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Windzilla's picture
Last seen: 3 years 2 weeks ago
Joined: Oct 19 2005 - 10:10pm
What good is analog?

If you don't have the music to spin?

I have a request, and given its broad nature, I will make this post more about the recordings, and a sister post, in "software" more about the music, though I welcome thoughts on both.

So I have a "nice" system which, although thoroughly beyond my financial means, is a source of constant joy, and thus remains. My system contains a decent turntable, or so I understand. I also live near two phenomenal thrift shops and between them I seem to get a fresh supply of records every week or so. These records range in price form 25 to 75 cents, and are composed largely of classical music. Jazz and rock, which present them with equal frequency, are by no means scarce, but the pickins seem slim.

If you are with me so far, this is where you come in.

I am a relative novice to both classical and vinyl. I need your help in identifying what constitutes a good record. What labels are notorious for great sound? What, besides a lack of scratches and dust should I look for? I don't have a cleaning machine, just some brush I bought. Of course I want great moving performances, but would be happy with just some rules of thumb on getting the most bang for my buck, er quarter.

So any advice?

Jeff Wong
Jeff Wong's picture
Last seen: 6 years 8 months ago
Joined: Sep 6 2005 - 3:28am
Re: What good is analog?

While it's ideal to find a record with a flawless surface, not all of the marks will be audible. When you wish to check if light surface scuffs or scratches will likely affect playback, hold the LP at an angle to the light with your eye near the edge. If you can see light catching all the grooves uninterrupted, quite often this will mean the surface marks are negligible. If you see a deep gouge or a scratch that breaks up the flow of the thin grooves, the scratch will probably be audible. Check the spindle hole... the less marks near it, usually the better.

RCA Living Stereo, with black labels and a colour Nipper on the label are usually a safe bet for well recorded music, Mercury Living Presence another. I'm sure there are plenty of great sounding DG discs, and even budget Angel stuff or London LPs that are worth checking out. But, I'll leave it to the more experienced classical buffs to give you more valuable info.

A Hunt carbon fibre record brush is a good start. Last makes some wet application brushes and fluid. The Orbitrac is a good budget device short of getting a cleaning machine.

ohfourohnine's picture
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Sep 1 2005 - 7:41pm
Re: What good is analog?

Relative to being a novice regarding vinyl recordings, either come up with a couple of hundred bucks for a record cleaning machine, or stop buying your records at the thrift store. Even virgin new vinyl benefits from a cleaning machine, but thrft store stuff absolutely requires it.

Relative to being a novice regarding classical music, go through what you have bought so far without paying much attention to the "sound", find something you like musically - a form (orchestral, chamber, solo piano), a composer, a conducter, a soloist. After you narrow your field, the sources Jim T. has provided just about cover the question.

The bulk of classical recordings focus on the standard repertoire, and those of us who love it then find our pleasure in treatment of well known works by different orchestras, soloists, etc. Following that route, one winds up with various renditions of the same piece of music interpreted by various performers. Gotta start, however, with what you like to hear and worry about sonic quality later.

Happy hunting,

Jan Vigne
Jan Vigne's picture
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Mar 18 2006 - 12:57pm
Re: What good is analog?

While disagreeing about the relative quality of DG recordings (how many microphones does it take to record a solo violin?), the music DG presented on LP was some of the best of the last six centuries as performed by some of the best artists of the day. I would also avoid any Angel LP's unless you are calling bats to your chimney. Better to go with Meloydia. The Russian austerity limited the number of microphones, takes and processing. The Musical Heritage Society always recorded interesting works though they stayed away, as a rule, from blood stirring choices.

The problem with your question is you are asking us to tell you what you will like. Blonde or brunette, coupe or sedan, transistors or tubes. Can't be done with the limited information you've provided. "I have a good turntable; what should I play on it?"

Will you like Mahler or find his music painfully bombastic? Is the simple complexity of Bach to your liking? Which Mozart symphony should you listen to first? Do you have a taste for choral or operatic works? You have to listen to these pieces and decide for yourself. A good book on listening to music is always helpful as you start to explore classical music. I suggest Copland's "What to listen for in Music".

Your situation is exactly what public and university libraries are for. Depending on the size of your city, many libraries still have large volumes of vinyl to loan. Even if they have dispensed with LP's in order to purchase "perfect sound forever", they have the music you want to experiment with. Head down to the library with a fresh card and start your search. It will cost you nothing more than the gas to get to the library and the overdue fees when the discs get stuck under the sofa until the notice comes telling you to bring them back, they are not yours forever.

What will you like in classical music? Begin by exploring the remaster and audiophile recordings for ideas. If you see a piece of music repeated several times in these collections, you can bet they have some mass appeal. Look at the schedule for the upcoming symphony season. Particularly the music-in-the parks repertoire is meant to get you out of the hum-drum of bland mid-winter classical fare. Items such as "The Planets" are perrenial favorties with audiophiles. Most of the Russian composers offer stirring music (give Shostakovich a try), while the Brits of the 20th c/ ("The Planets" excepted) are pastoral and might not be the place to start. Get into the archives of Stereophile's music reviews and learn who and what to look for. I think this qualifies as a "give a man a fish" situation. You need to read about the music and then go listen for yourself rather than depending on us to tell you what to like. Learn whether you consider Fritz Reiner a great conductor or a purveyor of schmaltz and whether you prefer the Chicago or Boston performances of a given work.

Being force fed classical music is like being force fed broccoli. No amount of putting it in front of you can make you like it. You must have the taste for it in the first place. Then you can find out who makes it best.

I agree that all LP's should be cleaned and most especially flea market finds. Get on the Disc Doctor's web page for an effective manual cleaning method until you can spend some money for the vacuum machines. Once you begin to get a taste for what you like in music, don't pass up a mono recording. Some of the best music making is on mono discs. You will be surprised at the sound in many cases and will find major artists abound on mono LP's. While there are "audiophile approved" LP's from the 1950's that would be treasures to find for seventy five cents, don't count on this happening. Even the Salvation Army folks know what to keep for themself. Living Presence and Living Stereo recordings can often be found in the second hand shops. Just don't expect to find your copy of the "1812 Overture" on Living Presence in the used bins.

Once you've heard a piece of music you like on LP, go to the symphony to hear it live when the opportuniy arises. Or, vice versa. Hearing classical music live is the best way to begin listening to classical music on LP. Stop listening for the soundstage width and the palpable presence of the space between instruments and start listening to the music. Live performances should allow you to experience afresh the emotions of the night when you hear the same music in your own room. How will you know how deep the soundstage should be if you've never heard the music live? Sonic thrills are fun but recreating emotions is what audio is about.

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