Analog vs. CDP: A fair comparison?

Ok, in summary, I'm planning on selling my Cary 303/300 and taking the funds and buying a TT rig including Table, Arm & Cartridge. I'll worry about the phono stage, record cleaning machine, etc. later.

Assuming I get $2,500 from the CDP, will I be able to get a used rig that will at least match the sound quality? Assume also that I will have a phono stage budget of $1,000.

Rest of the system if Cary 300SEI.

Is this a fair comparison? Or, will the sound just be different (i.e. tubes vs ss).

thanx much
Personally I think you should not look at this in a piecemeal way. You should budget for everything now, or else you will regret it later. (Obviously you are concerned about a budget, so take it into account now.)

You should budget for cleaning supplies (RCM, fluid, brushes, etc. - figure a few hundred dollars, if not more), as well as inner and outer sleeves and record racks to protect your precious records. You will need these things in order to really get the most out of your LPs, so don't put off buying them until after you are dissatisfied with the sound, get them now.

Also, you will probably need a turntable stand/rack as well, which can cost hundreds of dollars too. Plus, new LPs tend to be more expensive than new CDs, especially the heavy vinyl reissues, be make sure you can truly afford it.

(If you don't already have a LP collection, you should make sure you really want to commmit to analog. I made this choice myself a few years ago, and don't regret it, but I already had a fairly large (1,000 LP) collection, from before I switched over to CDs in the late '80s.)

As far a sound quality, I would say it will be close. The Cary is a good CD player, no question about it. In order to really give your analog system better sound, I highly recommend going with a good MC cartridge, (the Shelter 501 is a good budget cartridge @ $850 new). However, it is a low output MC cartridge, which means making sure your phono preamp is not only a good quality unit, but it needs to have plenty of gain (at least 55 db of gain, if not a bit more), and needs to be fairly quiet. (I recommend going with something of good quality like an EAR or an ARC, at the very least. My best advice is to not cheap out on the phono preamp.) This is another reason why not to put off buying the phono stage until later, as your choice of cartridge my restrict your choice of phono stages, and visa versa.

Personally, I much prefer the sound of my turntable to my cdp, and they are fairly closely matched in terms of costs.

My analog system is slightly more than your $2,500 budget: My Basis 2001, RB 900 arm & Shelter 90X cart, (all bought used for around $3,400).
The sound of my analog system vs. my CDP (Resolution Audio Opus 21, with AU 24 I.C. - used price was $2,700), is pretty close, as they both sound great. However, I just prefer the sound of vinyl vs. digital. (I'd estimate I use my analog system 90% of the time!)

IMHO, if you truly wish to make sure your sound is better than your cdp, you should increase your budget a bit more. (My two cents worth anyway!)

Good Luck!

PS Make sure you have someone help you setup your table, arm and cartridge, as it can be a bit tricky. (Even if you have to pay someone to do it, as I did. It is very much worth it, to enable you to get the most out of your system.)
for an informed (if opinionated) view of your situation, try calling John @ The Audio Connection in Seattle (not the NJ audio connection). He carries Cary and also is a big analog fan. He ought to be able to help you through your dilemma. My personal opinion is that the sound will be better, but you are correct to cite phono stage and cleaning machine as factors.
The largest cost for either format is not in equipment, but in music software. If you get rid of the Cary how will you listen to any of your CDs? How many albums do you have to play on your new turntable. There's no rule about the ratio of music to equipment costs, but I would hope that anyone with a system such as yours would have several hundreds (if not more) CD/albums. Your software collection should determine which format(s) you use.
I agree with the others when they wonder if you already own lps, how many cds you have now, etc. The availability of software (lps) is a tough one. If you've never owned a turntable before, I'd suggest holding on to your Cary and buying a budget TT combo pack--TT+phono preamp. You can get new packages for less that $500 and used--well take a look on audiogon. After a year you'll have a better feel for what you are getting with analogue. I like the sound of my old Thorens TT (with a gram slee preamp and cheap audio technica cart) but because of the selection available on cd, I don't think I'd ever trade in my digital equipment for a better analogue set up. Reading the mags about analogue certainly makes this a tempting proposition, but for me the reality of do it whole hog would be too bleak. Good luck whatever you decide!
A Record doctor cleaning kit, a decca brush and a zerostat should surfice as a start(about$100.) I would spend most of the budget on the cartridge/phono stage. Used Well Tempered Table/arm combo usually sells used for $1100. I like the Dynavector P-75 phono stage, very versatile, you can use the cartridge of your choice. This should sound better than the Cary. There are many bargain cartridges in your price range to choose from, maybe a Shelter 501,Audio Technice AT-33PTG from Japan, Benz, Lyra, Denon, Dynavector,etc.
I disagree on the software concerns--vinyl is very abundant and can be much cheaper than CDs as used--just make sure you have a good record cleaning machine in this case. As far as specialty heavyweight vinyl pressings, they don't cost any more than specialty gold/remastered/diamond studded rewhatevered CD pressings and sometimes less. I also think the benefits are greater but then, I've never owned a really super high end digital rig.

There are a few issues you should consider: is the music you want more, as, or less available on vinyl than digital? Are you willing to go through turntable setup and periodic maintenance? Like the others have already brought up, how big is your digital collection and how will you play them? I would think it would make more sense to add a vinyl rig to your current system rather than replace your digital outright--unless I'm missing something?

Also, be warned that vinyl is different--better or worse is entirely up to you. Some people like me don't mind some pops and click in older records, others seems to have minor coronaries over it. By nature, records are inconsistent. New domestic pressings in particular are often a bit warped and sometimes pressing techniques are hardly impressive. Vinyl can be a mixed bag. Compact discs are at least physically more consistent--mastering jobs are of course a different story. If you plan to buy new domestic vinyl pressings or poorly stored old "garage sale finds," I would recommend you figure some kind of record warp correction into the turntable rig you choose. There are several option: vacuum platter systems as with SOTA, periphery rings, or standalone record flatters (I have zero experience with machines that purport to flat records but they are out there). Also make sure you have a good record clamp.
I am not sure if you are aware that you cannot play vinyl directly thought the Cary without a phono amp. You have to budget that in.
Agree one thousand percent with Onhwy61. Pawlowski, are you mainly an audiophile, or a music lover? 'Cause without a CDP and without a phonostage, you don't figure to be listening to much music in glorious sound, digital or otherwise, for a while here. And if all your budget is allocated to hardware for the near future, do you already have a waiting collection of records? Bottom line to me, as a guy whose record collection has always dwarfed his CD collection but who frequently listens to both, is that music availability trumps EVERYTHING. Play with different formats to expand your musical possibilities, not just to chase some received notion about 'better' sound...
Yeah, I can't imagine being without both CDP and vinyl. There's just too much great music out there. I do prefer the vinyl format if I can get it, but there is sooooo much great music out there that I just can't see putting that kind of limit on my choices. If you can find a way, keep the Cary CDP and find a way to add analog to your system.
No! Period end of story! I was extremely hesistant to go analog but have now worked myself up to the straight Scout with a decent but not crazy expensive Dyevector 20XH cartridge started with an MMF-5. My phono stage is a heavily Modded ARC SP6b. The presentation between analog and digital is just different. I agree with many comments about software the quality of the player but nothing sounds like a TT. It is Apples and Oranges. I get great music out of my CD front end, don't get me wrong but it is just different. Try it yourself using the same system with a good CD player and a good Turntable/Cartridge. It's different.
Are you getting rid of your CDP because you think--and heard from everybody that Analog sounds better than digital?? The answer is NO. ANALOG DOES NOT SOUND BETTER THAN DIGITAL. Some of my CDs still sounds better than my vinyl. The true answer is..... it all the depends on the recording. My Analog front end is 15K and my Digital front end is 3K. This being said, I still sometimes hear better sonics on some of my CDs than my vinyl records, and vice versa. Go to an audiophile store that has a both analog and digital on the same system--Bring some of your records and cds and have a listen. Only then you make a decision.
First of all, thank you everybody for all your thoughtful responses.

However, I have to admint that I'm surprised by the prevailing opinion that perhaps I should NOT sell my CDP in favor of a turntable system - unless I already had a large record collection. Truth be told, I don't have a large record collection at all (<30?). But, when I bought my first CD player (many years ago) I didn't have many CDs either. Actually, right now, I still don't. I just sold a bunch. I only listen to a handful of CDs anyway since, in my opinion, most new music is awful but, that's fodder for another thread. I really remember growing up listening to my old man's records and still can't find many of the them re-issued on CD yet. If you're wondering; mostly Jazz with a generous helping of any genre where musicians are stand outs. I like lots of Jazz from the 70's too. Anywho...

In all honesty, looking for good sound and enjoying my music represents only half of my needs: I really love the sensual side of this hobby. Although I'm the furthest thing from an electrical engineer (I wish I knew more from that perspective) but, like to be hands on with my gear. 1) I love to try new things. Even though, I've settled on the majority of my system for now (ICs, power cords, amp, loads, etc.) I still love to be hands on. I have a nice collection of tubes for my amp and CDP and love to roll 'em trying out different permutations all the time. I think I'd enjoy working with my turntable tuning it, trying different cartridges, arms, etc. I don't think I'd be happy just having a solid state system that just sits there being enjoyed. 2) And this part is REALLY shallow, but, I enjoy being part of a select community. I like to meet friends here and other places that have the same unique (oxymoron?) experiences that I do. It almost feels like being part of an exclusive club. 3) Finally, I just want to try it. I'm on my third system in two years and I'm just having a blast.
Oh, and Justubes, yes, I've heard lots of people say that, in general, vinyl has the capablity to sound better than digital. Read the last paragraph in Michael Fremer's most current Analog Corner (Stereophile.)

Thanks for providing more info on where you're coming from, and where you'd like to go. That helps alot.

Your lack of a significant LP collection argues against jumping into vinyl in a serious way, since you have little experience with all the hassles and work required. Record cleaning and fussing with arm/cartridge setup are manadatory to get even decent performance, never mind good performance.

You understand your music needs, they are readily available on vinyl and you wouldn't be abandoning a large number of CD's.

There is no ignoring the implications of your second paragraph,

I really love the sensual side of this hobby.

I like to be hands on with my gear.

I love to try new things.
You're doomed. You are a perfect candidate for vinyl mania. Come on in!


P.S. There is no exclusive club, there's just us. If you want an exclusive club you have to visit Vinyl Asylum. They only let the real nut cases in there!

P.P.S. My vinyl/digital ratio is similar to Justubes, $18K/$1.5K, but my experience is somewhat difference. My (carefully tweaked) digital is quite good, better than some $8-10K dedicated CDP's I've heard. But in general it does not match my vinyl. Yes, a good SACD or DVD-A sounds better than a bad LP, but for 90% of my collection (4,000 LP's, 800 silver discs) the vinyl wins - as it should for $18K.

P.P.P.S. If you do decide to proceed, read Kurt Tank's first post again. He gave lots of excellent advice.
I got back into analog a few months ago on a lark after buying 8 used LPs at an antique store. As many posts have pointed out, it is easy to underestimate the investment and effort required. I wish I had bought my RCM up front, and at some point will need to acquire a phono stage. Also, although there is an abundance of inexpensive vinyl, the specific stuff most of us really want is expensive. Once you get past those issues, it is a really fun and enjoyable way to enjoy music. My LP collection is now healthy and growing every week. I spent roughly the same amount on my TT/ARM/Cart as my CDP and believe that it is better - but not like sell the CDP altogether better. From what you've described I think it would be a lot of fun for you too. Maybe sell the Cary CDP and get a Jolida 100 level player and invest the difference in the TT set-up. Best of luck.
You sound like a collector rather than a user. IMHO go for it! You will get much more fun from a turntable - there is more to play with and all the bits that do the work are externally visible and which you can proudly operate.

I know people who do this with wine...they enjoy collecting, decanting and all the paraphenalia with wine. To each his own.

Me I enjoy the act of never lasts long at home as we go through a bottle each is the same with music, art, books and beer.

My delight is not in an audio shrine with everything on display and in its is in the sound. Check out my system and you will see that I am absolutely serious....nothing is visible and displayed in an ostentatious manner....even the speakers are hidden!

I think there are two forms of audiophile; The Collector and the Hedonist!
Thanks Pawlowski for answering my question. I admit I can't advise you because I can't understand you. So carry on reading, being "hands-on", and trying new things (buying and selling music you don't like, buying and selling gear that you do). I wish you nothing but fun.
Thanx Zaikesman for what I think sounds like a left-handed well wish.
Back-handed. I have nothing against my left-handed brothers :-)
Don't get rid of the CDP. Go the 500-1000 dollar complete TT setup and try it out for at least a year.

I run both analog and CDP and love them both - especially now that my 306 SACD arrived. Amazing!!

Hi Paw - The 303/300 is a very good cdp, particularly if you put some good RCA clear top 12AU7's in it with a pair of Herbies Audio Hal-o's. This will be nearly impossible to beat with a $2500.00 analog setup. I have a VPI SuperScoutMaster with Benz Silver Ref cartridge, Hovland MusicGroove2 i/c and Vac Renaissance pre with phono and the Cary 303 competes with it in sound quality and listener enjotment. Yes, the vinyl playback is a bit better, but keep in mind that you will also need a decent record cleaner system, an isolation platform for your table, and the investment you will make in software before you complete the calculation as to whether you benefit from the switch. My advice would be - do both! Get into analog gradually and supplement your cd system.
It all depends on what is important to you. If absence of surface noise, idiot-proof operation/maintenance, multichannel potential, and low cost are important you should stay with digital. On the other hand there are a subset of audiophiles who have an almost religious belief in vinyl. If you can pay the dues to join this club, and have the patience to "properly" set up and maintain your hardware and LPs they say it's nirvana. Don't know...never been there.
Eldee: I take it you mean "never been to nirvana"...I know you've been an owner of turntables and records!
Zaikesman...I used to think my LP equipment was OK until I got lectured by Albert and his crew! It, and other systems I have heard, have never delivered the quality of sound that vinyl fans describe, and so, for me, digital is better.
E: I think choice of program material also has something to do with this -- if I listened primarily to classical, where noise and time limits can be more intrusive, I'd probably find more reasons to enjoy digital. Personally, I think CD and LP can each show faults compared to the other in different ways, but also believe mastering quality is really the main determinant (assuming the playback quality is on a par). Of course, neither my digital nor analog playback chains, nor the rest of my system through which I hear them, are anywhere near SOTA...
Zaikesman...You are correct in that program material which is recorded on vinyl at a uniformly loud level, ( not typical of classical) but not so loud as to cause mistracking, yields excellent sound, without intrusive surface noise. Of course this fact was the basis of the DBX LP recording system that I found to be excellent.
Dear Pawlowski6132 : I think that Kurt_tank put everything in perspective and I agree with him.

Now, you are using headphones instead of normal loudspeakers and I don't have a lot of experiences about but I can't imagine how confortable is to take-out the headphones and walk yo the TT every 15-20 minutes or less if you don't like what you are hearing on the LP instead to change the track with the CDP remote control steady in your chair. I don't know this is new for me and I have not an advise about.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Run both worlds.... You gotta keep a CDP no doubt, sometimes you just want to kick back and play DJ with a remote.. so Don't go 100% vinyl.. Also, it is true about the hassle and cost, you look at it up front and think its not that bad, but then after you get some experience under your belt you will find absolute need and no turning back with RCM, Digital Stylus gauge, Hi-cost Hi-end cartridge, Tons of tweaking Knowledge and Device cost to do it etc..

Not to mention the actual cost of Vinyl and the cost to clean and store each album correctly and most effectivly for best sound and performance. I would easily estimate for my basic collection it has cost me nearly 30 bucks each title for the good stuff with mobile fidelity sleeves, cleaning fluids, time, tuning etc(this includeds the cost of a new LP or reissue).... So add that up for 100 good albums and you see the cost now, minus the fact its almost a guarantee to get a turntable, cartridge, tools, and cleaning machine for something in the 90% top performance range will run you into the 2500.00 region very easily. Do it but beware of the hidden costs, and the serious loss eliminating Good digital all together which I do not recommend.
If you're into the sensual part of the hobby, then there's no doubt that a vinyl rig will suit your needs. Its far more tangible than a CD player or DAC. It's just the very mechanical nature of the whole thing. Once you're into it though you will most likely find yourself trying to improve it.

And there's no doubt that spending more on analogue will make it better. I'm not so sure that the same kind of expenditures in digital reap the same level of rewards.

Definitaly keep some form of CD player - it's still music you like afterall, and music is what it's all about in the long run.

As for the TT - I would take one of 3 approaches if I was in your shoes. (1) go cheap and used - if you don't like it or if you want to upgrade then there's little to nothing lost (2) find a used deal on something nice, like a Well tempered or a VPI (3) get something with an upgrade path, like a VPI. But the real differences in analogue sound come with the cartridge and phono stage - so get something reasonably decent to start with there.

Will I think an input from the digital camp is in order. Are you nuts. I have a small software collection 600 CD's 150 albums (the wife has a CD collection of about 350). The decesion to invest the majority of my budget in my digital front end was a no brainer. I do enjoy my vinyl on ocassion but as others have said it is alot of work. I would recomend a modest TT setup. This is the route I choose to go. My TT is pretty much plug and play.
I have been reading this tread with great interest. I too am posed with the same digital/analogue quandary. I have a main system which has taken me 6 years to get where I wanted it. Now completed I just could not stop myself, so hence was born a second system, I call system Jr. My main system is all digital/solid state Wadia/Meridian with full range Aerial Acoustics model 9 speakers. Very happy with that system. On system Jr. I wanted a different direction. I went with Revel Gem monitors, Cary Audio tube intergraded and for now A Rotel CD player. I went to replace the Rotel with something more commensurate with the rest of the system when a turntable was recommended to me instead, A VPI Scout. I love everything about this hobby, including the intimacy with the hardware/software but I am concerned about a $3K plus investment in analogue when I know digital can sound good. I have about 150 LPs in perfect shape I put away 25 years ago. Any suggestions? Bill

In one sense there is no reason to "worry" about a $3K investment in analogue. Vinyl repays significant investments much more convincingly than digital.

But the flip side is also true. Unless you're a skilled DIY-er, vinyl needs more put into it than digital. There are few if any upward spending limits and the temptation to take it further is always there, simply because experience quickly teaches you that the paybacks will be real. Three years ago we questioned our sanity before dropping $6K on our first high end rig. We've since tripled that investment and more. The sonic results surpass digital at any price, but of course the sanity question remains unresolved.

I'd suggest visiting a friend or dealer who has a good quality vinyl setup. Play some familiar CD's to give yourself a feel for the system's character. Then try a few of your LP's. That might give you some sense of what the payoff might be.
I agree with Doug in that the worry should be minimal. If anyone is especially worried about an audio investment the strategy should be to go used to minimize the potential loss if it doesn't work out. Vinyl is great - come on in - its a lot of fun.
Don't do it Bill! Don't listen to the Siren's Song! Contact me about those 150 LP's instead!

Vinyl sucks!
this thread has kind of turned into the first and only thread i started a loonngggggggg time ago.about whether to get involved in vinyl with no record collection to speak pawlawski i am intrigued by the whole tweaking and trying scene of vinyl.pretty sure i am ready to take the plunge now and just plod along as i can afford things.unlikely i will give up on my digital stuff as sometimes i am sure it will be convenient to plug and play so to speak.cheers.
Excellent advice from Maineiac re: buying used. Audiogon and ebay give us ways to audition stuff with small financial risk. For example, we recently upgraded our I/C's and speaker cables to a level we might never have reached if we'd had to buy new. We love the results, but if we hadn't we could have re-sold them for about what we paid.

There is one possible exception: cartridges. Unless you have reasons to trust the seller that go beyond a good feedback number, buying used cartridges is risky. I've had both good luck and bad, but if your first attempt went bad it might sour you on the whole thing. Don't buy used cartridges unless you know what you're doing and/or know the seller.
Great advice from all, thank you. I do buy allot of used gear with mostly positive results. With wear or limited life items I feel more comfortable with new. The Cary tube amp I just purchased was new because if not I would always wonder how many hours the tubes had on them. I know my investment is better protected when buying used because if it doesn’t work well in my system I can usually sell it for what I paid. Given the delicacy and need for proper set up I think I have relegated myself to a new VPI Scout with a Dynavector cartridge installed by them. My local dealer is going to lend me their demo for the weekend. Hooray! We still need local dealers. I am now down right excited about the prospects of Vinyl. It’s just like 3 months ago when my dealer suggested I try tube gear for my second system my first response to him was “What are you nuts? What would I want with yesterday’s technologies?” Now all I want to do is hear those sweet sweet tubes. That experience has opened my eyes and I want more,more,more………
I am sure none of you audiophiles share my obsession?
whatever else you do - bribe doug to set your table up
Billt1, why didn't you just buy a used Cary amp and new (NOS) tubes?????

“Billt1, why didn't you just buy a used Cary amp and new (NOS) tubes?????”
It was just a comfort level thing. Tubes are a new game to me so until I am very familiar I just figured it was a safe bet.
The one aspect that I discovered about vinyl which was totally unexpected was the family involvement that it brought along. My kids love to look through the records and have me spin them up and they love listening. My wife has been on the hunt for records for me and brings ones she finds home, cleans them on the RCM (which she got me for father's day), and we listen together. The kids also love going to antique stores and flea markets looking for LPs. For whatever reason, vinyl is more enjoyable for everyone. I wish that I had started with vinyl much earlier.
I was in this boat a year or so ago, though I was not interested in selling my digital gear, but simply diving into vinyl with a handful of LP's (5 I think, maybe 12). I contacted a good friend of mine who was interested in helping me out. He set me up with a really nice Thorens TD166 that he had rebuilt (parts from a 160 and 166 merged) an Alphason arm and Grado Prestige Silver cart. He lent me his Clearaudio Basic and then he gave me the little Rat until I had the money to buy a decent phono. All in all I had the setup for 3 weeks and I was hooked. I loved the sound and I enjoyed the mild tweaking.

That said, I knew for myself, that doing the gradual upgrades would kill me in the end and so when the opportunity arose a month later to get a full on setup (my current one listed under my profile) I was locked in. In just over a year my LP collection has gone from a dozen LP's to between 500-600 LP's. How? Donations from friends, yard sales and folks gutting their collections on the cheap. Craig's List is your friend among other local used sites. I've spent maybe 400 on LP's, the vast majority of my music being in the .25-1.00/LP then the other new LP's ranging from $20-$30. The stuff I REALLY want on vinyl I buy on vinyl and take the hit, otherwise I stick with the RBCD.

I would say my listening is split evenly between CD and LP. My CD collection is a bit over 1k albums and I have not slowed on my purchases, having bought perhaps 50 albums this past year. I like the flexibilty of having both options when purchasing new. That said, you have a computer, if you don't want to get rid of your CD's but want to dive headfirst into vinyl, you can play your discs on your comp and get a decent DAC/amp combo for your headphones. This way you don't lose your ability to stay with your digital media but you now have some sweet cash to plunk down on vinyl. However, given what most have stated, don't just chuck your digital stuff in favour of vinyl "site unheard." Make sure you have a backup plan, the option of using your comp for listening via an outboard DAC, buy a cheaper vinyl kit (something in the $1k zone, table/arm/cart) get a decent phono (P75 used for $350-400) and you still have more than half you cash for that DAC and cleaning supplies for your vinyl.

In the end, the vinyl exists, and it is still available on the cheap, it just takes some time to find it. Once you do though, the wonders of new old music is at your finger tips and usually at prices CD's can't match just yet. But for new music, keeping CD's in the mix is a must as most is never issued on vinyl.

Hey Zanth, thanx. That's a pretty encouraging thread! And, it's nice to see a SERIOUS headphone setup every once in awhile.
In the end, the vinyl exists, and it is still available on the cheap, it just takes some time to find it. Once you do though, the wonders of new old music is at your finger tips and usually at prices CD's can't match just yet. But for new music, keeping CD's in the mix is a must as most is never issued on vinyl.

Very well put, I'd say. That's my viewpoint, although I started in this hobby in 1977 and most of my collection is in vinyl form. For digital I took the belt drive path; for analog, direct drive. Works for me.

Here's a great vinyl site:

Maineiac: After that last post, I will now regard everything you say as complete fiction ;^)
Hey, it could happen. My cats lick the records clean for me. I'm selling the Loricraft and buying more Friskies.
Maineiac must live in Stepford
OK. Sold the CDP. The Clearaudio Champ II is on the way! Next need an arm, then cart, then phono stage. All this connected to the Cary 300SEI. OR, sell the Cary 300SEI and get the VAC Avatar with the built-in phono stage.