Getting Back into Vinyl, Part 1
(Where am I? Oh. Bed.)
“Alright, alright! I’ll get up!” I yelled at my phone. Slowly, I pulled myself out of bed on an early Saturday morning after a long night out. How did I get home? Something was needed in order to wake me up. Zeppelin’s Presence was on the Rega P1. Perfect.
I slogged over to the P1 and noticed some dust under the needle. Normally at this moment, I would give the Ortofon OM5 cartridge a little whistle to blow off the dust and then apply some LAST Stylus cleaner, but my brain wasn’t there. Instead, my brain said: “Let’s take a chance!” and I flicked off the dust-ball. I missed by millimeters and knocked the needle of the cartridge backwards into its housing.
Not realizing what had just happened, I drop the needle on “Achilles Last Stand”. My cartridge played the record distorted, slowed down, and warbled and then proceeded to slide across the record completelyhis last stand indeed.
I ignored the problem, and with no time to bask in my hi-fi slapstick hangover, it was off to NJ for rehearsal.
Waiting for an opportunity to upgrade my cartridge, this was my chance. Michael Fremer had nice things to say about the very affordable Audio Technica AT95-E ($71) within his review of the Thorens TD309; as summarized by the Stereophile Staff in our semi-annual Recommended Components issue: “the Audio-Technica AT95E produced large, exuberant images.” Cool. When purchased, this little green monster was only $50 MSRP, very much in my price bracket. The recent price increase to $71 was somewhat expected. Why? Because I can predict the future. Well, actually I guess not, since I couldn’t have predicted what would happen next in my quest to refurbish my vinyl setup.
The AT95E arrived in a small-ish brown cardboard box on a typical Stereophile workday. Whenever we receive a piece of gear here, we are always as giddy as the time before. SM usually claps his hands together and barks like a seal, and JA pulls out a hula hoop to make him jump, and we all go swimming, Baird too (“Haha! No way am I getting in that water.”). Ok, maybe Baird avoids the plunge, but that is the kind of joy we get from any gear, because hi-fi is swimming.
Inside the small-ish brown box was an even smaller white box which housed our little green friend.
“SM, any advice while installing my cartridge?”
SM gave simple words passed on to him from another manufacturer, “Just make sure you bring the cartridge as far forward on the Rega headshell as possible.”
“Sounds easy enough.”
At 4:00 A.M. on a sleepless night, this time no alcohol, I roamed my house violently. Why so restless? I wasn’t sure, but for some reason, I saw the only alleviation to my jittery evening to be changing my cartridge as the sun rose. My eyes did not droop, and my body was not tired. I could do this.
The little white box contained the cartridge, a manual, and the necessary screws and nuts to install the cartridge. Carefully and slowly, I removed my Ortofon OM5 from the Rega P1. No problem. Let’s stick this bad boy on! The sun was calling.
First, I carefully plugged each of the tonearm pins into the AT95E following the diagram included in the manual and firmly planted the cartridge’s top in line with my headshell’s front-most tip as recommended by SM. Tonearm pins attached. Cartridge in place, I slid the screws through the headshell and into each of the holes on both sides of the AT95E, but my plans were stunted. The outer ridge of the green stylus housing on the AT95 blocked the securing of the screw. There was no space to squeeze the nut above the green awning onto the bottom of the screw.
I kept trying to squeeze that nut on, but the sun rose and my eyes began to droop. Time was catching up with me, but being driven to listen to some vinyl in the breaking dawn, I continued forcefully pushing the screws downward but pressing ever-so-gently on the sides of the cartridge, being careful not to bend back a second stylus. I couldn’t keep the plastic cover over the stylus while trying to insert the screws as it only made it more difficult to have the nut reach over the stylus encasement’s green ridge, which expanded wider than the top of the cartridge. The extreme holding down of the screws in place combined with the required delicate touch to keep the cartridge safe exploded into spastic arm movements endangering my hi-fi. I knocked a tiny screw on the ground into a bowl of dust, cables, and record sleeves, lost and gone forever. “It’s OK,” I reminded myself. “We have more screws.”
Accepting defeat that the nut would just not pass over that darn green ridge, I decided to put back on the OM5. I removed the pins from the AT95 and started connecting them to the Ortofon. Unfortunately, I am stubborn.
“I gotta give it one more try.”
Quickly, forcefully and recklessly, I ripped the OM5 from the tonearm pins and the OM5 took a pin with it. The tonearm cable snapped at its exit point from the tonearm, and I was left with 4 little leads dangling by a pin and capped by a little ball of gray foam.
This was just too much. Any drowsiness had been replaced by anger and more restlessness. The sun peeked through my window.
Weeks later, SM would return to the office with bags under his eyes and a scratchy throat.
“What is going on dude??” I asked concerned. SM did not seem his normal self. Though usually quiet, he was never this quiet.
“I haven’t been getting a lot of sleep lately.”
“I’m changing the cartridge on my Rega, but nothing is sounding right.”
Tell me about it.
Part Two: I visit In Living Stereo (New York, NY) to fix ‘er up the right way.
Keep Reading: Part 1.5