Help a vinyl newbie improve his rig


Hi everyone,

Over the last few months I've been experimenting with vinyl and tubes for the first time, and, well you know the story…I've left my CDs and solid state amps behind and am loving the beauty of analog sound on tube gear. I've got an integrated and speakers that I'm very happy with (Cayin SP10a and Wavetouch Grand Teton Gen2), so I'm looking to take a step or two up the ladder with the turntable and phono amp. Currenly I have a Pro-Ject Debut Carbon and a Vincent PHO-8 phono stage.

So, my guess is that the turntable is the weakest point and that to make a jump in sound I should be looking at 'tables like the Rega RP6, VPI Scout Jr. Clearaudio Concept, etc. From the few reviews I've read, the Vincent seems to be a solid phono stage (even though I'd like a tube phono stage in the future).

I'm not asking for specific recommendations on 'tables, but rather trying to get a feel for the most important first step in upgrading the vinyl sound quality.

I appreciate any thoughts you may have.

Best,
Scott
smrex13
Scott, as you evolve your system, consider making each step at least a "double-step up" or greater. The tables you mention are in that range, but you might even consider holding off until you can make a tier further up the latter move. Keep in mind that major differences will show up in the quality of the tonearm, and cartridges have large tonal balance and resolution differences.

For any of your gear, consider buying used rather than new. Used prices will be 50% less than new on average. Many of us have had good success building systems over time in this way.

Good luck in your journey!
Rushton offers great advice and I think that you are headed in the right direction.

What concerns me is that you make no mention of your current, or future, phono cartridge. A phono cartridge is a transducer, just like a speaker; it converts mechanical energy into electrical energy. A properly matched phono cartridge and turntable that is quite modest will sound much better than a poorly matched set that is more ambitious, so you should really consider the turntable and cartridge as one system.

Welcome to the monkey house.
Do yourself a favor and just buy a simple cork Mat. or better yet a Herbies's TT mat from Herbies Audio Lab.
That alone should keep you happy for a year anyway.
There is nothing wrong with what you have, and as Vridian said, you need to get up to 1500-2000$ range to hear much difference. And unless you are listening to acoustic music i.e, jazz or classical it would just be a waste of money anyway.
Maybe do some tweaks like Schubert says, but I wouldn't rush into anything new just yet because you just got the setup, and are happy with it. The more time that you spend on getting familiar with your current TT setup, the better position you'll be in when you go to upgrade. Right now, you're not listing any improvements, or goals that you would like to achieve with an upgrade. Knowing where you want to go is very important because without direction, there's a good chance you'll make a mistake. The only advice I can give you on upgrading your current setup is that when you upgrade your cartridge or phono preamp, you need to consider them both. If you do a little research on the differences between low and high output MC carts and MM carts, as well as various phono pre/step up devices that are available, you'll see exactly what I'm talking about. Its best not to do anything until you understand the relationship as to how these parts work together.

If you have the money, and are really set on doing something now, there's plenty of other vinyl related products, that you can buy now and keep through upgrades, so you won't be wasting your money. Along with the matt, you may want to look into getting some record cleaning products, and maybe a speed control. Speed control's make a big difference, especially when you have a budget TT.

A good resource for you is The Cable Company (www.fatwyre.com). This place carries just about anything you'll ever want regarding this type of equipment. What makes them so useful is their demo program. Whatever they sell, they have demo units available to send you to try in your system first, before you buy anything. I've been using them for stuff like this since the mid 90's, and I wouldn't do it any other way. They're one of the most reputable B&M type dealers I've ever used.
Thanks for the quick responses -

Schubert - I have a Herbies Mat, and I like it quite a bit. However, I'm really looking to upgrade the turntable.

Rushton - what tables would you consider to be a tier above the ones I mentioned? A few examples would be greatly appreciated.

Viridian - I'm aware of the need to match cartridge, tonearm, and table. That's one of the reasons I'm a bit leery of buying used. I don't have the knowledge to put everything together (or to do too much swapping out of cartridges, arms, etc.). I'd like to buy something that's been voiced to work together well.

Thanks again, I'll keep reading reviews and soliciting advice while enjoying the remarkable sounds I'm already getting from my budget table.

Best,
Scott
I have a VPI traveler that I purchased about six weeks ago. I considered the Scout Jr., and even the Scout 1.1. In the end, it was a video on YouTube that swayed me. It's is the son of VPI's owner discussing the traveler Vs the Scout Jr.

He said that if you want to upgrade many parts of the table down the road, the Scout Jr will far exceed the traveler. However if you want to buy a table and simply play music, the traveler will sound better than an unmodified Scout Jr. I have no interest in tinkering with a table, so it was an easy decision for me.

I looked long and hard at the Rega RP3 and the RP6. Im told they are super simple to set up. In the end, I wanted something a little more exotic.
OK , Scott do this.
Buy a Music Hall 7.1 with its Mojo phono cartridge , which is really an Ortofon 300 , one of Ortofons greatest efforts, will smoke anything under 5 k.
"...what tables would you consider to be a tier above the ones I mentioned? A few examples would be greatly appreciated."
Here are some suggestions, all with included tonearm...

VPI Classic
http://www.vpiindustries.com/table-classic1.htm

Basis 2000 series (non-Signature)
http://basisaudio.com/products.html

Well Tempered Labs Simplex or Amadeus
Read the product description and you'll think "this is crazy" but listen to it and you'll become a believer.
http://www.welltemperedlab.net/welltemperedlab/products/
Review: http://www.theaudiobeat.com/equipment/wtl_simplex.htm
.
I used to own a Rega P-25 with a Rega cartridge. I purchased a Dynavector 17D3, which was a significant upgrade. Still not satisfied, I bought a used Basis 2000 with a Rega tonearm. That was a very large improvement over the Rega P-25 turntable. It also was easy, when a Basis Vector tonearm became available, to upgrade the tonearm, which made a more significant difference than the cartridge or turntable change.

So in summary I agree with Rushton that a Basis 2XXX series turntable is a place to start, then a Bassis Vector tonearm when you can find one. Rega makes a nice turntable and tonearm for the money, but IMO it does not compare to a Basis.
Since you like tubes you should get a nice tube phono preamp.
Croft Acoustics has a nice one for $995.
Yogiboy-

Oh yes - I have been eyeing that Croft for a while!

Scott
When I heard a Debut Carbon in a demo I couldn't believe how fundamentally good that turntable is for $399. There are, however, a few of minor upgrades that could yield significant improvements:

1) Swap out the Ortofon Red stylus for a Blue one. This upgrade takes you from a bonded stylus to a nude elliptical one, which not only has a more direct connection between stylus and cantilever, it weighs less and tracks better. No re-alignment or setup required; just pull out the Red stylus and plug in the Blue. As low as $165.

2) Get a Pro-Ject Speed Box II S. These are $129 and provide more tightly regulated speed control as well as more operating convenience. An LP is a physical analogue of the dynamics of the musical performance. The frequencies and pace are added by rotating and tracking it at 33-1/3 rpm. Therefore, the more accurate the rotation, the more real the playback. $129 is cheap change to move up that ladder.

3) Get some kind of vibration draining and isolating platform. Many of them can get pricey, but I got a massive 3-1/2" thick all maple butcher block cutting board from Overstock.com that made quite a noticeable difference for about $90. The unfinished blocks of maple from Mapleshade are also pretty reasonable. Once you get the platform you can experiment with Vibrapod cones and footers (very inexpensive compared to most such products) and even computer keyboard gel wristpads for further isolation.

2" thick end grain board
18x24x3"d edge grain cutting board

You're also on the right track about a phono stage upgrade. I went to a MAGI Phonomenal all-tube phono last August and I can't believe the difference. When they're done right, especially with passive EQ and minimal negative feedback, they really *do* lower the playback noise. Previously noisy records now sail through playback with a dramatic drop in surface noise, pops, and surface glitches.
Johnnyb53 -Thanks for the great ideas. I'm going to give the Ortorfon Blue a shot- it's probably a good education for me to change a cartridge. Worst case scenario I break the turntable and have to buy a new one, which I'm looking for anyway.

I'll let you know how it goes…

Thanks again,
Scott
I had a pro-ject xpression III and went to a RP6. Much better deck. I also tried the Vincent pho-8 against the Jasmine LP 2.0 mkII and the pro-ject phono tube box with upgraded and matched tubes. The Jasmine won out with a warm tube-like sound and matches up well my audio refinement separates.
02-16-15: Smrex13
Johnnyb53 -Thanks for the great ideas. I'm going to give the Ortorfon Blue a shot- it's probably a good education for me to change a cartridge.
Well, my point is that upgrading to a Blue doesn't require a cartridge change. You simply pull the Red's stylus out of the cartridge body and plug in the Blue stylus as the replacement. The cartridge body that remains bolted to the headshell stays the same and is identical for the two cartridge models, so you don't need to change that part of it.

The Blue *stylus* is also about $70 cheaper than a complete Blue *cartridge*.
Johnnyb53 - Ah, I see. Thanks. Is it easy to do? Do I just yank it out? :) I'm sure there's something I need to know in order to change it out so I don't break something. I have a Blue on the way, so I will let you know how things sound. Looking forward to some relatively affordable tweaking.

Thanks again,
Scott
Did you buy just the stylus or the whole cartridge, because the stylus is all you'd need.

As for replacement, it varies with the cartridge design. I suggest you read the instructions first, and if you're unsure of anything call the vendor for how to change it.

Many of them slide in and out pretty easily. You mainly have to be sure you're pulling or pushing at the correct angle for the stylus and cartridge body to slide apart or together.
Once again Johnny offers sound( bad pun),
Solid, common sense approach to an upgrade...and that Blue will be a nice leap..although a recent audition shows the Red is no slouch...former Project owner as well...
Thanks everyone. I have the blue cartridge coming, and apparently it's quite simple to swap out the stylus. I also ordered the speed control, so we'll see how much of an improvement that offers.

Thanks again!
Scott
I'm in a similar boat. Probably a few swipes further down Upgrade-itis path.

I'm working the a Debut Carbon. Added the speed controller. Nice addition. Swapped Red for Blue an hour ago. It's breaking in and sounding great. But like was recently mentioned, Red was not a slacker.
I built an Isolation Table last week.
I think it's about max'd out on potential, especially with classic rock which is what I listen to. I'm running into a Musical Fidelity to B&W 804N.
I'm pondering a new platter and mat. Swapped felt for a thin layer of suede. Can't tell where I am since I've done it all so quickly but can say the system is approaching bliss. Rumors, Strangers in the Night and Aja are reference media. I suppose that would be the advise. Make sure to select solid media that you know inside and out to pick out differences.
Thanks to everyone for their advice. As an update…I added the speed control and the Blue a couple of days ago, and it made a nice difference. Much larger soundstage, more detail, and far less distortion and popping/clicking. My Jolida tube phono amp arrived today. I plugged it in, and the first song was just glorious - a HUGE step up from my Vincent. Voices hung in the air, vocals were smooth and realistic… then on to song two: the right channel dropped out completely and I'm returning the Jolida. It sounded awfully nice for 6 or 7 minutes…

I'll keep you posted. Thanks again for all the guidance.

Scott
Which Jolida phono stage did you get--the JD9? Back in early 2011 I read Absolute Sound's rave review of the Vincent PHO-8, which got me interested in upgrading. For the same money or less at the time I got the Jolida JD-9 (but not the new MkII), and reading your report, I'm glad I did.
I got the JD 9 MKII with upgrade. I hope that I can get it replaced with a functioning unit without too much difficulty.
02-25-15: Smrex13
I got the JD 9 MKII with upgrade. I hope that I can get it replaced with a
functioning unit without too much difficulty.
Depending
on who your vendor is, it shouldn't be too much of a hassle, and the unit
makes great sound, especially for the money. Could just be a bad or loosely
seated tube, or a loose wire.