- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 4, 2005

A Japanese manufacturer hopes to pry aging baby boomers away from their digital CDs and MP3s and lure them back to their old vinyl records with a promise of a high-tech turntable.

ELT Corp.’s laser turntables use light instead of diamond-tipped needles to read the grooves of vinyl records. The company is hoping music fans are willing to shell out $15,000 to hear their 1960s record albums spin again.

“There’s something about holding that record — it’s big. Kids today don’t realize it,” said Keith Taruski, president of AudioTurnTable Ltd., the company’s North American distributor. “What is a CD really worth when you can buy a blank CD for 25 cents? An LP isn’t something you can buy a blank and just make one. Vinyl is something a record company has to make.”

ELT claims to be the only company in the world producing a laser turntable. It also says its laser can adjust for warps and scratches in the vinyl, producing better sound than a traditional needle.

“The laser is able to read minute information that the diamond needle can’t … and the laser doesn’t wear out the record or itself,” Mr. Taruski said. “The diamond needle is only as fast as physical inertia, but nothing is faster than light. You get the best possible sound through the laser.”

Some critics, however, say noise from scratches or dust on a record sounds louder with the laser than it does with a needle.

“The major problem is the laser can’t distinguish between the groove and dirt. If the record is dirty, [dirt or dust] ignored by the stylus with a low-level pop is an event as loud as the music,” said Kevin East, a reviewer for Sensible Sound, a magazine for audiophiles.

The laser turntable, or LT, isn’t for a casual music fan. It’s for someone who can name all of the Mamas and the Papas.

Only about 1,000 of the turntables have been sold throughout the world — mostly in Japan — since they were introduced in the early 1990s. About 100 have been sold in the United States since the product was put on the market in January, Mr. Taruski said.

Customers include Frank Sinatra Jr., Stevie Wonder, Keith Jarrett and James Horner, a composer who wrote the score for the movie “Titanic.”

For other customers, the laser turntable could be called a midlife-crisis purchase.

The turntables run $15,000 for a version that can read LPs and singles. A $17,000 version can also read 78 rpm records. A $19,000 version can read LPs, 45s, 78s and odd-sized records.

The high-end model is popular with archivists and studios, Mr. Taruski said.

Charles Lawson, a professional audio engineer in Northern Virginia, bought the LT to re-record old records. He was impressed that the device could play rare discs without ruining them.

“The problem with stylus turntables, or any frictional medium, is that the very act of playing recordings on them destroys them slowly but surely,” he said. “By using light instead of a chip of diamond to read the groove walls, the LT causes no damage during playback.”

Mr. Lawson, a classical music fan, tested an old, beat-up LP on the LT.

“When the LP was slipped into the LT, it played as if brand-new,” he said. “It took quite a while for me to pick my jaw up off the floor and I ordered a machine on the spot.”

Most of Audio Turntable’s customers are baby boomers in their 40s and 50s, though some purchasers are in their 70s, Mr. Taruski said.

Some music aficionados prefer the sound of traditional turntables and still enjoy the act of gently setting a needle on a vinyl record.

“Baby boomers grew up with records. They like the cover art, they like the process of putting on a record. It draws you into the experience,” said Rick Carlisle, owner of Orpheus Records in Arlington, which sells vinyl records.

“CDs are far more impersonal. You throw it on and don’t even think about it.”

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