Acoustic Sounds
In The Groove The Vinyl Record And Turntable Revolution
By: Michael Fremer

November 4th, 2023


Book Reviews

"In The Groove"—The Vinyl Record And Turntable Revolution

oh my, what a mess

A publicist recently pitched me this just released book, describing it as a celebration of the 75th anniversary of the first commercial LP and claiming it to be an "authoritative, highly illustrated, and multi-faceted look at the history and culture of vinyl record collecting and turntables." Five authors are listed: Gillian Garr, Martin Popoff, Matt Aniss, Richie Unterberger and Ken Micallef.

I'd heard of two: Richie Unterberger and Ken Micallef. Unterberger is a well-published music writer who's produced books on The Beatles, Bob Marley and The Wailers and others and he's a contributor to Mojo and other magazines. Micallef reviews for Stereophile and of course I know him beyond his byline: he's visited me and shot a few very good videos. He's a drummer and so his timing is excellent and it shows in his editing skills. He also has a popular YouTube channel.

Popoff is a Canadian writer who has written more than 100 rock related books but I've never heard of him. Anniss comes from the DJ side of things and Gaar has written for major publications including Rolling Stone, Mojo and Goldmine. She's also written books about Elvis Presley, a history of women in Rock and Roll, and a few other books including one on the rise of Nirvana and both Elton John and Springsteen at 75. If she owns the "at a 75" franchise she'll be kept busy. She's apparently the book's "author/editor" but that's not completely clear.

In the blurb, Micallef is listed as a "top hifi journalist", but his credits in the book are the thinnest. I'm sorry, but Ken is a very nice fellow and knows music well but he is not a "top hifi journalist". He's relatively new to this. Clearly whoever made the decision didn't do her "due diligence". Yes, I'm thinking it was Gaar's lazily researched choice.

I could name a dozen "top hifi journalists" with many decades of experience, especially regarding turntables, myself included. I've forgotten more about this subject than Ken will ever know. Damn, that's obnoxious but it's true—and if you don't think so now, you will by the time you get to the conclusion of this review— and at this point in my career, I really am more interested in truth than in being "nice". And the "I've forgotten more" thing is what I told the publicist in turning down a review copy of the book.

So why am I now reviewing it? Because I got a call from a fellow audio reviewer who told me that I must read it because I will not believe some of the things I will l see published in this book. So I downloaded the Kindle version.

The book is divided into five "cute" sections: "The Birth of Cool" The rise of the LP (and other vinyl formats), "Dropping the Needle" Turntables and other Hi-Fi equipment, "Something Up the Sleeve" The Art of the LP, "Shop Around" Down at the Record Store, and "Bringing It All Back Home" Record-Collecting Culture.

Unterberger's contribution opens with an odd assertion in a book celebrating the 75th anniversary of the LP record—something a savvy editor would have caught. Unterberger writes, "Although the 12-inch LP didn't start to catch on until the late 1940s...." What? The LP debuted in June of 1948. How could it have even "start to catch on" in the late 1940s? Not a great start but from there is gets better and his section covers in excellent detail the international development of disc based sound reproduction accompanied by a good choice of photos interspersed with repeated one page text and photo sections like "Remarkable Record Stores", "Iconic Covers" and "Legendary Labels" that continue throughout the book.

Unterberger credits "Columbia Records" with introducing long playing microgroove records, without mentioning Peter Goldmark, the man behind the invention, which is a shame. Overall though, Unterberger's contribution is excellent though of course, we audiophiles are left in the ghetto and not one, not a single audiophile authority is quoted or referred to, even though he's got a section called "Post-1960s Audiophile Formats". Honestly i'm f**king sick and tired of the entire audiophile community being shortchanged and ignored in these kinds of books, though The Electric Recording Company and Mobile Fidelity do get mentioned.

Ken Micallef's section "Dropping the Needle" Turntables and other Hi-Fi equipment gets second billing so perhaps you are thinking audiophiles are getting some love. His introductory paragraph is fine. Then it goes completely off the rails. Do you think anyone picking up a book about cars—even an introductory one— needs to be told that cars have steering wheels, engines, tires, transmissions, seats and a trunk? Of course not. So why does Ken think readers need to be told that a turntable has "a platter with mat", "a set of three or four feet (sometimes adjustable)", "a dust cover" etc. Not at all necessary, but ok.

Then in the "Phono Cartridge" section we learn that a phono cartridge's interior contains "the coils or magnet". Uh oh. He tells readers that the "coils or magnet...amplify the signal from the stylus" and he notes the four small output pins at the back of the "cart" marked "left/positive, right/positive, two negative. The imprecision of his understanding or total lack thereof has just begun to manifest itself.

We learn that the "electrical signal generated by a phono cartridge creates a small signal that is equally low in volume, much lower than a compact disc signal." His editor at Stereophile would have saved him from this but not here. Then for some reason, in the cartridge section, he gets into solid state or class-D amplifiers. We learn that "A cart's volume level will also depend on whether it's a moving magnet (MM) or moving coil (MC) type. In an MM cart, the signal from the stylus causes its internal magnet to vibrate to produce a signal. In an MC cart, the magnet is static, while the internal coils move to produce signal."

He goes on: "MC carts are typically lighter in weight and use finer wire, making them more sensitive to stylus tracking—and more expensive than MM carts (often with more nuanced sound)."

In "The Tonearm: Turntable Workhorse" section we learn that "Tonearms employ different designs, such as gimbal or uni-pivot, depending upon how they are attached to the turntable's plinth and the sonic goals of the designer." Yes, that is a sentence in this book.

We also learn that "Though in use since the 1930s, the main purpose of a tonearm remains the same: to align the cartridge with the vinyl on the platter, part of an all-in-one system with critical setup parameters."

The section called "Platter: Steel Wheels" opens with "The platter is the large, circular shaped disc that dominated the appearance of the turntable and spins the record." And that's where I'll almost stop because I realize that some of you may think it unfair to be quoting this stuff.

I need to inform you of a few "factoids" I learned in this section. I learned that "A cartridge can be screwed into a universal headshell, such as that on the Technics SL-1200 turntable (but originating with Swedish company SME). And here I thought Ortofon invented the headshell and that SME was located in the United Kingdom! Live and learn.

This is also on that page: "A protractor aligns the cartridge to the tonearm, following one of three alignment scenarios developed by 1950s designers Baerwald, Stevenson and Lundgren". I've had Dolph over to help me align a cartridge or three but that Löfgren guy is a thief and he's not coming back!

There is some really good advice on that page though, and I'm being serious: "Again, consulting a pro is a wise move." Had Ken asked me or his editor at Stereophile to look over his manuscript none of this would have been published but he didn't, nor did he check his facts on the Internet so Dolph Lundgren invented a "scenario" in 1950 to set up a cartridge and SME is located in Sweden and Pro-Ject is a Slovenian company. And of course the book's editor was in way over her head.

I'm not going into the rest of the book but I'll conclude by writing that my original obnoxious quip to the publicist was 100% true.


  • 2023-11-04 10:03:15 PM

    Come on wrote:

    Oh my, these experts of tomorrow fit in perfectly with the new ones on YouTube.

    The time with useful information for seriously interested people should not last too much longer.

  • 2023-11-04 11:08:42 PM

    JACK L wrote:


    "I'll conclude by writing that my original obnoxious quip to the publicist was 100% true." qtd M Fremer.


    You are more than qualified to author a book about tonearm & cartridges. I will the first buyer !

    JACK L

  • 2023-11-04 11:43:07 PM

    Silk Dome Mid wrote:

    One clue to the problematic nature of this book is the, er, unusual placement of the tonearm on the cover.

    • 2023-11-05 12:03:12 AM

      Come on wrote:

      I guess the whole thing was done by KI.

  • 2023-11-05 12:04:36 AM

    Come on wrote:

    . . . AI

  • 2023-11-05 04:05:01 PM

    Rob wrote:

    Honestly Michael you just sound like you woke up today feeling slighted over a crappy book. You usually don’t post reviews for equipment you don’t like but I guess the same isn’t true for books. Interesting. If you felt that compelled to write a review, why didn’t you just review the product and leave yourself out of it? Ya the book sucks and they couldn’t even get the cover right but if they couldn’t interest you in contributing to it then why did you feel the need to review it?

    • 2023-11-05 04:54:01 PM

      Silk Dome Mid wrote:

      Michael reviewed the book and warned us not to spend our money on it unless we're looking for some laughs. What exactly are you complaining about?

    • 2023-11-05 05:08:51 PM

      Michael Fremer wrote:

      I think you completely misconstrue this. I was pitched the book. I turned it down because I was fairly sure of the outcome. I reviewed it only because I heard from another reviewer I respect who said I should read it and perhaps review it because it was filled with so many factual and conceptual errors. So I downloaded it. That I wasn't asked to do that section had nothing to do with any of this. I do post reviews of records and equipment and books I don't like! You should go to my previous online endeavor and read my review of the coffee table book "Hi-Fi: The History of High-End Audio Design" by Gideon Schwartz. It's never easy to write a negative review of something produced by an acquaintance but I did because it deserved it. As does the HiFi section of this book. It has nothing to do with me not being asked to contribute! However, had the writer come to me and asked me to read the manuscript before submitting it, I would have gladly done that. And I'd have turned down the gig had it been offered to me. I simply do not have time for that. But the writer didn't ask me, didn't ask his editor and he clearly did not use Google to check his facts. I'm sure I'll see him at CAF next weekend. He might scream and yell at me but really, who let who down? He let himself down. "Three scenarios invented in the 1950s by Baerwald, Stevenson and Lundgren"? and SME a Swedish company, etc.? The "editor" of this book also let down the contributor because she wasn't qualified to oversee this book. She was hopping on the vinyl bandwagon and fell off of it. That too has nothing to do with me. I just think all involved needed to be called out. Untermeyer's contribution was very good and I wrote that. Somehow I knew when the book was first pitched to me how the hardware section would turn out, though it ended up being even worse than I'd expected it to be.

      • 2023-11-06 02:54:38 AM

        mathew sletten wrote:

        Untermeyer or Unterberger? I guess no one has ever made a mistake in writing before and should be just demolished for that. Useless, mean review. Do better. Be a better adult. Tell us the book isn’t worth it without being petty. Ugh, gross, Mr. Fremer.

        • 2023-11-06 02:39:01 PM

          Michael Fremer wrote:

          Yes I got the wrong Unter modifier and made a mistake. Guilty as charged.

  • 2023-11-05 06:03:53 PM

    Vince wrote:

    I'm reading a copy right now and I agree that some of the text could have been better written. It is worth mentioning that the book itself is well produced and printed on heavy weight paper, with clear photos and type. Something that would be missed in an e-reader version. It has been a bit of a memory lane experience for me.

  • 2023-11-05 10:39:39 PM

    Joe Taylor wrote:

    Sometimes it's a good idea for a writer to put a piece aside with an eye towards revising or cutting. The criticisms of the book are fair. The shots at Micallef, less so.

  • 2023-11-05 10:57:39 PM

    Jeff 'Glotz' Glotzer wrote:

    I think this review is insightful, fair and concise. It's real easy for misinformation to reach a book that sometimes become definitive statements on any subject. I really like Untermeyer's Velvet Underground chronology. The level of detail puts together a picture of VU like no other. The art, photos and presentation look dangerous and sexy, like their music.

    • 2023-11-13 07:51:12 AM

      Jeff 'Glotz' Glotzer wrote:

      Yes, Unterberger. 2nd guessed myself when I read the comments.

  • 2023-11-05 11:00:08 PM

    Todd wrote:

    Mr. Fremer has an encyclopedic knowledge of the vinyl industry. But this review is petty.

    • 2023-11-06 01:55:30 AM

      Eric Lubow wrote:

      If you think this review is “petty” or unduly negative, you should read Michael’s review of one of Lyn Stanley’s records, originally on the Analog Planet website! In his quest to portray himself as a totally “honest” reviewer who would not for a second abandon his “high ethical” standards, he has hurt people. Apparently he doesn’t care. He didn’t have to write this review; he wasn’t given this assignment by a magazine publisher. He chose to do it. And saying that Ken is a nice guy doesn’t make up for the less than laudatory review. Well, at least Michael knows when he’s being obnoxious- I’ll give that to him!

      • 2023-11-06 02:46:52 PM

        Michael Fremer wrote:

        You fail to mention my very positive and encouraging reviews of earlier Stanley records despite her pitch and phrasing problems. But the third record flops because it demonstrated that on it she didn’t understand the meaning of the lyrics stsrting with “All or Nothing At All”, which was embarrassingly off. In that review I embed Sarah Vaughn’s version that demonstrates the danger and drama in the song that Stanley completely misses turning into something playful. I suggested a producer would be useful. I stand by that review 100%. And this one as well.

        • 2023-11-06 03:54:34 PM

          Eric Lubow wrote:

          C’mon Michael. You know that my comment about Stanley was not the point of my criticism. It was an example. Of course, you’ve written positive reviews. So has every other audio reviewer I’ve read! It was the fact that you justify hurting people’s feelings by pleading that you have “ high ethical standards” and would never let down your readers with a review that was less than totally honest. In effect, one person’s hurt feelings mean very little to you when weighed against the obligation to be starkly honest in your reviews. Yes, “ethical” certainly entails honesty but it also alludes to having compassion for another person and maybe not embarrassing them when they make a few mistakes. And as to your standing by your review of Stanley 100%, this is not a great surprise. I’ve rarely heard admit you were wrong.

          You’re a good guy, but honestly, I think your ego gets in the way sometimes and doesn’t do you justice.

          • 2023-11-07 10:28:12 PM

            JACK L wrote:


            "maybe not embarrassing them when they make a few mistakes." qtd Eric Lubow

            So you want to act as a UNFACTUAL nice guy' to all ?

            It depends what nature of & where made the "few mistakes".

            Stupid mistakes e..g "such as that on the Technics SL-1200 turntable (but originating with Swedish company SME) made by an author in its published book should be corrected even before the book is published. Fact is fact - NO compromise !!!!! Whoever screws up the fact in any public media as such, simply makes a laughingstock of that person in front of the world. That person should feel guilty of such idiotic mistakes in the public let alone embarrassment !!!!!!

            Mickey has rightfully pointed out such unfactual error, hopefully before the readers of the book would take such errors as fact! I fully second Mikey's being so fairly upfront!!!

            "I think your ego gets in the way sometimes " qtd Eric Lubow

            What "ego" ?? Pointing out anything unfactual is an "ego" ?? Please check the meaning of "ego" before you used it against Mikey. Please !

            JACK L


            • 2023-11-08 04:12:31 AM

              Eric Lubow wrote:

              Did Michael Fremer hire you to be his “yes man”? What a bunch of obsequious nonsense! I think he’s capable of defending himself. If you can’t understand how ego is involved here, if you care not a whit for the feelings of Ken Micallef, if you think those mistakes will be evident or make any difference to the vast majority of readers of that book, then not only do you have no heart, but no judgement either.

              • 2023-11-08 04:15:21 AM

                Eric Lubow wrote:

                I think I left out the word “fawning!”

              • 2023-11-08 10:28:36 PM

                JACK L wrote:


                "I think he’s capable of defending himself." qtd E Lubow

                Stop getting nasty! Vent your spleen somewhere else, please.

                Does Mikey ever needs "defending himself" because of your moot allegation in protecting your book author friend? Obviously you don't even know enough Mikey Fremer.

                "if you care not a whit for the feelings of Ken Micallef" qtd Lubow.

                Fact is fact. No one should screw up any facts in the public. Likewise did K Micallef "hire you to be his Yes Man" for his unfactual publication???

                JACK L

                • 2023-11-09 12:06:25 AM

                  Eric Lubow wrote:

                  Jack L- I didn’t peruse every comment

                  • 2023-11-09 12:30:11 AM

                    Eric Lubow wrote:

                    “did K Micallef "hire you to be his Yes Man" ?

                    I didn’t choose every negative comment about Fremer and, one by one, attempt to defend and excuse his behavior. You did that! Apparently, there are a number of people who disagree with you. As to Micallef’s mistakes, you seemed to be pretty hard-assed about “getting things right.”

                    “No one should screw up any facts in the public.” I hope you’re as perfect in your own life as you expect others to be. Have a nice day…

                    • 2023-11-09 08:14:52 PM

                      JACK L wrote:


                      "As to Micallef's mistakes, you seemed to hard-assed about getting things right" qtd E Lubow

                      Let's face at the facts, pal. "You few "hard-assed" 'nice' guys FIRST started to challenge Mikey for his pointing Micallef's unfactual errors he made in his new book, without considering the book author's feeling.

                      Do you 'nice' guys ever concern about Mikey's feeling as well for being challenged by you guys for "getting things right" ???

                      Be mature like a grown up man !

                      JACK L

                      • 2023-11-13 07:57:10 AM

                        Jeff 'Glotz' Glotzer wrote:

                        I'm with Jack on this one. Publishing a book requires some proofreading and verifying facts. The timing of the book coupled with the mistakes is an eye-brow raiser. I read everything Ken writes and I still like him. Lynn Stanley's review was a matter of opinion. MF calling out the editors is a matter of fact. The two are different. Using the Stanley example really isn't applicable here. Personal attacks on Jack is equally poor.

  • 2023-11-06 12:43:21 AM

    Dan Rosca wrote:

    Very well said, Michael, very well said! Don't let them slide! Industry insider

  • 2023-11-06 03:06:52 PM

    Lightmentat wrote:

    While you make many valid points, this is one of those instances where the truth was an offense and not a virtue. You could made your points without the derision.

    • 2023-11-07 11:13:02 PM

      JACK L wrote:


      "THIS is one of those instances where the truth was an offense & not a virtue " qtd Lighmentat

      May I ask you: why "this" instance of pointing out a stupid error made in a published book was "an offense" ?? What is your sense of value ?

      " You could made your points without the DERISION" qtd Lightmentat

      "Derision" defines as "The act of deriding; subjection to ridicule or mockery; contempt manifested by laughter; scorn.

      So please tell us which part of Mikey Fremer's post above has fallen into the meaning "derision" per your allegation !!

      I am all ears

      JACK L

  • 2023-11-06 05:07:09 PM

    Come on wrote:

    I don’t say Michael repeatedly provokes tiny scandals to generate attention like a politician in the election period, but I enjoy it every time and as long as it doesn’t hit the wrong one, I’m fine with it, for me it was a good reason to call this out.

    All this is much better than the usual pleasing, boring one-sided reviews of everything and the practice of skipping all products that would get less than a rave.

    • 2023-11-08 12:59:03 AM

      JACK L wrote:


      " Michael repeatedly provokes tiny scandals to generate attention.." qtd Come on.

      Whoever does not acknowlege Mikey Fremer's decades' profound experience & expertise in the audio jounalism needs to size itself up in a mirror !

      Does Mikey needs to "provoke tiny scandals to tiny scandals to generate attention.." with his worldwide reputation he already earned ??!!!

      On the contrary, whoever here made moot allegations against Mikey's rightful disclosure of the author's unfactual errors made of his book in question, clearly show their hidden agenda - "to provoke attention" at the expense of Mikey's indisputable reputation.

      JACK L

      • 2023-11-08 06:39:42 AM

        Come on wrote:

        Maybe it didn’t shine through, that my comment was rather meant humorous than serious and that I usually enjoy those tiny scandals.

        If for audio or music matters, they now hire folks out of the actual Youtube scene (nice guys or not) for writing books and similar, they get what they pay for.

  • 2023-11-06 06:33:35 PM

    tim davis wrote:

    Michael Fremer, this is as good a time as any for me to weigh in on a huge gap that has lain between two of my favorite subcultures of music lovers forever. Audiophiles & Metalheads. You've never heard of Martin Popoff?!. He is the founder of the premier online resource for music news from the much maligned (more often than not unfairly IMHO) genre of heavy metal - Brave Words & Bloody Knuckles. As much as I love audiophile everything it has always pained me to see how little awareness that world has of heavy metal in general. I'm not talking about the sell out shit that hits commercial paydirt with pandering to the LCD but more about the bands that had integrity & whose whole mindset was about passionate rendering of their beloved art. Bands like Saxon, Raven, Galactic Cowboys, Wrathchild America ( I once saw a set by those cats that had gooseflesh crawling all over my entire body), Candlemass, King's X, Trouble, Savatage (I've seen more than one audiophile start taking notes when I got them to play "Chance" from the Handful of Rain album which was about a Japanese diplomat in Lithuania during World War II. He defied government orders by signing exit visas for thousands of Jewish refugees. It was stunning how some of the sounds on that track came across through a pair of MBL Radialstrahlers), Lethal (ever heard "Programmed"? it's as fine a concept album thematically speaking as any I've ever encountered), Riot, Fates Warning, Helstar, Budgie, Cathedral, Conception, Jag Panzer (their epic render of Gordon Lightfoot's "Wreck of the Edmund FItzgerald" is something every music lover should check out at least once in their lifetime), Many of the groups I've named here have technical chops on a par with the greats of both the jazz & classical disciplines & a high level of passion in their playing to boot. I'll site one such example of a musician in particular & then be off, Alex effin' Skolnik. Rant over, have a nice day sir!

    • 2023-11-07 04:07:19 PM

      James R Garvin wrote:

      Great you mentioned BraveWords. I photograph concerts for BraveWords. Martin Popoff is also a contributor to Goldmine magazine, Record Collector magazine, Revolver magazine, and the list goes on. My guess is if you ask the average or above average audiophile what magazines and books they read, music magazines generally will not be on the list. Hence, the unfamiliarity with Martin Popoff.

      • 2023-11-09 08:50:43 AM

        tim davis wrote:

        Yes indeed sir. I wish the music was always 1st & the gear was merely the means to an end. Also. It's cool to see someone else on this end who has involvement "over there".

  • 2023-11-07 08:35:50 PM

    Lemon Curry wrote:

    So Michael, let's have YOUR book! Seriously. You could write multiple chapters on tonearms alone.

    Get yourself a ghost writer, and start talking.