Some interesting things have come my way this month including the new Rega R100 cartridge and some super cut records.
First the super cuts. A word of explanation is required here for those who have yet to come in contact with these products.
A 'super cut' is a Hi-Fi version of a record that is already on release. The difference is that the super cut is half speed mastered and generally of the same standard of quality as the master tape.
In addition they are normally cut on so-called 'super vinyl' which is harder and a lot quieter than the normal material. The full dynamics and frequency range of the master tape is maintained throughout the production process.
This is where the half speed cutting comes in. If the master lacquer is cut at half the normal speed, four times the energy can be put onto the disc during transients.
So much for the technicalities — how do they sound? The simple answer is terrific! On a good system one becomes aware that the source material that is normally encountered is lousy. For example, the surface noise is lower than the noise generated by the amplifier so that the quite passages are really quiet.
A most illuminating experience is to compare the normal cut with the super cut version. When this is done the former invariably sounds as if it were recorded in a dynamic vice! The differences in intensity between the loud and soft passages seem, in comparison, very small.
Lovers of rock music, like myself, will be gratified to learn that more of our type of music is being issued in this format. In particular lovers of Supertramp and Pink Floyd read on. First, some comment on three Supertramp albums released by A&M records (A&M of course are Supertramp's normal record label): 'Crime of the Century', 'Even in the Quietest Moments' and 'Breakfast in America'.
Chronologically 'Even in the Quietest Moments' was the first of this trio to be released. The original recording dates from 1977. Artistically though I personally rate this as the least worthy. The standard of musicianship is superb but the compositions lack the panache of the other two albums.
Two of the best tracks are 'Fools Overture' and the title track. If you love the normal recording though you'll go overboard for the supercut. Crime of the Century is an exceptional album, even by super cut standards. Not only is the recording superb, but almost every track is musically satisfying. In particular the drum kit in 'School' is the most accurate I've ever heard on any recording, direct cuts included. The sheer power of the instrumental has to be experienced to be believed.
The last of this trio, 'Breakfast in America', is the band's last but one offering and offers the same high technical standards. The track that stands out, in the musical sense on this album is 'Child of Vision'. The piano solo on this track is exceptional.
If you only can afford or obtain one of these albums then 'Crime of the Century' is the one to choose.
Mobile Fidelity is a name that is rapidly becoming synonymous with super cut records and provides another interesting recording — the legendary 'Dark Side of the Moon', Pink Floyd album. This rock classic, in supercut, is now being imported into this country. At £12.50 though I must admit that my initial impression on listening to it was one of disappointment.
Compared to the Supertramp albums the differences between the normal and supercut versions was not so evident. After a few plays though the difference became clearer. Vocals on the supercut were more easily understood and the subtle nuances in the instrumentals were more apparent. Bass on 'Any Colour You Like' is definitely cut at a higher level and is felt more than heard.
All in all it is difficult to fault the album in a technical sense, although £12.50 is a lot of money. On a value for money basis the Supertramp albums are a better deal.
The testing of pickup cartridges is fraught with hidden difficulties. Apart from the inevitable slight differences in sound that occur due to the turntable employed there is always the chance that the sample reviewed is not representative of the stock item.
Although the measured parameters of a cartridge are interesting and occasionally revealing these do not indicate what it sounds like.
In order to write a sensible review of a product there must be some yardstick against which it is to be measured. This yardstick furthermore must be readily available. It's nonsense to compare all cartridges against a £500 Koetso, which 99.9% of readers will never hear. Similarly comparison against a G800 is equally useless.
For this reason, in future cartridge reviews the chosen reference is the VMS20E II mounted in a Rega arm. The reasoning behind this choice is simply that the cartridge is both a good performer and representative of what is actually used. The Rega arm is a high quality design that is capable of taking almost all of the cartridges currently available. It is used on the Rega planar turntable which is one of the best and is often mated with the Linn.
Having defined the reference we can get down to the nitty gritty and present a review. A new cartridge that recently appeared is the Rega R100. This moving magnet design was apparently designed completely on subjective factors. The story goes that Rega sent back the samples that the cartridge manufacturer provided, with notes suggesting improvements until a suitable sound was forthcoming. The cartridge is supplied without the usual data on compliance and output voltage.
Setting the cartridge up in the arm presented no problems. The optimum tracking force is 1.5gm and this was indeed found to be the best for tracking loud complex passages or direct cuts and digital discs.
First impressions of the sound were mixed. There was no lack of detail but compared to the reference the sound was very dry. There was, however, one area in which the cartridge really excelled and that was in presenting the stereo image. Compared to the Ortofon the sound had real depth.
Where the recording technique permitted, it was possible to determine the precise position of the instruments in space. A considerable achievement for a £37 cartridge. It should be noted, however, that obtaining this information requires that the speakers are mounted away from the walls to prevent diffraction effects.
The bass region was also better defined than on the 20E. Bass guitar notes had more of a plucked sound and bass drum sounded more natural.
The midrange was detailed and neutral but subtly different to the midrange presented by the reference. The high frequency notes lacked the sheen of the Ortofon but were equally detailed. Violins for example sounded more harsh, especially on close miked material.
All in all a cartridge that lacks the immediate attack of the Ortofon but which, on closer acquaintance performs considerably better on most counts. Prospective buyers are recommended to listen to both the Ortofon and R100, if possible, before buying. I feel that for most people the choice between the two will depend on their temperament.
Finally this month a few words on record deck support. Most people are aware that it is not a good idea to place a record deck where it is possible to pick up direct or airborne vibrations from the speakers. In extreme cases it is possible for the whole system to 'burst into oscillation'.
The problem is that the record deck and speakers couple mechanical energy to each other. The result is that the sound becomes coloured. One sure way to avoid the direct transmission of this energy is to mount the deck on a solid base. A marble slab from an undertaker's is ideal! Airborne energy can be reduced by playing records with the perspex lid down.
Feature by Jeff Macaulay
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