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Ray LaMontagne @ MGM Theater Boston, October 2022

Don’t know about you, but the past 10 years, it seems more times than not, I have to really really concentrate on zen vibes to get myself through a concert.  The latest was a Ray LaMontagne concert last night at MGM in Boston with my wife.

Really nice venue, and I made sure we had great seats about 15 rows back, dead center. Opening act was Lily Meola, and it was kind of nice that a lot of people had not arrived yet. My wife and I enjoyed the young singer and her two piece band. She left, and then the first “situation” developed. I see this VERY tall man heading down the aisle of the row in front of us.  There are many many seats, so what are the odds he’s gonna be in front of me or my wife. Well, it turned out to be 100%. He is directly in front of me.  He’s got to be six foot five inches at least…and because we are fairly close to the stage, there’s not any way he’s gonna NOT block my line of sight to center stage I’d so carefully plotted.  My wife is bummed for me, but I assure her I’ll be able to see enough of Ray to the right of World’s Tallest Man’s  head. (And that turned out to be true, but more on the worlds’ tallest man later)

Some movement starts backstage, and simultaneously, a couple arrives directly behind us. They are fairly noisy and rowdy, but I tell myself it’s gonna be okay because the show hasn’t started yet, and anyway, who comes to a Ray show to be rowdy. (Then I remember the two twenty-something drunk girls at a Ray show in Portland several years back. Hmmm.)  We are all waiting for some indication the show’s gonna start, and the rowdy-ish couple are settling down.  I start to relax.  Lights go down and they are both shouting as  loudly as anyone in the venue, but to my relief, they quiet down. I am looking around the side of Worlds’ Tallest Man’s head, as Ray comes his mic.. I am able to totally enjoy the opening song, “No Other Way.”  Then, Ray goes into the second song, “Beg, Steal, or Borrow” and a new wrinkle in my lifetime of concert-going experience appears…the fellow directly behind me likes to sing…and with his mouth directly behind my head about 18 inches, it’s almost as loud as Ray.  My astute wife knows this situation is not good, and she grabs my arm and pulls me toward her, squeezing my hand tight. I squeeze back…and she leans in and says, “Don’t.”   I do my best to block out his voice and try to assure myself he’s not gonna sing all night…he just isn’t.

Turns out, every song that got radio play, Mr. I Sing As Well As Ray just belts it out.  So, I try to console myself with the fact he is not singing along to the lesser known songs in the catalog, and I really can see the stage okay even with World’s Tallest Man in front of me.  A tertiary issue has developed, but compared to the first two it’s not so bad.  The girl in the seat next to me cannot unglue her eyes from her phone.  She’s not recording or anything, she seems to be just messaging friends and maybe at one point shopping?

The show is progressing, and the song “Such a Simple Thing” begins.   If you have never been to a Ray show…it’s overall a pretty mellow crowd with not much standing going on. People sit to enjoy the show. Well, two rows in front of my wife and I, shortly into that song, a couple stand and try to slow dance in the row space. These seats are very tight…all night long, when anyone is getting up to the restroom, it was uncomfortable trying to pull your legs in so they could get by. Anyway, this couple tries to dance in that space.  They cannot, so it pretty much just turns into grab ass and smooching. Now, with this going on, Girl Who Cannot Put Her Phone Down finally looks up from her phone and is incensed this is happening in front of her. I am 99% able to ignore this standing couple because they are off to the left. That’s the good news. However, Girl Who Cannot Put Her Phone Down is telling the friend to her left this should not be happening, and I have trouble drowning that out, and so I cannot enjoy the song. Shame.

Song ends, and Ray’s recent semi-hit “Strong Enough” starts. Well, Mr. I Sing As Well As Ray sure loves that and sings just about every word.  It’s a very upbeat song, the place is rocking just about as much as it was all evening, and so I am able to get into that vibe and tolerate it all.  (All while leaning to the left of Worlds’ Tallest Man’s head.)  Mr. I Sing As Well As Ray sure enjoys singing along to the next song too: “Roll Me Mama.”  If you know the song, Ray gets into the range of voice which comes from his deepest stomach cavity…just love that…and so does Mr. I Sing As Well As Ray. Sigh.  My wife grabs my arm again…she knows me so well. Song ends and he continues with a lesser known song from the new album…”We’ll make it through.”  Thank you, universe,  for the fact that Ray is not a hit machine.  I ignore the scrolling of Girl Who Cannot Put Her Phone Down and lean to the left of  Worlds’ Tallest Man, take my wife’s hand and arm, and we really enjoy that song.

Then, a special moment begins…Ray starts to play my fav song, “Jolene.”  As amazing as it is on album, it’s always better live.  However, I know it’s also a semi-hit, so it’s very likely Mr. I Sing As Well As Ray is not gonna be able to restrain himself.

Digression: “Jolene” is also the song that resulted in the face off with Two Twenty-something Drunk Girls  in Portland years ago. They had been talking through pretty much the whole show, and I could not take the fact they were gonna ruin “Jolene.”  So, I politely (but loudly because the song was starting) said something like “I’d really like to hear this song, could the two of you please stop talking.”   My request did not go over well, and they yelled at me for trying to “silence women” for the majority of the my favorite Ray song. Sigh.”

So, with the Portland Incident in mind, I decide I am NOT gonna turn and tell Mr. I Sing As Well As Ray to stop singing. It seems he doesn’t know all the words anyway, but then the song is building to its climax, and sure enough, he is belting it out  so loudly, eighteen inches from my ears, that I cannot take it any longer.  My wife has missed my rising frustration, and so she is unable to stop me from turning around and directly looking at Mr. I Sing As Well As Ray with DEATH EYES. I speak no words, but the expression is enough that his wife grabs his arm and he stops singing.  My wife has noticed me turned and pulls me forward.  The song still has 30 second or so to go, and I am able to completely enjoy the sublime ending. 

Mr. I Sing As Well As Ray has mostly stopped singing, when as Ray is talking about his time in nature,  a woman comes down Worlds’ Tallest Man’s aisle.  There are not many seats left empty, just one each on either side of Worlds’ Tallest Man and his partner.  This girl coming down the aisle has her phone light on, is standing directly in front of my wife and whisper-screaming to World’s Tallest Man that he is sitting in her seats and that he needs to move down one to create space for her and a friend. Ray is still talking, and so it’s not the end of the world this is happening at this moment. Finally she DOES convince Worlds’ Tallest Man he’s not in the right place, and he and his wife move down one seat to my left. Suddenly, I have direct sight of the stage!   Ray starts singing “Summer Clouds” which is one of my favorite songs from Monovision.  There’s no singing from behind me, and I am thinking this is gonna be the breakthrough I’ve been waiting for…that I’ve been deserving of for behaving myself so well. 

The song ends, the tiny woman leans over to Worlds’ Tallest Man and says a quick “Sorry” and gets up to leave. Ray is swapping guitars, and every bit of me is hoping the universe keeps Worlds’ Tallest Man in his new seat. Nope, he and his partner move back.  I tell myself, really it was mainly Mr. I Sing As Well As Ray hurting my enjoyment of the show, and so I could deal with a partially obstructed view.  A few more songs pass and then Ray announces his final song. He starts to play “Trouble.” and the place is alive again, and Mr. I Sing As Well As Ray braves a few lines, but I am okay because it’s not so bad when a third of the place is also singing along. Plus, no one can begin to imitate the range of voice Ray brings up at the end of the song…and even Mr. I Sing As Well As Ray gives up to listen.

Ray leaves stage. A few people get up to leave, and the rest of us stay and applaud until the encore begins. It’s a mellow not well known song called “Let’s make it last” and I am reasonably assured  Mr. I Sing As Well As Ray  won’t be involved. But wait, what’s this??? Worlds’ Tallest Man has his phone out, is steadying it on the now empty seat in front of him, and is recording…no, not just a few seconds, but the whole effing song! I can look past the side of this giant’s head, but I cannot miss this 3″x6″ bright screen right there held up at my eye level.  The guy one seat over from Worlds’ Tallest Man gets up and moves to the other side of his wife.  Ironically, Girl Who Cannot Put Her Phone Down is complaining to her friend about it. My wife cannot believe it…we are both shaking our heads. I say the word “Rude” out loud, with enough volume he can hear it but he doesn’t stop…my wife grabs my arm…again…and I just close my eyes and look down and after a few moments I am able to get into Ray’s voice and enjoy the song.

Miraculously, Ray introduces and sings “Morning comes wearing diamonds” and you can truly hear a pin drop for the first time all evening. Thankfully, World’s Tallest Man has put his phone away. Just a blissful experience hearing that song live. I figure that’s got to be the last song, but there’s one more…and one more time World’s Tallest Man  decides he’s gonna record it start to finish. My wife has spotted some open seats to our right, so we get up and she’s says loudly as we are moving, “That is so RUUDE.”  I add in “SELFISH” and we take the newly opened seats. We are able to enjoy the last song…but for all those people behind that guy….

With all of these distractions, you might ask, why does he bother to attend concerts in the first place?  Well, that’s simple.  Ray is one of my  favorite artists and it’s always enlightening to see how the album songs are treated on stage, in this case with just him and two bandmates. It’s also Ray telling a long story about camping alone on an island in Maine before “Misty Morning Rain.” It was the talk about his mom before he played “Ojai.”  There are those places where the inflection of his voice varies from the recorded version, for example, at the end of “Highway to the Sun” his voice soars on the final word “sun.”  It was holding hands with my wife during “We’ll make it through,” a song I played countless times in the early days of the pandemic. It was the absolute vocal perfection on “Summer Clouds” and “Morning comes wearing diamonds.” Those two songs, in particular, helped me to leave the surroundings and brought me to a place of beauty and grace. And that’s why I’ll keep attending concerts for Ray and for other artists I love. 

 

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Rotator Cuff Injury

Before the rumor mill inserts itself, I just wanted to let folks know I am having rotator cuff surgery today.  I got t-boned at a red light in April, and the MRI showed a complete tear.

This will mean Vinyl Nirvana will be focusing mainly on small parts sales for a few months. I am still taking custom orders on Thorens turntables, but delivery will be delayed to spring. I am also accepting mid-80s ARs and Thorens TD-125s for restoration service , but just establishing the place in the queue, and then taking shipment in late spring. Of course, I can still conduct consults as well.

I should add, in terms of small parts sales, at first I’ll be shipping every other week, with the help of friend and my wife, and then later in November I should be able to ship on my own a couple of times a week.

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Logo or not Logo

 

There have been many times over the past several years where my customers have asked me, after they have received their turntable, why there isn’t a Vinyl Nirvana logo or name plate placed somewhere on the table. There was actually a brief period where I had some plates made and I used to put one on the back of a custom unit…when I remembered. I may have ordered 3 or 4 dozen nameplates, but years later, there is still a one inch stack resting in a small dusty bin.

Somewhere along the way, rather unconsciously, I knew the Thorens logo meant much more than the Vinyl Nirvana one ever would. I am not a turntable designer. I have no engineering degree. Physics is a struggle for this former English teacher. However, I always loved music. And I always loved turntables, from a crazy young age. To me, even to this day, it’s more magical than mathematical. More emotional than rational. However, I’m no fool. I know that the legacy of these wonderful turntables rests on design principles based in math and science, and also the dedication of craftsmen to deliver a product of the highest caliber based on those designs.

At this point, having worked twenty years on Thorens turntables, I can say I am still just as much in awe of the design and the machining as the first time I set one up in my listening room.  Probably even more. No matter what customizing I have undertaken on any given Thorens unit, the heart is and always will be a Thorens. And I know the core of that is their design and machining. I’m a torchbearer for something larger, and hopefully in future decades, other Thorens torchbearers will follow.
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Some analog products I recommend…

I neither sell these nor was I given a free sample to review. 

Sota Reflex Clamp

Available here.

This clamp has been something I have wanted to try for a long time. The only thing holding me back was the price @ $285.  Well, one appeared on FB Marketplace for less than half price and I snapped it up. My history and opinion of clamps has changed over time. I still sell and use the Bren-design Record Weight, but instead of using it for all lps, I have now reduced use to just my thinnest lps…the ones that really need the most help making firm contact with the mat.  The Sota Reflex Clamp is about 8oz and the Bren is closer to 14oz.  That 6 ounces makes a big difference  when you are talking a belt drive turntable with a spring suspension. It can easily be the difference between your platter bottoming out on a 180 or 200 gram lp.  Most assuredly, its less wear and tear on the motor and belt. The great thing is the reflex action easily makes up for that 6oz difference…really helping the lp to make good contact with the mat.

I don’t know why, but I always got the impression the clamp was plastic or delrin. It’s not. It’s very nicely machined black anodized aluminum.  It really feels great in your hand and the clamp action is sure and smooth.  I’m not one to make hyperbolic statements about products, but I do believe in the benefit of a good clamp or weight, and the Sota is definitely the nicest I have used.

Turntable Lab Triple Operation Record Brush

Sold here. 

A little easier on the wallet is this great record brush from Turntable Labs.  I’ve been using a Carbon Fiber Brush for a lot of years now, and the one thing that’s disconcerting about using one is what happens to the dust accumulated in the carbon fiber bristles as you go to remove/lift it off the record.   Sure, some seems to adhere to the bristles, but if you ever looked in good light, quite a lot also ends up on the top of your deck, no matter how good your technique is. The Triple Operation Brush solves that by grabbing the excess dust onto its microfiber surface,  The directions state to place (the leading) cleaning pad gently on the spinning record, slowly sweep upward using the carbon fiber (CF) bristles, and then finish with the second pad.  This makes sense to me. The first pass of the microfiber removes surface dust, the pass with the CF bristles gets dust a little deeper in the grooves, and then the second pad ensures everything gets off the record AND not land on the top of your deck.  I like this so much, soon I will have one next to each turntable in the house.

The Dr. Feickert Universal Protractor

Available here by mail only. But also sold elsewhere online.

This is another item I admired and lusted after from afar but never took the plunge to spend the money. (Which is entirely stupid given how much time I spend per week mounting and aligning phono cartridges. )  I love using this device. It is well thought out in every way, and makes correct alignment a cinch, provided you can accurately determine the pivot point of your tonearm.  The picture on the website shows a Jelco arm with a damping well on top.  Drop the pin into that well, and you are good to go. I can tell you from experience, it’s a little trickier with Rega variants and other arms that don’t have a readily apparent pivot point like the Jelco 550/750. Still, I use mine almost every day and love the heck out of it.  It’s awesome to have all three of the major alignment geometries there for you to use. I know it’s expensive for casual listeners who align a cartridge once every several years, but perhaps you can find a couple of analog friends to split ownership???

I neither sell these nor was I given a free sample to review. 

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When emailing a question…

When emailing a question regarding your AR or Thorens turntable, it is best if you keep your email as brief as possible and restrict yourself to the most important question or two.  This will increase the likelihood of a response.  I continue to be a one man show here, and the emails from actual customers will always come first.  I don’t mind answering questions when time permits, but honestly it’s just too overwhelming to open an email that is several paragraphs long with a half dozen questions. More often than not, an email like that is “starred” but I never seem to get back to them.  Especially when nearly every day brings the arrival of questions from past and present customers.  Some people have accused me of being aloof and unwilling to help others…believe me, if that were the case I would not have posted literally hundreds of responses in various forums and published dozens of instructional youtube videos that are free for the viewing. (After a few seconds of AD preview.)  I continue to offer a consult service for those who have more indepth questions. You can access that service here. If you don’t want to pay the fee, I still highly recommend the AR and Thorens forums at Vinyl Engine as sensational resources.

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What does a turntable guy do in his spare time?

Of course, he upgrades his speakers! A few years back, I undertook upgrading my Klipsch Cornwalls with the Crites crossovers and tweeters. That was an amazing upgrade for those speakers. I knew once that was complete, that eventually I would do the same to my Klipsch Heresy which are in more of a social system upstairs.

So, last night, I disassembled them. Since this is a more social area, I wanted to have the cabinets re-veneered for a long time. So I emptied the cabinets completely and I will hand those off to my woodworker shortly. There is a lot of honey pine in our living space, some I am thinking I will go with a nice cherry.  Still subject to change.

In the meantime, I will purchase what I need for the crossover upgrade. I actually have not 100% decided if I’m going to upgrade the tweeters. I probably will, but we will see. Anyway, here are some pictures of the disassembly process. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to take a picture of the pair before I started it. DOH!

I don’t mean this blog to be a definitive how to for the project, I just thought I would let you know how a foolish turntable guy spends his spare time…

Bob Crites Klipsch Mods/Upgrades

 

 

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Extending the life of your turntable belt

As I’ve written about elsewhere, the correct belt is extremely important to the correct function of your turntable. In this blog I will highlight some areas that will help you to extend the life of your belt.

  • If you are using a record weight, consider starting the turntable without the record weight in place, and then gently placing it on the spindle once the turntable is up to speed. FYI, I recommend only using the record weight with lps on the thin side, never with 180 and 200 gr lps.
  • If you play a lot of 45s, once the session is finished, return the belt to the smaller 33 RPM portion of the pulley. Just the extra time spent on that larger pulley can stretch out your belt.
  • If you use your turntable infrequently, you can remove the belt altogether and seal it in a plastic baggie. It takes less than a minute to reinstall it, and that will definitely extend the life of your belt.
  • If you live in an extremely dry home, use of a humidifier will help extend the life.
  • If your belt is slipping, not changing speeds properly, or falling off the pulley, I would clean all of the surfaces that the belt rides on with isopropyl alcohol on a paper towel. Use a separate paper towel with warm soapy water, to also clean the belt. Let everything dry for several minutes. Any little remnant of oil will wreak havoc on the function of the belt.
  • If you want to see if you can eke out a tiny bit more life from your belt, boil some water, take the pot off the stove, and drop the belt into the water for a five minutes. Obviously, let it dry thoroughly before putting it back on the turntable. Depending on how much the belt is stretched, this could get you a few more weeks or months of use.
  • If you have a spare belt, leave it in the sealed baggie and put it in your freezer. (Years from now, hopefully, you will remember what you did with it. 🙂 )
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Differences between the Thorens TD-125 and TD-125 MKII

A question I am asked a lot is what are the differences between a TD-125 and a TD-125 MKII.

Some general information first. The TD-125 was introduced in 1968 and was the replacement to their top-of-the-line turntable the TD-124. Unlike the TD-124 which is a hybrid belt-idler wheel turntable, the TD-125 is belt driven. To my knowledge, it was one of the first turntables where the speed was controlled electronically rather than just an AC synchronous design. The speeds on the 125 were 16, 33, and 45 RPM. A strobe was included to dial in the speed. Some were sold with a stock arm, but it appears at least anecdotally that many many more were sold with SME tonearms or other brands. Finally, unlike many of the other suspended turntables on the market, in this case the whole top plate floats on three springs, rather than using a sub chassis design. The top plate isolates the platter system and the tonearm from the energy vibrations produced from the motor and also the environment.  The 125 gave way to the 125 MKII in 1972.

In terms of differences between the two, let me start first with the similarities. Each uses an identical 10 mm drive platter. To my knowledge, all of the TD-125 turntables used a captured ball bearing design. I’ve seen early TD-125 MKII turntables, also with this captured ball bearing design. However, that is the minority. Far more have a conical designed bearing. As someone who has worked on these turntables for 20 years, I don’t see one advantage over the other. Both are very quiet and made with high-quality materials. One thing I do like about the design of the TD-125 platter system, is the shaft well itself is removable with three screws that are triangulated around the well opening. It’s great to be able to remove that both to work on the well and to clean in that area. The outer platter itself is identical on each turntable. The platters are identical and they are made of zamac.

The plinth design is identical. They are veneer over a particleboard of some kind. The bottom portion is a black strip that in some cases was painted, and another cases seems to be ironed on vinyl strips. Over the course of time, Thorens used different screws to mount the chassis to the plinth, but they were all identical in terms of the thread size. Both plinths use a fiberboard bottom plate, and the originals came with felt pads as feet. It seems that the armboards changed over time in terms of materials. I’ve never done a study of that or taken them for analysis. Some appear to be a painted plywood where you can easily see the layers on the edges, and others appear to be a wood composite, where the finish is more smooth on the edges. Both MKI and MKII utilize the same dustcover and hinge design.

The most significant difference between the two turntables is in the motor design and the electronic speed control. With the TD-125 MKII, Thorens introduced a clutch into the pulley which takes up slack in the belt at startup so that a steady speed is achieved more quickly. The 125 has a one piece pulley. In my experience, with a fresh belt on each turntable, it takes approximately 3 to 4 more seconds for the 125 to achieve a steady speed on the strobe. If you’re belt is brand-new or very old, there is sometimes slightly more noise at startup on the TD-125.  That’s belt slippage and lasts 1-2 seconds as it gets the torque to spin that heavy platter system.

In terms of the electronic speed control board, for both models it is really not something for the do-it-yourself novice to take on. For someone who has a little bit of experience, the design of the board on the MKII is slightly easier to grasp and to work on. However, if you are buying either turntable from Vinyl Nirvana, that is a moot point because in either case the board will have been completely updated.

Finally, the TD-125 MKII seems to have been sold much more often with the TD-16 tonearm already installed. Those with that arm installed, feature a third switch on the front fascia plate that operates the cueing for the stock arm. In those cases where someone is removing that stock arm and installing an aftermarket one, you are left with that third switch as a vestige. As someone who frequently modifies these turntables, it’s generally easier to find a front fascia plate for a TD-125 that has two switches versus a TD-125 MKII.

In terms of performance, though I have never done it personally, I’m sure if we mounted the same tonearm and same cartridge on these turntables and A/B-ed them for a room full of listeners, almost no one would be able to tell the difference between the two. In terms of usability, it’s just that extra three or four seconds with a platter to attain a steady speed on the strobe.

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Vinyl Nirvana Site Update May 2018

 

Our long overdue website update is complete.  Let us know what you think!

Personally, I am most pleased with the focus on helping Thorens and AR owners to service and restore and upgrade their turntables on their own. One of the reasons these classic turntables have been so popular for so long is their simplicity. At age 58 at the time of writing this, I have personally upgraded hundreds of these classics. I realize now that I will never get close to doing them all, so the new focus on do-it-yourself is my effort to keep these wonderful machines continuing to run at their peak performance for decades.  My personal goal for the remainder of 2018 is to add at least four new DIY videos per month. So bookmark the AR and Thorens video help pages and keep checking back.