Pocket Money Masterpieces
1st June 2005 by Tim Jarman
There are lots of words that come to mind when thinking of B&O, but one is universal and ever present: expensive. In many cases the cost of the equipment is justified, the development of new technologies, the precision manufacture, the high quality materials, the fine finishes and the long term service backup all cost money, and for a small company to be able to provide all this at prices that are still reasonably affordable to the determined is really very impressive.
However, it may surprise you that you can own some of B&O’s best products for very little indeed. Whilst some of their earlier products are now highly valued, a few have slipped through the net and have oddly been ignored, despite offering performance that would not embarrass them even if compared to the current range.
B&O is above all renowned for its audio systems so this is a good place to start. The stand-out model amongst the leagues of the ignored is undoubtedly the Beocenter 3500. This beautiful machine is fully described elsewhere on Beocentral, but it can be added here that if one wished to demonstrate that B&O products are not as well made now as they once were then this would be the example to use. Almost all of the exposed parts are solid metal and all the controls move with a well weighted precision that is simply not available with current user interfaces. The performance of each part is well up to scratch, particularly the amplifier, which gives a smooth, effortlessly powerful sound.
These models can be bought very cheaply, and unfortunately this means that they may need some attention. It is lucky that the high quality electronics have proved largely trouble free, normally replacement of the indicator lamps (fiddly but possible without soldering) and careful cleaning of the many switch contacts will restore the radio and amplifier to good working order. Serious blow-ups are rare, even at this age. Nice, original examples may even still have a full circuit diagram folded up inside to aid any more serious work in the unlikely event that this becomes necessary. The turntable can be more problematic, but normally the causes of incorrect operation are the seizure of old lubricants and misadjustment. The parts are large enough for any careful person to work through these problems if they are careful and methodical, careful study followed by cleaning and relubrication often pays dividends. Unlike later models with integrated pickups, the replaceable stylus can still be obtained without too much difficulty. B&O have also arranged for a new supply of belts too, though because of the round section the correct grade and diameter of o-ring cord makes a good substitute.
A system of this quality needs decent loudspeakers of course, and again the unfashionable end of the range can help. Most old B&O loudspeakers are worth avoiding as the foam roll-edges of the driver will have rotted away by now, requiring expensive repairs or replacement. An exception to this is the Beovox 3800, which hides a quite excellent loudspeaker in a plain rectangular wooden box. Because of their plain appearance these are often overlooked, but their full-toned sound would put many of the current offerings to shame. Drive unit problems are unusual, though to obtain maximum performance the capacitors in the crossover network should ideally be renewed with modern high-quality items. The crossover can be accessed by removing the fret, the woofer and the internal wadding first.
If desired, you could complete this system with a cassette recorder, but this is where things get difficult. All cassette recorders are unfashionable at present, despite many of them being capable of excellent performance. A recording machine is a useful addition to any system, something which B&O seem to have overlooked in their current range.
Unfortunately, all cassette recorders are complicated and only work properly when in first-class mechanical order and set up carefully. There is a possibility though as the machine will cost you so little (if anything in some cases) that the cost of professional attention could be justified. A good model for the above system would be the Beocord 1700 or Beocord 2200. The electronic sections of these are daunting, though they are mechanically simple so you could always get this section in order yourself first to keep the costs down. However tempting it may seem, the Beocord 5000 (types 4705 and 4715) should be avoided since they are very difficult to get working properly. At the other end of the scale, the Beocord 900 is perhaps that bit too basic for regular use these days, though perhaps straightforward enough for the undemanding to learn some simple repair techniques on.
Another unjustly ignored model is the Beomaster 2200. This really is one of the best B&O amplifiers ever, and has a highly commendable radio section too. It is not uncommon to find the hinged cover and the dial drive broken, but these mechanical issues can be worked through with patience and care. The electronics are assembled in a highly modular fashion which seemed odd at the time but may help the inexperienced repairer yield a working example from two broken ones. Being logical and careful are the keys to success here. The adjustment of the correct bias current in the output stages is important for top performance and reliable operation with these models, but if this seems a bit difficult to do at home a dealer with a service department should be able to do it for you.
As well as being makers of fine audio equipment, B&O have also produced some truly excellent television sets. Big changes are occurring in TV design at the moment in the move away from traditional CRT sets to those employing various flat panel techniques, which has lead the fashion-conscious to discard the older models in quantity. Even B&O themselves will admit, if pushed, that sets employing cathode ray tubes still give the best results, so there are bargains to be had for the discerning.
The 33XX/77XX range is more or less the perfect television design. It’s compact, reliable and capable of outstanding performance. Despite even the youngest being nearly 20 years old, many are still in regular use and so they are easy to come by. Experience has shown this design to be the most rugged and reliable of all the Beovisions, helped no doubt by high quality components and low power consumption. For simple, high quality viewing there is none finer, at any price.
Even now there are plenty of good, tidy and properly working examples left, but a clean set with faults should not be dismissed out of hand. Repair and overhaul of any television is not recommended for the complete beginner, as there are too many risks, but for those with a bit of skill in this area these sets are a delight to work with. They are quite complex but the chassis is fully modular and there are plenty of scruffy sets available which can be used as donors. Even a tired tube is not a disaster, the types fitted to these models were widely used across the industry, with the exception of the 20” version which is not used in any other set sold in the UK. A bit of searching should yield something suitable, though tube life was never really the problem with these sets that it became with later models. Cracked solder joints and noisy pre-set controls seem to be the cause of most of the problems, and neither should be too difficult or expensive to resolve. There are many versions, but the Beovision 5502 (small) and Beovision 8902 (very large) seem to be the best.
With care, one can enjoy B&O quality without massive outlay. Care, attention to detail and a willingness to try things will perfectly substitute for hard cash. Keep a lookout, it’s amazing what’s out there.