Making progress

Updating my slowly-evolving analog audio project wherein I undertake to rebuild/recover my enjoyment of observing the phenomonon created when a tiny diamond rides merrily through a vinyl groove, delightedly vibrating, producing a minuscule electrical current that eventually (through amplification magic) becomes the sweet sound that we call analog music. The project makes progress and it's…

This pro­ject is one of those ‘slow’ things that you take time to enjoy while tak­ing the time to do it right. Well, that’s what I’m telling myself at the moment.

Back in April I decided to get back into play­ing vinyl records to exper­i­ence music the we did before the digit­al purge of the ’90s. I already had an era-appro­pri­ate turntable, so all that was needed was to rebuild the play­back chain from that point on.

After a brief look at the stuff I had on hand, here’s what I needed to build/buy:

  • Preamp or amp­li­fi­er with integ­rated preamp
  • Cart­ridge and stylus — the cur­rent one was ori­gin­al and ~40 years old so it was likely show­ing it’s age
  • Audio switch box
  • Speak­ers
  • Receiv­er or tuner
  • Inner and out­er album sleeves
  • New and old music on vinyl 🙂

I already had:

  • Head­phones
  • Head­phone amp
  • Assor­ted cables and connectors
  • Diskwash­er D4 record cleaner
  • Ste­reo stand
  • A few LP records that I had refused to part with

In the beginning…

That pile of gear in the image above is pretty much what I star­ted with. This is the Akai AP-Q41 turntable that was ori­gin­ally pur­chased around 1983. The phono preamp is new a this point, and the Focus­rite box is about 5 years old — used that to pipe the out­put of the preamp into my com­puter as I don’t have a prop­er amp/receiver with speak­ers yet.

The goal at this point is to get the turntable work­ing and then see if I still have any interest in listen­ing to vinyl (spoil­er: yup).

It plays, but it sounds weird

This thing had­n’t been played for 40 years, so I had no idea if any­thing was wrong with it or not. So, after care­fully rebal­an­cing the ton­earm, adjust­ing the anti-skate to the recom­men­ded set­tings from the manu­al, I hooked it up to a new preamp, hooked that up to an LCD TV that had audio line inputs, and spun a disk or two.

And yep, I could hear music, though it was rather com­pressed, as if someone had taken and removed some of the top and bot­tom end of the audio spec­trum. Very weird, but hey, that cart­ridge was old so maybe stuff happened to it, or the stylus was dam­aged. Or some­thing. So let’s look at that stylus.

Seems fine, maybe a bit worn, but the can­ti­lever and stylus mount look good. Maybe it’s the cart­ridge? If so, then it’s time to research (ues, I used Chat­G­PT to help focus the search and learn­ing) and order one. I settled on a Grado Prestige Green3 — a bit more upscale than an entry-level cart, but since at this time I’m still fig­ur­ing out if I am going to com­mit to this expens­ive hobby, it was a good compromise.

Cart arrives, and.…

It still sounds like crap… hmm. So, what do I have in the chain that could be caus­ing this:

  • TV speak­ers
  • Cables from preamp to TV
  • Preamp
  • Cables from turntable to preamp
  • Turntable or turntable com­pon­ent (cables, elec­tron­ics, etc)
  • Cart­ridge

Lots of things in that list to go wrong. I tested everything in the list above the turntable, and all checked out fine. So the cul­prit was at (or with­in) the turntable itself.

To cut to chase scene, I determ­ined the young­er-me was an abso­lute bone­head who had some­how messed up the head­shell -> tone-arm wire pos­i­tions. The red and green wires were swapped. And there is no col­our cod­ing on the ton­earm con­nect­ors, so today-me thought everything was fine and hooked up the cart­ridge using the match­ing col­ours = crap sound.

The fix

I had the ori­gin­al manu­al, but it did­n’t have any inform­a­tion on cor­rect wir­ing. I guess they assumed nobody would be dumb enough to swap wires around. I also found a ser­vice manu­al online, but it too did­n’t cov­er col­oured wir­ing, though it did have a help­ful schem­at­ic which showed how things get con­nec­ted, but not with­in the headshell.

Even­tu­ally I solved it by look­ing at blurry-zoomed-in images (above) of the turntable that I found online. There were two or three that had enough detail that I was able to move the wires to the prop­er locations.

Music ensues!

Heh, yep, that was the issue. And fur­ther test­ing (and listen­ing) showed that the ori­gin­al cart­ridge was­n’t that bad sound­ing after all this time. Which gave me ideas that I’ll go over in my next post, as well as some of the things I learned about the ‘new’ vinyl scene.



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