About Me

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Dallas, Texas, United States
Cline Analog

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Tools and Tips

Static and poor tracking are probably the two worst enemies of an enjoyable vinyl listening experience. I have found that with proper cartridge and arm setup, and some trial and error where record mats, cleaners, and weights are concerned, these issues can be pretty much eliminated.

For cartridge setup I use the Feickert Universal Protractor.  In my opinion it's one of the best tools available for this purpose.  I use it for alignment, and for getting a precise pivot to spindle measurement when mounting a tonearm.

An excellent alignment tool from Dr. Feickert Analogue

Contact between the record and platter is also extremely important.  Often an acrylic or properly finished MDF platter can be enough to ensure solid contact with little slip or static.  If you happen to have one of the millions of metal platter turntables out there, you will most likely need a platter mat.  It often becomes necessary to include a record clamp or weight as well just to ensure perfect contact and eliminate slip.

I have experimented with felt, rubber, cork, acrylic, and foam rubber mats.  For my custom Thorens TD 316, I have found that the cork Music Hall Mat is the best fit.  It has eliminated my need for a weight, which has the added benefit of relieving stress on the belt drive.

Another major factor in a pleasing analog experience is dust and static reduction.  A properly grounded turntable and arm go a long way to eliminating static.  If you're having excessive noise issues, it's a good idea to check this out thoroughly.  Cleanliness is also key.  I use the Spin Clean manual Record Washer II for vintage records before they ever get a spin, and then I use the Gruv Glide system to maintain cleanliness and discourage static.  I also use Last Sylus Cleaner and brush to keep my stylus clean which can help reduce wear on the record and the stylus, and provide an improved audio signal.

This is an easy to use solution and makes a huge difference.
Finally, picking a cartridge that is a good match for your tonearm is always paramount to quality playback.  There are lots of low to mid level players that have tonearms that match a broad range of cartridges, but as you move up into audiophile-quality components, proper pairing becomes more and more important.  I won't go into great detail here, but in general there is a range of effective mass in tonearms from light to heavy, and a range of compliance in cartridges from high to low.  In theory a perfect match will be one of the following:

   Cartridge Compliance            Effective Mass

      High                                        Light
      Medium                                   Medium
      Low                                         Heavy

That's a bit oversimplified, and it suffices to say that most gear ranging from quality entry level (not the cheap department store gear) to low end audiophile-quality gear will be closer to medium compliance and mass, so your choice will depend largely on your taste, or what sounds best on your system.  If you're buying really cheap gear, then there's not much you can do, and if you're a serious audiophile, then your purchase decisions warrant the effort to research and then audition each item to make sure you're getting it right.

My combination of choice is the Dynavector DV-20X high output moving coil cartridge, mounted on an Origin Live Onyx arm.  These both fall in the lower end of what would be considered audiophile gear, and the combination is one I worked out over a year of research, including a few rounds of trial and error.  Together they provide a lively, full range sound, without excessive coloration of the tone, and excellent tracking ability which means no skips, and minimal distortion.

D-Mag Full Text

This is a redundancy I know, but you should be able to read the text in this full res version of the article.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

D Magazine!

Awesome writeup in D Magazine and my new website finally launched - www.clineanalog.com

Thanks to everyone at D Magazine - especially Zac Crain for the great write up, and Elizabeth Lavin for encouraging me to follow through on this.  Thanks to Tamber, Julia, and Steve for supporting me by commissioning the zebra wood turntable.  And finally, Sean Badger for the headshot - Thanks Bro!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Updates on new builds

I mentioned last time that I was starting a couple of new turntables.  This is an update on those, and an exciting new design that I've been working on.

The AR-XB rebuild using Brazilian Cherry is nearly complete, and would have been finished a week ago, but I discovered upon re-assembly that the motor was pretty much shot.  The new motor came in the mail today so the AR will be officially completed this weekend!  Below are a couple of quick snapshots showing how it turned out - professional photos to come as soon as I replace the motor, polish the edge of the platter, and add some feet.

Tonearm from AR (made by Jelco) and a classic Shure M91 ED cartridge.

Acrylic platter mat by IsoKinetik of Great Britain.  www.isokinetik.co.uk

The maple slab turntable that was mentioned in the previous post has been officially shelved while I complete my first build of this:

Top view and 3d view rendered in Photoshop.  The final product will have a sorbothane
dampening layer between the base and platter support along with a clear acrylic platter.

This is just an initial rendering.  I am currently working on a Northwestern myrtle wood base piece, and the platter support and arm board will be made from a beautiful maple burl that I found.  The maple will be revealed through the clear platter when the turntable is not in use.

This myrtle wood makes a very solid, dense foundation for the turntable, and looks good at the same time.
An amazing book-matched 16" x 25" maple burl that leaves me plenty of material to cut out the 12" circle for the platter support and use another 5" circle for the arm board.  The platter bearing will rest at the center of the star pattern.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Two new turntable builds in progress!

I'm excited to announce that I've have begun two new turntable builds.  One is an Acoustic Research (AR) XB which will be given an updated arm, Brazilian cherry frame, a few minor tweaks, and a lot of cleaning.  The other will be a combination of Thorens motor and platter, a custom after-market tonearm, and a nice flamed maple slab I ran across recently.

The XB was in pretty bad shape when I got ahold of it.  I have removed all
of the mechanical and electrical parts and will be thoroughly cleaning
everything before putting it back together.

This image gives a good view of how the XB was originally constructed
from particle board and cheap laminate.  The Brazilian cherry wood will
be a welcome improvement.

The AR XB has a three point suspended sub-chassis which I will be modifying to ride on sorbothane bushings instead of the metal springs.  It will no longer be adjustable, but will retain all of the original vibration dampening and isolation properties.  The weakness of the original XB is that over time the springs wore out and caused the suspension to sag creating an overall "mushy" experience.  The original tonearm is being replaced by a much newer AR tonearm from one of their "The Turntable" models.

I'm really impressed by this wood.  Nice grain and color!
(It's been lightly coated with mineral spirits here to show
off what it can look like when finished.)

Initial frame cutting done.  It looks better already.

The other turntable is a fully custom build that will be very similar to the Thorens TD-316 that I rebuilt last year and use daily.  It will retain the electrical system, motor, and platter from a Thorens TD-150, with custom isolation and dampening, and then be given an Acos Lustre GST-1 tonearm. 

This flamed maple slab is 33"x15"x1" so I'll be able to select
the most attractive 13x16 portion of it for this turntable.
A closeup view of a section of the flamed effect that attracted me to this piece.

I've been waiting for an opportunity to use this arm in a build and am excited about the aesthetics and performance that it will bring to my new turntable.

This photo and the one below are from Audio Andromeda.  Check out their
blog.  It features all kinds of interesting audio gear.

More to come as these two turntables progress.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Austin Vintage Audio Phono Preamp


I had been thinking for some time that the Dynaco PAS2 I was using - particularly the phono stage - was the weak link in my audio system.  My setup includes the Maple Thorens TD-316 that I built last year, which has been upgraded to include an Origin Live Onyx tonearm with a Dynavector 20x (HOMC) cartridge.  I had also improved the Dynaco by adding new, original circuit pcb's, upgraded i/o and selector switch, and an Alps Blue Velvet volume control.  I then performed Curcio Audio's RIAA correction to the phono stage and bypassed the tone controls to clean up the signal, but I was just not satisfied.  So I commissioned my buddy Andrew Draper of Austin Vintage Audio to build a new custom phono preamp for me. 

He had already built my power amp based on an old RCA 6V6 console amp, and we talk about speakers and other components on a regular basis, so he was familiar enough with my system to be able to build just the right phono pre.

"This pre features (2) 6DJ8, (2) 12 AT7, and a 6by5 rectifier tubes. All stages are
actively loaded using current sources. A passive, feedback free RIAA filter fed 
by a 
cathode follower is used for equalization. The power supply is tube rectified
and choke filtered. Output impedance is low enough to drive any power amp.
What does all this mean? Beautifully detailed, accurate, warm, non fatiguing
music from sweet vinyl records.

I picked up the AVA Pre about 3 weeks ago and hooked it up between the Thorens and my amp and, after a good listening and break in period, I am immensely pleased with the richness and dynamics of what I hear.  Finally I have a matched system that delivers the kind of musical listening experience that I have been searching for.

The Guts!

Andrew kept it simple for me on this pre, but he tells me he could easily add additional
inputs and a selector switch, along with a slight modification to the circuit to make this a
full-functioning preamp capable of handling multiple input sources.
Take a look at the Austin Vintage Audio Facebook page for some information on their other projects.

My 6V6 power amp built by Andrew Draper.

The schematic for the 6V6.

Thanks for taking some time to check out Austin Vintage Audio.  I am a huge fan, as you can probably tell.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

A shout out to Rick at SimplyPhysics

Cables and isolation products are always a major consideration in any audio system.  Having waded through much of the swamp of not so good but affordable products out there, I stumbled across Simplyphysics about a year ago.  Simplyphysics is a company owned by Rick Roberts in Houston, TX.

Medium ToneCones on my turntable grounding base

IsoPod 5's on my home-built speaker cabinets

Small ToneCones and IsoPod 3's on my custom-built tube amp.

Medium ToneCones in ConeCup T6's on my Preamp - This was custom
built by my friend Andrew of Austin Vintage Audio.  Look for a
write up on it and some of his other gear soon!

For the price, you can't find better cables or isolation feet.  I have used his Isopods, Small ToneCones, and Medium ToneCones for isolating my gear.  I also use his SCKT Phono cables on all of my new turntable builds.  Rick recently posted one of my applications on his user page.  Check it out here:

I had Rick make me some phono cables from his SCKT cable products.

I have two more turntables that I'm starting this weekend.  Once I have a few photos to share there will be another new post.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

More TD-180 Pics

At the suggestion of a few friends and coworkers I'm adding some variations of the Thorens TD-180 photos that highlight the glossy top suface of the turntable a little better.  Being surrounded by photographers, who also happen to be self-promotion experts, can't hurt when you're trying to show off something you've done.

Not a big change, but it adds a little dimension to the surface.

This one really shows it off in the reflection of the tonearm.

Thanks to everyone for your input and support!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Thorens TD-180 Restoration

I've been building, rebuilding, and refurbishing turntables for a couple of years now, and in my constant striving to improve each new build I have learned a lot about woodworking and finishing.  This latest rebuild maintains all of the original functionality of the Thorens TD 180 that was its foundation, and adds improved vibration dampening, a hand polished gloss black lacquered top and beautiful zebra wood outer frame.  The pictures below will walk you through the process of transforming this basic black production unit into a highly customized show piece.

The final product - more final images below.

Zebra wood and a hand-miter saw.
A comparison between the old and new.
I learned a lot about joint work in trying to
make the zebra wood striping appear continuous.
The top plate was duplicated with a router
using a circle-cutting jig, and then a
pattern-cutting bit.
Test assembly before finishing.  I've decided on a lustre finish
lacquer for the zebra wood, and a glossy black for the top plate.
The piano-gloss black had to be wet-sanded using eleven progressively
finer sandpaper grits, and then three stages of polishing compound.  All
together, the finish took me about 30 hours of labor.
Finishing in progress - you can't see it from here but at this stage there was
still a fine orange peel texture to the black lacquer.

Here are some additional final photos.  A few minor tweaks such as adjusting the speeds for accuracy, and setting up the cartridge properly, will get this beauty ready for delivery.  I'm not sure I will pursue the piano-gloss black in the future, but I am much more informed about professional finishes, and that will improve each new turntable project.

Thanks for stopping by,


Detail of the speed control switch.

The zebra wood plinth contrasts very nicely with the gloss black.
I added a Grado moving iron cartridge to ensure quality audio reproduction.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Brian's Turntable Manufactory

After lots of construction and reworking of my space this past 6 months, I'm finally back up and running.  It feels good to be back in the shop!  I have one major rebuild nearly complete and will be posting it within the week.  With another refurbished classic and a completely redesigned vintage Thorens on the way I should be pretty busy for the next few weeks.

This 9'x9' space actually works out fairly well.

Repurposed Ikea Furniture is now workbench and shop storage.
(And a sneak peek at the new turntable!)
A little organization goes a long way.
The light is good during the day, though I
need a couple of shop lights for evenings.
Soldering Station

iPod and Phono interface for the
shop stereo.

More to come.  With so many projects in progress I'll be posting weekly over then next month or so to update and show off the new turntables.  Stop by for a look and let me know what you think.