Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Completely stock AR "The Turntable"

Now this is the AR turntable, known simply as "The Turntable" that I had back in 1983. This one is completely stock, even with the original so-so tonearm from AR. It's hard to find one like this that's still in this good of a condition, so it's a real find.

Again, this is from David Archambault's Vinyl Nirvana site (http://www.vinylnirvana.com/), and it can be yours for just $675 shipped. I know, I know...I paid only $300 for mine when I purchased it new. But I've seen AR 'tables like this one fetch close to $1000 on e-Bay, which is obscenely high. This one, fully checked out and restored, is a bargain at the price. You can buy a Rega P2 with an Ortofon 2M Red for about as much money, and you'll have a slightly better-sounding 'table in my opinion, but it won't have the coolness factor. When I had my AR turntable, people constantly walked up to it and admired it. All that wood, quite frankly, is tactile and gorgeous. My old black Rega Planar 3 was a little drab by comparison.

Again, I'd highly recommend this 'table to anyone in the market. Just don't put a Grado cartridge on it or it will hum like a mofo (something I found out when I tried to put an 8M Signature on mine back in 1983). Get an Ortofon like the X5-MC or the 2M Blue and you'll be happy for a long, long time.

Totally wired...with Cardas!!!

The cabling I ordered has just arrived...all from Cardas Audio. Like I said before, this is the first step in re-building my main system to its former glory. I usually don't recommend cabling as the first upgrade in a system--it's usually the last thing you buy after all your components are chosen and you're trying to dial everything in. It's just that my cable situation was a mess...a lot of leftovers, a lot of really old stuff and a lot of stuff that just wasn't up to par. Wiring my system with Cardas from end to end is a step in the right direction.
First of all, I received two sets of the brand new Cardas Clear Light interconnects...one to go from my phono pre-amp to my amp, and another to go from my CD player to the amp. Then I received a pair of the Cardas Twinlink speaker cables. Once I had everything hooked up, I immediately say down for a listen. Now I know a lot of people think break-in is a myth, but cables do need to be broken in like any other audio component. But I immediately heard a top-to-bottom difference with the Cardas cable in the system in the first few minutes.

My first record was RCA Living Stereo reissue of the 1959 album Clair De Lune with Raymong Agoult and the London Proms Orchestra, one of my favorite recordings of the Golden Era of Recording. Everything sounded much more immediate and detailed, as if everyone in the orchestra dragged their chairs and their music stands a few feet closer. I also felt more weight in the lower octaves; I felt a visceral buzz through my body every time the double basses made an emphatic appearance. This is the first time I felt my system go this deep in a long time.

For now, I'm letting the cables break in for a couple more days before I settle in and really start to listen. But I'm looking forward to the improvements these Cardas cables will bring to my system. (Is this the dreaded "expectation effect" that clouds accurate ABX testing? Oh no, I'm doomed!)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Want to see the coolest AR turntable ever?

It's the "Over the Edge" AR from Eric Whitacre of Sound of the Wood (soundofthewood.com). Just thought you'd like to see it.

Modded AR Turntable from Vinyl Nirvana!

Look at this beauty! It's an AR ES-1 turntable with a custom cherry base, a Rega arm and a Merrill platter. It's difficult to even know it's an AR!

It's currently for sale at Vinyl Nirvana (http://www.vinylnirvana.com/), my favorite site for restored vintage turntables. Here's the description:

"I am truly excited to offer this table. Someone is going to be VERY happy.

"The AR the Turntable is one of those tables that makes my heart beat faster. It has looks that demand attention. When I recently acquired one with badly damaged veneer, I commissioned a finish carpenter friend to build a new cherry veneer plinth. What you see before you in these pictures is the finished product: one of the most gorgeous AR tables I have offered.

"As a mix of old and new, this table is cosmetically a 9.0 on a scale of 1-10. The cherry veneer plinth is in as new condition.I listed the table as 9.0 overall because the "guts" of the table are used.

"In terms of mods, this table has it all: used Merrill lead mat and acrylic platter, used Merrill outer record clamp, new MS record weight, new co-polymer armboard, and a new co-polymer 33/45 pulley. In addition, the springs, grommets, and studs were also replaced. Do the math based upon the pricing on my AR MODS page, and you can see this unit is an unbelievable value!"

The price on this gorgeous TT is just $1475 shipped! Wow! If I was in the market...

I had an AR ES-1 'table from 1983, when I was still in college, to 1993, when I switched to a Rega Planar 3. Along with the Naim NAIT 2, it was one of those componnts I label "The One That Got Away." By the time I traded it in, I had removed the bottom board (a worthwhile and free tweak), I had replaced the stock arm (crappy) with a Premier MMT, and I mounted the still-available Ortofon X5-MC cartridge. That was a fine rig, and when I switched to the Rega it almost felt like a lateral move. Perhaps I was just tired of looking at it after a decade. But I wish I still had it.

Funk Firm Vector...in black.

So far all of the pictures of Funk Firm 'tables have been the white ones, which I think is a brand new color for this year. Here's one in the more traditional shade of black, showing that it's a gorgeous 'table in any color. (This pic is once again courtesy of Dan Muzquiz.)

When I first heard this 'table, it was in this color. I heard it at CES in 2008, where it part of a system that also included the Stirling Broadcast LS3/5as. I can't recall the amplification. But this was a fairly large room, and this funky TT with the tiny speakers produced a big, full sound that was totally satisfying. I had the Stirlings in my listening room a couple of years ago, and they are by far the best-sounding LS3/5as I've heard. Sure, they are smaller than shoeboxes and cost a couple of grand (even more when you add the Cicable external crossovers), but I could make a strong case for owning a pair.

I don't have to make a strong case for the Funk Firm Vector, however...it speaks for itself. This may be the table that finally lures me away from Rega for good. The real question is, white or black? What do you think?

Friday, September 24, 2010


Audiopaul.nl, an audiophile blog in The Netherlands, has posted a link to my blog, and I'm starting to get quite a bit of traffic from that part of the world! So welcome!

By the way, I'm amused that this blog is described "Blog van Marc Phillips" (my new porn name?), and that the link says "Nieuw!" (I think I know what that word means!)

So I'd like to return the favor and tell everyone to check out their site at http://www.audiopaul.nl/index.html. Lots of great pics, too!

Cardas Myrtle Silver Heart

As promised, I'm posting a pic of the Cardas Myrtle Silver Heart cartridge to show that Cardas Audio does more than make great cables. Here's a description from their website:

"The Cardas Myrtle Silver Heart body is made from America's most beautiful hardwood, the legendary Myrtle tree. Rarest of all woods, this symmetrical, broadleaf, evergreen Myrtle grows only in Southwestern Oregon (Coos and Curry counties) and the Biblical Holy Lands. Myrtlewood has a very complex grain structure. The coloring of the wood is unique, varying from a sedate, satiny gray to riotously, multicolored grains of red, yellow, and brown, with many burls and shapes in its grain. Denser than Oak, unseasoned Myrtle logs will not float."

I heard an earlier Cardas cartridge, the Heart, some years ago and it definitely qualified as one of the world's finest. I'm a huge fan of wooden-bodied cartridges, having owned a Koetsu Rosewood for seven years. Wooden-bodied cartridges tend to sound warmer and more romantic than cartridges made out of plastic or metal.

In fact, Cardas cartridges were (or still are) the preferred cartridges for the amazing SPJ turntables that I wrote about several years ago for Perfect Sound Forever. (You can read it here: http://www.furious.com/perfect/vinyl26.html.) After I wrote that article and praised SPJ designer Judy Spotheim-Koreneef, we wound up exchanging quite a few emails. She wound up linking my article to her website, where it still remains after almost 10 years. I can remember the fond words she had for George Cardas and his cartridges.

George Cardas owns one of the SPJ 'tables, and there's a great video on YouTube of him playing his system at home: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tCFhBmy6XFQ. As you can imagine, he has a pretty amazing system that includes Rowland Research and Wavestream amplification and vintage Magnepan Tympani speakers.

As you have probably already guessed, I'm quickly becoming a Cardas convert!

Trenner & Friedl ART monitors -- one more pic!

Dan Muzquiz of Blackbird Audio sent me one more pic of the stunning Trenner & Friedl ART monitors. Dan writes: "Just thought I'd post this for you since you've been so intrigued with these speakers. This set has a cream colored Corian face with Zebrawood cabinets. The integrated amp between them with the glowing tubes is the Viva Solista LT." 
Thanks, Dan!

Viva tube amplifiers are from Italy, and they have a gorgeous, curved chassis and are handcrafted in the city of Vicenza. Even the transformers are custom made in Italy for Viva. I can't wait to hear this combination the next time I had to Southern California. Meanwhile, Dan has informed me that there is another Trenner & Friedl dealer, Terry Combs of Sound Mind Audio, nearby in Dallas. I plan on contacting Terry sometime soon to hear some of the other Trenner & Friedl speakers such as their stunningly simple RA Box (which cost $25K a pair but offer an almost unheard of level of craftsmanship and build quality).

Again, it's pretty exciting when an old jaded audiophile like me discovers a new brand and gets excited about the audio hobby all over again!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Cardas Audio Newsletter -- Fall 2010

The Cardas Audio Fall Newsletter is out, and it happens to discuss many of the things I've been blogging about this week such as Dan Muzquiz of Blackbird Audio and Trenner & Friedl Loudspeakers. In fact, I really had to include the photo above because it shows just how tiny the Trenner & Friedl ART monitors really are while still showing off their stunning looks.

For those unfamiliar with Cardas Audio, they make probably the best cables in the world. Or, like my old audiophile friend Jim Sanders just told me, "I recall back when Corey Greenberg wrote for Stereophile he began an article talking about a recent audio show he'd attended and it ultimately dawned on him that the system setups that he thought had the best sound all happened to use Cardas cable." In fact, I'm planning to purchase some Cardas interconnects and speaker cable in the very near future as the first step in rebuilding my home system to its former glory.

(And in step with the Vinyl Anachronist theme, Cardas also makes a couple of wonderful wood-bodied cartridges as well! I'll try to see if I can find some pretty pics.)

The Cardas newsletter also starts with a rather illuminating statement: "Alternating current can shake a wire like a guitar string." I was a telecommunications technician for eight years, and I know that the wire = wire argument is seriously flawed, if only for the reason that there's more to cable (terminations, jacket, cable geometry, environment) than copper or silver. I installed and tested literally thousands of miles of cable during that time, and I know how easy it is to degrade a signal if everything isn't perfect. Or as a guy I know with a Ph.D in electrical engineering once told me, "Cardas knows what they're doing...the others guys I'm not so sure."

Anyway, give their newsletter at peek at http://www.cardas.com/newsletter/fall_2010/.

And one more thing...I want to include a picture I found on the Trenner & Friedl website. This appears to be an older version of the ART monitor with a radically different tweeter. I've included it, however, because this photograph shows the impeccable craftsmanship of these Austrian speaker manufacturers. Enjoy!

Naim Night at Whetstone Audio

Brian Di Frank, owner of Whetstone Audio here in Austin, is hosting a Naim Night on October 21st. Naim is celebrating the release of their full line of Uniti components, including the brand spankin' new UnitiQute and UnitiServe. These components contain a lot of features in tiny little boxes (kind of like my old favorite, the Naim NAIT 2 integrated amp), and Brian reports that these pieces are literally plug-n-play.

Both Doug Graham from Naim UK and Dave Dever from Naim USA will be on hand to demo these amazing products and answer questions, and they'll also bring one of their Bentleys equipped with the all-Naim sound system. My friend and former boss, Jeff Dorgay from TONEAudio, will also be there. I'm going to stop by as well, but not in any official capacity...just helping Brian spread the word about one of my favorite audio brands. The event will take place between 6 and 9pm at Whetstone Audio, which is located at 2401 E. 6th Street in Austin. Brian says he'll have beer and pizza there as well!

For more info, check out the Whetstone Audio website at http://www.whetstoneaudio.com/.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Funk Firm Vector Turntable...one more pic!

I'm stealing one more pic of the wonderful Funk Firm turntable from Dan Muzquiz's Blackbird Audio website. This is such a gorgeous turntable, and I just wanted to give everyone another view of it.

By the way, every time I type the word "Funk Firm," I misspell it in the worst way possible. I guess my mind's just in the gutter!

Boy Eats Drum Machine -- 20 Beats

In 1978, I bought an album called Music for Films. It was by some guy named Brian Eno. I didn't know much about Mr. Eno or his new album, but the idea of a collection of "New Wave" soundtrack pieces for imaginary films intrigued me enough and I wound up taking it home. As I listened to these haunting, moody pieces, a whole new world of music opened up to me...an almost visual genre that produced distinct images in my mind. As someone else once said about the album, I sure would have liked to have seen those imaginary films and those imaginary scenes. A few of the songs did make it into the movies...everything from John Woo's A Better Tomorrow to Derek Jarman's Jubilee to Rock 'n' Roll High School. But the secret to enjoying Music for Films is wondering what kind of films were running through Eno's mind when he composed each piece.

32 years later, I have that same feeling listening to 20 Beats, the new release by Boy Eats Drum Machine (aka Portlander Jon Ragel). While the newer album is much more dynamic and cheery and danceable (Eno's masterpiece would surely be filed under hyperdub or some other grime-induced sub-genre if released today), these 20 instrumental pieces still evoke very specific images that seem to be culled from contemporary films. From the staccato bird chirps that end Shells to the twangy '60s guitar samples from 4 Parts 6  to the exotic Middle Eastern vibe of the closer, En Farruda, Jon reveals mood after mood, scene after scene, film after film in a fluid, punchy and thrilling attack.

20 Beats comes on the heels of Jon's earlier release this year, Hoop + Wire. That release is probably Jon's most accessible to date, with his smooth and passionate voice taking center stage among his wild, frenetic samples (mixed, of course, with Jon's live drumming and saxophone playing). Beats, however, seems to be a bit freer and open, prompting images of Jon escaping from the confines of his studio, going for a long inspired run through the Portland rain and coming back to record with his wet hair dripping all over the mixing board. And, as the title implies, Jon is much more dependent upon the strengths of his drum beats (supplied by the ever exciting Bridgetown Beats) to produce a work with more momentum, drive and style. I do miss Jon's voice, but I still love the direction in which he's heading with his music.

And as readers of this blog already know, Jon gives you 20 different album covers to match each of the 20 beats, and the scared-bunny-vs.-angry-carrot motif is the best artwork I've seen on a album cover this year. And because it's available right now as a digital release (other formats will come later), it's only $7.49...roughly half of what you would spend on a CD. You can download it here: http://boyeatsdrummachine.bandcamp.com/. You can also get it on Amazon for $7.99...if you're in the mood to hand them 50 cents for no particular reason.

I credit Jon for opening my eyes to what turntablists/Djs are capable of doing in the 21st century, and he has introduced me to an entire world of music I previously and wrongfully shunned. So even if you're not "into what the kids are listening to," grab your old LP copy of Music for Films, download 20 Beats and be prepared for one great double feature.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Blackbird Audio in San Diego

I've recently made Facebook friends with Dan Muzquiz, the proprietor of Blackbird Audio/Gallery in San Diego. A mutual friend in the audio world told me that Dan is one of the truly great dealers and gentlemen in the audio world (his reaction to this compliment was it may have been a "gotcha," but I know better), and after checking out the website to his store, I know I have to schedule a visit on my next trip to Southern California. Dan carries some of the more unique and compelling hi-fi brands such as Cardas cables (the best in the world, in my humble opinion), Rega (of course), Wilson Benesch (who made my favorite TT in the world, the original Act ONE) and many others.

He carries two very intriguing brands in particular. The first brand is The Funk Firm, which makes some of the weirdest, coolest-looking turntables in the world. The Funk Firm was started by Arthur Khoubesserian, who was responsible for the stellar Pink Triangle turntables from England. As you can see in the picture below, the Funk Firm 'tables are beyond cool. And they're not terribly expensive, either (about $2500, depending on options). Plus, I've heard them on a number of occasions, and there's some substance behind all that style. These 'tables really need to be seen--and heard--to be believed.

In addition, The Funk Firm is getting ready to release a tonearm in the US that has been making waves in Europe. It's a drop-in replacement for Rega arms, and it's been challenging some of the super-expensive arms from the likes of SME, etc.

Finally, Dan carries the unique Trenner & Friedl loudspeakers from Austria. I've been interested in this brand for a long time because of the stunning look of their speakers. I'm especially taken with their tiny ART monitors. These speakers are very small and precious (not precious as in cute, but precious as in dear...and not dear as in darling, but dear as in "don't even breath on my expensive speakers").

I've heard incredible things about the ARTs, that they truly do sound huge for their size. You'll notice that the speakers are exceptionally deep and ported on the rear. This allows these tiny speakers to dip down to about 44 Hz, which is around the same bass performance as many medium-sized floorstanders. Their dimensions are influenced by the Golden Ratio, which explains why they are internally wired by Cardas, another company that believes in using the Golden Ratio in their engineering.

If you'd like to know more about Blackbird Audio/Gallery, check out their website at http://www.blackbirdaudio.com/.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Global Audiophile Network

I've giving a shout out to my friend Sid Trehan and his new venture, the Global Audiophile Network. This is a discussion forum where audiophiles from around the world can discuss all types of audiophilia, and it's a great way to find out what is happening in other countries and cultures. (For anyone who has seen the short film about the Athens Audiophile Club, you'll know that there are a lot of audio "hot spots" on different continents.)

Sid, in fact, is located in India, and there's something about his approach to audio that is fun and filled with wide-eyed wonder. If you're getting tired of those grumpy, cranky audiophiles on other discussion forums, check out the Global Audiophile Network at http://www.theaudiophile.net/.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Milt's BBQ!

There's more to the Vinyl Anachronist than a tasty burger...there's always BBQ! I live in central TX, which is where the world's finest BBQ is created. Sorry, St. Louis, Kansas City, Carolina. Your BBQ is tasty, but the pit-cooked meat here in Texas is so good, it doesn't even need sauce! If you've never been to Lockhart, Texas, you've never tasted REAL BBQ.

I've been a big fan of Black's BBQ in Lockhart since I arrived in Texas. It's the oldest family-owned restaurant in Texas. But it's also 16 miles away. And that's not freeway miles, that's two-lane highway miles. It's a pretty drive, but not one I want to do every time I need some brisket or some smoked sausage.

Luckily, we have a solution right here in my hometown of Kyle. It's called Milt's BBQ, and they easily run with the big boys out in Lockhart such as Black's, Chisholm Trail and Kreutz's. Milt's has some of the tastiest brisket in Central Texas, and their smoked sausage tastes very similar to the links at Black's. It's even called "Lockhart sausage" as a homage to that more famous town to the east of these parts. Their potato salad is also one of the best I've tasted, a little heavier on the celery than usual and not too sweet.

Best of all, the lunch above--brisket, Lockhart sausage, potato salad and beans--was just $8.49. And it's so filling, I probably won't have dinner. And Milt's is just about one and a half miles from my house. I try to go at least once a week, while my trips to Lockhart have become much less frequent. This is great, great chow.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

20 Beats -- All the Covers!

I asked Jon Ragel if I could post all of the album covers to his new digital release 20 Beats because I'm nuts about the artwork. (Bunny!) He said OK...so here they are! Enjoy!

 Very cool!!!

New release from Jon Ragel of Boy Eats Drum Machine -- 20 Beats

Jon Ragel, the super-talented turntablist/singer/drummer/saxophone player who performs under the moniker Boy Eats Drum Machine, has just announced a new release titled 20 Beats. Here's the press release that Jon sent me:

"20 beats is up for streaming and buying at http://www.boyeatsdrummachine.bandcamp.com/ (!)

100% of sales from bandcamp go directly to the artist. I ♥ bandcamp. it will also be up on I-tunes on Sept 20th.

This is a digital only release. no CDs will be harmed in the making of this album.:)

20 beats is an all-instrumental collection of 20 songs and features 10 of Portland's BEST drummers along with samples from vintage vinyl, groovy guitars, and electro-pop goodness. The album even comes with 20 album covers--a different one for each song.

Thanks so much for the support! Jon."

If you've ever heard Jon's albums Booomboxxx and Hoop + Wire, you'll know what a gift he has for mating powerful beats (courtesy of Portland's outstanding Bridgetown Breaks) and unusual samples to his own live performances. You can download 20 Beats--all 20 of 'em, for just $7.49. Plus, each song has its own bunny-themed cover, so if you think the one above is cool (and I really do), then imagine how cool it is to have 20! It's an absolute bargain!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Cigars, Hurricanes and Whatnot

It figures...I have a couple of days off, and there's a hurricane off the Gulf Coast that's making the weather here in Austin miserable. So the first thing I thought of was getting a few cigars and spending today and tomorrow kicking back on my patio and watching shit get blown everywhere.

First I headed down to Habana House in South Austin...my favorite cigar store/lounge in town. I had to get another Don Pepin Garcia Cuban Classic. The last one I smoked was sooooo good that my brother Mat, a longtime cigarette smoker, said "That smells so good." I let him have a puff, and he had a look on his face that said hmmm...maybe I should start smoking these instead of Pall Malls.

Jim Harrison, the proprietor, even threw in a Don Pepin t-shirt for free because I've been loading up all week. Jim's a heck of a nice guy, and his store is a very cool place to browse, smoke and watch big-screen TV. If you're a cigar smoker in central TX, you owe it to yourself to stop by. Habana House is located inside Rutamaya at 3601 Congress Ave. You can check out Habana House's website at showmeyourash.com.

Then I headed down to the heart of Sixth Street to Bobalu Cigar Co. These guys roll their own right on the premises.  I tried them for the first time on my birthday, and I was surprised at how great these cigars are! I've had freshly rolled cigars before, and it can be kind of hit or miss. But the Bobalu cigars are bold, spicy and fun. I had to grab a couple of their new Oscuros. I tried one a couple of weeks ago and it was superb, but alas, it was only a petite corona and was gone way too quickly. They just announced thir 6 X 60 Obscuro, a nice, fat smoke. That's more like it!

So I'm off to the patio. See you in a couple of days!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Great photos from Peter Selesnick of Venice Audio!

"Seriously--we have more than enough now!"

That was Jason Gross' response to sending him all these photographs from the Peter Selesnick interview that will appear in the October 1 edition of Perfect Sound Forever. I'm sure only one or two of these will make it into the article, so I'm putting the whole lot of them up here because a) Peter Selesnick is by trade a Director of Photography and therefore is an excellent photographer as well (unlike me), and b) I always dig pics of my favorite audio gear.

First of all, there's the shots of all the wonderful Harbeth speaker models. I'm a huge fan of Harbeth and I hope to own a pair very soon. Second, there are a lot of shots of the Well-Tempered Amadeus turntable that uses an actual golf ball suspended in silicon liquid as part of its tonearm assembly. Peter and I discuss this turntable at length during the interview, so I wanted everyone to see just how fun this design really is. (And by the way, the 'table sounds great!) Third, there's a pic of the Leben amps from Japan that I've discussed in two columns now.

So here you go!

Look at all those Harbeths!

That's the Compact 7-ES3s right up front. One of the best all-around speakers money can buy.

That's a lime green Rega P3-24 just like mine, and a Michell Gyrodec SE right behind it. I used to own the Gyrodec's big brother, the Orbe SE. Great turntable!

And now for the golf ball!

These are the tubed Leben amps from Japan. Great retro looks. The main designer of Leben worked for Luxman for many years.

Wrap it up...I'll take it!