A Cauldron of Conundrums - Part II

[A Cauldron of Conundrums]

[Italian version here]

Reviewer: Chris Templer - TNT South Africa
Published: February, 2021

[Rewind to Part I]

Apologies to those who love their turntables for the next bit. It's long been a bone of contention with me that LP records are horribly variable in their quality with the vast majority uniformly terrible sounding and that's before the clicks and the pops! At it's peak I had 3,500 records and maybe 100 of them were what I would call good examples aside from the clicks/pops problem. Detailed elsewhere on this site I built a ultrasonic cleaner after trying a couple of other devices to mitigate the background noise, but even then I always had a nagging suspicion that LP's were a poor attempt at getting music to the plebes. Like many others I suspect, I jumped on the digital bandwagon early after promises of perfect sound forever and went back to LP's shortly after as early digital swapped quiet backgrounds for horrendous sound. There have been three periods of turntable/LP records in my life, with everything from Lenco through to EMT and the huge record collection I mentioned. I have bought some modern pressings and one stands out in my memory. This was a double set of LP's, pressed on “virgin” 180 gram vinyl, half speed mastered, 45 RPM by my least favorite recording engineer (who it seems has a cult following) with extravagant art work. I also bought the digital download in anticipation. To say it was a disappointment is understating the case. Apart from the actual recording, the mastering was atrocious but very much in line with this brand. The chap who picked up this set from the importer/seller, at my instigation opened the records and played them using his Technics tt with an SME arm and Denon cartridge. He phoned me with his comments, one of which was that both LP's wowed as the hole was off center. My EMT had no problem playing them due possibly to better design, but the point is that the new pressings are just as bad as the older ones and the idiot recording engineer who “mastered” this seems to have had very little conception of how to make a recording sound real. Despite him having recorded the album.

Another failure was an expensive - fill in audiophile quality blather - of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. Not my style of music but. Ditto albums like Jazz at the Pawn Shop which on most systems sounds good but really listen and there are flaws...... An area where I have a huge problem with vinyl is the range of things that alter the sound and dramatically according to some. One audio type I know has two top of the range SME tt's, each fitted with two identical arms and different cartridges so he can obsess over the differences. And I'm told everything from Garrard grease/oil bearings to various Linn modifications to a myriad of tt's, arms, mats, cartridges, plinths and phono stages all of which “make a difference”. I accept that BUT, which combination is right? Or wrong? It needs someone with advanced degrees in mathematics (Lucio) to work out the number of combinations when one has 15 tt's all with varied bits added. And again what is right or close to being, uh close? Having had to listen to the 4th movement of one of Bruckner's symphonies four times in a row on an indifferent LP pressing (I have it on CD and at least there are no clicks and pops) each repetition was vastly different and none of them convincing. Equipment used here was Manley 300B mono blocks and Rethm Sadana, picture from the web:

[Rethm Sadhana and Manley 300B monoblocks]

And if you are wondering about the placement of the speakers that's because the very last thing you want is for them to be aimed at you.

As always, recording needs someone with technical knowhow, a mastering technician that has ears and a medium to transport his/her work to the end user. To use another example, Janos Starker's rendition of Bach's Cello Concertos as recorded many years ago, issued on the Mercury label by Bob Fine and mastered by his wife Wilma Cozart and re-mastered years later and re-issued on LP and CD again by Wima Cozart (both of which I had), sure the LP's sound very good and “better” than the CD's as per every audiophile I played them for. There is one small point here though; Wilma Cozart said the LP's came out well BUT the CD version was closer to the master tape. One of my musical interests is organ music and here LP records fall down abysmally, the bass extension is just not there. This is due in part to a real estate problem with heavy bass on vinyl and in part (this from someone who has cut record masters) due to the cutting head overheating and bass limited by the engineer to prevent that. This is an anecdote so don't kill the messenger! I have another example here that I think is pertinent to this lack of range, both dynamic and frequency wise on LP. In 1971 a record was recorded and released here in South Africa of classical music played on a Putney synthesizer by Michael Hankinson. HERE. I bought the record and was very happy with the sound and years later, when I sold my collection of records to a friend, was delighted to hear he had a more pristine LP as mine had been worn down over time. The LP's compared well to the digital version, 16/44 ex a streaming service, digital download and YouTube. Then out of the blue I was offered a recently digitized, 24/88 version and a copy of the actual tape that was used to make the 1971 LP in the first place. Clips 1644 HERE and 2488 HERE. I am not going to use the “It blew me away” term, so overused by the audio community, but what I will say is that all my suspicions of lack of bass extension, detail and treble issues are well founded. The original LP and the 16/44 version vs. the 24/88 and first generation master tape copy - what a dream! All I am going to say here is the former set sounds like playing on a car radio to the latter “being there”. I have never ever heard such a big difference between different media versions - when played on a reasonable system, not computer speakers. And the 24/88 vs. the master tape copy are very, very close. The copy was made using the same tape deck used to playback the tape to the digitizing setup and recorded on my Otari MX50. I played the tape at home on my Otari MTR10 and the digital via hd to my Cambridge 851n.

[Wave forms]
Screen grab of the wave form from the above recordings, 16/44 and 24/88.
Very noticeable right/left differences.

Another pet hate is the so called modern Mastering Engineer. I harbor a suspicion that they are troll like, have purple Mohican hairdo's with “product” to keep things stiff, with heavily pierced ears. I know and accept that in the bad old days the sound had to be crippled to get it onto vinyl, but today not so much. Some years ago I attended a concert conducted by Michael Hankinson (same chap as above) of the Saint Saëens 3rd or Organ Symphony in the Johannesburg City Hall. Hankinson recorded the concert for later release to CD and I was able to obtain both a copy of the raw recording and the CD. Need I say that the raw recording is far closer to the concert sound? I really don't know why Hankinson felt that he had to “master” that recording. I also have the master tape of the same work in the same venue from 1968 (recorded on a Brush Soundmirror by the SABC) and both Hankinson's raw recording and my 1968 master tape allow the ambiance of the hall and the true tone of the organ to shine through.

Note the little monitor speakers on the mixing desk.
The excuse for these is that when mastering the small monitors are to more like what the end user will listen on.

A last example, this one from the Telarc disc HERE.

[Chiller][Chiller waveform]

Very constrained dynamics on the title track, way over recorded and notably distorted when listened too loudly. The other tracks on the CD are quite normal as regards dynamic reach going nowhere near the limits. Telarc's 1812 Overture, as performed by the Gothenberg Symphony Orchestra, is another disc that runs out of dynamics, this time on the choir and bells part, the cannons one expects a bit of limiting but they sound fine, go figure!

The subject of loudspeakers is another place where absurdity reins supreme. From tiny boom box speakers to my personal wet dream, Vox Olympian (left) and another mad effort, Wilson Chronosonic (right), both of which I am unlikely to see, hear or to own.

[Vox Olympian][Wilson Chronosonic]

Nobody but a audiophile could possibly see beauty in them! In all probability neither of them actually sound “real”, although comments like very nice or good or stunning to the blew me away and you can fill in reviewer babble to both their and your hearts content, but no real pretense to replicate true concert sound except in the blurb. Strange that - but again business is behind everything (a very good reason why TNT is so good - no advertisers to lean on the editor). Gilbert Briggs of Wharfdale many years ago managed to demonstrate that recorded sound could rival live.

[Briggs]The picture on the right is from The Royal Festival Hall demo. And with simple speakers too. Fast forward to this century and Peter Lyngdorf achieved this with his system - to the point where Steinway piano engineers couldn't tell the difference between his system and the actual pianos. Lots of baloney “science” is touted and what springs to mind is a YouTube video, which I am not going to link, which shows a speaker designer trying to demonstrate his “wonderful advance” by blowing compressed air up the end of an organ pipe and then “proving” his tweak “nulls” the back waves. A point, or rather one of the points he misses, is that there is an organ pipe that is tapered called a Gemshorn and which is amenable to being stopped. And any “disturbance in the force” will stop an organ pipe from speaking, especially a variable wind source.

It is said that it's not good to meet your heroes, which struck me rather forcibly; when I heard Duntech Sovereigns driven by both powerful valve and transistorized amps, I was forcibly reminded of boom boxes.

Referring back to an earlier photo, HERE, on the right in the foreground are Proac, Tannoy and Sonus Faber along with something small and best left unidentified; to the rear there is a Tannoy Canterbury sticking out all of which sound positively dreadful and for the money, disgraceful with that! Having been down a 15 year black hole with Tannoys (Red's, Golds, HPD's in 15" and Gold 12" and unmentioned 10") to my mind they are best left to audiophiles that obsess over female vocals. Coloration by ™PANTONE. It seems anyone who can source drivers and knock a box together can sell the next big thing in speakers and the fancier the finish the better. Good sound, optional.

[Pearly][TT]HiFi/Audiophile magazines are masters of the weasel words and the only way you can actually judge is to go and audition everything and believe nothing except your ears. This sadly applies to any bit of equipment you want or need and there are many manufacturers willing to sell you anything - what you actually need can only be governed by your taste and what compromises you are prepared to make.

To quote and then shamelessly twist to suit me - From the book Breaking and Riding by James Fillis, published in 1902, THE HORSE:

«Although I break in only thoroughbreds for my own use; I in no way assume that three-quarter or half-breds cannot be good riding horses. [...]

When examining a horse, I at first take a general view of him at a distance of a few yards. If the first impression is pleasing, I go over his various points in detail, with a fairly liberal spirit, as regards trifling faults; but if it is not favorable, I become all the more critical. In any case, it is hopeless to expect perfection. In this first general examination, we should be particularly careful to see how he moves at the walk, trot and canter, both when led and ridden.

Some horses appear badly shaped when standing still; but become good-looking, light and active as soon as they begin to move. Others, which seem almost perfect in repose, are heavy and awkward in their paces. I prefer the former to the latter, because they can utilise what they have got.»

This pretty much sums up my feelings on speakers and audio in general and I urge all those who read the above ramblings to employ Carl Sagan's Baloney Detection Kit and dust of your critical facilities.


- TacT 2175 SADI, Leak Stereo 20, Parallel 300B

- Stacked Altec A7 Clones, Enlarged Onken, Revised Altec A7

- Cambridge 851n DAC/Streamer, Otari MTR10, Otari Mx50

- 4 x 18" driver sub

DISCLAIMER. TNT-Audio is a 100% independent magazine that neither accepts advertising from companies nor requires readers to register or pay for subscriptions. After publication of reviews, the authors do not retain samples other than on long-term loan for further evaluation or comparison with later-received gear. Hence, all contents are written free of any “editorial” or “advertising” influence, and all reviews in this publication, positive or negative, reflect the independent opinions of their respective authors. TNT-Audio will publish all manufacturer responses, subject to the reviewer's right to reply in turn.

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© Copyright 2021 Chris Templer - chris@tnt-audio.com - www.tnt-audio.com