Tube time: Fisher 500C

Fisher 500C Receiver

Fisher 500C Receiver

This was a long time coming.

With all my tinkering and trying of new stereo equipment I’ve tried to maintain objectivity in the face of what is a very subjective hobby. The internet is full of people who swear by multi thousand-dollar runs of speaker wire, while others maintain lamp cord sounds the same. Class A vs Class B vs Class D vs Tripath amplification – people swear up and down the sides of each. Subwoofers and monitors beat full-range speakers, or vise versa.

There are a few tropes:

Vinyl is more lifelike and warmer

MP3s just suck

Tubes are warmer and richer

Solid state is tinny

I couldn’t even get through writing those without coming up with a million challenges to each one out of my own limited experience.

So it was with a high degree of skepticism and anticipation that I tried one of the heralded heavyweights of vintage hi-fi – the Fisher 500C receiver.

These are tube-powered 35 watt per channel receivers from the 1960s. Search the web- people love these things and they reportedly perform right up there with newer audiophile tube rigs costing thousands more.

The one that came to me has been restored and upgraded with audiophile-caliber parts by local tube audio specialist Bill Thalman of Music Technology Inc (formerly of Conrad-Johnson) and sports Telefunken 12AX7s and a band new matched quad of Electro-Harmonix 7591 tubes.In addition to the recapping, the speaker terminals were upgraded to Cardas gold-plated binding posts and the old ungrounded power cord was replaced with a grounded socket. Sweet.

So this is not a stock example, but one that has had some care and attention lavished on it. And it looks great with a brushed aluminum face, real glass faceplate with immaculate blue “The Fisher” lettering and bird logos, and thick walnut cabinet.

Fisher 500C Receiver top view

Fisher 500C Receiver top view

I was really excited to try it out. At first I hooked it up to my CF-4s and plugged in my iPod for some quick demos. It was neat. I played a few songs and was getting used to the sound. the one real first impression I made was how strong and clear the FM tuner was – hah! Then I went to plug in my CD player to sling some discs and there was a flash and smoke came out of the chassis.

Oh no! Did I just kill this amazing receiver? How? This has never happened before with one of my transistorized amps.

So the 500C went on the bench for a few months while other projects took precedent. But once I opened up the bottom and looked in at the spaghetti mess of capacitors and resistors, I saw some obvious burn damage along the right side of the chassis – the conduit carrying wiring from the front-mounted power and volume switch back to the auxiliary sockets on the back of the amp was burned – somehow the wires had shorted and caused the blackout, maybe taking one capacitor with them.

Fisher 500C receiver. View from the underside. No circuit boards here!

Fisher 500C receiver. View from the underside. No circuit boards here! The blue and white wires running at the top side of the receiver are the new ones from the switch.

Once I replaced the three wires and the capacitor I switched on the receiver and now everything seems to be OK. I’m still a little worried that there may be some more trouble in there and I’m watching for weird behavior or smoke now constantly, but I had it running for an hour the other day with no issues whatsoever.

Detail of the fried power line conduit.

Detail of the fried power line conduit. The new wires are the blue and white ones to the right. They are crossed to limit interference.

And I finally had a chance to listen a bit more closely. Very impressive!

Detail of blown capacitor

Detail of blown capacitor

With the efficient CF-4s, the Fisher doesn’t have to push too hard. Bass is round but not sloppy and displays accuracy. What’s most interesting to me is the soundstage and imaging. Treble is not rounded or cut down – every note is there. It’s not shrill either. Most interestingly I’m picking new notes and elements out of music that I’ve never ever heard before, and in a new way. Some super-accurate solid state amps wow you with the detail but the way this Fisher puts every note, instrument and voice in the right perspective is something different – everything is where it should be, not just highlighted for you to check off the list -“yep, I heard that cymbal, this is a good amp.”

The Fisher lets you listen critically and still enjoy the music, which are often mutually-exclusive things for me.

Interestingly enough when I switched from the iPod Classic to my Sony ES Blu-Ray player the sound changed a bit. Imaging, soundstage and detail were still there. But there seemed to be more forwardness to the treble. I actually turned down the treble knob a bit on the Fisher. Surprising. I wonder now if the accuracy of the Fisher is bringing out a stridency in my CF-4’s horns. I’ve never heard it before but the Klipsch forum is full of mods for damping the resonance in this particular horn and bi-amping the speakers to bring the horns in a more acceptable level with the woofers. So now maybe I have more work to do.

Lots of room to work on everything.

Lots of room to work on everything.

Even my wife was impressed – she was blown away by the Fisher’s performance on CD with the big Klipsches, and remarked that a bit of forwardness in the horns was acceptable for the quality of sound we were getting. She also made a very good observation – it’s a mark of the Fisher’s excellent sound quality that it’s bringing out these deficiencies in such amazing speakers as the CF-4s. We played some of the same CDs then back on my Marantz NR-1403 AVR and there was a definite change in the sound – I heard it as flatter, however perhaps with a slightly wider overall soundstage (at least on CD). My wife heard no comparison whatsoever. She said the Fisher justified whatever price I paid for it.

I love that woman!!!


Fisher 500C reveiver. Rear view with the walnut case removed

Fisher 500C reveiver. Rear view with the walnut case removed


~ by silverfacestereo on June 22, 2015.

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