Analog Corner

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Michael Fremer  |  Feb 25, 2019  |  First Published: Nov 01, 2004  |  2 comments
Reviewed this month: the T+A G 10 turntable from Germany

Manufacturers of audio accessories are an odd bunch: they show up at your door, pucks, cones, platforms, or balls in hand, eager to demonstrate the enormous sonic effects their products will have on your system. After inserting their isolators, energy drains, or what have you, they sit down for a listen.

But do they even hear the $40,000/pair loudspeakers you're reviewing? Your $15,000 turntable and $4500 cartridge? Your $7000 phono preamp or $30k worth of other electronics?

No.

Michael Fremer  |  Mar 11, 2019  |  First Published: Dec 01, 2004  |  0 comments
Richard Vandersteen at the 2004 THE Show in Indianapolis, where Audio Research demmed their MP-1 six-channel preamplifier and 150M multichannel power amp with a Vandersteen speaker system. (Photo: John Atkinson)

CEDIA's annual late-summer Expo, held this year (as in most) in Indianapolis, came just in time for me this year. I hate the excruciating noise at the Custom Electronics Design and Installation Association's gathering, but I get the same charge from high-resolution video as I get from great audio, and the Expo is all about the highest-quality images. Audio? If it's loud, surrounds you, and goes deep enough to massages your innards, it seems to be good enough for most home theater aficionados—and if the source of it can be hidden in the walls or ceiling, so much the better.

Michael Fremer  |  Apr 28, 2019  |  First Published: Jan 01, 2005  |  0 comments
Graham Phantom tonearm

The prospect of a four-day fall break at a rustic, dog-friendly ski lodge in Vermont had me scrambling for an audio system. My Apple iPod was an obvious choice, but what about an amplifier and speakers? I considered schlepping a vintage Scott tube amp and a pair of ADC 404 loudspeakers I got at a garage sale, but that seemed like too much of a hassle.

Michael Fremer  |  Apr 29, 2019  |  First Published: Feb 01, 2005  |  0 comments
Shelter 90X
This was supposed to be my report on analog gear at Home Entertainment 2004 West. The San Francisco show was canceled because of a hotel-workers’ lockout, but my column wasn’t! Fortunately, I’d gotten an early start on what was to be next month’s column because I wanted to actually get ahead on the audio-reviewing assembly line. No such luck.

Michael Fremer  |  Jun 03, 2019  |  First Published: Mar 03, 2005  |  4 comments
van den Hul Grasshopper Condor Gold (Photo: Michael Fremer)

On November 17, 2004, Shure Brothers announced the discontinuation of its legendary V15VxMR moving-magnet phono cartridge, bringing to a close 40 years of V15 cartridges, beginning with the original V15, introduced in 1964 at the then-outrageous price of $62.50.

Michael Fremer  |  Jul 11, 1996  |  0 comments
Times Square is home of Virgin's new, atply named MegaStore.

There's news on the Exabyte front: In my April column ("Now the Bad News," p.58), I reported rumblings in the mastering community about the growing use of the Exabyte computer backup system in CD production. The 8mm tapes allow glass masters to be cut at double speed, thus halving production time, and time is money so "look at the clock!"—that's for all you My Little Margie fans.

No sooner had the ink dried on that story than I received a call from a Marv Bornstein, who consults for Cinram, an Indiana-based CD manufacturing facility. Bornstein worked at A&M for many years, back when sound quality was job number one there, and Bernie Grundman ran Herb Alpert's cutting lathe. An ex-girlfriend of mine worked at A&M when I lived in Los Angeles, so I got to hang around the lot a lot and I'd actually met Bornstein (and Grundman for that matter)—it's a small platter ain't it?

Michael Fremer  |  Aug 11, 1996  |  0 comments
Shure Stylus Pressure Gauge

First, some good news. Allsop has just announced that it is once again stocking replacement pads for their late, lamented Orbitrac record cleaner. For those who don't know about it, the Orbitrac was an inexpensive rotary cleaning device once considered a joke plastic product strictly for vinyl plebes who couldn't afford vacuum-powered record-cleaning machines. (See Wes Phillips's "Industry Update," April '96, p.39.)

But, used as a pre-vacuuming device to clean surface dust and to get schmutz up from the depths of the grooves before vacuuming, the Orbitrac has proven to be an indispensable weapon in the war on dirty records.

Until now, those lucky enough to own the discontinued Orbitrac have had to hand-wash their pads in an elaborate ritual of diluted laundry detergent followed by multiple hand rinses, diluted fabric-softener baths, and still more rinses. Kind of makes you want to switch to CDs....not!

Michael Fremer  |  Sep 11, 1996  |  0 comments
Kuzma Stabi Reference turntable with Stogi Reference arm

"Hey! First you said the hi-fi show was like the auto show, then all you've talked about is vacuum tubes and turntables. I got news for you: when I go to the car show, I don't go there to see old technology and old cars, I go to see what's new!"

I was on Leonard Lopate's WNYC radio show promoting HI-FI '96, and this irate caller was right: I had talked a great deal about tubes and analog. But why not? I figured it would add some color to the story. I figured even the uninterested would find the resurgence of tubes and vinyl fascinating. And if it incited some folks into calling in, isn't that what talk radio is all about?

But this guy was really ticked, and he'd backed me into a corner. "Calm down!" I told him. "There's plenty of new solid-state gear at the Show too, and CD players and processors. By the way, didn't you say you're from Westchester? Well, there's a company in Westchester called Mondial and they make solid-state gear right here in the United States—I've reviewed some—and their Acurus line is basically no more expensive than the mass-market junk you find at chain stores. You ought to come to the Show and hear it!" That shut him up but good.

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.

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  |  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  |  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  |  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  |  Aug 12, 1995  |  0 comments
I figure two categories of non–analog-owning audiophiles are reading this column (footnote 1)—younger ones who've never heard good or any pure analog; and older audiophiles who may have been pushed out by the bad advice regularly spewing from the pages of "mainstream" stereo magazines in the days just before CD.

Their prescription for playback perfection? Track lightly on a PLL direct-drive turntable (and since all turntables sound the same, any one will do). I swallowed a large dose of that myself during the early ‘70s, marginalizing my listening enjoyment and ruining many of my favorite records in the process.

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!

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