Tag Archives: music

Decisions

As mentioned in previous posts, yes, I’m re-exploring music.  I have purchased and set up my recording PC and now I have to focus on the devices.  This had led me to a difficult decision.

I have a keyboard that has been with me for over 20 years – the Roland RD-600.  It’s been an excellent device and I am very familiar with playing it.  However, over the years the keyboard has worn out.  Some keys will break, or more specifically, the hammers on the keys will break.  I’ve dealt with this for many years, replacing hammers one by one as they break.  It’s an annoyance for sure.  I even have a small cache of spare hammers that I purchased from the manufacturer when this first became a problem.

And it’s still a problem.  On day two of having my rig set back up,  I broke a hammer.  I took the RD-600 off the stand, flipped the board over, and undid all the screws to open the case.  Replaced the hammer and flipped it back over to resecure the case.  Put it back on the stand and another hammer had broken during the repair of the first.  I give up.  I put the kb back in its road case and brought out the other keyboard.

Now this other board is an Alesis QS8.  I bought it at a thrift shop for $100.  It had issues right out of the gate with being out of tune.  I was loathe to throw it away though and figured now I could do some tests on it.  I determined that the MIDI functions still worked (that they were sending the right notes), which is what I primarily needed for recording.  I also found the setting where I could retune the device, and things were looking a lot better now.  However, further testing showed that the pitch problems would randomly reappear, requiring another manual retune.  And as far as the MIDI was concerned, there was some random data being spewed out from a wheel controller that I had previously physically disconnected.  So, this device is not suitable for recording either.

I have two bum devices.  My choices are, replace or repair.  Buying a new device of the caliber of the RD-600 or QS8 is a $1600-$2700 purchase.  Along with that purchase comes a new keyboard action, which I may hate.  Obviously there’s going to be more modern features and technology involved which is a distinct positive, if I wasn’t planning on using virtual instruments anyway.

I investigated replacing the hammers in the RD-600.  I can’t recall how much the initial batch cost way back then, but on eBay, each hammer is currently about $10 plus shipping.  It’s probably looking like about $1000 to replace all the hammers in my 20-yr old keyboard.  I contacted Roland directly to order the parts and they simply refused to sell any replacement parts to me and told me to take to an authorized repair center.  Bastards.

So now the question is, spend $1000 or $2000?  To complicate the matter, if I do refurbish the RD-600, I’ll never get that money back.  Street value of an RD-600 has to be well south of $500.  Hell, I only paid $650 for it twenty years ago.  I would spend more on refurbishment than I did when I bought it used.  But, this is a board I am intimately familiar with, and if it lasted 20 years once, it will last again until I’m long gone.  The alternative?  I can buy a new keyboard with new technology (maybe more durable, maybe not), may have better action, maybe not, may be a lot of things and may not.  If I don’t like it, I can sell it.  Sell it for what, 80% of its purchase price?  75%?  Less?  Will I lose more than I would pay for the RD-600 hammers?

And it’s shit like this that keeps me from going anywhere.  Weighing the pros and cons and never making a decision.

Oh, what about the other kb, the Alesis?  Well, I have an open inquiry to a repair shop to see what it will cost for repair.  I’m sure I’ll have to pay a bench fee, but that’s reasonable to know whether the kb should be repaired or checked.  The problem isn’t mechanical like the Roland, but it is electronic.  That could be better or worse.  But it won’t be $10 88 times over.

But I made a decision anyway.  The Roland is going to get refurbished.  I think it deserves a second life and I’ll be comfortable using it for recording.  My decision was made on a few different points.  First, Roland makes no mention of the RD-600 in their support pages, so I don’t think the hammers will be available for too much longer.  Second, I found an eBay seller selling one octave of hammers (7 white/5 black) for $120 with free shipping.  With 7.2 octaves in a piano, I would be pretty safe buying 7 of these, for a total of $840.  That’s not $1000 and it’s not $2000, and it’s not $2500, which is the price of the new keyboard I tried that had a hammer action I liked.

The seller was unwilling to discount his price for a purchase of seven octaves, because he knew what he had.  He knew the part was either discontinued or was soon going to be discontinued and told me as much.  I paid his price.  And I still will pursue repairing the Alesis, for the right price.  There’s a small part of me that wants to rebuild a whole studio with racks of 80’s and 90’s physical keyboards, but holy shit is that an expensive idea.  Obviously, a lot of those sounds are coming back into vogue with new music, so prices have been soaring.  Pawn shops used to be used device gold mines, but I can’t imagine any shop not doing their EBay research and finding out the value of what they have.  So virtual devices will still be the way, with a solid controller.

One More Time Before I Go

A little more information on something I hinted at in a previous post… I’m still quite reluctant to say much about it because I’ve done this time and time again with no success or completion.  Hopefully, without having any expectations, I can meet my expectations.  The "news" is that I have pulled my music gear out of storage and set it up again, with tentative plans to do some recording.

There were multiple reasons I came to this.  I had some inspiration listening to some albums and wanted to see if I could still compose.  I wanted to do some justice to older pieces by re-recording them properly.  My hands and fingers are getting old and weak and I thought maybe playing would return some strength to them.

The last recording I had done was in 2008, when I wrote a bunch of heavy guitar songs for an album.  My voice was unable to perform well enough to do the vocal tracks and the audio was marred with recording glitches like audio bleed from other tracks.  But, the point is, I haven’t done music in over a decade.  Obviously things have changed since then, but I will still be doing things the way I have always known.

Step one was to see if I could even still play anymore.  I pulled out the keyboards and set them up in my music room.  With some headphones plugged in, I tried playing some familiar songs.  To my surprise, the muscle memory was still there.  I remembered most of my old songs, with some stops and pauses to refigure out bits here and there.  The playing was sloppy as I expected and my stamina was greatly reduced, as I also expected.  I only spent about 30 minutes or so that first day to get familiar with the keys again.  The next day I spent another half hour or more with other songs and my stamina had jumped surprisingly just in that one day.  Now, here on day three, the joints in my left hand are sore AF, so maybe I overdid it.  But, the future is somewhat promising.

If I’m going to do this, I’ll need a new computer for recording.  The second computer I had laying around was converted into a web and email server a while ago, so I need to make another purchase.  Here’s the thing.  Technology has advanced SO far since I was last doing this (13 years!), I don’t need to buy a 4-figure computer.  I don’t even have to buy a full-size computer.  I bought a refurbished mini computer for $300 that exceeds the power of any computer back then.  And of course, I needed a new monitor and keyboard.  This time, what I am doing is buying a floor stand for the monitor and a bracket to mount the mini PC behind the monitor.  I’ll place the stand behind my keyboards or mixer and can move it as needed.  New technology is really cool.

Without any real goals or timelines, I’m going to relax and get familiar with the software again.  That has always been an issue with me – the process of recording gets in the way of recording.  There’s a universal image of artists working in a home studio, laying down tracks and fiddling with effects and editing and whatnot, but the notion to me of having an engineer handling and managing all the recording process where the musician can focus on actually playing and making music – that’s the real thing.  And sadly, the evisceration of the recording industry has made that concept a rarity.  Still, I am a one-person team, so I have to do what I can.  In the past, I have rushed all my projects because I have had to wear multiple hats and if I spend too much time wearing one, the others suffer.  In the end it all suffers.

So, It was 2000 when I did my last keyboard album, 2006 when I finished my last Sequence album, 2008 when I finished my hard rock guitar album, and I’ve been wanting to start the loop over again for a long time.  Looking back in the journal, it seems like I had recording aspirations in 2014, but I had other interests going on at the time.  It seems the only time I can really compose and record is when I’m single.  So, now’s the time!  Still, no promises.

The More You Know

Knowledge and experience are a couple of things that unfortunately are in ever decreasing supply these days.  With so many people taking pride in their lack of intelligence and their non-willingness to seek out new information and experiences, it seems humanity is destined to be doomed.  My little story is of little to no importance, but is just one tiny example of how reading and experimenting helps put pieces of a puzzle together and displays a larger canvas than you had formally seen before.

This is about music and my music collection.  I’ve mentioned in past posts that I’ve been trying to listen to artists that are outside of my normal choices, and especially so if they are considered groundbreaking or significant artists in their time.  That isn’t a new radical concept for me.  You know at one time, I had never really listened to classical music (except for what was on cartoons).  I think I started because classical CDs were cheap and I wanted something to listen to on my new CD player.

With the exposure to classical music, you immediately understand a lot of cultural references.  You hear a snippet of a piece in a commercial or a movie and you know how the whole song goes.  You’re suddenly in the "in crowd", in a way.  And the more music you can expose yourself to, the more in-crowds you can get into.  And when you grow broad as well as deep, you start to see and understand the interconnectedness of it all.

This particular revelation came last night listening to a new album I picked up.  But the start of the revelation was quite a while ago when I picked up an album by a different band I had heard much about, but never heard their music = Kraftwerk.  I had a general idea of what they probably sounded like and it was a pretty close guess.  After listening to some of their music, I wasn’t really sold on it, but I could listen to it all the way through, if for nothing more than appreciation of what they were accomplishing in the era they were doing it.  Kraftwerk is one of those groups that is touted as a grandfather of multiple future genres.  If not the entire creator of the genre, at least heavily influential in them.  So, I’ve established that I have an appreciation of electronic music.  I find a lot of it to be very repetitive and therefore boring, but I can understand there are certain times you might want a monotonous soundtrack to your activities and it’s a good fit for that.

0n the topic of genres, there’s a fairly common sentiment people use to express their musical tastes: "I listen to anything but rap and country".  I would probably say the same thing, but it’s strange how the more you experience different music, the more restricted those qualifiers become.  "Rap" for me does not include what I believe is termed "Hip Hop", which was more dominant in the 80’s.  And "Country" does not include pre-90’s country music, which was actually closer to pop music.  Or maybe it was just that country singers began doing more pop music.

The point of all that is that I don’t listen to Rap, but I do have some Hip Hop artists in my collection, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince for one example.  And I had just purchased Technotronic – Pump Up The Jam.  When I listened to it for the first time last night, I found the Technotronic album had elements that I had heard in other places in much newer albums, like those by William Orbit.  But getting past the pop-styled singles, the Technotronic album was much closer to a Kraftwerk album than a hip hop album.

And that was sort of a missing link album for me, bridging the Kraftwerk of the 70’s and early 80’s to the William Orbit of the 00’s, while also keeping the good parts from the hip hop of the 80’s.  And to be fair, it has the things that I don’t like, such as the monotony of Kraftwerk and more of the bravado and offensiveness of later rapping.  But overall it’s just more proof that music is a never-ending tapestry of styles and colors constantly backreferencing and pushing forward.  There’s always something old in something new.

Stages Part 4.75

In the last installment in this series, I had added subwoofers to my stereo system and was thinking that there wouldn’t be a stage 5, which is the replacement of my small powered monitor speakers with large tower speakers.  In the six months I’ve been using this setup, I am still enamored with it, and have not felt the need to upgrade the speakers.  However, in the other part of the system, changes have happened, mostly out of fortunate opportunity.

The biggest purchase I’ve made in my stereo system is the subwoofers, by a massive margin.  Everything else has been had for well under $100 each.  Because second-hand stereo equipment can be found cheaply, it’s good fun to just try it out to experience the differences.  I had talked about this before with my small collection of CD players.  But one day at a thrift shop, I found a new receiver/amplifier.  It was made by Nakamichi, which is a brand you don’t see or hear about very often, because it is considered a high-end brand.  Checking the back of the amp, there were preamp outputs available, so it was immediately compatible with my system configuration.  The price was fine, $25, so it came home with me the same day.

Cleaning and testing was brief and successful.  The amp was clean and had no issues.  Sound-wise, it sounded a bit brighter than my Technics, which is consistent with other online reviews I read on the product.  Their words were more like "harsh" and "highly-detailed", which sounds a little negative, but as I’m learning with everything in audio, there is no truth, no absolute.  You just have to like what you have or replace it with something else you like better.  And two people can have two totally different opinions about the same thing.

So the Nakamichi has become my new default stereo.  The Technics amp and EQ have been moved to my secondary pile of equipment in another room.  And I have been enjoying my system.

Shortly after that purchase, I came across an online auction of a recording studio.  Among some of the items being sold were two "DVD players".  Researching the players a little more, I learned they are technically called "universal players", meaning they can play multiple formats.  While you can buy most any $30 DVD player and have it play CDs as well as DVD-Audio, the format of SACD (Super Audio Compact Disc), is much harder to come by.  SACD players are usually $1000+ unless you get into a universal player that also handles that format, in which case you’re in the $800 range.  Regardless, getting into SACD is not a cheap venture at all.

I actually do own a couple SACDs that I have never been able to listen to, as well as a DTS (yet another high-end format) disc.  These players in this auction would support all of these formats.  They were Pioneer Elite 47ai units.  Long story short, I placed absentee bids on both and won both, one at a low price and one at a high price.  After commission and all, they cost $75 each.  One will eventually be sold off, but the other has been integrated into my system.

Being in a professional recording studio, clearly the devices were well taken care of.  And upon some listening tests, I have to begrudgingly admit that things do sound better on higher-end equipment.  Granted, I am comparing 30-yr old consumer CD players to a 10-yr old professional player.  There should be some improvement, right?  And finally, being able to hear what SACD sounds like was a nice experience.  Was it amazing?  Well, no.  But – and this is an important but – I have made many small improvements to my stereo in a relatively short period of time, and each one has brought with it a positive change, no matter how small.  At no time have I done an upgrade and been disappointed.  Are things absolutely perfect?  Of course not.  I have CDs that will skip in one player, but not another.  So, I do keep two players on my stereo.

And that’s where my system is right now:  The Nakamichi amp, the JVC CD player, and the Pioneer Elite universal player.

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Stages Part 4.5

In previous posts on this subject, I’d been advancing my home stereo towards some goal of having big, energizing, musical sound.  The "final" step in the process was buying tower speakers for the amplifier.  I’ve come up with a step in between.

I was skeptical of the claims made that putting your bookshelf speakers on stands would improve their sound dramatically.  I was proven wrong.  The change was highly noticeable.  So much so, that it made me wonder if I really needed tower speakers.  At the very least, it would delay their purchase for a while.  The improvements got better when I separated the speakers from the stands with silicone buttons and added the floor spikes to the stands.  Both are things that audio fetishists go crazy over.  Not as much the spikes, but to read about the "isolation" and "decoupling" of the speaker from the stand using (only) sorbothane balls or brass spikes gets a little weary.

And I thought I had taken things about as far as I could with what I had.  One of the improvements I got with my changes was improved bass.  I could hear the bass and slightly feel it, too.  And you know, once you get a taste of something good, you want more.  That was going to be taken care of by the tower speakers, when I bought them.  But I wasn’t ready to buy them yet, because I liked what I had.  Well, I guess I wanted to like what I had more, so I had a choice to make.

That choice was whether to add a subwoofer to the system for the extra bass.  I read a lot of articles.  I researched a lot of products.  I reviewed my budget.  In the end, it felt like a "fuck it" decision anyway, so yeah.  Subwoofer it is.

Here’s the catch.  Based on what I’ve been reading, having a subwoofer is just not enough.  A very well-written article by a generally polarizing individual explained the technical reasons for subwoofer use in the 60’s, 70’s, then 80’s and beyond.  And that article, along with other higher-end articles stated pretty simply: you need multiple subwoofers.  At a minimum, you need stereo subs, because although it’s popular to say sub=bass is mono, it really isn’t.  But as long as you’re entertaining the idea of multiple subwoofers, having four is not out of the question.

Now, four subwoofers was not and would not be my plan.  But, while researching products, the subwoofer model that I settled on (due to price) did not have stereo inputs.  That would mean that I would have to buy a cable to merge the left and right channels to go into the sub.  I’m not a fan of that idea; it just seems wrong.  So the evidence is stacking up for getting two subwoofers.  The budget doubles.  So which one (or which two)?

You can get subwoofers with speaker sizes of 8", 10", 12", 15", or even 18".  I start small, looking at 8".  I need two of them.  The more I look at them, the less I am convinced.  My bookshelf speakers already have 6" drivers, and the tower speakers I was looking at for the future have multiple 6" drivers.  Is an 8" really going to provide the depth I should have?  So, I look at the 10".  That’s about as far as I will go.  There’s no way I can reasonable justify having two 12" or larger subs in my little listening room.  I wouldn’t even have room for them.  I’m already looking at compact subs because of space concerns.  But, if the future means I have a larger room for my listening hobby, then the 10" subs will be able to handle that growth.  If I do go with the tower speakers in stage 5, the subs will complement them as well.

So the retail price difference between 8 and 10-inch is $229 vs $344 – $115 dollars to upgrade to the larger sub with the bigger amp.  Because of sale prices, the prices are now $126 and $189 -  a bigger discount on the bigger sub.  Now, the upgrade cost is $63.  Still, I need two.  And after looking back and forth and back and forth at numbers in both my web browser and in MS Money, I reached the "fuck it" point and bought two 10" subwoofers.

Fortunately, the subs do come with cables, but I did need to buy two splitter cables, to send the low-level output from my pre-amp to both my bookshelf speakers and the subs.  And what have I ended up with?

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Also new in this picture is a switched power strip mounted below the amplifier, which turns all four speakers on and off.  Since all the controls for the subs are on the bottom of the units, and I was getting concerned and also annoyed by pushing the power buttons on the speakers each day, a single switch should help everything.

Now, how does it sound?  I started my test with all knobs set to the minimum and put on Rush – Signals as my first test.  I went through a few tweaks, raising the crossover, raising the input level, lowering the crossover, and back and forth between the different possibilities.  The result was nice, but not earth-shattering, nor room-shaking.  I was underwhelmed.

Then I thought maybe my choice of album wasn’t that great, so I put on Edgar Meyer – Dreams Of Flight.  Holy shit.  Now I was shaking the walls, which was actually hilarious to see the cat repeatedly alerting on the sound of the pictures vibrating on the wall.  With that album, I did a few more tweaks and lowered the levels a little.

The next test was Tom Petty – Full Moon Fever.  Being produced by Jeff Lynne, certainly this album would have a lot of things happening everywhere in it.  And I wasn’t disappointed at all from the results.  My expectations were being tempered by reality.  Where I expected kick drums to hit me in the chest, that’s not how (decent) albums are mixed.  But what I wasn’t expecting was the loss of the shrillness.  When I would turn up the stereo before, I sort of had to grit my teeth and suffer the high end to get any power.  With the subs hooked up, It was like the high end was tamed.  I don’t want to say "lost", because I don’t think it sounded any duller, just less piercing.

The last test was Iron Maiden – Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son.  I didn’t get the sound I expected, but the sound I got was excellent and very engaging.  My ears weren’t ringing at the end either, which was a blessing.  And it seemed like I was able to go louder than before, probably because I wasn’t getting ice picks in the eardrums.

I’m actually thinking there may not be a stage 5 now…

Stages Part 4

In the previous post on this topic, I discussed the stereo buildup to the point where I had a good listening system.  The next transitional step would be to physically prepare it for the tower speakers, which will be stage 5.  I had made another post about the fortunate timing of my speaker stand purchase, which saved me around $50 or almost a third of what I had budgeted.  So the items have come in and are ready for implementation.

The first piece that came in was the stereo rack.  All black glass and chrome, it allowed each component a shelf of its own, but I still kept the amplifier and equalizer together.  Quality-wise, the stand is a big meh.  I didn’t pay a lot for it, so I can’t be disappointed, but I expect at some point, I’m going to be getting a better rack.

The next day, the speaker stands come in.  Heavy steel plates and posts, which are supposedly the key to keeping bass and separation.  No disappointment here.  We’ll have to see how they perform.

I disassembled my setup and moved the current table out of the way for the new pieces.  While behind the system, I did a little wire management for tidiness sake.  This is what it looked like.

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What did it sound like?  Well, I don’t want to get into all the audio snobbery adjectives, but I will say it sounded better.  Significantly better.  Of course, maybe it’s a placebo effect, I’m not going to rule that out, but I tested out two different CDs, with widely differing musical styles and both sounded more impressive to me than I remembered before.  So I will call it a success.

What’s stage 5 again?  Tower speakers.  Well, that can wait for some time now.  I’m going to have to get tired of this new sound, which could be a little while.

Stages (Parts 1 – 3)

Being cooped up in the house with the COVID stay-the-fuck-at-home orders has led me to express my shopping needs in other ways.  The subject at hand is my stereo system.  An earlier post reminded me that I’ve had this goal to recapture the stereo excitement of my youth for quite a few years now.  And that’s not to say progress hasn’t been made – it definitely has.

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It started with a cheap thrift store stereo, a tape deck, and headphones.  Then a CD player was added.  Then another CD player was added.  But still, very little listening was being done.  Then the milestone of having a dedicated room for listening was reached and I cobbled a new and different stereo system together using my powered studio monitors and a new preamplifier to handle inputs and volume.  A dedicated listening chair completed the arrangement.  This setup has worked very well for over a year.

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But I’ve been envisioning the real stereo experience, with a powerful amplifier and full-size speakers to go with it.  However, in these uncertain times, I don’t want to blow a wad of cash all at once, so I’ve planned out a phased approach to get there relatively quickly.

The primary hardware to complete the goal is really only two items: the amplifier and the speakers.  There’s also some ancillary bits as well, including furniture for the hardware.  I’ve kind of been stalled on progress because I didn’t want to buy the amp and the speakers all in one go, but I didn’t want to buy either one and just have it sit unused until I bought the other.  Then, I had a revelation, which came late, but probably at a better time.

If I buy an amplifier, it would be a waste until I bought my speakers, because my existing speakers have built in amplifiers without any way to bypass them.  My revelation made me realize that although the amplification in my speakers can’t be bypassed, the amplifier circuit in the right model of amplifier could be.  That would reduce the amplifier to only preamplifier functions, just like the preamplifier I currently own.

The search was then on for a receiver that had preamp outputs on it.  And the critical decision needed to be made: do I go vintage or modern?  In my original plan, I had current, modern products picked out and a pretty large budget for them.  And now, after experiencing a number of vintage CD players, I’m not sure I need anything more modern than them.  So vintage it is.  And in keeping with my nostalgia, I’m going to choose the Technics brand.  Justly or no, Technics has a bad reputation for their 80’s gear.  There are fans out there as well, but they get shut down often by "the ones who know better".

The model I picked was the SU-V98, which has the required preamp outputs and will also be suitable for my future speakers with 110 watts per channel.  That’s actually pretty respectable as many of the amps I had been looking at were 30-50.  As luck would have it, a listing just popped up on EBay selling one for $70.  Others were priced in the $150 range, so the purchase was made.  Step one complete.

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Now, the last step in the transition will be the purchase of the speakers.  I’ll be able to run everything right the way I have it now, simply substituting my preamp for this new Technics amplifier.  But, it’s not going to be a viable long-term option.  See, my stereo setup is on a long Ikea table.  Ikea stuff isn’t known for its durability and even with only a couple of CD players sitting in the middle of the span, I can see the slightest bit of sagging happening.  Adding a 15lb amp to the table isn’t going to make that any better.  So step two in the mid-term is going to be new furniture.

Replacing the Ikea table will require a new stereo rack and stands for the studio monitors.  In the final stage, the studio monitors and stands will be replaced with tower speakers.  Since the speaker stands are only temporary, I can skimp out on them, but I should get the stereo rack with the goal of having it be suitable for the future.  However, when shopping for speaker stands, there is a clear distinction between "good" and "good enough".  That difference is the size of the mounting plate on top.  In most all affordable stands, that plate is 5"x5".  My speakers are about 8"x10".  Balancing those heavy, expensive speakers on a tiny platform 32 inches off the ground doesn’t sound appealing to me, especially with cats in the house.

That alters my plans a little bit.  It essentially doubles the budget for the speaker stands.  But, to remain positive, the stand quality will be excellent and the speakers are already excellent, so there won’t be any unnatural need to rush to the last step and buy the tower speakers.  There will be time to enjoy and appreciate the configuration as it is. 

And that’s really the plan:  to enjoy the upgrade journey.  Sometimes when you get the end result all at once, you can’t appreciate al the elements involved, because you have no history of change to compare it to.  This is really the best way to grow a stereo system.  Will it ever end?  For a lot of people, it never does.  In fact, I do know one more step I can take after "the last step".  If I find my amplifier doesn’t sound as good as I think it could, the preamp outputs in the SU-V98 can be used for what they were designed for – running an external amplifier.

A New Piece, And A Little Less Peace

After lunch today, I had the idea to visit the Cash America pawn shop.  I don’t bother much with pawn shops anymore, and it’s rare that I visit them, much less buy anything.  I have the assumption that most everything there is overpriced or has some problem with it.  Although, I do admit, I bought two Wii systems from pawn shops and those have been just fine.  That’s probably my last purchase, a couple of years ago.

So today, I browse around and ended up spying and buying a graphic equalizer for my stereo setup.  It’s made by Technics and is the correct vintage for my CD player.  The model is Technics SH-8017.  The EQ was $25, but was marked down to $20 early for President’s day.  And when I checked out, they made it $20 after tax, so even a little extra. 

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But when I went to check out and pulled out my credit card, they asked for my ID.  I said, "That’s new," and the manager said it was, because, you know.  Yeah, pawn shop.  And then, I was completely set up in their system with an account.  Name, address, phone number, date of birth, the whole works.  To buy something!  midway through, I though this wasn’t worth it for $20 and almost pulled out cash, but also considered, this was going to happen sooner or later and the sooner I can get in the system, I won’t have to do it again.

But what a weird thing, to have to create a customer profile to buy something.  Then again, is it weird?  You do it all the time when shopping online.  It is weird when buying something over a counter.  But is it?  You usually give up all that stuff when you sign up for loyalty or reward programs, too.  And it is a pawn shop, after all.  Everything behind those doors is a strange legal limbo.

But anyway, with all that behind me, I took the device home and plugged it in.  Everything worked quite well.  I noticed no additional noise when running it inline with the Technics CD player.  The only thing wrong with it is it’s missing one rubber foot (not seen in the front right), which I’ll be able to buy replacements for easily enough.  I tested out its capabilities using my CD of ZZ Top – Afterburner, which is notoriously anemic; even more so through the Technics CD Player.  As shown, I simply boosted the lower two bands and that raised the bass level to something more appropriate.

Could I have done the same with the tone controls on my preamp?  Well, yeah, but two things: first, there’s no quick bypass for the tone controls, so I would have to adjust them every time.  With the EQ, I just turn the device off to bypass it.  Second, the bass control is probably centered around a higher frequency than the lowest two bands on the graphic EQ.  That usually causes some "boominess" and is why tone controls aren’t that good for sound shaping.

I recently read a quip from a blogger whose opinion I trust and he said while using studio monitors for music listening (as I do) is fine, they tend to make the music more clinical, whereas normal amps and speakers are designed to reproduce music with a bit more excitement or punch.  So now, I have to consider if I want to go that route and if so, what amp and speakers to get.  My setup has been pretty good to me so far.  I guess it’s time to go to the next level.

A Christmas Burden

As a collector of CDs, sometimes I fantasize about coming across an old collection that’s up for sale, one with lots of old and rare CDs in it, along with CDs that I would also want to listen to.  I’ve read about people having experiences like that – they’re not common at all.  But Sunday, I was fortunate enough to have one of my own.

I had planned to visit my local flea market that day to check out and maybe buying a dart set for fun.  I have a board set up in my garage, but I don’t seem to have any darts anymore.  So I visited the booth with the darts and because there was only one set available, I decided to hold off another week until he got his order with different models.  My flea market doesn’t have a resident “CD guy”, so I don’t stop in very often.  But I did feel like getting some walking in, so I wandered the halls.

I found a couple of temporary sellers with CDs, but their selection was terrible and in poor condition.  Another seller had like 10 CDs out.  Sigh.  But, leaving that seller’s stand, I saw a booth across the hall with a couple of larger CD racks.  I went over to see what was there.  Within 10 seconds of browsing the rack, I could tell this was a personal collection.  There were items there that I never see anywhere else.  In one rack, there was almost the entirety of the IRS NoSpeak series, something I had completed this year.  I could have saved quite a bit of money, here.

Alas, I didn’t find anything in the two front racks, but when I stood back up and actually looked in the booth, there were six more racks and a couple of boxes of CDs.  Oh my god, if it’s all the quality of what’s out front, I’m in trouble.

And without dragging it out, yes, it was and, yes, I was.  There were two criteria I was working with at this booth.  The first was looking for stuff I wanted (duh).  The second was looking for any smooth-sided cases, which would indicate early CD pressings.  In the first criteria, I found maybe 6 CDs.  However, when it came to smooth cases, this collector was seriously an early adopter.  I was pulling out CDs 2-3 at a time and stacking them up into multiple piles.

The total at the end was 62 CDs.  The lady charged me a whopping $55 and even was willing to take a credit card when I explained I didn’t have enough cash to cover the purchase.  I was willing to do PayPal or some other method to avoid her getting a fee, but ok.  She was very happy to move so many of the CDs at once, and I was very pleased with what I had pulled out.

Back at home, I stacked the CDs all up and began cleaning the cases.

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After cleaning them, which took a little over half an hour, I had to step away to let my mind think about what I had to do.  I broke the incoming items into three piles: things that were duplicates of what I already had (and might be upgrades), things I definitely wanted to add to the collection, and the rest was going to have to be evaluated to see if I wanted to keep it.  I ended up with 20 definite adds, 6 or so dupes, and the rest was left for later.  Then I had to take another break.

What we’re talking about here is listening to 50+ albums.  Even being really aggressive about it, listening to one CD on the way to work, one on the way back, and maybe one at night, we’re still talking almost a month of new music.  And listening to an album once isn’t always fair when choosing to keep it or not, and I do want to be fair.  That means a whole lot of music has been dropped into my life.

And that quantity of music is overwhelming.  Believe it or not, I haven’t listened to any of it yet.  You would think I would have immediately popped in a CD coming back from the flea market, but I was too shocked at my fortune.  When you have over 60 albums to listen to, where do you start?  The genres are all over the place, so I could get anything, really.  What a first world problem.

I pulled out the 20 albums that were on the must have list and got them logged into my Discogs account.  It put my collection’s Max total over $20k.  Obviously that’s highly optimistic, but it’s still a milestone.  I compared the dupes in my collection to the newcomers and only swapped one out.  The other 5 have to get compared and posted on my other blog.  So I have plenty of things to do ahead of me next week.

Revelations

It was almost 3 years ago that I really started to rebuild my interest in having a home stereo again.  I had purchased a cheap stereo from a thrift store.  That stereo only had a cassette player.  Then, I followed that purchase up with a $10 CD player from another thrift shop.  At that point, I should have been done, and should have been happy to spend so little money on a stereo.  The alternative I had planned was a new system – amp/CD/speakers – on the order of $1200 or so.  My cheap CD player, paired up with the powered studio monitors I’d owned for many years, was a really good sounding little system.  At least that’s what I thought.

In the time since, I have bought other cheap CD players at thrift stores.  The reason for this was for experience.  One experience was the restoration and repair of the devices.  Of my purchases, one repair was successful, one wasn’t, and the latest one didn’t need any work at all.  The other experience was more audiophilic.  People that review stereo equipment have the ability to grade and rank such equipment and that’s really something the average person can’t really do.  No one goes out and buys five different CD players at $300-$500 just to compare how they sound.  But if the players are $10 each, well, that reviewing experience becomes just a fun little hobby.

The first player in my collection is an Onkyo DX-701.  It was made in 1992.  Being the first in my collection, it was my unofficial standard.  When I first set it up, I was thrilled with it.  It did exactly what it was supposed to do: play CDs.  For $10, it was all I needed.

The next player I got was a Scott DA980, in April 2019.  It cost all of $7.  There’s not a lot of information out there about this player, but its manufacture date is June, 1989.  It appears to be a Yamaha-manufactured device rebranded by Scott.  Unfortunately, it needed some work and I got my first experience repairing a CD player.  Comparing it to the Onkyo, I really liked how smooth and silent the loading tray was.  But what I should have really focused on was whether it sounded better.  To be honest, I couldn’t tell.  And that really disappointed me.  I thought I would be able to notice some difference, but I didn’t.  So at that point, I assumed that “digital is digital” and all decent CD players sound the same.  So then, I wouldn’t really need to focus on sound quality, but more on features.

Then, this month, I found yet another cheap CD player.  It was a Technics SL-P220.  It was marked at $16 and I happened to buy it on a 50% off day, so it cost me $8.  My luck in CD player purchases is remarkably consistent.  This player didn’t need any repair, just some cleaning.  Well, some of the cleaning was technically repair because the control buttons were intermittent.  I am a fan of the Technics brand.  It was the brand of the stereo system in my youth.  This player came out just about the time CDs were hitting the mainstream.  Just about the time I experienced my first CD at my friend’s house.  This is the oldest of the three players (June, 1987) and being that old, it would be expected to have the least refined technology for decoding digital audio.

When I did my first test play with the Technics, it was kind of a surreal experience.  It sounded different.  Way, way different, in a good way.  I put identical CDs in the Technics and the Onkyo and played them together, then switched back and forth to determine the difference.

And here’s where the difficulty begins.  When you read stereo reviews, you will usually find yourself rolling your eyeballs at the descriptions the reviewers use.  In fact, you will probably internally smirk at anyone that tries to describe the qualities of sound.  It’s just something that can’t really be done.  In my case, the first thing I thought of comparing the two is that the Technics was “brighter.”  And that’s a fair description.  Most people can determine bright sound vs dull or flat sound.  This is probably also what experts mean when they say “digital-sounding”.  But who knows?  What does digital sound like?

So, I had a word that I could use to describe how the Technics sounded better to me (that’s important).  But as I listened to it more, there were more differences and those were more painful to describe because it made me sound like a pompous high-end stereo reviewer.  I’ll not get into those descriptions and just say it sounded much, much better to me than the Onkyo.  As I always do when I get a new piece of equipment, I search for anyone talking about it.  And I found only two mentions of the SL-P220, one saying it was great and another saying they replaced it with something that was substantially “better”.

Here’s the thing for me.  This latest player has changed my interest in listening to music.  I’m now excited to hear music from it.  It has the same magic as when I first heard the albums decades ago.  This is something the other two players didn’t do for me.  It’s revelatory.  I’ve read over and over that you have no idea what you’re missing until you hear the music you love on a good system.  But… this is an early player and even at that, isn’t a top-end model, just standard-grade.  It’s a $300 player back in the day which was average.  And, considering what I hear and what experts say, this is an example of poor early-era digital reproduction – tinny, thin, bright, “not analog sounding”, blah blah blah.

So fucking what!  The Technics sounds incredible to me and when I try listening to the Onkyo afterwards, it sounds dull and lifeless.  So if I like the sound of bright digital, why should I be ashamed of it?  So yes, I have a new favorite CD player and it’s my new benchmark.  It’s not going to stop me from buying more cheapo players and comparing them.  Maybe I’ll find something even better.