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You hear these songs, and they're incredibly moving. But when we talk about it as being raw or authentic, it discounts just how hard this stuff was to play and how musically sophisticated and innovative it was. There's a sense of almost remarginalizing it by talking about it as this primitive music that sprung up in the cotton fields, when in fact, it's incredibly skilled and impressive music - Amanda Petrusich, author of Do Not Sell at Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World's Rarest 78 rpm Records

Author Topic: Playing old 78 RPM Records - Decisions  (Read 781 times)

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Offline Shovel

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Playing old 78 RPM Records - Decisions
« on: January 14, 2016, 07:46:29 AM »
Howdy.  I'm looking for some advice from the available sages of shellac.

I know there are some folks who prefer the old schoolroom record players to listen to old 78s on, they say they keep the 'in the room' feel.  To date, I've only used an Audiotronics 304A.

However, when I see Joe Bussard or  R Crumb's record room, they clearly use a more modern turntable, with amps, etc.

As someone who knows very little about the technology of vintage or even modern turntables, or how the sound is translated from analog to digital, I'm wondering about any pitfalls to avoid. 

From my understanding, though not ideal, a wind-up victrola eliminates any 'processing' of signals.  Save the crackle, it's basically a pure rendition of the sound that was captured in the performance.  What I don't know is, does a turntable from the 60s generally stay truer to the sound than a cheap USB-enabled turntable?  Amps?  Speakers?

I understand about groove widths and the need for changing needles for the best sound and I do change needles on my current player.  What I don't understand is if the 'wrong' type of amp/speakers/turntable will sound worse?  For example if you have an ideal turntable and speakers but an amp that screws thing up, or a good amp but the wrong type of speakers?  Things to avoid, mistakes you may have made, things you learned in your experiences. 

My concern is both the sound quality and the preservation of the few nice records I have for future listeners. (Is an Audiotronics player hard on the record?)

Feel free to go into super detail if you wish.

Thanks in advance,
« Last Edit: January 14, 2016, 07:49:30 AM by Shovel »

Offline frankie

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    • DoneGone.net
Re: Playing old 78 RPM Records - Decisions
« Reply #1 on: January 14, 2016, 10:28:38 AM »
I own mainly LPs and backed into a few 78s against my better judgement. Too late now...

People can get real polarized about the hi-fi thing...  when it comes to playing the records I own, I have a few criteria:

1) Hear the records
2) Don't damage the records
3) Don't spend unnecessarily in pursuit of 1) and 2)

You can usually get a good deal on a receiver/poweramp from the 70s. I have a Marantz that I like a lot. I also got a great deal on some Advent speakers from the 70s...  too big for most folks these days...  bad for them, good for me!

I started with a 2-speed Denon that fell on me from a friend... got a basic Shure M-44 cartridge - fine for LPs. Once I got a couple 78s, I went with an Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB. 3 speeds and USB enabled.  Plays and sounds fine. Got an extra headshell, cartridge and 3-mil stylus - all good.  Swap out the headshell when going between LPs and 78s. No damage to the records at all.

I agree that older mechanical players have a certain special quality, but they come with their own hassles, too, and can potentially damage the records if you're not real careful. Changing needles for every play gets tedious, too....  the collectors I know don't use these kinds of players for casual listening, generally speaking...  they all go for more modern playback devices (and generally have much nicer gear AND records than I do - they've been at it a lot longer, too).

Interestingly, two of the younger guys that I know that collect 78s BOTH have Stanton USB turntables...  They both sounded and played fine to my ear.

Offline bnemerov

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Re: Playing old 78 RPM Records - Decisions
« Reply #2 on: January 14, 2016, 10:31:54 AM »
Hi Shovel,

The pdf of the paper published by ARSC (Association of Recorded Sound Collections) will help. The best modern equipment will generally give best results, but the problems come with the lack of standardization of EQ before the 1950s.

Generally pre-WWII recording equipment was built by company engineers and each company (Victor, Columbia, Okeh, Vocalion etc.) used its own EQ---boosting the highs and attenuating the lows during recording. On playback, a mirror image was required.

The ARSC paper gives good exposition about this (and stylus size and shapes) as well as some recommendations for equipment to add to a modern playback chain. The OWL preamp mentioned is very good. We had (still have, I guess) one in the Audio Restoration Lab at the Center for Popular Music where I was chief cook & bottlewasher for 14 years.
http://www.arsc-audio.org/journals/v20/v20n1p14-23.pdf

best,
bruce

Offline Shovel

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Re: Playing old 78 RPM Records - Decisions
« Reply #3 on: January 17, 2016, 05:38:40 AM »
Thank you both greatly.
'backed into a few 78s' .. i'm curious.

Edit:  Question - am I damaging records by playing on Audiotronics 304A turntables with regularly replaced needles?  Trying to measure how urgent the need is .. whether to hold back playing certain ones till I upgrade the system.  The tone arm doesn't seem "heavy" to me but I haven't dealt in turntables all that much..

Bruce - I've read through your post and some of the linked artice again.  It's becoming clearer. Thanks again.
« Last Edit: January 17, 2016, 05:51:05 AM by Shovel »

Offline bnemerov

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Re: Playing old 78 RPM Records - Decisions
« Reply #4 on: January 17, 2016, 07:01:40 AM »
Hi Shovel,
Your turntable tracks at about 8-10 grams (this is the downward pressure on the disc). Modern hi-fi tables like Panasonic and A-T at 2-3 grams. The lighter (without jumping out of the groove) the better for the disc. Modern turntables have the added benefit of being adjustable.
If you've got rare records in excellent condition, be careful!
best,
bruce

Offline Shovel

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  • Posts: 160
Re: Playing old 78 RPM Records - Decisions
« Reply #5 on: January 19, 2016, 05:48:30 AM »
This is EXTREMELY helpful.  Many thanks for taking the time to share your knowledge. 

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