Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Look ma, new highs!

My wonderful wife got me a new cartridge for mt turntable for Xmas, and
Audio Technica 440MLa. For those out of he vinyl loop, the cartridge is
the box on the end of the arm from which the 'needle' sticks out. But
it is so much more than that. On a record cutting head, the carving
stylus works lie a very miniature speaker where an electrical signal is
fed to a coil which sits in the field of a magnet. Just like an
electrical motor this setup will now move in the motion described by the
signal. The signal thereby makes a cutting diamond vibrate which in
turn cuts into a vinyl master disc. After pressing, a record is made
which contains the physical waveform of the music on it.
The cartridge then, works in reverse. The stylus (needle) vibrates with
the groove of the moving record. Attached to the stylus via a tube
called the cantilever is either a magnet which then vibrates with the
vinyl groove in proximity to a voice coil. The moving magnet in the
field of the coil creates a very low voltage signal which approximates
the original electrical signal cut to the disc.
Phono cartridges perform this job to varying degrees of success, and
have different 'voices' which reflect their design. I have gone through
a number of cart's in my day, from a cheapo Ortofon (OM 3E) which did
the job barely on my Dual 506-1, to the Goldring 1012GX that came with
my Music Hall mmf-5. This cart retails for somewhere in the $250 range,
and is an excellent unit. I found it to be very full sounding with
great midrange and very smooth yet detailed highs. Unfortunately the
stylus assembly is (or hopefully was) crap, because the diamond came
right off the cantilever once during a gentle cleaning, and the cart was
only a year old. Since replacement styli are over $150 for this rig,
and they appear to be tender, I went looking for a suitable replacement.
During my down time I hooked up a Grado Black which kept me spinning but
was definitely an under-performer. I thought about a higher-level Grado
but their multitude of issues (humming, poor tracking of the groove,
woolly bass) turned me away. It was therefore down to the 'budget carts
du jour," the AT440ML and the Shure M97XE. Both retail at less that
$100 with replacement styli around $60-70. At the time (winter 2005-6)
the 440ML was considered a bright performer, but a bit too much so.
Reports were pouring in that the top end was very harsh and shrill, and
made the record sound like a poorly produced cd. So I went fr the
warmer Shure.
I used that cart for a year and was generally happy with it, but far
from satisfied. The Shure was a solid performer, and would pay anything
you threw at it, but there was no pizazz. It was like playing records
on Grandpa's system. I also found myself constantly bumping the treble
up on my receiver a notch or two, as much as I hated to, in order to get
some highs out of it. So when I heard that the 440M was retooled with a
deemphasis on the top end, and rave reviews began to come in for it, I
wanted to try one out. Thanks to Julie, I got my chance.
I hooked this baby up last night and spun my usual initial test, The
Kinks "Village Green Preservation Society." This isn't the best
reference disc I have, but I'm familiar with the material enough to get
a feel for things. Suddenly my high end was back with a vengeance! I
would even say the cart was pretty harsh, and even made my ears hurt a
little. There was also a lot of needle talk- the sound of the stylus
vibrating off the record with the volume turned down. I threw on Booker
T's "Green Onions" a mono recording, to get a scoop on things without
stereo getting in the way, and I noticed that the right channel was
significantly louder than the left.
It is well-known that AT carts require a good break in period of 50 to
100 hours to settle into their thing, so I'm ready for this baby to open
up in the days and weeks to come. I put seven hours on it today,
sometimes with the volume off just to keep it working, and sometimes
with all systems on and my ears tuned in. After five hours I'll say
that a spin of Wilco's "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" was definitely a treat,
and things are settling in quite nicely.
At this point I can't recommend this cart enough to the budget-minded


Friday, December 15, 2006

Other reasons why modern music recording/delivery sucks

A somewhat sketchy article on MP3's and hearing damage here.

More on bad mastering

Industry admits new pop sounds like shit

"You listen to these modern records, they're atrocious, they have sound all over them. There's no definition of nothing, no vocal, no nothing, just like — static."

— Bob Dylan in Rolling Stone magazine

The ranting of a cranky old man? Perhaps.

One man's opinion? Hardly.

In August, an open letter from a music industry executive on the state of commercial compact disc mastering and manufacturing was sent to an industry tip sheet/e-mail list run by a music pundit named Bob Lefsetz.

The letter was written by Angelo Montrone, a vice president for A&R (the folks who scout and sign music acts) for One Haven Music, a Sony Music company.

"There's something . . . sinister in audio that is causing our listeners fatigue and even pain while trying to enjoy their favorite music. It has been propagated by A&R departments for the last eight years: The complete abuse of compression in mastering (forced on the mastering engineers against their will and better judgment)."

This compression thing has been a topic of discussion among audiophiles and music fans for nearly a decade. But hearing a music industry executive cop to it was pretty unusual.

for the full story click here

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Upgrade in the works...

No new tunes for a spell. I'm looking to upgrade my vinyl rig in the
next few months: phonostage, system amp, maybe cartridge. I'll post
with the developments as they come. Until then, I'll have to be happy
with the new Sleater-Kinney (r.i.p.) disc I picked up the other day, The
Woods. Pretty heavy stuff with 'Big Rawk' guitar, but some of the
middle tracks are quite similar to their previous stuff, and "Modern
Girl" is even a little heart-touching,

All for now.