Rocky Mountain Wrap-Up (Added Information 11/7/14)

Though the Rocky Mountain Audio Show happened almost a month ago I'm just getting around to a show wrap up. Between the Australia show, coming back with a nasty head cold, and then getting hit with HP's sudden passing, time flew.

RMAF 2014 wasn't exactly an analogue barn-burner. Maybe that's because vinyl now is so taken for granted but the fact is while there was some new and exciting stuff that's already been covered here, the show seemed heavily weighted towards computer based audio. My USB stick containing vinyl rips played in some rooms but not in others. It played easily in some room and not in others.

It was weird not doing seminars. This is the first show in years where I haven't. Roy Gregory and Strirling Trayle did some scheduled but informal ones in one of the smaller sized hotel rooms but I didn't attend. Some attendees said they were pushing the UNI-DIN alignment geometry. If true, I don't see why one must "push" a particular alignment geometry.

The UNI-DIN geometry puts a null point at 66.5MM, which means the distortion will rise precipitously from there but the side will almost be over. Löfgren A's null point is at 64MM and after that it rises precipitously so in that regard UNI-DIN is somewhat better as it is in terms of maximum distortion. UNI-DIN over "A" but "B"? Löfgren "B"' maximum distortion is lower than that of UNI-DIN but the 70MM null point means distortion increases precipitously where's there's more record grooves, though it's less of a problem on modern records that aren't cut as close to the label.

From the beginning of the record, the UNI-DIN curve's first null point is at 112MM which is only about 3MM after Löfgren "B", however UNI-DIN's initial distortion is higher from the lead in groove all the way to the null point. The point is, all of these alignments produce slightly different results and while you can play music in the flattering region of any of these curves you should choose one based upon either studying the distortion curves and extrapolating the sonics, or by actually trying them all (if you have that kind of time) and after listening across the entire record surface, choose your favorite.

Though I didn't do any seminars, Wally Malewicz did a few in the big meeting room. Much of what I have learned about turntable set-up has come from Wally. I sat in on one of them and fed him some organizational pointers as he went. Wally's knowledge of this subject is impressive. Unfortunately sometimes he has trouble putting himself in the shoes of the least knowledgeable person in the audience and/or he assumes those in the audience know more than they do.

I have a 6th sense for this and so when Wally went into a formula by saying "You have 'R', so 'R' ....."etc. I interjected from the audience "Wally, tell people what "R" stands for!". And when he did, I could see many in the audience going to themselves "Oh!".

After Wally's seminars he stood outside the amphitheater with his flipboard and for 80 minutes answered vinyl enthusiasts' questions in as much detail as the questioner desired.

This is as good a place as any to tell you about ASF™—The Analog Science Foundation an organization I started recently modeled after the ISF, the Imaging Science Foundation. That group teaches video techs how to calibrate a video monitor to meet industry standards for color temperature, gray scale consistency, color "points" etc. The difference in video performance between calibrated and non-calibrated monitors is considerable.

ASF will certify turntable set up technicians. Those certified will first have a good theoretical set=up knowledge as well as being capable of precisely setting overhang and zenith angle, properly setting anti-skating, using a digital microscope to set 92 degree SRA and finally using a digital oscilloscope to set azimuth (if possible).

Currently we are creating the curriculum as well as a PowerPoint presentation and laying the foundation for how the process will work and how the organization will be structured. We have the full support of ISF's Joel Silver who provided an excellent template for first setting up the organization as well as for growing it worldwide. We hope in January to Beta test with a "live" group of technicians at a location to be announced.

Hopefully by the end of next year there will be an ASF certified turntable set-up technician working near you. And if not, we are hoping as well to certify the technicians working for the online sellers.

So RMAF 2014 was an okay analog show with some interesting debuts like the two cartridges from Musical Surroundings but other than the usual analog agitators like Highwater Sound's Jeff Catalano and the master tape copy versus vinyl comparisons in Steven Norber's Prana Fidelity room. Norber's Fifty 90 2-way stand mounts ($4000) have always produced some of the loveliest sound at RMAF. For the past two years he's had a R2R deck and master tape copies from Ying Tan's Groove Note label. This year he had a tape copy of the terrific Vanessa Fernandez master as well as the double 45rpm record.

Yes the tape has more drive and "gumption" and a sense of smooth flow that the record didn't, but the record had a fineness and delicacy the tape did not. The tape was probably more "accurate" overall and more dynamic but the record had a different set of charms, and a more polite and tidy presentation. It made for a fascination comparison. Given the price differential I'm more than thrilled with records.

After RMAF, P.S. Audio's Paul McGowan posted this to his website:

One of the strangest moments of the audio show in Denver was when Michael Fremer of Stereophile (and the Analog Planet) came into the room to listen to DirectStream and the new Bascom King power amp.

Why strange? Because of the program material he brought to listen.

Michael’s all analog through and through as is Bascom’s amp, but DirectStream’s digital and our only source. To work with digitally based people like us, Fremer routinely carries digitally encoded analog files with him on a memory stick: vinyl records, copied to digital media. In this case, they were transferred from his turntable setup through our own NuWave Phono Converter. One I am very familiar with.

But here’s the thing. These files sounded magnificent. No, better yet, they were stunningly good. Better than anything I have ever heard come out of our A/D converter. They were so good, so rich, so musical I was just stunned. Music Room One has a great turntable and cartridge. Not as great as Fremer’s gazzilion dollar setup, granted, but good none the less. There’s no way on earth my setup ever sounded this good.

This whole affair was quite unsettling. His analog, recorded digitally, sounded as good as my very best digital media. In some cases, slightly better.

My conclusion is one perhaps unsettling to many. Fremer’s a freaking magician with turntable setup, cartridge, arm and equipment. Our NPC is neutral, it records to digital without affecting the sound of anything you put into it. So it’s not the NPC. No, instead, it’s the magic Fremer brings. And unsettling? Because I am convinced few, if anyone, on the planet can come even close to what this sound is. So it’s an anomaly.

It proves little to me of the continuing debate between vinyl and CD, other than what it is on the face of it."

Ortofan's picture

ASF certified turntable set-up could prove to be a useful function. Certainly it should serve to give the consumer some added confidence that their cartridge is being installed and aligned correctly. Will there be prerequisites for undergoing the training or can anyone sign up? Do you expect to receive endorsements from any of the equipment manufacturers?

It will be interesting to see how the concept is received by dealers. One could envision that there might be some resistance from long-time dealer personnel who believe that they already know everything there is to know about the subject based upon years or decades of experience. They may be worried that the certification process turns their job into a commodity and that some “kid” who is certified, but has little experience, my be viewed as more capable than someone who has previously set up hundreds of turntables but is, nevertheless, uncertified. For example, in the IT field, there are widely differing opinions on the usefulness and value of the various certifications that Microsoft offers.

Michael Fremer's picture
The problem is, there are many excellent set-up guys who do it "by ear". This can be useful as the final set up once it's been done with instrumentation but given the number of expensive cartridges I've seen under the microscope that have off kilter styli, "by ear" will never get the desired results in those cases, which is why it's critical to use a microscope to get to 92 degrees. That 92 degrees is the correct starting point can easily be demonstrated. From there the experienced set up guys can "tweak" all they want but I think to no good end.
isaacrivera's picture

What a great idea! I'm in.

Jazzfan62's picture

I was looking at the cartridge this that was mounted on my VPI Traveler by a "turntable expert", It was visually not aligned correctly. So, I dug out the manual and did it myself. There is one question I have. How do I tell the 90 degree angle on the stylus? I looked at it with a magnefying glass to get it close and then made small incremental adjustments both ways and determined by ear. That's easy with my Traveler, because you just spin it the "dial" to raise or lower it. It's stupid easy to make minute changes. Othe tables, however, like the Music Hall MMF-7 I had earlier...would have been difficult. Bottom line is I'm never totally sure I have it optimally setup.