Now Spinning: Rush 2112 Remastered

Time for another vinyl record review. This is the second review in what I hope will be an ongoing series of music reviews targeted at spinning plastic discs, better known as "vinyl". My first review was of KISS Alive and it was quite a while ago, and very early in my analog music revival. I am a music lover, but by no means a music expert so my reviews will be more about the general listening experience of the album, not the small details of each and every song. I am having a lot of fun "rediscovering music" by listening to it on my Project Debut Carbon turntable and I want to share that with anyone who is interested. On to the review.................!

 A Classic Rush Album Remastered

2112 was released on April 1st, 1976 and was the fourth album by the Canadian progressive rock trio. The album reached 5th on the Canadian charts and 61st on the US charts. The album is a double-platinum in Canada and a triple-platinum in the US. Over the years there have been a number of reissues/remasterings but the 40th anniversary of the Band happened in 2014 and that prompted a "12 Months of Rush" promotion that included a remastering for vinyl by  Sean Magee at Abbey Road Studios. In addition to vinyl, high resolution digital files (24-bit/96kHz and 24-bit/192kHz) were made available for sale. The new Rush 2112 Remastered "audiophile" vinyl LP was released in March of 2015. I purchased my copy for $26.40 on Amazon a couple of weeks ago.

My "Rush" to Rush

I have to admit that I am not a Rush fanatic. My initial exposure to the band was in high school when their two best selling albums were released (Permanent Waves in 1980 and Signals in 1981). I enjoyed those albums back then but kind of got away from them as I went through college. A couple years after college (1989 or so) I picked up Signals on CD and listened to it quite a bit. But since 1994 or so I have been mostly out of the loop as far as Rush music was concerned.

That all changed when I got my turntable last year and began my search to get all of the music I enjoyed as a kid on vinyl. That's when I rediscovered Rush and the remasters that were in progress. I kept up with the release dates of the remastered albums and purchased Hemispheres and Moving Pictures in hi-rez digital a couple months ago through ProStudioMasters to reacquaint myself with the band. I decided to get at least a couple of the vinyl editions after hearing generally good reviews on several music forums. 2112 was the one I decided to start off with even though I really hadn't listened to the album in its entirety, as people seem think that it is "the one Rush album to get if you just want to listen to one Rush album. It also seemed to the be one that had the highest overall quality in the newly remastered vinyl release.

Where The Future Meets The Past

2112 is a "concept" album with side one consisting of a 20 minute suite in 7 parts. Side two's songs are unrelated to side one's. The side one suite is apparently influenced by the writings of Ayn Rand and is based in the future, telling the story of the fate of the galaxy's planets in 2112 under the rule of the "Red Star of the Solar Federation". It was a futuristic theme that was originally executed on a decidedly "un-futuristic" format of pressed plastic. Now, nearly 40 years after the original release the album has been remastered using "state of the art Digital Metal Mastering" methods that promise a superior vinyl listening experience.

I ordered the album from Amazon on Monday and received it on Wednesday in typical speedy Amazon Prime style. But, because of a busy week at work I didn't have a chance to open the box until Friday. When I did finally open it here's what I found:

The front of Rush 2112 remaster on vinyl

The album was shrink-wrapped featuring a sticker proclaiming "200g Hologram Edition, Audiophile Vinyl". The front cover features the famous "starman" emblem that has become synonymous with the band. When I flipped the album over I was greeted with "high fashion", circa 1976:

Rush was definitely on the cutting edge of fashion back in the day!

For those of us old enough to remember, the 1970's was quite a time when it came to fashion. For those of you who weren't alive then, boy did you miss out! Rush was definitely strutting their stuff! I then opened up the album, revealing the gatefold:

Inside the Gatefold Sleeve of the 2112 Vinyl Remaster

The "starman" emblem makes another appearance inside along with lyrics to the songs. The album came with a free digital download coupon as well:

The 2112 Vinyl Comes With A Digital Download Coupon

I downloaded the 320kbps AAC files and the quality seems pretty good though I may go ahead and get the true hi rez version at some point. When I took the album out of the sleeve and put it on the turntable I was greeted with a cool hologram of the starman symbol in the deadwax of side 2.:

The Nifty Hologram on Side 2 of the Vinyl

The addition of the hologram is definitely a feature of the new remaster and I think it's pretty cool :-) Overall, I was impressed with the packaging of the album. Everything seems to be a faithful reproduction of the original based on everything I could find. The vinyl seemed to be well pressed with no obvious artifacts from the pressing and no visible warping. I gave it a quick cleaning, tossed it on the turntable and sat down for a listen.......

How Does The Future Sound?

Having never listened to the album in it's entirety before, I spent some time with the digital version while at work through my Fiio X1 music player (a great deal for $99!). After a couple of times through the complete album I put the vinyl on the turntable and sat down for a "critical" listening session.

Here's a listing of the tracks on the album (courtesy of Wikipedia):

All lyrics by Neil Peart and music by Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson, except where noted.

1. "2112

  • I. "Overture" (0:00 - 4:33)
  • II. "The Temples of Syrinx" (4:33 - 6:45)
  • III. "Discovery" (Music: Lifeson) (6:45 - 10:14)
  • IV. "Presentation" (Music: Lifeson) (10:14 - 13:56)
  • V. "Oracle: The Dream" (13:56 - 15:56)
  • VI. "Soliloquy" (15:56 - 18:17)
  • VII. "Grand Finale" (18:17 - 20:34)"
20:34

  • 4:33
  • 2:12
  • 3:29
  • 3:43
  • 2:00
  • 2:21
  • 2:17

 

2. "A Passage to Bangkok" 3:32
3. "The Twilight Zone" 3:16
4. "Lessons" (Lyrics: Lifeson) 3:51
5. "Tears" (Lyrics: Lee) 3:30
6. "Something for Nothing" (Music: Lee) 3:59

The more I listen to 2112, the more I enjoy it. So far I've listened to the album 3 times (twice digital and once on the vinyl) so I'm still getting the full feel for the music. I've found that it really takes me about 4-5 listens to really become familiar with a complete album but so far I'm really enjoying it. Their music is a good mix of "hardish" rock, blues, and progressive rock. Side one's 7-part suite is well written and performed. I'm becoming a fan of Geddy Lee's vocal style the more I listen to him. Side 2 has 5 separate tracks, with my favorite at this point being "A Passage to Bangkok".

As for the quality of the vinyl I can find no complaints. The vinyl is solid (200 grams) dead flat and also super-quiet where it needs to be. I got a few static pops but those were very minor. The album has a slightly more open feel to it that the digital files and the reverb/echo on "Ovature" (part 1 of 7 on side 1) is great, both on my Hawthorne Open Baffle speakers as well as my Mad Dog headphones. I haven't detected any dropouts or  missing channel either which is usually a sign of a quality mastering/pressing. Overall. I'm very happy with the listening experience and with the quality of the vinyl and packaging.

Conclusion And Thoughts

I am really enjoying 2112.

The recent remastering of Rush albums has definitely caught my attention and I have a new appreciation for the band and their music. I only wish I had paid more attention to them earlier in my life. The good news is that with the newly remastered music I think I will get a better overall listening experience than before. The remasterings seem to have kept true to the original intent of the band and the sound is very good. I plan on getting a few more Rush albums on vinyl because of it. The price for the albums is in line with most new vinyl these days ($20-$30). I might even seek out some of the earlier releases on "original" vinyl just for comparison. Currently on Discogs, a 1976 original 2112 in Near-Mint condition will run $20-$30. If you have been a fan of Rush and haven't tried any of these newly remastered albums, I encourage you to give one or two a go in either digital or vinyl. If you have never really listened to Rush this is a perfect time to give them a try. Just make sure you get one of the recent (2015) remasters as the quality is much better than many of the previous attempts.

What Are Your Thoughts

I'm interested in hearing any of your feedback on the Rush remasters. If you have purchased any of the 2014/2015 remastered albums (digital or vinyl) and want to share your opinion please leave a comment with your thoughts.

 

That's it for now. Stay tuned for another vinyl music review fairly soon as I have picked up some vinyl (both vintage and new) over the last few weeks that I'm looking forward to sharing my thoughts on.

Cheers!

Dial In Your Stylus Tracking Force To Get The Best Sound From Your Vinyl

In the 2 months that I've had the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon DC turntable I've had a lot of fun spinning the various vinyl records that I've managed to acquire so far. I'm really enjoying the sound and the "ceremony" that goes with playing music on a turntable. I have also spent some time tweaking the turntable to try and get the best sound out of my spinning plastic discs and have learned a lot in the process. One of my biggest "ah-ha" moments came when I took the time to properly adjust my stylus tracking force. The difference in sound quality was fairly dramatic.

How I discovered this

The reason I started to look at the tracking force of my stylus was because I was having problems with the stereo imaging (sound was mainly coming out of the left speaker) on a few records. My initial thought that maybe it was the record itself. But after the same problem happened on 5 or 6 records I figured something else was wrong because I knew I wasn't buying that many crappy records! I did a quick Google search which indicated that the stylus tracking weight might be the cause. Based on this I went back to the turntable setup instructions to make sure I had done things correctly. I re did the tonearm balance and tracking force setting and the result was a little better but not what I thought it should be. A little further Googling suggested that I should use a more accurate measuring device to make sure that the tracking force was within the range indicated by Ortofon for the 2M Red cartidge (15-17.5mN). I did some searching for "digital stylus tracking force gauge" and came up with a few options, ranging in price from $10 to several hundred dollars. I settled on this one:

Signstek Blue LCD Backlight Digital Long-Playing LP Turntable Stylus Force Scale Gauge Tester

I got the gauge for $19.99 which was very affordable, much more so than the others I saw for upwards of $250+. Now the test was to see if my $19.99 gauge was going to work.

The weigh in

Once I got my digital stylus scale from Amazon I set it up on the platter of the turntable and let the stylus down slowly to see what it measured. The result was 1.09 grams, well under the minimum of 1.5 grams that Ortofon recommends. "How did that happen?" I thought to my self. I thought I had followed the setup instructions correctly. Obviously not...so I redid everything again and got a lot closer (1.4 grams) to the suggested force but I was still off. I carefully redid the setup procedure yet again and really paid attention to how the numbers on the tonearm's force scale lined up with the markings. The result was a 1.6 grams force measurement on the scale. The interesting part was that the markings on the tonearm indicated 1.7 grams to my 50-year old eyes so there was a 1/10th of a gram discrepancy between the digital scale and the tonearm markings. I fiddled around/adjusted a bit more and got this measurement:

The 1.63 is almost exactly between the 1.5 and 1.75 grams tracking force that Ortofon recommends for the cartridge. The result was a much better sound with a nice stereo image and a bit less "pops and crackles". My guess is that the slightly heavier tracking force keeps the stylus in the groove better, reducing "slop" in the tracking across the vinyl.

Since this image was taken I have dialed in the tracking force a bit more by testing various settings with the offending vinyl discs and have settled on a tracking force of 1.69 grams which is at the high end of the range but still within spec. The result has been a much more consistent sound improvement across the entire range of records. Audible pops and crackles are now much less and imaging is much better.

What I learned

This whole experience/process has taught me that getting the best possible sound from your turntable takes a little bit of work. Just setting up the turntable right out of the box based on the user's manual will get you close, but not as close as you could be, to the level of sound reproduction that your turntable is capable of. It will take a small investment in your listening experience in order to get the most out of it. And having an accurate stylus tracking force is one of those things that can contribute greatly to the final sound. In most cases a "too light" tracking force will be worse for your listening experience (and records) than a heavier tracking force. So my suggestion is to invest in a basic digital tracking force scale (the one I link to above is a solid choice) and take the time to make sure that your stylus is putting the proper amount of pressure on the vinyl to get good sound.

Next up in my quest for the "perfect" vinyl sound is cartridge alignment............. Stay tuned for a post on my experiences with that.

Cheers!

My Analog Music Upgrade: Why Vinyl Records And Film Photography Go Together

Music And Photography-A Perfect Match

I've been a fan of music my entire life. I started out in the early 70's as a 7 or 8 year old listening to music on the radio or vinyl records using a turntable in the house. In middle and high school (late 70's/early 80's) I added cassette tapes to my collection and as I went through College in the mid to late 80's Compact Discs became the primary source of music. Lately (since 2000 or so) I've done nearly all my listening via streaming digital music. I'm also slightly obsessed with photography and if you've been reading this blog (or any of my postings on Google+, Flickr or 500px) you know that I'm a big fan of analog (film) photography. While I very much enjoy digital there's just something about the process of capturing and developing images on film that I find appealing. It's much more deliberate, forces me to slow down, and the end results are very pleasing.

What Was Once Old Is Now New Again

There are many parallels between music and photography and as I get older (and perhaps a bit nostalgic) I find myself appreciating the "good 'ol days" more and more. I've already embraced those days by using my vintage film cameras and now I am doing the same with my love of music. After several years of watching the re-emergence of vinyl records as a popular medium for enjoying music I am stepping back into my past and adding analog music playback to my system. I started to save some money each month starting last year knowing that I would probably get the itch to add a turntable or some other upgrade to my system. I got serious about researching options a few weeks ago and made the decision (with a little help from Santa Claus) to purchase a new turntable last week. I ended up getting this:

Pro-Ject Debut Carbon DC

The turntable is the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon DC a manual belt drive turntable currently fitted with the Ortofon 2M Red cartridge. The Carbon DC is placed about midway in the Pro-Ject line of turntables and could reliably be called "low-end audiophile" in terms of quality. It is several significant steps above the typical turntable that you find in most stores but far, far, far, far, far, far below these super-expensive turntables. No doubt it is an investment, but no more than many of the lenses that photographers purchase every day. And that's how I see it, an investment in my enjoyment of life and the great memories that I have. I got the turntable setup and plugged into my "main" audio system which consists of the Cambridge Audio Azur 540A Integrated Amplifier which puts out 50wpc to a pair of Hawthorne Audio Duet Open Baffle speakers. I've been very happy with this setup for the last 8 years and I don't plan on changing anything in it. The addition of the Pro-Ject turntable gives me yet another way to listen to my favorite music.

The Analog Advantage

I've been. and continue to be, a big believer in the quality of digital music. I have over 350 CD's worth of music ripped and saved on my hard drive in the form of lossless FLAC files. I've been streaming these files wirelessly to both my main and headphone system for the last 10 years and have enjoyed it immensely. But, just as adding analog (film) cameras to my photography has improved my appreciation of photography, analog music (vinyl records) has improved my appreciation of music. Here's what I mean:

  1. Analog music is more deliberate: In order to "go analog" you have to be more aware of what you are doing. You can't load up 200 vinyl records and hit "shuffle" but rather you need to get up and turn over the typical album every 15-20 minutes. You also need to take some extra time to keep those pesky vinyl discs clean and dust free in order to ge the best sound out of them.
  2. Analog music requires more attention: To get the most out of analog music you need to be aware of what you are listening to (similar to #1 above). The dynamic range of analog is arguably lower than digital but because of that it asks for more of your attention and thought in order to appreciate it. You also need to be aware of what version of a particular album you are buying/listening to as that can make a huge difference in the quality of the listening experience
  3. The sound of analog music is more "flowing" (if that's a word) than digital: Digital recordings can reveal immense detail in the music if done right. Analog music, on the other hand, seems to have more of a flow to it that is often more natural sounding than digital (you need a good quality playback and clean album though).
  4. And Most Importantly-If you play an album on your turntable while developing film you will achieve a true "Analog Zen State" :-)

I'll be the first to admit that, in many cases, a well-produced digital recording has more detail and resolution than analog but that's not always preferred. In the short amount of time that I've had the turntable I've noticed that the sound of vinyl is a very involving thing. And maybe that's part of the appeal of analog music, the involving nature of it.

The Lure Of Finding Good Vinyl

My goal with the turntable is to get all of the records I had when growing up and then expand from that. There are a lot of resources for finding music on vinyl, both new and used. The list of available new vinyl keeps growing and the used market seems to be pretty robust. So far I have purchased 4 albums but I plan on adding to the collection each month. Three of the records were purchased used at Fantasyland Records here in Atlanta. It is a very nice shop and reminds me of several of the record shops I used to visit back in the day. The fourth album is brand new and I got it at a local Fry's. Here's my vinyl lineup as of now. The listings are from my Discogs account which is a great online music resource and marketplace:

  1. AC/DC- Rock Or Bust- The latest album from the legendary band (and one of my favorites)-Bought new
  2. Jethro Tull-Thick As A Brick-One of my childhood albums-Bought used and in great shape
  3. Kansas-Point Of Know Return-Another one of the albums I had as a kid- Used and in VG shape
  4. Don Henley-Building The Perfect Beast-One of Pam's picks-She went to this concert at Red Rocks in 1985- Used and in VG shape

I have about 10 more childhood-era albums to purchase and after that I will expand my musical horizons into other areas. The availability of vinyl is very good and growing all the time so I don't think I'll have any trouble finding music to play on the turntable.

 Long Live Analog

I expect that from this point forward in my life I will always have a turntable to play vinyl records on. While the fidelity of vinyl vs digital has been and probably always will be debated, there's no denying that listening to music on a turntable is an enjoyable experience. Just like film cameras are to photography, I think vinyl is to music- an important and necessary diversion/alternative from our ever-increasing "digital overload". I'm not planning on ever getting rid of my digital devices but I will not be ashamed to declare my "analog independence" from time to time! :-) Stay tuned to the blog for the occasional music review as well as other insights into how I try to balance my life through the use of photography and music, among other things.