by Brian Everett
A couple months ago I was looking to get some speaker wire terminated and stumbled upon local Hi-Fi boutique Austin Stereo. Upon visiting their shop (located off of Burnet Road), I soon discovered that not only had they been servicing the Austin area since 1983, but they were so busy that they had about two months’ worth of audio repair work in their queue—I immediately knew I was in good hands. Austin Stereo quickly got to work tackling my simple job on the spot, and as I waited, this humble stereo repair shop began to intrigue me more and more. What was so special about Austin Stereo, why was business so good?
Current shop owner Mike Manulik took over Austin Stereo in 1985. In the beginning, Mr. Manulik was servicing all types of electrical equipment—from car stereos to personal computers to Walkmans and even small appliances. Mike was happy to work on anything that came through the door, his main goal just to make sure each customer left satisfied. A couple years into the business Mike began to notice that more and more household appliances were being intentionally engineered to be replaced when they broke, which made the repair process more difficult. Shortly thereafter Mike decided to direct all his focus to audio equipment, which didn’t seem to be suffering the same fate.
By the early 90’s the same manufacturing practices that were applied to household appliances were now being applied to home stereo equipment. Mainstream manufacturers of stereos almost universally decided to focus on product upgrades, new and special features, and keeping manufacturing costs low, which resulted in higher sales volumes and bigger margins. Sure enough both product design and build quality fell victim to the bottom line. One standard design feature that would soon be omitted was the circuit board access panels on the bottom of stereo receivers. This design change now required the user (or repairman) to disassemble the entire device in order for it to be repaired. It was now far from cost effective to service this gear. Stereo manufacturers were basically implementing the same practices that we see with today’s cell phone market—why fix it when you can buy a new one?
Thanks to the vinyl resurgence, home stereos are back in a major way (rejoice!). As a result, there has been a renaissance in the market of “vintage” Hi-Fi audio equipment. Not only does this vintage equipment tend to sound better, but many prefer the aesthetic of solid knobs, glowing meters, precise controls and brushed aluminum fascia. As much of the equipment that falls into the vintage category can be up to 40 years old, it should be no surprise that a lot of this gear needs a little tender loving care by competent repair professionals. That’s where Austin Stereo comes in.
Open up any piece of stereo equipment and you’ll quickly realize that repairing these products is no easy task. One of the key repair services provided by Austin Stereo involves a process called “recapping”—the replacement of the capacitors found in amplifiers, receivers and elaborate turntables—and it’s not uncommon for up to sixty individual parts to be replaced during the restoration process. In addition to the replacement of key internal parts, all controls, switches and relays are cleaned, and all solders on the circuit boards are inspected and re-ordered as needed. After extensive cleaning, additional fine tuning, and testing, the repair process is finally complete. This is a true labor of love, undertaken by a group of guys who are, in fact, wizards.
In addition to providing excellent repair service, Austin Stereo has a cherry-picked selection of vintage audio equipment for sale in their showroom which includes brands like McIntosh, Marantz, Pioneer, NAD and Yamaha—all of which are competitively priced. Take if from us, a proper piece of refurbished Hi-Fi gear will almost always outperform a similarly priced new offering from your favorite big-box retailer. Do yourself a favor and visit Austin Stereo before purchasing any piece of serious stereo equipment. It only takes a quick look and a careful listen to realize that manufacturers don't make this stuff quite like they use to. We’re so glad Austin Stereo is around to make sure these products continue to see life and perform as good as, or better than, they did originally.