Vinyl is complicated

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  • Lex
    Wow Bob, this is a great writeup!!!

    I got into Vinyl "again" not all that long ago time wise, probably early this year or end of last year. I'd have to look to be exact.

    But I do enjoy my table, after getting to know it, and getting a few things "right". My somewhat budget phono pre-amp came with a AC adapter that was noisy. I had heard people say just go get a Radio Shack adapter, and the buzz will go away. I think they were right! I listened a few times to my new 180 gram Norah Jones Daybreaks LP, and after that change, the sound was sooooo much better.

    I miss my Lexicon MC-12 pre-amp, and I think will have to get that rectified soon. This Marantz multi-task home theater preprocessor has honestly driven me nuts. It actually sounds pretty good for what it is. But there's a host of issues this is not the right venue to discuss.

    thanks again for that reveling post Bob.

    Here is my Pro-Ject table:


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  • wkhanna
    Hi Bob.

    thank you for your thorough, thoughtful article.
    you hit upon just about every aspect of vinyl i can think of.

    & i certainly agree with your proposition that clean is THE word when it comes to vinyl.

    when i started into vinyl seriously about ten years ago with the purchase of my Music Hall MMF-7 turn table, i had already been mentored by an aficionado of analog.
    Rod, who has now passed some 4 years ago, was my best friend.
    he was also as close to an Renaissance Man as i have ever encountered.
    Rod had many professions during his life, which was tragically cut far too short by cancer.
    he had been a professional cyclist, hand-building his bicycles; a professional motorcycle racer, again hand-building his motorcycles.
    he was an avid & accomplished sailor, & a professional classical trumpet player.
    cancer of the tongue cut that last vocation short & prompted him into becoming a luthier.
    concerning his skill at any and all such endeavors, i will simply state that Yo-Yo Ma was one of his customers.

    back in '94, when i first met Rod, he rekindled my enthusiasm for hi-end stereo as we spent many, many wonderful hours in his listing room.
    one of the greatest gifts he bestowed upon me was teaching me the skill of 'listening'.
    yes, i know......everyone is saying, "WTF, who needs to be taught how to listen?"
    honestly, i prefer not to delve into this topic at the moment, so let us move on, if you please?

    anyway, returning to the topic at hand......
    one thing that fascinated me to no end at the time was Rod’s Nitty Gritty record cleaning machine.
    never before had i encountered such a device.
    an automated machine with a vacuum suction designed specifically for cleaning records…???
    Brilliant, i thought to myself.

    so yes, the significance of cleanliness as it relates to vinyl is a mantra which was deeply impressed upon me by my Maestro.
    V soon after my TT purchase, my VPI RCM arrived via Audiogon.
    And just to reinforce such proclamation without spouting a bunch of worthless (to some, most or all readers of this) personal anecdotes, allow me to add this:

    while attending the Capital Audiofest this past July, during one of the many seminars I attended which included Art Dudley & Herb Reichert from Stereophile magazine, they both had the same response when posed with a question from the audience.
    That question was, “what is the most significant thing to come into the audiophile world recently which has had the greatest, most profound benefit?”
    their unanimous response was, “ the ultrasonic record cleaner”.
    Last edited by wkhanna; 06 September 2016, 14:15 Tuesday.

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  • oldbob
    Records are very rugged and not as easily damaged as people think. Before cleaning machines we used to wash them in the sink and dry them with towels. You could buy this plastic gizmo that covered the label to protect it from the water while you were washing them.

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  • bigburner
    Originally posted by oldbob
    next to the cartridge the biggest change in sound comes from clean. That is right clean. Clean records, clean cartridge, clean, clean, clean.
    I can't emphasize it enough.
    Great post oldbob!

    Have you watched the documentary "Desperate Man Blues"? There's a great scene in the movie where our hero Joe Bussard is cleaning the records that he has recently acquired. He cleans them in the kitchen sink using warm water and detergent and then stacks them to dry in the dish rack. If I remember correctly he has a collection of over 20,000 records, including many rare items, so presumably he knows what he's doing when it comes to cleaning them. Anyway I remember being amazed when I saw this because it was so different from the expensive vinyl cleaning apparatus I've seen advertised.

    Attached Files

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  • madmac
    Ya but CD sampling rate is 44.1 vs the DVD's 48khz ? Plus, DVD's can play at a much higher bit rate if so mastered as well!

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  • Kevin P
    Most LDs used uncompressed PCM audio (CD quality), and even when they went to Dolby Digital and/or DTS on LDs, it was a higher bitrate than on most DVDs. That explains the better sound quality on a typical LD vs. DVD.

    Video was analog and uncompressed as well, so it could also look better depending on how well produced the disc was.

    LD vs. DVD on the video side is similar to vinyl vs. CD as one is analog and the other digital, but most LDs had digital as well as analog audio tracks. I don't recall how the analog tracks sounded on LDs, I never used them.

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  • oldbob
    Now HT is taken for granted but, a few years ago when Laser Discs were switching over to DVDs people tended to have "demo" scenes in movies to show their friends. I found that when I used the same scenes on DVDs as I did on Laser Discs that the difference was very profound. However, there were many other areas where DVDs are clearly superior. Size, picture, quiet players, longer shelf life. Laser Disc were analog and a direct comparison was pretty revealing. Even now I am sure you have noticed that when you put in a DVD into your TV you have to crank up the sound in order to match the level you had when watching cable. I don't know why but, it has been my experience.
    Also, I had a very high end Theta Laser Disc player.

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  • madmac
    It's strange that you claim Laserdisc sounded better than DVD's ? I spun them for years and when I switched to DVD I didn't really notice a major difference.

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  • Kevin P
    Great write up and you're spot on I think. Some things make a big difference (i.e. cartridge) while other things are subtle at best.

    I only got into vinyl recently in life and it's fun to clean the record, put it on the platter, and lower the tonearm on it. Far more "organic" than clicking on a mp3 or tossing in a CD. Sometimes I long for the old days when things were so much simpler, and vinyl w/a tube amp takes me there.

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  • oldbob
    started a topic Vinyl is complicated

    Vinyl is complicated

    Is it worth all the trouble? That really depends. Let's start with the sound. If you have a very revealing system and you like to listen to music for fairly long increments of time. It is absolutely worth it. For some of us digital music can have the same fatiguing effect as bright speakers. But, let's be truthful, you first started listening to music for the music but, at some point fiddling with the equipment when not listening to the music started boinging your fun zone.

    With vinyl the fiddling has endless possibilities. With digital there is no fiddling, Upgrading, yes, but no hands on fiddling. Since music from vinyl is all about the transfer of vibrations every little part of the playback system can be endlessly adjusted and changed and experimented with. The goal is to eliminate anything that can transfer energy to the needle other than the groves. The theories on how to do this equal the number of grains of sand at the beach. On a macro scale, mass vs light as air. Metal vs plastic vs wood. Layers sandwiched vs solid milled. Then there is the bearing, probably the most important part of the turntable. Again the materials are endless. Then there is the motor, indirect drive, direct drive, cog no cog, etc. Then comes the arm. Once again the theories are endless as are the materials they are made from. Then the cartridge. This is where you need very deep pockets. My experience has been that as far as components go, this is the one piece that has the greatest effect on changing how your turntable sounds. It can be as dramatic as changing speakers. I wish that this was one of those components with diminishing returns but, it isn't. I have had quite a few turntables and arms and they all pretty much sounded the same to me once they were properly set up. Some arms are easier to use and some turntables are less trouble to use but, I only hear a difference when I change cartridges.

    So after the cartridge what next? The pre-amp and phono-amp. Now this is one of the components that in my experience diminishing returns clicks in pretty quickly. And it is one of the most difficult components to sort out. Why? Because you want your pre-amp and phono-amp to be as neutral as possible. You don't want it to add or detract anything. You only want it to boost the signal. It sounds silly but, what you are listening for is the sound of nothing. It is like drinking water. What is everybody's favorite? Crystal clear refreshing non flavor, right? That is what a good pre-amp is. Like a stream of melted snow that has been flowing and filtered through sand until it has that refreshing taste of no taste. Make sense?

    What is next? Well since we have spent all this time and money trying to isolate the grooves in the record we need to do a little to isolate the whole turntable. You can go crazy with this but, you really don't have to. A stable solid stand is really all you need. Look I have gone crazy with this one building isolating sand boxes and inner tubes and springs and on and on. In the end I found that a good solid, not hollow, metal stand with nice thick maple shelves (thick as in 2" or more thick) and everything on some type of footer be it metal pointed ones or little blocks of wood layered with rubber is all you need.

    Now, again this is my personal experience and yours may be different, next to the cartridge the biggest change in sound comes from clean. That is right clean. Clean records, clean cartridge, clean, clean, clean.
    I can't emphasize it enough. That also includes clean record sleeves. Any record that doesn't come in a anti-static record sleeve gets put in one immediately after its first cleaning in my home. Because I am obsessive about my turntable set up and keeping all dust and debris off my records and cartridge, I never have to listen to the pops and click associated with vinyl. Not one of my records does that.

    So, now the the number one and hardest to find and get right component of all. The record itself. Some are simply poorly made from poor ingredients. There was a time when some companies were grinding up old records to use for new records. i don't know why that doesn't work but, it doesn't. Nothing you can do will make these records play without pops and clicks. The surprising thing I have found with records is I have some that are covered with fine lines and you would think that they would be unlistenable but, they sound perfect. I have also had records that look absolutely flawless and are full of static sounds and pops and clicks. You don't know until you give it a good cleaning what a record will sound like.

    So, that is why I say it is complicated. Add to that, you can't skip tracks (which for me is a good thing) and you have to get up and flip the record over. In general I would say that people that say that digital is better are right. It is in all things except sound and tweak ability and those two things only matter to about .000001% of the population. By the way, laser discs sounded way better than the best DVD on the best DVD player but, like vinyl it had so many other issues. But, that is another story.

    I am going to add one more caveat here. Modern records whose masters are from digital recordings sometime sound better than digital sources, sometimes the same, sometimes not as good. But, my experience has been that records that are made from analog all the way through the process always sound better than its digital transfer.
    Last edited by oldbob; 04 September 2016, 13:43 Sunday.
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