Well…it did not even remotely occur to me that people at large may not know what a turntable was.  But how about the cassette deck?  Reel-to- reel?  Signal-to -noise ratio?  Wow and flutter?  Line-level input?  THD? ( no, not THX ) but okay, how about THX?  DBX?  Dolby B/C/5.1/7.1?  Henry Kloss?  Tom Holman?  James B. Lansing?  Burr-Brown DACs?

Nope. Nothing. Crickets. Bored crickets; they can’t even be bothered to rub their legs together. What’s the point?

Tough crowd.  But let’s see if we can’t get a few chirps out of them.  How does a story about your parent’s sex lives sound?……


Yes , I know. We all have had to face this staggering reality at some point. Your parents once had a sex life, and they begat…you! Frighteningly, this is essentially what qualifies them as parents.  No one in the history of humankind has ever been at all comfortable with this, but there it is. Oops.

Of course, once they actually begot you, that was pretty much the end of all that.  As a matter of fact, once you arrived, you very meticulously dissembled any remote chance of such a thing ever occurring again.  It’s what kids do.  And you’re still at it, aren’t you?  Aren’t you??

So now…let’s set a scene. Picture this:

Your impossibly youthful- looking parents are at home.  It’s a pleasant summer night, with just a touch of a light breeze coming in off the bay. Dinner at Custy’s ( !! ) was very good, and there’s a bottle of Thunderbird ( !! ) on ice.  No, Ripple, ( !! ) because it was stacked near the door of that little red package store next to Custy’ s ( who’s name escapes me at the moment. )

And there’s music playing in the background.  Boz Scaggs just finished the ‘ Lido Shuffle‘,  and your dad gets up to put another album on.  This one is Bob Seger;  track 1 side A is ‘ Hollywood Nights’, followed by ‘ Her Strut’.  They never quite seem to get through the whole 12- minute side without distractions, but luckily, they have a Technics SL-DD22 turntable which is not only direct-drive, but fully automatic.  It’ll shut itself off.  What a great feature. ( At this point it would be best for you to disengage the visual, lest you never sleep properly again.)  Because yes, they did.

So you actually owe a debt of gratitude to the crafty engineers at Panasonic/ Matsushita/ Technics Corporation, for that nifty linear-tracking direct-drive full – auto turntable that night.  Because your dad might have gotten up again to flip the album over if it was a less desirable manual-operation model; and frankly, you may not be here now to tell, or rather hear, the tale.  So there it is; you’re here solely as a result of the combined efforts of Bob Seger and a Japanese audio engineer.   And your mom helped somewhat, too.  But don’t go there.

A turntable is a device that plays records. Records are 12-in. diameter vinyl discs that have music on them, pressed into tiny spiraled grooves. A record plays for about 25  minutes, with about 12 minutes on each side.  When Side A was over, you had to get up and flip it over.  And then, you would likely put on another record and do it again ( I know- you have better things to do.  So did your parents.  Don’t lose sight of the lesson here. )

So… turntables, then.  A motor- driven round platter with a small spindle pin in the center; you fit the little hole in the center of the record over it, and placed it flat on the platter.  It would revolve at a speed of exactly 33-1/3 rpm. ( Revolutions per minute. ) There were also smaller records that spun at 45 rpm, and had only one song on each side; they were called ” 45s.”  Years before even that, there were records that spun at 78 rpm.

So, in a world of hundreds of turntables, what made one better than another?  Several factors; the device that actually got the music out of the grooves was called a tonearm, and it had a very small needle attached to one end.  The needle rode over the record surface by fitting itself into the grooves.  How well the turntable did those things generally determined its retail price.

The least expensive good performer in those days was the Technics SL-BD 22.  It sold for 79.99.  It was a belt-driven semi-automatic model, and could be fitted with any one of several different cartridges, which housed the needle.  So-so needles were made of sapphire; the better ones were of diamond, and could also be upgraded by the precision of the shaping cut. ( A round-cut .07 diamond sold for 29.99; an  .03 x. 07 diamond sold at 99.99.

Upgrade- model turntables could be fully automatic, as opposed to semi or manual operation ( your dad obviously considered it money well spent…)  And the very expensive models would be made of very heavy and stable frame materials ( Solid wood, granite, etc. )  These would be immune to any external vibrations.  All of the competing companies at the time were equally capable of producing incredible turntables, but most opted to remain in the middle of the market range.  They all had to remain within a reasonable price-point  for the sake of the phenomenally expansive market.  They all did just that, and remained quite stable and competitive with one another.

Except for Nakamichi.  Nakamichi was a high-end company with a reputation for superb performance.  There were several other high-end companies too, and they all had a much smaller market share than the big corporations.  They didn’t try to cater to the masses.  They were after the ideal of perfectly recorded music, reproduced on perfectly engineered audio equipment.

Nakamichi never tried to invent new things, new mousetraps; their niche was to re-invent the existing mousetraps altogether.  In regard to the turntable, they marketed the Nakamichi Dragon ( not to be confused with their cassette deck of the same name- that is an epic story all of its own.  At another time.)

After extensive analysis, they determined that the only thing wrong with the conventional wisdom of the time was; the little hole.  The one in the center of the albums.  It was often not perfectly centered, and it caused all the other measurement parameters to distort.  Wow and flutter, channel separation, frequency response…all were compromised by the damned little hole not being perfectly centered.  And they couldn’t very well ask the record manufacturers to retool to a standard that didn’t yet exist.

So they invented a turntable that could deal with that.  They added a second tonearm that compensated for the albums being out of round; and now, the consumer could have a precision-cut diamond playing into the groove walls at the optimal angle, creating a wider soundstage and better performance right across the board; and also compensating for the little hole being off to begin with.  The numbers are comparable to any CD player, but without that upper-range digital tinniness that cds often have.

The Dragon retailed at $1300. That was a fortune at the time ( 1983).

A Dragon showed up on Ebay a few years ago, and sold for $12,000. People would have fought less over the cup that Jesus drank from…what was that called again?  What do you mean, you don’t know??

Now, do you see that, Mom and Dad?  Your little darling has learned two significant things today: we learned about the Holy Grail, and about the Nakamichi Dragon.  And you still wonder sometimes if maybe you shouldn’t have put that Bob Seger album on….


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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Turnips from 1983? Cost today: $2,919.39, not counting the needle…(god! is the internet something, or what?)

    now that you mention the problem of the records being round that…it is…great for example Calvin and Hobbes strip to follow:

    …yes, I am Mr. Information.

    btw?: Colonial Liquors*

    * but then, I would know that lol

    • Of course! Right in front of the parking lot where Almacs used to be! ( thirty years ago… )

  2. Love it!!!

    Speaking of “vinyl,” my son (20 years old) asked me recently if I was gonna keep all of my albums. He wanted to try to sell them on e-Bay and make some money. lol… When I told him I was keeping them he said “…hang on to them because you’ll be able to make mad money off of ’em someday.”

    Aren’t they just precious?

  3. I love turntables. Wish I owned one… but then I’d have to buy records. Maybe I could get one of those nifty new ones that records from record to SD chip. 🙂

    Oh, and a sewing pin placed in the bottom of a plastic cup will also work to play records. We use to do that after our FisherPrice record player quit working right.

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