Monthly Archives: May 2016

The Mike Holmes of Stereo Repair

Adapted from an email I sent on December 9th, 2015:

I bought a “vintage” stereo receiver (made in 1979) on Craigslist mainly because it looked cool. I’ve been wanting to add some speakers in my living room for music since I’m tired of the computer speakers on my desk. They aren’t bad but just sound a little sterile and boring to me. As a bonus, I knew my parents had a record player lying around unused so I wanted to fire it up, something that I could only do with an older receiver that has phono inputs. I got some Micca MB42X speakers on Amazon to use with the receiver.

Back to Craigslist: The guy said everything worked but it turns out the right channel was blown. I could have used two speakers on the same channel, but they’d both be the left audio feed, bummer. I think he probably knew it was broken. Oh well, he lives too far away to go back.

I decided to search around for someone to fix it. There’s a crummy electronics shop right near my apartment that I went into but it turned out that their reviews are awful on Yelp. It didn’t surprise me as the store was chaotic and disorganized, equipment scattered everywhere. I guess electronics repair isn’t exactly in demand these days.

I hunted around a bit on Yelp and came across these guys. All 5 star reviews. I sent them an email asking for a quote. They quickly replied and said that for a price of $119 to $169 they’ll rehab the whole unit and give a one year warranty on everything – not just the damaged components, the whole receiver. Judging by the photos on their website and the Yelp reviews, they are the real deal and know exactly how to restore these things. Their website describes how the main technician was an apprentice to an electronics repair guy starting at a young age.

However, there’s no address posted on the site or the Yelp page. The guy emails back – great, they’re located in the Rogers Park neighborhood not too far from home. He says come after 6pm. I Google StreetView’ed the address and it looks like someone’s house or apartment rather than a commercial building. Weird, but I thought “let’s give this a shot.”

I arrived after work around 6:15pm, went up the back stairs to the 3rd floor like the email said and Casper let me in. Guy in his 30s in a sweatshirt, looks normal, has a slight lisp, ok. Kind of white like a ghost, come to think of it. He led me back through the apartment which had a ton of old-looking receivers and jukeboxes and parts lying around. Everything was very, very neatly arranged. The whole apartment had a very cool vibe and was mostly dark except for some neat LED accent lighting. He has a big screen in the kitchen with about twelve security camera feeds showing.

Then we got to the workshop – again, wow, incredibly organized and equipment stacked everywhere. It was somewhat dark in that room except for the bright desk lamps shining on the workbench. Newports on the table. Big-ass speakers mounted on the wall for testing. An array of meters (multi-meter, oscilloscope, other gizmos I didn’t recognize) on the bench. He took my broken receiver, popped it open, and said he knew the problem. That was within about 10 seconds. He then talked me through the whole architecture of the device and how certain transistors power each channel. As he went through each component, he took the multi-meter and told me which exact voltages should be showing – left channel appeared to be in spec, right channel was definitely fried. A couple resistors had burned up and the transistor that powered the right was also not working correctly. This crash course was a little over my head, but I could at least understand some of what was going on with my background as an occasional electronics hobbyist.

I realized later that Casper’s the kind of guy you’d want around if you were living post-apocalypse or even embargoed Cuba for that matter. Seems like he could fix anything.

After examining the receiver he asked if he can be frank with me. I say of course he can. “This thing is a piece of s***. I will do whatever you want me to do, and I can fix this, no problem. I just don’t want you pouring money into a crappy receiver. It’s dinged up, scratched up, and not that great of an original build anyway.” I replied that, while I appreciate the honesty, I really just wanted something that looks cool, sounds decent, and will power a record player.

He said he’ll hold on to it until I made a decision of whether to go forward with the repairs. He also offered to call a guy who sends a lot of equipment his way. Casper “doesn’t do sales” but often does work for this guy who “flips” vintage receivers and sells them. He recommended another unit which he had just restored personally for the flipper, and I ended up buying that one the very next day. Casper could have taken my money but didn’t.

Long story long, it was a pleasure to see a true expert apply his trade and with honesty to boot. P.S. don’t trust Craigslist.