Tag Archives: turntable

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Call it what you want to, but overkill for a good stereo system is part of the fun!

Overkill

What an odd concept.

Overkill.

Makes me think of Monty Python’s “not dead yet!”

As (sometimes) obsessive audiophiles we are often accused of overkill but I prefer a different description.

Finishing touches.

It might be overkill to check for the hundredth time how level your turntable is, but after spending an hour carefully setting the VTA it is to me more like the final check before liftoff.

Knowing everything is right has a wonderful calming effect: a measure of confidence that lets down my defenses and encourages the music to flow as it should.

Overkill might just be the last tweak we need.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

What would Edison say?

If inventor Thomas Edison hopped in a way-forward time machine to see how his phonograph had been improved upon in the intervening 144 years, do you think he’d be surprised and delighted the turntable is still around?

Just as a pure thought experiment I am always fascinated by what people might have expected vs. what really happened. For example, given the nature of quantum physics where two objects light years apart can simultaneously connect, I would predict that within the next decade or two we will have discovered how to exceed the speed of light or, at a minimum, understand how to reverse mass/gravity restrictions.

But, back to Edison. My guess is he’d be a bit disappointed with the popularity of vinyl LP’s. He’d look at what has developed in digital technology and wonder why anyone would stick with his original invention.

But, that’s just a guess.

Thoughts?

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Can get away with unshielded interconnect stereo cables for most home audio applications, as long as lengths aren’t more than, say, 6 feet, but analog cables from a turntable to a phono amplifier is a different story, as Paul covers here.

The frailty of analog

There is nothing in our audio systems more frail than analog.

The impacts to analog by brute force tactics like amplification, equalization, and storage seem rather obvious.

Perhaps less obvious is that even passing it through a wire impacts its sound quality.

Truth be told, there’s not much you can do to analog that doesn’t have a negative sonic contribution.

The sooner we can correctly convert analog into the more stable digital format the sooner we can work with it without much harm.

Sure, digital too is prone to insults like jitter and noise but those injuries pale in the face of analog’s frailty.

As audiophiles, our challenge is to guard the purity of our analog signals. To be the protector of their safety and accuracy.

Whatever effort you contribute to the sanctity of analog will be paid back in loads of wonderful m

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Great one from Paul.

Engine timing!! I set the timing on my car too, but like Paul, 40 years ago. Now, other than doing routine maintenance on our cars, I’d have no idea how to fix anything under their hoods.

Crossing the chasm

My father’s father, Claude, would probably find our modern technological wonders magic. Or unbelievable.

Imagine getting in a time machine and over coffee explaining to him that we can talk with anyone anywhere in the world. That within a matter of hours we can be transported in luxury anywhere in the world. That the entire knowledge base of humanity is available at the touch of a button. And let’s not forget our ability to watch any movie or listen to any music by just asking a robot.

He would likely just smile and think me a nutjob.

But, here’s the thing. I could probably manage to help him understand many of the basics including a turntable-based stereo  system. It’s not that far-fetched to show the principles behind the technology. A string and two cans would be a great help.

Now imagine explaining how digital audio works. Try to make sense of an optical disc and a pulsating laser to a person who just saw their first automobile.

Between the electro-mechanical era where inventors like Edison and Tesla could convert physical objects like horns, wires, wax, and needles into miracles, and the age of digital electronics spans a chasm so deep and wide as to be either magic or witchcraft.

In fact, do you think you could explain to someone with zero knowledge of electronics or science how music is stored and retrieved from an optical disc or a solid-state memory?

I would wager to say that when we crossed the deep divide between the electro-mechanical age and were thrust headfirst into manipulating electrons that we lost our grip on the ability to manipulate our own world. It wasn’t that many years ago I could set the timing on my car. Now my car has no timing to set.

It feels a bit humbling to have crossed the greatest chasm of humankind.

I am happy to be here. What a ride!

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Nostalgic audio

At times I find myself nostalgic about some of the past equipment I’ve owned. My old Audio Research gear and my Tympani Magneplanar system in particular.

I don’t miss so much their sound quality. My present gear is far, far better.

I think what I sometimes miss is the emotional attachment that kit brought to me. Kind of like missing a long ago pet, or friend (sans all the trouble and pain they might have caused).

Some folks I know take their fond memories of past glories a bit too far. How many times have I heard about missing this or that they just cannot seem to get back again?

I suspect with time our memories grow fonder. The bad parts fade while we cling to the good ones.

I surely don’t miss my pains in the butt equipment: my Oracle turntable, my Acoustats, my Martin Logans, my RS1s.

Nostalgia has its place.

It warms our memories.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Unlocking secrets

There are literally thousands of books claiming to unlock secrets: how to lose weight, read faster, become a better person, sharpen the memory, improve your stereo system.

And to one extent or another all of them no doubt have value.

So one must ask themselves a basic question. If there’s so much knowledge available, why haven’t I availed myself of it? Why don’t I have a better memory, read faster, become a better person, or learn the art of turntable setup?

I believe the answer’s really simple. We’ve not yet opened the door. It’s the old you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink routine.

There’s loads of advice at the ready when we are at the ready.

We’re not interested in uncovering the secrets of room acoustics until we have a need for it. We don’t search out the answers to proper turntable VTA adjustment unless we’re interested in setting one up.

Educating ourselves without first having a need for the information is often a wasted effort.

We unlock secrets when it suits us.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Mine is break in and warm up, once a piece of stereo equipment is sufficiently broken in.

Audio taboos and sacred rituals

There are certain audio taboos we’re loathed to violate. High atop my list would be plants atop speakers. (But it behooves us to be diplomats if we’d like not to sleep on the couch)

Diplomacy aside, we purists rarely tolerate violations of our taboos and sacred rituals.

Some taboos make sonic sense: plugging all your equipment into an AC extension strip, stacking a turntable atop a power amplifier.

Perhaps more prevalent than taboos would be the sacred rituals which cover everything from record handling, room light levels, seating positions, warm-up time, and source protocols.

I never start a listening session with vinyl. My ritual is to get the system warmed up and me adjusted to it with known digital references. Then, and only then, am I comfortable switching sources.

What are your audio taboos and sacred rituals?

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Uncovering secrets

As a young lad, I remember staring at my grandfather’s fireplace mantle where sat a majestic ship in a bottle. It was a three-mast schooner with big billowing white sails jutting out of the dark brown wooden hull perched on a wavy blue bed of stylistic ocean. It had to be a good ten inches tall. How that beautiful sailing ship got through the bottle’s tiny neck and into that glass vessel was a mystery to me. I begged and pleaded with my grandfather to tell me the bottle’s secret but he refused. With a twinkle in his eye, he challenged me to figure it out.

I never did. Puzzles and I don’t get along together. I think it was my father that finally shared the secret with me, and I found myself disappointed with the answer. The magic was suddenly gone.

Some secrets like magic tricks and ships in bottles should remain unknown. Once exposed all the fun and wonder vanish into the ordinary.

But other secrets such as those once reserved for hired experts, like the art of turntable arm setup, the inner workings of circuits, computer coding, loudspeaker placement, and how to build a stereo system unlike anyone else has, deserve to be shared.

Keeping an expert’s hard-won tricks of the trade close to the vest in order to protect one’s livelihood once made sense, but not so much today. Thanks to the internet’s open access as well as the proliferation of worldwide markets, personal experts for hire are quickly becoming a thing of the past.

Today, it makes much more sense for experts to hop onto a YouTube channel and uncover the secrets once reserved for those who paid admission.

The times they are a’ changin’.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

The sound of skill

The first high-end turntable I owned was a second hand Linn LP12.

I don’t remember the year but I do remember the era. Turntables had been elevated from utilitarian necessities to essential components. The story we were told through magazines and brochures was if you hoped to achieve great sound you started with the turntable, arm, and phono cartridge. Everything else followed.

The notion that sources were the most important piece of the audio chain was new. A brilliant piece of marketing.

Hoping for instant gratification I took possession of my new table and, like a kid at Christmas, plunked it down and fired it up with an expectation of miracles. I was disappointed. The music wasn’t much different than I had achieved with my trusty AR. In fact, on some recordings, I swore it wasn’t as good.

I shared my frustrations with several friends who also had given thought to upgrading their turntables. They clucked and counseled me not to be too disappointed. After all, the idea that the quality of a spinning platter mattered to the sound was kind of silly. Then, I ran into a fellow who asked an interesting question.

“Have you set up the table and arm?”

45 years ago I was a newbie. I had never heard of turntable setup as anything other than just getting it to play. My friend brought with him an arsenal of strange tools: protractors, scales, levels. He spent an easy hour performing a strange ritual fussing with the table and arm. I half expected him to sprinkle holy water across the device.

Finally satisfied with his incantations and machinations we played one of the albums I thought had sounded worse. I was stunned. The transformation from ugh to ahh was complete. It was to me a miracle.

The hype was right.

The setup skill and knowledge were missing.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Who knew? Not me!

Audiophile Day #5

Just a reminder that today, October 2nd, 2020, is Audiophile Day.

On this day of celebration for what we all love—perhaps through our comments section—we can share some of our stories and thoughts about what it means to be an audiophile.

I’ve told the story many times of my first experience with a high-end audio system. I even wrote about it in my upcoming book The Audiophile’s Guide.

“I had yet to grasp stereo sound’s true potential. That revelatory moment came in 1971, on a hot summer’s day in Santa Maria, California. I was working as a disc jockey and program director at a local FM radio station, and the station’s chief engineer, Jim Mussell, invited me to his home to hear his stereo system. He’d heard I loved music and knew I bragged about my home audio setup. Given that my rig played loud rock, impressed my friends, and had two tall loudspeakers, I felt pretty confident that I was in the upper echelon of stereo aficionados. I was soon to learn otherwise.

Jim lived in a modest three-bedroom track home on the east side of Santa Maria, near the noisy 101 freeway. His home was a hoarder’s dream, filled with stacks of papers, test equipment, and piles of boxes kissing the ceiling. From the front door we wound our way through the chaotic maze and into a surprisingly neat and orderly living room. Wedged into each of the room’s two far corners was a 4×4’ dark mahogany speaker cabinet. In their center was a two-foot-wide and three-foot-tall panel of dark wood, flanked on each side by black grille cloth. Near the very top of the center block was what looked to me like window louvers. These two cabinets, explained Jim, were his pride and joy: an original pair of JBL D30085 Hartsfield corner horn loudspeakers. On the table to the left side of the room sat a fancy looking turntable, with an unusual arm that moved straight across the album instead of the typical pivoting tonearm. And next to that was an ancient looking Audio Research preamplifier with vacuum tubes (of all things). I remember quietly snickering at the use of these ancient fire bottle vacuum tubes—my dad had used them, for Pete’s sake, but I had long since graduated to the newer transistor models. All Jim had was an ancient pair of loudspeakers coupled with old amp technology…and I was supposed to be impressed?! Harrumph. As I sat in the single overstuffed chair facing the speakers, Jim lowered the needle onto Edgar Winter’s Frankenstein. I did my best to be polite, pretending I was going to be impressed.

Holy shit. Suddenly, the musicians were in the room! No sound came from those two ancient speakers—instead, standing before me were Edgar Winter, Ronnie Montrose, Dan Hartman, and Chuck Ruff. Winter’s synthesizer was alive and in three dimensions, while Ruff’s drumbeats smacked me in the stomach and dropped my jaw to my chest. It was as if neither the room nor the speakers even existed. I was there, on a holographic soundstage. I could “see” where each musician stood on that stage and I could picture Winter’s fingers gliding over the ARP keyboard he slung across his chest and played like a guitar. Hartman’s bass notes went lower than I ever imagined possible, at least outside of a live performance.

When the final synth note died away in the reverb chamber, I turned to look at my friend. Jim seemed unfazed by what we had just experienced—as if it were just an everyday occurrence—and launched into some engineering techno-babble we two nerds had previously been chatting about. I cannot remember a word he’d said, though, because I was still digesting the life-changing experience.

I had gone from flat monotony to three-dimensional color in the four minutes and forty-four seconds it took Edgar and his group to play that song. The idea that two speakers could disappear from the room and in their place live musicians might appear to play music was so mind-bendingly new that I struggled to wrap my head around it. What made this magic? Was it those speakers? That odd turntable? The vacuum tubes? His room? All of it? I had to know. 46 years later, after a lifetime of designing, building, and helping audiophiles around the world achieve what I experienced on that hot summer’s day, I feel pretty confident I can help you achieve that same sense of wonder and amazement that forever changed my life.”

What’s your story?