Basic Questions we Hear All The Time

We are here to help our customers learn about audio and specifically vintage audio, since there are things that have to happen to get the most from your system. We pride ourselves on being educators as well as technicians. Below are a sample of questions we answer on a daily basis.

Why does the turntable I just bought from you sound so bad?

Usually this is because you just bought a brand new modern piece. We sell TEAC turntables and every model we sell comes with an onboard phono pre-amp. This is because many modern amps do not have an onboard phono pre. The signal from your turntable cartridge is very small, there is not enough signal there for the amp to work with. If you are listening to a record on a piece with no pre-amp it will sound very far away or you may need to turn the amp all the way up to hear anything. Vintage amplifiers and receivers all have phono pre-amps on board. The idea was you were going to take the piece home and connect a turntable to it. Modern A/V systems many times do not have one. Thus the built in preamp on the new turntable. On the back of the piece there is a switch, this switch says “line / Through” or On/ Off either way, switch this to “Through” or “off” and it will sound correct again. What is happening is the pre amp on board the piece is overdriving the preamp onboard your vintage piece.

Why does it take so long to repair my stereo?

Our wait time is typically 8-10 weeks. We operate on a skills based system, so your piece may take longer or not depending on the repair. For instance I (Scott) am very good at Marantz receivers, I may pick one up at any time even though it is not next chronologically. Additionally, we have a tech that is very good at turntables, and another that only works on the antique gear. Sometimes all 4 technicians get stuck on a piece at once. This is NOT a cookie cutter business. Every piece is different with a different history and different problems. While in general there are similarities, each piece is unique. We work hard to repair a piece efficiently and in a reasonable amount of time but if your piece is taking a bit longer, please be patient. I assure you, we are doing our best.

Are you related to the Stereo Lab on Neil Ave. ?

In 1970 the original Stereo Lab was located on Neil Ave. near campus. The original store was referred to as Andersons Stereo Lab. In the 1980’s the business was sold to a group of investors that eventually turned it into a seven store retail chain. There was a maximum of 4 locations in Columbus, two in Cincinnati and one in Wheeling. In 1996 the chain closed, and three guys from the service department started Stereo Lab Service. Our current location is in the same spot as that store. Fast forward to 2019, I bought Stereo Lab Service and changed the name back to Stereo Lab to take advantage of an iconic name in Columbus for 50 years. We still have one of those service techs. Our friend and senior tech Joe is still here and still helping our customers get the most out of their gear. We are still primarily a repair shop but sell used vintage gear that has been inspected, repaired, cleaned and carries a 90 warranty. Our retail space was leased in 2022 and we expanded into a fun destination for the vintage audio enthusiast.

Do You Buy Used Gear?

We buy gear all the time, but we are a little picky. We can only buy what we can service and sell. If your piece is big, silver and heavy, we probably are very interested. We work hard to offer fair pricing but keep in mind that we are retailers and will need to go through your piece before we can sell it with a warranty. We are not going to offer high eBay prices but once again we will be fair with you. Your best avenue to sell your used gear is to bring it by the shop and let us get eyes on it, we can then usually make an offer on the spot. Conversely, you can shoot photos and send them to .

The piece you just repaired still sounds bad! What is happening?

First off, relax, you have a 90 day warranty. When we send a piece home it has been thoroughly tested and is ready to enjoy. We will never knowingly send a piece out of here that is not passing its tests. However the stuff is old, sometimes when we fix something, another component is suddenly getting voltage to it and soon it breaks too. While technically this is not part of the original repair, we will typically fix it under warranty anyway. We also find that somewhere around 80% of our call backs are related to user error. We are here to educate, so do not hesitate to let us know what you are experiencing and how we can help. Also cables and connectors are so important. We sell higher end cables but also give away some nice cables upon request. We find that offering new cables is a great way to avoid problems. Always look for another issue, there a many parts that need to come together to make your music sound good. Is it your cables? Is it your turntable (or other source)? What about speakers? We are here for you regardless, we are happy to help.

Another typical problem is dirt. We say dirt is the devil around here. Dirt in potentiometers and switches cause many problems. We disassemble the piece so we can get to the parts needing cleaned, we use commercial contact cleaner and then dress with a quality deoxidizing product. Sometimes dirt will work back into a switch or pot that has already been cleaned, this is fairly common but an easy fix.

Where are you located?

We hear this one all the time. Our hours and location are well publicized online but here it is again.

4538 Indianola, Ave. Columbus, Ohio 43214

Open Tuesday through Friday 11:30 – 6 and Saturday 10-3

Playing Records on Line Level Gear

Many people purchased modern home theater gear in the past 30 years . These pieces were designed to be everything to everyone. They have HDMI ports, will interface with a computer, will decode your movies and streaming into dramatic theater like surround sound. One thing the manufacturers forgot however was to include a phono pre-amp.

Most vintage gear have a small preamp onboard, many times a very good preamp at that. The signal from your stylus on the vinyl record is very, very small. This signal must be boosted or “pre amplified” before it hits your main amp. This is to give your amp something to work with. Thus, if your receiver or amp is lacking a preamp, your music will sound very far away or very weak even when turned all the way up. We often see this when people attempt to plug a turntable into a home theater amp with no phono input.

Many modern turntables are now being built with on board pre-amps, these are very small digital amps that will turn your turntables signal into what we call line level. This signal is strong enough for the amp to amplify normally. If you wish to use a vintage turntable with a more modern piece, one without an onboard pre, you will need to purchase an outboard phono pre-amp. Stereo Lab stocks both new turntables with preamps onboard and stand alone preamps.

Conversely, if you attempt to use a newer turntable with an onboard amp with a vintage amplifier that already has one, you will overdrive the existing preamp and your sound will be very distorted and loud. If this condition exists, simply turn off the pre onboard the turntable and all will be right in the world.

The Turntable in The Attic

At the Stereo Lab, we specialize in repairing vintage turntables, but did you know that we sell needles and cartridges? We also do something called a Turntable Tune Up, on Tuesdays (or nearly anytime) bring your turntable to the shop at 4538 Indianola, Ave. Columbus, Ohio, we will check the cables, the cartridge, the needle and the speed for free while you wait. Many times the piece does not have to stay here for service. If we can sell you a belt or a needle and send you happily on your way with a functioning piece.

I know you can buy a cart or a needle online but if you purchase from me you get a real person to answer your questions, and free install. We also adjust tracking force and anti skate. Try that online.

We see a lot of turntables that do need to come in for service. They have been in attics and basements for decades and with the resurgence in vinyl, we are seeing these pieces come into the shop in increasing numbers. Most turntables can be repaired; however some are simply too inexpensively made to be economical to repair. This is where we can advise you on a new piece, as we sell brand new TEAC turntables along with a selection of used turntables.

Additionally, we have a record store directly next to our store. While we are not affiliated, we are friends and I highly recommend Lovelight Records and Art. Check them out after you shop us.

Repairing the good stuff

At the Stereo Lab, we primarily work on gear built before 1980. This era from the late 1950’s till the early 80’s were the golden years of consumer home audio. While expensive and experimental gear existed, much as it does today, it was during this time that everyman could afford a home stereo. In a previous article I discussed how manufacturing and cost drove the design of gear into the late 20th century till today. In this post, I will discuss some of the differences.

Quality of parts. In older gear, the parts are larger and far more robust. Take for example a simple volume potentiometer, today they are digital, or about the size of your thumbnail. They are hard to clean and if the unit is using tac switches and chips then cleaning a volume control is largely out of the question. Another example is transformers, power transformers were once big, heavy iron things that could take decades of use and continue to function for a very long time, perhaps into the century mark. More modern gear simply does not meet the build quality standard.

The idea back then was if your piece broke, you could take it to a repair shop like Stereo Lab and have it fixed, which we still do today, but later the idea was if your piece broke you would throw it away and buy another one. This type of throw away mentality is not good for you, me or the environment.

Board level vs. Component repair. When you purchased your home theater system from the big box store, you were given a 1 year manufacturers warranty, (if you filled out and sent the warranty card). During this time, if your piece failed, you could call the number provided and given instructions on what to do. They would direct you to a service station somewhere, usually not close to you, and you would ship the piece to them. Once at the service facility a tech would replace the entire board the offending part was likely to be on. Another scenario is they would simply send you a new unit. After your warranty was up, the giant corporation that made your piece no longer has your board and you will be forced to buy a new unit. At the Stereo Lab we are able to identify and repair discreet parts on the older designs. This is why we sometimes reject a piece for repair, because it was not made to be repaired.

We love this older gear, it was built well, sounds great and can be fixed. Come see what we can do for you today.

The Case for Vintage

At the Stereo Lab, we get asked frequently why someone should pay $1000 or more for a 50 year old stereo system. The answer is multi faceted. In the 1970’s Japanese audio companies were competing fiercely for every dollar and they built very nice, very robust and very good sounding gear. We hear about the “wattage” wars that raged throughout the 1970’s by brands like Marantz, Pioneer, Sansui and Kenwood, each trying to outdo the other in terms of raw power, total harmonic distortion numbers and every other measure. This competition allowed for some great product.

Today these pieces have withstood the test of time and are still providing joy to music lovers all over the world. A vintage piece can be fixed, usually, this is because the design was such that discreet parts could be identified and replaced if faulty. The idea was, if your piece broke, it could be repaired by a trained technician. Starting about 1980 the manufacturers began to make parts and designs that maximized profit over durability or audio fidelity. Then came the semi conductor revolution, computer chips began to be the norm for powering and controlling consumer audio gear. This allowed for the home theater system to be born. The 5.2 system was two main speakers, two rear speakers, a center channel and a subwoofer. This system requires computers to decode the surround sound signal. Combine this with a general trend toward cheaper builds and compromises on sound quality and you have an entire generation of consumer audio gear that is not aging well at all. Typically these pieces are black as opposed to silver and have tac switches instead of large pots and controls etc.

We also get asked what the best sounding gear is today. For the money vintage is the way to go, dollar for dollar and pound for pound vintage gear sounds fantastic, has great statistics and will continue to delight for years to come. However, if you want to jump into the high end audiophile pool, there are any number of very expensive brands and styles to choose from. We are talking tens of thousands of dollars in some cases. We are not that type of dealer, we occasionally get a very high end brand but mostly we focus on the good stuff from the era when a regular person could afford and enjoy fabulous sound at home.

Be sure to visit Stereo Lab at 4538 Indianola, Ave in Columbus, Ohio and see our selection of used gear. We nearly always have some Marantz, Sansui and Pioneer in stock. All of our gear has been serviced by a pro, and carries a 90 day warranty (if purchased in store).