On a thrift store run, I had a disappointing experience searching for CDs – nothing of interest at all. On the way out, I dropped in to the electronics section of the store. I scanned the shelves for nothing in particular until a cassette deck caught my eye. It was totally vintage, probably from the 1980’s. It had buttons and switches and analog level meters. Very cool.
I’ve planned to get a stereo for a while and I have picked out the stereo components I want already. But for a while, I had considered going the vintage route. Not so much for the sound quality, which could be hit or miss for its age, but for the aesthetics. It’s an early era of “wow! technology!” that originally morphed into visual insanity before being left behind in favor of minimalistic design (thanks, Apple).
While I was ogling this vintage tape deck, I realized, I didn’t have anything to plug it into. And, I only had one cassette tape in my house. So, why bother. I put it out of my mind and kept on scanning the shelves until my eyes bumped into a stereo receiver – the matching component of the tape deck. That device was even more vintage looking, with rows of buttons and sliders. This receiver solved the problem of having nothing to plug the tape deck into. Soooo, after verifying I could afford all this equipment, I bundled up both pieces, paid for my treasures (a wallet-busting $18), and cheerfully packed them up in the car.
Before I made the purchase, I did a cursory check as to whether the components were even worthy of owning. The brand is MCS, an acronym for Modular Component Systems, which is a house brand of JC Penney. The internet indicated a small appreciation for MCS because the components were manufactured by reputable Japanese brands of the era like NEC and Technics.
The receiver I picked up is an MCS 3237, which seems to be made in 1986 or after. It’s got a digital AM/FM tuner with 16 presets, seek, and scan. There’s a good number of inputs: phonograph, tape, video, and auxiliary. It’s got buttons for High filter, Low filter and Loudness, and sliders for Bass, Treble, and Balance. It can drive two selectable sets of speakers, which is neat. This supposedly is a 35W amplifier, which sounds weak when you hear about 800W home theater systems now, but owners report a very good sound from those watts.
The tape deck is an MCS 683-3543. It doesn’t have any fancy features like auto-reverse and only has Dolby B noise reduction. But it does support Chrome and Metal tapes, which I would think elevates it above the lowest consumer decks. However, more research shows that it suffers from poor speed accuracy. Entry level specs at best. Luckily it’s not meant to be the centerpiece. I’m still sticking with CDs.
Without any speakers, this stereo will be used with headphones, which should be a pleasant experience. I should be able to find a silver-faced vintage CD player to mate up with the system to complete the setup. I won’t be getting into vinyl, so I have no need for the phonograph input. With a planned budget of a little under $1000 for my future stereo system (that doesn’t include speakers), it’s kind of ridiculous that I can get some sort of satisfaction for under $20.
I get the devices home and do a thorough cleaning on them. They’re in pretty good shape. I plug them all in and grab a set of headphones. It took me a while to find the only cassette tape I had for testing. All systems go! Wait, no. One of the channels is dead. No sound from the left side. Output meter is indicating nothing. Also, it seems the tape deck is dropping signal on one channel randomly. Ugh.
I don’t have electronic contact cleaner, so I grab a can of CRC Mass Airflow Sensor Cleaner and shoot all the switches and dials and buttons. (MAF cleaner is pretty much the same thing) The volume knob is amazingly smooth now, but it made no difference to my output problem. I’m not a person who can troubleshoot electronics, so my choices at this point are pay to have it fixed, or pitch it.
I ran the tape deck through my mixer in my office (I guess I did have something to plug it into) and got no channel drops for the entire duration of my test cassette. Very odd. When I was listening though headphones, the output dropped and the VU meter fell, too.
I guess I’ll start with the amp. At least get a quote and see how much more than $10 I’ll need to have a working system.