10 Levels of Turntable Mastery


Maybe this will be an intersting thread. Maybe it will be quickly forgotten. Either way, I'd throw it out there for discussion and debate.

Could we, as a collective, define 10 Levels of Turntable Mastery? 1 being a complete novice, 10 being the master turntable guru. Perhaps we even start at 0.

TML 0 - Digital Only
TML 1 - If you own and use a turntable, you qualify for TML 1.
TML 2 - ?
TML 3 - ?
etc.

I figured I'd fall into the 4 to 5 range. I understand the geometry enough to create my own protractors. I can use these protractors to set up tables with variable P-to-S distances. I can arrive at an acceptable starting point for anti-skate. I can set an initial VTA and VTF, but I'm not attune to the minor changes in these values (given my cartridge and associated equipment). I have no idea how to use an oscilloscope to validate and verify an accurate setup.

This isn't about who can buy the most expensive toys. A Walker owner may be a TML 1 while there may be Technics SL-1200 owners that may come in at a TML 8 or 9.

I think this would interesting to define these levels not only to benchmark where one is at as a Turntable Master, but what are the next things to master along the analog journey.

Who want's to take a crack at it? If this thread goes anywhere, I'll periodically summarize the posts into the current TMLs to help foster discussion and debate.
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I think a TML 2 has figured out how to clean LPs and stylus, changes belts, can adjust tracking to near optimal, can tell the difference when the TT is having a slightly 'off' day, and is very excited about NOT listening to a CD.

However the TML 2 still must pay a TML 7 or higher to replace a cartridge, align and balance set up, and anything more subtle than that.

The TML 2 pays big bucks because he now knows what's at stake.

Holy crap that's me.
"Technics SL-1200 owners that may come in at a TML 8 or 9"

That is a perfect example of an oxymoron, if ever I saw one. A person at one of those levels would be long past that choice, and he would know why.
Mosin, I like your attitude!
My Sota awaits...
I'll go ahead and say a TML 4-5 has the ability to rewire and mod tonearms. I've accomplished this with the Incognito rewire kit for my RB300. Rega's are one of the easier category of tonearms to rewire/mod, but certainly not the easiest. The risk factor could potentially be a ruined tonearm.

TML 6+ should be reserved for those with engineering ability...
Technics SL-1200 owners that may come in at a TML 8 or 9"

That is a perfect example of an oxymoron, if ever I saw one. A person at one of those levels would be long past that choice, and he would know why.

At what price point would you consider the need for proper/expert set-up exist?

Aren't there a few tt guru's that frequent this site that also own variations of the Technics 1200.
TML 10 should be reserved for the fellow (or gal I suppose) who has reached a state of vinyl grace where -while he is able to do all that other stuff - he no longer pursues the last Nth of perfection and is able to simply listen and enjoy his table and the music. A zen master if you will.
Where do the guys that can set VTA by ear fall into the list?
TML1 here I own a scout with Lyra Dorian but I have no idea how to set it up.
TML 10 is for those who bought a Analog combo which holds the settings ... ahem, or is that Level 1? :)
Woah! Based on what I am seeing, a TML would have to be able to design and build a reference quality TT, arm and cart using a boy scout knife and a roll of duct tape!
TML 10: master: built their own turntable and arm and it kicks ass on everything commercially available. This is not by the individual's claim; the knowledge of this is gained only by word of mouth. Anyone who says he is, isn't; turn around and run as hard as you can.

TML 9: In business as an acknowledged leader in the field, one whose product is beyond reproach.

TML 8: this is the level most aspiring audiophiles will rise to- able to create the best performance from any turntable placed in front of him, has a good idea of what machines produce state of the art performance, can set up proper cartridge loading, complete arm setup regardless of model- proper attention to VTA, nuance in tracking weight, effective mass, etc.

OK- not sure if I can define anything below that... :)
Tml 10 guys are too smart and happy to debate this topic.

I have a SOTA with a re-wired Rega 300, RCM, outboard stage and so on but I have pros and friends do all my set-up, I just clean and play music. While I dont know or care to be graded I will say that the statement about the SL1200 guy being maybe a 9 doesnt make sense because if they had that much knowledge they would almost for certain understand a better table would be easily had......maybe the 8-9 would have one as a second or third table but thats as far as I would go.
Ok screw it I am a 1 and I am off to play an album.
Grasshopper, as soon as you can snatch the stylus from my palm . . .

Sorry, I'm just pleased as punch to have connection again. ;-)
Hey Dan- does this mean you've got the lights and heat back, too!
Hi Swampwalker,

Were you without for very long? I've got a generator wired into my house so we don't suffer much at all. LIghts, heat, water, even sat tv and stereo. There has been a steady stream of our neighbors coming through to take showers, get coffee, flush, etc. The crews got the power back on around 2 p.m. yesterday. I had trouble sleeping last night without the drone of the generator in the background. ;-)
Is it that difficult to get turntable set up and arm geometry right? I have to confess that it is a bit of a hassle to do, but I think you shouldn't exaggerate it either. Some people are so damn neurotic --> to them it is never right. But this is just my insignificant opinion.

Chris
Dan- we were fine here, not even a blip! Glad to hear you are back up.
During my long noviciate of acquiring purported TT mastery, every year or so when I rechecked arm/cartridge set-up I found it way out of adjustment. I suspect it was my measurement tools & skills that were improving, rather than shifts in geometry.

Top-ranked TT masters are occasionally spotted at bicyle race shops discussing the mysterious properties of Italian hub grease. They wake up wet after dreams of being caressed by three-armed octopuses with names like Grace, Graham, or Schroeder. They puzzle physicians in ERs with toes broken by dropped 5 lb. record weights. They sometimes forget to remove their stethoscopes when exiting the listening room.
I look for the pocket protector.

A sure sign of the level 10 geekmaster.
Does a foot broke by a 90 pound platter count for anything, or is that just entry into the Darwin Awards?

Grimace,

before enlightenment, clean records, adjust VTA; after enlightenment, clean records, adjust VTA.
TML 10: master: built their own turntable and arm and it kicks ass on everything commercially available. This is not by the individual's claim; the knowledge of this is gained only by word of mouth. Anyone who says he is, isn't; turn around and run as hard as you can.

That's classic right there. And so true.
OK, lets see if I can pick up where Atmasphere left off:

TML7: May not be able to fully set up a Linn, or address the vageries of voltmeter based diagnostics on azimuth adjustments, but certainly has real-world experience with multiple tables/arms/cartridges and can set them up to perfection using manual tools. Probably a dealer.

TML6: Less extensive experience than a TML7, but can still adjust a TT to perform flawlessly. Someone who still fusses with VTA adjustments for each album, due to its minutely varying thickness from the previous one. A believer and owner of high end (and probably priced) products.

TML5: Someone with limited experience (3-5 tables), but has tracked down and solved resonance, isolation and adjustment issues successfully. Has gone through multiple cartridges and appreciates MC's and better phono stages. This is probably the go-to resource for the local audio club

TML4: Can adjust their own table and maybe 1 or 2 more to peak performance. Can discuss setup options with some knowledge. Understands all the terms and has heard differences when tweaking them. Has spent too much money on this hobby but thinks he has it "almost there" right now (wrong). Posts stupid messages on threads like these.

TML3: Appreciates MC's over MM's and can basically set it up to sound good. Not truly into the tweakfest that this could become, but willing to try a few things. Appreciates good sound and music and is still shooting for the best they can afford. Not sure if upgrading the phono stage will buy him anything better in terms of sound. Cleans their records. Curious about a speed controller and these new/old - fangled direct drive thingies.

TML2: Owns one of the set it and forget it tables. Likes to look at the high priced jewelry, but not sure why anyone would pay that much for a small improvement. Still into MM's. Thinking of buying a record cleaning product.

TML1: Still owns their 1970's Dual table, with original cartridge, which sounds just fine. Owns an AQ brush.

Looking for additional edits and additions to these - so chime in.

Bob (BTW - I'm at TML4 if you haven't figured it out by reading the above)
Thanks, Bob! I think this will help foster the discussion.
Ok according to the list just made by Bob I would be a TLM 2.5. I own a VPI scout with a Lyra Dorian, for me that is not a setup and forget TT. But I really dont know how to do that. I know people that do know. Also I am thinking "If I safe enough money I maybe can by a array PH-2 or a Bluenote/Goldenote Pamphilli.

I also had my eye on a SDS 2nd hand, but not sure if that would be any good for a standard scout.
I like Atmasphere's 12/16 post's listing of TLMs 10, 9 and 8.
IMHO, a TLM 7 would be someone who can set-up less difficult tables and who can hear when things are "right". Probably, can set azimuth and VTA by ear.
I'm about a 7, I guess.
Below that, I don't know. I've, always, paid scant attention to the lower classes. . .
TML 10: Tibetan monk hearing the music in his head as he spins the palimpsest.--Mrmitch
I have telekinetic powers and can make my table spin at a constant speed better than the best DD turntables, although sometimes I get distracted and all hell breaks lose!
Thanks to all who have added to this disucssion (and, I guess, thanks to those who typed enough to see their name posted within this thread). Here’s some of my thoughts - they are a bit loose, but hopefully it will add to the discussion.

TML 0: Digital Only. Refuses to acknowledge the potential of the classic medium.

TML 1: I think the lowest TML level is about 1) willingness to embrace the medium and 2) sees the turntable as an appliance. It either works or it doesn’t. My father would be a TML 1. He has over 3000 records, but gets his tables at garage sales, figures if they spin and sounds comes out, they’re good-to-go.

TML 2: The next TML will experiment with cleaning records. Wet cleaning seems radical, but after they try it, the see the light. These users see that clean records (without defects) can play without clicks and pops, and start to see the potential in vinyl LPs. This epiphany is what it takes to move up to a TML 3.

TML 3 starts to experiment with VTF (as this is one of the few parameters that can be easily tweaked on their set-it-and-forget-it tables. You break your first cantilever as a TML 3, which forces you to buy either a replaceable stylus or a new cartridge. You attempt to set up your new cartridge, think you’ve done it right, but not sure. A TML 3 starts to seek out information on the geometry of tonearm / cartridge setup. This thirst for knowledge moves you up to a TML 4.

A TML 4 is very proficient at using readily available protractors. You’ll start with simple paper protractors. Then try some lower priced, commercially available protractors. Then you’ll wonder if you should purchase a high-priced commercially available protractor. Then you think about it more. And you decide to do something about it. You’ve graduated to TML 5.

TML 5: Perhaps you take the time to understand the underlying geometry (but not the mathematics) of setup and you create your own protractors. Perhaps you purchase a higly precise commercially available protractor. Either way, you are very competent in setting Pivot to Spindle distance, effective length / overhang, offset angle. You can also verify / set the rotational velocity of the platter. You feel fairly confident about the azimuth. If you haven’t sold your set-it-and-forget-it tables yet, you’re about to do so. Your friends think you know your stuff to help them set up their set-it-and-forget-it tables (as they don’t see the value in spending good money on setup). Congrats…you’re ready to start to work on TML 6.

A TML 6 starts to focus on more esoteric tweaks, such as fine VTA / VTF adjustments (but maybe not for every record). A TML 6 considers stylus geometry and cantilever materials as much as a TML 3 thinks about MM vs. MC.

A TML 7 can prove setup accuracy using a voltmeter and / or oscilloscope. Probably thinks they can build a table better that what is commercially available at a given price point. However, if you cannot teach someone to become a TML 7 (you need to have 3 references), you do not progress to TML 8.

Now I hand it back over to Atmasphere…

TML 8: this is the level most aspiring audiophiles will rise to- able to create the best performance from any turntable placed in front of him, has a good idea of what machines produce state of the art performance, can set up proper cartridge loading, complete arm setup regardless of model- proper attention to VTA, nuance in tracking weight, effective mass, etc.

TML 9: In business as an acknowledged leader in the field, one whose product is beyond reproach.

TML 10: Master: built their own turntable and arm and it kicks ass on everything commercially available. This is not by the individual's claim; the knowledge of this is gained only by word of mouth. Anyone who says he is, isn't; turn around and run as hard as you can.
Sounds reasonable.

I'd say I'm about a 4 on this scale (minus my special abilities).

Knowing me, that sounds about right.

How about others?
I think I'm still somewhere between a 4 and a 6 on this scale.

Now, if I could conquor that deep bass woofer pumping problem that I'm experiencing using mechanical means and without going to an electronic subsonic filter, I might move myself up to the 6-7 level

Bob
I think I'm a solid 5 on my scale, just starting to explore TML 6.
Here's another thought. I think that as you progress up the levels of Turntable Mastery, you learn that the biggest gains in performance are from knowledge and less from money spent on hardware.

Case in point: I just had a *huge* increase in analog performance by building my own Loricraft / VPI hybrid record cleaning machine out of an old Pioneer PL-A25. I thought my records were immaculate because of my DD process. But after re-cleaning them with MFSL Plus and my new DIY cleaning machine...wow. I probably spent $35 on my new fluid, and $50 in parts to create my RCM.

It's hard for someone new to analog to accept that much of your initial budget *should* go to things other than the table, the arm, and the cartridge. Proper alignment, clean vinyl, and careful setup will (IMHO) yield far more satisfying results than that money spent on the Analog Trinity. However, even it I *was* told those things when I bought my first table (a Music Hall MMF-5), I would have thought you were trying to scam me. I guess this is part of the journey.
Nrenter,

To appreciate the truth of what you just posted just requires a little thinking, a gedankenexperiment in fact, and any newbie can do it. Two minutes of thought will demonstrate the intricacies of accurate vinyl playback and the importance of all the factors you named.

Imagine you're a microscopic V-shaped stylus, balanced against two sides of a microscopic V-shaped groove. You're under strict orders to maintain steady and even contact with each side of the groove. No bouncing around or you'll damage the groove, which you've been told is more precious than gold - and alot softer too.

Did I mention that you're made of diamond, the hardest substance known? Better be careful!

Hey! The groove just started sliding beneath you! You discover you can't move forward or back, so you can't slide along with it. No problem though, the groove seems perfectly smooth and you are too, so it slides along while you just sit there. Heh! And they said this would be difficult.

Whoops! the sliding groove walls just started oscillating back and forth, or up and down, or both! You discover you're also free to move left or right and up or down. It's getting more difficult, but as long as you keep your balance and they let you move in those directions you can maintain contact with those two groove walls.

Yikes! Now the two groove walls are oscillating at multiple frequencies at once. Still no problem, just a little more difficult to maintain contact. Your freedom to move up/down and L/R must be really free - hope they oiled whatever doohickey is holding you in place while letting you move!

Oops, your two groove walls are now moving at different frequencies and amplitudes relative to each other! Guess they just invented stereo (let's hope they don't think of quad). This ride's getting pretty exciting, but you can still handle it.

Oh no, the groove is angling gradually off to one side as it slides by. You're still free to move up/down and L/R, but you're not able to twist yourself to match the changing groove direction. You're no longer sitting precisely across the groove, who designed this piece of junk anyway?. If that's important, we may have a problem. Maybe no one will notice...

Whoa! They just put you in a different groove and it sits lower (or higher) than the old one. Kinda hard to balance and stay in contact with those oscillations when you're tilted forward or back. Don't you wish you could adjust yourself so you're stranding straight upright again?

Panic!!! Someone must have dumped a bucket of trash in here. You're bumping your @ss over all kinds of junk that prevents clean, constant contact with the groovewalls. It's not so easy any more, impossible in fact. The jerk should have cleaned this groove before asking you ride it.

Hmmm... the groove is sliding past slower and slower and those L/R oscillations are getting smaller and smaller. It's tougher to fit inside each one and follow it cleanly. It's tempting to just slide past the tops of the really tiny ones, but every time you do the boss screams at you. Sheesh, you'd think it was him in pain and not you. Time to lose some weight and make your own V shape really skinny. Who knew this job would involve dieting? Is that requirement even legal?

Big oops - now you're under electronic surveillance! Every move you make is being monitored by that dork and he can tell whenever you fail to follow the tiniest movement in the groove walls perfectly. Even worse, the better you do the more the bastard wants! It's like perfomance reviews, you did great last year but now you have to do even better - the bastards!

WTF! He keeps fussing with your angle across the groove, your angle tilting forward or back, the amount of pressure he puts on your head, the amount of pressure he puts on one side of you, etc. etc. You're so dialed in you can practically trace individual vinyl molecules, but he wants more. The guy's some kind of sicko...

See? There's nothing to it.
Dougdeacon,

Wow, that is a mess! I think I'll switch to all digital....
'swonderful, Doug!
Seruiusly, the thing that got me into audio as a kid was watching that little needle follow the grooves on records and being amazed at the fact that sound came out. Its still amazing to me that the sound can be as good as it is given the task at hand.

Digital has it easier though, doesn't it? Al that's involved in good playback is to retrieve all the bits available, and transport them intact to a device that can accurately reproduce the waveform. Its all electronic. No physical rollercoaster rides involved!

You also have to hope that the producer of the digital source material gave you a set of good bits to start with, but that's out of your control as is how well the record is produced. Nowadays, 9 times out of ten, they do at least a decent job of capturing those bits accurately, I find.
Doug, that started to remind me of the old penis joke, where it gets put in a rubber bag and shoved in a dark and wet place then bumped around all over the place until it throws up.

Seriously funny stuff. Maybe someone should make a cartoon for use on the next Fremer DVD.

Enjoy,
Bob