For audiophiles frustrated with the lack of realism their CD-players provide, my sincere advice to them would be to get themselves a good turntable. [Refer to my article on the Linn Sondek, with pointers to other brands].
However, for those who already own a good turntable and still crave more realism, more accuracy, the very best sound reproduction possible; do not dispair. The solution to that problem may be more accessible than you might have thought. It is better than that $100,000 turntable you may have been dreaming of. And it could cost you little more than 1% ($1000) of that figure. Unbelievable?
A semi-professional ReVox A77 mkIV 7.5 / 15 ips 2 track tape- machine is the currently under-utilized secret-weapon in my own system.
It, and others like it, is the path to the absolute ultimate in sound reproduction achievable anywhere on this planet today. It is the reason why I’m content with my Linn/Thorens combo as I know they provide a level of performance close enough to the state-of-the-art in LP reproduction that I can scoff at the ridiculous prices of those that claim to surpass them, ESPECIALLY since I know that NO $100,000 turntable can even match the ultimate performance of a 2 track tape-machine operating at 15 ips (inches per second). This is master-tape quality, THIS IS THE VERY ULTIMATE IN SOUND-REPRODUCTION. But most remarkable is that it's possible to obtain a used unit for approximately $1000, more or less. That's almost too good to be true. But it is a fact. Of course you could pay more, and/or you could modify it with tubed input/playback amp-stages, etc., at extra cost (north of five-grand, if you care to) but the basic machine will already have been superior to any other source - without doubt.
The difference in quality between LP on a top-notch turntable and 'master'-tape on any of these machines is like the level of difference between consumer-digital (CD, SACD, etc,) and a good turntable. A significant increase in realism is evident. Dynamism is improved, there is more separation between the sounds of different instruments, transients are more sharply-etched, the fade of notes are more clearly apparent. There is no false emphasis of the trebles featured by the popular moving-coil cartridges, the tonal balance is more akin to that of moving-magnets - absolutely NATURAL. Master-tape is, beyond any shadow of doubt, the very next-best thing to to the original LIVE performance!
However, for those who may have doubts about the sound-quality, kindly refer to The Tape Project, a web-site advocating the use of similar machines to the above, and providing master-tape duplicates for use on such machines. Some time ago, a founder of this project (Mike Lavinge) hosted a demonstration at his home featuring a comparison between SACD, turntables, and R to R (reel to reel) machines similar to the above.
The digital source was a Playback Designs MPS-5, R to R tape-machine was a Studer A-820, and turn-table was a $79,000 Rockport Sirius III (a Garrard 301 and Technics SP10 where also on hand). A member in attendance reported on the proceedings, “We got into playing ‘Jazz at the Pawn-Shop’ on vinyl….One person asked to hear this on SACD, which Mike had ofcourse…..lasted all of 20 seconds.”
So that’s strike one – saCD no competition for LP.
The member continued, “Now for the highlight of the evening…One of the other members brought a R to R tape of ‘Jazz at the Pawn-Shop’. We the played the first pressing on the Rockport again and then switched to the tape copy on Mike’s Studer A-820 R to R. Holy sh!!. Nothing but oohh’s and aahhh’s! It became so obvious that the tape just had it all over the vinyl. It makes me wonder, why did reel to reel disappear as a source – convenience? We did this comparison with a number of different artistes for many hours. The R to R won every time except for one cut, cannot remember which one it was. The evening played on with music and laughter that was brought on by the clear superiority that the tape demos had.”
Strike two – LP no competition for R to R (2 track, 15 ips). End of story.
The very fact that these machines have virtually disappeared from the consumer market-place is, in itself, a sad indictment on the disingenous nature of certain elements of the industry. [Some of these elements, and more evidence of their wrongs, are highlighted in, "Audio Magazines' Sinister Practices..." ]. Nevertheless, the audiophile determined to obtain the very best sound-quality may still find the ultimate source-component in the second-hand market-place. All is not lost! WAJ.
But I just had to include the member’s amazed comment about the performance of the 50 year-old rebuilt Garrard being so close to the 79 grand Rockport, “The Garrard 301 that Steve builds is shockingly good, remember the other table is the Rockport that we were doing the comparisons.” This strenghtens my point exactly; there’s no big gap between the performance of a very good tt (of whatever vintage) and those ridiculously expensive tts. For a major increase in performance, look to 2 track 15 ips reel to reel tape. It’s as simple as that.
Independent comments about the superiority of R to R can also be found at the Tape Projects web-site regarding the raves they received for their demo at the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show from reviewers of ‘The Absolute Sound’, ‘Stereophile’, AVGuide.com, among others.
For source material for such a machine you can buy tapes from the Tape Project and other vendors (try eBay, and similar sources, for both tapes and decks). Or you can lug your machine to any concert, recital, rehearsal, or jam-session you might want to record, with permission of course (not to mention; good mics, and techniques). The result will be better than anything possible from ANY other source. REAL to REEL is the real deal.
But remember, the machine must be 2 track, and capable of 15 ips speed. The more popular 4track/7.5 ips machines will not render the same level of quality, and are not compatible with 2track master-tape duplicates copied at 15 inches per second. Some machines are also capable at 30ips, but tapes recorded at that speed are even rarer, unless you’re connected with a studio.