DVD & Blu-ray Reviews
21st Century Vinyl – Michael Fremer’s Practical Guide to Turntable Set-Up (2006)
Published on July 29, 2006
Studio: MF Productions mxangle1
Video: 4:3 color
Audio: Dolby Digital stereo
Extras: Bonus interview; 1950s movie clip introducing the stereodisc; DVD-ROM section with more set-up tips and information as PDF files
Michael Fremer is a senior contributing editor at Stereophile Magazine and publishes the online Music Angle (formerly the print publication Tracking Angle). He is the No. 1 vinyl guru in the audio world and had been asked by readers for years to put together a video guide to the intricacies of setting up a quality turntable and tonearm. This is the practical guide he put together, and I found it more fun than the several home theater set-up DVDs out there. For one thing, it kicks off with Michael’s return to his standup comedy roots, as he introduces the whole attraction of vinyl and gives a bit of the history of it as well as competing formats. He even adopts appropriate accents when explaining the differences between the way American, British and German record labels packaged their products.
First he explains the basics of setting up a turntable which apply no matter which one you invest in. Then he goes thru the actual set-up with three different TTs: a Pro-Ject RM-5, a Rega P5 and a VPI Scoutmaster, using three different phono cartridges. He demonstrates some of the gadgets that are available for setting stylus pressure, overhang and other parameters but explains that often just following what the manufacturer provides achieves good results. Basics such as not wearing long sleeves, and having plenty of good light up close to your work are stressed. Michael also admits that a video is not really the best way to show some of the exacting set-up required. This is handled by the 20 page PDF file which is accessed by bringing up the various files of the DVD-ROM section of the DVD on your computer. Michael’s article is very well-written and complete, with illustrations. At the end are some charts if you want to really split hairs on set-up, such as using a voltmeter to equalize the output of the two channels. I was going to point out that nowhere in the video portion does Michael say anything about record cleaning machines, but the PDF ends with a reprint of a very useful article he published some years ago on record cleaning. Here it is:
The video was designed to allay the fears of many audio buffs about setting up their turntables, and it should be most successful at that effort. Veterans can pick up some pointers too. I wrote down a few reminders I had forgotten about, not having fussed with my TT set-up in some years: Among them, that even small changes in the stylus pressure can change the vertical tracking angle much more than raising or lowering the tonearm at the pivot. That both LP sides without grooves and so-called antiskate test tracks of loud sounds are very poor ways to set proper antiskate on your tonearm. That you should judge azimuth and proper orientation by your cantilever and stylus – not by the sides of the cartridge body.
The DVD has some “Easter eggs” on it. There is no separate chapter heading for it, but if you select Play All rather than the individual chapter sections, you will be treated to an excerpt from a 1950s film which shows in animation how stereo records are made and played. The other even bigger Easter egg is accessed by fooling around with the Main Menu. A major part of the DVD is a visit to George Marino’s mastering studio and a discussion of the operation of his Neumann acetate disc-cutter. I like the cute little “correction buttons” that occasionally appeared at the bottom of the screen when Michael had made a mistake in his improvised spiel (such as calling the cartridge clips pins). They eliminated having to shoot the scenes all over again and kept the information non-confusing. (I did grimace at Michael’s dismissal of both surround sound and audiocassettes, but that’s just where he’s coming from.) Image transfer is high quality throughout and the sound is fine. The DVD is sure to be of valuable functional service to many audio buffs just getting into vinyl playback, and to remind us with Michael’s pep talk on its wonders that it really is a terrific format that has not died out by any means.