Making Audio Progress

It can be done. Here are some ideas.

Hi-Fi Beats My-Fi If You Are At All Serious about Audio

Our Stereo

More Commentaries and Advice on Equipment

Our system is fast, accurate and uncolored. We like to think of our speakers as the audiophile equivalent of studio monitors, showing us exactly what is on the record, nothing added, nothing taken away.

When we play a modern record, it should sound modern. When we play a vintage Tubey Magical Living Stereo pressing, we want to hear all the Tubey Magic, but we don’t want to hear more Tubey Magic than what is actually on the record.

We don’t want to do what some audiophiles prefer to do, which is to make all their records sound the way they like all their records to sound.

They do that by having their system add in all their favorite colorations. We call that “My-Fi,” not “Hi-Fi,” and we’re having none of it.

If our system were more colored, slower and tubier, a vintage Living Stereo record would not sound as good as it does. It’s already got plenty of richness, warmth, sweetness and Tubey Magic.

To take an obvious example, playing the average dry and grainy Joe Walsh record on our system is a fairly unpleasant experience. Some added warmth and richness, with maybe some upper-midrange suckout thrown in for good measure, would make it much more enjoyable.

But then how would we know which Joe Walsh pressings aren’t too dry and grainy for our customers to enjoy?

We discussed some of these issues in another commentary: (more…)

Joe Jackson / Jumpin’ Jive – Get Rid of Grit and Grain The Right Way

More Records that Are Good for Testing Grit and Grain

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Jumpin’ Jive is one of the clearest examples of an album where it is CRITICALLY IMPORTANT to make sure your stereo is running on good electricity before you make any attempt to play it. This is the kind of recording — bright, full of energy — that will bring most stereo systems to their knees. Of course, when you play a good copy and it really sounds good, it’s a record that rewards all the time and effort you’ve put into your system.

So much of the aggressiveness, grit and grain that we hear in immediate, high-energy recordings such as this are really the fault of the electricity feeding the stereo, not the fault of the record or even the equipment used to play it.

Now it should be noted that this recording has a ton of high frequency information that will be difficult to reproduce on most systems. If you leave a lot of appliances and electronic devices plugged in around the house when you listen to your stereo, you can forget ever hearing this record right. The grit and grunge caused by polluted electricity will make this record practically unlistenable, at the levels we listen at anyway. (At lower levels most of the garbage is masked, one reason no doubt that audiophiles rarely turn their stereos up to anything approaching live levels.) 

So do as we do: unplug everything you can get your hands on before you sit down to listen. Make sure your tubes (if you have tube equipment) are nice and warm too. (more…)

Letter of the Week – “These Records are All Making Clear That I Need Bigger Speakers. Much Bigger. Twice The Size”

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently [bold added by me]:

  Hey Tom, 

Goddamit Tom, these records are all making clear that I need bigger speakers. Much bigger. Twice the size. In a bigger room, with treatments. Your stuff makes the path forward very clear. They need the dynamics I’m sure you’re getting. I can hear what is missing.

I don’t know if that’s a good thing, since I was generally unaware of this previously, and can’t afford that level of upgrade for a while. We’re talking a few years out to buy a house (we’re in an apartment on the corner of the building over a garage, so no neighbor noise problems but the room is only 15×14.5 with average height ceilings) and some big upgrades.

Dear Sir,

You and I seem to be on the same page. The vast majority of audiophiles never get to the higher levels because of all the compromises they make in their rooms, speakers, wires and everything else. They end up with a collection of crap heavy vinyl because their systems don’t let them hear what is really going on with the best vintage pressings.

Call it a breakthrough of a sort. The long road ahead is an expensive one, but I’ve always been of the belief that the money you spend on audio — if you do it right — rewards you a hundred times over in listening pleasure, and it does so for as long as you live, many more decades at least.

These are records that need to be played loud. Until you have a bigger room and bigger speakers, they are not going to be easy to get to sound right.

I ended up building a playback studio that is 17 by 22 with a 12 foot high ceiling, a concrete slab floor and six inch thick double drywall for walls, and dedicated electrical circuits, but it took a lot of work to get it to sound right.

Oddly enough, what made the biggest difference was getting the electricity right: computers and cleaning machines on isolation transformers, stuff unplugged, stuff left plugged in that made the sound better, lights hooked up to batteries rather than plugged in to the main circuits, etc.  Night and day better that way. (More on unplugging here.)

This work is not hard for me, I’ve been doing it for decades, but you have one advantage over everyone else: you have good sounding records to test with.

You have Hot Stampers! The records are correct. If they sound wrong, it’s not their fault. They are not the problem. (more…)

Gino Vannelli and The Amazing Audio Research SP3A-1 Tube Preamp

Making Audio Progress 

Unsolicited Audio Advice

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Storm at Sunup used to be my favorite Gino Vannelli album. I played it all the time back in the ’70s. It was one of a handful of recordings that made me want to pursue audiophile equipment in the hope that higher quality playback would allow the album to sound even bigger and more exciting.

It was pretty damn big and exciting already, but I wanted more. 

Right around that time I got my first audiophile tube preamp, the Audio Research SP3A-1, which replaced a Crown IC-150. As you can imagine, especially if you know the IC-150 at all well, playing this album through that state-of-the-art tube preamp was a revelation.

From then on there was no looking back. I started spending all my money on better and better equipment and more and more records. That was forty plus years ago and I haven’t stopped yet.

This is also the kind of recording that caused me to pursue Big Stereo Systems driving Big Speakers. You need a lot of piston area to bring the dynamics of this recording to life, and to get the size of all the instruments to match their real life counterparts.

For that you need big speakers in big cabinets, the kind I’ve been listening to for more than forty years. (My last small speaker was given the boot around 1974 or so.) To tell you the truth, the Big Sound is the only sound that I can enjoy. Anything less is just not for me. (more…)

Power Management: Suggestions and Results from Robert Brook

With a bit of guidance from yours truly, Robert Brook has carried out some interesting experiments involving the electricity that feeds his stereo.

These are his findings.

Posted on his blog:

A GUIDE FOR THE BUDDING ANALOG AUDIOPHILE

Power Management: Suggestions and RESULTS!

I expect to add some comments of my own down the road.

(more…)

The Difficulties of Being a Self-Taught Audiophile (Hint: It’s a Lot Harder than It Looks)

Back in the ’70s when I was starting out in this hobby, I noted that most audiophiles liked half-speeds, they liked Japanese pressings, and they liked direct discs (most of which had questionable sound and even more questionable music).

Now they like SACDs, Heavy Vinyl and 45s. Same old wine, different bottle, if you ask me.

The path out of that morass is exactly the path we have taken and charted for everyone. There is no charge for following in our footsteps. In fact, we actively encourage it.

With our approach to finding the best sounding records, cleaning them the way we do, playing them against each other the way we do, using the sound improving devices and equipment we recommend, we know you can succeed.

If we can do it you can do it.

No One to Guide Them

Most audiophiles have no one to guide them in this devilishly difficult record and audio game. They are mostly self-taught, which is precisely the heart of the problem. You can teach yourself pretty much all you need to know in this hobby, but it requires a huge expenditure of time and resources: thousands of hours and ten of thousands of dollars at a minimum. A few hours a week won’t get you very far.

I should know. I was one of those guys who put in a few hours a week for about the first twenty years I spent in audio and in the end I sure didn’t have much to show for it. It was only when I seriously dedicated myself to audio and records sometime in the ’90s that I started making real progress. With more than ten years of nose-to-the-grindstone effort I was ready — eager even — to give up on audiophile vinyl as the dead end I now know it to be.

How Bad Are They, Really

How many can say that? How many audiophiles know how bad their audiophile pressings really are? One per cent? Two per cent? Five?

However many it is, it’s about the same percentage of audiophiles who actually take the hobby seriously and work hard at it. That’s my guess anyway. (more…)

Advances in Playback Technology Are More Than Blind Faith

More Than Blind Faith

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In a 2007 commentary for the Hot Stamper pressing of Blind Faith we noted that:

When it finally all comes together for such a famously compromised recording, it’s nothing less than a THRILL. More than anything else, the sound is RIGHT. Like Layla or Surrealistic Pillow, this is no demo disc by any stretch of the imagination, but that should hardly keep us from enjoying the music. And now we have the record that lets us do it.

More Blind Faith

The Playback Technology Umbrella

Why did it take so long? Why does it sound good now, after decades of problems? For the same reason that so many great records are only now revealing their true potential: advances in playback technology.

Audio has finally reached the point where the magic in Blind Faith’s grooves is ready to be set free. (more…)

One Man’s Experimental Approach to Audio Reveals Some Inconvenient Truths

One of our good customers has started a blog which he calls

A GUIDE FOR THE BUDDING ANALOG AUDIOPHILE

Below is a link to a comparison Robert Brook carried out with a some power cords he had on hand. I did the same thing about fifteen years ago and it taught me a lot. Please read his commentary. The experience he went through is instructive and easily replicated by anyone for any system. The benefits are likely to be substantial, maybe even life-changing!

POWER CORDS: Is THIS the Difference You Want?

The Modern Heavy Vinyl Reissue – Audiophile Blessing or Curse?

More of The Who

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The run of the mill heavy vinyl pressing is so dull and opaque that we think the run of the mill CD, on average, will sound better.

In this letter Dan tells us of his disappointment with the new reissues he’s been trying:

… And thanks again for that amazing “Who’s Next” record. It was startling to hear the difference between that and the Classic – and that was one of the better modern audiophile records! I can’t tell you how many modern reissues I’ve bought over the past couple months that have lost, and lost badly, to just my one single original or early pressing of an album. Reissues by AC/DC, The Who, ZZ Top, The Rolling Stones, and Patti Smith have all failed miserably against my merely average sounding originals.
(more…)