The phono cable is the most critical piece of wire in your audio system. I make this statement with certainty. In North America, power cords carry an alternating current at 120V. Speaker cables may need to carry a few dozen volts. Line-level interconnects throw up to about 2V. But the phono cable? A low-output moving coil squeaks out somewhere around 0.5mV. Spin that number up to a value in volts and you get 0.0005V.
About 35 years ago, via a mutual friend, I became acquainted with Matthew, an aspiring poet and keen dabbler in psychedelic drugs. At that point in my life, I’d basically finished with psychedelics, as the transition from carefree student to aspiring systems programmer had siphoned much of the fun out of that form of recreation.
Just recently, one of my wife’s family friends stopped by to drop off a book. It was a hot day and JB had been roaming the city by public transit, so Marcia and I invited him in for a coffee and a glass of water. JB was carrying a cloth bag containing some LP-shaped objects. I’m a dog person, so I metaphorically sniffed his butt and asked him what was in the bag.
Certain albums resonate with me. Often, it’s the setting I associate with these records that entrenches the music in my core memory. The music is important in isolation, of course, but the association with life events cements certain records into the root system.
The email came to me courtesy of Brent Butterworth, who until recently was our go-to guy for headphones. “I can’t do anything with this, but it’s super-cool and I figured you might want to write about it.” The pitch Brent forwarded was a press release describing how Vinyl Moon, a company that each month releases a unique LP of mixed new music along with nifty original artwork, is now providing an augmented reality (AR) visualization of their experience.
Right from the very first audio-industry show I attended with SoundStage!, the 2001 Son et Image show in Montreal (now called Montreal Audiofest), I found myself extremely dissatisfied with the music at these events, both in terms of what exhibitors would play and showgoers would request. How can you possibly gauge a system by listening to a solo flute? And why would anyone wish to inflict it on a room full of strangers?
“You need to harden up,” SoundStage! editor-in-chief Jeff Fritz told me a few years back. At the time I was complaining about the rigors of reviewing. My complaint at the time possibly centered on having to move a heavy amp. Or maybe it was because I had to actually visit the post office to mail a component. I forget the exact scenario.
I don’t visit stereo stores very often. As a reviewer, gear ships to me, so I don’t need to scratch the itch to visit stores to see new stuff. Another reason is that, when I do walk into a store, I feel vaguely guilty. The salesman is trying to earn a living—he’s trying to sell product, and I’m most definitely not buying, so it seems wrong for me to take up his time.
It’s a cruel joke. It’s the gods laughing at us. The lovers of LPs—I hesitate to call us record collectors—are the most tightly wound subcategory of audiophiles. We fuss and obsess over the tiniest variations in cartridge alignment, hundredths of a gram in tracking force, single degrees of VTA. And the irony of it is we’re subject to—at the mercy of—the smallest, invisible particles of dirt lodged into record grooves. We can clearly hear dirt and contaminants that we can’t even see.