Tuesday, March 29, 2011

SME factory tour

Attempting to learn what I can about the manufacture of quality tables, I came across this video tour of SME's plant in the UK from 2007. The link is to part 1, there are further parts to link on from there, be sure to watch 2 and 3 a they offer good detail on the arm construction, and are less noisy than part 1 which goes through the machine rooms. Lots of interesting perspectives and views here, and real evidence that making a hi-end table is no trivial matter. Good info here on the real differences between models and arms, love the quote about improving the bearings on the lower arms to bring them up to V5 standards, and some understated remarks from the ever patient SME service manager, Brian Laker, who notes that some audiophiles don't like Van den Hul wire. Watch these and then you might better understand why some tables cost a bit more. Best quote comes at the end when the interviewer says SME's are the Rolex of turntables and asks Brian, 'is there a factory outlet store?' 'Certainly not!' shoots back Brian, whose look of distaste is sadly not captured on camera.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Parasound JC-3 phono stage: $1k product for $2.3k?

Been spending time on various forums learning what I can about tables and who rates what. Frightening or enlightening? Take your pick!  I discussed options with Music Direct (yes, we've become more friendly now that I have a digital gauge that works) and among the suggestions made, the idea that my phono stage is the weak link has emerged. I agree, it may be the weak link and perhaps starting there to learn the limits of my table might be a good idea. So, given I run balanced, I started to see what I could get for $2k (not being convinced that the Sim Audio 310LP suggestion MD made would cut it) and double the price of my current stage. The Parasound JC-3 emerged as a serious option but then I read this by John Curl on the DIY Audio site:

"This design was really for a small insert board per channel for the JC-2. Unfortunately, it 'grew up' into being more than what it was originally designed to do. The original discrete design worked fine, BUT NOW the jfets it used are too hard, and expensive, to get, so it is a lost cause.  You just reminded me of the painful reality of what it costs to make things like this........ If the insides of this unit were packaged more cost effectively, I would have been more comfortable, as it then might have cost $1000 or so. However, marketing disagreed." (full link)

More evidence, if any were needed, that the price you pay is not set by the brains who created it or the logical addition of a simple profit on top of cost to build. But in fairness to Parasound, would any other company sell this for less?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Russian president was a child in time....

They say if you live long enough, you see everything. Well I am beginning to feel the push of time when I read that the Russian president, growing up under communism, was secretly a Deep Purple fan and today invited the band to have tea with him. No doubt, Richie was not part of the program but you could write a sociological thesis now on the impact of western rock and roll on the emerging democracies of the world.

"When I started listening to Deep Purple, I never imagined I would be sitting with you at this table," Medvedev, now 45, told the band in remarks televised Wednesday."  You and me both Dmitry!!!  I know Tony Blair made no secret of his love for the Purps strat-laden riffs but it appears their appeal crossed more than geographical bounds.  What's next, he needs a new turntable to spin his old copy of Made in Japan? 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The new table search starts

I've had it with my Aries. It can make great music once set up well (and boy, was this a learning curve the end of which I am delighted to reach) but it's out of its depth now with the rest of my rig. Further, I think now I just don't care for the JMW unipivot, it's too fiddly for my set-it-forget-it disposition. I mean, lift it up in a hurry at the end of a side and you risk throwing the azimuth out. Yes, the player spins well and always makes me feel like I can enjoy the music but I feel disinclined to spend more an a top cartridge until I feel the rest is as good as I can get it.

Now, the process of buying a new table is a real index of the state of audio retailing. The dealer network is sparse, home trials are impossible, yet the strength of user opinion online is through the roof. Here's what I've learned so far:

1) Every table has a fan and a dismisser. Some fans and dismissers have never heard the table in question.
2) There is no import tax on any overseas made turntable under current US regulations -- someone ask Sumiko to explain their prices here please since a new SME from the UK can be bought for less than the price of some used offerings here
3) Grown men get very heated over arm lengths and alignment geometries
4) Some people believe idler drive designs from decades ago outperform modern belt-drive tables but science seems to be unable to determine the veracity of such claims, either way. Even if it could, I doubt it would change some people's minds.
5) It's not clear why some tables costs thousands of dollars more than others.While one can envisage this being true in software based systems where it can be hard to see what went into the design, you might imagine that a physical artifact would reveal its quality to our senses directly.
6) Table companies don't seem unduly bothered by any of the above points and they have few ideas on how to make the situation better.


Saturday, March 19, 2011

New products in the system

For the last few weeks, after returning the thoroughly impressive Bryston BDa-1 (review in March issue of HiFi'Zine, forthcoming as I type), I've been grooving to the PS Audio PWT/PWD. I will have to do a formal review of this combo as it's genuinely a step forward for me digitally. In the course of becoming familiar with this piece I committed to the I2S link, using the PS Audio HDMI 12 cable, reputedly the best there is for connecting these two boxes. Somewhat surprisingly, I've been finding the cable on price-reduction everywhere, which PS Audio claim is due to a push to reduce stock on their end. Well, as enquiring minds always think there is more, I was pointed in the direction of Harmonic Technology's own HDMI offerings which someone, whose opinion I trust, told me might be even better. Jim Wang sent one may way and it's in my rig now. More on this later.

I also have been exchanging a series of fascinating emails with Steve McCormack who will be the subject of a forthcoming interview in HiFi'Zine. I've been using his super preamp, the VRE-1, for the last year and I really think it is something worthy of more coverage, which hope to provide shortly.

And of course, with tweaks being a fave exploration of mine, I've added two pairs of EVS' Ground Enhancers to my Von Schweikerts, and been testing a CD spinner which uses some kind of magic treatment to improve your disks before you insert them into the rig. It's been fun asking people if they can hear anything different without giving them a clue what they are supposed to be witnessing.  Phew, audio life is never dull.