Making It Click

I need to take some photographs.

OPTION A: Shooting my Digital SLR Camera:
  1. Be sure proprietary battery is charged. If not, charge battery and install into camera.
  2. Remove lens cap and switch on the camera’s power.
  3. Wait for camera to boot up, which could be up to ten seconds. If the camera bugs me to enter date and time, I do so. This occurs often, and will take about a week. Usually, I give up after five minutes and leave the camera set to to “01–01-2009.” This is why all my digital photos are dated Jan 1, 2009 and Apple’s “Photos” app (or the older iPhoto app) crashes every time I import photos from the camera.
  4. Select from among a variety of “scene modes,” or brainlessly select PROGRAM AUTO.
  5. Select focus mode.
  6. Select focus points.
  7. Select metering mode.
  8. Select metering points.
  9. Select ISO or ISO range.
  10. Select dynamic range expansion.
  11. Select white balance mode.
  12. Select JPG or RAW format.
  13. Select “soft button” mode.
  14. Select flash mode.
  15. Select USB mode.
  16. Select noise reduction mode.
  17. Select menu appearance options.
  18. Select LCD screen parameters.
  19. Select HDR on/off.
  20. Select about twenty other options. To do this correctly requires either a year of experimentation or a doctorate degree in digital image signal processing.
  21. Aim camera toward subject.
  22. Lightly press shutter release.
  23. Wait for autofocus to go in and out of focus, then cheerily beep that it has achieved focus. Or, at least, what it thinks is correct focus.
  24. Press shutter release fully.
  25. Camera takes photo! * * * *At this point I either feel like going out and getting drunk to celebrate, or I no longer care about photography — and I begin to yearn for the end of all life on this planet in a fit of nihilist rage against the machine! * * * *
  26. Wait for camera to process image. This requires several seconds.Repeat Steps 20 through 25. If I wait too long between shots, the camera will turn itself off, requiring me to begin over from Step 2.

OPTION B: Shooting my 1970s-era 35mm or medium format film SLR camera:
  1. The camera should already have the battery for its exposure meter installed. If not, install battery: it’s a common type, like an A76. The battery will last up to a year, so this step is a formality.
  2. Load film into camera. Wind to the first film frame.
  3. Remove lens cap.
  4. Aim camera toward subject.
  5. Glance at the in-the-viewfinder meter while focussing the lens. With practice, this requires less than a second. ALTERNATIVE: Meter the scene with handheld exposure meter. Then, focus the lens.
  6. Set aperture and shutter speed as indicated by exposure meter, or according to artistic requirements.
  7. Press shutter release.
  8. Camera takes photo!
  9. Wind to the next film frame.
  10. Repeat Steps 4, 7 through 9. Repeat Steps 5 and 6 only if the lighting or subject has changed. * * * * At this point I’m enjoying the creative process. * * * *
  11. Remove film after last film frame. * * * * At this point I’m eager to put in another roll of film and take more photographs! * * * *
  12. Take film home to my darkroom and process the film.

I choose Option B.

Now to pick which camera to use. But that’s another story.

A story of a Uher, but not of Nathaile.

Today I've been working on repairing my faithful old Uher 4000 Report S, a broadcast-quality, battery-powered analog reel-to-reel tape recorder. Made in 1963, its electronics still work — but the intricate mechanism of its tape drive has broken down. This illustrates the only drawback of analog recorders. They’re mechanical, and anything mechanical eventually breaks. But that also is a hidden advantage of analog recorders: anything mechanical can be repaired or restored.

So, this particular recorder, despite being over fifty-years-old, can be brought back to full function.Given the effort, it will work just fine once again. Do you think any modern digital music player will be working fifty years from now? Do you think a fifty-year-old digital music player will be able to be repaired?
I’ve often been told, “don’t bother; those old Uhers aren’t worth fixing.” I disagree but I understand the sentiment. Its level meter is small, hard to read, and inaccurate. Its ergonomics are awkward. It’s heavy for its size, especially after adding the five D-size batteries it needs. Wiring audio and accessory cables to its various DIN connectors is confusing, tedious and results in a baffling selection of adapters. Its single-motor mechanism uses a variety of felt pressure pads, rubber belts, rubber rollers, odd flywheels and tiny springs - which can be troublesome to maintain, and very finicky to adjust. It’s a two-head design, so you can’t monitor off-the-tape as you record, All of its input and output impedances are non-standard. Its built-in elliptical full-range speaker sounds like a pocket radio, and its 0.8-Watt power amplifier is a Class B design, which causes audiophiles to run away into the night, screaming, never to be seen again.

Why bother?

One word: Tone.

A Uher 4000 Report series tape recorder has a unique tone that makes it truly fabulous for recording interviews. They were very popular at one time with news reporters, radio correspondents, historians (to record oral histories) talent scouts, law enforcement, and broadcasters. Everyone just sounds so good on tapes recorded by a Uher 4000 Report. The Uher became known as "the poor man's Nagra," in reference to its popularity among smaller professional recording companies.

Music is another matter. Some listeners love the tone, others don’t. But for voice recordings, no computer DAW plugin and no expensive European-made condenser microphone can beat it for listenability. Even if you hate the sound of your own voice in a recording, you’ll love how you sound on a little Uher like this one.

Which is why I’m spending the time and money to resurrect old Lazarus here. I’m planning some projects that involve recording live interviews, and I know a Uher will give me the sound I want.

Besides, they’re cool. They have germanium transistors - which is part of their unique tone. The tape drive mechanism is clever, and the motor's electronically-governed speed controller was ahead of its time. You can see a Uher 4000 Report S in scenes during some of the first James Bond movies and in the movie "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." Paranormal investigators once used Uher 4000 Report series recorders to document hauntings and to record Electromagnetic Voice Phenomena, or EVPs. In Europe, they formed the basis of high-quality compact hi-fi systems for music lovers. Like I said, they're cool.

Even better than the Uher 4000 Report S is the last model in the series, the Uher 4000 Report Monitor. This iteration of the line retains many of the design features of the earliest models, but adds a genuinely excellent level meter, a third head - gasp - just like any other professional analog recorder, and greatly improved electronics. It’s fully 12 deciBels quieter than the older 4000 Report S, meaning that besides sounding wonderful for interviews it actually sound good for music too. Imagine.

As an interesting coincidence, I also have a Uher 4000 Report Monitor. It too suffers from a mechanical breakdown. But, it too can be brought back to life.

But that’s a story for another day.

LPs Then and Now

A sign of how times have changed is evidenced in the accessories the “all-out” audiophile who wanted the ultimate setup bought for playing his or her collection of vinyl LPs.

Then, as now, everyone starts out with a good turntable, a record cleaner, stylus cleaner, good amplifier system (receiver, integrated amplifier, or preamplifier-amplifier combination), and a pair of quality loudspeakers.

But then paths diverge.

In the 1970s, the “ultimate setup” adds:

• “Everyday cartridge” for playing most of your LPs.
• “Special occasion” cartridge, a very high end model, for playing those truly excellent recordings, like Direct-to-Disc LPs from Crystal Clear or Telarc; or those amazing Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs reissue LPs.
• “Cruddy album” cartridge for playing badly worn records, badly made records, 45-rpm singles and the like. Sometimes this was an alternate stylus for the “everyday cartridge.”
• High-end cassette deck or reel-to-reel tape recorder. You recored the record the first time you played it, then listened to the tape most of the time to reduce record wear.
• Graphic equalizer, or parametric equalizer to correct for badly made records, or to add a bit of extra “something” to LPs, as well as correct for room acoustics.
• Dynamic range expander to undo compression.
• Autocorrelator to undo peak limiting.
• “Declicker,” like the SAE 5000A or the KLH TNE-1000 to reduce record pops and ticks.
• Dynamic Noise Filter to reduce hiss in lesser-quality records.
• DBX decoder for dbx discs.
• Patchbay or processor selector switch.
• Aftermarket felt platter mat
• Zerostat anti-static pistol.
• High quality anti-static record sleeves.

Today, though, things are very different. The ultimate setup adds:

• Aftermarket audiophile “interconnects” (cables) and tonearm wiring.
• Record “clamps.”
• Aftermarket tweaks for the turntable itself, such as a different counterweight, drive belt made from exotic material,m anti-resonance mat for the platter, high-end cartridge mounting screws (!), and other replacements for the turntable’s stock components.
• Power conditioner
• Anti-vibration feet for the turntable.
• Vibration isolating platform for the turntable.
• “Burn in” LP to play before using the whole setup.
• “Cartridge demagnetizer.”
• “Audiophile” fuses.
• “Audiophile” power cord and ground cable.
• “Audiophile” cable elevators - supposedly, letting cables lay on the floor hurts the sound.

So why do these differences exist? Because of the fundamental assumptions made by audiophiles in the past versus audiophiles now.

During the 1970s, audiophiles assumed that even the finest LP had serious technical limitations. They were aware of the limited dynamic range of the recordings, the fragility of the groove walls (causing pops and ticks), the comparatively high amount of surface noise and the limited stereophonic separation - combined with an average of 1% to 3% total harmonic distortion. So, they chose signal processors intended to enhance the sound of the recording itself, to compensate for the perceived deficiencies of the vinyl LP record, and to correct for defects in the discs themselves. They compared the quality of the LP to live, un-amplified acoustic music and to the studio master tapes — compared to which the LP was a pale echo. Their objective was to return the sound to a level of quality approximating that of the original master tape, insofar as it was possible.

In contrast, today’s audiophiles assume the vinyl LP is the highest quality source of sound, that it’s “perfect.” Furthermore, they assume that the turntable itself, along with the cartridge, is of extraordinary quality. They believe that a vast amount of “information” exists within the LP. So, all that is left for the audiophile to do is to concentrate on the subtleties of the playback chain; to “extract” all the “information” within the LP’s grooves. Hence, they choose “enhancements” and “tweaks” instead of signal processors. Most of today’s audiophiles compare the vinyl LP to other recorded media, such as Compact Discs, MP3s and digital streaming music - compared to which the LP is superior.

So, who is right?

It’s all a matter of perspective.

If you grew up with the LP as the everyday technology, then you’ll probably tend to choose the approach of 1970s-era audiophiles. If you grew up with digital recordings, you’ll exult in the LP and see it as a tremendous upgrade in your sound.

Regardless, buy as much music as you can, sit back and enjoy! Don’t focus on equipment, focus on the music. You’ll enjoy it more that way.

Cones of non-silence.

Cone tweeters have the same basic design and form as a woofer with optimizations to operate at higher frequencies. The optimizations usually are:
• a very small and light cone so it can move rapidly;
• cone materials chosen for stiffness (e.g., ceramic cones in one manufacturer's line), or good damping properties (e.g., paper, silk or coated fabric) or both;
• a suspension (or spider) that is stiffer than for other drivers—less flexibility is needed for high frequency reproduction;
• small voice coils (3/4 inch is typical) and light (thin) wire, which also helps the tweeter cone move rapidly.

Cone tweeters were popular once in stereo hi-fi speakers designed and manufactured in the 1960s and 1970s as a high-quality alternative to the dome tweeter (which was developed in the late 1950s). Cone tweeters today are often relatively cheap, but many of those in the past were of high quality, such as those made by Audax/Polydax, Bozak, CTS, JBL, Tonegen and SEAS. These vintage cone tweeters exhibited very flat frequency response, excellent clarity, low distortion, fast transient response, a low resonance frequency and a gentle low-end roll-off, easing crossover design.

Typical of the 1960s/1970s-era was the CTS "phenolic ring" cone tweeters, exhibiting flat response from 2,000 to 15,000 Hz, low distortion and fast transient response. The CTS "phenolic ring" tweeter gets its name from the orange-colored edge suspension ring that it made from phenolic. It was used in many makes and models of well-regarded vintage speakers, and was a mid-priced unit.

Cone tweeters have a narrower dispersion characteristic that is the same as a cone woofer's. Many designers therefore believed this made them a good match to cone midranges and woofers, allowing for superb stereo imaging. However, the "sweet spot" created by the narrow dispersion of cone tweeters is small. Speakers with cone tweeters offered the best stereo imaging when positioned in the room's corners, a common practice in the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s.

During the 1970s and 1980s, the widespread introduction of higher quality audiophile discs and the advent of the CD caused the cone tweeter to fall out of popularity because cone tweeters seldom extend past 15 kHz. Audiophiles felt that cone tweeters lacked the "airiness" of dome tweeters or other types. Nevertheless, many high-end cone tweeters remained in limited production by Audax, JBL and SEAS until the mid-1980s.


Cone tweeters are now rarely used in modern hi-fi usage and are routinely seen in low cost applications such as factory car speakers, compact stereo systems, and boom boxes. Some boutique speaker manufacturers recently have returned to high-end cone tweeters, especially recreations of CTS phenolic ring models, to create a vintage-sounding product.

And another one bites the dust!

Those who have followed my career over the years know that, at one time, I was active in several online forums and Facebook groups, but quit because the posts in those groups became progressively more poisonous over time. Life's too short to give of one's time and experience only to have that generosity rewarded with insults, defamation and the written abuse. 

Online forums and discussion groups have become a toxic environment for small businesses. As I've chronicled before, I've seen products have their reputation destroyed in social media by persons who have never seen or used the products they're denigrating. Personally, I've had three products destroyed by social media. So, I tend to avoid discussion groups assiduously. Why subject my business to unwarranted negative publicity, let alone myself to unneeded aggravation that I'm not being paid for?

Occasionally, I've had criticism for being "thin skinned" or incapable of handling criticism -- usually from the same abusive authors.

Well, it's not just me.

Below, I've copied a message on the DIYAudio forums left by Markaudio, an innovative manufacturer of high-quality full range loudspeakers. (I've used Markaudio components in my designs, and have found them to be of excellent quality. Markaudio's proprietor is a pleasure to deal with. He's knowledgable, eager to help, long-suffering and amiable.)

I can imagine the never-ending acrimony Markaudio has had to endure for the past several years, and I admire his resolve. But, as you'll read below, he's finally had enough. 

Online forums can be a source of knowledge, but this source has dried up over the past decade as the genuine experts quit the forums, driven off by the poisonous environment. I am saddened to see DIYaudio lose a valuable member like mark audio, but it was inevitable. 

To those who enjoy insulting, mocking and demeaning those who post messages in online forums, thank you for snuffing out the few luminaries who once shone so brightly online for all to benefit. 

And, with no further adieu, the parting message left in DIYaudio from Markaudio. 


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

"Hello Members - Guys (and girls - there might be some)

"I'd like to take this opportunity to heartily thank all those that have supported Markaudio. Sadly its time for Markaudio to leave Diyaudio. The climate on Diyaudio has changed over recent times making no longer a suitable place for a lone small driver maker. 

"Over the years, many of you have kindly given your input, feedback and wonderful support. Its been fantastic and possibly a unique journey. A journey where a maker and end-users joined together to shape and re-shape the design and operation of a full-range audio driver brand. Far as we can tell, no other loudspeaker driver collaboration has been attempted on this scale. 

"On a personal note, my huge thanks to all those that supported me and encouraged me to carry on working through my illness. Colon cancer is a life changing experience, not all bad news. Much good has come from it, including the formation of the new Markaudio Loudspeaker company. Thanks to enthusiasts Steve Cheng, Norio Nakajima, Evan Yu and some members on Diyaudio, the CH and Alpair series driver designs will live on. 

"In the meantime, I'm talking to Jason (diyaudio site owner) to allow me time to say my "goodbye's" to member friends over the next week or so before entirely closing down this section of diyaudio. 

"New Markaudio continues (Markaudio) with its own site developments that will upgrade support for end users in the coming weeks.  

"For continuing support, please feel free to email: support@markaudio.com

"I sincerely hope members who use Markaudio drivers will continue to enjoy them. For those interested in using Markaudio drivers in the future, watch me on www.markaudio.com and other places!  

"Bless you all

Mark"

Can beautiful sight and sound coexist?

Numerous studies since the 19th Century have demonstrated that vision has a dominant effect on the perception of spatial localization. Seeing the sound’s source improves the brain’s ability to precisely localize the sound in space. Auditory localization is inferior to vision under everyday conditions. Typical spatial localization errors vary, according to proximity, from 4-degrees to 10-degrees in the horizontal plane. Resolving spatial location in elevation in much worse. With visual augmentation, the minimum angular separation that can be resolved between two pure-tone sound sources is as small as 1-degree. 

Vision, in essence, draws attention to the position of the source of a sound, so vision together with hearing more accurately locates sound than vision alone. 

But what about stereophonic sound? 

The two loudspeakers work together with the human brain to create an auditory illusion, known variously as stereophonic sound, spatial imaging or stereo imaging. This auditory illusion attempts to recreate the position of a source of sound in a plane between the two loudspeakers. The objective is to draw the listener’s attention to the stereophonic image, not to the two loudspeakers. Vision, in this instance, directs attention to the loudspeakers instead of the illusory sound source appearing between the two loudspeakers. Therefore, customary practice, supported by numerous studies, suggests that the two loudspeakers should be visually subdued; or, more ideally, not visible. 

This explains why sometimes listeners close their eyes while listening to stereophonic music. They’re “tuning out” visual distractions that would otherwise diminish the vivid stereophonic image. Therefore, I eschew visually-dominant loudspeaker cabinet designs, bright colors or radical styling. Instead, I style my loudspeakers in black or darker-toned wood cabinets, plain box-shaped, with the front covered in neutrally-colored acoustically-transparent grilles. 

My designs are, therefore, sometimes criticized for being visually bland, generic or boring. Fair enough. I accept the criticism. It’s true. It’s by design. I’m trying to give my customers the best possible stereophonic experience technology allows. A loudspeaker that screams for attention visually is competing with your hearing. That defeats the purpose of the otherwise-flawless stereophonic imaging the loudspeaker can produce. 

In short, I feel that a beautiful, eye-catching loudspeaker cabinet cheats the listener out of the vivd, lifelike stereophonic experience for which they bought the loudspeaker. 

But am I wrong? 

Should I be making loudspeakers that look as beautiful as they sound?

Tell me what you think.

Phono cartridge quick guide

Here is a brief review of the common choices for phono cartridges costing less than $150.00 USD, a quick guide to selecting a new model for your vintage turntable. This list is limited to those models in production at the time of this writing.

A general caution - generally, avoid conical or spherical styli. They don’t sound as good and increase record wear.

NEW PRODUCTION CARTRIDGES AS OF JUNE 2015.
Ortofon 2M Series - developed in conjunction with the Danish designer Møller Jensen, these visually-striking cartridges offer some of the finest sound in their price range. Many far higher cost cartridges aren’t as good. The 2M Series excels in every aspect of phono cartridge sound and performance. Even better is the “upgrade path” approach to its styli. When you decide you want better sound, just replace the stylus with a higher-end model. Ortofon has a strong commitment to providing replacement styli for all of their cartridges, even decades after they’re out of production. This makes Ortofon a low risk investment in your sound. The only caveat is their aesthetics - if you want to preserve the “vintage look” you may find the 2M Series sense of style to be too extreme. Hopefully, that’s not an issue for you because passing up sound this good would be a mistake. Ortofon OM5E and OM 3E, along with other OM and Super OM Series - An evolution of the LM Series introduced in the 1970s, the OM Series gives vintage sound and vintage look at a reasonable price point. Even better is the “upgrade path” approach to its styli. When you decide you want better sound, just replace the stylus with a higher-end model. Ortofon OM series are the OEM cartridge supplied on many quality turntables, such as Dual, Perpetuum-Ebner, Pro-Ject, Music Hall (colored blue and rebranded with their name), and many others. Ortofon has a strong commitment to providing replacement styli for all of their cartridges, even decades after they’re out of production. This makes Ortofon a low risk investment in your sound.
Shure M97xE - the last audiophile quality cartridge being made by Shure, who has gone over to making DJ cartridges. It is, fortunately, excellent overall - when you get a good one. Shure has been exhibiting quality control issues recently, such as misaligned stylus cantilevers or mis-wired coils causing phase issues. Hopefully, this situation will resolve itself soon. Nevertheless, it's a good choice for most vintage turntables and is well worth the possible - though unlikely - hassle of finding a good one. DO NOT BUY SHURE CARTRIDGES FROM EBAY SELLERS! Buy them only from a reputable dealer who has a generous returns policy. The M97xE gives crystal clear vintage sound, combining the effortless midrange and smooth treble of the V-15 Type III, Type IV and Type V with the strong yet detailed bass of the M95ED. Shure has a weak commitment to providing replacement styli for all of their cartridges once they’re out of production, ceding supply of replacement styli to aftermarket stylus manufacturers. Aftermarket Shure styli vary in quality from awful to better than Shure’s original styli. This makes Shure a medium risk investment in your sound.
Stanton 681EEE Mk. III - Stanton also has gone over to making DJ cartridges, with this one shining exception. The 681EEE has been in production since the 1970s, and features very natural sound, neutral tonal balance and very low distortion. At one time, the 681EEE and its more-expensive stablemate, the 881EEE, were used in the USA as the “quality check cartridges” by record cutters. If you want to hear the record exactly as the engineer who cut the master disk heard it, then this is the cartridge for you. Rumor has it that new production models are inferior to vintage models but this isn’t true. At one time, it was true when Stanton was first bought by Gibson, but those quality issues have been resolved. Stanton’s commitment to providing replacement styli for all of their cartridges once they’re out of production is unknown at this time. You will probably have to rely on aftermarket stylus manufacturers for replacements, a market that constantly changes over time. Aftermarket Stanton styli vary in quality from awful to better than Stanton’s original styli. This makes Stanton a significant risk investment in your sound.
Grado Prestige Series - Recently, Grado has become very popular among turntable restorers because of their easy availability in bulk purchases. Light brown and beige-colored Grado cartridges were installed on mid-1970s Yamaha turntables when new; these are essentially the same as today's Grado Prestige series. Grado sound quality varies widely. Tonearm resonance, mass, and electrical wiring scheme cause Grado cartridges to be problematic. Excessive hum cab be an issue with certain turntables. Sound can be detailed and crystal clear, dull and lifeless, or thin and shrill, depending on the phono preamp’s electrical characteristics, the tonearm's wiring, and the tonearm's mechanical properties. So many excellent cartridges exist that, frankly, the Grado Prestige line isn’t worth the hassle and frustration of trying to make it sound good on your turntable. Grado has a strong commitment to providing replacement styli for all of their cartridges, even decades after they’re out of production. The few aftermarket styli are inferior to Grado’s production. This makes Grado a low risk investment in your sound.

AudioTechnica AT3842P, AT90CD, AT91/BL, AT300P, AT95E/BL, AT311EP and equivalents - often sold relabeled, they are widely available worldwide. Sound quality is inferior overall, but some aftermarket styli can improve AudioTechnica cartridges to the point where they are good sounding. Ensuring a good-sounding AudioTechnica cartridge is uncertain, and is akin to a casino gambling game. AudioTechnica has a strong commitment to providing replacement styli for all of their cartridges, even decades after they’re out of production. A large selection of aftermarket styli exists for AudioTechnica as well. This makes AudioTechnica a low risk investment in your sound. Nevertheless, AudioTechnica should be regarded as a “last resort” purchase to be made when you genuinely cannot afford something better.
Sumiko Oyster - fitted with a spherical stylus yet expensive, avoid this model in favor of cartridges in the same price range that have an elliptical stylus.
Sumiko Pearl - Very sound with good clarity and a warm midrange, strong bass but muted treble that retains a high level of detail. The Pearl does a great job of reducing surface noise without sacrificing detail at high frequencies. Improved channel separation creates a wide stereo image. Not recommended as your main cartridge, it is a good choice as a second cartridge to play your more-worn records. This makes Sumiko a medium risk investment in your sound.
Sumiko Black Pearl - The Black Pearl is the only cartridge made that has a 0.5 mil conical stylus. The exception to the rule about avoiding conical styli, the Black Pearl is ideal for rare narrow-groove records such as Flexi-Discs, EvaTone Sound Sheets, 45 rpm discs with more than 7 minutes per side, 16-2/3 rpm AudioBook and Seeburg Music Library records; and the soft plastic records made on SoundScriber and Gray Audograph dictation machines. Not everybody needs a stylus for playing this kind of material. Its tone balance leans toward thin bass and reduced treble, creating a midrange-heavy tone, but for ultra-narrow-groove records, this is perfect. A good choice for serious record collectors who have a wide variety of formats. Replacement styli are available only from Sumiko, but Sumiko has a good history of providing replacement styli. Occasionally, aftermarket styli are available but usually they are inferior. This makes Sumiko a medium risk investment in your sound.
Music Hall Magic II - Presently, the Music Hall Magic II cartridge is a rebadged Ortofon OM Series, selected to be at the top 20% of the range of tolerance. You pay more for the Music Hall name, so even though they’re excellent cartridges, buy an Ortofon instead.
Numark - all Numark cartridges are either AudioTechnica or Ortofon models rebadged. They are usually manufactured to lower quality standards than the original manufacturer. Avoid.


A FEW SELECT VINTAGE AND OUT-OF-PRODUCTION CARTRIDGES.



ADC -

AKG -

Astatic -

AudioTechnica -

Bang & Olufsen -

Empire Scientific -

Fairchild -

General Electric -

Grado -

Micro-Acoustics -

Music Hall -

Ortofon -

Pfahnstiehl -

Pickering -

Sanyo -

Shure -

Stanton -

Fixing vinyl

Unbelievably, I am often criticized for repairing or performing maintenance on a vintage turntable before I sell it, instead of just giving a quick dusting and kicking it out the door (cheaply). You know, it’s a rip-off, just corporate greed, price gouging, unnecessary work to drive up the price; all the usual class-warfare claptrap. So what do I do and why? Greed, of course. No, not really.
CONSIDER:
Before I sell a vintage turntable I first give it a thorough inspection. Next, I’ll remove all the various lubricants, clean every bearing, then replace the lubrication with the highest-quality oils specified by the original manufacturer. At this point, I’ll sometimes readjust the bearings, if required, for correct operation. All rubber components then get a thorough cleaning with rubber restoration fluid, or are replaced if they’re too oxidized or too hardened or too stretched to be brought back to correct tolerances. All electrical connections that have corroded are replaced or renewed, as appropriate. Bent or stripped fasteners are replaced, along with any degraded electronic components - especially capacitors, glow lamps and relays. The base, plinth and dust cover gets a good cleaning. Badly scratched dust covers will be polished to original clarity, if requested, and crack repaired as well as possible.
I never sell a turntable with the original stylus. Why? Because the stylus pivots on a tiny rubber block that, over time, will harden. At best, this means the stylus no longer sounds as good as new, even if the tip has little or no wear. Worse, the stylus can become so stiff that it can damage your records, a risk I do not want to take. Usually, I’ll also replace the original cartridge with a new Ortofon or Shure that best matches the tonearm, unless the buyer has a preference for a different brand. I say usually, because sometimes the vintage cartridge is part of the turntable’s unique sound, and I’ll then keep it to preserve that sound. If no authentic manufacturer stylus is available, I use an aftermarket stylus of the same or better quality. If that’s not possible then I will find a modern cartridge that sounds as close tot he vintage cartridge as possible.
So why goes through all this effort when the turntable was working to begin with? Because even though it may be working it will not be working as good as it did when new. Over forty or fifty years has passed since the turntable was made, and over those decades lubricants have dried out or absorbed grit and dirt, electrical connections have corroded, bearings have become dirty, have worn out or are no longer to original tolerances. Rubber belts, idler rollers and shock mount grommets have hardened, stretched, or have developed a glaze-like coating of oxidation from exposure to air; this causes slippage. Electronic components will have degraded, and other mechanical components will have become dirty or excessively worn.
Unless these conditions aren’t corrected, the turntable won’t sound its best, and you’ve wasted your money. I want the peace of mind of knowing that the turntable will be making great music for its new owner for many years to come.

I'm needling you!

From the 1960s through the 1980s, cartridge manufacturers made thousands of patterns of styli for their various cartridges. Decades later, you can see how manufacturing suitable replacements can be problematic. 

A stylus assembly has several main parts, many of which are microscopic and must be precisely aligned and exactly formed for the stylus assembly to be of high quality. The major components of a stylus assembly are: 
1. The shank, a non-magnetic sheath that plugs into the cartridge’s body and which serves as a framework for the moving components that comprise the stylus assembly. The shank, together with the grip, holds the stylus assembly firmly in the cartridge’s body. Typically, the shank is made of brass or plastic.
2. The grip, a plastic part provided to make it relatively convenient for you to hold the stylus as you remove it from, or insert it into, the cartridge’s body. The grip, together with the shank, holds the stylus assembly firmly in the cartridge’s body.
3. The cantilever, a small rod that has the tip at one end and the magnet assembly at the other end. Most cantilevers are hollow, and made of microscopically-thin aluminum, but other materials may be used in higher-end styli assemblies, such as carbon fiber, boron, beryllium and solid ruby.
4. The tip, a microscopic piece of diamond, sapphire, or other industrial gemstone that plays the record by fitting into the record’s microscopic grooves. In the strictest sense, the tip is the actual stylus. It must be ground and cut to a precise shape, polished to a flawless finish, then positioned exactly onto the cantilever and firmly attached. Methods of attachment include a microscopic bead of adhesive, swaging, a methods where the stylus in driven through the cantilever like a nail, and ultrasound bonding. 
5. The magnet assembly, which the tip-and-cantlever combination vibrates to generate the audio signal. Usually, the magnet assembly features two or four microscopic magnets arranged 90-degrees apart, but this may vary greatly from manufacturer to manufacturer. 
6. A bias wire that controls the motion of the cantilever by suppressing unwanted resonance and by providing a means of ensuring the precise alignment of the cantilever.
7. A small pivot block, or bearing block, made of synthetic rubber or other elastomer, for the cantilever so it freely vibrates.
The record grooves vibrate the stylus tip, which in turn vibrates the cantilever and magnets; vibration creates motion of the magnets that induces a voltage into fine-wire coils within the cartridge’s body - creating the audio output signal. Admittedly, this explanation is greatly simplified, but you get the idea.

Recreating each exact stylus assembly ever made would be impractical, if not impossible, to achieve with any reasonable costs. So, most aftermarket stylus manufacturers will copy the grip and shank to match the intended cartridge, trim a stock (and uniform) cantilever to the required length and angle, mount whichever of a few standard sets of magnet assemblies works with the intended cartridge, assemble a standard bearing block and bias wire, then attach a tip from among a small selection of standard tips.


This allows aftermarket styli manufacturers to produce replacement styli for hundreds of different cartridges while actually having to manufacture only a few actual styli assemblies. Check closely the specifications of aftermarket styli for different cartridges and you’ll see that the specifications remain the same. If the manufacturer produces quality styli, you’ll not notice a great different in the sound, because other aspects of the cartridge influence the sound, but with lower-quality stylus manufacturers the sound can be quite different. Usually worse, obviously.


When you go shopping for a replacement stylus, you’ll have to choose between the cartridge maker’s authentic stylus, referred to as â€œOEM” (Original Equipment Manufacturer) or aftermarket. Whenever possible, choose the OEM stylus for your cartridge. If no OEM styli are available for your cartridge, then you will have to use an aftermarket stylus. 


One important caution must be considered when purchasing an aftermarket stylus. Beware of â€œNew Old Stock” styli, a term that means the stylus sat in a warehouse (possibly for decades) unused before it was sold. Depending on warehouse storage conditions, the stylus’ pivot block may be deteriorated, hardened or softened. This means that the stylus won’t sound like it would have when it was new. Worse, if the pivot block has hardened then the cantilever will not vibrate freely, which turns the stylus into a chisel â€” damaging your records beyond repair. 


Be very cautious about NOS styli! Buy them only from a reputable dealer who is equipped to inspect each stylus for proper functioning so that it will not damage your records.

NOTE 1: So what does “ceramic,” “moving magnet” and “moving coil” mean? The terms refer to the two basic methods that a cartridge creates an audio signal, and they’re descriptive terms. 

CERAMIC refers to cartridges made with a piezoelectric material (quarts or germanium) that the stylus assembly vibrates. The vibrations microscopically deform the ceramic (or crystal) element, generating an output voltage. Ceramic cartridges were common in budget record players and record changers, and some jukeboxes, during the 1950s and 1960s, but fell into disuse in the early 1970s because the cost of making moving magnet cartridges dropped dramatically - and buyer demand for better quality made ceramic types unacceptable. Because the stylus assembly vibrates a rigid ceramic assembly, the suspension is fairly stiff. This means the stylus has to track heavily, often 5 to 7 grams, which accelerates record wear. This also means that frequency response is limited and distortion is often high, especially with treble sounds. Worse, the styli tip are often an artificial industrial gemstone like ruby, sapphire or a hardened metal like osmium, all of which wear out rapidly compared to diamond styli. In other words, they sound terrible and will ruin your record collection!

Ceramic cartridge output levels are very high, as much as 1 volt, so little or no amplification is needed and applying the requisite record equalization is very simple. This is why they were used in the cheapest quality record players. They cannot be connected to standard preamplifier phono inputs.
NEVER, ever, use a ceramic cartridge! Ever! To repeat: they sound terrible and will ruin your record collection! If your record player has one, get rid of it or have it converted to a budget moving magnet cartridge.

MOVING MAGNET, or MM, cartridges have a tiny magnet that the stylus vibrates, inducing a voltage into coils within the cartridge body. This allows their stylus assembly to be user-removable. They can be made inexpensively yet provide good quality. Their comparatively high output level, usually between 3.5 millivolts and 6.0 millivolts (the same as high-output microphones), minimizes the amount of required amplification, reducing noise an distortion overall. But, their high output impedance can cause noise problems, susceptibility to electromagnetic and radio-frequency interference, and can lead to excessive high-frequency loss if inferior quality wiring is used, or if cables are longer than 3-feet or 0.9-meters.

Most modern phono cartridges are moving magnet types. Some manufacturers list their cartridges as “moving iron,” “variable reluctance,” “moving micro-cross,” “variable magnetic shunt” and other terms. Don’t be confused by these terms because they refer to a particular manufacturer’s variation of how to make a moving magnet cartridge.

MOVING COIL, or MC, cartridges have tiny coils of only a few turns of wire thinner than a human hair that are affixed to the cantilever. The cantilever vibrates the nearly-weightless coils within a magnetic assembly inside the cartridge’s body, inducing a voltage across the coils. Because of the few number of turns, sometimes literally only one or two turns, the cartridge cannot produce much output voltage. So, its output level is extremely low, about 0.05 millivolts to 0.6 millivolts. This extremely low level requires additional amplification, typically 20 to 30 deciBels, to bring its level up to the same as a moving magnet type. Another result is that a MC cartridge has very low output impedance, usually between 10 Ohms and 200 Ohms,whereas typical phono preamplifier inputs have an input impedance of 47,000 ohms. Therefore, moving coil cartridges cannot be connected directly to standard phono inputs without impedance matching and, of course, additional amplification. 

A moving coil cartridge does not have, and cannot have, a user-replaceable stylus assembly because its coils are wired directly to the cartridge’s output terminals. Once the stylus wears out, the cartridge needs to be “retipped.” See NOTE 2, below. Worse, in many environments this represents a level that is only slightly above ambient electromagnetic field noise levels. Also, because the stylus assembly cannot be a standardized module, MC cartridges are hand-made, which means they’re more expensive than most MM cartridges. 

Some say that MC cartridges produce superior sound because their stylus assemblies have lower mass, and their low output impedance renders them nearly immune to electromagnetic and radio-frequency interference. Critics assert that the extra amplification required by MC cartridges negates their theoretical advantage. The extra amplification and impedance matching also increases the cost of owning a moving coil cartridge further.


NOTE 2: When shopping for replacement styli, you may encounter the terms “retip,” “retipped,” or “retipping.” These terms refer to the process of rebuilding a cartridge by replacing only the tip of a stylus assembly (and sometimes the pivot block and cantilever if they are excessively worn). This is a labor-intensive process that requires specialized equipment, so it is an expensive process. Retipping is the only way to replace the stylus of a moving coil cartridge, and is an excellent alternative for replacing the stylus for any type of cartridge once a replacement cannot be found.

STYLI MANUFACTURERS AND BRANDS

Arista - Generally excellent quality, equal to or better than the styli produced by the cartridge’s original manufacturer. New Old Stock (NOS) only. See cautions, above, about New Old Stock styli.

Astatic - Generally excellent quality, equal to or better than the styli produced by the cartridge’s original manufacturer. New Old Stock (NOS) only. See cautions, above, about New Old Stock styli.

Audio-Technica - the largest manufacturer of non-professional phono cartridges today in terms of sales volume, Audio-Technica has made custom styli for other companies, most notably Linn and Pink Triangle. Replacements for those few styli will be standard Audio-Technica models, with reports of poor fit with vintage Linn K5 and K9 cartridges. 

AVCR - One of two house brands sold by turntableneedles.com. Refer to STYLI RESELLERS, below.

Banbridge - a British company, produces generally good overall quality, equal to the styli produced by the cartridge’s original manufacturer. 

Cartridge Man, The - a specialty company in the UK who manufactures excellent cartridges, and can repair almost any stylus made by any company. Excellent service and superb quality, making this a “no-fear” choice for hard-to-find or impossible-to-find replacement styli. Highly recommended! http://www.thecartridgeman.com 

Ed Saunders - Originally the production manager for Shure, Ed got into marketing aftermarket styli out of desperation trying to find a good quality stylus for various classic Shure cartridges. He’s one of those rare persons who knows how to source part, with a gift for finding the right person to do the job. As a result, his aftermarket styli for Shure M44, M55, M70, M71, M91, M92, M93, M95 and the various V-15 series cartridges gained a cult following for being as good or better than Shure’s own styli, especially the 3-mil conical styli for playing 78-rpm records and the elliptical styli for Shure M95ED, V-15 Type II and V-15 Type IV cartridges. Later, he introduced a superb budget cartridge, the Red Ed, that was a plain-label version of the same cartridge behind the Empire S205, Goldring Elan and Elektra, and Musical Hall Tracker; along with an excellent CD4 cartridges based on a popular AudioTechnica model. He retired from his business in 2012, whereupon control and ownership was transferred to Trisha Horn. Since Ed’s retirement various Internet forums have been very condemning of Trisha Horn, citing problems with poor customer service, lesser quality and little-to-no stock of popular products. Yet, eBay feedback rating put Trisha Horn at 99.5%, so take the Internet forum comments with skepticism. NOTE: The Red ED cartridge does appear to be no longer available, despite still being listed on the website.  http://www.edsaunders.com

EVG (ElectroVoice Game) - Generally excellent quality, often among the finest quality possible, equal to or better than the styli produced by the cartridge’s original manufacturer. New Old Stock (NOS) only. See cautions, above, about New Old Stock styli.

Expert Pickups - quite literally the finest styli replacements made, by hand to the customer’s exact requirements in the UK. Their styli often are quite superior to the original manufacturer’s styli. They can repair or replace any stylus for any cartridge, and offer unique specialty tip shapes that were never offered by the original manufacturer, such as truncated elliptical styli for archivists and serious record collectors. If you need a cartridge’s stylus replaced, and can find it nowhere else, this is where you need to go. Service is superb, prices are sometimes high, but never outrageous, especially considering the quality.  http://www.78tours.com/Expert_Stylus_Company.html

Fidelitone - One of the finest makers of aftermarket styli. Recently, the company and its entire assets were bought by Swiss company Zafira, who in turn resells the styli under different names. New Old Stock (NOS) only. See cautions, above, about New Old Stock styli.

Fife - Good to mediocre quality New Old Stock (NOS) only. See cautions, above, about  New Old Stock styli.

Jensen/Miller - good quality New Old Stock (NOS) only. See cautions, above, about  New Old Stock styli.

JICO - a Japanese maker whose styli are highly regarded, and are among the best quality newly-manufactured styli available. JICO’s elliptical and SAS styli are considered to be higher-quality upgrades for most vintage cartridges. They recently introduced their â€œSuper Analogue Stylus,” or SAS, an exotic line contact shape that equals or exceeds the finest stylus tips made. Their SAS is available only for certain higher-end vintage cartridges, like Shure V-15, Stanton 681EEE and some Ortofon models. http://www.jico-stylus.com

Lumen - a UK stylus maker whose limited selection concentrates on broadcast and DJ cartridges, such as Stanton and Shure. Available only in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, Lumen styli for Stanton cartridges are regarded as superior to those actually made by Stanton.

Micromel - very low quality replacement styli, possibly manufactured in France. Avoid.

Nagaoka - a Japanese manufacturer of new production styli only, and whose styli are highly regarded. Limited selection, often sold under under labels through established retail outlets only.

Normarh - manufactured in Colombia, South America, these are of uniformly unacceptable quality. Seldom sold under their own name, they’re often sold plain label by sellers on eBay or other websites. Worse, some unscrupulous sellers relabel them as legitimate styli from trusted name brands.  

Pfahnstiehl - Quality varies from excellent to good-but-not-spectacular, according to many who have bought their styli. Sometimes sold under their own name, they’re often described by some sellers as â€œMade In Switzerland,” as are styli made by Zafira. In recent years, Pfahnstiehl has begun importing styli made by other manufacturers, causing some variability in quality.

Sound Smith - a company in the USA who offers very fine quality styli replacements made by hand.They are the only source of replacement styli/cartridge modules for Bang & Olufsen Beogram turntables, being authorized by B&O themselves to manufacture replacements to equal, or better, quality as the originals. Sound Smith also manufactures a superb strain-gauge cartridge that is ultra-high-end. They state that they also can repair or replace any stylus for any cartridge, offering a limited selection of either an alloy cantilever or a solid ruby cantilever with an elliptical tip. If you need a cartridge’s stylus replaced, and can find it nowhere else, consider Sound Smith, but be prepared for a very long wait. Service is poor, prices are sometimes high, occasionally questionably high, but the quality is nevertheless excellent. In recent years, their business focus has shifted to manufacturing their own line of cartridges, based on their modifications to certain modes of Denon moving coil cartridges and adaptations of the Bang & Olufsen MMC series cartridges that they are authorized to manufacture. As a result, their service for providing aftermarket replacement styli has worsened. No one has been ripped off, though; they do manage to finally deliver what the customer orders. http://www.sound-smith.com

Tonar - a manufacturer of industrial gemstone products, their styli are very good to excellent quality. Be cautioned, though, that in recent years they now have styli for some cartridge models made for them by JICO or Pfahnstiehl. 

Topodis - Owned by Bainbridge, these were well regarded New Old Stock (NOS) styli. See cautions, above, about New Old Stock styli.

TTN - One of two house brands sold by turntableneedles.com. Refer to STYLI RESELLERS, below.

Walco - Generally excellent quality, often among the finest quality possible, equal to or better than the styli produced by the cartridge’s original manufacturer. New Old Stock (NOS) only. See cautions, above, about  New Old Stock styli.

Zafira - sells a mix of newly-made styli and relabeled Fidelitone New Old Stock (NOS) only. See cautions, above, about New Old Stock styli. Quality varies from very good to inferior according to many who have bought their styli. Seldom sold under their own name, they’re often described by some sellers as â€œMade In Switzerland,” as are styli made by Pfahnstiehl. 


STYLI RESELLERS

Banbridge - a British company, produces generally good overall quality, equal to the styli produced by the cartridge’s original manufacturer. 

Bluz Brothers Entertainment - a stylus reseller in the USA who provides excellent service, stocking only original maufacturers' New Old Stock styli for their cartridges. Their supply is dwindling, with many out of stock forever. http://www.adelcom.net

Ed Saunders - Originally the production manager for Shure, Ed got into marketing aftermarket styli out of desperation trying to find a good quality stylus for various classic Shure cartridges. He’s one of those rare persons who knows how to source part, with a gift for finding the right person to do the job. As a result, his aftermarket styli for Shure M44, M55, M70, M71, M91, M92, M93, M95 and the various V-15 series cartridges gained a cult following for being as good or better than Shure’s own styli, especially the 3-mil conical styli for playing 78-rpm records and the elliptical styli for Shure M95ED, V-15 Type II and V-15 Type IV cartridges. Later, he introduced a superb budget cartridge, the Red Ed, that was a plain-label version of the same cartridge behind the Empire S205, Goldring Elan and Elektra, and Musical Hall Tracker; along with an excellent CD4 cartridges based on a popular AudioTechnica model. He retired from his business in 2012, whereupon control and ownership was transferred to Trisha Horn. Since Ed’s retirement various Internet forums have been very condemning of Trisha Horn, citing problems with poor customer service, lesser quality and little-to-no stock of popular products. The Red ED cartridge does appear to be no longer available, despite still being listed on the website.  http://www.edsaunders.com

Get The Needle - a stylus reseller in the UK who provides excellent service, stocking a mix of new production original manufacturer styli and new production aftermarket styli. http://www.gettheneedle.co.uk

HiFi Phono House -  a stylus reseller in Germany who provides excellent service, stocking a mix of new production original manufacturer styli and new production aftermarket styli. http://www.hifi-phono-house.com

Jerry Raskin’s Needle Doctor - a stylus reseller in the USA who provides excellent service, stocking only new production styli by the respective cartridge manufacturers. http://www.needledoctor.com

LP Gear - actually a stylus reseller in the USA, most of their house brand styli are made for them by AudioTechnica, JICO, Nagaoka, or Pfahnstiehl. An excellent, trustworthy source of replacement aftermarket styli. They aren't good keeping all styli in stock, opting to offer only low-end conical for most vintage cartridges, even if the original styli was elliptical. Recently, they’ve been busy promoting their â€œupgrade” styli for the most-popular vintage cartridges, usually made by JICO. http://www.lpgear.com

Musonic - a stylus reseller in the UK who provides excellent service, stocking a mix of new production original manufacturer styli and new production aftermarket styli. http://www.musonic.co.uk

Pick-Up Naalden - a stylus reseller in the Netherlands who provides excellent service, stocking a mix of new production original manufacturer styli and new production aftermarket styli. 

Stereo Needles  - a stylus reseller in the USA who provides excellent service, stocking only New Old Stock styli, and a few new-production styli, made by ADC, AKG, AudioTechnica, Bang & Olufsen, Grado, Ortofon, Osawa, Pickering, Shure and Stanton for their cartridges. Their supply is dwindling, with many out of stock forever. They are equipped with a laboratory to fully test and evaluate styli, so buying New Old Stock styli from them is no problem. http://www.stereoneedles.com

The Stylus Lady - a stylus reseller in the UK who provides excellent service, stocking a mix of new production original manufacturer styli and new production aftermarket styli. http://www.thestyluslady.co.uk/ and eBay.

Stylus Plus - a stylus reseller in the UK who provides excellent service, stocking a mix of new production original manufacturer styli and new production aftermarket styli. http://stylusplus.co.uk

Store DJ - a stylus reseller in Australia who provides excellent service, stocking a mix of new production original manufacturer styli and new production aftermarket styli. http://www.storedj.com.au 

Topodis - Owned by Bainbridge, these were well regarded New Old Stock (NOS) styli. See cautions, above, about New Old Stock styli.

Turntableneedles.com is a styli reseller in the USA. Most of their house brand styli, labelled AVCR and TTN, are made for them by 
AudioTechnica, JICO, Pfahnstiehl or Zafira. An excellent, trustworthy source of replacement aftermarket styli, offering good value and a huge selection. In recent years, though, they haven’t been as good keeping all styli in stock as the have in the past. http://www.turntableneedles.com

Voice of Music Enthusiasts, The - a stylus reseller in the USA, focusing primarily on the cheapest models sold. Many are ceramic types, with only a few  of the cheapest moving magnet cartridges. Their service is excellent, and they’re worth looking into for the extremely budget conscious buyer. NEVER, EVER buy ceramic cartridges! http://www.thevoiceofmusic.com

William Thakker - a stylus reseller in Germany who provides excellent service, stocking only new production styli by the respective cartridge manufacturers, along with some by Pfahnstiehl and JICO. https://www.thakker.eu and on Ebay.

Wow, I'm all a-flutter!

So, why do I sell rebuilt turntables from the 1970s instead of new turntables? Wouldn’t new be better? Let me take you on a brief journey to explain my choice.

A good turntable is first and foremost a mechanical device. It must rotate the record at an exact speed with no deviation from that speed. Its tonearm must move precisely so that the stylus follows the record grooves exactly tangential to the groove walls, minimizing distortion while providing the greatest-possible stereo channel separation and widest frequency response. The drive mechanism must not introduce noise or rumble into the sound. The base and suspension must isolate the turntable from structure-borne noise, such as footsteps and the vibrations caused by the loudspeakers.All the goals should be achieved at reasonable cost. 

Constant, yet small, deviations from the exact turntable speed is called “flutter-and-wow” or “wow-and-flutter.” As the turntable speeds up, the music’s pitch raises; as the turntable slows down, the music’s pitch lowers. Together, this creates an effect much like running the music through vibrato. It imparts harshness tot he sound, and in severe cases it causes sustained notes to have a quavering or strained sound. Arguably, wow-and-flutter is the single most important aspect of a turntable’s sound quality. A turntable with high wow-and-flutter will never sound good, even if it is otherwise well-made. 

So, how much wow-and-flutter is acceptable? That question was answered in the 1950s by the National Association of Broadcasters, NAB; and the Recording Industry Association of America, RIAA;  in the United States, and by other standards organizations in other countries. According to a joint RIAA/NAB specification issued about 1952,, a playback turntable must exhibit less than 0.1% wow-and-flutter, while a record cutter’s turntable mechanism must not exceed 0.04% wow-and-flutter. These measurements are taken optically using a standard stroboscopic test disc. Note that other measurement standards vary in their methods, and measuring the same turntable by different means will yield different measurement figures. the NAB standard should be regarded as “worst case.” Because of my familiarity with the measurement, and that I’m equipped to perform this measurement, I used the RIAA/NAB wow-and-flutter measurement to evaluate turntables to sell. 

Similarly, standards exist for maximum permissible angular error in tonearms and rumble in drive mechanisms. The standard for tonearm angular error enforced in the USA is not stringent, easily met by all but the worst turntables. Likewise, the rumble specification of -35 dB (referred to 1 centimeter-per-second peak velocity at 100 Hz) is easily satisfied by most turntables.

So, you can imagine my confidence when shopping for a new-production modern turntable that I would find several to be able to refer to my friends and customers. With that confidence, I set out to compile a list of good turntables costing $500.00 USD or less. This was a lengthy process, because I had to obtain specimens of each model and run the standardized tests on each, so that I could make direct comparisons. Thanks to several of my friends, who are similarly-equipped to measure turntables following the RIAA/NAB methods, I was able to evaluate every turntable for sale in the USA that costs $1,000 or less. 

I was in for a rather rude surprise, however.

The problem was wow-and-flutter. No modern table costing less than $1,000.00 USD, let alone $500.00 USD exhibited wow-and-flutter meeting what I assumed was an easy benchmark: 0.1% mean wow-and-flutter, 10 Hz to 500 Hz. Most measured between 0.15% and 0.22%, which is grossly unacceptable. The best of the $1,000.00 USD turntables measured 0.12%, still unacceptable. To put this in perspective, a vintage Dual 1214 record changer measures 0.1%, meeting this specification. In today’s money, it cost approximately $500.00 USD, and is the reason I picked $500.00 as the price point for my shopping. Only cheap BSR, Voice Of Music and Collaro record changers from the 1960s and early 1970s measure worse than 0.1%, and even the worst of that lot wouldn’t exceed 0.15% because no one back then would listen to anything that measured worse.  

So, if $1,000.00 USD wouldn’t buy a turntable with acceptably-low wow-and-flutter, how much do you have to spend to reach that goal? It turns out the answer is approximately $4,000.00 USD or more. Astonishingly, not every turntable that costs thousands (or tens-of-thousands) of dollars has low wow-and-flutter. It doesn’t seem to be an issue with higher-end audiophile turntables. Aesthetics and exotic materials seem to be the focus of that market. I am surprised by how many multi-thousand dollar turntables cannot meet a specification of less than 0.1% wow-and-flutter.

Why is this? I do not know at this time. Be assured, I am seeking the reasons why most new audiophile turntables exhibit such poor wow-and-flutter performance. 

Until someone can manufacture a new turntable with less than 0.1% wow-and-flutter that costs under $1,000.00 USD, and more ideally $500.00 USD, I will seek out and restore the best of vintage turntables. They’ve proved their ability to deliver excellent sound at a reasonable price.

I will not sell bad sound. Period.

Meme About Past Prices.

A meme is floating around the Internet with prices from 1970. It purports that the cost of living then was less than in 2015. It is a good example of why memes should be ignored - it is inherently misleading. The meme fails to account for inflation, and doesn't define the product described. Below is a better set of prices that shows the cost of living in the USA during the 1970s was actually just as bad as today, overall.

Prices from the 1970s for typical products adjusted for inflation, as of June 2015. All prices in US dollars.

US Postage, 1st class letter, $0.06, which equals $0.37

Minimum wage, per hour, 1970 - $2.10, which equals $8.20 in today’s money!

Sugar, 5-pound bag, 1970 - $0.39, which equals $1.52

Milk, per gallon, 1970 - $.62, which equals $2.42

Movie Ticket, first-run feature, national mean, 1970 - $1.55, which equals $6.05

Coffee, per pound, commodity-quality brands, 1970 - $1.90, which equals $7.42

Eggs, white, per dozen, Grade A, 1970 - $0.59, which equals $2.30

Bread, ordinary white, per pound loaf, sliced, 1970 - $0.25, which equals $0.98

Gasoline, regular octane, per gallon, national mean, 1970 - $0.36, which equals $2.20

Rent, two bedroom apartment, Kansas City metro area, 1970 - $447 per month, which equals $2,725.77

Color Television: Tabletop, 1970 Motorola: $349 (16”), which equals $2,128.17

Color Television: Console Models, 1970 Motorola: $599 (23"), which equals $3,652.65

Dual 1249 turntable, 1975 - $275.00, which equals 1,078.68

Shure V-15 Type III stereo phono cartridge, 1975 - $75.00, which equals $292.82

Chrome bias cassette tape, C90, 1977 - $2.50 to $5.00, which equals $9.76 to $19.52

Vinyl LP, single disc, 1977 - $3.50 to $9.00, which equals $13.66 to $35.14

Pentax K1000 35mm camera, 50mm f2 lens, 1977 - $299.50, which equals $1,169.33!

Kodak Instamatic 304 camera, 1971 - $45, which equals $262.89

Roll of Kodacolor II 126 Film, 1971 - $1.75, which equals $10.22

Developing of 24 exposure color film (110, 126 or 35mm) with prints, Fotomat or One Hour Photo kiosk, 1971 - $4.00 to $6.00, which equals $23.37 to $35.05

McDonalds meal: Quarter Pounder with cheese, large fries, medium Coke, 1977 - $1.75, which equals $6.83

Cigarettes, Kansas City, from vending machine, single pack, 1977 - $0.75 to $0.85, which equals $2.93 to $3.32

Cadillac DeVille, base price, 1970 - $5,880, which equals $35,855.72

Chevrolet Impala, standard tudor hardtop, 1970 - $3,250, which equals $19,818.22

House, Mansfield Ohio, 3 bedroom ranch - $23,900, which equals $145,740.11

House, Los Angeles, California, 2 bedroom ranch - $27,000, which equals $164,643.63

House, rural Wisconsin, 3 bedroom ranch - $9,000, which equals $54,881.21

AKG K240 stereo headphones, 1977 - $90.00, which equals $351.38

Revox A77 reel-to-reel tape recorder, 1977 - $1,600, which equals $6,246.84

Studer A80 24-track 2” studio tape recorder, 1977 - $33,000, which equals $128,831.04!

TASCAM 80-8 small format studio tape recorder, 1977 - $3,800, which equals $14,836.24

Neumann U87 studio microphone, 1977, $899.00, which equals $3,509.94

AKG D190E dynamic PA/studio microphone, 1977 - $65.00, which equals $253.78

Studer 369 mixing console, 24-inputs, 1977 - $24,500, which equals $95,654.71

TAPCO 6200 PA mixer, 1977 - approximately $300, which equals $1,171.28

Klipsch Heresy stereo loudspeaker or JBL 4310 studio monitor, one pair, 1977 - approximately $450, which equals $1,756.92

Typical AM/FM stereo receiver, 40-Watts, 1977 - $200 to 1,000, which equals $780.85 to $3,904.27!

Stereo cassette recorder, 1977 - $75.00 to $1,200, which equals $292.82 to $4,685.13!

Record what?

Discuss any method of sound recording and before long, someone will disagree, often vehemently. I’ve discovered that the true source of the conflict is a misunderstanding of why the recording is being undertaken. Obviously, sound recording is undertaken for the electrical or mechanical inscription and subsequent re-creation of sound waves, such as speech, singing, instrumental music, various sounds or a combination. Right? What he said. 

Well, not necessarily. Preservation of sound exactly as it occurred is indeed the original reason for the technology, but today sound recording does so much more. 

So here are the purposes of sound recording: 
1 Preserve a musical performance for later.
2 Enable a musical performance that would otherwise be impractical or impossible.  
3 Create a musical performance, or sounds within a musical performance, that otherwise could not be performed.
4 Enhance a musical performance beyond the constraints of live performance.

Skipping Reason #1, let’s briefly look at the other reasons. Besides, all the other reasons incorporate Reason #1 as a natural consequence. Sniff.

"Enable a musical performance that would otherwise be impractical or impossible.” Multi-channel recording systems allow the recordist to adjust the loudness of each instrument or each vocalist independently, and in proportions that may not necessarily reflect what is customary, or possible, in a live performance. Consider a song that has a soft vocal part, a nylon-string classical guitar, a saxophone, a bass guitar played through a 200-watt amplifier and four 21-inch speakers, a cathedral pipe organ and a drum kit that dwarfs Phil Collins’ set. Played live, with no sound system, achieving proper musical balances would be impossible: the vocal and guitar will be drowned out by the bass guitar and the pipe organ. It’s possible the drums could be drowned out. But in a recording studio, each part is recorded separately, then the recording engineer adjusts each instrument so they blend together with proper musical balance. For example, the recording engineer would turn up the guitar and vocal, turn down the bass and ride the gain on the drums and pipe organ. I really want to hear that song!

"Create a musical performance, or sounds within a musical performance, that otherwise could not be performed.” This is the best-known application of multi-channel, multi-track recording systems. Sounds can be layered, edited together and electronically processed to create new sounds. Several similar instruments can be layered together to create the sound of one idealized instrument. Guitars can talk. The only limit is the imagination of the musicians and the inventiveness of the recording engineer. Entire new styles of music have been created thanks to recording technology, music that couldn’t exist otherwise. 

"Enhance a musical performance beyond the constraints of live performance.” Let’s face it, musicians are people. no, really, they’re people. People aren’t perfect. Neither are musical instruments. Okay, mine are perfect, but no one else’s are. (I’m joking). If the band makes a mistake during a live performance, well, oops. The next set will be better, right? If a musician's instrument isn’t the finest quality, that will be apparent during a live performance as well. Modern recording equipment can edit out mistakes, replaced missed notes, and improve the tonal quality, dynamic control and overall sense of quality of each instrument. Vocals can seem more present, more intimate. The sense of ambience can be made ideal, ignoring the usually-awful acoustics that most live music occurs within.

Think of it another way: in many instances, the recording equipment becomes part of the musical performance. It's one of the musicians in effect and not merely a high-tech listener of the music.

So the next time an argument ensues over the “best” recording technique, ask yourself - in this situation what’s the purpose of the recording? Is the recording process part of the musical performance or is it a listener? Once you look at it that way, the reasons for disagreement no longer exist. Methods that are optimum for precise recording of a musical performance lack the ability to become part of the musical performance. Conversely, recording methods that allow modification, enhancement or creation of the musical performance may indeed not be as “high quality,” but that’s not the point - the musical performance is the point and the particular recording methods are necessary to achieve that particular musical performance. 

Enjoy the music!

Grooviness Part I

Unbelievably, I am often criticized for repairing or performing maintenance on a vintage turntable before I sell it, instead of just giving a quick dusting and kicking it out the door (cheaply). You know, it’s a rip-off, just corporate greed, price gouging, unnecessary work to drive up the price; all the usual class-warfare claptrap.
 
So what do I do and why? Greed, of course. No, not really. 

CONSIDER:

Before I sell a vintage turntable I first give it a thorough inspection. Next, I’ll remove all the various lubricants, clean every bearing, then replace the lubrication with the highest-quality oils specified by the original manufacturer. At this point, I’ll sometimes readjust the bearings, if required, for correct operation. All rubber components then get a thorough cleaning with rubber restoration fluid, or are replaced if they’re too oxidized or too hardened or too stretched to be brought back to correct tolerances. All electrical connections that have corroded are replaced or renewed, as appropriate. Bent or stripped fasteners are replaced, along with any degraded electronic components - especially capacitors, glow lamps and relays. The base, plinth and dust cover gets a good cleaning. Badly scratched dust covers will be polished to original clarity, if requested, and crack repaired as well as possible. 

I never sell a turntable with the original stylus. Why? Because the stylus pivots on a tiny rubber block that, over time, will harden. At best, this means the stylus no longer sounds as good as new, even if the tip has little or no wear. Worse, the stylus can become so stiff that it can damage your records, a risk I do not want to take. Usually, I’ll also replace the original cartridge with a new Ortofon or Shure that best matches the tonearm, unless the buyer has a preference for a different brand. I say usually, because sometimes the vintage cartridge is part of the turntable’s unique sound, and I’ll then keep it to preserve that sound. If no authentic manufacturer stylus is available, I use an aftermarket stylus of the same or better quality. If that’s not possible then I will find a modern cartridge that sounds as close tot he vintage cartridge as possible. 

So why goes through all this effort when the turntable was working to begin with? Because even though it may be working it will not be working as good as it did when new. Over forty or fifty years has passed since the turntable was made, and over those decades lubricants have dried out or absorbed grit and dirt, electrical connections have corroded, bearings have become dirty, have worn out or are no longer to original tolerances. Rubber belts, idler rollers and shock mount grommets have hardened, stretched, or have developed a glaze-like coating of oxidation from exposure to air; this causes slippage. Electronic components will have degraded, and other mechanical components will have become dirty or excessively worn.

Unless these conditions aren’t corrected, the turntable won’t sound its best, and you’ve wasted your money. I want the peace of mind of knowing that the turntable will be making great music for its new owner for many years to come.

Grooviness, Part II

Here is a brief review of the common choices for phono cartridges costing less than $150.00 USD, a quick guide to selecting a new model for your vintage turntable. This list is limited to those models in production at the time of this writing. 

A general caution - generally, avoid conical or spherical styli. They don’t sound as good and increase record wear. 

Ortofon 2M Series - developed in conjunction with the Danish designer Møller Jensen, these visually-strinking cartridges offer some of the finest sound in their price range. Many far higher cost cartridges aren’t as good. The 2M Series excels in every aspect of phono cartridge sound and performance. Even better is the “upgrade path” approach to its styli. When you decide you want better sound, just replace the stylus with a higher-end model. Ortofon has a strong commitment to providing replacement styli for all of their cartridges, even decades after they’re out of production. This makes Ortofon a low risk investment in your sound. The only caveat is their aesthetics - if you want to preserve the “vintage look” you may find the 2M Series sense of style to be too extreme. Hopefully, that’s not an issue for you because passing up sound this good would be a mistake.

Ortofon OM5E and OM 3E, along with other OM and Super OM Series - An evolution of the LM Series introduced in the 1970s, the OM Series gives vintage sound and vintage look at a reasonable price point. Even better is the “upgrade path” approach to its styli. When you decide you want better sound, just replace the stylus with a higher-end model. Ortofon OM series are the OEM cartridge supplied on many quality turntables, such as Dual, Perpetuum-Ebner, Pro-Ject, Music Hall (colored blue and rebranded with their name), and many others. Ortofon has a strong commitment to providing replacement styli for all of their cartridges, even decades after they’re out of production. This makes Ortofon a low risk investment in your sound.

Shure M97xE - the last audiophile quality cartridge being made by Shure, who has gone over to making DJ cartridges. It is, fortunately, excellent overall. The M97xE gives crystal clear vintage sound, combining the effortless midrange and smooth treble of the V-15 Type  III, Type IV and Type V with the strong yet detailed bass of the M95ED. Shure has a weak commitment to providing replacement styli for all of their cartridges once they’re out of production, ceding supply of replacement styli to aftermarket stylus manufacturers. Aftermarket Shure styli vary in quality from awful to better than Shure’s original styli. This makes Shure a medium risk investment in your sound.

Stanton 681EEE Mk. III - Stanton also has gone over to making DJ cartridges, with this one shining exception. The 681EEE has been in production since the 1970s, and features very natural sound, neutral tonal balance and very low distortion. At one time, the 681EEE and its more-expensive stablemate, the 881EEE, were used in the USA as the “quality check cartridges” by record cutters. If you want to hear the record exactly as the engineer who cut the master disk heard it, then this is the cartridge for you. Rumor has it that new production models are inferior to vintage models but this isn’t true. At one time, it was true when Stanton was first bought by Gibson, but those quality issues have been resolved. Stanton’s commitment to providing replacement styli for all of their cartridges once they’re out of production is unknown at this time. You will probably have to rely on aftermarket stylus manufacturers for replacements, a market that constantly changes over time. Aftermarket Stanton styli vary in quality from awful to better than Shure’s original styli. This makes Stanton a significant risk investment in your sound.

Grado Prestige Series - Recently, Grado has become very popular among turntable restorers because of their easy availability in bulk purchases. Grado sound quality varies widely. Tonearm resonance, mass, and electrical wiring scheme cause Grado cartridges to be problematic. Excessive hum cab be an issue with certain turntables. Sound can be detailed and crystal clear, dull and lifeless, or thin and shrill, depending on the phono preamp’s electrical characteristics, the tonearm's wiring, and the tonearm's mechanical properties. So many excellent cartridges exist that, frankly, the Grado Prestige line isn’t worth the hassle and frustration of trying to make it sound good on your turntable. Grado has a strong commitment to providing replacement styli for all of their cartridges, even decades after they’re out of production. The few aftermarket styli are inferior to Grado’s production. This makes Grado a low risk investment in your sound.

AudioTechnica AT3842P, AT90CD,  AT91/BL, AT300P, AT95E/BL, AT311EP and equivalents - often sold relabeled, they are widely available worldwide. Sound quality is inferior overall, but some aftermarket styli can improve AudioTechnica cartridges to the point where they are good sounding. Ensuring a good-sounding AudioTechnica cartridge is uncertain, and is akin to a casino gambling game. AudioTechnica has a strong commitment to providing replacement styli for all of their cartridges, even decades after they’re out of production. A large selection of aftermarket styli exists for AudioTechnica as well. This makes AudioTechnica a low risk investment in your sound. Nevertheless, AudioTechnica should be regarded as a “last resort” purchase to be made when you genuinely cannot afford something better. 

Sumiko Oyster - fitted with a spherical stylus yet expensive, avoid this model in favor of cartridges in the same price range that have an elliptical stylus. 

Sumiko Pearl - Very sound with good clarity and a warm midrange, strong bass but muted treble that retains a high level of detail. The Pearl does a great job of reducing surface noise without sacrificing detail at high frequencies. Improved channel separation creates a wide stereo image. Not recommended as your main cartridge, it is a good choice as a second cartridge to play your more-worn records. This makes Sumiko a medium risk investment in your sound.

Sumiko Black Pearl  - The Black Pearl is the only cartridge made that has a 0.5 mil conical stylus. The exception to the rule about avoiding conical styli, the Black Pearl is ideal for rare narrow-groove records such as Flexi-Discs, EvaTone Sound Sheets, 45 rpm discs with more than 7 minutes per side, 16-2/3 rpm AudioBook and Seeburg Music Library records; and the soft plastic records made on SoundScriber and Gray Audograph dictation machines. Not everybody needs a stylus for playing this kind of material. Its tone balance leans toward thin bass and reduced treble, creating a midrange-heavy tone, but for ultra-narrow-groove records, this is perfect. A good choice for serious record collectors who have a wide variety of formats. Replacement styli are available only from Sumiko, but Sumiko has a good history of providing replacement styli. Occasionally, aftermarket styli are available but usually they are inferior. This makes Sumiko a medium risk investment in your sound.

Music Hall Magic II - Presently, the Music Hall Magic II cartridge is a rebadged Ortofon OM Series, selected to be at the top 20% of the range of tolerance. You pay more for the Music Hall name, so even though they’re excellent cartridges, buy an Ortofon instead.

Numark - all Numark cartridges are either AudioTechnica or Ortofon models rebadged, and manufactured to lower quality standards than the original manufacturer. Avoid.