The Music Goes Round & Round Page 5

Ivor's mention of audible differences brought the conversation back to AHC's review, specifically his statement that "While the sonic differences between the best turntables are important, they are not as important as the differences between cartridges and speakers." Not surprisingly, this had raised eyebrows amongst this group of rotary evangelists:

Tiefenbrun: If this guy doesn't know that a turntable makes a bigger difference than anything downstream can, then someone should demonstrate it to him. It sounds cuckoo so he doesn't believe it—there's a whole industry out there saying that the noise comes from the speakers, fella, that's where you buy it. We're in a country where people spend thousands of dollars on the speakers and have a changer as the front-end. You can look at that and say that this is iniquitous and it's wicked; or you can say, "What an opportunity!" There's the story about the two shoe salesman who went out to Africa: one phones his boss and says "I'm coming home, no-one wears shoes; the other says "Send a boatload of shoes." Similarly, we can say "Hey, come on, let's show these people."

A customer recently sent me a quote by Gilbert Briggs from 1954. He said that a loudspeaker can only detract from the quality of the input signal by a greater or lesser amount, and that it's utterly dependent on the input signal quality. Thirty to forty years ago people clearly understood the things that we're having such difficulty trying to say today: obviously, if you don't have a good antenna on your roof, it doesn't matter how good the tuner is; if you don't get the signal off the record, it doesn't matter how good the rest of the system is.

There is a hierarchy that starts at the beginning with the record and finishes at the end with the loudspeaker. It follows, more or less, the signal path. The turntable's a platform for the arm and cartridge and record, so it must have an influence on the relationship between the record surface and the cartridge body. You don't have to be a genius to figure out what actually happens first and how the chain works. It doesn't mean that every link isn't important, but it's astonishing that people will oppose that concept with great vigor, almost in direct proportion to the sense of the thing.

Herman: I agree with Ivor. What you corrupt or lose at the first stage of transducing—what's on the record—is lost or corrupted forever. If you've obscured it, if you've changed it, if you've lost it, you are not going to get it back. So the turntable obviously has to be the most neutral path it can be, it has to provide the most transparent . . .

Tiefenbrun: The word you're looking for is "good".

Riendau: It has to be there without being there.

Herman: It mustn't be a factor in the sound . . .

Tiefenbrun: But it is.

Herman: . . . and we try to make it as neutral as possible. The compromises that we have to make in the various executions of a design are chosen with that in view. Obviously, the turntable is designed to get as much out and leave as much unaltered as possible. The turntable is of primary importance because it's the first stage, although that doesn't mean that every other stage isn't as important, because at every stage you have the same possibilities for loss and corruption.

Tiefenbrun: We were talking to a guy who had been given a very large order for turntables by a household name that you can trust. They said to him "Give us a turntable for $20," so he asked what they wanted, and they said, "It doesn't matter." The only thing they wanted was something they could put in their brochure and describe as a turntable for a cost of $20. That's one extreme. The other is people like ourselves who say you've got to spend most of your money selecting the turntable. Obviously, if you think about it, the customer is likely to get a lot more out of his records from a company that actually thinks it's worth having a go at something rather than to just make a "thing," a feature to put in a midi system.

Riendau: We need to show people out there that we can communicate . . . we need to go out and fight for what we believe, show people what we have, and allow the customer to make a decent and enlightened decision about what product he will buy. Then, when he walks out of the store, he won't have to carry his turntable to keep the salesman from seeing the name and calling out "AH-HA, the latest review was bad!" The consumer can't sleep for three days.

Tiefenbrun: I remember the first introduction I had to the Oracle—these guys come in to me and say, "There you are, 634 times better than a Linn." I'm a very reasonable guy—my reaction was, "What a load of shite; how did they know it wasn't 635 times?"