Explorations in Audio

Karsten Hein

Are you ready to Explore?

In 'Explorations in Audio' I aim to share some practical insights on setting up and optimising an affordable HiFi system. Although one would think that, really, all has been said about HiFi, some surprisingly simple questions still remain, e.g.: 'Is digital superior to analogue?' 'Do cables matter?' 'Can digital cables pick up interference?' 'Should speakers be placed on spikes?' 'Has evolution in HiFi made older gear obsolete?' 'Where should I place my sub?' 'Which room correction works best?' - On the other hand: 'Are these really the right questions?' - We shall see.

What’s new in eiaudio?

While the entries in this blog are divided into the three distinct categories above, you will find a mixed listing of the most recent postings below. The most recent article is shown first. If this is not your first time visiting, the listing below is a good place to quickly check if anything is new.

Your input is more than welcome, as long as you follow the basic audiophile rule of ‘ear over mind’. This means that you do not comment based on what you think you know, but only on the basis of your own listening experience. Please feel free to suggest gear for testing as well as leave comments on the descriptions provided here.

  • 25. Audiophile Cooling

    25. Audiophile Cooling

    6/12/2021

    Author: Karsten Hein

    Category: High Fidelity

    When outside temperatures are rising during the summer months, many audiophiles are beginning to dread the increase in noise floor that results from various methods of keeping cool indoors. For many of us, our listening hours fall into the evenings, a time when the streets and buildings are still hot from the day. This is when the electrical noise on power grid and the physical noise from outside slowly subside, normally giving way to endless hours of listening pleasure. However, this pleasure is relatively short lived, when the listening room becomes too hot for comfort.

    In very few cases, the ideal listening room will be located in the basement of your own house, on which high outside temperatures have little effect. Basements tend to have low ceilings and concrete walls that will pound back bass frequencies in an unbecoming way. No, most proper listening rooms will rather be situated above ground with wooden or masonry walls. And in such an environment, temperatures can become quite high, especially in an apartment or under the roof of a building. While perhaps also not ideal in terms of bass performance, a listening room under the roof can be advantageous to sound, because of the relative absence of parallel walls. 

    To make matter worse, many audiophiles will be running HiFi gear that produces more heat than regular consumer products. Tube gear, for instance, radiates far more heat than solid state devices. But even when operating solid state equipment, audiophile amps tend to be oversized MOSFET beasts running in class A, rather than being more power efficient class B or D designs. Actually, audiophile gear often only sounds at its best, once it has reached full operating temperature. And, in many cases, this means you could literally fry an egg on them.

    The most economic and ecologically friendly way to cool down a room is to simply open the windows, but in many urban locations, this will raise the noise floor in an unpredictable way, bringing in sounds from cars, planes, trains, and from people walking by. In rural areas, the noise might come from the wind in the trees, from birds, etc. but also from the local traffic. I think most audiophiles will agree that a closed window is an effective way to drown out sound coming from outside and will be preferred.

    If the windows cannot be left open, cooling must ultimately come from some apparatus that is placed or installed in the room. Some buildings have air conditioning installed into the walls, and, in most cases, this will be the best option to address cooling, because this method also extracts excess moisture, a fact that makes any temperature more bearable. However, air conditioning is also the most expensive solution and, from an environmental perspective, not without concern. A simple cooling fan would present a cheaper and more sensible choice, when no air conditioning has yet been installed.

    If you have ever listened to music in a room where a cooling fan with open propeller is running, you will already know that this will quickly make chop suey of our musical experience. There are few audiophiles able to tolerate the presence of a running fan in the room, perhaps with the exception of an ultra-slow and silent ceiling fan. No, there must be a better solution to keep the listening room cool in summer, one that does not interfere with the music so much. At least this is what I was thinking, when I set out to purchase a cooling device that would not spoil the fun of listening.

    At the time of writing this, air movers without open blades have not yet been popular for a long time, and yet, they help to solve the problem of rotating blades interfering with our music. While they are mostly referred to as bladeless fans, this definition is not strictly accurate. Their rotors are rather smaller and encapsulated by the housing, with the air being moved through one or more ducts for speed and direction. Rather than producing a frequency of air-compression and expansion, the resulting air flow is seamless and calm. This non-pulsating quality is preferable in audiophile settings, even if the fan itself should have a similar dB-noise rating as a fan with exposed blades.

    The model shown here stands representative of a whole range of bladeless fans from various manufacturers. It was bought at the German DIY store and REWE subsidiary ‘Toom Baumarkt’ and offers a host of features that make it a decent companion for extended music listening sessions. There are 9 air speeds to choose from, ranging from relatively silent to more noisy in operation. The good news is that levels 3-5 will offer sufficient airflow for most applications, while still being reasonably silent. All levels offer decent reach into the room, so that the fan does not need to be positioned close to the listening position. Although the fan does not cast its breeze all too broadly, the angle should still be wide enough for an individual listening spot and can be increased by engaging the 90 degrees rotation function.

    The tower fan comes with a remote control that can be fixed to the shaft via magnet, e.g. for storing or for strictly local operation. The remote turns the fan on and off, sets the air speed via plus and minus keys, engages the rotation and sleep function. It can also set a sleep-timer and has a button to jump to maximum airflow and back to the previous setting. With all these functions available from a seated position, wind speed and noise can be adjusted to suit the listening moment. Rock & Pop music will probably be more forgiving of noise than classical or Jazz music that are often more nuanced with lots of quiet passages. The fan’s hight is just under one meter and therefore very convenient for a seated position. The air is conveniently drawn up from the colder floor and then ejected into the room. The tower fan is Smart Life compatible and works with Alexa. This means it can be integrated with other Smart Life machines in the households and operated from the smartphone. Have a look online. Similar products are available from other brands and stores.

    Specifications:

    • Maximum airflow:  22 cubic meters per minute
    • Power consumption:  26 watts, 240 V, 50 Hz
    • Standby consumption:  0.8 watts
    • Noise level:  56 dB, maximum
    • Air speed:  4,6 meters per second
    • Remote battery: CR2025, 3 V
    • Year:  2020
    Audiophile Cooling
    Audiophile Cooling

  • Dynaco PAS-4

    Dynaco PAS-4

    6/6/2021

    Author: Karsten Hein

    Category: Gear & Review

    Tag: Pre-Amplifiers

    In audiophile circles, the name Dynaco is reminiscent of the famous budget assembly kits that would hold up against some of the most exquisit audio products on the HiFi market during the 1960s and 70s. Originally founded by David Hafler and Ed Laurent in Philadelphia in 1955, the company’s first products were the 50 and 60 watts mono amplifiers Dynaco Mark II and III and the preamplifier PAM-1. But it was not until the launch of the Dynaco ST-70, a 2x35 watts tube amplifier design in 1959 that the company made its entry to the audiophile mass market.

    Dynaco went on to manufacture other tube and solid state amplifiers, preamplifiers, radio tuners, and bookshelf speakers. Their most powerful amplifier was the solid state Dynaco ST-400 which was launched in 1972 and offered 2x200 watts of continuous output power with sophisticated speaker protection. By this time, the formerly independent Dynaco had already become a subsidiary of Tyco, Inc. with David Hafler still active until 1974, when he finally left the company to join Ortofon in 1974 and then went on to start his own Hafler Company in 1977. 

    The original Dynaco was liquidated in 1980 and lay dormant until the Pan Orient Corporation acquired the trademark in 1993 and began marketing audio components under the Dynaco brand. Pan Orient soon shortened its name to ‘Panor’ and began launching updated versions of Dynaco classics as well as some new designs. Among these were the ST-70 successor ‘Stereo 70 II’ and the more powerful ‘Stereo 160’, a 2x70 watts all-tube power amplifier that was packed with audiophile features, such as switchable pentode/triode modes and adjustable tube bias.

    When it comes to the Dynaco PAS-4, vintage audio fans will be quick to point out that this preamplifier design is a Dynaco in name only, because it was produced and sold by Panor during the early 90s. However, the Dynaco brand name was not chosen without reason, as Panor was serious about improving the original Dynaco/Hafler designs and was set on once again producing affordable audiophile gear for the average consumer with a medium-sized budget. Visible proof of this mission are the PAS-4’s no-frills industrial cabinet and design choices, as well as its selection of audiophile components.

    The PAS-4 was developed under the direction of John Nunez, a former developer with the high-priced tube equipment specialist Moore Franklin Associates (MFA). John knew that, if he wanted to convince audiophile consumers of the PAS-4’s merits, he needed to get vinyl reproduction right. He therefore took good care to make the phono stage of the PAS-4 outstanding. Manufacturing quality was also intended to be excellent, with all units sold being designed and manufactured in the USA. Sadly, however, Panor had to make some concessions to meet the relatively low price point which hindered some of the PAS-4’s audiophile potential and frustrated some of the early customers.

    Despite its outstanding design, the PAS-4 was sold fitted with the cheapest tubes available and came equipped with switches that were given to fail. It also offered additional circuits for improved usability that were not in keeping with the audiophile tradition of reducing the circuitry to the bare essentials. The first customer reviews of the new preamplifier reflected these shortcomings, and resulted in only a few thousand units of the PAS-4 being sold, thus making it a rare find on today’s vintage market.

    The unit shown here is a completely different beast from the version sold by Panor. It is closer to the original audiophile design and includes most of the recommended updates and modifications that have been found beneficial over the nearly three decades of its existence. Of course, it helped that the original basis was excellent: 1/8” thick circuit boards, high quality tube sockets, excellent trace layout with star grounding, and each tube with its own voltage regulator. Changes and updates to our PAS-4 include changing to an improved hum-free 230V transformer, adding a high-quality rotary Elma switch for source selection, bypassing the tape monitor and tape dubbing circuitry, eliminating the channel balance attenuator, and bringing in an audiophile grade Noble volume attenuator.

    The original tubes were replaced with Russian Tung-Sol 12AX7 SC803S and SOVTEK type 6922 for the 2-stage phono section, as well as a pair of Genalex 20 03 for the hybrid line stage. The capacitors were updated to Mundorf Supreme EVO Silver Gold Oil. The aim of the updates was to minimise internal and external noise and distortion and to increase transparency, responsiveness, and dynamics. Configured in this way, the PAS-4 becomes a worthy audiophile contender in true Dynaco tradition. And, while the original preamp cost around 1,000 dollars new, following these updates, it can easily compete with preamplifiers costing 2-3 times this amount. Hafler trusted in the craftsmanship of the DIY home builder, and, apparently, so did Panor. While it took some expertise to unravel the PAS-4’s genuine character and potential, the good news is that it was possible by simply building on the superb infrastructure that was already present.

    Setting up the PAS-4 in our household for the first time, I noticed that tube gear is a little more difficult to set up than solitary state equipment. My preference was to fit the PAS-4 in our main system where it was to replace our DB1 preamplifier and to play with our B&K ST-140 amplifier into Martin Logan electrostatic speakers. In this position, however, the PAS-4 was lacking the upper frequency band in a way that most of the transients were lost and that the music sounded stale. It sounded as if the tubes had reached the end of their life expectancy, or as if there was some other major problem with this preamplifier. After 2 days of trying different cable combinations I gave up and took the PAS-4 to our other system. 

    In its new position, the PAS-4 was to replace our Restek V1 preamp and to play with our Hafler XL-280 amp into Tannoy XT8F speakers. Here it immediately showed that the Panor/Dynaco is a Hafler derivative. The PAS-4 pre and Hafler XL-280 amp turned out to be a match made in heaven. In retrospect, this is perhaps not surprising, given the PAS-4’s pedigree, but to me it came as a revelation at the time. I simply could not understand how the same preamplifier could perform so differently in combination with two amps that it sounded broken in the one position and absolutely brilliant in the other. For the first time, the Tannoys’s sonic character also matched their physical appearance. The XT8F are not exactly small speakers, but somehow the Restek V1 in combination with the Hafler had made them sound overly precise and academic, instead of musical and dynamic.

    The PAS-4 is able to build a huge stage from left to right that extends far beyond the speakers. Instruments position themselves freely with plenty of dark spaces around them. I have found that treble highlights are fewer than in combination with the Restek V1 but more pronounced when they occur. Transients are fully present and sounds linger in realistic fashion. Similar to most tube equipment, the PAS-4 can introduce interference, which will result in humming or hissing when something is not right in the setup. In my first attempt to pair it with our Hafler amp, I had not noticed that its power cord was touching that of the Hafler amp. This resulted in audible hissing on both amp channels. In fact, noise was a complaint that I had also read in some owner reviews. When everything is set up properly, however, the PAS-4 is nearly as silent as the Restek V1. One would have to hold the ear directly to the tweeter section of the speakers to hear the remaining noise.

    As is the case with most serious HiFi gear, the PAS-4 will reveal the difference between a standard power cord and one that has been designed specifically for use in audio applications. On our own system, we have paired the PAS-4 with a Lapp Ölflex 2,5mm fitted with ferrite clamp to good result, but I suspect that one could get even better performance from this preamp with a more sophisticated cord. The difference between the standard cord and the Lapp cable was so striking that I suspect that further improvements in this position will again have a major impact.

    After switching on, the PAS-4 needs about 15 minutes for the tubes to warm up. Actually, it will already play music after 45 seconds, but sound stage and dynamics do need some time to develop. Transients only sound right after some 30-40 minutes of playing. At this time, the six tubes will have reached their full operating temperature—which is actually quite hot. The slim cabinet design means that the tubes are literally touching the top of the enclosure, and I have meanwhile read that many users are leaving the lid off completely to improve ventilation. My reasons for leaving the cover on despite this are the presence of children in the household and the belief that the enclosure functions as a Pharadeic cage to protect the inner circuits from outside interference.

    The PAS-4 puts out lots of power, with normal listening volumes being present at around 9 o’clock on the volume dial. Since the same is true for our DB1 and V1 preamplifiers, I suspect that this is a general tendency with audiophile grade preamplifiers. In contrast to our solid state gear, the PAS-4 strikes a more soothing balance between treble and bass notes without sacrificing transparency. Voices sound fuller and richer, double bass and lower piano notes have a greater sense of dimension and authority to them. To my ears, the PAS-4 puts out a more satisfying and realistic bass performance without the aid of a subwoofer in our system. Our Tannoys surely benefit from this and are sounding even more engaging. It is therefore not surprising to me that the PAS-4 is awarded 4.8 out of 5 stars in audioreview. For us as well, this unpretentious looking preamp is a definite keeper. If you can get your hands on a specimen in good condition and find yourself in a position to have the basic modifications done: do it. Where it fits in, the PAS-4 is going to be very hard to beat at this price point.

    Specifications

    Phono

    • Gain:  40 dB
    • RIAA accuracy:  +/-0.5 dB (20 Hz-20,000 Hz)
    • THD:  <0,025% (@2V RMS output)
    • Input impedance:  47k (shunted by 10 pF)
    • Signal to noise ratio:  -86dB (<10mV RMS input)
    • Absolute phase:  non-inverting
    • Tube complement:  2ae 6DJ8/6922; 2ae 12AX7/ECC83

    Line

    • Gain:  18,5 dB
    • Frequency response:  2 Hz-150,000 Hz (-3 dB)
    • THD:  <0,025% (@2V RMS output)
    • Input impedance:  25k (nominal, all inputs)
    • Output impedance:  40 Ohms
    • Signal to noise ratio:  -90dB (<10mV RMS output)
    • Absolute phase:  inverting
    • Slew rate:  40 volts per uS
    • Tube complement:  2ae 6DJ8/6922

    Physical

    • Power consumption:  45 Watts
    • Dimensions:  (W) 43.18cm x (H) 9.52cm x (D) 30.48cm
    • Weight:  5,44 kg
    • Year:  1993
    Dynaco PAS-4
    Dynaco PAS-4
    Dynaco PAS-4

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  • HBS4 - Silver Solid Core

    HBS4 - Silver Solid Core

    5/25/2021

    Author: Karsten Hein

    Category: Gear & Review

    Tag: Cables

    The HBS4 is the final contender in our range of solid core silver cables. These interconnects are all based on the same base cable, using a 4N solid core silver conductor that is surrounded by a high-purity copper mesh shielding, a circumstance that leaves the audible differences between the range of interconnects to the choice of plug termination. And, since this is the point where most readers will grunt in disbelief and turn on their heels, all we can do is ask those skeptics to leave quietly and begin our next paragraph without them.

    To those who are still reading, it will be important to know that material transitions, differences of mass ratios in the signal path, and the general layout of the plugs have a marked influence on how electricity travels through them, thus creating a signature that is specific to this cable and plug combination. If you have set your HiFi system up well, i.e. in keeping with some of the items listed in the High Fidelity section of this blog, your system should be able to highlight the difference between cables to you in a swift A-B comparison.

    The HSB4 was added to the list at a later stage and therefore has a higher number, although it probably deserves a greater priority than this. The plugs are manufactured by Elecaudio on a tellurium-copper basis and have been silver plated. Since the cable itself is made of silver and copper, these plugs make good sense in combination with the cable in terms of minimising material transitions. On my vintage equipment, the Elecaudio plugs are a little too tight and need to be pressed on quite firmly, even if the outer barrel is turned back. Later, in taking them off, I even needed to use a knife edge as lever. Other than these minor mechanical issues, I have no complaints about this interconnect.

    Running mostly non-gold-plated vintage equipment, I love the fact that the plugs are silver rather than gold-plated. This has the advantage of reducing material transitions. And, while the HSB4 has all the sonic merits of a silver solid core cable: crystal clear treble, superb transients, a sweet and compelling midrange, musical authority, and thunderously deep bass when needed, it does not emphasise a particular spectrum, as some of the other contenders in this range do. Depending on the setup of your system this may or may not be an advantage, but it is definitely good to know.

    HBS Series - Silver Solid Core Interconnects

    • HBS2 WM Audio (brass/silver) - agile, responsive, engaging
    • HBPS KLE Innovations (silver) - highly revealing, highly engaging
    • HBS4 Elecaudio (copper/silver) - well-balanced, informative
    • HBS1 RAMM Audio (copper/gold) - rich, dark, and soothing

    Your own choice of cable will most likely depend on the requirements of your current setup and your budget. The HBPS, for instance, costs more than twice as much as the HBS2, but if your system has the potential for it, and if you enjoy being entertained, the KLEI Absolute Harmony plugs make the HBPS engaging on a level that the other configurations simply cannot reach. For less revealing systems, the HBS2 can bring that extra momentum into the music, perhaps at the cost of lessening some of the lower end of the spectrum.

    The HBS1 on the other hand will serve well in places where your music sounded a little thin and where a slight dampening of the treble is to be desired. All considered, the HBS4 is perhaps the most neutral of the range. It plays all frequencies well and provides sufficient detail in the music, however, it does not reach so deeply into each recording. In direct comparison with the HBPS you would notice the difference and perhaps feel that you are missing something, but in longer listening sessions, the HBS4 might just be more pleasant to listen to, because too much detail can be exhausting.

    In our own setup, we are running the HBS4 between our preamplifier and power amplifier with very positive results. On the same system, we are running a HBPS from the CD player to the pre-amp. This is an amazing combination in many ways and has since made many a listener wonder in disbelief. When paired with a turntable, the low capacitance of all cables can serve as a low-pass filter. This can be fixed with an additional capacitor but is something to keep in mind and, at this time, the reason for us running a higher apacitance FastAudio Black Science cable from the turntable to our preamplifier, instead of introducing yet another low capacitance silver cable.

    Specifications

    • Cable lengths: 100cm
    • Material: 4N silver solid core, copper shielding
    • DC loop resistance: 0.48 Ohm
    • Parallel capacity: 50 pF (56-58 pF, terminated)
    • Handling: non directional, flexible
    • Termination: Elecaudio, tellurium-copper, silver-plated
    • Position tested: DB1 preamplifier - ST140 power amplifier
    HBS4 - Silver Solid Core
    HBS4 - Silver Solid Core

  • Jörg Hegemann, Foot Tappin' Boogie

    Jörg Hegemann, Foot Tappin' Boogie

    5/14/2021

    Author: Karsten Hein

    Category: Audiophile Music

    Tag: Boogie Woogie

    There is something very pleasing about getting older, as it takes time to mature in character. This is true for great wines, whiskeys and some cheeses, but also for artists such as musicians and writers. And perhaps the greatest pleasure lies in maturing together, as every day there is a new wine ready for drinking and a new musician to reach a level of accomplishment that is impossible to reach without true devotion and the ever-important element of time.

    Jörg first approached me in 2002, asking if I was perhaps interested in translating the booklet of his new CD. The recommendation had come from a mutual friend, Thomas Aufermann, and I reluctantly accepted without knowing what genre of music Jörg played. As it turned out, the album was called ‘Eight to the Bar’, a reference to eight beats to one bar, the foundation of the Boogie Woogie. At the time of writing my first translation for Jörg, the Boogie Woogie was a genre that I was completely unfamiliar with. And as I had never heard the Boogie performed live, I had to rely on the CD recording to form my opinion. Sadly, as was the case with many live recordings of the time, there was a general lack of dynamics and a lack in stereo imaging that made it difficult for me to assess the genre.

    With each new album that I was asked to translate, I could hear that Jörg’s skills as musician were becoming ever more refined. And while I gradually grew accustomed to the music and could enjoy it more, the quality of the recordings was not on par with Jörg’s skills as musician. Audiophiles are a neglected species, and I am sure that listening to the CDs on a car radio would have produced acceptable results, but in the world of meticulously set up HiFi rigs, the recordings fell desperately short of perfection. And I confess that I was troubled by this and even addressed the issue with Jörg. Over the telephone he consoled me, saying that his 2021 album was to be recorded in a proper recording studio with all the bells and whistles of a modern production.

    ‘Foot Tappin’ Boogie’ is Jörg’s 10th full CD album. It is also the 6th album for which I was asked to translate the CD booklet, and it is Jörg’s first album to offer music at a recording quality level that we audiophiles can really appreciate. Listening to just 30 seconds of this album gave me a satisfied grin on my face that I had trouble supressing all the way through to the last song. Jörg’s exceptional gift as musician meets sophisticated recording studio quality to create a true firework of a Boogie Woogie performance. Considering the age and increasing rarity of the genre, paired with Jörg’s exceptional skills as musician, ‘Foot Tappin’ Boogie’ might easily be the best Boogie Woogie recording ever made. I found myself running through our apartment yelling "He did it! He finally got it right!"

    Of course, it helped that Jörg had called upon a formidable group of musicians to make this recording come to life with him. There is the album’s guest star: double bass man Paul G. Ulrich; his 20-year companion in music: drummer Jan Freund; and Jörg’s long-time friend and Boogie shouter: Thomas Aufermann. Together, they make the Boogie sound effortless, highly rhythmical, and extremely engaging. The recording is well-balanced with the instruments nicely spread out over the stage to form a homogenous musical event. Well done.

    If you are looking for an audiophile album to take you on a mature and eloquently presented journey through the world of Boogie Woogie that has the skills and the sound quality to match, this is the album to go for. I will keep this CD close at hand in my short-listed audiophile collection and share it with fellow audiophiles, that they too can experience the full depth and breadth of the Boogie.


  • Technics SL-1310

    Technics SL-1310

    4/25/2021

    Author: Karsten Hein

    Category: Gear & Review

    Tag: Turntables

    Following the stellar performance of our 1977 Sansui SR-525 direct drive turntable, I began scanning the web for other direct drive contenders from the 70s. And, since Technics had been the company to invent the direct drive concept, I was curious to learn how their turntables compared against the formidable standard set by our Sansui. By the 1970s and 80s, Technics decks had earned a reputation for being at the cutting edge of turntable technology. In addition to introducing and refining the direct drive, a design by which the motor shaft itself serves as the axis of the turntable platter, Technics was also credited with being among the first manufacturers to bring the sophisticated S-shaped tonearm to the mass market. I therefore decided that a Technics deck would be a worthy contender for exploration.

    The brand’s most iconic turntable is arguably the SL-1200. To my knowledge, it is also the longest turntable in production. It first came out in October 1972, just one month after I was born, and continued to be in production until 2010. After a six-year break during the vinyl crisis, production resumed in 2016. Although primarily intended as a high fidelity consumer record player, the SL-1200’s superb build quality and high torque motor made it an instant success with radio stations and club disk jockeys. To date, more than 3 million units of this player have been sold. And, considering that it is back in production, we are still counting. Perhaps it is no surprise then, that an SL-1210 turntable is on display at the London Science Museum, as one of the icons that have shaped our modern world.

    Since so much had been said and written about the SL-1200, prices for them used were quite high at my time of searching. This was even true for specimens that were in relatively poor shape and had been dragged around clubs, etc. Regardless of the condition, the name alone seemed to validate a higher price. I therefore decided to look for Technics turntables that offered a similarly sophisticated design but were missed by mainstream attention. I soon learned that the Technics 1310 offered much of the same technology that is found on its famous sibling, but this at a far lower price tag. And, due to its mostly domestic use, chances of this player having been dragged from club to club were rather slim. It appeared to me that the major differences between the two decks rested on their ability to absorb chassis resonances, to maintain exact speed in the event of physical force against the platter, and in the stress resistance of their lower chassis. In all these disciplines, the SL-1200 clearly had the upper hand.

    And still, the SL-1310 can rightfully be considered an audiophile record player, even if it was not built to be carried around as a professional DJ or radio player. For my intended usage in our domestic environment, the SL-1310 had all the relevant features without the high price tag of its sturdier sibling. I began to narrow my search to the SL-1310 and noticed that cracked lower chassis were the norm rather than the exception. It seemed to me that the combined weight of the aluminium top casing and platter were simply too much weight for the lower plastic chassis to carry, especially when the Technics was moved carelessly. Other specimens had ugly scratches along the front or showed some discolouration of the body paint where they were mostly touched. Some had missing or broken dust covers, faulty mechanisms, or were simply missing the cartridge or stylus. On the positive side, most of these symptoms were relatively easy to spot. I therefore decided that I would focus on SL-1310s that were visually intact and would then see to it that functionality was properly restored.

    The specimen that I ended up buying seemed to offer both. Its body and cover were in excellent condition with just a tiny hairline scratch at the front. It was still fitted with the original Shure M75 cartridge and ED stylus, a clear indication that this player had not been used much. There was no damage to the lower plastic body. The price still was relatively high, considering that the player was nearly half a century old, however, I decided to be open-minded during my visit to the owner. If the condition was as described, perhaps the higher price was justified.

    Upon arrival, I found the player set up in the basement. It was connected to power but without an audio signal connection. I was informed that the owner had sold all his original HiFi components and moved on to more convenient Bluetooth devices. The SL-1310 was the last remaining item from the glory days of high fidelity. And although he remembered his turntable to have been in working condition when he had stowed it away some seven years earlier, we found that many of the original functions were no longer intact. The automatic cueing did not meet the start of the record. Instead, the stylus landed somewhere between songs, regardless of the disc diameter setting. We managed to set the speed for 33 rpm correctly, but all attempts failed when trying to stabilise the record speed for 45 rpm. A little confused by the number of issues, we estimated the price of repair, and he offered to deduct these costs from the offer price. Under these circumstances, I was happy to agree to the deal.

    Upon connecting the Technics at home, I discovered that the player’s left audio channel failed after a few minutes of playing. I managed turn it back on by re-connecting the cinch cable, but shortly after, the left channel failed again. Unlike our Sansui SR-525, all Technics decks of the period came equipped with non-detachable cinch/RCA interconnects, a factor that made it difficult to locate the left channel’s contact issue and also seemed a hindrance to upgrading the sonic ability of the player. I therefore made a list of all defects and added to this the need for proper cinch/RCA sockets to be installed. Luckily, our trusted mechanic for such audio matters had some time available, and I drove by for a visit the next day.

    In terms of product innovation, the SL-1310 carried the direct drive concept one step further than the original designs. While most record players of the time, including the Sansui, had their large motors sitting centrally under the platter, a concept that required a certain minimum height, the revised Technics design used the platter itself as rotor and the player’s chassis as the stator. The turntable could therefore have a lower silhouette, used fewer parts, dissipated less heat, lowered electricity consumption to less than 0,1 watts, and decreased resonances. Speed-accuracy was class-leading at the time, at just 0.1% error over 30 min playing time. It is often said that disc-cutting lathes of the time were less accurate than this. Due to the slow-revolving motor, rumble was found mostly outside the relevant frequency band, namely from 20 - 35 Hz. The two peaks measured are at around 22 and 34 Hz. And of course, the iconic Technics platter showed a wide tapered rim with strobe markings for 33-1/3 and 45 rpm synchronisation at 50 or 60 Hz, i.e. four dotted lines in total.

    As it turned out, our SL-1310 was mostly suffering from corrosion to the switches that had accumulated over the years. This was most likely facilitated by moisture while being stored in the basement. We discovered that most switches could be taken apart to be serviced. Only one of them, the one to set the record size, was beyond repair and needed replacement. Two holes were bored into the back of the turntable to hold the new cinch/RCA sockets. This step enabled me to use my own interconnects with this player, a seemingly small improvement but with a major impact on sound. The faulty left channel turned out to be caused by a loose connection inside the Shure cartridge itself. It was decided that we would heat the relevant pin with a soldering iron, until we could push the pin a few millimetres into the cartridge housing. The trick worked, and both channels played music again.

    Back at home, I connected the Technics SL-1310 to our office system and was very pleased with the way it performed and handled. I set the 'Memo-Repeat' dial to 'three (3)' and the platter started spinning silently. I then pulled the lever downwards to the 'Start' position. The player reacted by gently lifting the tonearm and setting it down at the start of the first title. I noticed that the placing of the needle could have been a bit gentler, perhaps. However, the small thump it produced was still within reasonable limits. The Shure M75 with elliptical stylus used to be a mid-market cartridge back in the day and could not rival the Shure V15 that was found as standard on German-made High End Dual turntables. However, in typical Shure fashion, the M75 ED put forth a warm and delicate sound with long-trailing decay. It may not have exhibited the bass-slam of the Shure 6S, but it did play accurately and endearingly. It seemed to me that upgrading to the V15 cartridge, perhaps with a Jico replacement stylus would be a welcome but costly alternative for a later day.

    The Technics SL-1310 itself could certainly do with some additional decoupling of the chassis. Right from the start, I noticed that any touching of the rack had a similar popping effect as the touching of a microphone. This effect vanished completely, after I placed the Technics on four Oehlbach isolation pads. Since the player is rather heavy with its aluminium platter and aluminium top-chassis, it remains wonderfully stable, despite the inherent softness of the pads. Among the features that I enjoy most about this player are its automatic functions that keep me from having to crawl into the small space under the slope of the roof where our system stands, and its life-like three-dimensional presentation of the music. Paired with our Hafler XL-280 power amp and Tannoy speakers, a deep holographic image of the stage is projected into the room right in front of me. Not bad at all, especially for a deck that is nearly half a century old.

    Specifications

    • Type: fully automatic direct drive turntable

    • Platter: 312 mm aluminium diecast

    • Speeds: 33 and 45 rpm

    • Motor: ultra-low speed, brushless DC

    • Motor Power Consumption: < 0,1 Watts

    • Wow and flutter: < 0.03% WRMS

    • Rumble: - 70 dB

    • Tonearm: S-shaped, tubular, 4-pin connector

    • Effective length: 230 mm

    • Effective mass: 23g (incl. 6g cartridge)

    • Effective length: 230 mm

    • Tracking force adjustment: 0,25 to 3g by 0.1g

    • Cartridge weight range: 4,5 - 9g

    • Dimensions: (W) 430 x (H) 130 x (D) 375 mm

    • Power consumption: 8,0 Watts

    • Power Supply: AC 110 - 240V, 50/60 Hz

    • Weight: 9,4 kg

    • Year(s): 1975 - 1977

      Technics SL-1310
      Technics SL-1310
      Technics SL-1310