Wednesday, November 28, 2012

New owners for Thiel Audio

If you believe audio is unnecessarily a guy's domain, you might be saddened a little by the news today that Theil Audio has been taken over by a private equity firm, and one of the few female CEOs in audioland, Kathy Gornik is leaving. It should not be too surprising following the death of Jim Thiel that the company would end up with new owners and there is hope here that the company will continue to thrive. They may even get their website up to date! More here:

Friday, November 23, 2012

How to set up a turntable video

Mickey Fremer's video is very good but you have to pay for it to see it, I won't be linking any of the cuts on You Tube here. There are, however, numerous amateur videos out there which aim to help. This is one of the better ones I've seen - a bit slow, but if you want to start somewhere to get a visual handle on what it means to set azimuth, align a cartridge etc, this is worth watching. Well done Robert Arco for creating and sharing this.

Stop the Loudness Wars

I just signed the petition "Stop the loudness wars and release High Definition Music Downloads" on
They auto reply on to a signature asking you to post on FaceB and related sites which I don't use. In case you are interested, here's the link:

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Losing those vinyl blues

After much searching, asking, reading and talking, I received several clear instructions on how to improve the sonics with the Dynavector 10x5, described below as whining away like a radio antenna trying to find a decent signal at the outer reaches of the dial. The Dynavector distributor had not heard of this problem before, nobody with any familiarity with my rig could explain it, and folks online suggested that since the cartridge was new (and generally seen as good), I should get rid of my expensive Whest Phono stage (perish the thought) or find a new phono cable that was 'better shielded'. Jim Wang at Harmonic Tech assured me his cables are well shielded and something else was afoot, and afoot it was, all the time, right there in front my eyes (well not quite, but almost).  A quick email to Whest about it resulted in a might helpful suggestion from James Henriot, chief designer, that I check the gain setting on the phono stage. Duh.......there it was, sitting way too high for comfort with the 2.5mv outputting Dynavector. One quick switch and harmony was restored, no more dive bombing sounds.

In my defense, setting gain on the Whest phono stage is not exactly simple. One gains access to the internal dip switches only by unscrewing too many tiny screws on the top, then using something smaller than my fingers to push a dip switch on each channel on or off. The recommended loading for the Dynavector is 47k when gain is set to 55dB. Any more gain and you get extra whistles with the sonic bells, so to speak. I'd managed to control these by loading the cartridge down but at a cost in liveliness and resolution. Now, when I read anyone online complaining about the 10x5's whining sonics in their rig, I know the answer is probably in their gain settings.  Me, I'm leaving the screws out of the top of the phono stage so I can get easier inside access for future changes, just laying the top on without fixing it down, it works a treat.

For the record, here's what James Henriot of Whest says you should think about when setting gain on any cartridge:
"The gain issue with catridges is simple as long as the phono stage has been designed properly:   
43dB =  MM
50-55dB high-output MC
60-65dB low-output  MC
72dB very low output MC
All Whest stages are MC designs.  The noise/load levels are steered to low output MC UNLIKE most other phonstages which are MM designs that can playback MC. The the latter designs have higher noise levels (impedances are too high) and the loading values 'fight' the internal impedances."

As for the 10x5 (and more than one person has asked what I am thinking by putting one on an SME 20/2), I have to say, it's surprisingly satisfying musically. At $450 you have few choices in quality cartridges but you should expect decent sonics, believable timbre and midrange while perhaps giving up extension at both extremes. The 10x5 is lively, full sounding,  not as resolving as the Concerto in so many key areas but engaging and lifelike, presenting music in a full and solid manner that makes me tap my toes. And believe it or not, it even had me listening to an old favorite, Paul Brady's Hard Station LP, and hearing a few details that I'd not really noticed before. How's that for the price?  More as it all settles in and I do final tweaks, but I feel comfortable enough with what I am hearing to tell folks putting their toes into higher end analog waters to buy one and live large. Just get that gain setting right!

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.