Rumours continue about FM ACOUSTICS' PhonoMaster. Understandably so: just a short demonstration is an unforgettable experience.
As one professional record librarian exclaimed:
..."This is Nirvana. A masterpiece".
..."It is formidable what these phono linearizers manage to extract from vinyl grooves - and now with this unique pop, click and crackle reduction; they are truly magnificent".
..."This has been sorely missing for decades. It revalues entire library collections".
... "The improvement in transcription is absolutely amazing. It is the first time one can realistically reproduce historic recordings - with much less interference. Brilliant engineering".
Collectors and aficionados that heard the FM 223 have similar comments.
The FM 223 provides an entirely different dimension in the reproduction standard of vinyl records. It is not just the absolutely ultimate phono preamp, it really is a phono mastering suite, no doubt the culmination of phono preamplifier / linearizer design since the birth of the record.
As important a milestone as FM ACOUSTICS Harmonic Linearizers, the FM 223 PhonoMaster provides a listening experience that cannot be described other than as breathtaking. With its unique features and the singular scratch, click, pop and crackle removal circuits every record (even acoustically recorded 78 RPM and shellac records) can be replayed with never before attained fidelity to the original.
Two most exciting features - and not a small breakthrough - are these two phenomenal new circuits that are protected and proprietary to FM ACOUSTICS.
A de-crackle and de-click "machine" has been a dream for record libraries, studios, record collectors and music aficionados for almost 100 years. In the 1970ies a number of designers tried to tackle the problem and while a few units designed for studio use somewhat reduced clicks and pops, no real elimination or consistency was achieved. The excessive signal processing used in these units, however, did muddy up the sound.
This is one of the biggest challenges in audio and none of the designs managed to overcome the many obstacles without very audible negative effects. Until today, a unit that really solves this issue in a musically correct way and without alteration of the original signal has been sorely missing.
This has been FM ACOUSTICS longest research project, the first efforts date back to the 1980ies...
It remained a tremendous challenge with all the different design approaches always ending in some drawback or appearance of other problems - much like what other designers experienced. There were times when the issue was deemed impossible to solve.
However, stern persistence is one of FM ACOUSTICS engineering team's more outstanding characteristics. Important professionals encouraged us to continue as the desire to find the correct solution remained very strong. Research was continued unabated. The massive research effort is now paying off in that the entire field of record reproduction can enter a new era.
In 2006 a conceptual study for an entirely different approach led to complete dedication to this project. Once again, several unexpected hurdles had to be overcome, but the results were more promising. In 2008 the major breakthrough was achieved and since then all the development time has been concentrated to optimize and fine-tune the circuits. Thousands of samples had to be analysed (no click or crackle is the same!) but the reward surely is worth all these years of efforts. While not every single crack and pop can be completely eliminated (a deep scratch that heavily damaged the vinyl can, of course, not be "mended" and a muted lower frequency "bump" may remain but even then the amount of disturbance will be reduced massively).
FM ACOUSTICS is very glad indeed to present this amazing real-time click, pop & crackle reduction system in pure discrete analogue technology. All the trade-offs of usual circuits like digitizing the signal, employing delays or in-signal filtering etc. have been eliminated.
The pristine audio signal passes right through from input to output. Click-, scratch-, pop- and crackle-removal is done from the straight through signal so the removal circuits cannot have any negative influence on the direct through audio signal.
To fully appreciate the scope of this development, imagine the challenge; how can the circuits decide what is a musical impulse (e.g. a rim-shot on a drum) and what is a scratch or pop? How can the circuits differentiate between fine percussive instruments and crackle? How can the two circuits be combined to work precisely and not influence each other? How can all of this be achieved in real-time without any negative effect on the audio signal? The task is monumental and - almost - unsolvable.
FM ACOUSTICS tireless research and it's singular technology leads to intelligent analysing- and audio-circuits that achieve this breakthrough.
Of course, it is possible to remove clicks in the digital domain, however, apart from generation losses due to a-d & d-a conversion and the additional circuitry required, the audible result of digital scratch removal is at best a “dulling” of the sound. This dulling and the reduced resolution rends the reproduction stale and lifeless.
In the FM 223 PhonoMaster the signal remains pristine keeping the full emotional content while at the same time most of the scratches pops, clicks and crackle are massively reduced and often removed completely.
In addition to its singular scratch and crackle reduction circuits in pure Class A analogue circuitry its multiple optimization and fine tuning possibilities allow far more information from record grooves to be extracted than ever thought possible.
With the PhonoMaster it is for the first time possible to truthfully replay all vinyl treasures - even if they are not in pristine condition.
This truly exciting development that has been longed for by record libraries and thousands of record collectors is now reality (see Question and Answer section for further info).
For music lovers the performance is every bit as important as the sound of a record. Many great performances are only available on LP’s or on 78 RPM discs. On today’s usual equipment these LP’s and 78’s are replayed wrongly and their reproduction leaves something to be desired. Even reissues can suffer from similar problems.
One of the reasons is that practically all other preamplifiers are limited by the fact that they can only replay the RIAA de-emphasis curve.
In the 50'ies no "standardized" pre-emphasis/equalization curve existed. Different record companies used a wide variety of pre-emphasis "cutting" curves, until the RIAA curve was finally agreed to in 1958.
It is interesting that in March 1964 the RIAA had to mail out a letter to remind record companies worldwide about this "new" (then already 5-year old...) "standard" curve because quite a number of members had failed to convert to the RIAA standard...)
These non-RIAA conform LP's cannot be replayed correctly by today’s audio electronics which are limited due to the fact that de-emphasis is fixed to the standard RIAA curve. Many different de-emphasis curves are required to inversely match the original recording curves, (which sometimes even changed within the same company!).
With the FM 223's variable RIAA de-emphasis it is now possible to accurately play back important earlier LP’s and 78’s. With accurate equalization and true balanced Class A amplification stages an absolutely astounding amount of information can be extracted from these record grooves.
The variable de-emphasis is not only useful for older records. Using this feature, records that lack in accuracy can be improved quite astoundingly. It is not just a matter of correcting frequency response errors but as much the correction of phase errors that are created by the wrong de-emphasis circuits.
But even when the RIAA curve was adhered to there were other limitations had to be considered: the cutting lathes (where records are prepared for the vinyl press) used prior to 1968 were unable to perfectly cut the very high velocities present at frequencies above 12 kHz. Mastering engineers had to balance trade offs: more noise (less headroom) achieving wider frequency response
reduced frequency response with lower noise (or higher headroom).
More often than not mastering engineers opted to somewhat attenuate the higher frequencies. This changed the phase and resulted in a slight lack of "airiness".
It is amazing how much of the sound made it onto records of the golden years but discs of this area can lack a bit in transparency.
With the continuously variable de-emphasis of the FM 223 - no switches used! - it is now possible to compensate for such effects by fine tuning the de-emphasis/RIAA curve. By varying the "10 kHz ATTN." control on the front panel the attenuation can be reduced to less (or increased to more) than the standard 13.75 dB of the RIAA curve. This feature will revive some records that previously sounded dull and lifeless, providing a wonderful musical experience.
And the opposite also holds true: in the late 70's and 80's new cutting lathes finally allowed to master records with high-level high frequencies. As soon as this was possible, it was promptly overused and some records were mastered with excessive high frequency levels. By increasing the 10 kHz attenuation these records sound more acceptable.
Even a recording that lacks in "warmth" (not just bass!) can be corrected by moving up the turnover frequency knob to a mildly higher setting. This way the entire frequency band above and below the turnover frequency is affected linearly. It is not just the harmonic content that is reproduced more realistically: the positive effect on depth and width information as well as the transparency can be most captivating.
While older LP's may have crackle and pops some of them are recorded superbly, some include stellar performances which can now for the first time be replayed with absolute fidelity to the original.