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Analog Playback
Topic: Working a Vein

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Posted by Romy the Cat on 10-18-2013

I got emails today pointing at some forum at LinkedIn. In there somebody named Patrick Mattucci – “Senior Systems Designer at Hi-Fi Sales Company” asked an interesting question:

“How would the Analog Enthusiasts among us rate today's latest turntables with the great vintage turntables of the 70's and 80's in terms of performance, build quality and cosmetics? Additionally, how would you rate modern tonearms and cartridges with the great/legendary arms and cartridges of the 70's and 80's. Last but not least, if you feel there really are no significant differences in terms of performance or materials use, please feel free to say so.”

Patrick Mattucci looks like a marketing guy and he care about build quality and cosmetics and would like to know if the today chrome bumpers are still shiny and find right reflection in the feeble minds of audio sufferers. He also does ask about performance and it presumes sound, I guess…

 It is not so simple question to ask and not so simple questing to answers. Of cause I am not deaf and I would not worship much of contemporary-made flashy crap. I also would not worship blindly some vintage gear. I rather would like to talk about a matrix for this conversation and if this question ever might have a “correct” answer.

Yes, much of the high performance of today top flying turntables and tonearms mostly is based upon fraudulent or uninformed marketing, in sole cases by industry and in some cases by the users themselves. Some kind of a guy who made a lot of money by running car dealership of performing cosmetic surgery end up to fill empty-nested and have some cash to spend.  He builds a dedicated listening room, dump let say a first half million dollars to   some kind of equipment and end up with $50K-$150K contemporary tunable that has a good industry buzz. The guy himself has very little, even conceptual, understanding neither sound not audio, has dreadful sound in his listening room generally but he (or she) has a bug mouth and love to run across internet and to pontificate how great his turntable (tonearm, automobile, gold club, garden sprinkler… etc) is.  The industry of cause pumper those people and they are the thru commodity of the industry.  I know that 20 years back the name/phone of those “indomitable” people were sold by audio sell people to each other, nowadays they indomitable are run free and well exposed over the Internet prairies…

The reasons I bring it up is because when we think about comparing the best of today and best from the past we need not to look at the general level of design and implementation but rather about the very pinnacle of what is possible, sonic and performance pinnacle – and this is NOT SO EASY.

Where the sonic and performance turntable pinnacle might be found today? Dealers nowadays do not have more or less proper setup systems to demonstrate turntables at their best. The shows are of cause out of question as well. Manufacturers generally are unfortunately do not have many options to demonstrate own turntables. Some who do have opportunity do not have understanding how to do it of generally limited in their general audio sensibility or audio cultural development.  Reviews are famous for having very purely performing installation, which is understandable in their fast food environments. So, were today the analog best would come from, would it be best vintage turntable or best contemporary turntables?  This is very complicated question.

You see, turntables are very difficult. It is not easy to set it up to do its best and then you begin to get that “last exhale” form a TT. Let pretend that you have some kind of super-duper today TT for $250K with atomic clock that controls the TT’s motor, the one that the designer stolen from Baikonur Cosmodrome, the platter is floating in the antigravity field, ignited but TCP/IP connected antimatter…you got the drift…. Let pretend that this TT does wonderful and on other side we have let say vintage, Japanese made American Sound TT.  The best TT in own class will do fine across the board and to push then into advantages mode a user need to go for impose to the TTs under question to some VERY advance demands: let say to observe what quality of vowels the turntables produce at 15Hz region. The people who do it understand that it require an enormous efforts and could not be done “as is”. In some case it might be good 10-15 year project, unit a person “get” what need to be heard and how to facilitate the experiment.  Ironically the people who do go there… do not talk a lot, because multiple reasons. So, the question still would be pending: what TT is better the atomic clock TT or the vintage mastodon...

A guy I knew in Philadelphia use to love to tell that “People who are speaking are right.” He for sure has a point and if somebody talks in silence than it feels that what is expressed is truth. Well, Philadelphia guy was 17 year old and he was right at his age. Today, among the audio community who are talking about TT, at least who are talking loud are mostly either uninformed people or uninformed people with agenda. There is, in my mind, absolutely no framework to answer the Patrick Mattucci’s question.  I know, some people feel different, however….

Romy the Cat

Posted by Paul S on 10-18-2013
One of the first hurdles is to reasonably target a TT by listening not only via but "through" a given system.  I, for one, have NEVER set out to do this at a showroom where the putative target was not swamped by other "concerns".  There may have been one or two times in my life when the "reference" tonearm/cartridge set-up was not audibly out of sync.  And then the dealer, despite the prospect of a sale, typically will not accommodate efforts to target the TT, in any case. So, how do they sell them?

It seems obvious to me that any possible improvements in given TT performance parameters over the years have been mostly obliterated by the desire to offer for sale something that "looks the part" by "manifesting its specifications".  While the contemporary Spiral Groove SG-1 may look "likely" to me, I would guess that more "tech-y looking" TTs sell better, once they are more expensive than the Regas, Pro-jects, etc.

Another thing to consider is the "availability" of the performance "offered" by a given TT.  I have bitten my tongue many times when ushered into a listening room and immediately seeing (and then hearing) "obvious" problems with a set up.  However, since the problems never seem to bother the dealer or owner, where's the problem?

Yes, it takes a hell of a long time to set up and really dial in a TT/arm/cartridge, and we all realize that the reviewers and the dealers are mostly not getting the job done.  It has been nice for me that my (30 years!) old Sota just keeps going, like the Energizer bunny.  However, I do cynically wonder, as we age together, what sorts of "problems" have I simply grown accustomed to?

Best regards,
Paul S

Posted by Stitch on 10-20-2013
I think, Romy's Site is the best site about that discussion worldwide. Not because it shows you how to build a top turntable, it shows very clearly that the knowledge about what-is-responsible-for-what is simply no longer existing. It was replaced completely from Internet-Fanboys (mainly ultra stupidos) and marketing. Even when a manufacturer knows something (just in theory), he will know 10 min. later after doing some thinking what he needs and what kind of profit he wants, plus the profits for all others (distributor, dealer, marketing, presents...) the final price range of his unit and of course, some ideas how many units he can probably sell...the only way to do it successful is to make it cheap with a nice finish and an important story behind (sleepless nights, 5 years, in research and development ....).

 In History we also had enough sonic lemons but there was more engineered knowledge behind (from technical view, for example speed stability, most fail here today). Some also missed the sonic target by a mile but the modern idiocy was not so present like today.

Of course it could be done today but when someone takes care about sonic qualities, I am sure, he will fail from financial success. Analog today became long ago a Boutique character (Expensive bottle outside, cheap fluid inside), this "thinking" can't be changed anymore.

 Maybe in Japan or Asia, they have a different kind of view to quality... but not in western hemisphere.

 And the next question is, why should someone offer such a top quality product?  For whom???? The clients have no knowledge about it anyway! Poor or rich, the amount of stupidness ("...yes it sounds good, but do you have a review about it...) is dominant. The distributor has to go the same way all others do (reviews, presents, advertisement, profit range for dealers....) today the average became the "Reference", it is like the tale from the  King with his new clothes, "someone" has to try to bring back a reputation for real knowledge to create a new line. But the logic is, when you do it and the unit is superior, it will be accepted only (!!!) when it is super expensive. When not, than someone is right and others are wrong (stupid), no one in this business accepts that, this blocks business for the others...

 Anyway, not really possible because it needs a lot of enthusiasm. Most use their "enthusiasm" to sell the crap they have, that's enough, no one will do more.

Posted by Romy the Cat on 10-20-2013
I do not think that “knowledge is gone” even though Stitch points are all accurate in my view. I I do not think that “knowledge” as a formed awareness ever was there. When LPs were pressed in 50 and 60 people have no idea of what level of quality the format was capable of. It is not even that LP is such a spectacular format but rather they have no idea that anything that comes after that would not be acceptable. So, in my view they did what they did, allying own common engineering sense and did not utilize any special knowledge that we attribute to them today. What they did not have for sure is wrong and erroneous knowledge that the brains of today audio developers are saturated. It is not different then speakers design BTW…

I am sure we have today much better understanding, knowledge and technologies. I do not think that we have a willingness today to apply today way more advanced understanding, knowledge and technologies to the fields of Audio. It is like pressing records. We can press today records that might be 100 times better then what we pressed in 50s but the true better contemporary records are still not here.

As in anything else the key to anything is not technologies but people. The quality of audio people, both in making and consumer layers I think is the key why we do not only see well performing TT but why any truly great audio product is a big rarity nowadays. I heard that when Berliner records his first recordings then he had British lords working with him as recording technicians. Today we hardly have nobility in audio and as one very senior audio manufacture told me most of his colleges are drop offs and failures from other industries. I think it is might be the key.

I do not have an answer to the Patrick Mattucci question. I use 40 years old TT and I do not think that I will change it in my life time. It is not because my TT it is better then what is made today (I do not if it is true) but rather because it would take a LOT of completely non-gratifyable efforts to even approach this answer.

I think the biggest subset of Patrick Mattucci’s question if we today have better sound compare to what we had 40 years back.  Well this is very complicated question….

The Cat

Posted by Paul S on 10-20-2013
Excellent point about in-the-day expectations and results vs. the best contemporary expectations and results from "classic era" LPs.  Mining this same vein, who knows what future audio maniacs will get from today's soft and slippery "audiophile" LPs (although I strongly suspect, not much...)?  While I certainly get much more (and better...) from records today than I did 40 years ago, I have to say that other systems I hear are not really "better", even if they are getting "more" than was usual, back in the day. Again, so many vintage sufferers have no idea how low the expectations were, back when, and how poor the sound from the storied marques really was. After all, "potential" is no more than what one makes of it.


Best regards,
Paul S

Posted by Patrick Mattucci on 10-20-2013
Good afternoon Romy! I'm Pat Mattucci, and I'd like to respond to your post.

How interesting you would post a response to my humble question to an obscure little group on my birthday, of all days. I'm honored. I also happen to be from the Philadelphia area, so your response reminds me of a line from a movie "I, like God, do not play with dice and do not believe in coincidence".

I'm not a "Marketing guy". I design residential and commercial Audio, Video, Surveillance, Security, Lighting and Home Theater systems for people, and provide the means to integrate and control them. Two channel is a labor of love for myself and a few others at the company I work for. We offer VPI, Music Hall and Clearaudio tables and arms, as well as Ortofon, Clearaudio, Denon and Audio Technica cartridges to clients who typically are getting back into vinyl after a long absence. It's a lot of fun for me to watch my clients not only rediscover a format they once loved, but rediscover High Fidelity and it's relevance to enjoying music at a higher level. Additionally, I'd like to mention that I love vintage Japanese turntables of the 70's and 80's. I own and listen to the following set-up's:

Sony PS-8750 with a Goldring Eroica LX

Luxman PD-444 with an Audio Technica AT-1010 arm/ Ortofon Kontrapunkt B AND an Audiocraft AC-300MKII arm/ Benz Micro ACE LO on wand #1 and a Denon DL-103D on wand #2 in tonearm slot two

Yamaha GT-2000 (Gigantic & Tremendous) with the Ortofon Cadenza Bronze (my personal favorite cartridge of all time)    

Other vintage tables have come and gone, and I suspect will continue to do so.

So Romy, after re-reading your post a few times, it seems you aren't willing to commit to an answer to my question until proper set-up of an analog system, vintage or contemporary in this scenario, has been achieved. And I agree with that sentiment. Additionally, I'd like to point out that it's opinions on the question I seek, as well as definitive answers. And the answers I've gotten over the years that I've been asking this question have stood in stark contrast to each other. Some say that we have better materials used in bearings and tonearms and cantilevers. We have better stylii today than we did in the 70's and 80's. When it comes to cartridges, I'm about 90% in agreement that today's are superior. When it comes to tables and arms, I'm not so sure.

At any rate, what's important to me is that the endeavor remain fun. I love analog, and I'm able to maintain my enthusiasm for it with my clients, who simply become curious about my enthusiasm and because of their curiosity, sometimes leave my showroom having purchased a new turntable. I am not running a club for elitists and neurotic audiophiles need not apply. And certainly I have learned at least as much about analog from my clients and coworkers as they have learned from me. The vinyl resurgence is real, and it' a wonderful time for those of us who choose to see the fun and excitement in it.


Posted by Romy the Cat on 10-20-2013
 Patrick Mattucci wrote:
Some say that we have better materials used in bearings and tonearms and cantilevers. We have better stylii today than we did in the 70's and 80's. When it comes to cartridges, I'm about 90% in agreement that today's are superior. When it comes to tables and arms, I'm not so sure.

Well, I am not sure. We certainly do have better materials today and able to make bearings with precision that were unimaginable 40 years, or put in this way: at the price that make it possible to employ such a bearing in TT. The question is- does this bearing leads to better sound? Well, I am not sure.  It is very similar to a doctor gives to a patient better chemotherapy that does not lead to better treatment – would we call that the regiment was “better”?  If we evaluate bearing only from a perspective of standalone devise then for sure we might find that today’s make is way more advise and fraction of price. How does it lead to better sound? I do not have an answer. I am sure that today vacuum tubes are made with much mode advance technology, why then you pay those hundreds dollars for 70 years old Marconis and Telefunkens? I am not saying that old devises are better but I do bring an illustration that advance in technologies is not always advance in the fields where interaction with humanity is involved. Do you need you bring an example about the today and vintage musical instruments? The Teflon gaskets on contemporary made Steinways are great technological thing but they sound as they sound….

 Patrick Mattucci wrote:
I am not running a club for elitists and neurotic audiophiles need not apply.
I do but it is not the point. I very much not criticize you. I think the question you ask is very valid and very interesting. Unfortunately the level of seriousness with wish you run your hobby or business, of whatever it is for you) does not allow you to cover the subject of the question more or less sensible. Do not be too disappointed, however. The snobbish self-importance that elitists arrogance that I am trying to express does not prevent to admit that nether do I can not answer this question.  This is just too complex and difficult question.

Happy birthday and I am glad to learn that there is some kind of audio in Philadelphia.
THe Cat

Posted by steverino on 11-01-2013
I would say that there are advancements where you would get far more unanimity on the progress that had been made than one would do for audio after the development of tape. I don't think anyone would want to go back to cylinders. So there are advances that can reasonably be said to be definitive. However, with turntables, amplification and speakers we are much more uncertain as to the degree of advancement over what was around in the 40s and early 50s. A major part of the problem is that we don't have a definitive practical criterion of success eg travel faster than the speed of sound. Our goal is to decode some object or data file and retranslate the information back into the original audible sound. But no one for a moment thinks that the recording faithfully captured that sound in its entirety. So what was irretrievably lost in the recording process? We can only attempt to discover that through playing it back on some imperfect audio system. By playing it back on thousands of imperfect systems we gain an approximation to what is lost by determining what is not retrieved by any system. However, the next system we play it on may recover some attribute that we thought lost. But it recovers it imperfectly and so on. All that can be said is that an optimal vintage system can recover an astonishing percentage of information that a modern system does. Sometimes it seems to recover more but only under certain circumstances.

I suppose my summary view is that most of the advances have been in areas of material development not directly related to audio signal decoding/translation. We can better isolate components from vibration, EMI and the AC grid. Of course that means little if you are running battery powered gear with the components physically isolated from the speakers. Electrical components like capacitors maintain specs better etc. Digital has permitted a more rigorous surround sound decoding as well. Other than that I think we are more in the realm of sonic flavors than sonic truth (with truth defined as the exact recreation of the original sonic event.) The continual rediscovery and reimplementation of vintage designs points in that direction. I'm not even sure of Mr Matucci's claim that the cartridges of today are unequivocally more accurate than vintage cartridges (with diamond styli and microline type profiles.)

Posted by Paul S on 11-02-2013
Most of the technology to do what needs to be done has been around for some time. The obvious conclusion is that it is the ordering of the technology at hand that makes all the difference. As an example, when the first "modern" MC cartridges came on the scene it was a revelation, but only of sorts, because, as ever, MC cartridges came with their own problems.

It seems to me that the biggest problem with TTs is to recover the cost of R&D by getting up to speed to offer and make known a "marketable product" at a price that not only makes it viable for developers but also attractive enough to consumers.  Who could even guess how much it would cost to make a "dream" one-off TT?

Of course, all of this supposes that someone has a clue about the sonic worth of a given techno-aggregate in the first place, even when the latest technologies are included in the product. Many of today's TTs are made from modern materials that are employed mostly because they fit a manufacturing/production/marketing protocol, and/or they are light enough to make handling and shipping less costly. Even heavier materials are often chosen for reasons other than sound.

The bottom line has always been, those who deign to make the commercial TTs make the TTs, and they make them the way they do for their own myriad reasons, whatever those may be. The rest of us are left to use as-is what's offered commercially, or we can modify what is commercially available, or we could conceivably make our own, to suit ourselves. Just now, I see my own "dream" TT as including mostly long standing technology, albeit, perhaps, in contemporary guise.

Paul S  

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