I’m just leaving this post here as search engine bait for people in the same boat as I was a few weeks ago, namely having purchased a partially-working Technics SA-290 stereo receiver / amplifier from Goodwill.
After a lot of digging around online, I found that there are a couple common problems with units that are being sold as junk or are kinda messed up. In most cases, these systems age well and will stay in good condition except for a couple common issues. A good, honest stereo repair shop (or geek) should be able to diagnose and fix these easily.
Problem: AM/FM LCD status display is wonky, partially working, dark, or unstable (works, doesn’t work, responds oddly to jiggling, etc)
Cause and solution: Cracked solder joints to LCD module, and/or burned-out lamps behind it – it’s a very primitive LCD display which relies on an incandescent lamp for backlighting. Easy to fix.
Problem: The receiver will only output audio for a short time, or until it gets hot, or may stop giving a signal if touched by hands or unshielded cables, etc. The shutoff of audio is accompanied by one or more clicks. The unit may not resume working for a couple minutes after being turned off, or may resume right away when power cycled.
Cause and solution: Cracked or bad solder joints on the relay protection circuit. This appears to be a very common issue with these Technics receivers as they age, and is easily fixable.
As of May 2013, Technics SA-290 units in good working order were going for $80-90, as best I could tell. I got mine for $20 at Goodwill and spent $70 having it repaired at Audio Specialties Ltd in Portland, plus buying an FM antenna – I listen to KZME (shout outs, woo!), and I need an antenna in my Portland neighborhood to pick up their signal. So I got a fair deal in the end. My SA-290 had both problems – cracked relay solder joints, and a wonky LCD due to cracked solder joints. The nice dude at Audio Specialties replaced the lamp while he was in there – it’s an incandescent, why take chances when it’s already 25 years old?
As for the quality of the Technics SA-290: it’s a really nice little receiver/amplifier! If you can deal with 80s-style Back To The Future blinkenlighten, you’ll be happy with it. I recommend picking up an equalizer, though, even an inexpensive (but half decent) one. This is true in most cases, but a half-decent EQ can turn a good-sounding receiver into a great-sounding one, and enable you to fine tune the sound when you do something like move your couch and suddenly your stereo sounds weird.
I came across an EQ at a thrift store by dumb luck the day after repairs on my Technics SA-290 were done, did a quick search, and found that the EQ was worth just about the $20 they were asking for it, crazy 80s spectrum LED light show and all (it was a stylistic match, haha). Totally worth the $20. Just be aware that with the SA-290, an EQ will work only on external signals, not the radio – so you might want to leave the bass and treble controls flat on the Technics, and just push the loudness button when the radio’s on if you like that boomy DJ voice when you’re listening to AM/FM radio.
I’m very happy with the sound quality, even with cheap EQ. As for loudness, at the rated 50 watts – well, this is a bedroom system, and the power output blinkenlighten are actually scaled as “watts into 8Ω,” and I can crank the harder music I listen to and you’ll barely ever see it flicker past 5 watts, even though the bass sounds “authoritative,” in my words. The Technics with some good speakers will speak the bass, nice and simple, not boom it or muddy it up. It’s a good amp. Don’t be deceived by the wattage wars – as a coworker told me, an older (1980s and earlier) amplifier, made before marketers got their paws on the wattage definition, will lift the friggin’ roof off your bedroom if it’s rated at 50 watts and it’s any good. I have not turned the volume on the Technics past about 3 of 10 yet. 30-35 watts would actually be more than sufficient for a large bedroom with good speakers, but, this is what was $20 at Goodwill (poppin’ tags!) and I’m happy with it. :)