Since the late nineteen sixties, Sony always had an entry-level hi-fi range – one that offered obviously better quality than lesser brands but wasn’t a full-fat Sony product with impressive styling and specification. The TA-73 (and its matching ST-73 tuner sibling) took over from the TA-70/ST-70 in Autumn 1976, becoming the company’s loss-leader, designed to tempt buyers to the brand. Interestingly, unlike it predecessor, it was made in Taiwan and not Japan; the Japanese Yen was already on its long path upwards in value, making Sony seek cheaper factories abroad. In the UK, it cost £62 including VAT – a lot of money at the time for people on average incomes.
The TA-73 is undeniably handsome in its own way, and features an aluminium fascia with a large central brushed section; all finished in silver as opposed to black, which its predecessor came in. Although nowhere near as macho looking as the ‘grown-up’ TA-1650, it’s certainly cute and the cost-cutting not too egregious. Its casing is made from wood-effect vinyl covered fibreboard, but looks close enough to wood to fool casual observers. The knobs and switches are nice brushed alloy affairs, with a smooth action and no sense of money saved. Features include bass and treble tone controls (giving plus or minus 6dB), a high filter (useful to suppress tape hiss or LP scratches), a mono button and a well implemented loudness control that offered 10dB of boost at 100Hz and 10,000kHz. This is a bit severe, and can trip the little amp into clipping, because it only musters 10W RMS per channel into eight ohms.
Under the hood, the amp is well laid out; neat and nicely made. This review sample – now forty years old – needed the simple expedient of a new fuse on one channel and some contact cleaner to restore it to its former glory. Once sorted it worked perfectly and well within spec. The Class AB, AC-coupled design gives a sweet and soft sound that’s not a million miles away from a low powered tube amplifier. Bass is a little loose and weak, but the amp makes up for it with a musical and subtle midband. Treble is civilised, although lacks the bite and space of more high end designs. It’s really listenable and quite charming – all the more remarkable considering its price and also the age of this amplifier. The only real black mark is the obvious lack of power, meaning you’ll need efficient speakers. Even then, it can clip if you try to make it the centrepiece of a swinging seventies party! Absolute dynamics and speaker driving ability are compromised then, and the stereo image is a little weak around the centre point, but you keep coming back to its pleasingly musical sound.
These days, you can pick up the largely forgotten TA-73 for pennies, and it’s unlikely to need more than a thorough clean. It’s a real piece of budget esoterica, if you like that sort of thing, and is ideal for a second system. The fact that its matching ST-73 tuner is a real gem – given a good aerial – makes it even more alluring.