Analog Corner

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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  |  Aug 02, 2013  |  7 comments
I literally dropped everything when Rega's new Planar 25 turntable arrived a few weeks ago. I'd heard the 'table compared with the Planar 3 at designer Roy Gandy's house when I visited Rega last fall—see "Analog Corner" in the January '99 Stereophile—and was anxious to audition it in my own system and tell you what I heard.
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 05, 2013  |  6 comments
It was 9am as the plane touched down at Heathrow, but my brain screamed "4am! Go back to sleep!''—as if the eight hours of slouched-over dozing interrupted by cattle-prodding flight attendants could be called "sleep." Yes, the red-eye is considered by many travelers to be the most efficient way to jet to London, and Virgin tries hard to please, even in the cramped steerage section—but wedged into a middle seat and being a naturally fidgety sort, I found the transoceanic flight a form of water torture I can live without.
Michael Fremer  |  Apr 11, 1996  |  0 comments

A Consumer Electronics Show is always fun: You see and hear new stuff, greet old friends, and occasionally meet the disenchanted. Since this was my first Winter CES as a Stereophile writer, I was expecting more feedback than I'd previously received at shows, and I wasn't disappointed. Despite an icy shoulder or two, most of it was positive, and some of it was flattering. But one reader I ran into was genuinely pissed at me for "wasting most of an analog column" writing about...digital! He was talking about the January issue's "Analog Corner," in which I wrote about the Audio Alchemy DTI•Pro 32 and the major sonic improvements it produced with CDs. He punctuated the reading of his analog riot act with "Hey, I don't even listen to CDs!"

That was also the column where I wrote, "You think I'm a diehard? There are still audiophiles who refuse to listen to CDs, period." I think that slightly derisive comment is what really set him off. So will this column because it's also about digital—sort of—but I hope all you analog devotees will peruse it anyway, along with the digital-only readers who usually cross the street when they reach the "Analog Corner."

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  |  May 26, 2013  |  0 comments
I flew into Los Angeles a week early to be HI-FI '98's media mouth. I hung at the hotel as much as possible, but there were radio stations and record stores to visit. I'd decided not to schlep records with me from back east, instead relying on what I could find in the L.A. bins.

What luck! Rockaway was having another half-price sale on used vinyl. I got unplayed "steamboat''-label Reprise pressings of the Kinks' Kink Kontroversy and You Really Got Me, and a British Apple original of the Beatles' 1962–66, for 12 bucks apiece.

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  |  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  |  Apr 23, 2013  |  6 comments
The Library of Congress Reading Room. All photos by Michael Fremer.

How was your month? Mine was analogo bizarro.

But before getting to this month's promised story—my visit to the Library of Congress—I have to clear the deck: I received an e-mail from an individual, fairly well known in the grooved world, telling me that I "may not have had all the information" when I wrote in my February R2D4 that Alto Analogue's Ataulfo Argenta Edition (AA006) boxed set was mastered by Nick Webb at Abbey Road from the original analog master tapes.

Michael Fremer  |  Sep 12, 1995  |  0 comments
"Why, there are more trees in the United States today then when the Pilgrims landed!" Rush Limbaugh proclaimed on his radio show a while back, launching an attack on the "environmental wackos" trying to scale back the clear-cutting of the last stands of virgin old-growth forest in the United States.

Limbaugh wasn't lying. There are more trees in the United States today than when the Pilgrims landed— if you count the tall, skinny timber growing crop-like on commercially managed tree farms: all the same species, all in a row.

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  |  Mar 22, 2013  |  2 comments
I don't know whether it was Mrs. Nachman or Mr. Nachman, but back in the late '80s one of them took a dump on Joe Grado's head, and it wasn't pretty. But it was expected, for the Nachmans were my pet birds, and that's what birds do when they perch on shiny domes.

The Nachmans have since gone to that great birdcage in the sky, and I bet if I'd asked Joe Grado back then where he thought the cartridge business would be in 1998, he'd have said in the same general neighborhood—along with Betamax (still better, and I still use it), Elcaset, RCA Selectavision, and the rest.

But I didn't ask Joe Grado about the future back then because the present was about his $200 8MZ cartridge, which I'd reviewed and found to have a lump in the midbass. Joe came over to convince me it didn't, and that what I'd heard was due to my setup. After moving speakers and subwoofers around, and after Joe had been anointed by one of the Nachbirds, the lump remained. We called it a (messy) day.

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  |  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!

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