Welcome to our comprehensive and regularly updated set of more than 125 categorised frequently asked questions.
Our FAQs deliver useful information and the most sought-after answers to questions about amplifiers, speakers, turntables, general hi-fi stuff, service and repair, vintage vs modern gear and much more.
Each category contains questions I’m commonly asked, and many of the answers are actually detailed articles in their own right and make very interesting reading.
Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have a question I’ve not answered here. Suggestions are always welcome!
Click on a category to reveal the relevant questions.
- Amplifiers & Speakers
- Cassette Decks
- CD Players
- General Hi-Fi
- Liquid Audio
- Service & Repair
- Turntables & Vinyl
- Vintage vs Modern
I’ve read that I should replace any capacitors measuring 10% under spec – is this correct?
No, this is just typical of the misinformation so commonly found on the interwebs.
Most people shouldn’t be opening their equipment, let alone attempting to replace electronic parts that measure well within spec. Not only is this a waste of time, it is unlikely to solve faults and it dramatically increases the risk of damage, especially when the work is done by people who think you should replace in-spec capacitors. See where I’m going with this?
I know that this is not a popular message but I’m only interested in passing on accurate and factually correct information. My goal is to keep classic hi-fi equipment running, so please don’t shoot the messenger, just visit the Hall of Shame if you don’t believe me.
Let’s look at an example of the misinformation concerning capacitors, a misunderstood topic in general, using a real reader’s comment left under an article I wrote about the wonderful Kenwood KD-500 turntable.
This commenter was trying to help, but people read something and amplify some element of it, without the knowledge or experience needed to properly filter it. There is often some element of truth to these statements, requiring context to understand, but sometimes they are complete nonsense. The comment was made about speed issues with a turntable that were unrelated to capacitors:
A simple fix can be changing any electrolytic caps.. Always good to remove then and check there [sic] capacitance. 10% below should be changed.Mark
The Real Answer
This statement is incorrect in various ways, so here is my reply to Mark’s comment immediately after his:
Thanks for your comment Mark. I appreciate those trying to assist others, but given that your comment highlights general misinformation regarding technical electronics repair and only encourages capacitor replacement rather than finding and fixing the issues, it’s helpful if I explain why.
Capacitors are much maligned and generally poorly understood. Capacitors should be checked, but rarely cause speed issues with these decks. New caps are typically specified to be within +/- 20% of rated capacitance, like these excellent Panasonic parts for example https://industrial.panasonic.com/cdbs/www-data/pdf/RDF0000/ABA0000C1209.pdf.
A reading of within +/- 20% is within new part specs and measurement error. Replacing capacitors that measure within 10% of spec is not only a waste of time and money, but it will not fix anything unless those parts also have a measurably very high ESR.
Most end-users also don’t have the test equipment needed to make these measurements accurately, or the experience to interpret the results and therefore should definitely not remove or change parts they cannot properly measure and assess.Liquid Mike
New Caps Measure Low
Did you know that brand-new capacitors that have been sitting around for a while will measure low for C and high for ESR? There’s nothing wrong with them, they simply need to reform, a process that happens when they are charged, but according to the theory above, even brand new capacitors that have just been sitting for a while should be thrown away and this is, of course, not true.
As with all things technical, there’s nuance to understand. Capacitors can fail and must be replaced when they do. They can also be replaced, with the right technical understanding, to significantly improve performance, depending on where they are in a circuit. However, a 10% variance from rated spec does not constitute failure and may well be within the measurement error of the typically ordinary test gear most owners will have access to.
All too often though, perfectly good parts are binned and replaced with inferior parts that don’t fix anything, because they weren’t broken in the first place. This happens because most equipment owners don’t have the equipment needed to properly test capacitors, or interpret the results even if they did. ESR is a more important measurement than C in terms of capacitor health. Most don’t even know what it is, let alone how to measure and assess it.
Replacing parts can cause circuit board damage and introduce new faults. This is especially true when non-technical folks are doing this sort of work because many have poor re-work techniques and equipment. Again, a glance through the Hall of Shame shows that even people calling themselves technicians damage boards, all the time. As always, the best advice I can give is: if you’re not sure, leave it alone!
How much will my service or repair cost?
Generally just as much as necessary to complete the work you’ve asked us to do, and no more!
At Liquid Audio, your service, repair or restoration will consistently deliver exceptional attention to detail and value for money, but let’s look at our pricing structure in a bit more detail.
We have a minimum billable period of one hour and a flat rate of $120/hr. This allows us to assess and test equipment, identify and diagnose faults and their causes, estimate costs and commence the work required to resolve the issue/s. An hour is enough to complete smaller jobs and to develop an understanding of more complex ones that require greater disassembly, testing and diagnosis.
Work falling within a 1 – 3 hour window ($120 – $360 labour, plus parts) usually proceeds automatically, expediting the completion of routine maintenance and the rectification of commonly occurring faults. If the work needed will exceed 3 hours, we’ll let you know when you book your equipment or contact you with an estimate and options once we have them.
Where applicable, we offer options ranging from repair to improvement, overhaul and complete restoration. We also offer 4-hour/half-day workshop blocks, groupable in any number you like. This upfront approach can be helpful for customers working to a budget or in larger jobs with an unknown number of issues, where a defined end-point is preferred.
We inspect equipment before offering repair cost estimates to avoid unhelpful guesswork and ensure accurate assessment and fault diagnosis. We also offer pre and post-purchase equipment inspections to assist buyers. Note that our workshop rate is fixed, regardless of whether we’re working on Accuphase or Akai, Krell or Kenwood.
We do things differently here at Liquid Audio and this attention to detail, level of care and success rate are well known. Our rates are even better value when this totality of service and technical excellence are considered. Rest assured, we won’t damage, devalue or destroy your equipment either. We have no hidden administrative or assessment charges, we’re focused on delivering the best service, results and advice to our customers.
Note: We may decline to work on equipment that has been damaged by others or is no longer viable to repair. This saves everyone time and money. The last thing we want to do is generate a large bill for equipment that isn’t worth saving.
You can read more in these related FAQs:
Mike, do you listen to everything you work on?
In a word, yes!
This question always makes me laugh but my reputation is built on care and attention to detail. Listening to every piece is an essential part of quality control and my workflow. I know better than most that there are some shonky operators out there, but thankfully, we don’t all operate the same way.
Why do you have these FAQs?
The FAQs save everyone time, by addressing questions I’m most commonly asked.
Honestly, there are questions I’ve probably been asked hundreds of times now over the last 10+ years. Answering commonly asked questions like these takes a chunk of time and, without a good alternative, I’d almost never get any work done!
I write each FAQ and its answer based on something I’ve been asked recently, or previously. Writing carefully worded responses allows me to give you precisely the right information, in a way that saves your time and mine ultimately.
Yes, I invest a lot of my own time creating these often very detailed FAQs, but they generate a lot of goodwill too, so everyone wins!
What are system resolution limitations and why are they important?
System resolution limitations or ‘bottlenecks’ are critically important as they define the maximum performance attainable with a given set of equipment.
Think of it this way: You could have the best pair of speakers and source equipment in the world, but if your amplifier can only support a certain level of performance, maybe it has a cloudy or opaque sound, limited power, limited bass performance or midrange resolution, you will never be able to hear beyond that limit. Everything you play will be defined and limited by that weakest link. That’s why system optimisation as a whole is so vitally important.
Another way to think of this is using the classic ‘dirty window’ scenario. Imagine the sharpest, most detailed image in the world being held just behind a slightly dirty pane of glass. It doesn’t matter how good that image is technically, because you will only even be able to see the amount of detail limited by that dirty window and what can be observed through it. The only solutions are to clean the glass, replace it or remove it altogether.
What this means in the real world of hi-fi systems is that sometimes people upgrade elements of their system but then perhaps don’t hear much of an improvement or cannot get the most out of the improved equipment because of these existing system bottlenecks. The only way to substantially improve the system is to remove the bottleneck, or resolution limitation. This is why getting excellent advice about systems as a whole is so important.
Know Your Limits
Examples of system resolution limits and being surprised the results aren’t better include fitting really good cartridges to average turntables, using high-end MC cartridges with cheap phono preamps, connecting high-quality sources to opaque-sounding amplifiers or connecting high-quality balanced equipment through single-ended connections where the system is not balanced end-to-end. The key to removing system resolution limits is to first identify that they exist, and then precisely where they are. We can help with this through our advisory service.
You might be thinking: “Mike, this is obvious!” Good, but as obvious as it might seem to you, most people are not very good at identifying and eliminating system resolution limitations. Speak to those who really understand this concept and avoid those just looking to sell you equipment, that part really should be obvious!!
Can you contact me when you are accepting new bookings?
Unfortunately, this is rarely possible.
Please note that this isn’t to be difficult, it’s simply a logistical limitation resulting from the dozens of potential new booking enquiries we receive weekly, which amounts to hundreds per year. Keeping track of everyone wanting to book equipment in for work is just not possible, nor even sensible.
Using the booking status table on the contact page and staying in touch via email or voice are the best ways to ensure we look at your equipment. Send an enquiry, even if we’re full, that way we are in contact, which gets the ball rolling.
What motorcycles have you owned?
Finally, a non-electronics/hi-fi question! Several of my customers ride motorcycles and this question always comes up amongst motorcyclists. Here they are, in chronological order:
Motobecane 50cc moped, circa 1984
Yamaha RZ250, circa 1988
Yamaha RD250, circa 1989
Yamaha RD400, circa 1989
Suzuki GSX400 Four, circa 1990
Suzuki GSX550 Four, circa 1990
Kawasaki Z500, circa 1990
Suzuki GSX1100EFE, circa 1992
Suzuki Bandit 1200, purchased new, circa 1996
Suzuki TL1000S, purchased new, circa 1997
Yamaha YZF1000R, purchased new, circa 2005
Kawasaki ZX12R, purchased new, circa 2007
BMW R1200R, purchased at 5000km, circa 2010
Yamaha MT09, purchased new, 2018
BMW R1250R, purchased new, June 2023, returned due to service damage
BMW R1250R triple black, purchased new, September 2023
Why don’t you like working on equipment others have worked on?
Because in many cases the equipment will have been damaged or otherwise compromised, creating headaches for the next person.
This is a shame but it’s really just a reflection of what many working in technical fields know well – that the best equipment is unmolested equipment, in original condition, ready for someone to work on it who really knows how to care for it.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that equipment shouldn’t be worked on, only that it just has to be worked on by the right people and sadly, they are few and far between. Most attempts at maintenance introduce faults like damaged printed circuit boards, compromised wiring and low-quality parts.
Undoing much of this can be very time-consuming and tedious. It’s actually not part of my job description, nor is it something I enjoy. Thankfully, as the owner of my business, I can choose what I work on.
Should I send my equipment overseas instead of waiting for a booking with a reputable local repairer?
I hope the answer to this one is obvious.
A guy contacted me recently and was really annoyed that he couldn’t get his equipment in for attention immediately. He went on to tell me that he would no longer support local businesses and that he would instead send his equipment away for service. OK.
Nobody likes waiting, but busy schedules tell you a lot. I think most people would rather wait for a booking with an excellent, busy local repairer, than send their equipment overseas, to an unknown fate, with the costs of shipping and insurance and all the risks that shipping entails. I know I would, but I also get that we are all different.
Good repairers are busy for a reason and I would be worried if someone wasn’t busy. You can’t blame people for being busy, and Perth residents are actually very lucky to have several really highly regarded repairers based here in Perth. This is a win for local equipment owners and for the classic hi-fi scene in general.
Can you fast-track my repair if I pay more?!
No, all customers and equipment are treated equally at Liquid Audio.
I’ve been asked this a number of times, with the clear imputation that these potential customers would like to push their way to the front of my customer queue. I can only assume it’s worked for them before, but I don’t work in that way. Everyone is treated fairly here and jobs are fast-tracked only where there are legitimate reasons, such as health concerns or mission-critical time constraints.
Is it safe to buy hi-fi equipment on Gumtree?
Generally no, unless you are able to have equipment inspected and you understand that PayPal offers no buyer protection on Gumtree.
You need to be careful when buying anything like this on Gumtree, a local classifieds selling platform here in Australia. Did you know sellers can circumvent the buyer protection that normally exists when you use PayPal?
I wanted to purchase something recently and the seller, a guy called Suso who then quickly changed his name to jackypl, said he accepted PayPal. The item I was looking at cost around $4.5K AUD and when you buy something expensive sight unseen, you need all the protection you can get.
So, I asked if I could pay with PayPal. The seller took a long time to reply (warning #1) and then said I could, but that it would cost more (warning #2), despite the listing claiming that PaPayPal was accepted, at the asking price. Anyway, I agreed and asked for the invoice to be sent. I was about to pay the PayPal invoice when I read the fine print:
“NOTE: Buyer protection is not available on this transaction.”PayPal payment window
That’s right, you pay to use PayPal and then discover that the main reason for using it isn’t available. What’s the point if there’s no buyer protection? You just pay more, for no reason.
I followed up with Gumtree who told me they didn’t offer buyer protection, and PayPal, who told me they did AND they didn’t (warning #3). One of the PayPal agents told me they did, as long as the seller invoices you a proper goods and services invoice rather than using the family and friends option. The other agent told me they didn’t offer buyer protection on any Gumtree transactions.
The seller stopped responding when I asked about this (warning #4). To me, this behaviour indicated he had something to hide and I decided the guy and his gear were too dodgy. It seems like he may have used a payment option that negated buyer protection.
I bailed on this transaction and bought a better model directly from Japan. My advice is to avoid PayPal on Gumtree, and probably to avoid Suso / jackpyl.
Should I work on my own equipment?
The answer depends on your skill level, access to tools, parts, etc. and understanding of the work required.
Working on your own equipment can be very rewarding and can save money and enhance the ownership experience. For some, basic maintenance may be quite straightforward and yet for others, the results can be disastrous, so as always, pick your battles!
Know What You Are Doing!
There’s a simple truth that I believe applies to all situations like this and is eloquently expressed by one of my favourite YouTubers:
If you know what you are are doing, you have a tendancy to KNOW that you know what you are doing!Ed Ting
If you know that you know what you are doing, excellent. Be aware though that most owners do not know what they are doing and most dangerous of all, don’t know that they don’t know.
Working on electronics requires very specific knowledge, skills and tools that the average person simply won’t possess. The particular skill sets needed to do a job well take years to acquire. Desoldering, for example, is done poorly by most technicians, let alone first-timers. Bad re-work can quickly destroy a piece of equipment.
Tougher jobs, requiring access to mission-critical information, experience, tools and techniques can slow you down, increase the risk of inflicting damage and place you at the mercy of the forums and armchair experts. This is where things can really go wrong and one piece of bad advice can turn things upside down.
Horses for Courses
It’s sensible to get the best and most experienced person to do a job. This guarantees the best result, assuming you go to someone good, and it frees you up to earn money doing what you are good at. We all want to save money, yet paradoxically, attempting highly specialised work like electronics repair can often end up costing a lot more money in the long run.
Why can’t general electronics repairers properly cater for hi-fi stereo equipment?
Because hi-fi stereo equipment is specialised, quite different from appliances, and requires a specialist approach to fault-finding and repair.
Hi-fi equipment contains unique components and mechanical designs. A unique set of knowledge and skills accompanies working on this type of gear. General electronics repairers, musical instrument techs and whitegoods repair guys do not have the requisite knowledge, skills and tools to expediently and expertly repair this gear.
Many pieces of equipment I’ve worked on had visited general electronics repairers beforehand and usually, it’s just a waste of time and money. Occasionally it’s much worse. One really important aspect of this work is the parts used in hi-fi gear and the tools used to repair it.
What are intermittent faults and why are they a pain?
Intermittent faults are perhaps the most annoying type of faults one comes across when working on electronics. Whilst they occur in various fields, they are commonly found in the domain of electronics and can be a right royal PITA!
Intermittent faults are best described as faults that:
- Come and go, they are not always present
- Can be difficult to trigger or replicate
- Maybe modulated by triggers like temperature or voltage
Why indeed! There are a few reasons for the appearance of intermittent faults:
- Solder joints may degrade over time and become electrically or thermally intermittent
- Capacitors and resistors change both as they age and as they warm up during operation, altering their performance
- Transistors and diodes may develop internal leakage, causing gain changes and noise. This may present as popping, rushing, crackling, whistling and even silence. They may also cause DC offsets, tripping equipment protection circuits.
- Electronic parts don’t generally show obvious signs of deterioration as they age. They must be tested, often under dynamic conditions, to establish functionality and health. There may be hundreds of electronic parts in a piece of equipment…
Transistors are most likely to cause really painful intermittent faults and some types are more prone to doing so, a list of which I keep both electronically and in my brain! You don’t want to replace every transistor in the hope of resolving something like this. That’s a costly, wasteful process that may even change the sonic character of the equipment.
With the component level repair approach necessary when working on older hi-fi equipment, one should always find the culprit/s and replace them, and others like them, where necessary. In other words, we always want to find the cause of the problem and eliminate it. Paradoxically, even reworking the dry joints associated with a bad transistor can sometimes ‘cure’ it for days or weeks, only for the problem to reappear. Fixing these problems is where we earn our money.
Pain & Pleasure
Resolving these faults can be technically challenging, especially if the fault disappears for a while as they sometimes can. There are ways and means of ‘coaxing’ these faults out of hiding, but equipment will occasionally need a couple of visits for really problematic intermittent faults to be exterminated! Whilst these intermittent faults can be painful, they are also extremely satisfying to resolve and you have to resolve them to keep the gear that we love alive.
How do I choose a better amplifier?
I suggest you focus on three main areas: reducing integration, looking for better-engineered and built older equipment and, as a result, improving performance.
Let’s examine each of these, in turn.
Integration refers to the level of stuffing of a box of electronics with different functions. Let’s look at amplifiers for example. The simplest solution is called a receiver. This is actually a power amplifier, preamplifier and tuner, all in one box. Some are small and heavily compromised and these tend to be the most affordable. Others are epic and huuuge like this Sansui G-8000! These are less compromised but still compromised as compared to separating out the elements.
One level less amplifier integration is to get rid of the radio, leaving you with an integrated amplifier – a combined preamplifier and power amplifier in a box. Examples include these two beauties, and hundreds of others.
The least integrated and therefore best-performing amplifiers are separate preamplifier/power amplifier combinations, like my Accuphase C-280V and P-360 for example.
If there’s one takeaway here I want you to understand that integration is the enemy of performance. The best solutions are always the least integrated ones. So if you want to improve your amplification, reduce its level of integration.
Build & Engineering
I’ve written about this a lot over the years but there is no special new technology that makes a modern amplifier in 2023 any better than a vintage amplifier from the ’70s or ’80s. There are lots of reduction in build quality and engineering though that make the older gear often significantly more desirable, better performing and longer lasting.
Waveform fidelity can be thought of as the absolute precision with which signals are amplified. Technically, this covers dynamic fidelity too, but it’s worth thinking of them separately, as it allows us to discuss great sounding low powered amplifiers, too. Waveform fidelity is ultimately determined by the quality of design and components used, how many corners are cut, or not cut etc.
Dynamic fidelity relates to the ability to replay the full dynamic range of the music and comes down to how many output devices there are and the rail voltages supplying them, amongst other things. In order to be able to reproduce the full range of sounds from soft to loud, within your listening envelope, and with the sensitivity of your speakers in mind as this is critical, a certain amplifier power output will be required.
The easiest way forward for most owners of basic receivers and integrated amplifiers is to purchase a much better integrated amplifier, like an Accuphase E-202 or E-303, Krell KAV-300i, Luxman L-550, Sansui AU-919, Technics SU-V8, Yamaha CA-2010, and there are many, many others.
The very best way forward is a preamplifier/power amplifier combo, again, of which there are many. This will take up more space, but it is the ultimate solution and keeps small signal and large signal circuits largely separate. Wanna go super-ultimate? You’ll need two mono-bloc power amplifiers to go with your preamplifier.
The best bang per buck will always come from older gear.
I’m more than happy to provide further advice and many more recommendations if you’d like to purchase an advice block or consult, via our contact page.
Regarding power, read this: https://liquidaudio.com.au/faq/are-low-power-amplifiers-acceptable-in-hi-fi-systems/ and this: https://liquidaudio.com.au/faq/how-important-is-it-to-match-amplifier-power-output-with-speaker-sensitivity/.
Power is important, there’s no getting away from that, but some of the very best-sounding amplifiers are lowish-powered class-A designs. They have dynamic limits that must be respected though and using one might require a tradeoff of improved fidelity for reduced dynamic capabilities, or more sensitive speakers.
Conventional speakers of around 87 – 89dB/Watt sensitivity will, in most cases, require around 100 Watts per channel to achieve moderate dynamic realism without clipping or compression in most environments. Low-level listening and high-sensitivity speakers change that picture, allowing for less power. Bigger rooms, less sensitive speakers and those that demand realistic sound pressure levels will require much more power.
Regarding amplifier types, read this: https://liquidaudio.com.au/faq/whats-the-best-amplifier-design-if-i-want-the-highest-fidelity/, and this: https://liquidaudio.com.au/faq/what-are-the-advantages-of-class-a-amplifiers/.
What to Look Out For
In terms of what to look out for, this is heavily influenced by budget as this will include some features and exclude others.
- Avoid very low-powered stuff, except for low-level listening and/or very sensitive (ie non-standard) speakers
- Avoid very cheap stuff as you get what you pay for and really good gear is never cheap.
- Look for class-A amplifiers, MOSFET output devices, and seriously heavy equipment.
- Failing some of these, you still want the heaviest, most serious equipment you can afford. Good equipment is NEVER light.
Regarding equipment you currently own, maintaining gear you love is always worthwhile and spending money on it will improve it, if that work is done by a competent technician. Just keep in mind that, no matter what parts are installed, you cannot make a piece of basic gear into a high-end killer.
Most people should look to a significant equipment improvement, requiring a significant outlay. If budget is the overriding factor, I suggest saving and waiting until your budget allows for the purchase of equipment that significantly improves on your current amplifier.
- Reduce integration, improve quality, engineering
- For sonic improvements you have to move forward, not sideways
- To improve on a basic integrated amplifier, you need a better, more expensive design and less integration
- Good advice is critical to making the right decisions, bad advice leads to the wrong ones.
Need More Advice?
For those needing more assistance, we offer an advisory service that lets us have a proper discussion about your specific set of circumstances. You won’t feel bad for taking up my time because you are paying for it and I specifically allocate time to assist people who take advantage of this service.
Mike, what do you think of affordable, modern phono preamplifiers?
Do you mean those ‘affordable’ modern phono preamplifiers that cost $1000 or more, contain about $50 worth of parts if you’re lucky and sound ordinary? Not a lot.
You first need to understand that I’ve been spoiled by great phono preamps made when vinyl was at its peak. Much of the excellent equipment from that era is unsurpassed in terms of build, technical specifications and sonic performance. Cheaper, modern gear simply cannot hold a candle to it, despite all the hype and often impressive on-paper specs.
There isn’t a lot new in terms of analog circuit design and engineering that improves phono preamps. There are improvements in opamp design and miniaturisation though and these things save money. The very high cost of labour and the resulting increased production cost of gear these days mean that reducing construction costs is critically important.
These days we have affordable phono preamplifiers filled mostly with op-amps and cheap, miniature passive parts. Very few affordable discrete designs containing really high-quality parts exist.
How good is the Denon DL-103 MC cartridge?
Very good, actually great, for the money, and on the right tonearm.
TLDR: The Denon DL-103 MC cartridge is, in my opinion, probably the best cartridge available for higher mass arms at the ridiculously low $400 asking price. That being said, it isn’t well-suited to many turntables and tonearms, nor is it anywhere near as good as the very best carts available when we remove the price restriction. It’s important to understand this bigger picture or the results could be less than you hoped for.
The Denon DL-103 was designed to work properly on longer, heavier arms, bolted to a nice heavy headshell. That’s because the 103 is an old-school low-output, low-compliance design with a conical stylus. The DL-103 needs a little more mass for the suspension to work properly.
Understanding cartridge physics is vital to understanding how cartridges interact with headshells and tonearms. Cartridge-tonearm compatibility comes down to simple math and becomes intuitive with experience and a good technical understanding of the mechanics/physics involved.
Make sure whoever supplies and fits your cartridge can explain this and verify compatibility with your equipment. Walk away from anyone who tries to tell you that “this isn’t important” or that “the DL-103 will work on any arm” or is “the best cartridge available”. Comments like these merely serve to highlight the need for better advice and FAQs like this one.
The DL-103 is a beautifully made and presented low-output moving coil cartridge. The 103’s status is legendary and she sounds great – on the right rig. It’s a classic-sounding cartridge because it was designed long ago. Tonearm design philosophies have changed since it was designed though. We’ve had eras of super low-mass arms, to which a DL-103 should never be fitted. We are now in a medium-mass tonearm era. The DL-103 can be used with many medium-mass arms, as long as that all-important physics is kept in mind, and headshell and counterweight mass are adjusted accordingly.
OK, so we’ve established that the DL-103 is designed to work with certain tonearms and therefore turntables. On the right arm and turntable then, how good is the DL-103? It’s good, very good for the money. Whilst there are significant improvements available with better designs, the Denon DL-103 sounds balanced, clean and powerful, with no obvious issues anywhere. The DL-103 offers higher resolution than similarly priced MM carts when partnered with a suitable high-gain phono pre-amp (critically important). Overall, the DL-103 is better than similarly priced MM carts, as long as the aforementioned conditions are met.
Looking at the bigger picture, I think everyone loves the idea that a $400 cartridge with an aluminium cantilever and conical diamond might be as good as cartridges costing thousands, but of course, this is just whimsy. If the DL-103 was as good as my Ortofon MC-A90, MC Jubilee, Supex SDX-1100D, or even my Fidelity Research MC-202 or FR-1 Mk3 for example, I’d sell them and only use Denon DL-103s!
Good as the DL-103 is for the money, once you’ve heard a better cart properly set up on a deck that can support it, there’s no going back. Broaden your vinyl horizons if you love vinyl but haven’t heard a killer high-end cart. The DL-103 will never be the most resolving, airy or articulate cartridge, but it will of course smack around Ortofon 2M Reds, Audio Technica VM95Es, etc.
Remember, stores only want to sell these things. They don’t care about how well it is going to work in your set-up. For many, once the sale is complete and if it plays a record, that’s it! And, for many, even if the set-up is sub-optimal, the result might still be better than the crappy cartridge most step up from when spending $400 on a cartridge.
Has the retailer explained that the DL-103 is a very low output moving coil cartridge and that means it will need a high gain phono preamp and/or a step-up transformer? Have they mentioned how much more a good high-gain phono pre or transformer costs or how critically important they are in extracting the most from a good MC cart..?
This is why context, common sense and knowledge are so important, and why I am always talking about knowledge being the most important upgrade one can make. Better knowledge and understanding lead to better choices, better matches and better results.
There are some specced-up versions of the DL-103 available, like the DL-103R for example. The DL-103R is certainly a better-sounding option for most people, though having heard most of the variants available, I think the best bang-per-buck version is the Denon factory original.
Other manufacturers dress up DL-103s in fancy aluminium or wooden bodies and charge hundreds more for them. Does that sound like great value to you? You can take a basic cartridge and wrap it in a fancy metal box, and it’s still a basic cartridge in a fancy metal box, so be mindful of this.
The Bottom Line
So, can you do better than a DL-103? Of course. A good $1500 cart like an Ortofon Quintet Black S crushes it and even at $699, Audio Technica’s AT-OC9XEN is better in most setups. A better question would be: Can you do better than a DL-103 for $400, on the right tonearm? Probably not, and not unless you pick up a really good second-hand cart. Nothing else will touch a DL-103 for the money, in the right setup. Just don’t expect great results on an SME 3009 or Technics SL-1200, the DL-103 is a bad choice on those and many other arms.
If this information has been helpful, you can say thanks by buying me a drink or making a donation using the button in the footer!
What irritates you?!
There aren’t many things that irritate me in my line of work, but since you asked…
People who drain time, energy and goodwill.
For me, the one-way ‘brain drain’ is constant, but a special few will take whatever they can get without ever giving anything back and expect you to always be there to answer questions, often without bringing any business of their own. Frustrating.
People who make bookings and then don’t show up
Wow, this is an annoying one, it happens rarely but when you are stuck waiting for someone who never shows up it can seriously mess up your workflow.
Every word, image, and technical detail you see on this website comes from my brain. Sadly, the same cannot be said for some others out there, some of whom borrow heavily from my website and approach.
When people repeatedly ask if I’ve looked at their equipment
I understand everyone wants their equipment looked at quickly, but if I’ve explained that we’re fully booked, please don’t repeatedly call me to ask if it’s ready!
Very occasionally, I will deal with a rude or otherwise unpleasant individual. The great thing about running your own business is that you get to decide who your customers will be. My colleagues and I keep a list of people who’ve upset one or more of us and who we will not assist.
Why did you remove the phone number from your contact page?
So I can get more work done!
UPDATE: I put it back up anyway, I figure many legitimate enquirers want my number, so it’s back up.
Liquid Audio is not a retailer. Generally speaking, the only calls I should be receiving are from people wanting to book equipment for work, or from folks who’ve purchased advice blocks or consults from our popular advisory service. Beyond this, calls and messages are a distraction.
We have streamlined processes in place for handling enquiries via our contact form. The contact form captures information relating to the type of enquiry, personal details and the equipment in question. I’ve carefully designed it to collect all the information I need before speaking with people, maximising efficiency and minimising wasted time.
If you need to get in touch, the best way is to fill out the contact form, on our contact page. Alternatively, if you are already a customer, or if you have a business card given to you by one of Perth’s best hi-fi retailers, you are of course welcome to call.
What’s better: a short tonearm or a longer one?
Other things being equal, a longer tonearm is always better, with one exception: linear tracking arms.
The reason you want a long conventional arm, or a linear tracker of any length, is to eliminate tracking error and therefore tracking distortion.
When a tonearm moves across a record, it does so in an arc, because the arm is fixed at a point that becomes the radius for arm motion across the record. Ideally, the tonearm would move in a straight line across the record. That isn’t possible, except in the case of the linear tracking arm, seen on decks like the Technics SL-10 for example.
For conventional arms, the stylus will scribe an arc across the record, the curvature of which is determined by the length of the arm. The longer the arm, the greater the radius, the gentler the arc and the lower the tracking error, and therefore distortion.
This is the single reason why many of the best tonearms are 12 inches long in the old money. Very good arms are usually 10 inches long or close to it and the standard length is around 9 inches. There are some excellent 9-inch arms, but this is about as short as you want to go before tracking error causes significant tracking distortion.
You’ll occasionally find turntables with short tonearms, mostly sold in department stores. I’ve worked on a few Gold Notes for example with 8-inch arms. Short arms allow for small turntables, but the compromises are too great and I strongly suggest you avoid anything with a less than 9-inch tonearm.
Are there customers you won’t work with?
Yes, but thankfully, not many!
Liquid Audio, in collaboration with Perth’s best repairers, manages a short list of people who, for various (very good) reasons, will not be assisted by any of us. Each of us adds to this list as needed (+1 from Liquid Audio in 2022, +1 in 2023), but we enjoy fantastic relationships with 99.9% of our customers and new additions are rare.
Liquid Audio maintains the highest standards of courtesy, professionalism and workmanship, and is one of Australia’s most trusted repairers. We attract great customers who generally understand what it means to own older equipment and appreciate that there are businesses like ours to properly care for it.
That being said, as every business owner knows, you simply cannot please everyone, no matter how well you run a business. The customer isn’t always right and, in truth, there will always be a small number of people so unreasonable, problematic and difficult to deal with that attempts to do so are simply best avoided.
Whether rude, harassing or some combination of undesirable traits, rather than battle with people like this, my colleagues and I have a simple zero-tolerance policy:
Someone really has to do the wrong thing to receive a perma-ban, but if/when they do, they effectively lose access to all the best repairers in Perth, no matter which one of us they upset!
Are remastered records better than originals?
A very good question, with no simple answer, other than no, often they are not.
This varies due to many factors, but remastered records are often worse than early pressings, and very occasionally better.
Here’s what we know about analog recordings made on tape (as almost all analog recordings are): they offer the highest resolution, but deteriorate over time. The very best versions of the masters, mix-down masters, sub-masters and various analogs that make their way to the record pressing facilities are the ones made as close to when the original analog recordings were made.
What this means for records is that the early ones or those closest to the recording are often the best, all other things being equal. Better still, you want an early pressing from one of the first stampers made from the first mother – the moulds used to create the moulds used to press records. That’s because the moulds deteriorate every time they are used and the original master recording deteriorate from the moment they are made and every time they are played.
Add to this the fact that record plants, equipment, technicians and the people that operate the tape machines were all at their peak years ago, not right now, and the tendency for remasters to be produced too hot and you have a combination that renders modern remasters often disappointing. Don’t just take my word for it though, you can read more about this in many great articles online, like this good primer for example.
That being said, if you get the right album, remastered by the right engineer, in the right studio, with really good, intact analog masters as closely as possible to the originals, with good quality, clean vinyl that’s been well pressed, thick and flat, remasters can sometimes sound better than the originals, or at least as good. The problem is, there are not enough like this!
Mike – cassette decks – what’s the deal?
Cassette decks offer a ton of fun and a real ‘blast from the past’ user experience, but there are a few things to consider before you go crazy.
Cassette decks are amongst the most complex of hi-fi gear and generally require the most maintenance due to their electro-mechanical nature, belts, gears, and motors. Think of the VCR you used to own, and you’ll not be far away.
This maintenance is regular and periodic, with some necessary every 10 hours or so in the form of tape path cleaning, if you want to be really picky. It’s also specialised, requiring special tools, lubricants, demagnetisers, calibration/test tapes and more. The work can be time-consuming and technical, and much of it is way beyond most owners. So, the catch-22 with cassette decks is that as fun as they are, they can be costly to maintain.
Whatever, I have several cassette decks and I love playing tapes. It really takes me back and a good three-head dual-capstan machine like my Pioneer CT-A9X sounds excellent. Just remember, compact cassette, to use its correct name, was never intended to be a true hi-fi medium. It became one, and better decks with good tapes can sound excellent, but it’s more about the experience: warmth, VU meters, spinning reels and tactile interaction with these wonderful whirring machines.
If you want a cassette deck, look for a better, three-head, dual-capstan deck, from one of the bigger players like AKAI, Kenwood, Pioneer, Revox, Sony, TEAC, Technics, Yamaha and Nakamichi. Better decks cost more and are worth more, so the inevitable maintenance doesn’t feel so painful.
Full ‘mechanism out’ services have to be done periodically and can take many hours. Many more hours can be spent on calibration. Most decks need major work at this age and the better decks are still very serviceable, but heads, pinch rollers and some other parts may be impossible to obtain, so choose carefully. If in doubt, get good advice from someone who actually works on these wonderful old machines, and consider a specialist forum like TapeHeads.
Why didn’t you repair my equipment?
That depends on the particular circumstances associated with your piece of equipment.
We focus on broken and often ‘unrepairable’ hi-fi equipment and fix almost all of it. This is significant, because:
- Much of it is complex, older equipment, presenting with multiple faults
- Many pieces have visited others who could not effect repair
- Repairing this type of equipment requires a fault-focussed component-level approach that many don’t offer
Think about it this way: if repairs like this were easy, there’d be no demand for our services, yet we are almost always fully booked, without advertising. Naturally, there will always be circumstances where repairs aren’t viable, or even possible within sensible limits. There are also intermittent faults that may be challenging to isolate and completely resolve. These considerations are part and parcel of working with complex, older anything, but especially electronics.
In cases where repair costs are likely to exceed equipment value or customer budget, we may deem the work non-viable. We consider the condition, faults, value and work needed to properly repair a piece of equipment and even the customer when making this call. Let’s look at some examples:
- A customer doesn’t want or cannot afford to have the equipment properly repaired
- Critical parts and/or substitutes are no longer available
- A repair is not worth pursuing due to equipment condition, value, or customer issues
It’s important to understand that we are not responsible for equipment condition, faults, customer budget, parts or manufacturer support availability, or overall repair viability. These elements are beyond our control, something which should be obvious but is worth mentioning.
I recently worked on an old amplifier, in poor condition, with various issues. The owner had emptied an entire can of WD-40 into it, it had been modified without documentation, messed with by various people, and was dirty, damaged and not well cared for. It was brought to us only after everyone who shouldn’t have touched it, had. I don’t want equipment when it’s too late.
Mike, why even bother looking at equipment like this?Level-headed enquirer
Generally, I wouldn’t, but I didn’t know about the internal condition or the customer when I agreed to help. Unfortunately, after several hours of working through issues with the unit, I decided that further work was not viable due to a combination of issues beyond our control.
This doesn’t mean the amplifier can’t be repaired of course, only that it cannot be economically repaired, given the issues, condition and type of equipment. Despite doing my best to help this customer, carefully explaining the issues and only charging our minimum, we were blamed for not fixing the amplifier and I wasn’t even thanked, despite doing my very best with something I wouldn’t even normally look at given its terrible condition.
This is an example of a customer I chose not to assist again.
It’s like an 85-year-old visiting the doctor, wanting to be cured of arthritis. When the doctor examines the patient and determines that the required joint replacements and therapy are beyond viable, does that become the doctor’s fault or responsibility? Should the doctor provide their time and expertise for free, simply because the patient doesn’t like the answer?! Of course not.
There are no miracles, but plenty of affordable gear is viable to repair, especially if it’s in good condition and hasn’t been tinkered with.
My high-end amplifier has failed, how much will repairs cost?
That’s a good question that we can answer only by determining precisely what’s gone wrong with it.
This concept applies to just about everything, so it’s an important one to understand. Note: General service and repair costs are discussed in this FAQ.
The first thing to understand is that electronic equipment failures are typically ‘black box’ scenarios. In other words, you cannot look at electronic equipment from the outside and know what’s going on inside. This applies to the equipment itself and to electronic parts in most cases, too. The more complex the equipment, the more unknowns potentially lie within and guessing what’s wrong just isn’t a useful option for professional technicians.
The first step is always inspection and assessment. Asking for a ‘quote’ to repair anything sight unseen, especially a complex, high-end amplifier for example, is asking for a non-evidence-based guess as to what’s wrong, what parts will be needed and how long the repair will take. It’s like asking a mechanic for a quote to fix a car that won’t start and that they haven’t seen. It’s a pointless exercise that brings us no closer to knowing what’s wrong and how much a repair will cost.
There are six key steps to electrical fault finding and repair:
- Collection of evidence
- Analysis of the evidence
- Location of the fault
- Determination and removal of the cause
- Rectification of the fault
- Checking, adjustment and calibration
Note: Steps 1 to 3 generally have to be completed before a cost estimate can be offered and can only be completed hands-on with the equipment. This is called assessment.
Other issues may become evident once work has commenced, which is why reputable repairers typically provide cost estimates, and only after inspection and assessment.
So, what does someone have to gain by pretending to know what’s wrong and how much a repair will cost? Simple: business. Some folks expect sight-unseen quotes, regardless of how illogical that is, and less ethical repairers enable this expectation because it gets them bookings they probably need. We don’t operate like that.
Have a look at my recent Krell KSA-100S repair for example. I could never have guessed that the last issue with that amplifier existed, let alone what it was, despite repairing various other critical faults first. Likewise, an Accuphase E-303 I repaired recently contained five unrelated faults, none of which could be known before tracing and diagnosing them.
The last thing you want when you have a repairable amplifier is for the wrong people to leave you with a ruined one. Take this beautiful Gryphon DM-100 class-A amplifier for example. This lovely amplifier sadly visited all the wrong people before I saw it, presumably in an attempt to save the owner money. As always, no money was saved because the amplifier was effectively destroyed in the process.
What’s better: a good moving magnet cartridge or a cheap moving coil?
I don’t like either very much, but that being said, I’d generally recommend a good moving magnet cartridge over a cheap moving coil, for a variety of reasons.
If you have say around $500 to spend, and assuming you are chasing a medium compliance cartridge for a typical medium mass tonearm, there are lots of choices. Moving coil cartridges are technically better for a number of reasons, but at this low price point (yes, $500 is low priced for cartridges), moving coils are almost always high output types, of basic construction and generally don’t sound great. An exception is the venerable Denon DL-103, but it’s not suited to lower-mass arms.
Why? Cheap cartridges with aluminium cantilevers and spherical or elliptical styli don’t sound amazing, whatever the flavour. A nice moving magnet at this price probably has a better diamond, and better cantilever and is going to sound warmer, punchier and probably a little easier on the ear, even if it does lack resolution. There are no surprises here.
Much beyond $500, moving magnet cartridges don’t get a lot better because they are technically limited by the mass or inertia of the moving elements. Low-output moving coils start to come into their own at around the $750 mark. From here, the advantages of moving coils become critically important and this is why most cartridges I recommend from $750 are MC type. The equally legendary but better Audio Technica AT-OC9, in affordable XEN configuration is available at this price point and crushes most similarly priced MM carts.
This is why basically all high-end cartridges are coils. It’s also why all of my serious carts are and have been moving coils. listen to any good system and you’ll hear it, but it creates that age-old equipment problem of wanting to spend more and more money! Keep in mind though that you need an altogether better playback chain to get the most out of a low-output MC cart.
A classic rookie error involves listening to a good low-output MC cart on a phono preamp that isn’t good enough to extract the best out of these designs. You’ll never hear all that the low-output MC cart can do because of the limited resolution of the phono preamp. The best solution is a better preamp and/or high-quality step-up transformer.
Mike, how do you feel about people seeking your advice and taking their business elsewhere?
It happens to all of us, the trick is to filter out those who seem likely to behave in this way before wasting time and energy on them.
I’m pleased that we’ve become a trusted source of advice and guidance over the years, a lot of hard work has gone into building that reputation and trust.
“Mike, I used your review to learn about and find a vintage Pioneer turntable you recommended, and bought the cartridge and headshell you recommended elsewhere. Can you tell me how to set it all up..?”Person A
Sorry, but no.
Support Small Business
When you support independent, specialists like Liquid Audio, you’re supporting me and my work. Many of us battle zero-service online discounters and grey importers offering nothing other than marginally cheaper products that they buy in bulk. Price is important, but the bigger picture and developing a relationship with local businesses is far more important.
“Mike I read your article about repairing xyz. I don’t want to bring my equipment to you but can you tell me what parts you used and where to get them..?”Person B
Customers are often inspired to buy interesting equipment and accessories through the website or a chat with me. This ‘organic learning’ is incredibly useful. Building a relationship with someone you can trust is infinitely more beneficial in the long term than saving fifty bucks.
If you enjoy this website, if you’ve found inspiration here or if I’ve taught you something, support my business! You can say thanks by shouting me a drink in the footer. Better still, grab some advice or best of all, support us by giving us your business and engaging us to work on some equipment for you.
By doing these things, you’ll be building a relationship with someone rolling up their sleeves and contributing, educating, and helping, rather than just selling boxes and cashing in on other people’s hard work 😊
What’s the best moving coil phono preamplifier?
Easy – either a good step-up transformer or the very best active MC gain stages.
Almost nothing does a better job of taking extraordinarily small signals from a moving coil cartridge and amplifying them than a step-up transformer, with maybe one exception, which we will get to.
A Perfect Match
Technically there’s a bit to know, but step-up transformers are good because they are completely passive, require no power and have no electronic or moving parts to degrade sonics or add noise.
They match the impedance of the cartridge to the input impedance of the next stage almost perfectly. They can also be chosen to provide a precise level of gain to suit the cartridge and following electronics.
These virtues combine to reveal a level of micro-dynamic detail and resolution you may have thought didn’t exist until auditioning a good step-up transformer in a high-resolution system.
When I got my first transformer, a Fidelity Research FRT-3, in about 2005, I was amazed. Moving to an end-game Fidelity Research XF-1 after some very good advice was the game changer for me, and I’ve used, recommended and supplied many transformers since.
Some of the best phono preamplifiers, such as my Cayin Phono 1, use transformers for their moving coil gain stages because they offer the best performance and lowest noise for sensible money.
Whilst good step-up transformers are ideal for most people in most cases, there are a few cases where alternatives should be considered.
If you have or have access to a really ‘S-tier’ all-active phono preamp, it’s worth comparing this to the best transformers. I recently acquired an end-game Accuphase preamplifier containing a phono preamplifier so good, that it’s actually better than a really good step-up transformer. Mind you, this preamp cost as much as a car when it was new and thousands of dollars even now, at 30 years of age!
In most systems, and for most people, a really good step-up transformer is the best option. But if you can afford an Accuphase C-47 phono preamplifier, this will be the best way forward.
Knowledge and hands-on experience with step-up transformers is something of a lost art. Most people have never even seen a step-up transformer, let alone owned a few of them. They were common in high-end systems in the ’70s and ’80s though.
These days, many discover the almost mythic status of these devices, only to hit their favourite hi-fi store to ask about them and be met with blank stares! Many are left to find someone they can perhaps borrow a transformer from, before placing an order.
I offer this service to my customers who are looking to purchase something through me. The customer who purchased this beautiful Ortofon ST-70 step-up transformer did so before ordering. I had to order the SUT directly from Ortofon and the lead time was months. There wasn’t even one in Australia.
Pros & Cons
- Lowest noise, typically the best impedance matching
- Greatest resolution and micro-dynamic detail, except for premium all-active stages
- No parts to wear out, near 100% reliability
- More expensive to manufacture than cheap consumer-grade gear
- Requires careful matching and should involve a specialist
- Still needs an excellent MM phono preamp
As mentioned, you’ll still need a really good MM/EQ pre, so you cannot get away from this completely. The first part of the chain is what the transformer replaces, doing at least 30dB of heavy lifting.
The very best MC step-up transformers are expensive, but once you’ve heard what one can do, it’s almost impossible to use anything else, other than the very best all-active electronic MC gain stages.
Do customers ever fail to pay for or collect their equipment?
Thankfully, almost never.
Great customers, our high success and satisfaction rates, professionalism, sensible pricing and clear communications combine to deliver a non-payment rate of virtually zero for us.
We operate ethically and this actually generates goodwill that generally shields us from non-payers and other undesirables. I also carefully filter enquiries and avoid assisting those who I think might be flakey. That being said, I’ve had two non-paying customers in a decade.
The first was a crooked real estate agent. I repaired and serviced his turntable, and he simply failed to respond to emails about collecting it. His equipment was worth far more than he owed us though, and he knew that. My final warning after 12 generous months noted that I would sell the turntable to recoup funds if he did not collect and pay for it immediately! He suddenly wanted to collect his equipment 😉
Even the collection was even more of a drama, with a crying baby, a screaming wife and a strange, sweaty man making all sorts of attempts to wiggle out of paying. Luckily I had customer and neighbour witnesses, none of whom could believe what they had just seen and all happy to support me if needed. He’s very lucky I didn’t sell the deck after a month, as I am entitled to. Naturally, he didn’t thank me.
This same guy once ripped off some bikes. He learned that this was a terrible idea the hard way when they came to his place of work to extract payment from him. They grabbed him as he left work, put a bag over his head and bundled him into a van. He paid them immediately. Again. Oof!
I don’t sanction this sort of behaviour of course, but ripping people off and not paying for things is stealing. You get what you deserve when you get caught.
The second non-payer asked me to service and repair his turntable as a high-priority job. I did that for him of course and had his deck running perfectly again, but he then disappeared, never responding to attempts to contact him or even doing the courtesy of apologising for his wrongdoing.
We sold his turntable and recouped around double what he owed. The result again was good for us, but what an unnecessary waste of everyone’s time and energy. This guy lost a beautiful, perfectly running vintage turntable, and for what? He disappeared, so we will never know, but his name is Mr J-o-h-n Messina. If you know him, tell him Mike would love to catch up with him.
There are some unscrupulous characters in this world who, no matter how much you try to help, won’t or maybe can’t behave ethically. My colleagues and I have a simple policy for dealing with people like this which you can read about, here.
It’s worth noting that these guys and others like them actually see themselves as the victims and those of us working honestly to help them as the villains, such is their bizarrely skewed view of the world. You can’t reason with people like this either, you just have to try to spot them before they do any harm.
I’m having trouble aligning my cartridge, why does each tool seem to give a different result?
This is a really good question, variations of which I hear a lot. Let’s look at this in a little more detail as there’s a bit to unpack.
First up, cartridge alignment is a technical process, but a straightforward one, once you understand it. There’s not a lot of room for opinion on cartridge alignment. It’s all about understanding the geometry and how to accurately measure and set it.
I’ve written more about the key parameters involved in cartridge and tonearm set-up, so check that out too.
We need to clarify that there is only one factory-correct alignment and that’s the one made to factory specifications. Note: I’m not saying there is only one possible alignment, I’m saying there is only one factory-correct alignment. This concept needs to be very clearly understood, yet an astonishing number of folks who ought to know better, don’t.
The Rabbit Hole
Can you believe, for example, that there is a guy in Queensland who inhabits a certain well-known turntable forum and who tells people not to use Technics’ cartridge alignment geometry and tools because he knows better?! A colleague told me about this and I nearly choked on my coffee!
How these characters can do this whilst keeping a straight face is beyond me, but an inflated sense of self-importance drives this sort of thing. The real problem here, and one that I’ve been fighting for years, is that there are too many opinions and not enough real knowledge and science in the world of hi-fi. This is just an example.
Do randoms in forums know more about the turntables and their alignment than the turntable designers themselves? Is it sensible to trust this sort of armchair expertise over the manufacturer and original design engineers? If you even have to think about your answer, you need to stop and re-evaluate your position, seriously.
So, what is a factory or manufacturer-specified alignment? A factory cartridge alignment is:
- An alignment done exactly as the tonearm/turntable manufacturer recommends
- Made to exact, recommended specifications
- Achieved using an originally supplied alignment tool, overhang gauge, or protractor, or one that accurately replicates the original design and/or measurement capability.
Factory alignment usually involves setting the correct overhang and/or cartridge offset at one or two null points. This is most often achieved by setting a stylus tip distance with respect to the headshell-arm junction, which is how Denon, Kenwood, Sony, Technics and many other manufacturers do it.
I typically use manufacturer-specified alignments and tools because the design engineers knew what they were doing and I like to honour those design decisions. In rare cases where the original set-up data and/or tools are not available, I’ll select (or make) an alignment tool appropriate for the job, based on the arm design, its specifications and experience aligning and calibrating thousands of turntables, tonearms and cartridges.
Cartridge alignment involves setting the precise geometric and positional relationship of a cartridge in a tonearm. This ensures correct geometry as the stylus traverses the surface of a record. The stylus describes an arc of a precise radius as it moves, calculated to yield the best (or a particular) total area under the curve distortion result.
The factory-prescribed alignment is designed to generate the lowest distortion at a significant place on the record surface, often an outer track, or the inner grooves where distortion tends to be higher. Change the radius or this arc and/or angle of the cartridge, ie its alignment, not to mention tracking force, anti-skate and VTA, and you will change the result, and how the turntable sounds.
At this point, I need to mention that most owners aren’t the best people to be aligning cartridges. This is simply because it’s a technical process that requires some knowledge, tools and experience to complete successfully. If you want to have a go, by all means, do, but have this knowledge beforehand, so you can make an informed decision.
Generic vs Factory Alignments
When a cartridge is correctly factory aligned, it may appear misaligned when checked with any of the multitudes of cartridge protractors and alignment gauges available. If you align a cartridge with a Shure paper alignment gauge for example, when you check with a factory tool, the alignment will very likely appear wrong.
Why? Because those others are the wrong tools for the job. The simple answer is that each tool delivers a different alignment. Don’t expect five different alignment tools and methods to get you the same alignment because they won’t. It’s actually possible that none of them may be correct for your deck.
A generic paper gauge “designed for every turntable” (which is technically impossible) cannot render the correct factory-specified alignment for many turntables. Generic tools deliver generic alignments, approximations based on a ‘generic’ tonearm length, unspecified alignment geometry, mounting distance and type of alignment. A factory-supplied template, tool or protractor on the other hand is designed to give the precise alignment specified for your deck/arm.
An example some might better understand would be getting a car wheel alignment done using data from the wrong vehicle. This actually happened to me years ago when I took my car to a supposed wheel alignment specialist who actually had no idea what they were doing. My car’s wheels were technically ‘aligned’, just to the wrong specifications for my vehicle.
Generic protractors have a role to play in ‘quick and dirty’ alignments and work well in situations they were designed for, but there is no substitute for the correct factory alignment, tools, or a custom-made gauge specified with factory alignment parameters for your deck.
Multiple Alignment Syndrome
There are three common alignments – Baervald, Lofgren and Stevenson alignments – each yielding measurably different total ‘area under the curve’ distortion. Your arm will likely use one of these alignments. These alignments each sound different, some good, some not so good and random owner and retailer-made alignments can sound really bad!
Which alignment is correct in your case? The factory alignment is technically the correct alignment, as the designers intended. It is always best set with a factory gauge, protractor or tool, or a precisely calculated and printed arc-type protractor. Other alignments are possible as we’ve discussed, but in my opinion, it’s preferable to stick with the factory-specified alignment.
Now, it’s technically true that one can improve on some alignments, in certain circumstances, but this is definitely the tweaker’s territory. Some tonearm alignments are designed to perform best on 45s and on the inner grooves of 12-inch vinyl, where classical music crescendos often appear. Maybe you don’t listen to 45s or classical?
Is it worth deviating beyond factory recommendations for most users though? No. We’re interested in getting 99% of turntables working perfectly for 99% of owners. If someone tells you they know better, ask how many tonearms they’ve designed and how many thousands of turntables, cartridges and tonearms they’ve set up before you rush into making adjustments.
There’s a bit to consider before taking a screwdriver to your headshell. You need to know what the current alignment is and that means being able to measure it and interpret the result. You should never change things without a way to get back to where you started if needed.
- A cartridge must be correctly aligned for maximum performance
- Correct alignment mostly refers to the correct cartridge overhang and offset, but azimuth, VTA, tracking force and anti-skate must also be considered and set correctly as part of the set-up process.
- The best alignment in most cases is the factory/manufacturer-specified alignment, made with the correct tools.
- You should only change cartridge alignment if you understand everything so far and can accurately assess the current alignment and any changes made to it.
Need More Advice?
No problem, check out other FAQs, and reviews for more. For those needing more specific assistance, I offer an advisory service where I can provide you with factual information, rather than opinions and pseudoscience.
Learned something? If you appreciate FAQs like this one, you are welcome to shout me a drink 🍻
Do cables make a difference?
Absolutely yes, often a massive difference, but just not always in the way people imagine.
Let’s just get this out of the way: good cables always improve system performance over crappy ones. That being said, there is more snake oil and pseudoscience in cables than just about any other aspect of hi-fi, and the hi-fi world is already filled with nonsense.
You know my thoughts on nonsense, so let’s clear some up.
One of the problems here is that buyers often have no idea what makes a good cable and many just want what looks cool. Big mistake.
Thicker is not always better. There are some ridiculously thick interconnects out there for example. Interconnects and mains cables 5cm thick aren’t better, they are literally just silly. They can damage or even break connectors and can cause serious harm to really expensive gear. I’ve repaired the damage caused by some only recently.
Ask the maker of the cable if they know the loading specifications for the RCA connector they want you to attach their cable to. People imagine thicker must mean better, but it just isn’t.
Likewise, prettier is not better and aesthetics have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with electrical performance. Cable construction is what actually matters. Poorly made or incorrectly terminated cables can act as antennas and fry amplifiers and speakers.
The kookier and prettier a cable looks and feels, the more likely it is to sell. Add in a few meaningless marketing phrases like ‘super transconductance shield’ and ‘femto conductive polymer’ and combine them with the average shopper’s gullibility and poor grasp of science and you have a guaranteed seller!
It’s no surprise that there are so many ’boutique’ cable manufacturers out there. There’s a TON of money to be made in this segment of the market.
So what IS a better cable? BETTER is better. Technically better, higher-quality cable stock, with higher-purity copper and silver conductors, better solder, better insulation, better shielding, fewer metal types, better connectors, and better construction.
Have folks who understand signal transmission put all that together and you have better cables. It’s actually pretty straightforward. It’s not expensive to make very good cables, hence the proliferation of excellent DIY cables out there.
Check out what’s used in Abbey Road or Air Studios for example. You’ll find a ton of Canare and Mogami cable in mission-critical applications and these manufacturers make cable stock for the boutique brands people spend big bucks on. I use Mogami cable in my system, custom-made into balanced and single-ended RCA and speaker cables to suit.
Are cables directional? No, there is no directionality in properly designed cables or almost any cables for that matter. If cables were directional they’d act like diodes and that would be harmful to sound, rectifying the signal and introducing massive distortion, so you’d better hope your cables aren’t directional.
Surprised that this isn’t what your favourite hi-fi equipment reviewer, retailer or guru said? Don’t be. Have a look at who advertises in their publications, on their websites and the stock they are selling. That’s called a conflict of interest. Do you see me selling any cables..?
Nordost, one of the great science-based (rather than BS-based) cable manufacturers, states that cables have no directionality. That’s not just about their cables, they’ve stuck their collective necks out to state the truth about all cables.
But Mike, my cables are directional, it says so on the jacket and the salesperson told me they were.
Great, but they aren’t. ‘Directionality’ sells, so most cables are simply labelled as directional. The average salesperson’s understanding of the science here will be limited let’s say, so choose your source of information wisely.
Let’s sum up what makes a good cable:
- Premium conductor materials like high-purity copper or silver
- Premium insulator materials like Teflon and cotton
- Premium connectors, Amphenol, WBT or CMC for example
- Well designed shielding
- Cable symmetry, balanced or pseudo-balanced
- Silver and copper-based solders
- Minimising cable length
- Low cable resistance and capacitance
- Technically informed, properly engineered designs
Be especially wary of gurus selling cables. Choose carefully, from known quality manufacturers, based on good science, not what looks ‘cool’.
Can you sell me a belt for my turntable?
We don’t operate a retail shopfront so unfortunately no, we don’t sell service parts to the general public.
But I don’t understand why you won’t sell me a belt! Are you just trying to be difficult..?Stunned enquirer
This quote is from an actual conversation with a guy who really didn’t like the answer. Another guy hung up on me when I wouldn’t sell him a belt!
To clarify, we don’t operate a retail shopfront and we generally only offer retail parts sales when they form part of a service or repair. We stock thousands of parts, but as a technical services business, we generally only sell parts that we install in the work we do. There are a few exceptions, like cartridges, step-up transformers and other special order parts, but these sales are generally reserved for existing customers.
I don’t have the time or inclination to deal with parts sales and honestly, I can’t think of anything worse than dealing with the “I don’t know how to install it”, “I chose the wrong part” and “My whatever still isn’t running right” follow-up conversations. I will gladly supply and fit any of the thousands of parts we have in stock when you book your equipment in for work, so if you’d like assistance, get in touch via our contact form.
Why don’t all CD players sound the same?
For the same reasons guitars, amplifiers, radios and speakers don’t all sound the same.
Actually, it’s the same basic set of reasons no two THINGS are ever exactly the same. There are so many elements inside a CD player contributing to the sound that no two CD players could sound the same unless they were the same model. None of these things will ever sound exactly the same because what you hear is the sum of many complex electronic and mechanical elements working together.
Ones and Zeros
A common technical misunderstanding in relation to CDs is that:
It’s all just ones and zeros.People…
It’s far from that simple. Yes, CDs contain ‘just’ ones and zeros, but this statement is a gross oversimplification of how CD players work. It lacks any consideration of the critical steps after ones and zeros are extracted from the disc and how those ones and zeros are converted into music you can hear.
Even different CDs of the same recordings don’t sound quite the same. Likewise, CD transports only extract the digital data from the disc, yet they sound different. The bottom line is that you can’t listen to ones and zeros and an enormous amount of signal processing has to happen before you can hear music from a CD.
Data has to be read from the disc, error corrected, filtered and anti-aliased, converted from digital into analog, amplified and buffered. There are hundreds of components in the signal path between the disc and your ears and hundreds more contributing to the sound, and that’s just inside the player!
Sum of the Parts
The following elements contribute to the sound of a CD player:
- The CD mechanism or mech, spindle motor and laser
- The hardware carrying the RF signal – shielded coax or unshielded wire, connectors, termination impedances
- DAC type and design – R2R/multibit delta-sigma/chip/discrete – ie the ones and zeros
- Analog and digital filter type and design – HDCD/FPGA/DSP/none
- Device firmware running the digital filters, PICs, FPGAs etc
- Inter-stage analog amplifiers and buffers
- The all-important output buffer – chip/discrete/class-A/tube/transistor/transformer/balanced/singled-ended etc
- Power supply – linear/SMPS, filtering details, regulators
- Clock – frequency/PPM precision/drift
- General layout, board design, wiring, shielding, parts quality
- Condition of the unit, laser power output/health, general state of service
Each of these elements influences the signal that leaves the output connectors of the CD player, as do the discs themselves. As you can see, CD players are actually complex mixed-signal (digital and analog) hardware devices.
Is it OK to play CDs in my DVD player?
Yes, it’s absolutely OK and perfectly safe, but your CDs won’t sound anywhere near as good as they can sound if played on dedicated CD hardware.
For the very best CD playback, you’ll need a dedicated Redbook CD player, or a transport and DAC. In most cases, this will sound better than the same discs played on video hardware, files streamed at 16-bit / 44.1kHz and even some higher-res streamed files, as long as the player/DAC is good enough, ie has the necessary resolution.
Wondering if this is all just audiophile nonsense? That’s called healthy scepticism and I respect you for having it, but you should know that I have a strong scientific and evidence-based approach, and I only pass on factual information I know to be correct, based on personal experience and education, so read on.
Frame of Reference
“Mike, I’ve heard that all CD players and DVD players sound the same.”Someone getting bad advice
Well, whoever gave you that information clearly lacks the experience necessary to offer a useful opinion on this topic. We know this with certainty because there are BIG differences between CD players. CD players and disc players in general really don’t sound the same at all, except in the very broadest sense.
Appreciating this comes down to experience and you can get that by listening to various machines in high-resolution systems. Understanding why they sound different requires a little technical knowledge though. Comments like “All CD players sound the same” generally stem from a lack of experience and understanding.
If you’ve never heard a great CD player in a really good system, you must do it. CDs sound ‘OK’ when played on cheap DVD players, but in a high-resolution system, the sonic differences between a good dedicated CD player and a cheap DVD player are night and day.
If you are listening through a Bluetooth speaker or Sonos, then of course, everything will sound pretty much the same, and pretty bad, due to the resolution limitations of the system. Good hi-fi is all about clean, wide windows – i.e. high resolution. You can only get high-resolution from high-resolution equipment. Bluetooth, Bose and Sonos ain’t it, cheap plastic ain’t it and DVD players ain’t it either.
It’s a bit like beer, wine and coffee. All beer, wine and coffee taste the same when you’re 12, but are they really the same? Of course not. As our appreciation and experience grow, we come to learn that no two beers, coffees or wines taste the same. This appreciation applies to audio in exactly the same way.
So, why are CD players better than DVD players for playing CDs? Briefly:
- DVD and Blu-ray players are generally not built with audio in mind. They are made almost entirely of plastic, built to last a few years only and use the cheapest, lowest-grade parts. If you don’t already know that cheap gear sounds cheap, you do now. People buying video disc players are not hi-fi enthusiasts and manufacturers don’t waste money putting the good stuff inside these machines.
- Extracting and decoding the video signals from a DVD uses different technical solutions and higher processing speeds and frequencies than Redbook CD data. Each system really needs to be optimised for its role and, from experience, I can tell that no DVD or Blu-ray player I’ve heard sounds as good as a good CD player.
Even the famously over-hyped Oppo BluRay players don’t hold a candle to good dedicated CD players. Yes, they are better than the cheap DVD and BluRay players that many buyers were migrating from, but they’re not at the level of an excellent Redbook CD player or transport and DAC. How do I know..? I tested one in my system for several months.
Find Out For Yourself!
Don’t believe me? Ask anyone who’s compared CD players and DACs in high-resolution hi-fi systems. No one who has will tell you that DVD players are a good way to play CDs. Better still, visit a specialist hi-fi store and ask to hear two different CD players on one high-resolution system. Let me know if you don’t hear the differences between them!
Do you recommend new speaker terminals, RCA connectors and detachable mains cables?
Sometimes, yes and I’m happy to fit these things, but people are often surprised to learn that, from a technical perspective, there is much more to this.
Many of these topics are plagued by misinformation and pseudoscience. Certain “improvements” are not actually improvements at all, and in some cases are retrograde moves. No retailer selling cables will tell you this of course, even if they actually knew or understood why.
I’m interested in getting your equipment sounding as good as it can, within your budget. I also like keeping equipment original where practical, because that retains value. People are drawn to fancy cables and connectors, but there are almost always lower-hanging fruit that should be knocked off first. My question is:
Do you want blingy connectors or the best sonic improvements and best-running equipment?Liquid Mike
In other words, if you came to me and said “Mike, I want you to spend two hours improving my amplifier,” I can tell you that those two hours would not be spent upgrading connectors. There would be a far better way in almost every case to spend those two hours and the improvements would be far more significant.
Much of what people think they know about connectors is wrong because it’s based on marketing rather than science, so let’s clarify a few things. Good connections are critically important, good connectors might help us get there, but there’s more to it.
For example, did you know the best connections are no connections at all? Failing that, hardwired connections are always better, in terms of sonics. One of the best ways to improve an amplifier for example is to hard-wire a really good power cable to it, or even signal cables.
The best connector is NO CONNECTOR. I agree that this can be very inconvenient though, so we need to be practical.
But Mike, this is sacrilege! Everyone selling cables and who’s spent a fortune on cables tells me that fancy detachable cables are the way to go!Disbeliever
I’m presenting well-understood and actually very basic science here. You don’t hear about it because it doesn’t suit the retail narrative and most people haven’t the slightest grasp of basic science, which is a shame. Connectors are convenient and sometimes essential. Just know that the fewer connections, the better.
Did you also know that the humble RCA connector is a really poor connector in terms of technical performance? There are many other connector types such as BNC, Camac, Cannon and others that perform measurably better.
I can treat connectors with a product that lowers contact resistance and you’ll hear the difference that makes. I can replace speaker terminals but it may be better to simply change cable-end connectors. If your speaker connectors are broken or awful, then yes, it makes sense to change them.
There are many possibilities that don’t make accessory manufacturers rich though and this feels good. Just ask if you’d like to learn more.
Do Cables Make a Difference?
Because of my science background and experience owning and listening to some of the very best hi-fi gear of all time, and because I’m a musician who knows what real instruments sound like, I’m interested in what’s technically and sonically the best way to go.
Upgrading standard IEC inlets is a really sensible improvement. I can improve an existing IEC inlet with a premium hospital-grade filtered Swiss-made inlet module. They aren’t cheap but you can hear the difference they make. I can also bypass IEC inlets and hard-wire in some heavy-duty cables.
Some of the best-value and highest-performance cables are those sold as cable stock by cable manufacturers like Canare and Mogami, and then rebadged by boutique manufacturers.
Fancy-looking detachable power cables make retailers a ton of money and the biggest markups of all are on cables. If you want fancy detachable cables, no problem, just understand what you are spending money on.
Yes, replacing bad RCA connectors can be very worthwhile when it improves connections. We often upgrade RCA connectors.
No, adding a heavy-duty or very fancy mains cable to a turntable will not make a difference. It simply can’t, because of that wonderful thing, physics. If you want to learn why not, ask me. Changing the signal cable can though.
No, using crazy-thick RCA cables is not a good idea. Want heavy-duty connectors and better sound? Go balanced. All the best gear is balanced and there are many technical reasons why it’s the better way to transmit low-amplitude audio signals.
How do I arrange a consult?
Simply choose the consult length below and click ‘buy now’.
|30 minutes $60.00 AUD 60 minutes $120.00 AUD|
Once you’ve paid, fill out the contact form and let me know what you want to discuss. I’m happy to chat by video or voice call and, if you are local, you can also visit for a consult with me in the Liquid Audio workshop. If we cannot assist you, we’ll issue an immediate refund. Zero worries, zero hassles. We’re here to help. If you like to find out whether we can assist you with a particular topic though before buying a consult, no problem, let me know.
What are your thoughts on buying equipment in poor condition?
Generally speaking, I suggest you don’t.
I know that everyone wants a bargain and equipment in poor physical condition is often bargain-priced. Sadly, there is no escaping the fact that equipment in poor condition tends to be less reliable and less repairable than similar gear in good condition. It also doesn’t hold value as well and is less collectible down the track.
If you are thinking you’ve snagged a bargain because you’ve found the make and model you’ve been looking for in rough condition, think again. Often, poor condition outside means poor condition inside, and poor maintenance in general. Corrosion is a good example. Once corrosion goes through equipment it can cause endless problems. Likewise, poorly cared-for gear is usually poorly serviced and maintained, even poorly repaired.
Despite the best efforts of skilled repairers later, these issues are usually not reversible. You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, as they say, something to really keep in mind.
Should I clean my turntable with a soft cloth..?
Not without taking a few precautions!
If you quite enjoy your current cartridge, let me give you a little bit of advice, from one long time lover of all things vinyl to another.
Nothing ruins your day faster than an absent-minded dust down of your turntable with a soft microfibre cloth, that runs a little too close to your stylus. Please DON’T ask me how I know.
The worst thing is I know better, and I’ve lost count of how many customers have done something similar. Each time, it causes great pain and anguish, especially when something like an Ortofon MC-A90 falls victim… 🤦♂️
To answer your question, I only suggest cleaning your turntable with a soft cloth with the headshell and cartridge removed.
Are there any other repairers in Perth you recommend?
Yes, two, literally. Beyond that, it’s the Wild West!
If we’re fully booked and you can’t wait, rather than have your equipment improperly repaired or potentially ruined, get in touch and let me know about your situation. If we can’t fit you in immediately or schedule you in later, I’ll recommend a colleague who may be able to assist sooner. I only recommend colleagues I know and trust, and who care about the quality of their work.
Are dual cassette decks worth repairing?
That depends on whether they need service or repair work. For machines needing repair, it’s often not worth it, but why not?
Dual or double-cassette machines were generally the cheapest cassette decks of their time. Cassette deck maintenance can be some of the most labour-intensive work we do. How many cassette deck mechanisms are in a double cassette deck? That’s right, there are two, and they are not usually the nice ones to work on. See the problem?
This doubling of mechanisms often means doubling the already time-consuming workload, and that can mean more work than most of these decks are worth, to most people anyway. Ultimately, an owner will need to make that decision, but I generally avoid working on dual cassette machines for these reasons.
Viability vs Lovability
If both decks need standard cleaning and service work, then yes, it’s probably worth doing. If both decks need repair in the form of idlers, melted belt replacement, etc, this is generally something to avoid unless cost is not a concern at all. As mentioned, I avoid dual cassette decks for these reasons. The opposite is true of good single-deck machines of course and I still work on those and enjoy it!
Do you service and repair equipment for local hi-fi stores?
Yes, we do.
Some of Perth’s most highly regarded hi-fi stores direct customers to us and use Liquid Audio for their customers’ service and repair work. As an independent repairer, a large portion of our work is a result of direct customer engagement, but helping local businesses is very satisfying and something I’m proud to be able to do.
We’ve been approached several times with offers to be an official repair agent for some very well-known brands, ie an authorised repairer. I have declined these offers to this point though, as I want to remain truly independent and unaffiliated with any brand in particular.
Should I buy a cheap turntable drive belt on eBay?
I certainly wouldn’t. If you are going to get a belt, a part that is critically important to how your turntable operates, at least get a good one.
How will you know if you’re getting a quality belt of the correct size or not? To some, all rubber drive belts look the same. But really, all tyres kinda look the same don’t they, yet they are not. There are technical, sizing and quality aspects to consider that vary from belt to belt, even when belts are specified as being ‘correct’ for their intended purpose.
I’ve seen many eBay and Alibaba belts. Customers buy them thinking they will save a few dollars and sometimes hi-fi stores fit them, only for owners to find their turntables now run fast, slow or noisily. Owners then have to buy another belt of good quality and the correct size. This only wastes time and money.
Belt diameter, width and thickness are critical. Excessive tightness from belts that are too small is a common problem. Incorrectly sized belts place excessive force on the drive pulley and motor bearings, causing noise, poor running and excessive wear.
Belt material and manufacture are also important. Poorly cut belts cause excessive wow in cassette decks. Poorly joined O-ring belts also cause speed issues. Poor quality belts don’t last either, some lasting only a year, vs up to 10 years for good quality rubber belts. Belts that are too thick or thin will cause your deck to run at the wrong speed. Did you know that?
You can avoid these issues by simply taking your deck to someone who sells premium quality, correctly sized parts that meet OEM specifications. When your belt is being fitted they can also give our deck a health check and perform any other service work or adjustments necessary to make your turntable run at its best.
Which hi-fi stores do you recommend?
There are several excellent hi-fi stores in Perth where you’ll find excellent service, sensible advice and a chance to properly listen to good hi-fi equipment.
I recommend the following stores and staff:
Addicted to Audio in Subiaco
Dan is a great guy and really knows his stuff, plus this store has some really interesting brands and loads of personal audio gear. In terms of store layout, quality and range of hi-fi gear, this is one of Perth’s top retailers.
Douglas HiFi in Osborne Park
Chat with my friends Simon and Tony, ethical salespeople who won’t try to pull the wool over your eyes. These two have a wealth of hi-fi and home cinema experience between them. Douglas is ‘evolving’ back into what it always was – a proper hi-fi stereo store and one of the best.
Frank Prowse Hi-Fi in Nedlands
Owner David Prowse is one of the nicest guys in audio and is ably assisted by great staff in one of Perth’s oldest and best-regarded proper hi-fi stores. I know the Prowse family well and even worked there for a very short spell. Frank used to help me when I was a hi-fi-crazed teenager and was a true gentleman of the industry. RIP Frank.
Revolution Turntable in Osborne Park
My friend Pierre is the owner, the official Australian Accuphase importer, a real vinyl enthusiast and a genuinely nice guy. He stocks a range of great hi-fi stereo gear and is ably assisted by Jim. This is a sleeper of a hi-fi store and yet contains some of the highest-end gear you’ll find, anywhere!
West Coast Hi-Fi in Joondalup
Speak to Kim, another lovely guy and the owner of this particular store. West Coast has a huge range of hi-fi and home cinema gear and very competitive pricing.
Why don’t you require upfront payments?
Because I trust my customers.
Everything is upfront and transparent with Liquid Audio and as a result, we attract great customers who appreciate our ethical, professional operation. I don’t need to ask people to make upfront payments because they know we undertake work in good faith and I trust them to collect and pay for their equipment.
Naturally, people also want to collect their equipment after we’ve worked on it, so this just isn’t something I worry about. Occasionally though, someone will decide they don’t want to pay a bill. These are interesting cases!
Can you provide me with a service manual?
Many older service manuals are available online and you certainly don’t need my help to obtain those. However, much of my service data comes directly from manufacturers. This officially-supplied service data is intended for technicians and is supplied in confidence, with the understanding that it will remain only in the hands of the initial recipient.
As a recipient of support from various manufacturers and distributors, I am legally obliged to honour the usage agreements I have with them. I value these relationships, so you’ll understand why I would never jeopardise them.
Should I buy rare transistors on eBay?
No, almost all rare transistor types on eBay are fakes.
The TLDR here is that some parts are no longer available and that’s a certainty. If unavailable parts suddenly appear on eBay, usually somewhere in mainland China, walk away, unless you like throwing money away.
There are lots of parts that I wish were still available, but they’re not and we move on. Sure, an old guy in Poland may appear every so often with a box of special unavailable parts, but you can usually pick these legitimate listings by looking for a variety of markers and other clues. Everything else, like classic Hitachi 2SJ56 and 2SK176, VFETs, rare STK modules etc listed on eBay are fakes. I don’t mean that these parts are probably fakes, I’m saying with 100% certainty that they are definitely fakes.
How do I know? I’ve been at this a long time now, I’ve had excellent mentors and a ton of my own experience to back it up. I have a couple of specialist semiconductor vendors, one in Japan that is especially good and if they can’t obtain the parts I need, nobody can. I’ve also examined and tested many fake parts over the years.
Unscrupulous sellers know that inexperienced buyers are willing to do almost anything to get hold of mythical, unobtainable parts. So, they take existing cheap parts and have them printed with whatever the unavailable part name is. The end-user tinkerer buys a few and installs them and they fail, or the problem remains.
People buying these parts on eBay are not technicians. How will they know, let alone prove the new part is fake? How can they be sure there is not some other reason it failed? Will they even know if the new part or the equipment is performing correctly? You’ll see the rabbit hole here, and it’s just not worth going down.
If you took your equipment to an expert, they could test it for you and let you know if parts are genuine or fake, and what the problem actually is. This is why I generally avoid fitting customer-supplied parts. If the parts are not sourced from large commercial vendors or other specialist parts suppliers, you can’t trust them. There are perhaps one or two good parts sellers on eBay, but that’s it.
In many cases, you don’t actually need these rare or unobtainable parts. I have stock of and access to many rare NOS parts, parts that are generally unavailable to the average shopper. Then there are modern replacement parts that work perfectly in most cases and I have an extensive database of good substitutions and can engineer a solution where I need to.
Don’t fuel the fake parts industry or pay crazy prices for fake parts.
Can transistors in my vintage amplifier be replaced?
Yes, in almost all cases transistors can be replaced. With what, though?!
The devil is always in the detail and the trick or the art is understanding transistor substitution. This means knowing what transistors can be used where and why and keeping stock of a wide range of premium substitutes. These details are where many go so wrong.
Transistor failures, in the form of noisy or drifty devices, dead shorts or open devices, are a common phenomenon in old and new gear. Resolving transistor failures is a very common part of the work I do here at Liquid Audio and getting this part right, from a technical perspective, sets good repairers apart from bad.
There are thousands of different types, sizes and varieties of transistors. You can think of transistors as being like spark plugs or tyres. They all kind of do the same thing but each type is uniquely tailored to a specific job and use case. Substitute in the wrong type and the circuit won’t work, or worse still, may catastrophically fail.
Part of the art of repairing electronics lies in understanding these aspects and this means knowing what replacement parts to use, where and when, and if these parts aren’t available, how to select the most appropriate substitutes.
Transistor matching and substitution are technical topics and are generally poorly understood. I’ve lost count of the number of pieces I’ve repaired where the fault has related to incorrect transistors, rather than dead transistors. Incorrect or poorly matched parts can lead to excessive distortion, heat or premature failure. Therefore, a good working understanding of transistor specifications is important.
I keep a deep stock of NOS and high-spec modern devices, including output devices in TO-3 or TO-3P packages, TO-126, TO-220, TO-66 and TO-18 drivers, through to tiny little TO-92 devices, and everything in between. A good repairer must have such devices on hand.
It gets trickier when we consider MOSFETs and VFETs, many of which are no longer available and lack any suitable replacements. That being said, I’ve just repaired an amplifier with blown TO-3 MOSFETs and I used new, replacement parts from stock that worked perfectly. I have plenty more.
Note that eBay is the last place a professional repairer looks for parts and generally speaking you shouldn’t either. A quality-assured supply chain minimises warranty issues and maximises repair success rate. There is no point taking chances here.
Most older semiconductor devices have modern replacements and I keep a regularly updated database of cross-references. I also keep a ton of old data books containing invaluable parts specifications, matching and substitution data. This allows us to replace old devices with new ones, often better than the original factory parts.
We have replacements for the NLA TO-66 bipolar devices and unobtainable JFET small signal devices used in Accuphase amplifiers, for example, and we keep stock of probably thousands of transistors including high-spec modern replacements for many vintage types that are NLA.
My technician told me cheap Chinese parts are perfectly good, what are your thoughts?
Good for what? A clock radio or Bluetooth speaker maybe, but not valuable hi-fi gear.
Cheap parts are OK in certain places, but not in good hi-fi gear. I’d suggest that a technician advising you that cheap Chinese parts are perfectly good is probably not someone you want to use.
“But Mike, Musical Fidelity uses cheap Chinese parts!”
Yes, they do, as do many manufacturers including Cambridge Audio, NAD and Redgum…
The single most important reason a manufacturer would use Chinese parts is to save money. That’s it, there is no other reason. You might want to extrapolate from there and decide what that means to you in terms of a bigger picture view, but there is no good reason to fill a board with the cheapest parts, other than because the person or entity doing that is being cheap.
Do you offer radio and tuner RF alignments?
Yes, we have precision RF alignment equipment and are one of only a few still offering this service.
I’ve always held a strong interest in radio and keep a range of the most important RF test and measurement equipment, cables and connectors necessary to perform alignments of AM and FM broadcast band radios and tuners, and shortwave radios too.
Do you have cassette deck calibration tapes, head demagnetiser etc?
Indeed I do, you cannot do this sort of work properly without them.
In fact, I have some of the coolest cassette deck-specific tools available, custom-made for working with cassette decks. work on cassette decks and these are necessary tools of the trade.
My stash includes various calibration tapes including a custom Pioneer set, special mechanical tools, electronic test and measurement equipment, a TDK electronic tape head demagnetiser, and TEAC hand-held demagnetiser, a hand-made mirrored tape path cassette, and more.
Can you install LED lamps in my equipment?
In most cases yes, no problem.
We have stocks of incandescent and LED lamps, in the most common sizes, so you can choose what suits you. For the ultimate vintage goodness, incandescent lamps are the way to go. For a more modern look, LED illumination is great.
Can I use 100V equipment in Australia?
Yes, you can, as long as you understand a few details.
You’ll need a quality step-down transformer with the correct power rating and voltage for a start. Such a step-down transformer should be sourced from a quality local manufacturer like Tortech. It should be rated to deliver 1.5 to 3x the rated maximum continuous power consumption of the attached equipment. It must also deliver the exact voltage needed by the equipment.
This means that 100V-rated equipment needs a 100V step-down transformer, rather than the 110V or 120V offerings commonly available. Make sure you know which one you need, as indicated on the placard on the rear of your equipment. Avoid cheap Chinese transformers as these are usually incorrectly rated for both voltage and power.
If you have a powerful amplifier, you’ll need a huge step-down transformer to power it and for this reason, amplifiers are the least well-suited for use with step-down transformers. For low-powered equipment like turntables, DACs and preamps though, a small step-down transformer will work very well.
NOTE: You must never plug equipment rated to run on 100V or 120V into an Australian 240V mains outlet unless it has been set to run at this line voltage. This may require internal adjustment, soldering and almost certainly new fuses of a lower current rating given the higher line voltage.
Failure to adhere to this procedure will result in the death of your equipment.
Can you provide me with a kit, parts list or BOM?
No, we neither use nor recommend repair kits nor do we offer this type of assistance.
Repairing and overhauling electronic equipment involves much more than swapping parts. For the average owner, attempting to overhaul a complex piece of hi-fi electronics via some kind of kit is ill-advised.
Most owners lack the skills, tools and experience needed to install electronic parts correctly, diagnose and repair any remaining issues or ensure their equipment runs correctly afterwards. This sort of approach also dramatically increases the risk of introducing faults that were not present beforehand, or even destroying the equipment in the worst cases.
Another problem with kits is that the parts usually have no traceable provenance or warranty. They may not even be genuine, or the right parts for the job, but how would the average person know? If saving money is the goal, it’s usually better for most owners to do nothing than attempt major work on their equipment.
There are no magic kits or BOMs that will fix broken hi-fi gear. Each repair is unique, each must be assessed on its own merits and each will need a unique set of parts, and someone able to install them without causing damage and deal with any remaining issues.
Liquid Audio is focused on keeping classic hi-fi equipment running well. That means tailoring what we do to meet the equipment’s and its owner’s needs. It also means providing advice that is in the broader best interests of the equipment itself.
I purchased equipment from Japan, plugged it in and it blew up, can you help?
Of course, though the repairability of your equipment depends on what damage has been done.
Know Your Voltage
Different regions use different AC supply voltages. For example, Japan uses 100V, the USA uses 120V, and Europe and Asia use 220V, 230V or 240V, depending on the region. Anything other than 230V or 240V presents a big problem for people living in Australia where we have a 240/250V supply. Higher voltage AC supplies are better from a technical perspective which is great for us. More on that another time.
If you plug in a piece of electronic equipment that is set to run on 100V or 120V into a 240V socket here in Australia, IT WILL FAIL, without exception. Electronic equipment doesn’t “automatically adjust” as one enquirer who blew up his newly acquired equipment told me. He was probably thinking of equipment that uses switching power supplies or SMPS, like phone chargers, USB power supplies etc. Hi-fi equipment generally doesn’t use this type of power supply, unless it’s the cheap class D type gear which sometimes does.
Why Does Equipment Fail?
Good question. Transformers ‘transform’ AC voltages proportionally, according to the ratio of turns on their primary and secondary sides. For example, equipment set to run on 120VAC might contain a transformer that steps that voltage down to say 35VAC, which after rectification might be around 50VDC. What do you think happens when you feed that transformer 240V..? Double the input voltage equals double the output voltage and your 50VDC is now 100VDC. You can say goodbye to any electrical components that were rated at 50 – 60VDC. If your lucky, fuses might save the gear but in most cases the damage is more substantial.
Some hi-fi equipment can be set to run on a variety of line voltages, but much cannot. It often depends on the market the equipment was originally destined for and can vary among examples of the same model, dependent on production date and market. The adjustment may be external and quite straightforward or may involve work inside a chassis, including soldering unmarked jumpers into new positions in some cases.
Manufacturers have an array of models, years, markets and voltage reconfigurability. I’ve come to understand these relationships over the years, building up a database of information that assists me and my customers, but there remain many examples where voltage adjustability cannot be known until physically inspecting the equipment.
Equipment that is input voltage configurable is like gold as it can be used anywhere in the world without a step-up or step-down transformer and commands premium prices as a result.
Incredibly, I’ve seen locally supplied equipment set incorrectly. The Mark Levinson ML-7 preamp I recently repaired and a pair of Accuphase M-60 amplifiers are just two examples of gear that was set to run on 220V! Therefore, all equipment should be checked to ensure it is configured to run on the line voltage where it is to be used. This is especially important for equipment purchased outside its originally intended market.
If you know how to check and make the necessary changes, perfect. For most folks though, having this work done professionally is the best option. Note that, along with a change to line voltage, new fuses of the correct current rating will also be needed. Even if Johnny next door reckons he can do it for you, it might be wise to ask just how much Accuphase equipment he’s worked on.
But Mike, it will cost money to have my equipment checked and reconfigured.
Hmmm, yes it will. This of course must be balanced by the certainty that it will cost a lot more if newly acquired equipment is destroyed because these checks and changes weren’t made properly, or at all.
If playing Russian roulette with newly acquired hi-fi equipment in an attempt to save small change seems sensible, then I doubt anything I say will help. For everyone else, have your equipment inspected. Pre and post-purchase inspections have saved my customers thousands of dollars and are one of the best bang-per-buck decisions most people can make.
I hate to see equipment destroyed because of line voltage misconfiguration and yet I receive a steady stream of enquiries from people who have done it. This failure mode is completely avoidable simply by making a few sensible decisions.
Should I buy an AM/FM tuner from Japan?
No, you should never do this.
Japan has a different FM band frequency allocation, spanning 76 – 90 MHz. The Australasian, European and North American FM broadcast band spans 88 – 108 MHz. That means that with a Japanese FM tuner, you’ll see a tiny 2 MHz overlap. You’ll be lucky if you can pick up one station in that slice and this often cannot be changed, especially in the older analog style tuners.
Does hi-fi gear really need to be serviced?
Yes, all electronic and electromechanical equipment needs maintenance.
Actually, pretty much everything made by humans needs some form of periodic maintenance or service. When we think about complex electronic equipment, often operating decades beyond its intended design life though, the need for maintenance is obvious.
The manufacturer-specified maintenance information is usually found in the service documentation and takes the form of cleaning, electronic and mechanical adjustment and parts replacement necessary to keep equipment running reliably. This maintenance is what was thought would be needed over the projected design life of the equipment. When this equipment was designed and built though, nobody imagined that it would still be working, let alone cherished and sought after, 30, 40, or even 50 years later.
Often there’s very little maintenance information, a reflection of the consumer nature of this equipment and its projected lifespan. The extended life that much of this equipment sees is well past the intended design life in most cases though and much of the maintenance it needs now is simply not covered by service data. Keeping these pieces running requires experience and an understanding of how equipment ages. Many of these techniques have been pioneered and developed by Liquid Audio and others over the years.
Avoiding the Magic Smoke
Owners of hi-fi equipment are often unaware of these maintenance requirements, or that electronic components degrade over time. Eventually, mechanical parts seize or fail and the ‘magic smoke’ is released from electronic components, leaving hi-fi equipment no longer functional. *
Having established that all hi-fi equipment needs maintenance, the more complex it is, the more maintenance it needs. Turntables and cassette decks are generally the most maintenance-intensive, followed by amplifiers, CD players, tuners, preamps and then things without knobs, like DACs, roughly in that order.
I’ve written more about how and why electronic equipment needs periodic maintenance here and here. Periodic maintenance reduces the likelihood and potential severity of equipment failure and dramatically improves its performance. Whatever you do, just have the work done by someone competent. Your equipment will eventually fail if you don’t maintain it.
* What’s magic smoke, you ask? Well, just like magic, when the magic smoke is released from an electronic part, that part and your equipment no longer work. Magic smoke appears out of nowhere and may be almost impossible to trace. Magic smoke cannot be ‘re-installed’, only new components containing their factory original magic smoke perform to specification.
Should I spray contact cleaner into my equipment?
That very much depends on what the ‘contact cleaner’ is and where you are spraying it!
The short answer is that if you have access to a quality commercial product and you know how to use it, then go for it. But, if you don’t know what/how much/how/where/why or if you think WD-40 or CRC 5.56 are the right things to spray on sensitive electronic equipment, I suggest you don’t touch it.
First, you need to understand what a contact cleaner is and how and where to use it, or you risk making things much worse. Some of the most problematic equipment I come across are pieces that have been doused in cheap contact cleaners or products that are not contact cleaners at all, like WD-40 for example.
WD-40 and CRC 5.56 are short-lifespan low-viscosity lubricants and corrosion inhibitors. They consist of a light oil suspended in volatile carriers that evaporate, leaving oily residues that protect metallic surfaces, but also attract dust and dirt. This is fine on nuts and bolts on my 4WD, but these residues foul switches and potentiometers, trapping dirt and actually making them dirtier and less reliable over time. At some point, deep cleaning will be needed to restore proper functionality. This follow-up work is time-consuming and technical.
WD-40 is not a contact cleaner, nor is it marketed as one. I’ve had people try to tell me that WD-40 is a contact cleaner because they read it in a forum. Whilst this is amusing in itself, like going to the butcher and telling them how to cut a steak, I’ve even had equipment arrive literally soaked in WD-40, something that can potentially ruin it. Please don’t do this, no matter how much you like WD-40.
But Mike, WD-40 was developed for NASA, by engineers, for use on rockets.
That’s great and maybe it was, but again, it’s not a contact cleaner or treatment. Don’t believe me? No problem, please spray a lot of it directly into your equipment. Just don’t bring it to me afterwards.
Can you tell me how to clean my hi-fi gear?
For most exteriors, I recommend a damp microfibre cloth and very mild detergent/water mix as a starting point.
Be careful with older gear. Sometimes fascias are printed with water-soluble ink, or ink that has become fragile over time. Solvents other than water, and even just water, can remove fragile ink. Also, be very careful with turntables. Styluses and microfibre don’t mix well.
Wood exteriors can be cleaned with wood soap and then oiled or waxed, as needed. I like to use O’Cedar oil for many kinds of wood, beeswax for some others. How do I decide? I don’t know but one gets a feel for it.
Interiors get a little more technical. There are electronic parts, high voltages and one must be very careful not to damage anything. Compressed or high-pressure air is always a good starting point. I use a cordless blower to clear big dust from many pieces.
From there it gets more involved and I generally recommend booking your equipment in for deep cleaning. I’ve developed deep cleaning regimens for hi-fi electronics which work very well. This involves high-pressure air, chemicals, solvents, water and a drying oven.
What’s the best amplifier design if I want the highest fidelity?
Simple, class-A, whether tube or transistor, it’s the gold standard.
That’s assuming you choose a version with enough power to handle your room and speaker sensitivity of course. This is an important consideration not to be overlooked.
Nothing sounds better than well-designed, well-built class-A amplifiers because it’s the least compromised topology in terms of sonic potential. This is why you will always find class-A designs where cost is no object, and always in low-power circuits like preamps and headphone amplifiers, where class-A can be implemented without great cost.
We can refine this even further by stating that the very best solid-state class-A amplifiers are generally MOSFET types, for various reasons. FETs behave a little more like tubes than bipolar devices do and they simplify the circuit design and number of parts needed. For this reason, cost-no-object class-A designs like the Accuphase A-75 and A-300 for example, and all the Accuphase class-A designs, use MOSFETs.
That being said, class-A speaker amplifiers are hot, heavy and very expensive, because of their need to output significant power. For this reason, they often lack power, because of the need to make them at least somewhat affordable. Even low-powered class-A amplifiers are heavy and much more expensive to make than equivalently specified class-AB gear.
High-powered class-A amplifiers like my old Krell KSA-150 or the to-die-for Accuphase A-100 monoblocks are crazy-heavy and expensive. But, when sound quality is priority number one and you have the free space to site a large, expensive, heat-generating amplifier, class-A is always the way.
Note that an amplifier being class-A does not guarantee that it will sound great. The plethora of cheap Chinese class-A designs out there bears testament to this. You really do get what you pay for, so there are many good reasons why an Accuphase A-75 class-A stereo power amplifier costs $35,000 AUD and a Vincent doesn’t!
Keep in mind that dynamics and the ability to generate realistic sound pressure levels are as important as smoothness and low distortion in hi-fi terms. By these measures, some class-A amplifiers may struggle with less sensitive speakers, simply because they lack power. Get the power/sensitivity match right though and you will be winning.
Also, keep in mind you can get nearly all the way there, and get better dynamic fidelity with high-bias class-AB designs, like my 500 Watt per channel Perreaux 5150B or my new 200 Watt per channel Accuphase P-360. Both offer a smaller amount of class-A power – 30 Watts for the Perreaux and around 10 Watts for the Accuphase. For most normal listening, these are class-A amplifiers, but with the punch of something much bigger.
What are the advantages of class-B amplifiers?
Much better efficiency than class-A, that’s it.
Class-B is often used for radiofrequency broadcast amplifiers, where high power and low spurious RF emissions (sorry, no class-D in radio!) make it a great choice. On its own though, class-B suffers from relatively high (crossover) distortion and is unsuitable for audio.
When a little quiescent current is applied though, the output transistors are biased to stay on past the zero-cross point, and you then have a class AB amplifier. This dramatically reduces distortion and is what most proper consumer-grade hi-fi amplifiers use these days.
What are the advantages of class-AB amplifiers?
Class-AB amplifiers offer the lower cost and cooler operation of class-B, with some of the finesse and high fidelity of class-A.
You get the best of both worlds here, but only up to a point. Class-B operation is not good for audio because of non-linearity around the output device crossover point, resulting in crossover distortion. Class-B designs offer more power, lower weight and lower cost than a class-A design of similar power, but they are a brute force design. Class-A amplifiers have no crossover distortion but are heavy and run hot, even for very modest power outputs, because they run at their rated power, all the time, even with no signal.
Class-AB amplifiers operate in class-A up to a few Watts and then revert to class-B for the rest of the power envelope. At lower levels, you’ll have the sweet sound of class-A. You’ll have the punch of class-B for dynamic swings and higher volumes. The more class-A power on hand, the better the sound, because the more of the envelope is reproduced via class-A operation, other things being equal.
Almost all consumer-grade amplifiers operate in class-AB because of this design topology’s cost-effective yet relatively high-fidelity nature. That being said, most consumer amplifiers run very little class-A power, sometimes only a couple of Watts, or less!
What are the advantages of class-A amplifiers?
High-fidelity. The one overriding advantage of class-A is high-fidelity, ie sonic performance.
Class-A amplifiers deliver the smoothest, most euphonic sonic performance and the lowest objectionable distortion. That’s what class-A is designed for, and that’s why ALL the very best amplifiers are class-A, where cost is no object.
But Mike, I heard a cheap Chinese class-A tube amplifier and it sounded like sh%t!Typical enquirer
Note: I said class-A is the best where cost is no option. I’m not including cheap gear that will just sound bad, no matter whether it’s class-A, B or Z!
There are no free lunches though and, as per my discussions on class-AB, class-B and class-D, each mode has its advantages and drawbacks. With class-A, the amplifier draws full power whether playing music or idling. Like a car engine running at its redline, things run hot and wear out faster at full power, there is no avoiding this.
This is all well and good where the required power output is very small, such as a headphone amplifier or preamplifiers like my Accuphase C-202 and Cayin Phono 1, which operate in full class-A at very low power. Big amplifiers running in class-A have to be very substantially built to cope.
As a result, class-A amplifiers are big, heavy and need excellent ventilation to deal with the constant high power dissipation. This also means that some environments won’t be well suited to class-A amplifiers. My power amplifier is about 30 Watts per channel of class-A and the Liquid Audio listening room gets a bit warm in summer, let me tell you! Good A/C is essential when running class-A amplification.
With these overbuilt designs come advantages though, like massive power supplies and premium, heavy-duty parts that can cope with the load. These build factors also deliver sonic advantages of their own, so class-A amplifiers tend to just be better all around.
So, the disadvantages of class-A amplifiers such as high cost, constant high power dissipation, electricity bills, carbon footprint, size and weight must also be taken into account. Class-A amplifiers have the highest cost per Watt, so cheap consumer designs avoid the use of class-A.
For the best sound, whether it be using tubes or transistors, class-A is the gold standard.
What are the advantages of class-D amplifiers?
Class-D offers the key advantages of high efficiency and low cost, allowing powerful amplifiers to be produced cheaply.
High power and low cost are desirable characteristics and help explain the popularity of class-D amplifiers in the value sector of the market. Class-D delivers very high efficiency compared to class-AB amplifiers and more Watts per $. It also simplifies construction and allows the use of fewer, physically smaller parts, reducing build costs.
There’s no such thing as a free lunch though and class-D tradeoffs include higher distortion, noise and unwanted RF byproducts. Better sonic performance is not a class-D advantage, but, as with all things technical, there’s a bit to understand, so let’s dig.
Frame of Reference
Don’t let anyone try to convince you that class-D is sonically inherently superior to class-A or class-AB, because it isn’t. It IS more efficient though, so it suits some of the fancy one-box solutions you see these days dressed up as high-end gear. Engineers and experienced audiophiles know this, but manufacturers and retailers need to sell new equipment of course.
Think about the conflict of interest. The retailers potentially advising you about new hi-fi equipment NEED to sell you the equipment. It always makes me laugh when people don’t see this. I mean, imagine taking your old car to the dealership and asking if the salesperson thinks you should keep it or get a new one. Better still, imagine asking them for a model they don’t sell! 😂
Class-D offers big production cost savings which means greater margins and therefore profits. Sadly, the mainstream hi-fi media and retail industry consists of folks who receive kickbacks, promos, deals and who generally aren’t well-placed to advise on topics such as this.
But Mike, if class-D is no good, why do manufacturers use it?Bemused enquirer
This is a much better question. I’m not for one second saying class-D is “no good”. Class-D is VERY good in certain use cases, I’m merely clarifying what those are and why.
You can think of class-D as being a little like plastic. Given the choice, most designers would build things out of metal and wood rather than plastic. These are more durable and more beautiful materials, but also more expensive. Plastic knives and forks anyone..? You can make some really fancy and very affordable parts out of plastic though, like car and motorcycle parts for example. Plastic = lighter, faster, cheaper. This is good, by some measures.
I remember chatting with a retailer about speakers. He was telling me how a famous loudspeaker manufacturer’s drivers now used injection moulded plastic baskets and frames. He tried to tell me that this was better than metal, because the marketing materials implied so. I explained some engineering aspects and pointed out that this manufacturers most expensive drivers still used die-cast metal baskets.
Are plastic or class-D ever the best choices? That depends on the use case. If low cost and high power are the over-riding considerations then yes, class-D and plastic are the best options. If the highest performance, appearance and longevity are the goals, then they will not be.
So now you know why there is so much plastic and class-D amplifiers in modern cars and hi-fi gear and it isn’t because plastic or class-D are inherently superior. All-in-one amplifer/DAC/streamer things, sound bars and AV receivers use class-D amplifiers for one set of reasons: low cost/high margins/high bang-per-buck.
Powerful amplifiers sound impressive, especially to power-deprived hi-fi enthusiasts who’ve previously owned low-powered amplifiers. If they are also affordable, it’s even more impressive and taps into the ‘upgrader’ market moving up from basic gear. Class-D often appeals here because people taking that next step are impressed by the drama powerful amplifiers can create.
Class-D amps are great for subwoofers and home cinema amplifiers too, where high power density and low cost are important. Who doesn’t want an affordable, small, 1000W subwoofer?! Power IS desirable and manufacturers like NuForce and B&O have produced class-D amplifiers for the hi-fi market, whilst B&O’s ICEpower class-D modules find use in concert, club and live venue environments where high power, efficiency and ruggedness are more important than absolute sound quality.
True high-end gear doesn’t need to be small, lightweight, efficient or affordable though, it just needs to sound and perform THE BEST. Therefore, one should always look to these end-game use cases to see what the best really looks like. At the real high end, there are no advantages to using class-D, so you basically don’t find it and there’s your answer. NuForce? B&O? NAD? Bel Canto..? This is not high-end gear, fancy though it may look.
Class-D was the flavour of the month in the naughties, but many designs turned out to be unreliable due to their use of SMD components, cheap, off-the-shelf modules and low-cost build and manufacturing. Class-D definitely has a place, mostly in the high-value, low cost sector of the market.
By every quantitative and qualitative sonic measure, class-D is inferior to class-A and class-AB, when other factors are equal. Therefore, where cost is not a factor, there is almost no class-D, except the Mark Levinson No 53 class-D monoblocks for example, and Stereophile described them as disappointing and flat-sounding.
But Mike, lots of hi-fi gear is class-D and I’ve read that it’s just fantastic. A guy on YouTube says they are the best amplifiers in the world!Bemused enquirer
Keep in mind that most of what you read in the mainstream media including YouTube is paid for and technically ill-informed. Makers trying to save money often aren’t the best sources of impartial advice, so be wary of clickbait like “Build the best amplifier in the world for $500”.
Who doesn’t want a $500 class-D amplifier to be better than a $50,000 class-A amplifier?! I certainly do, but it isn’t. A class-D amplifier may turn out to be the best amplifier you’ve heard and that’s great, but just be sure you listen to a range of products before forming on opinion. Wanting class-D to be the best performer overall is like wanting to be taller. Instead, try to understand why Accuphase, Bryston, Gryphon etc use class-A or AB designs for their best equipment.
What parts wear out in hi-fi electronics?
Both electronic and mechanical components experience wear and other changes over time.
Capacitors are common wearable electronic parts, specifically wet aluminium electrolytic types. Wear rates vary according to type, quality of construction, thermal loading, age and hours of use. I’ve seen capacitors fail after 5 years and older parts that are still perfect after 50 years, which is extraordinary and common for Elna capacitors for example.
Transistors, diodes and resistors also deteriorate and can fail, sometimes catastrophically. Failure tends to follow certain types, scenarios and the old nemesis – heat. Some resistors are prone to increasing in value or becoming noisy. Likewise, certain small signal transistors and diodes are ‘fragile’ and commonly fail, others fail when pushed close to their voltage or thermal limits.
Testing is the only accurate way to determine deterioration and wear. Parts can be tested, measured and replaced with new ones that meet or exceed OE specs in most cases.
Belts, gears, switches, potentiometers, knobs, meters and connectors are the most common mechanical parts that suffer from deterioration and wear. This includes rotary and linear controls and switches, speaker terminals, RCA connectors and so on.
Many of these components can be replaced and others are serviceable and can be brought back from non-functional to working perfectly, with the correct service techniques. Other parts like connectors can be replaced with new parts.
Is buying old hi-fi gear hi-fi risky?
This is a great question. There’s risk in buying any gear, old or new, but given the lifespan of much modern gear, I would argue that, if you choose secondhand gear wisely, it’s actually riskier in many cases buying new gear.
As long as you mitigate your risk, buying older hi-fi gear should not be riskier than buying new. In some ways, there can be less risky buying well-cared-for older gear than newer stuff in terms of long-term reliability.
Much of the gear I work on from the ’70s and ’80s hasn’t even technically failed, in 40+ years. It might need cleaning, service and adjustment, but everything does. A lot of newer gear (Cambridge, Marantz, NAD etc) fails after such a short time that it’s embarrassing, for everyone.
To some extent, you need to know what you are looking for and how to test it when buying older gear of course. This will involve listening to and operating it. Beyond that, an inspection either pre or post-purchase is a very sensible idea and can potentially save a lot of money.
My attention to detail really pays off in terms of inspections. I run through every little detail of equipment you’ve bought, or are about to buy. Potential or new owners can leverage my findings to end up way in front in most cases, often saving far more than the cost of the inspection!
There are, unfortunately, people knowingly selling faulty gear, especially on GumTree. Be very careful and if in doubt, get good advice.
Do headshells, wires and mounting hardware make a difference?
They most definitely do, everything in the signal path and attached to a transducer like a cartridge makes a difference, a big difference in some cases.
Materials and construction improve as one spends more on headshells, wires and mounting hardware. This translates to better detail retrieval and micro-resolution. Naturally, the higher the resolution of the system, the more apparent these differences will become.
I think that if you are spending decent money on a cartridge, you ought to put it on a really decent headshell, with premium wires and have it aligned correctly and meticulously. I’ve found headshell wiring to be especially important and currently use SME silver headshell wires. They are the best I’ve used, out of many sets of Litz, 99.9999.% pure copper, etc wires. Silver wire is generally a game changer wherever you use it, but it is very expensive.
Other wires work well too, like Ortofon’s silver wires, Jelco’s Litz wires and some Audio Technica wires. I supply basic sets of wires which work very well, through to high-end wires, whatever you might like to use with your deck.
Headshells, fasteners and even the rubber gaskets at the headshell/tonearm interface are important and all of them contribute to the final result. I always suggest using the very best headshell you can afford and making sure that it matches the mass of the tonearm and the range of cart/headshell weight that your arm can support.
Naturally, what ties this all together is the right advice, so getting this is critical. All too often, I see and hear about the nonsense that leads to terrible-sounding setups, so I am on a mission to move away from that. Many turntables are hobbled by poor cartridge-tonearm matching, poor headshell, wires and fasteners, and of course poor setup and calibration.
How important is cartridge-tonearm matching?
Cartridge-tonearm matching is very important!
In fact, the match is so critical that improperly matched elements can lead to a dangerous condition that can damage vinyl and even potentially break a cartridge.
Why are there so many new belt-drive turntables these days?
Now that’s a smart question. Belt-drive turntables are much cheaper to make.
Even small manufacturers can tool up to make a basic belt-drive turntable. You could just about make your own at home and that’s how many small manufacturers start out.
Direct-drive turntable manufacture is quite different though. It requires considerably more engineering and capital investment. Motors tend to be custom-made and need more than just a capacitor to drive them. There are benefits of course, but to the average person wanting a cheap turntable, these extra costs don’t make for cheap turntables.
Are low-power amplifiers acceptable in hi-fi systems?
It depends on the system, sometimes yes, usually no.
The sound pressure levels achievable with a hi-fi system are down to two parameters: amplifier power output and speaker sensitivity. Low-power amplifiers can create realistic sound pressures and dynamics, but only when matched with sensitive speakers.
Do not expect a 30W per channel amplifier to offer high fidelity dynamics and sound pressures with normal sensitivity speakers though. It’s not physically possible, no matter what anyone might tell you. Hi-fi listening at low levels may be possible here, but scale and gravitas will be missing.
This FAQ covers the concept in more detail.
Do you charge to install cartridges?
That depends on the cartridge and turntable.
Properly installing and setting up a cartridge with the right hardware and precisely calibrating overhang, azimuth, tracking force, anti-skate, VTA, arm lifter position and height using the correct tools and test records can take a significant amount of time with a complex deck/installation. It’s much quicker fitting basic cartridges to regular decks, but you get the idea – doing this work properly takes time and expertise.
With this in mind, it’s obviously not a reasonable expectation that we fit every cartridge or customer-supplied cartridges for free. We have a system that works well though:
- We offer free precision installation and alignment of cartridges we supply with an RRP of $300 or more. In standard cases with regular decks and arms, we absorb the cost of the installation and alignment, giving customers a better deal and encouraging the correct fitment of better cartridges. Try getting that from an online discounter!
- With customer-supplied cartridges, we charge a standard price for installation, but you get a full, precision alignment and it’s a perfect opportunity to have your deck carefully inspected and precisely adjusted, something that may never have been done before. Either way, you come out ahead.
Keep in mind that many retailers cannot correctly install and set up cartridges and tonearms, and lack an understanding of the subtlety of precise installation, and the tools necessary to do it. Many only offer a ‘quick and dirty’ alignment’ using a generic paper or plastic protractor. This isn’t a proper alignment.
I like your approach, you seem unafraid to call things as they are.
Not really a question but I genuinely appreciate the feedback!
I honestly believe life is too short to be anything other than authentic and decent and it’s definitely too short to be afraid of what others think of us.
A long time ago, I realised that I didn’t need to worry about trying to keep everyone happy or appealing to everyone. It’s a waste of time and energy. Instead, I embrace what I’m good at, that’s likely why you are here. I’ve also learned that none of us need tolerate with rudeness, disrespect or ingratitude from people and I embrace that in dealing with people.
People seem to appreciate this ‘straight shooter’ approach and I’m glad they do. It seems to attract genuinely decent visitors and amazing customers and out of 1000+ actual customers, I’ve just a handful of doozies. I’m also pretty good at filtering people and if they sneak through, they aren’t tolerated for long. I’m really only interested in what sensible, respectful people who appreciate my approach have to say. Others, I really don’t care!
I value and act on feedback and overwhelmingly, people tell me they love the website and my approach to business. This helps me to improve the content and create things that I know people will appreciate. Running an independent business and having strong partnerships with other local businesses also means I can call out BS and nonsense where I find it, without fear or favour.
This site is an advertising, favour and marketing-free zone. Manufacturers don’t offer me products that I can keep. I deliberately don’t do any warranty work and nobody tells me what to write, what to say or who to speak to.
Are second-hand cartridges worth buying?
Many of the best cartridges ever made hail from the golden era of analog, so yes, the right carts are definitely worth chasing down.
To recap, there are two main types of cartridges: moving magnet and moving coil. The best cartridges tend to be moving coil designs and these are usually more expensive and better sounding. There are some great moving magnet designs too, but these are generally less worth a hard chase if you know what I mean.
Cartridges wear out, so you need a way of establishing their current state of wear. That way you’ll know whether you’ve found a good deal or not. We inspect cartridges and an inspection and deep clean is often a great starting point.
If it is a moving magnet cartridge, can you still get a new stylus? Many stylus types haven’t been available for years. Old styli can be retipped, but this is less common with magnets.
Retipping starts at around $300 and goes up from there. Moving magnet cartridges are often worth less than this, so the availability of styli has always been a critical factor with moving magnet cartridges.
It’s a little different with moving coil cartridges. These must be retipped to rejuvenate them, they don’t have removable styli. Most MC carts are worth more than $300, new or vintage though, so the retipping becomes much more viable, especially when you consider that some moving coil cartridges cost as much as a car.
Cartridge suspensions also age and the rubber elements can harden. When this happens, that stylus (MM) or cartridge (MC) is finished. At that point, current manufacturers can rebuild the cartridge, with a new suspension, cantilever and stylus, for around 75% of the new replacement cartridge cost.
Value & Chasability
Because of their less disposable nature and greater purchase price, MC carts tend to be better made and it’s less common for their suspensions to harden with age, making vintage coils generally more viable prospects and well worth hunting down.
Not only that, but better MC designs tend to feature line contact, Microline or Shibata-type gems that last much longer. Putting all this together, MC carts are likelier to have life left in them. They are more worth re-tipping when they wear out. They last longer when they are retipped.
As an example, I own and use moving coil cartridges from the 1980s that work perfectly and sound amazing. Vintage cartridges came from the golden era of cartridge design and manufacture, so it’s worth considering that some of the very best cartridges of all time are those really good ones from the ’70s and ’80s.
Are second-hand records worth buying?
You bet, there are some awesome second-hand bargains to be had, though the golden days of $1, $2 and 5 records from the smoky second-hand record store in North Perth are long gone.
Yes, you’ll still find $1 Engelbert Humperdinck records, but you’ll come across all sorts of other bargains second hand. Some will be relatively new releases, on heavy vinyl, from the record and hi-fi stores, and online sellers. Others will be older, lightweight pressings, but don’t let that put you off. Some of the best records I own are 120-gram pressings from the last 50 years.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking remasters are the only or best way to go either. Early pressings, from close to the original album release date, when all the copies in the analog chain were freshest, are often the most sought-after and best sounding of all.
What you want to do is check second-hand records carefully for scratches, flatness and clean them in most cases. Warped records can be flattened. Dirty records can be cleaned. How should you clean them? That’s the topic of another question..!
I keep hearing about local audio gurus – what are your thoughts?
This somewhat depends on your definition of the word guru, but if anyone implies the possession of any magic or special powers, I advise you to steer well clear!
Gurus are generally associated with pseudoscience and nonsense but there’s already enough bullsh%t in this world. What we all need is sound, reliable, fact and experience-based advice and guidance.
A customer very kindly told me that he thought I “work magic on turntables.” This is lovely feedback (thanks Rod), but nothing I do is even remotely magical. I’m an anti-guru. The results I achieve come from a scientific foundation and an understanding of what to do and how to do it. Don’t ever ascribe guru status to simply being experienced and informed.
There’s no magic, snake oil, or white beard (yet). You might consider me competent or well-versed on certain topics, but I have no special powers, I’m not a guru, and I don’t claim to be better than anyone else. I’m competent in my sphere of operation, but learning all the time. There’s a big difference.
There are self-proclaimed audio gurus here in Perth and everywhere. They generally propagate snake oil, nonsense and badly made hi-fi gear. If you want to buy a homemade valve amp or guru-made cables, that’s OK, but don’t expect any of the better repairers you should be using to work on them when they don’t sound very good, don’t work properly, break or break something else in your system!
Here are some typical audio guru/audio numpty utterings that should ring alarm bells:
- Precision instruments, tools, soldering equipment etc are “unnecessary”
- Technical documentation is unnecessary
- Cables either don’t matter or must be made by a guru
- Neatness and precision are over-rated
- It doesn’t matter how it’s built if it works
- Engineering, science, measurement etc are overrated (seeing a pattern here..?)
- The less skillfully wired something is the more skillfully wired it is…
- The worse-built pieces of equipment are the best
- Properly engineered, name-brand products are no good or part of a conspiracy
- Calling out terribly made equipment is egregious and ‘anti-hifi’
- The best cables are directional and need special supports
- Guru-made stuff is the only way to go
Ask anyone with real expertise if quality parts, tools and neat work are overrated..!
How can vintage audio gear and formats sound so good?
I’d like you to consider something: we put men on the Moon in 1969, more than 50 years ago.
There are three key elements here:
- Walking on the Moon
- in 1969..!
Take a moment to process that, and no, it wasn’t a hoax. Do you reckon we could do it now..? I seriously have my doubts, but either way, it tells you a great deal about the state of design and engineering in the ’60s and ’70s.
I should add that Voyager space probes with their gold-plated records have already left the solar system. One of these probes still works, sending signals back to Earth from nearly 20 BILLION km away. Probes also landed on Mars. In the ’70s…
Think about these achievements. Ponder the materials, science, electronics and all-around engineering genius necessary to achieve these feats. Analog audio is fairly straightforward by comparison and a quick scan of the annals of hi-fi history shows that some spectacularly good equipment came out around this time and even earlier.
You see, people often incorrectly assume that all the technological improvements we’ve made since we put people on the Moon directly correlate with improvements in audio. Some do, but many, even most, don’t. We had the technology and engineering to make extraordinary equipment and recordings, way back in the 1950s.
Some of the very best recordings were made with valve microphones, direct-to-tape in the ’50s and ’60s. The audio spectrum is quite narrow and technically not that hard to reproduce. Dynamic range is where things get trickier, but magnetic tape running at 15IPS can do it and vinyl does an admirable job of reproducing it.
Sure, consoles and equipment have continued to improve, but the formats – reel-to-reel tape and vinyl – remain as good as they always were. Arguably the hardware, ie tape machines, valve microphones, cabling etc was better then.
There have undoubtedly been some major improvements in transistors, integrated circuits, DACs and so on. But there have also been increases in wages and conditions which have seen the need to automate and simplify production and move away from expensive metal and glass construction, in favour of cheaper plastic-based materials and machine assembly. Stuff costs less but doesn’t last as long either.
I’m not for a moment saying all old gear and formats sound better, because they don’t. The Compact Cassette is a good example. It’s fundamentally flawed and really only sounded good towards the end of its life. Vinyl on the other hand has always sounded great and always will.
I have a few of my Mum’s records from the ’50s and they are some of the very best recordings I own. Again, think about that. My system sounds unbelievable and some of my best recordings are from the 1950s. Extraordinary, but true.
High-resolution digital is where things have really come a long way, but even good old Redbook CD can sound excellent, with the right equipment.
What’s the highest fidelity, highest resolution music source I can access at home?
As of 2023, it’s either magnetic tape running at 15 IPS, an excellent vinyl playback system, or the best hi-resolution digital files played back through seriously good DACs.
People are often upset to learn that their favourite digital files were originally recorded onto analog tape, but there is more obscuring of the provenance of digital files than just about anywhere else in hi-fi. Why? Because there is money to be made by people NOT understanding this point. Do I need to mention the Mofi lawsuit to jog people’s memories..?
Digital sound involves sampling, whereby resolution is lost when a digital copy is made of an analog file. The highest resolution source you can access is the highest quality non-sampled analog source file. The highest-resolution analog medium is high-speed reel-to-reel tape, closely followed by vinyl.
Reel to Reel Tape – The Ultimate #1
Not cassette tape, I’m talking proper reel-to-reel tape running at high speed. Let’s not forget that most of your favourite recordings were made on tape and the very best recordings of all time were made on tape. Anyone who’s ever heard a good reel-to-reel tape played on a good machine will know what I’m talking about. There’s a richness, fluidity and power in the tape that has to be heard to be believed. Once you’ve heard it, you’ll immediately understand.
Herein lies the problem though – how do you hear this? You need a high-quality reel-to-reel tape machine and some extraordinary and very expensive Tape Project tapes, or similar. There are very few tape releases available and really, this is almost a dead end unless you can access the tapes. So for most people, this is a dead end.
Vinyl – the Ultimate #2
The second top-tier source is vinyl. Vinyl is another analog medium, ie it presents a copy of the original file, not a sampled version. Good vinyl played on a great turntable, arm and cartridge is close to reel-to-reel in terms of resolution and detail retrieval. The limiting factors are the hardware and pressings. With analog sources and gear, you get what you pay for and it’s a sliding scale. The resolution possible with a good vinyl set-up though is incredible.
Hi-Res Digital – the Ultimate #3
Some readers will be bemused by the fact that I’ve listed this as the third level of ultimate, but that’s only because source files are so variable and their provenance so guarded that one often doesn’t know what one is getting. It’s also because the sound of these files is very hardware-dependent. That being said, high-resolution digital files can sound excellent or even outstanding and hard on the heels of analog. By high-resolution, I’m referring to files with 24-bit/192kHz, DSD, SACD resolution or greater and MQA encoding for example.
Lossless is a misused term, however, because all digital methodologies involve some loss, through how they sample the original. Most streaming services like Apple have switched to lossless for their entire catalogue and many files are now also offered at high-res lossless quality. Whilst it’s unclear what constitutes ‘high-res’ over at Apple, we can assume it to mean source files where the data is encoded at greater than Redbook CD, ie 16-bit 44.1kHz resolution.
Next comes Redbook CD. Not quite an ultimate source, CD still has a lot to offer and I’m amazed by how much one can get from 16-bit / 44.1kHz files. I have some superb-sounding CDs and played on a good transport and DAC, they can sound fantastic. Many would argue, myself included, that CDs played back via a really good CD player and or DAC sound better than many/most streamed hi-res files. If you haven’t done so, this is worth investigating and CDs are becoming quite collectible for this and other reasons.
Cassette & FM Radio
Compact cassette tapes and analog FM radio are probably the last in terms of being real hi-fi. Both offer good to excellent performance but are very hardware-dependent. A good FM tuner can sound fantastic though.
What should I look for when buying second-hand hi-fi gear?
Mostly its overall condition, control functionality and service history.
It might sound obvious, but the physical condition of a piece of second-hand hi-fi gear tells us a lot about how it’s been looked after. Gear that has been well cared for is almost always a better bet than gear that’s been neglected, other things being equal.
This extends to service history. All equipment needs periodic maintenance and parts replacement. Can the seller show you any records or invoices for past work? Has this work been done by a reputable technician? Older gear can need extensive maintenance. Don’t let this put you off, it’s still often much better value than buying new, but the work HAS to be done.
Performance – I suggest almost never buying something you can’t see and hear running. Anyone who says they can’t show you something running should be avoided – like the plague. Are you going to just take the word of a random seller that the equipment works well..? I wouldn’t.
Does the equipment turn on and run smoothly? Does it sound good? Do all the controls and switches work as they should? These are all things that can be checked prior to purchase. How about a warranty? If buying from a business, there will be some kind of warranty against defects. This can be very helpful. Some non-business sellers will offer returns if there are problems but this is rare.
Hi-fi equipment purchases should be made with a cool head. It might be rare and collectible, but if it’s broken, it might also be the world’s most expensive doorstop, and we don’t want that!
Why are you often fully booked?
I’m honoured to be entrusted with so much lovely hi-fi equipment and I apologise for any frustration my being fully booked may cause.
That being said, I’m sure you’ll understand that I can’t apologise for being busy. Tt’s the result of many years hard work, dedication and a unique approach that is the complete opposite of most other businesses. But still, I’m sorry!
Liquid Audio. Different.
Liquid Audio is different, very much by design. When I started this business back in 2009, I specifically wanted to address issues I’d found with electronics repairers in the past, including a lack of specialisation with the sort of hi-fi equipment I love and the general poor knowledge and awareness around classic hi-fi equipment. There was a distinctly poor quality vibe/ethos/workmanship issue prevalent in the broader repairer community, and that remains a problem.
With this in mind, we have always focused on doing the very best technical work possible with classic hi-fi stereo equipment. I work carefully, conservatively, and at a component level. I’m driven by education, knowledge I’ve acquired over many years working on hi-fi electronics and a unique attention to detail and skill set that I don’t mind saying I’ve not found elsewhere.
I run this business from experience and knowledge. I’m not interested in what others think should be done with classic hi-fi electronics because they read about it in a forum. I’m interested only in what should be done, based on science and the needs of the equipment in question. I’m also not interested in being the fastest, the cheapest, or the most popular repairer, only the most trusted. I’m impressed by great equipment, rather than the ever growing list of features and reduced build-quality of modern hi-fi gear.
Liquid Audio is focused on delivering the best workmanship, service, results and advice to our customers. I understand that being fully booked creates issues and apologise for any inconvenience. I genuinely appreciate your business and hope that you will use the booking status table on my contact page to keep track of where we are at.
I’m thinking of using the cheapest repairer, what are your thoughts?
I suspect most people intuitively understand that ‘really cheap’ rarely equates to ‘really good’.
As my Dad used to say:
“You get what you pay for, Mike.”Arthur Fitzpatrck
Surely, a better question would be: Do you want the work done cheaply, or do you want it done well?
The overall quality of work, service and information you receive should be much more important than chasing the lowest cost. We see lots of equipment that’s been repaired cheaply. If you care about your equipment, I guarantee you will come to regret hunting around for the cheapest repairer.
Cutting corners is never worth it and the cheapest repairs often end up being the most expensive, because of collateral damage, poor parts and work that has to be rectified later. Ironically some of the worst repairers charge the same or more than we do, so engaging a good repairer is simply a no-brainer for most people.
Are there any decent, affordable new turntables?
It all comes down to what you consider decent and affordable.
Those looking for high-performance machines for under $1000 will find very little of interest, new. High-performance turntabling can’t be done for $1K new, but spend a little more and things start to improve and it is certainly possible with secondhand equipment.
- The Pioneer PLX-1000, at around $1100 and weighing in at 15kg is one of the best value new options available. No, it’s not high-end, but it’s a little over a grand. That’s cheap.
- You might find the occasional Technics SL-1200 Mk7 on special from online sellers, though by now these have probably dried up. For around $1600, this is by far the best deal up to about $3K.
- A new Technics SL-1210GR at around $2700 AUD is good value if you want a new deck. Just keep in mind that you will get a far better machine on the secondhand market for around $3K.
- The new Technics SL-1500 is worth considering at around $2000 AUD, discounted to $1500 at times. It’s a basic deck, but solid value.
- The MoFi StudioDeck for around $2000 is also a decent value. Be careful of the loose bearings I’ve found in a few of these now though.
- The MoFi UltraDeck is a much better turntable, though perhaps not what most consider affordable.
- The Rega Planar 3 is a belt-drive classic and can be had for around $1500. This is a solid value, not a high-precision deck by any means but they do sound decent. Don’t go lower than a Planar 3 in Rega’s lineup though.
- Cheap ProJect and Thorens gear is generally rubbish, the cheap Denon and AT machines are likewise not really worth buying in my opinion.
The only new deck I could live with here is the SL-1210GR. Spending around three grand gets you a heck of a lot of second-hand golden-age of vinyl goodness, so just keep this in mind. You could find a Kenwood KD-650 for much less than that or even a Yamaha GT-2000 for that money and these are altogether better options. The real value, as always, is on the second-hand market.
What do you recommend in terms of power supplies for hi-fi gear in older premises?
Power can be a real issue in older houses, so here are a few suggestions.
The first might seem obvious, but have everything checked and tested by a qualified electrician. This can identify and rectify wiring and ground issues, broken outlets etc. Power outlet testers like this one allow end-users to identify miswired outlets, ground problems and so on and are a good starting point.
Next, assuming you have safe, correctly wired outlets, you need quality power distribution. Multiple wall outlets are best, so ask an electrician or your landlord if this is a possibility. Failing that, I suggest the best powerboard you can afford. One bigger one is better than daisy-chaining them, which should be avoided.
Amplifiers and other high current equipment should ideally be plugged into the wall directly, rather than through a power board, where possible. Older gear may have grounds/earths lifted or removed, so this must also be carefully checked for safety and performance reasons.
Mains filters are useful in some cases and can be purchased from hi-fi stores. These may reduce noise and improve system performance. Regenerators offer the best performance but are also very expensive and usually not suited to high current devices.
How long does a stylus last?
Anywhere from 200 to 2000 hours, depending on the cartridge design and stylus profile.
I’ve written about this elsewhere, but the increased contact area of line contact gems leads to lower contact pressure, less friction, lower wear and better sound. The best line-contact types can last 2000 hours or more, but line-contact styli are more expensive to manufacture, so there is a price to pay. By contrast, cheap spherical/conical and elliptical styli generally only last for 200 – 300 hours. So you could get 5 – 10 times more life from a really good cartridge/stylus, which can more than offset their increased cost.
Other factors must be considered, including poorly designed, low-quality turntables and older types with excessive tracking force. These can experience more rapid stylus wear, and cause accelerated record wear. Even the best cartridges, tracked at lower than recommended tracking forces, can experience accelerated record and stylus wear.
It’s important to replace a stylus before it becomes worn or it will destroy your records. For moving magnet cartridges, this is fairly straightforward, as long as a quality replacement can be sourced. I often supply quality Japanese JICO and Nagaoka styli for older cartridges.
For moving coil cartridges, stylus replacement involves bonding a new diamond to the existing cantilever or installing a new cantilever and diamond. Several vendors provide this service.
Does all older hi-fi equipment need to be overhauled or restored?
The simple answer is yes if you want to keep it running.
Ask yourself: do watches, power tools and motorcycles eventually need to be overhauled and/or restored? The answer, of course, is yes and this applies to everything built by human hands.
I don’t need more overhaul work and many people are prepared to throw old things away when they fail, but when this is rare and collectible hi-fi gear, that may not be the best idea. I overhauled my Toyota Prado starter motor last year for example, it’s a Japanese Nippon Denso starter, and that’s what I want on my vehicle. I could have bought a cheap new one, it would probably last only a year or two.
Older hi-fi gear is generally reliable and lasts a lot longer than newer gear. However, there is no escaping the fact that eventually, someone HAS to spend money to have it overhauled or restored. That should preferably be done before it fails, taking out speakers, output devices, catching fire etc. Parts get hot, change, wear out and eventually fail, even in the most expensive equipment. If you love a piece of equipment, consider giving it some TLC before it fails.
Why don’t you repair home cinema equipment?
Very simply, this type of equipment is often almost worthless after just a few years and therefore not worth repairing.
If you add in poor serviceability and poor audio performance, compared to even modest hi-fi stereo gear, you end up with very few reasons to repair this stuff and why mjuch of it is simply thrown away when it breaks. Don’t shoot the messenger, these are facts.
I always ask one critical question about equipment being considered for repair:
“Is repair economically viable?”
Even some of the cheapest hi-fi gear from the ’70s is sought after for its performance, reliability and serviceability. The same cannot be said for the plethora of average sounding, cheaply-made and obsolete home cinema equipment from the last 30 years or so.
Most of it is essentially worthless after just a few years due to useless feature creep and poor serviceability which kill retained value and therefore repair viability. Most of this gear is at best only marginally serviceable, because:
- Much of it is so cheap or now worth so little that it’s barely worth opening, let alone repairing
- Critical parts are often no longer available and SMD chip-based boards like HDMI controllers are not designed to be repaired
There are some notable exceptions, but generally, I’d suggest you forget about repairing home cinema gear.
Are analog AM/FM tuners still a viable hi-fi source?
They definitely are in the case of analog FM, but there are four key considerations.
The first and most obvious one is the contingency that broadcasters continue to use the analog 88 – 108 MHz FM band in Australia and elsewhere. Once these broadcasts cease, that’s it.
The second is less obvious and that’s source material quality. With good, uncompressed source material, the quality achievable with really good FM tuners is extraordinary. Stations like ABC Classical and some of the smaller independent stations playing CDs and records can deliver excellent sound quality via a quality analog tuner, much better than the compressed, lossy streams on DAB or digital radio.
My beloved Marantz 125 tuner never ceases to amaze me with its richness and space, playing stations like these, even when they are sometimes digital streams being re-broadcast. It has a lot to do with how they are produced. However, many commercial stations, run compressed, thin-sounding streams that sound bad on whatever you play them – DAB or analog FM.
Third, the antenna is critically important with analog FM tuners. A proper roof-mounted FM antenna will boost signal strength, reducing distortion, multipath signal issues and noise for the cleanest reception and best sound quality. Without a good rooftop antenna, you will not achieve full quieting and maximum noise and distortion performance.
The fourth consideration is tuner alignment. AM/FM tuners often have between 10, 20 or even 30 separate alignment stages that require high-performance RF alignment equipment, and a deep knowledge of how to use it. These alignments need to be done periodically, say every 10 – 20 years, as components age and change.
Good tuners, properly aligned often have 0.1% distortion or less. If you haven’t heard a really good, well-aligned and well-fed analog FM tuner playing a good broadcast, you need to before it’s too late! As you might expect, being a radio nut, I have this equipment. The work is involved though and utilises some fairly kooky test and measurement gear. Whilst I have most of what’s needed in most cases, I may not be able to align every tuner.
Can I get hi-fi sound from streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify?
Not from Spotify, but with Apple’s new Lossless services, yes you can!
Apple has finally updated its streaming music service and released Apple Lossless files across the board, with at least CD quality uncompressed, lossless 16-bit / 44.1kHz files, with some offered at up to 24-bit / 192kHz. You can now get hi-fi sound from streaming services without any additional cost in Apple’s case.
You’ll need wifi and/or a hard-wired connection to a phone or streamer to access the high-resolution files. A streamer, computer/DAC or phone/DAC combo as I use will work well. Bluetooth won’t pass these high-resolution files due to the bandwidth limits. Bluetooth sucks anyway, best off to use a hardwired connection I reckon.
I currently use my iPhone 13 Pro Max connected to a Gustard A26 High-Performance DAC with MQA decoding. This combo sounds phenomenal, as you might expect. Many are still surprised to learn that lower-resolution 16-bit / 44.1kHz Redbook files can sound better than streamed high-resolution files, but discovering all this is part of the fun. If you access really good high-res files though and have a DAC capable of extracting that resolution, and many are not, the results can be amazing.
Tidal High Resolution also offers true high fidelity, though it’s a bit more expensive. The standard 256kbps files you’ll find from providers like Spotify are not hi-fi. Their limitations are obvious, sounding thin, grainy and lifeless.
Do you offer in-home auditions on equipment for sale?
Generally not, though it depends on the circumstances.
Much of the equipment in the Store is on consignment and, as you might imagine, I look after such equipment very carefully for my customers! That being said, every case is unique and there is some room to move with equipment you are seriously considering purchasing, where an in-home audition is important and where payment is made upfront.
What’s the deal with inner groove distortion?
Without getting too technical, as a cartridge mounted to a radially tracking tonearm moves across the record, playback distortion characteristics change with changing tracking error.
Generally, the highest distortion is found playing the innermost grooves of a record. There will be two points with the lowest distortion, where the radial arc traced by the arm intersects a radius from the centre of the record. On either side of those two points, distortion will rapidly increase.
What you may not know is that certain stylus profiles and cartridge alignments minimise inner groove distortion. In fact, you can ask me to specifically align your cartridge so that it minimises inner groove distortion, though I generally recommend using the manufacturer’s specified alignment in most cases.
Note that linear tracking tonearms don’t suffer from this positionally variable distortion as they don’t trace an arc as they move across the record surface. This is a key benefit of linear tracking arms. It’s also why longer tonearms are preferable. The arc they trace has a greater radius and is, therefore, closer to a straight line, leading to lower variation in distortion across the record.
Can I bring my equipment to Liquid Audio if it’s already been to other repairers?
In most cases, yes, though it depends on where your equipment has been and what’s been done to it.
Unfortunately, certain repairers do such poor work that I may decline to look at the equipment they’ve touched. I’m not alone in this policy either. Why? Because the damage inflicted by certain individuals renders further work difficult or even impossible for those who follow to resolve. It’s unfair for these issues to then become someone else’s problem and unfortunately, all good repairers will know exactly what I’m talking about.
Take a look around the Hall of Shame to better understand what I mean. All of the equipment featured there was very repairable before someone ruined it. If circuit boards have been destroyed, for example, I will often decline to work on a piece of equipment.
What’s better: a vintage turntable or a new one?
Assuming you have around $1000 to spend, this gets you a far better vintage turntable than a new one, assuming the vintage deck is in good working order.
There actually isn’t anything I can strongly recommend for $1000 new, unfortunately. But, that same amount of money would get you a decent Technics SL-23, SL-120, SL-1200, SL-1300, SL-1500, Kenwood KD-500, KD550, Sony PS-4750, maybe even a PS-6750, Sonab 85S, Yamaha YP-701, Rega Planar 3 with decent cartridge, and on it goes.
As I often tell people, the golden age of vinyl has already happened and, even though there are some great new turntables and vinyl coming out, the real value is in these classic and beautifully made vintage machines from years past. For now anyway!
What’s better: an older CD player or a new one?
Let me instead ask you this: What’s better: a CD player that is beautifully built, reliable for decades and sounds great, or one that sounds great but lacks the beautiful build quality and WILL fail after only a handful of years?
Carefully consider this because, in a nutshell, that’s where we are at in consumer CD player land. Deciding what’s better for you means understanding a bit about what’s changed, and you ain’t going to get that from a salesperson.
The Golden Era
In terms of build quality, serviceability, operational life and general ‘vintage goodness’, older CD players are almost always better and nicer to own than new ones. Even in terms of sound quality, older players often sound superb, especially when you consider that CD playback technology was thoroughly mature by the naughties.
In other words, just as I keep telling everyone that you want a turntable from the golden age of analog, I reckon you should try to find a nice CD player from the golden age of CD. It makes sense when you think about it.
See, newer players can sound good, great even, due to improvements in DAC architecture. But that’s about all that’s improved in terms of Redbook CD playback and even then, it’s not easy to find a great sounding affordable player. I’ve noticed that many newer players sound pretty thin and lacking in body and wood. There’s nothing worse than thin-sounding sources, even if they are as smooth as you like, so keep this in mind.
Other things like lasers, power supplies, loaders (tray and mechanism), build quality, etc., are critically important. Let me tell you, these elements are rarely ever as well designed and implemented as they were in older players. Newer players rarely last more than five years, vs. nearly 40 years for players I work on that still run well keep, and herein lies the crux: older players are generally much better built and more reliable. Let’s look at a few examples:
That’s Not a CD Player…
THAT’S a CD Player!
Look at these examples of wonderful older CD players and just try to convince me that this is better.
But Mike, it’s got a Wolfson DAC!
And what use is a Wolfson DAC when the player it sits inside can’t load or read a disc…? Bueller..?!
Decreasing Build Quality
I’d never thought I’d be saying this but, just as the golden age of turntables passed long ago and the best turntables are already out there, so it is now with CD players. Modern players are cheaply built with crappy lasers that don’t last long. Some players need a new laser after just a couple of years, which is unacceptable.
I constantly repair CD players from the ’80s and ’90s, running their original lasers. They are broken, yes, but for reasons that relate to their 30+ years of age and failing capacitors for example rather than bad lasers in most cases. I repair modern players too, with lasers that often last 3 years or less. This is how far we’ve come, all that new technology, blah blah blah.
Well, new technology isn’t much use if the device containing it is made of the world’s shitiest plastic and is generally unreliable. I’ve had customers tell me they wanted to throw their unreliable new CD players in the bin! Do you think hi-fi store sales staff are going to tell you this..? They NEED to sell it to you to put food on the table. Conflicts of interest, anyone..?
Please let me know if you’ve ever walked into a hi-fi store, told the salesperson you own one of the great CD players and the salesperson has told you that your classic player is much better than any of the new affordable shite they have in the store! Please let me know because that person and the store they work in deserve serious props.
The sound of a CD player depends on many elements: the CD drive used, error correction, power supply, analog output buffer design, internal layout, build quality and DAC architecture all contribute to the sound. This is how some older players can sound better than newer ones despite DAC architecture improvements – it’s not only about the DAC, and I’ve written about this.
Don’t get me wrong though, a good modern player, like this Accuphase DP-450, is a stunning-sounding player, better than most older players, for sure. They also have multiple digital inputs which enhance flexibility and, being an Accuphase, this one is certainly well-built. But it’s also $11,000 AUD.
That being said, an older Accuphase CD player like the incredible, venerable DP-75 for example is built better, much better.
Best of Both Worlds
A good, modern DAC, where the focus is more on the DAC itself, the power supply and the output buffer, can lift an older player that might have excellent build, laser and mechanics but a dated DAC architecture. Want the best of both worlds? Get a classic player and a really good new DAC!
That’s what I’ve done with my Redbook CD and digital source playback chain and it’s breathed wonders into old and new source material. I use my Sony CDP-X7ESD and iPhone 13 Pro Max as file sources or ‘transports’ and a supremely good, and brand new stand-alone DAC with balanced outputs. This combination comfortably bests the Sony compared to using it as a stand-alone machine and that’s being polite. It has transformed my digital playback, and I still get to use an incredible classic CD player. It’s a win-win!
The Bottom Line
So it depends on what you want. Most people want something that’s going to last – is that a new Marantz CD-6006 like the one I re-lasered earlier this year after just over two years of service? Or is it a 25-year-old Sony CDP XA-20ES for example, that still plays a disc as well as it did when it was new? I know which I’d rather own.
How important is it to match amplifier power output with speaker sensitivity?
Very important. This combination of technical parameters determines the actual sound pressure level you can attain without distortion and also tells us a lot about the dynamic capabilities of the system. As usual, the answers lie in physics rather than opinion.
For example, let’s say you have a low powered amplifier, say something up to around 30 Watts per channel. To achieve realistic dynamics and sound pressure levels, you’ll need sensitive speakers, over 90dB/Watt sensitivity, preferably a lot more, to be able to play loudly, with realistic dynamics. If that amplifier is matched up with speakers with relatively normal sensitivity, the result will be a system that sounds strained and lacking in dynamics at anything but very low levels. It can work, but only just, and in the right context, ie mellow music, small room, no desire for realistic sound pressures.
Conversely, let’s say you have a very powerful amplifier, something like 300 – 500 Watts per channel or more. This gives you a lot more room to move and means you can use speakers down to really relatively insensitive 83 to 85dB/Watt. This gives you more choice and allows crushingly high sound pressure of course with speakers of 88 – 90dB/Watt sensitivity or more. It also gives you great dynamic range and headroom.
Is one approach better than the other? Not really, they both have merit. I use a very high powered amplifier (500 Watts/channel) on the end of relatively normal sensitivity speakers. This allows for a good mix of everything, microdynamics, massive sounds pressures if needed etc. I’ve also heard amazing sounds from super low powered valve amplifiers like say 7 Watts/channel, and super sensitive horn speakers at around 100dB/Watt. What you don’t want is a low powered amp on the end of not very sensitive speakers. This is always bad!
Why are phono preamplifiers so important and good ones so expensive?
Because in order to faithfully amplify the minuscule signals generated by a phono cartridge, they must have the highest precision and lowest noise of any amplifier in your system.
It’s no mean feat to take a 0.3mV signal and amplify it to the level needed by a regular line-level preamplifier. One millivolt or 1mV is one one-thousandth of a volt. Moving coil cartridges typically have outputs of less than 1mV, a tiny signal.
This has to be amplified up to a volt or so, that’s a gain of over 1000x. This amplification has to be made whilst adding as little noise and distortion as possible. The phono preamp also has to EQ the signal to RIAA specs, reversing the EQ applied to the signal embedded in the record grooves.
I studied botany and zoology at uni and am well-versed in microscopy. The microscope is a perfect analogy in optical terms, to a phono preamplifier. Ever used a bad microscope? The image is distorted, lacking resolution and opaque. It’s exactly the same, only in sonic terms, when you use a bad phono preamp.
The job these instruments do requires not only huge gain (magnification in optical terms) but ultimate precision in terms of parts, circuit design, layout and adjustment (lens quality and figure, low optical distortion). This is why there is such a gulf between cheap op-amp-based phono preamplifiers and discrete class-A tube-type phono preamplifiers. Its also why a kid’s microscope is $50, vs tens of thousands for a really good one.
Step up (no pun intended) to a good moving coil step-up transformer for example and the price hike is considerable, likewise, to a good class-A phono preamp, or a really good microscope. Parts like JFETs, big film capacitors, precision resistors and premium wiring all add to the cost of these instrument-grade amplifiers.
I should mention that some of the op-amp-based solutions aren’t even that cheap, but moving to a precision, discrete design always improves things. Likewise, ramping up parts quality and grading has a profound effect on performance. Using 1% silver mica and polystyrene film capacitors vs using 5% green caps and other cheap types greatly affects the final result’s accuracy. When you are dealing with such small signals, you need accuracy.
The best phono preamplifiers use MKP (polypropylene film), silver mica, polystyrene film, discrete transistor networks and tube gain stages. The very best use transformers for the critical job of boosting moving coil signal levels.
Should I buy a super-cheap phono preamp?
Definitely not if you care about hum, noise and sound quality!
The only time you would get one of these is to add vinyl playback to a cheap system that doesn’t have it and where you don’t care too much about the results. That’s obviously not most of my customers, so the point may not be needed here, but it’s worth making.
What are the important adjustments to make when setting up a cartridge?
A number of critical adjustments must be made each time a cartridge is fitted to a tonearm.
These adjustments are vitally important in getting the most out of your records and stylus. Let’s look at them in the order I normally set them, this is a sequence I apply to all turntables that visit the workshop.
Note: most end users and many retailers don’t have the necessary alignment tools or knowledge to correctly set up cartridges. This is not a judgment, merely an observation and something to be considered if you wish to extract the highest possible performance.
Cartridge alignment can be thought of as optimising two sets of parameters: geometry and forces at the stylus tip.
The first adjustment is called overhang, which describes the location of the stylus tip with respect to the tonearm mounting point and the spindle. This specification is provided by the tonearm manufacturer and measured, on deck, with either a headshell gauge or an on-platter overhang gauge.
Next is the cartridge offset angle when viewed from above. This is usually specified as correct when the cartridge body, and/or cantilever, are parallel with the headshell’s long axis when the correct overhang has been set.
Azimuth describes the parallel alignment of the cartridge with respect to the record surface when viewed from the front. This is typically measured with a mirror under the stylus, viewed from the front.
Vertical tracking angle or VTA affects the angle of the stylus contact point with respect to the record surface. It can be thought of as approximating the angle between the cantilever and the record surface. It’s usually measured with a VTA gauge and set initially so that the headshell top surface is parallel with the record surface when viewed from the side. This is the starting point and adjustment from there is by ear.
Lateral balance is a feature offered on some tonearms and should be set at or around this point in the process.
Tracking force, which describes the downforce at the stylus tip. This is typically measured with a digital stylus ‘pressure’ gauge. Note that this isn’t technically a pressure measurement, the common name is incorrect, strictly speaking!
Lastly, anti-skate is a counterforce to the asymmetrical forces that pull the stylus tip toward the centre of the record and place added force on the inner groove wall. It is set to counteract that force as closely as possible.
There is some iteration in the set-up process and I generally go back and check everything again as some adjustments will slightly affect others.
Is it normal to hear hum when playing records?
No, a good quality, correctly set up vinyl playback system should be very quiet and exhibit no noticeable hum.
What is Hum?
The term ‘hum’ describes repetitive low-frequency tones of a constant frequency or pitch, usually 50/60Hz or 100/120Hz. Hum can be mechanical or electrical in origin and usually indicates a problem in the playback system. Whatever the origin, wherever possible, hum should be tracked down to the source and eliminated.
Bad earths or grounds commonly cause electrical hum, especially in vinyl playback systems. This is due to their high sensitivity and gain which takes tiny signals like hum and amplifies it to the point where can become a problem. The turntable/pre-amp/amplifier combination must be effectively grounded together and at least one piece ground-referenced, to ensure a quiet system.
Ground loops occur where two elements in the playback chain reference different grounds and therefore sit at slightly different potentials. This causes small currents to flow between them which are heard as hum. Bad cables can play a part here, as some do not have an effective ground linking both ends of the cable structure.
Mechanical hum can originate from turntable motors and mains transformers. The hum from both of these sources can often be resolved with the right attention and some new parts, with specific attention paid to damping and isolation.
Cheap phono preamps, cartridges and cables will always be noisier than good ones and active preamps will always be noisier than transformers. An English brand of turntables that shall remain nameless opts to not use a separate headshell/arm ground. These decks are generally always a little noisier than similar turntables with a better, separated ground. Equipment type, set-up and installation can all contribute to hum.
Mechanical vibration from the turntable itself or from other equipment can be coupled through a turntable, back into speakers, creating what’s called a positive feedback loop. These loops can occur through shelving for example shared by speakers and turntables, wooden floors and other resonant structures.
In these cases, the hum makes its way to the speakers, which energises the turntable, arm, and record and it is then fed back into the signal chain and further amplified. Positive feedback loops can very quickly go out of control and destroy speakers and even amplifiers, so if you have a hum that appears to be coupled through your turntable, resolve it or seek expert help immediately!
A turntable’s spindle and/or motor bearing will also contribute low-frequency noise. This is broader spectrum LF noise, rather than monotonic hum and is called rumble. The cheaper the turntable, the poorer the mechanical quality and greater the tolerances and roughness of these bearings, and therefore the ‘rumblier’ these decks will be!
In really good and well-set-up vinyl playback systems such as my reference system here at Liquid Audio, there is no audible hum. I don’t just mean a little, I mean NONE! The predominant noise in systems like this is groove noise, a residual component of the cutting lathe, and of the friction between the stylus and the groove itself. Some white noise from the amplification is present in all systems, but hum is absent in the best systems.
Customers curious about how quiet a really good vinyl playback system can be should let me know. There’s a chance you can listen to my set-up if I’m not too busy.
Should I play my records on radiograms and stereograms?
NOOOO! Not if you care about sound quality and the life of your vinyl.
Radiograms and stereograms, with a handful of exceptions, are not real hi-fi equipment. They are furniture pieces that play music, this was their original design intent and in this role, they work well, but don’t expect more of them.
The problems are varied, but generally speaking the turntables in these units range from bad to terrible. They usually use ceramic cartridges that run very high tracking forces and fat, conical stylii that don’t treat records well.
The electronics and speakers are not designed to do much more than fill the room with an ‘easy listening’ sound, typical of AM radio stations of the day. If this is your jam, cool, but you really shouldn’t play precious vinyl on a radiogram or stereogram.
Doing so is a recipe for poor sound quality and high record wear, so if you have precious vinyl, get yourself a decent hi-fi turntable with an elliptical stylus, or better. The reduced tracking force and lower groove wall pressure will extend the life of your records and produce much better sound quality when combined with a decent amplifier and speakers.
Why does vintage hi-fi gear last longer?
This is a good question with a simple answer: it was designed and built to last longer.
We need to start this brief discussion by acknowledging the shift in product design life and public expectations around this. Back in the day, people saved and bought hi-fi gear, with a view to keeping it for a long time. Manufacturers built gear to align with this general philosophy.
The longer life of older equipment generally comes down to better mechanical design, use of higher quality switches, longer-lasting through-hole capacitors, greater serviceability through component level board repairability and so on. I often see equipment from 1970 with a full set of electrically perfect Elna electrolytic capacitors. Fifty years from what are nominally 2000 hour-rated parts is extraordinary, and yet this is common.
Modern capacitors found in affordable new equipment rarely last this long. Good modern capacitors are excellent, but you need to spend a lot to get an amplifier filled with good Nichicon, Nippon Chemi-Con or Panasonic capacitors. Add to this the through-hole nature of older caps and other parts, which were designed to be serviceable.
Then there is the physical build quality. Older gear tended to use less plastic, heavier grade metal, metal switches and so on. These parts tend to be serviceable. If metal bends, for example, it can often be bent back. Plastic breaks and becomes brittle with age.
The simple fact is that older gear from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s was designed with serviceability in mind. Production values and the way we view our equipment have changed. Modern gear is often designed to be thrown away rather than serviced when it fails, so it often cannot be viably kept running.
Home cinema equipment and modern TVs are classic examples of this. Ever wonder where all the old TV repairers went? It’s not that modern TVs don’t fail, they do, but try taking your 65-inch TV anywhere if it breaks.
Why does electronic equipment need to be serviced?
Because all hi-fi equipment and electronic devices contain parts that change over time, wear and need periodic cleaning, lubrication and adjustment.
When you combine the sometimes hundreds of electronic parts with mechanical components like the levers, switches, belts, gears, pulleys and connectors found in many types of hi-fi gear, you have a combination of parts and systems that wear and need periodic attention and maintenance, over time.
Mechanical linkages, pulleys, gears, idlers, pinch rollers and motors need cleaning and lubrication and this is fairly easily understood. But electronic parts also change over time, most notably electrolytic capacitors, some semiconductors and resistors. One thing is for certain though: your hi-fi equipment will need money spent on maintenance if it is to keep running reliably.
Proper periodic maintenance prevents premature failure, improves performance and reliability and therefore enjoyment of your equipment. It’s a quirk of human nature that we sometimes purchase things and expect that they will run without attention. This isn’t even true even for a kettle, let alone complex equipment like turntables, amplifiers and cassette decks.
If I can’t bring my equipment to you, how do I choose a good local repairer?
Try to find someone with a technical focus, giving sensible advice and able to provide examples of their good work.
Here are a few points to consider when looking to engage a good technician:
- Find out who’s busy, who’s recommended by others in the know, and why. Look for examples of a repairer’s good work.
- Beware of those promising sight-unseen ‘quotes’, prices that seem too good to be true and quick turnaround times.
- Be wary of ‘recappers’ who might lead you to believe that capacitors are the source of all evil – they are not.
- Be very wary of people who seem to only tell you what you want to hear. I say it often: there are no miracles, only skilled people and good work.
- Bad techs rarely have anything of value in terms of tools and test and measurement gear. Good equipment is expensive and these folks usually have a cheap approach to everything.
- Many are lazy and devoid of original thinking, many have copied our content and approach for example.
Find someone who inspires confidence and who doesn’t give you a quote without inspecting and testing your equipment for example. Whilst it’s true that older gear may need to be re-capped, many or perhaps even most faults, are not capacitor-related.
Work on classic and vintage hi-fi gear benefits from a conservative, technically informed approach. Changing capacitors or connectors for example might sound like good ideas, but tracing and resolving electronic faults is nuanced and very rarely that simple.
I recommend looking for someone who is interested in finding the cause of a problem and resolving it. If they are able to recommend further work that will benefit the equipment, that’s helpful too.
Generally, the people you want to use will be referred to in the hi-fi community and they will be a specialist, rather than someone who thinks that repairing a toaster is similar to repairing an amplifier.
Ask around at the best pure hi-fi stores in your area. These stores use people they can rely on and may be able to point you in the right direction.
Can I pick your brains for advice, tips and recommendations?
Can you call me back when you are accepting bookings?
If there was an easy way to arrange that for the many people who ask me, I promise I would do it.
It’s purely down to logistics. Keep in mind it’s just me doing literally everything including administering the website. I receive dozens of requests for bookings, per week sometimes! If I were to record the details of every enquiry and then try to call or email everyone back when I’m taking bookings, assuming I could even keep track of all that, I’d probably never get any work done.
Until I get someone to assist me, the most sensible way to manage these enquiries is for customers to keep an eye on the dedicated booking status indicator on my Contact page, created for this purpose and contact me or get back in touch when I’m taking bookings.
My apologies for not having a better way to manage this. That being said, almost everyone who wants to get work in is able to.
Does a cartridge really affect the sound of a turntable?
Yes, it’s a critically important part of the chain, just as important as the turntable itself.
Cartridges are transducers, like microphones, headphones and speakers. You probably already know how much these contribute to the sound you hear. These tiny little transducers are doing incredible work, converting groove modulations into movement via the stylus and cantilever, and then into tiny electrical signals, via magnets and wire. These must then be amplified, and that’s another story.
This work requires a staggering level of precision and materials engineering to achieve the best results. That’s why my Ortofon MC-A90 for example is so bloody expensive! You get what you pay for with anything that relies on precision and expensive materials. The cost vs. performance correlation is fairly linear; the more you pay, the better the results, predictably.
Cartridges can cost anything from $10 to $10 000 and their sonic performance varies from unlistenable to sublime. Spend as much as you can on a good cartridge. It’s a big part of the sound of a turntable, and better cartridges will last anywhere from 1000 – 2000 hours, compared to just 200 – 500 hours for a cheapy.
A good cartridge will also preserve your vinyl by causing much less record wear. The larger contact area of a Shibata or line-contact diamond exerts much lower pressure on the vinyl, at the interface between the stylus and groove. This causes less heat and therefore less wear.
Should I buy a Crosley?
No! Not if you care about your records and how they sound.
Cheap plastic turntables like Crosleys destroy vinyl due to their crude engineering and super-low-quality cartridge. The gems in these cheap styli – diamond or sometimes sapphire, have terrible profiles, are often poorly polished and rely on high tracking force to even play a record.
Then have you heard one of these things? They sound appallingly bad and really are a complete waste of money, even as a child’s gift. You are much better off saving for a decent secondhand or cheap new hi-fi turntable. You can pick up $50 secondhand turntables that are better. Almost anything is better than a Crosley!
What’s the best turntable?
There isn’t one best turntable, just the best one you can afford.
All the really good machines are heavy, for various engineering reasons. Therefore, aim for something solid, well built, preferably costing over $1000AUD new if you want a good first turntable. Alternatively, you’ll get better performance in almost all cases from a second-hand classic turntable from the 1970s and ’80s.
Remember, for many years, vinyl was the highest resolution source that most hi-fi lovers had easy access to. One could argue this still is the case. This is important because the golden age of vinyl and record players was the ’70s and ’80s, so that’s when some of the greatest machines were made.
What’s better: belt-drive or direct-drive?
There is a long-standing myth amongst some circles that belt-drive is inherently superior in some way. It isn’t.
The TLDR here is that the drive method is only one of many factors determining turntable performance. If we only look at that element, direct drive has many advantages, but as you’ll see, a turntable is the sum of many parts. As always, only the facts matter, opinions are superfluous, hence you’ll not find them here.
Science (Myths vs Facts)
This notion is perpetuated by technically uninformed mainstream media and end-users, and fuelled by the general desire to support small manufacturers, many of whom are ‘friends’. A general lack of experience with true high-end turntables on the part of many only compounds the misinformation you’ll find regurgitated in forums and elsewhere.
I should point out that, as a scientist by training, I don’t care which method is superior. The scientific process carries with it no inherent bias in any direction, only a desire for the truth, and that’s how I approach my work. That’s why I own high-end belt-drive and direct-drive turntables. They are both incredibly good decks.
One critically important goal of any good turntable is to spin the platter as close to the perfect speed as possible, with as little variation and vibration as possible. Belt-drive offers no inherent advantages in any of these areas and disadvantages in most implementations.
The best performers by these metrics are direct-drive turntables. This is science and the data is measurable. That being said, there are exceptional belt-drive and direct-drive turntables. I’m lucky enough to own an end-game example of each and I can confirm that the drive method is not the most important factor to consider.
Design and manufacturing costs are the overriding reason why you don’t see many new direct-drive machines these days. It’s cheaper to make decent belt-drive turntables and this is why most affordable decks tend to be belt-driven. This suits small manufacturers who can build a belt-drive turntable using readily available, low-cost motors. It also suits the buying public who generally don’t want to spend $20K USD on a turntable, hence the preponderance of good reviews of cheap belt-drive machines.
Direct-drive machines are much more expensive to design and manufacture, but direct-drive has advantages in terms of torque and speed consistency, so where cost is no object, you’ll generally find direct-drive. The performance advantages of direct-drive systems explain why some of the best and most expensive turntables, tape machines and cutting lathes utilise direct-drive. That being said, there are some killer, high-end belt-drive turntables too.
The bottom line of course is that you get what you pay for. A good turntable, no matter what the drive method, is expensive, like all good things.
Highest-Tier Use Cases
As I mentioned, most of your records were recorded, mastered and cut on direct-drive tape machines and cutting lathes. A) Did you know that? and B) Have you thought about why that is? More than anything else I can tell you, this dispels the misinformation about which drive type is preferable. Just think about it: people far smarter than you or I choose what’s best in cost-no-object scenarios. Record-cutting lathes ARE direct-drive
Superior methods are always used where performance is critical and cost is no option. This truth explains why many of the great turntables are direct-drive and why those machines are so highly sought after.
Many belt-drive lovers get snakey when these facts are pointed out, but most have never owned or even listened to a high-end machine like an L-07D or SP-10/SL-1000. My perspective, having worked on and listened to thousands of turntables over the years is this: show me an excellent turntable and I’ll use it, belt, idler or direct-drive. My current working reference is a belt-drive Luxman (Micro) PD-350. It’s a phenomenal turntable. My best turntable is my direct-drive Kenwood L-07D though.
Sum of the Parts
As I’ve mentioned in other FAQs, the totality of the performance of a piece of equipment is rarely defined by just one aspect of it. This is certainly true with turntables where the drive method is rarely the defining factor in turntable performance, but an element of it. One must look at all factors, including drive method, chassis construction, platter and tonearm mass and design when evaluating a turntable. Great turntables come in various flavours, belt-drive and direct-drive. You need to choose which aspects of the design and performance matter most, to you!
But the record store guy says belt-drives are better..?
Ah yes, the record store guy, who paradoxically often knows very little about how to get the best out of records!
Record store guys know more about records and less about turntables. This isn’t a judgement, it’s just a statement of fact. You DO care about how your records sound, so we move on to more reliable sources of information.
There are excellent belt-drive and direct-drive turntables, it’s not the drive method alone that determines system performance. Unfortunately, most people aren’t interested in the technical details, nor have they been exposed to the range of equipment necessary to form a valid opinion on this, but some of us are and have.
How many record store guys do you think have listened to an SL-1000, PD-350 or L-07D for example, let alone owned one of these grail machines? Simply put, most people will never hear an end-game turntable and this lack of experience and knowledge lies at the heart of rumours and misinformation everywhere.
As we always say here at Liquid Audio: knowledge is power. You want the truth? Speak to someone who actually knows it, from personal experience owning and using these grail turntables!
Do you dislike belt-drive turntables?
No, not at all. I dislike overpriced, underperforming turntables. Most of them are newer belt-drive decks.
There are many amazing belt-drive turntables and one of my two reference decks is a golden-age, end-game Luxman PD-350 (ie Micro Seiki) belt-drive turntable. Yes, the other is a direct-drive machine, but I wouldn’t use or own the PD-350 if I didn’t like it, trust me on this!
That being said, the Luxman PD-350 isn’t your regular belt-drive turntable and this is important. Good belt-drive decks are excellent, but many are ordinary and far surpassed by direct-drive machines. Far too many people have spent far too long reading about hi-fi rather than experiencing it and as a result, have no clue about what’s actually good.
I really enjoy the simplicity and honesty of the lower and older Rega Planar machines. I love decks like the PL-514, SL-23 and KD-2055, just to name a few. What I don’t like is bad turntables, no matter how their platters are driven. This especially extends to overpriced underperformers and unfortunately, most of those are belt-driven, many from the famous brands you’d be familiar with…
What’s better: moving magnet or moving coil?
Ultimately, moving coil, but it depends on how much you have to spend. If your limit is $150, a moving magnet is all you’ve got baby!
That isn’t to say there aren’t some great moving magnet cartridges, especially vintage models. Rather, the best solution – technically – is the moving coil design, because of its reduced moving mass and therefore greater linearity and micro-dynamic accuracy.
Lower mass means lower inertia and therefore better transient response and high-frequency performance. All of that translates to better dynamics, detail, lower distortion and more of that elusive ‘air’. I’ve written quite a bit about this here.
Marketing departments everywhere have tried to convince people that lower-cost moving magnets are “as good” or “nearly as good” as moving coils, but the fact that they even need to try to convince people of this tells you something. They still have these inherent design limitations and speaking from experience, they simply aren’t as good.
Because coils are technically better, manufacturers also tend to spend more on these designs, using better diamonds, more expensive boron or even diamond cantilevers and better coil wire. This means you can spend a ton on a good MC cartridge, but remember that a really good moving magnet cartridge will be better than a cheap moving coil. You get what you pay for.
The caveat here is that because moving coil designs generally have much lower outputs, you need higher quality electronics and even a step-up transformer to get the most from them. People who audition really good MC carts in systems limited by a basic phono preamp might say something like “it didn’t sound that good” or similar.
Don’t expect a really good moving coil cartridge to sound its best on a built-in or cheap external phono preamp. You’ll need a step-up transformer to get the most from a moving coil cartridge.
What equipment does Liquid Audio care for?
We service, repair and restore hi-fi stereo equipment, with a focus on turntables and amplifiers.
Equipment We Work On
Discrete hi-fi stereo equipment ONLY including pre, power, phono and integrated amplifiers, receivers, turntables, CD players, DACs, cassette decks and tuners. We care for all major brands and equipment produced from 1970 onwards.
Brands we commonly see include Accuphase, Akai, Kenwood, Luxman, NAD, Pioneer, Sansui, Rotel, Sony, TEAC, Technics, Quad and Yamaha. We specialise in amplifiers, preamplifiers, turntables, CD players, DACs, cassette decks and tuners.
Equipment We Don’t Work On
PA, DJ, home theatre, portable, computer or car audio, soundbars, streamers, micro/mini/midi/3-in-1/integrated music systems, radiograms, stereograms, four-track, reel-to-reel, subwoofers, most speakers or department store audio equipment
We carry out major overhaul and restoration work, as well as offer on-site work, consults and inspections. Check out the Services page for more.
Why do you need to inspect equipment before providing repair cost estimates?
I’m so proud of our reputation and the respect people have for our exacting standards and technically-focused approach, but this is all tied to diagnosing and understanding exactly what each piece of equipment needs.
Guesswork is unhelpful in this industry and trust me, nobody thanks you when you guess incorrectly. It’s important to understand that nobody can know exactly what your equipment needs, any more than they can tell you why your car runs roughly, without first carefully inspecting and assessing it.
This might seem obvious, yet you might be surprised how often I’m asked this question. Each piece is unique and only careful inspection can reveal exactly what it needs. No two pieces of equipment have the same service history, condition, modifications or fault presentation. What faults are present? What are their causes? Does it contain work like this? Has it been regularly serviced or previously repaired? These and other details can only be ascertained via a hands-on examination of the unit in question.
Now, it’s true that some unscrupulous individuals provide guesstimates dressed up as quotes because they know it gets work through the door, with a particular type of customer. Our honest, straightforward approach may lose us the occasional job with folks like these, but the vast majority of people prefer it. Thank goodness for that, because I will never pretend to know what’s wrong with something!
Note: none of Perth’s trusted, respected repairers, or professional repairers of complex equipment anywhere, provide quotes before inspecting equipment. Service work is slightly different and there is some scope for estimates in these cases.
For more about equipment service and repair costs, read this FAQ!
Everyone has a different opinion, where can I find good advice?
There’s misinformation, marketing nonsense and pseudoscience in any technical field, but hi-fi is unfortunately one of the worst.
Finding good advice isn’t easy. I often speak with advice seekers who’ll say things like:
“Mike, I read in a forum that I should buy XYZ, what do you think…?”Typical advice-seeker
The overwhelming problem is that many, or even most commenters in forums lack the understanding or experience to be able to contribute anything useful to the topic they are advising others about. Forums are often filled with subjective and conflicting opinions, technically incorrect ‘facts’, pseudo-science and worse.
I’m not talking about all forums of course. Some, like my old favourite Tektronix Yahoo group, are a literal goldmine of great people and information. But this is very different from your typical hi-fi forum and far from the norm. In most consumer-focussed forums, you’ll find technically uniformed discussions, which is to be expected, but hardly helpful in most cases.
Then you have retailers, often blinded by marketing mumbo-jumbo and spewing it out, parrot-fashion. Don’t get me wrong, some excellent retailers are out there, but everyone reading this knows exactly what I’m talking about. Most don’t know which information is important, right, wrong etc, creating rabbit holes of wasted time, energy and money.
For the best advice, you need complete independence that isn’t tainted by the need to sell products or push a particular opinion. I suggest something like our advisory service, accessible via our contact page.
Can you help me fix my equipment without me bringing it to you?
Maybe, though it really depends on the equipment, the fault and your skills and equipment.
You must have realistic expectations though. If you’ve ever tried to help Grandma fix her computer over the phone, you’ll know exactly what I am talking about! Does the person have the right tools, do they have a multimeter and know how to use it, desoldering equipment, parts on hand, etc, etc, etc.
This sort of remote assistance can be one of the most challenging tasks humans are faced with, so we need to pick our battles. I also don’t want to guide you into a situation where, because you lack the requisite situational awareness to work on electronic equipment, you hurt yourself.
If you are a novice and expect me to guide you through fixing your blown amplifier, this is simply not a realistic expectation. In most cases, it’s not sensible for owners to attempt to repair their equipment, but with the right guidance, many simple problems can be identified and sometimes even fixed.
For those needing more specific assistance and who cannot bring equipment to me, I offer a personalised advisory service consisting of advice blocks and consults. These allow us to have a proper discussion I can allocate time to and where both parties benefit. A win-win!
Can you sell me service parts?
No, we don’t operate a retail store or sell service parts like belts, integrated circuits, and capacitors directly to the public.
We do however stock thousands of electronic parts, belts, cartridges, headshells and turntable mats. We fit these parts as needed when you book your equipment in for service, repair or improvement.
How is Liquid Audio different?
There are many aspects of our approach that make us different.
I have a genuine love of hi-fi gear. I love working on it, love the history and classic designs and find it incredibly satisfying to focus on the tiny details necessary to have it running at its absolute best.
Quality is our ultimate focus and there aren’t many who can make that claim. There are a heck of a lot of pretenders and copy-cats out there, but go back to my oldest articles and you’ll see we’ve been actually doing this work for over a decade.
Everything from our premium tools and test equipment to the way we approach things is different. But it’s not just this. I’m old-fashioned, I believe in courtesy, professionalism and being straightforward with people.
I own this business and I service and repair everything, run the website and write the articles. I’ve been contributing to the hi-fi community for more than a decade. Other repairers haven’t written or contributed anything, let alone hundreds of articles and hundreds of thousands of words on vintage hi-fi equipment.
You take on some big jobs, are there any you won’t take on?
We generally avoid equipment in poor physical condition, damaged by other repairers, heavily modified or equipment that isn’t serviceable.
Don’t get me wrong, the challenging jobs can be very rewarding, but we’re not interested in trying to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear or charging you for trying to.
These days we filter equipment in poor condition because it becomes a problem for us this shouldn’t really become our problem if you think about it. We’re here to help, but ultimately we also want good outcomes for everyone and that means not taking on jobs where the odds are stacked against all of us.
Do you sell pre-owned hi-fi equipment?
Yes, we sell pre-owned hi-fi equipment via our store.
Purchasing pre-owned hi-fi equipment from Liquid Audio has many benefits:
- Equipment has been professionally inspected, serviced and repaired, as required
- Equipment has been expertly cleaned and detailed
- Most equipment comes with a three-month warranty for peace of mind
Selling on consignment with us is great too because we:
- Carefully select customers and equipment
- Take care of cleaning, photography advertising
- Add value to your equipment
- Remove the stress and hassle of selling
Why should I purchase an advice block or consult?
I’ve always believed in the value of expert advice. Specialists deliver insight and expertise not available elsewhere, saving time, money and delivering the best results. Compared to misinformation and opinion-filled forums, paid ‘reviews’ and pressure to buy often inferior new equipment, our bias and conflict-of-interest-free advisory service is justifiably popular.
Get the best advice you can find from Mike, and please, stop quoting forum posts as authorities. Only the guys who actually work, live and breathe this stuff really know what they are doing. Trust them, not random strangers, shills and very biased (sometimes blind) owners. Else you can end up with some very expensive mistakes that … Mike can save you from.Jon S
Most people wouldn’t walk into a doctor or lawyer’s office expecting a free consultation, yet many approach Liquid Audio with that expectation. Like other professionals, we are a specialist service provider, not a retailer. People all over the world seek out our services and happy customers remind me how valuable our advisory service is, but keep in mind:
- Every enquiry chews up time and energy
- We receive many more than I can respond to
- The service needs to at least break even
- I need a filter for people like these:
Example 1: ‘G’ contacted me seeking technical assistance with his very valuable Sansui amplifier. I provided some initial advice but when I suggested he purchase time to properly address his various follow-up questions, G wrote:
“F*** you, I’m not going to pay you for a simple question, that speaks to how miserable you are.”G
‘K’ contacted me wanting turntable advice after I’d already spent ages with him over multiple conversations. When I suggested he purchase a consult for further discussion, he told me he knew someone in the Australian Tax Office who might be interested to know about that (ie that I charge for my time). Imagine threatening someone who helped you because they charge for their time. The ATO is, of course, well aware that businesses charge for their time.
These examples hopefully clarify why I needed to make a few changes.
Our pay-per-use advisory service minimises time and energy-wasting interactions, generates mutually beneficial exchanges and ensures fairness for everyone, including me! It helps me filter problematic enquirers and deliver high-quality, high-value assistance to people who appreciate this commonsense arrangement!
Your videos and articles are a terrific resource for people who love hi-fi, but don’t know what is good and what is over-hyped and over-priced. I encourage people to support Mike and his business with a small donation. He is truly independent and calls it as he sees it, which is difficult to find these days. Hi-fi magazines are full of glowing reviews, from brands that also advertise with the magazine…Tony O
Do you sell belts, styli and cartridges?
Yes, we keep thousands of parts in stock and have speedy access to many more.
We don’t operate a retail shopfront though, so we don’t sell bare service parts for example. Instead, we supply and fit them as part of the services we offer.
How long will my repair take?
This depends on your equipment, what’s wrong with it and how many jobs are in the pipeline.
Each job will be done in turn and according to workflow considerations. All jobs are in a queue for attention and some take longer than others to process. Some jobs require parts to be ordered and some suppliers take longer than others to deliver.
Do you offer hi-fi equipment inspections?
Yes, we offer pre and post-purchase hi-fi equipment inspections, cartridge inspections and more.
A Liquid Audio report can save people hundreds or even thousands of dollars and a great deal of pain.
Imagine for example having an expensive amplifier inspected prior to purchase. I find that many hundreds of dollars of work and repairs are needed. You take my detailed report to the seller and negotiate a fair price, based on my findings, that saves you far more than the cost of the inspection. This is a great result.
Is my equipment repairable?
Probably, but this always comes down to what equipment we are talking about and exactly what’s wrong with it.
Various factors come into play here, including the make and model, its general condition, fault/s, your budget and so on. Most faults are repairable, but some combinations of equipment/fault/condition may render repairs difficult, or non-viable. Inspection is the only way to know that and, naturally, as soon as we know, we will let you know!
Do you provide a warranty?
Yes, we offer an industry-standard 3-month warranty on parts and workmanship.
In the rare event that you experience an issue related to any of the work we’ve done for you, we will fix it, where it’s viable to do so or refund you where it’s not.
Why repair vintage equipment when I can buy new?
Because the vintage gear you already own is almost certainly better than any decent new gear you can afford!
Nothing you can buy for sensible money now is built like vintage hi-fi equipment, or made in Japan. Nor is much of it very sonically inspiring either, something those of us who don’t make a living selling new hi-fi gear are not afraid to tell you.
I regularly see 40-year-old hi-fi equipment that has come in for its first maintenance. Do you think your BOSE or Sonos ‘thingo’ will be working in 4 years time, let alone 40?! No, and I can guarantee the crappy dock, soundbar or Bluetooth whatever doesn’t sound as good as proper vintage hi-fi gear either.
Experience shows that $500 vintage amplifiers regularly crush $2000 new ones in terms of build and sound quality. If your vintage amplifier only needs some routine maintenance, why wouldn’t you get that done?!
The the hi-fi store guy promised a new turntable would kill my classic deck, is this true?
Ah, this old chestnut. No, generally these statements are made simply to sell you new equipment.
Manufacturers, retailers and salespeople need to sell you stuff to stay in business. It makes sense right? Imagine walking into a hi-fi store, telling them what you have and the sales guy saying:
“Wow, your turntable is awesome, probably better than anything here up to around $3000!”Rare honest salesperson
Sales staff are generally paid a commission. This reward for selling creates a very real conflict of interest inescapable by all but the most ethical salespeople, strangely often overlooked or not even considered by consumers.
Remember, there is NOTHING new in turntables except styling. The very best turntables have mostly all been made, somewhere between 1970 and 1985. There are a few notable exceptions, but you get my point. The industry needs you to believe that new gear is better, otherwise, everyone’s out of a job.
Consider this: I don’t have a turntable to sell you and I don’t operate a retail shopfront. In fact, I’m not trying to sell you anything, nor do I mind whether or not you believe me. I fix and service equipment, old and new, that’s my core business. But others are trying to sell you something, aren’t they? Do they have new turntables to sell by any chance..?
By the way, I’m not suggesting that all salespeople are dishonest. Ethical salespeople exist, like my friends Simon and Tony @ Douglas Hi-Fi and Pierre @ Revolution Turntable. Make sure you ask your hi-fi store guy what turntable he owns. This will help ensure there’s some credibility to the advice you are being given.
But surely new technology must sound better?
What new technology? Modern analog gear uses the same classic circuits, but often with lower-quality parts and construction.
There is very little ‘new technology’ in analog audio. Most analog electronic circuit designs date back to the earliest days of tubes and transistors. Even things like class-D and class-T amps are not new.
Yes, there are some superb new op-amps, transistors and low-distortion circuits that utilise them. A strong argument can be made for the fact that the best analog audio engineering is all discrete component design though, with as few op-amps as possible.
My Tektronix SG505 ultra-low distortion audio signal generator that I use in the workshop is a great example. This wonderful piece of gear dates back to the 1980s and yet boasts < 0.0008% distortion, using ‘old’ NE5532 and similar op-amps! This thing is an order of magnitude better than most gear I ever test, but it uses old technology!
High-end gear often contains tubes and… oh that’s right, all the best tubes are old ones, from the ’50s and ’60s. They certainly aren’t new. Actually, this ‘new technology’ thing is grossly overstated and misunderstood.
Digital is different, but it’s an emergent technology, so you can’t really compare them. Things have certainly improved, so newer DACs often sound better.
I bet your hi-fi system contains lots of new gear..?
It doesn’t and I get industry discounts and access to whatever I might want. Think about that for a moment…
My amplifier, preamplifier, turntable, headshell, transformer and speakers are all from the ’70s and ’80s. I also own a tuner from 1975, a cassette deck from 1983, a CD player from 2008 containing Siemens tubes from 1965 and my cartridges are from 1980 – 2009. My speaker cable is new, that’s it.
So the entire retail machine is designed to get people to ‘trade-up’ to new equipment..?
Yep, but come on, are you really surprised..?
Ask owners of newer gear how they feel about their expensive “superior modern equipment” that often dies just outside of warranty and is then deemed non-viable to repair.
Read the reviews. Every new piece of gear sounds “significantly better” than the one preceding it, right? OK, so how then is it possible for a 40-year-old amplifier to sound better than a new one?
Seriously, try explaining that. If each year brought significant improvements, older gear would sound awful compared with gear with 40 years of continuous improvement. But it doesn’t and anyone with decent rears and experience will confirm this.
Unfortunately, there are some tricks being played on the average consumer and that’s a shame.