Analog Corner #302: 25 Years and Counting Page 2

I wasn't anti-CD. I was anti–bad sound. I was against bad sound being declared good. I put a bumper sticker on my car—I printed it out myself—saying "Compact Discs sound terrible."

When the Los Angeles Times ran an editorial extolling CDs' excellence, I sent a letter, which was published, opining that I hoped the paper knew more about diplomacy and economics than it did about good sound. I was on the warpath.

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After 6 years at The Absolute Sound, I quit in 1995—a hilarious story best told in a different venue. John Atkinson offered me a job at Stereophile and accepted my proposal to write about turntables, vinyl records, and all things analog, although he cautioned me that in a few years I'd be out of a job because vinyl was going away.

I was as sure as I've ever been about anything in my life that this was a golden opportunity and that I'd better not blow it.

A year later, as I made my way onto the stage at the New York Academy for the Advancement of High End Audio awards dinner, which I was about to emcee, Stereophile's principal owner and publisher, Larry Archibald, came up to me and whispered in my ear, "I'm doubling your column pay." How often does that happen? I knew I was on to something good.

I'm slowly posting my old columns to AnalogPlanet.com. It's interesting to read the old columns, which now seem as if they were written by someone else. Those early columns were written at a time when the future of vinyl was still uncertain, so the writing was defensive and about vinyl advocacy and not about the parade of new analog gear. Plus, 20 or 25 years ago, I really was a different person.

Today, despite some serious setbacks (including the recent Apollo/Transco lacquer factory fire), vinyl is well-established. It's very visible in mainstream media. Every digital innovation that was supposed to put an end to what many considered a hipster fad somehow hasn't. CD certainly did not, nor did high-resolution downloads. Even streaming, which now dominates music consumption and represents the total rejection of physical media, has not dented vinyl's appeal to a substantial minority of music fans.

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Mikey at Abbey Road Studios holding some Beatles master tapes.

Vinyl sales continue to rise (though the effects of the pandemic and the lacquer fire have yet to be fully felt), and as used-CD prices plummet, used record prices continue to rise. I just looked up Tom Waits's Rain Dogs at Discogs. The original CD will set you back between $5 and $10, the original vinyl at least $30—more than a monthly subscription to Qobuz, where you can stream it at CD resolution as many times as you'd like.

By nature, we are hunters and collectors. If we are going to bother hunting and collecting in the real—not virtual—world, a jewel-boxed data dump won't do. That's part of the explanation for it—that, the sound, and the experience. It's what I thought in 1985, as I watched in horror/disgust as Tower Records replaced record bins with CD racks. It's what I still think today.

Analog Corner faces the future
Twenty-five years and 300 columns later would be a tidy place to call it quits. I've thought about it, but my email inbox has never been busier: "Hi, sorry to bother you . . ."; "Hey, so I contacted you a while back . . ."; "May I impose on you?"; "Michael, Just wanted to say thanks again." And so on. The messages arrive daily, some on Saturday night at 11pm, and I answer every one of them. Although usually not on Saturday night at 11:05, because you can be sure I don't see them then. I'm usually listening to records. As I was proofreading this column, an email arrived that says, "Thanks for writing back, I thought I'd give it a shot—I've learned a lot from your reviews." I'm all about good feelings during a pandemic.

I answer because people want information and buying assurance. Buying is good. Sales are good. But I never tell anyone what to buy. How can you answer this? "Sorry to bother you, but if you had to choose between these two, what would you choose? A VPI Prime with 10.5" JMW 3D-printed tonearm and Ortofon 2M Black MM cartridge, or a Clearaudio Performance DC with Satisfy Kardan tonearm and Virtuoso V2 MM cartridge?"

Maybe you have a definitive answer. I don't. I just try to help narrow the options—or, sometimes, expand them. I appreciate reader follow-ups after they make a choice and have had time to listen.

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A panel of vinyl luminaries at an AES convention: Mikey Fremer, Doug Sax, Bob Ludwig.

One time, a reader gave me a turntable budget and a few of his choices, all of which were good. But he could also afford the Lithuania-built Reed 1C with Reed arm, which I found so impressively engineered and built, and which sounded so refined and pleasing. Reed is "off the radar" compared to the brands he mentioned, so I suggested it as a possibility. He ended up buying the 1C and later sent this: "Just wanted to say thanks again for the advice and for your time. The Reed is beyond the usual, tired adjectives: exquisite, superb, elegant, amazing, sublime. It is pure pleasure! Otherworldly and most definitely next-level for me."

What would helping someone out and getting that kind of feedback be worth to you? It helps keep me going.

As does mentoring 14-year-old vinyl fanatic Malachi Lui, who writes so brilliantly for Analog Planet about new music, blues, and jazz and writes an occasional equipment review. Kanye West is his—not my—favorite artist, but we agree that David Bowie's "Blackstar" was the last decade's best album. You should read his review of "Both Directions at Once" (Impulse 80028228-2)—the "lost" John Coltrane album—which he wrote when he was 12 years old. Those are his words, with very minor editing. I will always thank vinyl records (and my electrician, who heard Malachi on WFMU talking up vinyl records and AnalogPlanet) for bringing him into my life.

My most important motivation, though, is the feedback I receive. How would you react to getting an email like this one, which I received a few days ago? I've edited it lightly for length.

"Hi Mr. Fremer: I just want to thank you for all of your work. I watched hours of your videos and enjoy all of them. And sorry for my kind of bad English. I'm from Iran.

"I think it's about near a year that I collected records, and I love them more than anything. All of my records is used, and I don't have any new vinyl. Because all of new records that exist here first is really expensive, and second they are not good pressings. They are that mass-produced vinyl from digital file, and another thing is, most new records is Pink Floyd and rock and popular pop. I'm into jazz and old hip-hop/rap. There's not much good new records for me to buy, so I stick to used records.

"After watching your videos, I understand pressings and all of that. Now I got five jazz records. They are in really good shape. Near mint. You don't know how happy I was when I found them. I got:

Everybody Knows by Johnny Hodges (cover is Impulse label, but vinyl is in Philips label)

Gone with the Wind by Dave Brubeck (is reissue of 1966)

Jazz Impressions of Eurasia by Dave Brubeck (reissue of 1966)

The Wonderful World of Jazz by John Lewis (this is first pressing)

Know What I Mean? by Cannonball Adderley (1961 Riverside stereo)

These are my jazz, and I love them. ... I don't have a turntable now... .

In future, I think I will send you more emails, because I have more things to say. :-)."

I, too, have more things to say, so I'll keep writing. I'm hoping to stick around for at least another 5 years. I am not here to tell you my hearing is as good as it was 25 or even 10 years ago, but my listening is better than ever, and that is more important. As long as I remain alive and healthy, and as long as the feedback I get from readers—especially the younger ones—affirms what I hear and write in reviews (the PS Audio Stellar phono preamp review, for instance), I'll be here.

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EveAnna Manley, Simon Yorke, Michael Fremer.

I'm 73, but I'm keeping myself in good shape, still running on good knees, doing mat Pilates until it's safe to return to the gym and 35+ good push-ups daily. Until the pandemic ends or there's a vaccine, I'm self-quarantining. I just heard that this year's Hong Kong Show in August is going on as scheduled. It's tempting, but no.

Next Month: Back to your regularly scheduled Analog Corner.

ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
volvic's picture

You were a voice in the wilderness! Back in the early 90s when self-doubts started to creep in as to whether or not I should submit and give up on the ol' LP12, I picked up my Stereophile issue and read your defense of the vinyl record. I seem to recall you called the doubters "shills". That bit of confidence reinvigorated me that "yes" I was on the right path choosing the LP12 when I heard the Beethoven violin concerto compared against a Denon CD player in 1984. Fast forward to the present; five turntables in my apartment and a sixth about to be rebuilt as I stash away the new SME tonearm that just arrived from my wife's unapproving gaze!

CDs???? Never heard of them!!!

MatthewT's picture

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-09-10/vinyl-record-sales-top-compact-discs-for-first-time-in-34-years

Anton's picture

I think he adds grey coloring to his hair to fool us into thinking he is aging.

I hear he bathes in Groove Glide and uses Stylast as toothpaste.

You can rub Kirmuss Cream on Mike and he won’t foam up!

He and Frank Schroeder and John DeVore are ageless wonders.

Mike chose ‘vinyl‘ over digital because he thought that he looked ridiculous in a CD body suit.

Dick Clark used to ask Mike what his secret was to staying so youthful.

Last summer at a diner the manager took away Mike’s drivers license because he thought Mike had a fake ID for getting food discounts.

Here’s to the next 300 columns!

Jim Austin's picture

... that Anton was a borscht-belt comedian! My favorite:

>>You can rub Kirmuss Cream on Mike and he won’t foam up!

Nicely done.

Jim Austin, Editor
Stereophile

Glotz's picture

For every great review, recommendations and for all of the laughs throughout the years!

For always being a BULLDOG to champion the Truth and just telling us what you heard.

For bringing on Malachi to Analog Planet (even when it is isn't popular among Old People)!

For getting out to so many shows and enthusiastically putting yourself around the world promoting vinyl playback...

Thank you man!!

PS- Digging the Steller and the Hana ML!

Kudos to Anton for being hilarious and Volvic for his fine insights (here and as always)!

volvic's picture

For putting the "shills" in their place with your well-reasoned arguments and your love of analog and all that makes music reproduction and Stereophile/Analog Planet so enjoyable for all of us. Kudos!!!

Spla'nin's picture

Missed seeing a picture from your mullet era - Los Vegas High End show across the street from the original off strip Hard Rock Hotel if I remember right. Sincere thanks for all the amazing vinyl content over the years ! Stay with it & help find another Art to help fill the gap soon ! Maybe more from Kessler again if possible.

airdronian's picture

Time flies when you're having fun. I happen to be one of those people who emailed you a question, and was surprised how promptly you replied.

Keep up the good work, I am always looking forward your articles.

Anton's picture

You can see the glow of love for vinyl oozing out his pores.

PeterPani's picture

It is difficult to write an article of the own past and future. You have done it brilliantly. It is also nice to read that you are still convinced of Malachi.

guerillaw's picture

A small typo at the end, "until there is a virus" I believe should read until there is a vaccine. Fitting a small imperfection in an article about how a more "imperfect" medium better conveys the emotions of music.

pfm's picture

Thanks for the great job you've been doing for all these years!
14 years ago I bought an SME Model 10 with SME v ToneArm after one of your reviews. I never stopped listening to more and more vinyl from that moment.
Reading your reviews is a pleasure, due to your excellent writting style, great humour, in depth analysis of the gear, putting it in perspective with other gear and, specially, a great honesty and coherence in your reviews, mixed with your great experience in reviewing, which is something we don’t find everywhere.

I Hope you will keep giving us the pleasure of your reviews!

Best Luck!

cam08529's picture

this relatively inexperienced digital only audio enthusiast started reading that vinyl page in the magazine. The thought of getting a turntable seemed somewhat daunting and a step backwards. I continued to read Michael’s articles and based on his enthusiasm, decided to pull the trigger on a Scout/Glider/PHD combo around article 120. Today, my vinyl collection far exceeds my digital library but honestly there’s room for both formats in my audio life. I’m sure there are many like me that would have never gone down the vinyl path without Michael’s writing. He’s answered all my emails too. I even won a mmf 7.1 from one of his online contests but he made me promise not to flip it on Audiogon. I still have it Michael. Thanks for all you do...Jeff C

Enrique Marlborough's picture

Congrats, and Thank You!

SET Man's picture

Hey!

Yeah, I got interested in vinyl in most part because of you. Back in the mid '90s while most of my high school friends were saving up money buying CDs, and vinyl were on the decline. I got interested in vinyl thanks to you and Stereophile. I was experimenting with cheap fixer upper turntable I got from junk shop down in Chinatown for $5, a few bucks for the cheapest Ortofon OM and I was mesmerized. And in 1997 I got my first brand new turntable, the Rega Planar 2.

Now 2020, I'm still spinning vinyls, actually as I'm writing this. So, congratulation and I'm looking forward to read more of your articles and reviews of this "obsoleted" format.

Jack L's picture

Hi

Good keep-on-going spirit !!!!

Vinyl beats any digital music media, both sonically, & technically.

Here, who was not a vinyl-CD-vinyl convert? For decades, I only listened to CD music until I CASUALLY picked up a used classical music vinyl disc from a neighborhood thrift store for dirt cheap $1.80 4 years back. Since that 'fateful' day, I have built up my 1,000+ pre-owned vinyl collection (95% classical music). I'll never look back though I still keep my CD, DVD-audio & WiFi Blu-ray players & DAC streaming strictly for convenient casual listening.

Mickey, for yr senior age, you still do yr push-up exercise daily. Amiable !!!!

FYI I am NOT younger than you. Gymnastic? Not for me, my friend. I do my in-HOME physical training exercises EVERY morning after a home-made healthy breakfast. When I said 'physical training', I mean it. It takes me min 1 & quarter hours to complete quite a few courses, including 1,200 push-ups using
proper push-up hand-grip tools as well as 300 times each arm bicep workout using a 20-lb dumb bell.

Otherwise how would I have the energy to work some 40-hour week day job & enjoy my beloved vinyl music after work at my very senior age ???

Jack L

Michael Fremer's picture

Seriously?

Jack L's picture

Hi

No Jokes.

'Conventional' push-ups are always done with the legs pressed hard on the floor. This is 'cheating', IMO.

How? Half, if not more, of the entire body weight is supported by the legs on the floor. So only half, if not less, of the body weight needs to be lifted by the arms ! Noooo good.

So I've sorta kinda 'reinvented' the push-up exercise by lifting the pair of legs off the floor, resting them on a chair (18"). With the hands grasping the push-pull bars, 8" off the floor, the whole body is therefore lifted off the floor - airborne. The arms now carry the entire body weight. Push-up with close to 100% efficiency. No more cheating.

Mind you, I did not started this "airborne" push-up excercise only yesterday, but many many years back.

Before the last, & most strength demanding part of this daily physical training program of mine: the 'airborne' push-up excercise, a thoroughout 'warm-up" with other exercises, including fast stationary jumping jog for non-stopping 1,800 times, followed by the bicep workout with a 20-lb dumb bell for 300 times each arm, is done.

The first part of the aithorne push-up excercise is light push-ups for 800 times as warm-up. Then follows immediately without any resting with the entire body still airborne, the real hard push-ups for 400 times.

Well, on-going practice makes thing easy with firm determination & patience. Despite my senior age, I move faster than many young workmates. Very gratifying !

Sorry for being way way out of the audio topic & far far too boring for most readers here.

Jack L

Jack L's picture

Hi

Yes, "seriously" for a healthy life: No smoke, no booze, not even beer nor coffee for me (as I can't tolerate the sorta bitter taste of any beer & the burnt favour of coffee beans). Home-made healthy meals always at home & pack-lunches for work.

Only a few months back, I started to cook organic beef steaks (from cattles raised without hormones & antibiotics) which I unexpectedly found from a neighborhood grocery store for very affordable price!!!.

Jack L

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