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.