Editorials, Articles, Realizations
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Here is a quick and easy test to see how well a turntable and tonearm keep external vibrations from reaching the cartridge stylus and contaminating your music. For each step, listen for sound coming from your speakers. If you hear something, then you know how well your turntable and tonearm isolates, minimizes, or dampens vibration in each area. Many turntables are designed to only allow certain frequencies pass through specific parts of the turntable, with the goal of removing all vibrations before they can reach the stylus. So something to listen for is a change in the tonal quality of sound in each test. Use mute as needed between steps.
1. Turn up the volume to normal listening level. With the tonearm in the arm rest, tap gently on the headshell and the arm post with a fingernail, pencil eraser, etc.
That is the turntable isolation test. Now you have some idea of how your music is being polluted by the environment, and how well your turntable is designed to protect the record and stylus from external vibration.
Live music is the best reference to judge how good an audio system really is. I like Bruce Springsteen, Dire Straits, Doobie Brothers, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Joan Armatrading, Gloria Estefan, Steely Dan and others. I have heard all of these live, some more than once. As you probably know, not one of them normally performs in concerts that are completely acoustic with no electronic assistance. So what do they REALLY sound like? Is it the sound from the speakers in concert, the sound going live to a 2-track recorder (when available), the sound at the sound engineer's seat? Or maybe the multi-track sound in the recording studio when the LP or CD that I own was made? Is it realistic to eliminate any electronic music (electric guitar, etc.) as a reference recording unless we were present in the studio when it was recorded?
I have heard many Beethoven symphonies live, but unless I was there in the concert hall when the particular recording that I own was made, just going to live concerts, while certainly valuable and enjoyable, will not provide the reference for what I hear through my stereo system when playing a recording of a different performance of the same music than the one I attended. And then there is the whole issue of aural memory, and how accurately we can compare sonic events separated in time. This is a complex subject, but I hope I am communicating the idea that "live music" is not an easy reference point in the context of stereo system evaluation where components change frequently, and where even the time of day can alter what we hear.
Possibly the most valuable aspect of live, acoustic music for the evaluating the truthfulness of an audio system is the feeling one often gets of the music's purity, sweetness, dynamics, and transparency. While it is is often difficult to recall exactly how a cymbal sounds in all its complexity and then, later, listen for that level of detail back in the listening room, we can much more easily understand if a stereo system recreates the feeling we enjoyed from a live performance.
This is the rating scale I use for the magnitude of sonic characteristics (thanks to Dr. C.Z. of Denver):
“Small” – takes several hours or
more to hear