Join Date: Nov 1999
Location: Blackpool, Lancashire, UK
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I see Utopianemo found the ELP laser turntable.
It's a phenomenal piece of engineering, if you think about it, optical disc surfaces have to be protected by polycarbonate. The surfaces are engineered to be highly reflective from the outset to a specific wavelength of laser to ensure reliable performance. Even the orignal laserdisc had a silver (or gold) reflective surface which then delivered an analogue waveform to the video circuit (and in the early days of laserdisc the audio was analogue also). Now think of the vinyl LP, which is black (not great for reflecting light at any frequency), it's surface is rough, unprotected, and a dust magnet. Now think of the size of LP grooves, and the fact that the information on a stereo LP is encoded on the groove walls, not the groove itself, so the light has to reflect off the walls and back to the pickup head, and you need to do this with two lasers which must track a dirty black disc with warps and distortions. Now you are beginning to see just the basic engineering challenges of engineering a laser turntable.
I have heard an ELP, many years ago at a Hi Fi show in the UK (probably 20 years ago now if not more). It was good, but certainly I would say that a Michell Gyrodeck or Roksan Xerxes with a good arm and a good ($1,000 - $1,500) moving coil cartridge could beat it hands down. The laser turntable was really sensitive to dirt and dust, it's soundstage was only average and to me there was just no air in the high frequencies. It's one saving grace was that it seemed invulnerable to scratches.
As for archiving, I have a recollection of an article in Stereophile from the mid 90's regarding an archiving deck built by Rockport for Sony as part of their Music Archival system, rumor had it that if you approached Andy Payor at the time to build a turntable like the Sony one, it would have run to over $150,000, bear in mind his 'production turntable, the Sirius III, was $75,000 at the time if my memory is accurate. The US Library of Congree uses a Simon Yorke turntable, custom built to accomodate oversized platters, which I understand would have cost around £15,000 UKP when they sarted installing them in 2005. Both of these organisations have huge vaults of priceless, vintage vinyl, yet neither chose to go the laser turntable route. I think this really is the reason the ELP has become just a memory, it simply didn't do enough to justify it's price tag when compared with a conventional turntable, and wasn't versatile enough to find a home in the archive and restoration business.