Saturday, October 19, 2013

Confessions of a Frustrated Audiophile

Magnavox Portable Stereo Record Player
I have been an audiophile ever since my Grandfather gave me a homemade cabinet containing an Electro-Voice SP12B speaker with an Atlas horn tweeter. At the time (1970), I had a portable Magnavox stereo.

I think the Magnavox had about 3 watts per channel into those 3x6 oval speakers shown in back. Well, I found some RCA plugs and just paralleled the outputs together and hooked them to my Grandfather's single mono speaker (not recommended for audiophile work). But it worked, and the amplifier didn't seem to mind. The sound blew me away. The high end and the low end were like I had never heard before, even from the "hi fi" my parents had in the living room. I was hooked.

The next task was getting back to stereo. So I hunted down a source of EV SP12B speakers. Unfortunately, the one my Grandfather gave me was from the late '50s, and the new ones were of a slightly different design. No matter. I only had $50.00, so I could only afford one. I built some cabinets from a project in Popular Electronics (I think it was), that used some mail-order tweeters from Mouser Electronics. The cabinets were designed for some Radio Shack woofers, but the specs were similar enough to the EVs that I decided to go ahead. I finished building the cabinets, and now I had full range stereo. At 3 WPC. With a ceramic cartridge. Still, I remember it sounded great! I got a lot of enjoyment playing Nilsson Schmilsson, Abbey Road, Ram, Straight Up, The Best of the Guess Who, and ... and I think that was the extent of my record collection then. I had some singles, Joy to the World, American Pie, Albert Flasher, a few others.

BSR 610 Automatic Record Changer
I started reading Stereo Review, and from there I realized that I would need a magnetic cartridge. Also, I started to notice thumps and rumble coming from the record changer in the little Magnavox. Plus, I wished it could play a little louder. My fascination with electronics had led me to get on the Heathkit mailing list, and they always had the most beautiful audio gear (for the time). It was time for an upgrade (such as my meager income could afford). So I bought a Heathkit AA-1214 amplifier and a BSR 610 record changer (with a Shure M71 cartridge). I eventually got matching woofers and purchased EV "building block" midrange horns, tweeters and crossovers.

BIC 980 Automatic Record Changer
The BSR turntable also had thumps and rumble, so eventually I upgraded it to a BIC 980 with a Shure V15 Type III (I was making more money by then). I used the BIC until about 1984, when CDs started coming out. I bought a Magnavox 4X oversampling CD player (which was actually a Philips, which contained very good electronics and converters). In those days, it was nearly impossible to build a 16 bit D/A converter that was actually accurate to 16 bits. But Philips made 14-bit oversampling converters. The 4X oversampling produced the additional 2 bits by duty cycle modulating bit 0 of the 14-bit converter for 16-bit accurate output. It was ingenious, and it sounded great. So much so, that I started to wish I had a better turntable. Which brings me to the subject of this article. (That's the longest intro I ever wrote).

Dual 505-2 Semi-Automatic Turntable
Here's my confession: I love my Dual 505-2 turntable! I think it cost me about $300.00 in the day. The salesman talked me into a Denon high-output moving coil cartridge. Moving coils were all the rage in those days. But the Denon never sounded great to me. For one thing, my Heathkit AA-1214 had kind of a noisy phono preamp, and even though the Denon was "high output" for a MC design, it was lower than any moving magnet cartridge. So I purchased an Ortofon OM-20, which is one of the highest output moving magnet cartridges out there. I was kind of a Shure bigot, though. I only went with Ortofon because of the high output, and I had read that Ortofon and Dual had teamed up to match the 505-2 tonearm with the OM-20.

Ortofon OM-20 Phono Pickup
When the cartridge arrived in the mail, I hooked that baby up, and put on my Mobile Fidelity copy of Abbey Road. Wow! I was hooked. That was about 1986. My vinyl collection didn't get as much use in the CD era, or in the MP3 era, for that matter. But what I didn't have in digital format, I have played on vinyl. Over the past few weeks, I have been spinning a lot of vinyl, and really enjoying it, on a turntable and cartridge that is now 27 years old. The OM-20 stylus is still in good shape (I used to replace my old Shure stilii every year or two - don't ask me why the Ortofon has stood up so well). Fortunately, OM-20 replacements are still being made.

Here's the bottom line: Audiophiles and vinylphiles are quick to poo-poo any turntable that costs less than $1000.00, and is built with anything less than unobtanium parts and magical wire, broken in for three months. Well, the fact is, that old Dual is still kicking (after a belt replacement and a few other maintenance repairs), and it is capable of producing sound that is as good as can be stored on vinyl. A 50-lb platter just doesn't turn any more evenly or quietly than a well-engineered lighter one.

Thorens TD 235 Semi-Automatic Turntable
And here's a really interesting tidbit. I was looking at Thorens* turntables with the thought of updating (just because). Guess what I found? One of the midrange Thorens turntables is a dead ringer for the Dual 505-2, and I'm not just a-woofin'. Check it out: The tonearm is identical (right down to the gimbals and headshell), and the semi-automatic operation is as well. The plinth as been redesigned slightly (possibly for easier manufacture), but the look is nearly identical. MSRP: $1000.00 US.

I might buy the Thorens TD 235 someday, but for now, I still love my Dual 505-2 and that sweet sounding Ortofon OM-20. As long as I can still get parts.

* Thorens makes very high-end turntables for the rarefied audiophile community.

1 comment :

  1. Thanks a lot for sharing us about this update. Hope you will not get tired on making posts as informative as this.
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