Revolutionary Changes in Audio – What Works for Us Can Work for You

More Commentaries and Advice on Equipment

This listing, like the stereo itself (mine and yours), is a work in progress. It used to be on our website, but now resides here on the blog.

When I first got started in audio in the early- to mid-’70s, the following important elements of the modern stereo system did not exist:

  • Stand-alone phono stages.
  • Modern cabling and power cords.
  • Vibration controlling platforms for turntables and equipment.
  • Synchronous Drive Systems for turntable motors.
  • Carbon fiber mats for turntable platters.
  • Highly adjustable tonearms (for VTA, etc.) with extremely delicate adjustments and precision bearings.
  • Modern record cleaning machines and fluids.
  • And there wasn’t much in the way of innovative room treatments like the Hallographs we use.

Our reason for having this kind of commentary on a site ostensibly devoted to the selling of records is simple: the better your stereo sounds, the better our records sound, and, more importantly, the bigger the difference between our records and the copies you already own. That includes those LPs recommended by “audiophile” record dealers, which tend to be on Heavy Vinyl, at 45 RPM, half-speed mastered or, even worse, Japanese pressed.

We have no interest in any of them. Why? On our system they rarely sound better than second-rate.

We love our modified Legacy Focus speakers, even more now that they have much improved high frequency extension courtesy of Townshend Super Tweeters.

Our preamp and amp are vintage and low power; the Focus can play quite loudly with the thirty watts our amp puts out. We are big fans of Low Power (but not single ended) and are not the least bit happy with the current trend toward high-power amps, whether tube or transistor. (This trend started in the early ’70s with the Phase Linear 400 amp and has only gotten more out of hand with each passing year.)

We tried higher power amps to do the shootouts for Nirvana, AC/DC and their ilk but gave up fairly quickly. Using those amps involves major trade-offs; trade-offs whose costs rarely exceed their benefits. With more power comes less Tubey Magic, sweetness, transparency, three-dimensionality and that wonderful relaxed quality which gives the music its flow and sense of ease.

High power amps do none of these things well, but most speakers today are terribly inefficient and require their use, a choice most audiophiles do not even know they are making when they buy them. I made that mistake myself many years ago. Live and learn.

Most of our wiring — interconnect, phono and power cord — is custom.

Having said that, this commentary is all about why you shouldn’t care a whit about the equipment we use. 

Latest Findings

Prelude Step 4

According to the folks at Walker, “Prelude Step 4 is a special rinse that gets down deeper into the grooves and removes any remaining contaminates.”

We, however, had mixed results. Some LPs got better (more transparent, spacious) while others got worse (squaky, pinched, veiled). Since it is quite easy to remove the final rinse stage simply by rinsing the record again with Step 3, ata this point we are inclined to let the listener make his own judgments as to the benefits of Prelude Step 4 High Resolution Rinse.

We note that threads on various Audiophile Forums have almost unanimously favorable postings regarding the improvements in sound to be had with Step 4, but anyone familiar with our general philosophy and approach to audio will know that we put absolutely no stock in the opinions proffered in such postings. We don’t know these people, we don’t know what their stereos sound like, we don’t know what pressings they played on their stereos and we don’t know what they were listening for when they played them. That’s a lot of things not to know!

Do we reject them out of hand? Certainly not. We instead take them with a boulder-sized grain of salt and, if sufficiently motivated, proceed with our own listening tests under our own very carefully controlled conditions, playing records we know well on a stereo we listen to every day. Our results for Prelude Step 4 were mixed; your results may vary.

Recent Findings

We use the Talisman (no longer made but you should try to find one) not only on our records but on our cables and speaker drivers as well. (When you buy one from us drop us an email about our special tip to get the most out of the unit.)

Also, since 2007 we have been using Walker’s Enzyme Cleaning System for ALL our Hot Stamper shootout records. The difference is quite audible — less grit and grain, more transparency and extension on both ends. This is the same kind of positive effect the Disc Doctor has on records, but the Walker fluids somehow manage to give you even more of those wonderful qualities.

If you have a record you love and are willing to put in the extra elbow grease the Walker requires, the Enzyme Treatment cannot be overestimated.

Ch-Ch-Changes at Better Records

Over the course of the last two decades things have changed dramatically for the better.

We’ve come up with a number of much more sophisticated and advanced cleaning techniques.

The ruler-flat, super-clean and clear Dynavector 17d replaced the more forgiving, less accurate 20x.

The EAR 324p we acquired at the beginning of 2007 was a BIG step up over the 834p in terms of resolution and freedom from distortion / coloration.

And the third pair of Hallographs had much the same effect, taking out the room distortions that compromise transparency and three-dimensionality.

With the implementation of a number of other seemingly insignificant tweaks, each of which made a subtle but recognizable improvement, the cumulative effect of all of the above was now clearly making a difference. The combination of so many improvements resulted in sound that was dramatically better in every way.

Reaching Back to 2005

These comments from the listing for Tea for the Tillerman from way back in 2005 discuss upgrades to your Front End.

Hard Headed Woman

This is a song that has evolved dramatically over the last 20 years. If you’ve been making regular upgrades to your equipment and taking advantage of all the new technologies available at the front end, such as:

vibration control, better arms, better cartridges, better phono stages, better motors, Synchronous Drive Systems, better power cords, better power conditioning, better platters,

to name just a few, you are no doubt able to reproduce this song much better than you were in the old days. I used to think that Cat’s voice got hard and harsh when he got loud on the passage that starts with “I know…many fine feathered friends…”. Now he gets even louder, the drums are much more powerful, and yet he still sounds like a real person, not an overdriven recording.

The Vinyl Stone Age

Modern front ends, properly tweaked and set up, can handle the kind of energy found on this song in a way that wasn’t possible before. I like to say that if your turntable is more than five years old and you haven’t done much to your front end since then, you are living in the vinyl stone age. There have been a number of revolutions in the area of LP playback, not the least of which is the [formerly Disc Doctor but now] Walker Enzyme cleaning fluid we tout so obsessively, all of which have allowed us to reproduce familiar records in a startlingly realistic way never before possible.