Analog Corner

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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  |  4 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  |  16 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."

Michael Fremer  |  Aug 11, 1997  |  0 comments
"Extremism in defense of vinyl is no sin."

To paraphrase one of America's greatest living patriots: Extremism in the defense of vinyl is no sin. Okay, my hyperbole may have gotten the best of me when I wrote, in my March column, "The miracle there, of course, would be if the [Disc Doctor's CD cleaning] fluid could somehow make listening to CDs enjoyable''—for which Robert Harley took me to task in his May "As We See It." According to Harley, this is "an extremist position that doesn't take into account the great strides CD sound has made in the last few years."

Well, when I wrote that CDs sounded awful, and that digital recording was a complete disaster back in 1984, "extremist" was one of the nicer things I was called by a bunch of money-hungry opportunists on whose checklists music came last. Why worry about sound and music when the new format meant there were new labels, magazines, and newsletters to start, new pressing plants to build, and a few million recordings to sell all over again? Only an "extremist" would swim against that tide—especially during the "go-go" '80s.

I remember, back then, reading a quote in Billboard from a very famous LA recording-studio owner endorsing Sony's newest digital multitrack recorder as being the best-sounding piece of audio gear he'd ever heard. It struck me as odd, as I'd never heard of a studio owner taking sides like that—especially since there were so many brands of recorders in use back then, with most engineers having their own preferences. A few weeks later, that same studio owner was named the West Coast distributor of Sony digital recorders.

Michael Fremer  |  Jul 11, 1997  |  0 comments
"Installing a cartridge is like cooking in a wok—you want to have all of the ingredients in front of you and well organized before you heat up the oil." Photo by Jan van der Crabben (Wikimedia Commons)

Here's a great garage-sale find: a series of 7" 331/3rpm records sent by a drug company to doctors during the late '50s. Knowing that many doctors back then were classical-music aficionados, the company would put a licensed excerpt from labels like Vanguard and Westminster on one side, and on the other a medical lecture extolling the virtues of the drug it was pushing. My favorite: John Philip Sousa's "The Thunderer" paired with "The Treatment of Some Gastro-Intestinal Disturbances."

Flash! The record biz's savior has been announced, and you're reading it here first. According to some statistics, the prerecorded music industry saw sales drop a precipitous 30% last year (Footnote 1). Why? Well, there are many reasons why CD and cassette sales dropped and why vinyl was the only format to show an increase, but the industry, noting the trends, has decided what needs to be done to increase sales this year.

And the winning solution? "Bring back the cassette!" I kid you not. A group within the record industry has decided that emphasizing expensive CDs and downplaying inexpensive cassettes have driven away a large portion of the market who cannot afford CDs. So a newly formed organization called the Audio Cassette Coalition has been formed to "revitalize" the cassette market.

Michael Fremer  |  Jun 11, 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.

Michael Fremer  |  May 11, 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!

Michael Fremer  |  Apr 11, 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.)
Michael Fremer  |  Mar 11, 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!

Michael Fremer  |  Feb 11, 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''?

Michael Fremer  |  Jan 11, 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.

Michael Fremer  |  Dec 11, 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.

Michael Fremer  |  Nov 11, 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?

Michael Fremer  |  Oct 11, 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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