Analog Corner

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Michael Fremer  |  Oct 23, 2013  |  4 comments
I was talking with Ayre's Charlie Hansen shortly after buying my K-1 preamp when the subject of stands came up.

"Solid maple," he said to me. "That's what I'd use."

Michael Fremer  |  Oct 25, 2013  |  3 comments
Funny thing about Consumer Electronics Shows—consumers aren't allowed to attend. That's what's great about Stereophile's annual HI-FI Show. The place is packed with real people—excited, paying customers—eager to see and hear the latest in hi-fi and home-theater gear. At least, that's what one hopes for.

Some in the industry hesitated about showing in Chicago. As far as turnout was concerned, the city and surrounding 'burbs were unknown quantities; the grand but aged Palmer House Hilton, with its boxy rooms and ancient wiring, was potentially tricky; and the strong union presence meant that moving a parcel across the hall could prove lethal to an exhibitor's checkbook.

Michael Fremer  |  Nov 11, 1995  |  0 comments
Three news items before we begin this column:

First, I am sad to report the murder of Ed Tobin, who I once referred to as the "Yoda" of record plating. Tobin, a veteran of more than 40 years of record manufacturing, was responsible for lacquer plating at Greg Lee Plating in Gardena, California, and oversaw the production of stampers for AudioQuest, Mobile Fidelity, Classic Records, Acoustic Sounds, Reference Recordings, DCC, and many, many other audiophile and non-audiophile labels. Arrested and charged with the crime was Tobin's stepson.

Second: VPI's "Easy Analog" turntable/built-in phono section combo, to be produced in conjunction with Clearaudio and Gold Aero, and mentioned in my Hi-Fi '95 Show report last August (p.82), turned out to be not so easy: the project has been scrapped. Also on the VPI front: the company has delayed plans to manufacture its new pickup arm with a variety of upgradeable options which would have priced it between $900 and $2300. Due to the high demand for the $2300 loaded version, that's all the company plans to produce for now. [See VPI's letter in this issue's "Manufacturers' Comment."—Ed.]

Third: Owners of VPI TNT III turntables (which include the flywheel and outboard motor) who are using the Bright Star Big Rock TNT isolation base absolutely need to get Bright Star's new Mini Rock F base for the outboard motor. It replaces the VPI-supplied metal shelf and, as reported by Steven Stone in this issue's Follow-Up, results in almost complete motor isolation. The sonic improvements (ie, lower noise floor) are not subtle.

Michael Fremer  |  Nov 01, 2013  |  2 comments
After I saw my MP3 e-mail exchange with the editor of the "Circuits" section of the New York Times in the February Stereophile, I began to think that publishing it hadn't been such a great idea. If the exchange had burned my bridge to the Times, publishing it in this column had probably NATO-bombed it.

But eventually I made peace with my decision and forgot about it. Mikey vs the Times was a dead issue no matter what I did or didn't do, and at least Stereophile subscribers got to read what happened. Some of you thought it made the Times look bad, some of you thought it made me look like a hothead.

So, after all that, after explaining to the "Circuits" editor that, whatever benefits MP3 offers, "CD-quality" sound isn't among them, guess what appeared on the front page of the "Circuits" section of Thursday, June 17? An article titled "The Beat Goes on Line, and Sometimes It's Legal," by David Kushner, the lead sentence of which read "If there is a 'Phantom Menace' of the Internet, it's MP3, the compression software that enables CD-quality music to be sent on line. Like the film, MP3 comes with a considerable amount of hyperbole, promise and, alas, science fiction."

Michael Fremer  |  Nov 08, 2013  |  First Published: Oct 01, 1999  |  1 comments
A family came to pick up a puppy we'd bred. The 11-year-old son entered my listening room, and I asked him if there was something he'd like to hear. "Nirvana," he requested, so I got out the Mobile Fidelity LP of Nevermind. "I've never heard a record in my life," he said, as I slipped it on the Basis Debut, currently being reviewed. When "Smells Like Teen Spirit" ended, he turned to me: "You have a really great stereo! I've never heard half that stuff."

"Would you like to hear the CD version?" I asked.

Michael Fremer  |  Nov 13, 2013  |  5 comments
While the death of vinyl has been greatly exaggerated, the death of its inventor, unfortunately, has not. Last May 26th, Waldo Semon (a name straight out of central casting), inventor of vinyl, passed away in Hudson, Ohio at the mellow old age of 100. Dr. Semon invented our favorite synthetic back in 1926 at B.F. Goodrich, while trying to devise something else: an adhesive that would make rubber and metal stick together. Semon held 116 patents, and in 1995 was inducted into the US National Inventors Hall of Fame. He also invented and held a patent on bubble gum. Thanks to a reader for sending me his obituary.

Speaking of having one's bubble burst, how about this from CEMA (the Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association), in their yearly overview publication, US Electronics Industry Today: "The industry experienced another look into the future with the introduction of the Diamond Rio portable 'flash memory' player using MP3 (MPEG-1, Layer 3) technology capable of downloading CD-quality music directly from the Internet." (My italics.)

Michael Fremer  |  Nov 22, 2013  |  1 comments
I know I keep repeating these LP/CD comparisons done by youngsters, but they're so much fun. Here's another.

My friend's son is in a band, and they'd cut some tunes that they wanted to hear back on my system. They brought the CD-R over, and, of course, they'd never heard their music sound so good—actually, the recording was quite accomplished. One of the kids looked around dumbfounded at my records and turntables and said, "Why would you have all of these?"

I told him they sounded better. "What do you like?" I asked.

"How about Green Day's Insomniac?" he replied.

Michael Fremer  |  Sep 08, 2017  |  First Published: Jan 01, 2000  |  16 comments
It took a trip to the Hi-Fi News and Record Review Hi-Fi Show at the Novotel London West this past September to remind me that hi-fi is, above all else, a hobby. We're music lovers (hopefully!), but what separates us from the rest of the music-loving pack is our passion for the visceral pleasure of sound---something that has never translated to the average consumer, and probably never will. And that's fine; most are happy to hear just the bare outlines of the music. As Joni Mitchell sang, "Some get the gravy and some get the gristle."
Michael Fremer  |  Sep 19, 2017  |  First Published: Feb 01, 2000  |  7 comments
Sorry about starting an "Analog" column with an HDCD recommendation, but I was going through a pile of new CDs when the sound of one---Evolution, from Modern Jazz Quartet veteran John Lewis on Atlantic---almost immobilized me. The sonic presentation on this solo-piano set, recorded in January 1999, is exceptionally natural: a well-organized, harmonically and physically convincing, three-dimensional picture of a piano within the reverberant field of a real performance space. Clearly, a minimally miked analog job, and spectacular in its simplicity.
Michael Fremer  |  Sep 27, 2017  |  First Published: Mar 01, 2000  |  0 comments
The ad for the tag sale read "Former member of '60s rock group selling LP collection and vintage instruments," so of course I took the bait. I arrived early, or so I thought---there were already 30 folks ahead of me. I stayed anyway: You never can tell what sloppy seconds will yield---and perhaps they were all there for the other stuff.
Michael Fremer  |  Nov 06, 2017  |  First Published: Apr 01, 2000  |  3 comments
One of Mikey's highlights at the Y2K CES: the SpJ La Luce CS Centoventi turntable.

At the 1999 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, I found the Alexis Park Hotel's Specialty Audio exhibit area "depressing." In the year 2000, however, it was a refreshing oasis of sanity in a desert storm of digital sand swirling around the main convention center, which promised us 500 channels of TV, PPV, WebTV, AOLTV, DSL, Geocast, Web Radio, downloadable MP3, and on and on.

Michael Fremer  |  Nov 09, 2017  |  First Published: May 01, 2000  |  6 comments
Guaranted, it's no Casino Royale, but with Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Bonnie Raitt, Dr. John, Sun Ra, Otis Rush, Johnny Shines, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Freddie King, and Luther Allison among the participants, the 2-LP Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival 1972 isn't half bad. The Atlantic Records original (SD 2-502) was one of my "Records To Die For" a few years ago. Unfortunately, the only copy I've ever seen is mine.

Michael Fremer  |  Nov 15, 2017  |  First Published: Jun 01, 2000  |  4 comments
If you were preparing to archive your LPs to CD-R, what would you do first? Right. You'd scrub your records and whip your turntable into shape—maybe even upgrade your cartridge and/or phono section. In March The New York Times's "Circuits" section published "Janis and Jimi, Come Back from the Attic," an article about digitizing and archiving vinyl that I don't think even mentioned the word "turntable." Obviously, analog is news unfit to print.

Michael Fremer  |  Dec 11, 1995  |  0 comments
Stop with analog already. You're writing yourself out of a career." This is what some industry types used to whisper in my ear during the dark days of digital domination. To which I would reply, only somewhat facetiously, "What career?

"If I can't write about what I really believe in, what I really enjoy, then I'll find something else to do," I'd continue defiantly. "I'm resourceful. I don't really like digital sound, and I can't fake it."

I still feel that way. I respect digital sound, and have high hopes for its improvement, especially with DVD's potential. But given a choice, I go for analog recordings and vinyl playback every time. I'm glad I didn't concede defeat or change my tune to fit the fashion of the time.

I never gave up hope that there were enough people around who heard what I heard to keep the old technology alive. It had happened with tubes and it could happen with vinyl, bleak as the situation was just a few years ago.

Michael Fremer  |  Nov 20, 2017  |  First Published: Jul 01, 2000  |  15 comments
A pleasant surprise arrived at my door the other day: the 180gm vinyl edition of Companion, the Patricia Barber album released last year on Premonition/Blue Note. According to the jacket, the six-track set, impeccably recorded live in Chicago last July by Jim Anderson, was mastered from a 24-bit transfer of an analog recording. You can bet the vinyl sounds better than the 16-bit CD—at less than 20 minutes a side, there's plenty of room for the recording's full dynamics.

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