Analog Corner #28

Mikey shows off his first-edition copy of the UK double EP of Magical Mystery Tour, which he's owned from the day it was first imported to the United States.

(Originally published in Stereophile, November 12th, 1997)

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."

So apparently it was not Capitol that didn't give a shit, but George Martin—who gave Capitol a piece of filtered garbage instead of a nice-sounding mono mix! Nevertheless Mr. Reese's letter ends by lauding George Martin, as well as mentioning that "Fremer seems unaware that there are many readers who could recite the precise date of each remix, the first and second engineers, and which cufflinks producer George Martin was wearing for each session."

I plead guilty to that accusation: I do not know what cufflinks George Martin wore in the studio for each session.

Nor does Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick—I called him at home last week and asked him. And guess what? Neither one of us gives a whiff about what cufflinks George Martin wore in the studio, and probably neither does Martin himself—nor does he remember, I'm sure.

But here's what's really hilarious about all of this: I asked Emerick whether Martin would have sent Capitol electronically reprocessed mixes on which all of the lows in one channel were castrated and all of the highs were decapitated in the other. "No way!" he told me.

Probably what happened, we agreed, was due to Capitol's insistence that MMT be a full-blown album because the EP was a nonexistent format in America. So Martin sent Capitol stereo and mono mixes of the six MMT EP songs, which he already had on hand (the American LP came out in both mono and stereo), as well as stereo mixes of "Hello Goodbye" and "Strawberry Fields," which Capitol already had in mono for the singles releases, along with "Penny Lane," "Baby You're A Rich Man," and "All You Need is Love."

Martin did not have stereo mixes of "All You Need is Love" and "Baby You're A Rich Man," which were recorded at Olympic Studios, the former being part of a live TV broadcast with the Beatles singing over a prerecorded mono-mixed backing track; nor, for some reason, did he have a stereo version of "Penny Lane." So Capitol must have taken the mono versions they already had on hand and performed their electronic "magic."

If the Beatles engineer is wrong, I'm sure he and I would have appreciated being corrected. End of story.

Good news from the RIAA
On August 19, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA, released midyear software shipment figures (net after returns). The number of audio/video product shipped for the first half of 1997 showed a net drop of 9.7% compared to the '96 figures. Dollar value dipped from $5.5 billion to $5.2 billion.

Being in Washington, RIAA spin doctors were able to perform surgery on the numbers and crow about a 3.2% increase in full-length CD units shipped to retail. Overall shipments of CDs, though, dipped 7.3% " a result of the drop in special market shipments," which means record clubs and the like. Do you think record-company execs care where they sell their CDs? Do you think the 3.2% increase at retail makes up for the 7.3% decrease overall?

Meanwhile, vinyl "...enjoyed 16.7% growth in shipments and 27.3% growth in dollar value...'' Yes, the vinyl dollar value is minuscule compared to CDs ($4 billion vs $18 million), but imagine what the number might be if record stores actually stocked records—as shocking a notion as that might seem. And imagine what the numbers might be if all of the mail-order vinyl and independent store sales were included in actual numbers instead of in estimated form—which, I'm sure, grossly underestimates the vinyl percentage. I bet the number would be closer to $25 million.

So how does the RIAA explain the inexplicable surge in the "dead" vinyl format? "[It is] driven by demand for dance/techno recordings...[and]...some high profile artists continue to capitalize on the nostalgia for vinyl in their marketing strategies by releasing a limited vinyl pressing of their current releases."

Never mind the audiophile market. Never mind the alternative rock market, where "nostalgia" merchants like Sub Pop, Matador, Drag City, and others still issue new rock bands on vinyl. Never mind the truth. Just take what's staring you in the face—a 27% dollar-volume increase in an impossible-to-find format—and pawn it off as nostalgia and "marketing strategies." Yeeeessssh!!!!!!

All lined up—the Wallytractor
Two new cartridge-alignment tools arrived almost simultaneously, and both are reasonably priced and worthy of your attention. Wally Malewicz—a Polish-born mechanical engineer (a Bachelor's in electromechanical engineering, a Master's in mechanical engineering) who worked in the pre-Solidarity Gdansk shipyard and now resides in Minneapolis—contacted me in January to gently correct a few things I'd written and to tell me about his custom laser-cut alignment device.

Wally sent along some cleanly drawn diagrams outlining basic tonearm geometry and demonstrating how his Wallytractor system works. His position is that a "one size fits all" protractor cannot be dead-on accurate, and that the most precise setup is achieved with a dedicated device. Malewicz's alignment is based on the formulas developed by Baerwald in 1941, Bauer in 1945, and Seagrave in 1956/57. By knowing the arm design's effective length (the distance from the pivot to the stylus tip) and subtracting the pivot-to-spindle distance, you can calculate the arm's "overhang'': the distance beyond the spindle the stylus must travel to minimize tracking error.

Ideally, of course, you want to track a straight radius from the record's outer edge to the lead-out groove. A pivoted arm describes an arc across the record; either the armtube must be $wS-shaped to achieve minimum error from tangency (right angle to the groove), or, as is more common today, the headshell must be "offset" at an angle determined by the arm's length.

Once Wally knows the particular geometry of your arm, he uses a laser-jig setup to etch a fine arc on a piece of reflective plastic. He also etches a set of three parallel lines at each of the two "zero" points along the curve—where the stylus actually intersects the true radius across the record—and drills a spindle hole.

To align your cartridge, you fit the jig over your spindle hole and rotate it until the pivot reference line points toward the pivot point. Exact aim isn't important. Then you move the cartridge in the arm slots until the stylus fits in the outermost part of the etched arc (disengage antiskating, set tracking force correctly). If you've got it exactly right, which you won't at first, the stylus will stay precisely in the etched groove from its outermost edge to the center. And at the two parallel line points along the arc the cantilever will "toe the line" directly over the center line. Getting it exactly right is somewhat time-consuming but not difficult, and once you're done you have visual proof that your stylus is in the right place all the way across the record surface.

The final version of the Wallytractor will include two more reference points on the arc: negative and positive HTAE (horizontal tracking angle error)—the points on the curve where the stylus is at maximum distance from ideal on both sides of the arc.

Wally does his math assuming that record grooves are cut between 66mm and 146mm from the center spindle. Few records are cut as far in as 60mm (some Mercurys come close, as does Jefferson Airplane's Bless Its Pointed Little Head), though Wally did work out the math to show me what that arc would look like—and if you prefer the 60–146mm arc, he'll cut it. As configured for between 60mm and 146mm, the zero-HTAE points are at 72mm and 124mm, with the negative point at 0.95º at 94mm and the positive one at 1.55º at 146mm.

A Wallytractor cut for your particular tonearm sells for $49.95—reasonable, in my book, especially when you consider that the price includes a specially selected magnifying glass to allow you to see the stylus in focus all across the arc. The Wallytractor is distributed by Pro Audio Ltd. (importer of Wilson-Benesch and Pink Triangle), 111 South Drive, Barrington, IL 60010. Tel: (847) 526-1660. Fax: (847) 526-1669.

I used a Wallytractor cut for the Graham tonearm to confirm the setup I'd done using Graham's ingenious device. I'm happy to say it was "spot on." Keep in mind, though, that some of Graham's original jigs had plenty of play due to manufacturing tolerance problems; this compromised their accuracy. In any case, it's comforting to be able to put the stylus down anywhere in the arm's travel and know with certainty that it is in precise alignment. If your arm is not one of the more commonly available, Wally will make the jig if you can supply him with the arm's effective length per the manufacturer's specs, along with a few other measurements to ensure complete accuracy.

Malewicz tells me he's also designed the Wallyskater, a device to set up and measure antiskating; and the Wally-VTA Tractor, which lets you adjust VTA to 20º "regardless of brand of tonearm," though the device is cartridge-specific. Wally has also produced an 85-minute video dealing with tonearm geometry, azimuth adjustment, zenith adjustment, antiskating, VTA, etc. He's working on editing and polishing it for future sale. We'll report on these in the future.

Townshend Audio Elite Alignment Gauge
No sooner did I get Wally's purely geometric solution to horizontal tracking than Townshend Audio sent me its patented Elite Alignment Gauge, which is based on some very different thinking. "Geometry is geometry''—I hear you—but Max Townshend has some other ideas. His gauge calculates distortion at any groove radius for any combination of offset and overhang—as opposed to just aligning for minimum tracking error.

What's the difference? Townshend's position is that minimizing tracking error in degrees results in gross end-of-side distortion. What should be minimized instead, he contends, is the "ratio of tracking error to groove radius, which is proportional to distortion."

Like Malewicz, Townshend believes a one- or two-point protractor can show you only a tiny error "of uncertain magnitude." Townshend adds that distortion is directly proportional to tracking error and inversely proportional to groove speed, so the "faster" the groove speed, the lower the distortion. The Townshend device takes groove speed into account while also making use of the accepted geometric relationships between pivoted arms and groove radii.

Townshend's calculations are based on a modulation of 5cm/s and, since "stylus profile has a bearing on the distortion level," a 5 by 80 parabolic stylus shape. Townshend's equation—upon which his gauge is based—is D=44.4E/R where D is distortion percentage, E is tracking error in degrees, and R is groove radius in millimeters. Unfortunately, 44.4 is not identified. (Don't fall asleep on me now.)

What Townshend gives you is a gauge consisting of a thick plastic card with a spindle hole drilled in it. The high-quality imprinting includes a millimeter scale on one edge, and a complex graph that looks something like a football field as viewed from the cheap seats (with "down and out" patterns marked), positioned to coincide with the record grooves.

Townshend's Elite Alignment Gauge.

The markings include a straight radius and a tangent line at 60mm (innermost groove) and every 10mm from there out to 140mm, plus one at 146mm—the lead-in groove. As you can see from the illustration, Townshend has inscribed the gauge with one example, an ideal stylus plot, that of (guess what?) his Excalibur arm along with percent distortion lines which flare out from the straight radius.

CONFUSING INSTRUCTIONS: When installing a new cartridge, you're told to begin by setting a coarse overhang, overhang being the distance between the spindle and the arm's specified effective length as measured in a straight line from the pivot point directly over the spindle. Capeesh? But since many arms cannot move directly over the spindle, and because none can lower so that the stylus reaches platter height, and because the millimeter ruler on the Elite gauge is on the edge instead of being printed directly out from the spindle hole, and because the instructions give you the proper overhang only for a 220mm arm, commencing setup with this gauge can be very frustrating.

You must know both the length of your arm and the specified overhang or the effective length before you can begin. Even then, in most cases you'll be able to set only a very coarse approximation—which wouldn't be so bad if the rest of the process were not so time-consuming. What you're asked to do is to get some graph paper and draw vertical (percentage error) and horizontal (tangent lines across record surface) axes. Not difficult, and actually fun!

Then you place the stylus down on the 60mm line, making sure the cartridge body and/or headshell edge is parallel to it. At that point the stylus will be either at the "zero" mark (directly on the straight radius—not likely), or it will be either "above" or "below" and on one of the percentage-distortion flare lines. You follow that line out to the number and mark it on the graph. Repeat the procedure for each of the nine remaining tangent lines, always making sure the cartridge body/headshell is parallel to the lines, until you have 10 plot points forming a distortion curve. It's okay to move the gauge to keep the lines parallel—in fact, you have to.

Connect the dots, compare what you got to the various plots printed in the instruction booklet, and you'll know where your alignment is at—overhang too far forward or too far back (or perhaps that the arm designer got the offset angle wrong). You make your adjustment in millimeters—which now, using the gauge's ruler, you can do precisely—and start the procedure over again. If you've already got your cartridge aligned, you can use the gauge to measure the correctness of your setup, making (hopefully) small adjustments from there.

What your plot shows you is the percentage distortion at any point across the record surface. It also will show you just how subjective these measurements can be: You'll find the plot points occasionally jumping up and down instead of following a smooth curve—an impossibility, of course, except that what's parallel and what's not is not so easy to judge, and a small shift can move the cantilever the equivalent of a country mile. You'll have to go back and check your marks until you get a smooth arc.

Looking at Townshend's best-case plot scribed into the gauge itself, it is apparent that he feels that the maximum distortion should be equal and at three points on the record: at the very beginning, where groove radii are largest and groove speed is fastest; at the very end at 60mm, to where few records are cut; and at the 80mm point. Not everyone agrees, but in the instruction booklet Townshend makes a good case.

Making the gauge somewhat difficult to use is the fact that the tangent lines are raised "embossings''—when you try putting the stylus on the line, it invariably falls to one side or the other. And if your headshell and/or cartridge doesn't have straight, parallel lines? In the instructions, Max Townshend says somewhat facetiously that, obviously, the designer did not intend for you to get a proper alignment. HAHAHAHA! Funny, Max.

I used both the Graham arm's flat-edged headshell and the cantilever to keep the lines parallel. Why Townshend doesn't have you use the cantilever itself as the main determinant of tangency to the straight radius is a mystery to me. Why rely on the cartridge body, which means you're relying on the manufacturer having installed the motor precisely in the body—not always a given?

When I confessed to a Townshend spokesperson that I found the instructions confusing, confounding, and written like a computer manual—or about as bad as instructions get—I was told that I was the only one they'd ever heard that from. So be it—maybe I'm a dummy. I also complained about Townshend's use of the instructions as an excuse to propagandize about other subjects. For instance, at one point he says, "...the increasing demands of high-fidelity reproduction since 1877 have ironically made it much harder to construct a linear tracking arm that does not have drawbacks overwhelming its advantages." What these drawbacks or/and advantages are, he doesn't say.

In any case, at $35, the Townshend Elite Alignment Gauge is yet another useful tool in the war against tracking error, a fascinating device in its own right, and one I recommend despite all of my bitching. You'll need a good magnifying glass and a very steady hand.

And finally...
With Audio Alchemy's outstanding VAC-in-the-Box phono section currently unavailable, analog newcomers on a budget ought to consider Musical Fidelity's X-LP moving-magnet/moving-coil phono stage. While it doesn't offer AA's incredible gain and loading flexibility, the nicely constructed English unit does give you the standard 47k ohms in MM position and 100 ohms in MC, which in most cases is either ideal or close to it. MC gain is sufficient for all but the lowest-output cartridges, none of which will end up being used with a budget product like this anyway.

In my listening sessions I found the unit very quiet in both modes, and free of audible garbage like high-frequency crunchies and over-etchedness. Overall response was smooth and clean—though, like the inexpensive Creek unit I reviewed way back in August '95 (Vol.18 No.8) (also worth checking out), the usual budget-gear problems persisted: low-bass wooziness; softened, somewhat out-of-focus highs; and a lack of overall transparency and clarity. That's compared to a $5000 preamp and an $8000 phono section, so what do you expect?

Taken on its own, the $295 X-LP (frequently on sale for $249.95 through Audio Advisor) will get you into quality budget analog in comfort. Matched with something like a Rega 3 and a good MM cartridge, you've got high-performance analog for about $1200. Then you'll be ready to hit the garage sales and get 400 great records for $400, as I did this past summer.

Michael Fremer's picture

Not talking about cartridge alignment either. Here it is 15 years later and I'm in much better and "flatter" shape! Proving we can get older and BETTER!

Billf's picture

So, how is it that the Germans were able to get George Martin to provide true stereo mixes for its MMT release in 1971 but Capitol, which probably sold its US version in multiples of hundreds of what the German one did, didnt? My guess is that Capitol didn't ask in 1967 because, in the words of The Master, it just didn't give a shit.

Michael Fremer's picture

I think the release dates provide the clues. Capitol wanted to get it's MMT out when the UK EP was released, on schedule as the <i>Sgt. Pepper's...</i> follow up around the Christmas holidays 1967 (<i>Sgt. Peppers</i> was released the previous late Spring).

George Martin hadn't yet produced the stereo mixes of the songs on side two because they weren't intended for release on MMT to begin with so he sent monos that were either in the can or more easily produced.

By the time Hor Zü issued MMT in 1971 the stereo mixes were available. That's also why Mobile Fidelity's <i>cassette</i> had the stereo mixes but it does NOT explain why Mobile Fidelity's box set album had Capitol's crappy electronically reprocessed for stereo mixes on side two of its MMT. However, I believe that EMI UK did release an LP edition of MMT and used Capitol's fake stereo mixes too! But don't hold me to's a recollection I have...

timorous's picture

I was searching through Mark Lewisohn's fascinating chronicle "The Complete Beatles recording sessions", and found the following on p. 131:

[in reference to the Capitol LP] – 

"...'Penny Lane', 'Baby, You're a Rich Man', and 'All You Need Is Love' were issued in "duophonic" form (i.e. "mock stereo") since true stereo mixes had not yet been made for them. 'All You Need Is Love' was first remixed for stereo on 29 October, 1968, 'Penny Lane' did not receive its first stereo remix until 30 September, 1971 and 'Baby, You're a Rich Man' until 22 October 1971. On 19 November 1976 EMI issued the LP in the UK [the Capitol version, with the three "duophonic" songs] to satisfy public demand."

I also have the original UK double EP. Strangely though, 'Blue Jay Way' is the mono mix (without the backwards vocal backups), while the others are true stereo.

It also seemed to me that the stereo mix of 'Strawberry Fields Forever' on the HorZu LP is slightly different than the Capitol version.

It's too bad EMI missed the boat on these new LP issues once again. Although I haven't heard them, all reports suggest another botched attempt to cash in for the umpteenth time. It also occured to me that maybe these 45 to 50 year old masters have deteriorated enough that they'll never sound the way they did on those first pressings. Who knows...