Analog Corner

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Michael Fremer  |  Apr 11, 2024  |  First Published: Mar 01, 2016  |  0 comments
Dr. Feickert Analogue's top-of-the line turntable, the Firebird ($12,500), is a generously sized record player designed to easily accommodate two 12" tonearms. Its three brushless, three-phase DC motors, arranged around the platter in an equilateral triangle, are connected to a proprietary controller in a phase-locked loop (PLL); according to the Firebird's designer, Dr. Christian Feickert, a reference signal from just one of the motors drives all three—thus one motor is the master while the other two are slaves. (Man, today that is politically incorrect, however descriptively accurate.)
Michael Fremer  |  Mar 05, 2024  |  First Published: Apr 01, 2016  |  0 comments
"HOW MEASUREMENT FAILS DOCTORS AND TEACHERS" was the headline of a story in a recent issue of the New York Times's "Sunday Review" section (formerly called "News of the Week in Review," now rendered obsolete by the 24/7 news cycle created by and for the terminally self-absorbed). The writer, Robert M. Wachter, a professor and interim chairman of UC San Francisco's department of medicine and author of the book The Digital Doctor: Hope, Hype, and Harm at the Dawn of Medicine's Computer Age, said that healthcare and education "have become increasingly subjected to metrics and measurements," and that the focus on them has "gone too far."

To me, that headline screamed "Audio!" And the book that needs to be written is The Digital Recording Revolution: Hope, Hype, and Harm at the Dawn of Audio's Computer Age.

Michael Fremer  |  Feb 09, 2024  |  First Published: May 01, 2016  |  0 comments
Designer Bill Hutchins, of LKV Research, builds the 2-SB moving-magnet/moving-coil phono preamplifier in North Conway, in the White Mountains of New Hampshire; he uses as many US-sourced parts as possible, and sells his products factory direct. I reviewed the 2-SB in March 2014, on the 2-SB's sound was exceptionally fine—especially if you like refined, solid-state quiet and detail, and especially considering its then-price of $2500. Since that review's publication, the 2-SB has been upgraded with a version of the third gain stage from LKV's JFET-based Veros One phono preamp ($6500; see below), and its price has risen to a still-reasonable $3000.

In May 2014, Bill Hutchins introduced the Veros One phono preamplifier ($6500).

Michael Fremer  |  Jan 09, 2024  |  First Published: Jun 01, 2016  |  0 comments
The review gear piles up, and it's time for a late spring cleaning—not that any dust has gathered on the uniformly excellent products covered in this column. I'll start with two very different phono cartridges.
Michael Fremer  |  Dec 11, 2023  |  First Published: Jul 01, 2016  |  0 comments
ModWright Instruments' PH 150 moving-coil/moving-magnet phono stage measures 17" wide by 5" high by 12" deep and weighs 19lb. Knobs on its front panel let you easily make adjustments that with some phono preamps require accessing the rear panel or going inside. Starting at the left, the Select knob offers settings for MC, MM, and Mute. The Gain knob offers levels of 0dB, –6dB, and –12dB. With MC selected, those settings would correspond with 72, 66, and 60dB of gain, respectively; with MM, the numbers would be 57, 51, and 45dB, the last being more typical of most MM stages.

First, let's talk about problems with grounding and hum...

Michael Fremer  |  Nov 08, 2023  |  First Published: Aug 01, 2016  |  0 comments
Recently, when a reader questioned my hearing acuity on account of my age—I'm 69—I didn't argue: I don't hear as well as I did when I was 40, or 50, or even 60, and it would be foolish to claim otherwise. However, while my hearing isn't what it once was, neither is my listening—which has never been better. Audio perception is a combination of what the ear delivers and what the brain does with it.

My upper-octave response still sounds to be all there. Are there some lumps and bumps below? Probably. And some tinnitus noise encroaching on very-low-level material? No denying it. But as far as I'm concerned, at least for now, I'm still quite capable of doing this job.

Michael Fremer  |  Oct 02, 2023  |  First Published: Sep 01, 2016  |  0 comments
Last spring, at the High End show in Munich, I met with Leif Johannsen, R&D manager and chief designer of Ortofon, who walked me through the company's exhibition. Among the new products he showed me were two low-cost, low-output SPU (stereo pickup) moving-coil cartridges.

Leif Johannsen told me that Ortofon decided to produce two low-priced SPUs so that more people could afford them and enjoy their particular sound. Their new SPU #1 comes in two flavors: the SPU #1S with spherical stylus ($599), and the SPU #1E with elliptical stylus ($659)—hence the model names.

Michael Fremer  |  Sep 07, 2023  |  First Published: Oct 01, 2016  |  0 comments
Recently, after 36 years at Audio-Technica, Mitsuo Miyata retired—by which time he'd run out of business cards. Nonetheless, when I met him in early July at A-T's headquarters, in Machida, Japan, he handed me a card. A line had been drawn through the original cardholder's name; under it, handwritten, was Miyata's name.

Japanese culture is so formal that there is a precise etiquette of how to offer one's business card: Hold the card lengthwise in both hands, gripping it between thumbs and index fingers, and present it with a slight bow. For someone with so long and distinguished a career and multiple patents to his name, Miyata's offering was casual. Later, an A-T staffer told me, with a laugh, that he'd never before seen Miyata in a tie and jacket, both of which he wore for our meeting.

Today, the inventor of Audio-Technica's new AT-ART1000 cartridge is better known around company headquarters as a gentleman farmer—a grower of legendary blueberries, Japanese eggplants, and corn. His home-built stereo system is also said to be pretty special. I had been invited to meet him, and to get an exclusive look at the challenges of assembling and testing the AT-ART1000.

Michael Fremer  |  Aug 10, 2023  |  First Published: Nov 01, 2016  |  0 comments
Do good things come in small packages, or is bigger better? Your call. But regarding the products they've sent my way for review this month, designers Franc Kuzma, Kiyoaki Imai, and Velissarios Georgiadis are all in the latter camp. Kuzma's Stabi M, designed to accommodate the 14" version of his 4Point tonearm, is a massive turntable with a big footprint. Imai's Audio Tekne TEA-8695 tubed phono preamplifier has 11 Permalloy core transformers and weighs nearly 100lb. And although it uses just four signal-path tubes and a pair of rectifier tubes, Georgiadis's Xactive Argo phono preamplifier fills the full width, height, and depth of a Harmonic Resolution System shelf—and not because it's a big but mostly empty housing.
Michael Fremer  |  Jul 14, 2023  |  First Published: Dec 01, 2016  |  33 comments
I recently posted to's YouTube channel a video that compares VPI's Prime turntable and JMW 3D-printed tonearm ($3995) with Continuum Audio Labs' Caliburn turntable (ca $150,000 with arm and stand, discontinued) fitted with the Swedish Analog Technologies arm ($28,000). Both played "Braziljah," a snazzy track from the New Zion Trio's latest album, Sunshine Seas (LP, RareNoise RNR065LP), featuring guest Brazilian percussionist Cyro Baptista.

The Prime was fitted with a Lyra Helikon SL cartridge (ca $2500, discontinued), driving a reasonably priced phono preamplifier: the Audio Alchemy PPA-1 ($1795, currently under review for AnalogPlanet). Accompanying the Continuum Caliburn and SAT arm were Audio-Technica's AT-ART1000 cartridge ($5000), and Ypsilon's MC-16L step-up transformer ($6200) and VPS-100 Silver phono preamplifier ($65,000)—total cost, more than I paid for my first house, in 1992.

Michael Fremer  |  May 12, 2023  |  First Published: Jan 01, 2017  |  2 comments
As I began writing this column, the terrible news arrived that Armando "AJ" Conti, founder of Basis Audio, had died of a heart attack at 59. A talented designer of turntables and tonearms, AJ was one of the warmest and more thoughtful people in the High End. Whenever I entered the Basis room at a Consumer Electronics Show, I had to be prepared to spend the next hour or more talking with AJ—not only about audio, but about coffee, motorcycling, metallurgy, or any other of his many passions . . .
Michael Fremer  |  Apr 10, 2023  |  First Published: Feb 01, 2017  |  13 comments
At the beginning of this century, when the vinyl resurgence was at best nascent and few believed it would be as strong as it is today, Boulder Amplifiers manufactured a phono preamplifier that cost $29,000. I reviewed that model, the 2008 (now discontinued), in the July 2002 issue. With a power supply that would probably be more than adequate for a high-wattage power amp, it was built to a standard approached by few other makers of phono preamps...

With his lines of power amplifiers and preamplifiers well established, Dan D'Agostino—the founder, CEO, and chief designer of the company that bears his name—set about designing a phono preamplifier.

Michael Fremer  |  Mar 10, 2023  |  First Published: Mar 10, 2017  |  7 comments
The ability to fine-tune a vinyl playback system is part of what makes it possible to combine an archaic technology with modern thinking and materials to create musical magic, and take listeners to new heights of ecstatic musical pleasure. It's why so many young people are tuning in to vinyl, and helps explain why just today, as I write this, it was announced in the UK that, for the first time, revenues from sales of vinyl exceeded those from downloads.
Michael Fremer  |  Feb 10, 2023  |  First Published: Apr 01, 2017  |  57 comments
Although Swiss-based CH Precision is a relatively young company, its core design team has been involved in high-performance audio for many years. Their website doesn't state the company's age, but something there did provide a hint: Among the design team's previous activities was work for another Swiss company, Anagram Technologies...I hadn't made the connection between Anagram and CH Precision when Raphael Pasche, the latter's electronics design engineer, visited last fall to install CH Precision's P1 dual-mono phono stage and the optional X1, a discretely regulated, outboard linear power supply that's claimed to exhibit ultralow levels of noise. The P1 can be ordered as a stereo preamp for $31,000; add $17,000 for the identically sized X1 power supply. Or one mono P1 can be used for each channel, for $55,000 plus $34,000 for two X1s. Expensive stuff.
Michael Fremer  |  Jan 10, 2023  |  First Published: May 01, 2017  |  0 comments
In November 2016, the Berlin Philharmonic made a stunning record-release announcement: a boxed set of all four Brahms symphonies, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle, on six LPs, recorded and mastered direct to disc in September 2014. The release would be limited to 1833 sets—a quantity chosen in honor of the year of the composer's birth—at a price of €499 per set.