It’s not often that one meets a collector of old cassettes or 8 tracks. An antique gramophone might make a stylish decorative piece, but no one really listens to them anymore. Their tinny sound quality has been far exceeding by newer technologies. The fixed law of the universe seems to be: New technologies resign the old to the dust bin of history.
A notable exception to this rule is vinyl. While the beloved LP experienced a low point in the 90s and noughties when nary a record was produced, it remained popular with audiophiles. The hit movie from 2000 “High Fidelity” wonderfully depicted the nostalgia of these diehard fans unable to let go of a music culture they loved, but vinyl collectors were definitely in the minority at that time.
Then something strange and wonderful happened: Vinyl came back! Increasingly, new music is released in not only digital form, but on LPs as well. Records have ceased to be the dusty reserve of luddites and nostalgic romantics and are once again a popular way to listen to music. The following article describes how it’s possible to integrate this technology with the Raumfeld music streaming system.
Why records rebounded
But first, let’s take a look at vinyl, what it is and why it’s rebounded from junk shops and garage sales to the living rooms of the young and hip. One reason for the resurgence in this old analog technology is undoubtedly the poor audio quality of many highly compressed MP3s and other lossy data formats. CDs offer much better sound quality and are more durable that records. Yet vinyl, if handled properly actually lasts much longer than CDs due to a phenomenon called “disc rot.” Disc rot refers to the tendency of optical discs like CDs and DVDs to become unreadable over time. Light damage and oxidation can all take their toll and the scratches that can destroy a record wreak havoc on CDs as well. And let’s not forget how irritating jewel cases are. You know – those plastic cases that CDs come in with their plastic hinges that are nearly impossible not to break? Vinyl, on the other hand, lasts a lifetime if handled properly; and, if played back on a good player and through a good pair of speakers, vinyl records offer a sound quality that many swear is superior to newer sound technologies.
And so record players have returned to many households. No longer the hobby of elite audio snobs, record players are available in all price categories. However, one should be forewarned that not all of these less expensive players offer the best possible sound experience. A little more money is usually required for sound worthy of the name high fidelity, usually a few hundred euro. And, as in other areas of the hi-fi world, there is seemingly no limit to how much one can spend.
How to transduce? MC vs. MM cartridges
The part of a record player responsible for transducing the mechanical energy of the moving record into an electrical audio signal is the tone arm. Here the stylus, the point of contact with the record, meets the cartridge where vibrations are transformed into electricity. Most hi-fi systems today use magnetic cartridges. The two most popular types are moving magnet (MM) and moving coil (MC) cartridges. Moving magnet cartridges, so-called MM cartridges, attach a magnet to a stylus which moves between two coils, thereby generating an electrical signal that varies in accordance with the physical changes on the record. Moving Coil cartridges, or MC cartridges, use the stylus to move a coil between two magnets, following the same principle as an MM cartridge in reverse. Both perform the same job of transducing one type of energy into another according to the groves made on the surface of a record.
The moving magnet variety is usually found with entry level and midrange systems and delivers an output voltage high enough to work with just about any amplifier with a phono input. The MM system’s changeable stylus also makes the system very flexible. Still, the highest level of sound quality is generally achieved with Moving Coil cartridges.
Record players with MC systems are generally more expensive than those with MM systems. They also delivery a very low output voltage which places a higher demand on the amplifier. In many cases, an additional phono preamp is required to boost the voltage up to that of a normal line-level signal. Compared to MM systems, however, MC systems are less prone to disruptions in the signal and many audiophiles feel that they offer better overall sound quality.
Different drives: Belt drive and direct drive turntables
The next thing to consider when purchasing a record player is the various types of drive systems. The drive in a record player transfers the energy from the motor to the turntable. The vast majority of record turn tables use one of two main types of drives: Belt drives and direct drives. The belt drive employs a belt attached to the motor to turn the system. This means that the motor does not need to be located directly beneath the system, but can be positioned off to the side. The disadvantages of this system include the loss of the rubberized belt’s elasticity over time which is why it is recommended to exchange the belt every few years. Disruptive noise from the motor can also be directly transferred via the belt.
Belt drives are perfectly suitable for home use, but serious DJs generally employ turn tables with direct drive systems. This allows for the manually turning, or “scratching,” of the records, which, with a belt drive system, could cause the belt to slip. In addition, record players with direct drives start up much faster than belt systems, an essential feature for professional use. The tempo on a direct drive system can also be freely regulated. Those, however, who have no ambitions with regard to DJing will be well served with a belt-drive system.
Streaming from a record player with the Raumfeld system
Certainly, the Raumfeld wireless streaming system is a technology that would have been beyond Thomas Edison’s wildest dreams when he pioneered the first method of recording and playing back sound back in 1877. The next big revolution in sound technology was the digitization of music. And yet analog remains. The two worlds continue to co-exist and with the flexible Raumfeld multi-room system, they’re completely compatible. Every Raumfeld WiFi speaker with a line-in input can serve as an interface between digital and analog realms for easy vinyl streaming. Simply connect your record player to the line-in input. The analog signal will be converted by the Raumfeld device’s integrated DAC for playback and re-streaming.
Title picture: By Mlsra (Eigenes Werk) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
All other pictures: Property of Teufel Audio