I have been wrestling with this issue myself. I have been testing out several options for playing old mono LPs and 78s. I thought that I could be smart and use a single TT for both; either by using a single arm w/ removeable headshell or using a deck with two arms. Well, I was wrong - or at least I can say that it is not working out to my expectations.
I have come to the conclusion that to really play 78s to the best of their ability reqyires a dedicated TT and arm/cartridge combo. The deck needs to be heavy - really heavy, as does the weight and tracking force of the arm and cartridge. Also, tight-fitting spindles and more especially weights/clamps are detrimental; I believe because they are coupling the (quite resonant) shellac record to the deck.
I have ended up using an old Rek-O-Kut deck and Grado arm for 78s, and I think that it sounds pretty good. Now we can have a discussion about phono stages for 78s...
I can't speak from personal experience so no brand/model recommendations but I have done a little research on 78 playback. There are four areas of concern.
Cleaning - because of the shellac, do not use any cleaning fluid with alcohol. Stay with pure water or solutions formulated for 78 cleaning.
Speed - prior to about 1940, what were called 78s were recorded at speeds from high 60-something RPM to about 80. If you will be playing only post WW2 78s, a standard 78 turntable should be fine. If you find older records you will need a variable speed table.
Stylus - you will need not only a mono cartridge (no vertical pickup so it will reduce noise) but you will want at least a 3 mil tip. Serious listeners will have a selection of tip sizes to better match individual records.
EQ - the now standard RIAA was not adopted until about 1955 (and not implemented by some LP labels until a few years later) so no 78s will sound their best with a modern phono stage. Some vintage preamps included a few selectable EQ settings but those were mainly for LPs. 78 records had an even wider range of EQ so for best results selectable turnover and rolloff will be needed.
Here is the single best reference I've found -
The comment to get a 78 variable speed table, cartridge is right on. All else will be disappointing. To do justice to the playback, you need something like the new VAS pre-amp which is a knock off of an old HK Citation I. It as all the 'curves'. The mono LP at least needs its own cartridge and that may mean a dedicated TT also. I have some LP's that I have the mono and stereo versions and the mono played with a stereo cartridge does not sound good. Hope you have space for all of these TT's
I could use a recommendation also for a specific inexpensive rig I could add to my system to play back some old 78s that have been in my family for years?
I already have the CD recorder I need to get them to CD from there, just need something to hook to my system and play'em.
Anyone tried this digital solution where you play the 78s at 45 rpm and let the software program do the cleanup and conversion?
A pretty inexpensive, but s/b very good platform to start with would be the Audio Technica PL-120. It's a 24-lb. direct drive turntable. Not only does it have 78rpm built-in, it has the Technics-inspired dual-range pitch adjuster, giving you +/- 16% speed variation. That translates to a range of 65.5 to 90.5 rpm. You can get the PL-120 for around $200, give or take $20 and market conditions.
The next step up would be to get a KAB-modified SL1210 M5G with 78rpm speed control and fluid damper.
Both of these machines have removable headshells, so it should be very easy to install a good 78 rpm cartridge/stylus, a Grado perhaps? Then there's the Gram Slee Jazz phono pre that has addresses the non-uniformity in equalization.
Being able to dial in both the precise speed and the proper EQ curve on a mechanically accurate and solid platform should go a long way toward extracting the best sound from each 78.
Instead of the PL120, for around $200 you can get the Stanton T.90. The Stanton comes with a stanton 500 cart so it's a better deal. And the Stanton 500 also happens to be the best affordable cart for 78 playback. You will have to get a 3 mil stylii, but those are easy to find and also very affordable. It also offers digital output, which may or may not be of interest. This should be the top choice for entry level 78 without going used.
For the next step up I would suggest a Lenco.
For the eq curves, on a budget set up you can get by with a plain old multi-band equalizer.
I will say that Lostchord's memories are deceiving him. Some 78's can be enjoyable for sure (while others sound like garbage), have a different flavor sound, and also have non-musical value as artifacts but, no, they're not rivaling modern lps. Or CDs. Some did sound better than their lp equivalents during the very first year or so that lps were first on the market, but that's a very limited exception to my statement. Also, the last generation of 78s often were not direct-to-disc.
Mapman: DiamondCut is superior software for transfering 78s to digital. If one is mainly concerned with transfering to digital, then DiamondCut will handle all the eq curves, speed adjustment etc. and you don't have to worry about the extra gear and money to do that in the analogue domain.
Sometimes with a rough record you get a better transfer by playing it at a slower speed and correcting the speed later. Warps that can launch the stylus at 78 rpm may be trackable at lower speed.
I agree with everything that Pryso said. All of theose things need to be taken into consideration besides the TT. But some of the following coments are, I believe, a bit misleading.
You can certainly play 78s on almost any turntable capable of 78 RPM. But unless you are using the right combination of deck, arm, cartridge and Phono Stage w/ EQ adjustment, you will not be hearing the 78s the way that they were meant to be heard.
Cleaning the records is ultra-important. Shellac 78s are much more delicate than vinyl LPs, so you are going to spend some (OK, a lot) of time cleaning them up. Don't even try to clean bakelite 78s which were promotional items mainly meant for a single play.
I have not tried to record 78s at 45 RPM. In my experience warping is not a big issue w/ 78s - they are either pretty even or they are cracked or broken. Yes, they are delicate. Remember all those old movies where one guy breaks a record over another guys head? They didn't need special prop records for that.
"But unless you are using the right combination of deck, arm, cartridge and Phono Stage w/ EQ adjustment, you will not be hearing the 78s the way that they were meant to be heard."
I wonder what the "state of the art" in playback that defined how these might have been meant to be heard was back in the age of 78's?
Surely, technology today should lend itself better to playback if one is so motivated to invest, but I wonder how good the old 78s might really sound given a modern SOTA treatment?
I suppose I'll find out eventually when I carve out the time to tackle playing and preserving the handful of 78s that I currently have.
I used to play these old 78s on basic ceramic cartridge players I had as a kid that commonly supported 78 rpm back then. My recollection is that these were higher output than MM carts and this worked OK without any special processing, though my audio senses were not very refined back then.
Do ceramic cartridge rigs typically apply RIAA equalization curves? I wonder how much better if at all most old 78s created back before the days of RIAA and 331/3 playback would really sound on good modern rig with cartridge? How wide was their frequency range really?
Mapman, you are on target. Important things are higher mass playback setup, variable speed, 78 stylus, and even a cheap equalizer will do. Picking approriate gear is important, but matching for sytem synergies and balancing "PRaT" vs harmonic richness and all that other LP stuff is not on the table with these limited band width, high noise recordings.
A $30 Stanton 500 with a 78 stylus. But a passable flip-over ceramic can also yield acceptable results.
A 60s or 70s Dual, P-E, Lenco, Rek-O-Kut, Garrrd 4HF. A cheaper Garrard or an average 1960s changer (V-M, Collaro) will sound good on later 78s but lack varying pitch for the older ones and will have bit more rumble.
A mono blend. Blend at the interconnects if you don't have a switch.
Some kind of eq ability. A 10 band eq from an 80s "rack system" and you're good. But wide range tone controls are a help.
Going beyond that, you're dealing with significantly diminishing returns.
Accoustic era 78s (pre 1924 or so) have no eq (as one would expect). The majority of 78s you'll commonly encounter in the US from later periods use a 500 cycle turnover.
But the thing is, the frequency response was so ragged, and quality control and disc history so varying, that there's no reason to knock yourself out for the handful of records you may - or may not - have that use alternative eq curves.
That's not to say you wouldn't get a meaningful improvement with, say, a huge transcription deck like an RCA 70 series, long "transcription" tonearm, archival phono equalizer, and, most of all an array of custom styli. While you're at it, a single-ended amp and a single large horn speaker.
But that also requires spending more time selecting stylus and curves and preping each disc than listening to it. If you're doing serious digital transfers that's necessary. If you just want to listen once in a while to the crate or two of 78s you may have inherited or picked up at a grage sale, IMO it's silly.
Zowie, thanks for all that useful information.
I'd have to say my best current reference for how good or bad old 78 recordings might sound is some of the early period tracks on the Ken Burns Jazz CD box set.
I listen to these regularly on my good system. They are all quite listenable and some are quite good in their own unique way within their frequency range limitations. I suspect the transcription and remastering was done quite well!
Keep in mind that when you listen to 78 transfers on CDs and vinyl, they've been processed, sometimes painstakingly, in a manner that can't ordinarily be done in real time playback. It at least requires some extra processing gear that we haven't talked about so far. So don't expect to hear the same thing.
But I'd like to recommend "The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of." Also "Joe Bussard's Basement." The recordings are from the early electrical period. Some of their discs are quite nice and others are quite poor but used because they may be the only known copy. They leave in more of the surface noise than the big commercial companies usually do, but the music also has a ton of life and vibrancy that's usually missing from reissues of such old records. This you can more easily get at home.
Then there's the Nimbus method. They used to play accoustic era 78s on a modified accoustic horn phonograph. There's a lot to be said for this, too, for accoustic era 78s. I once did some transfers by playing the records on my Victrola, recording them digitally with a pair of stereo mics mounted a few feet in front of the cabinet, and then applying a little eq, noise reduction and compression afterwards. I liked the results. You don't get the detail or frequency extremes, but quick transient clicks and pops don't get reproduced -- there's more of a steady-state Chhhh that's less districting (like tape hiss at a lower frequency) -- and there was a natural horn in a room ambience reflecting the way the records were expected to be heard.
Zowie, interesting stuff. Thanks for sharing!
What a wealth of information you guys have provided, thanks alot, this all makes such interesting reading and does bring back memories of my fleeting contact with the 78 world and the playback variables involved.
There is a ton of information in these threads, thank you. I set up a table to digitize 78s. I ended up using a Stanton 500 with 78 stylus. I also am using a Stanton TT. It is heavy, solid and has variable 78 speed adjustments.
There are clips that can be added to the cartridge to bring the signal to mono right at the cart.
The set up works reasonably well.
(Most of my other tables don't have 78 settings and have lightweight arms. fyi)
I picked up an old Admiral 3 speed ceramic cart table at a yardsale today for $10.
Bingo! It works and the old 78s sound wonderful!!!!
They really sound fine on the OHM Walshes.
Comparing what I hear to well remastered CDs and similar music over internet radio, I see little value in investing more unless perhaps one has a ton of 78s to transfer. I only have a couple dozen (so far).
VEry cool! These old recordings really take one back, at least one my age.
Just thought I'd share.....
"the old 78s sound wonderful!!!!"
Congrats Mapman, that's what this whole hobby is all about anyway.