The Vinyl Anachronist
by Marc Phillips
Part CXXXXII: 2021, Year of Moving Up
Moving up? That seems like a haughty and tone-deaf way to describe 2021, another strange year of global metamorphosis. This was a bumpy year for me, with a fire and a flood and a slip-and-fall in a hotel lobby that turned my life upside down for a few weeks, but mostly I've been getting knocked down and then, for some strange reason, I keep getting back up again. I think we're all out here dealing with serious matters, and perhaps it's a time for a little character-building on the side. I'm doing just fine, in other words.
That said, I am definitely moving up in 2022. I'm talking, of course, about my analog rig. For the last three years or so, I've been using the Technics SL-1200G turntable as my reference analog rig. I reviewed a handful of turntables over the last year, but the Technics has been the workhorse, the touchstone. It's so easy to own and operate, it's so easy to swap cartridges, and it always seems to work perfectly with no glitches or idiosyncrasies. Best of all, it sounds great. Much better than I could ever imagine, in fact.
Since the beginning of 2021, I've used the Technics to evaluate $6500 cartridges, $14,000 phono preamplifiers and $800 removable head shells and not once did I feel the SL-1200G was the weak link in the chain. It's an all-time turntable classic as far as I'm concerned, and once again I'll remind everyone that I first became noticed in the audio community for hating on the original Technics SL-1200 for many years--right here in Perfect Sound Forever. Let's forget about the past and be friends.
I might not have mentioned that the Technics SL-1200G I've been using since 2018 isn't mine--it was borrowed from the publisher of my magazine. I was starting to believe that the 1200G was going to stay with me forever, and that we would become great friends. One day I received a text, the one I had feared for, oh, three years. "Are you about finished with the Technics? I need it back now."
Normally, this wouldn't have been an issue since I have two back-up turntables: the Unison Research Giro and the lime-green Rega P3-24. Oops. I did have two backup turntables and I actually sold them earlier in the year. I had forgotten about that--it was such a quick transaction, just "I'll take 'em both, here's the cash" and they were gone. I still remember glancing back at the Technics after I sold them, and we both winked at each other. Pal. Buddy. Friend.
Suddenly, I had no turntable. The Vinyl Anachronist didn't have a way to spin records. I currently have four or five phono cartridges, a couple of phono preamplifiers, and even an extra tonearm. But no turntable.
I wasn't too worried. I just had to reach out and arrange for a review of something. It took a few weeks to get the stars aligned, and I wound up with something far more ambitious than I expected--the Brinkmann Taurus direct-drive turntable from Germany with its dedicated 12" tonearm. The Taurus sits on an optional base/slab from Harmonic Resolution Systems that is just big enough for the turntable and weighs almost 80 pounds. The phono stage is the Brinkmann Edison Mk. II. Cartridges will be my ZYX Ultimate Airy and whatever else passes through. This is my first truly mega-rig, with a cost that rivals your average BMW 3-Series, and most of my 2022 columns will be viewed through that lens. I hope I find more interesting things to discuss.
That brings us to the 22nd Annual Vinyl Anachronist Awards for Analog Excellence. I spent 2021 listening to countless turntables, cartridges and phono stages, and I have a lot of culling to do to actually pick the winners. Please don't be mad if I've forgotten something along the way.
Best New LP Release
Hillary Hahn's Paris was the first new classical music release in years that I found compelling enough to pick as one of my favorites of any given year. The state of classical music in the US has been wobbly for decades, and the idea that a contemporary performer (violinist Hilary Hahn) and an old-school classical label (Deutsche Grammophone) could produce something this unexpected and lovely in 2021 is reason to celebrate.
Why is Paris so special? If I had to list my reasons, I'd probably start off with Prokofiev's Violin Concerto #1, included on the first LP, which is probably my favorite violin concerto of all time. Next, Hilary Hahn turns in a faithful yet dynamic performance that rivals anyone's--including Itzhak Perlman, the man who originally made me fall in love with this music. Finally, the sound quality is sensational.
That's particularly rewarding since Paris is a 2-LP 45rpm set, and it sells for just $35. We need more classical releases just like this one.
Best New LP Reissue
I usually don't like to write about the Beatles--it's a personal thing--but it's hard to ignore this latest hi-rez incarnation of Let It Be. It was never my favorite Beatles album, mostly because I splurged and bought a rare white vinyl Apple LP which sounded like shit but was supposed to be worth a lot of money one day (I still have it, BTW).
With each of these latest Beatles remasters, I'm pleasantly surprised how much better it all sounds. So much more detail. So many things I've never noticed before. But I wasn't prepared for Let It Be Super Deluxe. It's a four-LP set that has the remastered mix from Giles Martin, as well as a couple albums worth of the usual alternate takes and rarities. But then, as a capper, we have a newly remastered LP of those 1969 Glyn Johns mixes which were supposed to be released as Get Back.
It's a messy story, and the Beatles were a mess when they recorded this album, but Let It Be Super Deluxe shows you all the beauty, all the flaws and all the vital rock and roll history behind that famous recording.
Phono Cartridge of the Year
Since I decided to keep that ZYX Ultimate Airy as my long-term reference cartridge, it makes perfect sense that it would win this category.
Unfortunately, one cartridge passed through my system this year that was the finest phono cartridge I've heard in a very long time. Sure, this cartridge is twice as expensive as the ZYX, which means I can't afford to make it my long-term reference. But that didn't stop me from falling in love, unrequited. That cartridge is the Koetsu Urushi Black.
You might remember Koetsu cartridges. I owned a couple about twenty years ago, and I reported on them continuously in the column for years. Honestly, I thought I was going to be a "Koetsu man" for the rest of my life but then I wound up downsizing and I haven't had the pleasure of listening to one of these in a dozen years.
The Koetsu Urushi Black isn't just a phono cartridge--it's a singular work of art. And it extracts certain qualities from the music that no other analog playback device can. While I don't like to choose $6500 phono cartridges for this award, I can't help but think that I've been missing something all these years. For the brief review period, I had everything I ever wanted from vinyl.
Turntable of the Year
It seems only logical to choose this massive, high-performance direct-drive Brinkmann Taurus turntable that is currently occupying the entire top double-wide shelf of my equipment rack, but to tell you the truth I just got everything running at press time. Maybe we'll revisit the Taurus for 2022: Year of Untold Riches and Fame in 12 months.
So my choice for Turntable of the Year has to be some incarnation of the Technics SL-1200 family. I've already awarded a TOTY to that Technics SL-1200G I had for the last three years. This year I had the pleasure of comparing the 1200G to the Technics SL-1210-GAE and found the differences to be black and gold--that is, the 1210GAE comes in black and gold and that's the only real difference that I found between the two models (oh, the 1210GAE was a limited edition and will probably be worth more money than the 1200G in ten years).
I'm mentioning all this because after the Brinkmann rig is packed up and sent back, I will once again be without a turntable. I can keep getting turntables in for review, but I need that solid and reliable analog foundation that the 1200G provided for so long. Even in my world of extreme high-end audio, people don't blink when you say you see a 1200G or a 1210GAE because these new Technics decks are truly a gift.
So the Turntable of the Year for 2021 is the new Technics SL-1210G, which is basically the 1210GAE Anniversary model in its non-special edition packaging. Same turntable, and it's gold and black. It wins, because the Technics SL-1200G/1210G is the only turntable that I've sent back and realized man, I have to get another one. That's saying a lot.
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