Sunday, November 18, 2012

Vinyl blues

I learned a painful lesson in seeking perfection with vinyl when I managed to remove the entire cantilever on my Clearaudio Concerto through a variety of moves, adjustments and measurements, none of which can be reliably blamed for it, that responsibility surely lies with me. Convinced I had to check SRA with various magnification systems to see if I was near the 92deg magic number, I clearly did some damage at some point by getting too close. I only realized I had a problem when I dropped the  needle onto my stylus cleaner prior to playing some music only to see the entire cantilever remain on the pad when I lifted my tonearm. Ouch. That this would happen on a Friday night, as I was settling in for a good weekend of vinyl enjoyment only added to the misery. Damage done, wallet considerably lighter, mood now definitely darker. Really, is there any other part of the audio chain that is so easy to lose money on than a cartridge?

In an effort to appear rational, I spent a large part of Saturday checking online audio forums, contacting a favorite dealer (the excellent Jay Kaufman of Audio Revelation) and seeking help from Soundsmith, and the Analog Store in the hope that some repair was possible. I also contacted Musical Surroundings (importer of Clearaudio) and Clearaudio Germany, just to see what my options were, now that my $2500+ cartridge was deceased. And all this, without any chance to listen to records.

Upshot to all this is, I suppose, of some interest to those of you who experience anything similar. True to their reputation for not being the 'most responsive' to emails, a view that seems to be supported by their own web site declaration of the need to be patient or re-send, I've yet to hear back from Soundsmith (in fairness, I've just learned from chief Peter Ledermann since first posting this that Hurricane Sandy took a toll on them and they are overwhelmed with email even now.  I wish them well even as I dismiss his charge of my threatening American audio jobs with my posting! For the record, I approached them on the almost universal recommendation of others that they are the best as what they do, but they were slow to reply, as many folks indicate,  and I am just reporting that fact.). The Analog Store however explained to me within a couple of emails over the weekend that if the cantilever was off, my cartridge was probably toast, no repair possible. By now, I was pretty sure this painful truth was unavoidable, I had lost serious money by just not being careful enough. Thankfully, Jay at Audio Revelation had reassured me by sharing similar horror stories from others and offering to work with me on making this situation better. By Sunday, we'd decided to not waste a lot of money on an expensive replacement until looking at the full set up in a calmer fashion, and he'd shipped me a Dynavector 10x5 to tide me over until such time arrived, all at a fair price too.

Now, the Dynavector is installed and making some pleasing music - definitely not as resolving as my old Concerto but surprisingly good, except for one oddity. If I load the cartridge at anything above 1k, I  get a whining, high pitched noise like a missile coming in, or like ghost radio signals on some near dial setting. Switching to 1k kills this noise but somewhat softens the musical presentation too much. Not sure how much of this might be a function of grounding or my tonearm cable (the otherwise excellent Harmonic Technology) but nothing other than loading seems to control the noise. I have never experienced anything like this but it seems others online have had the same problem with this cartridge. Experiments will have to continue while I try to get to the bottom of this.  If you have a clue, let me know.

The somewhat good news at the end of this story comes courtesy of Musical Surroundings who responded with a generous trade-in offer on my dead Concerto for a new one, the v2, via Audio Revelation, which is far more than I expected. Given the noise I am experiencing with the 10x5, this will likely happen sooner rather than later.  Of course, this was all started by my wondering about the whole SRA at 92deg argument. I wanted to check my own settings to determine just how relevant this was, given  the decades of old cartridge reviews (some written by the very same people who now push the 92deg argument) that recommended setting the arm slightly down at the back. Did they just discover the new SRA facts that only apply to new cartridges or might we now question all those old reviews?  Oh well, that'll teach me....don't listen for yourself, just bow to authority and be happy.

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