Kenwood 5150 Stereo Receiver

Kenwood 5150 Stereo Receiver

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Kenwood KR-5150: An excellent, well-built vintage stereo receiver

May 17, 2008
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: Excellent

  • Sound:
  • Ease of Use:
  • Durability:

Pros:cool retro look; solid construction; excellent sound; very sensitive tuner

Cons:vintage electronics can break down, and repair can be expensive

The Bottom Line: The Kenwood KR-5150 stereo receiver is an excellent sounding example of vintage stereo gear. Its tuner is especially good.

The Kenwood KR-5150 was one of the top stereo receivers in Kenwood's line back in the early 1970s. At that time, brands like Fisher, Sansui, Marantz, Scott, Sherwood and Kenwood all made high quality stereo equipment, and solid state was more common than the tube gear of the previous generation. Workhorses like the Kenwood KR-5150 powered speakers by Acoustic Research, Advent, Dynaco, and JBL, and excellent sound was found in a lot of households.

By the late 1970s and early 1980s, mid-priced stereo equipment was becoming increasingly poor in construction quality, and sound quality declined as well. Many audiophiles regard the late '60s and early '70s as the "golden era" of music reproduction. Today, there is a booming market for what is affectionately called "vintage" stereo gear, and many music lovers are going back to basics, putting together stereo systems based on equipment from the late '60s and early '70s.

The Kenwood 5150 is a solid state (no tubes) receiver rated at 50 watts RMS per channel. Overall frequency response is rated at 20 to 30,000hz +/- 1db, and FM sensitivity is rated a 1.7mv. The 5150 has both AM and FM, and inputs for two phonos, two auxiliaries (where your CD player would go today), and two microphones. It also has the typical tape monitor loop. Interestingly, the 5150 does have a preamplifier out/main amplifier in option, so you can use this 5150 as a power amplifier or preamp/tuner alone should you so choose. The Kenwood 5150 retailed for $319.95 in 1971, making it a fairly expensive "mid fi" audio component for that time period.

Other receivers in the 5150's price range during the same time period included the Pioneer SX-990, Scott 382C, Fisher 250-TX, Sansui Model 4000, and Sherwood 8500. The immensely popular Marantz 2230 came out in 1972 and retailed for about $30 more than the Kenwood 5150. Of the receivers of this era, the Marantz 2230 is possibly the easiest to find on eBay.

I was given a Kenwood KR-5150 in exchange for some speaker refinish work (Acoustic Reseach AR2axs, for those familiar with the speakers of the early '70s) and after hooking it up in my system and listening for a couple of months, I thought I'd write a review.

Sadly, KR-5150s are NOT easy to find on eBay. A recent search found ONE KR-6160 (the next model up) and NO 5150s. Still, it might be worth it to put an Ebay search out on the 5150 if you're building a high quality low-cost vintage system. You could probably get one for under $100.

The appearance of the 5150 lets you know it's an early '70s unit. I like the pretty blue green lights of the analog tuner, and the brushed aluminum front panel looks cool as well. If you've seen the plastic looking stuff that came out in the late '70s and early 1980s, you'll appreciate the overall solid appearance of this receiver. It weighs in at a relatively hefty 28 lbs. The one aesthetic thing I don't like is the white push buttons for loudness, tape monitor, FM muting, low filter and high filter, but that's just a matter of personal taste. The buttons do have a nice solid feel to them, even if I'd prefer black buttons against a silver face.

The sound of the Kenwood 5150 is surprisingly good! Overall, it's a lot smoother sounding than I expected from a relatively early solid state unit. The sense of space around instruments is comparable to my solid state separates, the B&K Stereo 202 power amplifier and B&K Pro 5 preamplifier. Bass solidity is also outstanding; the throng of plucked bass strings in jazz music is on par with my separates. Microdynamics are also really good; subtle volume contrasts within the music are easy to hear. Massed strings do NOT sound steely, and pianos sound particularly good, with nice "pling," well-presented overtones, and a good sense of space around the instrument.

The tuner and phono sections of this receiver are especially good. The tuner picks up as many stations as my NAD 4225 tuner, and if anything the sound is slightly more musical and less clinical than that of the 4225. The phono section sounds quiet with excellent inner detail.

Overall, the only area in which I can say that this receiver gives something up to my solid state separates is in term of soundstage size and absolute dynamic range. I haven't been able to make the Kenwood KR-5150 sound strained with Cambridge Soundworks Towers, New Large Advents, or Dynaco A-25s. However, the overall presentation of the music is slightly more compact, the soundstage smaller, and musical climaxes slightly more polite.

The Kenwood has a LOT of features for a moderately priced stereo receiver. In addition to the above mentioned high and low filters, the "Mode" switch allows you to listen to left channel alone, right channel alone, and "reverse," in addition to good old mono and stereo. There are also two microphone jacks (which I haven't used).

I am friends with some engineer and audiophile types, some of whom have worked in the stereo business, and they tend to say that Kenwood made some of the best stereo receivers of the early 1970s. Kenwood's tuners, especially, are said to be something special. Based on my experience with this receiver, I'd have to agree.

The above-mentioned Marantz 2230 is another receiver from the early 1970s that many people like. I have heard a few 2230s and agree that they sound good as well, with a warm, inviting sound. But I also notice that many are "giving up the ghost" right about now. I've encountered several that were developing leaky capacitors and other problems, leading me to recommend them with a bit of reservation for friends setting up vintage systems. Whether this is a problem peculiar to early '70s Marantz receivers or all gear from the early '70s, I honestly don't know.

To conclude, if you are looking to put together an inexpensive vintage stereo system, whether it be for your den, your college student's abuse, or even as your main system, the Kenwood 5150 is worthy of consideration as the backbone of such a system.

It has a lot of features for a unit in its price range, and its sound has surprised me. It is detailed and smooth, with good bass solidity and heft, and an outstanding tuner.

Add an NAD CD player and a pair of Dynaco A-25s or Large Advent loudspeakers, and you have a system that sounds very musical for under $500. As I write I'm listening to my Kenwood KR-5150 playing classical music (KDFC, the local classical radio station) through a pair of New Large Advent speakers. I'm using a 4 foot run of speaker wire as my FM antenna. The sound is so good, I can't honestly say what I would change about the sound if I had $20,000 to spend. The net cost to me was $40. That's what I spent on the speakers before I restored the cabinets. Had I bought the receiver for $80 on Ebay (my best guess as to what one would cost), and bought this pair of Advents in better cosmetic condition for $120, my net cost would be $200 for a "radio" that DUSTS any Bose Wave Radio, not to mention most mid-fi stereo systems out there today.

The Kenwood KR-5150 is highly recommended!

Note: the wood case pictured above doesn't always come with the receiver; it was an option that cost $19.95 in 1971. Today, some 5150s will have the case, some will not. These cases are representative of the care that went into the production of audio gear in the early 1970s. Cases that fit Marantz or Macintosh receivers sometimes sell on Ebay for $75 alone, without the receiver. They were made with real wood veneer (like the mid-priced loudspeakers of that era) and can be refinished to look like new.

Recommend this product? Yes

Amount Paid (US$): 80

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