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Thursday, 14 April 2016

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Very true. A turntable is basically a hot rod in your living room, just waiting for the next set of wheels or better carburetor. I recently bought an lowish-end pre-amp that allows me to run the turntable through my Bluesound devices, so now I can listen to my records in my kitchen (Bluesound is a bit like Sonos). I almost never do that, alas. I also occasionally go to the needledoctor.com website to fantasize about cartridge upgrades. I keep returning to this one, worth way more than my turntable... Cartridges are like lenses, I think.

http://www.needledoctor.com/Ortofon-2M-Black-Phono-Cartridge?sc=2&category=378

But do they make a device to assess the accuracy of your fozgometer?

"It's because if you listen to music files or CDs, then you can't spend $300 on this:"

Wrong. ;-)

I can spend $300 on any number of things that I can't actually use. For example: I have bought lenses that are incompatible with any cameras I own. I have purchased sheet film that does not fit any camera I own. I have bought TTL flashes incompatible with any cameras I own. The list of things I have purchased that are incompatible with anything else I own (and are therefore useless) is long and shameful. Yet I still have them.

P.S. ...or (to borrow your logic), does that actually just mean that I am indisputably superior to normal people who do not do such things? 8^D

[Absolutely. Could it be otherwise? Lol --Mike]

The first thing that surprises people to whom I show how my turntable sounds is the energy with which each note is reproduced. It's like the notes become palpable, materializing in the room. And they're stark, clean and tridimensional, with a separation that just can't be emulated by any other medium.

I grew up listening to vinyl, but something went terribly wrong in the late 80's. I remember the first time I heard a CD through a proper Hi-Fi system: everybody in the room was ecstatic - except me. I was deeply embarrassed, wondering what was so wrong with me that I failed to comprehend the wonders of the new medium. To my ears music just sounded compressed and veiled.
Living under the digital dictatorship that so hastily proclaimed the death of vinyl, and being foolish enough to believe such rumours,I based my system on a CD player when I got enough money to spend on Hi-Fi. In this case it was the NAD 522, the worst piece of equipment NAD ever made (it failed to read CD's that would otherwise play without any problems on other players.) The sound suffered from bad timing and was utterly unexciting, with lean bass and a flat midrange. A Rega Planet CD player (I was aware of Rega's reputation by then) followed and things improved a lot, but there was still something missing.
By that time I had given up on being an audiophile and spending fortunes on Hi-Fi, but the sound I had still didn't satisfy me. So I bought a turntable, a second-hand Rega Planar 3 that I still own. Now that record player is essentially a chipboard plinth and a glass platter over a plastic hub, but it has a tonearm that is a remarkable engineering feat, the Rega RB300. The best cartridge I owned was the now defunct Ortofon MC 15 Super II, a moving coil design, but now I live quite happily with an Ortofon 2M Blue, which isn't so analytical but has an exciting, full-blooded and cohesive sound.
This combo has no right to sound the way it does. It made my CD collection redundant, to the point I found myself buying vinyl copies of recordings I already had on CD. The fact that the Rega Planet was an extremely accomplished CD player wasn't enough for me to keep listening to digitally recorded music. Even though I listen to 'computer music' and listen to a lot of radio (I am a proud owner of a Tivoli Audio Model One radio), vinyl is by far the best listening experience.

There is an obvious parallel with vinyl and film, and indeed my experience with photography closely matches that of audio: I eventually returned to film, just like I did with vinyl. Do I regret it? No, not for a second. I just wished 135 compared to digital full frame the way vinyl compares to CD.
Many complain of pops and clicks, but they're not an issue if you take care with keeping your records clean. (I have an inexpensive Knosti record cleaner that does the job quite effectively.) And setting a turntable isn't such an ordeal. As for me, I find it quite entertaining. I don't have an azimuth adjuster, but I do have a protractor, a stylus gauge and a bubble level. Mounting a new cartridge is no end of fun!

I've always thought of an audiophile as a pixel-peeper of sound. Now you are telling me that they are measurebators as well. Who knew. 8-)

I'm not surprised that many Very Serious Photographers are also audiophiles — once a gear-head always a gear-head 8-)

Waay back in the 1970s I learned how to edit sound with a razor blade. I've recorded using a 24 track and a Neumann U87. Now-a-days I find an iPhone, a recording app and an inexpensive mic to be good enough. YMMV

Since you mentioned the "toy potential" of turntables, this new special edition of the Crosley Cruiser portable turntable might be of interest to you.

http://www.slashgear.com/crosleys-2016-record-store-day-turntable-review-13436211/

I understand the importance of adjusting azimuth on a tape machine , I can remember several freak out incidents involving Very Important Tapes recorded on a shared out of whack tape machine. ( imagine for a moment the politics surrounding when to repair it! ) somewhere I have a box of half inch tape with a note about the tape being a couple degrees off.

But on a turntable? I would think that you could get the azimuth set close enough without instruments. Do some folks have a turntable optimized for the beginning of a side and another for the last tracks of the LP's side?

[Probably not, but it probably drives them crazy. Some turntables allow for changing VTA (vertical tracking angle) while the record is playing. See JG's featured comment. Jeffrey knows what he is talking about! --Mike]

I don't think the straw that comes with the VPI Scout Jr. costs $300, but I could be wrong.

THe problem I always had with turntables was noise. Even with the best cartridge and needle, repeated playing caused wear, which meant noise and distortion increased with each use. I have thought that a cure might be a laser "needle"/cartridge, essentially a "microLIDAR", which would eliminate the mechanical wear problem. So far as I know, no one has done this. So, I am willing to go with CDs and computer files. With tonal controls, they aren't at all bad. Especially since my hearing ain't what it used to be. Old age strikes again....

[Yes, there was a laser turntable...originally called Finial and now called ELP I think. Go to Wikipedia for this one and search "laser turntable." --Mike]

Here's an interesting factoid from a recent BBC news article about the vinyl resurgence-

"But 48% of people who bought vinyl last month admit they have yet to play it.
Seven per cent of those surveyed say they do not even own a turntable."

They say they consider the albums to be nice collectibles or decorative objects.

And don't ignore the cables! Best coated? With what? Multistrand with what kind of wire? Single wires? But never let them touch the floor, especially carpet. Suspend them with seasoned maple blocks. None of this is inexpensive but would you trust it if it was?
Been there, I admit it. I'm a recovering HF addict.
Some years later I developed severe hearing loss. Hmmm. Bummer. Genetics.
But I'm not a photo fanatic, thank goodness. At least not too bad. Gotta find a support group, though......

I agree with Manuel above that vinyl sounds better than anything else, and film is the best medium for recording visual images...

I learned the second bit from my OCOLOY, the first bit I have known for many years...

I was once the proud owner of probably the best turntable that ever existed, the Linn Sondek... Not something you can measure... Just listen... Previously I had a Rega Planar 2, not quite as good as Manuel's Planar 3, but damn good.

Anyway regarding vinyl... as Jim Morrison said... I don't believe in that anymore (expletives deleted)... But that's not because I wanna get my kicks before the whole s---house goes up in flames... It's because I became tired of moving over a thousand vinyl LP's around every time I moved.

I just love keeping so many more of those albums in ALAC or FLAC on my LaCie rugged SSD's... I can put the whole lot in my pocket and listen to the contents through the MacBook when travelling, or I can plug it into my MacPro and listen to it through my Linn DSI/Klout and Sara speakers at home...

And it is (almost) sublime.

As far as film is concerned, those negatives don't weigh much and don't take up much space either... So I am happy to carry on with two systems, film and digital.

@Hugh:

Contrary to popular belief, optimizing the setup of a turntable and phono cartridge doesn't mean getting it perfect, but finding a compromise where the sound quality is consistent across the LP; i.e., it doesn't change much from the outer tracks to the inner ones.

Frankly, achieving perfection is simply not possible, unless one chooses to play only a single track on one LP (and even then, the optimal setup will change with the weather. Yes, I'm serious. Keeping up with the weather on Long Island used to drive me nuts at times.)

As for the VTA adjustment Mike refers to, the Goldmund T3F arm that was HP's reference back then could reveal adjustments as fine as a few thousandths of an inch; i.e., the thickness of a human hair.

I used a collection of dial gauges and calipers to adjust it in for general listening, and for critical listening, I readjusted it for each and every LP. Just as it takes an hour or more and a lengthy checklist of steps to even start an F1 engine, when it comes to achieving optimal sound quality with a state of the art stereo, each and every step of the process not only matters, but is critically important.

P.S.: I used an oscilloscope and custom test records to adjust azimuth, because there were no special tools such as the Fozgometer available then.

Didn't there used to be something anti-skate? I'm having trouble remembering.

I learned something about music reproduction a long time ago when I was a cellist playing in orchestras and chamber music. In most orchestras the cellists sat on the right edge of the stage, rather than in the interior of the orchestra, so I could hear the entire orchestra and soloists quite well. I wondered why hi-fi and stereo reproduction was so bad and unreal even with good equipment until I learned of the massive manipulation that most record companies performed on the sound in order to, in their minds, make records more salable. There were rare exceptions, of course.
Then I heard a demonstration at Bose Corp where specialized microphones were placed in the ears of a "dummy" placed in about the 10th row, and then this recording with only the minimal technically necessary manipulation was played backed on excellent headphones. Now, that was more "real" than anything else I've ever heard before or since.
I stopped seeking the "best" audio equipment and used adequate equipment (not low-end and not high-end), and have enjoyed active listening ever since. Active means that in my mind as I'm listening I adjust for the inadequacies of the reproduction (unless it's impossibly bad or intrusive) so that I can grasp and enjoy the intentions of the artists. A side benefit of active listening is that I can listen to recordings made in the 1930's and earlier and enjoy them, also.
My mind doesn't work the same way visually. I can't readjust from just adequate reproduction in a book to a painting, quilt, or photograph that I have been fortunate enough to see in person.

[I think the "massive manipulation" you mentioned is what's called compression...I posted a link to a nice demo video about that here: http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2007/07/another-reason-.html

By the way I heard of a composer at Dartmouth who listened to classical 33 1/3 rpm records on a "suitcase"-style stereo at 78rpm...he said it let him hear the structure of the movements much better. So it is indeed possible to listen "with your mind" to a great extent, if you have the talent for it. --Mike]

As a music-playing device, a turntable is utterly unappealing to me; it's massively inconvenient, and I'm a heathen who is perfectly content with the sound of a good MP3 and hears none of the advantages supposedly provided by vinyl.

As a toy, I can definitely see the appeal. That Fozgometer, for example, is something I might enjoy attempting to replicate...

(Reads post, goes to deck, lifts cover. Examines the tone arm pivot. "Oh yeah, there's adjustments! I'd forgotten!" Reads make and model, "Thorens TD 160" but remains none the wiser. Returns to computer.)

Since my brother kindly gave me the deck when he replaced it with some minimalist device crafted from unobtanium, I seem to remember that it is already set up, (he said in ignorance) so I shall leave it alone for now.

Must get my amp fixed...

Surely the azimuth-obsessed folks are driven crazy knowing that the disc cutting machine's head travels linearly across the surface, whereas the playback head moves in an arc.

Are there any playback arms that compensate for tracking angle?

[Oh, sure, there are lots of TT's with linear tracking arms. Yamaha PX-1 for example. Google "linear tracking turntable" or "linear tracking tonearm" and hit "Image" to see a whole bunch of 'em. --Mike]

The adjustments required of my last turntable were what denomination coins to tape to the tone arm to keep the needle in the grooves of my warped pawn shop 1950s R&B albums.

But...but...but really, wasn't it Herbert Von Karajan who said of the newly introduced CD, "All else is gaslight"?

I've said this before on other sites, but I like it, so I'll say it again. "Vinyl is the Instagram of Audio".

Except, with vinyl once you've chosen your stylus/cartridge/arm/turntable, it as if you've chosen to apply a single Instagram filter to all your future photos with only minor tweaks being available to you.

Either way, the end result bears little resemblance to the source material (of course, with vinyl, even the source is pre-filtered).

I think I may have stretched the metaphor a bit far, but, hey, I got it back on the photography topic.

Mike, The "massive manipulation" I referenced is compression, but also frequency response manipulation oriented towards making low-cost stereos sound better, artificial stereo effects, artificial reverb, etc. Some record companies like RCA even had names for these distortions (I forget them) that they trumpeted on their album covers. This is analogous to taking a carefully post-processed photo and then over-saturating, over-sharpening, etc. to try to make it stand out. If that's what you can get when you buy recordings, what's the point of using a perfect turntable, or a color-corrected monitor for over-manipulated photos.
Fortunately, there was a reaction to this deliberate manipulation, out of which grew companies dedicated to the cleanest reproduction that was technically possible. In that case, a digital file will better show the intent than the best mechanical turntable, tonearm, and cartridge which, by their very nature, add a distortion. Note that if this distortion is desirable, that can be added to what is on the digital file in a similar way that film emulations can be imposed on digital photo files, although the analog is not exact.

I haven't checked azimuth on a cartridge in nearly three decades but I think it's worth noting that an inexpensive USB digital oscilloscope attachment for your laptop costs a lot less than $300, even less than $100. These can be bought online or from eBay.

Even an old well adjusted, very good condition, state-of-the-art Tektronix or Japanese oscilloscope with a triggered sweep on eBay can be had for less than $300. I got one for about $60.

And it's a lot more fun to use (and learn to use) than the $300 doo-dad. Impresses the heck out of kids, too.

There's quite a bit you can Google to find out how to adjust a cartridge's alignment with an oscilloscope.


Don't get me started on opamp rolling ...

One could say the same thing about Sekonic 398, or any light meter. Surely a detailed multi channel histogram is the most accurate way to determine exposure as it shows the actual captured light levels for each color channel. And the 1deg spot meter used by AA and his kin is almost as good.
But if one has always only used the sunny 16 rule (or the instructions inside a film box ) to determine exposure and then he finds a Sekonic 398 somewhere, he could say the exact same thing:
The Sekonic 398 is the most precise method for setting exposure that I have found.

About ten years ago I tossed a 1200 series Dual 1229 turntable into the dumpster. Because you can't take it with you, I get rid of what I've stopped using. If my kids don't want it, into the dumpster it goes. For me, ebay is more trouble than it's worth.

He who dies with the most toys, is only causing his heirs to have the aggravation of disposing of unwanted/un-needed junk 8-)

Select audiophiles (and dealers) insist that “vinyl sounds better”. But professional insiders generally disagree: Most musicians, conductors, performing artists, and audio engineers express strong preference for the more realistic accuracy of CDs. See http://www.laweekly.com/music/why-cds-may-actually-sound-better-than-vinyl-5352162. Why this divergence? Well, hi-end audio retailers aggressively promote all-things-vinyl. It’s big ticket hardware, with high margins and nice “spiffs”. And every sale assures that another sycophant will soon extol the glory of vinyl—if only to self-justify the cost. By every objective measure, the “Victrola era” should now be over, finished, gone, and forgotten. But decades of subjective spin from the analog disc cult proves that their loyal pursuit of self-interest can overrun even the best science. Don’t get trampled!

[Really? You remind me of my nephew, who tried to convince me that climate change was a conspiracy of the environmentalist interests and their overwhelming power, victimizing the poor powerless fossil fuel industry in a cynical bid to pad their own pockets. So then, entrenched interests looking out for themselves are the explanation for the alleged "popularity" of vinyl? That 3% market share must confer an awful lot of power to abuse. --Mike]

Well written. Tongue, meet cheek.

And while you are there, tongue, notice how you are jammed between two rows of teeth. And those teeth are jagged and grooved, and when you slide along the cheek, your motion past the teeth makes a noise. The Sound of Vinyl.

Went through the audiophile phase some time back, still have the Linn Sondek LP12 along with Naim amp and I forget what speakers but its all really just static furniture now. The convenience of mp3s lets me enjoy the music anywhere and old age has made me slightly deaf so high end audio equipment would be just wasted on me.

Fozgometer, really? Sounds like a character from the Muppets...

For a completely different use of the word, which may well be much older than that of audio enthusiasts, try: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Azimuth

As I'm a Land Surveyor I'm amused by the difference between the two uses!

So, have I got this right? You need to buy three of these Heath-Robinson mechanical contraptions because two of them will arrive pre-broken for you? Then there are the records - and it's instructive that all discussion centres on the bl**dy turntables and cartridges - as if the dust-attracting, scratch-o-matic, warpy, records are an incidental component.

There's the feedback issue too. Back in the day when I managed to convince myself to buy the occasional over-priced "direct cut" disc (the first I obtained was by Lee Rittenour I think) it was still a problem. Crank the volume up enough and the turntable would vibrate until the bass sounded like a jet taking off. I never got round to hanging the damn things off my wall.

And what about digital formats like FLAC? Or Neil Young's Pono player? It's inconceivable that it isn't possible to digitally encode audio so that it sounds exactly like vinyl. Maybe some digital scratches could be inserted, randomly? Or a bit of subtle wow and flutter? But no matter if all this became the norm, there are still people out there who will convince themselves that these anachronistic mechanical contraptions are actually superior in some elusive way.

[I think you might have missed the point of the post. I'm saying that if it's fun for you then it's fun, not that it's "better." Naturally music files on a server are better. But there's a lot of charm in the old way. It's like somebody who enjoys riding horseback. They're not going to claim it's a "better" way to get the family to the doctor in the rain. And of course it's a pain to feed the horse and pay the vet bills. But they enjoy the experience of riding. And they love the horse. --Mike]

PS
My previous post may have created the impression that I bought "direct cut" discs as a potential cure for feedback. Which, of course, I didn't intend to imply. Multi-tasking (eating + typing) strikes again.

In astronomy, navigation and elsewhere, azimuth is the angle between a direction and true North. The usage in audio is totally different and I wish they had picked another word.

After decades of experience with LPs, turntables, phono stages, tapes and tape drives (starting in the mid-60s, I had vivid memories of the practical problems with tape and LPs. I was happy enough to see a new medium with far fewer problems and much better real world sound.

Tape noise, LP surface noise, warps, wow and flutter, hum picked up by the turntable to phono stage cable, scratches and defective pressings are still vivid memories. I have no need to experience them again.

All my music collection has been on a computer hard drive (with backups) for about 10 years, indexed so that I can find and play what I like without effort. As always, sound quality is a question of the care with which the recording and the subsequent steps were made and the skills of the people involved.

Most of the recordings that I own has never been available on vinyl. I buy used Cds on Amazon and have few problems getting perfect transfers. I buy Flac downloads and find that ever easier. I listen on YouTube to music that is not available via commercial recordings. I can download concert recordings from that last few decades.

I miss nothing about LPs and the associated gear. This talk about how wonderful "vinyl" sounds like old guys talking about how wonderful film and darkrooms were.

[...Which I often do. You're forgiven. --Mike]

Turntables would be better if the records didn't wear out.

Ned Bunnell's link is a tangential reminder that today, Sat April 16 is Record Store Day at your favourite independent retailer. I could not resist temptation and came back with Emily Lou Harris' Wrecking Ball (deluxe ed with outtakes) and Oscar Peterson with Herb Ellis and Ray Brown from a 1958 Vancouver concert. First time on vinyl but comes with a digital download card so both worlds are covered. It is nice to have both digital and analog options. There were a few other temptations at the store especially since many are limited to 1500 copies but budget restrictions prevailed.

I will play these on my Thorens turntable bought in the 70's that I haven't fiddled with since replacing the tonearm with a Mayware Formula 4 in the 80's. As with my photography, there is a point of diminishing returns to continual fussing. It sounds fine to me, azimuth be dammed!

I don't think I've played a vinyl disk since 1985. I'm sure I haven't since 1990. I never liked vinyl, and would transcribe it to cassette tape first thing and play the tape; that minimized the noise, though there was some even on the very first playing.

I'm afraid I've gotten past the point of even finding the "golden eared" funny. Now they're just annoying.

I'm a heathen who is perfectly content with the sound of a good MP3

A good MP3 is an oxymoron.

"A safer solution for buying used is to buy from specialist restorers such as Dave at Vinyl Nirvana, Malcolm at Doctor Dual, or Pat at Pat Leaver."

For TOP readers in Europe it might be interesting to add the name of Jürg Schopper here in Winterthur/Switzerland (www.schopper.ch) who restores Thorens turntables form the sixties and seventies at reasonable prices. Mine is like new and sounds absolutely great. I'm just a satisfied client, no other connections.

[Yes, Jürg's shop has an excellent reputation as one of the best. --Mike]

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