Tag Archives: Analog

Remixes & Remasters Vs. Originals: No Easy Answers (Part 1)

Recently somebody suggested an idea to me which I thought was pretty cool: do a little “analysis” — in the loosest sense — of whether certain re-mixes and re-masters are better or worse than the original mixes. As I dove into writing this I seem to have opened a bit of a Pandora’s Box of thinking, while not having a conclusive answer to the question.  But it is still worth discussing since the topic is obviously on some of your minds as well, Dear Readers. 

This is a touchy subject which I’ve seen divide scores of collectors and even friends… Really, this is surprisingly a quite personal topic which objectively has no “correct” answer, at least as far as the listener is concerned. My tastes and desires are unique from yours, both equally valid.  

That said, I swing both ways when it comes to the argument of originals vs. remasters and even remixed versions of favorite recordings. There are so many variables to consider — from how the remaster or remix was created to simply relative availability of an original copy. 

As I pointed out in my review of the recent Blue Note Tone Poet reissue of Kenny Burrell’s 1956 debut (click here to read that) finding an original in any condition is very difficult and the new version actually presents more of the music that was originally captured on tape.  That isn’t to say I wouldn’t want to own an original pressing for some of these albums — I’m holding onto my Kenny Burrell album even though it is beat up! — but having the new edition is a great close second, this side of finding a pristine original. 

Many people who are fans of a particular beloved recording feel it should remain untouched. Others get very upset somehow thinking that when an album gets remixed it immediately means that the original is no longer in existence (I’m not kidding folks, I’ve encountered this perspective from people many times over the years!). Some people get upset when they learn that what they’ve been listening to actually is a remix and not the original.

I’ve even gone to some extremes on social media (if you will) talking some people down from the ledge to calm them down, particularly when The Beatles’ albums were being remastered.  Forget about talking to some of those folks about the remixes, but do remember that you can always still play your original vinyl pressings of those albums, of which there are millions of copies around the world to choose from. No one is taking them away from you. 

The impetus for this article believe it or not came about as a result of a Facebook post I made about The Grateful Dead’s third studio album, Aoxomoxoa.  Discussions arose about the remix of that record which the band made in the early 1970s  (as well as to Anthem of the Sun) as to whether one was better or worse than the other? And of course, the answer to that is, inconclusively: it depends on your perspective

If you are a purist and want to hear the specific vibe the band crafted in the 60s, then the original mixes are the way to go. If you are looking to just hear the music in as clean a presentation as possible, the remixes might well be better for you.  The remix definitely sounds more like a 1970s mix than even one from a just a couple of years earlier.

In some instances a remix can be justified. For example, on the digital Stereo remix of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper, you can now hear much more detail as the many tracks of music that went into making that album are now mixed in first generation quality. The resulting drums and bass in particular sound fuller and more dynamic than before. Interestingly, the overall vibe is closer to that of the original Mono mix — the mix the Beatles themselves put their energies behind at the time.  But… to get that one pays the price of listening to music from a digital source which ruffles the feathers of many an analog purist.  You can click here to read my review of that mix if you are interested.

Those Grateful Dead albums which Phil Lesh remixed in the early 1970s are generally fine but most serious fans of the band seem to prefer the original mix.  You can read about them on the Wiki (click the titles following):  Anthem of the Sun and Aoxomoxoa

When it comes to Aoxomoxoa — one of my favorite Dead albums — I lean toward the original, if only to hear the choir on “Mountains Of The Moon” (which neatly pre-echos the end of side one of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells!). I haven’t spent enough time with the Anthem of the Sun remix to make a definitive choice. And you know what? There is no reason to. If you like a particular album a lot you will probably want both versions!

There is also the question of whether remasters are “better” or worse than the originals? Many people are justifiably gun shy these days having endured a seemingly endless barrage of remasters of favorite albums over the years across a multitude of formats and music delivery platforms — from LP to cassette to CD, SACD, DVD-A, Blu-ray, HD Downloads, Streaming. If you are a regular purchaser of music, you have no doubt seen the buzz words whizz by you on hype stickers applied to the packaging and promotional materials for albums over the years: analog, digital, DMM, Half-Speed, Ultradisc One Step, DSD, PCM, Quiex, etc. It is confusing at times as these are diverse processes and technologies, some unique to the vinyl production process and others used in preparing the actual original final recordings for release. Some are used separately or simultaneously. Some are great. Some have delivered mixed results.

So, take a deep breath…. As I said earlier, there are no easy answers to this question…

Having done a fair amount of recording myself I understand the value of both re-mastering of older recordings and new mastering of new projects. There have been significant progressions in technology over the years with certain capabilities that can actually improve the final sound of a recording if handled properly.  Recent remasters of albums by Frank Zappa, XTC and others have been at times revelatory. 

Tune in tomorrow when we’ll explore more of that in Part 2 of this series…

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

Ana Mighty Sound, Great Cartridge Maker and Rebuilder | REVIEW

Before I even bring up Ana Mighty Sound (website), let me state that I abhor rebuilt cartridges. They are to me, unholy, defiled, inferior, and more often than not, a far cry from the real thing.   It is like having your Ferrari serviced by the corner garage operation, or your Rolex tempered with by some counterfeit watchmaker, or worse, having an operation performed by an unqualified surgeon. Even when the cartridge comes back looking like it’s good as new, which it seldom does, something always feels off when I play the repaired cartridge, which is why I always put them up for sale upon their return from repair. If you’ve been playing vinyl long enough, the big “OH SHIT” moment of breaking a cartridge is bound to happen sooner or later. It could be your sweater snagging the cantilever, or your cat jumping onto the platter, or it could be you squishing your cartridge’s suspension by accident. There are no shortages of silly ways of breaking your cartridge. When François Saint-Gérand, owner of Ana Mighty Sound from France, contacted me at the end of the 2019 Munich Show and handed over four of his rebuilt Ana Mighty Sound TSD-15N cartridges [...]

Original Resource is Part-Time Audiophile

Charisma Audio Signature One Moving Coil Phono Cartridge | REVIEW

Let’s talk about the Passion Of St. Bernard. No, not the dog. No, not Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), the Benedictine monk–although he was no doubt passionate about his stuff. I’m talking about the founder, and head of Charisma Audio (website), Mr. Bernard Li.THIS Bernard is deeply passionate about high fidelity home playback with a special focus on cartridges and all things analog. You’d also need to have the patience of a saint to go to the lengths that Mr. Li has in producing the supremely musical sounding Charisma Audio Signature One moving coil phono cartridge. At this point, it’s no surprise to me when I hear about the back stories of these passionately driven hi-fi industry folks. It usually starts with a deep connection to music and a fortuitous way into the industry. Bernard is no exception. From his 40 plus years as an audiophile, reviewer, dealer and distributor, Mr. Li’s knowledge and experience in this industry is deep. Actually, that would be an understatement. About eight years ago, Mr. Li began working with an experienced phono cartridge artisan whose identity must remain secret. The partnership produced a line of cartridges, adding to an already impressive lineup of brands that [...]

Original Resource is Part-Time Audiophile

Helius Omega Tonearm and Alexia Turntable

One of the things that most interests, fascinates, and sometimes amuses me about vinyl is the better mousetrap syndrome. I allude of course to the wise saw, erroneously attributed to Emerson, “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.” Every designer, manufacturer, and sometimes even reviewer has his or her own ideas as to the correct and proper way to play LPs, which they expend considerable effort and ingenuity implementing, then justifying their choices, emphasizing the advantages of their solutions while criticizing, if not ignoring those of their competitors. It is of course often, indeed typically the case that many of these theories are mutually irreconcilable, even contradictory: fixed versus suspended chassis; heavy versus light platters, subchassis, and bases; belt versus direct versus puck drive; hard versus soft mats; AC versus DC and high- versus low-torque motors; gimbal versus unipivot bearings; pivoted versus radial arms—all this and more before we’ve even got to the subject of phono pickups, phono preamps, cabling, and innumerable after-market accessories such as platter mats, weights, clamps, feet, platforms, power conditioners, etc.

The kicker here is that most of these theories and their attendant solutions have some provisional validity because vinyl is not just an analog medium but up until the signal leaves the pickup also a mechanical one. Virtually everything has some effect on the reproduction, in particular its tonal character, while no design, despite its expense or the ardent proselytizing by designers and their champions in the audio press and among consumers, gives you perfection. One problem that plagues writing about vinyl (and other aspects of audio) is the sheer amount of arguing from effect back to cause, another that very few solutions come without a corresponding penalty. Vinyl can be a very cruel mistress rarely known to dispense free lunches. Hence the deliciously agonizing tweaking to which many audiophiles subject themselves so as to extract that last nugget of gold from those tiny canyons. Some famous psychologist or other is said to have told a colleague in reference to his masochistic patients, “You know, it might surprise you to learn that there aren’t nearly enough sadists to go around.” Maybe that’s why there seems to be no end to the number of new and ingenious pieces of equipment for playing and cleaning vinyl that crop up each year.

Omega Tonearm
The two components under review here were designed by a British engineer named Geoffrey Owen, who has been in audio since the late Seventies when he entered a contest to come up with a turntable that would give the Linn LP12 a run for its money. Afterward, according to his own testimony, “I came to manufacturing tonearms by accident—Tangent Acoustics, my last formal employer, went broke and I had to do something to pay the mortgage. Arms were small, didn’t take up much space and (in the early 80’s) were less contentious than trying to compete against the all-dominating Linn turntable.” In 1983 he struck out on his own, founded Helius Designs, and soon released the Cyalene and Orion tonearms, both enthusiastically reviewed and eventually cult objects. By the mid-Nineties when all things digital were claiming more and more of the market, sales began to drop. Owen ceased making audio products and diversified his company into astronomical and medical imaging (he holds international patents in laser optics). The recrudescence of vinyl in the new century led him back to designing and manufacturing tonearms.

Building on the earlier two arms, he introduced the Omega. Owen’s theories as to the proper way to design an arm are a combination of traditional concepts applied in novel, even innovative ways and genuinely original thinking. In the paragraphs that follow I shall summarize his arguments (the quotations from press releases he prepared for the Omega and the Alexia). Readers seeking more detail—his writing style is vigorous, passionate, and full of energy, but his explanations are arcane and far from easy to follow—should seek out a pair of essays he wrote for the HiFiAnswers (http://www.hifianswers.com/wp-stuff/uploads/2019/05/Helius-Orion.pdf and http://www.hifianswers.com/wp-stuff/uploads/2017/10/Helius-HiFi-Answers-5.pdf). In tonearms he prefers captive bearings to unipivots, to which end he developed a “tetrahedral bearing” that “offers both a captured design and minimal friction”: “It simultaneously integrates both vertical and lateral bearing movements,” which arrangement, he argues, ensures the shortest, most direct, efficient, and effective path so spurious “energy passes through only one structure before it dissipates in the armboard.” He eschews all forms of fluid damping at either the headshell or the bearing housing, claiming the Omega’s non-coincident bearings constitute “differential masses, i.e., different resonant frequencies in each bearing plane,” which provide all the damping necessary.

Although a ten-inch arm, the Omega’s main tube is shorter yet “torsionally stiffer” than a nine-inch arm, but has improved tracking error. Using a computer to measure tracking error across the record, Owen developed his own geometry for the Omega by which he claims that “92% of the record is played with <1 degree of error”: “My aim was to compromise the classical geometry and argue that the inner tracks deserve to sound just as good as the outer ones.” 

When it comes to matching phono pickups he has some decidedly unusual (and rather confusingly explained) ideas regarding effective mass, but the bottom line is that the Omega is “best suited to medium-to-stiff cantilevers” typical of moving coils. Downward force is applied by the main counterweight, designed to be as close to the bearing housing as possible, with three minor weights for fine tuning (you’ll need to supply the gauge). Height adjustment is via the usual collar-clamp and set-screw in the base plate; uncalibrated antiskating adjustment is provided, which means you set it by ear or with test records. Dan Meinwald, whose EAR-USA imports Helius products, prefers to leave antiskating unengaged; I tried it both ways with equally good results, which is to say I heard no mistracking that I could attribute to bias issues. The Omega’s cueing is among the most accurate I’ve come across. The captive cables are very short, terminating in a pair of enclosed RCA jacks that can be attached to the base, after which the user supplies his own interconnects to the preamplifier. The Omega is offered in four versions: Standard, under review here, with Tungsten bearings and copper wiring, retailing for $3695; Standard with silver wire for $3895; Silver Ruby with ruby bearings for $5225; and a 12-inch Silver Ruby for $5295.

helius alexia omega

Alexia Turntable
Inasmuch as tonearms are sensitive both to subchassis movement and to external noise, Owen has opted for a tuned suspension, but the way he has implemented it furnishes a good illustration of how he presses genuine innovation into the service of tried-and-true thinking. Most turntables with suspensions consist in the subchassis being supported by or hanging from three or four springs that are damped, tuned, and free to move in all directions. The Alexia, however, employs a double-wishbone construction that moves only in the vertical plane, where the suspension is quite compliant, but not at all in the lateral plane. Theoretically this means that laterally the subchassis is in effect fixed (i.e., there is no suspension) and thus affords a path for feedback. But I doubt there is much danger of that in real-world listening rooms, where structural feedback comes largely from wooden floors and is confined mostly to the vertical plane (unless one is experiencing an earthquake or lives right next to a construction zone, in which cases feedback is liable to be the least disruption to your listening pleasure). The suspension is tuned to 2Hz, lower than that of any other turntable known to me including the suspended SOTA models tuned to 2.55Hz.

The important point, one demonstrated ages ago by the legendary audio pioneer Edgar Villchur with his Acoustic Research XA turntable and one those opposed to sprung suspensions still don’t seem to grasp, is that it doesn’t matter if the arm and platter move so long as they don’t move relative to one another. In the Alexia, additional stability is achieved from the belt-driven motor sharing the subchassis, which is made from metal damped “with a layer of Perspex, to ensure that high frequencies cannot go back into the arm, and that peaks of energy travelling in opposing directions cannot ring” (see sidebar for more on this).

A big reason Owen went for a suspended turntable is his contention that “maintaining pitch stability in music is just as much a function of subchassis stability.” And very impressive it is that you can bounce—gently, please—the Alexia subchassis up and down as much as an inch with no pitch variation or groove jumping. But he went one step further. While the Alexia has no adjustment for speed, he has fitted an optical sensor below the platter, very near the phono pickup, that monitors the platter speed 120 times per second, as opposed to the more conventional approach of using a servo in the motor. Here is Owen’s explanation as to how this differs from a servo: “Once running, the platter will not slow down until acted upon by other forces. If the ‘offensive’ force is a solitary ‘drumbeat’ then the inertial effects will be effectively absorbed by the platter (with no reference to the speed correction). If the force is large enough to affect the inertial mass of the platter (and for a sustained period), the optical encoder will pick this up and change the speed accordingly. You will notice the central sensor appears under the tonearm—thus giving the software about ‘10 stripes’ (mark/space ratios) from the encoder disk to ascertain if the platter is slowing. The voltage to the motor will increase—not just by the amount needed to correct the increased stylus/record friction but, more importantly, to accommodate the significant increase in magnitude to bring the inertial mass of the platter up to speed. We don’t want to oscillate/overshoot the correction to the voltage, so the ramp-up is subject to being over-damped.”

The Alexia rotates at 33 or 45, selected by buttons near the front; it rests on three feet, two of which are adjustable for levelling; its mat-less platter is made from Delrin “because it has virtually the same acoustic impedance as a vinyl LP”; its construction and styling are of the open-chassis type so popular these last many years; and it’s priced at $5095. Although most consumers will doubtless have their dealers handle setup, including mounting an arm, the task here is so straightforward as to pose no difficulties to  anyone with a modicum of experience (but be warned that both the Omega’s wiring and pickup clips are quite delicate, almost to the point of being fragile, so if you elect to do the job yourself, exercise more care than usual). Helius will supply armboards blank or drilled for several popular arms, but in any practical sense the Alexia performs so optimally with the Omega for which it was designed that Meinwald informs me every Alexia he’s sold is for use with the companion arm. Day to day the combination was one of the easiest, most fuss-free in my experience: I especially liked that speed selection is right up front and does not require moving the belt from one position to another on the pulley—indeed, you can lift a record off the platter, replace it with another of a different speed, and select the new speed on the fly without going through stop, while the optical encoder obviates the need for variable speed control. The Alexia costs without arm $5095. An optional record weight is available ($180), which I used throughout the review. I also fitted the Omega with an Ortofon Cadenza Bronze moving-coil pickup.

Sound
It didn’t take long for three aspects of the Omega/Alexia partnership to impress me: extraordinary stability of pitch, wide dynamic window, and excellent tracking of inner grooves. As these relate directly to aspects of the design—i.e., the optical encoder, the isolation owing to the tuned suspension, and the unique geometry of the arm as it traverses the LP—I should point out that I conducted several listening sessions before I read any of the promotional literature or Owen’s technical explanations, so I doubt I was influenced by power of suggestion. To take these in order, I should state right off that much as I enjoy vinyl, it’s gotten to the point that I seldom listen to solo piano on LP as I can’t stand the wow owing to off-center records and other aspects of analog that affect speed (tape, for example), not to mention the havoc it can wreak upon the use of the pedal. It’s surprising how little off-center a pressing needs to be before it’s audible (see sidebar). The Alexia can’t do anything about that, but it certainly replayed vinyl with an impression of rare constancy of speed. I’m not suggesting it’s better than other fine turntables that address speed constancy and accuracy with conventional means, only that to my ears it belongs in the small minority of designs that do this exceptionally well. Robert Silverman’s Chopin’s Last Waltz (isoMike), a really beautiful recording of a piano, does not suffer terribly from off-centeredness  (but, again, see sidebar), so with the volume set at a healthy level, it was easy to close my eyes and imagine the piano in the room, notably for the really powerful left-hand work, the dimensionality of the presentation, and the perspective that allows for just enough atmosphere without blurring focus.

It’s not just piano, however—any and all instruments playing sustained lines and long-held notes were handled with great competence by this combination. For example, M&K Realtime’s direct-to-disc recording of Lloyd Holzgraf on the organ of the First Congregation Church here in Los Angeles—which I’ve heard in situ many times, as it’s only a fifteen-minute drive from my home—was quite spectacular in the stability of the presentation: depth, clarity of line, registration of textures, and dynamic range, M&K’s title The Power and the Glory no mere wishful puffery. The deep extension of the bass frequencies I could feel in my stomach, while the reproduction remained so clean I turned up the volume much higher than I usually do just to wallow in all those majestic sonorities. I hope it isn’t necessary for me to add that this recording alone more than vindicates Owen’s claims about the isolation afforded by the suspension, though that hardly came as a surprise since in my experience well designed and tuned suspensions are consistently superior in these respects to most non-suspended turntables.

In addition to pitch there’s that difficult-to-define matter of timing, the impression that when the music needs to be together, it is together or, just as important, when for effect it’s supposed to be fractionally apart it really is fractionally apart. Some examples: das Schleppen in Viennese waltzes, where the second beat arrives a bit early or the third a bit late (depending on how it’s implemented); any sort of subtly applied rubato; marked slurs in the classical masters, which Charles Rosen points out indicate subtle variations in phrasing and rhythm; differences between accenting a note and detaching it. These sorts of things or their equivalents also occur in chamber and orchestral music. When Stravinsky conducted his own scores, he often liked to have the big tutti chords dampened by not allowing them to resonate too much after they’re sounded (you can observe tympanists doing this in concert when they strike the kettledrum, then immediately place their hands on the skin to stop the ringing, or when a cymbal is struck and they immediately grab the edge between thumb and forefinger). Stravinsky’s last (stereo) recordings of the three great early ballets Firebird, Petrushka, and The Rite of Spring all feature these effects. On the Bernstein recording of Carmen, the attacks from percussion are fantastic in their impression of hair-trigger alignment or take how the “Gypsy Song” is teased out with positively carnal phrasing and rhythmic point.

One morning I began my listening with the Acoustic Sounds reissue of Brubeck’s classic Time Out, which opens with the uptempo “Blue Rondo a la Turk.” You wouldn’t think that four players could generate a force and sheer power nearly to slam me against the back of the sofa, but they did, so much so I again raised the volume and the sound got only clearer and more forcible, articulation of rhythm scintillating, togetherness unmistakable. From there I went to M&K’s direct-to-disc Hot Stix, as hair-raisingly spectacular a recording of a drum set as I can imagine. Dynamic range here is simply amazing, precision of timing and rhythm spot on.

Back to the Bernstein Carmen: DG was on its best behaviour when they pressed the originals of this set back in the early Seventies. Each time I play these records on a really good setup I am astonished by how wide the dynamic range of vinyl can really be when everything falls into place. The climaxes quite literally leap out at you, while the soft passages are really soft, but thanks to the mercifully quiet pressings (better than many a fancy “audiophile” label’s) they don’t disappear under a lot of surface noise and other detritus. The Omega/Alexia combination was fully up to whatever demands this very demanding recording placed upon it. And as with most classical recordings, a lot of the climaxes arrive with the inner grooves, where distortion is typically very high. Whether owing to the arm geometry Owen designed after his own measurements or not, the way the Omega and Cadenza bronze negotiated the inner grooves was exemplary in its clarity and lack of perceived distortion. Of course, as I noted earlier, much if not most of this must be attributed to the Ortofon, but I’ve used this pickup in setups costing tens of thousands more and I can’t recall they were even marginally superior as regards tracking.

I’m not a detail freak, but it’s hard for me to imagine that anyone would need more detail than is on offer here. Play the Bernstein/Vienna recording of Beethoven’s Ninth and you will plainly hear the conductor’s foot stamping the podium as he drives soloists, chorus, and full orchestra through the climactic closing pages. Play Jacintha’s “Moon River” on her Johnny Mercer album (Groovenote) and you will hear the faint bleed-through of the piano chords via her headphones, though you really have to listen for them. Play the Ron Tutt side of the stare-of-the-art Sheffield Track & Drum Record and listen to the high hat and cymbals—how tellingly the subtle dynamics of each strike or brush stroke are resolved and thus revealed. This setup also vindicated itself superbly on an old favorite of mine, David Munrow’s recording of Purcell’s Come Ye Sons of Art (Angel), where the duet between two countertenors accompanied by a pair of recorders will tell you a great deal about your system’s resolving capabilities.

While writing this review I came across an amusing interview with Edgar Villchur, who rejected as “nonsense” the notion that the turntable is the most important component in a system, believing instead that it’s the “job of the turntable to stay out of the picture,” which is accomplished by seeing to it that all the technical parameters of speed accuracy, constancy, low rumble, and isolation are thoroughly addressed. Alluding to some British reviewers who held the XA in high esteem, not least for its soundstaging abilities, Villchur said, “If they held a gun to my head and told me to design a turntable with a very good soundstage, I couldn’t do it because I wouldn’t know how” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OOlAua3tBSw). Both imaging and soundstaging are determined by the recording itself. The best a record-playing system can hope to do is to allow whatever has been recorded to be reproduced with as little interference as possible. All my usual recordings by which I assess this sort of thing were reproduced by the Omega/Alexia/Cadenza as I’ve come to expect. For example, during the “Dem Bones” cut of Encore by the Roger Wagner Chorale (M&K Realtime direct-to-disc), the group is solidly there in all dimensions, the shout-outs by individual members of the chorale sounding exactly from their respective places in the group, and the various percussion instruments (a tin pot, for one, I think) registering with quite amazing realism, each securely in place. Side six of the Bernstein Carmen, one of the most persuasive aural stagings of an opera as it might sound from an ideal seat in a theatre, was as I’ve heard it on all the best setups I’ve owned or reviewed over the years: the way the children’s chorus marches in from left to right, the deployment across the soundstage of the various soloists from within the chorus, both panorama and depth set forth to near holographic effect, and air and atmosphere in plentiful evidence.

The first thing I played on the Omega/Alexia was Jacintha’s recent cover of James Taylor songs (Fire and Rain, Groovenote), beginning with “Sweet Baby James.” Now I’m the first to admit I’ve taken many a shot at vinyl zealots in these pages before, but if you want to hear what they’re talking about when they talk about such things as the organic quality of the medium, the warmth, dimensionality, and roundedness of the presentation, the naturalness and musicality, all you have to is listen to this cut and the way her voice is reproduced (a cappella at the outset). Yes, my DSD downloads (64, 128, and 256) do it as well, arguably even better, but that is beside the point: the vinyl is intrinsically beautiful, valid, self-justifying, and requires no apology. 

Conclusion
Criticisms? Only a few. The setup was more sensitive to hum than it should be, but then so are many others. It’s pretty obvious that Helius doesn’t have the means and resources to compete with the likes of SME, Basis, Oracle, Acoustic Signature, Technics, etc. when it comes to industrial grade fit and finish or luxury bling and glam. Despite the space-age open-chassis aesthetics and the use of acrylic, the look and feel are closer to utilitarian than opulent. But this is only to say that Owen put the money where it did the most good sonically and conserved where there are few or no performance or sonic penalties (the Omega bearings feel silky smooth with absolutely no play, while the Alexia’s speed accuracy and constancy so far as I can tell from listening alone are second to virtually none in my experience). The combination performed flawlessly throughout the review period, while nothing about its construction suggests it won’t do so for years, even decades to come.

I was going to end this review by saying that the Omega/Alexia record-playing system punches far, far above its $8790 retail, which in the grotesquely skewed world of high-end audio pricing now qualifies almost as moderate. But I’m not really comfortable with that because I reject the notion, far too widely held by audio reviewers and consumers, that price as such is the ultimate or even a particularly reliable determinant of quality. So let me put it this way: The Omega/Alexia setup performs excellently in all areas and quite outstandingly in a few. If you’re the kind of person who believes that a vastly more expensive mousetrap must be superior to a considerably less expensive one, you may nevertheless still want to give these components a listen, as you just might find that their superiority in those areas gets you a whole lot closer to the music.

Specs & Pricing

Helius Omega tonearm
Length: 10 inches
Bearings: Fixed
Price (as reviewed): $3695

Helius Alexia turntable
Speed: 33, 45
Drive: Belt
Dimensions: 19″ x 5″ x 12″
Weight: 28 lbs.
Price: $5095

EAR-USA (U.S. Distributor)
(562) 422–4747
[email protected]
ear-usa.com

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Original Resource is Articles – The Absolute Sound

Goldmund PH3.8 Nextgen Phonostage

Let’s face it: For audiophiles of a certain generation (m-m-m-my generation) Goldmund and analog playback will forever be linked. That’s because one of the Swiss audio company’s earliest commercial offerings—the Reference turntable with linear-tracking T3F tonearm—was such a game-changer. When introduced in the U.S. at CES Chicago in 1983, it simply stole the show—no one had ever seen or heard anything like it before. Beyond its innovative mechanical design, striking aesthetics, astonishingly neutral sonics, and extravagant pricing—themes that have been sounded in Goldmund gear ever since—what set the Reference apart was its sheer size and mass, and the way that mass was damped by then-novel constrained-layer construction and by what Goldmund called “mechanical grounding” (the use of complexly designed footers to channel resonances away from the ’table the way grounding wires channel hum to earth). A genuine marvel of Swiss engineering, the Goldmund Reference subsequently influenced the design and build of virtually every turntable that aspired to be “the best.” In fact, you can still see its legacy today in statement ’tables from Clearaudio, TechDAS, Transrotor, Walker Audio, TW Acustic, Brinkmann, Basis, and the Acoustic Signature Invictus par excellence (among many many others).

Not long after Goldmund set the audiophile world on its ear with the Reference, the company began building its celebrated Mimesis line of electronics, whose ultra-high speed, ultra-high-bandwidth circuits once again exerted an enduring influence on the design of subsequent high-end preamps and amps (particularly those from Switzerland). Among Goldmund’s core Mimesis products was the PH3 phonostage, the direct descendant of which—the PH3.8 Nextgen—is the subject of this review.

The original PH3 was released in 1995. For Goldmund analog fans, there followed a long dry spell wherein the company (and just about everyone else in the high-end-audio biz) concentrated on digital playback, analog amplification, and full-range loudspeakers (some of them powered), despite the clamor of diehards for a new ’table and a redesigned phono preamp. (Various iterations of the PH3 did stay in the line for many years, but there were no major updates.) With the LP revival of the past decade, Goldmund has finally seen the light, and the PH3.8 Nextgen is the first proof.

Putting profoundly revised versions of its analog toys on hold for better than two decades wasn’t all bad, as the new phonostage, the product of three-to-four years of intense R&D, also reflects the 25-years of Goldmund thinking and technological development that followed the PH3’s introduction. Unlike the single-box PH3, the PH3.8 Nextgen is a two-chassis component, with a separate external power supply (connected to the preamp via a supplied umbilical) that offers superior power delivery and filter capacitance. The unit’s slew rate of >80V/µs and rise time of <400ns, combined with its very low noise and very high bandwidth, are said to be keys to its speed, clarity, and hard-hitting dynamics, all of which are manifestly apparent, even on a first listen. Also apparent is the phonostage’s timbral neutrality and transparency to sources, which are said to owe a debt to the extremely short signal paths in the Goldmund’s proprietary analog stage. (That analog stage is directly assembled on the unit’s rear panel with the dual-mono circuit board located between the I/O plugs.)

The debt the PH3.8 owes to its own long gestation is also obvious in a somewhat negative sense in its ergonomics. Despite the “newness” of its sound, operationally there is something deliberately old fashioned (or “purist,” to put a positive spin on it) about the PH3.8 Nextgen, which only has two sets of RCA inputs (one for mc’s and one for mm’s) and a single pair of RCA outputs on its rear panel. (There are no balanced connections on the unit.) Moreover, all rear-panel controls (two separate dials per channel for the resistive and capacitive loading of mm’s, and one dial per channel for the resistive loading of mc’s) are “precision analog-type” potentiometers that “click” (firmly) from value to value. Unfortunately, none of the PH3.8’s dials is marked with those values, so you have to consult the manual to figure out where you’re landing with each click. Moreover, the values you’re applying to the input signal are themselves a bit capriciously distributed. For instance, though moving-coil resistance extends from 10 ohms to 47k ohms—and hooray for this, as most latter-day phonostages no longer let you try out 47k—there are broad gaps within the Goldmund’s loading range (e.g., the potentiometer takes you from 100 ohms to 475 ohms with one click, and from 475 ohms to 1.5k ohms with the next, with no user-selectable values in between).

The granularity of the potentiometers isn’t the only thing that seems a bit dated. As previously noted, you can’t connect more than two tonearms/cartridges to the unit (one mm and one mc), and there are no balanced outputs to your linestage preamp. There is also no rumble filter or low-bass cutoff, and no alternative EQ curves (e.g., “Decca,” “Columbia,” “EMI”)—not that I find these things necessities. However, if you’re used to (as I am) a multiplicity of I/Os (balanced and single-ended), built-in low-bass filtration, and a digital readout of capacitive/resistive loading values, you’re going to feel as if the PH3.8, no matter how NEWGEN its innards and its sonics, is a step back in time.

Of course, the argument for not using new-fangled multiple I/Os and digital displays and controls may outweigh their undoubted convenience. Every additional input or output also adds noise and complexity to a circuit, and digital controls and readout screens have to be completely isolated from the analog gain stage, which affects circuit board geometry, shielding, and layout. Ergonomically, Goldmund has chosen to go with the tried-and-true and, quibbles aside, the sonic results certainly bear out its decision.

As you know, I’m a huge fan of Soulution’s 755, which is both a phonostage and a full-function preamp that can drive your amplifiers with complete control over volume, balance, polarity, grounding, etc. Though I’ve listened to a lot of other great-sounding phonostages in the nonce, the 755 remains my reference—and will keep its place at the top, though it will be joined there, or just a quarter-step below there, by the PH3.8 Nextgen. In other words, the new unit from Goldmund is one very very good phono preamp.

What it’s got, to start with, that I didn’t think I would hear to the same extent with any phonostage other than a Soulution is simply phenomenal reproduction of instruments and vocalists that play in the bass, midbass, and lower mids—the power-range octaves, which are here delivered with a speed, definition, and impact that I haven’t heard from other analog sources (save for the 755 or the United Home Audio tape deck). This is the kind of bass you’re used to from digital sources, but without the inevitable (or, at least, inevitable before the advent of the Soulution 760 DAC) thinning down of body, bloom, texture, and timbre of digital sources. To hear the snap of a sharply struck snare drum (an instrument that is usually head-tuned to 220Hz to 340Hz) via the PH3.8 Nextgen is to hear something that so closely approaches the startling snap of a snare drum in real life that it, too, will make you jump.

But the PH3.8 Nextgen is not just delivering the lifelike speed and impact of hard transients with that snare; it is also and simultaneously giving you the soft conical wood of the drumstick’s tip and the sandy texture of the batter head, shell, and snare head—so you’re not just hearing a brief electrifying moment of contact, like a match being struck, but also the color, texture, and action of the instruments making that contact as the event unfolds in time. The same is true of, say, the plucked notes of Christian McBride’s stand-up bass on “Like Someone In Love” from Diana Krall’s Turn Up The Quiet [Analogue Productions 45rpm]. From starting transient to stopping transient each note is not just clear and powerful but complete, delivered with the energy with which it is sounded and the rich textures of the thick fingers, round strings, and resonant wooden body that are doing the sounding.

Speed, power, and duration delivered with this kind of completeness and neutrality breeds liveliness. But speed, power, and duration aren’t the whole enchilada. If creating the illusion of real instruments playing in a real space is what you’re after, pitch and timbre also have to be presented with this same impartial, accent-free delivery. And here—with one question mark—it is also safe to say that the PH3.8 succeeds wonderfully well. Indeed, in one area it is better than the Soulution. That area is timbral neutrality. For all its speed, beauty, resolution, weight, and energy, the 755 is a bit dark-sounding or bottom-up in tonal balance. The Goldmund is not.

With a cartridge that is adequately loaded down and with the preamp’s (trademarked) mechanical-grounding feet properly adjusted, the PH3.8 Nextgen is an exceedingly neutral device—neither top-down nor bottom-up in balance but squarely in-between. The only rub (if it is a rub and not a reflection of something else in my reference system) is a slight occasional tendency to shoutiness in the upper midrange. It’s as if, for a brief instant, the PH3.8 figuratively cups its hands around its mouth—particularly on very hard transients at very high volumes, such as the fortissimo blasts of Louis Armstrong’s trumpet on “St. James Infirmary.” (This is the question mark I mentioned earlier.) This occasional, fleeting shoutiness is source-dependent, which probably indicates that it is a reflection of the mics and the mic setups on a given LP. It is not associated, if you’re wondering, with excess sibilance (of which the PH3.8 has none) or with the kind of treble-range glare that can make fortissimo flutes or piccolos or hard cymbal strikes downright unlistenable. The PH3.8 is simply superb on all of these instruments, particularly on cymbals, which it resolves with a fineness of detail that can tell you, immediately, whether the instrument is being tapped on its bell or its bow and how quickly it is being damped (or not) afterwards.

The question of resolution is an interesting one because it leads me to another one of the great virtues of this Goldmund unit—one that it shares with the Soulution 755 (and to a large extent with analog sources in general)—and that is, in HP’s all-purpose-useful phrase, its continuousness. Though it never lacks for detail, the PH3.8 Nextgen is not an analytical-sounding component. It doesn’t “break things down” into discretely audible bits and pieces (as digital playback so often does), but weaves them together into near-palpable wholes within a seamless soundscape. Even on multi-mic’d recordings (provided they are well executed), it produces a unitary soundfield rather than a collection of spotlit parts (or of parts within parts). Everything is solid and interconnected (including the integument of ambient space, actual or electronically injected), rather than vaporous and discrete. It is a large reason why the Goldmund makes recorded music sound so much like the real thing.

Take, for example, the Diana Krall LP Turn Up The Quiet that I mentioned earlier, which, oddly enough, was recorded digitally at 192k through a Neve 88RS 72-input console at Capitol Studios.

I’ve done a little research on this recording, enough to know, for instance, that Krall’s vocals were picked up via a vintage Neumann U47 (the selfsame U47 that Sinatra used on his great Capitol discs), set up just five or six inches from her mouth (she has a soft voice, as I can attest to from hearing her live), with just one or two dBs of compression applied via a tube-powered Fairchild 660 to keep the mic preamp from popping on fortes. A tasteful bit of reverb was also added to her vocals by running her voice through Capitol’s Echo Chamber #4 and then blending the result with a smidge of artificial reverb from recording engineer Al Schmitt’s Bricasti Design Model 7 Stereo.

Since Krall prefers to be recorded singing and playing piano live alongside the accompanying musicians (rather than having her vocal and piano parts recorded separately), Schmitt covered her custom Steinway in a sleeve (to provide better separation between her voice and the instrument). Neumann’s tube M149s (latter-day versions of the company’s famous M49) were placed about a foot above the piano over holes in the sleeve, one above the hammers and one above the lower half of the instrument.

Normally, knowing these things—close-mic’d vocals picked up by a vintage U47, a tiny bit of warm tube compression on voice, added natural and electronic reverb, a sleeve around the piano to keep its voice separate from (rather than bleeding into or overwhelming) Krall’s contralto, and the twin tube M149s on the piano (one over the hammers and one nearer the bass bridge)—would tell you a lot about what to expect sonically. (IMO, this is one reason why TAS should do more of this kind of record-engineering analysis, as it used to do back in the day.) And the information did help me decipher what I was hearing through the PH3.8 Nextgen. But it would have been a larger help if the Goldmund phonostage hadn’t already told me so many of these things on its own, aurally.

For instance, the very close mic’ing with the U-47 was obvious from the sound of Krall’s voice, where the slight nasality of the U-47 occasionally made her husky lisp more apparent than it sometimes is on other recordings. The reverb with its mix of echo chamber and electronica was also unmistakable, adding a darkish penumbra of ambience around Krall’s “head” (or a least around the near-visible spot from which her voice seemed to be coming) that now and then thinned or thickened (never to a disruptive or annoying extent) with little engineering tweaks (perhaps tiny additions or subtractions of electronic reverb). The tube compression was inaudible—to me—save perhaps for an added touch of warm chewy vocal texture on certain notes. I wouldn’t have guessed there was a sleeve around the piano, but the instrument did sound separated in space from Krall’s vocals and had warm, dark color and three-dimensional body from the bass through the lower treble, with a slight reduction of air and softening of pitches at the very top—just the way a piano in a blanket should’ve sounded mic’d by those fabulous M149s.

What I’m saying here is that the Goldmund PH3.8 Nextgen is astonishingly transparent to sources, telling you in one and the same instant how the music was recorded and how it was performed without unduly stressing either vantage. There is no sense of overlay—of engineering detail riding atop or dominating performance detail. Through the Goldmund both are reproduced together, equally and inseparably. Which is, after all, how it should be.

In sum, there is another truly reference-grade phonostage on the market—one that at $44,975 competes with my $72,000 Soulution 755 for about $27,000 less.

Of course, the PH3.8 Nextgen is not a full-function preamp like the 755, and ergo does not have the manifold practical advantages of the Soulution unit (no need to buy a costly linestage, no need to buy pricey interconnects to hook up to that linestage). Being a “purist” design, the Goldmund also doesn’t have some of the ergonomic plusses of the great Soulution unit (such as a readout screen for setting resistive or capacitive loading, a rumble filter, XLR outputs, etc.); the Goldmund doesn’t have a remote control for changing preamp parameters, either, as the Soulution does. Then again, beyond the potentiometers on its rear panel and the two switches on its front panel (the one to change gain from “low” to “high” and the other to change from the moving-magnet to the moving-coil input), there really isn’t much to control on the PH3.8 Nextgen. It’s as simple and trouble-free to operate (zero noises, for instance, when switching among load, gain, and input settings) as the finest gear used to be back in the day. What distinguishes it from a Golden Age component is how it sounds, which, in a word, is realistic. And in four words, realistic, revealing, and deeply enjoyable.

If you’re really into vinyl (and have the geld), be sure to visit Gideon Schwartz (Goldmund’s U.S. distributor and the author of Phaidon Press’ Hi-Fi: History of High End Audio Design) at his lovely Audioarts listening rooms on Fifth Avenue in NYC for an audition. I certainly plan to keep the PH3.8 Nextgen in my system for as long as it remains available. It is a reference-quality product.

Specs & Pricing

Gain mm input: 43dB (low) and 50dB (high)
Gain mc input: 63dB (low) and 70dB (high)
RIAA accuracy: -0.03dB/+0.06dB max deviation from RIAA curve
Gainstage response: -3dB, 0.12Hz–760kHz at 70dB gain (without RIAA correction)
Slew rate: >80V/us
Rise time: <400ns.
Distortion: <0.007% (20Hz–20kHz at 4V rms output)
Output impedance: 50 ohms
Max output level: 32Vpp
Dimensions (preamplifier & power supply): 44 x 13.2 x 38.6cm
Weight: Preamplifier, 10kg; power supply, 12kg
Price: $44,975

AUDIOARTS (U.S. Distributor)
210 Fifth Avenue, NY 10010
(212) 260-2939
[email protected]
audioartsnyc.com

JV’s Reference System

Loudspeakers: MBL 101 X-treme, Magico M3, Børreson Acoustics 05, Voxativ 9.87, Avantgarde Zero 1, MartinLogan CLX, Magnepan 1.7 and 30.7
Subwoofers: JL Audio Gotham (pair), Magico QSub 15 (pair)
Linestage preamps: Soulution 725, MBL 6010 D, Constellation Audio Altair II, Siltech SAGA System C1, Air Tight ATE-2001 Reference
Phonostage preamps: Soulution 755, Goldmund PH3.8 Nextgen,  Walker Proscenium V, Constellation Audio Perseus, DS Audio Master1, EMM Labs DS-EQ1
Power amps: Soulution 711, MBL 9008 A, Constellation Audio Hercules II Stereo, Air Tight 3211, Air Tight ATM-2001, Zanden Audio Systems Model 9600, Siltech SAGA System V1/P1, Odyssey Audio Stratos, Voxativ Integrated 805
Analog source: Clearaudio Master Innovation, Acoustic Signature Invictus Jr./T-9000, Walker Audio Proscenium Black Diamond Mk V, TW Acustic Black Knight/TW Raven 10.5, AMG Viella 12
Tape deck: United Home Audio Ultimate 4 OPS
Phono cartridges: DS Audio Master1, Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement, Air Tight Opus 1, Ortofon MC Anna, Ortofon MC A90
Digital source: Soulution 760, MSB Reference DAC, Berkeley Alpha DAC 2 Cable and interconnect: Crystal Cable Ultimate Dream, Synergistic Research Galileo UEF, Ansuz Acoustics Diamond
Power cords: Crystal Cable Ultimate Dream, Synergistic Research Galileo UEF, Ansuz Acoustics Diamond
Power conditioner: AudioQuest Niagara 5000 (two), Synergistic Research Galileo UEF, Technical Brain
Support systems: Critical Mass Systems MAXXUM and QXK equipment racks and amp stands
Room treatments: Stein Music H2 Harmonizer system, Synergistic Research UEF Acoustic Panels/Atmosphere XL4/UEF Acoustic Dot system, Synergistic Research ART system, Shakti Hallographs (6), Zanden Acoustic panels, A/V Room Services Metu acoustic panels and traps, ASC Tube Traps
Accessories: Symposium Isis and Ultra equipment platforms, Symposium Rollerblocks and Fat Padz, Walker Prologue Reference equipment and amp stands, Walker Valid Points and Resonance Control discs, Clearaudio Double Matrix Professional Sonic record cleaner, Synergistic Research RED Quantum fuses, HiFi-Tuning silver/gold fuses

The post Goldmund PH3.8 Nextgen Phonostage appeared first on The Absolute Sound.

Original Resource is Articles – The Absolute Sound

Borg Audio Preamps Offer The Ultimate In Audio Performance And A Hyper-Futuristic Design

Does the look of a product matter to you? Personally, I love great design and these two preamplifiers from Borg Audio is bound to split opinion. Borg Audio is a German manufacturer of high-end audio gear that makes a couple of products that look like nothing else I’ve ever seen. There’s a real Star …

Original Resource is Vinyl Records

Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO Turntable | REVIEW

Debutantes Wear White Pro-Ject’s Debut Carbon EVO landed on my doorstep in what seemed like mere minutes after I’d been asking Managing Editor Eric Franklin Shook, “They want me to do a turntable review? But why not Dave, or Marc?” Though my serious journey into vinyl has only just begun this year, the Pro-Ject table was the perfect place to start. I’ve had a quick succession of lent tables, cartridges and phono stages in-house in the last few months, and under the careful tutelage of the rest of the PTA team, and some of my friends in LA who are vinyl-cutting engineers, my knowledge has been growing exponentially for all things groovy. I have had vinyl on the brain. Words by Grover Neville Pro-Ject’s Debut Carbon EVO is the newest iteration of their most popular turntable, this time with the works added: new motor suspension, height-adjustable damped aluminum feet, a new steel and TPE-damped platter, and a Sumiko Rainier cartridge. This is a Pro-Ject Debut Carbon table taken to a whole new level. One of the curious things I’ve noticed about hi-fi is a distinct disconnect between price and what I like to call “thinking inside the box.” No, this [...]

Original Resource is Part-Time Audiophile

RTS Digital Partyline Family Debuts with OMS

RTS OMNEO Main Station
RTS OMNEO Main Station

Burnsville, MN (October 23, 2020)—RTS has introduced its RTS Digital Partyline with the debut of its new OMNEO Main Station (OMS), a hybrid IP/digital/analog main station for partyline intercom systems used in theaters, houses of worship, broadcast, AV rental, industrial facilities and entertainment/event venues.

Presented in a 1RU enclosure, OMS can interconnect both wired/wireless and IP/digital/analog devices; full TCP/IP connectivity is supported. OMNEO IP technology – incorporating Dante (audio transport), AES70 (device control) and more – allows OMS to interconnect with RTS Digital Matrix products (including ADAM, ADAM-M, ODIN, KP series keypanels and ROAMEO DECT wireless) and forthcoming new members of the RTS Digital Partyline family. This aims to provide users with a path from legacy equipment to the latest technology, allowing users to migrate to an IP infrastructure while protecting the investment value of their existing analog partyline hardware.

RTS Intercoms Bring Trucks Together at Big Game

OMS is available in five configurations — Advanced, Intermediate and Basic digital (each with OMNEO), as well as Analog Plus and Analog (main station options for analog-only partyline systems). Software upgrades allow for increased capacity and functionality as needs evolve. Users requiring both analog and digital should upgrade to OMS Intermediate or OMS Advanced.

All OMS configurations feature a full-color front panel display and an icon-based menu structure for system configuration and control. The panel layout has dedicated color-coded controls for each channel (talk/listen/call/volume); each of the four button sets can be programmed to function with any destination in the system. The AC power supply has a locking IEC connector, and due to its low power draw and venting, it does not have any cooling fans

Support for four ports of analog AIO four-wire, four ports of analog two-wire (equipped with echo cancellation), two program inputs and one stage announce output are included. Ethernet connectivity is via copper or fiber (for OMS Intermediate and OMS Advanced versions with OMNEO). Additional OMNEO expansion audio ports are included for networking with other OMS units. OMS Intermediate and OMS Advanced configurations support the TIF-2000A digital telephone interface.

RTS • www.rtsintercoms.com

Original Resource is ProSoundNetwork.com