As the vinyl comeback gains pace, the cost of going back in musical time can strike the wrong chord. JOEL KOPPING offers a vinyl primer for first-timers and returnees.
Lots of people will tell you that vinyl records are making a comeback, and they are almost right.
I say “almost”, as vinyl records never went away. They were simply overshadowed by the glut of digital forms of media that were supposed to offer “perfect” reproduction of music.
Vinyl fans like myself continued listening to music off these plastic discs, niche manufacturers continued developing record players and allied components and, while the major record labels stopped pressing records, smaller companies continued making records.
It is somewhat surprising that, as the world has moved away from CD-based music and people integrate more and more into digital life styles – which, at face value, should push people even further away from analogue audio – more people are discovering that vinyl records are alive and well.
Perhaps being digitally connected and and having everything we need to look at or listen to available almost instantly and on almost any device, has cleared the mist or mysticism that obscured vinyl records. The more digital we become, the more clearly we are able to see how much fun it is looking at and listening to music delivered by pure analogue devices.
Listening to vinyl offers a different – not better or worse – experience when compared to listening to digital downloads or streamed music. Part of this difference is the process of playing a record. This process includes carefully removing a record from its sleeve, placing it on the platter of a turntable, giving the record a quick clean with an anti static brush and, finally, carefully lowering the stylus on to the spinning record.
Now there are two main reasons why people play records.
The first is that many prefer the sound of vinyl, and the second is that people want to convert old music that is not available any more into a digital format they can carry with them.
Here we look at how you can enjoy vinyl music or copy your old favourites into a digital form.
Before getting to what hardware and software you need to start your vinyl journey, I’m going to describe briefly how records and turntables work.
If one were to have a look at the grooves of a record under a microscope, you would see what looks like a mountain valley. The left and right sides of this valley contains the left and right channel music information. The stylus -or needle- of a cartridge which is attached to a tone arm, is literally dragged through this vinyl valley. As the stylus journeys through the valley, the small left and right and slight up and down motion of the stylus is converted into electrical signal. This signal is amplified into the music we listen to.
This process sounds pretty simple, but there is a little more to it.
What we need to realise is that the stylus does not know the difference between vibrations caused by tracking through the record grooves and vibrations caused by a rough running motor glued or screwed to a turntable chassis, or those caused by platter bearing that isn’t running smoothly. These noises can sound like rumble and some older amplifiers were even equipped with a rumble filter.
Another issue that often rears its ugly head is that of speed stability. If the speed that the record plays at is too fast or too slow, the music will sound, naturally too fast or too slow. Even worse than this is when the speed of a turntable varies while playing music.
The next issue I want to talk about is, to me, the most important one.
This is called tracking force, and it is simply the weight that the diamond stylus exerts on the walls of the grooves of the record. By the way a good rule of thumb is that the downward force of the stylus should be around two grams. If the tracking force is set too high, or if the diamond tip of the stylus is damaged, instead of riding the ridges in a record groove the diamond simply sand papers the grooves away. A record can be taken from new to unlistenable in as little as two or three plays. Of course if you’re converting music from vinyl to digital and the above is happening, you wont be recording the musical detail that is being worn away.
To ensure record grooves are not too wide, before music is copied to a record low frequency sounds are reduced in level and high frequencies are increased in level. This change in levels follows what is known as the RIAA (Record Industry Association of America) curve. On playback and to ensure that we hear music as it was meant to be heard a device called a Phono Amplifier boosts low frequencies, reduces high frequencies and amplifies the extremely low level signals it receives from the cartridge. The better the Phono stage applies the correction, and the quieter its amplification stage is, the better the sound will be.
Some turntables have phono stages built in, some amplifiers have phono stages built in and there are lots of phono stages available at mild to wild prices.
No matter what your reason for wanting to get into vinyl again, what the above says is that pretty much every part of the vinyl replay chain is important. You can not expect to get good vinyl rips if the weight of the stylus is so high that it flattens the grooves it’s supposed to ride. You will not hear all the musical detail from a record if the motor vibrates the turntables chassis and these vibrations are picked up by the stylus.
Fortunately there are quite a number of inexpensive – this I admit is a relative term) and good sounding turntables on the market today.
I recommend, as a minimum starting point when looking at a prospective turntable, the following:
Can you set the tracking force (weight) of the stylus?
If you cant do this, you will never know if the down force is too high. We could assume that it’s correct, but do you want to test this on your records.
Can you replace the Stylus and/or the complete cartridge? If you can, are replacements available?
Styli are delicate and can easily be damaged, you don’t want to have to replace an entire turntable because your three year old wanted to play.
The above I’m afraid already precludes much of the turntables available in mass retailers.
There are, however, quite a few DJ type turntables that are built well, do offer the capability of setting tracking force and sometimes even pitch- Speed- control.
Moving a step up you get to turntables manufactured by specialised audio companies.
Two Brands I can recommend are Rega and Project. Models from these brands start at reasonable prices, particularly considering their audio and build quality. Both are available through retailers nation wide.
A third option is buying second hand. There are quite a few people who have travelled the same path you’re on, and who’ve ripped their whole collection and now want to sell their turntable. A good second hand model will certainly beat a bad new one.
Remember that a good phono stage will make a difference and both the Brands mentioned earlier have models that offer both analogue and USB outputs. USB means that you can rip records directly from the player/phono stage to your PC.
One last thing to remember is to keep your records clean and handle them carefully. Dust, dirt and greasy finger marks will all add noise and help damage those delicate record grooves.
* For more information on vinyl and turntables, please contact me on email@example.com
Facebook fakes behind most phishing attempts
In the first quarter of 2018, Kaspersky Lab’s anti-phishing technologies prevented more than 3.7 million attempts to visit fraudulent social network pages of which 60% were fake Facebook pages.
The results, according to the Kaspersky Lab report, ‘Spam and phishing in Q1 2018’, demonstrates that cybercriminals are still doing what they can to get their hands on personal data.
Social network phishing is a form of cybercrime that involves the theft of personal data from a victim’s social network account. The fraudster creates a copy of a social networking website (such as a fake Facebook page), and tries to lure unsuspecting victims to it, forcing them to give up their personal data – such as their name, password, credit card number, PIN code, and more – in the process.
At the beginning of the year, Facebook was the most popular social networking brand for fraudsters to abuse, and Facebook pages were frequently faked by cybercriminals to try and steal personal data via phishing attacks. This is part of a long-term trend: in 2017, Facebook became one of the top three targets for phishing overall, at nearly 8%, followed by Microsoft Corporation (6%) and PayPal (5%). In Q1 2018, Facebook also led the social network phishing category, followed by VK – a Russian online social networking service and LinkedIn. The reason for this is likely to be the worldwide 2.13 billion active monthly Facebook users, including those who log in to unknown apps using their Facebook credentials, thereby granting access to their accounts. This makes unwary Facebook users a profitable target for cybercriminal phishing attacks.
This all reinforces the fact that personal data is valuable in the world of information technology –both for legitimate organisations and attackers. Cybercriminals are constantly searching for new methods to hit users, so it’s important to be aware of fraudster techniques to avoid becoming the next target. For example, the latest trend is spam emails related to GDPR (Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation). Examples include offers of paid webinars to clarify the new legislation, or invitations to install special software that will provide access to online resources to ensure compliance with the new rules.
“The continuous increase in phishing attacks – targeting both social networks and financial organisations – shows us that users need to pay more serious attention to their online activities. Despite the recent global scandals, people continue to click on unsafe links and allow unknown apps access to their personal data. Due to this lack of user vigilance, the data on a huge number of accounts gets lost or extorted from users. This can then lead to destructive attacks and a constant flow of money for the cybercriminals,” said Nadezhda Demidova, lead web content analyst at Kaspersky Lab.
Kaspersky Lab experts advise users to take the following measures to protect themselves from phishing:
- Always check the link address and the sender’s email before clicking anything – even better, don’t click the link, but type it into your browser’s address line instead.
- Before clicking any link, check if the link address shown, is the same as the actual hyperlink (the real address the link will take you to) – this can be checked by hovering your mouse over the link.
- Only use a secure connection, especially when you visit sensitive websites. As a minimum precaution, do not use unknown or public Wi-Fi without a password protection. For maximum protection, use VPN solutions that encrypt your traffic. And remember: if you are using an insecure connection, cybercriminals can invisibly redirect you to phishing pages.
- Check the HTTPS connection and domain name when you open a webpage. This is especially important when you are using websites which contain sensitive data – such as sites for online banking, online shops, email, social media sites etc.
- Never share your sensitive data, such as logins and passwords, bank card data etc., with a third party. Official companies will never ask for data like this via email.
- Use a reliable security solution with behaviour-based anti-phishing technologies, such as Kaspersky Total Security, to detect and block spam and phishing attacks.
Other key findings in the report include:
- The main targets of phishing attacks have remained the same since the end of last year. They are primarily global Internet portals and the financial sector, including banks, payment services and online stores.
- About $35,000 USD was stolen through one phishing site that appeared to offer the opportunity to invest in the rumoured Telegram ICO. Approximately $84,000 USD was stolen following a single phishing email mailshot related to the launch of ‘The Bee Token’ ICO.
- Financial phishing continues to account for almost half of all phishing attacks (43.9%), which is 4.4% more compared to the end of last year. Attacks against banks, e-shops, and payment systems remain the top three, demonstrating cybercriminals’ desire to access users’ money.
- Brazil was the country with the largest share of users attacked by phishers in the first quarter of 2018 (19%). It was followed by Argentina (13%), Venezuela (13%), Albania (13%), and Bolivia (12%).
- In the first quarter of 2018, the amount of spam peaked in January (55%). The average share of spam in the world’s email traffic was 52%, which is 4.6% lower than the average figure of the last quarter of 2017.
- Vietnam became the most popular source of spam, overtaking the U.S. and China. Others in the top 10 included India, Germany, France, Brazil, Russia, Spain, and the Islamic Republic of Iran.
- The country most targeted by malicious mailshots was Germany. Russia came second, followed by United Kingdom, Italy, and the UAE.
Acer gaming beast escapes
Acer this week unveiled two notebooks that take portable gaming to new extremes.
Acer unveiled two new Predator Helios gaming notebooks this week at the next@acer global press conference in New York. They include the powerful Predator Helios 500, featuring up to 8th Gen Intel Core i9+ processors, and the Predator Helios 300 Special Edition that includes upgraded specs from its predecessor and a distinctive white chassis. Both feature VR-Ready performance, advanced thermal technologies, and blazing-fast connectivity.
“We’ve expanded our Predator Helios gaming notebook line in response to popular demand from gamers seeking extreme performance on the go,” said Jerry Kao, President of IT Products Business, Acer. “The Predator Helios 500 and Helios 300 gaming notebooks feature Acer’s proprietary thermal technologies and powerful components that, coupled with our award-winning software, deliver unparalleled gaming experiences.”
“The 8th Gen Intel Core i9+ processor for gaming and creation laptops is the highest performance Intel has ever delivered for this class of devices; purpose built for enthusiasts who demand premium gaming experiences whether at home or on the go,” said Steve Long, Vice President and General Manager, Client Computing Group Sales and Marketing, Intel. “Intel and Acer’s long relationship has produced amazing products over the years, and the new Acer Predator Helios gaming notebooks are powerful examples of what’s possible with this unprecedented level of performance.”
Predator Helios 500 is a gaming beast featuring overclocking, 4K 144 Hz panels
Designed for extreme gamers, the Predator Helios 500 is a gaming beast. It features up to overclockable 8th Gen Intel Core i9+ processors and overclockable GeForce GTX 1070 graphics. Intel Optane memory increases responsiveness and load times, while ultra-fast NVMePCIe SSDs, Killer DoubleShot Pro networking, and up to 64GB of memory keep the action going, making the Helios 500 the ideal gaming notebook for graphic-intensive AAA titles and live streaming.
Top-notch visuals are delivered on bright, vibrant 4K UHD or FHD IPS 17.3-inch displays with 144Hz refresh rates for blur- and tear-free gameplay. NVIDIA G-SYNC technology is supported on both the built-in display and external monitors, allowing for buttery-smooth imagery without tearing or stuttering. For those looking for maximum gaming immersion, dual Thunderbolt 3 ports, and display and HDMI 2.0 ports support up to three external monitors. Two speakers, a subwoofer, and Acer TrueHarmony and Waves MAXXAudio technology deliver incredible sound and hyper-realistic 3D audio using Waves Nx.
The Helios 500 stays cool with two of Acer’s proprietary AeroBlade 3D metal fans, and five heat pipes that distribute cool air to the machine’s key components while simultaneously releasing hot air. Fan speed can be controlled and customized through the PredatorSense app.
A backlit RGB keyboard offers four lighting zones with support for up to 16.8 million colors. Anti-ghosting technology provides the ultimate control for executing complex commands and combos, which can be set up via five dedicated programmable keys.
Acer’s PredatorSense app can be used to control and monitor the notebook’s vitals from one central interface, including overclocking, lighting, hotkeys, temperature, and fan control.
Predator Helios 300 Special Edition brings a sophisticated design twist to gaming notebooks
Acer’s budget-friendly Helios 300 gaming line sees the addition of a Special Edition model featuring an all-white aluminum chassis accented with gold trim, an unusually chic design for gaming notebooks.
The Helios 300 Special Edition (PH315-51) allows for ultra-smooth gameplay via its 15.6-inch FHD IPS display with an upgraded 144Hz refresh rate. The rapid refresh rate shortens frame rendering time and lowers input lag to give gamers an excellent in-game experience. It’s powered by up to an 8th Gen Intel Core i7+ processor, overclockable GeForce GTX 1060 graphics, up to a 512 GB PCIe Gen 3 NVMe solid state drive, and up to a 2 TB hard disk drive.
The Helios 300 Special Edition also comes equipped with up to 16 GB of DDR4 memory, and is upgradable to 32GB. Intel Optane memory speeds up load times of games and applications, access to information and improves overall system responsiveness. In addition, Gigabit Ethernet provides fast wired connections, while Gigabit Wi-Fi is provided by the latest Intel Wireless-AC 9560 that delivers up to 1.73Gbps throughput when using 160 MHz channels (2×2 802.11ac, dual-band 2.4GHz and 5GHz).
The Helios 300 Special Edition also includes two of Acer’s ultrathin (0.1 mm) all-metal AeroBlade 3D fans designed with advanced aerodynamics and superior airflow to keep the system cool. They can be controlled with Acer’s PredatorSense app, which offers three usage modes:
1. Coolboost mode:
For heavy loading games, rendering, streaming, and extended video consumption
2. Normal mode:
For productivity tools like Microsoft Office
3. Silent mode:
For web browsing and online chatting
Price and Availability
Predator Helios 500 will be available in South Africa in June starting at R34 999.00
Helios 300 Special Edition will be available in South Africa in August 2018. Exact Price will be communicated closer to the time.