Archive for the ‘Turntables’ Category

Vinyl’s difficult comeback

Posted: January 7, 2015 in Turntables, Vinyl

Can the creaking machinery of the few remaining record pressing plants cope with demand?

On an industrial estate in Röbel, 90 miles north of Berlin, the vinyl presses at the Optimal factory were grinding and pumping away. They made a percussive racket – regular clunks, wheezes, and hisses, underlain by a droning hum – and created a distinct aroma, sharp and metallic, suggestive of steam engines and old cars: not instantly recognisable to a British visitor like me, perhaps, but the singular smell of things being made. My guide to the Optimal plant was its operations director, Peter Runge. Together, we watched copies of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ Live From KCRW tumble from one of the machines. Across a narrow aisle, a press dedicated to seven-inch records was spitting out copies of The Boy From New York City, a 1964 single by the Ad Libs, a soul group from Bayonne, New Jersey. A few yards away sat fresh stock of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. Next to those was a growing pile of the album Clandestine by the Swedish death metal band Entombed, being pressed on purple vinyl. Beside each machine, bins were collecting surplus plastic shorn off the edges of each disc, to be fed back into the production process.

“Instant recycling!” said Runge, who stared at the factory’s operations through rimless glasses. He grew up, he told me, in Rostock, in the old German Democratic Republic. When he was 19, he applied for an ausreiseantrag – an East German exit visa, the same day as the East German premier Erich Honecker visited West Berlin. This modest act of subversion led to an appointment with the Stasi, and he was barred from going to university. So he got a job in the university’s workshop, helping to build electronic prototypes, where he gained a practical understanding of engineering. When the Berlin Wall fell, two years later, he belatedly became an undergraduate at the same institution, and eventually earned a PhD in industrial maintenance. He joined Optimal Media in 1997, was put in charge of “process optimisation and re-engineering” and given the job of setting up a production planning system. Now 46, he oversees the manufacture of DVDs, CDs and books, but the task in which he takes the most pleasure is supervising the production of vinyl records, in what he and his colleagues claim is Europe’s biggest pressing plant. Their clients are split between the major record companies – who have trusted Optimal with the work of such titans as the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and David Bowie – and the independent companies who kept the vinyl format alive through the 1990s and early 2000s while the rest of a terrified music industry embraced digital technology. Optimal’s machines run 24 hours day, for most of the year, and production capacity has to be booked up to a year in advance. And every hiss and wheeze of the company’s machines attests to a story that, 20 or so years ago, would have seemed unthinkable: the renaissance of the vinyl record.

In the first half of 2014, officially registered sales of vinyl in the US stood at around 4m, confirming an increase of more than 40% compared to the same period in 2013. In the UK, this year’s accredited sales will come in at around 1.2m, more than 50% up on last year. That may represent a tiny fraction of the industry’s estimated sales of recorded music, but still, a means of listening to music essentially invented in the 19th century and long since presumed to be dead is growing at speed, and the presses at Optimal – along with similar facilities smattered across the UK, mainland Europe, the US and beyond – are set to grind and pump on, into the future.

“Isn’t it strange?” Runge mused. “I’m an automation engineer. I never thought I’d be dealing with vinyl. It’s unexpected. But it’s also unexpectable.” He shouted this over the din of the machinery. Each press sat in a space not much more than four metres square. Two circular paper labels were mechanically plucked from one end, while tiny vinyl pellets were sucked into a steam-driven heating process. The result was a hunk of plastic with the circumference of a beer mat, heated to 130C, to which the labels were attached, while 50 tonnes of hydraulic pressure squashed and spread it into a disc. Metal stampers pressed against either side, and it was quickly cooled to 40C. With another clunk, the finished product was dropped on to a spindle, ready to be inserted in its sleeve. The whole cycle had taken 27 seconds. Each day, the factory makes somewhere between 50,000 and 55,000 records.

Michell Orbe SE and VC power supply

Posted: November 24, 2010 in Turntables

By Andrew Harrison, Hi-Fi News, March 2003

Changing a winning formula can be a risky business; the ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ maxim applies all too well to audio kit. But sometimes, change becomes necessary as much by circumstances as any desire to improve and refine a product. And so it was with Michell Engineering’s range of turntables, which have had the motor type replaced across the range. My experience with turntable motors and their power supplies has shown that seemingly trivial changes in this area can make conspicuous differences in the whole sound. But I wasn’t prepared for the major sonic refit that the change from an AC motor to a DC version would have on the Michell Orbe SE (and VC power supply). Like most belt-driven turntables over the years, Michell always used an AC synchronous motor to drive the platter. This can be an easy, cost-effective solution requiring no more than a couple of passive components to run directly from the mains AC supply, with a fair degree of inherent speed stability as motor spindle speed is locked from the 50Hz (or 60Hz) AC frequency.

Later models were offered a quartz-locked QC power unit which increased performance by lowering motor frame vibration and stabilising any frequency fluctuations by creating a more stable and purer two-phase sinusoidal feed. In effect, Michell’s QC (comparable to the Linn Lingo for the LP12) is capable of substantially improving the final sound available from its AC motorpowered turntables; but a change of design was necessitated by the recent unavailability of the specified Papst drive motor. This Swiss-made unit was one of the best AC motors for the job, and so Michell, along with its electronics partner Trichord Research, developed a replacement DC motor which fits into the same weighty 3kg motor block.

The DC motor option for belt-drive turntables has been exploited in the past by manufacturers such as Pink Triangle and Origin Live, and it has advantages – and disadvantages. In its favour, a DC motor typically has lower vibration, especially compared to the ubiquitous Philips/Airpax motors, and low enough to even allow the motor to be hard-mounted to the same plinth that supports the platter. The principal problems with DC motors are, first, speed drift caused by changes in the DC supply voltage and, second, acoustic noise from the brushes within.

Motor noise wasn’t a problem with the Orbe SE VC. From the outset, the new motor block was as deathly silent as it should be, with no ‘whispering’ acoustic noise to intrude on listening. Speed accuracy was checked with a quartz-controlled LED strobe, and found to be set precisely to 331/3rpm. This is more remarkable considering the subjective replay quality of the SE VC model, – in direct comparison with an AC motor unit on the same deck, the DC Orbe gave music a slower feel.

The impression was of a more sedate, timely rendition, giving more time to take in, for example, a piano concerto in all its layered intricacies, where the AC Orbe would be racing toward the end in comparison.

Timing, the sense that musicians are playing rhythmically and in time with each other, was as excellent as before, but overall pace was slowed subjectively. Coupled with this was a lower noise floor, allowing, for example, the slow decay of a held piano chord to be heard for longer, and very quiet background sounds such as the squeaks of instruments and seating were now apparent.

Stereo stability was also first-class, perhaps better than the older version, letting images lock into space convincing. But the biggest change after ‘speed difference’ was the tonal character, which has changed quite markedly. Treble hash, manifest as a low-level glossy sheen added to female vocals and cymbals, for instance, was never a big problem for the Miche[l Orbe, and so I was surprised when this was removed altogether. Instead I sensed a darker, more ‘analogue’ mood, particularly in the upper presence region. A Clearaudio Victory m-c cartridge mounted on a Rega RB300 Incognito arm was now giving a performance closer to the sublime and far costlier Transfiguration Temper V [HFN Dec ’02].

In conclusion, the latest Michell Orbe introduces real improvement in most areas, but beware of a change in character which might require a little system tweaking, especially if you’re upgrading from the previous version and are wedded to its tonal balance. The difference might not warrant too much concern, and I believe that the positive benefits of the upgraded motor are just too good to miss.

Pioneer CDJ-2000 turntable

Posted: November 24, 2010 in Turntables

Pioneer’s CDJ-1000 turntable has become the industry standard among DJs that play from CDs thanks to its tank-like construction, big vinyl-emulation wheel and exceptionally precise controls. Pioneer has just announced its successor – the CDJ-2000.

The biggest addition on the 2000 is that of a massive 6.1-inch WQVGA colour display that can show song information, album art, wave data, and other information about the song. A touchpad under the display called the “Needle Pad” lets you skip to specific parts of the song, too.

Also, there’s the option to use the turntable as a midi controller for other devices – making its 35 buttons able to do whatever you like – triggering samples for example. There’s a 24-bit sound card built in, so it can plug straight into your computer and used to control software like Traktor and Serato.

A feature called Pro DJ Link allows you to share content between players. You can buy up to four of these players and connect a hard drive, SD card or USB stick to just one – then share the music on that source through all four of the players.

Lastly, there’s a music organisation system that the company’s calling “rekordbox1”. That keeps track of music files that are played through the device and logs their BPM, waveform data and any cue points, loops or hot cues that you set. When you then load the song in next time, everything will be waiting for you.

On top of the CDJ-2000, the company has also updated its CDJ-800 to the CDJ-900, adding many of the features above but lacking the whopping great big screen.

The CDJ-2000 will be out in November, and cost $2150 – that’s about £1300 directly translated, but we’d expect a price nearer £1500 for the UK market. The CDJ-900 will arrive in December and cost $1600 – about £970, so probably more like £1100 when it arrives here.

By Tom Peck
Just weeks after Sony quietly pressed stop on the Walkman, its Japanese rival Panasonic has announced the end of another chapter of music history. It will no longer produce its Technics line of analogue turntables, including the pioneering 1200 series, originally a humble record player, that almost by accident sparked the birth of a musical and cultural movement.

When they were first brought to the consumer market in 1972, the Technics SL 1200 quickly became the standard among radio and club DJs as, when combined in a pair, the turntables made it possible to synchronise different recordings, giving rise to the disco (and house and techno) style of continuous beat matching. Since then, rappers have continuously name checked the “1200s”, “Tee 12s”, “Tec 12s”, “wheels of steel” and “the one and twos” that helped to found their art.

According to the 2002 movie Scratch, made at the height of the DJ boom, for several years at the turn of the 20th century, turntables were outselling guitars across the UK. But though they have sustained the romance of vinyl far longer than was reasonable to expect, they are nonetheless an analogue device in a digital world. According to the manufacturers: “Panasonic decided to end production mainly due to a decline in demand for these analogue products and also the growing difficulty of procuring key analogue components necessary to sustain production. Our product range has to reflect the transformation of the entire audio market from analogue to digital.”

While it will likely be some time before the turntables disappear altogether, the final suspension of their production has prompted no lack of nostalgia from their proponents – even those who have moved on themselves.

“They were never the best sounding but they’re the most durable,” said Rory Phillips, a leading figure on the London and European superclub scene. “They can stand the rigours of being in a smoky sweaty nightclub night after night. They weren’t built for scratching, but they gave birth to scratching. You just couldn’t do it on other turntables; I ruined quite a few home hi-fis trying it.”

“It’s very sad,” said Dextrous, 28, a DJ from Manchester who acquired his set of SL 1200 as a 15-year-old. “I still think they’re unbeatable. But in recent years we’ve seen the march of the digital DJ. The trouble with turntables is it leaves you locked into buying records. You can’t play songs before they’ve been released, which everyone wants to now, and lots of DJs want to promote their own music, and not many of them have got it on vinyl. I’ve still got my Technics at home, but next to them I’ve got MP3 turntables.”

Thirty-eight years after its initial release, the SL 1200 had barely changed and had seen off competitors’ attempts to ape it. The latest iPod, a similarly revolutionary product, is scarcely comparable to its first chunky incarnation in 2001. But where the iPod all but obliterated its rivals, this announcement perhaps doesn’t mean the end of the SL-1200. Some products that have purportedly replaced the analogue turntable still need the turntables in order to function, including the Serato Scratch program for DJs.

“It’s sad news,” said Mr Phillips. “But they’re durable. There’s still hundreds of thousands in circulation, and I’m sure they’ll be around for years.”

Marantz Tt1000

Posted: November 14, 2010 in Turntables

The direct-drive player which adopted the three-tiered cabinet.

In order to banish an oscillating propagation from a cabinet, in Tt1000, it is considered as the three-layer structure which raised the plane precision and which sandwiched the aluminum board of 8mm thickness with special glass (thick and 7.5kg) 15mm. This has eliminated an unnecessary howling and reverberation.

The hard glass with a wall thickness of 5mm it had hard glass, and the hardness which has too much and weight for innocent copper from the view of using the structure where not the method of absorbing an oscillation for a large material but the oscillations itself of an internal loss, such as rubber, are not received is adopted as a turntable sheet.

The always uniform wait was applied also to the disk with curvature, and the mass variable scheme dynamic balance type tone arm which can change the effective mass of an arm according to compliance is adopted so that the performance of all cartridges can moreover fully be demonstrated.
A mass uses a small super aluminum alloy with a big intensity for the straight type aluminum material which made the effective mass small, and the connector fraction with a head shell has become a semi integrated type of the it1 type side contact without an occurrence of the vibration accompanying shakiness etc.

The newly developed high torque DD motor by the special order of a Marantz is carried in the phone motor which drives a heavy weight class turntable with a weight of 3.4kg. The starting torque by a powerful magnetic circuit can also be 1.6kg.
A normal rotation is reached in 1/2 rotation after a start. Furthermore, in the rotation system, to a dynamic load variation, it is the moment of inertia of this heavy weight class turntable, and the method quartz-crystal nowait-lock organization of a perimeter detection has realized the high order accuracy and the exact rotation to static load variations, such as a drift.

In order to secure the trances without the influence of an unnecessary oscillation, the Naked material of the aluminum which it began to delete from a big lump is used for the arm base. Moreover, it is the design considered so that the tone arm from 190mm of effective lengths to 230mm could be attached universally by rotating this fraction.
And it is also possible to upgrade to a double arm using the subarm space provided for the left back.

An air suspension type insulator with sufficient absorber capacity is adopted.
Height control is also free for this insulator, and the level criteria of a turntable can also do a setups correctly.

The harmful hum by power-source induction is not received at all, but it is the “independent power supply stream composition” which can reproduce a low distortion.

Piercing through a perfect unvibrated design, Power SW and the velocity switchover SW adopt the touch sensor scheme touched with a finger.

Electromagnetic-brake equipment which controls a turntable by a stop button powerfully.

The light emitting diode indicator lamp which displays a low-speed rotation.

Form Direct-drive player
Drive motor PLL quartz-crystal nowait-lock DC servo
Wow and flutter 0.023%(WRMS)
S/N ratio (DIN B WTD) 73dB or more
Using tone arm Dynamic balance type
Turntable weight 2.7kg
Glass sheet weight 0.7kg
Power consumption 15W
Dimensions Width 510x height 167x depth of 430mm
Weight Main unit: 26kg
Power-supply unit: 1.5kg