Analog Corner

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Michael Fremer Posted: Jan 12, 1996 0 comments
Rhino's excellent John Coltrane compilation is also available on limited-edition vinyl.

A few days ago I spoke with Gene Paul, the veteran mastering engineer who digitally transferred Atlantic Records' Coltrane catalog for Rhino's The Heavyweight Champion—The Complete Atlantic Recordings (Rhino R2 71984)—a superbly packaged "sessionography" on eight CDs (Footnote 1).

The set sounds outstanding for CD (I haven't heard the vinyl yet), and I wanted to know what converter Paul had used. I don't want to rain on anyone's digital parade, but he told me a stock Sony PCM-1630. No Wadia, no Apogee, no DCS, no gazillion-times oversamping, no SBM box—a stock '1630. "Why?" I asked. "Don't you hear differences among converters?" He said that he did, adding that if you want to change the sound, those devices do, but in his opinion the biggest difference is in the analog playback deck. Once you digitize the signal, he said, "the damage is done." The Coltrane masters were played back on a vintage MCI open-reel deck.

Okay, I give! Analog and vinyl reproduction do not have "infinite resolution," as I claimed here recently, but I didn't mean to be taken quite as literally as some letter-writers took me. Film doesn't have "infinite resolution" either, but compared to current commercial video tape, it does.

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Michael Fremer Posted: Jun 12, 1997 0 comments
Eddie Kramer stopped by yesterday to play me the new MCA Jimi Hendrix LPs and CDs, which will be in the stores by the time you read this. Was it a kick having Kramer, who engineered all of the Hendrix recordings (and some Beatles, Stones, and Traffic too) sitting in my "sweet spot''? Duh! It was also a bit nerve-wracking. He knows how these things are supposed to sound. I only know what I like.

So before he arrived I cleaned my connections and checked all the setup parameters on the turntable. When I was satisfied everything was dialed in, I demagnetized the Transfiguration Temper, ultrasonically cleaned the stylus, and left the 'table spinning to warm up the bearing grease. I wuz ready.

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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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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: Oct 12, 1995 1 comments
This was originally going to be a piece on air-bearing tonearm design; but last night I had a religious experience, and if I don't get it out of my system, I won't be right.

I've been a Buddy Holly and The Crickets fan ever since "That'll Be the Day" was released back in 1957 (it was recorded in Clovis, New Mexico on February 25 of that year). Holly's the original skinny-necked, thick-eyeglassed "geek rocker''—the whole image David Byrne and Elvis Costello later aped. But Holly really was that.

And what about those wacky vocal affectations? The hiccups, the drawl, the yelp, the split syllables, the sticky female whining he affected on "Peggy Sue." Where did that stuff come from?

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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 29, 2013 4 comments
One of the fascinating things about watching your personal odometer piling on the miles is that, whatever your self-image, you're leaving an ever-lengthening trail that becomes more difficult to deny with every glance in the rearview mirror.

I can't escape it: I love old things. I drive an old car not because I can't replace it with a new one, but because the experience of driving it is irreplaceable. New cars don't look, feel, sound, or even smell like my old Saab: the roar of the throaty engine, the sound of the air being sucked into the carburetor, the visceral connection between the road and my hands on the non-power steering wheel—new cars can't provide these sensations. New cars hide their mechanical nature. Old cars celebrate it.

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Michael Fremer Posted: Oct 25, 2013 2 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: 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: 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: Mar 27, 2013 3 comments
One of Mikey's best sounds at CES: the Hales Transcendence 5 speakers powered by Balanced Audio Technology amplification. All photos by John Atkinson

Call it a convention, call it a trade exhibition, call it CES, call it "Bernie''—no matter how you laser-slice it, it's a show. And for a show to succeed, it needs an audience. For an audience to show up, it needs stars, it needs a good book, and it needs some decent tunes or compelling drama.

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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: 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: Mar 16, 2013 1 comments
Lyra Arion moving-coil step-up transformer

"The killer cycles, the killer Hertz, / the passage of my life is measured out in shirts," as Brian Eno once sang. In 1997 I measure out the vitality of the analog revival by how long it takes my Dick to fill with new vinyl. It doesn't take more than a few weeks, and a Dick holds about 75 records. Dick, by the way, is a sturdy, inexpensive, attractively finished, LP-sized, wooden slatted crate sold at Ikea, the Swedish home furnishing giant. As at Linn, everything at Ikea has a weird, consonant-heavy name.

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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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