Analog Corner

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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  |  Aug 22, 2013  |  0 comments
Mikey narrolwy escapes jury duty and heads for CES in Las Vegas. The year is 1999.

"Timing is everything."

Whoever came up with that gem had it right. The timing of the International Consumer Electronics Show, for instance: right after the Christmas/New Year holiday. I don't know anyone toiling in this industry who is actually eager to trudge off to Vegas a few days after two weeks of concentrated boozing, face-stuffing, and general holiday lethargy.

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  |  Mar 12, 2013  |  8 comments
You always remember your first one. For me it was an Oracle Delphi turntable back in 1982. I'd gone to Christopher Hansen's in LA to buy a brand-new one, but as luck would have it, a barely used one had just been traded in by film director Roger Corman's son, and I was able to get the Delphi/Magnepan unipivot tonearm combo for a few hundred dollars less than the cost of a new 'table. My first exposure to a wobbly-armed unipivot gave me the creeps, but the deal was too good to pass up.
Michael Fremer  |  Jul 15, 2013  |  6 comments
Mikey assembles an RB3000 tonearm—pray it won't be yours!

Politics and audio don't mix! Keep your pinko ideas to yourself. I cancel my subscription!"

How many times have we read that in Stereophile, shortly after a writer has injected a few cubic centimeters of ideology into a review or column? No doubt all of the offended parties dashed off equally angry letters to ultra-partisan House majority whip Tom (the bug exterminator) DeLay, who threw a hissy fit back in October when he found out that the EIA (Electronic Industries Alliance, the parent organization of CEMA, which runs the Consumer Electronics Show, etc.) had the gall, the nerve, to hire former Oklahoma Democratic representative Dave McCurdy as the group's president and industry spokesperson.

Michael Fremer  |  May 11, 1996  |  0 comments
Can't we all get along?" Long before Rodney King, I was posing that question in Los Angeles—in 1983 to be exact. One big difference: I was the one doing the head-bashing. No, I wasn't in an LAPD uniform at the time, though a hyperventilating, mucous-snorting LA cop once did put a revolver to my head. But that's another story.

This story is about collectivism in the age of rack systems. I relate it to you because even though I failed then, I hope to succeed now. If you keep your Stereophiles—which I hope you do—read Ted Lindblad's letter in the January 1996 issue (p.29). Mr. Lindblad, a Connecticut retailer, calls for a high-end marketing collective in response to my observation that high-end audio is an invisible industry in the country leading the charge—the good old U.S. of A!

It is as if Mr. Lindblad had been reading my mind, or thumbing through my filing cabinet to be exact, for back in 1983 I had tried to set up the very sort of cooperative advertising campaign he called for in his letter. This was before I had any involvement in the industry. I was a full-retail–paying, card-carrying audiophile just like you.

Michael Fremer  |  Sep 11, 1997  |  0 comments
Larry Archibald presents Liza Austin with a K101-FM shopping-spree certificate at HI-FI '97. Ryan Seacrest makes an appearance. Photo by Natalie Brown-Baca.

I've been reading your column for about a year now and I've always thought you were full of shit!" an attendee cheerfully volunteered at the conclusion of the "Vinyl in the '90s" seminar I hosted at HI-FI '97. So it's that kind of gathering, I thought to myself, remembering how the hour had commenced with an audience member accusing panelist Steve Hoffman of messing with the master tape of Nat King Cole's Love is the Thing for DCC Compact Classics' superb-sounding vinyl and gold CD reissues.

"But at this Show I got to hear records for the first time," the young reader continued, "and you're right! Records do sound better than CDs—much better! Now I have to get a turntable and start buying records! What should I buy?"

"Well, how much can you spend?," I asked.

"Cost is no object."

"Well then, call Andy Payor at Rockport Technologies and order yourself a Sirius III record player for $53,000."

"Cost is an object!" he shot back faster than you could say "second mortgage."

"Well then, you've got a hotel's worth of choices and a day and a half to make up your mind," I told him. "Check out the VPI TNT Mk.3, the Basis 2000 series, the Immedia RPM-2, the Oracle Delphi, and the others that are here—I can't tell you what to buy."

Michael Fremer  |  Jan 11, 1996  |  0 comments
Rhino's excellent John Coltrane compilation is also available on limited-edition vinyl.

A few days ago I spoke with Gene Paul, the veteran mastering engineer who digitally transferred Atlantic Records' Coltrane catalog for Rhino's The Heavyweight Champion—The Complete Atlantic Recordings (Rhino R2 71984)—a superbly packaged "sessionography" on eight CDs (Footnote 1).

The set sounds outstanding for CD (I haven't heard the vinyl yet), and I wanted to know what converter Paul had used. I don't want to rain on anyone's digital parade, but he told me a stock Sony PCM-1630. No Wadia, no Apogee, no DCS, no gazillion-times oversamping, no SBM box—a stock '1630. "Why?" I asked. "Don't you hear differences among converters?" He said that he did, adding that if you want to change the sound, those devices do, but in his opinion the biggest difference is in the analog playback deck. Once you digitize the signal, he said, "the damage is done." The Coltrane masters were played back on a vintage MCI open-reel deck.

Okay, I give! Analog and vinyl reproduction do not have "infinite resolution," as I claimed here recently, but I didn't mean to be taken quite as literally as some letter-writers took me. Film doesn't have "infinite resolution" either, but compared to current commercial video tape, it does.

Michael Fremer  |  Jun 11, 1997  |  0 comments
Eddie Kramer stopped by yesterday to play me the new MCA Jimi Hendrix LPs and CDs, which will be in the stores by the time you read this. Was it a kick having Kramer, who engineered all of the Hendrix recordings (and some Beatles, Stones, and Traffic too) sitting in my "sweet spot''? Duh! It was also a bit nerve-wracking. He knows how these things are supposed to sound. I only know what I like.

So before he arrived I cleaned my connections and checked all the setup parameters on the turntable. When I was satisfied everything was dialed in, I demagnetized the Transfiguration Temper, ultrasonically cleaned the stylus, and left the 'table spinning to warm up the bearing grease. I wuz ready.

Michael Fremer  |  Jun 17, 2013  |  2 comments
Are you old enough to remember when New York State, much of the rest of the Northeast, and parts of Canada were blacked out by a power failure on November 19th, 1965 at 5:18pm? I was in my Phi Sigma Delta frat-house library at Cornell, HO model-car racing—for money. At the flick of the wrong switch, all bets were off for the night. I'll never forget that.

Where were you when you heard your first compact disc? I'll never forget where I was: at an early-'80s AES Convention in Los Angeles. It was Roxy Music's Avalon played on a refrigerator-sized machine, and the sound was as awful as the technology was brilliant.

I may not have been listening as an industry insider on the playing field of the audio biz, but I wasn't exactly a spectator in the stands, either. I was kind of on the sidelines. You have to at least be on the sidelines to attend an AES demo of the new electronic future.

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  |  Oct 11, 1995  |  0 comments
This was originally going to be a piece on air-bearing tonearm design; but last night I had a religious experience, and if I don't get it out of my system, I won't be right.

I've been a Buddy Holly and The Crickets fan ever since "That'll Be the Day" was released back in 1957 (it was recorded in Clovis, New Mexico on February 25 of that year). Holly's the original skinny-necked, thick-eyeglassed "geek rocker''—the whole image David Byrne and Elvis Costello later aped. But Holly really was that.

And what about those wacky vocal affectations? The hiccups, the drawl, the yelp, the split syllables, the sticky female whining he affected on "Peggy Sue." Where did that stuff come from?

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!

Michael Fremer  |  Apr 28, 2013  |  4 comments
One of the fascinating things about watching your personal odometer piling on the miles is that, whatever your self-image, you're leaving an ever-lengthening trail that becomes more difficult to deny with every glance in the rearview mirror.

I can't escape it: I love old things. I drive an old car not because I can't replace it with a new one, but because the experience of driving it is irreplaceable. New cars don't look, feel, sound, or even smell like my old Saab: the roar of the throaty engine, the sound of the air being sucked into the carburetor, the visceral connection between the road and my hands on the non-power steering wheel—new cars can't provide these sensations. New cars hide their mechanical nature. Old cars celebrate it.

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