L to R:  John Solecki, AnalogMagik Project Engineer.  Matej Isak, Editor in Chief, Mono & Stereo.   Richard H. Mak, creator of AnalogMagik

An Interview with Richard H. Mak, creator of the AnalogMagik All-In-One Cartridge calibration software and Test LPs...

1) Matej Isak: You have been a writer for Mono & Stereo for a few years now, it is good to finally meet you in person.

Richard H. Mak: Likewise. I hope my writings have made a positive contribution to Mono & Stereo, and will do so for many more years.   

2) Matej Isak: Can you tell us a bit about your background, and how does it relate to AnalogMagik? Are you a computer programmer?

Richard H. Mak:  No I am not a programmer, I’ve been in Finance and Investments industry since I was 20 yrs old. I run my own Investment Management company.   We do portfolio management, venture capital, as well as some private equities.   AnalogMagik can be considered as a small venture capital engagement.  

No part of my day job is related to analog setup, except I have a passion for music and audio, plus I am good at bringing people together to solve complex problems based on statistical and financial analysis. And that is exactly what I’ve done with AnalogMagik.  I have brought together a team of people, with different areas of expertise. 

The statistician may not understand the engineer, and the engineer may not understand the programmer.   I made it possible for them to sit together, and I financed an operation which allowed them to turn their expertise into a user-friendly product.    It took more than 10 people in 4 different countries to bring this project to fruition. 

3) Matej Isak: Your program, AnalogMagik, has generated a bit of a buzz in a rather short period of time.   I know your website has lots of information, so I would like to focus some on “behind the scene” questions about your product.   

How did you come up with the idea of a cartridge calibration software and when did you start on this project?

Richard H. MakAnalogMagik did not start out as a commercial product, I mainly developed it for my own use.   I think it started in 2009 when I got serious about Cartridge setup.    I went around setting up turntables for many people, and did over 2000+ setups over a period of 5-6 years.  Sometimes I get people running up to me at audio shows thanking me for setting up their turntable, but I don’t even remember their faces. 

There isn’t a single product on the market which can handle all the setup parameters, so I found myself hauling boxes of alignment tools, distortion analyzers as well as 6-7 different test LPs for each job.  Sometimes the prep work would take more than an hour.  It was very tiring and cumbersome.   I developed the tool for selfish reasons, I was too lazy to haul around all these boxes!    None of the tools I hauled around were perfect for their job, I had to find a lot of compromises. 

A no-frills version of the program was completed in 2012. We just never released it to the public and kept it for our own use, although it was without graphics, packaging or a user-friendly interface.   But it was a very powerful technical tool.

4) Matej Isak: Can you tell us what AnalogMagik does?

Richard H. MakAnalogMagik is a software program which fine tunes all the analog setup parameters in one package.  

The more sophisticated answer is, it is a program which tries to establish a correlation between an adjustment you make versus the level of distortion number displayed on the laptop screen.     In other words, it is attempting to measure incremental distortion levels, which may correspond to an adjustment you make.   The ability to measure incremental distortions depends on the inherent baseline distortion of your setup and equipment quality.    

It will help you achieve an optimal cartridge setup, by minimizing the level of distortions in as many setup parameters as possible. 

(Sample Screen Shot of the Gain Optimization Function)

5) Matej Isak: Can you elaborate on analog “setup parameters”, what do you mean by this?

Richard H. Mak: By that I mean the various ways to set up the cartridge by twisting and turning it until you reach a point where it delivers the recorded signal with the lowest possible distortion.    So you fine-tune parameters such as Azimuth, Vertical Tracking Angle, Vertical Tracking Force, Anti-skating and so forth.   

The market has no tool which offers a unified scientific approach to handle all these parameters using a consistent setup method (ie. distortion analyzers, rather than your ear).     We may be doing Azimuth using a Fozgometer which measures crosstalk, but for VTA, we eyeball the stylus raking angle.  Or we may adjust VTF, loading and gain by ear.  The approach is inconsistent and non-unified.   Each parameter is treated in isolation.

We have discovered that setup parameters are interdependent on each other, they cannot be fine tuned in isolation.  This is why I created AnalgoMagik.    I believe we are the first to incorporate test functions for optimizing VTA, VTF, Loading, Gain, Azimuth, and Anti-skating into one product. 

6) Matej Isak: What do you mean by a unified approach?  What do you say to the person who has been setting up cartridges “by ear”, and he thinks he is 90% there?

Richard H. MakSetup Parameters are all interrelated and interdependent.  Assuming you have optimized Azimuth using a distortion analyzer in isolation, while ignoring or using your ear to set up Anti-skating, VTF or VTA, your setup will sub-optimal at best because once you take into all the setup parameters as a whole, you will find that the optimal point for Azimuth may have changed once Anti-skating and VTF  is taken into account.   

We emphasize strongly that no single parameter can be optimized in isolation, you must go back and forth between parameters to optimize them all together as a whole.   In other words, you need to calibrate all parameters together, using a consistent method.  AnalogMagik offers a consistent and scientific approach to calibrate all, not just one, but all setup parameters with a unified approach, using a single computer-based distortion analyzer with algorithms optimized for our own test LPs.      

Surely you can use your ear to do set ups, but the ear of a 70 yr old will be different than a 15 yr old because our ear’s response to frequencies diminish over time.  It is also hardly scientific nor repeatable.    That is to say my distortion analyzer is a lot more accurate than your ear when it comes to repeatability and fine-tuning. 

7) Matej Isak: Why didn’t you release it to the public in 2012, why did you wait 6 years to do it?

Richard H. MakI have a very busy full-time job which is very profitable.   I am a finance guy, so a product is all about opportunity cost, and return.   Our projected returns for AnalogMagik is minuscule when we take into account the work which we have put in.   It took us several 6 figure numbers of development cost, the team of people we assembled are world-class engineers, statisticians and programmers, each very well respected in their field.  They cost a lot of money.  It was a sunk cost invested for my own benefit because I have an obsession with achieving an accurate setup. 

Secondly, there are many people ingrained with certain setup methods, and they may not welcome new ideas.    Ever since we released AnalogMagik, we do have some folks contact us wanting to debate about this and that, but I have no time to engage in controversies.    We only talk to those who have a genuine interest in what we are offering, with the common goal of benefitting the analog world by sharing ideas which may improve setup accuracy.   

At the end, we finally decided to release the product, because my industry friends told me to focus on the positive aspects.  Most of my friends told me my product will make positive contributions to the analog community, this is what motivated me to release the product.

I have met a lot of new friends in the industry, and have discovered new ideas and methods which we will incorporate into future versions of the program.

8) Matej Isak: Very interesting, whom have you met and what have you discovered?

Richard H. MakFor example, we have been talking with Franc Kuzma, who has given us critical but positive analysis on some of our test functions which will try to improve upon.   Bing R. Tsai, of Audio Art Magazine in Taiwan, is another truly knowledgeable analog guru whom we have been sharing mutually beneficial ideas, some of which we will incorporate into future versions of the program.     He is writing a review on AnalogMagik as we speak.   I was surprised at the number of turntable manufacturers who came to our booth in Munich, showing interest in our product.    

Another fine gentleman whom we had the pleasure of engaging a few years ago is Natasuka San of ZYX, we have had conversations on optimizing the torque level for headshell screws.  This has a great effect on resonant frequencies and on the resultant sound.   Our discoveries are very similar, and because of this we will soon be offering a torque wrench to the public, we believe it is an essential tool to have.   

These are the positive aspects of this product, you develop friendships with people around the world, who want to share and make the world a better place. But occasionally, we meet some egotistical individuals who just want to nitpick, tear down rather than to build,  I have learned to avoid these individuals because they are very draining and negative.   

9) Matej Isak: Is there any difference between the original 2012 version vs the 2018 Commercial release version?

Richard H. MakYes there is, and this is part of the reason why it took us so long to develop it.      

Our original beta version is a lot more complicated.    For example, we have 5 different ways to measure anti-skating using different methods, square waves, pulse modulation, sine wave and the whole enchilada.   We pressed several Test LPs with 20 different types of test signals in various location of the LP.     And we have 10 different signals to measure Inter-modualtion Distortion for VTA/SRA, etc.

Surely we can dig a lot deeper, and mess with tonearm/cartridge specific complicated test methods.    The mad scientist will love it, but the public will never benefit from it because it will take a PhD to understand it.     Who wants to carry 10 different TEST LPs to do a setup anyways?   Such a product will not sell, and will only invite the scrutiny of more mad scientists into more debates.

At the end we trimmed it down to technical level which we believe is understandable, and at a price point  that we feel the public will accept.   It may not be as accurate as our inhouse “mad-scientist” version which has many different ways to tackle each parameter, but it is a lot more user friendly and offers a respectable level of accuracy enough, good for day to day professional use.   

10) Matej Isak: If I have AnalogMagik, do I still need an alignment protractor?

Richard H. MakYou do need a good alignment tool before using AnalogMagik, that is to say you need to have the basic skills to perform a basic cartridge alignment.    You then use AnalogMagik to fine-tune all the set up  parameters.   

We recommend using the Acoustical SMARTractor to align your cartridge before using AnalogMagik.   If you use the SMARTractor to do the initial alignment, you will find that the numbers will align very quickly with AnalogMagik, otherwise you will find yourself spending a lot longer before you arrive at a set of good numbers.   A lot of alignment jigs which come with turntables are in fact very inaccurate.   

There is no trick to analog setup, with the right tool, a novice can do just as good as a pro.   You just have to put in the hours, and patience to get the right numbers. 

11) Matej Isak: With all the alignment tools on the market, why do you recommend the SMARTractor ?

Richard H. Mak: I wrote an article for TONEAudio Magazine, in which we gave the SMARTractor The Accessory of the Year Award, and for very good reasons.     Jeff Dorgay is also doing a review on AnalogMagik as we speak.   I like Jeff Dorgay a lot because his magazine is a breath of fresh air, different than everything that’s out there.

There are several things which the SMARTractor can do which no other tools can.    First of all, the dual layer grid lines allow you to establish a proper viewing angle.    Without a proper viewing angle your alignment will never be perfect, regardless of the choice of geometry which you are adamant upon.    

Secondly, your setup is only as accurate as the size of the the null point and the amount of play your instrument generates.   In the SMARTractor, the null point is a  laser cut divot smaller than the stylus tip.    Not every alignment tool is made equal, the SMARTractor is machined in such a way that there is no play whatsoever.    During the alignment, play close attention to how the cantilever lands, watch it’s dynamic movement, because it will reveal whether your cantilever is going straight up and down (which is good) or at an angle (which is bad).   

(The Acoustical System Professional Alignment Set, a beefed up version of the SMARTractor)

12) Matej Isak: Can you show us how the program works? 

Richard H. MakSure, let me show you a live demo of the VTA Test function.  So you play the VTA Test Track, and press START on the VTA Function.  The program will display the level of actual Intermodulation Distortion being detected:

You now re-adjust the VTA level, and repeat the same test function on the same spot of the test track:

You repeat the exercise until you reach the lowest set of distortion numbers.   As you can see from the 2nd reading, the distortion level has come down after VTA has been changed.    This is a rather large change in VTA level so the results are rather obvious.  As you find tune other parameters, the incremental change will become smaller and smaller, and you home in on the sweet spot.

You will also need to go back and forth between different setup parameters until you reach an optimal level with as many parameters as possible.   Keep in mind that each cartridge is different, some are more responsive to VTA changes than others. 

13) Matej Isak: I have experimented with the above exercise, and I find the numbers going all over the place at the beginning, is this normal?

Richard H. MakYes, this is normal.  How good the initial set of numbers look will depend on how precise your initial setup is, and the quality of your equipment.    You should always begin with an accurate alignment as it will bring down the baseline distortion level.    The lower the baseline distortion level, the great the chances of establishing a correlation with the various test parameters.   

There is also a general misconception that AnalogMagik will do the setup for you.   It will not.   It is simply a distortion analyzer which spits out data on what it reads, you have to do the fine tuning.    Sometimes it can take up to 4-5 hours to achieve a set of good numbers.   

AnalogMagik will only tell you where are at now, but you are the one who needs to make the adjustments to get there.  

14) Matej Isak: What do you say to the person who doesn’t believe in a “Perfect Setup”.

Richard H. MakI do not believe in a perfect setup either, because the LP format is not perfect.      It is a balancing act between finding a set of numbers which gives you the lowest possible level of distortion, amongst all the parameters.  If a correlation can be found, AnalogMagik will help you achieve this.   

It is not always possible to establish such correlations.   For example, if your turntable has a high level of motor rumbling, this may interfere with some of the measurements, such as the above VTA test function, rendering the results meaningless.  In such cases, you do the best you can and try to achieve good numbers with the rest of the parameters.   

15) Matej Isak: Is this where the “controversies” lies?    What if I cannot achieve good numbers?

Richard H. MakInitially, I didn’t want to release the program until it would deliver perfect results every single time.   It was my own sister, the Ph.D Statistician behind AnalogMagik who convinced me otherwise.    She said I misunderstood the scientific process of data analysis.   She is a Statistician with a research interest in data-mining.  She consults for major pharmaceutical companies on the  the efficacy of new drug development.   

Scientific data mining in clinical research is based on separating "signal" (meaningful patterns or correlations) from "noise" (random fluctuations or artifacts in data), where the latter is minimized in a controlled environment.  When the data exhibits a strong signal of benefit over risk, beyond that of random noise in the data, you release a drug to the public for testing.   100% certainty is never possible and if you wait for 100% certainty,  you will never discover a drug which may cure HIV or Cancer, because no drug works on 100% of the population.   You look for strong signals and patterns, and separate that from the noise in the data.    

AnalogMagik works the same way, we collect data (distortion levels) in a controlled environment (using test LPs) and try to establish a statistically meaningful correlation among the setup parameters.   But since the subject is not 100% controllable, it is not always possible to have meaningful results.  In other words, if your tonearm has no anti-skating adjustment, or if it is designed incorrectly, you will never find meaningful numbers because there are factors beyond our control, or may it require a more rigorous test method.   We believe our team has done a good job of choosing the right combination of test methods, which will establish strong correlations in most cases.

16) Matej Isak: Can you tell us about the Algorithms behind AnalogMagik?

Richard H. MakA user will not have to understand the algorithms behind AnalogMagik, and it is a proprietary algorithms.    Because the LP format is imperfect, we need to have algorithms to filter our noises, off centered spindle holes, warped records, wow & flutter, as well as myriad interferences.

We believe our results can be more accurate, and may even be better than an ordinary hardware distortion analyzer because we have incorporated algorithms to filter out interferences.  This is why, if you use an ordinary analyzer or another product the results may be slightly different.

17) Is there anything else you would like to add?

Richard H. MakWe are constantly trying to improve AnalogMagik.  We have made mistakes along the way, but whatever doesn’t defeat us, we learn from it and try to make the product even better.   What we cannot do today, we may be able to do tomorrow.    Just look at the difference between Windows 3.0 vs Windows 10, it took 20 years to get there.    

As the number of users grow, and as they give us feedback, we will make AnalogMagik better and better over time.   We have already released several updates to our software.  If the market has a strong demand, may be we will introduce more complicated test methods for each parameters.   We shall see. 

Thank you for your time, and for talking to Mono & Stereo. Thank you for giving me this opportunity. 

Disclaimer:  Richard H. Mak is a Senior Analog Writer for Mono & Stereo. AnalogMagik has no affiliation with Mono & Stereo whatsoever.  

An interview with Don Corby of Corby’s Audio, a premier analog shop in Canada, and an early user of AnalogMagik:

1) Matej Isak: Tell us about your store?  Where is it located?

Don Corby: My store is located in Freelton, Ontario Canada, approximately 1-hour drive west of Toronto. 

I cater to a specific group of clients,  my focus is on the analog front end, specifically cartridges, arms, tables and phono stages. I match my client's budget and preferences to a front end that will suit their needs and tastes.   We are a premier shop in Ontario catering specifically to analog. 

2) Matej Isak: As one of the earliest users, do you find AnalogMagik easy to use?

Don Corby: Analogmagik was a challenge to me initially. I was used to adjusting parameters by ear and that would typically mean the adjustments were large and coarse.   Using AnalogMagik, I have learned that very tiny, minor adjustment is all that is required to see a measurable difference.  Once I grasped this "small touch  & fine adjustment” approach, then the software became easier to use.

3) Matej Isak: What are some difficulties or flaws of AnalogMagik?

Don Corby: I had a hard time installing the software and the sound card driver package.   This was related to Windows anomalies not with the software.  My computer knowledge is basically limited to e-mail, I have no strengths in that world, otherwise, it probably would have made the installation much smoother. 

4) Matej Isak: What are some of the good features which other tools doesn't offer?

Don Corby: Analogmagik enables the optimizing of VTA, tracking force, Anti-skating, Gain and Loading which I haven't seen on any other software. 

5) Matej Isak: How many turntables and arms do you have at the shop on display, and how many setups were benefited by AnalogMagik?

Don Corby: I have 8 different tables, 4 of them have at least 2 arms, some with 3 arms. when I install a cartridge, I initially use the Acoustical Systems uni-tractor and use the Uni-din geometry exclusively. I use the Analogmagik software on each cartridge after the installation. 

(Showroom of Corby’s Audio)

6) Matej Isak: As a dealer, how does AnalogMagik benefit your business or customer?

Don Corby: Analogmagik is quickly becoming a respected reference turntable set-up package. In offering the set-up service to my clients, it generates a confidence in them, in my ability to properly set up a table. it then gives me that edge over other dealers that don't use the package.

7) Matej Isak: Does the program do what it claims to do?

Don Corby: The program allows me to optimize various parameters associated with cartridge alignment by measuring the associated distortion while changing the setpoints of those parameters. So yes, it does what it claims, although it does take time to achieve a set of good numbers, sometimes 4-5 hours.  

There are times when measurements are limited by equipment quality, for instance, on some cartridges you can never achieve an optimal Azimuth setting, and others may not respond well to VTA changes.  These are equipment limitations. 

8) Matej Isak: What improvements or changes do you want to see with AnalogMagik? 

Don Corby: As I change settings and take readings, I write those readings down on a piece of paper for a reference as I make the changes. some sort of temporary on-screen memory that would record those readings and keep them on the screen, like a print screen button just for an instantaneous recording of that reading. When the session is finished, those readings could be exported as a report for that particular cartridge/arm combination or just cleared when the program is closed.

10) Matej Isak: Do you have anything you want to add?

Don Corby: The are many dealers in the world capable of selling expensive turntables to customers, but how many of them can actually set up a cartridge properly?    We pride ourselves as one of very few shops in Toronto  capable of properly setting up every turntable which we sell.  We use the right tools and have the patience to deliver the most accurate setup possible, with the Acoustical System Uni-Tractor and AnalogMagik.

To develop this package, a tremendous amount of experience, passion and knowledge was required. Richard Mak has more knowledge and passion for analog, and for music, than most I've known.   

Corby’s Audio:
Don Corby
(905) 689-1976
toll free 1-877-689-1976
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