Things are changing though.....

John L:

When you get it look over the insides for the name "Trio" printed on something like a transformer or a large capacitor. Trio is the name that was used on all Kenwood gear sold overseas, and on most of their private label gear.

Some Olson tube gear was made by Sansui. Olson sold some tube output transformers in the '60s. They were Sansuis. There goes my chances of ever scoring a pair on Ebay.

Much of the later solid state stuff had (internal) names on it that I never recognized. It is possible that some 60's vintage electronics from different vendors used the same components (including cabinetry). I am sure that some "creative copying" was going on in Japan in the 60's much like the Chinese do today.

We sold the entire Fisher line. The older stuff was great. The early Fisher solid state gear was as good as anybodies. I had a 500TX for years and it rocked. In about 1972 Fisher came out with the "Futura Series". These were made in Japan, probably by Sanyo, we never could find out for sure. Every one we sold failed in the first year!

If the Kenwood went from 1966-68, then Olson probably carried it from 1968-1970,

The date code on the capacitors look like 1963.

Common practice would dictate that there is no exact Kenwood model. There might have been a very similar unit with a different look to it sold under the Kenwood brand, or the exact look could have been used (with a different power transformer) on a Trio branded unit in a non US market. Most manufacturers kept the look of their US brands somewhat distinguished.

As the "fair trade" agreements started to unravel in the early 1970's we learned that many manufacturers had been playing price games with goods destined for the US market. Grey market importers began bringing in the non US versions and selling them here. Some that I knew about in 1972, Akai = Roberts, Trio = Kenwood, National = Panasonic. There were others but I don't remember them now.
Thanks for the info tubelab. And you may be right about the transformer part. Sansui had, and still does have, an impeccable record with their iron. In hindsight it is totally astounishing that they willingly gave up the one part of the market that made them famous, and just turned it all over to Hashimoto for nothing. When hard times befall you, you really need to be able to fall back on your strong suit. And Sansui gave it away. Amazing!

As for the 1963 caps code, you may be right there. But they could have had a large stockpile and did not use it until later. I have seen enough Japanese gear to know that the looks of this unit are shouting mid to late 60s, and the final act on the agenda.

Also, I located a shot of the first generation of Kenwood solid state receivers, and here is what it looks like.





Except for the rocker switches being vertical, instead of horizontal, and the headphone jack on the left, rather than on the right, and perhaps a couple of other minor differences, it is the exact spitting immage of the Olson receiver, at least on the outside. And I will bet you both types, tube and solid state were being produced and sold at the same time too.

And I will also bet you that if I can find the model number of the Kenwood tube receiver, I can get the service manual that will pretty much interchange with the Olson. I hope so anyway.
DaveInVA said:

I stayed with them until a few years ago when I had a stroke and they put me on disability and then early retirement....


Dave, that's Terrible! I hope you are able to overcome the dibilitating effects.

How old are you?

I am in my early 60s and have some high blood pressure I acquired from an anti-depressant study. I suffer from clinical depression, and get by fine on medication.

But I always worry about having a stroke. I can get along with a heart attack. No pain, you just fade out, and you are gone. I have this terrible fear of growing decrepit and unable to take care of myself. I have already decided to 'check out' when the time arrives.

If I was to have a serious stroke I would not be able to take care of business, so to speak. Being bed ridden and having someone change my soiled underwear, on a continual basis, gives me nightmares. Horrible!!