Computer Audio Seems Complicated? Try a Turntable!
Ive written a number of articles about my experiences
with computer-based audio, and have received a lot of e-mails about them. Most contain
questions about products people might purchase, but a surprising number express
considerable frustration with how complicated computer-based audio seems to be. This
surprises me -- I dont find it too difficult or frustrating at all. On the other
hand, I recently had a lot of trouble getting a turntable going, and that experience gave
me some insight into why some people have trouble with their computers. As youll
see, it depends on which side of the fence youve gained your knowledge and
About six weeks ago, I decided to again set up a turntable
that had been gathering dust on my shelf for six years -- so much dust that it
would be more accurate to call it dirt. I cleaned the turntable -- easy enough. Then I
removed some bolts to engage the suspension, and attempted to attach the belt motor.
Unfortunately, something had changed with the suspension since Id put the
table on ice, and I just couldnt get the platter height right -- the belt kept
slipping off, so many times that I felt like smashing the damn thing. Eventually, I called
one of our analog gurus, Jason Thorpe, to get some advice. His answer was swift.
"You have to get the platter height right."
"I know, I know . . ." Finally, I
gave up, promising myself that Id return to it later.
Next I readied my phono stage -- and then remembered that I
had to make some internal adjustments to it to accommodate the cartridge. That, too, would
have been fairly easy -- if I still had the manuals for the phono stage or the
cartridge. So I phoned another friend, this one a technician, who was familiar enough with
the cartridge -- but not the phono stage. When I tried to describe the stages
DIP-switch settings, all I heard on the other end of the line was
"Hmm . . ." Then I asked him about fixing the broken pump on my
record-cleaning machine -- Id be attacking that next.
"Why dont you just wait?" he said.
"Ill come over in a week and set it up for you. You also have to align the
cartridge and adjust the tonearm weight, neither of which I think you will be able
He was right. Its a snap for me to set up computers,
but when it comes to turntables, Im a neophyte. As a result, I find computers fun,
and turntables incredibly frustrating -- not unlike those who write to me to express their
frustration with their computers.
When, a week later, my friend arrived, he was able to set
up my turntable faster than I ever could -- he even got the platter height just right. I
felt like a dunce. But should I have, any more than those who have trouble with computers
should feel like dunces?
Not at all. Computers are easy for me because I worked for
years as a network engineer -- I understand their components and I know what makes them
tick. Confronted with a computer problem, I usually know how to solve it right away, or I
know where to look to find the answer. But I have next to no knowledge and very little
experience in the precise setup of turntables, and Ive never actually attempted to
do so without help from someone else. Perhaps if I embraced the challenge with zeal and
set up a few (dozen) of them, things would be different. But thats not the case.
Jason Thorpe, a programmer by trade, is in the rare position of understanding computers and
My point is this: Setting up a computer-based audio system
might seem tricky, but its no more difficult than setting up a turntable. If you
experience frustration with your computer, its likely due to a lack of knowledge and
experience -- precisely what I lack when it comes to turntables. The key is to
stick with it and learn. In the end, youll be rewarded with a state-of-the-art
digital front end that can play back high-resolution digital recordings and open up for
you the future of digital-audio playback -- something a CD player cant do.
Likewise, my latest turntable-setup fiasco has made it
clear that I need a refresher in setting up analog gear. My technician friend didnt
do anything that I couldnt do -- if I bothered to learn more about it.
Besides, getting that ol turntable going has reminded me of some of the pleasures
that LP playback can provide; now, I wouldnt mind trying some more turntables in my
system. With the little bit more that Ive learned from having attempted to set up my
table, Im hoping that the process wont seem so daunting the next time.
Live and learn -- in high-end audio, it can certainly make life easier.
. . . Doug Schneider