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Reviewer: Jeff Day
Analog: Garrard 301, Cain & Cain plinth, Denon 103 MC cartridge, Pete Riggle Audio VTAF, Fi Yph phono stage, Auditorium 23 moving coil step-up transformer, Origin Live Silver MkI & MkII tone arms [long term loan], Paschetto Analog Engineering 2008 turntable [this review]
Digital: Meridian 508.20 CD player, Audio Logic 2400 DAC, Sony PlayStation 1 SCPH-1001, Shindo Arome CD matching transformer [in for review], 47 Labs Shigaraki DAC [in for review], Hagerman HagUsb USB to S/PDIF converter [in for review]
FM Tuner: vintage Scott Stereomaster 370 vacuum tube tuner
Preamplifiers: Tom Evans Audio Design Lithos 7 Vibe with Pulse power supply, Shindo Monbrison [in for review]
Integrated amplifiers: Leben CS600, Almarro A205A Mk1 & Mk2
Amplifiers: Fi 2A3 monoblocks, Tom Evans Audio Design Linear A, Shindo Cortese [in for review], Fi 300B monoblocks [in for review]
Speakers: Avantgarde Duo 2.1, Harbeth Super HL5 (with 18" Skylan stands), Omega Super 3 (with 24" Skylan Stands), Omega Super 3 XRS [awaiting the new Omega hemp drivers for a follow-up evaluation], Merrill Zigmahornets
Cables: 47 Laboratory OTA Cable Kit; Nirvana S-L & S-X interconnects, S-L speaker cables, Duo wiring harness, and Transmission Digital Interface; Cardas Neutral Reference digital cable, Auditorium 23 Green speaker cable; Tom Evans Audio Design interconnects; WM interconnects and speaker cables, Shindo silver interconnects [in for review]
Stands: McKinnon Bellevue Symphony walnut media cabinet, Atlantis Video Reference equipment rack, Skylan speaker and amplifier stands
Room sizes: Room 1: 20' L x 17' W x 17' H; Room 2: 11' L x 11'W x 9' H
Review component retail: $2495

The Music Lovers
There are several different types of listeners who buy audio equipment. Some are involved in the music industry as recording and mastering engineers. They use audio equipment as tools, as analytical devices that help them achieve a particular sonic end result for the recordings they are preparing for clients. Some listeners are audiophiles who enjoy listening to music for the sonic thrills their equipment can extract. Others are hobbyists who enjoy the electronics for their own sake, who often build their own gear, enjoy tweaking it and get a kick out of listening to how it affects the sound of the music. Even others are music lovers who could care less about the electronics they have other than that they want gear that will reliably serve their musical enjoyment for the long haul while they listen to their growing music collection. None of those perspectives are intrinsically wrong or right and many listeners will fall into several of those categories. But the traits of the audio gear that will serve those various types of listeners well to make them happy over the long haul are necessarily different. There is no single 'best' kind of gear for all types of listeners - and fortunately the price tag of the gear has only a little to do with the desired results.

This article is specifically for the music lovers among us and as such presents a particular perspective that leans towards the priorities music lovers find important. Music lovers want and need certain things from HiFi gear that mastering engineers, audiophiles and most gear heads could care less about. For example, a mastering engineer may want gear that is the audio equivalent of an electron microscope to 'see' into a recording with the greatest possible resolution of the minutest details so that he can tweak the album just so. The audiophile who values sonic fireworks from well-recorded music will want equipment that excels for that type of technorama experience. Gear heads may own equipment that is impractical for everyone but them - but that's okay because the gear is their entertainment. It's all viable, fellow listeners. Be tolerant of other preferences. As long as you know what type of listener you are, you're all set.

You might just be a music lover. Many audiophiles really are music lovers but they don't realize it yet. They've never heard an alternative to audiophilia and been instead needlessly frustrated by listening for sound-related phenomena when all they really wanted was listen to music. Music lovers inhabit a parallel universe to audiophiles. The music lovers' universe is music-centered instead of focused on sonic fireworks, absolute or otherwise. Music lovers' hifis flatter all music regardless of how well recorded because there's lots of great music not recorded all that well. Music lovers' equipment must always serve the music and the music must never be forced to serve the peccadillos of cranky equipment. To boot, the equipment should be as affordable as possible so music lovers have plenty of money left to buy music. Music lovers want a presentation just to the warm side of neutral, with a natural, edge-free and organic presentation that's full of tone color and musical texture. Music lovers want to experience the full glory of the music's beat, rhythm, melody and mood in such a way that they can get lost in the music they love. Their gear must possess that elusive element called musicality.

A HiFi system that plays music really well can forever change your perspective on what this hobby is all about. Music lovers' HiFi gear allows you to forget about the gear and get down to building music collections, expanding your musical horizons and most importantly of course, just enjoying the music for its own sake. Music lovers aren't generally devoted to any single format of music delivery. Many music lovers listen to FM tuners, cable music, CDs, music files stored on their computers and downloads on their iPods with equal joy. Music lovers that have been around for a while generally have a nice LP collection they have great fondness for. The Analog Engineering 2008 is an example of a piece of analog HiFi gear that can provide long-term satisfaction for music lovers who have a nice LP collection they want to enjoy on a musical and high-quality turntable without spending obscene amounts of money. The Analog Engineering 2008 is an excellent value for the money and plays music exceptionally well. You can buy it, forget it and enjoy your music. It looks cool and retro, too. Perfect.

Mike Paschetto and Analog Engineering
Mike says himself, "I'm a dyed-in-the-wool gear head and drag racer and have been for as long as I can remember!" Mike only has 6 or 7 months of the year in which to enjoy racing his cars and motorcycles down the drag strip in Massachusetts. That means he has to fill those inhospitable months with something else. Luckily for us HiFi nuts, Mike ended up getting into music during the off-season. Mike says, "I've always been interested in music and my very first involvement in DIY audio was doing custom car stereo installations for my vehicles and for friends' vehicles. DIY home audio loudspeakers followed soon after."

After honing his engineering and fabrication skills over the years as a professional mechanical engineer, Mike decided to apply his skills to a commercial audio product during the winter of 1998. "I was looking for a something to keep me occupied while the New England snow was flying and decided to build a turntable. Since I work as a mechanical engineer during the day, I had the design and fabrication tools at my disposal to undertake the project. At the time, I had no intention of ever offering the unit to the public. Ultimately, reactions from other audio buddies changed all that!" In January of 1999, Mike completed the prototype and demoed it at various audio gatherings in the North-Eastern US. The reaction was unanimously positive so Mike decided to offer the turntable to the public. The Turntable sells for $2,995, which includes an arm board but not a tonearm. Mike currently offers three arm boards for The Turntable: one for the Graham tonearm with a custom round mount; one for the SME, Schroeder and Mørch tonearms; and one for the Rega family of arms (RB-250, 300, 600). Mike says he has others in development that will be available in the near future.

Vintage Analog Engineering
After completing The Turntable, Mike started to slowly assemble a vintage system for his office. "While searching around for a suitable turntable, I stumbled upon the Empire 208. The classic appearance and robust construction intrigued me so I bought one. This was the foundation of what would become my second product" (and which is the subject of this review, the AE-2008 turntable). Empire Scientific started making turntables in the late 1950s and as far as I could tell through my research, the 208 was their first model. If you take a look at the current Empire Scientific website, you'll find that they no longer are in the analog biz but remain proud of their heritage: "Empire Scientific, with manufacturing headquarters in Deer Park, New York, has a proud forty-year tradition in the consumer electronics industry. In its colorful past, Empire was known for producing high quality turntables, cartridges and high fidelity loudspeakers, recognized by audiophiles for their outstanding performance." Empire 208 turntables are coveted by the audio underground for the same reason that Garrard 301s and Thorens TD124s are - they're great products that transcend time. The Empire 208 is a straightforward, unsuspended belt-drive design in contrast to the idler wheel tables like the Garrards and Thorens. But like the Garrards and Thorens, it plays music wonderfully well - it's a respected classic in turntable design.

As you would expect, a gear head and hot-rodding mechanical engineer like Mike would have to work the Empire 208 over to tweak its performance. Mike started with a few simple cosmetic enhancements to the Empire 208 like refinishing the base, painting the plinth and belt cover and polishing the perimeter of the platter. "I mounted a Rega tonearm I had lying around and listened for a while. The turntable sounded very good! I started to experiment with damping materials, platter mats and different tonearms with good results. It was at this time that I decided to build a replacement plinth from a solid aluminum plate and machine it to accept an SME tonearm. The result was spectacular and would be named the AE-2008!"

I agree with Mike. The result is spectacular. In my Best of 2006, I made a special preview mention of Mike Paschetto's Analog Engineering 2008 turntable: "It's a honey. It's in the same league as the Garrard 301 and Thorens 124 and the beautifully crafted Paschetto Empire 208 is a real-world price winner too. I'll tell you now before the full review comes out that Mike's Empire 208 is highly recommended. At $2495 sans arm, it's a red-hot bargain. Like a finely crafted Navajo rug, Stickley furniture, pre-war Martin guitar or Filson jacket, these vintage turntables are treasures built to a standard that means they'll be enjoyed by you and generations of music lovers to come."

"The AE-2008 2008 is a fundamental mechanical and electrical rebuild of the timeless Empire 208 turntable," says Mike, "and the turntable is completely disassembled and any parts that will be reused are cleaned and rebuilt (e.g. the drive motor)." Mike installs new motor isolation bushings; the wood base is stripped, sanded and refinished with Watco Danish Oil; and an IEC power inlet is fitted to the rear of the wood base. The original thin cast aluminum plinth is discarded and replaced with a ¾" thick billet aluminum plinth. Mike finishes the plinth and belt cover with an attractive retro-styled textured black powder coat. The Empire's pop-up 45 adaptor is removed from the existing platter so a new acrylic mat (supplied) can be fitted and the perimeter of the platter is then polished. If you look closely, you can see the beautifully machined motor drive spindle located in the middle of the 3 isolation bushings that is used to change speed from 33 to 45RPM. Mike applies a proprietary damping compound to the underside of the platter to make everything nicely non-resonant. Mike then cleans, inspects and lubricates the bearing and spindle shaft, replaces all of Empire's electronics and installs a new lighted power switch. To keep everything spinning smoothly, Mike also fits a new drive belt. He machines the plinth for the SME family of tonearms and says a 9-inch arm with a SME-style mounting flange will work. Custom adaptor inserts for other tonearms are available on a custom order basis. After all that work, Mike prices the transformed Empire 208 -- now a Paschetto Analog Engineering 2008 -- at what can only be considered a very fair price: $2495.

After developing the AE-2008, Mike went to work on phono preamplifiers. "I auditioned many phono preamps to compliment these two turntables but was never completely satisfied with most. I felt I could do better so in 2005 I decided to design and build my own. This would be the genesis of my third product, The Phono Preamp, which uses a split passive RIAA circuit as the basis and is designed by none other than Paul Joppa. The gain triodes are Russian 6N1Ps with C4S (Camille Constant Current Source) loads. The output is fed into a C4S'd 12BH7 running as a cathode follower and the whole thing is shunt regulated by a hybrid 5687 regulator, which is in turn loaded with C4Ss. The DC heater supply is heavily filtered, including some chokes."

Mike's phono preamp can also be configured for use with reel-to-reel tape decks. Guess what he named that version? What else, The Tape Head Preamp. While based on the RIAA phono preamp, the stock RIAA equalization network is then reconfigured to be a passive NAB equalization network but the rest of the preamp circuit and power supply details remain the same. Mike uses The Tape Head Preamp with a modified Technics RS-1500 at home.

The Review System
For the review of the Analog Engineering 2008, I used my usual Avantgarde Duos loudspeakers (and my Harbeth Super HL5s or Merrell Zigmahornets as the mood struck me). I used the Shindo Monbrison preamplifier and Cortese amplifier in for review and Auditorium 23 loudspeaker cables and Shindo silver interconnects to tie it all together. Mike set up the AE-2008 with the superb SME 309 tonearm and Denon 103R phono cartridge, both of which I like a lot. The SME 309 is very easy to install and easily adjusted to perfection. Most importantly, it plays music better than many high-falutin' tonearms. I used the excellent Auditorium 23 step-up transformer that is optimized specifically for the Denon 103 phono cartridge. The A23 tranny in combination with the Monbrison's moving magnet phono stage provided spectacularly musical results.