Analog Corner

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Michael Fremer  |  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.
Michael Fremer  |  Jul 22, 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.

Michael Fremer  |  Jul 15, 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.

Michael Fremer  |  Jul 05, 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.
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  |  2 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  |  2 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.

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