Analog Corner

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Michael Fremer  |  Jun 25, 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.

Michael Fremer  |  Jun 17, 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.

Michael Fremer  |  May 26, 2013  |  0 comments
I flew into Los Angeles a week early to be HI-FI '98's media mouth. I hung at the hotel as much as possible, but there were radio stations and record stores to visit. I'd decided not to schlep records with me from back east, instead relying on what I could find in the L.A. bins.

What luck! Rockaway was having another half-price sale on used vinyl. I got unplayed "steamboat''-label Reprise pressings of the Kinks' Kink Kontroversy and You Really Got Me, and a British Apple original of the Beatles' 1962–66, for 12 bucks apiece.

Michael Fremer  |  May 07, 2013  |  5 comments
What's it worth to ya?"

This quintessential American question is the hub of our capitalist society, and one that figures in two subjects that have recently been clogging my e-mail in-box. The first has to do with the Record Club of America's half-million-plus unplayed LPs, which I wrote about last fall ("Analog Corner," September 1997).

RCOA's much-delayed catalog (due out last October but not appearing until this May) has created quite a stir with many recipients, some of whom are outraged by what they see as absurdly high prices for many of the discs. You should hear them! Along with Dan Burton, they should have their mouths washed out with soap! I'll spare you those.

Most of the others are more bemused than angry. Like this guy: "Stop it, stop it. You've got to be kidding. I wonder if Mr. Fremer helped them price the classical issues, and probably [Fi's] Wayne Garcia priced the Jazz."

Michael Fremer  |  Apr 28, 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.

Michael Fremer  |  Apr 23, 2013  |  6 comments
The Library of Congress Reading Room. All photos by Michael Fremer.

How was your month? Mine was analogo bizarro.

But before getting to this month's promised story—my visit to the Library of Congress—I have to clear the deck: I received an e-mail from an individual, fairly well known in the grooved world, telling me that I "may not have had all the information" when I wrote in my February R2D4 that Alto Analogue's Ataulfo Argenta Edition (AA006) boxed set was mastered by Nick Webb at Abbey Road from the original analog master tapes.

Michael Fremer  |  Apr 02, 2013  |  14 comments
I've got this friend Shirley. Married with two kids, she appears to be your typical suburban middle-aged housewife—but somehow her music genes got short-circuited. While most of her neighbors have become Yanni-fied (if they pay attention to music at all), Shirley is a Rolling Stones fanatic.
Michael Fremer  |  Mar 26, 2013  |  4 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.

Michael Fremer  |  Mar 22, 2013  |  2 comments
I don't know whether it was Mrs. Nachman or Mr. Nachman, but back in the late '80s one of them took a dump on Joe Grado's head, and it wasn't pretty. But it was expected, for the Nachmans were my pet birds, and that's what birds do when they perch on shiny domes.

The Nachmans have since gone to that great birdcage in the sky, and I bet if I'd asked Joe Grado back then where he thought the cartridge business would be in 1998, he'd have said in the same general neighborhood—along with Betamax (still better, and I still use it), Elcaset, RCA Selectavision, and the rest.

But I didn't ask Joe Grado about the future back then because the present was about his $200 8MZ cartridge, which I'd reviewed and found to have a lump in the midbass. Joe came over to convince me it didn't, and that what I'd heard was due to my setup. After moving speakers and subwoofers around, and after Joe had been anointed by one of the Nachbirds, the lump remained. We called it a (messy) day.

Michael Fremer  |  Mar 19, 2013  |  0 comments
Ever have one of those days from hell that starts before the sun comes up and doesn't end until you fall into bed exhausted and stressed, hours after your normal snooze time?

I had one a few weeks ago. I'll spare you the 6am phone call that started it, but by noon I'd learned that my furnace was cracked and a new one would cost me $3000. Three grand? What a waste. That almost buys a state-of-the-art phono cartridge or some good cables these days, and I have to divert it to heat?

Michael Fremer  |  Mar 15, 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.

Michael Fremer  |  Mar 12, 2013  |  8 comments
You always remember your first one. For me it was an Oracle Delphi turntable back in 1982. I'd gone to Christopher Hansen's in LA to buy a brand-new one, but as luck would have it, a barely used one had just been traded in by film director Roger Corman's son, and I was able to get the Delphi/Magnepan unipivot tonearm combo for a few hundred dollars less than the cost of a new 'table. My first exposure to a wobbly-armed unipivot gave me the creeps, but the deal was too good to pass up.
Michael Fremer  |  Mar 02, 2013  |  6 comments
In the June "Analog Corner" I wrote written that "Baby You're A Rich Man" on the US release of the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour LP was originally issued in electronically reprocessed stereo because "Capitol back then didn't really give a shit." (MMT was first issued in the UK as a double 7" EP, Parlophone MMT/SMMT-1) Reader Preston Reese responded in a letter ("Letters," September '97 p.17) that while "the original 1967 US LP release [of MMT] was a combination of stereo mixes and mono mixes re-channeled for stereo," the master of "Baby You're a Rich Man" was a processed stereo version "provided to [Capitol] by the Beatles and their producer George Martin in 1967...It wasn't until four years later, in October 1971, that 'Baby You're a Rich Man' got around to its first stereo mix, created for the German LP release of Magical Mystery Tour."
Michael Fremer  |  Feb 21, 2013  |  17 comments
Our intrepid reporter had no idea why 650,000 records were in a warehouse in York, or who owned them, but he took the bait nevertheless. Photos by Michael Fremer.

I heard this story from a manufacturer whose car broke down somewhere in a rundown Queens neighborhood one afternoon: He went into a bodega to make a phone call and struck up a conversation with the owner. Their talk led to audio, then to a trip to the basement of the former record store, where thousands of Living Stereos and other audiophile treasures had been sitting for decades, gathering dust and value. The manufacturer would visit each week and walk out with a few hundred unplayed gems, for which he'd pay a few bucks each.

True story? Audiophile wet dream? Who knows? Who cares? We love this stuff. So when I got a call from Rick Flynn (proprietor of Quality Vinyl, a mail-order, audiophile-oriented record dealer) about 650,000 records—every one of them stone-cold mint—locked in a warehouse in York, Pennsylvania since 1973, and would I like to have a look...I bit.

Michael Fremer  |  Sep 11, 1997  |  0 comments
Larry Archibald presents Liza Austin with a K101-FM shopping-spree certificate at HI-FI '97. Ryan Seacrest makes an appearance. Photo by Natalie Brown-Baca.

I've been reading your column for about a year now and I've always thought you were full of shit!" an attendee cheerfully volunteered at the conclusion of the "Vinyl in the '90s" seminar I hosted at HI-FI '97. So it's that kind of gathering, I thought to myself, remembering how the hour had commenced with an audience member accusing panelist Steve Hoffman of messing with the master tape of Nat King Cole's Love is the Thing for DCC Compact Classics' superb-sounding vinyl and gold CD reissues.

"But at this Show I got to hear records for the first time," the young reader continued, "and you're right! Records do sound better than CDs—much better! Now I have to get a turntable and start buying records! What should I buy?"

"Well, how much can you spend?," I asked.

"Cost is no object."

"Well then, call Andy Payor at Rockport Technologies and order yourself a Sirius III record player for $53,000."

"Cost is an object!" he shot back faster than you could say "second mortgage."

"Well then, you've got a hotel's worth of choices and a day and a half to make up your mind," I told him. "Check out the VPI TNT Mk.3, the Basis 2000 series, the Immedia RPM-2, the Oracle Delphi, and the others that are here—I can't tell you what to buy."

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