Reviewer: Arvind Kohli - TNT USA
Date: December, 2006
I entered this hobby at a time when the Compact Disc had all but killed off the LP format, and had firmly claimed it's stake as the major format for recorded music. Whether you like it or not, it still has claim to that title. Though at times it feels like it may be about to be upstaged by the MP3 format (shoot me now).
So, by circumstance, I never had much of an opportunity to experience vinyl as an audiophile format; and whenever I had the chance...I passed it up. I was somehow already conviced it would not be worth my while. I will admit that in my younger days (when my convictions were firm even if unfounded) I dismissed those that clung to their record-players as folks who could not come to terms with change. After all, the major shortcoming (background noise) of the vinyl format is unavoidably obvious upon first listening. How could a format with such an obvious shortcoming have any chance of being better than the CD format, especially when CDs are apparantly so much quieter.
Later years brought some sense and open-mindedness to my perspectives on life, and I started to accept the notion that there may be atleast two possibilities for the continued and loyal (albeit relatively small) support of the vinyl format:
One - Vinyl was actually inferior to CD; but some folks could not accept change and bear to trash their previous investment and so rationalized by claiming vinyl to be superior.
Two - Vinly was actually superior to CD; but it is not easy to specify exactly why, listening with an open and honest mind maybe the best evaluation technique available.
The latter notion has been often repeated by many in the press, but I have a general mistrust of their word and thus never did take any heed from it. It was only when praises for this format were sung by folks whose opinions I have come to respect, that I became so intrigued and eventually decided that I had to investigate for myself. Some of those who influenced my thoughts in this regard included Kavi Alexander of Water Lily Acoustics, Pierre Sprey of Mapleshade Records, Greg Singh of Jupiter Audio Europa, my brother-in-law Orlando Sampat and an excellent article by Christine Tham.
Fast forward to May of 2006; I finally found myself in the right circumstances and frame of mind to scratch the itch that had been building for a while. Read the intro to this series to understand the question and criteria for this series.
In the course of this series, I only reviewed three turntable setups;
MusicHall mmf2.1SE/Bellari VP129 - Package price $650 USD
MusicHall mmf9/Creek OBH15 - Package price $2,149 USD.
KAB-Ortofon S30/KAB-Technics SL1200 MK2/Creek OBH18 - Package price $1,172 USD.
At the outset, I expected to review atleast 5 packages. But, by the time I reviewed the second package I already had the answer to my question. The third package was already in posession and so I decided to include it in this series as well. Good thing I did, since that answered yet another question; one that I had not intended to ask but am certainly glad I found the answer to.
My initial impression was not positive. The first thing I noticed was the added noise, that is endemic to this format (though it can be considerably mitigated in several ways). That noise turned me off...but, yet I could not stop from wanting to listen to more records. There was something indescribable about the sound of vinyl; and my inability to define it drove me mad. The only attribute I could clearly descibe was a negative one; but there was something overwhelmingly alluring and irresistable about listening to a record, yet I could not find the words to nail it down. As a writer I have never been at such a loss for words to accurately capture what I heard or felt...and it is still driving me nuts. I now understand the frequent references of "...warm sounding..." and "...musically involving..." that are often used by others to describe the sound of vinyl. Though I would refrain from using them myself, since they somehow imply a euphonically coloured presentation...and I do not think that is accurate either.
With the second setup, I was hooked. As I had noted from my vinyl-mentors, performance in this format is the aggregate of the quality and level of attention in each aspect; e.g. quality/condition of the vinyl, shape of the stylus, weight/stiffness of tonearm, etc. This package likely elevated several of those aspects to result in a much superior sound. The word "needle" now had a double and parallel entendre for me; the "needle" on the record had become as addictive as the "needle" in the arm (not that I indulge in the latter).
The third package was just icing on the cake. Here was a package for about half the price of the second setup, and with improved performance in some aspects. I have since purchased that 'table for myself and am using a Goldring Elite MC cartridge with it, a phono stage is yet to be decided upon.
In the past six months I have gone from sceptic to believer, my record collection has already grown to about 100. I cannot wait to listen to my record player as often as possible...while my digital player sits neglected; remember this universal player is a tremendous performer and retails for $3,000 USD. To be honest, I have developed an aversion for the sterile and uninvolving sound of digital formats (even hi-rez ones)...I wonder if I will ever get over it.
The past few months has found me feverishly searching for vinyl, my collection has grown to about 100 LPs. But in my quest for material to listen to, I have discovered a whole new world of music I never knew existed. Masterpieces that were recorded on vinyl and seem to have never made it to a digital format, and may never will. What more, the average price I have been paying for these treasures is well under $5 USD (used ofcourse).
In the end I dont know how else to express my new found ecstasy, I am virtually shouting off the top of a mountain. And if you havent already...get off your duff and go vinyl.
© Copyright 2006 Arvind Kohli - www.tnt-audio.com