NYT on enjoying turntables without getting carried away

You don't need to get carried away by vinyl culture to appreciate a good turntable, writes Roy Furchgott in the New York Times:

Getting the most from a turntable requires careful setup, although maybe not as careful as people who sell calibration equipment would have you believe. “Setting up the turntable doesn’t have to be as complicated as they make it,” said Mr. Shaw. There can be leeway from the exact specifications, he said, adding, “Set it up fairly close, it will be fine. My point is, don’t obsess.”

His recommendations are for good, relatively inexpensive gear, such as Music Hall's MMF 2.2LE and the Pro-Ject Debut III, both of which I am more than proud to put my Amazon referrer ID on.


    1. Obsolence is relative, and oftentimes dictated by fashion. As such, relevance remains when any viable technology produces the outcome we seek. If a market exists, and products continue being produced that require a certain technology, obsolecence is not in hand until no new items are created and no functioning technology produces the desired outome, such as playing vinyl records.

    2. Believe it or not, further and contemporary improvements in turntables mean that all records sound better today than they did when they were pressed. Find any other artistic medium, let alone musical, with this potential.

    3. If people are using them, and vinyl records are being pressed once again, in larger and larger quantities, then no, turntables are not obsolete.*

      *And don’t forget: they never really went away, i.e. DJ culture.

      1. Vinyl lovers have DJs to thank for keeping the turntable and cartridge industries alive.  Without the constant demand of working DJs for cartridges and styli it wouldn’t be economically viable to produce any moderately priced cartridges at all.  Audiophiles would be stuck paying $1K+ for limited edition high end carts and turntables.
        Same deal with tube loving audiophiles.  Guitar players’ demand for new tube amps and replacement tubes keeps the tube factories running and they can produce new tubes in low volume for audiophiles as well.  Technologies are ecologies of sorts, with all entities playing their part to keep it vital.

  1. Is my dad’s old Dual CS515 acceptable? Or is it not good enough for me to be a member of the cool-kids-with-record-players club?

  2. for me, the choice for vinyl isn’t about sound quality… record players are just cool bits of old analogue tech. using weights and levers and motors and magnets to play music is great!

  3. I like the red turntables!

    The first page is fine. The second page is dumbed down to the extent of being false and misleading. I don’t want to sound too picky but:
    * There are three types of cartridges. Induced magnet (not mentioned) is usually the lightest, with the lowest tracking force and highest compliance (not mentioned and not always desirable).* Moving coil cartridges are almost always heavier than the other two types. I love them anyway.

    * The most important thing is matching the tonearm to the cartridge. There are several factors affecting the choice, none of which are mentioned. Using the wrong cartridge will always result in disappointment no matter how much you spend.

    I use a simple plastic set-up tool, free promotional material from AKG, and a 7″ test record, free from Denon, which have never let me down. I don’t think I am a fussy calibration freak. It is not as important as knowing the brakes on my car work.


      1. That’s the Vinylengine reference that I use.  For most accurate setup I measure the distance from the tonearm pivot to the platter spindle, plug it into their calculator and use the overhang measurement that it spits out to set the cartridge linear position in the headshell.  They have protractors for you to print out for setting the cartridge angle.  And you’re done.  For those who don’t want to dink with fiddly little screws and protractors there are turntables with “P Mount” cartridges.  This technology standardizes the length and angle settings so you just plug the cartridge in and the geometry’s right.

  4. I’m on a turntable kick lately.  Several family members want to play their old records so I started sorting the stacks of old gear and found 6 or 8 ‘tables that could be rehabbed to work.  So of course I had to set up 2 or 3 of them for myself.  Three weeks later I haven’t played a CD, I’ve just been revisiting all of the records that I loved but never repurchased in new formats.
    An excellent resource for those trying to get back into vinyl is the website Vinylengine.  They have clear and well written instructions on setting up a table.  You can print out protractors and instructions for cartridge alignment.  And there’s an active and well informed user base to handle your questions, from basic to advanced.
    I’d like to give a shout out to two cartridges that are excellent values.  The Shure M97xE is less than $100 but performs like a high-end cart.  Very durable and not fussy to set up.  The sound is very satisfying.  I have one on a JVC direct drive ‘table and I love it.
    The Denon DL-110 is a little more $$, usually around $150.  It’s a high-output moving coil cartridge.  A somewhat more exotic technology.  But it doesn’t require the extra stepup transformer or head amp of a traditional low output moving coil.  It has a more refined sound and due to the tip shape it plays worn records with less noise and distortion.
    I would caution most users to avoid the common DJ cartridges.  They are designed primarily for ruggedness and may have higher record wear and worse fidelity than a home use cartridge.
    There are plenty of good vintage turntables that can give good service cheaply for those who just want to play records and not invest a ton of money.  Everyone used to have one and the current supply far outstrips demand so they’re cheap.
    ETA: The NYT article refers to the Mobile Fidelity Geo Disk for cartridge setup. I have that and sometimes use it. It’s simple, but it’s easy to make a significant mistake because it requires lining up to a pivot on the tonearm, which cannot always be seen clearly. I use paper protractors printed out from Vinylengine and follow their recommendations for stylus ‘overhang’. I find this easier and more accurate, and it’s free. I would disagree with the need to purchase a separate stylus force gauge. I have four of them, and they all agree with the stylus force markings on the tonearm adjustment weight to within an acceptable tolerance. So I just go with the tonearm’s own adjustment marks for non-critical cartridges.

      1. I’d agree in the case of the turntable.  I didn’t make that, though with a big enough lathe and enough time I might try.  The preamp I made was pretty easy.  High quality opamp phono board and power regulator bought off eBay and aluminum cabinetry, transformer, switches, volume control and connectors I already had on hand.  It cost maybe $100 and 6 hours to make.  And it sounds superb.  I already have parts on hand to make another because I lent that to an audiophile friend and it’s not coming back.  I did change the stock OPA2134 chips to higher performance LME49720NA chips because what the hell.
        The turntable’s power supply is kind of ironic.  The motor is driven by a Class D ‘digital’ power amplifier instead of 60 Hz line power.  The 60 Hz signal input to the power amp comes from an MP3 file on an iPod.  This is brilliant because you can adjust the platter speed by using a file with a slightly different frequency.  Though the builder says the speed accuracy is +/- 0.015% as built.

    1. I had the same thought.  Living off a grad student stipend, the word “inexpensive” does not mesh well with a $500 price tag.  Granted, he said relatively, and for (nearly) every price there is someone whose wealth is great enough to make it “relatively inexpensive.”

  5. If you’re looking for an excellent, cheap turntable, try the Pro-ject Genie mk3. Looks cool too.

  6. I own a Pro-Ject Debut III turntable (red) and have been pleased with its performance.  I am not an expert by any means, just a consumer.  I don’t have a fancy cartridge or a ridiculous record collection.  Just appreciate good design and proper function.  Yes, it was fairly expensive at ~$500, but it scratched an itch for a replacement to my old broken (cheap) turntable and it looks great on the shelf when I’m not using it.

  7. If they just mastered CDs like LPs, no-one would be able tell the difference aside from the lack of noise. But no, loudness war. It’s very hard to find modern music in digital formats that hasn’t been compressed/limited to hell.

    1. This is true.  Lots of people hear vinyl and think it sounds better because it’s vinyl. No, it sounds better because they made an effort to preserve dynamic range in records instead of seeing how much they could squeeze out to make it louder.  It’s not that digital sounds bad per se, but with the adoption of digital came mastering standards that resulted in lots of nasty sounding recordings.  I have some great sounding CDs but for the most part they’re from places like Waterlily Acoustics that care about sonics.

      1. In ABX (double blind) tests, no-one could reliably spot 16/44.1 digital inserted into an analogue passage (the digital stream was recorded from the analogue).  Nor could they reliably spot 16/44.1 passages inserted into 24/192 masters. CD quality is genuinely good enough. Another thing that CD does that results in a less analogue sound is offer 100% stereo separation. An amp that allowed adjustment of crosstalk to taste might be a nifty digital “enhancer” for vinyl fans.

        1. I’m working on a headphone amplifier that adds a variable level of entropy to the signal.  It produces 2nd harmonic distortion like a vacuum tube and lets the user adjust the THD level to taste.  It sounds good on ‘dry’ and over-processed music signals, adding a little warmth and fullness.  It’s basically a FET, a mixer circuit and a LM386 opamp.

        2. The amount of stereo separation is set in the mastering.  Early stereo records often went to extremes to show off the new format by putting one sound entirely on left or right.  Some Beatles songs had zero vocals on one side.  Instrumental version on the left, a capella on the right!  I have an original vinyl pressing of Brubeck’s Time Out, and the separation is insane.  Turn the balance control one way and Joe Morello disappears.  Turn it the other way and Paul Desmond is gone.  It got so bad that many audiophiles installed a third ‘center fill’ speaker between the right and left that played a mono-blend signal so the mix would be more realistic.

          1. They did do crap left/right separations in the beginning of stereo records, but vinyl is not physically capable of 100% stereo separation the way digital or master tape is. Because of the groove’s triangular section, and the needle’s diagonal movement in either direction and the ability of the cartridge to float relatively freely , the needle tends (tends!) to track the average of the two channels. I believe the maximum separation is generally about 25dB. That’s not inconsiderable, as every 5dB is a doubling in perceived volume, but digital is capable of total separation.


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