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Cirque Du Soleil
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Cirque Du Soleil
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Ralph Towner
Time Line
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Anoushka Shankar

Amos Lee
"Arms Of A Woman"
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Julius Curcio
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"Come Alive"
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Feature [Issue #8]
: Turntablism: Not For DJs Only
By Ken Micallef

With iTunes, Napster, and Musicmatch offering more digital downloads than bad music from a zillion teen-pop stars, you might wonder why anyone would still bother with technology as old-fashioned as the analog turntable.

While some believe the marketing mantra “Perfect Sound Forever” - hot air and hokum delivered by the record industry in the late ‘80s when it first introduced the compact disc - many others are discovering that analog is still a more perfect way if audio excellence is your goal.

If anything, today’s turntables do a much better job of extracting information than your dad’s old A&R, Dual, or BSR turntables ever did. Put it down to computer design, imaging, and correction that enable much closer tolerances in construction of both turntables and cartridges. You could say that the turntable has finally caught up with vinyl.

And you don’t have to buy the most expensive turntables to experience all vinyl has to offer. You could go mad with the $10,000 TNT HR-X from VPI Industries or the $7,000 Model 10 from legendary British manufacturer SME, but thanks to trickle down technology, exceptional tables are being manufactured by companies from Yugoslavia to the US. No local dealer? Best Buy still trying to push off that Bose garbage on you? Then journey online to such value-for-buck middleman as MusicDirect.com, Needledoctor.com, Elusivedisc.com and AcousticSounds.com, upstanding retailers who are also purveyors of new and reissued vinyl sounds.

Like the return of the superstar DJ, today’s turntables are superior to the primitive vinyl LP spinners your folks used to play their Eric Clapton and Linda Ronstadt LPs. Vastly improved sonics, hi-tech materials, and stores full of cheap used records can turn you into the next Fatboy Slim or Moby or at least a well-outfitted armchair traveler not in need of a remote to have a good time.

(includes Music Hall Magic cartridge ($70 retail))

It looks scrawny and low-cost, but the MMF 2.1 is a featherweight champ, producing a robust, detailed, and giselle- like sound. Big-hearted bass’n’boogie factor is matched by sparkling but decently smooth treble, making the 2.1 a natural for hip hop and dance music if not quite the dynamo required for Korn, Metallica, or high octane fusion. Of course that leaves real music, i, e., Buena Vista Social Club and Lisa Loeb, which will both sound just fine on the 2.1. Solid sound and a price even you can afford make for analog bliss on a tiny budget.

(includes Oyster Cartridge, $55 retail)

This table has a surprisingly potent low end and creamy, cognac-on-ice high frequency extension resulting in an easy choice if the lower $300s are your considered turf. The Pro-Ject 1.2 reproduces drums that leap out and grab you (and “reach out and stab you” Frank Zappa would have said) and frames vocals and even DJ scratching with spooky accuracy. The Austrian made Pro-Ject features a heavy alloy platter (better bass, larger sound-field, smoother highs, possibly recessed midrange) and gold-plated RCAs (improved connectivity). A bargain in affordable turntables that only gives up features (like detachable interconnects and power cables) and functions to its more expensive siblings.

(includes Goldring G1012 cartridge ($175 retail))

Some tables lure you with their wooly sound, but not the squeaky clean MMF-5. Like a quick punch in the abs, the MMF-5 delivers brilliant treble and quick-witted bass through its clever two-piece construction consisting of two layers of MDF topped off with a glass platter and hefty, that-LP-is-not-gonna-slide record clamp. Crisp, but never ear-splitting, the MMF-5’s built-in level assures perfect tonearm tracking, even if its thunderous sound knocks you out cold. This table would be the first choice for classical lovers who demand accuracy and fast dynamics, but perhaps not the last word in warmth.

(cart not included, available with Sumiko Pearl
cartridge ($95) for $549)

Using the same tonearm as the $1500 RM-9, Pro-Ject’s RM-4 hold its own against turntables costing twice as much. You want clarity? The RM-4 offers it in spades. 3D imaging and arena rock soundstaging? Time to cough up the cash. With enough titanic bass to raise the dead and treble and midrange that are smooth yet sufficiently detailed, the RM-4 makes music flow. Shaped like the Indy 500 racetrack, the cool looking RM-4 comes standard with a lightweight record clamp and two gold RCA jacks, allowing your choice of interconnects. Not as ultimately detailed and fast as the Music Hall MMF-5, the Pro-Ject RM-4 is ultimately more satisfying.

(Rega Bias cart included ($125 retail))

Second only to the Pro-Ject RM-4, the Rega Planar 2 and Planar 3 have for years represented the pinnacle among sub-1K turntables. Presenting remarkable impact and cushiony-comfy bass response, the sleek-looking Planar 2 portrays music of all kinds with decent depth and a gutsy, up-front realism. Though treble can be shrill when the music turns especially dynamic, the 2’s clear midrange and articulate, rounded bass make it a great all-rounder. And, it can be greatly improved by upgrading the shabby Bias cartridge.

(cartridge not included)

Like a technological relic from the Soviet Union, this bland, industrial gray unit seems designed for playing only John Phillip Sousa marches, disinformation broadcasts, or the Soviet National Anthem. Three adjustable feet allow for precise leveling and the sound is rich and accurate, but where’s the boogie for almost 600 bucks? That kind of cash should at least include a record clamp and a cartridge. Clean, cold, and efficient, the SOTA Moonbeam will have you saying “Please, comrade! Pass the wodka and that Acoustic Sounds catalog!”

Turntablism: Not For DJs Only

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