Posted on

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



Posted on

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. :-) )
Posted on

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.  (Though I believe the “bubble” set on style cover came out later, just for MKII, but will also fit MKI.)

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 your 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.

Another small difference is the way the switches are designed/attached. Most of the body of the MKI switch is metal. Additionally, it is attached with a flat end machine screw into a machined metal hole. It has a nice solid feel to it.  The MKII switch body is almost entirely plastic (except for metal top plate) and is attached with a pointed screw that just by design could strip more easily. Finally, for whatever reason, some of the MKII switches have bowed over time.  (That could never happen with the MKI.)  Unfortunately, there is no easy way to swap a MKI switch into a MKII.

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 for the platter to attain a steady speed on the strobe.

Posted on

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.


Posted on

Vinyl Verbosa

Topical Guide to the Vinyl Verbosa Blog.

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link. Also, if you enjoy the blog, you might consider joining our Facebook page by clicking on the link to the left, under the side menu.

October 15, 2015

I recently got asked a good question from someone perusing my for sale page: “I have an AR XB w/ Audio Technica 440 mla cart. Why would I want to buy your VN-150 besides the obvious reason that it is stunningly beautiful?”

My reply…

The XA/XB turntables, in stock form, properly tuned, and with the right cartridge, have a special synergy that is undeniable. When you look at the simplicity of it, you almost can’t believe your ears.

The VN-150 (a transformed TD-150) simply takes the venerable XA/XB design to new heights. The Thorens platter bearing is 10mm as compared to the AR’s 8mm, providing an even smoother more stable “ride” for your lp. The outer platter itself weighs over 4lbs on the Thorens.

The Thorens armboard design not only allows much easier changing of tonearms than the XA/XB, it provides better resonance control.  Somewhat simplistically, a better tonearm such as the RB-202 provides more refined adjustment and more rigidity, thus allowing your cartridge the best opportunity to grab that information from your lp’s groove. I would personally describe the XA/XB’s sound as “audiophile” so what you get with the VN-150 is more of what the AR provides in every facet: detail, tonality, pace, rhythm.  The damping of the underside of the top plate and the subchassis further enhances the stylus’ ability to grab the most info from your lp’s grooves. Every little bit counts when you are trying to extract information 100s of times smaller than a human hair.

If your tonearm wiring has never been upgraded, the modern standards for this wire and the difference in the signal they can transfer is markedly better than the wire you find in the XA/XB produced from early sixties to early seventies.  The RB-202 has been professionally rewired with Cardas wire from the headshell leads all the way to the high quality gold-plated rca plugs with uninterrupted strands.  I’m hugely proud of our SME and Rega/Moth rewires which not only feature excellent quality wiring but also a design that will not influence the proper movement of the subchassis.

Finally, the speed controller on the VN-150 allows pitch adjustment to one-tenth of an rpm.  It also allows motor operation at a much higher level of accuracy because it is cleaning up your AC signal.  Additionally, speed change is now electronic, at the push of a button. (Note: Beginning Oct 1st 2015, the Cruise Control is an add-on.)

Again, I would never denigrate the XA/XB…what this VN-150 provides is just more refinement in all quarters. I like to think of our custom Thorens and ARs as the best of both worlds: a classic design updated thoroughly for performance in the 21st century.

August 15, 2014

Sobering thought: the best reviewed cartridge in the world can’t read information that isn’t in the groove, whether that information was never there to begin with or whether it has been worn away.

Case in point,  a vinyl listening event last fall.  I supplied a glorious restored Thorens with a rewired SME 3009 arm and a Dynavector 20X2 cartridge.  That’s all I supplied, as I was told the DJ/host for the night was bringing his first pressing of the Bowie lp being played.  Well, the DJ arrived without the lp, and we were left scrambling for a copy for an event that started in two hours.  We found two. One was completely unplayable, and the other looked okay but the owner admitted she had “worn that record out.”  We played one test track and though relatively quiet, it lacked the dynamism we’d heard on other test lps earlier in the day.  Oh well, what could we do? People were arriving.

Numerous folks in the audience rarely listened to vinyl and others were so distracted by the array of equipment, that the event was received well overall.  That is, by everyone except a small group of folks who knew how good this lp should have sounded. To those, I explained the issue with the pressing and told them that from that time forward, I’d be responsible for the pressing.

Another case in point, the past two years I’ve become re-infatuated with Elton John’s early seventies albums.  In particular, Honky Chateau, Madman Across the Water, and Tumbleweed Connection.  Five lp purchases later, I am finally in possession of a copy of Honky Chateau that blows away the digital versions that, up until then, were the best representation of that recording.  Other times in the past, when I had difficulty getting a good pressing, I’d go for a German or Japanese first pressing. For HC, I went both routes and was sorely disappointed. I was beginning to think Elton was SO big and SO well-liked, perhaps even the so-called “good” pressings were worn out.  I persisted, asking mastering engineer Steve Hoffman for advice.  That advice proved golden. The sound is full from bass to midrange to treble. There’s a distinct soundstage to the instruments.  This version of the lp immediately pulls me in.  Now I will look for like copies of Madman and Tumbleweed.

Ironically, sometimes good pressings abound.  Take for example, the self-titled Count Basie and the Kansas City Seven.  I own four different pressings of that lp, and all sound full of depth and detail.

So yes, the turntable, the tonearm, the cartridge, the phono section, a good cleaning regimen, and everything else is really critical to great “audiophile” sound, but all of that gets you nowhere if the information isn’t in the groove to begin with.

March 16, 2014

Ear Candy. There are times when I just want to hear how good my system can sound. Times where it’s not so much an emotional punch, but rather, what I call ear candy. One of those LPs is Patricia Barber’s Café Blue, which I happen to own on MSFL 45rpm. I’ve never read about Patricia Barber or the techniques she uses in the studio, but all of her recordings are pristine from the mic-ing of the instruments to the tremendous care taken for the transferral to your listening medium. I own this on CD, LP, and now this MSFL version. Whether it’s Wood Is a Pleasant Thing to Think About, A Taste of Honey, or Nardis, her stuff will always put my system through its paces. And that’s a fun thing. I feel the same way about Steely Dan’s Aja and Beck’s Sea Change. So much happening it’s like a symphony in one song, but at the same time, I rarely connect with any of those recordings emotionally…cue up the John Lee, the Clash, Ray Charles, or Van for that. For me, though, there’s always been a time for ear candy as well.

September 10, 2013

Customer service. We hear the phrase so much, we no longer think of its meaning.  Though I love restoring these vintage turntables back to their glory, there is no way Vinyl Nirvana would be what it is without a successful customer service component.  To me, customer service is and always has been treating others the way you would want to be treated.

Unfortunately, I recently had a terrible experience with a small business similar to myself. They are mostly a one-man show.  They also have a good niche in the hi-fi world. I have always heard good things about the business, and I have actually referred folks to them based upon my impression of their work and their business ethic.  Therefore, I was shocked that when a problem developed, this person I assumed was so much like me, immediately hid behind their warranty.  (Which was highly vague.)  After a few e-mails expressing my disappointment in his customer service, he agreed to take the product back for repair.  About two weeks later it arrived back, no note… no communication at all…appearing to my eyes like it had never been touched.  However, I gave him the benefit of the doubt and tried to use the product.  No luck. Same problem as before.  So I initiated communication again, and he informed me that the product was indeed worked on and corrected.  (We are talking an inanimate object here with no moving parts or electronics.) It was still not working as advertised, so obviously it was not corrected.  The owner disagreed and again hid behind his warranty.  I expressed my disappointment with his outlook, told him I would never recommend another person to his business, and was left to suck up a $320 loss.

This blog is not meant to be mainly about that negative experience.  It is to reassure folks that when you buy from Vinyl Nirvana, you will always be treated the way I would expect to be treated in your shoes.   One reason for that is I not only care for these vintage turntables, I care deeply about your experience with the turntable as well.  You can see that in the growing number of YouTube videos I have created to simplify setup and enhance your experience.  You can see that in the fact I still offer one hour of free phone help with every turntable purchase.  You can see that in the fact there is never a time someone has to wait over 24 hours for a response to an e-mail or phone call if they are having an issue. And if you are having an issue, you have the peace of mind that you are communicating with the person who actually did the work. There is no Vinyl Nirvana customer service department.  You get me from the sale exploration process right through to today.  An example is I got an e-mail this week from someone who bought a TD-165 about five years ago.  They were having a problem with changing speeds.  The issue was resolved with one e-mail.

Going back to my Testimonial Page, I think one of my favorite feedback comments was from a New York woman who had purchased a turntable for her husband as a surprise anniversary gift.  This woman was in her 40s and her comment regarding my business was:  “This has truly been the best customer service I have ever received.”    I know it sounds corny in this day and age, but that is truly what I strive for with every sale.  Care for these turntables is obvious to see in the pictures and descriptions on my website, but I want you to know that I also care deeply about your experience with the turntable, and to me, that will never be bound by a piece of paper with words on it…rather, it is just living by the golden rule.

July 6, 2013


Excited to tell you about a gem of a record store in Waterville Maine called The Record Connection.  If you travel up Route 95 through middle Maine at all, this store is only five minutes off Exit 130.

My brother-in-law has a cabin in this area and we stay up there a few times each summer. After a couple of seasons of really nice weather, finally the weather was rainy enough last Saturday to warrant a trip to Waterville.  I dropped my wife off downtown and I doubled back to The Record Connection.  Easy to find, right on Main Street.

This store not only has a substantial collection (30K plus lps), it is very well labeled and organized.   In the 90 minutes I was there, I went through the Blues, Soul, Jazz and about half the Rock section, finding something worthy to buy in each.  Browsing was a complete joy…every album in a plastic sleeve, and none of the bins overstuffed so you can’t even see a title. (I hate that.)  Music playing in the background at a low level. (Another thing I dislike is blaring music in a store.)  It was very easy to ask the owner a question without having to shout to the heavens.  I also loved that many lps had a handwritten note on the price tag, stating “mono” or “first pressing” etc.

It appears they clean their records before selling them.  I base that on the fact I opened about a dozen, and not one was dusty or covered with prints.  I’ll ask to be sure next time I am in.  Obviously they varied in quality, and it was nice to see they were priced according to that.  Overall, the prices were a little on the high side, but given the obvious care the shop puts into selling used vinyl, I was totally okay with that.  (By the way, they have new vinyl and used books as well. )

So, if you travel up that way, check them out. Seriously, just five minutes off 95.  Here’s their FB page, if interested:  The Record Connection

March 19, 2013

A short blog today, mostly for the purpose of getting something off my chest. In this line of work, opinions abound. It’s important to have your own firm beliefs in who you are and what you’re doing. I certainly have mine. However, whether it is a blog, a consult, a sales call, or a post in a forum, when I know a statement is strictly a matter of opinion, more often than not I will take the time to state that. And once again, disagreements are fine. What bothers me is when other folks in the industry denigrate someone else’s beliefs/practices for the purposes of their own gain. It’s particularly frustrating in the service line of my work. Occasionally, no matter how much care you put into it, things go wrong with vintage equipment. In some instances, it seems best to have the equipment serviced locally rather than risk shipment again, particularly in the case of a small issue. If someone brought me a turntable under similar circumstances, I would simply point out the problem to the owner and fix it to the best of my ability. Unfortunately, this isn’t the practice industry-wide. Some feel they need to put someone else down in order to build themselves up. I have never subscribed to that, and I never will. Generally, I don’t care how a problem occurred; I just want to know what it is and how I can fix it. In my experience, I have found that’s also the main thing the owner cares about.

January 29, 2013

The loudspeakers in my main system are Klipsch Cornwalls manufactured in 1975.  I’ve owned them for about 10 years. Since the first day I moved them into my system, though I fell in love with them, I have been saying that I would re-cap the crossovers and install new terminals. It is something I just kept putting off.

Well, after a tremendous music club last week, where I was treated to some Harbeth speakers, once I got home I decided to finally order the necessary parts.  Those all came in a couple of days ago, and last night I devoted to updating  my Cornwalls .  The whole procedure was very do-it-yourself. Basically there are only two capacitors on each crossover that need updating.  I used the kit provided by Klipsch guru Bob Crites.   While I had the crossovers out on my bench, I took the time to clean each connection with deOxit.

Next, I drilled larger holes for the speaker terminals and installed those.  Nice goldplated terminals that take banana plugs.  They looked fantastic… I only hoped they would sound as great.  I ordered new 12gauge wire for the system, and I ran that from the mono blocks to each speaker in equal lengths, of course.  New banana plugs at each end.  (Oh yeah, while working on the mono blocks, I noticed I had my preamp cable attached in the wrong direction! So I fixed that.)

Finally, everything was back in position and ready for some listening.  It is not really one of my reference songs, but the track that impressed me at music club was Warren Zevon’s “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner.”  I had played that earlier in the day on my system, but when I heard it through the Harbeths, I was pretty blown away.  There was a crispness to the high-end and a quickness to the notes that was completely lacking in the Cornwalls.  Well, my work really paid off.  Within half a minute, I could tell there was a new dynamism to my system.  Mind blowing.

From Zevon I went to some of my more reference lps: Van’s Moondance,   Cannonball Adderly’s Something Else, and Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms. Everything was new!  Everything.  Better separation, more distinction, wider soundstage, increased tonality.  Amazing  that could be attributed to replacing 4 caps, installing new terminals, running new cable, and reversing a preamp cable!

Along with the speaker update, I also splurged on some new Genelex tubes for my preamp.  I have not installed those yet, as I just want to enjoy the system with the speaker update for a day or so.  In closing, if you own old Klipsch, I can’t recommend highly enough carrying out the same changes in your system.

August 17, 2012

It is just over a year since I left education to work full-time at Vinyl Nirvana.  Marking that occasion, I would like to share some random thoughts…

I wanna go out tonight/I wanna find out what I got

*Though I needed to appear confident when I presented the idea of doing this full-time to my wife, I really didn’t know how successful I would be. I knew that when I was doing this part-time, I always had the feeling that if I listed more restored turntables, I would be able to sell more. The largest question, however, was how many more?  My goal was to list 5 to 7 turntables on the ‘For Sale’ page at all times, with prices ranging from $400-$3000. That worked out fine for the first six months, but eventually I had run through my inventory of turntables that I could sell for under $500.  It was a nice run, and I made a lot of people happy who were entering vinyl for the first time or coming back to it after a long hiatus. However, when the inventory ran out, I found myself competing for turntables on eBay and other sources, that were selling just high enough to make them non-profitable for what I was doing.  Unlike the average buyer on eBay, I can see by the pictures and the descriptions in a listing exactly what it’s going to take to restore the turntable to a condition that is expected from my customers.  The numbers just weren’t working out. Though I wanted badly to list tables under $500 at all times, it became an impossibility strictly from a numbers standpoint .  If there is any disappointment in my first year of doing this full-time, it is related to that.

Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night/You ain’t a beauty, but hey you’re alright

*One of the biggest successes businesswise in my first year was beginning to offer restoration service packages on eBay. In a roundabout way, this service has taken the place of my sub $500 listings. Many of the customers for whom I have performed restorations in the past 12 months, had just purchased their AR or Thorens turntable on eBay, and they then decided to have me go through the turntable before even trying it themselves.  These restorations have been a great joy. I truly love taking a grubby mess of a turntable and bringing it back to its glory.  It is also great to know that the buyer, when they do get to listen to their turntable for the first time, is getting it in excellent playing condition.  I never knew what to expect from those eBay packages, but there has been a steady stream of three to seven turntables per month.  It’s been great fun.

Prove it all night/Girl there’s nothing else that we can do/So prove it all night, prove it all night

*One of the biggest successes in terms of my personal satisfaction has been being able to devote all the time that is needed to each project.  There were times when I was still a full-time educator in doing this part-time, that there was just not enough time on a weekend or a school vacation to accomplish what I really wanted to accomplish with a project. So, I would have to cut corners. The corners I would cut were always minor but still, it bothered me to cut any at all.  One example might be cleaning the AC cord on a unit. When I was not doing this full-time, I would hold myself to spending no more than 15 min. cleaning a cord. Now I don’t have to think that way. I can take dozens of passes over the cord, and if needed I can use my crevice tools if the dirt is really caked.  Another example is the cleaning of the outer surfaces of the drive platter and the outer platter. It’s all just a matter of elbow grease and time to break through the years of tarnish, and now I have the time to do it for each and every turntable.  It’s a great feeling to be able to do that. To never feel like I am cutting a corner. To always feel the job has been done right.

My father’s house shines hard and bright/it stands like a beacon calling me in the night

Speaking of doing the job right…my regular blog-readers know that my dad passed away this past April.  He was a man who worked most of his life with his hands.  I have not, and so this new life has given me the opportunity to taste what that is like.  I’m not proud to admit it, but to some extent my whole life I have looked down on manual types of labor.  What a different outlook I have on that now!  There is a lot of thought that goes into working with your hands!  Especially if there is care taken in what you’re doing.  Thanks for the lifelong lesson in that regard, dad.

Now you can’t break the ties that bind/You can’t forsake the ties that bind

*One of the biggest surprises of the past year is how my little business has become interconnected with some other great small businesses, both local and not so local.  There is a wonderful feeling to know you are bringing work to someone who is very similar to you. That person is not out to make millions of dollars, but like me, they’re just out there to make an honest living. It’s been great to find people who have a similar pride in their workmanship and to reward them with more jobs.  Sure, it’s been a difficult process to find people in every facet that is needed that work with that pride, but it’s a tremendous feeling when I do. American workers who care deeply about their products and services still abound… I have found that to be a wonderful discovery.

The new day breaks and I’m working on a dream / I’m working on a dream…

*Another thing that has brought enormous satisfaction has been the number of special projects I have seen through from vision to creation. None of these would have been possible without the time to do it. The first three that come to mind are the Thorens TD-125 Long Base project, the Thorens TD-150 customized Linn-like projects, and the stunning AR the Turntables in custom paint, this year’s version was piano black.   Each one has taken an amount of coordination with the various suppliers and service providers.  Getting used to that type of management, as opposed to managing a 500 student elementary school, has forced me to develop some new skills, and that’s a good thing.  I look forward to more.

Like soldiers in the winter’s night with a vow to defend/No retreat no surrender

*Prior to going full-time at this, I had always fantasized about mounting more turntables in custom plinths made of a variety of beautiful and exotic woods.  Over the years, I had bartered for a custom plinth here and there. I always loved getting the chance to assemble that turntable with that special plinth.  When I went full-time, I advertised locally for a woodworker to make more of these. Unfortunately, the first two experiences were not very positive. Finally, I got the gumption to ask my longtime friend of 30 years, who is a remarkable finish carpenter, if he would be interested in helping me.  He is also in his early 50s, and very luckily my request coincided with his interest in working more out of his shop.  The results have been astounding. Take a look at the ‘For Sale’ page on any given day,  there are examples of his phenomenal handiwork.  Out of all of the workers I referred to above, Vinnie is the most painstaking in completion of a project. When I receive something from him, I know it’s going to be perfect. The pictures on the website just don’t do his talent justice.

The dogs on Main Street howl ’cause they understand


Molly with her big buddy Dexter!
Molly with her big buddy Dexter!

*On a more personal note, my ability to work out of my home has allowed our family to have a pet again. When our beloved Corgi died three years ago, my wife and I had decided that we did not want another dog for the foreseeable future. We wanted the ability to drop everything and go enjoy life as we wanted. However, it just made sense with me home every day, to have a companion of some kind. Thus, we found our beloved Molly.  She is a beagle and pitbull mix, and she is a phenomenally sweet dog. From the first time I saw her picture posted by the rescue agency, I could see that sweetness in her eyes. And when we had our first visit, I knew right away that she would be a perfect fit for our family. And she has been. What a joy it is to have a dog in the house again, a dog that is filled with so much playfulness and faithfulness.  My thanks to the universe for leading Molly to our doorstep.  The saying is true, we didn’t rescue her, she rescued us.

Someday girl I don’t know when/we’re gonna get to that place
Where we really want to go/and we’ll walk in the sun

My sincere thanks to all who have supported me in one way or another over the past year (and years).  In particular, I want to thank my family for believing in me.   I know at times it hasn’t been easy, but I am ever so thankful for your love and support.

July 12, 2012

The Legendary and Elusive Thorens TD-125LB (Long Base)


I’m excited to write about a project I’ve been working on for a few months.  In the back of my mind I knew that there was a Thorens TD-125 turntable that accommodated a 12 inch tonearm, however, it wasn’t until a faithful customer named Scott D. started talking about the “Long Base” model that I realized it was something that Thorens actually produced themselves, direct from the factory.   At first, I spent a few weeks trying to search out a TD-125 Long Base that Scott could purchase.  There were various owners who had pictures of their prized possession on various forums and websites.  One long base model even came up for sale on eBay, but it turned out to be just a chassis, with no plinth.

In my research, I began to realize that there was very little difference between the stock TD – 125 in the Long Base model:  1) larger plinth; 2) larger armboard; 3) larger aluminum switch/fascia plate.   The first two differences were very minor, a matter of woodworking.  However, the larger switch/fascia plate was going to take some planning to implement.   First there was the actual manufacturer of the plate, and then there was the reproduction of the silk-screening.  After three months, working with a variety of companies getting estimates and discussing various plans for implementation, the switch/facia plates were done and looked fantastic.

While that process carried onward, I had three extended plinths made and a series of extended armboards.  The plinths were three-quarter inch mahogany, African mahogany, and black walnut.  The armboards were three-eighths birch plywood painted satin black.   As a final touch, because I have always hated the battleship gray/green color of the 125’s top plate, I had three tops sandblasted and then powder coated in what’s called “Grey Sparkle.”

The projects are almost at their completion point now.  Scott has been sent pictures of the three plinths, and once that is done we will order his SME M2-12R tonearm.   (There is also the choice of the more contemporary looking SME M2-12, but Scott prefers the vintage look of the 12R.)  Within the next couple of weeks, I’ll have pictures for viewing by everyone.  Like the “Baby Grand” AR projects, this will be a turntable of which I only offer two or three on an annual basis.

May 1, 2012

A Tale of Unpacking  Two Turntables

Moral of the Story: Don’t use packing peanuts!

This past week I happened to receive two TD – 125’s on the same afternoon.  Both arrived in boxes similar in size and weight.

Box 1:

When I opened the first box, it was filled with crumpled newspaper used as a 2” cushion on all sides, top, and bottom.   Seeing the newspaper, I grabbed my cardboard recycling box and removed the top and side layers in large  handfuls all in about 30 seconds. This allowed me to get my hands under the turntable and lift it out.  The seller had done a nice job wrapping the table in thick bubblewrap, and the platter was also wrapped in bubble wrap and placed below the table.  I brought the bubble wrapped package to my bench, and in another 30 seconds the rest of the newspaper was scooped out and in the recycling box.  Next, the box was cut and folded. Finally, with a few clips of the scissors, the turntable was completely exposed. Total time:  5 minutes.

Box 2:

When I opened the second box, it was filled with packing peanuts.  Right away I noticed that where it was probably filled to the top when it left that person’s house, now it was an average of 2 inches lower, so shifting of the contents could occur.  I grabbed my packing peanut recycling bag, and began the process of removing the peanuts.  When you ship a heavy turntable, it tends to crumble the peanuts…and as you scoop more and more from the box, static electricity takes over, and those  small crumbs adhere to your shirtsleeves.  As you scoop the peanuts into the recycling bag, inevitably some fall out…pieces large and small.  About 10 min. later, I finally had the top and sides of the turntable, also wrapped in bubble wrap, exposed.  I reached in to remove the package, and many of the peanuts emerged with the bubble wrap…some from the adhesive on the packing tape, and others just through static electricity.  I moved the table to the other part of my shop bench, and I attempted to pour the rest of the peanuts into the recycling bag.  Many of the peanuts and the crumbs continued to adhere to the box sides and bottom.  Some of them sneaked into the creases of the box as well.  Of course, my arms were covered.  It was time to grab the Static Guard.  I sprayed my shirt and the sides of the box.  I don’t know if you’ve ever smelled that stuff, but although it works, it is a very unpleasant smell…metallic and thick.  I finally succeeded at getting the majority of the peanuts out of the box and off of my arms.  Now it was  time to cut the box so I could fold it.  As I open the seams, more packing peanut crumbs fell out.  All in all, it looked like a sprinkle of snow covering  the flooring.  Before it got all over the house, I had to get my shop vac from the next room, assemble it, and vacuum up the floor.  Ten minutes later, I was ready to unwrap the turntable, but first I took some packing tape and wrapped it around one hand with the sticky side out… I needed to get all of the crumbs out before they covered my shop.  Finally that was done, and the turntable was unwrapped.   Luckily, even with the loose peanuts, it survived intact.  Total time: 25 (frustrating) minutes.

April 6, 2012

Summer of 2010

Lessons from a Quiet Man

My dad turned 90 this past fall, and, unfortunately, his health is failing….all signs indicate this will be his last spring.   As things wind down, one naturally becomes more reflective, and so this blog is just a chance for me to get some of those thoughts down.

Like me, my father is overall a quiet man.  I can force myself to be an extrovert, but my natural inclination is towards quiet.  In all my life, I can never remember my father giving me a lecture, nor can I even remember him once raising his voice at me.  And so, the lessons I have gleaned from him the past 52 years have come principally from observation.

  • A man is a man is a man. Growing up in the 60s, it was always hit or miss on whether an adult you encountered was a racial bigot.  I had my exposure to plenty of them, but in all of my years, not once, have I ever heard my father utter a disparaging word about a person of a different race.
  • Leave things better than you found them. My father held a few jobs in his lifetime, but the one he worked at the most was plumbing.  Previous to his retirement, he owned his own plumbing business for several years.  I never got to work firsthand with him on any jobs, but two of my brothers went into the business, and one summer I worked full-time for them.  Early on that summer, I learned from one of them, that no matter what the bathroom or kitchen or basement area where you worked looked like, you always cleaned what you were working on before you left.  So, if there was a plugged drain in a sink that looked like it had not seen soap and a sponge for months, it was going to be cleaned before we left the premises.  My brother related, “That’s the way dad did it, and that’s how he taught us.”
  • Take chances. In his early 50s, in the midst of a successful career as a supervisor of buildings and grounds in a small Massachusetts town, my father and two of his brothers pooled some money and invested in some property they were going to develop in New Hampshire.  Though any of the three could have been the one to head to New Hampshire first and start things out, it was my father who left his job and moved our family to New Hampshire.  Unfortunately, his timing and doing it was right before the deep recession of the 70s, and he never quite recovered from that investment, but still, I always admired his willingness to take a chance on something he believed in.  Sometimes I wonder where my life would be if we had not moved…would I have met my wife, my best friends, would my career path have been the same?
  • Forgive. Again, my father rarely raised his voice, and as far back as I can remember, he never raised it to me personally.  However, there was one thing that happened where I thought for sure it would be the first time.  My first car was a 1968 Pontiac Catalina.  I bought it off a next-door neighbor for $200, and it needed a ton of work.  I was not very mechanically inclined around automobiles, so my father and my brothers helped me with a lot of the work.  My father, in particular, helped with the bodywork.   On the passenger side of the car, the rear quarter near the trunk was badly rusted out.  I worked side-by-side with my father for several weeknights (after he finished a long day of work) to cut away the corroded metal, sand and prime the rest, and then install sheets of aluminum with rivets into the good metal.  We then primed that, and painted it a color that almost matched the Pontiac “puke-green.”   To my 16-year-old eyes, it looked great.   Less than a couple of weeks later, going under a narrow railroad bridge underpass, I managed to completely destroy the back quarter on the protruding guard rail.  Amazingly, and sadly, the only area that suffered damage was the area we worked on.  The guard rail tore up that sheet aluminum like it was paper.  I remember stopping the car just beyond, and I got out, hoping beyond hope that the damage was not as bad as it sounded.  All that work gone.  All that extra effort from my dad gone.  I was mortified and thought for sure he would yell at me for being such a careless driver.  However, as you can guess, he never raised his voice…he simply examined the damage (probably biting his tongue) and said something to the effect of: “Well, this should be a lot easier the second time around.”
  • Take the time and teach someone to do things the right way. Like that first car, the first house my wife and I bought was the poster child for fixer upper.  Very literally, three sides of the house barely had any paint on the clapboards, and the fourth side, in the shade, was just the opposite: it had 15 coats in various stages of peeling.  At that point, my father was no longer going out on plumbing jobs, he was just working in the office of the business, so again, he took a lot of his time and helped me with the painting of the house.  Now everyone pretty much thinks they know how to paint, but true painters know that’s far from true.  My father in his lifetime painted many buildings, and one of his brothers was a professional painter.  I can’t tell you how many days and hours my father helped with the painting of that house, doing everything the right way.  But more importantly, in whatever tasks I was taking on, he would always put in the time to explain to me exactly how it should be done, whether it was scraping, mixing a can of paint, applying putty and caulking, or cleaning a brush properly.  25 years later, I still carry all of those skills with me, and have used them many many times.  My father could have just tackled all of the painting himself, but like the old adage states…teach a man to fish….
  • If you have an open heart, love can find you. My mother died when I was fairly young, just 19.  My father at that time was 59 years old, and he basically dealt with his grief by throwing himself into his work.  Being a shy person by nature, and having lost his wife of over 30 years, there were many times at different gatherings where the topic would turn to whether or not he would remarry.  He always put the matter to rest quickly, saying he had no interest in getting married again.  There was a very brief stint where he dated a local woman, but that never went anywhere, and afterwards he seemed even more resigned to living the rest of his life single.  However, a little over 20 years ago, one of my father’s sisters became very ill.  Her prognosis was not good, and my father traveled to Virginia to be with her.  As doctors sometimes do, his sister was given a very short time to live.  However, not too long after he was down there, she started to turn things around.  The doctors were amazed, and she actually recovered in a way they never thought possible  and lived on for quite a few years thereafter.  While my father was down there, my father met his sister’s best friend, Maxine.  Maxine was instrumental in helping my aunt, so my father saw her on almost a daily basis.  Well, as his sister began to recover, a little spark developed between my father and Maxine… and eventually that led to a first date.  The rest is history as they say.  The man who was never going to remarry, has now been married to Maxine for over 20 years.  No one can deny that they make each other very happy.

Thanks for indulging me and allowing me to fill this blog with these quiet lessons I’ve learned from the quiet man.  And thanks to my father, I love you, Dad.  Always will.

Update: April 8, 2012, My father died peacefully yesterday surrounded by people he loved and that loved him.

March 27, 2012

Behind the Scenes

I know that many visitors to Vinyl Nirvana are looking for turntables in the $300 to $800 range.  Unfortunately, since just before the December holidays, it’s been very difficult to get turntables out in that price range.  This is due to a number of factors:

  • In terms of turntables in the sub $500 range, since an all-out rush for those models in the weeks leading up to Christmas, it has been very difficult to replenish my stock.  I very much plan to keep selling turntables in this range, but it’s just been difficult to replenish the stock at the same rate folks seem to want one.
  • In terms of turntables in the $500-$1000 range, those have been held up by my inability to get the Moth RB-301/303 tonearms.  Yes, I could go up to the RB-700 or down to the RB-251, but to keep a level of quality and price, the RB-301/303 fits perfectly.  I was promised by the manufacturer back in December I would have them by the end of that month.  Here it is March, and there is still no firm delivery date.

Another area of possible consternation for my visitors is the inability to get the terpolymer subchassis and the lead mat.  When I bought the “rights” and inventory for the Merrill-Scillia AR mods in January of 2011, two things I was going to continue to get from Anthony Scillia were the mats and the subchassis.   Unfortunately, due to some unforeseen personal issues, this did not come to fruition.  As a result, I am working with new manufacturers here in New Hampshire to produce these products…most importantly, to the same degree of quality.  I am hopeful to offer both by fall of 2012.

So that’s a little look behind the scenes.  I’m working hard to replenish these items as fast as I can, just know that in most cases that can’t be instantaneous.

January 10, 2012

I’m very excited to unveil the first of many new changes coming to Vinyl Nirvana for 2012: in addition to AR and Thorens, I will now be restoring Linn LP-12 Sondek turntables.  I have admired the Linn LP-12 for decades, but have only just recently begun to purchase parts and units for restoration.  Like the AR and Thorens I restore, the Linn LP-12 is a suspended subchassis, belt driven turntable.  Unlike the AR and Thorens, Linn still offers a (refined) LP-12 today.

It is interesting for me to note that I find the Linn LP-12 to be no harder to set up properly than an AR or Thorens, yet there seems to be a mystique around set-up one doesn’t see with the latter two brands.  Each unit has a suspended subchassis utilizing three springs, grommets, and studs.  There is no reason the Linn suspension should need more or less adjustment than the AR or Thorens.  Do I agree proper setup is critical? Yes. However, I don’t see how it is any more difficult than AR or Thorens.

Since I am now working on the Linn LP-12, I will begin accepting those units, part or whole, in trade.  Likewise, if you are looking to sell your Linn, send me an e-mail, and I would be happy to make an offer.

Now spinning…Bruce Springsteen, Born in the USA  (MS-Upgraded Merrill Heirloom, Ortofon RS-212D, Benz Micro Ruby Wood 2)

December 16, 2011

We all know how a few notes of a song can take us back to another time and place instantly. Ofttimes, that is a pleasant time and place. But what about the times when it’s not?

I can think of three distinct times in my life when I was going through tough emotional events, and there were certain songs, or cycles of songs, or whole albums that pulled me through that time. Just recently, I heard one of those songs I would call a “life preserver.” It instantly brought me back to the turmoil of that period, however, it was interesting to experience my overall reaction to that song.

The first reaction was one of pleasant surprise. It was like I was seeing a friend I had not seen in a long time. I felt almost guilty I had not played the song in recent months when at that other time in my life it had been so key to my mental survival.

The second reaction to hearing that song after so long was almost mild embarrassment. I would liken it to seeing a counselor in public that you once visited regularly. You have moved past the point of needing that person, you are in another phase, and you wonder if that person still thinks of you in the same way as before. All of that awkwardness….

A few days later, having thought about the pleasant surprise of hearing it, I played the song intentionally. My final reaction…or at least the one that is settling in, was one of gratitude. What a great gift the universe has given us, this thing called music. Not only can you dance to it, not only can you work to it, not only can you enjoy it in a communal sense, but also, at difficult times in your life, it can be a literal lifesaver.

Now spinning…u2…All That You Can’t Leave Behind  (MS-Upgraded Merrill Heirloom, Ortofon RS-212D, Benz Micro Ruby Wood 2)

December 10, 2011

(Re-post of a blog from December 2006)

Twenty-six years since John Lennon was shot. Twenty-six.

I was only 3 years old when John F Kennedy was shot, but I recall all through my childhood the conversations by adults of how they remembered the exact moment when they heard he’d been assasinated. Lennon’s death marks me in the same way…

…I was a sophomore in college that year. For some reason I was at my parent’s home, and I was watching Monday Night Football with my dad. I heard the shooting announced by Howard Cosell, and immediately became upset. There was no CNN (or remote) in those days, and so I sat inches from the tv screen and switched channels trying to find more info. My dad, from another generation, couldn’t relate or understand. He went to bed.

I ended up staying up most of the night, and the next day I had an early morning art history course with a gorgeous professor I had the deepest crush on. I almost bagged it, but in the end I went just to get my mind off the senseless act.

Class started several minutes late…the professor walked into the mini-auditorium and looked like hell. She’d obviously been devastated by the event. She announced class was cancelled, but that if anyone wanted to stay, she was going to play Beatle and Lennon music for the remainder of the time.

Maybe five people left, but the rest of us remained, listening in silence, except for the occasional sob, to a mix tape of various songs penned by John.

Yes, 26 years have passed, but the event continues to scar my soul. One good thing about the anniversary this year…I have finally forgotten the name of the fucker who shot him. Finally….and that is how it should be.

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

September 29, 2011

It’s not bad enough I am still reeling from last night’s Red Sox debacle, but so far two turntables I received today arrived in horrible condition due to completely thoughtless packing.

The first was a Thorens TD 160. As soon as I lifted it from the doorway I could hear a loud clanging inside. That’s the indicator that one of the platters, or sometimes both, has come loose. In addition to that the box was a small one, so very little padding was there to protect the sides. I opened it cautiously expecting the worst, and I got it. First of all, I opened the package and the directions the arrows indicated me to open it. However, when I opened the box, I was looking at the bottom, yes the bottom, of the turntable. The darn thing was being suspended by the dust cover on the suppose it bottom of the box. Again, the box was tight, so I worked my fingers in around the edges and lifted the turntable gingerly from the box. Right away I could tell by how light it was, that there was no platter in place. Sure enough when I lifted it out, there was the platter sitting in the bottom of the upside down dust cover. (The dust cover was already cracked when I bought it.) So I turned over the deck, and right away I could see the tone arm was bent, a horrible bend about 2 inches from the headshell. (As I was doing all this, I was taking pictures so I could show the seller/packer exactly what I found and how I found it.) Amazingly, even with that bend, the arm had stayed in the armrest. However, at some point that loose platter came into contact with the stylus… It was bent straight down 90°. One silver lining of the turntable being upside down, was the metal plate suffered almost no damage. However, the platter definitely hit the motor spindle during shipment…the table has one of the worst wobbles I’ve ever seen. I haven’t downloaded the pictures yet, but I have e-mailed the seller. We will see what happens.

The second table is a really unfortunate situation because the person is somewhat local and I offered to meet them halfway. The person claimed, “I am a really good packer.” All of the cardinal rules were broken, of course. Both platters left in place. Nothing used to secure the tone arm. Dust cover left in place. The outer platter came loose from the drive platter and made some deep circular indentations in the top plate. The tone arm, amazingly, though it was loose, the stylus was not broken. Likewise, unlike the first one, the platter did not strike the motor spindle. No wobble at all. The dust cover, though, was cracked right off that both hinges. Those dust covers are so rare now… So sad to see one go that way. I have notified this person as well… That table was coming in for a tuneup… Now it will never look the same.

FedEx is due a little later today…crossing my fingers that third time is a charm.

Now spinning…Paul Simon…Graceland  (MS-Upgraded Merrill Heirloom, Ortofon RS-212D, Benz Micro Ruby Wood 2)

September 8, 2011

I am officially a grumpy old man.

It has been building in me for a while. It began as a seed when Anthony Scillia shared with me that he hated packing peanuts. From that point, every time I dealt with an incoming turntable that used packing peanuts all of the things I used to find mildly frustrating seemed to amplify. The static cling of the peanuts seemed worse. The amount of broken off residue in the bottom of boxes seemed to increase, as did the number of peanuts that would “hide” under the folded parts of the box. Transferring the peanuts to bags for recycling never went smoothly, and that spillage combined with the static cling resulted in a frustrating cleanup. Every time I cleaned my unpacking area, no matter how hard I worked at containing the peanuts, I always found a few had “escaped.”

Meanwhile, in my own turntable packing, I had virtually stopped using peanuts for about a year anyway. However, there were occasional packing irregularities that could be solved with a small amount of peanuts. Now, however, beginning this date, I vow to never use packing peanuts again in shipping my turntables. It just seems wrong for me to dislike it so much when I get them, and then in turn put that same kind of frustration on my customers. It will cost a little bit more to use bubblewrap or foam, but I am done with packing peanuts. From this point on, all will be recycled to my local packaging house. So, if you buy a turntable from me, and you are a grumpy old man or woman like me who hates packing peanuts, rest assured your turntable packaging will not contain peanuts! Amen.

Now spinning…Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, Cardinalogy (MS-Upgraded Merrill Heirloom, Ortofon RS-212D, Benz Micro Ruby Wood 2)

August 18, 2011

Living in Geekdom…

In follow-up to my last blog, I have received the JVC KD-A33 cassette deck and now have it set up in my shop. Furthermore, I have dug out a few hundred cassettes and I have been having an incredibly enjoyable time strolling down memory lane.

Here are a few random thoughts as I have “spun” mostly cassettes over the past several days:

  • The deck, as received, was in excellent condition. It took less than a half-hour on my bench to clean the heads and detail it. (A lot easier than a turntable!)
  • As I mentioned before, I generally used 90 min. cassettes, 45 min. per side. One little delightful surprise as I listened to cassette after cassette, is that I frequently shoehorned in random songs on the last few minutes of the side if it was shorter than 45 min. It’s been fun trying to figure out where my mind was when I chose those songs. In some cases it is readily apparent, but in others I have no idea.
  • The same holds true in some cases for artists that I paired together on the same cassette. For example, I am still trying to figure out why I would have grouped Neil Young’s On the Beach with Howlin’ Wolf’s London Sessions???  (Who knows, maybe it was just short on cassettes?)
  • Let me say again, as I said in the last blog, some of these thirty-year-old cassettes still sound like they were made yesterday.  I admit a few have “lost their luster” but that percentage is very low.
  • One outcrop of getting out all these cassettes and perusing them is I have found a few holes in my LP collection… There are quite a few things I borrowed from friends that I am now reminded I would love to own on LP.  (Don’t tell my wife.)
  • At first I was sensitive to the overall playback noise of the cassette deck; that is, I can hear the tape physically moving in the deck.  (Previously, I’ve always had my deck in a cabinet, and here in my shop it is in open-air.)  What I have found, much to my pleasure, is that as the week has worn on the deck has grown quieter. I think it was a matter of it not being used much at all for several years.
  • I have to admit, in the old days,  though I always recorded with a noise reduction system (in this case, ANRS on the JVC) I would often turn that off for playback. Now that I have this deck set up again, I am using the ANRS setting for playback. I like it, especially at lower volumes.
  • A few of my cassettes are recorded from stereo TV. That is kind of fun. I have some interesting concert footage from the early days of MTV and/or VH1. Yesterday, for example, I listened to a Dire Straits concert that actually had decent sound quality using TV stereo outputs going directly into cassette inputs.
  • I have just the tiniest urge to record a cassette… I wonder if I have a blank somewhere… and if I find one what would I record?

August 6, 2011

Random Thoughts on Cassette Tapes

*Amazingly, I still have cassette tapes I recorded over thirty years ago that still sound as if they were made yesterday.

*For a long period of time, when I first got an lp, I would only play it once, and that was to record it on a cassette tape. So, those cassettes sound pretty pristine.

*In the heyday of cassette tapes, back in college, there was definitely a kind of war between TDK and Maxell. If you were not part of that time period, you can liken it to the Pepsi versus Coca-Cola thing. Everyone I knew had their preference. You would go to someone’s dorm room, and within seconds you would know by checking out a stack of tapes

*And stacks of tapes were everywhere in those days. For those who are only aware of the digital age, the cassette  tape was the equivalent of pirating today.  A friend bought an album, and the tape was made, and that tape or album got copied endlessly.

*I was a Maxell person myself. My tape of choice was the Maxell XLII.  (90 minutes so you could generally put one album on each side.)  Occasionally, I would get pricier tapes in the Maxell line, but generally the XLII 90 was my tape of choice.

*For those of age, remember the feeling of getting a fresh pack of cassette tapes? I think they came in packs of six, or was it five?  It was almost as good as having a full tank of gas… but not quite.

*For my main taping years, my cassette deck was the JVC KD-A33.  I loved that deck, and when I sold it about ten or twelve years ago, it was still fully functional.

*I currently own just one deck. It’s a top-of-the-line Sansui SC-5100 I got from a local fellow. Amazingly, it weighs as much as a vintage receiver!  It is mint, and my cassettes have never sounded as good as they do on that deck.

*Remember what a production it was to make a mix tape!?  For those in the generation who make playlists in iTunes, you have no idea what it took to make your friends a tape with your favorite music on it. Or even to copy tape to tape!

*I rarely listen to cassettes anymore.  Our cars don’t have cassette decks, and at my stage in life, I just play the actual album rather than break out the cassette.

UPDATE: 8-8-11…Rife with nostalgia at writing this,  yesterday I bought a JVC KD-A33 on that auction site. (The one I mentioned above.) I’m going to set it up in my shop and bring my couple of hundred cassettes down there.

Now spinning…Deep Purple…Made in Japan (MS-Upgraded Merrill Heirloom, Ortofon RS-212D, Benz Micro Ruby Wood 2)

July 29, 2011

By far, for the majority of restored turntables I sell, the buyers elect to have me mount and align their phono cartridge. It makes sense to have me do this for you for a variety of reasons:

  • Many of my buyers have never mounted and align a cartridge before.
  • For many of my buyers, it’s been two decades or more since they last attempted it.
  • I have the cartridge mounting tools necessary to do the job right.
  • I have the cartridge mounting hardware to do the job right.
  • I have the alignment tools to do the job right.
  • I have mounted hundreds of cartridges on dozens of arms.
  • I have successfully shipped mounted cartridges hundreds of times.
  • I have a two pronged approach to alignment:
    • First, I get the general alignment set on my bench;
    • Then, I tweak the alignment on my own system.
  • When I finalize alignment, I take into account your system needs.
  • When I finalize alignment, I take into account your musical preferences.
  • When you receive your turntable, set up will be incredibly easy because this potentially stressful task has already been completed.
  • You have the peace of mind knowing you are not causing groove damage to your lps.
  • You have the peace of mind knowing you are not causing damage to your stylus.

Now spinning…CCR…Cosmo’s Factory (MS-Upgraded Merrill Heirloom, Ortofon RS-212D, Benz Micro Ruby Wood 2)

July 26, 2011

Live Music, Part Four: Moments of Inspiration

I have seen Van Morrison live in concert five times.  The worst of those shows was at Boston Garden when he was touring with Bob Dylan. This was the largest venue I’ve seen Van play. The hype around this tour was immense. For me, it was another chance to see my favorite musical artist. However, for other thousands (yes, thousands) in attendance, this was nothing more than an event, something they could add to their live music resume: “Yeah, I saw Van Morrison and Bob Dylan play once.”    Just to see someone play, to add someone to my live music resume, is the antithesis of why I attend.

Likewise, I don’t attend just to hear a certain song.  There have been numerous occasions where as I am leaving the concert I overhear a discussion where someone is lamenting that so-and-so did not play such-and-such song and they are bummed.  It is true that I do hope that an artist will play my favorite or favorites, but I am never disappointed when they don’t… most often, I am left curious as to why they wouldn’t.

For me, the main reason I love live music is not for “resume-making” or “song-collecting” but rather, for moments.  Moments where the artist has visibly reentered that zone where the song was originally inspired. Moments where the band has taken the song to an unexpected place, and you can read the delight on their faces and hear it in their voices.  Moments where a song has taken both the artist and you to a different plane.  Moments of pure joy provided by exquisite playing. Moments of truth, where an artist has shared something about their life or the creative process or a line in a song which provide you with a new window of understanding.  And, as I described last blog, moments where you get an insight into a song just by the way the artist has changed a word, an inflection, or the entire foundation. It’s this creative process happening live in front of you that is my greatest love in terms of live music. I will never tire of it, because it’s not only the essence of live, it’s the essence of life.

Now spinning…Patricia Barber, Cafe Blue (MS-Upgraded Merrill Heirloom, Ortofon RS-212D, Benz Micro Ruby Wood 2)

July 21, 2011

Live Music, Part Three: Moments of Innovation

When I was around ten or eleven, there used to be a weekly segment on the local a.m. radio station where they would take studio recordings and add live audience sounds before, during, and after.  They would play a whole cycle of songs like this. Having heard legitimate live recordings before, I could never quite figure out what the appeal was to simply add audience noise to a studio track.

Similarly, I sometimes hear inexperienced concertgoers express disappointment when a song they’ve heard countless times in studio version is played live and sounds very different.  They wonder, why can’t they play it exactly as they played it before? (And I wonder why they didn’t save themselves a bundle of money and stay home and play the song on their iPod?)

For me, the essence of live performance is the chance for the band or performer to innovate, to make a song relevant to the point they are in their life right now.  I think this point was driven home the first time I heard Van Morrison sing “Caravan” live. I’ve written about this previously in my blog, but I still recall vividly how the album “It’s Too Late to Stop Now ” changed my view about live music;  though I loved the studio version of “Caravan” I could appreciate how Van (and his band at the time) transformed the song into something else I could also love.

This transformation or innovation can occur on a large or small scale.  An example of a small change is when I saw Ray Lamontagne in concert last year.  The so-called single at the time was “For the Summer.”  That song was one of Ray’s opening numbers. Some folks had commented that some of the phrasing on his latest LP was an homage to Joni Mitchell; I could definitely hear that myself. There is a point in “For the Summer” where Ray’s sings “Can I come home/For the Summer” and on the album the word “home” is sung with a higher note/key.  However, in concert, he sang it lower in his register. The effect to me was that in studio there was more longing in that one word as he sang it, whereas in concert I felt there was less emphasis on the longing for home, and more on the subsequent line “get back to loving each other.”  In my mind it made me think he was emphasizing it’s not the place he was longing for but the person. Big difference.

On a larger scale, I recall the scathing reviews of Bob Dylan at Budokan released in 1979. At that time, Dylan was touring with his band from the studio album Street Legal. Many of Dylan’s Classics were unrecognizable in these recordings. He was criticized for being too commercial and the songs too slick.  I actually like this recording a lot. I appreciate how he reinvented many of the songs using horns and backup singers. Why not I ask? Can you imagine how many hundreds of times he’s played some of those classics? Why not change it up and try to spark new life into the old? Why not try to feel the inspiration that was originally there?

The innovation aspect of concert going will always be among my favorite reasons for attending.. Yes, there are sometimes utter failures, but more often, there is enlightenment or excitement… And that makes the “turkeys” well worth it.

Now spinning…Johnny Cash…Live at Fulsom Prison (MS-Upgraded Merrill Heirloom, Ortofon RS-212D, Benz Micro Ruby Wood 2)

July 12, 2011
Live Music, Part Two: Musical Messiahs

I was sixteen when I first heard Bruce Springsteen on the radio. As has happened so many times in my life, it was one of those experiences where immediately after hearing a song I felt the compulsion to buy the album. The song was Born to Run from the album of the same name.

I first saw Bruce in 1978 in the Augusta Civic Center in Augusta Maine. It was a transforming experience. I’d never before seen an artist so thoroughly have an audience in his or her grip. The Augusta show was easily three and half hours long.  No intermission. It ended with Bruce a skinny, sweaty mess, laying flat on the stage and screaming, “I am a prisoner of rock ‘n roll.”

I don’t know if it was more my age or more of Bruce Springsteen himself, but for years thereafter I became a disciple. I don’t use that word disciple lightly.  The dictionary defines disciple as: “a follower of the doctrines of the teacher or a school of thought.”  If I had to describe the “doctrine” Springsteen was espousing in that time period, the main message was you give everything you have to what you are doing in any given moment. His concerts, 3 to 4 hours in length, reflected that philosophy.

“Willing disciple” certainly describes me during that time period, and most especially from 1978 and the release of Darkness on the Edge of Town through to the release of The River a couple of years later.  In that three or four years, I lived and breathed the lore of Springsteen. I bought every release, including the 45s and the bootlegs. I consumed every review or interview article. I anticipated every tour.

By the early 80s River tour, Springsteen had earned the Time and Newsweek headlines from 1975 declaring him the future of rock ‘n roll.  The two concerts I saw in that cycle epitomize what I call the musical messiah phenomena.  Among my circle of friends, in the weeks leading up to the concerts, we talked of little else. We poured over available media to glean a fragment of information we could use to one-up someone else.  The day and night before the concert there was a palpable anticipation. I’ve been excited for concerts before and since, but the frenzy at that time existed at a whole other level because it wasn’t just seeing a performer, it was seeing someone that embodied your life philosophy… and you were waiting for the next message, whether that be one of hope or action or self-deprecation.

The amount of time I spent following every move of the Boss in those years is something I would never want to add up.  Still, I carry with me many of the life messages of the era, and I feel they have made me a better person.  I do look back on that period of time sometimes with a slight sense of embarrassment, but also…fondly.  Is it really so bad to be a prisoner of rock ‘n roll?

Now spinning…Clapton…Layla (MS-Upgraded Merrill Heirloom, Ortofon RS-212D, Benz Micro Ruby Wood 2)

July 6, 2011
Live Music, Part One: Karmic Unity

I would like to devote several blogs to the topic of live music. In particular, I want to focus on the different aspects of why I attend live concerts and what makes them such an amazing and special experience. Along the way, as I discuss these aspects I will try to give you specific examples based upon concerts I’ve attended.

The whole idea of this as a blog topic came from me listening to a bootleg live concert of Paul Simon back in 1991.  It’s a pretty amazing bootleg show in terms of sound quality and performance. During that tour, Simon was promoting the album Rhythm of the Saints.  It was also just a couple years after the amazing Graceland LP. The bootleg and the tour featured a large array of artists. I forget the exact number, but there had to be at any given time an average of a dozen people on the stage.  My wife and I were fortunate to catch the tour at a local outdoor venue, a minor-league ballpark.  We both loved the music of those two albums, and we were excited to see Paul Simon for the first time.

When I think back on this concert now, I think of it as one of the top five concerts I’ve ever attended. However, it’s very different from the other four that list would contain, and that’s the main thing I want to focus on in Part One. More than any other concert I attended, this concert featured the crowd dancing literally from the first song to the last. The amazing rhythms of those two albums were brought to life and expanded upon remarkably throughout the night. I don’t think anyone could be in that crowd and not feel the urgency to move, to dance, to feel your body with the rhythms being played in the stage.

I’ve been to dance-style concerts before, but mostly in small venues where there’s drinking and talking along with the dancing. This Paul Simon show was different in the intent focus of the dancing audience on the music.  Excuse the vernacular, but everyone in that place had their groove on. For 2 1/2 hours, the audience was a single sweating, writhing mass. Everywhere I looked, faces wore smiles. People filled with complete elation.  This karmic oneness is something I’ve experienced many times at concerts, but this was the first time it involved such a oneness of community around the beat of the music, a oneness that was palpable through the dancing.  It’s something that I get touches of one I’m on a dance floor grooving to one of my favorite bands, but there was just something that special night with thousands of us there that I’ve never felt quite the same way again.

Now spinning…Van Morrison, Hymns to the Silence (MS-Upgraded Merrill Heirloom, Ortofon RS-212D, Benz Micro Ruby Wood 2)

July 4, 2011
Today marks a true Independence Day in my life. Since my early 20s, I have been part of the public education system. For the most part, that’s what I wanted to do since I was in seventh grade. I began as a teacher, and for the past nine years I’ve been a school administrator. I loved being in schools and I loved being able to affect others in a lasting way.

The past five years have been difficult ones for schools.  In that period of time, due to budget cuts, I have had to fire seven teachers, a librarian, and several teacher aides. Again, due to budget cuts, I closed the second longest-running public elementary school in the country, causing teachers who have taught side-by-side for decades to be torn apart and sent to other buildings. I’ve seen professional development, the heart of our profession, slashed and slashed until there was none. This coming year, if I remained principal, our classes in fourth and fifth grade were reaching twenty-seven or twenty-eight students!

Though a large part of me loves schools, the process of systematically dismantling them is something in which I can no longer partake.  Everywhere I look, I see something that needs improvement that I can’t fix without the money. What do you say to a second-grader when they ask you why they don’t have physical education twice a week anymore? What do you say to a fourth-grader who was looking forward to having chorus for the first time, but now it’s gone?

And so today marks a true Independence Day in my life. For the first time in twenty-eight years I am no longer associated with a public school. Instead, I will work full-time in this other field that I love: bringing music to people’s lives. It is scary to embark into the world of small business ownership.  It is scary to not know where my next paycheck is coming.  Still, I’m taking the leap of faith that if I continue to service and restore these wonderful vintage turntables in the same manner in which I have always done, there will continue to be a market.  I’m excited to tackle things for which previously I have not had the time… and as people like you visit the site in the coming weeks and months you will see the fruits of that effort.

Now spinning… Ray Charles, Genius and Soul (MS-Upgraded Merrill Heirloom, Ortofon RS-212D, Benz Micro Ruby Wood 2)

June 2, 2011

Some thoughts on Vintage versus Contemporary turntables…

It’s obvious by my website that I am biased towards vintage turntables. Like all biases, it grew over time. About a decade ago I continually ran two turntables in my system. In the vintage realm, I ran a Thorens TD-160, and later I ran a mid-80s AR in stock form followed by a fully Merrill-modded ES-1.  In the contemporary realm, I ran a Music Hall 5.1, a Rega P3, and then a Music Hall 7.1.

The nicest of the contemporary tables was the 7.1. And it so happened that table coexisted with the Merrill-modded ES-1 for about eighteen months. What I found over the course of that year and a half was I began to play the ES-1 almost automatically when I unsleeved an LP.  Finally, at the start of a listening session one evening, I realized it had been over three months since I had played the 7.1. It was at that point I sold the 7.1, and it was the last contemporary table I have owned.

This is all highly subjective and system dependent, but I have always found the suspended sub-chassis, belt driven turntable design to be inherently more musical.  Adjectives fall short in describing these differences, but they can be summed up most simply by saying instruments sound more natural when played on a vintage Thorens or AR: a piano sounds more like a piano, trumpet like a trumpet, and string bass like a string bass.  Likewise, my favorite vocalists have an airiness, a breathiness that is more life-like.

There will always be different strokes for different folks, and I appreciate that diversity. But for me and my system, I believe 100% in these vintage tables made by Thorens and AR.

Now spinning… Neil Young, Comes a Time (MS-Upgraded Merrill Heirloom, Ortofon RS-212D, Benz Micro Ruby Wood 2)

May 19, 2011

Why can’t all companies adopt the philosophy to treat people as they would want to be treated?

Recently I ordered a cartridge from a company and a major driver in my decision was price. I did a little bit of research on the company and found they had mostly positive reviews. The cartridge I ordered was in stock according to the sale page. I placed the order and received a confirming e-mail with an order number.

Nine days passed and every day I checked the status of the order it always said ” in process”. When I called them on the ninth day, the customer service rep told me my order was hung up because payment was never made from PayPal. I have used PayPal for literally hundreds of purchases over the last seven or eight years and this has never been a problem before. I asked the rep how they could issue an order number if they did not get my money. Again, they blamed PayPal. I then asked if the cartridge was in stock and whether they would upgrade me to expedited shipping due to the glitch. They refused. Because PayPal had not made payment, I had to place a brand-new order for the same cartridge but use a credit card this time. I placed that order and asked the rep if, because of the troubles, they would at least discount my shipping or offer me a discount on my next purchase. Again, they refused to do that. Ironically, at the moment the rep was telling me no, a pop-up window appeared asking me to rate their company. I told the rep that and they seem unfazed by the fact I was going to leave negative feedback.  So I did. I basically said they had failed to make a good-faith effort to make up for in error that was undeniably theirs. I also said they lost a future customer.

Five more days pass and as I continue to check their website, the cartridge again is shown as just ” in process”.  When I contacted the company today, there was a long pause from customer service when I told him my name and order number. This was a different person from last week, but there most certainly seemed to be a notation in my file. The rep asked for a moment to research my order. When he came back on, he confessed the order had not yet shipped, but they were willing to pick up the entire cost of shipping if I would retract my negative feedback.  I thought about this for a while, and I decided to take them up on the offer. I told him I would need to be e-mailed tracking information immediately for the cartridge and that once I saw it was truly enroute, I would retract the feedback with the expectation my shipping refund would come within forty-eight hours.

I guess the point of this blog is to say, why didn’t they just make the good-faith effort the first time? I may make another purchase from this company and give them a second chance, but if they had just made a small concession the first time I would have had a completely different buying experience, one that I would’ve recommended to anyone.

Now spinning… Dire Straits, Making Movies (MS-Upgraded Merrill Heirloom, Ortofon RS-212D, Benz Micro Ruby Wood 2

May 12, 2011

It’s a sickness when you have to own more than one pressing of an LP. Last night I was on Michael Fremer’s website and I noticed I somehow missed there was a new pressing of Astral Weeks that came out in 2010.  There are a handful of albums for which I cannot resist buying every pressing.  Astral Weeks is one of those.

The way Fremer describes this pressing it is revelatory. Why can’t I ever resist that word? What is it about me that makes me just have to own it. So sure enough, I ended up buying last night. We all have to keep the economy going right? I will report back once I’ve made a few listens.

Now spinning… Bob Dylan… Desire (MS-Upgraded Merrill Heirloom, Ortofon RS-212D, Benz Micro Ruby Wood 2)

February 13, 2011

Last month, I started doing something I never thought I’d do: I started selling a limited number of turntable parts on eBay.  Though I get a half dozen to a dozen requests every week for this AR part or that Thorens part, up until the first of this year, I had always said no, that I am keeping the parts for my own restorations and for my previous customers should they develop a problem.

Well, new years sometimes bring new resolutions, and so, I am trying to cut down a little on clutter in my shop. Since I do a lot of arm upgrades on Thorens, I have acquired a number of stock arms in overall excellent condition, but that needed re-wiring.  (I don’t want to even tell you the number!)

Well, in my cleaning mode, I decided to dismantle those and sell the parts for which I often get requests.  And so, I made a “disassembly line.”  Each arm was carefully disassembled, and the parts separated into neat little piles.  Next, I soaked each part set overnight  in a bath of non-corrosive cleaner.  Then came the fun part, running each batch through my ultrasonic cleaner several times until the pieces were spotless.  Finally, I air dried in a mostly dustless environment, and individually bagged them.

The result is some parts for sale of which I am pretty proud.  You can see for some folks who sell parts on eBay, it’s all about quick turnaround and quick cash.  They tear apart a completely functioning Thorens just to make more money through parts than if they sold it whole.  None of it has been carefully inspected, handled, or cleaned.  After just looking at some of their photos I feel like I need to wash my hands!

If you buy parts from me, I can assure you it has not come from a functioning unit. I can also assure you it’s a part that I, myself, would install on one of my restorations.  Finally, I can assure you it’s been thoroughly cleaned and detailed, and will be shipped with promptness in sensibly safe packing.

Now spinning…Norah Jones, Come Away with Me  (MS-Upgraded Merrill Heirloom, Ortofon RS-212D, Benz Micro Ruby Wood 2)

February 6, 2011

Bought my second Ikea Expedit shelf yesterday and I am finally able to have ALL my albums out!  What a great feeing!  They still need some categorization/alphabetization, but they are out.  Some have really NEVER been out. So that’s cool.

Here the Ikea shelf series.

They are sturdy, easy to assemble, and seemingly MADE FOR lps.  I chose to not use the included back, leaving it open. Some choose to use birch plywood on back  for extra sturdiness.  My first shelf, loaded to the gills for two years, has shown no signs of sagging. Of course, you the included wall mounts if there is ANY chance it could tip. A few hundred LPs falling over could realy hurt some one or some thing.

Now spinning…Ray Lamontagne & the Pariah Dogs, God Willin’ & the Creek Don’t Rise  (MS-Upgraded Merrill Heirloom, Ortofon RS-212D, Benz Micro Ruby Wood 2)

January 27, 2011

In Woody Allen’s classic movie Manhattan, there is a scene where he and his lover discuss old faces, and both cherish the “character” that is revealed in old faces and lament that society places too much value on the youth and beauty in terms of faces.

I was thinking the other day that one thing I love about “encountering” vintage turntables is the character they have in their “dings and nicks.”  Perhaps it’s my creative imagination, but I enjoy thinking about where a turntable has been and how it got its “battle scars.”  Was that corner nick caused in a move from one dorm room to another? Did that tiny scratch occur during a wild house party celebrating the release of Sgt Pepper?  Was another ding the result of a serious storm and the only thing that survived was the turntable?

No one likes unsightly gashes and scrapes, but to me, I will always love the wonderful character of vintage equipment.

Now spinning…Van Morrison, Astral Weeks Live (MS-Upgraded Merrill Heirloom, Ortofon RS-212D, Benz Micro Ruby Wood 2)

January 13, 2011

It is with great excitement I unveil the new website design tonight.  The new format will allow updates to be performed with greater ease than before, so hopefully there won’t be content lags as before.  You will also note that the “mods” page has now become a “AR replacement/upgrade parts” page, and it’s now automated for direct purchase.  No need to always email me.  I am particularly excited to be offering George Merrill’s new replacement motor…as it says in my ad copy, it once and for all takes away the motor as the weak link in the mid-80’s tables.  Amen to that!  If you happen to find a dead link, please send me an email.

Now spinning…Ray Lamontagne, Trouble (MS-Upgraded Merrill Heirloom, Ortofon RS-212D, Benz Micro Ruby Wood 2)

December 27, 2010

Random Musical Memory #8. It was the fall of 1979 that my mother died from Hodgkin’s Disease. I was attending UNH and living at home that year as her cancer had taken a turn for the worse. Every day on the commute I would listen to Van Morrison’s “new” album “Into the Music.” The second side of that lp is still, in my mind, perfection. That trilogy of songs got me through that whole period of my life. I felt Van was speaking right to me with every word and note. “I want you to meet me….”

Now spinning…Bruce Springsteen, Nebraska (MS-Upgraded Merrill Heirloom, Ortofon RS-212D, Benz Micro Ruby Wood 2)

December 22, 2010

Random Musical Memory #7. I think it was the summer of ’79 that I got my second car, a sixty-eight Chevy Nova…red, V-6. How I loved that car! That fall I upgraded the car stereo with a Pioneer component cassette deck and installed some speaker boxes in the back. The sound was amazingly clean at almost volume levels. Between the car and the sound system, I figure I burned half our petroleum imports that year. It was a sad sad day when I crashed her one morning pulling into my best friend’s driveway.

Now spinning…Beatles, Abbey Road (MS-Upgraded Merrill Heirloom, Ortofon RS-212D, Benz Micro Ruby Wood 2)

December 20, 2010

Random Music Memory #6. The day I discovered Van Morrison in summer 1976. I had the car. I now had the stereo. Shortly thereafter, I was in my favorite local music store and there was the cassette version of “It’s Too Late to Stop Now” sitting in a clearance bin. I’d always liked the song “Moondance” but had never bought any Van. For the low price, I figured I’d give the double live album a try. I got out to my car and popped in tape one. AMAAAAZING! The synergy between band and Van was (and is) still jaw dropping. From that point on, Van has been my favorite musical artist.

Now spinning…Indigo Girls, Indigo Girls (MS-Upgraded Merrill Heirloom, Ortofon RS-212D, Benz Micro Ruby Wood 2)

December 19, 2010

Random Music Memory #5. The same year I commandeered my brother’s audio setup, I bought my first car: a 1968 Pontiac Catalina from a next door neighbor. I paid $200. I affectionately called the color “Puke Green” and that was only after I removed 18 layers of oxidized paint!

The very next paycheck after getting the car inspected, I bought and installed a stereo system. It was the cheapest one they had at K-Mart, I am sure. Some piece of crap thing that produced stereo sound and could play my cassettes.

What freedom that stereo system brought! I was living in a pretty full house with my family at that time, and cranking the stereo was frowned upon. But my car, that provided a haven unto myself where I could play what I wanted, as loud as I wanted, nearly whenever I wanted. It was truly at that point that I began to expand my personal music collection exponentially; I moved away from “borrowing” from my siblings and starting my own stash. As the saying goes, “It was all downhill from there!” Ha Ha!.

Now spinning…Gary US Bonds, Dedication (MS-Upgraded Merrill Heirloom, Ortofon RS-212D, Benz Micro Ruby Wood 2)

December 17, 2010

Random Music Memory #4. The first turntable I owned was one I “inherited” from one of my older brothers when he took off to live in California. All of his equipment was just sitting in our basement unused, so I took it up to my room and set it up best as I could. I am pretty sure the table was either a Panasonic or a Technics. The needle/stylus was broken, so I went to a local store that sold a lot of consumer electronics goods and bought a new Audio Technica cartridge for twenty-something bucks. (This was probably around 1976.) It said on the box that retail value was well over a hundred and twenty something.

I had never done anything with a cartridge before, so I just looked at how the other was on there, and tried my best to put this one in its place. Luckily the cartridge came with screws because the other cartridge was shaped very differently. Just sixteen and wroking on my first turntable, I had not a clue that a cartridge had to be aligned in any way. I simply attached it the way the previous one had been attached and kind of centered it on the head so it looked “even.” I was done! Lord knows how much damage I caused with that first set up! Luckily at that time, I usually used to play records just once and record them to cassette!

Now spinning…Steve Forbert, Jackrabbit Slim (MS-Upgraded Merrill Heirloom, Ortofon RS-212D, Benz Micro Ruby Wood 2)

December 15, 2010

Random Music Memory #3. There was never much opportunity in my 12 years of public school to share or talk about music. However, in 8th grade, our English teacher, Mrs. Brown, actually talked about rock/pop music as poetry. One assignment was to bring in a song we loved and talk about the lyrics. I wish I could say I picked a profound song, but all I knew in 8th grade about music was what was popular, and at that time, Chicago ruled. I played “Saturday in the Park.” Don’t know where you are today, Mrs. Brown, but you rock for making all of us think about, really really think about, lyrics.

Now spinning…Pete Townsend, Empty Glass (MS-Upgraded Merrill Heirloom, Ortofon RS-212D, Benz Micro Ruby Wood 2)

December 13, 2010

Random Music Memory #2. My first vivid vinyl experience was on a portable phonograph one of my siblings owned. I recall spending hours playing 45 after 45. Beatles, Monkeys, Animals, Petula Clark singing “Downtown.” That’s the first day the question appeared…”How does music come from those grooves?”

Now spinning…Elvis Costello, Armed Forces (MS-Upgraded Merrill Heirloom, Ortofon RS-212D, Benz Micro Ruby Wood 2)

December 11, 2010

Random Music Memory #1. I first fell in love with music the summer Simon and Garfunkel released the song “Mrs. Robinson.” In those days, AM radio literally played just a handful of songs all day long, and I recall vividly putting my older sister’s radio in the family room’s window pointing out at the rope swing behind our house. I would swing on that swing for hours, just waiting for that song to get played again. I love love love love loved that song…and I still do. When I hear or play it now, I am immediately transported to that summer and the lightness of swinging on air as that duo sang “Coo Coo Ca Choo.”

Now spinning…Ben Folds and Nick Hornby, Lonely Avenue (MS-Upgraded Merrill Heirloom, Ortofon RS-212D, Benz Micro Ruby Wood 2)

July 26, 2010

A place for digital?

I have always listened to cds and tapes in my vehicles. In fact, I bought my first car when I was sixteen, and I bought my first car stereo with cassette player shortly thereafter. Radio has its place sometimes, but what I really prefer when driving is playing my own music from my own collection. However, for me, the downside of car listening has always been about the limits of what you can bring. When I am home listening to vinyl, I have hundreds of choices to match my mood, my curiosity, my inclination. On the road, I was always limited to a couple of handful of cds (and before that cassettes) I would regularly rotate. Last winter, that all changed.

I’d been exposed to pure digital music as files since the heydays of Napster. What I loved about Napster was it allowed me to explore new artists for free. I especially loved the old Napster feature where you could see what other music files sharers had. Many times, when I found someone with similar musical tastes, I would explore their collection and then download some of the artists they seemed to like that I didn’t know that well. For example, that’s how I found Ryan Adams and Lucinda Williams. For me, though, digitized music was NOT an end in itself. Once I discovered an artist I liked, I would then go out and buy their lps or cds. I never spent large amount of times collecting purely digitized music nor listening to it. It was a mean to an end…finding new artists cheaply.

This all changed when I first saw the feature called “Cover Flow” on iTunes. Simply put, “Cover Flow” is like fanning through your cd or album covers at lightning speed on a screen. At last, I thought, here is a way to quickly access digitized music without scrolling through endless lists! I started using iTunes to store my downloaded music, and it was shortly after that I purchased my first portable digital device.

Like cell phones, iPods were something I thought I would never get into. I hated a lot what iPods represented: low quality music often downloaded for free so that artists never saw any of the money they deserved. I also hated the isolation they afforded people; lord help us if we had to talk with a near stranger!

Well, I started out talking about writing about music in cars, and that is why I am now an unabashed fan of iPods (mp3 players). I ended up springing for an 80GB Classic. 80 “Gigs” is a lot of freaking room! At present, I have over 2700 songs by over 100 artists, and over 200 albums adding up to more than a week of music! I LOVE having that much choice, literally at my fingertips, as I travel in my vehicle. It’s not the experience of the listening to vinyl, but then again, listening in a car never had been. However, for a guy who loves having the choice a large vinyl collection affords, traveling with an IPOD in a car is…ahem…nirvana.

Now spinning…Van Morrison, Veedon Fleece (MS-Upgraded Merrill Heirloom, Ortofon RS-212D, Benz Micro Ruby Wood 2)

November 21, 2007

I had a recent deal on eBay go south, and so I want to write about it so others will not fall into the same trap I did. The item was an AR the Turntable. The seller was Canadian, with the eBay ID rare_films_dvd . At the time of purchase, he had a total of 40 feedbacks, all positive.

In 20-20 hindsight, the following are things I should have noticed and/or been more concerned about: a)most of his previous items sold were small items, less than twenty dollars; b)oddly, the shipping WITHIN Canada was almost twice the shipping to US, and the Canadian “handling fee” was twenty dollars, too; 3) the mailing address was a PO Box; 4) the name for payment was a single name: Cyrus.

I know, I know…there are some real red flags here, but I chose to ignore them due to the the seller’s 100% positive feedback. I figured maybe “Cyrus” was the name of his business.

Anyway, I have lost over $240, and there is little chance of recovery. Of course, eBay will eventually eject the seller, especially since he now has three negatives in the past two weeks, all for non-shipment of expensive electronics. (Since my auction, he has also sold other big-ticket items, which I assume will also turn out to be negatives.) As far as Canadian small claims, how do you take someone to court when you don’t know their last name or address?

I am positive this fellow, and others like him, will continue to pollute eBay. Learn from my expensive lesson everyone: 1) Don’t buy from Canadian sellers unless they take Paypal; 2)Don’t buy from Canadian sellers if they are charging high shipping rates to Canada, enticing only US bidders; 3)If you must send an international money order, verify the STREET address and the first and LAST name of the seller; 4)when checking eBay feedback, be sure the seller has successfully shipped an expensive item and received positive feedback for it, not just nickel and dime items; 5)avoid seller rare_films_dvd

Update, January 12, 2008: With no help from eBay, I did manage to get back 90% of my money…mostly through threatening this fellow that I was going to take him to small claims court in Montreal. It was a bluff, but it worked.

Now spinning…Fleetwood Mac, Rumours (Merrill Heirloom, Sumiko FT-4, Benz Micro Ace)

April 21, 2007

In praise of the lowly belt…

Though everyone familiar with AR and Thorens turntables acknowledges the importance of the spring suspended subchassis to isolation of unwanted resonances, another critical component of this isolation is often ignored: the belt. Inherent in the fact that the three-spring suspension allows the sub-chassis to FLOAT, is the fact that an improperly sized belt will cause the sub-chassis to be aligned incorrectly. (Most often, an overly tight belt will pull the entire suspension towards the motor.)

In addition to its importance to proper fucntioning of the suspension, the correct belt size will also ensure there is constant velocity between the motor pulley and the drive platter. Any kind of slippage will result in speed variations. Finally, in the case of the Thorens, where speed change is accomplished mechanically, a high quality belt of the correct dimensions will ensure the proper change of speeds. You won’t find the belt riding midway between 33 and 45rpm.

To sum up, a high quality belt will allow independent motion of the subchassis, yet drive the inner platter at a constant speed by friction. It’s a complex balance that can only be achieved by a correctly sized belt of good quality rubber. (I wish you were here with me now so I could show you the difference in feel between a belt of good quality rubber and one that seems to be made of a poor synthetic rubber. The former has a suppleness and evenness of tension; the latter is slippery and lacks elasticity.)

It is almost comical to me how some folks will spend hundreds of dollars on the their cartridge, but then skimp on the quality of their belts. Come on, spending fifteen or even twenty-five dollars on such an integral part of your vinyl playback system should not be so hard when you have already invested so much. Would you rather spend it on a new motor caused by an overly tight belt stressing your bearings?

Now spinning…Mozart, Violin Concerto #3, Isaac Stern (Merrill Heirloom, Sumiko FT-4, Benz Micro Ace)

April 7, 2007

A question that I am surprised I don’t get asked a lot more is how do you rate a turntable cosmetically. I state in every table ad that I am a “hard rater”, but what does that mean?

I guess before I describe what I mean by a certain rating, I should tell you where I come from in terms of being a buyer myself. To put it simply, when buying a piece of vintage equipment, I am most happy when the gear arrives and it is in BETTER condition than I expected from the photos and description. Everyone loves the feeling that you got more for your time and money than you initially expected. I am no exception.

That said, it seems to happen less and less these days. What frustrates me the most, is sellers who loosely throw around the words “mint” or “near mint.” I am almost always disappointed when a piece arrives described in that fashion. To me, a “mint” piece of equipment is one that has never come out of the box except to be tested for functionality. To me, a “near mint” piece of equipment has no cosmetic issues, but has some very minor signs of wear. For example, the dustcover has swirl marks and the headshell has cartridge screw marks. Obviously, by these standards, you don’t come across many items that are truly “near mint” or “mint.” That’s the way it should be, and that’s why in all the years I’ve been doing this, there are no units I’ve sold as “mint” and only a handful as “near mint.”

Before I explain my ratings in more detail, I want to mention that I don’t rate a table until after I have detailed it. Being the anal retentive person that I am, when I detail a vintage Thorens or AR, I am wearing my magnifying visor (with dual lamps) that most other techs only wear when they are fine soldering. I don’t rate a table until I’ve completed my complete cleaning regimen with that visor in place. By that time, I have noted every imperfection in the table on a notepad by my side.

To move now specifically to my zero to ten rating system, a 10.0 is “mint” and a 9.0 or 9.5 is “near mint.” As mentioned above, these are rarely given. If a table is in exceedingly good condition, the most common rating I give is an 8.5. When I use 8.5, you know the unit is quite special and not one that comes along every day. It will have the slightest of nicks or the shallowest of scratches, but these will most likely not even be seen by even the owner…unless they are wearing a magnifying visor too! From 8.0 to 7.0 you will find a host of tables that look quite good in appearance, but have certain cosmetic issues that will be specifically spelled out in the description. The more small dings and/or shallow scratches, the lower the rating.

In general, the lowest rating I give to an advertised table is 6.5. At this point, Vinyl Nirvana has become synonymous with first class vintage turntables, and I don’t want that reputation tarnished by having someone show a friend a table that isn’t quite handsome to begin with. If a table is one that I would rate slightly below 6.5, it is often sold off-site to someone looking for a table for their bedroom or their workshop. If the table is a physical wreck, it is parted out into other tables that are more cosmetically worthy.

In closing, besides a Vinyl Nirvana buyer being thrilled with the sound of their refurbished vintage turntable, I am most pleased by the comment that the table’s cosmetics was “better than expected.” I hope having read this you now have a better idea of why I define myself as a “hard rater.”

Now spinning…Neil Young, Tonight’s the Night (Merrill Heirloom, Sumiko FT-4, Benz Micro Ace)

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

February 3, 2007

I love a good live album by a great live artist/band. Here are my favorites. The artists/bands with astericks are ones I’ve been fortunate enough to see live myself.

It’s Too Late to Stop Now~Van Morrison*

Four Way Street~Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

Alchemy~Dire Straits*

Live at the Fillmore~Lucinda Williams

Live at San Quentin~Johnny Cash

Live at Fillmore East~Allman Brothers Band*

Live Rust~Neil Young

Waiting for Columbus~Little Feat

Road Tested~Bonnie Raitt* (cd only)

Live~James Taylor* (cd only)

Live from Austin Texas~Richard Thompson* (cd only)

Live at Winterland~Bruce Springsteen* (bootleg)

Live at the Regal~BB King

Now spinning…Lucinda Williams~World Without Tears (Merrill Heirloom, Sumiko FT-4, Benz Micro Ace)

January 7, 2007

In some emails related to my last two blogs listing my favorite sad songs, some folks shared that playing depressing music makes THEM feel depressed. I usually experience the opposite: I find I listen to this kind of music mainly for its cathartic effect. Sad depressing songs almost always make me feel better: hearing another human voice experiencing the same anguish, I feel better knowing I am not alone in ever having felt that way. I also feel encouraged because the individual took that experience and turned it into art that can be a comfort for others.

The only music I find sad is stuff that reminds me of sad events because the song is closely associated with that event. It could be a song someone else finds thoroughly uplifting. I get angry at myself for associating songs that way, but it is impossible for me to separate life events from music.

Now spinning…Zithromax for my ear infection….

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

January 5, 2007

And now some of my favorite sad songs by male artists:

Thrill is Gone~BB King

Highway Patrolman~Bruce Springsteen

Come Pick Me Up~Ryan Adams

Desdemona~Allman Brothers*

How Will I Ever Be Simple Again~Richard Thompson

Fire and Rain~James Taylor

Over the Rainbow~Ray Charles

Everything~John Eddie*

Ambulance Blues~Neil Young

Come Around~Rhett Miller*

Under the Bridge~Red Hot Chili Peppers

Sick of Love~Bob Dylan

*not available on lp

Now spinning…Ray Charles~Recipe for Soul (Merrill Heirloom, Sumiko FT-4, Benz Micro Ace)

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

December 31, 2006

I love sad and depressing music. Others may drive around this time of year with Christmas carols blaring from their cars, but I am listening to BB King, Patsy Cline, Lucinda Williams or Ryan Adams. In that spirit, here are some of my favorite sad songs by female artists:

Crazy~Patsy Cline

Cold Tea Blues~Cowboy Junkies

Those Three Days~Lucinda Williams

River~Joni Mitchell

My Morphine~Gillian Welch*

I Can’t Make You Love Me~Bonnie Raitt

Don’t Miss You At All~Norah Jones

Monopoly~Shawn Colvin*

Bridal Train~Live Version~The Waifs*

*not available on lp

Now spinning…Feels Like Home, Norah Jones (Merrill Heirloom, Sumiko FT-4, Benz Micro Ace)

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

December 25, 2006

Christmas Miracle…2006

I have been having a great deal of difficulty getting good dustcovers for the AR XA/XB models. The last two turntables I bought on eBay SPECIFICALLY for the fact they had good dustcovers (and paid more than i usually allow myself to) arrived SMASHED to pieces from poor packing. At this point in my life I can deal with smashed tables due to poor packing in Zen-like fashion, but I was particularly frustrated with these last two because it has been so long since I had a dustcover that was not cracked.

Anyway, about three weeks ago I bought just a whole uncracked dustcover on eBay, paying a little over fifty dollars. Per usual, I offered the seller packing instructions. I stressed this was especially important given the holiday shipping “crunch”…literally and figuratively. I did not hear back from her. This was ominous because the seller lived completely across the country in California. It would never make it to New Hampshire if she did a poor packing job.

I buy items on a regular basis, and so I have packages arriving weekly, sometimes more. In the past two weeks, with every large box that has arrived I have been looking for that dustcover, with great anticipation, hoping it would arrive whole.

With the busy-ness of the holidays yesterday, the last thing I was thinking of was this AR XA dustcover. Our usual family tradition is to attend the 7pm mass on Christmas eve and then go out for Chinese food. We left the house at 6:15 and arrived back at 9:30pm. As I walked toward our side entrance, I spotted a recently delivered package. It appeared way too small to be a turntable sized object, so I figured it was a Christmas package from a relative.

Once I got it inside, I noticed the return name and address, and realized this was the dustcover! The box she had used was BARELY the size of the cover itself! On top of that, it was not the sturdiest looking cardboard, it was that thinner variety.

I gave the box a shake, and to my surprise, I did NOT hear loose pieces. I told my wife I was going to bring the box to my basement shop and I would be back up in a few minutes. When I got there, I grabbed my box cutter and opened the box. The dustcover was wrapped loosely in one SINGLE layer of bubble wrap with BOTH ends exposed and sitting flat against the sides of the box! For padding she had inserted about a quarter inch of thin brown paper.

I lifted the cover from the box, very surprised that a piece of the cover didn’t fall out the open sides. I tried to contain my excitement. There was just no way that the cover could possibly have made it across the country by UPS ground the last week before Christmas in that flimsy box and still be whole. No way.

I gingerly removed the bubble wrap and held the dustcover up to my shop light. I checked side after side after side. Not a single crack. Not even a hairline fracture!


Merry Christmas and happy holidays everyone. May your day be filled with family, friends and peace.

PS: Special Christmas greeting to my friend Amy and her husband Jay. Hope to hear from you soon.

Now spinning…Joni Mitchell, Blue (Merrill Heirloom, Sumiko FT-4, Benz Micro Ace)

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

December 23, 2006

Got some Christmas cash to spend? Though not brand new, two lps that have come out in the last two years that I have been enjoying recently are Neil Young’s Prairie Wind and Lucinda Williams’ Live at the Fillmore. Go buy them now!

Many of you know that Neil Young had a highly publicized brush with death at the onset of the making of Prairie Wind. The introspection caused by something like that is apparent throughout this fine lp which most definitely has an overall theme of setting things right with those he loves and making sense of his craft. Likewise, there is a sense of urgency throughout the lp…of time passing.

Young ventures into new territory on Prairie Wind, possibly because he had the feeling that he had nothing to lose. Like Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan, Young rarely pens a straight love song, but there are two on Prairie Wind: “Here for You” and “Falling Off the Face of the Earth.” Each has a tenderness rarely heard in his music. Neither is mindblowing in their lyrics, but this sort of emotional directness in such simple terms is a message unto itself: life is short, tell those you care for that you love them.

Though Young has experimented with orchestration and choirs a few other times in his career, the closer “When God Made Me” is more straightforwardly gospel in nature than any Young song I’ve heard. That traditional nature is juxtaposed with some very biting lyrics regarding the ironies associated with all of the havoc religion can create. One example: “When God made me/Did he envision all the wars/That would be fought in his name?”

Probably my favorite songs are “This Old Guitar” and “The Painter” where Young focuses his introspection on his craft. I think most people in the middle of their lives (I’m 46 as I write this) can relate to the themes in each. Overall, they relate to any kind of work, not just artistic ones.

Prairie Winds is not only excellent in terms of writing, but also sonically; this 200 gram 2 lp release sounds spectacular.

The same can be said sonically for Lucinda Williams’ Live at the Fillmore, a triple lp set featuring 22 songs. I don’t know anything about the technology used to mic and capture a live recording, but the folks who recorded this event over three evenings did a phenomenal job. There is incredible sonic presence in these tracks.

Before buying this lp, I had never owned a Lucinda Williams album. All I knew of her music came from hearing a couple of songs on the radio. What surprised me is the major focus on country-western blues; a genre I’ve always liked when done right, and hated when done wrong. I doubt Lucinda has any of the Hank Williams genes, but there is no doubt she carries on the tradition of heart-breaking songs and cry-in-your-beer lyrics.

When I hear a concert recording (or attend a concert, for that matter) I often pay attention to the pacing of the show…where the band or singer chooses to sing slow tempo, mid-tempo, and fast tempo songs. In general, I think a band or singer tries to have a balanced tempo mix. On Live at the Fillmore, the tempo is relentlessly slow tempo. That may really turn a lot of people off to this triple lp, but personally, I love it. (As I’ve probably mentioned in a previous blog, I also love sad depressing music and the cathartic effect it has on the soul.)

The band behind Lucinda Williams for these shows is first rate. Doug Pettibone on guitar fills each song with barbed wire leads, and drummer Jim Christie keeps every song interesting, even if the pace is relentelessly slow tempo…not an easy feat. Bassist Taras Prodaniuk provides a solid bottom in a way that melds transparently with the rest…what I feel is the sign of a great bass player. Lucinda declares at one point, “We got our mojo workin’ tonight.” She’s right.

There are many highpoints musically, but my three favorite songs on the lp are “Those Three Days,” “Essence,” and “Reason to Cry.” The mic-ing of William’s vocals is tremendous throughout, but in particular, on these three, there are layers of throatiness and breathing that you don’t hear captured every day. As I said earlier, the recording engineers got this one right, and the result is a very strong triple album I can’t recommend highly enough.

Now spinning…Lucinda Williams, Live at the Fillmore (Merrill Heirloom, Sumiko FT-4, Benz Micro Ace)

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

December 8, 2006

Twenty-six years since John Lennon was shot. Twenty-six.

I was only 3 years old when John F Kennedy was shot, but I recall all through my childhood the conversations by adults of how they remembered the exact moment when they heard he’d been assasinated. Lennon’s death marks me in the same way…

…I was a sophomore in college that year. For some reason I was at my parent’s home, and I was watching Monday Night Football with my dad. I heard the shooting announced by Howard Cosell, and immedately became upset. There was no CNN (or remote) in those days, and so I sat inches from the tv screen and switched channels trying to find more info. My dad, from another generation, couldn’t relate or understand. He went to bed.

I ended up staying up most of the night, and the next day I had an early morning art history course with a gorgeous professor I had the deepest crush on. I almost bagged it, but in the end I went just to get my mind off the senseless act.

Class started several minutes late…the professor walked into the mini-auditorium and looked like hell. She’d obviously been devasted by the event. She announced class was cancelled, but that if anyone wanted to stay, she was going to play Beatle and Lennon music for the remainder of the time.

Maybe five people left, but the rest of us remained, listening in silence, except for the occasional sob, to a mix tape of various songs penned by John.

Yes, 26 years have passed, but the event continues to scar my soul. One good thing about the anniversary this year…I have finally forgotten the name of the fucker who shot him. Finally….and that is how it should be.

Now spinning…Imagine, John Lennon (Merrill Heirloom, Sumiko FT-4, Benz Micro Ace)

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

October 15, 2006

In my opinion, the biggest problem facing the mid-80’s AR Turntable owner trying to take their table to the highest level of play is the unacceptable amount of noise emanating from the original Hurst motors. Even with damping, the motors are noisier than your average Thorens motor.

The most quiet AR/Hurst motors are the ones George Merrill modified back in the late 80’s to early 90’s. I have emailed George asking what exactly it is that he did, but he never replied. I think I recall speaking with Anthony about Merrill’s modified motors once, and I think he said part of the mod was simply drilling a hole in the base/cover to allow minute particles of plastic to fall through rather than accumulate and cause noise. There certainly IS a hole drilled in the base/cover of George’s modded motors, but I am pretty certain there was something else he must have done too. Someday I will have to sacrifice a damaged motor and figure out exactly what he did. George also designed a motor shield which was a large piece of aluminum that covered a 4″ diameter area around the motor on the top plate. (I believe his was mostly to eliminate Grado hum) He also designed a kind of motor “bath” which I have not yet investigated firsthand, but hope to some day. (I am not even sure if the Hurst motor was used in that instance.)

For those trying to quiet their own Hurst motors, there is a terrific thread at Vinyl Engine which covers several potential improvements. The most promising, which I have not yet tried personally, are melting lead into the top of the pulley and lowering the cap value in the power line. These are discussed at length in the thread. If anyone decides to undertake these mods, it would be wonderful if you’d snap some digital photos along the way. Send them to me at the site email address, and I’ll post them along with a description. This will help make it easier for the average person to do the same thing. (A picture is worth a thousand words.)

As many of you know, thanks to the work of Eric Whitacre to procure an order from Hurst (which can sometimes be a frustrating company with which to deal) I was selling original drop-in replacement Hurst motors. This past week, I sold my last motor. What I am hoping I can do next time, is offer a motor that is a TRUE IMPROVEMENT over the original motor. Personally, I do not have the time or technical expertise to initiate this process, but please know that if anyone out there wants to take on this project, I will fully support it in any way possible. For example, if helpful, I will pay for part of a motor order that is proven to be an improvement, or, if the person who takes on this endeavor wishes, he/she can sell them through my site free of charge.

Since the advent of Vinyl Nirvana and the start of the great forum at Vinyl Engine, with all of the concentrated interest focused on these lovely mid-80’s AR tables, the time has come for this nagging problem to be solved. Let’s do it!

Now spinning…Van Morrison, TB Sheets Merrill Heirloom, Sumiko FT-4, Benz Micro Ace)

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

August 13, 2006

As Vinyl Nirvana approaches its second birthday (Labor Day, 2006) I want to take some time to reflect on the experience of establishing this website.

First and foremost, it has been a humbling experience to find oneself as the “preeminent resource” for anything. Not a day passes where someone doesn’t email with a question about AR turntables or turntables, in general. Though it is time-consuming, I feel an obligation to answer as best I can. Thankfully, at my request, this past year saw the addition of an AR forum at Vinyl Engine. That resource has helped me immeasurably in referring folks to answers, especially to those questions that have multiple answers.

It has also been a humbling experience to have met the friends I have met through this site. Though the majority of these friends I have never seen face to face, their sharing of knowledge, spare parts, and their love of music, has been an unexpected reward. You know who you are…thanks sincerely for enriching my life.

The past two years has been quite an experience for me in terms of the equipment that has come my way, in large part due to the exposure of this site. Because of the fact when you Google “AR Turntables” this site comes up first, many individuals have generously offered to sell their dormant turntables to me. In some cases, just for the cost of shipping. In many many cases, their wish was for the table to be “restored” and then sold to someone who will “appreciate” its beauty and simplicity.

Okay, enough sentimentality…what can you expect from the website in its third year? My main goal is upgrade the “models” page. I want to increase the level of detail on each table, and provide a picture when possible. (Before I do so, I need to upgrade my aging digital camera.) In the coming year, I also hope to add more “tutorials” to the DIY/Mods page. I need to force myself to set the camera on the tripod and take more pictures of things as they occur on my bench. I also hope to continue to add photo tutorials by other enthusiasts, as I did in a couple of cases this past year.

Now spinning…Bob Dylan, Blood on the Tracks, 180gr. (Merrill Heirloom, Sumiko FT-4, Benz Micro Ace)

July 27, 2006

Benz Micro Ace. I cannot believe this cartridge sounds THIS good out of the box, and it takes forty hours to break-in!

Now spinning…Ryan Adams, Jacksonville City Nights (Merrill Heirloom, Sumiko FT-4, Benz Micro Ace)

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

June 3, 2006

“A little internet research can be a dangerous thing.” Just because an individual has a website or an online article or a blog does not make them an audio expert. One case in point is the recurring perpetuation of the myth that Rega arms don’t mate well to Thorens and other suspended subchassis tables. As far as I can tell, this “fact” is based upon an article written for Hi Fi Worlde in 1998. The author relates in an offhand way that the RB-250 is a poor match for the Thorens TD-160. There is no accompanying clinical data to show this, and the author never mentions the type of armboard, the cartridge used, or the alignment method. Nevertheless, this fairly famous article has spawned dozens of posts throughout the years where others have stated the Thorens/Rega mismatch as fact-based. This happened just the other day at Vinyl Engine. When questioned about the forum writers own experience with Rega/Thorens he admitted to using the set up just once and not for any telling length of time. Furthermore, he admitted a longstanding disdain for Rega products. If I had not called this particular forum writer “on the carpet” yet another forum reader would have taken the Rega/Thorens mismatch as factually based.

This brings me to the opinions based here in my own blog. Yes, I love vintage Thorens and AR turntables and know a lot about them, but my opinion is still just one man’s opinion based upon one man’s system in one man’s room with one set of ears. My ratings of Thorens and AR tables, for example, are just one man’s opinion, and very much open to debate. More pointedly, my opinion of the excellent sound potential of a Rega arm on a Thorens or an AR is just one man’s opinion. Yes, it is based upon over a dozen fittings and a dozen happy customers, but it is not the “be all and end all.” I am no audio god, but I like what I like, I listen extensively using reference recordings, and I’ve heard quite a few arm/table combinations in my lifetime. Still, I’ve never used sonic measuring equipment to prove or disprove the compatibility of the Rega arm to any suspended subchassis table. Until some experienced lab person DOES that testing, we should all refrain from declaring it a generalized rousing success or a generalized pitiful failure. Keep your opinions grounded in personal experience, and let’s avoid the perpetuation of “urban audio myths.”

Now spinning…Van Morrison, Pay the Devil (Merrill Heirloom, Sumiko FT-4, Shure V-15V-MR)

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

May 15, 2006

Working the past couple of weeks on Thorens TD-150, I decided I would write a short appreciation of the venerable TD-150. The 150 appeared in the early sixties, and is often referred to as the precursor to the Linn LP-12. (The contentious part is whether the AR XA is the precursor to the TD-150.) I have never owned an LP-12, so I can’t give you a direct comparison.

Though some rave about the 150’s stock arm, I am convinced after modding several units that the upgrade path should involve a new arm. I have personally tried a Linn Basik LVX, several Regas, and a couple of SME arms, all with excellent results.

One of the qualities that makes the 150 such a tweakable table is its large rectangular armboard. In some versions this was made of a wood composite material and in others it was a light plastic. In either case, I immediately change the armboard out. I have used wood laminate, oak, bubinga, and brazilian walnut. I have to say I have a preference for the bubinga both aesthetically and sonically; it is a very dense wood with a beautiful grain pattern and color.

A second quality I appreciate is the main platter bearing system. The 150’s captive ball bearing runs with exceptional smoothness…give that platter a spin with the belt off and it will literally keep going and going and going. Though the bearing is the same size in the TD-160/145, I prefer this captive ball design to the conical end of those models.

A couple of smaller touches I like on the TD-150 are the machined aluminum motor pulley and the thicker sub-chassis. With the advent of the 160 series, the pulleys became plastic, and the subchassis a light aluminum. If small changes all add up to a signature sound, I confess I prefer the older specifications.

If you are going to take the leap yourself and buy a Thorens TD-150, you owe it to yourself to spend some time in Steve Clark’s TD-150 Department (As I have mentioned a couple of other places on the site, Steve’s site was my inspiration for Vinyl Nirvana.) I have carried out most of the TD-150 tweaks Steve has covered on these pages, most with favorable results. One area where I differ with many TD-150 tweakers is in the amount of damping material I use. I prefer to use small amounts on the underside of the metal plinth and the subchassis, “capturing” and controlling unwanted resonances. Others prefer to cover everything in sight beneath the table. I believe strongly that too much damping can mute the personality of the table.

Likewise, I rarely damp my platters/sub-platters. First off, if you don’t do so with careful attention, you may throw the platter system out of balance. Second, though the platters do “ring” when separated, by design, when the two are joined on the table, the ring is substantially reduced.

Though all of these points so far have been mainly related to my appreciation of the TD-150’s individual parts, it is the sum of those parts which makes me a true advocate for this table. Regardless of the arm chosen for the modification, I have found the modded TD-150 to be one of the most musical tables I have heard. Not fatiguing in any way. A pure joy for all genres of music.

Now spinning…Patrica Barber, Cafe Blue (Merrill Heirloom, Sumiko FT-4, Shure V-15V-MR)

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

May 3, 2006

A few people have emailed asking for a rating of the AR turntables, much in the same way I rated the Thorens tables (July 4) last year. I can oblige, but this is slightly more difficult because the ETL-1 never came with a stock arm. So, let me start by saying, without a doubt, the extremely rare ETL-1 is the apex of AR turntable design. With its increased overall mass, sapphire bearing, electronic speed control, and versatility of arm mounting, it is a table that is stunning in both looks and sound.

That said, the rest of the ratings only deal with AR Turntables with STOCK tonearms. This continues to be a hard rating decision because there were some manufacturing changes that occurred after line ups were introduced. For example, I have a friend who owns an ES-1 that has the Sapphire bearing. However, more than one ES-1 has passed through my shop that has the traditional platter bearing. Likewise, the ES-1 came with at least two versions of motors: the Hurst and the Airpax. Further convoluting the rating is the fact some EB-101s came with a completely different sub-chassis/armboard design. One was easy to swap out tonearms, and the other was near impossible unless you had some power metalworking tools.Have I given you a head ache yet?

I guess it’s time to stop making excuses and do some rating. Topping my list is the ES-1 for several reasons. First, because it came after the AR “The Turntable” (Though they are essentially the same.) the ES-1 had many of the early kinks worked out. The arm was more reliable, the motor more durable, and the bearing was most often the sapphire one. Closely following the ES-1 is the EB-101 with the “crescent-shaped” armboard. (That is, the armboard that allows arms to be switched out with more ease.) In most cases, the updated EB-101 is the exact table as the ES-1 but without the sapphire bearing and with different styling. (Boxier) The arm and motor is the same. In third place spot is the AR “The Turntable.” In many cases, this table is also identical to the ES-1, but just in case you happen to get the model with the problematic tonearm or the older motor, I think it belongs in this spot. Following in fourth is the EB-101 with the older-style armboard/sub-chassis. These are still capable of great sound, but your options for upgrade are limited if you don’t have the right tools. In my mind, these mid-eighties AR Turntables all have a very similar sound and I am really splitting hairs to rate them. No one should feel inadequate because they own an older EB-101!! It’s an outstanding turntable.

Below the tier of mid-eighties tables comes the venerable AR XA. Once again, the XA went through a number of manufacturing changes. My favorite XA has the ever-reliable Haydon motor, the smooth painted grey top, and the solid walnut base (or walnut veneer). My least favorite features on the XA are the delrin inner platter bearing and tonearm well (subject to seizing up), the dual motor design (twice the chance of mechanical problems, right), and the older textured top that, in some cases, seemed to get sticky with age. I am also extremely partial to the real oiled walnut or walnut veneer. (I think the worst thing AR did EVER was to put vinyl walnut-look veneer on the XA and XB. Yuck!) The XA was truly a wonder in turntable advancement when introduced in the early sixties, but the weak point has always been the tonearm. The most glaring faults are the crude anti-skating (the c-shape of the tonearm wire as it enters the plinth!) and the fact when you adjust the VTA past a certain point, the lateral movement of the tonearm bearing increases. Once again, this is not to say the XA is not capable of excellent sound. An XA that is properly maintained and set up is an absolute joy to listen to, and in my opinion, it (and the XB) sounds like no other table out there. In my experience, with a Shure m97xe properly mounted and aligned, it sounds fantastic with older vinyl presings, like the Blue Notes, the Prestiges, and the Columbia Six-Eyes.

Right behind the XA is the XB. I rate it below the XA for mostly cosmetic reasons: the base is vinyl veneer, and the cueing lever takes away from the overall elegant design. (I must admit I love that AR brass badge too.) Sonically, I don’t think I can tell the difference betwen an XA and an XB.

Finishing last is my least favorite of the AR lineup…the XB-77. Again, more vinyl veneer, the absence of the brass logo, and the arm tube seemed to gain in overall mass, making it less nimble. Sadly, I have never met an XB-77 that I liked.

Now spinning…Rolling Stones, Some Girls (Merrill Heirloom, Sumiko FT-4, Shure V-15V-MR)

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

April 27, 2006

Five things that make a compulsive vintage audio equipment buyer happy…

1.The UPS or Fedex truck stopping in front of the house.

2.Your new “used” component that was advertised as “not powering up” has a blown fuse. That’s it.

3.Your component arrives in the the original box with the original manuals and the seller never even mentioned it.

4.Winning a vintage speaker auction that is local. No shipping required.

5.Your latest turntable…the one from the auction with no pictures…arrives with a Shure V-15 series mounted on it.

Now spinning…Miles Davis, Birth of Cool (Merrill Heirloom, Sumiko FT-4, Shure V-15V-MR)

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

April 14, 2006

Five things that get a Vinylphile excited…

1.Record shows.

2.Shiny black.

3.No spindle marks.

4.The absence of mildew.

5.Original posters still in the sleeve.

Now spinning…Jeff Beck, Truth (Modded Thorens TD-150, Rega RB-300 arm, Sumiko Blue Point)

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

March 23, 2006

I occasionally get asked how I inspect a platter bearing. The process is somewhat different depending upon the type of platter bearing used, but in general, here are some techniques for inspecting most platters. You should do this work at a fairly clean workstation with good light.

The first thing I do before even turning the unit on or spinning the platter by hand is to take the platter out and clean the bearing well. For most units this involves removing the outer platter, removing the belt, and then gently lifting the inner platter straight upwards out of the bearing well. Once the inner platter is out, place it in a safe place where it won’t “roll off” your work space and onto the floor, possibly causing irreversible damage.

My next steps involve the bearing well, not the platter bearing itself. I would say over half of the units I purchase for restoration have either a bone-dry bearing well or a dirty one. So I take a clean lint-free swab (I use the foam swabs from Parts Express), dip it in 99% anhydrous Isopropyl alcohol, and then gently clean out the well. If the swab is immediately covered in dirt/debris/old oil, keep switching to a new one until it’s clear. (Never dip a dirty swab back into the alcohol container.)

When the swab is clean, I take a small penlight and inspect the inside to see if I missed anything. The main point is to have it perfectly clean before reintroducing new oil and the platter bearing.

While the bearing well is drying out, I inspect the platter bearing. First I wipe it softly with a clean lint-free cloth lightly soaked in the Isopropyl. In good light, there should not be significant scratches or wear marks on the platter. What is “significant” varies in everyone’s vocabulary. To me, if I can “feel” the scratch when rubbing my fingertip over it, that is significant. An ebay seller from Germany sells main bearing polishing kits that work well if the scratches are minute. Follow his directions carefully, and in most cases the bearing will look (and feel) almost new. If the sides are smooth, next examine the tip of the spindle under a bright light (preferably one of the magnifier lights) and look for any wear on the tip. Move it around to allow the light to reflect off the entire tip (round section). Wear will generally show up as a small black spot on an otherwise shiny surface.

If the bearing is severely scratched or worn, there is no choice but to find a replacement platter. eBay is your best option.

(Before starting the next steps, be sure the table is near close to level by the bearing well.) If you are sure the remaining alcohol in the platter bearing has dried, add a few drops of sewing machine oil to the well, and a couple of drops to the spindle itself. Use a finger to gently spread the oil over the length of the bearing. Next, gently lower the bearing into place, and give it a few gentle spins. If you hear any grating sound, stop immediately. It could be you rushed the process of cleaning the bearing well, and some grime remains. Repeat the steps above for cleaning the well. Depending on the bearing type, it can take a few seconds or a few minutes for the bearing to seat itself. (For example, an XA bearing takes a couple of seconds, but the Merrill Heirloom bearing takes several minutes, even when loaded with outer platter and outer clamp ring.) Next, I generally place the outer platter on upside-down so I can better hear and observe the platter bearing. If there is significant noise, after many spins, that is usually a sign that either the well or the bearing are damaged. Possibly there is a bend that is so subtle you can’t see it. Possibly the damage is to the walls of the well where your penlight can’t catch it.

If the platter spins quietly, I remove the outer platter again and try to move the inner platter side to side. (Don’t mistake movement of the suspension for movement in the well.) Hold the platter with both hands and try to rock it gently side to side, back and forth and any other direction you can think of. Only a handful of times in all of my years of working on tables has one miserably failed this test. In most cases these old Thorens and AR bearings are so well manufactured that they rarely suffer significant wear. If there is significant side to side movement, more than 1/32nd, the bearng is significantly damaged. Your options are to buy and install a better used sub-chassis or get rid of the table.

A final test I give my oil bearings is the “suction” test. In most cases, a good bearing will make a sucking sound as it’s removed from its newly cleaned and oiled housing. That sound always brings a smile to my face.

Please note that many Thorens units contain a platter lock. You need to open up the bottom, and unscrew the lock and slide it over before you can remove the platter. Replace when done.

Now spinning…Complete String Quartets of Beethoven, Budapest String Quartet (Merrill Heirloom, Sumiko FT-4 arm, Shure V-15V-MR)

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

March 18, 2006

It was weird to get two brand new lps in the mail this week. Most of the vinyl I pick up is local, but there were a couple of things that came out relatively recently that I wanted to get. The first was Van Morrison’s Pay the Devil on Lost Highway Records. Lost Highway is the same company that puts out all of Ryan Adam’s stuff on vinyl. I haven’t read any reasons as to why Van is now issuing stuff on that label, but I would not be surprised if Van, a huge vinyl proponent, found that aspect appealing. I think this is the first Morrison release I have bought initially on vinyl in maybe twenty years. His work has been so spotty that I usually pick up the cd first and see whether it is “vinyl worthy.” In case you didn’t know, this is another foray into country music for Van. A couple years back he recorded a mostly country duet type album with Jerry lee Lewis’ sister Gail.. Not a bad record. I will not pass judgment on Pay the Devil until I give it a few more listens.

The second album is by Jason Molina, called Pyramid Electric Company on the Secretly Canadian label. I got interested in Molina from a forum discussion on Ryan Adams. A guy recommended Molina as someone that is cast from a somewhat similar mold. This is a solo album…and I really mean solo. It is either Molina on vocal and electric guitar, vocal and acoustic guitar, or vocal and piano. It’s a mostly dark record; some might call it self-indulgent, but I like records that are really raw and personal and idiosyncratic. An interesting point about the Molina release is that it was NOT released as a CD only. Every one has to buy the lp, and then there is a “free” cd on the inside. Again, I will hold my review, but it is interesting, and makes me want to buy some of his full band stuff with Magnolia Electric Company and Songs: Ohia.

Now spinning…Pay the Devil, Van Morrison (Merrill Heirloom, Sumiko FT-4 arm, Shure V-15V-MR)

Janaury 29, 2006

Finding Vinyl. Another question I am asked frequently is how do I expand my vinyl collection? Most definitely the best way to add to your collection is through yard sales. This requires a lot of work on your part, but the rewards can make it very worthwhile. The past year or so, I have backed off a bit from heavy duty “yardsaling” because I am at a place in my own collection where the stuff I really want isn’t out there…or it is spaced so far apart, that the empty-handed days aren’t making it worth all of the effort. In any event, for those unschooled in the fine art of the yard-sale, I’ll describe my process.

The first step in a successful experience is to find the local publication in which the majority of yard sales in your area are listed. In my area, the Friday edition of the paper has a special section devoted to yard sales. (In case you didn’t know, Saturday morning is THE prime yard sale time.) Grab a highlighter, scan through the listings, and see if anyone is offering lps, records. vinyl, etc. Those will be your first stops the next morning.

If one of those locations happens to be several towns over and you are wondering whether it will be worth the ride, use the “reverse phone number lookup” on one of the several websites devoted to phone listings. Type in the yard sale address, and give the folks running it a phone call. Immediately apologize for bothering them, then briefly explain your plight, and ask them what kinds of vinyl they will be selling. If it’s grandma’s Lawrence Welk collection consisting of five lps, you will have saved yourself some wasted gas and wasted time. If it’s a promising collection, ask them what time is the very earliest you can stop by. Thank them profusely for their time.

After you’ve made your call(s) and highlighted the sales that have vinyl, develop a “game plan” for the next morning. Look over the start times, and take into account the geographical location. Get a loose idea in your mind of where you will start and what general direction in which you will travel. Mapquest is invaluable if you don’t know the local area well. Plug in the info from address to address and print off the directions as needed.

Speaking of yard sale start times, there is a fine line between what is called an “early bird” and a stalker. Most definitely I always arrive prior to the starting time listed in the paper if the sale looks promising; however, you need to assess the situation when you get there. Have some respect if the poor people haven’t even set up a table and are just barely getting things put out. Go to another sale first, and come back again. On the other hand, if there is lots of stuff out, it doesn’t hurt to roll down your window and ask politely if you can begin to look over their stuff. Most times the answer will be yes. They will appreciate that you asked. I have seen folks just run out their cars and accost folks who are barely set up. I just think that’s in poor taste.

When you get to a yard sale, try to get the “big picture” of what’s offered first. Take a quick walk through the entire area. Be on the look out for milk crates and liquor boxes, the two types of containers most often used for lps. Even if you spot some lps right away, complete your walk-through to make sure there’s not a bigger and better stash offered a few feet away. (That happened to me several times before I started always doing a quick walk-through.)

After you have visited the yard sales that specifically mentioned lps or records, start on the rest of the yard sale list that looks promising. “Estate Sales” and “Moving Sales” are usually the most desireable, because a whole house is being cleared. One particularly effective technique I started using a few years back was to ALWAYS ask one of the people running the sale whether or not they have some “old records” they might be willing to sell. Nine times out of ten the answer is no, but every so often you might hit the jackpot and be the first person to peruse a collection.

Another moderately successful technique is, when someone says they HAVE records but they are NOT for sale, is to leave your name and phone number with them. Write the word “Records” in big letters across the top. It has worked for me a couple of times that when folks realized how much they had to move and/or they realize how small their new home is, they decide they WILL get rid of their records. Once again, you get to be the first person to peruse their collection.

Folks run yard sales for different reasons. You can get a sense for that within a few moments of being there. While looking around, listen to the response to low ball offers on items. If someone else offers 2 bucks for a 5 buck item, and the seller accepts, that leaves the door open for you to deal too. In general, the more you buy, the more you can try for a discount. A lot of times I find lps for 50 cents a piece. I end up with 12-13 albums, and I offer a total of five bucks. They are usually happy to get five bucks, and will allow the extra 2-3. (Oh yeah, psychologically, it’s advisable to have the five dollar bill right in your hand where they can see it, and your wallet put away.)

Yard sale prices per album vary, but most assuredly, this is the way to expand your collection on the cheap. It’s ironic, but I often find the best collections have the cheapest prices (twenty-five or fifty cents) while the sales with junk charge outrageous prices such as two dollars each. One thing I personally never try to do is take advantage of someone who looks like they really need the money, and the lp titles and condition are great. In those cases, I always pay full price.

You are probably wondering about the condition of lps you will find. For me, given the low prices I am paying, I am not going to take a ot of time examining an lp. I take five seconds to make sure the album inside is correct and that there are not any “death scratches.” Lastly I make sure it’s not warped. In my yard sale travels I frequently bump into a fellow vinylphile. He must spend a minute or more examining each lp before he buys. I simply can’t justify that much time when the prices are so darn low to begin with. (Obviously if I am in a record store paying 8-10 dollars, that’s a different story.) If you later get the lp home and it’s unplayable for something you didn’t catch in your five seond perusal, you are out a quarter or fifty cents. Big deal.

One final aspect of condition of yard sale lps I should mention is the prevalance of mold. If the albums are damp and smell heavily of mold, you will most likely NEVER get rid of the smell and the mold spores. Avoid. In some cases, if it’s a really desireable lp, I will take it, but later discard the cover. Briefly cleaning the lp itself in a light solution of bleach/water usually kills the mold there. If you find an lp in the “iffy” zone, I soak the lp in the bleach solution, and I use a BARELY wet sponge (from the bleach solution) and wipe down the cover. I follow this up by leaving the lp cover for 4-5 days in a deep freeze. I have been told this will kill the spores.

Well, that’s the lowdown on yardsales, complete with a couple of pro “secrets.” Happy hunting..and remember, just when you are about to give up is usually exactly the time when you get the biggest reward.

Now spinning…Crosby, Stills, & Nash, Self titled (Thorens TD-150, Rega RB-300, Ortofon OM-30 Super)

December 29, 2005

Before I began to concentrate solely on vintage turntables, my favorite equipment to work on were Marantz receivers, tuners, and amps. A while back I acquired a Marantz 2238B receiver in needy condition from a friend. Recently I undertook the project of cleaning and repairing it, and it brought back what a pure pleasure it is to work on the Marantz line.

I have worked on many different vintage receivers in my life, but I have always appreciated the logical layout of the Marantz equipment. One example is their squared off metal frame. With both the top and bottom covers removed, the frame still allows you to place the unit sturdily on any side you wish without fear of damaging the components. What a simple but woderful idea for the individual working on the unit, whether amateur or professional.

Another thing I love about the Marantz line is the sturdy brushed aluminum face plate. I have had these faceplates show up completely brown from dust and smoke. However, you remove the knobs, four screws/bolts, and one retaining screw, and it’s ready to be attacked with your favorite metal cleaner. (I use 100% Isopropyl Alcohol.) In 95% of the cases, they have cleaned up beautifully.

Some folks complain about the incessant need to change fuse lamps in the receivers, and that is somewhat true, but with the easy layout, it’s generally a snap to fix. Likewise, the controls are prone to dust/oxidation, but they too are for the most part easily accessible through the bottom panel.

It took only a couple of hours of cleaning and repairing to get the 2238B looking and working almost as good as the day it left the showroom. I’ve put the receiver in my bedroom. I now fall asleep listening to my favorite FM station in clear and musical fashion. And it’s hard to beat those romantic blue lights!

Now spinning…Ryan Adams, Jacksonville City Nights (Merrill Heirloom, Sumiko FT-4 arm, Shure V-15V-MR)

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

December 24, 2005

Great stocking stuffer for the vinyl addict. If they don’t already own one, buy a Shure SFG-2 Stylus Pressure Gauge available for about twenty-five dollars on numerous audio sites and on ebay. This clever device takes the guesswork out of setting tracking force. It is especially useful for AR XA and XB owners where the counterweight does not have markings. I bought myself a digital scale at one point, but I find myself still reaching for the Shure gauge automatically. To my surprise, it is dead on accurate to the higher priced digital offering.

Now spinning…Bob Dylan, Self Titled (Merrill Heirloom, Sumiko FT-4 arm, Shure V-15V-MR)

December 16, 2005

One of the most frustrating aspects of Thorens refurbishment is finding dustcovers in good condition. Unfortunately, Thorens had poor hinge design on almost all of their 70’s and 80’s units.

On the “Mark I” units, you had the hinges built into the dustcover, one on the back left corner and one on the back right corner. Though Thorens built up the thickness of the plastic at those spots slightly, they were still designed to hold the entire dustcover in an upright position on a metal “bracket”, and for that job, they just weren’t sturdy enough. When the dustcover was hit in the upright position, it was likely the hinge would break. It also didn’t help that they used a very brittle plastic with little “give.” In addition, if a heavy weight or force came down on the dustcover from above, that could also result in a broken hinge.

The Mark II tables saw a change in design, but the new design was weak in a different maner. The hinges were separate from the cover, but they were made of flimsy plastic. These get broken with the slightest pressure in the wrong direction.

Thorens finally got it right with the Thorens TD-160 Super and TD-147 where they used a metal hinge. The other great thing about those two models is that the cover stays up in a variety of positions. The plastic styles gave you two choices: full up or full down.

The end result of the poor Thorens dustcover/hinge design is a severe shortage of functional covers in good condition. On eBay I have seen new old stock dustcovers go for over one hundred dollars. I have personally paid seventy five (with shipping) for an uncracked MKII cover WITHOUT hinges in “fair condition.” I have seen the MKII hinges sell for forty plus dollars for a complete set. The most I have paid is thirty-five.

What is one to do if you can’t afford those prices? One of the classiest solutions is to cover the table with a silk scarf that complements your room decor. The right scarf can be quite stunning and dramatic. Of course, great care must be take to be sure you never catch your stylus on the scarf when removing it!

Interestingly, in contrast, to the Thorens hinge problems, the mid-eighties AR turntables were very well designed with a metal hinge attached to the table. They used a more forgiving acrylic/plastic that can actually bend. I may be jinxing myself, but I have yet to come across a broken dustcover or hinge from these mid-80s ARs.

Now spinning…Miles Davis, Kind of Blue (Merrill Heirloom, Sumiko FT-4 arm, Shure V-15V-MR)

November 13, 2005

Different record clamps will most definitely yield different sonic results, as well as using no clamp at all.

My clamp history:

*Cheap no-name metal clamp on TD-160. Hated it, too much bother. Difficult to properly tighten.

*Screw on clamp on Music Hall 5&7. Nice quality design, easy to use. (Spindle was threaded.) I found both of these tables to be too “analytical” for my tastes. I’m not sure how much the clamp had to do with it.

*Michell Record Clamp on AR ETL-1. Maybe the device was defective, but I could never get a satisfactory bond. It was always tighter than I would have preferred.

*VPI center clamp and Merrill Outer clamp on Merrill Heirloom. I have done some listening tests with my personal “reference” recordings, and the improvement on the Heirloom with the two clamps is immediately obvious. I had never used an outer clamp before, but the way it hugs the record from the outer edges creates an obvious stability that carries over into improved sonics. Also, the VPI clamp is the nicest non-threaded model I have used.

I am soon to begin some listening tests on a fully Merrill Modded AR-ES-1 with outer clamp and the Merrill Weight. I will report back.

Now spinning…Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon (Merrill Heirloom, Sumiko FT-4 arm, Shure V-15V-MR)

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

October 23, 2005

Instead of writing blog entries in my “spare” time, I’ve been whittling away at the new Merrill turntable pages. The work is slow. Though I put a call out for info at every major audio forum I know of, I have received less than a handful of responses. Most of my present info and pics has come through “creative googling.” For example, I have visited several Italian sites. When these sites are “translated” it is usually of poor quality, and it takes time to figure out what is what, relying on my limited knowledge of the other Romance languages. Also, when I find a posting anywhere mentioning someone owns an Heirloom or a Merrill-modded table, I email them. A lot of these posts are several years old, and the emails often come back “undeliverable.”

In spite of the snail’s pace, I am excited at what is accomplished. I have three good galleries, a pdf of the Heirloom manual, some brochure pics, and the piece de resistance, a transcribed interview with George Merrill himself.

At present, I am still shooting for a mid-to-late November unveiling. Though I am slightly disappointed with the amount of the content, I have to remember that the AR portion of the site started off humbly too, and that once the resource is made available, more owners will discover it and share their pics and info.

Now spinning…Van Morrison, Veedon Fleece (Merrill Heirloom, Sumiko FT-4 arm, Shure V-15V-MR)

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

October 16, 2005

More favorite album cover art.

The cover art for Neil Young’s After the Goldrush has always been a favorite. On the front, you see a black and white photo of Neil walking along an urban street. Everything is gritty brick, steel and cement. Along the top is “After the Gold Rush-Neil Young” in gold letters, some of which appear to be tarnished badly.

At first you notice just Neil walking, but then you blink once and see an old woman emerging from behind Neil, walking in the opposite direction. She is easy to miss at first for two reasons. One, there is some photographic effect given to Neil’s face that makes it appear like a negative and I think it is natural for the person viewing the photo to focus on this aspect that is “out of place” from the rest of the photo. Two, the woman is a full foot and a half shorter than Neil. Interestingly, the woman’s face is not given the same “negative: treatment.

The expression on Neil’s face is one of contempt. His eyes are focused on something in the distance and he is obviously not happy with what he sees.

On this particular album, my appreciation of the cover art extends to the back. Long before Springsteen displayed his backside on Born in the USA, we had this closeup of Neil’s jeaned ass. In typical late sixties/early seventies style, the jeans have been multi-patched. I imagine that the color version made a striking photo, but in black and white, it is the texture of the jean and the patches that grab your attention. The florals, paisleys and geometric patterns are striking.

Now spinning…The Who, My Generation (Merrill Heirloom, Sumiko FT-4 arm, Shure V-15V-MR)

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

September 30, 2005

In the heyday of Napster, I was a huge Wilco fan. One cool thing about Napster was the ability to search individual users’ tastes in music. That is how I eventually came upon Whiskeytown, Ryan Adams’ first “big” group. (I noticed the name Whiskeytown kept appearing on the lists of those who also liked Wilco.) Shortly after I began buying Whiskeytown music, the group split up. Then Ryan Adam’s put out his first solo album called Heartbreaker. It was a fantastic record; and I’ve been a huge fan ever since.

Throughout his solo career, several writers have criticized Adams for his “chameleon nature.” His albums have run the gamut of straight out rock to alt country to (his latest) jam rock. Likewise, his vocal acrobatics have replicated Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, Neil Young, and Hank Williams, to name a few. Some folks have straight out called him a “thief” and a “copycat.” I think those are unfair labels.

Recently, I have fallen in love with Ryan Adams’ latest release, Cold Roses, under his name along with his supporting band “the Cardinals.” In initial reviews, it has been suggested that the album sounds a lot like the Grateful Dead. Some of the titles (“Magnolia Mountain”) suggest the Dead, and some of Adams’ lyrical phrasing sounds exactly like Weir and Garcia.

I must admit, upon the first few listens, this album seemed like a step down from recent releases such as Love is Hell and Rock N Roll. However, as great albums sometimes do, they sneak up on you after repeated listenings. That has been the case with Cold Roses. These songs are truly outstanding, particularly on record two. In addition, the playing, especially the pedal steel, is so subtle at times it takes a while for you to appreciate it.

Interestingly, over the weekend I saw Woody Allen’s “mockumentary” Zelig. In documentary style, it recounts the life of a fictional character named Zelig who is known as “the human chameleon.” The character, played by Allen himself, adopts not only the social aspects of whomever he is with, but also the physical characteristics. Thus, at a 1930s speakeasy, in one moment he is an Italian mobster, and at another, a black jazz player. (If you haven’t seen the movie, that is one of my favorite scenes.)

I bring up Zelig because the movie is a satire of the homogenization of our culture, and also the increasing unwillingness of people to disagree with mainstream pop culture. Zelig, at heart, is a coward unable to express his individuality for fear of not fitting in.

I guess listening to this Grateful Dead-sounding Ryan Adams lp a few times since watching the Zelig has brought to the forefront the “chameleon” comment that one reviewer used to describe Adams. I have been pondering the question, is Ryan Adams just a cheap hack who steals others’ musical ideas, or does he deserve merit on his own? To me, the answer is undeniably the latter.

Thinking a lot about how an artist matures, particularly painter and poets with whom I have some familiarity, there is most definitely a period where artists are sponge-like, soaking up everything that moves them emotionally and intellectually, and using it in their own art. Then, after a period of years, the true artists begin to make their own mark. I see Ryan Adams in this realm. Though he has seemingly stolen from artists ranging from Pete Townshend to Gram Parsons, the end product is/was always filled with “soul.” Unlike Zelig, Adams isn’t absorbed into his latest “appreciation” in a such a way that he becomes nondescript. On the contrary, his strong songwriting and unique vocal attributes make him one of the most exciting artists to come along in quite a few years. I recommend all of his recordings, including his Whiskeytown releases, and I hope that all of them eventually find their way onto vinyl…the place where all great music belongs.

Now spinning…Pink Floyd, Meddle (Merrill Heirloom, Sumiko FT-4 arm, Shure V-15V-MR)

September 26, 2005

And the survey says….

I’ve written here in the blog about a number of questions that are frequently posed to me. Without a doubt, THE most frequently asked question is “Do you have a spare headshell for an AR XA or XB?”

Though the AR XA was forward-looking in its engineering when it originally appeared on the market, one thing that the makers did not foresee is that these turntables would still be in use forty or so years later. Thus, the plastic headshell with its plastic “nubs” that hold it tightly to the tonearm have NOT aged gracefully. The most common failure is for these nubs to wear, no longer holding the headshell tightly to the arm, sometimes so much so that the audio signal is intermittent.

So what is an AR XA owner to do? (Besides write Dave at Vinyl Nirvana?) Well, the number one source for headshells remains eBay. Average price is 35-45 dollars without cartridge. Of course, the important info to glean from the seller is “Are the plastic nubs worn?” It is also a pain to install a cartridge in the headshells that have lost the tiny metal screw inserts, but I have found increasing the screw size and careful even pressure as it is “tapped” to prove successful. Most definitely, though, one WITH the metal inserts is worth more money.

Another option is to attempt what another XA owner tried. He used some kind of epoxy in the area of the nubs, and filed it down to exactly match its original configuration. It was a lot of work, but seemed to work for that owner.

Another option is to place want ads at various audio sites. For example, Audio Asylum, Audiogon, and SH Forums all allow free want ads. Others subtly (or not so subtly) express their desire for a headshell in the forums themselves, though this is frowned upon by most moderators. It does sometimes work, though.

A final option is to buy an AR XA or XB “Parts” unit. Ironically, the price of a good headshell on eBay sometimes exceeds the selling price of XAs/XBs with small mechanical issues or large cosmetic issues. It is definitely a good thing to have a spare unit on hand; I mean the first AR XAs are now over forty years old!!

Good luck no matter which tack you take.

Now spinning…Frank Wess, “North, South, East, Wess” (Merrill Heirloom, Sumiko FT-4 arm, Shure V-15V-MR)

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

September 24, 2005

Though this site is dedicated to a line of audio equipment, it is my hope that I and its readers never lose sight of what the equipment is for…to listen to music. In that vein, I wanted to share with you all one of the most gratifying parts of my life right now. It’s called Music Club.

I became familiar with the concept when my friend Ian and his wife Carianne moved to NH from Washington DC. While in the DC area, Ian, Carianne, and a group of friends thought of the concept of a Music Club modeled loosely on the idea of a monthly book club. The club was very successful in DC, and when Ian and Carianne moved to NH and met me, they wanted to give the club a try here.

Here are the basics of the way music club runs here. We meet once a month (on a rotating basis) at one members house. Each member brings two tracks of music to share. The host may pick a theme if they wish, or sometimes it is free choice. (Some popular themes: cross-gender covers, driving songs, a favorite song from your high school years, songs with a focus on percussion, and so on.) The night usually starts with some food, provided by the host. Then we retire to the listening area. Most often we begin with the themed songs, but not always. Each person plays their one song, saving their second track for the next “round.” Before you play your song, you can make as long or as short an introduction as you wish. Sometimes it’s just fun to play without saying any intro at all.

There is one cardinal rule in Music Club…you don’t talk while someone’s track is playing. Never. Once the track is done, we have a conversation that just flows naturally. It might be about what influences you hear in the song/artist; it might be a funny or interesting story associated with the song, it is really just whatever folks want to mention. Not everyone is expected to add to the conversation, but the next song generally doesn’t start until the discussion has fizzled.

In addition to providing food, the host is also responsible for writing down who played what. This is later translated to an email to the whole group, even members who couldn’t be there. These accounts of the tracks played differ widely, from spreadsheet style to long meanderings about each track played. It is really up to the host, but the expectation is that at a minimum, a song list will be mailed.

How might you start a music club where you live? I think it begins with a few music-loving friends. Hopefully, each of your music-loving friends will have another music lover who you don’t know. (Our club consists of five or six “hardcore” members, and about five folks who drop by occasionally. I think it is important to have about four to five hardcore members, because music club just doesn’t work well with three people.) Explain the concept to these fellow music lovers, and gauge some potential dates. Once you have a consensus, just set a date, and go with it.

As I said in the intro, music club is one of the most satisfying parts of my life right now. In my younger days, I often made cassette or cd compilations for fellow music lovers. Now I keep those “shareable tracks” for music club. It’s great to be able to get the immediate response when you share a great song with the rest of the club. Another wonderful aspect is learning of new musical “finds” and being reminded of songs/artists that’ve been “lost.”

Give it a try in your part of the world. What have you got to lose?

Now spinning…Neil Young, Tonight’s the Night (Merrill Heirloom, Sumiko FT-4 arm, Shure V-15V-MR)

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

September 10, 2005

Though just a few days old, I am very excited about the Vinyl Engine’s new discussion forum for AR Turntables. I know it’s a bad habit to send people off site with a link, but Vinyl Nirvana has always been about being the best possible resource for AR turntable owners. I feel very strongly that the new VE forum will be THE place for AR enthusiasts to share information. (And hey, if you need to get back to Vinyl Nirvana, the link is right there as a “sticky” on top of the forum.)

On average I get two to three questions a day from AR owners through my Vinyl Nirvana email address. I am hoping that folks will begin to post their questions there or search the forum’s archive. As a matter of fact, some of you may have noticed I have been posting a question a day. These are actually the most common questions I get asked by email. Though I don’t mind answering questions, it does get repetitive, and also, I am just one person with one opinion. As I have found out from recent posters at the forum, there is more than one way to go about things. The ideas have been fantastic!

So, if you haven’t already, click on over to Vinyl Engine, register yourself, and share your own experiences, questions, modding tips, and “refurbishing tricks” with other AR turntable lovers.

One final word about the new forum…I hope that my friends at Audio Asylum, AudioKarma, Audiogon, and SH Forums don’t feel that I am a traitor for becoming a moderator at VE. I will continue to read and post at every one of those forums, but I cannot help but be attracted to the individual focus the new forum at VE offers.

Now spinning…U2, Unforgettable Fire (AR XA, Stock arm, Shure m97xe)

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

September 6, 2005

Some thoughts on…THE RITUAL

1)If you have to explain THE RITUAL to someone and why it’s worth it, expect that that particular someone will never get it.

2)Even for those who believe, THE RITUAL is sometimes a chore. I could lie and say otherwise, but then…that would be lying.

3)Parting from THE RITUAL occasionally is really and truly okay. You don’t have to resort to self-mutilation. Really.

4)Though the specific materials may come and go, the ultimate goals of THE RITUAL will always remain the same: clean static-free grooves and a clean static-free stylus.

5)One must learn to forgive those who don’t follow THE RITUAL. (See number one.) Groove damage has been happening now for over a century, and will continue to happen after we are all dead and gone. Accept that. (And hope they don’t own too many original Blue Notes.)

Now spinning…Tom Petty, Southern Accents (Thorens TD-126 MKii, Stock arm, Ortofon OM-30)

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

September 4, 2005

Random thoughts as Vinyl Nirvana turns one year old….

Thanks to this blog, I have started writing regularly again for the first time in ten years. It feels so good.

Not a week goes by where someone doesn’t write thanking for a bit of info found on the site or at one of its links.

Because of the site I have new found acquaintances I talk with or exchange emails with regularly in Australia, Canada, and Great Britain.

I am still so proud that for the first time in thirty plus years my good friend Andre and I finally followed through on one of our schemes/dreams and made this site a reality. It never would have happened if not for his technical expertise.

I plan on living until I am a hundred. (Now at age 45) I wonder what the site will look like in another 55 years! Will you press a button and will an XA materialize, a la Star Trek, right before your eyes?

Still spinning…Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, Cold Roses (Thorens TD-126 MKii, Stock arm, Ortofon OM-30)

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

August 31, 2005

It ain’t the heat, it’s the humidity….

For the past several days, New England has been running humidity close to 100%. I have heard before that relative humidity can affect sound, and I think over the past several days I can hear that for myself. Though my listening room is cooler than the rest of the house, it is still quite humid at the moment, and I have been finding it hard to be engaged in listening the way I usually do. Maybe it’s in my head, but horned instruments appear lightly muted, and percussion lacks “snap.”

This got me thinking about humidity in different parts of the country and how it might affect choice of components and, ultimately, because I deal with it so much, cartridge choices and alignment. I spend quite a bit of time listening to and aligning cartridges for my customers. I take into account their components, their musical preferences, and the types of pressings they own. However, relative humidty is something I never considered. Would listeners in a primarily arid environment prefer cartridges and set ups tending toward the “dull” side? Would those in more humid environments tend to prefer brighter cartridges, and alignment favoring more treble?

Now spinning…Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, Cold Roses (Thorens TD-126 MKii, Stock arm, Ortofon OM-30)

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

August 28, 2005

So far I have written about two albums I use as “reference records” when I am tuning a turntable or aligning a cartridge. A third that I use heavily is Dire Straits’ “Brothers in Arms.” (Slightly ironic given it is one of the releases credited with launching CDs. Some analog purists bemoan the fact BIA was digitally produced…well, get a life, give it a listen again after all these years, and make sure you crank it up! )

If you have never heard any of Dire Straits’ or Mark Knopfler’s recordings, each one is impeccably engineered and produced. Brothers in Arms (BIA) is produced by Knopfler himself, with Neil Dorfsman as co-producer and the engineer. Mastering of the vinyl version is by Bob Ludwig.

I must confess before I say anything else, most of the components in my system were tested in store using this album. I am a huge fan, and it’s critical that Knopfler’s guitar, in all of its incarnations, sounds pristine and true. (The same holds true for Van Morrison’s voice and BB King’s Lucille.)

Though side one contains the hits (Money for Nothing, So Far Away, Walk of Life), it is side two that I use as a reference. The side begins with the light synthesized “jungle” sounds of “Ride Across the River”, a chilling song about soldiers of fortune. Right away a musical “shaker” of some sort is introduced, and the clarity of the beans or beads or whatever is inside the shaker is amazing on a cartridge/system that is set up correctly. You can close your eyes and feel the percussionist is right there in the room. Before long, Knopfler’s guitar enters and then a trumpet. The interplay between the two in the song is gorgeous, and a good cartridge set up will reveal the two as nearly equal in the mix.

The next song, “The Man’s Too Strong” begins with Mark on acoustic guitar, and shortly after, the steel guitar appears. The big “surprise” in the song is the crashing of instruments over the lines “The man’s too big, the man’s too strong” which comes in sharp contrast to the acoustic feel of the rest. The overall impact of the “crash” is a good test of the cartridge set up. Can you hear the separation of instruments, and yet does the crash almost knock you back in your seat?

The next song, “One World” is my least favorite of the side, but it gives me a necessary breather before the climactic final track from which the album itself is titled. One thing I do pay attention to in the song is the drumming, exquisitely produced with tremendous realism. Are they too boomy, or crisp and deep?

What can I say about this final track? It’s positively one of the highlights of Knopfler’s career. Though the message isn’t new (war is bad), the slow build up of the instruments, and in particular, Mark’s guitar is phenomenal. (I love the little instrumental break before the final stanza, which just hints at that build up.) After that final stanza, it’s all Mark and the band…I’m not paying atttention to ANYTHING…Knopfler’s guitar, Alan Clark’s Hammond and Guy Fletcher’s synthesizer are just washing over me, and a few seconds after the fadeout, I am wishing it could go on another three minutes.

And THAT is when I know a cartridge is set up properly…when I’m not even THINKING about the cartridge any longer.

Now spinning…Bobby Darin, Live in Vegas (AR ETL-1, Linn Basik Plus arm, V-15 v)

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

August 23, 2005

I often get asked for tips on how to care for an AR walnut veneer or solid walnut base. If I get in a walnut table that has led a particularly hard life, I start off with a dusting, and then I use a soft cotton cloth dipped in mineral spirits to really clean out the years of gunk and grime. I don’t scrub hard at all, just wipe gently. The mineral spirits opens the pores of the wood and really cleans it out. Depending on the condition, I sometimes give it a second cleaning.

I usually let that dry for several hours, and then I use several coats of Formby’s Lemon Oil Treatment which I buy from my local hardware store. (I used to think that working in a florist shop would be the ultimate job of olfactory perfection, but now I think it would be working at the Formby’s Lemon Oil plant.) The number of coats is dependent upon the years of neglect to which the wood was exposed. Sometimes one is sufficient, and other times the wood is so dry it absorbs five or six.

When you use any kind of oil on your turntable, be very careful of contamination of the belt, the motor pulley, and the inner platter. A little oil in the wrong place can significantly affect speed accuracy.

I reapply lemon oil twice yearly. I live in New England…you may find having to do it more often if you live in an extremely arid environment.

Now spinning…Rolling Stones, Some Girls (AR ETL-1, Linn Basik Plus arm, V-15 v)

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

August 22, 2005

I’ve been camping for the past several days in the wilderness of Maine. As I was stuck in traffic today on Route 95 heading south, I ranked the order of things I missed the most about being home:

1. My bed

2. A hot shower

3. Spinning vinyl

Ah…life’s simple pleasures.

Now spinning…Neil Young, Comes a Time (Thorens TD-126 MKii, Stock arm, Ortofon OM-30)

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

August 15, 2005

Today’s blog outlines another reference test lp I use in tweaking the set-up of a turntable, tonearm, and cartridge. Most often, these are records that help me to get the most out of a cartridge. I know when I’ve achieved a certain level of sound, the adjustments are near done.

Just as I never tire of listening to Count Basie and the Kansas City 7 lp (see July 30), the same holds true for Van Morrison’s masterpiece, Moondance. Note that pressings are an issue in this case, as I find the best to be the Nautilus half speed master version. I could not believe the difference between that record and the old white label version I first owned! Later on I bought the Simply Vinyl pressing and thought it was the worst I ever heard. Muddled sound that ruined the whole album for me. (I also own cds, cassettes, and a reel tape.)

On to the songs. The whole of side one is a great test for midrange. The thing I really hone in on is what some writer in Rolling Stone years ago once described as the “yarrrrragh” in Van’s voice: that throaty quality that gives his voice the resonance of a reed instrument. When I get that intimate throatiness I am looking for, I know my set up is close to done.

The prevalence of saxophone on side one also is a test for the midrange; for example the wonderful solo by Jack Schroer on the title track. I also think the quiet song “Crazy Love, with the female back-up singers and the gentle strumming guitar is a key track. If all of that is sounding great, and it reaches the final cut of side one, “Into the Mystic,” and the bass also sounds “alive” without being too punchy, I know I’ve got things right. (“Mystic” is also a great track to use to test your anti-skate adjustment. If there is any distortion at all in Van’s voice on this cut, I know I’ve got adjustments to make.)

Now spinning…Exciteable Boy, Warren Zevon (Thorens TD-126 MKii, Stock arm, Ortofon OM-30)

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

August 14, 2005

Another album cover I love is Timbuk 3’s debut album called “Greetings from Timbuk 3.”

The cover features a burro (donkey?) with a television strapped to its back. The donkey is wearing a wool blanket “saddle.”

It is the disparate image of the burro and the tv which makes me smile. The burro is associated with an extremely rural/vintage environment, and the television makes me think of an urban/contemporary environment.

The disparity is further empahasized by the traditional Native American pattern on the blanket, which is directly below the tied up tv with its blank screen.

As a side note, in addition to the “hit” “The Future’s So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades” this album contains a gem of a song called “I Love You in the Strangest Way.”

Now spinning…Manhattan Soundtrack (Thorens TD-126 MKii, Stock arm, Ortofon OM-30)

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

August 11, 2005

Favorite Album Covers. In no particular order, I will occasionally write about some of my favorite album cover art.

The Clash, London Calling.

A dramatic black and white photo emblematic of the punk movement. It looks like the guitar is being wielded as a weapon with the last bit of strength in the guitarist’s hunched over body. I love how the lighting whites out part of the guitar, giving it kind of a light saber-ish appearance.

“Framing” the photo you have giant block lettering in green and…PINK!

In a roundabout way, it reminds me of William Blake’s famous painting called “The Ancient of Days“.

See what I mean?

Now spinning…Pete Townshend, Who Came First (Thorens TD-126 MKii, Stock arm, Ortofon OM-30)

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

August 10, 2005

How cool is it to be downstairs and hear my seventeen year old playing the Grateful Dead’s “Terrapin Station” in his bedroom, and then to walk upstairs and hear the fifteen year old playing Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.”

At least it feels like I’ve done something right.

Now spinning…CSN, CSN. (Thorens TD-125 MKii, SME Series II Improved, Sumiko Oyster)

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

August 8, 2005

Reasons it’s a good idea NOT to have turntables in cars…

1. You think changing CD tracks is hard???

2. Pothole season…which is pretty much January to December in New Hampshire.

3. When the dog rides in the car she likes to pretend she’s a scratch artist…and she’s smart…she knows I can’t tap her nose with a newspaper when both of my hands are on the wheel.

4. In late summer, eventually even the hardiest of those among us will tire of scraping melted vinyl from platter mats.

5. My record vac is too noisy with the windows rolled up.

Now spinning…Miles Davis, Birth of Cool. (Thorens TD-125 MKii, SME Series II Improved, Sumiko Oyster)

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

August 6, 2005

Reasons you SHOULDN’T get back into vinyl….

1. You are really dying to hear your disco records as they were meant to be heard.

2. Your interior decorator said a turntable with walnut veneer sitting on that shelf right THERE will contrast magnifcently with the birch in your coffee table.

3. Your nostalgia for all those mornings in the frat house you woke up to the stylus grinding in the end grooves.

4. Diamonds…Diamonds…DIAMONDS!!! You simply MUST have more diamonds in your life…even if it’s microscopic and on the end of a sliver of beryllium.

5. Your hobby is melting classic rock records into wall clocks.

Now spinning…Beatles, Sgt Pepper. (Thorens TD-126 MKii, Stock arm, Ortofon OM-30 Super)

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

August 3, 2005

Album SIDES. Another downside which came with the advent of cds and other electronic media is the loss of album SIDES.

Maybe it is my English major background, but I like the concept of an album side as a form of structure, much the way an author would use a chapter/section or a poet would use a subtitled section of poems within a whole book of poems. As I read a novel or a book of poems, and I come to another section or chapter, I am continually trying to make sense of that author’s/poet’s choices. “Why did they choose to end at this place, and not there?” “Why is this section first, and another last?” “What would the effect be if they had moved this poem to the front of that section?” Usually these are questions I ask after repeated re-readings, but still, to this mind, those are fun things to wonder about.

That same questioning is there in the choices an artist makes in selecting an album side. Why did Springsteen choose to end side one of Born to Run with “Backstreets”. Why did Neil Young start side two of Zuma with “Stupid Girl.” How does the start of side one of Joni Mitchell’s Blue (All I Want) compare with the first track on side two (California)?

I am aware that some artists and producers give/gave no thought at all to song order and in some cases those decisions were made purely based upon song length or “putting the hit single in the first three tracks.” Still, it is simply NOT probable to me that great writers like Springsteen, Young, and Mitchell DON’T consider and re-consider song order/placement. In the age of vinyl, song placement involved choosing that placement for two distinct SIDES, not one continuation.

It is intriguing for me to think of how some albums that came out in the cd age are now being transferred to vinyl. As an artist/producer of a work that has already come out, do you stay faithful to the original order of songs, or do you embrace the new (old) format and look at the song placement/order in terms of what a side can do for overall meaning and impact? Tough question. I know if I were the artist/producer, I would opt for the latter. How exciting to think about the new implications a stop and start in the middle of my album could make for the listener?

I ramble. It is truly exciting that some newer artists are now releasing on lp. Ryan Adams, Foo Fighters, Wilco. Likewise, the latest offerings by Springsteen, Neil Young, and Van Morrison have lp editions. For this (former?) English major, it’s just one thing more to appreciate about vinyl.

Now spinning…Neil Young’s Zuma. (AR ETL-1, Linn Basik Plus, Shure V-15 v)

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

August 1, 2005

Vinyl Nervosa. Things I worry about a little too much…

1. Burglars with a turntable.

2. Though I’ve told my two teens a thousand times to never play an lp on either of my two main tables, one of these days they are going to, and they WILL break my only remaining V-15 v 35MR stylus.

3. When we are away on vacation, torrential rains will come, and winds will knock out power so neither of my two basement sump pumps will work. When I return, there will be six inches of water in the basement, and the entire bottom row of my album shelf will be sopping wet.

4. Fire and the melting point of vinyl.

5. Across the nation, another 100 people reorganized their basements today, and placed their albums lying flat on their sides. And if that isn’t bad enough, another 100 people threw them into dumpsters.

Now spinning…Van Morrison, Common One. (Thorens TD-147 Jubilee, Linn Basik Plus, Shure m97xe)

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

July 30, 2005

Whether I am mounting and aligning a cartridge for myself or for a client, I have a regular series of records/tracks I play in order to put the cartridge to the test. I think anyone who is serious about their equipment, particularly upgrading, needs to have “reference tracks.” If you don’t, how will you know a change is for the better? Over the next few weeks I will sporadically introduce those records/reference tracks and tell you specifically what I am looking for.

About five years ago my friend Steve introduced me to a great Count Basie album called “Count Basie and the Kansas City 7” At the time my interest in jazz was just blossoming, and I had quite a few misconceptions about jazz artists. One misconception is that all of the Count’s albums were recorded with big bands. As the name of this album reveals, this is Basie playing in a smaller ensemble setting. It is positively spectacular. In keeping with Basie’s approach to almost all of his music, it “really swings.”

The album was recorded by probably my favorite recording engineer, a fellow named Rudy Van Gelder. Van Gelder had/has his own studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, and jazz artists regularly made the trek there to have their music recorded by this sound engineering pioneer who built and designed much of his equipment himself. The sound in every Rudy Van gelder recording is near pristine, with a quality that can best be described as “live” and “musical.” I could go on for paragraphs, but what you should really do is go out and buy one of the records he has engineered and listen for yourself.

When I listen to this album as a “test” record, I am listening for two main things: the overall impact of the rhythm section and the level of depth in the horns. Though I usually listen to several tracks on side one to guide my cartridge set up, the first song, Gershwin’s “Oh, Lady, Be Good” acts as an immediate indicator: The track starts with Basie “doodling” on his keys as Sonny Payne the drummer plays cymbals. Very soon Eddie Jones’ bass comes in with slowly increasing authority, and the song is swinging before you can catch your breath over the clarity. A little over a minute into the song, Frank Foster takes the first tenor sax lead. The breathiness of the sax on a well set up cartridge is stunning, and usually after the first ten second of the lead I know whether I need to do some more adjusting.

If the cartridge is reasonably well aligned, I will continue through the side. The second song, “Secrets,” features some wonderful interplay between Frank Wess on flute and Thad Jones on trumpet. (As a side note, Frank Wess’ early recordings on Prestige and Savoy are a complete joy. If you can’t stand the jazz flute, open your mind and give it one more try with Frank Wess. He’s also a phenomenal saxaphonist.) Again, on these tracks I am listening for the depth and impact of the horns, particulary how well I can distinguish the two instruments in the parts where they play together at the begining and end. In the middle of this track, I am also paying attention to overall soundstage; in most of Van Gelder’s recordings it is easy to pick out where the players were standing as they were recorded.

Though I truly enjoy every track on this album, the other track I really use for test purposes is “Shoe Shine Boy.” This is one of the faster paced songs on the lp, and the rhythm section completely steals this song. I usually turn up the volume a couple of notches and really listen for the naturalness of Jones’ bass: is it too punchy, is it too overblown, or is it “just right.”

I could continue to gush over this lp, but I’ll stop myself. You can judge my own love of the lp by the fact I own three different lp versions, one ten inch “single”, two cd versions, the cassette, and the reel tape! Funny, though I’ve listened to it hundreds of times, I never tire of it.

Now spinning…Dire Straits’ Self Titled (Thorens TD-147 Jubilee, Linn Basik Plus,Grado Red)

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

July 28, 2005


My friend Ian who has moved out of the area was visiting over the weekend, and I told him about the website and how I am refurbishing more turntables now than ever before. Ian has always been environmentally conscientious, and he made the comment that it was cool that I was preventing all of these old turntables from ending up in landfills.

I must admit though my wife and I participate in the local recycling program and we try to do our best at reducing paper and water waste in our home, I had never really thought of what I do as helping the environment. Still, the more I pondered it this week, it’s true. Not only do I personally restore/refurbish a few dozen turntables per year, but also the website has encouraged several others to keep their AR turntable and “bring it back to life.”

So thanks, Ian…that IS a cool thought. Now if I could just convince my wife that graveyard of turntables encroaching on our living space is good for our planet, I’ll really feel like I’ve accomplished something:-)

Now spinning…Joni Mitchell’s Blue (Thorens TD-160, Sumiko MMT, AT 150MLX)

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

July 26, 2005

Wanted: Retired or Semi-retired Woodworkers and Metal Machinists!

Not a week goes by that I don’t get a request for custom turntable bases or custom armboards. Part of my frustration in making recommendations is that all the best people offering these parts are seemingly in Great Britain. It is perplexing to me why more American craftsmen aren’t offering these custom items, because if the Great Britain auction pricing holds true over here, it seems like this would be a worthwhile venture for someone with a wood or metal shop. The true exception to the rule is Anthony Scillia who offers custom delrin armboards for the mid-eighties AR turntables. (See my DIY page.) However, there is no counterpart in the US for armboards and bases for Thorens turntables. You have to resort to the Brit sellers, and pay the overseas shipping fee.

I have no complaint with the quality of the Thorens products I have had shipped over here, but it just seems we should be able to do the same job here. So, if anyone knows of a retired (or semi-retired) woodworker or metal machinist looking for a niche, send them my way. I would be more than happy to fill them in on the work specs and the possible profitibility.

Now spinning…Doc Watson and Son…Self-titled (AR ETL-1, Linn Basik Plus, Shure V-15 v)

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

July 24, 2005

Cartridges. I don’t think any part of our hobby involves more passionate debate. What cartridge is good with a particular arm, table, preamp, or even style of music. There are many cartridge “primers” out there that talk about the basics you need to look out for. Anyone new to the hobby should start there with a bit of reading.

In the case of AR and Thorens tables, which I deal with almost exclusively, every buyer wants to know which cartridge is the best match. I’ve listened to literally dozens of cartridges on AR and Thorens tables, and I have developed a strong opinion of what I like. Unfortunately, as I have stated before, I am a big believer in system synergy, and what sounds great in MY listening room with MY components, and especially MY speakers, may not translate well to your system in your home. So, I always start out my recommendations with one caveat…my recommendations come from experience with my system and my ear. (And might I add, my budget!)

In the case of the AR XA/XB line up, I am completely smitten with Shure’s m97xe. It is a spectacular audio value, with street prices around 80 dollars. A well set up “97” on a well tuned XA will astonish most listeners. It is not so much that the sound approaches something like a Thorens TD-126 MKII, but rather, looking at the simplicity of the table, and the somewhat crudeness of the arm, it’s just amazing it can sound THAT good.

For the mid-eighties AR tables and the Thorens TD-145/160/166/165 series, I highly recommend the Ortofon OM-20. The OM-20 is one of the best values out there for under two hundred dollars in a moving magnet cartridge. If Shure had a cartridge somewhere between the m97xe and the V-15, this would likely be it. It doesn’t track as well as the V-15, but its sonics, to my ears are more seamless than the “97.” Another thing I love about the Ortofon is the OM-20 cartridge body also takes the OM-30 and OM-40 stylus, so the upgrade path is slightly cheaper.

Being a small business with no cartridge dealer status, I have found it difficult to “expand my cartridge horizons.” I have a lot of interest in the Denon DL Moving Coil series cartridges, but it has been cost prohibitive for me to just “give one a try” for the sake of recommending it to my customers.

Two cartridges I have tried I do not recommend. (Again, your results on your system may be different.) One is any cartridge in the Grado line up. Because of the unshielded nature of the ac motor in Thorens and AR tables, they have a strong tendancy to hum. I have had cases where I’ve mounted a Grado and had no problems, but that is about one in four. With those odds, I have had to generally steer clear of ordering them. That’s a shame, because I love the “Grado sound.”

The second cartridge I avoid recommending is the Audio Technica 440ml. I used one for several months on a TD-160, and was completely unimpressed with its sound. Very sterile , in my view. Others swear by it on their Thorens units, but my results were very different.  (Editor’s Note Sept 2012: I have come to really love the AT440mla.  My overall system is quite different now, so maybe that is it??  It is a truly great under $200 cartridge.)

Now spinning…Dire Straits…Brothers in Arms

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

July 22, 2005

What is the best value purchase I’ve made in my vinyl playback system? Hands down, it was my purchase of a Record Doctor II for 200 dollars from Audio Advisor about two years ago. That device has made the greatest bang for the buck sonic improvement in my system.

Though cleaning records is a chore, especially on a manual vac like the RD II, it is still worth the time and effort. I liken the use of a record vac to using a Stridex pad that so many of us used as adolescents. Remember the way the Stridex pad would turn black from all the grunge in your pores? Well, the record vac is doing that for your record grooves. Cleaner record grooves means the stylus can better extract musical information. Just as important, it lengthens the life of your stylus because it’s not dragging around dirt like a piece of sandpaper. (That, of course, also lengthens the life of your records!)

For those who cannot afford a vac, either start saving your pennies or make your own. If you do a search at the Audio Asylum you will find many home-made vac systems.

Now spinning…Rolling Stones…Let It Bleed

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

July 19, 2005

Things you learn about yourself as you organize your album collection for the first time in a few years…

1.As five (exact pressing) copies of Dark Side of the Moon attest, your memory of what you have in your lp collection is really beginning to fade.

2.If you were in this for the money, you wouldn’t own quite so many lp covers with moldy bottoms.

3.The alphabet is just as tedious at age forty-five as it was at age five.

4.At the rate your collection is expanding yearly,You need to seriously increase your daily lp listening time if you ever plan to listen to EVERY album you own at least once.

5.Something just doesn’t seem right about filing Keely Smith right next to The Smiths. Both should definitely be in plastic…or something.

Now spinning…Cowboy Junkies, Trinity Sessions

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

July 18, 2005

My wife and I accomplished a lot of house-cleaning/furniture-moving this past weeekend, and one of the biggest of the projects for me was re-organizing my entire lp collection. It was something I really dreaded doing, but had to be done. I own somewhere around 800 lps.

About a year ago, I picked up a wonderful shelf from Target stores that perfectly stores lps. (No longer available.) It has nine equal “cubbies.” It was no intended for lps, but as long as you don’t overlaod the shelves (3/4 full) it works out beautifully.

How to organize your record shelves is a sticky question. Since the majority of my lps are rock/pop, I decided to go with a straight alphabetical sytem for those. However, as I progressed, I excluded classical, jazz, and blues lps. I ended up devoting one and a half squares to jazz, and a half to blues. Then I brought all of my classical lps up to some different shelves. These too will be alphabetized.

Another thing I accomplished was culling some multiple copies and some stuff I just feel I’ll never listen to. These I stored in a milk crate in our storage room.

As with any major house cleaning, it sucks while you’re in the middle of it, and it seems it will never end, but once it’s over it feels just great to have things cleaned and organized. I joked with my wife that my feng shui is now majorly improved!

Feel that life flow!

Now spinning…Beethoven, String Quartet #9 in C Major, Budapest String Quartet, Columbia Masterworks

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

July 15, 2005

Cheap music. That’s another reason I love vinyl. In June, at my best yard sale haul ever, I picked up 43 albums I didn’t own for an even twenty dollars. Typical story, a middle aged couple was downsizing and had to get rid of these albums that had been gathering dust for twenty years. These were high quality artists: BB King, John Hiatt, Bruce Cockburn, Leo Kottke, Ry Cooder, John Prine, and others. These were artists/albums I knew of twenty years ago, but either I couldn’t fit them into my budget, or I had other priorities at the time (see Springsteen blog:-)

If I wanted to pick up these albums on cd, at an average cost of, say, fourteen bucks, that would have cost me over six hundred dollars!! Instead, because I am a relentless yard sale trooper, I got all forty-three for under fifty cents each.

Yeah, not every one of these artist’s albums is stellar, but the majority of the music is good stuff. In the case of the poor ones, it’s not like I am out fourteen bucks in an experiment, which is what would happen if I bought new cds.

Cheap music=Another reason to love vinyl.

Now spinning…Ry Cooder, Self-titled. (Featuring one of the coolest covers of all time!)

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

July 14, 2005

A couple of times a month I get questions on how to pack a turntable properly. I wish I had an easy answer, but I don’t. The truth is, I use different techniques depending upon a variety of factors: the tonearm, the presence of transport screws, dustcover or not, dustcover material, overall weight, attached inner platter or not, original box or not, shipping distance, overseas shipping, etc.

Packing is also somewhat dependent upon what I have available for packing supplies. Though I always use liberal amounts of bubblewrap, besides that I may use newspaper, foam peanuts, and/or solid foam depending upon availablilty (and some of the previously mentioned factors). Overall, it is my knoweldge of what each individual turntable needs for protection that determines how it is packed. What are its inherent weak points?

That said, I still have some VERY general guidelines for packing:

1. Use a sturdy over-sized box. It is important to have several inches between the sides of the box and the table itself. It is just as important to have a box that is made for the required weigh. Finally, it has to have plenty of “life” left in it. Simply put, if you pack a turnable in a small “mushy” box expect it to be damaged.

2. Any turntable with a suspended sub-chassis design needs to have that suspension immobilized. On most Thorens units, that involves securing the two transport screws on the bottom. On the mid-80s AR tables, that entails installing the correct screw/washer in the subchassis (from above, just below the outer platter). On an XA that involves using a combination of foam and secure-ties. If you don’t secure the subchassis, it will bounce throughout shipment, potentially damaging the springs or, if the tonearm and inner platter are installed, their bearings. In most cases, see the respective manuals for details.

3. Remove the tonearm counterweight, wrap it securely in bubble wrap, and be sure it is taped down within the box. More than a handful of times I have received turntables with the counterweight loose and bouncing around the box causing damage: the dustcover cracked, the wooden plinth chewed up, the cartridge/stylus sheared off, the arm rest broken. It can reduce a turntable enthusiast like myself to tears, especially when the item was near mint before shipped.

4. If you don’t really know what you’re doing, a safe strategy for shipping a turntable is to begin by OVER-wrapping it (somewhat) tightly, in Saran Wrap. First do so without the dustcover in position, and then with it in place. (The dustcover should not move AT ALL when finished. If it does, start over.) Make it a very tight fit, but be careful not to overtighten to the point you are bending the arm, etc. Once it is in a Saran Wrap “cocoon” wrap, begin the bubblewrap/boxing routine.

5. Never ship with the outer platter in place. Never, never, never. It WILL come loose during shipment and it WILL damage the entire table, rendering it useless.

I hope this helps.

Now spinning…Rickie Lee Jones’ Pirates.

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

July 11, 2005

I suffer from ERS. ERS stands for “Endless Repeat Syndrome,” a malady where I get “stuck” listening to one song, or one album side for days on end. It’s a phrase and acronym my friend Amy and I developed a few years back. She also suffers from it.

One thing I have noticed over the years, is that the songs or album sides I get “hooked” on are usually linked somehow to a transition in my life or a problem deep in my psyche. Also, sometimes the addiction comes from some unresolved aspect of the song. An example of the latter is Norah Jones’ wonderful song “Don’t Miss You at All” which closes her second album. I was so hooked on that song when I first bought that album, and I believe it had to do with the fact I just cannot tell whether or not the speaker in the song misses the person they are addressing or not. In some parts of the song it sounds like “no”, yet at the end there is a slightly triumphant tone which makes you think the speaker IS getting over them.

The album side I am currently “addicted” to is side one of Darkness on the Edge of Town, arguably Bruce Springteen’s best album. I am almost embarrassed when I think back to my college days and how I and my friends were complete disciples of “the Boss.” Hours of conversation centered around his every musical or social action. All budgeting flew out the window when concert tickets went on sale, and when albums, both studio and bootleg, were released. All of us, “the disciples” lived up to a Springsteen code…which was to give everything to everything you do. As Bruce used to say, he only ended his concerts when he couldn’t physically go on with the show anymore. It was the only way he felt right doing what he did. It was the “price” he felt he had to pay.

About the time of “Tunnel of Love” I began to lose interest in Springsteen as an artist. I still bought just about every release, but they were played increasingly less and less. If I listened to any Springsteen at all, it would “Born to Run,” “Darkness,” and “Nebraska.” The excellence of each of those albums, from first note to last, could never be denied.

Still, it has come as a surprise to me that an album side over twenty-five years old would suddenly rear its ugly head as the latest subject of my ERS. For those who might not know Darkness on the Edge of Town.”” it’s a much darker album than his first three; it is rooted in faith in the great American (human) ideals that have been corrupted by our society. Songs continue to be filled with images of cars, but in this case, the driving metaphors more frequently lead to characters locked in quiet desperation. The car is part of the prison, not a road to escape. Drivers are chasing after something they’re not likely to find easily.

As usual, I think there is a deeper underlying reason to why this album has been my latest ERS. It took a while to realize that, but I think it is related to the fact I have a son who is soon to turn eighteen. Twenty-five years ago when I listened to Darkness, it was through the eyes/ears of a son who felt his own father, in Bruce’s words, had worked his whole life for nothing but the pain. (From “Adam Raised a Cain”) Now, as I listen, the words from that song, and others from the album, strike deep chords as to what kind of father I have been. What kind of examples have I set for my son? What has my choice of work and HOW I work said about the kind of man I am?

Answering those questions is obviously the basis for some deep self reflection…and not the fodder for a blog on a site dedicated to turntables. Still, I want to point out, that MUSIC is what this whole hobby is about. It’s not to HAVE the ultimate listening system to impress your colleagues, it’s to LISTEN to MUSIC that’s pleasurable or challenging or fulfilling through a system with which you are satisfied. And through that music, to enrich our lives.

Now spinning…Springsteen, Darkness on the Edge of Town

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

July 9, 2005

Why does the Vinyl Nirvana website LOOK the way it does?? The color scheme is taken from an old AR XA Brochure. The woodgrain background is from an actual digital photo of an XA base with solid walnut. (After many many tries to get just the right grain and color tone!) The font was the closest my friend/tech wizard Andre Gagnon could get to the font used in the AR logo. How did I get the name? I was responding to a post at one of the many audio forums I follow and I made reference to “steps on the way to vinyl nirvana.” I liked the alliteration of the combination, and it stuck with me.

Now spinning…King Bee by Muddy Waters

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

July 8, 2005

As I was tuning the suspension of my ?00nth turntable last night, my mind wandered back to the first time I ever tuned a suspension. I was very apprehensive, thinking I was going to ruin the turntable if I made the wrong move. Back in that time, the excellent picture-filled online “tutorials ‘ were not available, and all I had to go on were a few written instructions.

However, I removed the base of the TD-160, set the turntabe up on three coffee cans, and I went for it. I recall I did an absolutely horrible job. I wasn’t methodical in how many turns I was making on each spring, and after five minutes, the platter was completely off-level. On top of that, it was as bouncy as a trampoline. I gave it another try. And another. And another, until I FINALLY felt I had improved the suspension tuning rather than harmed it.

I guess the point of writing today is to encourage folks who feel their suspension needs tuning to just give it a try. The best tutorial is still Tim Bailey’s, available at The Analog Dept My advice is to take it slow, and to EXPECT that you probably won’t get it right the first few times. However, once you are inside the table, and get the basic feeling for the set up, you will start to realize there really isn’t too much to harm if you take some care in your approach.

Now Spinning…Peggy Lee…Is That All There Is?

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

July 6, 2005

At the urging of several past customers, I have begun to offer a consulting service around buying vintage turntables. Contrary to conventional business wisdom, when folks call me for turntable advice, I may sometimes point them away from my current offering of tables. A case in point is a a customer named Mike who had just returned from Iraq. For what he had to spend this past weekend, I felt the best table he could get at that given moment was one being offered by a fellow eBayer I know to be reputable and to sell a quality product. All in all, I spent several hours helping Mike find not only a table, but also a vintage receiver and a set of classic speakers. I really enjoyed helping him with this system, but at the same time, all of that time could have been put into readying another turntable or creating a new ad. After some soul searching, I have now decided to charge for such consultations.

What would one hope to gain from spending a half hour or an hour on the phone with me talking about vintage tables? 1) First of all, you gain from all of my intimate knowledge with AR, Thorens, and other turntables. I already know the basic features of each and the hierarchy of what each can produce for sound. 2) Because I have worked on dozens of these tables, I can help you out with the potential pitfalls of owning one table over another. 3)I scour eBay and other electronic sales outlets daily, so I have an excellent idea of price trends. I know when an item is overpriced, and when you need to jump on a buy-it-now opportunity. 4) I have knowledge of what cartridges work best with which table, so you don’t make a fatal error and spend money on a cartridge that would be an essential mis-match. 5)As I stated at the outset, with an example, I am also willing to recommend other reputable sellers when I know it is the best possible turntable for you at that given moment.

In closing, though I feel somewhat pretentious in asking for a consultant fee, if in the end, that consultation results in the caller getting exactly the right turntable for a fair price, that service ought to be worth something. (FYI, if a customer does buy one of my tables, the consultant fee is fully refunded.)

Now spinning…The Stompers…Self-Titled

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

July 5, 2005

A couple of folks have already emailed defending the stock TD-150 as a contender in the Thorens ranking. To date, I have not spent time with a stock 150. I own three armless 150s, at present, and I have plans to mount contemporary arms on each. Look forward to a future entry regarding “Modified Thorens” where I will rate the venerable TD-150.

Now spinning…Peace of Mind by Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

July 4, 2005

A question I get asked a lot is, “How do I rank the Thorens belt-driven tables?” First, I should mention what models I have owned. I have owned, in numerical order: TD-125, 125 MKII, 126 MKII, 145, 145 MKII, 147, 160, 160 MKII, 160 Super, 165, and 166 MKII. For this ranking, I will concentrate just on those models that came with stock arms. (So, I need to eliminate the TD-160 Super, which did not come with stock arm.) Out of all of these models, my personal favorite is the TD-126 MKII. First, it is massive in weight. Second, it offers great flexibility in terms of just dialing in whether you want fully manual or semi-manual. Third, there is electronic speed control. Fourth, it features three logical speeds: 33, 45, and 78. (What were they thinking when they designed the 125 lineup with “16”?) Simply put, I am so astonished by the sound of a stock 126 MKII that I have not even considered upgrading the tonearm. A close second to the 126 MKII are the two 125s. However, I tend to prefer the flexibility of the 126’s variable settings. I also prefer the design of the 126’s dustcover. The 125 dustcover is very prone to breakage.

Below the tier of these tables is the TD-147. I am surprised how few people know of the 147. It is basically a TD-160 Super with a stock Thorens arm. So, it has an improved platter bearing, factory installed damping, heavier base, and an adjustable dustcover with METAL hinges. It also has auto-shut-off. I love the look of the 147 with the black metal plinth against the rosewood/mahogany wood sides. After the 147, I would rank the 160 and 145 as next in performance. (The 145 is basically a 160 with auto-shut off.) The 160 was my first Thorens, and I have never lost my love for it. This table produces fantastic sound for the money.

I would rank the 165/166MKII at the bottom of my list, but by no means are these awful tables. A well set-up 165/166 is a pleasure to listen to. I would argue that most ears could not discern the difference between a 160 and a 165/166 in a blind test. The essential difference between a 160 and a 165 is a plastic inner platter (rather than metal on the 160) and a motor without a clutch. In addition, the 166 MKII uses some thin mdf on the bottom which damages easily.

So, that is my ranking. Certainly open to argument, but I have lived with each of these tables (in stock form) and that is how I would rate them.

Now spinning…Elvis Costello, My Aim is True

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

July 3, 2005

I often get asked what I use for Stylus care. I have not used a lot of products in my lifetime, and this is not based on any scientific evidence, but I like to use Stylast Products made by the Last Company. I use their stylus cleaner before each listening session, and their stylus treatment before each side. Even with that regularity, I have still not used up my first bottle purchased over two years ago!! Stylast products claim to significantly extend your stylus life. I don’t offer any proof of that, but I do recommend that anyone listening to vinyl find SOME regular care product for their stylus…otherwise it’s like dragging a microscopic piece of sandpaper through your record’s grooves every time you play. Yikes!

Now spinning…From Wess to Memphis by Frank Wess

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

July 2, 2005

Was watching a film on cable last night called Rick, with Bill Pullman. In the movie, his daughter nags him a couple of times to take her to their paid storage unit so she can bring home his old lps. To some extent, the movie reflects reality; it’s interesting that my main two TT buying groups the past few months have been folks around my age (45) or young college students. It seems vinyl has taken a toehold on many campuses. I smile when I think of the conversation I overheard between two male college students in a used record store recently: “Vinyl records are way cool. Girls love them, and don’t want to leave my dorm room. My room was the most popular room on our floor this spring.” To be nineteen again!

Now spinning…Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde

~If you care to comment upon a blog, use this link.

May 11, 2005

Head colds suck. If you’re home sick with something else, you can at least enjoy some vinyl.

Now spinning…a bottle of Nyquil….

May 6, 2005

~Why vinyl? Part 4

Album cover art. When you hear folks talk about cds, you hear talk of “excellent packaging.” With lps, it was always “cover ART.” I think even more disappointing than the sterility of the sound of the first few reissued cds I bought in the eighties was their miniaturization of the original art. For example, I recall vividly holding the cd copy of Joni Mitchell’s “For the Roses” and thinking the total effect of the original cover was completely lost. It left me wondering if it would still be one of my favorite photos of all time if the original had come out only as a cd.

It’s great to see more artists releasing new material on vinyl. It’s so wonderful to have the feeling again of holding something substantial…not a piece of plastic.

Now spinning…The Band, Music from Big Pink

May 3, 2005

~Why vinyl? Part 3

Excuse my simplemindedness, but is anyone else out there still amazed that when you set the stylus in the groove it produces a vast wonderland of sound? Since I was a toddler listening to the 45 of “How much is that doggie in the window?” on a cheap terrible portable record player that wonder has never ceased. Somewhere on some website I once read that the musical information in the grooves is some small fraction of a human hair. Studied a human hair lately? How does the stylus, in an electro-mechanical way, do that? Somehow it’s entirely probable for me that a laser can read info from a compact disc, but the fact a forty year old cartridge you find in the back of a drawer can still reproduce a roomful of sound is simply magical to me.

And I hope it always will be.

Now spinning…Steely Dan’s Aja

May 2, 2005

~Why vinyl? Part 2

Though there are certainly instances where the sound quality of the cd version of an album exceeds that of the vinyl lp, by far, to my ears the vinyl version is almost always superior. In the days of the introduction of the music cd, this was a result of the newness of the format and the need for those in the production line to adjust to the new system(s). Still, even today, when purchasing a cd version and an lp version and listening through the same system, the lp almost always wins.

A recent example is Ryan Adams’ “Love is Hell.” One of Adams’ best qualities is his vocal range, or maybe more accurately, his vocal imitations. From low whisper to hell-whipped shriek, he can be Bob Dylan, Van or Jim Morrison, Hank Williams, Lou Reed, or Neil Young, depending upon what the song calls for. He is usually mic-ed up high in the mix, and I love rawness of his voice. Hands down, the lp version delivers more of the raw emotion in his voice…more nuance…more tone…more of the “arrrragh” in his throat.

If it’s all about the music and it’s impact on the listener…vinyl delivers that impact more consistently.

(For those interested, my cd player is an older NAD 517.)

Now spinning…Ray Charle’s “Modern Sound in Country and Western Music” Stereo.

May 1, 2005

~Today marks the start of a new Vinyl Nirvana feature…a blog I will update as often as I get the chance. You may reply/comment upon the blogs using the contact link to the bottom left.

Why vinyl? In this age of cds and I-pods…why am I still spinning these big black disks? A big part of it has to do with the fact I strongly believe that a turntable is a very close relative of a musical instrument. By that, I mean that most turntables can be “tuned” to a very different sound with just a minor tweaks. A simple example is just the change that a platter mat can make. I am partial to felt mats because for me they are warm without suffering a loss of detail. Still, there are times where I have experimented with rubber, foam, shelf liner, cork, and other types. Besides the slight change in VTA sometimes caused by a change in mats, there are definitely changes in timbre, detail, stereo separation, and noise level deeply affected by your choice of mat material.

For some, the nuances in sound caused by these slight changes is vexing. For me, these variables are the essence of what I love about vinyl.

Now spinning…Count Basie and the Kansas City Seven, Self-titled, mono.

David Archambault, Exeter NH



Posted on

Tip of the Week, June 30th 2014

Ikea Jansjo


Just bought one of these Ikea Jansjo lamps as a turntable light. LOVE it!  I have tried  two battery operated TT lights before, but I get sick of changing batteries when I forget and leave it on two days straight!  This one has AC.  If you have an Ikea near you, go there. If not, this is the cheapest price I could find online.






Posted on

Tip of the Week, April 20, 2014



Something every turntable owner should own is a set of phono cartridge shims for fine adjustment of VTA or Vertical Tracking Angle. Frustrated by the lack of affordable quality shims available for purchase, I took one of my favorite designs to my sheet metal fabricators and had these high quality non-magnetic shims produced.  Each is individually machined.  The open end design is a PLEASURE to use.  You can read more about them and purchase your shim/spacer set here.