Analog Corner

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Michael Fremer Posted: Jul 12, 1995 1 comments
It was big. It was ugly. It looked unfinished. It resembled some kind of industrial mistake, which is pretty much what it was: a prototype CD player rolled out by Sony at the 1982 AES Convention in Los Angeles. The inventors didn't care what it looked like, they just wanted you to hear it. Why, I don't know; it sounded awful.

I'd just spent a week's worth of tweak time optimizing my turntable using a Japanese pressing of Roxy Music's Avalon, squeezing every last cymbal rivet of musical detail from my Dynavector Ruby/Lustre GST-1 combo, and they're trying to pass off this flaccid noodle as Avalon? Oh, headless chickens!

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Michael Fremer Posted: May 12, 1996 0 comments
Can't we all get along?" Long before Rodney King, I was posing that question in Los Angeles—in 1983 to be exact. One big difference: I was the one doing the head-bashing. No, I wasn't in an LAPD uniform at the time, though a hyperventilating, mucous-snorting LA cop once did put a revolver to my head. But that's another story.

This story is about collectivism in the age of rack systems. I relate it to you because even though I failed then, I hope to succeed now. If you keep your Stereophiles—which I hope you do—read Ted Lindblad's letter in the January 1996 issue (p.29). Mr. Lindblad, a Connecticut retailer, calls for a high-end marketing collective in response to my observation that high-end audio is an invisible industry in the country leading the charge—the good old U.S. of A!

It is as if Mr. Lindblad had been reading my mind, or thumbing through my filing cabinet to be exact, for back in 1983 I had tried to set up the very sort of cooperative advertising campaign he called for in his letter. This was before I had any involvement in the industry. I was a full-retail–paying, card-carrying audiophile just like you.

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Michael Fremer Posted: Jun 12, 1996 0 comments
The VPI HW-17 record cleaner.

I'm always surprised when I read a letter saying that this column helped convince a reader to invest in a good turntable and start enjoying analog. I shouldn't be, but I am. And I'm also amazed by how many such letters I see published, or receive via fax from the home office in Santa Fe, or by e-mail on CompuServe (Footnote 1). Ditto when I run into people at record and hi-fi stores who tell me the same thing.

I even meet newly converted analog devotees at the Toshiba-sponsored Home Theater seminars I've been participating in over the past year and a half. Although my name isn't used to promote these events, inevitably one or two Stereophile and/or Stereophile Guide to Home Theater readers are in attendance, and after the three-hour presentation (it is comprehensive) they come up and tell me how much they appreciate the fact that I've pushed them over the top and into the groove. That's about as good as it gets for a writer/advocate. It's clear proof that the old and new technologies can happily coexist.

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Michael Fremer Posted: Jul 12, 1996 0 comments
Times Square is home of Virgin's new, atply named MegaStore.

There's news on the Exabyte front: In my April column ("Now the Bad News," p.58), I reported rumblings in the mastering community about the growing use of the Exabyte computer backup system in CD production. The 8mm tapes allow glass masters to be cut at double speed, thus halving production time, and time is money so "look at the clock!"—that's for all you My Little Margie fans.

No sooner had the ink dried on that story than I received a call from a Marv Bornstein, who consults for Cinram, an Indiana-based CD manufacturing facility. Bornstein worked at A&M for many years, back when sound quality was job number one there, and Bernie Grundman ran Herb Alpert's cutting lathe. An ex-girlfriend of mine worked at A&M when I lived in Los Angeles, so I got to hang around the lot a lot and I'd actually met Bornstein (and Grundman for that matter)—it's a small platter ain't it?

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Michael Fremer Posted: Aug 12, 1996 1 comments
Shure Stylus Pressure Gauge

First, some good news. Allsop has just announced that it is once again stocking replacement pads for their late, lamented Orbitrac record cleaner. For those who don't know about it, the Orbitrac was an inexpensive rotary cleaning device once considered a joke plastic product strictly for vinyl plebes who couldn't afford vacuum-powered record-cleaning machines. (See Wes Phillips's "Industry Update," April '96, p.39.)

But, used as a pre-vacuuming device to clean surface dust and to get schmutz up from the depths of the grooves before vacuuming, the Orbitrac has proven to be an indispensable weapon in the war on dirty records.

Until now, those lucky enough to own the discontinued Orbitrac have had to hand-wash their pads in an elaborate ritual of diluted laundry detergent followed by multiple hand rinses, diluted fabric-softener baths, and still more rinses. Kind of makes you want to switch to CDs....not!

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Michael Fremer Posted: Sep 12, 1996 0 comments
Kuzma Stabi Reference turntable with Stogi Reference arm

"Hey! First you said the hi-fi show was like the auto show, then all you've talked about is vacuum tubes and turntables. I got news for you: when I go to the car show, I don't go there to see old technology and old cars, I go to see what's new!"

I was on Leonard Lopate's WNYC radio show promoting HI-FI '96, and this irate caller was right: I had talked a great deal about tubes and analog. But why not? I figured it would add some color to the story. I figured even the uninterested would find the resurgence of tubes and vinyl fascinating. And if it incited some folks into calling in, isn't that what talk radio is all about?

But this guy was really ticked, and he'd backed me into a corner. "Calm down!" I told him. "There's plenty of new solid-state gear at the Show too, and CD players and processors. By the way, didn't you say you're from Westchester? Well, there's a company in Westchester called Mondial and they make solid-state gear right here in the United States—I've reviewed some—and their Acurus line is basically no more expensive than the mass-market junk you find at chain stores. You ought to come to the Show and hear it!" That shut him up but good.

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Michael Fremer Posted: Oct 12, 1996 0 comments
Analogue Productions' new vinyl releases are welcome—but how many audiophiles will buy them?

I've never called "The Psychic Hotline," though I am a certified Dionne Warwick fan. Don't get me wrong: I believe in psychic phenomena. It's just that I'm psychic enough without having to pay some phoney a buck a minute to feed me truisms that sound "just like me!" Of course they do. They sound just like you, too. Amazing.

No, I believe in these strange invisible connections. They're as real as the air we breathe—we just can't see them. We can't usually see the air, either, but we keep breathing it. For instance, the couple who won the Stereophile/WNYC HI-FI '96 contest—see September '96, p.57—could have come from anyplace in the gigantic New York metropolitan area, but ended up living a few blocks from my house. That was meant to be.

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Michael Fremer Posted: Nov 12, 1996 0 comments
From vinyl biscuits to 180gm LPs: RTI's pressing plant hard at work.

I'm tired of reading hacks who predict the merging of audio, video, and computing. You know, the integrated "multimedia" living-room package—Dad sitting before the theater-size flat screen doing his taxes, Mom "surfing" the Internet for recipes, Junior downloading instructions for building pipe bombs—that sort of thing.

It ain't gonna happen, okay? Not when Dad can have a $1500 PC in the basement home office, not when Mom can have a $1000 PC in the kitchen (Dad's always has to be bigger—it's a "Family Values" clause in the Contract On America), and Junior can have one in his bedroom—and everyone can attend to his or her own business in private. Why would you want to tie the whole thing together in one place so that everyone but the person hogging the monitor can get ticked off waiting for screen time?

No, the family room is for family business, like watching television and movies. I have running water in my kitchen—does that mean I should rig up a toilet in the middle of the room?

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Michael Fremer Posted: Dec 12, 1996 0 comments
The Rega Planar 2

The last thing I did before sitting down to write this column was run an $1895 Lyra Clavis D.C. phono cartridge on a $650 Rega Planar 3 turntable. I played a British Polydor pressing of Roxy Music's song "Avalon," then played it again on the $9000 TNT Mk.3/Immedia RPM combo using a $3800 Transfiguration Temper cartridge. That's $2545 vs about $13,000.

Were there differences? Of course. Were they big differences? Not nearly as immense as I thought they'd be. When I started my comparison of four reasonably priced arm/'table combos a few weeks ago, the last thing I thought I'd be doing during the process was playing with expensive cartridges. I was figuratively wrong and literally correct.

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Michael Fremer Posted: Jan 12, 1997 1 comments
Allsop's Orbitrac 2

Before beginning my regularly scheduled column, let me respond to Charles Hansen's letter (November 1996, p.16), which JA kindly headlined "Fremer Was Wrong." [Hey, it did follow a letter headline "Fremer Was Right.''—Ed.] Hansen writes "...unless they've changed it since I purchased mine, the Shure...is virtually unusable for moving-coil cartridges. The main beam is made of a ferrous material—the powerful magnets in a moving-coil cartridge will clamp the gauge to the cartridge, flattening the cantilever in the process." (my italics)

I've been reviewing moving-coil cartridge after moving-coil cartridge in Stereophile and using my trusty Shure gauge to set tracking force on all of them. As I haven't noticed any flattened cantilevers, it appears Shure has changed the gauge's beam from a ferrous material to aluminum. Hansen could have picked up the phone and called Shure or, God forbid, me—then he wouldn't have confused and/or panicked readers. Get the Shure for $15 and rest aSHUREd you'll come within 0.1 gram of the true VTF compared to the dead-on accurate $649 Wind electronic unit you'll read about a few paragraphs down.

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Michael Fremer Posted: Feb 12, 1997 0 comments
I'm not thin-skinned, I don't think. I dish it out and I can take it. So when a reader criticized me for souping-up my old Saab, I could handle it. When another canceled his Stereophile subscription, calling my very appearance in these pages "the last straw" without bothering to say why—as if it's obvious—I could take that too. Even when a reader characterized my reviewing style as "undisciplined" and "jarring and out of step with the rest of the equipment section" (see December's "Letters," Vol.19 No.12, p.15), I could brush that aside because I know it's not true. I think my reviews are informative and meticulously done. I just try making them entertaining, too. I can take all that stuff in stride.

But when a fan comments on my height ("Letters," December ;96, also p.15), calling me "Little Big Ear''—well, that hurts. Especially when he goes on to use my stature as the basis of an amateur psychoanalysis of why I am the way I am. Yes, at 5!0 6" I am "height challenged." But in the picture published in the September '96 Stereophile (p.57) I am standing next to a contest winner with a pituitary run amuck. He's big! So is Dennis Rodman! So what's his problem? Why does he "act out''?

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Michael Fremer Posted: Aug 12, 1995 0 comments
I figure two categories of non–analog-owning audiophiles are reading this column (footnote 1)—younger ones who've never heard good or any pure analog; and older audiophiles who may have been pushed out by the bad advice regularly spewing from the pages of "mainstream" stereo magazines in the days just before CD.

Their prescription for playback perfection? Track lightly on a PLL direct-drive turntable (and since all turntables sound the same, any one will do). I swallowed a large dose of that myself during the early ‘70s, marginalizing my listening enjoyment and ruining many of my favorite records in the process.

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Michael Fremer Posted: Mar 12, 1997 1 comments
Lurkers on this printsite considering taking the analog plunge but concerned that all of the good used records have already been bought, leaving them to face a life of hideously expensive reissues—fear not! There are still billions and billions of great black biscuits out there, yours for a song—or a buck or two.

A few weeks ago, WFMU—one of New York City's better listener-supported radio stations—held its annual benefit "record convention" in an East Village church basement. Though it was a cold, rainy December Saturday, the crowd snaked around the block hours before the 10am opening, each attendee happy to pay the $10 early-entrance fee. Later arrivals paid just $4 for the privilege of picking through tens of thousands of records hauled there by seasoned dealers and novices alike.

Who were these vinyl fanatics? Not the middle-aged, food-stamp–eligible misanthropes the music biz would like to think are the only buyers left for the cumbersome old technology. The hundreds of folks I stood behind (damn them!) were mostly young, intelligent, upscale, and, of course, decidedly geeky—no different from the COMDEX crowd, actually, though I doubt these folks' idea of fun is "surfing" the Net—not when there's vinyl to spin!

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Michael Fremer Posted: Apr 12, 1997 0 comments
Audio legend Saul Marantz's obituary appeared in the New York Times the other day, respectfully written by Stereophile Guide to Home Theater's Lawrence B. Johnson. Once the initial shock had worn off, I remembered something I'd meant to pass on to you: I collect musician obituaries and insert them into the appropriate LP jackets without folding. Try that with your stupid jewel-boxed CDs! For instance, last Saturday I came upon Richard Berry's obit. Berry, of course, wrote "Louie, Louie" back in 1956. As is so often the case, he ended up getting screwed out of his publishing rights to the song. After his version of the song sold about 130,000 copies—a good number back then—he sold the publishing, but not the radio and television performance rights, to Flip Records' Max Feirtag for $750 so he'd have enough gelt to get married. Ah, yes! My people knew how to discover and record black people, but paying them fairly was another story! (Don't bother writing to tell me I'm a self-loathing Jew. I know it—just as I know I suffer from Short Man's Syndrome.)
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Michael Fremer Posted: May 12, 1997 1 comments
Express Machining's "The Lift"

My wife shows our dog. Sometimes I tag along to watch Mr. Eno in the ring. If you think high-end audio is weird, you ought to check out the world of show dogs—in the fetish department, those shows make audiophiles look like rank amateurs. And talk about subjectivity and petty politics! Jeez!!

Anyway, part of the judge's job is a hands-on confirmation check. Do I conclude from this that the judge spends all of his time feeling dogs' balls?

No.

So why do some Stereophile readers think I spend all of my time listening to vinyl? Or obsessing over hi-fi equipment? I think I speak for all Stereophile reviewers and editors when I say that all of us are in this for the music—whether it's on CD, vinyl, Edison cylinder, V-Disc, cassette, or whatever. What you read of us on the printed page is the thin end of the wedge—but that's the job description, so that's what you read!

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