Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Return of the Sony Biotracer

I've been in a funk over the state of my stereo system lately.  The sound has been terrible - muddy, distorted, low-res, nnothing worthy of the LP medium.  I sold off some components, junked the turntable (a Sony PS-X5 that I've often liked or hated, but never loved), and tried to figure out where everything went wrong.  It became so dire that I openly considered abandoning vinyl records altogether, and going back, at long last, to Compact Discs.

Then I discover something miraculous this week - a couple CDs of "needle drop" recordings from my beloved Sony PS-X75 Biotracer turntable from three years ago.  The table was paired with a fiery red Dynavector 10x5, a Pro-Ject Tube Box II phono preamp with a pair of Mullard vacuum tubes, and the Marantz 2235b stereo receiver (now my only remaining component).  And the sound was exhilarating, punchy, clear, deep, richly textured, full of color.

It's funny how one can forget these things.  I had already realized that I was lost, musically-speaking.  I was trading around in low-to-mid-fi audio gear on the cheap, never coming close to the former highs.  I had forgotten what the high end sounded like.  Now I have my lost recordings and I'm quickly remembering things.  Now I have my purpose again - I have to get my stereo system back!  The PS-X75 Biotracer!  The vacuum tubes!  The high-resolution analog sound!  This is where the LP truly becomes master of its domain.

It's fascinating to see this "vinyl revival" emerge, as many people remember the wonderful music they lost, and many people discovering it for the first time.  It's fun to see LP sales quadruple in four years, to nearly 4 million albums in 2011 in the US, while CD continues its endless slide into extinction.  I think that's largely because I like to root for underdogs.

A lot of people interested in vinyl records want to know, is it better than CD?  Is it worth getting a turntable and pulling out all those old LPs?  Well, yes, it is worth getting a turntable and spinning some records.  There's something magical about the experience, about the ritual, about the sound of smooth vinyl against a phonograph needle and lively, rich tones coming out of speakers.  As to who wins the fight, LP versus CD, that's a little bit trickier.  And the bottom line is that it's going to cost you.  There's no getting around that fact.

On the LP-CD fight, I'd say compact disc wins at the budget or entry level.  At $500, they become more or less equal.  At $1,000, vinyl LP blazes away.  And I'm talking the price of your entire system: turntable, phono cartridge, phono preamp, and amp.  The vintage market is a gold mine if you know what to look for, but don't let nostalgia blind you; most of those old turntables on Craigslist and eBay are junk.  The true classics - Technics, JVC, Pioneer, Kenwood, Sony - are worth the effort to discover.

Long story short: LP still kicks, you'll have to pay real money to find that out, it's totally worth the effort.  Start saving your pennies.  Oh, and enjoy the Youtube video of my old Sony Biotracer in action.  You have to get one of these turntables.


Frisenette said...

Why did you sell your stuff in the first place, only to get something worse? You didn't really explain that in you post.

Do you know about fullrange speakers (handling all or most of the spectrum with one driver *without* a crossover)? There is nothing better at bringing the best out in an LP and a good stereo than fullrange speakers.
They have the most superb detailed, sweet, coherent, smooth sound you can get.
Only problem with them is that they beam more than two or treeway speakers. IE. the sweetspot is rather small, depending on the size of the driver.
But, that can easily be fixed with a strategically placed helper-tweeter crossed real high, (like 10 Khz) or two or more of the same driver type firing in different directions.

georgeinbrtonuk said...

The PS-x75 is truly an amazing deck. Ironically, I bought the deck on a whim from e bay last year. An incredible image, sweet and fabulously stable tracking from the arm. Motown to Monteverdi, no hysterical screeching/harshness when the mod gets difficult. It's responsible for the best sounds I've ever had from the Koetsu, even over the FR 66 12inch arm. My friends (they're not just being polite, honest), describe it " as listening to the master tape".

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

@Frisenette: Thanks for the speaker advice. I'll have to upgrade my stereo speakers at some point, and possibly a subwoofer as well. I'll be looking for full-range speakers, for sure.

Why did I get rid of my Sony Biotracer? Funny story...well, not really. It's pretty sad. It involves landlords who steal the rent money. That was in May, 2009, and since then, I've just been tinkering with lower-end gear. I definitely learned a lot, so that's a plus. But what I learned is that "budget gear" sucks.

@george: Ahh, now you're making me jealous! I've been searching eBay recently; there has been a wave of PS-X600 Biotracer turntables in the past few weeks. I nearly scored one in an auction, only to have some jerk take it away in the very final seconds. It seems this is how eBay auctions are run, and it stinks.

I agree on all points about the PS-X75. The sound is amazingly clear and dead quiet. Sony's engineers were on a roll in the late '70s.

Thanks for reading my Vol 4 blog. Much appreciated, and I promise to write more vinyl lp posts.

georgeinbrtonuk said...

Sorry to hear about your bad experience on e bay but that is how auctions seem to go now. The final price bears no relation to the figure 10 secs before the end of the auction. Shame you're not in the UK as I could help out with am x600. It's a great deck but doesn't have the unconditional sweetness of the ps-x75 (or the x700 presumably). The other setback is that there is no way of adjusting the arm height and therefore the tracking angle that I've found. I know my cartridge changes it's character/tracking ability very significantly if the arm isn't perfectly parallel, and the TT absolutely level. Levelling may affect a Biotracer's particularly. On note for any UK readers, I'm lucky enough to have a good friend who's an electromechanical engineer and yes, he can repair/line up a Biotracer to perfection. Just mail me if you're stuck.

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

You, sir, have read my mind! I've been scouring the internets in search of any insight on the difference between the Biotracers on the PS-X75 and the X600. The X-600 lacks the VTA adjustment, is smaller, and seems to have a different alloy in the arm tube. I'm not sure how that translates to the sound.

Probably, what would have to happen is that I'd eventually collect both tables, and then could make an honest comparison. I'm sure either one would deliver killer music.

georgeinbrtonuk said...

Following on, I don't know if you've managed to see the comprehensive review here in the UK of the Sony PS-B80 in the July issue of Hi_Fi News, p108. The author - Tim Jarman (normally an authority on B&O gear), was quite astounded by the performance, basically saying it was like listening to a different medium.
I've started a website of my own, and written an article about Biotracers with photos of mine. I'm selling a rather nice PS-X75, but it's a 240v model. They really inspired my interest in vintage audio.
I've just been using a Dynavector Karat 17D2- moving coil, a very short canteliver. So absolutely amazing that I'm going to get a WAV file onto the website of a couple of tracks being played. I'm sure the quality will shine through even after the digitization!

Luis Lemus said...

Informative convo. Was researching the Sony PS-X75 as my father passed and mother wishes to dispose of the audiophile gear... Carver M400, Hafler 500, B&O Beocenter 5500 w/the matched RX-140 speakers, on and on. In any case, did you ever find your TT?

Publius said...

Hey, we are living in the same area, and are both Biotracer fans!
I have a Sony PS-x800.
It is actually in pretty good shape, but needs to have an intermittent issue fixed... probably a bad solder joint. It's a beauty, though. I need to get my whole system in order...
Anyway, thanks for the inspiration.