Hello Vinyl (Part II)

I initially left the turntable in the trunk of my car. Upon returning to SoundHounds, I didn’t see the gentleman who helped me on my previous trip. Nevertheless, I got talking to one of the guys about my interest in the Rotel A12 and a pair of ELAC-UNIFI bookshelf speakers, primarily for listening to music including vinyl. He said that’s a good setup, but for a similar price I might prefer pairing the Rotel with a pair of Bowers and Wilkins S685 R2s. I should give ‘em both a listen and see which set I prefer. I asked if he would mind if I got my turntable and some records out of my car? No problem at all, he’d get the rest of the kit together.

Set up in one of the listening rooms, we switched back and forth between the sets of speakers. During this process, he uncovered an issue with the way I had configured the balance weight on the turntable as well as my lack of sufficient pressure while applying the head / phono cartridge to the tone arm. After successfully troubleshooting the setup, we got busy switching between speakers and testing between the ELACs and Bowers and Wilkins across a few of the records. In the end my take on the speakers were the the ELACs were more “responsive” and “punchy” but the Bowers and Wilkins were “warmer” and “fuller”, which I preferred. Having come to agreeable pricing including some custom speaker cables, which I had no interest in doing myself with 4 banana plugs on one end, we had a deal. 

The speakers were on-order, the cables had to be fabricated; though not instant gratification, the timeliness of everything was reasonable – a week? All went to schedule. In the meantime, I ordered an in-wall rated optical cable from Amazon to connect the TV. Now to set all this up and get to listening to records – comparing that sound to the sound of Apple Music via an AppleTV 4K and a Sony XBR65X930D.

My verdict, with this setup, was that whether the record or the digital sounded better depended on the record. Of my four records only one sounded noticeably better on vinyl than digital. The Zhu, GenerationWhy, Limited Edition Coloured Vinyl was noticeably better sounding than the Apple Music Version. The horns seemed fuller, or further forward in the mix than the digital variant. The nostalgic love was real; but I was perplexed as to why the other records fell flat…

Hello Vinyl (Part I)

As much as vinyl may be a superior way to listen to music, the internet is a fabulous medium for initial research. My web research, on modern hi-fi, was buoyed by the Audiophiliac on Cnet. I found his articles entertaining and full of genuine voice as well as a passion for his subject matter. This article, in particular, was my jumping off point.

From that article the Pro-Ject Carbon Debut caught my attention; of course, I knew NAD amplifiers, but I didn’t like the idea of preamps, one for digital and another for analogue records cluttering up my already cluttered media centre. The Magnepan speakers weren’t going to work in my space as I needed something that could be close to the wall but not mounted on the wall and thereby competing with the TV for wall space. Bookshelf speakers were the thing. Though I have a lot of respect for Klipsch components, I would be replacing a set of powered Klipsch 2.1 computer speakers after 15+ years – I was looking for something different.

I learned about ELAC and their newer higher end Uni-fi series. I was enamoured with the story of Andrew Jones, a Robin Hood / Johnny Ives of speaker design taking his high end experience and making affordable hi-fi speakers. 

To address my clutter conundrum, Rotel seemed to be my knight in shining armour, yet another hi-fi brand I hadn’t heard of, with only one authorized dealer in my sleepy hometown – SoundHounds.

SoundHounds has been around longer than me. My parents bought their Harmon Kardon and Boston Acoustics hi-fi system there more than 30 years ago. I headed down to the spot they’d been situated at for the shop’s whole existence and looked around. ELAC – check, Rotel – check, Pro-Ject check… no prices on anything but I had an idea of MSRP and as I talked to one of the gentlemen working there, the prices seemed in line. The service was friendly, encouraging a try before you buy, listen to various components, bring your own pieces if you like mentality. However, nervous of the mounting price of my bundle I started to wonder if there might not be a more affordable turntable with a staged roll-out, rather than a big bang. I left the store without making any purchases or having them hook anything up for me to listen to.

Back home and online, after looking at more reviews, I settled on the Audio Technica LP3. I could get that as a first purchase, use the built-in phono amp to use it with my powered speakers, as an interim setup, and get to listening to my brother’s records sooner rather than later, or at least with a smaller initial price tag. 

Ordered from Amazon the turnable arrived super quick, and as I went about setting it up and connecting to my powered speakers, all sorts of static and issues ensued while trying to get it working. It was time to open up the wallet and re-visit SoundHounds, and this time I would bring the turntable and records with me…

Hello Darkness

On January 26th my wonderfully millennial younger step brother, at the age of 36, passed away. For less than a year, he knowingly fought skin cancer that had metastasized. In life he had succeeded where boomers and us x-ers had largely given up. He had avoided falling prey to the contemporary iteration of the ’50’s suburban dystopia and its creature comforts. Millennials, it seems, by and large have taken up this struggle in their own way. Many are narrowly avoiding life in a cubicle. My brother, in his last few years, was a successful entrepreneur, his own boss, and had succeeded in living his life his own way, on his own terms, and thereby having many adventures in his relatively short years.

For what would be our last Christmas gift exchange I had drawn his name. Knowing he hadn’t much appetite, nor the ability to consume alcohol, I had suggested to him that I could select some records. Despite years of near nomadic living, he had always been a connoisseur of vinyl, including a stint as a DJ; he was stoked on the idea.

With records recently outselling digital, excluding subscriptions/streaming, it was a simple matter of visiting my local purveyor “Ditch Records”. The last time I was in a record store, I wasn’t yet tall enough to see above the bins. Though, I had my very own version of Corey Hart’s record with the hit “Sunglasses at night” on it, most of my music as a youth was on tape cassettes and later CDs; my first CD being a Christmas gift – Tom Cochrane, “Mad Mad World” circa ’91.

For my brother’s 2017 Christmas, I picked out some of my recent, favourite albums, which happened to be in stock at the local shop.

Zhu – Generationwhy*

*with a “Limited Edition Colour Vinyl” sticker on it.

Allan Rayman – Roadhouse 01

Lord Huron – Lonesome Dreams 

Ben Howard – Every Kingdom 

So I’d spent more than our alleged limit – so what. These were some of my current favourites, and I had hoped he would enjoy them.

Following our family Christmas festivities, my brother returned to his new hometown, and four weeks later passed away. I was shocked. Post death, the records were returned to me, sad and still shrink-wrapped. Having no record player myself, but having long held a curiosity regarding my brother’s interest, a new exploration beckoned… What is a good beginner audiophile setup? Why is vinyl the new hotness? Does it really sound better? What is this limited edition colour vinyl? Does it matter? How does this all work? What does it all mean? And what was my brother on about?

Our next instalment on exploring [the] art [of vinyl] will be on my process of researching and buying a Hi-Fi, which, as in most things, wasn’t as straightforward as it might sound.