Michael Trei

Michael Trei  |  Sep 21, 2023  |  7 comments
I have found that turntable designers typically fall into one of two camps. First are what I call the obsessive machinists. These are the people with impressive manufacturing chops and a sharp eye for fine detail and precision. For them, making a better turntable usually involves taking what we already know and simply doing it better.

Whether it's a thicker chassis, more powerful motor, more precise bearing, more effective isolation system, or something else, the emphasis is always on stepping things up a notch or two, rather than reinventing the wheel. This obsession can result in some impressive 'tables—some of the most impressive in the world, with awesome attention to detail. But are they the best sounding?

The other camp is what I call the deep thinkers. They approach the task of playing a record from a theoretical perspective and leverage their knowledge of physics to come up with fresh and innovative designs. The results may look unconventional, or even odd at first glance, but when such lateral thinking clicks, it can really push the boundaries of what's possible.

Michael Trei  |  Aug 29, 2023  |  5 comments
The next time you're preparing to play a record, try doing a little experiment. Once you have the record mounted and spinning but before you lower the stylus into the groove, lower your gaze to just below record level and look for a gap between the platter and the record. It helps if there's a light source or a brightly colored wall behind the platter. You may discover a gap—that very little of the record's playing area is making true contact with the platter mat or (if there is no mat) the platter. Another way to test this is to take a record you don't care much about, put it on the platter, then tap with your finger in the groove area listening for a click as your finger pushes the record down and it contacts the platter surface.

Warps obviously lead to such problems, but even records that appear flat make scant contact with the supporting surface. Turntable and aftermarket accessory designers have recognized this problem for decades.

Michael Trei  |  Jul 27, 2023  |  3 comments
10. Acoustic Signature's listening room with its massive PBN loudspeaker system.

May has long been one of my favorite months of the year, mostly because it means it's time for the Munich show, the annual gathering of the high-end audio tribe in the Bavarian capital. High End Munich 2023 marked my return to the biggest audio show in the Western world following three years of lockdowns and travel restrictions, so I was eager to get back to the land of Wiener schnitzel and bratwurst.

This year, as an added bonus, I was invited to visit the production facilities of turntable and tonearm manufacturer Acoustic Signature, which is based about 110 miles west of Munich, near Stuttgart.

Michael Trei  |  Jul 27, 2023  |  2 comments
At High End Munich, Michael Trei chats with Thorens CEO Gunter Kürten (right) about the Thorens Reference turntable's active suspension. (Photo: Jeff Joseph.)

It's hard to convey the scope of the annual High End Munich audio show to someone who has never attended. Spread out over three floors of a large facility called the Munich Order Center (MOC), the show is notable for how different it is from audio shows in the US. The ground floor is an area about the size of three American football fields, where brands set up professional trade show booths to display their wares. This is a long way from the draped folding tables and back curtain on a rail that defines a "show booth" at most US shows. What you'll find on this level is mostly static displays, although scattered among the displays you'll find prefabricated sound rooms, acoustically designed spaces designed to allow live demonstrations on the ground floor.

My main focus at the show was to try to root out interesting new record-playing gear. I was not disappointed. Here are a few select highlights from what I saw at the show.

Michael Trei  |  Jul 20, 2023  |  7 comments
Creating a new flagship model is never an easy task for an audio company. A good designer will have already incorporated all his or her best ideas into the prior flagship. For a follow-up, you typically get a scaled-up version of what came before, incorporating the kind of improvements a bigger budget will allow.

SME's history is well-documented. The company started out, in 1946, as an engineering company for hire. In 1959, after a few years supplying parts for the scale modeling and various other high-tech industries, company founder Alastair Robertson-Aikman wanted a better tonearm for his personal use. He leveraged the capabilities of his small engineering company to create what eventually became the legendary 3009 and 3012 tonearms. The reputation of the new arms spread quickly, and from the mid-1960s through the 1970s, SME dominated the high-end tonearm market. SME's corporate slogan was The Best Pick-Up Arm in the World, and few people at the time would have challenged that claim.

Michael Trei  |  Jul 05, 2023  |  2 comments
In 1928, Swiss engineer and inventor Jean-Léon Reutter created a clock that could run for years without human interaction or any type of external power source. The Atmos Clock required no AC power, batteries, solar panels, or hand-winding. It was able to wind itself by leveraging subtle changes in atmospheric pressure and temperature.

The design was so energy efficient that a single degree of temperature change provided enough power for two days of operation; it would take an incredible 60 million Atmos clocks to equal the power demands of a single 15W light bulb. 95 years later, the Atmos Clock is still being manufactured in Switzerland by Jaeger-LeCoultre, but like most high-precision, Swiss-made instruments, it isn't cheap. Prices start around $7500.

Michael Trei  |  May 15, 2023  |  4 comments
Over the last 40 years, I have set up or serviced literally thousands of turntables, and during that time I have seen a lot of increasingly sophisticated tools become available to help in getting your turntable optimized. I've had my eye on the Shaknspin speed analyzer since it was launched a couple of years ago, and now there's a new Shaknspin2, which promises more accurate results.
Michael Trei  |  May 05, 2023  |  20 comments
They say a jack of all trades is the master of none. While this expression is typically used to describe people, it also works for machines that play 5" optical discs.

The Compact Disc was launched in 1982, but the four decades since have seen an alphabet soup of similar-looking shiny discs including major formats like DVD, SACD, DVD-A, and Blu-ray Audio. As each new format arrived, hardware manufacturers scrambled to keep up, developing machines that could play just about any disc you could throw at them (or, rather, insert in them). The result was a bunch of "jack of all trades" disc spinners...

But what if we gave up the notion of universal compatibility and concentrated on building a player dedicated to squeezing the best possible results from the very first, and by far the most common, shiny 5" disc, the good old-fashioned "Red Book" Compact Disc? Would we get better performance?

Michael Trei  |  Apr 16, 2023  |  0 comments
Washington DC area distributor Notable Audio showcased products from Joseph Audio, Doshi Audio, J Sikora, Berkeley Audio Design, and Cardas Audio at AXPONA. Notable's Jeff Fox had put together an impressive system, with a mix of brands we have seen used together at many prior shows to great effect, only this time he used the best of everything to create a system that really sung.
Michael Trei  |  Apr 15, 2023  |  0 comments
It’s always fun to see a new company making their first presentation to the public, and AXPONA 2023 marks the debut of Toronto, Canada-based Audio Craftsmen. Headed up by Thom Pahmer (above), the company showed four models, ranging in price from the Laval stand mount at $2699/pair, up to the floor standing flagship Halifax at $10,999/pair.