Vinyl, baby!

Vinyl, baby!

Written by Paul McGowan

Being a vinyl type of guy, with CDs to fill in the gaps, I have assembled a system that I think pays tribute to that unique vinyl sound. I play music covering the period ( well on LP, that is…) from the late 40s ( I was born in 1947) to somewhere in the mid 70s, with occasional excursions in to the 80s and even ‘new’ vinyl.

I was brought up on 78s - western, rock n roll, opera, you name it. My parents were eclectic, to say the least. My mother, ever the opera fanatic, was also enchanted with the likes of Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley - basically any of the hit country/rock n roll acts from the 50s and 60s. I still have a few of these 78s and cherish them. They form my musical tastes to this day, although I have extended the range to include ‘hill’ country, bluegrass, early blues, texas swing, etc. I also have a gramophone and collect the earlier stuff that plays with the steel needle.


So, with all that in mind I have a few systems, but the main one looks like this…

The Equipment. Sony PS-X9 broadcast turntable with a Soundsmith modified Denon 103R mc cartridge, with Nordost silver/copper interconnects to a tube-based Manley Steelhead preamp. This preamp is a remarkable piece of engineering, with stunning resolution and great adaptability while being dead quiet. Thence via Bluejeans cables (approx 40 feet) to a pair of Manley Neo-Classic 250 watt mono blocks currently in triode mode (100 w per channel). These are connected to a pair of JBL 4344 3-way studio monitors and an REL subwoofer, both with KAB rumble filters in-line to quell the inevitable rumble from a direct drive turntable. (CDs are played through a late 80s Sony ES CD player as transport and a Moon DAC. A nice combination overall, although the player is a little long in the tooth.)

The Sound. The room is 22 feet long and 11 feet wide with an 8 foot ceiling, more or less. Voicing the JBLs took some time. They are adjustable over three frequencies - mid, treble and high treble. the treble and high treble are horn loaded compression units. I found it difficult to contain the sibilance of the treble horn while melding it with the mid driver. Interconnects played a big part in this, particularly the turntable to pre-amp. However, using Linda Rondstadt’s ‘Blue Bayou’ as a reference point, over a period of almost a month, I think I finally achieved that ‘sound’ in the last couple of days. Resolution is remarkable. Sound pressure levels are in the 85 - 95 db range, which sounds high, but JBL speakers are not that efficient so they need more power than most. The interesting part is that, at these levels in a room of this size,you would think that the volume control would be getting a lot of use. Not so. A lot of praise has to go to the preamp for its accuracy, clarity and control, for the sound is just ALL THERE. All of it. What is on that recording is right in front of you. Nothing is held back. Those speakers are over 40 years old, the crossovers are original as far as I know, yet the sound! Dynamic range is just huge, no other way to describe it. I feel that I have been able to ‘unlock’ the magic in those grooves, and it is a humbling experience.


Other systems include one dedicated to playing 78s - late 60s s/s control amp, Gerrard 'table with a Shure 78 cartridge, and a home built corner loaded speaker. My upstairs system is basically CD based - a PS Audio BHK signature preamp (wonderful!), A Moon Neo-250 CD player, Bryston 4B power amp, and a PS Audio P3 regenerator. All balanced connections. Speakers are B&W 704s. Very smooth, clear, sound, not strained in any way. Lovely to listen to while reading, etc.

So there you have it.


Oh, and I just put together a system for my 6 year old grandson, at his request, so that he can play his favourite record - ‘Surfin Bird' by the Trashmen. Right in groove. Cool.

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