"Ask Mikey" Fires Up With Questions About USB Microscopes, the Quality of Ron McMaster's Lacquer Cutting, Etc.

What is the name of the USB microscope you use? Brand and resolution? Protractor? Procedure for taking this measurement. Excellent article in Stereophile. Why has it taken 31 years since the Audio article was published for this to be recognized as a problem? I cannot find a copy of the original article. Do you have a copy of it you could e-mail to me? Thanks.


The microscope I use is the Dino-Lite AM313. I will soon post complete instructions on how to use this microscope to take the photo and interprets the results. The Audio Magazine article is available for download on this site. I obtained permission to republish it from Bonier Corporation, which not controls the rights to Audio Magazine content. The link to it is embedded in this story:

From a Corner to a Planet

I use a WallyTractor protractor but Wally's ability to produce them is spotty. There are many good ones available. I guess a "round up" of them would make a useful story.


P.S.: If you want to know what the photo is all about you're going to have to ask. Nice girls don't tell!

A Reader's SRA Experience


Met you at the Audio Alternative event. I was the guy with the pictures of the Goldfinger.

Wanted to let you know I had an extended email exchange with Musical Surroundings this past week about my inability to set the SRA on my Goldfinger (v2) below 94.5 degrees.

I provided pictures, now with the cartridge sitting on a CD as suggested by you. They were very cordial and contacted ClearAudio about my issue.

However, they wouldn't acknowledge it as a problem and could only suggest I increase VTF (2.8g to 3.2g), which would have the side effect of a reduction in the SRA - in my case, to 92.4 degrees.

I understand how potentially expensive it could be for the major manufactures to acknowledge this issue as a defect. Perhaps the best we can hope for is that they will circle back with their suppliers and eventually provide cartridges in the future without this problem.

By the way, although increasing VTF probably has it's own sonic effects, getting the SRA on my Goldfinger to 92 has made a major change to my system. In comparison to 94+ degrees, at 92 the high frequencies no longer seem to project prominently and all highs/mids/lows seem coherent, if that description makes any sense. ClearAudio tells me 3.2g is safe for my cartridge so I'm going to stick with it for a while. I'm enjoying 92 degrees that much!

Thanks for your setup advice (and thanks for attending the Audio Alternative event).

- Michael M.

Is Ron McMaster a Master Mastering Engineer? Or Not?

Hi Michael:

Having recently read the piece about the Tom Waits debacle (the LPs cut by Ron McMaster) it made me think about a couple of LPs I have recently purchased and been hugely disappointed with. They are...

Gregg Allman – Low Country Blues (Produced by T-Bone Burnett'/Mixed by Mike Piersante); Mastered for vinyl by Ron McMaster)

Steve Earle – I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive (Produced by T-Bone Burnett'/Mixed by Mike Piersante); Mastered for vinyl by Ron McMaster)

Robert Plant/Alison Krauss – Raising Sand (Produced by T-Bone Burnett'/Mixed by Mike Piersante); Mastered for vinyl by Ron McMaster)

The thing that is bugging me, is the problem with Ron McMaster cutting the vinyl from high-res files (ha!) or is it T-Bone Burnett’s production.

They both sound as dull as dishwater (as we say over here), the sound is dull, muddy, indistinct and lacking any dynamics whatsoever.

I was just wondering if you had heard any of the LPs or anything cut by Ron recently or produced by T-Bone Burnett. If so what are your opinions on them!

Regards James, Dublin, Ireland.

PS: Absolutely loved The Tracking Angle, recovered from its demise when you launched Musicangle website, and now here you go again with AnalogPlanet, keep up the great work.

I thought the Plant/Krauss LP sounded pretty good actually. A lot of bass though. That's on the recording because I also have the 96/24 download and it sounds similar.

T-Bone Burnett's work varies greatly. Some recordings are great, some are thick and muddy as you describe. He seems to know what he's doing though, so I guess that's the sound he wants. I'm not sure we always do though!

As for Ron McMaster, while he's not considered one of the "audiophile masters" like Kevin Gray, Doug Sax, the late George Marino and Bernie Grundman (etc.), I wonder when Capitol last upgraded its analog mastering chain? On the other hand, if you read the review of Cassandra Wilson's Blue Light 'til Dawn elsewhere on this site, you'll read that the sonics are superb on that double LP set from Pure Pleasure and that one was cut by Ron McMaster at Capitol, so he is quite capable of doing good work.


PS: Thanks for the kind words about my work!


Keep spreading the word (about SRA and cartridge manufacturing tolerances), this is so important. It is not right that 4 people can buy $5K+ cartridges from the same manufacturer and 1 or 2 will have examples with beginning SRA's that are almost in-correctable. I am sure you have seen a much higher percent of in-consistency than should occur under normal manufacturing processes. It is not so much an attack of the manufacturer, but an education.

How many manufacturers are you aware of that use USB microscopes? I am 100% convinced they would not want to put out products with this level of inconsistency. The more this issue comes to the forefront the more they will look into solutions to eliminate this inconsistency.

I for one am glad that I own a USB microscope (and know how to use it) and would never purchase a new cartridge without the explicit understanding that I can measure it and confirm that it's SRA is up to standard. But this hardly is realistic for the majority of audiophiles, nor should it be.

Please keep spreading the word.

Thank you and be Well.


I know that after I wrote about the Lyra Atlas, the importer (AudioQuest) and the manufacture both instituted a comprehensive QC regimen that includes the use of a USB microscope. Every cartridge imported by AudioQuest gets looked at under the microscope.



Got the Audio Desk Ultrasonic Record Cleaning Machine yesterday.

You can put this on your site - my opinion:

- cleaning 9.5/10

- hearing extra fine detail that you didn't know was there 11/10

- construction detail 3/10

The thing that really pisses me off on a US $4000 machine is :

(i) that the record scrapes the side of the "v" rather than run in the midde of the "v" when you are cleaning it -they should have made it user "adjustable" or had a bit of plastic in the "v" to stop the record scraping the paint and the metal.

(ii) no (perspex) cover over the main entry area where you place the record in the machine.

(iii) the drain plug - should have a mini tap rather than just the screw. every time you want to drain it - you are going to get water over the bottom lip of the unit and everywhere else!

(iv) the chrome vertical strips on the corner don't go all the way up to give a neat fit (a few mm's gap)

For a unit that US $4000 - the design fit and finish is not great. That's the pity - it could have been GREAT!

So much for the Germans being better at building everything - you guys in the US should have built it !!!!!!

Eugene H.

Well Eugene, I agree about the unit's performance. It is easily the best record cleaning machine I've ever used and I bought the unit I reviewed. I'll soon post that review here. It originally appeared in Stereophile last month.

I didn't notice the scraping but I've looked and that really doesn't bother me. Yes, they should supply a plastic cover, but one can easily be made or adapted from something else.

The drain plug is sort of an issue. Because you clean a few hundred records before emptying it, it's not like the typical machine. Plus it's compact. So I just pick it up, put it next to my sink and remove the drain plug. No mess. Because the fluid is under pressure in the tank, a hose and clamp might be a much worse solution to the problem. If it worked loose, you'd have a gallon of fluid on the floor!

We can both agree that minor quibbles aside, it's a swell cleaning machine!

Hello Michael,

I would like to know your opinion on which line conditioner I would need to use that would be compatible with a Rotel Receiver and CD player, also with Definitive Speakers? I really appreciate any assistance you can offer me on this matter.

Ted W.

Most line conditioners will be "compatible" in the strictest sense of the word but which would be best? That's difficult to say. However based on what I learned and saw with actual measurements, I would not use a "T" filter based conditioner (one that makes use of capacitors) on any power amplifier. Amps draw current. "T" filter type line conditioners certainly will filter out noise, which is good, but they also starve the amp for current, which is not good!

That is my opinion and I am sticking with it. You ought to be able to buy on a return basis any line conditioner you are considering so trying is believing. You also might decide that no conditioner beats any conditioner. Results vary.

John C Freeman's picture

Hello Mike,

I listened to your conversation with Scott Wilkerson of Home Theater fame about vinyl and life in general.  I agree with you on how records usually sound better than  digital sources (CD's), but I am a bit of a fan of older analog gear.  Namely the big receivers and intergrated amps from Pioneer and Kenwood from the early 70's.  While I agree that the newer speakers with newer materials and newer turntables with thier improvements souund better than their predecessors, I like the sound of the older electroncis with discrete curcuits and big knobs. I do use the built-in phono stage.  So my question is,  how much sound am I missing?  Should I invest in a newer phono preamp which could plug into an AUX input on my older receivers ( I actually have a small collection of them).  I always thought the phono pre-amps were just made for the newer gear that lacks a built in phono stage.  Any suggestions, the turntable is Music Hall 2.5 with a stock cartridge. 


Michael Fremer's picture

If you can try the least expensive Graham Slee (the "Communicator") on a return if you don't like it basis, by all means try it! 

bwright's picture

Hi Michael,

Just picked up a new Brinkmann Bardo, with the latest Graham tonearm and a Benz LP S-MR cartridge.

I could use your opinion on tonearms and phono stages. With the Bardo, I feel the Graham sounds a bit polite and slightly veiled, and have heard that the Kuzma 4Point and other tonearms may work well. I also need to purchase a decent phono stage, and have auditioned a few - the Nagra BPS is a bit too sterile & analytical, and the Nagra VPS is at the other extreme (too soft and fuzzy on vocals). I'm looking for something down the middle, like the JC-3, which sounds great - it came across as lively, detailed and full - but I am told, won't work with the Benz. 

Any suggestions? 

Many thanks,


Michael Fremer's picture

First, before you replace the Graham for being too polite, make sure you aren't overdamping it. Use just enough of the blue fluid to immerse the bearing point and no more. <p>

For some reason I found the latest Graham to be very sensitive about damping fluid. If you use more than just that much, it tends to shut down the sound. Also, what DIN to RCA are you using? That can make a significant difference.<p>

That said, I really do think the Kuzma 4 Point is the best arm I've yet heard. I try to avoid using "best" but in this case I am. I'm listening to it as I write this and damn it's solid! I was up until 2AM last night listening and saying the same thing! <p>

Why won't the JC-3 work with the Benz? Are you being told the 100ohms loading is too low for the Benz, which I believe has a 30 ohm internal impedance?<p>

There are two solutions: the first is that Parasound can custom fit your desired load resistance. The other solution is to wait a bit because I believe Parasound is going to introduce an updated version of the JC-3 that will include a variety of loading options.<p>

The reason for the update is because of situations like yours. 

bwright's picture

Thanks for the advice - and as for the issue with the Parasound, I was told the same on the loading. I hope you are right about the upgrade, and I'll look into it.

And I’ve always been curious about the Lamm LP2 Deluxe, the EAR 324 and 88PB, and the Whest PS.30RDT.  Any thoughts on what would sound best with my combination of elements?  I do get to CES annually, but haven’t had the chance to hear any of them.

rlw3's picture

This is a hobby tool that will easily allow you to scribe 3 lines that will meet in the center of graham 2.2 tone arm bearings so as to calculate spindle to bearing distance. It is a 2 fingered prong set at 90 degrees with a separate prong above set at 45 degrees. Snug the prongs tightly against the bearing and scribe a line along the 45 degree prong. Rotate device 60 degrees and scribe another line. Do this again a third time to confirm center point. The ink lines wipe off my brass bearing.  Good listening to all

mauidj's picture

I just received my new Audio Desk Ultrasonic Record Cleaning Machine. I can't comment on the machine's ability to clean as it arrived with the power socket lose and it has fallen inside the unit. I'll fish it out and get it glued in place this week. Also I just tore the stylus off my Soundsmith StrainGauge cartridge and I'm awaiting a replacement :-( So no way to test it yet.

What I can say is for $4000 it looks like a pile of junk compared to the other high end cleaners out there. My 30 year old KMAL cleaner is bult like a brick shit house compared to this thing. 

However if it cleans as well as you said I will be very happy. But I don't understand why it could not have been made to look and feel way nicer for this price.

Mikey......I absolutely love the site and can't wait to read your set up and maintenance tips. 

BTW...if you fancy a nice holiday on a quiet beach on Maui I've got a lovely ocean view apartment in my house, oh and an SME 20/12 'table you could help me set up while you're here ;-)


Mercury 52's picture

Mr. Fremer,


I was considering the purchase of a used Well Tempered Reference for around $2,000.  I was wondering if, in your opinion, there might be a better choice of new turntables at this price, given various advances in technology.  Thanks in advance for your asistance.

rlw3's picture


Would you please give us a safe regime to follow for cleaning the stylus?.

Could it include what to do if it is really dirty or has caked on crud?

If possible, what is best way to view stylus without having to move table to a computer for a dynolite viewing?

thanks, Ray

Sarah Silverman's picture

According to my views the older analog gear is better to hear. No new device can give the feeling which the analog gear gives. I too love the sound the sound of the older electronics with circuits and big nobes.

more information

Raul Arias Vazquez's picture

Hello Mr. Fremer, I recently bought the ortofon quintet black S, havent listen to it yet but arriving soon, later did I acknowledge that the new S is not an upgrade, but a change of material, not boron but sapphire now, and to tell you the thruth Im a little scare because there are no reviews of this product yet and I based the whole purchase on your review here in AP. You think sapphire will bring a significally diference regarding quality sound?

And second, now that I went MC, I dont think my Parasound P5 will bring the best out of this cartridge, so Im on the hunt for a quality phono preamp, based on reviews my decision has come to 2 preamps, musical surroundings phonomena nova II, and Lehmanns BC II which some reviwers say this last doesnt work well with MC'S.
I would really apreciate your opinion on this matter do to the fact that I dont have the oportunity to listen to them on retail stores cause I live in Mexico and all we have is bestbuy, thanks.