My Tale Of Turntablism

Right now is a rare time in the Record Cell in that there are recent vinyl acquisitions that I’m definitely not listening to. For a very practical reason. My Pioneer turntable is in… the shop!! Moreover, it’s been in the shop since the 27th of August, and it’s likely to stay there for over another month. The stereo repair shop has quite a backlog of at least six weeks, so I’m resigned to my vinyl-free fate for the immediate present… but let’s start at the beginning.

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My first turntable – in a Sears all-in-one late 70s unit

My first turntable which was stereophonic [I’ll spare you the AC/DC portable mono unit I received for my 10th birthday and used from ’73-’78] was a generic, cheap BSR unit incorporated into this all-in-one Sears stereo [above] that I cut my musical teeth on, dating from 1978. It was my primary record player from the summer of 1978-1984. It was in the Year of Orwell when I finally thought to upgrade the turntable as I had with the all-important cassette deck three years earlier. Frankly, the cassette deck was the weaker link in that Sears stereo and the Akai deck I moved to was a huge step up, but I digress. This is all about the record players today. I went to a nearby stereo store and bought a Sansui P-D10 direct drive turntable which was my record player from ’84-’97.

Sansui P-D10 turntable

Sansui P-D10 turntable

I think I got it for about $90 and it was also a nice upgrade from the Sears unit, which by now was only being used for FM and operating the new cassette and turntable which I had wired into the main stereo. Since the Sears had cassette/8-track recorders, FM, and LP playback [what else was there in 1978?], there were no aux inputs. I had to rewire everything. There was nothing wrong per se with my Sansui direct drive unit, but in the 90s when my wife was hitting the estate sales to populate her booth in the antique mall, she came across a Pioneer PL-518 for $10 at a garage sale and she wisely bought it at what was probably the nadir of record players in 1997. It was a nice trade up from the Sansui and it’s been my turntable ever since. I upgraded the cartridge and stylus along the way and it’s been a fine unit for my modest budget.

Pioner PL-518 direct drive turntable

Pioner PL-518 direct drive turntable

I only had the turntable for a few years before the first issue manifested. The spring loaded isolation feet also had a problem as the rubber casing eventually dry rotted, meaning that the turntable was no longer isolated from vibration. There were all sorts of esoteric recipes on the web for effecting a repair as well as third party replacement feet that ranged from $6-$1,150[!]. As I was already rendered immobile by the expanse of choices and price points [most of which were well more than $100] I effected the cheapest repair of all – sitting absolutely immobile when playing records in the Record Cell.

The problem it is in the shop for had now first manifested in the early century after we moved to Asheville. When I then tried to digitize vinyl around 2002, I noticed that the turntable, on rare occasions, had trouble maintaining speed. I’d have to compensate with the speed control, and eventually the speed would stabilize as the stroboscope revealed. That was then. Over the years, I found that once the speed stabilized, it would generally stay so for the duration of the play. Cuing up the stylus and setting the tonearm in the cradle would erase the magic, and the next time I tried to play a record, I might have to start allover at stabilizing the speed with the adjustment control.

The speed drift problem has worsened with time until the last week I had it at home. I tried all week to hear a Robert Palmer 12″ single to no avail. I could not play that record for love or money over two hours over two nights of trying without some dramatic shifts in speed rendering my digitization moot. I knew it was time to get serious and see if a repair could happen.

Looking up the issue on the web seemed to point to the age of the electrolytic capacitors in the unit as the likely suspect. I read tale after tale of the chemicals in these components aging and deteriorating over the decades so that the ability to hold speed was eventually lost. There was a plethora of such stories on the record-geek web. It’s even common to find dealers in vintage turntables reporting that they have replaced all capacitors in the unit before resale. As for me, I didn’t want to invest in a desoldering gun and heat sinks for this repair. More importantly, how would I buy the right capacitors? Radio Shack®, which I had depended on growing up for all manner of electronic parts, had been a shell of its true self for almost 30 years going. They were little but a glorified phone store for a generation and the last time I wasted my time in one, there were no longer any actual parts sold any more. One can’t just drive to the friendly, neighborhood Capacitors-R-Us® and load up. No, this was one for a steely-eyed, flat-bodies professional.

A check up with Angie’s List later and I had a source for the repair. StereoMan came well regarded on Angeie’s List and a quick call to him revealed that the minimum charge for repairing the turntable was a scant $37. The owner chuckled condescendingly when I posited the capacitor theory. “Do you mean to tell me that there are lies on the internet?!” I exclaimed incredulously. StereoMan seemed confident that the speed control potentiometer was oxidized and that a solid cleaning should be enough. I’ll report back with my findings once the deck is back in house. In the mean time, any blogging will have to center on digital music.

– 30 –

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | media design • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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7 Responses to My Tale Of Turntablism

  1. Echorich says:

    If you are at all vinyl obsessed, it come as a natural occurrence that you would be turntable obsessed as well. The only thing with being platter fixated, is that upgrading is never inexpensive. It wasn’t in the early 80s, the 90s or in 2010, the last time I considered a turntable upgrade.
    Like you Monk, I had a version of an all in one unit with 8-Track – from Radio Shack if memory serves – that I was gifted as a 14 year old by my parents for my birthday… My Mom will freely admit it was to keep me from playing my records in the living room on their set so she could play her Gilbert + Sullivan collection when she wanted. As an aside, I helped my Mom sell her 30 album Gilbert + Sullivan collection about 15 years ago for a very handsome sum.
    That first turntable, with speakers included lasted about 2 years before I had the snow shoveling money saved aside to upgrade to a proper turntable and receiver. I opted for a Technics belt drive turntable – no variable pitch control – and a Marantz receiver. That Marantz receiver saw me into the 90s and was only decommissioned after I bought my first Denon system in the mid 90s. By then I was a bit out of control. I purchased a Numark direct drive turntable for my stereo system and two cheaper Numark belt drive turntables along with a basic mixer to make House Music mixtapes with.
    When I moved to Tampa in 2005, I sold off all but the Denon Receiver with the idea of buying new in Florida.
    Well, that never really happened. About 6 years ago I purchased an inexpensive Numark/Ion belt drive usb compatible turntable with the idea of converting vinyl to mp3. Too much work and it’s a lousy turntable. So my vinyl collections gets little love these days.
    If/when I buy a home, my first purchase will be kitting out my music room. No more mixing deck, but I am ready for some audiophile platter action for sure.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – Wow! All you have is an Ion? They are said to be poor. I’ve always been a “software guy” who if you have me $1000 to buy a turntable and records, I’d buy a $100 turntable and spend $900 on music to listen to. I am not really an audiophile, per se, though I like quality if I can afford it. Video was where I examined the bleeding edge for a good 15 years or so. But I sure got over that! I was several years late to the DVD “revolution” [hint: to a laserdisc owner of a decade, they were merely evolutionary] and I have yet to move beyond analog.

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      • Echorich says:

        Yes Monk, the Ion is garbage. A tone arm with no real weight sensor and a belt drive turntable mechanism that feels like it was made in a high school electric shop class. I WILL upgrade this system sooner than later, I spent a couple hours looking at turntables and speakers last night…I might have the bug again.

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  2. jordan says:

    Fun looking at those vintage pictures.Monk,maybe time to get into this century and upgrade the old Pioneer.
    My first turntable was in 1980.It was a Technics direct drive.Before that,it was a Marantz from the family stereo.Shortly after,1983, it was a Technics SL 1200,then a Linn Sondek which I have had ever since.
    As CD came along (and those first batches were not the best) I lost interest in LPs and never got back into them.It is a strange medium,vinyl,as from the second you play the first groove,it is self destructing (which is an interesting art project,more TG) as the needle rips up the plastic.Plus some of the quality of vinyl back then was horrible.Thin,warped easily,stereo balance all over the place.I kept my prized 500 and sold off the rest a few years ago with no regrets.
    I am a bit baffled by this return to record players.No question,LPs can sound great,if played on a mega system, than anything digital but not by much and at what cost.Guess it is for the next generation.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Jordan – I am obsessed with vinyl… That never made it to CD. As for favorite format it is the glorious CD, hands down, that works like a fiend for me. If there were no songs “trapped” on vinyl, then I wouldn’t care. It’s just that I have the collector’s sickness and for groups I collect, there is a ton of music that’s still vinyl only. I hate and resent the wave of modern vinyl. It is taking over floor space in music shops which are gravitating to the highly profitable modern vinyl format to my aghast, disbelieving eyes that can’t believe that I’m heading into my golden years with freaking -vinyl- ascendent. What next? Horse and buggy?

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  3. SimonH says:

    Wax cylinders are the next big thing apparently….
    I get the appeal of vinyl but am happy with CD and my continuing happy marriage, if I even suggested taking up space with vinyl the marital consequences would not be good.
    I don’t think of myself as an audiophile but have spent, what’s to me, a decent amount of money over the years gradually improving my system – the music itself always comes first though.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      SimonH – I put it this way…to me, vinyl is the larval form of a CD I’ll have to one day make! I have focused on the vinyl that never made it to CD format over the last 24 years, but in a perfect world, everything I want would be on CD.

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