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Pro-ject Debut Carbon turntable + Led Zeppelin re-releases = rekindling my love for music


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#1 of 25 OFFLINE   Carlo Medina

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Posted June 15 2014 - 05:56 PM

Opening statement

 

This is not going to be a vinyl is better than digital argument. I am a big believer in GIGO (garbage in, garbage out) and how an album is mastered for CD/high-res/vinyl plays a huge part in how one format is perceived as "better" than the other. For me, my belief is that an album using the same master will sound roughly equal on CD and LP. My belief is that any difference between the sounds that CD and LP can reproduce are beyond the reach of most normal humans (and yes most of us cannot hear the full 20hz-20khz, it's just a product of age and the noisy urban exposure most of us live in). And yes, vinyl will have static pops, hiss, and is prone to skipping. I am a big believer in high-resolution audio. I have a smattering of SACDs, DVD-Audio, and high res FLAC from various sources like HD Tracks and direct digital downloads from purchases (like the Led Zeppelin deluxe boxes I just purchased). My experience is that the well-mastered (read: non-brickwalled) SACD/DVD-A/high-res FLAC trumps both CD and vinyl.

 

That said, records are very rarely brickwalled. I think someone in the Steve Hoffman forums once said if you tried to brickwall a record, the needle will jump the groove, so that's why the mastering on records most often retain the dynamic range of the original recording, and aren't subject to The Loudness Wars (google this if you don't know the term) that CDs are. This is why I believe people think that LPs are better than CDs. If you used the exact same master, I think you wouldn't be able to tell the difference, save for the rare static pops and required side changes for vinyl.

 

Why vinyl now?

 

So given that I have an Oppo BDP-103D and a Pioneer SC-79 which plays back all of those high-res sources brilliantly, you may be wondering why I even bothered with a Pro-ject debut carbon turntable and records, especially since most of my initial record collection I have on CD (or better).

 

The answer for me is simple: I miss the experience of records. I'm 40, so I firmly straddle the analog and digital worlds. My father had a small record collection that I listened to as a latchkey kid between the ages of 7-13. Around when I was 14, he bought a CD player and there was no going back. I joined BMG and Columbia House multiple times (shhh, don't tell them) and quickly amassed a large CD collection. When I bought my first iPod and Mac, I converted all of my CDs to AAC 320kbps and even with great equipment I was hard pressed to differentiate between CD and 320AAC. It wasn't until SACD/DVD-A/HR-FLAC that I really started to gain an appreciation of how a well-mastered high-res digital source could bring you as close as possible to the original recording, surpassing both vinyl and CD.

 

CD was a poor replicator of album art. It was like Mini-Me...identical to the album art...except one-eighth its size. And let's not even get into replicating cool album art like Led Zeppelin III, Physical Graffiti, etc. Or cool inserts like the mustache and other cutouts of Sgt. Peppers and the fold out poster and glossies included in The Beatles aka "the white album". And of course the digital files only give you jpgs or PDFs of album art, and sometimes not even liner notes or the full booklet.

 

I missed having something tangible and substantive to hold in my hands. Records are a tactile as well as audio experience, the former being something that 24/96 FLAC files cannot provide.

 

The Pro-ject Debut Carbon

 

So being on a budget, I spent about a year researching the best budget turntable. While it's impossible to find a consensus on anything audiophile, the majority of respected professional and audiophile opinions pointed to the Pro-ject Debut Carbon as the "best budget turntable under $500". Given that the local Magnolia-within-a-Best Buy had the glossy black with an Ortofon 2m red cartridge/stylus for $399, it was a no-brainer given my Elite plus rewardzone membership. I could inspect the box (which was in surprisingly perfect condition) and not worry about how UPS would handle it in transport. If for any reason I regretted the purchase I have 45 days to return.

boxed carbon.jpg

Once I opened up the box I realized I needn't have worried about transportation, Pro-ject boxes and packs their turntables very well. They use strong cardboard, and individually suspend and support the various pieces of the turntable within the box. It would have to be run over in order to be damaged (and yes, I know any of the shippers are capable of doing that).

 

It took me about ten minutes to unpack and set it up. For anyone contemplating doing this, look at the various videos online about setting up the downforce and anti-skate weight online. They made the job super simple. The manual is seemingly written by engineers for engineers, the Youtube videos are made for common folk like me. Had I relied on the manual I think I still would be working on it. ;)

 

Initial impressions

 

I've listened to a few songs of Jethro Tull's Aqualung 40th anniversary reissue vinyl, Zeppelin III from their recently released deluxe box set, and Nick Drake's recent repressing of Five Leaves Left (major props to the Drake estate for including a voucher for 24/96 download with the purchase of the regularly-priced vinyl). First of all, getting the turntable level and stable is of utmost priority. Initially I had it placed in my rack above my amp, which I think was slightly inclined, and also prone to floor rumblings of people walking back and forth. The record skipped as I walked around the place (I live in an upper floor of an apartment complex, which normally I prefer since I don't like living on the ground level but for playing records now I kind of wish I did :D ).

carbon.jpg

Ironically I moved it from on top of the receiver, to its current resting spot on top of my subwoofer (I don't engage it for record playing, I go pure direct to my stereo tower speakers), and that has provided a much more stable and level surface. It hasn't skipped at all since the move as I walk around the apartment. I'm sure if I jump up and down I can make it skip...

 

My experience is as I'd hoped: I'm transported back to a time before the digital noise of today. And I'm not talking about CD or FLAC. I'm talking about cell phones, 24-7 connectedness, music as something kids today have on while doing something else. I'm back to listening to the record, to the music. Holding the album cover in my hands while it's playing. Reading the liner notes or lyrics as I'm enveloped by the sound. For a short while, I'm a kid again, discovering a record for the first time, passing the time between when I came home from school, and when my parents came home from work. There is nothing between me and the music.

 

Yes there are pops and hiss. Yes, if I run around the apartment I can make it skip. All of these things are absent from CD. But nothing I've heard so far is brickwalled, or fatiguing on the ears. And for Five Leaves Left I can tell you it is much better than my original CD pressing of it. There's a liveliness and fullness to the 2012 vinyl that the original CD didn't have. Maybe they were able to go back to the original master tapes. I'm sure it will be there in spades when I download the high res files too.

first 3 records.jpg

 

Going to take a break now and wipe this stupid smile off of my face. Over the next few days I'll sample Zeppelin I-II, Pearl Jam's Ten (which came with Ten and Ten Redux, which were infamously brickwalled on CD/high-res but word is that the dynamic range was more preserved on vinyl), Nick Drake's Bryter Later, and Radiohead's OK Computer.

 

I'll post more if people are interested, but I can't imagine a better way to start the work week than rediscovering the gift of music. :D


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#2 of 25 OFFLINE   Josh Steinberg

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Posted June 15 2014 - 06:07 PM

Very cool.

 

My record player (a Technics brand turntable gifted to me in middle school) has been safely packed away for the past couple years, but in a few weeks I'm moving into a new place, and I have a new receiver and speakers on order.  Besides getting to listen to my Blu-rays in surround sound and with lossless audio for the first time, the thing I'm most excited about is getting the record player hooked back up.  (In anticipation of the move, my girlfriend and I have gotten each other a couple records as "moving in" presents.)  There's something about the experience of listening to music that vinyl does better than other formats.  The end result (depending on the quality of the LP, the player, the stereo) may be better, worse or equal to a well-mastered CD, but the experience can't be beat.  Something really cool about picking out a record, putting it onto the turntable, brushing it clean if necessary, wiping off the stylus, and then putting that needle in the groove.. it can't be beat.  Additionally, I tend to listen to albums all the way through rather than skip from song to song, so the vinyl naturally works for the way I like to listen to music anyway.

 

Do you like Jack White or any of his assorted bands/projects (The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather)?  He's a huge fan of vinyl, and he's put some fun bells and whistles on his new album "Lazaretto" which came out this week.  (Hidden tracks at varying speeds under the labels, one side plays from the inside to the outside, and more,) There's a description of the vinyl's features and a YouTube video demo on his site:

http://jackwhiteiii....inyl-pre-order/


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#3 of 25 OFFLINE   Carlo Medina

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Posted June 15 2014 - 06:41 PM

Hey cool, yeah I'd read about White's experiment. I'll definitely try to check it out. Some of the guys on Steve Hoffman forums were worried that the gimmicky stuff may damage some tables, so I'll do a little research first before going crazy.

 

Am halfway through OK Computer - holy smokes does this album rock on vinyl! I'm intimately familiar with it on CD/AAC (I have both the original CD and the re-issue deluxe CD), and I've listened to it hundreds of times, but it sounds fantastic on vinyl. They did something to it, where it plays at the same speed as other records, but they spaced the grooves further apart or something, there's like three songs to a side, and there are two records for what isn't an overly-long album. And what's funny is the way they labeled the sides. Not 1-4. Eeny, meeny, miney and mo.

 

One thing I can't get over is how space-age this turntable is compared to the one my dad had (I don't even remember what it was, probably a Technics from the 70s). It has a carbon fiber tonearm which weighs next to nothing. You set the downforce weight manually. You put the needle at the start of the record and push down on a little level which gently lowers the arm onto the record.

 

And I agree with everything you wrote. Especially with regards to the feeling of putting the needle in the groove. Funny, that satisfying initial sound of contact with the record with just a slight bit of staticky sound, it's the audio equivalent to popping open the can of your favorite carbonated beverage and hearing the fizz, as your mouth starts to water with anticipation.

 

I also listen to my albums all the way through. Even did that on CD as well. There are a few exceptions, but mostly I buy albums that I like most, if not all the way through, so skipping isn't really a problem for me. I do like to use Apple's Genius though to randomize songs between artists that sound good together. But when I'm driving long distances with my iPod connected to my car, I generally cycle between albums that I allow to play all the way through.


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#4 of 25 OFFLINE   Josh Steinberg

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Posted June 15 2014 - 08:39 PM

I'm not a huge Radiohead fan, but I have their "Kid A" album which comes on two 10" records -- like your copy of OK Computer, it only has two or three songs per side, and sounds phenomenal.  It also is on heavier vinyl, which probably helps too.

 

For vinyl vs CD comparisons, I discovered one day that The Raconteurs second album "Consolers Of The Lonely" sounds so much better on the vinyl than the CD.  Being a Jack White project, I wouldn't be shocked to discover that they were mixed or mastered differently, so the source on both might be different, and that might be why one sounds so much better than the other.  But that just blew my mind when I first got that on vinyl (after having it a few months on CD).  

 

I also liked, just as far as cool touches on a vinyl go, what Modest Mouse did on "We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank".  There's the usual tiny pause between tracks on the CD version, but on the vinyl, if you listen very very carefully (or crank the sucker up way too high), you can hear that there are traces of instrumentation between tracks, it's been a while since I've heard it but I think you can hear the sound of a guitar string between two of the tracks, for instance… it's nothing major and I wouldn't tell someone to go out and buy a whole new stereo and record player just to check it out, but it adds a sort of connectivity between all the songs.  As if you're listening to the band in the studio switching instruments between songs or checking their tuning.

 

I just walked in from work to my old place (the boxes are slowly starting to pile up), and I can see the box of records in the corner, and I just smiled knowing that they'll get to be played again in a few short weeks.  Thanks for posting this!  

 

By the way, does your new turntable do 78rpm, or just 33 and 45?  Mine doesn't do 78, so one of the Jack White hidden tracks will be unplayable to me.  (Hopefully it'll be available online somewhere so I can at least hear it once.)


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#5 of 25 OFFLINE   schan1269

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Posted June 15 2014 - 08:41 PM

Tom Petty pays homage to LP on most of his cassette and CD...

 

The middle plays a but where he says..."now we wait for those playing records to turn them over"...


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#6 of 25 OFFLINE   Josh Steinberg

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Posted June 15 2014 - 09:05 PM

I love that -- I was listening to the "Full Moon Fever" album the other night on my iPod, and it's right there at the end of "Runnin' Down A Dream"



#7 of 25 OFFLINE   Carlo Medina

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Posted June 15 2014 - 09:08 PM

Mine only does 33 and 45 as well.

 

Had my first bummer though: a 1" scratch on a brand new Pearl Jam Ten (+ redux) album. Amoeba has a 7 day return/exchange policy so I have to head back this week. You could clearly hear it each rotation throughout most of the second song. Guess I'll pick up another few LPs while I'm there. Definitely The Bends, and I'm contemplating Kid A as well, so I'm glad to read it sounds fantastic. If that's not there, In Rainbows. Also thinking of Red Hot Chili Peppers Blood Sugar Sex Magik. I'll look and see if they have The Raconteurs. May also pick up Daft Punk's Random Access Memories.

 

Googled best record stores in LA and got lots of recommendations. Unfortunately they are all over L.A. and I could easily see myself driving 100 miles to go to several of them. It will have to be Saturday trips because with traffic not dying down until 7PM each weeknight, it wouldn't be worth the driving headache to do it on the weekdays after work.

 

Now I can't wait until the next three Zep deluxe releases! IV, Houses of the Holy and Physical Graffiti...

 

By the way, I'm convinced part if not most of OK Computer is a slightly different mix or master than the CDs I have. The vocals on my favorite song (played hundreds of times) Let Down sound different, more ethereal like they have more reverb or are slightly off-phased, on the album. Not sure which I like better, but it sounds really cool nonetheless. The bass on Airbag also seems to be further up the mix.


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#8 of 25 OFFLINE   Josh Steinberg

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Posted June 15 2014 - 09:49 PM

I'm not familiar enough with OK Computer to spot the differences… but Let Down is totally my favorite song on that album as well.  My brother was the Radiohead expert.  I'm more the casual fan type that thinks "Everything In Its Right Place" at the beginning of "Vanilla Sky" is awesome but doesn't often listen to the albums.

 

Even out on the east coast, I've heard of Amoeba.  I went to college in Boston, and liked it so much I ended up staying there for quite a few years after… and I loved going shopping at Newbury Comics.  On one side of the store, I could buy my DVDs (and Blu-rays when that was invented) at prices that usually were as good as Amazon, and then on the other side of the store I could buy vinyl.  I'd go every Tuesday on my way home from work (no matter where I lived, there was never one too far away), and it was pretty amazing.

 

Wish we had them in NYC.  There's nothing really quite like them here.  You can go to a record store, but you probably can't get movies.  And vice versa.  And the prices make you want to shake your head and go order online instead, which I do more often than not these days.  I miss the thrill of getting a disc or record at a store, checking the copies for the one with the best looking packaging and all of that… but it's not worth it if it's gonna add an extra $10 per album or disc.  The awesome stores I remember from when I was a teenager don't seem to have survived, for the most part.

 

As a preteen and teenager, before the internet had really come into its own, I remember that I'd read about my favorite bands and hear about this obscure track, that rare b-side, and there was no easy way to find them.  It was great fun going to used record stores and searching through stacks of 45s and 33s trying to find something I had never heard before from U2, and stumbling upon those things.  Kinda takes some of the fun out of it now that you can find all of those once-rare tracks on iTunes now.  It's great to have instant access, of course.. but as a measure of fandom, you really felt like you earned it if you had gone through all of that trouble to find these things.



#9 of 25 OFFLINE   Charles Smith

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Posted June 16 2014 - 05:43 AM

Enjoying this new thread immensely.  I'm about to mount a new cartridge on my own turntable, and though we listen to different kinds of music, this couldn't be more inspiring.  Thanks, and keep it up!



#10 of 25 OFFLINE   Tim Glover

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Posted June 16 2014 - 06:31 PM

Nice thread! I am a new owner of a VPI Scout 1.1 with an Ortofon Quintet Black cartridge. Also purchased a Musical Surroundings Phonomena II phono stage since my Pioneer Elite SC-57 phono input is MM only. 

 

I am getting some hum and white noise so that's an issue. I've been working on re-wiring/re-hooking all the gear to try and eliminate it. So far it's not working....BUT I am loving my vinyl. I've been selective in buying & most are from Mobile Fidelity Original Recordings. Whats interesting is how much....much better sounding the older recordings from Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, Fleetwood Mac, & Billy Joel truly trump new entries from current stars like Sara Bareilles & Norah Jones. Even with the white noise when turned up loud, the acoustics are breathtakingly large and clean. 

 

It's a non fatiguing sound I have forgotten. 

 

Here's hoping I can solve the phono stage hum/noise. 

 

Nice thread Carlo!


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#11 of 25 OFFLINE   Carlo Medina

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Posted June 16 2014 - 08:59 PM

Thanks Tim and Charles. Darn, Tim, you're playing in a completely different stratosphere than I am with that spinner and cartridge! I'm driving an Accord, you're rocking the Porsche! :)

 

That said, I've been so far very happy with the Debut Carbon. Went back and traded in my Ten for store credit. I was overall unimpressed with the sound of Ten (even discounting the scratch) that I am going to stand pat with the CD/digital files I have. I did buy The Bends and Kid A by Radiohead, along with Perfect From Now On and Keep It Like a Secret by Built To Spill, both of which have bonus tracks that were not on my CD versions. I know Doug Martsch is a huge analog fan, so I expect good things from the BtS vinyl. But this one is the gem:

FNM AD.JPG

If you can't read the gold sticker, it says Includes Hidden Bonus Track "Easy"

That was worth the cost of the album alone. If you've never heard it, it's a surprisingly faithful cover of the Commodores' song. Definitely a changeup from the traditional FNM sound.

 

The album's sonics are great, but in honesty the CD also had wonderful sonics (it predates the loudness wars). This was perhaps my favorite album of 1992, so picking it up was a no-brainer for me.

 

Oh and I picked up Toad the Wet Sprocket's new album New Constellation, which contains four additional tracks not on the CD (originally given to Kickstarter donors who supported the creation of the album).


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#12 of 25 OFFLINE   Tim Glover

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Posted June 17 2014 - 07:01 PM

Hey Carlo your Debut Carbon gets GREAT reviews! I need to give Angel Dust a spin :) 



#13 of 25 OFFLINE   Carlo Medina

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Posted June 18 2014 - 04:51 PM

Yeah Tim I researched the heck out of this purchase for about a year. There are a few TTs priced at the $400-$500 range but this one tended to be the one most favored and had the least issues (one of the Music Hall's had a problem with hum/ground loop, for example). This also came with an Ortofon 2m red cartridge that sells for $99 alone, and was the only one in its price range with a carbon fiber tonearm (which is stupidly light yet rigid).

 

Definitely spin up Angel Dust, you can't go wrong with that!


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#14 of 25 OFFLINE   Carlo Medina

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Posted June 21 2014 - 07:32 AM

The addiction continues...I really am going to end up regretting living within driving distance of Amoeba...

Last night I picked up Wilco's Sky Blue Sky, which sounds wonderful on half-speed mastered vinyl, as well as the backtoblackvinyl re-releases of Red Hot Chili Peppers Blood Sugar Sex Magik and Guns N Roses Appetite For Destruction. All sound fantastic! Unfortunately they didn't have any copies of Temple of the Dog on vinyl.


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#15 of 25 OFFLINE   schan1269

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Posted June 21 2014 - 08:26 AM

If you ever want to have analog bliss during a party...yet don't want people futzing with the turntable...

Record some to VHS. 6Hrs setting still has higher bias than metal cassette. 2hr will blow you away.

That is my main use of my Panasonic from 1991. It is an editing model and can random tracks.

#16 of 25 OFFLINE   hanshotfirst1138

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Posted June 25 2014 - 05:30 PM

I have the old album boxed set, I'm tempted to just stick with that, but these new remasters are tempting...

#17 of 25 OFFLINE   Carlo Medina

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Posted June 25 2014 - 05:43 PM

I have the old album boxed set, I'm tempted to just stick with that, but these new remasters are tempting...

Mike, are you referring to Zep? Yes the remasters are worth it. LZI shows the least improvement (it was a relatively low-fi recording session overall), but even that improvement is noticeable. LZII shows a moderate amount of improvement and clarity, and III is a revelation. Even if you don't get the uber-deluxe set (LP+CD+Book+Hi-Res FLAC download) at least get the remasters on your format of choice, whether it be vinyl, CD, or via HDtracks.com for the high-res (my recommendation if you're only going to get one). You can always use transcoding programs to convert the 24/96 FLAC files down to 16/44 WAV and burn CDs from it as well (just be sure to preserve the original FLAC and don't overwrite them!). You can also use the same program to make portable AAC or MP3 versions of your choice. XLD is my transcoding weapon of choice on the Mac, but I'm sure Windows programs exist that do just as good a job.


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#18 of 25 OFFLINE   TonyD

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Posted June 25 2014 - 06:04 PM

If you ever want to have analog bliss during a party...yet don't want people futzing with the turntable...
Record some to VHS. 6Hrs setting still has higher bias than metal cassette. 2hr will blow you away.
That is my main use of my Panasonic from 1991. It is an editing model and can random tracks.


I used to do this with radio.

I still have some old Stern shows on tape somewhere.
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#19 of 25 OFFLINE   Josh Steinberg

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Posted June 26 2014 - 09:36 AM

Hi Carlo!  I just hooked my record player back up -- I haven't done any of the fancy configurations on the receiver for the speakers, so I'm sure what I'm getting isn't as good as can be -- that said -- was really, really happy to be listening to records again last night, even if only for a short while.



#20 of 25 OFFLINE   Carlo Medina

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Posted August 04 2014 - 06:01 PM

The continuing saga of me rediscovering music through vinyl continues. Currently re-realizing what a great album Abbey Road by The Beatles is. Especially love the way Side 2 plays out, from Here Comes The Sun to the beautiful ~15 minute medley starting with You Never Give Me Your Money and ending, fittingly, with The End. Perfect postscript to their career.


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