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Reviewer: Jeff Day
Review component retail: $29.99

Michael Fremer's DVD is available at most audiophile websites like Acoustic Sounds, Music Direct, Elusive Disc and others like them. If you've been reading about HiFi for any time at all, you've no doubt learned that Michael Fremer is the most visible analog man in the HiFi press. [The above shots and more can be found in the DVD's Easter egg, showing clips originally shot by Emerson College students who were fans of Michael's radio show. When Fremer was fired from WBCN, these students decided to recreate the event and built a half-hour movie for it. They shot two of Michael's live stand-up shows and combined the footage to show all of his bombs at the beginning and the funnier stuff at the end. The BCN footage was actually shot at WBCN. Now that you know of the Easter egg, I'll leave it for you to find it]. Michael also has his own website devoted to music called the Music Angle which you'll want to check out. For those few who may not know, Michael writes for an audio print magazine called Stereophile. Stereophile has done an excellent job of covering the breadth of the HiFi hobby for many decades.

Michael's DVD on turntable setup is obviously a labor of love and contains lots of good information on tweaking a vinyl system for optimal performance. The DVD is arranged into six video chapters and contains over three hours of content: Why We Love Vinyl, Mysteries of Mastering, Tools of the Trade, Setting up a Pro-ject RM-5, Setting up a VPI Scoutmaster, and Final Words. The DVD even includes a PDF article that Michael wrote on turntable setup. It covers many of the topics in greater detail and provides a tutorial which you can print out to reference while setting up your turntable. There's lots of good information in the article that I found to be very informative and helpful.

Why We Love Vinyl
Let's take a look at the six video chapters first. Why We Love Vinyl is an introduction to the joys of the vinyl medium. You'll find Michael to be a witty and funny fellow who has been enjoying vinyl for nearly fifty years. You'll also get to see his personal record collection. It's breathtaking! You know how a library looks with aisles and aisles of books? That's Michael's record collection. If the Smithsonian ever loses their collection, he should be able to bail them out in fine fashion. In this chapter, Michael gives a brief overview of the dominant forms of recorded music with their up- and downsides: 78s and reel-to-reel tapes, cassette tapes, the four & eight track cassettes, CDs and of course LPs. Michael goes through an interesting array of LPs and their charms but I'm not going to tell you about that in detail. I promise you this: one of those album covers will earn Michael's DVD an R rating from the prudes among you. But you'll need to get the DVD for yourself to become an amateur censor.

Mysteries of Mastering
In Mysteries of Mastering, Michael visits mastering engineer George Marino of Sterling Sound in New York City to show us how records are made. George and Michael talk about how in video production there are color standards and the like to work from. In audio, there are no such standards. The mastering engineer has to make artistic choices that will portray the music in the best possible way to fulfill the musicians' intent for their music. George gives a nice overview of the mastering suite and how his equipment is used during the mastering process. I particularly enjoyed this discussion. It's worth the price of the DVD alone.

Tools of the Trade
In Tools of the Trade, Michael presents an overview of the tools you'll need to set up your turntable, from the least expensive to the very expensive in each category of tool. Michael stresses that you don't have to spend a lot on tools to perform a good setup on your turntable. "Don't get crazy, just set it up and enjoy it!"

Setting Stylus Pressure: A stylus pressure gauge is the first thing you'll need and there are decent inexpensive ones to choose from like that venerable old Shure standby or snazzier and more expensive ones from Micro-Tech, Arm Load Meter, the Cartridge Man, May Audio or Wally Malewicz's scale. For most people, a digital scale is the way to go for ease of use.

Setting Horizontal Cartridge Geometry: Next up is setting the horizontal geometry of the cartridge. You can use the paper setup template that comes with your tonearm -- it'll work just fine -- but stay away from the fixed size metal protractors because their 'one size fits all' approach doesn't work all that well. Each arm is different so each alignment template is unique to that brand of arm. If you want to go for the precision approach, the Wally Tractor is made custom for your tone arm and Michael feels it's well worth the money.

Michael says there are a couple of other tools you should have on hand to make your life easier while setting up your cartridge. The first is a good light. Michael fancies 'The Little Light' and recommends that you get one. Michael also recommends getting a good small magnifying glass with 4-6 times magnification.

Setting Vertical Tracking Angle: Michael includes an interesting discussion on vertical tracking angle (VTA) where he describes how it takes a lot of movement at the back of the arm to have any real effect on the VTA but that a small change in stylus pressure will make a significant change in the stylus rake angle which is closely related to VTA. The lesson is this: if your tonearm doesn't have easily adjustable height, don't sweat it. You can accomplish essentially the same thing by changing the stylus pressure to alter the stylus rake angle.

When setting arm height, the best place is to start with the arm parallel to the record because that's how most cartridge designers design their cartridge to track correctly. You can set your arm to parallel a couple of different ways. Michael shows how to use a piece of a ruler to set the VTA very easily and for very little money. If you really want to be exact, you can use the Wally blade. Michael also recommends that you get a pair of small needle nose pliers to install or remove the tonearm leads from the cartridge pins.

Setting Anti-Skating: The next topic Michael covers is anti-skating. Skating is the force that causes the arm to pull towards the center of the record. The anti-skating adjustment of the tonearm corrects for the skating so that the stylus is centered in the record groove rather than drifting one way or the other. Michael covers the method most commonly used on tonearms to correct for skating, the weight and string method. He also introduces Wally Malewicz's method for setting anti-skating, which he considers to be the best. Michael says that for most arms there's a little sliding scale and if you set it to the same number as the tracking force, you'll be all set.

Setting Azimuth: The next aspect of setup covered is azimuth. Azimuth has to do with the perpendicularity of the stylus to the groove. Setting the azimuth correctly minimizes crosstalk between the channels, which affects soundstaging, imaging and how big of a picture you're going to get. Michael describes a couple of ways to do this: you can do it by eye, you can put a mirror on your platter, or you can be really accurate and use a voltmeter to measure the amount of crosstalk in each channel (Michael's preferred way).