Vintage Sansui Integrated Amps

Great sansui amps?

Hmmm. . . .

First, just a brief backgounder on my personal sonic preferences.
If given the choice on all Sansui integrated amps, the AU111 (first incarnation twin-colored knobs) would be top of the list without batting an eyelash. But let’s put the 111 aside for a while.

The Sansui 9090db and G9000 would definitely make it to my shortlist. Technically, theses are receivers though. But let’s include these for the sake of discussion. The 9090db packs the power to drive most speakers. It has that vintage warmth that suits my preference especially when paired with vintage speaks such as the JBL 100 or Pioneer HPM100. Often compared to the Marantz 2325, It lacks the midbass bloat of the 2325 that I usually look for in an amp – but nonetheless a stellar performer.

I had the privilege of living with the G9000 for a few months when it was one of the candidates to power the speakers we were going to exhibit for the 2010 Nov HiFi Show. The other contenders were the Sansui 9090db and the Marantz 2325. I had the chance to amp-roll these three during that period. My personal pick was the Marantz, with the 9090db a close second. I’m sure a lot of fans of the G series would want to hang me upside down for this, but I found the G9000 a bit “hard” for my tastes – more solid-statey, if I may use the term. Lacks the warmth of both the 9090 and 2325. It did give that slam-bang punch to power the speakers and I was outvoted by my other partners. We chose the G9000 for the show.

The Sansui triple digit series – The AU555 and AU666 was truly a revelation for me. Don’t be fooled by its small footprint. These are very open sounding amps presenting a wide and deep soundstage. Very clean highs that float way beyond the speaker’s borders. I have not heard the AU999 yet, but if the sonic signature is similar to the lesser-powered units, it would definitely be worth considering.

The AU9500 is one of my favorites. It has both the punch and midbass bloom that suits these ears. Not as open sounding as the triple digit series but still presents a very good soundstage. I’m not really a bass freak so I can forego those subterranean lows. So the balanced presentation of the 9500 from the midbass to highs is good enough for me. Unfortunately, I had to let go of this when I was offered a price I couldn’t refuse. Would love to have one back again.

AU-9500 was the top of the line model when Sansui’s founder and perfectionist, Mr. Kosaku Kikuchi, retired in 1974.  His product philosophy was “Let the products speak themselves.”, and the AU-9500 was his last jewel that satisfied his highest expectation.  –

Together with thw alpha series, the X series was the final assault of Sansui to the high end market towards the end of the 70’s. Massive Trannys and beer can caps greet you under the hood of these babies.

The Sansui AU-X1 is a lean but very clean sounding amp. Maybe a little too lean for my tastes though. I don’t know why but it somehow reminds me of the Cello in its sonic presentation. A good friend has the X11. In fact, I think he has two of those. So I’m just concluding a marked improvement in the X11 as compared to the older X1. There has been some debates regarding some reliability issues on the X1.

The Sansui AU Alpha series is a different class in itself. Just take a look at the insides of one of these and you can see why these units are so special. Even for someone, who is “technically challenged’ like me, gazing at the innards is jaw-dropping. I only have the alpha707 so I’m sure those in possession of the alpha907 are definitely happy campers. Yes, they do sound great!

The AU20000 for me, is the best compromise. It has the openness of the triple digit series while retaining the bloat of the AU9500. It is as clean-sounding as the X1 and alpha series with a dash of musicality for good measure. And yes, at 170 watts per ch, it has the power like a ’73 Camaro on an empty freeway.
Second to the AU111? . . . maybe, just maybe.

Sansui AU 111
The  mention of the AU111 earlier was only as reference to my personal preference to better understand where I’m coming from when I described the other models. After having gone thru the HIFi merry-go-round, I have finally settled for “musicality” to be the foremost factor to look for in an audio gear.
Aside from soundstaging, my bias leans towards a colored, bloated midbass sound that, for me, translates into musicality.
Others may surely disagree.

Up to the present, some sectors say that Sansui peaked its reputation with the AU111.
That must say something for an amp that is almost half a century old!

It was very ironic that at the very end of Sansui’s high-end audiophile history, Sansui reintroduced AU-111 as AU-111 Vintage in 1999 followed by AU-111G whose control section was redesigned to be suitable for SACD and DVD-Audio applications.  With AU-111, Sansui established its reputation as the high-end audiophile manufacturer and halted its hi-fi history with AU-111G.

 Mr. Ichiro Ohshima who was the high-end product manager at Sansui since 1986 to 2000 mentioned that he used to enjoy AU-111 and JBL speakers combination when he started working for Sansui.  About at that time, he was wishing to create amplifiers sounding like AU-111 in his career.  During the rough time Sansui went through from the late 1980’s to 1990’s, Mr. Ohshima was the one who struggled to maintaine the Sansui’s high-end amp tradition.  Many of his master pieces, from AU-X111 MOS Vintage to AU-Alpha Series, indeed sound similar to AU-111.  It was not a coincident at all that who was responsible to revive AU-111 in 1999 was Mr. Ohshima himself.   -www.sansui,us

Except for my alpha 607KX and alpha707extra, I have limited experience with the alpha series.
One thing I can say though is that although the a607 is a good amp, the a707extra is such a totally different animal so much so that I have been lusting for an a907 ever since that first listen to the 707.

So how does the Alpha707 compare to the AU111?
Let’s put it this way. –
If pitted against each other in a “critical listening” competition, the a707 would garner more points when both amps reach the finish line.
Points in soundstage, focus, pace, and maybe accuracy would surely rack up on the side of the 707’s tally sheet.
. . . But I have long ago abandoned counting points in audio.
I broke off from “hearing” and instead opted to “listen and feel”.
I have trusted that “magical feeling” to allow me to listen to an amp for hours on end.

The AU111 gives me that feeling.




More on the AU111
A Day With The Sansui AU111

7 Responses to “Vintage Sansui Integrated Amps”
  1. Frank says:

    Hi, I am an owner of sansui au 20000. How would you compare it to the 9090 or Marantz 2325 or the pioneer sx series in term of sound, especially detail retrieval.

    • bb3 says:

      hi frank, of all the receivers i have owned, the 9090 and 2325 are my favorites. Each has its own sonic character which make them a pleasure to listen to. The sx 1010 is a close second because of the punch that it delivers.
      But the au20k is a totally different class by itself.
      for me, in terms of detail retrieval, it would run rings around the 9090 and 2325.

  2. Tom says:

    Great blog – What you write really resonates here. I too have been through spades of amps until I heard an Au-555a WOW – something finally sounded like music and not just reproduction. I wanted more of that sound and realized that the 555 and the 777 series are the only cap coupled of the triple digits. Long story short I finally managed to get an absolutely pristine 777a from 1969 in gorgeous dark wood. Internally it is quite similar to the 555, just beefier and with separated driver boards: Single rail power supply, Quasi complementary output symmetry and cap coupling.

    After a professional restoration, this amp tops them all – it is jaw breaking good – It has the most tube like sound, yet with great detail and clarity and those subsonic lows that makes you wonder how your speaker did just that. But where it really shines is sound imaging. I have pitted it against venerable’s such as a restored Eight, Au-517, Marantz 2285B, 2240, kenwood 6600 (another stellar performer) – and nothing comes close in sheer musicality..


  3. tim says:

    hi bb3, i currently have the privilege of owning a sansui au111 (twin colored knobs) and so agree with you on the musicality of the amp. i have never owned and heard one before. My unit was totally stripped down and rebuilt, since it looked like it was bound for the junkyard when an officemate asked, gusto mo bang ng lumang amplifier…when i saw it, i knew nothing about sansui amps but i already love tube sound. When i saw 4 big tubes and 5 small ones i said to myself, o well maybe i could at least salvage the tubes. The unit was rusty, roach infested and had traces of flood water in some parts, really destined for the recycling bin, it even had a 6550 tube in it! (which we know doesnt have any business inside that amp:-) When i hit the search button in google about this dead amp thats when i found out about its illustrious history. I started asking around WS and PDVD forum guru’s on vintage equipment (i believe i shot you an email as well:-). The more i learn about the amp, the more my curiosity grew. Good thing my curiosity got the better of me and the rest was history. Its now singing gloriously with a vintage turntable and a small 2 way bookshelf. While i love the sound, im not really sure if indeed it should sound this way, since i never really heard one that has not been rebuilt. While im still looking for someone with an unmolested unit to listen to (and kind enough to make me listen to it:-), i’ll just continue to enjoy that “magical feeling” that comes out of my au111….


    It is really exciting to read this type of blog, to know the great community of people who share the love for these jewels that sweeten our ears day by day, my father was a big fan of classical music and trying to have all the best Was within reach to listen to it, unfortunately my father died in 1996 and all his teams we distributed very fair among my brothers, unfortunately for me my brother was lucky to take his every beloved Sansui AU-20000 of my father, 21 years later I have the opportunity to my 40 years of age to have in my hands again this jewel with a particular family history and to be able to delight again with the quality and clarity of sound that did not lose in the last 21 years, I just wanted to share my story And experience with one of the musical jewels created by Sansui and that so many satisfactions hearing us for more than 35 years in my family.

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