Cheapest Analogue Setup to Conquer Best Digital

Hi, everyone,

although I think I have a decent digital system, I have never heard a modern analogue front end before.

Recently, I have developed an interest in the classical genre, both power and small ensemble. For classical music, obviously, plenty of LP's are available.

Given the universal (make that UNIVERSE-ALL) concensus that an analoque front end sounds better than a digital source of similar budget, I have a question:

What is the minimum amount of money one must spend on an analogue front end to conquer the BEST digital money can buy, be it redbook CD, HDCD, 24/192, or SACD?

Thank you,

A $4K VPI TNT Junior/SME 309 may not be the cheapest analog setup but the $20K Linn CD12 can't keep up with it. The only difficulty with vinyl is that it is VERY dependent on the pressing, but in most circumstances a decent pressing vs. the CD version is no contest in the LPs favor. I imagine the least you would be able to spend to beat the best digital is around $2000 for table/arm/cartrige. Look to the Basis 1400, Clearaudio Solution, Kuzma Stabi, etc.
any tnt with a vpi arm and your choice of cartridge...preferably MC will not dissappoint
Why tie up a TON of money when you don't even know if you'll like the end result ? My suggestion is to look for a reasonably priced yet good performing USED rig and go from there. This should give you more than a glimpse of what analogue offers without biting you in the wallet too drastically. If you find the whole analogue process appealing, you can always upgrade AND retain most of the resale value of what you originally bought. That is, if you do your homework to start off with and are just a bit patient.

I would try looking for a used Well Tempered or Sota table. For the money, they are hard to beat. Keep in mind that you will also need a decent arm ( may or may not come with the table ), a phono cartridge ( most would probably recommend moving coil although there are some good moving magnets ), some type of decent yet easy to use record cleaning device ( the Disc Doctor system comes to mind ) and a preamp with enough gain to accomodate the low output voltage of the specific cartridge that you select. I could easily assemble a COMPLETE phono system for well under $1000 that would please just about anybody but the most picky. That is, buying used except for the cartridge. This would also include some type of isolation devices, as TT's are quite sensitive to acoustic feedback, vibration, etc...

I'm assuming that you'll do this courtesy of a preamp that already has an input stage designed for vinyl or via an outboard phono stage. I only mention this as you need a device that has the RIAA phono EQ curve built into it.

If all of you've been using is a digital front end, you are in for a bit of a surprise. While good digital is QUITE good, even a reasonably priced vinyl system that is well thought out and well set up and can do some things better. The others have already covered the caveats in terms of various quality of pressings and recordings, etc... Best of luck and good listening. Sean
I have had excellent resuts with the Michell Gyrodecks over the years. The latest model I have used is the SE II model with a new DC motor which is much quieter than the old AC motor. This is a bargain at $ 1895.00.
I have the new Mitchell Gyro SE II that I'm using with a Origin Live modified Rega RB250 and a Benz Micro Ruby 2. I like it better than my previous VPI Aries/JMW 10 that I used with a ClearAudio Gamma MC cartridge. It wounds my Wright modified Perpetual Tech duo on much material, but that is also using a $3500 AHT phono preamp, so these things can get costly. The Herron tube phono stage also sounded excellent in my system.

I would like to know what system (TT/arm/cartridge/phono preamp) that Sean would put together for under $1000 that would rival the best digital. Perhaps he is not including a phono preamp in his estimate.

I think that a properly set up (with analog, set-up is everything!) VPI HW-19 series (Mk-III or Mk-IV) TT with a OL Rega RB250, and perhaps a decent Grado or ClearAudio MM cartridge into a Lehmann Audio Black Cube phono stage might make you smile -- but that would set you back closer to $2G's even used. On the other hand, a Gyro/OL RB250/Grado/Cube could be a great way to go and on the used market you might score that for under $2500 with a little luck. But even that may not clearly trounce the "best" digital.
Plato, if you re-read my post i said that a system of that nature would give him a solid "glimpse" of what top notch vinyl had to offer. In other words, a good "bang for the buck" type of offering. After all, Wonjun might not like what is involved with the care & maintenance of a vinyl system so i suggested taking a "small bite" and go from there. If it was to their taste, they could always move up. If not, they wouldn't have sunk a lot of money into what they might consider a frivilous venture. For the record though : ) my price "guesstimate" took into account that they might already own a preamp with a phono stage. Sean
You ask a tough question. The digital vs analogue comparison is difficult because the 2 have entirely different strengths and limitations.
I've found that ease and "musicality" come quite easily for vinyl.
Digital formats tend to effortlessly and cheaply resolve details that are hard fought for in vinyl playback and attained only by higher(and costly) levels of precision.

My relative performance estimations would be that right off the line that digital has a jump on vinyl below the $500-$700 retail level(total including deck,arm,cartridge and phono stage) as turntables just don't have the precision at that pricepoint to extract enuf information from the groove with conviction and generally highlights vinyl's shortcomings.

Above that,vinyl takes a lunge ahead in musicality but still won't compete in the absolute resolution sweeps until you get to around $1.5K to $2K.I know that I would much prefer vinyl at this point but some could rightly argue the opposite depending on one's musical/sonic priorities.

I'd say that most of the better digital players will drop by the wayside as the more accomplished turntables will extend their musical edge and finally compete on equal terms in resolving powers above the $2K- $2.5K pricepoint.

I've not yet heard a digital source of any kind,any format and at any price that would consistantly better a well set up turntable package in the $3.5K-$5K plus range.
Any music with quiet passages (as you know silence is an integral part of music) on vinyl LPs should normally send you up a tree. The great pretence is that vinyl is more involving, more liquid, more musical, more detailed... the list goes on, you get my drift. The simple truth is that there is great confusion between the benefits of analogue and the reality of vinyl records. The way vinyl records work is quite simple: a more or less pointy piece of diamond applies tons of pressure to a vinyl groove more or less covered with ridges. Not a pretty sight. Every time the record is played, it is diminished in its quality. Herculean efforts have been made over the years to perfect this flawed system. The results are laudable, but appear to have reached a point, a good number of years ago, which is akin to trying to walk or, better yet, run on flippers. Just look at the ridiculous lengths to which some manufacturers have gone. Yes, turntables remain popular with a very limited number of persons for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is quite an affectation to espouse turntables and to preach that gospel. Secondly is involvement: analogue turntables are simply more fun than CD players because you almost constantly have to tinker with them. They give you some kind of pleasure from the mere mechanical aspect of it, from the tactile aspect of playing a record on it. No little drawer with everything done inside the machine, away from view. Thirdly, if you have that great thick, undamaged pressing, with just the right turntable set-up and preamp (yes, phono requires a real preamp), if the dust that normally is present in your listening room does not settle too much on the record even as it plays and if the moon is shining just so, you will swear for those few magic moments that this is way superior to any of that digital CD garbage. As a hobby, a turntable and vinyl records are great. As a source of enjoyable playback of all the music that is out there, forget it. As a tool for archival reasons, I think you should have one. But remember one thing, all the goodness that is raved about by vinyl fans will usually dissipate like the morning dew once you go against the limited number of pressings that are actually playable. However, there is pride in knowing that you will become a true audiophile, since what you will listen to will be dictated not by the music you actually enjoy, qua music, but by what you find on pressings that a) were properly made to begin with (seven out of ten are rejects), b) have been stored properly to avoid warps and c), since we are almost always talking used records, will have been played with decent enough equipment not to destroy the quite fragile grooves. The means will dictate the ends. Be certain of one thing though, the crackle, ticks and pops are always there, the best table/arm/cartridge combination will never remove these, regardless of price and set-up, so unless the kind of music you listen to always has an unrelenting instrument to hide the surface noise, you either become very selective in what you will actually put on that turntable or will invent some sorry excuse to say either that the surface noise simply does not exist or that it does not bother you in the least, unless you go all the way into the realm of magic thought and contend that you actually enjoy something less than a black background on which your music appears. What you will be forever searching for is that one elusive disc that is for oh such a brief moment perfect. The only way to prove the superiority of vinyl is to have a demo with very specific records, of very specific music, played just so, to induce a false sense that analogue is superior to digital, that turntables are better than CD players. The nicest argument I heard, is that a very expensive turntable currently available puts the surface noise of the record on a different sonic plane than the music itself so that it doesn't bother the listener. Yeah, sure. This is so strange as to be unbelievable. Trust me, there is nothing endearing about surface noise. Our analogue friends seem to want to make of necessity virtue. The best advice you have gotten so far on these pages is to limit your expenditure. There is a wide choice available at very good prices. I would recommend a Linn LP 12, with whatever decent arm is already installed on it, with as many of the Linn improvements and modifications already installed on it as you can afford for the budget limit you should impose yourself. The cartridge poses another problem, since if improperly cared for or used for a good long time, the stylus will be damaged or worn out, and every record you play will be permanently damaged by it. Re-tipping or stylus replacement will prove costly and frustrating, or both. Probably a good idea is to buy a new cartridge, there still is some choice available at reasonable prices. In closing, please don't think that a turntable will generally provide more musical enjoyment than a good quality digital front end for general listening of a wide variety of music. But, if you must, by all means go for that long road to analogue Nirvana. You will soon realise, unless you join the cult and wear your blinkers 24/7, that the journey is long and that the truly enjoyable stops along the way are few and far between, unless a steady diet of audiophile pressings by less than great musicians is enough to warm your heart. Don't give up that digital front end just yet.
Pbb, i think that anybody that thinks that only one of the formats does everything best is lying to themselves or delusional. Both formats offer advantages over the other in different areas. While i will agree that vinyl has a LOT more maintenance to go along with it, it really can sound much more "liquid" or "lucid" on many recordings.

My girlfriend, who hasn't listened to LP's in years nor ever owned a good "stereo", was utterly amazed when i played some tunes for her via the TT. The first words out of her mouth were "I don't remember records ever sounding this good". My brother, who is 25 years old, owns a quad-amped system and grew up with CD's instead of records, said that he didn't think that vinyl could be so quiet or sound so good. It was good enough for him to buy a TT and start listening to vinyl.

Both of these reactions and opinions from people that thought "vinyl is dead". The "funny" part about all of this, especially after reading your response, is that it all came about because i bought a turntable / arm / cartridge combo that set me back $150 on Ebay and wanted to show them how good it sounded. To top it off, the records that were oh - so convincing to the "vinylly challenged" audiophile and non-audiophile were never maintained that well and were lucky if they had been "discwashered" once in a while.

Like i said, a well set-up vinyl system can be done for under $1000 ( so long as you already have a phono stage ). It might not be state of the art, it might not challenge the finest that digital has to offer, etc... BUT it will get you to the point that MOST people ( civilians and audiophiles alike ) would find it both "enjoyable" and "musical" to listen to. Like anything else, achieving 90% of your goal may be cheap and easy. It's that last 10% that kills ya in terms of budget and labor... Sean
My own experience also differs from Pbb's. Adding to the above, I have found that the major (financial) drawback to vinyl playback is the phono stage: IMO a reasonably priced TT set-up (~1,2 k) with a great phono stage performs very well vs. excellent cdps. This includes resolution and TONAL BALANCE, along the musicality and "liquidity".

No reference to "audiophile pressings" here: the LPs I use are chosen on content and I freely admit that they are rarely disc-washed.... (I'm lazy...;-))

As to pricing... Caterham & Sean voice my experience too.
Sean, I would appreciate a list of those great recordings you are talking about. By the way, if you read my post the way it was intended to be read, I have not said that there is nothing good left to be said for vinyl. Instead of being delusional or other nasty words used, I think I am quite realistic in stressing that, overall, a quality CD player will provide better service, more enjoyment and a better sound quality than even the best turntable/arm/cartridge combination. The operative term here is "overall", as in "generally" or "more often than not". Yes, you can set up a demo playing to the analogue front end's forte and compare it to CD playback emphasizing CD's minor flaws and come up with the well worn arguments over an analogue turntable's vast superiority. That only proves my point that the good sounding recording will dictate the music you actually listen to. It should be the other way around: you should buy the music you like, and the equipment should overall, generally and more often than not reproduce it as accurately and pleasantly as it can. A lot of music will never find it's way onto CDs. For that reason alone a music lover, young enough not to have one pre-CD days (in some ways I wish that were me), should buy a decent turntable. To insist that the sound to be had from one will be superior to proper, current CD reproduction is, I think, wishful thinking. By the way, direct to disc recordings are the ones I still feel have an edge over any other medium. That's a generalization, I know, so to be more specific let me say, in closing, that I will now go and play my Canadian Brass, Umbrella recording UMB-DD5 lp, but I will do it just once because I know for a fact it won't sound as good the next time it's spun... Regards.
WOW! Pbb sounds like a lover scorned. What will the digital afficienado do when the digital format-de-jour becomes yesterday's news? Will he weep for the format or curse it? Will he continue to tweek the old format with his trusty green pen? Will he place his outdated machine on the latest generation of sandbox foundation or replace the interconnects all in an effort to make is sound "more like analog"? Or will he toss his love (and his thousand CDs) away like an old shoe to get the latest nuclear-powered system that Madison Avenue will, no doubt, once again proudly proclaim to be "the perfect playback system"?

Of course, there are plenty of bad CD recordings just as there are plenty of bad LP recordings. Although, many of my friends have listened to a random LP at my place and are astounded because they have believed the hype that CDs are "perfect" and somehow better than vinyl, yet they are actually hearing otherwise. In fact, CDs almost didn't make it in the marketplace because of poor sound quality when they were first introduced. (They have obviously improved.)

Saying that a "quality CD player" (whatever that is) will better provide the subjective qualities of service, enjoyment and sound quality than "even the best turntable/arm/cartridge combination" is as irresponsible as saying that vinyl is an absolutely superior medium. Both take time and effort to maximize their performance and both can be simultaneously rewarding and frustrating.

For those who are fans of digital playback, Audiogon offers a digital subject forum to debate the multitude of digital formats (warts and all) and which one comes closest to analog. This particular forum (Analog Forum) is for folks who enjoy and want to get the most from analog (warts and all).

To answer the original question posed by David, my experience is that, from an overall sonic perspective, around $3K to $4K (full retail) will get you into an analog rig that will compete with just about anything that digital has to offer, assuming that both are playing reasonably good recordings.

Jimbo my friend, none of the above. I'm now into cylinders. It don't get any better...
Jimbo 3 (sorry I didn't get your name right the first time) may I quote you from an earlier post of yours :"If you buy alot of used LPs, it's inevitable that some will be worn or otherwise unsatisfactory.". How can you be so irresponsible in this analog forum.
Agree with Sean. It's that 10% that does the killing...

I was just looking at the LAMM website. Ouch!

I'll stay on the 90% side--and buy a house and a horse!
there is one that seriously shatters my vinyl addiction and you know that my vinyl rig ain't really that bad (wink, wink).
I know, I know, (and you know it too) two and a half years ago when I said that there is something close to vinyl in digital domain people didn't believe (if I remember correctly I put it something like "the first cd I can listen to") and now when I say that there is something digital that betters most of the analog gear there is, probability is that they will cut me in slices... if they dare.