I first met Michael Fremer in 1999 when I was 29 and had just started working for Music Direct. I was a little wet behind the ears. I clearly remember the meeting because I had read Michael's writing on everything analog for some time. I was a nobody in this industry, but Michael took time out of his day at a busy show to talk to me about what I was doing at my new job and my analog rig. Then he proceeded to tell me about how much I was missing with my old Rega Planar 3 all the while telling me about what he was listening to at the time. I was, and am to this day, jealous of his ability to listen to the very best analog has to offer.
At the time, I loved my Planar 3. I began experimenting with every possible accessory and upgrade I could find to increase the performance of my humble workhorse. I upgraded the counterweight, added dampening materials to the underside, purchased new feet for isolation, replaced the plastic sub-platter with a new stainless-steel version, tried every conceivable patter mat, and drilled out the tonearm hole to add adjustable VTA to the ‘table. That P3 really showed me what a small investment could do for the overall sound of my system. And, as we all know from Michael's writing, if you don't get it out of the grooves at the beginning of the signal chain, you're not going to recover it downstream.
Over the last 20 years, I have been fortunate to call Michael a good friend. We often speak about many things, but the advice he has given me about the industry and analog gear has surely helped me become much better at my job. Michael has a way of taking people under his wing and mentoring them so they can hear what he has been preaching for many decades: Vinyl is the most natural, communicative, and emotionally pleasing delivery system for music listening.
While it took the world a while to come around to his way of thinking, I know he gets more than a little pleasure from knowing he had a hand in the current global resurgence of vinyl and turntables. There is no one on earth who has been as strong of a proponent of vinyl playback. Through his countless columns, reviews, interviews, online videos, and appearances at trade shows all over the world, Michael has helped music lovers get closer to their favorite albums and remains one of the driving forces in our industry for quality record production and better sound.
It is truly my pleasure to introduce him today as our guest writer. I was honored he agreed to contribute, as I know how busy he can be. It is equally a thrill to have his current protégé, Malachi Lui, add one of his picks. Michael met Malachi when he was very young, and now he is maturing into a new voice in the analog world. He is a promising writer with diverse musical tastes and a bright future in our industry if he so chooses to follow that path.
Today's First Special Guest Contribution: Roxy Music Avalon
By Michael Fremer, Analog Guru/Stereophile Contributing Editor/Amateur Comedian/Good Friend
For some reason, biscuits and gravy, mac and cheese, pizza, and the tomato bread cake with cheese Chicagoans mistakenly call "pizza" are all called "comfort foods" even though after you eat any of them, you end up feeling stuffed and anything but comfortable! Musical "comfort food" makes you feel good while listening and even better after the second side ends.
Roxy Music's Avalon is one of my go-to comfort food albums. It's not my favorite Roxy Music album, and if it was food, I would consider it to be caviar on toast points, and not cheese-saturated glutinous carbs! The spacious sound is icy, neon-glittery, and hardly warm and cozy, but it takes you to a fully realized, elegant, imaginary place where even heartaches can be beautiful. I had a big breakup in 1982 just as Avalon was released. "More Than This" and "To Turn You On" were wallow-in-it comfort food for me back then, even as the title tune pointed me towards an "out of nowhere" surprise romance.
The album is said to have been digitally recorded by Rhett Davies at Compass Point, the Bahamas, and then mixed to analog tape by Bob Clearmountain – all of which proved to be a good choice given the musical production and resulting spectacular sonics. Bob Ludwig originally mastered this LP, so the American version is "the one." For decades I thought it sounded kind of dull compared to either the original EG U.K. edition, or the German EG, or the Japanese original. Forget the Bulgarian pressing. Not good. But as my system improved, I've decided the American Warner Brothers pressing is best. In other words, don't ever bet against Bob Ludwig! It's a mystery to me why this album has not been reissued by one of the audiophile specialist labels, preferably as a "One-Step" (hint).
Today's Second Special Guest Contribution: Sly and the Family Stone Live at the Fillmore East
By Malachi Lui, Vinyl Lover/Sneaker Snob/Video Game Hater/Heir to the Throne
With plenty of LP listening time during quarantine, I revisited some old favorites. Among them is Sly and the Family Stone's Live at the Fillmore East, a double LP live album released in 2015 by Sony/Legacy. Recorded over four October 1968 Fillmore East shows, it's one of the few genuinely fun albums in my 500-large LP collection. It captures the band at the height of its live dynamic, with energetic renditions of "M'Lady," "Life," "Are You Ready," "Dance to the Music," and more. The tight family dynamic is there. Had Epic/CBS released it in 1969, as planned, it would widely be considered an all-time great live recording. The 2LP set, digitally mastered by Vic Anesini and cut at SST, has plenty of texture and depth to satisfy most audiophiles. The COVID-19 coronavirus likely cancelled your live concert plans, but this essential album more than suffices.
(Follow Malachi on Twitter: @MalachiLui)