Sunday, November 27, 2005

into the groove

this cartridge, a Grado Green, was the first audiophle grade cart that i've listened to and appreciated. my Ortofon Concorde Night Club cart was designed for use as DJ cart and if compared to this cart, i would say that the Grado Green excels on music with predominantly vocals like that of Diana Krall, Patrcia Barber, Rebecca Pidgeon, Jacintha and the like. in short, i would choose this cart if playing jazz and soft music is the order of the day. on the other hand, DJ carts like the Ortofons would thrive on the club scene or when playing bouncy beats and bassy tunes is way up in your preference.
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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

platter in strobelight

This is a close-up photo of the SL-1210 MK2's rotating platter. The red dots shown on the platter of the turntable is an indication that the rotation speed of the platter is in synched with the chosen RPM which is 33-1/3 RPM for a long playing album. If you will adjust the Pitch Control, the red dots will either appear streaming forward if the pitch control is pushed to a faster speed or will appear streaming backwards if pulled to a slower speed. The red dots will either shift upwards or downwards depending on the chosen RPM bias setting. A clever Japanese innovation which is not thought of by the Americans in their direct drive turntables. and that’s why the Technics SL-1200 MK2 and its later siblings were all-time favorites!

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Monday, November 14, 2005

Tonearm Controls

Tuning the turntable is quite a time consuming task with so many rituals to perform. What is shown in the photo are the basic tonearm controls on my Technics SL-1210 MK2 turntable.

Adjustments made on the counterweight of the tonearm counterbalances the weight of the arm and the cartridge. The use of a tracking force gauge is indispensable here but you can blindly do away with it if you know your cartridge’s recommended weight which is now readily available thru the internet. This can be done by doing your calibration on the counterweight dial which should be properly set to defeat the tonearm’s anti-skate mechanism which is initially set at zero. If you do not have a tracking force gauge, but the arm does have a calibrated counterweight, defeat the arm’s anti-skate or set it to zero or whatever setting you have in your anti-skate mechanism control.

Another control that requires tweaking is the Vertical Tracking Angle (VTA) adjuster which calibrates the arm height. Altering the height means increasing or decreasing the tracking force on the vinyl grooves which may, of course, produce a different result not only in terms of sonics but also on the wear and tear of the vinyl record. More height means more pressure applied on the grooves by the touching stylus and vice versa. The more pressure on the weight applied by the stylus also produces a bigger sound and the lesser weight means shallow bass, muddy lows, dull sound or harsh midrange. Tune according to what you hear while playing and listening to your most familiar music. If the tracking force is too light, you’ll need to raise the VTA to achieve a deeper bass and more detailed presentation of your music but doing so will accelerate the wear and tear of your favorite vinyl record.

Adjusting the anti-skate mechanism opposes and balances the force of the natural inward drag of a pivoting arm while playing. If not corrected, the stylus will produce a so-called inner groove distortion which is what happens when the stylus would have the tendency to push up against the inner groove wall, thus, the distortion is the result of mistracking while the record is rotating or playing. The anti-skate force is properly set if the arm would no longer sway towards the spindle or the label of the record and if it would stand still while tracking the vinyl grooves when playing. The safest approach to this tuning process is to increase antiskate force until the arm starts to slowly drift outward or away from the record label.

Individual adjustments made on these three controls mentioned would produce a change in sound so an optimization usually depends on the ears of the listener.

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Thursday, November 10, 2005

Deck Controls

Some trivia for you guys who are not much into hi-fi audio....

The Technics SL-1200 MK2 was not originally intended as a DJ deck when it was first released in 1972. it became popular only as a DJ machine because of its versatility and rugged build which was highly appreciated during the advent and popularity of disco and hip hop music. This sturdy turntable has been around for more than 3 decades now and it has withstood design changes even with the latest MK5 which was last produced in 2002. This turntable is built like a tank because it weighs more than 26 lbs.

”Here’s where the Technics stands head-and-shoulders above, well, everything else. Virtually every control has a positive, very expensive feel (except the pitch slider, which feels a little ‘scratchy’ as it moves). Tap the ‘start’ button and in 0.7 seconds, the platter is up to speed. Tap it again and it stops just as quickly. Adjustable electronic braking can bring the platter to an even quicker halt if for some reason one second isn’t fast enough.

The platter weighs five pounds and is damped with hard rubber on the bottom. Whack it with a baseball bat and it still won’t ring. (The rubber record mat adds another 17 ounces.) Give the platter a spin with your hand, and it whirls like a greased roulette wheel. I wondered if it would ever stop spinning! It has great flywheel action, and judging by the smoothness of rotation, the bearing must be pretty well machined.” (quoted from an Audiogon Review of the SL-1200MK2)

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Friday, November 04, 2005

SACD Player vs. CD Player

playing the same title in SACD and the redbook CD format, which would you choose?
With Rebecca Pidgeon's The Raven album (Chesky SACD & CD) as the test CDs, both the SACD and CD version were alternatively played for purposes of an A-B comparison of the two formats using Sony DVP-NS915V for the SACD and NAD C542 for the CD. The SACD Player was hooked to Consonance m99+ tube amp using Tara Labs Prism 5 interconnects while the CD Player was linked to the same amp using Ixos 1014 Gamma Audition II Interconnects. The 2 interconnects have the same or similar characteristics being copper-based ICs. The speaker is inconsequential but for the sake of mentioning - it is a pair of Mordaunt-Short 914 floorstander.

The result: The SACD is no good or to put it plainly, it did not exceeded my expectation that it would sound a lot better than a good CD. In fact there were even times when I can say that the CD copy has more bits of resolution than the SACD copy. So, if I were you guys, don't waste your funds trying to appreciate the over-hyped and misplaced superiority of an SACD.

But that's just me.... you might have a better SACD Player.

I had doubts on what I heard so I let my eyes compliment my logic. I opened up the hood of both players and visually compared what's inside and carefully located and identified the critical components like the power transformers, DACs, op-amps, and capacitors since these are the parts that play vital roles in the amplification process or in sound reproduction in general, and here's what I found out:

The CD Player is equipped with a toroidal transformer thrice the size of that of the DVD Player which is so disgustingly tiny and miniscule. Although the DVD Player may boast of having the Sony CDX2753 DSD chip to decode SACDs, the audio circuitry was designed in such a way that the front left and front right channel share only one op-amp, the rear left and the rear right channel also share only one op-amp as well as the center and the LFE out, totaling only three (3) op-amps for the 5.1 channel outputs. On the analog outs, there is another op-amp being shared by the right and left channel in stereo mode. These op-amps are fed to Elna capacitors of so miniscule in size and in value. Compared to the CD Player, it is gifted with Burr Brown PCM 1732 DAC with integrated HDCD Decoder and separate op-amps for the left and right channel with audiophile-grade Nichicon capacitors with values ranging from 1000uF to 6800uF. Looking at the connectors, the CD Player boast of having a pair of gold-plated RCA connectors compared to the tin-plated connectors of the DVD Player.

So, how in the world can these low end DVD Players (like the Sony SACD Player) beat the hell out of the CD Player's capability and potential to make better music even if you play SACDs on these DVD Players? I would have to agree that SACDs may sound a lot better if these are played on high end SACD Players which are prohibitively priced beyond my reach.

I am not an avid fan of multi-channel music for the simple reason that I can hardly appreciate music coming out from 6 different sources. What's so thrilling about listening to the two-channel medium is that it affords the listener the chance to localize the instruments being played through your system's capability to project imaging and visualize ambience through its soundstaging facility. I just can't equate multi-channel music from a real concert performance where the sound emanates only from the fronts unlike with multi-channel systems where sounds may come from different directions.

To each his own maybe?

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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

NAD C542 CD Player

My first CD Player was a NAD C521i. Because I love this gear so much, I decided to let it go to let the newer C542 mystify my senses. Inasmuch as owning a NAD C542 is a big leap from my former entry-level CD Player, I immediately noticed remarkable improvements, both aesthetically and sonically. The C542 is a notch higher model than my previous C521i and equally smartly built based on NAD's signature of simplicity and superb technology.

Except for the HDCD decoder LED that I now see on the faceplate, the all-familiar battleship grey color on its casework is still immaculate although the newer model now sports a rounded or circular corners on the front plate. The inside mechanism of its moving parts audaciously stands out with remarkably silent operational feel. The C542's sonic character is one that exudes desirable qualities like superb fidelity letting you enjoy more dynamic range, precised imaging, focused soundstage and extremely natural vocal and musical timbre - being an HDCD equipped player. It is like akin to inserting a WS Tono Preamp between the source and the amp whereby the previously faint or unheard of reproduction suddenly becomes alive and readily discernible. As reviewed by its maker - the C542 is boasting in low frequency slam and extension with timbral accuracy and lucid harmonic structure of its predecessor, the C541i.

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This is a player that I would like to settle with for keeps and enjoy over time or until an itch to upgrade to a higher model would, once again, become an incessant craving. I don't profess to be an expert in evaluating audio gears but certainly I wouldn't be contradicting my pair of ears when I say there is little much to be desired in its lucid and clean resolution. Compared to Rotel's RCD 1070 and Exposure's 2010, the best sounding CD Players that I've heard so far, this player doesn't quite rise to the heights of the better models I've mentioned above. Nonetheless, the C542 can recreate the full richness and detail of any recordings, though it may lack the expressive dynamic range of the 2010 and the punch and thump of the 1070. With proper coupling using better interconnects and cables, one can expect plenty of aural experience from the C542. By and large, the C542's overall signature can well be categorized as a good all-rounder CD Player with capability to play a wide variety of music types without slump in overall sonic quality.

As an example, Fleetwood Mac sounded so alive in "Dreams" while my favorite Style Council track "You're The Best Thing" is much like reminiscing the happier moments in life. Steely Dan's "Hey Nineteen" reminded me a lot of my good ole days while listening to "Pieces" by Patricia Barber is so involving. Diana Krall's "Look of Love" simply made me aware of her virtuosity as a pianist while at the same time letting me visualize how seductive she was in that music video of the same title. Playing my reference Chesky CD "The Ultimate Demonstration Disc", the C542's resolving prowess is an epitome of excellence in Rebecca Pidgeon's "Spanish Harlem". Some serious audiophile would say, the first upgrade we should mind to care is to make the most out of our source - based on the time-honored principle of "trash in - trash out". No matter how good our amp can be, aural fantasy simply begins and boils down to how proficient our source can decode, colorize and convey those signals to our amp's input.

Inasmuch as the C542 was christened by the ever reliable NAD, a Canadian firm advocating affordable but musically superior audio gears, this CD Player is warmly recommended.

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