Whatever happened to REAL "owners manuals" ???

Remember the "good old days" when products actually came with an owner's manual? You know what i'm talking about, an actual "booklet" that was filled with facts, figures, ideas and explanations as to why the product was built and designed the way that it was. Some of the info included in these manuals was actually very informative and educational to say the least. Most of the products that i see nowadays come with a few sheets ( if that ) that read like advertising copy and a registration form for warranty purposes. The products that do come with manuals ( Pre-Pro's, etc... ) are sometimes so poorly written that you have to read them 5+ times before you can figure out how to do something. Obviously, the "art" of writing a good manual has been lost from what i can tell.

With that in mind, what companies and products still offer high quality manuals with good info and background on the products? To make this interesting and possibly give some of the "old timers" a chance to reminisce about some of their favourites from yester-year, let's include older gear that had really outstanding manuals. I'll start off with a few that come to mind.

The first one isn't really a manual so much as it was the "flyers" that came with the unit when purchased AND the sales literature that you could get at the dealer. It is the old Audio General Incorporated ( AGI ) 511 preamp. If you read these "glossy flyers", you new exactly how & why every component was selected and why David went with the circuit design that he did. You also knew exactly what the spec's were and why the designer wanted to achieve that specific level of performance in each given area. To be quite honest, this piece of gear and the associated literature that AGI put out back in the 70's was HIGHLY influential to my way of thinking aka my "audio thought process". To this day, i still consider it a good and educational piece of reading material.

The second that comes to mind is the owners manual for the Acoustic Research model 9 floorstanding speaker. Not only does AR go into depth as to how the speaker works and why it was designed the specific way that it was, they even provide comparative graphs for various room placements. Not only are spec's provided using the common "audiophile" standards for the USA, they also provided spec's for DIN standards. These are quite different from what we here in the USA are used to seeing. Not only did they put a lot of effort into designing this 48 page manual, AR put forth a HUGE amount of effort into designing this speaker. If you read the July 04 Stereophile, they make mention of AR's "seminal study" of cabinet research and radiation characteristics in the article entitled "Cutting Corners" by Keith Howard. Much of the data that AR gathered while doing that research went into the design of these speakers and can be found in very condensed and simplified form in this manual. Even with 25 years on the clock, these speakers are still HIGHLY influential and this manual is still HIGHLY educational. As influential as this design was, it's too bad that many of the manufacturers try to copy certain aspects of the design without doing the associated research. If they did, they would see that the way that they impliment some of the aspects that they copied is not true to the original and is actually detrimental to performance.

My third contribution is going to be the owners manual for the Eminent Technologies ET II tonearm and the along with the additional booklet for their optional fluid damping system. Bruce included gobs of background and technical info interspersed with the basic installation and notes on how to use the product, making it both user friendly and educational. Between these two "manuals", you end up with about 75 pages of information about tonearm operation.

My fourth and last "nomination" is for early Perreaux products. While not the most "adventurous" in terms of information included, they gave background on what specific specs were, what those spec's meant and why Peter strived to achieve the design goals that he chose.

Any comments or additions from the peanut gallery??? : ) Sean
I can only think of one case. The old EAR 519 amps came with a nice manual. While not as impressive as the ones you mention, it contained useful info, specs and, believe it, a SCHEMATIC!

The rest have been flimsy; some informative -- but hardly going at great lengths to explain the product and its best operating set-up.

The mouse of cost-cutting must have eaten away those manuals!
Great post Sean!

When I got my first PC, a NEC P100, some 15 years back, it came with a very thorough manual about 300 pages long. It was informative and easy to read. NEC probably expected people who purchased this computer were first time PC users with potential for high learning curves. And, the margins on PCs were probably much higher back then.

My last few laptops which are IBMs are great products but the manuals are as informative as those emergency procedure foldout thingys you have in your pouchy thingy in the plane on the seat in front of you. The trouble shooting manual for these laptops is very lame ie: if monitor is not on, make the battery is charged. Maybe their 1800 help line are just sick of helping people who don't even know how to charge a battery, so they asked marketing to print out these dummyproof manuals.

Appealing to lowest common denominators kills me every time...
I believe that Audio Physic sends graphs along to help with room placement. Nice, since most everything is side firing woofers from them.
My Dunlavy V Speakers came with John's discussion of how speakers should be designed, how these speakers meet the chalanges of creating music, how to evaluate your room,
how to place them in the room, how to unpack the crates, individual check-off signatures, speaker response graphs for the set. About 30 pages single spaced.

By contrast, I have a couple of current model Goldmund amps that have a toggle switch on the back that is unlabled. The "manual" that came with the amps never discusses that switch. Indeed, the manual is nearly useless as it doesn't discuss much of anything excpet how I should contgratulate myself for purchasing Goldmund.
I have been quite impressed by the owner's manuels that my gear is supplied with:

My Audio Logic 24mxl DAC has a very informative manuel that dealers attach as a link for sales material. Actually, I think that the owners manuel is the only sales material.

My VAC amp manuel has a lot of good info. on why Kevin preferred 300b tubes. It includes many graphs and suggestions on how to configure best for your speakers.

My Merlin manuel has extensive, detailed set up instructions.
The Heathkit assembly manuals,while they were written to my father's(adult) level,a kid(me)could figure them out in time. The sections on signal injection tests allowed me to see,at least on the surface,which section of the piece did what.
Pass Labs includes a really good manual with lots of specs and design infomation.

The Alesis Masterlink 9600 is an excellent manual and explains the different recording processes.

The worst is the VPI TNT V manual. The turntable is surperb, but the manual is a joke.
Not really, of course. But basically, except for complex equipment like Lexicon processors, you don't really need an owners' manual to use it. Through the years what I have found helpfull is the Stereophile reviews--used as "owners' manuals". Those guys goe into detail that only an owner would need. Plus, computers have taught us that you really shouldn't read owners' manuals. (imo)
There are few reasons:

1. Easier marketing: Hiding specification is the main driver that only shows good sides and doesn't show bad ones.

2. To understand detailed specification the consumer must be more or less educated about characteristics and what they realy mean which probably is the problem throughout the whole world. Folks want to be dummy: Give me that thing and get it work right!

I remember things from my country when I was having quite sophisticated for that time Amphiton amplifier that was built by Vladimir Shushurin(who's now Lamm Industries). This piece had plots that covered large work region for different loads, levels and harmonic distortions! Nowdays equipment shows only @1W 20...20Khz.. which certainly sais not even small jota about amp's performance.
Nowday's phrase is "Ear is Your Best Judge"
Since audiophiles are selecting their equipment according to how they sound, what good would properly written manuals containing facts and specifications be? And, who is going to understand that stuff? When manuals are supplied, they are mostly to help the purchaser justify his/her purchase.
CROWN produced excellent manuals, but then its equipment didn't sound good, did it. :-)
I feel your pain brother! I got a pair of RCA interconnects recently. Paid some large coin for these suckers. Came in a Bubinko wood hand-carved box with velvet lining. The cables themselves are thicker than John Holmes and a bit longer too! But guess what? NO FRIGGEN MANUAL!!! They've been sitting unused on my shelf in their Bubinko coffin till I get a response from the manufacturer of how to use these puppies. I've emailed'em three or four times already but haven't heard a thing back. Bastards!

Owner's manuals, I don't need no stinkin' owner's manual!
1. Duntech speakers--at least when I got mine back in the late 80s, they had a manual with graphs, and a text similar to John Dunlavy's manual for the Dunlavy speakers.

2. Audio Logic has a very good manual for its DACs.

3. Day Sequerra has/had a very good manual with plenty of information about the FM broadcast medium, a white paper and a bunch of other items.

Manual writing does seem like a lost art these days, though, in what seems to be the majority of cases.

Nice to see you back, Sean!

Marco, come on now, you plug one end of the interconnect into the output jack of the item sending the signal, and one into the input jack of the component receiving the signal. You use the box to store cigars, rare coins, stamps, whatever sex toys you want... Who needs a stinkin' manual for that??? :^)
Crown to my knowlege provides enough information for the consumer to figure out its sound at different conditions whether it sounds good or not...
Have you seen the manuals for Mid-fi AV receivers? Remember, most of the people buying this equipment are not audio gurus, and the instruction manuals read like an advanced calculus math book! I helped my brother set up his home theater, and I was plowing through the manuals for 2-3 hours reading instructions trying to integrate everything properly, and troubleshoot some glitches. Probably 70% of the features offered on his AV amp (Yamaha) won't be used by most purchasers. And programming the remote was a project in itself!

I have also noticed that many Japanese products have manuals with confusing, and horribly laid out operating sequences (programming flow charts) written with very poor English syntax. If I had a multi-billion dollar corporation that exported a large market share to English speaking countries, I would make sure that I had translators fluent with the subtleties of both the English and Japanese language! I would also divide the instruction manual into three parts: basic, intermediate, and advanced operations. I would also make sure that my index was complete and ACCURATE!
I've realy always wondered why in US almost impossible to buy an iron pan: anywhere you go to shop for kitchen goods you can only see different kinds of teflon coated and "stick-free" ones!
Well, I hate even the taste(certainly compared to the iron pan) of anything cooked on the teflon surface whether it's stick-proof or not. It's near-impossible to prepare a good steak inside your kitchen if you have teflon coated one...

An iron pan for average US consumer would be a disaster if no proper manual is applied preferably 20...30 pages on how maintain an iron pan so nothing is sticking on its surface duing cooking and even despite all measures taken they will still return back to the customer service with money-back requests... Hence, they're only for sale by the warehouses that supply restaurant equipment.

Why spend extra for manuals? Most of a consumer will not read them thus the market on such products will not grow sufficiently among the non-professional buyers.

Do most of high-fi consumers do the homework before assembling an equipment: matching speaker impedance curve(s), efficiency/sencitivity to an amp, matching input/output amp/preamp/source? I guess a few out of many...
Marakanetz, I was referring to Crown when they sold consumer equipment, circa 1973!
Most of the old Heathkit and Dynaco stuff came with a good manual describing the circuits and the why and why nots. Nowadays, you can't even get a decent specifications page.
Some of these AV receivers come with a small novel that needs a manual telling you how to read the manual.
Being here in South Carolina, it don't matter much. We don't do no readin' anyway. Our test scores attest to that!
Hell, we're the only state in the union where riding lawnmowers come with factory dual exhausts. It helps when trying to keep up with traffic!
The classic Apt Holman preamp is accompanied by an exhaustive manual that is sometimes sold separately. It explains the thinking behind some really innovative design features of this unit, and tells how to use these features.
Tomlinson Holman went on to develop Lucasfilm's THX technology, and currently is at the forefront of 10.2 audio system development.
The old product manual reflected a desire of the designer to explain why, and how he creates his best work, without talking down to the end user.
Good thread Sean!

Although I've had an appreciation for music and audio since I was a small child, I've only been an "A'GoNite" for four years, so I've missed out on those great old manuals.

Since I started the whole AudioGoNer buy and sell cycle I've noticed that while mass market manuals are actually offset printed, high end audio manuals are often output from a laserprinter. It's understandable since a Kimura Junji or a Scott Nixon might not have the "budget" to hire a graphic designer and a writer to assemble a long manual then have it sent to a printer and have 50,000 units printed.

Sean, you've made me want to read some of those old manuals. I wonder why audio designers these days don't take the time like those of 30 years ago. As some people alluded to, are they trying to protect their intellectual property?
The Apt-Holman Preamp Manual-Still a classroom textbook of preamp and phono amp design and theory.
I'm probably showing my age here (or lack there-of) but i dont think i had ever seen a manual like that.

Seems like all they ever put in manuals are some shoddy half assed instructions and saftey disclaimers.
Yeah, Slappy! Sometimes, the "warning and disclaimer" pages are more detailed than the actual instruction manual!
I think the Green Mountain manual for my Europa's does quite well in "educating" the owner.

I own a Perreaux Radiance R200i integrated amp. The owners manual for it is REALLY informative. Granted I've only had a few pieces of audio equipment in my life, but I'd say by far this is the most complete owners manual I've seen...

As far as mass market equipment goes; I think Pioneer Elite home theater receivers come with pretty decent ones.
SME 309 tonearm.
Glad you are back Sean.
As I go over the owner's manuals for my hifi stuff I find most of it to be pretty good. And as someone who wants to know the minutiae of my gear and does a lot of technical writing (geez, look at most of my posts!), I'm fairly critical. I agree the Apt preamp set the standard in '79 - I still have the manual.

Among my current stuff good marks go to Sonic Frontiers, Proceed, Yamaha (for their cd recorder), JVC (tv&vcr), and my '80s Tandberg, Thorens and Phase Linear (for their old 1000 II noise reduction rig). Adequate, but OK for one's needs for Thiel, Headroom, BelCanto, Philips, PS audio. More effort could have gone into the manuals for McCormack, Nakamichi, Magnum-Dynalab.

I don't know if I can draw conclusions about how good the manual is vs company size, age, product, expense, country. I've seen plenty of bad manuals, it seems it's just a matter of priorities between marketing, the designer(s) and company philosophy as much as anything...

As a free service to owners of hi-fi kit fitted with DIN connectors, my web site contains the wiring details for DIN plugs:

The page also contains wiring info for the Quad 50E and 6 pin connectors on the Quad II's

User manuals and some circuit diagrams for vintage Quad kit can be downloaded from here, free of charge

I hope this information is of use

David Laine
Carver C4000 Preamp and Nelson Pass, most anything of his. Passion !