iFi micro iPhono3 Black Label and the History of Turntable

Everybody knows what a turntable is, but do you know how it came to be?

Phonograph

The history of a turntable dates back to 1857 when Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville invented Phonoautograph. It was the first mechanism to employ a vibrating diaphragm and stylus to record sound waves.

However, it was not until 1877 when Thomas Edison improved on Martinville’s vibrating diaphragm and stylus by installing a playback option. He combined the technological advancements from his study on the telephone and the telegraph.

In the years preceding the advent of the phonograph, Edison worked on transcribing telegraphic messages through indentations on paper tape, which could later be repeatedly sent over via the telegraph. Based on the successes in this field, he also attempted to record, transmit and reproduce telephone messages in the same fashion. He built on Martinville’s diaphragm by adding an embossing point held against a rapidly moving paraffin paper. The sound vibrations produced indentations on the paper, which was later replaced by a metal cylinder with tin foil wrapped around it.

Unlike today’s turntables, the phonograph had two diaphragms and needle compartments, one designed for the recording and the other for playback. However, only a few could enjoy the luxury of acquiring a product worth of today’s $4000.

Gramophone

The realm of audio did not have to wait long for this uncomplicated technology to be superseded by another great innovation. The year 1887 brought us Emile Berliner’s gramophone heralding two significant breakthroughs in the realm of audio.

First, Berliner introduced a new type of a needle, which could laterally trace spiral grooves onto a circular cylinder. This innovation brought him closer to the replacement of the competing wax cylinder played in phonographs with the more efficient flat discs. Secondly, flat discs initially made of rubber were superseded by the shellac ones, which significantly improved their durability, reducing the production cost at the same time.

On the fundamental level, the record music reproduction did not deviate much from Berliner’s vision until today. His innovation was so remarkable, that in many countries, ‘gramophone’ remains the primary generic name for any record reproduction device until today. Gramophone in the realm of audio, reflects what Hoover means to vacuum cleaners, escalator to moving stairway, Thermos to vacuum flasks and Google to search engines.

Electric turntables

Many of us take for granted that turntables are electric, but before electricity was easily accessible to masses, phonograph and gramophone were powered by a spring attached to a winder.

It was not until the 1930s when turntables started to be electric-powered.

Phonograph and gramophone offered a compact form with built-in amplification and speakers. The initial trend across the electric turntables corresponded with the old school all-in-one.

Manufacturers started to separate speakers and phono-stage from the turntable in quest for better sound quality only in the post-war period.

The golden era of vinyl

The period between the 1950s to 1988 is known as the golden era of turntable. The separation of speakers from turntable coincided with the creation of the LP vinyl and the conceptual shift in defining recipient of the sweet tones timelessly captured in records. Initially, vinyl was marketed for classical music enthusiasts and wealthier consumers.

The success of rock and roll and later pop artists, lower price of the turntable and LPs broadened the consumer spectrum, including youth and working class, who became the driver behind vinyl’s success. The introduction of the CD heralded a slow decline of vinyl’s popularity.

CDs sales reached their peak in the 2000s, experiencing a gradual decline in sales caused by the introduction of digital music played through DAPs, phones, and the music streaming platforms. The last decade, however, presents an interesting phenomenon, where the CDs popularity kept declining, whereas vinyl enjoyed a significant resurgence. Vinyl took over UK CD sales in 2018, and it is expected to take over CD sales in the US by 2021.

The resurgence of vinyl

Vinyl’s resurgence derives from a growing conviction that analogue playback is superior to digital. Many artists subscribe to this theory by producing a reasonable number of vinyl records every time a new album is released. Many believe that having an album recorded in the form of an LP boosts the status of an artist.

Acolytes of the conservative school of thought claim that a turntable offers better quality than digital formats as well as CDs or audiocassettes. However, several of turntable’s elements require correction before the signal can be played back.

The electric signal output is around 100 times (MM) and 1000 times (MC) lower than the CD. Turntable’s signal needs boosting to line level by the phonographic preamplifier (phono stage/ phono preamp). Phono stage could be integrated into the turntable, receiver, preamplifier/ power amplifier or a STANDALONE UNIT, which guarantees the superior quality of the amplified signal.

A large variety of LP EQ curves is another issue Vinyl enthusiasts face. In the past, each company selected the curve that they thought would provide the best possible recording. Even though RIAA prevailed, many other record curves are still in use: Columbia, NAB, AES, London, RCA, RCA 78, Columbia 78, American 78, Decca FFRR 78. The vinyl community did not universally accept RIAA as the official curve until 1975. Tailoring the EQ curve filters in the phono-stage is crucial in reaching the best sound quality.

Micro iPhono3 Black Label

iFi audio iPhone 3 BLiFi audio recognised and addressed a growing demand for a high-performance standalone phono-stage. Micro iPhono3 Black Label offers a high-quality MC and MM amplification with the hand-matched, audiophile-grade components guaranteeing an enormous difference to the signal pick-up. iPhono3 is the product of nearly 40 years of research. As the third generation of our phono stages, it offers a dynamic range boosted to 108dB, with an extraordinary 36-72dB gain. It boasts an exceptionally quiet 85dB A-weighted SNR (re 0.5mV/5mV per Stereophile standard).

One of the critical aspects of Micro iPhono3 Black Label is the ability to precisely ‘correct’ the recording with the intended equalisation curve. There are six curves on the iPhono3 Black Label that are trickle-down technology from the PH-77 which had a total of 22 EQ curves!

Additionally, the increase in the power-supply voltage of the external iPower X ultra-low noise adapter for iPhono3 Black Label to 15V allowed for higher undistorted signal levels for LPs like the legendary (and often unplayable) Telarc 1812. You could easily compare iPhono3 Black Label with any phono-stage of up to $5000.

For more information about iPhono3 Black Label, please read the tech notes available on our website.

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