Feelin’ groovy

AUDIOFILE - The Philippine Star

The analog renaissance phenomenon has finally proved that it is not a flash in the pan. This corner has consistently written since day one that analog sound gadgets are superior to digital audio devices, and recent events in audio confirm our unflinching stand.

Local recording artists are jumping on the bandwagon, quenching the thirst of audiophiles for the vinyl edition of their favorite OPM (Original Pilipino Recording) music. On Oct. 4 of this year, for example, singer-songwriter Ogie Alcasid held an autograph signing for the vinyl version of his record ‘All Classics’ at Stereofiles Audio in Quezon City. The album features some of his biggest hits, such as “Bakit Ngayon Ka Lang” and “Nandito Ako.”

Vinyl is at the centerpiece of an all-analog system comprising of vacuum tube amplifiers, preamplifiers, phono stages and turntables. While others prefer to mix and match their system with digital components, their music source has to be vinyl – ever convinced that nothing beats it when it comes to faithfully recording music.

What makes vinyl tick is in its grooves. It is worth noting that the colloquial term "groovy" (which means ‘fashionably exciting’) was coined with the vinyl grooves in mind. The grooves contain all of the available musical information of a recorded music. Music is played back when the stylus grazes these grooves and ‘decodes’ them as the vinyl spins. Etched on the plastic disc are the exact sound waves of each musical passage of a recorded music, containing the micro sounds which define the timbre, dynamics and the three-dimensional presentation of the original. Such musical information not only spells the obvious differences among musical instruments, but the soul, life and emotion of the recording artist.

How an analog sound comes alive rests on how accurately a tonearm tracks these grooves and the way the vinyl was pressed. Audiophiles need not just grin and bear it if a long-playing album was badly pressed. They can, instead, tweak the sound by tinkering with the tonearm and stylus set-up. Setting up the analog front end is a matter of arcs, angles and tangents which may sound Greek, but are the essentials of an enjoyable listening session.

There are also two philosophies in tonearm design – the conventional pivot tonearm and the linear trackers. How they work is based on Euclid’s approach to geometry that was taught to us in high school. 

Compared to conventional tonearms, linear trackers do not swing crosswise on a record, while twirling on a pivot. In a linear tracker, the arm slowly edges over the record in a straight radial line, creeping its way from the outer grooves toward the center. The movement changes the whole geometry of groove tracking which engineers believe eliminate what is known as the tracking error.

The error is caused by the curved swing of conventional tonearms. Ideally, the tonearm should hold the cartridge in such a way that it remains tangent to the record groove, all the way from beginning to end of the record. But because of its curved path, the orthodox swivel-mounted tonearm alters the cartridge angle with respect to the groove as the arm travels from the outer edge of the record toward the label.

One of the affordable linear trackers in the market today is The Opus 3 Continuo. Its makers claim that they have created a material (a compound of crushed marble and polyurethane) that is incredibly dense and hence almost resonance-free.

The size and weight of the turntable, combined with its three-rubber/air suspension mountings, decouple the unit from airborne and floor/wall vibrations feeding back from the listening environment. It is further isolated by an enhanced mineral compound used in the platter and the special felt-like mat supporting the record. The last item is indispensable in coping with the standard cross-sectional shape of the LP disc (which continually varies from hole to edge) and the tremendously high forces and vibrations injected into the disc by the stylus in its attempt to follow the modulations of the groove.

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For comments or questions, please e-mail me at audioglow@yahoo.com. You can also visit www.wiredstate.com for quick answers to your audio concerns.

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