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July 12, 2003  

Vinyl Stones

Wow...I'm old ;-) I was ripping the 40 Licks Stones comp album in iTunes, watching the frequency distribution display... and I saw an old familiar pattern: low freq levels in the left channel were around 3dB higher than in the right. Consistently; anything released in the '60s and '70s had this skew to its levels.

This goes back to the nature of record players. As the stationary needle tracks along the revolving platter, it is accelerated inward -- it presses harder to the inside than to the outside. Your basic "record player" could do nothing to counter this force (called the "skating force"), and so a record with balanced bass on both channels would sound weaker in the left channel, because the left channel was the "outer" groove on the record.

Or, it's just the other way around; I never could keep it straight ;-)

Across the fence from "record players" were "turntables." These could be anything from Lafayette specials for $49, to sleek Ortofons at more than $1,500. but one of the things that qualified a "turntable" was having an anti-skate device -- either a spring or a counterweight to work against the inward force of the needle.

We loved our turnatables like they were cars. We brought the Empire platter to a machine shop and had it ground down to perfect balance. We poured dense resin into the base after building a crude Faraday cage around the motor. Then we dropped in a Black Widow arm, spun our test records, and let 'er rip.

So it was frustrating to have this high-falutin' gear that was effectively reduced to proletarian status by the record makers' faking the mix to accommodate the lowest common denominator -- crappy record players. You'd set your anti-skate for zero; then play some pop records; then set anti-skate to a working value; then listen to some high-quality pressings... re-masters, half-speeds, and the rest. Then do it all over again when someone brought over the newest Stones album....

These days, you hear more than a few pop CDs burned with higher treble, say from 1.5k to 4K. There's so much bass-boost in today's rigs that vocals and presence can get lost.... naturally, to people with fairly flat plauyback systems, the world sounds quite bright ;-) (Natalie Imbruglia, Michelle Branch, Vanessa Carlton, Sarah McLachlan for example.)

So all that got me thinking back to listening to Planet Caravan [on Black Sabbath's second album, IIRC] transferred from 8-track to open reel, on a big bad pair of Koss 'phones through a Lafayette amp... and the Teak auto-reversing cassette deck (it actually picked the tape up and flipped it over) feeding the EPI-100s though a Marantz something-or-other.... to the Nak and the Empire and the dual 2105s and the Time Windows....

And that was a long time ago.