Analog Corner

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Michael Fremer Posted: Nov 23, 2013 0 comments
I know I keep repeating these LP/CD comparisons done by youngsters, but they're so much fun. Here's another.

My friend's son is in a band, and they'd cut some tunes that they wanted to hear back on my system. They brought the CD-R over, and, of course, they'd never heard their music sound so good—actually, the recording was quite accomplished. One of the kids looked around dumbfounded at my records and turntables and said, "Why would you have all of these?"

I told him they sounded better. "What do you like?" I asked.

"How about Green Day's Insomniac?" he replied.

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Michael Fremer Posted: Nov 14, 2013 5 comments
While the death of vinyl has been greatly exaggerated, the death of its inventor, unfortunately, has not. Last May 26th, Waldo Semon (a name straight out of central casting), inventor of vinyl, passed away in Hudson, Ohio at the mellow old age of 100. Dr. Semon invented our favorite synthetic back in 1926 at B.F. Goodrich, while trying to devise something else: an adhesive that would make rubber and metal stick together. Semon held 116 patents, and in 1995 was inducted into the US National Inventors Hall of Fame. He also invented and held a patent on bubble gum. Thanks to a reader for sending me his obituary.

Speaking of having one's bubble burst, how about this from CEMA (the Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association), in their yearly overview publication, US Electronics Industry Today: "The industry experienced another look into the future with the introduction of the Diamond Rio portable 'flash memory' player using MP3 (MPEG-1, Layer 3) technology capable of downloading CD-quality music directly from the Internet." (My italics.)

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Michael Fremer Posted: Nov 09, 2013 1 comments
A family came to pick up a puppy we'd bred. The 11-year-old son entered my listening room, and I asked him if there was something he'd like to hear. "Nirvana," he requested, so I got out the Mobile Fidelity LP of Nevermind. "I've never heard a record in my life," he said, as I slipped it on the Basis Debut, currently being reviewed. When "Smells Like Teen Spirit" ended, he turned to me: "You have a really great stereo! I've never heard half that stuff."

"Would you like to hear the CD version?" I asked.

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Michael Fremer Posted: Nov 02, 2013 1 comments
After I saw my MP3 e-mail exchange with the editor of the "Circuits" section of the New York Times in the February Stereophile, I began to think that publishing it hadn't been such a great idea. If the exchange had burned my bridge to the Times, publishing it in this column had probably NATO-bombed it.

But eventually I made peace with my decision and forgot about it. Mikey vs the Times was a dead issue no matter what I did or didn't do, and at least Stereophile subscribers got to read what happened. Some of you thought it made the Times look bad, some of you thought it made me look like a hothead.

So, after all that, after explaining to the "Circuits" editor that, whatever benefits MP3 offers, "CD-quality" sound isn't among them, guess what appeared on the front page of the "Circuits" section of Thursday, June 17? An article titled "The Beat Goes on Line, and Sometimes It's Legal," by David Kushner, the lead sentence of which read "If there is a 'Phantom Menace' of the Internet, it's MP3, the compression software that enables CD-quality music to be sent on line. Like the film, MP3 comes with a considerable amount of hyperbole, promise and, alas, science fiction."

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Michael Fremer Posted: Oct 25, 2013 0 comments
Funny thing about Consumer Electronics Shows—consumers aren't allowed to attend. That's what's great about Stereophile's annual HI-FI Show. The place is packed with real people—excited, paying customers—eager to see and hear the latest in hi-fi and home-theater gear. At least, that's what one hopes for.

Some in the industry hesitated about showing in Chicago. As far as turnout was concerned, the city and surrounding 'burbs were unknown quantities; the grand but aged Palmer House Hilton, with its boxy rooms and ancient wiring, was potentially tricky; and the strong union presence meant that moving a parcel across the hall could prove lethal to an exhibitor's checkbook.

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Michael Fremer Posted: Oct 23, 2013 4 comments
I was talking with Ayre's Charlie Hansen shortly after buying my K-1 preamp when the subject of stands came up.

"Solid maple," he said to me. "That's what I'd use."

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Michael Fremer Posted: Sep 14, 2013 4 comments
I've been waiting for the right occasion to crack open a sealed-in-the-polyethylene-bag 1A pressing of The Byrds' Mr. Tambourine Man I'd bought a few years ago from a veteran Columbia Records publicist. Today was the day. Wiz reissue producer and Sundazed Records Prez Bob Irwin has just graced me with test lacquers of that album, which he'll release soon on 180gm vinyl, along with Turn! Turn! Turn!, Notorious Byrds Brothers, and Sweetheart of the Rodeo—with others to follow (I hope).

These Irwin-produced sets were issued three years ago to great acclaim on Columbia/Legacy CD (with some cuts, like "Mr. Tambourine Man," mixed analog in stereo for the first time), with lots of great bonus tracks, photos, studio chatter, etc. The new LPs, mastered all-analog using Irwin's custom-rebuilt Ampex ATR-100 playback deck, will contain the remixes, plus one bonus track per side, fitted in without compression. The plan is to issue the LPs with gatefold jackets to allow the inclusion of never-before-seen photos from the original sessions and other cool stuff.

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Michael Fremer Posted: Sep 05, 2013 2 comments
Rare Sun Records 45s go on the auction block.

Sell my record collection? You'd have to hit me upside the head with a blunt instrument. That's pretty much what happened to Thomas Margellar Jr., whose collection went on the auction block recently.

The former Motor City DJ, known professionally as Tom Knight, had amassed a 50,000-piece collection of LPs, CDs, 45s, and assorted music-biz ephemera, all stored in his climate-controlled basement. One day two years ago he got into a fight with his wife. Unfortunately for the 47-year-old collector, his brother-in-law was on hand to intercede on his sister's behalf.

Margellar/Knight ended up dead with a crowbar to the head, and his wife and brother-in-law ended up in the klink. The collection ended up at NYC's William Doyle Galleries.

I've always wondered how long it would take before someone in the auction/collectible business got hip to record collecting. How many obits have you read of famous art collectors, stamp collectors, and book collectors? Plenty. How many of record collectors? None. Except for the fact that books have been around longer, there's not much difference between book collecting and record collecting. Yet until now, record collectors have gotten no respect.

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Michael Fremer Posted: Aug 23, 2013 0 comments
Mikey narrolwy escapes jury duty and heads for CES in Las Vegas. The year is 1999.

"Timing is everything."

Whoever came up with that gem had it right. The timing of the International Consumer Electronics Show, for instance: right after the Christmas/New Year holiday. I don't know anyone toiling in this industry who is actually eager to trudge off to Vegas a few days after two weeks of concentrated boozing, face-stuffing, and general holiday lethargy.

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Michael Fremer Posted: Aug 02, 2013 7 comments
I literally dropped everything when Rega's new Planar 25 turntable arrived a few weeks ago. I'd heard the 'table compared with the Planar 3 at designer Roy Gandy's house when I visited Rega last fall—see "Analog Corner" in the January '99 Stereophile—and was anxious to audition it in my own system and tell you what I heard.
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Michael Fremer Posted: Jul 23, 2013 5 comments
Every so often, when I get down (and I don't mean as in "get funky''), I wonder whether I'll run out of analog things to write about. After all, we're only a year from 2000, and this needle-in-the-groove invention is already more than 100 years old. What's left to say?

Or so I think when I get blue. But it doesn't last long, not with so many inspired correspondents writing and so many manufacturers creating new products—even though, as we all know, vinyl is dead.

And then there are the bizarre incidents.

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Michael Fremer Posted: Jul 16, 2013 6 comments
Mikey assembles an RB3000 tonearm—pray it won't be yours!

Politics and audio don't mix! Keep your pinko ideas to yourself. I cancel my subscription!"

How many times have we read that in Stereophile, shortly after a writer has injected a few cubic centimeters of ideology into a review or column? No doubt all of the offended parties dashed off equally angry letters to ultra-partisan House majority whip Tom (the bug exterminator) DeLay, who threw a hissy fit back in October when he found out that the EIA (Electronic Industries Alliance, the parent organization of CEMA, which runs the Consumer Electronics Show, etc.) had the gall, the nerve, to hire former Oklahoma Democratic representative Dave McCurdy as the group's president and industry spokesperson.

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Michael Fremer Posted: Jul 06, 2013 6 comments
It was 9am as the plane touched down at Heathrow, but my brain screamed "4am! Go back to sleep!''—as if the eight hours of slouched-over dozing interrupted by cattle-prodding flight attendants could be called "sleep." Yes, the red-eye is considered by many travelers to be the most efficient way to jet to London, and Virgin tries hard to please, even in the cramped steerage section—but wedged into a middle seat and being a naturally fidgety sort, I found the transoceanic flight a form of water torture I can live without.
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Michael Fremer Posted: Jun 26, 2013 8 comments
Have you noticed how the pace of things "going digital" has increased? There's no escaping it, and television's next. It'll take about 10 years, but then, like abandoned canals, the empty two-lane cement of Route 66, and overgrown railroad rights of way, the analog broadcast pathways will be discarded, handed back to the government for reuse in what will no doubt be a far less glamorous endeavor—garage-door opener or pocket-pager frequencies, perhaps.

Route 66 has made a tailfin'n'Elvis–based nostalgic comeback. So have steam trains, taking railroad buffs on daylong excursions over commuter rails. Last year I took one myself—and I enjoyed every soot-sprayed, purgatory-hot, steam-stinking, smoke-belching minute of it. (I hung out in one of the two open cars: standing room only, no glass in the windows.)

But analog television? Is anyone going to miss it? I doubt it—which is how most people felt about records with the introduction of the compact disc. Remember? People dumped their vinyl like carcinogens, and most haven't looked back with regret. Clearly, from our perspective, that's their loss.

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Michael Fremer Posted: Jun 18, 2013 3 comments
Are you old enough to remember when New York State, much of the rest of the Northeast, and parts of Canada were blacked out by a power failure on November 19th, 1965 at 5:18pm? I was in my Phi Sigma Delta frat-house library at Cornell, HO model-car racing—for money. At the flick of the wrong switch, all bets were off for the night. I'll never forget that.

Where were you when you heard your first compact disc? I'll never forget where I was: at an early-'80s AES Convention in Los Angeles. It was Roxy Music's Avalon played on a refrigerator-sized machine, and the sound was as awful as the technology was brilliant.

I may not have been listening as an industry insider on the playing field of the audio biz, but I wasn't exactly a spectator in the stands, either. I was kind of on the sidelines. You have to at least be on the sidelines to attend an AES demo of the new electronic future.

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