Cartridge or cable upgrade


Hey all,

Equipment is as follows:

Pro-ject 5.1SE tt
Sumiko Blue Point cartridge
LSA Statement Integrated (MM/hi-output MC phono stage)
Reference 3A de Capo BE monitors
Monster Cable Interlink 2 Insulated IC for phono connect

Should I upgrade the cable or the cartridge first?

I'm thinking of the Dynavector 10x5 ($450) for the cartridge, or Anticable Reference 3.2 for the cables ($300)

Any advice in those price ranges?

Thank you in advance,

Simao
simao
The cartridge first!

There are plenty of MM/High output MC's for around $400-700, better than the Blue Point Special.

The Dynavector is one.

Choose cables after the cartridge.
I'm not sure what you're considering would be a really audible improvement over what you have. Personally, I would try a Herbies mat before doing anything. It made a very audible improvement on my old Music Hall (Project) tt, but it seriously degraded my Linn, IMO. So you just have to try one and see. Herbies is always money back, so there's minimal risk. BTW, the mat improved the Music Hall much more than you would guess. More solidity, very improved bass response. Just all-around better.
I have your exact TT and spent around 1200 hours enjoying the Blue Point No. 2, the one I am assuming you have. Stylus wear eventually led to a change and I too replaced it with a Dynavector 10x5 that is now broken in.

I am not sure what kind of sound your looking for but I can share my experiences with both of these cartridges. Especially before you jump on the Dynavector. Overall, they are far more similar than different. Here are the differences that I noted. The Blue Point has slightly better treble while the Dynavector has slightly better bass.
The Blue Point will project a wider soundstage. The Dynavectors soundstage is narrower but deeper with the instruments more in focus. Overall, I give a slight nod to the Dynavector. For cables, I use Audioquest Sidewinders and am very happy with them.

If you are looking for a big change in sound, suggest you look at a different cartridge entirely. But change doesn't necessarily mean better. Just different. If you like the sound of the BP No. 2 and are looking to improve upon it, again I will give a slight nod to the Dynavector. Hope some of this helps.
The Dyna is actually a big improvement over the BluPoint, however, you need better gear to hear the improvement. ...for instance.....I am using the top of the line Anti-Cables, and find them wonderful, however, that last great improvement will probably be lost with a system that can't let you hear the difference. The lesser Anti's sound very similar, but without the nuances. They are exchangeable...I would try out the less expensive series with your system. Power cords are the most important....can offer the greatest improvement..interconnects next, then speaker cables.
I agree with Chayro,

I would go with a mat first. I use the Firm Funk Acromat but Herbies is also an excellent choice. Lateral changes is not what you are looking for.
I would concentrate all efforts on a better cart like the Clearaudio Virtuoso Wood V2 for better audible improvement over the 10X5/Ref 3.2

Just my opinions :-)
And my opinion...

Definitely a better cart. It will make a much bigger improvement than cabling. It's hard to beat an Audio Technica OC-9/II if you can get a step-up device or phono stage that can handle it. If not, have a look at a Denon DL-110 HO MC cart. I haven't heard it but others have and seem to like it.

I'd call Keith Herron to see if he can help you with cables. I'm using his cables and they seem very good. And they are very reasonably priced.
Source first, I find the table unbalanced to the rest of the system. IMHO, sell the turntable, keep the BP and put that money that is burning a hole in your pocket towards a better turntable.

I really don't see how upgrading the cartridge right now, or playing with cable, is going to get you any further down the road.
A record clamp-it honestly was the best money spent on my table.
Viridian, no question about it, a better TT will be able to hold a better cart. That said, the Pro-ject 5.1SE can handle a better cart than the BP2 an WILL sound much better:

Phono cartridges are incredibly sensitive transducers, so they don't just convert the grooves undulations into sound. The cartridge reads the information off the lp and translates it into something the rest of the stereo system can understand and play as music.

The quality of the audio signal depends on cartridge. That is why using a good cartridge is important, as this determines the quality of the sound.

Better cart = better reproduction of music.

Your system is good enough, actually really good. Try a better cart first, then experiment with cables, isolation, mats, clamps, etc.

I also agree with Bpoletti, the Audio Technica OC-9/II will be hard to beat at its price point if you can get a step-up device or phono stage that can handle it.
Ditch Sumiko BP. It's cold and harsh sounding. 10x5 seems to be the right track.
I would do both really. Which one is your choice. I use the Dynavector 10x5 on my Rega and it is awesome! I have never been a fan of Monster Cable (multi stranded) Signal cable makes a silver series for a lot less money than Anti Cable and you will be amazed at the results. Or you could look at something from Morrow Audio (around $150). Nice system tho the upgrades your thinking of will really bring home the dynamics and resolution. Enjoy!
Get a new 10x5 and buy a good used pair of IC's like an AQ Jaguar for 100-150. They sound way better than anti cables and have the DBS system which is a good choice for TT's because they stay broken in with little use.
Again, agreed with both Mattmiller and Zd542,
There are many cables out there better than the antis at a more affordable price.
You all rock. Thank you for all the advice and guidance. Some further questions:

1. How thick a mat should I get if I go the Herbie Mat route?

2. Yes, the table is probably the weaker link in the system, but at this stage I'm not sure how invested I want to get in the analog side of things. However, if I do pursue it, what's a good table that would be a step up from the 5.1? Figure ~$1000 used.
"Yes, the table is probably the weaker link in the system, but at this stage I'm not sure how invested I want to get in the analog side of things."

Your TT is more than adequate to get you started in vinyl. You'll see that upgrading is very different for digital and analog. With digital, you upgrade to something better sounding, but after that, you feel the need to upgrade again. And again after that. With vinyl, you can think of upgrades and improvements, but are not so compelled to do them like digital. Its much easier to enjoy what you currently have, even though there are improvements to be had.
Excellent advice, Zd. I've never really been unhappy with my table and researched a bunch of them heavily before deciding on the Pro-ject. One dealer clicked his tongue, shook his head, and insisted that I HAD to buy one of his Well Tempered tt's if I wanted to get ANY fidelity in the analog world, but the $1300 was out of my reach, especially sans cartridge.

That's kind of why I wanted to change the small things - cables, low-priced cartridges, even a heavier platter?
You got it all wrong, your TT is NOT your weakest link, your cart IS!
Second weakest link, your cables.
Third, your phono pre.
Fourth, your TT.
Everything else (mat, clamp, isolation, etc.) is really trial and error!
"09-12-14: Kiko65
You got it all wrong, your TT is NOT your weakest link, your cart IS!
Second weakest link, your cables.
Third, your phono pre.
Fourth, your TT.
Everything else (mat, clamp, isolation, etc.) is really trial and error!"

How do you know that?
Surprised that no one has yet suggested the Audio-Technica 150 MLX moving magnet cartridge ($479) as a candidate to consider. I have no experience with it, but a number of our particularly experienced and knowledgeable members have described it in the past as being among the very best cartridges in its price class. And in contrast to the A-T cartridge that was mentioned earlier, it would not require a step-up device.

While I'm not 100% certain of how ideal a match it would be for your particular tonearm, its relevant specs (weight and compliance) are roughly similar to those of the OC9 MkII and the DX5. They are also not greatly different than those of your present cartridge, considering especially that the 150 MLX's relatively low compliance (for a moving magnet) of 10 ucm/dyne is spec'd at 100 Hz, and I believe would be significantly higher if spec'd on what I believe is the more usual basis of 10 Hz.

Its relatively low recommended load capacitance range of 100 to 200 pf means that you would want to choose a phono cable having low capacitance (e.g., 20 pf per foot or less, for typical lengths of say 5 feet or so). I wouldn't be surprised if the very inexpensive Blue Jeans LC-1, 12 pf/foot and double-shielded, proved to be a fine choice.

And hey, given that a significant upgrade of the turntable will undoubtedly cost a great deal more than both of these replacements, you can always do that at a future time.

Good luck. Regards,
-- Al
About the Herbies Mat - you asked what thickness to get. If your tt has a thin felt mat, get the thinnest one. Herbie will help you with this. I wouldn't normally recommend a mat as a first upgrade, but on my MM5, it was ridiculous how much it helped. I'm not even a mat person. I don't use one at all on my Basis.
Logic Zd543.
"Logic Zd543."

Kik - I have no idea what that means...
The 5.1 is more than capable of holding a better cart.
A better cart will always improve sound quality.
A better cable will help bring the best out of the signal.
A better phono pre will help the cart do it's magic.

IMHO, I rather have a decent TT with top cart than the other way around.
"A better cart will always improve sound quality.
A better cable will help bring the best out of the signal.
A better phono pre will help the cart do it's magic."

Prove it.
Ah. Of course. I've emailed LSA to see what they say about a step-up. There's no pre-in on the LSA (it's an option for about $400, I believe, plus shipping both ways), and the existing phono, from all accounts, is quite good.

Any step-up recs?
If you are getting a 10x5, you don't need an sut.
A good SUT may cost more than your turntable. I would get a MM or HOMC cartridge for now.

http://www.bobsdevices.com
Most high quality step-up transformers (SUTs) or active step-up devices sell for well upwards of $1K, and the lowest price SUT I am aware of that I would give any consideration to costs $750.

I see no reason to go with a low output cartridge in the price range you are considering, or anything close to that price range.

Regards,
-- Al
Been there, done that many times. In all possible analog combinations I've tried over the past 20 years, a better cart/ phono pre/IC improved the reproduction of the music more so than a better TT with cart/phono pre/IC of lesser quality.

Which one you think will be able to retrieve more information and reproduce better sound quality?

5.1 SE/Pearwood Celebration II/AQ Jaguar/Pro-ject Phono Box RS

10.1/BP/Anti Cables/LSA Statement Integrated MM Phono Pre

I'll take the first combination in a heart beat. My personal opinion, just that.
Kiko65,

"In all possible analog combinations I've tried over the past 20 years, a better cart/ phono pre/IC improved the reproduction of the music more so than a better TT with cart/phono pre/IC of lesser quality."

What were your findings in comparing high and low output carts?
Not sure where you want to go with your last question Zd542. This thread has nothing to do with MC vs MM carts. My two cents, I lived very happily with a DV10x5 for a few years. However, the Virtuoso Wood was a revelation to my ears. Lyra Delos is now my reference cart.

Back to Simao's thread and the question remains:

Should I upgrade the cable or the cart first?

My answer still remains the same - a better MM cart like the Virtuoso Wood will bring new life to his system. More so than a better cable.
Respectfully disagree. I don't think that, given the architecture of the existing system, a Dynavector 10X5, or even a 20XL, will be a subjectively large improvment. The turntable is the limiting factor here and is sonically unbalanced with the rest of the system.

Additionally, the improvements from a new turntable are sonically very different than the improvments from a cartridge upgrade, both in terms of quality and of degree.

IMHO, save your money for the inevitable turntable upgrade in the future. Another reason for this is that the cartridge should be matched to the tonearm. And if you do end up upgrading the table, the cartridge that you select now may not be optimally matched to the new arm. Turntable first, cartridge second, cables third.

As always, YMMV.
"Respectfully disagree. I don't think that, given the architecture of the existing system, a Dynavector 10X5, or even a 20XL, will be a subjectively large improvment. The turntable is the limiting factor here and is sonically unbalanced with the rest of the system."

What do you mean by sonically unbalanced? I have both of those cartridges and going from the 10x5 to the low output version of the 20 is a pretty big difference. I'm not using really expensive equipment either.
Thank you all for the myriad avenues of advice and direction!

Now, let's assume that a new tt is out of the picture for now insofar as I'm guessing I would have to spend ~$1500 or so for a decent upgrade. And assume I have a few other bills I'm paying off before I go full throttle into the tt route.

So, with that in mind, and knowing that, like almost all of us, I'm more or less happy with the sound but "know" it could be better, just like the greener grass on the other side of my fence, should I

a. stay put and enjoy the music

b. try some sets of different cables - BlueJeans, Morrow, AudioQuest, maybe even Mapleshade - to see what happens (I'd recommend Clear Day, but Paul doesn't make shielded phono cables)

c. Invest in a 10X5 or a Grado Sonata 1 and, if I can't tell a difference, sell it.

d. stay put and enjoy the music
My perception of the prevailing consensus of those members having particularly extensive analog experience is that in general a top notch turntable and tonearm coupled with a merely good cartridge will handily outperform a top notch cartridge coupled with a merely good turntable and tonearm.

But in this particular situation we are not dealing with generalities, we are dealing with a very specific set of circumstances, including cost constraints that appear to preclude a significant upgrade of the turntable/tonearm, at least in the near term. Although I have no specific familiarity with the present Pro-ject turntable, under the circumstances I would ignore general philosophy, and repeat my earlier recommendation of the A-T 150MLX + Blue Jeans LC1 (both of them together, which would cost a total of around $520; you might also need a plain piece of insulated hookup wire for the ground connection).

I used to own the initial version of the Grado Reference Sonata. It was OK, and did nothing that was blatantly wrong, but I strongly suspect based on inputs that have been provided here by particularly knowledgeable members that the 150MLX would be much more of an upgrade. Also, keep in mind that Grados hum in some turntables, due to the lack of shielding in their wood bodies. I have no particular knowledge of the Dynavectors that have been discussed.

If you later see fit to upgrade the turntable, I would not expect that it would be difficult to find a suitable upgrade that would be compatible with the 150MLX. You would just want to avoid tonearms having particularly high effective mass, that are particularly designed with low-compliance low output moving coils in mind.

Finally, if my earlier comments about the 150MLX came across as overly cautionary, that was not my intent. Pretty much everything I said along those lines applies similarly to all of the other cartridges which have been suggested. I was just being thorough in expressing a SLIGHT uncertainty about the tonearm/cartridge matchup, given as I say that I have no specific experience with either product, and I am therefore not in a position to vouch for the combo with 100.00% certainty.

Regards,
-- Al
Agreed with Zd542,
There is a significant sonic difference upgrading to a 10x5, more so upgrading to a 20XL, even more so upgrading to a Virtuoso, especially with not so expensive ancillary equipment.

Junk in, junk out! Your entire system is pretty good and you will have to spend around $2,500 - $3,000 to get a much better table. The 5.1 may be a limiting factor if you want to try a Lyra Kleos but for sub $1,000 is good enough.
You all have been tremendously helpful. I'm mulling the AT-150 or the Dyn 10x5 or the Ortofon Black. I knew the 5.1SE wouldn't be a Lyra or Koetsu-caliber table, but I wasn't really looking for that initially.

I don't know whether i'll be going server or vinyl ultimately, though I suspect the latter if only because I still use my Smith-Corona manual typewriter that I've had for 20 years.

In particular, thank you to Kiko and Al for their thoughtful and patient advice.