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.

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?

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.

Tweaking vs. tuning

There comes a point in our stereo journey where we have to decide whether it’s best to tweak or tune. By that I mean we can embellish upon what we have or we can rethink that which isn’t working for us.

Much, I suppose, is dependent on whether or not we’re happy with the status quo. If we love what we have built, then perhaps it makes more sense to tweak in the hopes we can get something a skosh better. If, on the other hand, we’re struggling with sonic problems, maybe it’s better to rethink the setup.

For example, if we have a turntable high-end audio system and, for the most part, records sound great then we’re probably best advised to tweak the various tonearm/cartridge settings to compensate for minor problems. But, if we’re not getting the promise vinyl has to offer, then it’s time to rethink the system components—to tune by either equipment swapping or a radical rearrangement.

All too often I have run into systems tweaked to within an inch of their life with gadgets, process, bells and whistles, when what was needed instead was a radical tuning or equipment swap.

I think it’s part of human nature to want to make smaller course corrections than wipe a slate clean, but it’s also human nature to suffer through a situation because we’re hesitant to make the big change.

Tweaking, polishing, refining are small changes we can leverage to make what’s working better.

Tuning, replacing, rearranging are big changes we often need to make but more often than not shy away from.

To get to where you want to go, do you tweak or tune?

 

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.

Rethinking what’s normal

For all of my life, I have never thought of restaurants as anything but places you go to get served and have someone else cook your meal and wash the dishes. Simple. Normal.

Only, now I think of them very differently because I have come to realize their focus is on gathering crowds. My focus is on food and service.

With the pandemic lingering on for possibly another year or two, it’s unlikely I will consider eating in a closed space with a bunch of strangers.

What changed for me was the realization that the word “restaurant” was so ingrained in my psyche to mean one thing—food and service—that as soon as it dawned on me their model is fostering public gatherings, everything changed. It’s the food and service I am after. It’s the masses of people they want.

This brings me to the idea behind the post. In days of yore—the 70s and 80s—the norm was for people to have stereo systems. Few among us had televisions, but almost no one was without a vinyl-based stereo rig, ie. a turntable, or record player.  I mean, it was almost unthinkable, and yet not that many years later, those of us still enjoying our stereos are somehow in the minority. Weird, right?

The good news for me is that remembering back to those long-ago days when my speakers were powered with a cheesy Kenwood integrated and sourced from a rickety old AR table with a MM cartridge, I can only imagine how bad that must have sounded compared to what floats my boat today.

“Normal” is such a transitory state. It doesn’t mean that it’s right, it just means that it’s what passes for working at any given snapshot in time.

Our normal today will be odd tomorrow.

Now, let me get off the computer and go enjoy some tunes!

 

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.

While I sell turntables, most of what I sell is pretty expensive.

Yesterday, I saw an ad from a company that makes new lower priced products and they are making turntables in the US!!

Their name is U Turn Audio and here is there website.  You’ll probably need to copy the URL. https://uturnaudio.com/collections/all

I’ve not heard their products, but belt drive and a few reasonable design choices and probably great for most non-audiophiles out there that want to buy record players.

In fact, there are a few different companies that make turntables in the US, including VPI and  Shinola Detroit. VPI has a huge offering of products, mostly or exclusively, sold through dealers and range in price from very reasonable, to extremely expensive.

Shinola Detroit makes turntables, which they are currently sold out of and at $2500!! They also make watches and other mens and womens stuff. Check them out. https://www.shinola.com/supply/audio/runwell-turntable-rose-gold.html

Vinyl is alive and well and I still listen to my turntable a lot, but my Melco digital is pretty damn good too.

 

 

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.

A bone to pick and this is an original, not from Paul, who will return.

In the edition of The Absolute Sound I was looking at this morning, one of their most experienced writer reviewed a Turntable made by a German company called Clearaudio. A true engineering marvel for something that just needs to play LP records.

It costs $60,000 as tested and unsurprisingly, it sounded great to the reviewer, as I would expect it to. In the magazine, they list the reviewers system and this guy probably has a couple million dollars worth of stereo equipment, retail wise. I have no idea about him, so maybe he can afford all this, but he’s as old as I am and I hope he has someone to help him move stuff around because a lot of what he owns is massive in size and weight. The equipment he uses to review stuff, like this Turntable, is over the top stuff, most of us could only dream of.  Does everything he has in his reference sound good? Probably, but who really knows and I have mu doubts for one very good reason. Old ears…

I once read this writer describe the rooms he visited at one of the audio shows, when there used to be such a thing and practically every room he visited sounded dark to him. I guess we were supposed to take that as the components in these many rooms were dark sounding. Well, I can tell you that what I got from his “reviews” of the rooms at this show, was his ears probably weren’t working perfectly, as is often the case with all of us.  If there is a commonology of sound characteristics at an audio show, most likely it isn’t the equipment in the rooms, although it could be the rooms themselves. However, other people at the same magazine wrote about less expensive stuff at the show and there weren’t these “dark” types of comments.

One thing I’ve taken notice of lately is the quality of the writing in the main Audio magazines I subscribe to, including The Absolute Sound and Stereophile.

Some of it is contains so much verbiage to describe the sound, I can’t stand it. Such was the review of the Clearaudio TT. I realize that the writer is looking for ways to describe what they hear and feel, but most of it is so over the top, I can’t read it all and dont even skip to the end to see what his final comments about the product are.

Art Dudley didn’t use as many words, nor were they necessarily as poetic as some writers, but I enjoyed reading what he wrote and that’s the end game for me with reviews.

I’d probably make a bad reviewer because, except for a very few bad sounding high end audio components that have made their way though here,  I think things are either good, ok, or sometimes great and those are enough words for me.

 

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.

This is an article written by Scot Hull from Part Time Audiophile that I totally agree with.

See www.parttimeaudiophile.com. It is always an enjoyable read.

One of my favorite hi-fi arguments involves stack-ranking your spend. That is, how should we spend our hard-earned money when assembling a high-end stereo system? What is the most important component? Is it the speaker? Is it the amplifier? Is it the turntable phono cable? In any of these debates, there will invariably be someone who says something like “the most important component in any audio system is THE ROOM.” Once this version of Goodwin’s Law plays out, there will be a lot of nodding and wise stroking of facial hair.

But what if it’s not true?

There is some sense to the notion, to be fair. We tend to build hi-fi systems in this particular “possible universe” and not others, so yes, chances are quite good that there will be a room involved. And yes, it’s true — rooms can dramatically impact the sound quality of any system. Room nodes, cancellations, reflections — all that (and a whole lot more) can contribute to a truly epic, or horrific, experience. For those keeping track, this is one of ten thousand reasons why it pays to make friends with your local area audio dealer.

But with that said, it’s pretty easy to overstate this. Common wisdom says that huge loudspeakers should never be crammed into small spaces. That low ceilings, or a narrow front-wall, or irregular side walls can “kill” the sound. That you need to “fit” your system to your space and never the other way around. That a goldilocks sprinkling of room treatments is the key “acceptable” sound.

This is all very sensible advice. It’s also a bit misleading, as anyone who has ever seen the listening room of a high-end audio reviewer will readily tell you.

Or anyone who has visited a high-end audio show.

Jeff Joseph, of Joseph Audio — for one notable example — is famous for his incredible-sounding loudspeakers AND for his off-center speaker setups. Going from room to room at an audio show, you’ll see room after room of very traditional, mathematically-plotted speaker setups — and then you’ll come to a Joseph Audio room and start scratching your head, and perhaps begin wondering if someone took their medication that morning. You then sit, your bemusement gives way to wonder, and you stop thinking about math, and “the most important component”, and start grooving to some world-class sound.

Would that system sound better in a better room? Maybe — okay, probably. But that doesn’t mean that it cannot sound amazing in your room, shitty though that room may be. Take a Vinnie Rossi demo, with some great big loudspeakers from Harbeth, the 40.2 Anniversary Edition. Big speakers, big sound, great-big-bass. And in Vinnie’s far-from-ideal-world hotel-room setup, those speakers sounded incredible. Yes, most of that has to do with Vinnie’s amazing audio electronics. But a lot has to do with the fact that the speakers have been pulled from the walls and are less than 5′ from your ears — best headphones EVER.

The point? Don’t give up because your room is suboptimal — almost all of them are — and chances are very high that you can and will still get amazing sound.

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.

Needles vs. lasers

Sometimes it’s instructive to pull our view of the world back and take a broader look. For example, a 30,000 foot view of music reproduction’s two core methods: vinyl and CD, might look very different than our normal image.

For example, when I don’t put much thought into comparing differences between vinyl on my turntable and CD, I consider them different yet not that different. Both make music, both are wonderful mediums, each has its upsides and downsides. A simplistic view that ignores fundamentals.

A more callous look from afar would be very different indeed. One technology is almost entirely mechanical, relying upon a needle wiggling in a plastic groove to generate a tiny electrical voltage vs. a laser beam scanning an impossibly microscopic mirror to extract ones and zeros. The two technologies couldn’t be further apart, yet each is expected to produce similar results.

For me, it’s helpful when listening to the two disparate sources to place them in different categories and adjust my expectations accordingly. I don’t hope for one to mirror the other. I experience vinyl in a very different way than I do digital.

The next time someone asks which do you prefer best, it might make sense for a moment’s pause to consider that it’s hard to compare apples to oranges.