Beatles Esher Demos and the Mag-lev turntable

I haven't been keeping up with news posts about music or anything related but a major event has recently occurred. Not long ago was te 50th anniversary of The Beatles (white) album, originally released on November 22nd, 1968 and to celebrate there was a new set of releases of the album that included some extra stuff. The songs itself were remixed by Giles Martin, the original producer George Martin's son, but what was really cool was the 2nd set of LPs in the boxset titled "Esher Demos". Named after the town of Esher where George Harrison had a house, these were 4-track recordings of the band practing some of the songs that would eventually end up in the actual album, including a couple that didn't. They're all acoustic and it's a real treat to listen to; the sound quality being much better than you'd expect for a 4-track at someone's house.

The packaging is pretty standard for LP boxsets. The vinyl is 180 gram and all fit within 2 sleeves.

The remixed 2 LPs of "The Beatles" have the typical Apple label

While the Esher Demo LPs have a green apple outline

Additional extras include 4 12 inch tall color photos of the Beatles

And a fold-out poster that also contains all of the lyrics on the back.

Finally, we have the liner notes that include intros by Paul McCartney and Giles Martin, and some notes about the album and the Esher Demos.

Overall, I'd say the sound quality of the remix is pretty good. My other two copes of the white album are pretty old and at least a little worn, one the U.K. release and one from the U.S., and it's hard to tell the differences without a side-by-side comparison. But just by itself, I think it sounds great and I'll probably be spinning this copy more often than the vintage ones I have.

The Esher Demos are just a neat set of recordings. Not low fidelity by any means, it's good enough to stand on its own, even perhaps as its own release if that was ever warranted. One of the things that was interesting was it sounded like all 4 Beatles were a part of every song (well, maybe not always Ringo), and I remember reading that many thought the White album was the beginning of the end of the band, going from a unified all-encompassing concept of Sgt Pepper's to mostly solo efforts that were all released together in the White album. Likewise, there was documented tension between members of the band at that point, but aside from some of the lyrical commentary of the actual songs, the rehersals at Harrison's Esher house sounded nothing like a band that was in any kind of discord.

Speaking of listening to recordings side-by-side, the other major event to happen at the end of 2018 is my new turntable:

Mag-Lev ML1

This was a Kickstarter that was from almost 3 years ago, for a magnetic levitating turntable. When my friend Rob sent me the link the first thing I thought was "this will never work", thinking that the magnetic field would somehow affect the cartridge. But when I started reading more about the project it became clear how serious these people were. So I thought, at the very least, if I put in the $800+ backer cost, I'd at least get about that much out of just the tone arm that they plan on using (a Pro-Ject carbon) and I'd be able to salvage those parts. As the month and years gone by, as with what seems most of these kickstarters do, they run into production, financial, and management problems, and I was starting to think I would never get the turntable, eventhough it seemed agonizingly close to fruition. When they were finally getting sent out to backers, it was at a much slower rate because something like half of their production needed to be sold to distributors so they could recoup the production costs. I thought it would be a few more months before I'd get mine because I was pretty far down the list, but in November I got an email that mine would be shipping soon and to verify my address.

When the box arrived, it was in a well packaged, with styrofoam to hold all of the peices, including the tone arm.

The cartridge was already installed and calibrated

The tracking weight needed to be calibrated and set to the suggested setting and the anti-skate mechanism needed to have its little weight hung on an impossibly thing wire

The tone arm is of course the Pro-Ject 9cc 9-inch carbon fibre and a Ortofon OM10 Moving Magnet cartridge. When the turntable is turned off or not spinning, there are 4 plastic feet that rise from the bottom to hold it in place.

But of course, while it's spinning, the feet retract and there is literally nothing between the platter and body

Here's some more pictures of the wheel for turning it on and setting the speed. The "-" setting just has it float, with no spinning. I'm not entirely sure what that setting is for.

Overall, the build quality is good and the entire thing looks great, especially when it's spinning (in this picture, Abraxas)

There are some gripes, though, but they're not something that I thought about at first. When the mechanism to start spinning the platter kicks on, there's this very mechanical whirling sound when the feet get retracted, and likewise when you stop the platter and the feet rise up. Turning it on initially causes a whirling sound, not sure from what. The platter doesn't start spinning until you move the tone arm over the platter and it won't let you cue the needle until it's spinning up to speed. That's a good thing, but the problem is that it takes maybe 15 or 20 seconds for the platter to be at speed. Additionally, while the platter is levitating, it is very sensitive to force. I once started to play an album and noticed some dust on it so while it was spinning up I blew on it to blow away the dust. That cause the entire platter to wobble precariously, so much so I didn't want to bring the needle down. The wobbling eventually goes away as it continues to spin but it's probably fast to just stop it and start it again. However, stopping the platter also takes about 15 seconds or so. Because of the sensitivity, the tone arm mechanism is really gentle and slow. When you move the lever down, it takes its time to bring the needle down as it does it very delicately. The last thing I can probably think of, is that while the plate is spinning, there's a quiet hum from the motors. It's not loud, nowhere near as loud as the whirling, but loud enough that you'd notice in a quiet room and before you've put the needle down.

There's a lot of positives, though. The tone arm will raise once you've reached the end of the record, but not re-cue to the beginning, it just raises it so that it's not on the vinyl. Additionally, if you leave it on long enough, it'll power itself down. And an added cool detail, if you somehow lose power while the turntable is spinning (levitating), it has a battery backup that will raise the tone arm and stop the platter so no damage can be done to your record.

One thing I noticed right away when trying to compare this turntable to my old SL-1200 is that the ML1 is much more forgiving about scratches and damage on the vinyl. The SL-1200 seems to almost amplify those pops and clicks whereas the ML1 seem to glide over them. You can still hear some noise but it's not so loud that it's distracting. Another difference I noticed was that the output signal from the ML1 seems to be lower than the SL-1200, by just a little. You can tell especially with the midrange frequencies, they sound quieter than on the SL-1200. It's not anything turning up the volume slightly doesn't fix. The only other big difference between the two turntables is the construction. The ML1 looks and feels so delicate, whereas the SL-1200 is built like a tank.

Ultimately, I'm pretty happy with the investment. I hope it continues to work as well as it has, if anything does go wrong, I'm sure I can send it back to Mag-Lev but that's a pretty hefty shipping cost (Slovenia). One other thing, the turntable came with its own record, to be played at a 45 speed, which is like an introduction to the turntable. I thought it was kind of a nice touch. When I've shown it off to people, either in person or through pictures, the reactions range from "wut? why?" to "this is really cool". I've created some videos but the virgin spin on it was the Esher Demos and youtube immediately flagged it and took it down. So I had to play the LP that came with the turntable and record that. Here's some videos of the turntable in action:

Filed under: Music