Vinyl Revival – part 2

If you are interested in playing LPs, either for the first time or as a return to vinyl, it’s can be difficult to know where to start, especially if you’re interested in vintage gear. Following on from the first part in this series, we asked our turntable expert which models he would recommend.

Which models would you recommend as easy to use, set up and service?

If buying new, I’d say a Rega Planar 1 would be a great place to start. It’s no fuss or bother, has a great Audio Technica-based cartridge, and third party elliptical styli are available for them if you know where to look, so no need for upgrade nonsense. The Planar 1 has superb, reliable sonics if sited carefully. Rega LISTEN to music on their products and, to me, that’s important!

ProJect do a ridiculously large range of assorted decks in all shapes, sizes and budgets, but seem very popular if the models from Rega aren’t around.

Older gear is tricky as ALL of it needs at least some work, so it’s not for the uninitiated. Older Regas are good generally with RB-series tone arms (the straight black ones, not the S-shaped one which may need work) and Rega parts are not expensive if needed. Beware of old classic Garrard and Dual autochanger decks as they all suffer from hardened grease, which is a nightmare to remove and carefully replace – everyone ladles it on with a trowel…

What should you look out for when buying second-hand?

Condition, obviously. Has the deck been modified or got at by an over-enthusiastic amateur? Why is it being sold? Can it be demonstrated and collected rather than risk it being badly packed and then having it kicked around in transit? Can the purchaser afford to let a professional service it or are they happy to read up, learn some basic maintenance and do it themselves? Prices are daft, but too cheap is often as bad as too expensive.

Any forgotten models you’d recommend?

I’m sure more will come to mind as soon as this is published, but here are a few:

The Yamaha YP800 was a nice-looking deck.

Micro Seiki DDX/DQX 1000 – always needs proper siting but I bet they’d sound good today.

In a comparative review conducted 50-odd years ago, the Sony TTS3000 belt drive beat the Garrard 401, Thorens TD124 and Goldring Lenco G99, together with its TTS8000 offspring which rarely came over to the UK.

I’ve never used or owned one, but Elac made some interesting decks, as did Perpetuum Ebner (which Dual bought – they were kind of related in the dim and distant past due to shared family, I believe).

Should auto-changers be avoided?

Audiophiles would never contemplate an autochanger but some are often worth considering. 7″ singles were designed for stacking, so there’s no harm at all in playing them one after the other in a stack. (The label area has a raised profile and often with a ratchet type arrangement so two singles together kind of ‘grip’ each other and the grooves don’t touch at all unless the single is very worn. Many LPs lack any real form of separating the grooves these days and even if they have lipped edges and slightly raised label areas, I really wouldn’t stack.) I wouldn’t use LPs in a stack but many in the US still do! The better the stylus, the more critical it is on tone arm alignment and Vertical Tracking Angle becomes very important for best sound and minimal wear.

Many borderline ‘HiFi’ changer decks had single and multi spindles and the Garrard ‘Autoslim’ series were often used this way (any Garrard with the same basic control layout as the SP25 models and having a kind of rotating ‘flipper’ to sense record size is an Autoslim chassis model). Later BSRs similar to the MP60/P128 also had replaceable spindles.

Larger format Garrard decks from the late 60s onwards cannot stack 7″ singles with smaller centre holes (any adaptors made for the deck are long gone now) and I’m not keen on the way LPs are pushed off a side support to clump down on the platter below.

If you’re seriously posh, then the better Duals from the mid-60s onwards can make excellent changers and offer easily replaceable cartridge carriers for ‘every day and best’. LPs drop on a cushion of air, so if you must stack LPs, these are the safest. Garrard did something similar in the Lab 80 changer, but it was only this model, sadly, as the auto spindle was fragile and easily damaged. My Dual 1019 is a fantastic deck in anyone’s terms and ‘VTA’ is easily sorted with an extra 3 mm mat on top of the existing one.

In general, all autochangers all need a lot of degreasing work by now and are not for the faint-hearted.

 

Part 3 will look at maintenance and which turntables to avoid.

 

Vinyl Revival – part 1

Vinyl Revival – part 3

Vinyl Revival – part 1

Today we start a series of blogs celebrating the vinyl revival. It isn’t just younger audiophiles rediscovering the tactile pleasures of the LP, more experienced enthusiasts are getting back into the format after decades of digital.

The series will look at some of the classic turntables available on the secondhand market – what is worth investigating, what should be avoided and, crucially, what do you need to get the best out of them?

The series is written by a longtime turntable expert and ex-industry vinyl retrophile:

I’ll begin by describing some of the turntables I’ve used over the years: At school I discovered Garrard turntables, first via the TA2 deck and later the SP25 mk 1, which really did have a ‘laboratory standard’ vibe about it to my young eyes; I briefly owned later SP25s and still have the SP60 autochanger version of the SP25 mk2.

For my eighteenth birthday, I had a Lenco GL75 and loved it until I had the funds to get my own direct drive deck, a wonderful ‘mean looking’ Technics SL110. By this time, a springy, belt drive deck made in Scotland was gaining headway and a demonstration was booked to hear one. Yes, the Linn LP12 really DID make records sound better and clearer back then (it got rather worse sonically in subsequent years before it started to get better again in the early 90s, but I digress). When I began working in hi-fi retail in the 1970s, I was trained well to set up the LP12. No two were ever quite the same back then – they needed experience and skill to get them stable long term. I thought I got pretty good at it. We also sold many Rega decks and I have great fondness for them, as well as the excellent UK after-care they offer. 

In the late 1980s, I heard how badly high-end vinyl usully sounds compared to master recordings and how very close domestic CD replay was getting. That was until I heard a Nottingham Analogue record deck and realised how much closer one of these decks (with retipped Decca cartridge) could sound to the master recording. 

I’m a confirmed Dual turntable fan and own several, in addition to Lencos awaiting some servicing and use. I’ve had fun lately with a Thorens 160 mk2 which I’ve almost turned into a ‘Super’ and fitted a Linn Basik Plus arm which works well. 

So many decks, so little time … Among my favourites have been:

Garrard Lab 80 mk2 and my current AP76 and Zero 100.

Dual decks, of which the 1229 and 701 stand out. A Sony PS8750 was so good, but to many it was just another Japanese direct drive and didn’t last long on the market. The Pioneer PL-71 suffered a similar fate.

Lenco GL75/78 – endearing and delightful decks that don’t need carving up, double or triple platters, just some careful thought and a set of modern V-blocks for the arm.

The AR XB – the arm looks crap but in reality it’s very, very good indeed if the main bearing hasn’t gone wobbly or worn out.

Thorens TD150 mk2 – the direct parent of the Linn LP12 which underneath all the expensive add-ons is a TD150 on steroids! The Thorens TD125 mk1, with original tight-fitting main bearing, is an excellent deck too I feel. They need some gentle restoration now though.

I have to say the Linn ‘fruitbox’ LP12, but you HAVE to get a suitable arm for old ones and check for wear as parts cost the earth and forty years is a long time on sometimes suspect main bearings.

Garrard 401 – the supreme 60s ‘rumble box,’ but I love ’em! Lesser Garrards endear themselves to me. The top one, I suppose, is the Zero 100, which is a conversation piece but plays records rather well with the right cartridge.

Bang & Olufsen Beograms – loads of models often based on a common chassis. Potentially very good indeed but a specialist thing now as the hardened lube syndrome is an issue on many and cartridges cost a king’s ransom to either re-tip or replace (Soundsmith in the US re-manufacture them at various high prices).

My favourite, favourite turntable is the Nottingham Analogue Mentor (now replaced by the Dias model) with a Decca Garrott Microscanner cartridge. I had a high speed Revox B77 (IEC eq) with which to compare and the Notts Analogue was the best sound I’d EVER heard from vinyl. Lack of funds all round and not liking cheaper cartridges in it when the Decca failed caused me to all but give it away in pre-internet days and I bitterly regret it now. The 32 kg graphite top platter as still used in today’s models, with unipivot arm and stabilisers – as Stax did in the UA7 – so the arm doesn’t wobble. My parents’ house had engineering-grade bricks in the wall which were very difficult to drill into but held the 45+ kg mass of the deck and concrete base. It was a brilliant deck.

On Wednesday, our expert will begin delving deeper into the second-hand record deck market.

Vinyl Revival – part 1

Vinyl Revival – part 3

Cut your own vinyl

We’ve written before about the resurgence of interest in vinyl and we’re going to be featuring a series of blogs about this next week. Meanwhile, how about cutting your own vinyl?

This the Easy Record Maker, an instant, record-cutting machine – possibly the first time a domestic vinyl cutter has been made available. It has a cutting arm and a playback arm, and can record via the built-in USB interface. Playback is via USB, a headphone jack or the built-in mono loudspeaker. Think of it as a Polaroid camera for records and you won’t be far off.

It’s manufactured by Gakken in Japan and designed by renowned artist and electronic musician Yuri Suzuki. Yuri has always been interested in the technology of sound, as well as its applicability to art, and has recently become a partner with Pentagram, the famous design agency in London (whose founder, Kenneth Grange, designed some of the early B&W loudspeakers such as the DM7).

The turntable/cutter is supplied as a kit together with a set of two-sided, blank, 12.7 cm discs (which are available in a groovy range of colours). The little machine records at 33 and 45 rpm.

Cut your own singles or, if you’re feeling particularly evil, record some streaming music and then amaze your audiophile friends by how much better vinyl can be!

 

Join us again on Monday for the first in a series of guest blogs about turntables, vintage audio and the best way to get started in vinyl.

UPDATE: Thanks to Susan Parker of Audiophonics for alerting us to another domestic record recorder, the Pye Record Maker. Here is a photo from a recent eBay auction:

DIY – Eikona MiniLine loudspeaker

The Eikona MiniLine is the latest in a series of transmission line loudspeaker developments which began in February 2019 with the Eikona Transmission Line Array. From a floor-standing, 1.2m-high loudspeaker to a compact, stand-mounted version has been quite a journey.  Both versions – as well as the TL2 and TL3 – boast similar qualities. These designs are, for transmission lines, relatively straightforward to build and have been designed with DIY construction in mind. These loudspeakers are capable of excellent performance and in every case, the alignment has produced bass that exceeded our expectations. The MiniLine, for example, is capable of clean bass to below 40 Hz despite its compact dimensions.

The other common factor is, of course, the use of the Jordan Eikona full-range drive unit. In the MiniLine, only one Eikona is required per enclosure (the TLA uses four). The Eikona handles all frequencies from over 18 kHz down to 40 Hz. The lack of crossover or additional drive units makes the construction much simpler and gives the final result a delightfully natural sound.

The MiniLine has exceptional bass reach and control, aided by the Eikona’s transient speed and carefully chosen parameters. Comments on the fetching grey prototype shown below include:

“As to sound?  Typical Eikona with a surprising amount of bass from such a little cabinet – the TL configuration helps of course … it works very well indeed.  Plenty of output at 40 Hz, then a distinct drop at 30 Hz.”

“Seriously though, if your room or wife will only allow a stand mounter then these are a very good proposition. My room is 16 x 12 feet and they filled it with a lovely, open soundstage with surprising bass for the cabinet size. “

“They certainly had the Jordan family sound, fast, detailed and with a beautiful mid range.” 

The MiniLine Design Guide can be downloaded here and Eikonas ordered here.

DIY – A translam Eikona TL3 loudspeaker

A standard and translam TL3

There are many ways to build a loudspeaker cabinet. Most are rectangular, some are more interesting shapes. The majority are made of wood and a few of concrete. One famous example was made of ceramic.

Cabinet design is an area which is always subject to a manufacturer/designer’s own particular philosophy. One of the most interesting is trans-lamination (or translam) as used by manufacturers such as TAD for their upmarket designs. It consists of taking a sheet of material (such as ply or MDF) and cutting out shapes which when stacked (usually vertically) form the completed cabinet. The exterior can be shaped and the interior of the cabinet is formed by the hole in the centre of the successive slices.

 

A fine example is the Eikona TL3 translam enclosure built by Ian, our Gloucestershire-based demonstrator. In an email Q&A, we asked him to share some details.

What made you decide to try this?

I’ve liked the look of translam cabinets for quite some time not least because, for an amateur builder, it gives a relatively simple method of getting away from a rectangular box.

Any specific difficulties encountered?

No real difficulties as I had the slices cut by CNC. The holes drilled at the time made for easy location of each slice using dowels in the holes. Probably the hardest part was fitting the internal divider although once I’d figured it out it was quite simple to do.

What would you change if you did it again?

I’m not sure I would change anything but I did consider putting a layer of MDF over the baffle in order to recess the drivers. Cutting the holes was straightforward using a hole saw but I decided not to risk routing the rebate as I suspect the ply edge would have torn. In any case I’m happy with the looks and performance.

What were the overall benefits?

I did make up a standard cabinet using MDF to test the design so I do have a handle on the differences a translam build provided. OK, I’m comparing MDF and ply as well as the construction method but the translam cabinets feel a lot more solid and, more importantly, the sound more solid! I think the extra stiffness of the cabinets has reduced colouration a little so that micro-detail is easier to hear, which gives a greater sense of space. That’s not to say that the standard box cabinet does not produce a very fine-sounding speaker.

A fellow audiophile commented:

 “All I can say is that Ian’s dual Jordan speakers are incredible.

I appreciate what full range drivers can do, with no smearing of phase response due to cross-over effects. I have heard Ian’s 4 speaker units before but these sound more balanced and don’t suffer from any lack of bass extension. The translam construction is so inert as to be completely out of the picture regarding any cabinet resonance. There is a fantastic immediacy to the sound which is totally beguiling.”

 

The CNC cutting was done by CKJ in Stroud, who generously made their CNC files available. These, along with Ian’s original drawings, are available to download as a ZIP file here.

Read the Eikona TL3 blog for plans and background to the design.

 

DIY – Eikona TL3 transmission line loudspeaker

Our highest-performing loudspeaker design to date is the Jordan Eikona TL Array, launched in February this year. It features four Eikonas and is capable of bass to 30 Hz. Its considerable power-handling enables it to tackle the full range of music, from orchestral and rock to string quartets and solo voice.

The challenge subsequently became to design a loudspeaker that retained many of the TLA’s qualities whilst making something more compact and less expensive to build.

The first of these was the TL2, which has the same bass extension and height but a shallower enclosure with only two Eikonas per cabinet. Although a very capable performer, at 1.2 metres high, it is still too large for many listening rooms. After a bit more prompting from customers, we now have the more compact TL3.

The Eikona TL3 is a custom-aligned, tapered transmission line with a cabinet only 826 mm tall. It’s straightforward to build and the internal structure gives the cabinet considerable rigidity. The performance gives full freedom to the Eikonas, allowing them to perform at their best. Early feedback  has been extremely positive and here are quotes from two listeners:

These have the Jordan sound in spades, very fast and articulate with bags of detail with a large soundstage with good depth. The surprise was the bass … these speakers shook the walls with deep, ultra clean bass when we pushed the volume past sensible levels. How these small cabinets were producing it is beyond me.”

“I do really think this is a major step forward for Jordan. Powerful bass in a compact cabinet but with the air that has always been more noticeable in my single Eikona SL cabinets. Cheaper to build and more room friendly that the big 4-driver TLs.”

The photograph below shows the prototype of the new TL3 alongside the existing TL Array.

Click here for the TL3 design guide and plans.

 

Jordan Aurora Array loudspeaker system

Two of our customers (and brand ambassadors, as they are both able to demonstrate systems to potential customers) have recently got together to compare their respective Jordan Eikona systems.

Ian uses the Jordan Transmission Line Array, featured on our blog here and Mike has an Aurora 800 system, which we described on the blog in its original form. 

Intrigued by the extra depth and sensitivity that the Eikona Array brings to Ian’s TLA loudspeaker, Mike has recently modified his Auroras to create an Eikona Array. This entailed turning the reflex 800s into sealed cabinets and supplementing the bass with a pair of BK XLS200 subwoofers.

On the improvements the Array made, Mike says:

“I was genuinely surprised by the difference. I’d expected more weight and sense of scale but hadn’t expected better height (a little more) and depth (quite a bit more). What particularly surprised me was the additional clarity and separation. Listened first to a Warren Zevon track (Disorder in the House). It’s from his last album and Bruce Springsteen guested on that track – and plays amazing guitar breaks as well as singing – I’d never thought that Springsteen could play guitar like that. What was particularly noticeable was the clarity of vocals when Zevon and Springsteen were singing in unison.

What was going to be a quick test turned into a 3-hour listening session – differences were more on some music than others but, overall, felt like more improvement than I had expected.”

Here are Ian’s comments on Mike’s system:

“Mike uses modified (as in 2 extra drivers) Jordan Aurora 800 cabinets and very good they sounded too.

I say very good, in fact they were quite stunning.  Given they were wall-mounted, I expected a rather flat soundstage but that couldn’t be further from the truth.  They had more air than my TLs but lacked their bass weight even though two subs were linked in – see the white boxes in the furniture.  

Nevertheless, integration between subs and Auroras was excellent for most of the music heard apart from a few tracks that caught the subs out.”

Our own thoughts on Mike’s system is that it requires further integration. The Auroras are run full range, without any roll-off other than that provided by the sealed cabinet loading. The subwoofers roll in at 80 Hz, so there is going to be some overlap which probably contributes too much bass in the 60-100 Hz band.

Mike is aware that the system requires further refinement and we look forward to reading how it develops.

 

Click here for more details on the Aurora systems.

Sequerra – a rare vintage

Of all the legendary hi-fi products, one of the best known is the Marantz 10B FM tuner. Renowned for its fabulous performance (and its built-in oscilloscope), the 10B was designed by Richard Sequerra, who later went on to launch his own DaySequerra tuner (updates for which are still available).

Dick Sequerra has also produced some innovative loudspeaker designs over the years, one of which was the Sequerra Pyramid Met 20, designed in collaboration with Ted Jordan.

The Met 20 was released around 1990 and features the Jordan JX53 and JX150 drive units. As far as we know, only seven pairs were ever made.. The JX150 is used over a wider bandwidth than usual, being allowed to roll off naturally until the crossover kicks in around 5 kHz. The JX53 crosses over at 2 kHz, instead of the 500 Hz Ted Jordan used to recommend. That greatly increases the power handling of the entire system, which is quoted at 200 watts (peak).

The unusual cabinet shape (it’s a truncated trapezoid or trapezium in the UK) is instrumental in spreading internal cabinet reflections, giving a cleaner sound, free from resonances. At 58 cms tall, it’s large for a stand-mounted speaker, but the shape would look well on top of a suitable subwoofer – as in this Eikona design from one of our customers.

Dick Sequerra has had a long and interesting career in hi-fi and there is a fascinating interview with him on the Stereophile website. At one point he says something which Ted Jordan would certainly have agreed with: 

“The notion that audio is simple and easy to do is a big fantasy. There are very few people who have ever done it really well.”

If you would like to buy a rare piece of audio history, the very first production pair of the Sequerra/Jordan speakers are currently for sale on eBay in the US.

 

Postscript: We received a message via Facebook from the seller of these Sequerras:

“When I spoke to Dick 3 weeks ago he told me the ONLY reason he designed them was to show what the Jordan drivers could do in a single sealed enclosure. He said “Ted Jordan was an absolute genius”. Dick is 90 now and selling his studio.”

“The audiophile bargain of the millennium”

It’s always good to receive testimonials from customers and never more so than when they come from professionals within the hi-fi industry. 

We have just received the following from just such a professional who has a great deal of experience in both the design and audio evaluation of a number of well-known, high-end products:

“I have been using the Eikona drivers (2 pairs) in cabinets of my own design for the last couple of years. I used to own a pair of Electrofluidics Sonolith 2.2’s and have built a pair of VTL’s using the previous JX92S drivers. 

Back in the mid 90’s I was involved with Tom Evans and Patrick Handscombe doing listening tests for the Acoustic Precision Eikos FR1 loudspeakers, also using the 92S driver. When I got back home and fired up the Electrofluidics all I could hear were the crossovers. 

So when the Eikona 2 was released I just had to get my hands on some. 

I was not disappointed. In over 2 years of critical listening, they have never given themselves away. They cope with everything I throw at them. They truly are the audiophile bargain of the millennium.”

A Jordan loudspeaker with Italian flair

Fabio, one of our customers from Italy, was in touch about his Eikona MLTL38 loudspeaker project. He requested permission to use the EJJ logo on his cabinets. Intrigued by this thoughtful finishing touch, we asked for details of his project. Here is what Fabio has to say:

 

Nothing is missing from the small Eikona 2, the coherence and the timbre are of the highest level ….. the speed of the transients will make you jump from the armchair, particularly on those majestic passages of great orchestral music ….. 

How can a single, 10 cm driver produce bass worthy of note? … in my room, it almost seems to have a subwoofer; nothing is missing, they are ideal for medium-small rooms.

LISTENING:

Martha Argerich and Friends – live from the Lugano Festival 2008: the violin and the piano are reproduced with grace and elegance, there is no difficulty in listening; the piano plays warm and round, while the violin is never harsh, the timbre is perfect and the speed of the Eikona is surprising. 

Minnesota Orchestra – Showcase Eiji Oue – Reference Recordings: track no. 6 of this HDCD, literally leaves you speechless because it is “The Firebird Suite” by Stravinsky, in fact just listening to this piece, it seems to have a hidden subwoofer, it is impressive how these little drivers manage to reproduce the continuous bass drum beats in a as authoritative as it is lightning, without the sound of rumblings, “tails” and “blows”.

Tracy Chapman: well she is there in front of me with her deep and unique voice; one of the first CDs I listened to with these speakers was just this and I remember that in more than one passage I got goose bumps. 

John Coltrane – Blue Train, Miles Davis – Kind of Blue, Michel Petrucciani – Live Blue Note: the instruments are real, alive, the details are heard until the last touch on the drums.

CONCLUSIONS:

These Eikonas will print a permanent smile on your face. I admit that I was initially doubtful about the choice, because in fact, it might seem that they are small, that they do not make it, and the cost, well … But there is an old saying goes, “in the small barrel there is good wine” – here this barrel does not contain wine but it will make you very euphoric. 

I had some doubts that haunted me, but reading the reviews on EJ Jordan’s website and having an amplifier that is the ideal companion for these little gems, I embarked on this venture. I am not a technician in the field so I have tried to take care of all the details to get the most out of these objects that I now call “magic”. So with my friend Fabrizio we started the construction of the piece of furniture, taking care of all the details that a Hi-End speaker cabinet must have.

I have to say that after listening to them for a few days, one of the questions I asked myself was “but if a single driver can do so much, how will the larger Line Array sound?”

I’m not sure, but if in the future I have to have a larger environment in which to put my Hi Fi and a more muscular amp, I would definitely consider one of these projects.

DESIGN OF MY CABINETS:

I started from the design of the MLTL38 and keeping the volumes, I tilted the front and the rear panel by 5° trying to create fewer parallel faces. I inserted perforated bulkheads both to support the sound absorbency and to break down resonances, creating surfaces not parallel to the rest of the cabinet walls.

WOOD: a 26 mm thick  Okoume plywood is very robust, multilayered and heavy.

SOUND ABSORBENCY: of the 3 internal sections that I created, I covered the first 2 starting from the top with sound-absorbing panels in bituminous material plus felt, about 1 cm thick (normally used to soundproof car bodywork).

As suggested by EJJ, I inserted a cylinder of sound-absorbing Dacron, behind the Eikona and another under the driver so that all unwanted midrange frequencies do not pass from the first volume to the other 2.

EXTERIOR FINISH: the cabinets were then veneered with real rosewood and impregnated with a red colour with subsequent transparent bottom and glossy varnish … many coats of glossy varnish!

To embellish the whole, I added aluminium plates with the technical characteristics. At the base I put a 5 mm black Plexiglas plate, a small wooden riser and then a 12 mm iron plate to which some decoupling tips were added. The part of the screw that came out of the plate was hidden with full aluminium feet used as a blind nut, which is very Hi End ….. in short, we Italians always have an eye on the finishing touches.