Michael Trei

Michael Trei  |  Jun 18, 2024  |  3 comments
It has been more than a decade since 2012, when Lyra launched the original Atlas moving coil cartridge as the company's flagship, but in the intervening years, there have been a few updates. First, in 2016, Lyra introduced what they call the SL versions of the Atlas and also the Etna. These cartridges were designed to take advantage of a new crop of transimpedance phono preamps like the CH Precision P1 and the Sutherland Phono Loco, which boast exceptionally low noise levels but work best with cartridges that have very low impedance. Cutting the number of turns on each of the cartridge's two coils in half reduces the moving mass and inertia, allowing the stylus/cantilever assembly to respond more accurately to the tiny groove modulations. This results in improved tracking at the cost of a lower output level, which, thankfully, transimpedance phono preamps are well-equipped to handle.

Then in 2020, both Atlas and Etna versions were updated to new λ Lambda versions, with a redesigned suspension and damper system that Lyra says delivers enhancements in clarity and resolution.

Michael Trei  |  Jun 13, 2024  |  1 comments
These days, there's a hi-fi show taking place somewhere on the planet pretty much every weekend, but for me, spring is show season. First, in April, comes AXPONA, which is held near Chicago. AXPONA is the largest North American high-end audio show, making it pretty much impossible for one person to see everything during the three-day event. Even with my focus on record-playing gear, I found myself skipping some rooms, telling myself that I could catch them a month later at High End Munich. Munich is even bigger than AXPONA, so we'll have to see how that plays out.

With that in mind, here are a few things that caught my eye at AXPONA 2024.

Michael Trei  |  Jun 05, 2024  |  10 comments
I sometimes joke about how audio designers create products that resemble themselves, not just in how they look, but also in the design approach used, and especially the way they sound. So, we have tall, cool, pragmatic Scandinavians making gear like the lean, elegant Børresen loudspeakers, while the Italians build luscious curvy equipment endowed with natural wood and leather, like Sonus Faber speakers and Unison Research amplifiers. Continuing this blatant stereotyping, we have Acoustic Signature founder Gunther Frohnhöfer, a stout German known for creating precision-built turntables that are as solid-looking as he is.

When I visited the Acoustic Signature factory in 2023, I watched as they hewed massive slabs of aluminum into beautiful, heavyweight turntables. This approach is the opposite of the lightweight-but-rigid philosophy embraced by Rega, and while the resulting performance has different strengths, I would argue that it is at least equally valid. As with Rega, Acoustic Signature products have a purposeful simplicity, in a way that would allow a nonaudiophile to instantly recognize what their function is.

Michael Trei  |  Apr 30, 2024  |  3 comments
"I think both moving coil and moving magnet cartridges are terrible." That's what legendary Canadian audio designer Ed Meitner told me when I asked about the pioneering transimpedance current drive phono stage he created for his Meitner PA6 preamp some 40 years ago.

Meitner has been designing innovative hi-fi gear for the pro and consumer audio markets for more than 50 years, but for most of the last 30, he has been best known for his work with high-resolution digital audio and DSD recording. Despite this focus on digital—and despite that comment about the two leading phono cartridge technologies—deep in his heart, Ed still loves analog and has fond memories of the Kenwood optical cartridges from the 1970s, which I discussed in last month's Spin Doctor column. So when Ed read that a company in Japan called DS Audio was bringing back an improved version of the optical cartridge using modern materials, he contacted designer Tetsuaki Aoyagi to learn more.

Michael Trei  |  Mar 19, 2024  |  1 comments
Over the last 50 years, I must have installed well over 1000 phono cartridges, but I still remember the very first one: a Goldring G850 I put into the family Garrard Autoslim turntable when I was 11 years old. In 1973, the G850 was the least expensive moving magnet cartridge Goldring made. The change from the flipover-stylus ceramic cartridge that came with the Garrard wasn't an attempt to satisfy a youthful audiophile itch but, rather, a result of my first encounter with a system compatibility problem.

A few months earlier, I had convinced my nonaudiophile dad to upgrade the family stereo. We went from our ancient Monacor SMX-50 tube receiver to a pretty weird but less ancient Sony all-in-one cassette system called the TC-133CS. I failed to understand that the new Sony's magnetic phono input was incompatible with our old ceramic cartridge. Once I figured that out, I tried to convince my dad that what we really needed was a Shure M75ED. After all, that cartridge came from the same company that made the legendary V-15 Type III, widely regarded as the best cartridge in the world at the time. My dad, however, had different plans. Guided by his home-product purchasing bible, Consumer Reports, he decided we should go instead with the less-costly Goldring.

Michael Trei  |  Feb 28, 2024  |  0 comments
Twice in the last month I have been at someone's house, servicing their turntable, when they asked whether they should be considering a new phono preamp that offers additional playback equalization curves besides the standard RIAA. My usual reaction is to thumb through their record collection, where, more often than not, I find that they don't own a single record that was cut using a curve other than RIAA.

Phono playback EQ is one of those audiophile topics that stokes some people's passions, with plenty of disagreements about how important it is. I have seen grown men get into heated discussions about the history of record EQ curves, but in truth, the subject is only likely to matter if you listen to a lot of 78s or original mono LPs pressed between the late 1940s and the mid-1950s.

Michael Trei  |  Jan 24, 2024  |  2 comments
In 1985, I visited what was then known as Soviet Estonia with my family. My paternal grandparents, Mimi and Pop, had emigrated to the US from this small Baltic country in 1929. Fifty-six years later, after more than a decade of rejection, the family was granted permission by the Soviet authorities to visit our ancestral homeland, and the whole family, including Mimi, made the trek. (Pop died in 1962.)

Once we were there, we were more or less free to move around in the capital city Tallinn, but leaving the city was strictly forbidden, except as part of a planned group excursion with our KGB minders—er, "Intourist guides."

Michael Trei  |  Jan 04, 2024  |  4 comments
Photo by Himanshu Ratnaka

In prior screeds, I have discussed the category of turntable designers I like to call deep thinkers, who twist their brains to come up with fresh thinking about how to approach the task of playing a vinyl record. If there is a poster boy for deep thinkers, it's got to be Simon Brown.

Brown is based on the South Island of New Zealand. I'm thinking that being in such a far-flung part of the world must have given his head plenty of space to get creative. First, in 2011 he created The Wand tonearm, a striking unipivot design that features a fat carbon-fiber armtube nearly 1" in diameter (below). Art Dudley wrote about The Wand in 2019, and I highly recommend that you read his thoughts, especially about his struggles to set up The Wand.

Michael Trei  |  Dec 06, 2023  |  1 comments
About four years ago, the stand-alone tonearm market went through a bit of a crisis. First, in December 2019, SME announced that it would stop selling tonearms separately, effective immediately. From that point on, SME tonearms would be available only in combination with SME turntables. . .

Five months later, in May 2020, we received the second blow in this double whammy of bad tonearm news. That's when the Ichikawa Jewel Company of Japan, maker of Jelco tonearms, announced without warning that they were shutting down operations, closing their doors for good. They blamed a combination of an aging workforce, worn-out tooling that needed to be replaced, and the coronavirus pandemic. . .

We lost two key players all at once, but it's not as if we suddenly had nowhere to turn for tonearms. Turntable manufacturers like Acoustic Signature, Clearaudio, Origin Live, Pro-Ject, Rega, and VPI all sell their tonearms separately . . . A number of smaller tonearm specialists have popped up in recent decades: Acoustical Systems, Graham, GrooveMaster, Kuzma, Reed, Schick, Schröder, and at the ultrahigh end, Swedish Analog Technologies. Now we can add Korf Audio to the list.

Michael Trei  |  Oct 27, 2023  |  6 comments
When I think about landmark years in the history of British hi-fi, 1973 sticks out. Three companies got their start in the first half of that year that went on to become cornerstones of the British audio scene: Linn Products, Naim Audio, and Rega Research. That means they're all celebrating their 50th anniversaries in 2023.