After some agonising, comparing, and general research, I took the plunge and got a new turntable — see below.
This is actually the fourth turntable I have owned. The first was a Dual. That was a rim drive (a technology I am not sure is still used), and had a fair bit of rumble. That was followed by a Sony direct drive. The Sony was incredibly reliable, as their products tend to be. It had some quite good features like a strobe band around the edge of the platter, so one could see whether the record was spinning at the correct speed or not. The platter itself was carbon fibre, supposedly, with funny little rubber mushrooms to support the record. That deck went through a house fire which buckled its dust cover so severely I had to take it off and throw it away. To my surprise, the deck still worked. It was still working when I reluctantly put it out on the nature strip over forty years later. So why did I get rid of it? I had no room in the stereo cabinet for a turntable.
It was succeeded by a much smaller Akai belt drive deck. This was a modest machine, sourced from Cash Converters for not very much money. I intended to use it just for ripping recordings from my few remaining LPs. I recently liberated the stereo from its cabinet and re-housed it in a new console, where I could now get at the back of it. I also got some LPs from the op shop, and a record cleaning machine. The limitations of the Akai were becoming more obvious as the quality of the vinyl improved. So when I saw the Audio Technica on sale online, I realised it would be a major improvement.
The major feature of this deck is the capacity to record vinyl records directly to a USB stick. However, I bought it for its other features:
- direct drive (no messing about with drive belts)
- S shaped tone arm (supposedly better for tracking toward the LP label)
- prefitted cartridge
- universal headshell, giving the capability to upgrade the cartridge
- capacity to use
- the deck’s inbuilt preamplifier, or
- an external phono stage, or
- the one in your amplifier. (The Luxman has a good phono stage with switchable impedance, and it seemed a shame not to use this.)
- hydraulically damped lift control for the tonearm (although you need to lift the arm at the end of the record).
It even has a dinky little pop-up light so you see where to put the needle at the start of the disc. And, for members of the Illuminati (and the tinfoil hat brigade), one can actually play discs backwards. Yes, subliminal messages encoded onto The Beatles, David Bowie, and other such seemingly inoffensive artists, can be — ah — outed? Revealed? Whatevs.
The handful of Melodiya discs I picked up in a junk shop in St Kilda plays beautifully. I remember asking the assistant what the story was with these. Apparently no-one had picked them up from the dock after they cleared customs. Melodiya is the number one Russian record label; the discs I have date from the Soviet Union era. Material includes the Shostakovich symphony no. 5 (conducted by Maxim Shostakovich), four of the Sibelius symphonies with Rozhdestvensky, the Schumann piano concerto, and Schubert impromptus. The Russian orchestral sound is unique, particularly the brass playing — where else can you hear horns played with vibrato?
Other op shop finds, not all played on the new deck yet, include
- Brahms: Alto Rhapsody, Wagner Wesendonck Lieder; Strauss orchestral songs, with Janet Baker
- a Nielsen symphony
- Debussy: La Mer; Ravel: Daphnis & Chloe suite no. 2, Pavane, with Szell and the Cleveland (extremely well played)
- Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherezade with Leinsdorf (pristine condition, very good performance, and a great recording — the trifecta)
- Beethoven: Pastoral symphony with Charles Groves (pretty good, as I recall)
- Verdi: Don Carlo with Karajan (mono, from Salzburg Festival)
- Schubert: Unfinished symphony and Rosamunde excerpts, with Paul Kletzki and the Philharmonia Orchestra (from the 1950s, the glory days for that band — how could you go wrong?)
- Marschner: Hans Heiling and Der Vampyr (a gift from a mate — a terrific discovery of a composer I hadn’t heard of, let alone heard. Private recording.)
Some of the best of this bunch are World Record Club pressings. There is a story worth telling here — if only the business records from this enterprising outfit are still around. I had quite a few of their records in the 70s and 80s. Only two of these old-timers survive; a volume in the complete Haydn string quartets, with the Fine Arts Quartet, and the Sibelius Violin Concerto with a Russian soloist, Tossy Spivakovsky, and the London Symphony Orchestra. The latter is one I liberated from the music department at North Sydney Technical Boys High School. (I would return it, but the school closed down in the late 60s or early 70s.) This was the recording through which I got to know this work. I always liked Spivakovsky’s performance; it made me think of a soul wailing in frozen wastes. After a wash, the disc (although pretty worn) doesn’t sound at all bad on the new deck. I can hear now, however, that the soloist is balanced extremely close. Some things just ain’t the same forty years on!