Let’s test some playback methods..

June 5th, 2015 by jim

There’s been some debate on facebook forums I follow about what the best playback methods are for 78s. Some people love acoustic machines. Some swear by vintage tube amps and electric turntables. Some want the most modern hi-fi equipment and computer processing. I think all of these ways have some benefits, but I suppose it’s subjective. It depends on what you think sounds good. But in the interest in science, I have recorded the same record with several methods for you to compare. This is not fully comprehensive. I am sure if you are really into this you may have some other players with better tone.. (Victor Credenzas are probably top of the line for acoustic playback for instance. I don’t have one of those) But in any case this may give you a general idea of the difference in sound of different playback methods.

First is a good old acoustic phonograph. This was made probably in the 30s. It’s my RCA Victor suitcase phonograph. I have recorded it with a decent stage microphone (you can see it on the left in the video) pointed directly into the “speaker” (technically there is a sort of horn under there)

Here’s an mp3 of that same acoustic playback:

Next let’s hear a 1950’s Wilcox Gay Recordio tube based analog electric phonograph playing it. This particular record player can actually make records too. But here it is outfitted with a medium tone steel needle for playback:

FullSizeRender-1 IMG_7898

Now this is a modern turntable (a Numark TT200):

First with a regular 33rpm stylus:



Then with a Shure M78S stylus:



Then with a special order 3.5 mil stylus (wider than the m78s to pick up less of the surface noise at the bottom of the groove):



Now let’s hear that last version again but with soundsoap cleanup (soundsoap lets you adjust the levels of noise and click removal.. it’s something that you have to fiddle with to get the best results..):

Wilcox-Gay Recordio playback, Steel needle


Lastly, just one little thing. Some people worry about the wear on a 78 when played with a steel needle. I won’t deny that technically there IS wear. But I think one or two playbacks won’t hurt. (The important point is that you use a NEW steel needle with EVERY play. A worn needle WILL damage a record.) Here is a short clip with 2 samples. First is the 3.5 stylus before I played it with teh steel needle on the wilcox-gay machine. and the second is after. I don’t think you can hear a difference:

here is a playlist of all those so it’s easier to compare:


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