Why Vintage Records Sound Better.

The vinyl renaissance is here, so musicians and studios are eager to capture the vintage sound. Sales of vintage reissue recording equipment are brisk. Even analog tape recorders are making a comeback.

What are the secrets that make those vintage albums sound so wonderful?

I learned the art and science of sound recording in the 1970s during an apprenticeship under recording engineers and producers affiliated with Columbia Records. Sound recording is one of those things you really cannot learn on your own; you need the guidance of a mentor. Trade schools are a good start, but the best approach is an apprenticeship or an internship. Years are required before you can become a competent professional recordist.

Let me share with you my recollections of that time and compare it with today's approach to recording albums. By its nature, this note is both generalized and brief. Large books could be written on this topic.

Once upon a time, when a record label began the process of making an album, they hired a producer and an A&R department to manage the project. A&R? Oh, that means Artists & Repertoire. The producer maintained control throughout every step of the process, ensuring both the technical quality of the actual recording and that the band had achieved their highest artistic realization of the music. A&R strove to ensure every song was great, otherwise the album wouldn’t sell. Few listeners would buy an entire album just for one good song. That’s what 45s were for, yet they weren’t that profitable compared to albums and airplay.

The A&R people, who also served as talent scouts for the label, also oversaw the artistic development of both the band and of the songwriters. They were the liaison between the artists and the record label. Ultimately, every activity involving the band right up to the point of the album's release was considered to be under the purview, and thus was the responsibility, of A&R. The band, therefore, had two persons guiding their artistic development and the album as a whole: the producer and A&R. Once this administrative staff had been assembled and met with the band then the process could begin.

1. Recording Technique: the quality loss going from analog master tapes to the finished album, including LPs or cassettes, is extreme. Recording engineers had to be fanatical about every technical aspect of the process. Quality losses added up quickly. The recording media themselves had serious technical limitations; fortunately, the engineers understood those limitations. There was no room for error or compromise, because sound quality worsened rather quickly.
2. Preproduction: the musicians and the songwriters together worked out the song arrangements before beginning the recording project. They rehearsed. And rehearsed. And rehearsed. Rehearsals often entailed making demo and test recordings. Arrangements would be refined, the songwriting tweaked by the producer. The recording engineer often attended rehearsals to become familiar with the music and to work out recording techniques. This required planning beforehand the tracking order. Which instruments or vocals should be recorded first? Technical limitations of the recording process, musician and staff scheduling issues, and artistic considerations dictated this.
3. Recording Project: finally, months later, the recording began. The band entered the studio thoroughly rehearsed and laid tracks. The first track recorded was almost always the “click” track. A good click track could make or break a recording. It gave cues not only to keeping everyone to the same timing, but aided with musical expression. A great drummer who could lay down a flawless click track was worth more than solid gold. During the course of the project, the musicians left the technical details of recording to the studio staff, stopping from time to time to listen to playbacks for performance flaws. In rare instances, the musicians had the skill and experience to participate actively in the recording details. Otherwise, they concentrated on making music and left the taping to the professionals.
4.a. Mixdown: The engineer now edits and blends all the tracks seamlessly into the final whole. Editing was done minimally, because analog editing is tedious and limited in its resolution. Sometimes, the best sections of multiple takes would be combined into one finished track, a procedure called “comping,” short for “compositing.” Vocals were the parts most-likely to be “comped.” Additional signal processing would be employed, to improve overall sound, even out aspects of the mix and give the finished album an overall, cohesive sound.
4.b. The mixing process often was began in monaural, because phase errors and badly tracked parts would become glaringly evident. The engineer would work toward, then finish, a monaural mix - which became the master tape for AM broadcast, television soundtrack and audiovisual releases. Once the music sounded great in monaural, you knew it would sound amazing in stereo. Finally, the monaural mix would be “panned out” to create the spacious stereophonic mix. Panned? Past tense of “pan,” short for “panorama,” the placement of sounds from left-to-right between the two loudspeakers. Some felt the monaural mix was the more valuable of the two.
4.c.. Fixing the Mix: The engineer really couldn’t fix the mix, beyond applying some equalization or compression. But these processes had to be undertaken sparingly, because the signal processors of that day could ruin the sound quickly; each instance of equalization or compression degraded overall sound quality. The potential benefit to the mix from the processing and the subsequent degradation had to be weighed against the quality loss overall and the cost of the proper, and only genuinely effective, method of fixing the mix: have the musician or musicians redo the problem track, or hire studio musicians to re-record the track then replace the original track with the one done by the studio musicians. The latter method was the path most often chosen. You’d be surprised to know that the musicians you hear on many classic albums are studio musicians, not the band themselves. Now you know why the album sounds so different from the live concert!
5. Post-production: the completed stereo master tape went off to highly specialized mastering engineers who added finishing details to the recording and prepared it to be made into the final albums for sale. The pressing plant made the LPs and 45s as tape duplicators ran cassette and 8-track cartridge copies.

That was then but this is now.

Today, few recording projects have producers and even fewer benefit from the presence of A&R, except those created by the major labels. Most bands feel they can produce their own albums, that otherwise they lose “artistic control,” and will be denied “their artistic vision.”

Far too many of those who make professional recordings, defined for this note’s purpose as any recording made for sale, have the depth of experience and training necessary. Yes, that sounds egotistical, but it’s true. Watching YouTube videos and reading blogs is no substitute for the intense, hands-on experience of internships and apprenticeships. Albums recorded by the band themselves are usually the worst, because the recordist is most-often self-taught.

Similarly, the democratization of recording equipment had led to a trend of bands assembling their own recording studio, making their own recordings, then releasing the finished albums themselves directly to their fans. Most of these so-called project studios are ill-equipped. Some will hire a professional studio but then insist on asserting final control over every technical aspect of the project.

Mastering is seldom applied to the album. When it is, most of the time the band, once again, does it themselves. Because mastering is expensive, many bands elect to avail themselves of flat-rate “mastering” services. To be profitable, such services are often generic, done with presets or otherwise applied in haste.

Little to no preproduction takes place with most commercially-released recordings today. Bands often show up to recording sessions unrehearsed, using some of their studio time to work on arrangements or to rehearse. This leads to a clutter of redundant tracks, unplanned and often haphazardly made.

When a band does hire a studio, the first recording session is the first time the studio staff will have heard the songs and, sometimes, the band as well. This results in the recording engineer having to set up the microphones quickly. So, generic microphone placement and hasty recording techniques become the norm, degrading technical quality.

As the band doubles as both artists and studio staff, their attention is divided. With few exceptions, both the band's artistic performance and the recording's technical quality suffers.
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Sorting through, then editing, the aforementioned clutter of tracks creates more problems. Because many of the tracks were made from poorly rehearsed sessions or were more of a "let's try this" nature, getting the mix correct is problematic.

The mixing process then often requires a heavy reliance on excessive editing and extensive signal processing to fix performance defects that should have been worked out in rehearsals and arranging sessions before the recording ever began.

The result is an album that has had the life edited out of it. Dynamics, the vehicle for excitement and expression, have been crushed under layers of compression and limiting. Equalization has been made atop previous instances of equalization in an attempt to fix mistakes in tracking, basic recording techniques, sloppy microphone placement as well as the use of inferior equipment. It's audio quicksand with each fix creating new problems that need to be fixed. They never really are.

I hear you thinking, “But wait, what about the gear? Those awesome LA-2 gain levelers? Pultec EQs? Those sweet-sounding preamplifiers, NEVE consoles, 610s and all the rest. Big diaphragm Neumann U87, Sony C37 and AKG C12A microphones? Oh, and those awesome RCA 44 and 77 ribbon mikes? The warm sound of Ampex MM1100 or ATR-124, Studer A80, and 3M 79 tape decks? Why aren’t you talking about the gear?”

Because that’s not really the secret of the sound of vintage albums. The real secret? The process. The uncompromising, well-planned, methodical approach to recording. Artist management and development. The work ethic of the musicians themselves. Studio musicians.

The gear was largely incidental. Frankly, we knew most of that gear really wasn’t as good as you’ve been led to believe, and that the gear itself wasn’t inherently special. But it was all that we had, so we used it. We didn’t worship the gear or look to it for our sound, we used it to create our sound — often in defiance of its severe limitations. Yes, the gear did affect the sound, but nowhere near as much as the process itself.

Adopt the process behind vintage albums and you’ll get the vintage sound. If we would have had the equipment made today, we’d have used it instead of what we did use. Yet, we still would have achieved that “vintage” sound. As my mentors often repeated, “Technique, not technology.”

In Other Words (A Pretentious Treatise On Loudspeaker Technology).

Loudspeaker efficiency is inversely proportional to its moving mass and directly proportional to the square of the product of cone area and to the product of magnet field strength within the voice coil air gap and the length of wire immersed within the magnetic field

In other words, itty bitty speakers with weak magnets are inefficient.

The maximum sound pressure of a loudspeaker is a function of the volume of air displaced, or placed in motion, by the loudspeaker at any given pitch and also of its acoustic impedance. The volume of air the loudspeaker must displace is directly proportional to wavelength; longer wavelengths, producing gravely-pitched sounds, require greater displacement than do the shorter wavelengths that produce higher pitch sounds.

Constraining the emanation of the loudspeaker diaphragm by means of a horn projector causes the diaphragm to place an expanding column of air into motion, increasing displacement for a given diaphragm surface area within a given mechanical amplitude, and thereby reducing the need for larger diaphragms moving through large mechanical amplitudes.

Otherwise, the loudspeaker requires a large surface area, often comprised of multiple radiators, moving through large mechanical amplitudes, to be able to displace enough volume of air to produce high sound pressure levels.

In other words, if you want it loud, you need a really big speaker.

Ceteris paribus, frequency modulation distortion and Doppler distortion, the forms most objectionable to a causal listener, vary directly with mechanical amplitude. Reducing mechanical amplitude reduces distortion.

Bottom Line: that Bluetooth speaker with its little speakers will sound awful.

The Smple Project That Became Un-Simple

Here's the latest on my Dual 1218 restoration project. On initial inspection, the mechanism was frozen solid. With these older 1200 series, that's usually just dried out lubricant that's become rock hard - a straightforward if tedious project. Remove all lubricants, which requires disassembling the mechanism; clean thoroughly, replace lubricants, reassemble then enjoy music.

Well, the more I get into the project the more I find wrong. It's been victim of prior repair attempts that created more problems than they solved: bent shafts, stripped threads, incorrectly assembled torsion springs.

Now the latest: missing parts. Yes, the previous owner lost several parts and used one that is the wrong part. Grrrrrr.....

I'll get it going, that's not in doubt, but what could have been a simple project became a major effort. I'm not really complaining because I'm delighted to be able to resurrect one of these classic turntables.

The lesson: when you attempt to service a vintage deck, take your time. Get a service manual.

Don't force parts together - if they're stubborn there is a reason, so stop, look and think. Find an expert on the particular turntable and get their advice.

Take photos every step of the way so you don't forget what to do or lose your place.

Keep every part! Repeat - keep every part. Nothing is superfluous.

Don't just use any oil you have: Dual used specific lubricants. Substitute them and things won't work correctly.

The Bog Standard Phonograph

I thought I would share with you the story of a turntable project I did when I was 13 or 14 years old. What I wanted was a record player that was portable, but I didn't have much money, which meant I really couldn't afford batteries. Also, it needed to work without being connected to a source of AC mains electricity.

During that summer, a friend and I went around scavenging electronic equipment that had been discarded, dumped, or otherwise abandoned. Within a few weeks, among the many treasures we had acquired was a busted Victrola with a wind up motor that was missing part of the cabinet and its tonearm. We also found several dead vacuum tube (valve) radios and a record changer that was missing the motor, cabinet, and electronics but that had an intact tonearm and a hopefully-working crystal cartridge. It must've been a fairly fancy record changer, because the tonearm had a counterweight.

The Victrola mechanism was rusted solid, so it took several weeks to loosen everything up and get the mechanism working. 3-in1 Oil is amazing. After I got it working, I set about to modify it so it would run at 33-1/3 RPM, not 78 RPM. This involved adding lead fishing line weights to the flywheel of the centrifugal governor, tied on with scrap wire.
The next challenge was replacing the little felt pads on the ersatz pitch control that worked by adding friction to slow the speed down. Some of those self-stick moleskin callus pads served well enough for replacements. I had to keep replacing them, because their adhesive would go bad after a few days.

After quite a bit of trial and error, I got an LP to rotate at 33 1/3 rpm within a fair degree of accuracy. Another benefit of these modifications was that the mechanism would run for about a half hour after being wound up.
Next, I spent several days trying to work out how to mount the tonearm from the dead record changer onto the plinth of the Victrola. This eventually involved using a scrap of plywood, fairly poorly sawn, with a hole for the tonearm cut out by drilling (with a hand drill) a series of holes in a circle then using a file to make it a smoothish round hole. A few more scraps of plywood, and some more poorly done sawing resulted in a crude base for the affair.

Getting the tonearm to track the record properly was another huge hassle. This took several days to accomplish. (I found out later that the tracking force required by the cartridge was 8 to 10 grams. This was not going to be particularly gentle on records.) A severe vibration from the wind-up motor caused a few problems with the tonearm wanting to skip out of the record grooves from time to time. This frustrating trend continued until I was able to find the source of the vibration. Apparently I had not lubricated the axle of the centrifugal governor.

But how to get sound out of it? Well, after a little bit of studying in the library and quite a bit of trial and error, I found a solution: salvage an output transformer and loudspeaker from one of the radios, then connect the wires coming from the phono cartridge to the primary of the salvaged transformer. Connect the speaker to the secondary of the transformer. In other words, use a transformer to step down the high impedance cartridge to the low impedance speaker. The mismatch between the 1 Megohm cartridge and the 10K ohm transformer caused a loss of treble, which approximated the RIAA record equalization curve. The treble cut was actually too much, so this sort of added the bass boost defined by the RIAA equalization. Crude, but good enough.

The ceramic cartridge was capable of outputting about 1 volt with a typical record. I found this out after having saved my allowance for a couple weeks to buy a new stylus. Turned out the cartridge was a Sonotone, so the stylus didn’t cost too much, only $1.25 from Pfanstiehl, as sold by the local TG&Y department store. The nice old guy in the radio department helped me pick out the correct stylus. I didn't have any "mils," those little plastic coins we used to pay sales tax back then, so he was kind enough to not charge me sales tax. That's customer service you won't see today. One of our neighbors had a volt-ohmmeter, and he was kind enough to let me borrow it to find out how much output the cartridge produced.

Once connected to the transformer and the speaker, the 1-volt from the cartridge produced enough signal level that I could hear music at a reasonable volume from the 8" speaker I had salvaged from one of the radios. It certainly wasn't discotheque levels, but it worked. And it wasn't as bad sounding as you are probably imagining.

I had no tone control, or volume control, but I did have a fully portable record player. No electronics, no electricity supply needed. It required that you wind it up after every side of a record, but I didn't care.

This was true musical freedom.

A few years later, I had a real stereo. The crudely made, cobbled together fully portable record player ended up in the basement, and eventually disappeared during a move to a new house years later. My guess is that my parents found it in the basement of the old house, thought it was junk ,then threw it away. At the time, I didn't care. But, I actually wish I had it now.

It really was pretty cool.

Time For Changing Times

Yikes.

Times are changing.

As some of you know, since the late 1970s I've recorded interviews for broadcasts, oral history archives, and spoken word tapes. I've used the same equipment all these decades as well, a variety of AKG and ElectroVoice microphones connected to Uher 4000 Report series or Revox A77 analog tape recorders, depending on the venue. I can practically do the recordings in my sleep because I'm so accustomed tot he equipment.

The Uher 4000 Report series are battery-powered reel-to-reel machines designed specifically for recording interviews. They're so good at it I can forgive their poor ergonomics, nearly-useless level meter, and their tendency to be fairly maintenance-intensive compared to other analog recorders.

The rugged, crystal-clear Revox A77 is a classic that has a loyal following all these years later. They're one of the few audiophile stereo tape recorders that was so good that more studios and professionals bought them than did audiophiles. They’re practically “unfuckupable” with regard to getting a great recording. It makes the job just so easy.

The catch: You need to find an AC mains to plug the Revox A77 into. No battery. Revox seems to think that if you put a handle on something that makes it portable. "Oh, here's a great idea -- let's make a portable full-size reel-to-reel. All we need is a nice handle. Just ignore its hernia-inducing 52-pound weight."

But, with the passage of time, I’m finding that a great audio tape of an interview isn’t enough. It’s the YouTube era, and “video killed the radio star.” So, I have to go video.

Eek.

So, being an audio guy first and foremost, I needed a small camera with great audio. An affordable small camera. The only one I found is the Zoom Q8. It has XLR inputs and a super-wideangle lens. I hate the lens. And I hate the cheesy X/Y microphones that stick out from the back like a deformed scorpion stinger. But the audio from the XLR inputs is okay.

Nasty surprise though: many of my 1970s-era ENG microphones don’t interface well with the Q*’s microphone preamplifiers, XLR inputs notwithstanding. The Q8’s microphone inputs are impedance-bridging, my ENG microphones need impedance-matching inputs. You try connecting a 50 Ohm ElectroVoice 644 or Altec 638A, or (worse) a transformerless-200 Ohm AKG D900 to the Q8’s 1.8K inputs. Sounds thin.

But my ElectroVoice 635A and 660, and the Shure VP64 and SM59 microphones seem to connect adequately enough. The SM59s always draw comments and attract crowds. They were once popular with game show hosts, televangelists and The Gong Show.

That’s something to start with.

It's a bit of a shock making the transition. The touchscreen, and its tiny bargraph meters take a bit to get used to. And that super wide lens makes everything look like one of those phony “virtual reality” scenes out of a B-grade science fiction movie directed by Roger Corman.

Oh well.

Stayin’ Alive.

We'll Fix It In The Mix!

We’ll fix it in the mix, right? That’s the dreaded sentence no engineer wants to hear.

Every time you hear those words leave a band’s lips, what you want to say is something like, “No. We can’t. Your playing is rubbish, and you couldn’t carry a tune in a forklift. After you’ve learned how to play your music, call me.”

Instead, you lie to the band because you need to pay off your bills. Smiling, with a dismissive wave of your hand, you reply, “Sure. Come back later and I’ll blow your mind. You guys are awesome, just needs a few tweaks. You could have nailed it, I know you could have.”

Like I said, you lie to the band. “One Recording Engineer, Extra Crispy,” thinks the Devil as you swirl the drain ready to go to hell.

You’ve then doomed yourself to toiling for hours with your Digital Audio Workstation, cutting the tracks into confetti (with 1/96,000-second precision or better), shoving notes here and there to correct timing errors, compressing, EQing, vainly invoking pitch shifters to crawl somewhere within sight of proper pitch, then burying the mess with piles of reverb.

What you’ve achieved for your trouble is still bad music. It’s just less bad music that you get to charge for. You know you’ll never get your money back if you spec the album and try to earn off the royalties, so you give the band a fat bill, lots of flattery, then promptly sell them CDs, download cards, tee shirts, caps, and other “merch” to sell to their fans at gigs. Hopefully their fans are either stoned or drunk — but not so much that they can’t find their wallets. Otherwise, the band will never unload their junk. But once the band is out the door, it’s their problem and you can relax.

Until the next band walks in.

But wait! What about recordings made in the 1970s? You wouldn’t have had a digital workstation in the 1970s. You had a great, ugly tape recorder, a razor blade, and a spool of splicing tape. And arthritic fingers. And a bottle of aspirin.

What?

That’s all?

That’s not going to work! You’ve got to be kidding me!

How did those recording engineers fix it in the mix?

Well, you wouldn’t. You still went through the charade with the band, but instead you genuinely fixed the music. I hear you yelling, “How? Enough prattle, tell us how!”

You hired studio musicians to re-record the tracks. Okay, sure, you had to pay union scale, sometimes double scale, but it was worth it. Studio musicians could knock out in hours what the band couldn’t do in weeks. Flawlessly.

You then had an album you could sell. You often had a good shot at a Grammy nomination.

And the band never knew.

You let them think they’re virtuosos and that you’re the Da Vinci of audio. You smile all the way to the bank, they smile all the way to their next gig.

That’s the way it was.

Now you know one secret to why “vintage vinyl” albums sound so good, while very few albums today do.

And you also know why I shut down my main studio. My studio musicians all retired, and I’ve never found replacements.

Yet.

Listen to The Music

Hit the PAUSE button of your life.
Take a moment. Think of someone, think of a great moment in your life.
Then, with that as the backdrop of your mind, put on an album and enjoy some music.
I mean, truly enjoy some music.
Don't just fill the background with tinny sound, but find the best-sounding audio setup you can find.
Put on your favorite album (or two), sit down, and enjoy it. Let the music wash over you and fill your soul.
Learn the lyrics to the best song. Find a cool riff or a unique cord progression and learn it. Listen to the album again,and find things you didn't know was there: some instrument doing little something in the background that - now that you know it's there - add that special something to the song. Or listen to how the vocals bounce off the echo to provide a counter-point. Second guess the mix -- what could they have done better?
Then forget all that, and just listen to the music. Become the music. Cry when the music stops because you feel the loss!
Music is a unique art. Photographs and paintings hang on the wall, static, to be contemplated, admired or ignored. Sculptures sit on their pedestals, silent, expressing meaning but finding none.
But not music.
Oh no.
Music is made wholly from its very sounds. Whether live or recorded, it’s an artistic mayfly: as fleeting as the strum of a string or the hit of a stick on a drum. Music springs to life, expresses its art, then passes away. Music is for only as long as you listen to it. Music’s beauty flourishes only with the intensity of your listening. Music revels only if you participate, whether as audience or musician, with your rapt attention. Music has meaning only if you let it inside your soul, and respond.
Music droning on in the background, largely ignored, both wastes the music and diminishes the listener. It’s a moment lost.
Listen to the music. Really listen to the music.

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.

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.

Too large for Theile/Small.

A loudspeaker's small signal behavior can be calculated to better than 95% accuracy from impedance measurements. An accurate equivalent circuit of the loudspeaker system is required (think Thevenin's Theorem), instead of an impedance curve fitted to an equivalent model. Unlike the impedance curve, an equivalent circuit shows the current flow through the mechanical and cabinet components representing both vent mass and driver mass, and thereby calculates their acceleration. This provides the loudspeaker's far field response, ignoring crossover influence and cabinet diffraction.

The designer can then accurately calculate the loudspeaker's response from its impedance curve, measure the near-field radiation from the vent combined with that of the loudspeaker driver, measure the box's internal pressure, measure the far-field response of the loudspeaker (in an accurately calibrated anechoic chamber). The results will agree to within 0.5dB down to 25 cps.

But, if the measurements are then converted to Theile/Small parameters the result will not be as accurate because they ignore some of the driver's behavior.

All of which explains why I do not use the Theile/Small equations for my design work.

Vocal Cord Health - an article by Roger Love

A singer’s livelihood relies on functioning vocal cords, but the Internet is littered with conflicting information on how to properly care for these vital membranes. Should you soothe a sore throat with tea and honey? What about products like throat lozenges that are advertised to repair a raspy voice? GRAMMY Pro caught up with Hollywood’s vocal coach to the stars, Roger Love, to discuss the dos and don’ts of proper vocal cord health:

What dietary changes should singers consider for keeping their vocal cords healthy?

Phlegm is the mucus of the throat and the lubricant of the vocal cords. Phlegm is a good thing. If you didn’t have phlegm, the vocal cords would be trying to slam up against each other and they would get really red and puffy because there would be no lubricant. If you are one of those people that is always clearing their throat because you have excess thick phlegm, then and only then do you need to look at your diet and say, “OK, what are some of the things that could be causing this extra thick unwanted phlegm?” Dairy is usually on the top of the list because most people make extra thick phlegm by having too much dairy.
Next on the list is caffeine because caffeine speeds up the production of all kinds of things in the body, one of them being phlegm. It builds more mucus because it speeds up your metabolism and then you make more phlegm. If you’re having excess phlegm, you have to look at how much caffeine you are having.

What about tea with honey and lemon? Is that a good way to coat your throat?

That’s a common wives tale. They always say, “Oh your throat hurts so you should have tea with honey and lemon.” The bottom line is that’s not a good idea because tea is generally too hot. When you drink anything too hot or too cold, it can change the size of tissues in your throat. When you drink anything, it doesn’t go anywhere near the vocal cords. There are two holes in the throat – one for food and liquid and one for air. You think, “Oh my vocal cords are really dry. I’m going to drink water. Oh my vocal cords are really hydrated.” Well that’s baloney. The vocal cords live down the air hole and if you drank anything down the air hole, you would have choked. The goal is you have to drink a ton of water so that the water gets into your system and then travels to the Salivary glands, which produce mucus, but you have to have a lot of water in your system to do that. Tea is not so hot because even though it goes down the other hole, when it’s really hot or really cold, the temperature can still permeate from one hole to the next. You can still drink something that’s really cold and it can affect the vocal cords because the cold goes from the tissues from one passage to another and the surrounding tissues. You wouldn’t want to make any of the tissues in your throat swell or increase holding water. And also caffeine in tea is bad and also lemon in tea is bad. Citrus makes you salivate more and if you salivate more, you create more phlegm.

What should you drink when your throat is sore?

You can have decaffeinated tea that’s warm without lemon or honey. Honey is so thick that your body thinks that it’s just phlegm anyways. The best way to keep your cords hydrated is to drink a minimum of a half a gallon of water a day. You have to drink that much because once you take water into your body, it goes to vital organs -- the brain, the heart, etc. Salivary glands, the glands that produce the phlegm the throat, are at the end of the spectrum. So they only get water if everything else is serviced in the body. That’s why you have to drink a lot of water and the water you drink right now isn’t going to help you right now. The water you drink right now is going to help you hours from now.

What about special vitamins and products designed to repair a sore throat?

It’s all baloney. And special throat sprays and throat coat and all that stuff – you’re drinking it. It’s going down a hole where the vocal cords aren’t. And those sprays like Entertainers Secret that people just spray in their throat and then swallow it? It goes down the wrong hole. If they wanted to use a spray – which still doesn’t help really – but if they wanted to, if when they sprayed it they inhaled, then it would go to the vocal cords. That’s why when you see old movies of opera singers and they have those spritzers, they are inhaling the spray. You have to breathe in because then it goes near the vocal cords. The millions of people that are buying those stupid sprays, nobody is breathing in!

What about alcohol?

Alcohol is very bad. It’s dehydrating so when you drink, alcohol robs your body of natural moistures. When you get dehydrated, the body does two things. It’s like, “Well we better make some more fluids” and then it goes into over production of fluids and you get that thick phlegm – or it’s just in a state of “I’m dehydrated and I don’t have enough water for the vital organs and the vocal cords are not going to get any.”

What are some of the most common vocal cord issues that you see?

Well first, vocal cords just get red and swollen from putting too much pressure or singing too airy. Whispering is actually harder on the voice than screaming because it sends so much pressure to the cords that it dries up all the moisture. What I see a lot is redness, swelling of the vocal cords, and then when they keep singing when it’s red and swollen, you see these little lesions appear, like little calluses. Nodes or nodules on vocal cords are not as scary as people think. A guitar player, for example, develops calluses on his fingers because he plays the guitar daily. That’s the body saying, “If I don’t build an extra layer of skin right there where you are touching those hard strings, then you are going to wear off your fingers.” The body does the same thing for singers and speakers. The body says, “You seem to be rubbing your vocal cords in a way that is going to damage your vocal cords. Why don’t I give you an extra layer of skin there to protect you?” That’s what nodes are. They are like calluses on the vocal cords. By making the skin thicker, a mass appears and the vocal cords don’t close 100%. Vocal cords are supposed to close all the way and stop the air so when there is something on the cords, they can’t close and then air escapes in the gap on both sides. Not only does it make it red and puffy but it makes the sound all fuzzy and then the vocal cords can’t do their job. If your cords are not closing then air coming up to them is not stopped.

Then is surgery the next step?

Yes and no. Better technique is the answer. Most people who get nodes could easily just change the way that they sing and the nodes would go away. People have been coming to me since I was a kid and I have tremendous success getting rid of nodes and nodules [using better technique] before I would even think of surgery. Most of the time people have to learn how to sing better but sometimes they get hard and when they are hard, they don’t shrink back the same way. And certain things like what Adele had was a polyp -- kind of like a callus on a cord but it ruptured. When it ruptures, it bleeds and then you don’t have any choice – you have to go in and take off the scar tissue.

So when people notice that their throat is swollen, do they need to just stop singing for a while?

When people get hoarse, they need to stop singing so much or stop singing the way they are singing. They also need to seek better vocal technique that will help shrink the swelling on the cords. I have specific exercise called “Low Larynx” exercises. It elasticizes the cords and takes pressure off and allows them to move up and down the range without any pressure. Quite often, I’m called in and someone has to go on stage in a half hour and they don’t have any voice and I have to do those low larynx exercises to shrink the swelling before they go on stage.

Are there any quick tips that people can do if they are in a pinch and find their voice is horse?
They should try to find their Adam’s Apple and try to make a Yogi Bear deep sound or try to bring their tongue down until they feel their Adam’s Apple come down lower. Then they should try singing for 5 or 10 minutes in that funny voice. That will help take some of the pressure away.

What about quick tips for vocal warm ups?

Singers go to my website (http://www.rogerlove.com) where there are plenty of free exercises for them to learn my techniques. The answer is that they have to do exercises that warm up the chest voice, middle voice, and head voice. If they are just warming up their chest voice and think they are rock singers, they are not going to be singers for long. If they are only warming up their head voice and they are thinking they are opera singers, they are not going to be opera singers for long. They have to warm up chest voice, middle voice, and head voice and you need exercises to do that – while you’re doing the right kind of diaphragmatic breathing…in through the nose pretending you have a balloon in your stomach, letting the stomach come out when you inhale and then letting the stomach come back in without any pressure when you exhale.

In a nutshell, what is the best way to keep your vocal cords healthy?

The way to keep your vocal cords healthy is to drink a lot of water, to practice vocal exercises, and sing in a way that doesn’t make them red and puffy and swollen to begin with – so then your voice which is actually set up to speak and sing 24 hours a day and not get hoarse, won’t get hoarse. If you’re singing and you get hoarse afterwards, then you are doing something wrong and it’s unnecessary. It’s really that simple. 

Who's the master: you or the recording?

The best reason to use analog recorders is seldom ever discussed. It's not sound quality, as you'd expect. It's technique. With an analog master recorder, you cannot make any compromises, you cannot make any mistakes, your technique has to be flawless, and your tracking has to be planned before the first take. Noise must be kept to the minimum, modulation has to be carefully controlled and distortion has to be eliminated. Defects quickly add up. Each track has to be planned to ensure no crosstalk, optimum clarity, correct tonal balance and that each instrument and vocal has its own "space." You have to be the master of the technology, the art and the aesthetic. Otherwise, sound quality degrades quickly. Your mindset has to be that no aspect of the recording equipment is good, and you must hold all quality losses to zero -- or else. It's an Olympic athlete mentality.

With digital recorders, the assumption is made that sound quality is flawless, the number of overdubs, tracks or processing doesn't matter, and that any "mistakes" can be "fixed" with plugins during the mix. This creates an environment where no thought is given in advance to any aspect to the recording: tracks are recorded at a whim, in no particular order. Microphone placement is often rushed, even haphazard. Little effort is given to ensuring optimum modulation, controlling noise, adjacent track bleed, let alone any other aspect. After all, "we'll fix it in the mix." The result is musical mulch, sound salad, and track (dis)organization worthy of a hoarder. The recordings become cluttered, over-processed, and sound quality is at best mediocre, and to often is unacceptable. The technology masters the recordist, creating the ironic situation that today's superior technology leads to artistically and technically inferior recordings compared to the past.

So, put away those cluttered ProTools box mixes, grab a good analog recorder, and turn your tracks into treasures. Master the technology, otherwise it will master you. The more you rely on equipment or software to "fix" your mix, the less of a recording engineer you are. A correctly-done set of tracks should almost mix itself, giving you many ways to interpret the sound through different musical balances.

Better yet, get a full-track monaural analog recorder, and find out who truly rules your studio: you or that wad of tracks called "the master." You had better be the master, not the wad of tracks. Analog recorders ensure that if you aren't the master, you will be -- or else.

Back to the future!

Love the sound of 1960s vinyl albums? Want to capture that sound using vintage 1960s equipment? Good! Here’s some random thoughts on how to capture that vintage vibe on tape:

Firstly, you must decide whether you want to sound early ‘60s or late ‘60s. Also, do you want to sound Big Label, typical commercial studio or small studio. Here’s a general summary of the differences (specific studios may have differed from this):

Early 1960s-era Big Label Studio: 8-channel multitrack, “speech input console” has no EQs, Left/Right/Both assign switch (ping-pong stereo), variable-mu compressor and optical compressor combo with “program equalizer” (think Pultech EQP-1) for mixdown to stereo deck. Mikes – Large diaphragm tube condensor mikes and Altec, Westrex, American, RCA or STC/Coles ribbon mikes. Other gear: echo chamber or reverb plate, variable room acoustics, studio about 10,000 to 25,000 square feet.

Early 1960s-era Typical Commercial Studio: 4-channel multitrack, “speech input console”, variable-mu compressor OR broadcast-style AGC with “inductor-based equalizer” for mixdown to monaural deck. Mikes: Shure, Reslo, or ElectroVoice ribbon mikes and maybe one high-end ribbon for vocals, dynamic omnis and cardioids. Other gear: Multiple spring reverb (high-quality, not guitar quality) or used reverb plate, variable acoustics, studio about 5,000 square feet.

Early 1960s-era Small Studio: speech input console, inductor EQ, mixed directly to monaural tape deck. Mikes: all dynamics and double-button carbon. Other gear: reverb tank like electronic organ has, DIY gear, studio size about 1,500 to 2,000 square feet.

Late 1960s-era Big Label Studio: 16-channel multitrack, full console with channel EQs, pan, channel assign, submixers, just like today. Variable-mu compressor and optical compressor combo with “program equalizer” for mixdown to stereo deck. Mikes – Large diaphragm tube or nuvistor condensor mikes and Altec, Westrex, American, RCA or STC/Coles ribbon mikes, several high-end dynamics. Other gear: Dolby A tape noise reduction, reverb plate, variable room acoustics, studio about 10,000 to 25,000 square feet.

Late 1960s-era Typical Commercial Studio: 8-channel multitrack, modern-style console with EQs, pans, subgroups. Variable-mu compressor OR broadcast-style AGC with “inductor-based equalizer” for mixdown to stereo deck. Mikes: Shure, Reslo, or ElectroVoice ribbon mikes and maybe one tube or nuvistor condensor microphone for vocals, dynamic omnis and cardioids. Other gear: Multiple spring reverb (high-quality, not guitar quality) or used reverb plate, variable acoustics, studio about 5,000 square feet. Lots of DIY equipment made by house engineer.

Late 1960s-era Small Studio: 4-channel multitrack, 6-input stereo mixer with pans and channel EQs, master RC-type EQ, compressor scavenged from high-end studio OR new FET ladder compressor (think DBX 117) or some DIY compressor whipped up by the house engineer from scrap parts mixed directly to stereo tape deck. Mikes: all dynamics, maybe a Shure or ElectroVoice ribbon for vocals. Other gear: reverb tank like electronic organ has, DIY gear, studio size about 1,500 to 2,000 square feet.

Also keep in mind that vacuum tube circuitry still dominated professional recording in the 1960s. Pentodes were preferred over triodes. The very newest, high-end equipment had nuvistor circuits, germanium transistors or, at the highest end, silicon transistors. * * * * *

Recording technique during the 1960s was very different from what most recording engineers practice today. Overdubs were kept to an absolute minimum, with the exception of Motown. You try to avoid using EQ and compression as much as possible. Instead of EQ, it was more common to pick a microphone having the right tone and using that instead of using EQ. You fine-tuned the EQ by positioning the microphone.

Compression was also avoided. Notice that 1960s compressors aren't capable of as extreme compression as are modern compressors. This was because they were mainly used at the very end of the recording process to limit the uncompressed master tape to the dynamic range of the copy that would be sent out to the listeners.

It was expected that the musicians themselves with control their dynamics, in other words, engineers expected that the musicians would be able to provide their own compression. They were expected to do this by varying their performance.

When that wouldn't work, the recording engineer was expected to ride the gain instead of using an electronic compressor.

An Ode to TASCAM's 1/2-inch 8-channel analog master decks,

According to the “experts” in various online discussion groups and forums, narrow-track analog recorders like the TASCAM 80-8 and 38 are rubbish, little more than “semi-pro” or “prosumer” toys for musicians, and not serious quality recorders. Is it true? No, I most emphatically disagree. I’ve owned many analog recorders over the years, including full-size Ampex 350 and 400; Scully 280B and 280; and Studer B67 and A80 master decks along with both the TASCAM 44, 80-8 and 38.

Here’s how to get the most out of a vintage narrow-track TASCAM 80-8 or 38:

Firstly, understand the recorder. What is it? It’s TASCAM’s innovative recorder that they designed to sound like an Ampex 400 or 440 series 8-channel master recorder but cost much less to own and operate.

Did they achieve their goal? Yes! I’ve owned both the TASCAM 80-8 and the 38, and both can sound so close to an Ampex 400 that it’s eerie.

What did TASCAM change to get the price down (how does it differ from an Ampex 400C-8)? The biggest changes are obvious – no balanced inputs and outputs, signal levels are -10 dBu instead of +4 dBu, narrow track format, single tape speed of 15-ips only, no constant tension tape drive, one-piece design instead of multiple pieces, lighter-weight (less durable) construction, simplified signal control protocols, no front-panel adjustments, and ½-inch tape instead of 1-inch tape. The TASCAM uses IEC EQ, whereas most Ampex 400 series use NAB. This is a good change, the IEC EQ gives clearer bass with the narrow track format of the TASCAM.

What performance differences exist between the TASCAM and Ampex recorders? Interestingly, THD, frequency response and flutter-and-wow are nearly identical. The TASCAM is about 2 dB noisier, mostly in the bass region and its headroom is +9 dB compared to +12 for the Ampex. This in practice isn’t that important. Bass crosstalk is worse for the TASCAM than the Ampex, but midrange and treble crosstalk are nearly identical. The 38’s lack of a constant-tension tape drive means that fast-forward and rewinding results in sloppy tape pack, which can cause tape edge curl over time. Interfacing the 38 to Dolby Noise Reduction is problematic, but not a real issue.

How do I get big label sound from the TASCAM 80-8 or 38? Carefully plan your tracking. Follow these tips:

1. Keep levels between -7 dB and -0 dB on peaks depending on the sound. Treble sounds like cymbals should be kept between -7 and -3 dB, but bass and midrange sounds can be pushed to -3 db to 0 db. DO NOT “PUSH THE TAPE HARD” to create warmth and “tape compression” for guitar tracks. No one ever did this back the analog days, and any claims they did are an urban legend originating in magazine interviews. The recording engineer’s objective is clear, noiseless, undistorted sound, and excessive tape levels never sound good.

2. Don’t put two or more bass sounds on adjacent tracks because of crosstalk issues, this prevents muddy bass and gives the deck great bass clarity. For example, don’t put bass guitar on Track 1 and kick drum on Track 2.

3. Use Tracks 1 and 8 only for midrange or bass sounds whenever possible. This is because tape curl problems can cause loss of level and highs on tracks 1 and 8, which are along the tape edges.

4. High-pass (use a bass cut) on tracks with vocals, guitars, or other midrange and treble instruments during mixdown. This minimizes the effect of crosstalk on your mix and improves clarity by preventing muddiness.

5. Minimize rewinding and fast-forwarding the tape because this can cause tape curl from the sloppy tape packing. If you have to, okay, but after you’re done for the day rewind the tape fully then play the tape until it runs out, and store in the “tails-out” position. This minimizes tape curl.

6. Keep the tape path clean and demagnetized. Do it at the end of the day, or every 8-hours, whichever occurs first.

7. Use only good quality tape, because tape dropouts are a bigger issue with narrow track recorders than wide track recorders. Don’t touch the tape with bare fingers, your skin oil will degrade the tape and cause dropouts.

8. Obviously, minimize overdubs or ping-ponging (bouncing) tracks,. But you should do that anyway, regardless of how god the recorder.

Okay, recording fanatics, now go out and buy a TASCAM 80-8 or 38 - then make some great music with it! Show them whose boss!

Some thoughts about Colonel Billy.

"I don't measure an amp's success by how loud he plays but by how much tone he drips when over-driven." --Colonel Billy

Recently, I had an inquiry from a guitarist who plays a Traynor amplifier asking about one of my 12-inch AlNiCo guitar speakers, known as "Colonel Billy." I remember those Traynor amps when they were new. Great amplifiers, and actually those Altec speakers used by Traynor were wonderful. They were one of the few 6BQ5/EL84 amps I liked, punchier than a Vox AC15 and a lot more reliable. By the way, I've just released a ceramic magnet version of Colonel Billy that is a bit brighter, and very articulate, moderate headroom with moderate breakup (it's  start to break up right about the point that a pair of 6BQ5/EL84 begins to near overdrive). Great for "country pickin'" or for more dynamic and articulate rhythm. $175.00, shipping included. Both speakers are individually hand-made then broken in for 40 hours, so they're all loosened up and ready to play out of the box.

Brightness in a full-range or extended range speaker (most guitar speakers are actually extended range woofers) is determined by: the complex ratios among the voice coil's inductance, DC resistance and moving mass; whether the voice coil is over-hung or under-hung (and by how much), voice coil diameter as a ratio to cone diameter, how the voice coil attaches to the cone, voice coil former length, the cone's shape, weight and profile; dust cap shape, weight, material and how the voice coil is attached to the cone; surround stiffness, spider stiffness, and (to a very lesser extent) magnet strength in the air gap structure.

So, you cannot generalize that AlNiCo is brighter than ceramic. Some of the brightest 12-inch speakers ever made were the E-V 12-inch extended range speakers of the 1960s, or 1970s-era Foster and Creedence extended range woofers: they were ceramic.

The different magnets affect magnet strength for a given size or mass of magnet. Generally, Ceramics magnets are weakest, so they result in lower-sensitivity speakers, or in higher distortion speaker motors -- unless you use HUGE ceramic magnets. Think of some of those 1970s-era JBL, Cetec-Gauss and higher end Eminence models (the ones with the square magnets).

I start out designing with my own magnet, a hybrid AlNiCo/Neodymium design, when I want high sensitivity, very late onset of break-up, and fast transient response (think high-end sound re-enforcement or commercial theater speakers). I then go to AlNiCo when I want traditional sensitivity, late onset of break-up, and typical transient response. Ceramic magnets give me a thicker, richer tone, medium breakup, with only slightly less sensitivity. Thus, I can get a wide range of tone from the same cone assembly, voice coil and dust cap.

At this point, let me tell you a dirty secret that amp and speaker companies won't tell you: 90% of your tone is in your fingers, the rest is the guitar itself, the speaker, the amp, and to a very little extent the amplifier's tubes, transistors or integrated circuits.

Knowing that, I draw from my main experience, which is studio monitors, commercial theater and high-end sound re-enforcement speakers, to create "tone" by manipulating the onset of distortion (by setting gap length, voice coil length, cone rigidity and voice coil attachment), the height of that response peak that occurs between 1 kHz and 3 kHz - which I call the "tone spike" - (voice coil reactance, dust cap shape and cone profile), and transient response (ratio of motor strength to cone moving-mass [cone weight and suspension compliance]). The speaker starts out as a hi-fi woofer, not as a cheap speaker which is the traditional approach.

So, not knowing how an individual fingers their guitar, or their style of playing, or the effects they use (and how they use them), so it's hard for me to be 100% certain which of he two to recommend to someone. It's like asking if a restaurant's vanilla shake is better than their chocolate shake -- depends on your tastes (I prefer strawberry, so neither for me!)

Both models have about the same frequency response, but the "tone spike" is 3 dB higher for the ceramic magnet model, the ceramic has a "thicker" tone that isn't quite as revealing of detail, and distortion sets in earlier for the ceramic. Why? The weaker magnet doesn't damp resonance as much as the AlNiCo, its voice coil is adjusted to leave the air gap earlier, and the motor is weaker because of the ceramic magnet. The AlNiCo version has a tone spike of 4 dB, the ceramic 7 dB

I personally like both equally for amps like the Traynor, Vox AC15 & AC 30, Brauner, Brociner, Heath, Eico, Amplifier Corporation of America, Bogen, Challenger, MASCO, Voice of Music, Silvertone, Lectrosonic, Revox, Grundig, Valco and those weird British amps that have two 6-inch and one 8-inch (or two 6x9), or any amp made before 1980 that uses 6BQ5/EL84, 6V6GT, 50L6, 25L6, 6BM8, 6N7, 50EH6, and 6HU8/ELL80. It comes down to what effects you prefer and your style of playing.

For your own education, go to Eminence's web site and look at the frequency response graphs and compare how they poetically describe the speakers' "tone." About the only difference you'll see is the height and width of the "tone spike," the height of that response peak that occurs between 1 kHz and 3 kHz, which varies between about 4 dB to as much as 12 dB! A high spike is described as "more bite" or "more aggressive" while a small spike is more smooth, or more natural. This is what passes for "tone" in a traditional speaker; it in essence pre-equalize the speaker to bring out the sound of typical electric guitar pickups. Humbuckers usually -- note: usually, not always -- sound best with tone spikes between 5 and 9 dB, single coils sound best with tone spikes of 4 to 7 dB. If you're playing heavy metal or the like, you want to tone spike to resemble Mount Everest.

Oddly, the absence of any tone spike at all is desirable for those who play acoustics, or who use many effects, especially distortion/overdrive/fuzz. (I think I'm the only one who make music instrument speakers with flat frequency response, no "tone spike.")

As a shameless plug, I'm working on new book on speaker design scheduled for this fall. It will present the pros and cons of each design approach, a method for helping you decide which design is best for your use, and it will include some nice DIY designs that use commonly available parts. I dislike books who, either subtly or blatantly, suggest "the one best way" to design a speaker, which, so far, is every book I've read.

Have analog, will travel. Have analog, will travel. Have analog, will travel.

So why do I own the analog recorders I have?

Well, I chose my analog recorders on the basis of portability, then I make any modifications require to upgrade the sound to be indistinguishable from a full-sized studio recorder. This lets me take “big label sound” around to digital-only studios rehearsal spaces, live performances, houses of worship, or over to a friend’s house for a jam session. It’s hard to move an 8-channel recorder that is the size of an office desk and that weighs 300 pounds.

So, presently, here’s my present lineup of modified portable(ish) analog recorders:

Ampex 602
Magnecorder PT-63J
Nakamichi 550 (yes, it’s a stereo cassette, but with reel-to-reel sound)
Revox A77-HS “suitcase model” (15 ips speed).
Revox A77 Dolby
Revox B77-HS
Teac A3440
Teac TASCAM 80-8
Uher 4000 Report L

In particular, the 1/2-inch format Teac TASCAM 80-8 was intended to give the sound of a 1970s-era Ampex 1”-format 8-channel recorder in a small size. They succeeded. True, you do have to take care regarding its limited bass-frequency crosstalk, and the lack of balanced inputs and outputs restricts cable length, but the 80-8’s overall sound quality is the same as a full sized Ampex. Good job, TASCAM!

Killing Music softly

#1 Thing that Angers Me In The Music Biz: Exploitative booking agents who rip off their clients.

Don't these bloodsuckers get it?

Music doesn't appear from nothingness, it comes from the heart and soul of a musician!

You rip-off the musicians, you're killing the music.

Then where are you?

Listening to silence.

New Studio Announcement

Great recording session today (11/08/2013). It’s also the last one for my digital recording system. Can't stand the sound of it (but that's just me, I dislike the digital sound as a whole). I was going to use the digital system for one last project because the band stated they preferred to use the digital system for the project instead of the analog recorders -- but that project fell through. (The band decided to go to a cut rate studio instead.)

As some of you may be familiar, I build customized recording equipment for each project so the sound is as good as technologically and artistically possible. I also reconfigure the studio's acoustics to match the needs of each project; in essence, building a new studio for every album or band. This limits the number of projects I take on. Between projects, the room gets cluttered up with other things, but a few shovel-loads later it's ready to go. I fully underwrite the costs of the recording as much as possible so the band can focus on art, not money.

The studio is now closed until mid-December, so I can rebuild it as an all-analog studio (with analog-to-digital transfer, alas, a marketplace reality). This time, I'll be adding electronically-variable acoustics, active outside-noise blocking. Of course, I will continue my tradition of building custom equipment for each project, and fully underwriting the costs of the recording.

Then it's off to record the next three projects. In the future, though, I have to become far more restrictive and selective about the recording projects I take because analog recorders are more costly to operate than digital audio workstations.
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Originally, I went to a digital recording system to lower operating costs with the idea I could give every band "big label sound," and give up-and-coming bands the advantage of the best sound. It was a naive notion.

Most of the bands I've dealt with over the past 20 years, frankly, either weren't dedicated enough to an uncompromising approach to the art of music, or didn't see the need for ultimate sound quality and custom equipment.

So, I'm ending my policy of choosing solely based on talent, or potential talent. I'm looking now for only those who want to push beyond, to create new sounds, to settle for nothing but the utmost technical and artistic excellence (without getting uptight about it); the bold few who put art above money with the faith that excellent art will bring the money. The bands who are status seekers, who crave adulation, who are control freaks, the uptight perfectionists, or those who just want to slam out their next hit album as quick-and-cheaply as possible (the easy way) I will be referring to the many cut-rate studios dotting the landscape.

I'm sorry if that sounds egotistical, elitist, or arrogant; I don't mean it that way. I'm in this business for the advancement of the art of music and of sound recording, not fame, backslaps, ego gratification, quick money or control.

Live or Memorex?

My personal philosophy with regard to recording is that involvement with all forms of recording, whether audio or audio-video, entails involvement with the future. Concert halls, recital stages, opera houses, and other live performance venues represent music's past. I know this may be seen as radical. Good. People who choose radical departures of any sort from the accepted orthodoxy of the day sustain themselves with the idea that, however reluctantly, the future is on their side. However appealing is to those who debate such topics in social media to formulate emphatic past/future equations, the prime sponsors of such convictions, the strongest motivations behind such "departures," are usually related to no more radical notion than their attempt to resolve the discomfort and inconvenience of the present. I find that utterly narcissistic! It's also entirely at odds with everyone’s expressed desire for “progress.”

By furthering the interests of preserving the great traditions of the musical or theatrical experience, or of maintaining the presumedly-noble tutorial and curatorial responsibilities of the artist in relation to his audience sacrifices progress toward realizing the fullest of expression to savor ego gratification, hiding behind the presumed nobility of “communicating with an audience.” No, I don’t expect anyone to understand this, but I feel it robs the musician of opportunities for unfettered expression, it becomes a proscenium setting in which the naked fact of their humanity is on display, unedited and unadorned; musical expression is thereby subordinated by their humanity, by the mob mentality of celebrity-centrism.

When audiences sheer a live performance, is it for joy of the artist’s musical expression or merely common movement with a mob mentality? Too often, mob mentality moves the applause. Agnetha Faltskog, singer for ABBA, was afraid of live concert audiences because she saw the thin line between the adulation of the fans and mob violence. Her insight vividly illustrates the fallacy of The Great Performance: mob movement is the genesis of approval, the pressure of the peerage of the crowd enforcing the accepted behavior of applause and critical acclaim. Only in the privacy of recorded music can both the artist express themselves to their fullest and the listener experience the music to its fullest, uninfluenced by the insidious seduction of collective experience. I encouraged you to savor the joys of a one-to-one relationship with the artist through the venue of undistracted sound recording playback.

I advocate as the ideal that the artist should be granted, both for his sake and for that of his public expressional anonymity. By this let me say I abhor the hierarchical implications of both the terminology and the relationship implied, even enforced, by the terms “artist” and “public.” The highest expression can be acheived only through granted anonymity. The artist should be permitted to operate in secret, as it were, unconcerned with, or, even better, unaware of, the presumed demands of the marketplace. Marketplace demands, given sufficient indifference on the part of a sufficient number of artists, will simply disappear. Once marketplace demands disappear, the artist will then abandon his false sense of "public" responsibility, and his "public" will relinquish its role of servile dependency, to re-emerge and make contact on an altogether more meaningful level than that which relates any stage to its apron.

You may say that I indulge in contrarianism, that as a record proudcer I give flight to fancy espousing an idealistic role swapping to offer a satisfying rhetorical flourish. A "creative audience" concept does offer a kind of McLuhanesque fascination.

The musical artist, however hermetic his life-style, is still in effect an autocratic figure, a benevolent social dictator. His public, generously enfranchised by gadgetry, richly endowed with electronic options, is still on the receiving end of the experience of his art. Unfortunately, a neo-medieval anonymity quest on behalf of the artist as zero, and vertical panculturalism on behalf of his "public," isn't going to change that in the foreseeable future. But it is still an ideal for which to strive; perhaps the isolation of musical performance in the concert hall of a iPod’s earbuds can, albeit by means ad hoc, aided by instrumentalities not yet in existence, create the freedom of anonymity once it can be found that music can be chosen not on the merit of celebrity-centric lemming-ism, but on the merit of the art on its own expressional merit. Pardon me, but I do feel strongly about the artist as superman, rising about the craving for a personal experience of the one-to-one, artist-to-listener relationship; shunning the magnetic attraction of a great artist visibly at work before his public.

Consider again the experience derived from a face-to-face confrontation, shared with an audience, and not simply from the disembodied predictability purveyed by even the best of phonograph records. Have you truly enjoyed the art of the music, or were you intimated, led, influenced into your ecstasy by the personal magnetism of the artist? What moved you, celebrity or art? You’ll never know definitively.

But what if, instead of being led by the crowd, swayed by celebrity, you could allow yourself the pleasure of letting the artist revise, in the anonymity of a studio, the dynamics of the recording to suit the mood of the text it accompanied, and that liberty, surely, is the product of the enthusiastic irreverence of a zero-to-one relationship? A mix for every mood, a song to express every feeling, at your fingertips, at your beck-and-call, free of the tyranny of the live artist. This is what the iPod promised but failed to deliver, because celebrityism still dominates and recordings mimic public performance, and failing – creating a thin caricature of the art of music.

Studio executives need to recognize, then accommodate, that every listener has a "project at hand," simply in terms of making his experience of music relate to his life-style.
No real aesthetic yardstick relates public performances as originally conceived to the manner in which they will be subsequently audited. Aesthetic judgments attest to a degree of spiritual perfection that many artists have not attained. What about those who make aesthetic judgments in regard to the artist’s work? Do they acknowledge or ignore the spiritual state f the artist, or merely revel in trivia; pace, timing, technical refinements or other pedagogic vagaries?

I do feel "spiritual perfection" relates to a state in which aesthetic judgment is suspended, yet such a suspension would constitute the only criterion for such a state. As such, it be fair to say that the critical mentality would necessarily lead to an imperiled state of grace. The music critic represents a morally endangered species. The mature artist can successfully distinguish between an aesthetic critique of the individual, something I reject out of hand, and a setting down of moral imperatives for society as a whole. There are obviously areas in which overlaps are inevitable. Criticism and celebrityism encourages a climate of competition and, as a corollary, of violence; art subordinates to pecuniary needs, ego needs replace spiritual perfection. Criticism and celebrityism are both aggressive behaviors, yet there would be an aesthetic/moral overlap at this point. The artist who performs publicly purely from an aesthetic preference, to use an old-fashioned word, would be "sinful" if I were to take him to account in respect of his taste. Such an accounting could inhibit all subsequent judgments on his part. But if I were able to persuade him that his particular aesthetic indulgence represented a moral danger to the community as a whole, and providing I could muster a vocabulary appropriate to the task, an undertaking that couldn’t use the vocabulary of aesthetic standards, then that would, I think, be my responsibility. I advocate defining a type of censorship that contradicts the whole post-Renaissance tradition of Western thought, because it's the post-renaissance tradition that has brought the Western world to the brink of destruction. Our attachment to freedom of movement, freedom of speech, and so on is a peculiarly Occidental phenomenon. It's all part of the Occidental notion that one can successfully separate word and deed.

Recall that McLuhan talks about just that in the Gutenberg Galaxy wherein he posits that preliterate peoples or minimally literate peoples are much less willing to permit that distinction. There's also the Biblical injunction that to will evil is to accomplish evil. You should see art for the menace it really is, then experience that menace privately through recordings, not publicly through celebrity-fueled mobs known as audiences.

I can’t vouch for the art-as-technique-pure-and-simple theories like those of Stravinsky, but hat's quite literally the last thing art is. I also eschew the art-as-violence-surrogate theory espouse by German expressionists. I don't believe in surrogates; they're simply the playthings of minds resistant to the perfectibility of man. However, the art-as-transcendental-experience theory is the only one that attracts me.

Nevertheless, I do have my own theory of art, but you're not going to like it. Art should be given the chance to phase itself out. We must accept the fact that art is not inevitably benign, that it is potentially destructive, if nothing else through its motivations transmitted through itself to the beholder and into subsequent action by the beholder. Analyze the areas where art tends to do least harm, use those parameters as a guideline, and build into art a component that will enable it to preside over its own obsolescence.

The Western world is consumed with notions of qualification; the threat of terrorism fulfils those notions, and the loss of art does not. Until the two phenomena are recognized as one, indivisible, until physical and verbal aggression are seen as simply a flip of the competitive coin, until every aesthetic decision can be equated with a moral correlative, I'll continue to listen to the music from behind a pair of loudspeakers.

The individual conscience aspect of the Reformation and the collective censorship of the puritan tradition are curiously intermingled because that tradition involved perpetual schismatic division. The best and purest, the most ostracized, individuals end up in artistic valleys as symbols of their rejection of the world of the plains. Each of us seeks our own expressionist latitude. This may seem a rather long way from the concert-versus- record dichotomy this article began with, but I feel I've performed a set of variations on that theme and that, indeed, I've virtually come full circle. Save that ticket money. Go buy a great album, an even better stereo to play it on, chase everyone out of the room, and truly experience the art of music!

How Akiki sticks it to you.

I haven't done a BAP (bogus audiophile product) Warning in a long time, and generally try not to be so negative, but this is one I have to warn against: The $150.00-plus Akiki Audio Tuning Stick.

To quote the literature, "The Tuning Sticks plug into a vacant RCA input or output or power outlet and clean the earth by means of applying known techniques and new insights in the areas of crystal patterns using paramagnetic and piezoelectric properties of natural raw materials. The Tuning Stick's contents are then stabilised with black resin, a material which sufficiently suppresses microphony (sic) effects."

In other words, you're supposed to believe that rocks and a connector, once glued into a carbon fiber tube, will make your audio gear sound oh-so-much better. It doesn't. I tried it just to be sure what it does, or doesn't do, before reporting on it. This sort of product wraps itself in scientific-sounding jargon and makes specious claims about tuning and energy.

It works on the placebo effect: After paying for this expensive tripe, you expect to hear a difference -- and so you do. Its advertising claims do not even make for good science fiction, and read more like some sort of pamphlet espousing Eastern Mysticism or New Age pseudoscience. Products like this prey on ignorance and on the hope for anything promising to improve your sound.

Save your money to buy more albums!

If you say it doesn't work, the product's aficionados defend its through ad hominem and ad bauculum arguments: you have a tin ear, your equipment isn't any good, you're biased, you're a shill for the competition, you're unenlightened, you aren't discerning enough, you're a denier, and so forth.

Worse, blog and magazine reviewers actually praise this fraudulent product, providing a good example of the vapidity and intellectual corruption of today's hi-fi publications. Julian Hirsch would never prostituted himself by peddling such drivel.

Do you see why I eschew the audiophile market?

ONE NOTE
~~~~~~~~~
Consider this -- if you've just spent thousands of dollars on a high-end stereo and you believe this gadget actually DOES improve your sound, here's what you need to do:

1.) Return the Akiki Tuning Stick to the dealer.

2.) Sell your stereo system, because you got ripped off big time! A well-designed audio component is already immune to quality losses arising from vibration, RFI/EMI, power line noise, AC mains surges, and other environmental factors.

Record an audiobook instead of publishing?

So, you’ve written some stories and want to record an audiobook instead of hassling with getting you book published. Want to know how you can? Easy: you can’t!

True, you can release your stories as audio recordings in two ways: as a spoken word album or as an audiobook. Here are the caveats to both approaches:

A recording does not qualify as an audiobook unless it is someone reading a printed book or eBook. You have to have published a real printed book or eBook before you can release your work as an audiobook.

Audiobooks must be assigned an ISBN as well as numerous copyrights, greatly increasing prerelease overhead and slowing recoupment for the project.

Audiobooks must be recording to very stringent audio standards defined by ACX to stay within the narrow audio capabilities of eBook readers.

Audiobooks qualify for inclusion on the NY Times best seller list.

The distribution channels for audiobooks are presently controlled by Audible and ACX. Only Audible aggregates for the iTunes store and Amazon.com, and they reject most audiobooks submitted to them for sale over iTunes or Amazon.com. This monopoly means that the distribution channel for audiobooks have a severe set of barriers to entry and high channel costs. Direct-from-publisher sales seldom realize any profit.

Spoken word albums are defined as any non-musical entertainment, such as recorded speeches, copies of radio programs, comedy improv, storytelling, religious homilies, literary exposition, or educational narrative; but excluding a book reading. But if you just “tell your story” as an audio recording then that qualifies as a spoken word album. A book can be made of your spoken word album later.

Spoken word albums must be assigned ordinary sound recording copyrights in the country of origin, a Digital Rights Management agreement and an ISRC. This is inexpensive.

Spoken word albums must be recorded to standards reflecting customary professional audio practice, such as that recommended by the RIAA, the Library of Congress, the BBC, NARAS, SMPTE, the NAB or any major record label.

Spoken word albums are eligible for a Grammy under certain circumstances. (Any spoken word album I record can qualify.)

Spoken word albums are eligible for sync licensing to broadcasters, television, motion picture studios and video-game producers. OK, this seldom happens for spoken word albums but you never know.

Spoken word albums are eligible for full AllMedia protection and other enforceable DRM systems internationally, audiobooks are not. Audiobook copyright infringement must proceed the same as printed book copyright infringement, as defined under the Berne Convention in 1972; for overseas infringement this often means filing with the World Court in the Hague, then through legal representation in the country wherein the infringement occurred. Guess how successful that is, especially in Asia.

Numerous companies control the distribution channels for spoken word albums, and several aggregate for the iTunes store. Channel costs are low and have few barriers to entry. Direct-from-studio sales can realize profits, albeit usually small ones.

At this time no clear consensus exists within the industry whether audiobooks outsell spoken word albums.

Major publishers dislike audiobooks and realize little profit from them.

Studios large and small love spoken word albums and earn good money from them, enough that some studios do spoken word albums exclusively; they will often do other voice-over work and audiobooks as a sideline.

So there are the options available to you. Contact me if you need any further help.

Is Audio Music to Your Ears?

• Listen, listen, listen! Train your ears! Learn to recognize chords and notes in music, distortion and noise in equipment, resonances and echos in rooms and spaces.
• No, you can’t fix it in the mix. You know why really old records sound so good? There was no editing, no way to fix it in the mix. The musicians just sat down and made great music.
• Digital or analog? Use both. Each has advantages and disadvantages. Combining the best of both will give you superlative audio.
• Don’t edit the life out of your music.
• Perfection is a laudable goal, but perfectionism will rob your music of its joy and beauty. Perfectionism has killed too many recording projects. Imperfections often are the secret spice of great music recording. Listen to Louis Armstrong or the Beatles for great examples.
• Are you an audiophile or a musicphile? When you turn on your stereo, what are you listening to, the equipment or the music? If your stereo demands more of your attention than the music does, get rid of it. Don’t let a stereo come between you and your music.
• How do know if a stereo is good? Easy! Do you forget that you’re listening to a stereo and just lose yourself in the music? That’s a good stereo!
• Are you always aware of the technical aspects of the stereo? Do you feel you’re not hearing everything in the music?  Are you always unsatisfied with your stereo, and spend more time figuring out the next upgrade than you do enjoying your music? Then that’s a bad stereo, regardless of how much it costs!
• Music, audio and sound is inherently subjective; it’s all an opinion. Don’t be swayed when someone presents their opinions as fact. Don’t present your opinions as fact. Respect others’ opinions.
• Your favorite music was handmade. Shouldn’t your stereo be handmade?
• Mass production, by necessity, requires compromise. No mass produced stereo, regardless of cost, can be “the best”, “the ultimate” or “without peer.”
• Beware meaningless marketing buzzwords, like: Digital Ready, warm-sounding, audiophile quality, high resolution, premium, sonic integrity, euphonic, pristine analog path, unprecedented, truthful audio, high speed, and so on.
• Beware audio manufacturers who won’t give specifications, instead relying on florid writing to advertise their wares. There probably is a good reason the company doesn’t want to give spec sheets out: bad specs, high-priced product.
• Don’t rely on specs alone. Specs are valuable but cannot alone describe what something will sound like. Your ears will. Use specs to narrow down your choices, then go on a listening safari. Or a listening Firefox. (Joking, bad pun!)
• There’s a reason many manufacturers reject double blind testing. It reveals their products aren’t as good as claimed. Double blind testing was instrumental in assisting the development of high fidelity audio, stereophonic sound, surround sound, and most of audio’s technological advances. It was good enough for the “founding fathers” of audio, so it should be good enough for the makers of genuinely excellent audio equipment.
• Throughout the history of audio, there have been great audio systems and bad audio systems. Every technology has yielded great sound and awful sound.
• Don’t get uptight about, or be impressed by, about the technology used in a stereo. Choose whatever you enjoy, and only whatever you enjoy.
• Using a reference stereo system for comparison? Reference recordings as a way of evaluating a stereo? Don’t be impressed. The only accurate reference is live, unprocessed music.
• The only thing a “reference system” tells you is that another stereo sounds different from the “reference system.” It won’t tell you how close to live music the stereo sounds.
• Connect a pair of studio microphones and studio preamplifiers to the stereo you’re evaluating. Put the mikes in an adjacent room, have a live musician or band play. Now go back and listen to the stereo. Does it sound live? Great stereo! You’ll be surprised how many high-end stereos fail this test while sounding wonderful playing the “reference recording.”
• While you’re at it, make a recording of the live music onto a really good recorder. Analog or digital, whichever you can afford. Use no EQ, no compression, no processing. Now you have your own reference recording that is actually valid for evaluating a stereo. You know what the “reference recording”  sounds like because you were there when it was made.
• Unless you made a reference recording, no, you don’t know what it sounds like. You know only what it sounds like on the first stereo you listened to the recording on, which is not a really useful evaluation standard.
• Silver wire, brands of capacitors, circuit topology, or impressive spec sheets don’t matter. Only your enjoyment of the music matters!
• Don’t buy a stereo based on peer pressure, status seeking or choice of technology. If you like something everyone else dislikes, ignore them. It’s your stereo for your music. Only your enjoyment of the music matters!
• Reducing skin effect: worth the high cost of audiophile cables? No. Cable makers have blown it out of all proportion. Forget about it. Save your money for buying more records. Just enjoy your music.

Oh no, a new phono!

So, have phono preamplifiers improved since the 1970s? Audiophile companies would say yes, but is it truly so?
Although I don’t advertise it aggressively, I’ve been making phono preamplifiers since 1977, mostly for archives, studios and serious collectors; I’ve made only four models, two vacuum tube and two solid state (each with variable/selectable EQ curves), intended mainly for record lathe use and archival reproduction of all formats of analog discs. Over the years, I’ve seen a few meaningful improvements, but mostly the state of the art seems to have peaked in the early 1980s. Since then, many (but not all) designers seem to be indulging in one-upmanship, focusing on expensive capacitors and resistors, gold wire and so on. Other companies indulge in exaggerated advertising braggadocio, acting like they’ve created circuit approaches that in fact have existed since the 1950s: variable EQ (often called “linearization”) and fully-symmetrical push-pull designs are two good examples. In contrast, during the 1970s, the focus was clever circuit design that sought to overcome the inherent nonlinearities of active components.
Nevertheless, in all fairness I have found that better modern phono preamplifiers and the better “vintage” models are equal in every aspect. The only differences are merely marketing and the features added to the specific product.
The reason for the equality of vintage and contemporary phono preamplifiers is simple: advances in LP technology are stagnant. No substantive improvement in LP technology has been introduced since the mid-1980s, nor have any radical improvements in reproducers (turntables and pickups) been advanced, advertising claims notwithstanding. Therefore, a phono preamplifier made today and one made 30 years ago are both responding the same technical needs, operating constraints and customer requirements.
There is a very good reason why so many boutique audio companies make phono preamplifiers: it’s just so easy to do. The only real challenge is marketing, but it certainly isn’t the design engineering.

How to learn to play guitar.

I'm often asked for advice on learning the guitar. Firstly, choose a guitar that fits your hands and is comfortable for you to hold and play. This far is more important than the style, features or accessories -- or even the sound. Research the web for tips on fitting the guitar to your comfort. Try every guitar in several stores before making your choice. It's like a marriage; you don't marry the first girl you go out with. Generally, Gibsons, Martin, and similar have wide necks, Fender and similar have narrow necks.

Secondly, build up your hand strength with a guitarist's hand exerciser. This will go a long way to making you a good guitarist and hand strength is often neglected.

Thirdly, listen, listen, listen! Train your ears! Learn to recognize chords and notes in music.

Fourthly, Practice scales, chords and tuning the guitar by ear! Then move on to simple songs, playing along with your favorite music.

Fifthly, record yourself and critique how you're doing. you don't need a studio quality recorder, just something easy to use and clear enough so you can hear yourself.

Sixthly, put together a guitar's kit of the basic equipment you need to go along with your guitar:

  1. Capo.
  2. Electronic tuner.
  3. Picks (start with traditional shape picks).
  4. Spare high-e strings (they break easily).
  5. Guitar multi-tool.
  6. String winder.
  7. (Possibly) a slide if you are into Delta Blues and similar styles.

Finally, search the web for free websites that teach all things guitar and do not bait you to buy something. Following are some of the beginner guitar websites I've seen so far.


May the beautiful music be yours!

E Caveat Emptor, Part 3

Skin effect is one of the most-favorite ploys put forth by audiophile cable manufacturers to justify the high cost of their products. Skin effect is indeed a valid physical phenomenon, but it has no effect on sound reproduction. Cable manufacturers have blown it out of all proportion, making it look like a huge problem that is incurable except by throwing much money at it. Do not worry about skin effect in audio cables, because the practical effect of, and importance of, skin effect in audio-frequency cables is greatly exaggerated. Understandably so. Otherwise, how else can a wire company expect to easily differentiate their product?

In 2003, I performed a series of skin effect depth experiments based on the 2002 experiment by N. P. Singh, S. C. Gupta, and B. R. Sood; Physics Department, Punjabi University, India; to determine the skin depth and Fermi velocity in metals. Their simple experimental method measured the anomalous skin depth and Fermi velocity in metals by measuring the resistance at 77 Kc of a thick metal wire specimen at frequencies of 100 cps and 100 kc. They verified the Fermi velocity by using a theoretical expression that relates the anomalous skin depth to the Fermi velocity.

Skin effect is the property caused by the fact that high frequency alternating currents do not flow through the entire cross-sectional area of a wire. High frequencies tend to flow only along the outer sector of the radii of the wire. The higher the frequency, the thinner the layer of current flow, and therefore the higher the conduction losses. The practical result of skin effect is increased series resistance of the wire, and the use of a larger gauge wire is an easy solution to the problem.

The frequency dependency of the resistance of a cylindrical or rectangular cross-section wire can be calculated by the following formula for high frequencies and radii of approximately 50 micrometers.

R(f)
= R(DC)* (1 + 1/3 * x^4) with x
= Radius/2*sqrt(pi*frequency*permeability*conductivity)

An approximate equation for the resistance ratio of rectangular cross-section wires (from Terman) is:

rho = 1/(((8PI * f)/(Rdc * 10^9))^0.5)

Skin depth is not an absolute quantity, it is a measure of the depth where alternating current through the wire (wire) has been reduced to a specific proportion of the current at the surface. Alternating current decreases exponentially when moving inward from the surface of the wire. The depth of the "skin" is also affected by its proximity to adjacent wires (wire strands). Therefore, an alternating current’s intensity decreases exponentially with increasing depth. Note that an audio signal is an alternating current.

Depth of penetration (s=sigma) is the depth at which the current intensity has fallen to 1/e of its value at the surface, where e equals 2.718.

Where wire diameter is large compared to the depth of penetration, total current is the same as if the surface current intensity is maintained to a constant depth of penetration.

For copper wires, the depth of penetration is:

0.1 MHz, for a Depth of Penetration sigma of 0.209 mm.
1 MHz, for a Depth of Penetration sigma of 0.066 mm.
10 MHz, for a Depth of Penetration sigma of 0.021 mm.
100 MHz, for a Depth of Penetration sigma of 0.0066 mm.
1000 MHz, for a Depth of Penetration sigma of 0.0021 mm.

For materials other than copper, skin depth is:

s = 503.3sqrt(rho/(urf)) millimeters.
rho = resistivity in Ohms-per-meter = 1.72x10e-8 for copper or 2.83x10e-8 for aluminum.
ur = mu r = relative magnetic permeability = 1 for both copper and aluminum.
f = frequency in Megacycles per second.

CONCLUSION: Notice that at 0.1 Mc, or 100,000 cps; the depth of penetration is .209 mm. This is approximately the same as the diameter of a 33-gauge solid wire. Of course, 100,00 cps is well above the audio range, which is customarily defined as spanning from 20 cps to 20,000 cps. I discovered experimentally that at 30,000 cps, through solid copper wire, skin penetration was approximately 0.647 millimeters, which the about same as the diameter of a 22-gauge wire.

In other words, if skin effect worries you, make your cable from 22-gauge stranded wires -- which happens to be exactly how cheap lamp cord is made! If you're very worried about skin effect, make your cable from 33-gauge stranded wires. Easy!

By the way, along with claims about skin effect, some audiophile cable companies promote the fallacy that their cables have no electronic resonances at audio frequencies, stating that audio cables behave like transmission lines and thus must be design like, or terminated with special networks like transmission lies. Unless their cable is made with a filter network as part of its construction, it is impossible for the cable to resonate until the frequencies carried by the cable lie above the range of human audibility by a factor of 10, and any frequencies that may happen to resonant occur at radio frequencies, often several MegaHertz.

Look at it another way: electrical resonance in a cable or wire is a function of the length of the cable, and the cable cannot resonate, nor does it behave like a transmission line, until its length equals or exceeds the electrical wavelength of the frequencies within the audible frequency range. This holds true regardless of wire gauge. The electrical wavelength of a 20,000 cps tone is approximately 15 kilometers, or 9 miles. Imagine how long the electrical wavelength of a 20 cps tone is! Even if you try to resonate the cable at a quarter wavelength at 20,000 cps you will need a cable that is about 2.25 miles long. Does your stereo have a speaker cable that is several miles long? Unless it does, you do not have any cables that can resonate at audio frequencies. I hope you can now see that any audiophile cable manufacturer's claim of electrical or electronic resonance within cables is false.

E Caveat Emptor, Part 2

In the 1970s, a company called Monster Cable introduced the first "premium" wire for connecting loudspeakers, beginning today's audiophile cable (or "interconnect") market. Audiophile cable manufacturers today sell expensive (often thousands of dollars), elaborately-made, highly ornamented cables that they claim yields better sound quality when compared to normal wire. To bolster their claims of sonic purity, they often cite scientific principles like time domain alignment, quantum spin, skin effect and other things that sometimes don't even make good science fiction. 
  
Truthfully, the single most important property of any wire used to connect a loudspeaker to an amplifier is series resistance, which decreases as the cross section thickness increases; larger gauge wires have lower series resistance. A wire's series resistance must be low enough not to reduce the high-current signals from a power amplifier, or the line-level signals from an audio component, or the low-level signals from a microphone or phonograph cartridge. Electricians know this principle well, and they have tables of wire gauges that show how much current a particular wire gauge can carry without loss over a given distance. Audio engineers also take load impedance into account. The longer the distance, the larger the wire gauge is needed to carry the same amperage (amount of current). Up to 6-feet, a 16 gauge wire of any type is adequate. 
 
 Three other electrical properties affect wire: inductance, capacitance, and skin effect. Skin effect is irrelevant with usual cable lengths at audio frequencies, even when connecting speakers to a power amplifier. Skin effect occurs only at the enormous amperages of AC mains power lines (100 Amperes or greater), or high-powered radio transmitters. Low capacitance wire is important with  phonograph cartridge or microphone cables. High quality, low capacitance wire costs, such as those made by Belden, Mogami, Alpha or Canare cost only a few cents per foot. Because wire is a low-tech device that's simple to manufacture, profit margins can be extremely high -- which explains why there are more "audiophile cable designers" than any other type of component. Please don't fall for cable scams. Just because catalogs and retail stores sell them, and just because the cable is an 'established brand" doesn't mean they aren't a ripoff. You truly do not need to spends hundreds or thousands of dollars for audio cables by any stretch of the imagination. You should regard any audio (or video) cable costing more than a few dollars per foot is a rip-off.
 
 An even greater wire fraud exists in the form of "audiophile" AC power cords and "power conditioner" products (excluding surge protectors and lightning arrestors). These products make logical-sounding sales claims that noise and static from the power line can get into your equipment and degrade the sound by increasing noise and distortion. True, in those few severe instances that power-related clicks and buzzes occur, but those are easily noticed and remedied. The fraud comes with the manufacturer's suggestion that subtle improvements in "clarity and presence" can occur by using their products. Any competent electronic designer knows how to filter out power line noise, and power line protection is a routine feature added to the power supplies within virtually all commercial audio products. Wasting hundreds of your hard-earned dollars on a six-foot audiophile power cord ignores the miles of regular wire between the AC mains outlet and the generating plant.
  
Some truly amazing audio scams exist. My favorite is the replacement volume control knob, the "Reference Audio Mods Silver Rock Signature Knob" that sells for $485. Sold through a website called  "Poor Mojo Newswire," their advertisement proclaims, "Good vibrations, Bad vibrations it’s all about vibrations!! RAM would like to introduce a new signature level knob developed for the mighty Silver Rock potentiometer. The standard bakelite knob is certainly the best sounding compromise... but now Audio Consulting has taken this aspect of the Silver Rock much further. The new knobs are custom made with beech wood and bronze where the bronze is used as the insert to mount to the stem of the volume pot. The beech wood is coated several times with C37 lacquer for best sound as pointed out by Dieter Ennemoser. How can this make a difference??? Well, hearing is believing as we always say. The sound becomes much more open and free flowing with a nice improvement in resolution. Dynamics are better and overall naturalness is improved. Here is a test for all you Silver Rock owners. Try removing the bakelite knobs and listen. You will be shocked by this! The signature knobs will have an even greater effect…really amazing! The point here is the micro vibrations created by the volume pots and knobs find their way into the delicate signal path and cause degradation (Bad vibrations equal bad sound). With the signature knobs micro vibrations from the C37 concept of wood, bronze and the lacquer itself compensate for the volume pots and provide (Good Vibrations) our ear/brain combination like to hear…way better sound!!”
 
 Oh, you bet that's just what "they always say." Claims made about a specific wood or specific lacquer are common themes among audiophile scams, which falsely imply a relationship to a finely-made violin. True, in a violin or other music instrument the wood's vibration actually does affect its sound, but a volume control knob mounted onto an electrical control? Please, don't insult our intelligence!

E Caveat Emptor, Part 1

Audiophile retailers, magazines and blogs today state that cables, amplifiers, preamplifiers, and other electronic equipment must be "broken in" for some  time, usually 90 days, before the highest fidelity is achieved. Frankly, the proposition that wire or a non-mechanical component changes audibly over time is nonsense.
 
This urban legend of audio has become the single most widespread consumer scam related to audio equipment, other than "premium" or "audiophile" cables.
 
When you buy an expensive piece of audiophile equipment, especially cables, the seller usually persuades you that you must "break in" the product for 90 days before you can realize the full benefit, or be in a position to properly criticize the product or judge its ultimate suitability.
 
So, why 90 days? Is it because of some obscure principle of physics or audio effect known only to sophisticated audiophiles? No. The 90 Day Break-In Period exists because credit card purchases are protected for only 60 days. In other words, by the time the "Break-In" period is over, you have no recourse if you're still dissatisfied.
 
Don't buy from any audio retailer who tries to talk you into a "Break-In" Period, period; especially if the time exceeds 60 days. At that point you'll know that you've found an unethical retailer. 

I'm Now a Groupie?

Recently, I’ve been honored to become part of a group of organizers, investors, music educators, and musicians who are putting together a new performing arts center out here in the wilds of Kansas near where I reside. It's not going to be a typical performing arts center. Once built, it will give local musicians and music students a range of experience and artistic outlets that are otherwise unavailable. The center is expected to bring good tourism revenues to the region. It's my way of giving back to the music industry that has given so much to me since 1974. More news on this exciting venture later.

The perfect analog sound is DSD?

My long-ongoing analog tape deck project was still alive, and way over budget until June, 2011. That’s when I heard Korg’s latest DSD recorders, the MR-1000 and MR-2000. They’re like listening to a truly perfect analog deck.

I’ve said since the 1970s that, one day, digital would catch up to analog for sound quality. It has. The latest DSD recorders are fabulous and everything we wanted analog to be sonically. I feel there is no point for me to work any more on a new analog recorder. By the way, the sales of KVG Laboratories’ Khrome & Khobalt tapes was supposed to fund the completion of the project but that was not to be. This is not a complaint. I'm the first to admit the tape deck project wasn’t a high priority. There's nowhere near enough market to justify the expense but I just enjoyed working on it, a truly fun spare time hobby project.

See also a related blog post on the topic of the cassette tape project.

Pro Audio or No Audio For Me

During the past decade, I've tried off-and-on to bring a line of audiophile equipment to market, including turntables, tape decks, amplifiers, speakers, and even a cartridge. Eventually, after long debate, I decided against it.

Firstly, in all truth, my experience has always been in pro audio and music instruments. That's my first love and my greatest passion.

Secondly, I really wasn't confident that the turntable could be successful, and I intensely disliked both the tonearm and cartridge that I had designed for it.

Thirdly, I've never failed at pro audio -- not even once -- but the previous two times I tried to market home stereo gear (in 1978 and 1989), I failed. Utterly. Okay, so why would I think this time would be different?

Fourthly, I asked several persons who have great experience and success in home stereo/audiophile circles their opinions, and their advice was simple: Don't Do it. Fair enough, that's what I needed to know. Back to pro audio. Period.

So, I sold all my audiophile prototypes to my interns and friends for the cost of the parts. One of my interns got the turntable, and seems to be enjoying it.

The impression that I get from everything I see is that it is no longer possible to succeed in the land of “audiophile” audio merely by making a great sounding product. No, you have to live online and promote the project, you have to create a fad around your project, and it has to look like a work of modern art. Honestly, I’m no good at that sort of approach to audio marketing.

See the related blog post, “To Be Or Not To Be.”

Going Ape Over Tape!

Greetings from an analog mind trying to survive in a digital world. 

In 2008, I was approached by  a group of  investors who had obtained cassette-making equipment once owned by Memorex to assist in the development and evaluation of their tapes. They had a few samples already made, and to be honest, the tapes were horrid sounding because they were using Memorex's MRX formula.  Remember Memorex? Anybody want some. No? Me either! I suggested that they develop a metal particle tape, as well as two chrome-bias tapes, one based on the original 1970s-era DuPont Crolyn CrO2 (similar sounding to BASF'/EMTEC Chromdioxid tapes) and the other based on Ampex's cobalt-doped formulations. Obtaining the formulae then "modernizing" the formulae took until 2010.  As you'd guess, quite a few production problems resulted in the first several runs being all near-100% rejected. You cannot imagine what goes into making a cassette tape! 

During this time, I worked with their engineers and programmers to create two key innovations. One was a device that uses a DC magnetic field to align most of the oxide particles in the same direction. Although this process improved the tapes signal-to-noise ratio by 3 dB it did not increase the maximum output level as I had hoped.  

The second device was a "dropout detector" that uses an 8-track cassette tape head (the same as used by forensic cassette players) to record a special steady signal a t a level only 1.5 dB above the tape's noise floor. A detector read the playback from a second 8-track cassette tape head to look for the presence or absence of the signal, which, if absent, was flagged by the device as a dropout. It then records a pulse (a.k.a. "slate tone") at the clipping level of the tape at that spot. Well, just next to that spot but close enough. The real challenge was to do all this without the heads actually touching the tape because the tape would be moving past the heads at about 200 ips (with quite a bit of flutter-and-wow). So I adapted Akai's Crossfield bias concept to get enough bias on the tape as it whizzed by. To save time, I took the record and play electronics from a derelict Nakamichi 700 to become the basis of the "read/write" circuitry. An audible monitor was fitted too, and it sounded sort of like a Geiger counter clicking away. At a later station in the production line, another device reads the pulses recorded onto the tape to know where to cut the tape stock to remove the areas with excessive dropouts. Near the end of the production line, a bulk eraser had to clean off the recorded signals and pulses. This final step caused almost four months of delays because it wasn't clearing the "slate tone" off entirely. 

Despite all the years of work, the rejection rate was 80%, yet everyone was confident this would be improved soon, so I took the chance and decided to go into production and do a test market of selling some of the cassettes. Unfortunately,  almost three months, later the rejection rate was still 80%, the metal particle tape still sounded horrid, and no one had a good idea how to solve the problems quickly. So, despite good sales, suffering an 80% failure rate is unsustainable for any length of time. So, I decided to end the project before the financial losses on my side became too severe. Frustrating!  

But I must tell you, I do not regret the experience one iota. I learned more about analog recording during the experience than in all the previous thirty-plus years that I've been using analog recorders!  

Thank you to those who bought some tapes and gave them a try! I'm glad to hear those who got them, liked them. 

~~~ UPDATE 21 AUGUST 2013: By the way, the investors eventually found some buyers for the venture, not to make audio tape but to make improved magnetic coating for various industrial processes. Perhaps I should have had more faith and stuck with it?

Forward and backward ... Part 1.

As many of you know, I listen to a lot of audio equipment of all conceivable types -- and a few inconceivable types. What strikes me is just how far pro audio has progressed while high-end home audio has gone backward. (More on that dichotomy another time.)
 
Nevertheless, I still can't find a monitor system that beats my 1970s-era Crown D75 monitor amps and Bang & Olufsen S45 Uniphase speakers (the original 3-way design, not the cheaper 2-way). It's just so easy to mix with this setup, you can hear every flaw and follow the reverb tails all the way out past the horizon, up past the stratosphere, through the ionosphere and into deep space. Every little change in EQ is immediate, and you can really dial in those modulation FX.
 
I still say that when you hear a bad recording, what you're really hearing a bad monitor setup, and not necessarily a bad recording engineer. Think about it: if you can't hear a problem you can't fix it. Mixing with a bad monitor setup is like trying to mix while you're deaf. 
 
So scrimp on mikes and recorders if you must, but never scrimp on your monitors!

A Different Approach To Amplifier Design Philosophy

I've been asked what is my design philosophy when I design an amplifier. The person asking me had just read the following quote from a designer of trendy audiophile amplifiers, "If I were to make an amplifier with nothing but premium audiophile components, there is no guarantee that the amp will sound good. It is more important to select components by listening so that as a whole, the amplifier plays music better. The most important thing is to achieve a total musical balance." The person who wrote me thought the quote was nonsensical, so I won't embarrass the author by giving his name.

Well, basically, I begin the design process by assuming that the components available to build the amplifier are mediocre at best, and possibly of poor quality. Next I define what the amplifier will do, who will be buying the amplifier, how the owner wants the amplifier to sound like, and how the amplifier will be used. From that, I determine what features the amplifier needs to do its job, and what specifications the amplifier must satisfy to achieve success. Note that I regard specifications as a starting point and not an end to themselves. The customer's ear is the final arbiter in any design dispute.

Next, I begin the process of designing the amplifier, then I construct a breadboard prototype using the cheapest components possible that allow the amplifier to function. At this point I keep refining and adjusting the design until it achieves the design criteria and meets the minimum specifications established for the amplifier. Finally, I begin substituting better quality components and premium quality components, re-measuring the amplifier and listening to the changes. If the substituted components improves the amplifier I keep it, otherwise I return to the original component used in the prototype.

At last, I now have an amplifier that sounds superb yet can still sound very good with cheap parts. This eases emergency repairs, and ensures the amplifier will always sound superb because it doesn't rely on a specific premium component to achieve its excellence. Any premium component will work satisfactorily.

Why do I take this approach? Because I believe that 90% of any amplifier's quality comes from the skill, patience and diligence of its designer; 5% comes from its output transformer, 4% from its tube quality, and 1% from capacitors, switches, resistors and 0.001% from wire.

Installing a superb output transformer eases the process of designing a fine amplifier, and makes for nice ads, but an excellent designer can achieve superlative sound from an output transformer that most would consider inferior. Think about it: most of the classic tube amps from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s have an output transformer that most "designers" today would consider to be rubbish, yet those amps sound wonderful. I'll go out on a limb here and assert that any designer who "needs" a high quality output transformer or other premium to achieve a great amplifier is either lazy (and doesn't want to spend the time to refine the design to its ultimate realization), is desiring to have an impressive advertisement, or is a second rate designer.

So why do we fret over frets?

One question I receive often is how do I calculate where each fret is placed on a guitar's fingerboard. Easy, sort of. A stringed instrument's fret positions are calculated based on equations for vibrating strings written by Hermann von Helmholtz, all of which can be simplified into an equation called "the rule of 18": (Scale Length minus Offset Distance to the previous adjacent fret) divided by 18. [for Pythagorean scale.] This equation is further modified by Johann Sebastian Bach's compensation for equal temperament, resulting in: (Scale Length minus Offset Distance to the previous adjacent fret) divided by 17.817.

The calculations are done successively for each fret. This places the 12th fret (which divides the pitch by one octave) at exactly half the scale length. From Helmholtz's derivatives, we find that halving the length of a theoretically perfect vibrating string doubles the period of the vibration (doubles the frequency, or raises pitch by one octave).

In practice, because of the limitations of practical wood fabrication tolerances and the differences between the gut strings used centuries ago and the nylon or steel strings used today, the guitar's bridge saddle is moved so that the actual scale length is slightly longer than the calculated length. Finally, the exact distance added for compensation is empirically found by tuning each string, checking to see if the 12th fret pitch is one octave higher, then moving the saddle again until the 12 fret pitch equals a one octave pitch increase. This tedious process is called "intonation" and is the final step in crafting a fine quality guitar.

After intonation is complete, the guitarist can play the instrument in tune and in any scale without the need to transpose, limit chord changes during progressions or retune the instrument for certain songs.

By the way, the term "equal temperament" refers to today's common musical scale that divides an octave into equal intervals; for modern Western music, this division is 12 equal semitones. With the equal tempered scale musicians can easily transpose the music's key up or down without changing any of the musical intervals.

Don't Cramp The Amp!

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TTVC? Say what?

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The D-50a Reissue

They say that what was once old will become new again. I have had the pleasure of seeing one of my old loudspeaker designs, the D-50a, go back into production after almost thirty years.

My goal for the D-50a was to create a bookshelf loudspeaker having vivid spatial imaging, low distortion, detailed bass and crisp detailed treble while maintaining excellent midrange. I wanted a little speaker that sounded huge, filling a room with sound, and hopefully could be played loudly in small rooms without fatigue or harshness. Drawing on my recording experience, I voiced the design to enhance rock and pop music, yet still be enjoyable while listening to classical or acoustic musical forms. Its design is truly a creature of the 1970s because I designed the first one in 1977 and finally had it market-ready by 1979.

Production of the original models ran from 1979 to 1989, when I was no longer able to obtain the Philips/Noreclo woofer and couldn't find a suitable replacement. Fortunately, after many years of development, I now have a faithful recreation of the D-50a's original woofer. The D-50a was the first speaker I designed using Theile/Small mathematics, which was quite new and represented the state-of-the art. I had to borrow a friend's Texas Instruments programmable calculator to do the math, which was too cumbersome for pen-and-paper.

The D-50a 30th Anniversary Reissue Bookshelf Loudspeaker features several improvements without losing its vintage sound: Higher-quality polyester capacitors and inductors, Acoustically-inert MDF cabinets with quality veneer replace the original particle board cabinets, Gold bi-wire binding post terminals replace the original spring-loaded push terminals, Acoustically-transparent cloth grilles replace the original sculpted-foam grilles. You can buy one through my company at KVG Laboratories.

A brief history of the LP

The LP has an interesting history. The recent trend of 45-rpm 12-inch audiophile LPs is good to see. Bell Laboratories engineers here in the USA calculated the optimum disc speeds, and it worked out that 33-1/3 rpm is perfect for 16-inch discs (like broadcast transcriptions and Vitaphone discs), 45 rpm is ideal for 12-inch discs, and 78 rpm (approximately) for 10-inch discs; in short, the larger the diameter the slower the disc speed.

When Dr. Peter Goldmark invented the "Long-playing microgroove record" for Columbia Records. When I had the chance to speak to him in 1976, he explained that he had to meet certain budgetary requirements imposed by Columbia. So he chose 33-1/3 rpm to be able to master using professional broadcast disc recorders (RCA, Fairchild, Presto, and Westrex models) then widely available. These were designed for 16-inch discs. He chose 10-inch diameter discs for the first LPs (12-inch LPs came later) so that the discs could be pressed on Columbia's 78-rpm record pressers; at that tim eColumbia was pressing 78 rpm records from a material called Vinylite. With those constraints (10-inch disc running at 33-1/3 rpm) he calculated the groove pitch and groove width needed for the record to have approximately 30-minutes of monophonic sound on each side. The result: a .22 to .25 mil spherical stylus.

Note that when the RIAA established its standards for LP manufacture, they allowed greater modulation and wider-spaced grooves, giving RIAA LPs far greater fidelity than original Goldmark/Columbia LPs.

What's with all this LP and MP3 stuff?

Alas, those of us who aren't content with low-fidelity audio (like low bitrate MP3s) are now, and have always been, the minority. I've always contended that, once exposed to higher quality sound, few persons would choose to go back to low-fi media (8-track cartridges and 45-rpm big-hole discs come to mind) - unless forced to do so because of budgetary concerns. My experience, however, has contradicted my idealism: most persons seem to enjoy the music itself without the benefit of high fidelity.

We all experience recorded music differently. For old-school audiophiles and studio professionals, the higher the fidelity, the greater the enjoyment. Others seem to be able to enjoy only the tune and rhythms of the music itself and technical quality of the reproduction is largely irrelevant to them. Oddly, most musicians I've known don't demand hi-fi sound; this could explain why. Having devoted my career to advancing the art of highest-fidelity sound, it's hard to accept the reality of the popularity of low-fi media.

Also consider that listening to music is a learned experience; if a person has grown up exposed only to lo-fi media then that person has learned to enjoy lo-fi audio. Although most of those individuals are immediately impressed and can enjoy hi-fi recordings, this doesn't necessarily translate into a desire to own only hi-fi gear from that point on. Add to this the number of those who cannot discern quality sound regardless, much as there are those who cannot discern fine wine or gourmet food and are content with eating at McDonalds or canned foods.

I can tell you from my own professional experience that the large numbers of sales of CDs or other hi-fi media are indeed spurred by the downloading of low-fi MP3s; however, my A&R person, as well as my own professional experience, informs me that the recording industry has changed fundamentally -- the era of mainstream listeners buying entire albums is over. Most buyers today "buy music by the slice" as my A&R person says. Studios, artists, and distribution channels have to adapt to the new market realities.

We've come full circle. More than 100 years ago, recordings were bought one-at-a-time; listeners would go to a music retailer (who sold instruments and sheet music primarily) and purchase a single cylinder or disc record.

Over time, music retailers offered price discounts if you bought several songs from the same artist. The record album was born, although the first ones were still single-song records packaged in a flip book made like a photograph album, which is the origin of the name "record album."

Which is why I make my money with MP3s and my pleasure with the finest sound I can grab. Oh, and for the record, even 96KB MP3s can be mastered to give the illusion of near-CD sound for most listeners, excluding orchestral music recordings.

Many audiophiles feel that 12-inch 33-1/3 or 45 RPM LP analog discs are the epitome of sound resolution and quality. While analog LPs are indeed the "best" sound for many audiophiles, many other legitimate audiophiles would disagree. Generalizations like "such-and-such is the BEST" are something I avoid because they're seldom without exceptions.

By the way, I've mastered LPs over the past 32 years, and as a result my ear is so trained to hear the slightest fault in an LP that, while I do enjoy as good LP, I prefer far superior formats such as 15 or 30 ips reel tape or DSD master decks. Honestly, I don't have the passion for LPs many audiophiles do, to my constant regret, but the changes that occur in an LP's frequency response, imaging, dynamic range and distortion that occur as the record plays are distracting to me.

I wish everyone who enjoys high quality stereos could hear a truly fabulous playback on studio equipment like an Ampex ATR-100, MR-70, or MM-1100; Scully 100, 280 or 280B; MCI JH-16, 3M 79, Studer A80, Genex 9000 or a Pyramix system fitted with Meintner A/D/A decoders. I doubt you'd ever hear an LP with the same enthusiasm again. But then again, I'm jealous you feel the LP is "the best" because this means that you have more opportunities for audio pleasure than I do.

Something to consider about the modern LP microgroove record (just one of many distribution media). Firstly, even the best LPs are what? Copies. Copies mass-produced from a superior-quality master recording. Since 1933, it has been technologically possible to record a full symphony orchestra to such a degree of fidelity that the reproduction is nearly indistinguishable from a live performance. Over the decades, changes in technology have made that potential quality more affordable and more practical. My recording equipment has that capability, and has had since 1978.

There now exist a handful of distribution media that can deliver the listener a copy that equals a studio master. Unfortunately, these have yet to be made available to the public for reasons of practicality: the demands on the playback chain of such a recording place the cost of ownership out of reach for most persons. Even if you could afford it, as I hope will happen as technology becomes cheaper, you have more problems: you need superb acoustics in a quiet environment, which is another rarity.

Therefore, the goal of the mastering engineer is the same as that of a magician: to practice a unique sleight-of-hand, namely to create a distribution media that sounds as if it equals a master recording, even though it is actually markedly inferior, without requiring an impractical degree of complexity in the playback equipment to achieve that illusion. Furthermore, the distributed recording must maintain that illusion in less-than-ideal acoustic environments that often have quite noisy ambient sound levels.

The fact that a distribution medium with the severe limitations of the LP microgroove record, whether 33-1/3 rpm or 45 rpm, is testimony of the success of mastering facilities to achieve their sleight-of-hand. or should I say sleight-of-ear?

Consider the LP microgroove record's technical quality. If you do not exceed the RIAA's recommended modulation limits, then under ideal conditions your record will boast 30 cps to 20 kc cps frequency response, or 20 cps to 50 kc with the Enhanced RIAA curve. THD will vary from about 1% (outer grooves) to 3% (inner grooves). Dynamic range equals about 45 dB, stereo separation about 30 to 35 dB, and channel balance about 1.5 dB to 2 dB.

Impressed? That's worse than a non-Dolby cassette deck. Audiophile labels usually exceed RIAA modulation limits, squeezing another 9 to 12 dB dynamic range, barely, while extending LF response to as low as 5 cps. That's still worse than a cassette deck, except for the bass. Only a few real-world on-the-shelf LPs ever achieve that level of quality..

So why do LPs sound so wonderful despite such awful actual performance? Because the mastering engineer knew his craft and practiced it well. He fooled your ears into hearing quality that didn't really exist. How did he do that? Well, that's a trade secret that mastering engineers guard closely.

This highlight my greatest personal frustration on the topic of high quality stereo: that an LP is indeed better than the digital formats available to the home audiophile. The same is true for analogue as a whole.

Personally am wish that I was able to enjoy LPs like most audiophiles do, and I'm not meaning that in any way to be derogatory of anyone who loves the sound of LPs! My audiophile friends are always amazed that I put up with turntables and boxcars that no true audiophile would touch. Would you like my Yamaha YP-D3 with its Stanton 681EEE? Or how about my Dual 1249 with its Shure V-15 Type III? Oh, I know, you want my Rabco ST-7 and its Microacoustics 2002e. No no no, you want my Rega/Grado 'table. I'm joking, I'm quite sure that's wrong on all counts, and I agree with you; none of those are audiophile quality turntables. I'm practical, so until I can find something that lets me enjoy an LP, short of a Scully automatic record lathe, then I'm putting up with turntables that are adequate.

I have an old Uher 4000 Report S I used to use for live broadcast recording and frankly even it sounds better than the vast number of consumer digital. This is truly an insult to lossy digital formats like MP3, because my Uher -- with its tizzy-sounding germanium transistor circuitry -- isn't that great sounding an analog deck!

One professional goal that I've been working toward is to develop something better than the LP yet affordable, and I've been working on both analog and digital formats. You know why digital rules in studios? Money. It's far cheaper for a studio to run a digital system than it is an analog system. Replicating CDs or compiling downloadable MP3s on iTunes store is vastly cheaper than pressing 180 gram or better LPs.

SACD is capable of analog sound that is close to, or equal to, LP; but very few releases realize the format's potential. I've been able to record and master CDs that have an analog feel reminiscent of CD, but again, few CDs rise to the level of an LP, but it shouldn't be that way.

Making digital rival analog is possible, but it requires the same approach for both technologies: no compromises can be made in recording technique or recording equipment. Digital has seduced studios into the false belief that because digital is better than analog (better spec sheets) so you don't need to be as meticulous with miking technique, you can heavily process the sound, and you don't need the best microphones. Wrong! Analog recordists often take the opposite approach -- little or no processing, and use the best equipment you can afford, then sweat until you have mike placement perfect.

Bottom line, and I could be wrong, but from my seat behind the studio monitors gives me this perspective: I think it's not so much that LP and analog technology beats digital, it's that analog studios use better, more meticulous recording technique than digital studios; and that an average audiophile analog studio is far better equipped than the typical digital studio. If digital studios would be as meticulous and uncompromising as an analog studio has to be, you'd be enjoying SACD, or even -- heresy! -- Redbook CD.

We'll find out this year; I'm making a few experimental digital recordings with the objective of creating analog-sounding LP-like CD and SACD releases.

Building Amplifiers As Relaxation

I'm often asked the question whether I enjoy building amplifiers. The answer is simple: Yes! It's fun and relaxing to take a pile of inanimate parts, then a few hours later have something that comes to life and makes music. Although I do have to use a variety of calculations to create the design, I do my best work intuitively -- and am at my best when I can "throw away the book" and follow my instincts. That way the amplifier is a result of my creativity, not the result of a formula on a piece of paper. My best designs have come into being this way, as a spontaneous design that evolves, flows into something sometimes entirely different than what I first intended, finally coming into its final form as I build it. For me, an amplifier is part artwork, part engineering. I do see myself as an artist who "paints" with electrons. Part of me is in every amplifier. Think about it, I get to make pieces of electronic artwork that themselves make music! How cool is that?!

As my old friends know, my right hand is partially paralyzed and bright overhead lights give me a headache. So building amplifiers is good therapy too! It's not uncommon to see me wearing a hat while building amplifiers. So, you could say that building amplifiers is occupational therapy. Hey, it beats hours spent with a boring exercise machine!

My two most successful designs had very different beginnings. While studying electronics in the 1970s, one of the classroom exercises was to design a simple hi-fi amplifier. My attempt was disappointing. I truly disliked the sound of the project. My teacher gave me some good advice -- don't junk the amplifier, find out what the amplifier was suited for! I soon discovered the amplifier I thought as awful was wonderful for enhancing less-than-perect sounds. I took my little amplifier to every recording session I did, and used it for a variety of situations. After a while, other engineers began asking where I got the amplifier. When I told them I had built it, they asked me to build them one too. Before long, I was in the business of building amplifiers. Thus was born what would become the Type 61 "Feste," a 10-watt utility amplifier, which has been my longest-selling product. The first Feste amplifier was sold in 1977, and I still receive the occasional order for one.

Recently, I took a break from making a large custom stereo amplifier for a record collector. In fact, it's the amplifier I'm building in the photos. To relax, I grabbed three valves at random, which were a 5Y3, a 12AX7A/ECC83 and a 6V6GT; and decided to put together a small amplifier by designing it in my mind as I grabbed parts. I wanted to try an idea I'd been considering for some time. The little amplifier sounds great! It became the 56J and the basis for my new OEM product, the ValvOEM 3.

A comment about the recording studio

In response to a number of requests, let me give you an insight into my recording studio and evaluation room, known as The Loft. The equipment list is always changing. A partial list can be found on this website elsewhere. One thing you can count on is that the studio is equipped with equipment of my own design, in fact my latest designs. Some of the equipment that will be installed is experimental and made from extremely rare Western Electric 262B and 272A valves. Other equipment is available for sale.

When I was taught recording (through a five-year apprenticeship) in the 1970s, it was expected that the professional studio engineer would build their own equipment, except for the recorders and a few pieces too impractical to build on an individual basis. The reason for this was that it ensured the studio had a sound that no other studio had -- vital to being the most competitive at the highest-end. Also, frankly, at that time no one took you seriously if you couldn't design your own equipment. As an aside, I've had so many requests from other studios who wanted to buy my equipment that I've recently begun selling customized copies of my hand made equipment. It's a true pleasure to see my handiwork out there making other studio's work better.

Ode To My First Recording Studio

Back in the Good Old Days of the 1970s, the heady days of Nakamichi cassette decks, Disco and Mutually Assured Destruction (yikes! these are my good old days?), I was learning recording as an eager young apprentice, sitting at the feet of The Great Master (Engineer) and absorbing the wisdom of this stereo sage. At this time, one of the trends in the recording profession was toward minimalism, which meant: you have two ears, not 24, so use only two microphones recorded onto two tracks. Multitrack is evil. (Just ignore the studio's 24-track Studer A80.) Real stereo, which is holy, uses only two mics. Proof? Compare Nautilus or Crystal Clear minimalist recordings with the nasty sound from Big Labels. (Of course, this misses the point that a full orchestra performing Mozart is more beautiful than four guys who can play only three chords while screaming instead of singing. Yeah, yeah, yeah.) To teach us apprentices the wisdom of minimalism, The Great Master would have us check out one of the studios many decks, the Nakamichi 550 Versatile Cassette System and three Shure SM59 microphones. (Anyone remember those?) Thus equipped, our assignment: capture great music using Nakamichi's "Three Point Microphone Technique" and bring it back alive!

Well, I did: one of my friends and his two older brothers had a jazz trio and I recorded one of their gigs. Oh man, my life changed forever! Here I was with this amazing cassette deck and three microphones and I'm getting a recording that sounds as good as most commercial LPs. I knew this was what I was born to do. So, I talked my parents into letting me set up a studio in a disused bedroom. I made a bass trap out of 2x4 lumber and thin plywood and added long wooden slats, stained a dark walnut, on the side walls and painted the walls white. Bad idea: it made the room look like a jail cell. Disgusted with the look, I replaced the slats with thick dark brown cork sheets covering the entire walls, then stained the woodwork and door in blonde. Acoustic ceiling tiles painted sky blue and three mic mounts bolted to the ceiling completed my spacious 11-foot by 12-foot studio. The room sounded great (astonishingly) and I set up Master Control (the 550 and a pair of AKG K240 headphones) in my bedroom across the hall, running the cables down the corners, then under the doors and along the baseboards. Gaffer tape is your best friend at a time like that.

We were on a quiet side street, and other than occasional thunderstorms and low-flying airplanes, it was a good place to make music. The next step: getting bands. I got a couple of my friends' bands in to try things out. They loved being able to come in, set up and jam -- no microphones in sight. Its surprising how few people look up at ceilings. Word got around quick, and every weekend Id do two or three bands, then take my master cassettes to the studio to make copies for the bands to sell at their gigs. Before too long I had developed a reputation for great sound, and in just four months I made enough money to buy my own Nakamichi 550 and three AKG D-190E microphones. By Christmas that year I had made quite a bit of money. So I saved it for college, right? Wrong. I bought more equipment. A Nakamichi 600-II, a 610 preamp/mixer, three AKG D200E two-way dynamics, a dbx 224 noise reduction, dbx 117 Decilinear compressor/expander, Crown D75 amplifier and some KEF woofers and tweeters to make my own pair of monitor speakers.

To make a master tape, I'd switch in the dbx 224, set the 600-II to SX tape and 120 uS EQ, Dolby off, pop in either a TDK SA tape or a Maxell UD-XLII (whichever was on sale at the hi-fi shop), ask the band to play the loudest part of the loudest song, dial in the level, then cue the band and start recording. This setup gave me more than 90 dB dynamic range and just about flat 20 to 20,000 Hz, with a level of clarity equal to any Ampex, Studer or Scully reel-to-reel. After the session, I'd dub the tape over to the 550, using its peak limiter and some overall gentle compression from the 117 to make the copy master. Most bands chose cassette copies, but some actually had LPs pressed from the master cassettes. Many never knew that their albums were recorded on a cassette deck. Don't tell.

In the years since, I've owned bigger and better studios, but honestly, nothing had the magic that tiny studio-in-a-bedroom had. Doubtless part of it was the quality of the Nakamichi recorders. But there was something about just being able to play music without any distractions caused by the recording process. It let bands just make music, full of emotion and spontaneity, in a way that can never be captured in a traditional multitrack studio.

I found a few surviving masters from that time during unpacking this weekend. Brought back the memories. Made me almost hate my 24-track digital system. I've spent this weekend cleaning up my 610, which I still have. You know, I set up my original - and best -- recording system anew, in a larger room this time. My old Nakamichi cassette decks are making their old magic again.