Sunday, January 06, 2008

Adventures At 78 RPM


Well, I found something interesting at the Goodwill store today. No, not the record you see above, but something I can actually play it on! For years now, I've picked up the occasional 78 RPM record, yet I've never gotten serious about finding something to play them on. Then I stumbled across a big old portable record player, the kind you might have used back in school, with a built in speaker, and a flippable needle for playing either shellac or vinyl. It looked like it ought to work, even came with a spare needle. I plugged it in and it spun! So I plopped down $3.99 (well, actually, $4.25 with tax) and headed home. I dug out a couple of 78s that had been laying around here for a while, and set to listen. Sure enough, it played, but only about halfway through the record. At that point, the needle stopped touching the shellac for some reason. Turns out the mount for the tonearm is busted. So if I held it in place, it played all the way through. It even sounded good! So I drug the whole setup into the other room, dug up some cables, and plugged it into the PC. I recorded the Phil Harris side you see above and found that the sound was surprisingly good. Much better than I ever expected to get out of an old 78 and a $4 record player. Then I flipped the record over. The second side wouldn't play at all. No sound came out anywhere. Looking close at the needle, it seemed to have disappeared! Where it may have gone, I don't know, but it wasn't there. The cartridge was there, but there was no needle sticking out of the 78 RPM side. So I plugged in the other needle that came with it. But it sounded terrible. I played with it for an hour, but never got decent sound out of it. I wish I knew what happened to that other needle. But anyhow, I thought you might want to hear my tale of woe, and if you really want to hear how good a 78 can sound, here's Phil Harris-Ding Dong Daddy From Dumas (RCA Victor 10" 78 RPM 20-2535-A). Now I have to decide if I want to spend $30 on a needle for a $4 turntable.

7 comments:

Lee Hartsfeld said...

You lost me after "I plugged it in and it spun"....

Just kidding. An interesting story, and I wonder if the second flip-over needle might not be fitting the cartridge properly. If it's not properly seated, lousy sound would be the result, of course. But I'm sure you've considered this possibility. Are you sure someone didn't make an improper substitution?

I'm assuming you didn't damage anything while swapping needles....

I think I'll just shut up now.

Lee

Lee Hartsfeld said...

Wow. The Phil Harris sound sounds awful(ly good). So, I'm curious what outputs you're using. Phono? Does it have same?

Or headphone/speaker jack?

Re paying $30 for a needle, a long time back I paid about $80 to service an $8 Dual turntable, and it proved to be a wise investment. And a bargain, even at 88 bucks. Similarly, your player sounds like it's worth $34, esp. if you can correct the counterbalance issue.

Ernie said...

The second needle doesn't look like it's seated properly, but I think something is bent internally. It's clearly not perpendicular to the record surface. It only fits in the holder one way, so maybe it got damaged at some point, most likely after it reached the Goodwill. I'm thinking that's also what happened to the first needle. It got cracked or bent, then finally broke off after I used it a time or two.

I recorded to the PC from the headphone jack. I can adjust the levels via the volume knob, and there's a tone control that I tried to put somewhere near the middle. Heaven knows what sort of preamp is in this little machine... But it does sound much better than I expected. Gotta do some more research before I plunk down buckazoids for a good needle.

Lee Hartsfeld said...

My ears told me you were using the headphone jack and employing the tone control. My ears were right....

Sounds very, very good, yes.

It's tragic the way things are damaged en route to thrift store shelves. For example, intact 78 sets smashed to pieces during their trip from donation site to backroom bin to display space. I'm thankful for thrift stores and their workers, but what a tragedy.

Come to think of it, my $8 Dual 1219 (which I bought at a flea market) had been damaged in storage. Something had dropped on it. It's the same old sad story....

Ernie said...

Your ears told you I'd used the headphone jack? Is there that much difference? Do I have to go get one of those Rek-o-cut thingys? Sheesh, this is getting out of control!

I think just as much if not more stuff is destroyed by customers at these thrift stores. If you don't know what something is or how it works, leave it alone, folks! And don't steal the needles from every turntable you see. What good are they to you? Come on...

Lee Hartsfeld said...

Ernie,

Yes, I want you to rush out and get one before the week ends.

Yes, I could hear it, and I'm not sure how. I guess mainly because it sounded like a signal that had been tweaked by a bass/treble control. So I deduced you'd used the headphone/speaker jack.

I have very logical ears. (But not Spock ears, per se.)

Bottom line is that it sounds really good, so who cares what the jack of origin might be. And I can't believe I just typed "jack of origin."

Very good point about customers. That should have occured to me! If something can be broke in display, I guess the odds are fairly good. Also, thrifts would receive a lot of things in pre-broken condition, too. It makes us realize that the only reason so many mass-culture items survive at all is through sheer luck, with all the tests they have to pass. That, plus there are so many of them to begin with, that even a low survival percentage accounts for plenty.

We could think of buyers, donors, handlers, customers, and re-buyers as the natural predators of mass-culture items. We are the forces that pare down their numbers. Nature, in response, ups the population. It's analogous to insects that produce millions of offspring, only to have ten or so make the course. Yet the line lives on.

By the way, in spite of all indications to the contrary, I have not been sniffing glue....

Lee

Downloadin' Homer said...

DOH!

http://www.techshout.com/internet/2008/19/rapidsharecom-shut-down/
http://www.roundviews.com/2008/01/19/rapidshare-down/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RapidShare

Hope it's just temporary