Gramophone Dreams

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Herb Reichert  |  Apr 05, 2018  |  8 comments
I spent a snowy New York City evening at Rhapsody Music & Cinema, talking with the proprietor, Bob Visintainer, and watching my friend Michael Trei install a Lyra Etna SL moving-coil cartridge in a Graham Engineering Phantom III tonearm mounted on a TechDAS Air Force 3 turntable tethered to a Zesto Tessera phono stage. Every wall was lined with big, floorstanding speakers, all of them expensive. On the main stage that day were Alta Audio's Hestia Titaniums ($32,000/pair).
Herb Reichert  |  Feb 08, 2018  |  4 comments
In my October 2017 column I reported on two turntables, the Palmer 2.5 and AMG Giro G9, each costing $10,000 and up, depending on ancillaries. It wasn't that I wanted to get all Mikey Fremer Uptown on you; I wanted to refine my listening skills and familiarize my senses with what my own humble system would sound like with a pair of world-class record players.
Herb Reichert  |  Nov 28, 2017  |  8 comments
I spend my days comparing cartridges and speaker stands, arguing about imaging and microphone placement, speculating about DAC filters, and lately, sometimes, very secretly listening to headphones connected not to commercially available headphone amplifiers but directly to the outputs of basic tubed and solid-state power amplifiers. No person in his right mind would or should try this—it's too easy to destroy a pair of delicate, expensive headphones. But for me, it's been worth the risk.
Herb Reichert  |  Oct 03, 2017  |  70 comments
It's get-ting bet-ter all the time (it can't get no worse)—John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Remasterings of recordings make me angry—they mess with my memories of the songs I love, especially songs from the 1960s that I played in my bedroom on a cheap Garrard turntable through Lafayette speakers. Like my first girlfriend, these songs permanently entered my psyche and modified my DNA.

Herb Reichert  |  Jul 18, 2017  |  16 comments
Recently, a friend played me a masterpiece: Ike & Tina Turner's River Deep—Mountain High, arranged by Jack Nitzsche and produced by Phil Spector (LP, A&M SP 4178). It sounded terrible: murky, distant, with badly booming bass. Even before the first track was over, we both laughed and called it a night.

Nevertheless, I went home obsessed with Tina's inspired singing and Spector's infamous Wall of Sound production.

Herb Reichert  |  May 23, 2017  |  8 comments
As much as I delight in pagan dreams of sweetly perfumed garden nymphs, I'm embarrassed to admit that my mind also drifts in pleasant reveries whenever I hear the words research and development in the same sentence. I am by nature a greasy gearhead. The idea of taking well-considered steps of engineering to analyze and possibly improve the operation of any electrical or mechanical system never fails to get my imaginative juices flowing. This is why I've spent decades fascinated by perfectionist audio: I like watching and participating in its edgy, eccentric evolution.
Herb Reichert  |  Mar 30, 2017  |  34 comments
Some of our readers seem to believe that the essence of high-quality audio is disclosed primarily by science, and not by dreamy, bodice-ripping adventures that take place on plush carpets behind closed doors. Perhaps they're right. Unfortunately, I have had no personal experiences that confirm that hypothesis.
Herb Reichert  |  Jan 31, 2017  |  12 comments
UK, 1976: Upon its release, Rega Research's original Planar 3 turntable became the poor man's Linn Sondek LP12. It opened a gateway of affordability to the exotic world of high-quality British record players. Forty years later, the new Planar 3 turntable and its "light and rigid" engineering aesthetic, as conceived by Rega founder Roy Gandy, still occupy an admirably working-class, pro-music position in an audio world increasingly populated by gold-plated tonearms and quarter-ton turntables.
Herb Reichert  |  Nov 29, 2016  |  6 comments
My passion for listening to music through headphones is fueled by the enhanced sense of intimacy and extra feeling of connectedness I experience in rediscovering recordings I already love. You know the old audiophile cliché: It's like hearing my record collection for the first time. High-quality headphones provide a sharper-than-box-speaker lens that lets me experience lyrics, melodies, and instrumental textures more close-up and magnified.
Herb Reichert  |  Oct 06, 2016  |  3 comments
When you get old and gray and all them shoot-'em-up dudes doe wanna ride wit you no mo, don't fret—you can still have fun. Once you're a geezer, you'll have more time to work in the garden, drink tea, buy LPs, and fiddle with your unipivot.

When I was José Cuervo young, I mocked belt-drive turntables, unipivot tonearms, and teetotalers. "You can't drink, dance, shoot up the bar, and play hot records wit no persnickety belt-drive or wobbly unipivot. You need a masculine, pro-fessional-quality direct-drive or rim-drive turntable with a sturdy a gimbal-bearing tonearm!"

Herb Reichert  |  Jul 26, 2016  |  17 comments
Which record player has achieved international acclaim as a musical instrument in its own right?

Which turntable is revered for its near-indestructible build quality?

Which disc spinner has played more records—and made more people drink, drug, dance, and make out—than any other?

Which turntable has sold over three million units?

Hint: It is not made in the US, the UK, China, or Switzerland.

Herb Reichert  |  May 31, 2016  |  2 comments
This Gramophone Dream is about my continuing adventures as I slowly scale the pyramid of analog audio. I'm still too close to the sandy earth to see the mythical gold tip or enjoy a six-figure super-turntable. However, in this month's episode, I do reach a level where I can relax, play some eternally beautiful music, and peer out over the vast desert of record-player mediocrity.
Herb Reichert  |  Mar 29, 2016  |  12 comments
"Hail, Neophyte!"

That's what members of the Smoky Basement Secret Audio Society would exclaim in unison at the end of each ceremony admitting a new devotee. It was called the Smoky Basement Society not because everyone smoked (though they did), but because its members believed that whenever an audio designer finally got a design dialed in just right, he or she had metaphorically "let the smoke out." They exclaimed, "Hail, Neophyte!" because they believed that the most important aspect of being an audio engineer was to have a fully open "beginner's mind." In Zen practice, this is called Shoshin, or beginner's heart.

Herb Reichert  |  Feb 10, 2016  |  6 comments
Everyone in the room can hear the difference when I swap one phono cartridge for another. Same thing happens with loudspeakers. This is because both of these magnet-based transducer technologies are electromechanical devices, traditionally made of paper, wood, iron, and copper. (Nowadays, polymers, aluminum, and carbon composites are more typical.) Both are motor-generator mechanisms that either convert mechanical energy into electrical energy (cartridges) or vice versa (speakers). As audio devices, they are spool-and-wire simple, but even tiny changes in the materials and/or how those materials are configured can cause easily audible differences in how they transmit or present recordings of music. Why? Because every gross fragment and subatomic particle of these electromechanical contraptions is moving and shaking—shaking everything from the tiny jumping electrons to the wood, metal, and/or plastic containers that fix and locate these motor generators in space.
Herb Reichert  |  Dec 02, 2015  |  8 comments
The golden rays pouring in through the left oculus transport a tiny child carrying a cross: ". . . the devil was vanquished, as if he had just swallowed the bait in the mousetrap." In his essay "'Muscipula Diaboli,' The Symbolism of the Mérode Altarpiece," the late art historian Meyer Schapiro explains how every object, every surface—even the smoke, light, and volume of space—depicted in the famous triptych by Robert Campin (ca 1375–1444) is a coded symbol explicating the mystical underpinnings of Netherlandish Protestantism.

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