Yearly Archives: 2013

Walker CJ55 vs. Denon DP-1000 shootout

In the continuing saga of the Walker vs. the Denon, I have once again moved my Grace G707-II arm and Shure V15VMR cartridge from the Denon to the Walker, now that I’ve found a suitable belt for the Walker.  My impressions over the past couple of years of swapping back and forth were that the Walker may have a warmer and richer sound.

Yet the speed stability and precision drove me bonkers.

Walker CJ-55 TurntableThe two turntables have two different design philosophies.  The Walker is primarily a wood-based product.  The basic design is similar to the subchassis design of the Linn LP-12, where the subchassis is suspended by four damped springs from the main base.  The base itself is all wood.  The subchassis is a wooden “H” frame, with a vinyl coated particle board arm board.  The subplatter and platter are both machined from Tufnol, a wood/plastic resin material very similar to Bakelite, and is acoustically dead…and heavy.

Yet despite the heft of the turntable and subplatter, I can’t help but think the base is rather chintzy.  The feet on the bottom are mere circles of cork, ferchrissakes, and the bottom panel is nothing more than a thin 1/4″ sheet of fiberboard.  And I can’t say that the H frame subchassis looks any different from furring strips I see at the local home improvement store.  This was a not a very expensive turntable when it was build in the mid 80s, but I feel that some corners were cut a little too drastically.  More on this shortly.

The Denon, on the other hand, is typical Japanese construction.  The platter is cast aluminum, sturdy but not very thick or heavy.  It does ring if struck, albeit not as badly as others I’ve owned.  The platter uses a thin rubber mat, about as generic feeling as it gets.  As insubstantial as the platter is, the wooden base of this turntable is quite solid, with the direct drive unit itself on the hefty side.  The arm board is a layered plywood construction.  To its credit, speed stability is supposedly improved by use of a magnetically imprinted strip on the underside of the turntable platter, with a tape head that feeds back the signal to the electronics.

In this case, the base of the turntable is stable and acoustically dead for the most part, the drive unit is hefty, but the platter and mat are not up to the same heft.  I feel the platter should have been at least several times as heavy as it is–there is benefit to having a lot of mass in the platter to deaden the sound (more on that below), as well as having a flywheel effect that would have further smoothed out the speed variations.

And yes, there were speed variations–you could faintly see the strobe “nudge” as it maintained speed.  Not as drastic as my cheaper “beater” direct drive turntable (a Realistic Lab-400 that is built like a tank, and great for spinning 78s), though.  The speed on this unit was not quartz locked, like later Denon tables would be.  Yet I wonder if those had better platters than this one.

So, why all the fuss on materials?  How do they actually sound? I’ve pulled out a couple of standby LPs to give the Walker turntable a trial run.  As in the past, I felt as though the Walker had a warmer, richer sound to it.  I now am also hearing that the bass is more solid.  One change I made this time was to use my turntable weight.  With the subchassis being suspended by springs, this meant I had to level the system differently to make up for the mass of the weight–the subchassis tends to sink if more weight is put on it.

Why the record weight?  It clamps the record down to the platter much tighter.  This platter is made of Tufnol, which is acoustically inert and quite dense. By coupling the record to the platter, you are in effect making the record and the turntable a single unit of mass, and the energy is dissipated from the vinyl to the platter.  With the clamp, the record is not just resting loosely on the platter, in other words.

Does this work?  Sure!  This is why many audiophile turntables come with a clamp.  And it works here as well.  What you will notice is that there is a lessening of “vinyl noise”.  That noise is not crackles or clicks, or hiss, but sort of a faint warbly rumbling to the sound.  The music comes out of a “blacker” background, for lack of a better term. One other effect of the dampening of the platter is that it solidifies the bass.

Pat Metheny: Secret StoryI have a great example of this. Keep in mind that I have not yet played the Walker using the weighted clamp.  (I do have a plastic “spider” clamp that clings to the spindle, but it does not lock down as tightly as I would like.)  Playing Pat Metheny’s “Cathedral In A Suitcase,” the 32Hz note at the end is a test of bass solidity.  On CD, the bass rings through loud and clear.  The Denon turntable’s playback was a bit more vague–32Hz was there, but not really resonating.  What struck me on the Walker this time was how this turntable just nailed it!  Boom, it was right there, resonating throughout the room.  It was not even a matter of volume, although it did appear more prominently–it felt as though the Denon was struggling with reproducing that note, where the Walker clarified it. Other records fare nicely in the bass also.  It just sounds as though there is an added bit of clarity, the sound being more in focus.  It is most noticeable in the bass, yet the midrange also seems to be more natural.

Now that the speed issue is mostly tamed, this turntable is finally starting to sound decent.  It only took me 30 years.

I used to use a platter mat on the Walker.  It was a thick mat made out of something resembling sorbothane, but firmer.  I no longer use it, at least not for the time being.  The Walker was made to be used without a mat.  While it may seem like heresy to put a record on a hard turntable platter, as long as both are clean, there are no issues whatsoever. I may do a comparison and see if the mat helps or hampers the sound.  The mat was designed to “cling” to the LP (yes, this is also safe) to help deaden it during playback, yet it did not have the benefit of mass to dissipate that energy.

Oh, and on that speed issue?  In the past, I’ve written about how the Walker used to play too fast, which to someone like me who is inflicted with perfect pitch, is sheer torture.  By using wide rubber bands on the perimeter of the subplatter, I was able to knock the speed down almost to where it should have been.  Far better.

Yet the belt on this turntable was always a problem.  The original two belts from the manufacturer never truly controlled the platter the way they should have, and the pitch would waver terribly, especially on piano music.  (Sheer torture…rebooted.)

When I last fired up this beast, I stole the belt from the now-departed Music Hall MMF-2.1.  That belt was too small in circumference, and too narrow.  Yet the tightness snapped the platter up to speed, where it should have been.  The narrow belt had it sometimes shifting up and down on the convex surface of the motor pulley.

I found the belt for the Walker from an Amazon seller in the UK.  Even with shipping to the US, the cost was probably half of what I’d pay from US sources.  As this one has worked out so well, I am going to order at least one or two more as spares.  Even if I sell it off, the new owner will have two new fresh belts to enjoy the turntable with.

I am on the verge of ordering a new cartridge, so I will be anxious to hear how truly revealing this setup is once it arrives in a few weeks.  I am also looking at some of the Pro-Ject turntables, such as the 6 Perspex, the RM-9, RM-10.1, and the Xtension 10 Evolution, for a purchase later next year.  The Xtension and RM-10.1 both have a 10″ arm, which is an inch longer than the standard 9″ arms on most turntables.  The Xtension also has the built in Speed Box SE, which sends a clean AC signal to the motor and allows for electronic adjustability.  But with my media player and media server issues, this upgrade may wait a bit longer. I’ll have more impressions of the Walker once the new cartridge gets here.  I’m anxious to hear it!

Review: Nicola Conte – Jet Sounds (Bossa Per Due)

Have you ever had the impression that someone had gotten into your hip dad’s basement and started thumbing through his old record collection from the 1960s? If so, that might have been Nicola Conte sneaking in the side door, and leaving with a few armfuls of those scratchy old LPs.

I grew up in the 60s and 70s, and from the time I was three years old, I was spinning records on the Admiral hi-fi in the basement.  My parents’ tastes ran the gamut–we had the old A&M stuff, quite a few by Mancini, some cha-cha and mambo records, some assorted jazz and easy listening, and a smattering of Bossa Nova.  Listening to Conte’s debut album, Jet Sounds, I hear plenty of echoes of the past, reminiscent of what I used to stack up on the Admiral’s woefully overstressed record changer. 

Conte is a classically trained jazz musician, producer and DJ, hailing from Italy. His name has appeared on many remix compilations over the years.  This album is comprised of samples of existing recordings, used as a base on which he layers additional instruments and vocals.  While I am not familiar with many of the samples, one of which stood out immediately for me is “Mambo De Los Dandies”.  Having grown up with Mancini’s soundtrack to Charade, I have “Mambo Parisienne” embedded in my genetic code, and hearing that familiar percussion intro, sped up slightly and turned into a completely different tune, is a treat!  It is quite a manic little mambo, layered with an organ and sax, with brass punctuating throughout.  

The other tracks are no less of a joy.  The one “hit” on this album is “Bossa Per Due,” used in a commercial for the Acura CL back around 2001.  This swirling Bossa has a breezy attitude that is infectious.  This is similarly carried over to “Forma 2000”, another energetic Bossa with a syncopated organ figure throughout, where “Il Cerchio Rosso” takes Bossa into a swingin’ 60s easy listening style.  The title track takes the Bossa Nova into more of a big band territory, and “The In Samba” cops the frantic guitar lick from the Stan Getz/Cal Tjader “Ginza Samba”.  “Dossier Omega” and “Missione a Bombay” both sound as though they are lifted out of a globetrotting James Brown, with the Indian-flavored sitar and tabla.  “Jazz Pour Dadine” also has that Italian cinematic feel to it.

There are many colors throughout this disc, and the many layers may take a few listens to fully “get” the music.  But it is worth it!  This recording is, simply put, fun!  And interesting enough that its many layers give plenty to discover on subsequent listens.  This is one album I wish I’d discovered a dozen years ago when it was still new.  Highly recommended!

Note: this album was released in some countries under the Bossa Per Due title, with a rearranged track order.  The 2-LP vinyl release of Jet Sounds also has a rearranged track order, yet two of my favorite tracks are omitted–“The In Samba” and “Mambo De Los Dandies”.  (It really makes no sense, as two of the sides do not even clock in at 15 minutes.)


Disturbing Trend: Universal’s Digital Watermark

While I am not opposed to copyright owners protecting their works, I am opposed when it does so in an obviously intrusive and destructive manner. Sony’s big fiasco from several years ago was to install a rootkit on a computer, whenever you inserted one of their CDs into your computer’s CD-ROM drive. Universal has something new up its sleeve, and it is in my opinion, even worse.

For over a year now or maybe more, Universal has been watermarking digital downloads. Not only is it audible in lossless downloads, it can even be heard in lossy MP3 downloads, paid downloads through services like Amazon and iTunes, on Internet radio services such as Pandora and Spotify, and even over FM radio when sourced from a digital file. The audibility is such that it is placed right into the most sensitive range of our hearing (1,000 to 3,600 Hz), and that removal of the watermarking within that range will result in further distortion in the altered file. The more technical details can be read elsewhere online, and I will link to them below.

Due to the nature of how it sounds, many have placed the blame for the poor sound on lossy MP3 compression (which is sonically the worst-sounding lossy compression out there). But in the past several months, many have been finding that even lossless files don’t sound quite right. I am currently researching to find out if CDs are affected, as well as the high-quality HDTracks downloads that are growing in popularity.

This blog has samples posted of the watermarking, including a comparison between a watermarked and an unmolested file, and a “difference” file to cancel out the music and demonstrate only the watermarking signal.  It also gives more of a technical explanation of how it works.  The Hydrogenaudio forums has had an ongoing thread about it, and even the EFF has had a say in it.  This is no small issue.

Consumers like us are screwed. A large corporation once against harms the large majority of honest consumers to go after the scant few who pirate the files through illegal downloads. To those of us who value quality sound, it is an insult to us to provide such an obviously defective “product” to us, and have the gall to charge a non-refundable full price for it.

It is further proof of how the industry “experts” who recommended this watermarking are of the same breed who have already run the recording industry into the ground and made the industry what it is today: a shambles. I also feel for those working at the labels, including the artists whose creations are being destroyed by watermarking, who have to live with the fallout.

For now, I do not recommend buying any Universal downloads released from 2012 onward, and I advise questioning the quality of any CD, SACD or HDTracks download until we can verify that these versions are unmolested. If we are expected to pay full price for our purchasing dollars, we demand full quality along with it.

Join our discussion at A&M Corner Forum; click the Discuss link below.

The Walker CJ55 “Phoenix Edition”

Phoenix Edition?  Yep, the Walker has once again risen from the dead.  The new belt arrived on Halloween, of all days, and I promptly moved the arm and cartridge from the Denon back to the Walker. I managed to get things dialed in within an hour, and was able to spin some vinyl later in the evening.

This is where things get weird. As you may recall, the problems I had with the Walker were speed related–not only did it always run too fast, it also had stability issues, and wavered constantly.  Piano music was a torture to listen to, as were any sustained notes.  I was at wit’s end.  Even with the Music Hall belt I borrowed, the speed would waver–the belt was a bit too narrow and would occasionally “hop” up and down within the pulley.

Here is what is supposedly an original replacement belt for the Walker CJ55.  But is it?  Any other belt I had always had some slippage to it.  This one doesn’t.  There is a groan as the turntable starts rotating, and then it locks on fairly quick.  My other belts never did this.  The tension of the belt is also higher than the other “official” belts I got from the importer–my motor mount modification would not be needed.  So far, so good–I’m liking this belt.

So far, the pitch seems like it is not wavering as much.  I still think I hear it wavering, but it could be all in my head.  But this is where the weirdness kicks in.  The turntable always ran fast.  Playing back my new setup, it seemed like the sound was dragging a bit.  I found a strobe online, which I printed out.  Turns out the turntable was now rotating too slowly!  Mmmm, OK.  I took off my rubber band fix from the subplatter, and tried it again.  Now, the speed is just about perfect!  If it is a hair off, I am not noticing it.

A quick summary then.  The original belt slipped and wavered, and the speed ran too fast.  A new belt from the importer did the same.  The Music Hall belt wavered because it was too narrow and sometimes hopped up and down within the pulley; the platter still ran too fast.  This new belt has the best grip, stays in place, and doesn’t seem to waver…and the speed is now perfect??

I just don’t get it.

My stylus is just about worn, so it is not too easy to give a good listen to this setup again.  I will follow up my listening comments in my next installment.