Saturday, July 05, 2008

Adventures in Analog


As much as I treasure my vinyl, dealing with it has been, at times, equal parts joy and frustration. Storing it, playing it properly, ripping it properly, all of it has been a real slow, gradual, trial-and-error process for me. With all the intricacies surrounding it, it's no wonder there's such a cult around the vinyl experience.

As far as my own experience goes, one of the downsides that came after getting my first decent stereo system some seven years ago was how it seemed to highlight all the weaknesses of the old, cheap turntable setup that I had. Every record seemed to pick up this unusual quality where the song at the start of the record would sound great, with the sound quality of each track in sounding progressively worse, until the track at the very end of the side would sound so harsh and muddy, it was almost unlistenable at times. Used to drive me almost insane at times.. I would later found out that the term for this was called "inner groove distortion." Even though different types of cartridges, tinkering with some of the other elements of a turntable setup (tonearm, alignment, tracking force etc..), along with different factors in the mastering process of each record play major factors in it's severity, it's nevertheless something that's inherent to all vinyl, to varying degrees, from what I've gathered..

Three years ago, with my cheap $5.00 Sears brand garage sale turntable on it's last legs, I had broke down (literally, I was nearly broke afterwards) and bought myself a much better turntable - a Technics SL-1600 - still an oldie, but a major improvement (not the one pictured above, FYI) along with a new Shure M97xE cartridge, which I had payed around $100 US on eBay for, thinking that would solve the inner groove distortion issue. It came highly, even universally recommended as a close second to the discontinued Shure V15VxMR, apparently the tracking granddaddy of moving magnet cartridges. Although an improvement, it never really solved the problem completely.. Eventually, I had just come to accept it as analogue annoyance, a chronic listening fatigue, if you will. Recently, after listening through my old Soulseek downloads, I had become discouraged hearing other peoples' rips of albums that I had also ripped and wondering why the other rips had little to no distortion, where mine had tons. At that moment, I had gotten tired of it and ended up taking a chance on the Audio-Technica AT440MLa cartridge based largely on one review that I had come across of it's earlier model. I've had it now for about a week an a half and I can't believe how much the distortion (at least to my amateur ears) has been reduced, to the point where it seems practically non-existent on the majority of my records, many of which the old Shure cart had a hard time tracking. Let's just say that because of this, I've lost many hours of sleep from luxuriating in my vinyl these past couple of weeks.. I don't think listening to my records has ever been this pleasurable, or even this much of a revelation..

At this point, I feel like re-ripping the previous Disco Delivery post along with some of the others in the archives if/when I have some time. The awful distortion on my rips of the Cissy Houston album on the last Disco Delivery installment was one of the reasons why I had held off a little bit before posting it.

Anyway, I had payed around the same price for the Audio-Technica as I did for the Shure ($100 US), so consider the AT440MLa a relatively low cost alternative for anyone out there looking for a solution..

LINKS:
STEVE HOFFMAN FORUMS - INNER GROOVE DISTORTION
BBC - ONEMUSIC HOW TO.. PRESS VINYL (PAGE 7 - INNER GROOVE DISTORTION)
AUDIOREVIEW.COM - AUDIO-TECHNICA AT440MLa
AMAZON.COM - AUDIO-TECHNICA AT440ML DUAL MOVING MAGNET CARTRIDGE
LP GEAR - AUDIO-TECHNICA AT440MLa CARTRIDGE
AUDIO-TECHNICA: AT440MLa DIAL MOVING MAGNET CARTRIDGE

CATEGORIES: CONSUMER ADVISORY, ARTICLES & RAMBLINGS

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