Hi all - total newcomer here, really enjoying the forum and looking for some advice.
Relevant details: Pro-ject Debut Carbon EVO w/ stock Sumiko Rainer cartridge, into a Hegel H95 via a Parasound Zphono XRM. It sounds great-ish, but doesn’t blow me away like Qobuz via Bluesound Node 2i into the Hegel DAC. I’ll acknowledge that this entire system has a lot of room to improve in the eyes of many here - while I suppose I’ll eventually want to upgrade, I am absolutely thrilled with the streaming sound for now. Question: is the cartridge the weak link here, or am I expecting too much out of the PDC EVO? If the former, does the Ortofon Bronze seem a good option?
The weak link is you are using digital as your reference. While it is possible to make your analog rig sound as bad as streaming (sorry Mike, but your level streaming and his, come on! At your level everything even streaming sounds good!), why? Don’t put legs on a snake. Learn to recognize and appreciate what your analog rig is doing. Because I assure you, it already sounds leagues better than streaming.
Now as far as how to go about making it even better- always work to get the most out of what you have before paying for upgrades. Because upgrades are sunk, while other improvements are forever.
Something like Synergistic Research PHT for example will be equivalent to a better cartridge, but with the advantage they do not wear out. Your table is a little light for Townshend Pods, and they are also a little pricey for your system. So you might want to wait on that. But Nobsound springs are perfectly affordable and will make a huge improvement. Another good one, TA-102 or fO.q tape. Put this tape between the cartridge and head shell, run a strip along the underside of the arm tube, use some under the platter and on the plinth, around the motor, and hear a huge improvement in presence, clarity and inner detail.
Definitely do all these first, and only then look at upgrading components. When you do, I suggest taking a long term system building approach. In practical terms this means one thing at a time and big leaps not baby steps. So for example your next move could be to something like a Decware ZP3 phono stage. A big jump up in price, but huge in quality, and lifetime warranty so no worries there. The phono stage is a huge factor in analog sound quality. Your jaw will drop as you hear performance never dreamed of coming out of your little table.
Most guys will upgrade the cartridge, or table, or phono stage, but in tiny little increments so you get a little improvement but never anything like what I’m talking about here. A killer phono stage is a game changer.
But again, seriously, stop comparing your phono to your streamer. It’s the other way around.
If you play records manufactured recently, very few of them will blow you away because most of them would sound not much different from streaming. It does not matter how expensive your cartridge, phono stage, and turntable may be. Today I bought 4 LPs (costing $130). New Nora Jones, new Andrea Bochelli, Queen's newly made Bohemian Rhapsody, and Dire Straits So Far Way (2021 issue). Only Dire Straits album was far better than streaming and blew away streaming by a wide margin, but the rest sound so dull, and sound almost like streaming. So, just in case, test your LP system with a good recorded LPs (most 70's Rock, 60's jazz, or hifi audiophile recordings, for example). Then, follow suggestions on phono stage and cartridges. IMHO, $100 cartridge (like Grado Black) and $200 phono stage (like Belari) would be enough to blow away streaming by a mile.
Your turntable and cartridge must be replaced if you want to upgrade. You need a high resolution MM or MI cartridge with advanced stylus profile, and a proper Direct Drive turntable like Technics SL1200GR if your budget is limited, but you still want the best for less money.
Also you have to try ORIGINAL pressings instead of re-issues. Try to find vinyl made from analog mastertape, not from digital master. Vinyl itself can be bad, pressing can be bad, mastering can be bad too. You have to find your reference vinyl first (make sure it’s good).
Get a proper Belt Drive turntable. Miller is right, streaming sucks. There is not a single note reproduced right. Or even a single silence in between notes. In other words, streaming is not even wrong. And the rest of digital is about the same, slightly better. Good point about second rate pressings.
Yeah, vinyl is a flawed thing, but so great too. I agree about new pressings and remastered. Most just aren’t good, but some are. I’ve purchased many “new” albums, only to later seek out the original copies. I would think I would learn. Digital can be good, but a good vinyl setup can be amazing. I don’t know about the tweaks mentioned, but you do have a relatively entry level setup that could use a little spice. If you like the Sumiko, try a Blue Point #2. It’s a high output MC cart that I think would pair well with your rig. Make sure your setup is correct and go from there. Vinyl playback can get expensive REALLY quick, and some here will say you have to spend massive $ or it’s a waste of time. It is a journey, so have fun with it, and enjoy the digital for the sheer variety and convenience.
You are not going to be blown away with only a cartridge change, but rather going the right direction. There is nothing wrong with streaming and your system now is better at that. Analogue today requires a bigger investment than your current one whatever the upgrade cartridge.
One of your issues might be your source material. I don't know what records you have, but you might want to consider, as others have suggested, some original recording. I also agree the Dire Straights represses sound good.
A new Technics DD plus a lomc cartridge like a Hana SL would get you a good ways there! The cartridge is so important to getting detail out of those rotating spiral grooved disks! That is why some cartridges cost thousands!
All - thanks very much for the responses. @jjss49 I have Sonus Faber Sonetto III’s - loving them. I’m not sure which thread you’re referring to - I may have already seen it, but sounds appropriate if you wouldn’t mind pointing me. My source material is all from the 60’s - 80’s and I think for the most part decent quality. I’ll have to do some research to see if they’re generally original vs reissue. While I may play around with some things before buying a new TT, I would guess that at my current price point, my ear simply prefers what the digital side can do. I think I’ll have to put in some time at my hifi shop (such punishment) to determine where the breakeven is for me in terms of analog returns sounding like i’d want. I really do think I’m an analog guy at heart, but maybe not. I will have fun finding out and will not be too sad if my budget never lets me get there - the LP’s and system I have do sound ‘great’ - they’re not going to gather dust in the meantime. And (ducking), I do love what the digital is giving me. Thanks again.
Ack - apologies all. I recently added the pre-amp, and had some “help” from my teenage son hooking it up. After some further digging on the forum, I found a thread that reminded me to check the cabling. Sure enough, one of the directional rca’s from Zphono to Hegel was reversed. I haven’t had time to listen, but don’t doubt that could mess with the soundstage. Thanks again for the replies and sorry to waste your time on such silliness, assuming that’s the issue.
MC is right, your ears have been 'digitalized'. Your analog rig as is should sound as good as streaming at the very least. I don't think that reversed cable will make much difference, you may just need to learn how to be a better listener, but do check your set-up.
I love digital. I love the convenience of it. I’ve heard more new things in old recordings because of digital than I ever heard with analog. I’ll never go back, it’s an old technology Dragging a rock across a piece of plastic.
"If you play records manufactured recently, very few of them will blow you away because most of them would sound not much different from streaming"
I wholeheartedly agree with this statement. I'd also echo millercarbon on letting analog be your reference. First though, you need to get some great sounding records. Then you can start to see the way forward in analog.
I'm no Tom Port, but I have had some success tracking down some great sounding copies of a handful of titles. If you're interested feel free to contact me.
You can also learn more on this subject on my website:
coys21 cartridge and tonearm alignment is paramount with any turntable I know people who have very expensive setup that are not up to there potential because of it I don't know your turntable or cartridge I would start there spring under your table depends on a lot your floors, rack and more I lucky my table was done by Nick at Audio Connection it sounds great
1+ mikelavigne. Best advice so far. There are some people who do not have a long history with vinyl who are just not going to like the inconvenience and the ticks and pops. Until you find yourself overwhelmed by an analog set up stick with your streaming which you are obviously impressed with. Analog costs a lot more money and for some it is just not worth it. Even many of the older audiophiles have offloaded their analog set up and listen only to digital sources. There are many ways to love and listen to music. There is no one right way.
millercarbon7,779 posts02-23-2021 10:04pmThe
weak link is you are using digital as your reference. While it is
possible to make your analog rig sound as bad as streaming (sorry Mike,
but your level streaming and his, come on! At your level everything even
streaming sounds good!), why? Don’t put legs on a snake. Learn to
recognize and appreciate what your analog rig is doing. Because I assure
you, it already sounds leagues better than streaming.
I have read some silly things on here, but this one really takes the cake. It is pretty difficult to combing arrogance and ignorance with lack of self awareness of totally flawed logic all in one paragraph, but you have succeeding with great aplomb! Bravo MC, Bravo!
To the op. I mean this in a technical way, how old are you? Most people who did not grow up with vinyl are not that enamored with it, even when presented with very good vinyl. Why would one be enamored with poor separation, higher SNR, frequency response anomalies, etc? ... though most of the music enjoyment comes down to the mastering. Back in the "old" day, i.e. 80's/even 90's, engineers, typically stuck in their ways, had not really learned to master for digital. There was some good stuff, but a lot of bad stuff too. That pretty much changed as people learned the processes, even learning to "flaw" digital to give it color, that while not accurate, was pleasant.
I will state it, and many (not all, probably not even most), will disagree, but there is nothing that vinyl can do that digital cannot. I.e. vinyl can be thought of as a subset of what is possible with high end digital whether it be frequency response, SNR, transient response, and any number of the terms that people make up and assign to vinyl or analog that don't actually exist (except in their minds) and are mainly a product of lack of knowledge of signal processing.
That said, I listen to both, though usually my vinyl listening is post digitization these days. I find the coloration of vinyl often presents a more pleasing musical experience, and that would mainly be in the rock/pop categories. If I want to listen to more nuanced music such as orchestral and jazz, or acoustic, where I want to enjoy the finest details, warts and all, then digital is my go to.
I think your goal is flawed. I would set a goal of a good vinyl system that allows you to expand access to recording that may be pleasing, no matter the source. Don't expect to be blown away by vinyl, expect to be blown away by certain recording on vinyl that for you are enjoyable.
Get a better cartridge. I am a DENON DL103r fan. I think that would work well on that table with that arm. A Higher mass tone arm is best. Also it’s a MC cart so might need a step up transformer depending on phono preamp used. Like Mike said, getting vinyl right is not easy and can be costly. Unless you already have a large record library to play I would stick with streaming. Or if you must attempt to get the most out of vinyl, loosen up that bank account and have at it. But I’d steer clear of current record releases. Many are digitally mastered the same as what’s streamed then put on vinyl for a nice product to buy and hold that may also be warped, have surface noise, off center grooves and all the rest that makes records special. Then play the record only once and convert it back to digital for safe keeping and easy access from anywhere. Or just stream the same darn thing to start with. I’m only half joking......
A great vinyl rig costs more than the equivalent streaming rig. The gear and the media. It is worth chasing but it really is that simple. Demo some good analog gear if you can and figure out how much you are willing to spend and what you like. Then go after it. I like my streaming rig but I love my vinyl rig. I also spent a good deal more to end up with a vinyl rig that sounds better than my humble streaming rig (bluesound node 2i & benchmark dac 2 HGC).
Also, you would do well to ignore the blowhards that don't even have a streaming rig claiming knowledge.
The ratio of funds needed to be spent on analog to match digital quality is significant (at least 2x or more). A $1K streaming DAC will easily outclass a $1K (TT, cartridge, phono combo). Disregard any talk about vinyl being better than digital, there are simply too many variables in the reproduction chain for that statement to merit any credibility. And then you get down to source material which is the most important factor:
Here are my best practices:
a) Generally listen to music in whatever format it was recorded (streaming/CD for digitally recorded albums and vinyl/tape for analog recordings). b) Get your records from boutique audiophile labels / pressing plants (Analog Productions, Speakers Corner, Mofi, Pure Pleasure, Music Matters, Craft, OJC, ORG). In many instances, records from these labels match or exceed original pressings and you won’t have to spend your days praying and hoping that your soon to arrive expensive original pressing doesn’t sound like/look like worn out muddled dog shit. c) Most vinyl records pressed today are mediocre. Learn about verifying analog chain of the record (if a record is cut from digital source, save your money and stream instead). Respect yourself and absolutely avoid European labels that make domain free pressings (Waxtime, DOL etc.) d) My experience is that the best sounding records are the ones that were recorded and pressed in the 1980s right before CDs took over. e) Discog reviews are your friend f) Above all, mastering is key; try to familiarize yourself with the names of the best mastering engineers and studios. A well mastered dollar bin CD will run circles around a minty vinyl record with mediocre mastering. Records are cool, but they are a lot of work to get right, and unless you are ready to obsess over a bunch of details, and patiently work through a raft of frustrations, you might be better off simply investing in your digital front end and enjoying the piece of mind that comes with that. I might sound a bit down on vinyl but it is still my preferred format (because when everything comes together it is a sublime experience).
@audio2design - I’m 50 y.o. Source material is from my, my parent’s, and an older cousin’s collections from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, mostly. I recently decided I was significantly underinvested in my music listening delivery system. I played in a semi-serious band in the early 90’s, and we recorded at some studios that were probably higher quality than we were. My goal/hope going in was to replicate as close as possible what I could remember was the sound/feel while mixing/recording albums via the 2” tape and ‘expensive’ studio monitors. As I said, I’m thrilled with the streaming sound I have, and as of this afternoon have achieved the same (but different) ‘wow’ factor via my TT after a cable re-orientation. I may upgrade the cartridge soon, but I think I otherwise have most itches scratched for the time being. Thanks again everyone.
The project table is the weakest link as well as the cartridge next in line. The phono stage is good but if you step up to a better table and cartridge you can use it till you get a better stage but definitely the table first.
I think it should read, help my streaming sound as good as my analog...if your streaming sounds better, you got issues. There are many lp’s that when played through my system, create true magic. Streaming, at least to me, in comparison sounds like crap. No tubey magic whatsoever.
Analog will never be as accurate as streaming high resolution digital to a fine system (vs streaming to Sonos speakers). This says nothing about sound quality. The analysis of such depends more on the individual than the system or program source.
"The ratio of funds needed to be spent on analog to match digital quality is significant (at least 2x or more).
Disregard any talk about vinyl being better than digital, there are simply too many variables in the reproduction chain for that statement to merit any credibility.
a) Generally listen to music in whatever format it was recorded
b) Get your records from boutique audiophile labels / pressing plants.
c) Most vinyl records pressed today are mediocre.
d) My experience is that the best sounding records are the ones that were recorded and pressed in the 1980s right before CDs took over.
e) Discog reviews are your friend f) Above all, mastering is key; try to familiarize yourself with the names of the best mastering engineers and studios. A well mastered dollar bin CD will run circles around a minty vinyl record with mediocre mastering.
Records are cool, but they are a lot of work to get right, and unless you are ready to obsess over a bunch of details, and patiently work through a raft of frustrations, you might be better off simply investing in your digital front end and enjoying the piece of mind that comes with that."
This last bit certainly holds true for me regarding vinyl. "...because when everything comes together it is a sublime experience.."
I recently got hold of a clean copy of Judy Garland’s 1981 Phoenix pressing of Over the Rainbow. Now I just need access to a decent record player to enjoy it again!
I think your goal is flawed. I would set a goal of a good vinyl system that allows you to expand access to recording that may be pleasing, no matter the source. Don't expect to be blown away by vinyl, expect to be blown away by certain recording on vinyl that for you are enjoyable.
“I would set a goal of a good vinyl system that allows you to expand access to recording that may be pleasing, no matter the source. Don’t expect to be blown away by vinyl, expect to be blown away by certain recording on vinyl that for you are enjoyable.”
So it’s coming down certain recordings to enjoy Vinyl? Well, this holds true for many recordings available on CD or Streaming. In any recorded format, the mastering is the key cause when it’s done right, it results in a sublime experience once you’ve taken care of the basics i.e. your listening environment and playback system.
Everyone can have an opinion and some are may be more valuable to you than others.
Perhaps mine may be constructive.
I initially created my 2 channel stereo as a purely analog experience. I used an NAD C375 BEE integrated amp and connected a Dual turntable and a Parasound tape deck.
I have a few hundred albums from the 70-90s as well as numerous cassette tapes.
I found the listening experience enjoyable. I even upgraded my turntable to a Rega RP1.
Then about 2 years ago I added a Node 2i to the system. It was significantly different and one specific area it was different was the volume was significantly louder (the internal preamp in the NAD is entry level). I also found it easier to access more music from streaming.
Ultimately, I have updated my system including my turntable and I will say they are different and my goal in updating my turntable was to create a listening experience that was an acceptable alternative to my streaming sources.
I'm very happy with my Rega P8 and truly enjoy listening to a variety of records including new pressings. Does it sound better than streaming - perhaps to some and maybe not to others. But an improved analog system will provide a lower noise floor (it's quiet where my previous turntable provided some low level hum), better dynamic response (partially due to the quieter operation) and finally the music information doesn't require conversion.
I listen to streaming music about 50% of the time - it's more convenient when others are present. Listening to records is something I will often do alone because I find it relaxing.
What ever you decide to do - it's your choice and I hope you get enjoyment out of it. Previous folks comments about the impact of a table, cartridge and phono stage are accurate - they are things to consider if you wish to go on an upgrade path.
Go for the cartridge! I have a Project EVO carbon 10. I now use a Sound Smith cartridge. Had the Grace F9e. They are similar in design. Peter worked with Sumiko/Ortofon to help them develop phono cartridges years ago. Find one in your budget. You will be amazed. You do not need to change to DD turntable. Each type has its advantages. Couple of things though: lt’s Really important to coordinate the compliance of the arm with the compliance of the phono cartridge! On their site, Ortofon has a little program that will help you with that. Input the compliances’ to find the resonance of the two components. if you’re OCD find the formula to actually calculate that. You can find the Exact residence for two. Secondly, The rake angle and VTF must be ‘perfect’. Make adjustments by SQ after checking with instruments. I have found that using playing cards to adjust the rake angle works very well. Even the thickness of a single playing card will make a difference. Experiment! Check out the videos on these topics on Sound Smith on YouTube. Peter is very knowledgeable and willing to share what he knows. Almost everybody here says that for the same amount of money, analog sounds better. honestly I don’t know because I don’t stream. It’s the people here that have said that, not me. Play analog! Michael Lent
There must be something about vinyl and I missed it. I had a Technique turntable back in the 70's and purchased a $300 cartridge. When I started buying $30 master recorded vinyl, I could really hear the difference. However, getting off the sofa, having to wash the record took a lot of time. I just isn't as convenient. However, I saw a $20,000 turn table at the RMAF that was lit by a small spot light and it was just beautiful. However, how many have $20,000 to spend on just a turn table. It still was beautiful no matter how you cut it.
You should be able to get analog to sound better than streaming very easily. I think that a modest investment in analog pays much bigger dividends than the same investment in digital. Do not buy an inexpensive direct drive turntable rather go with a cheaper belt drive. Mapman is correct the Denon 103 is a very good cartridge for the money. In fact I can think of none better at the retail price. All things equal digital isnt even close!
Some people know nothing about high-end Direct Drive turntables and just demonstrate a lack of knowledge in every post about them on this forum. Every lacquer discs master cut on direct drive, constant speed and stable rotation forever - this is what Direct Drive is all about. Technics is only one of many, but some forever gone. This turntable will serve you 30+ years without service. You’d better ask people who own many turntables, many people on this forum are too old and if they missed something in their life it’s too late to try, most of them still don’t know that Technics made DD motor for Neumann cutting lathe (used to make all their records), and designed reference Direct Drive to reproduce those records at home (search for SP10 mk3 or new SP10R if you want to know more about reference class). Cheap belt drive turntables is a joke, manufacturers of those BD toys are so small, so it’s a toy factory compared to Matsushita (Technics/National/Panasonic), their stuff is afordable only because they are making millions of turntables keeping the price low (not high) without compromise in quality, those are Made in Japan if you know what does it mean today.
Some people have a significant amount of knowledge about high end D.D. turntables. The table you suggested is NOT a high end table. I fact if you need to buy a commercial version of the Technics table that was the predecessor to their current 20K offering I know I guy who has 3. I believe that it takes considerably more money to make an acceptable D.D. table than all other designs. If you own the table you recommended and find it acceptable I would suggest that may not be in a position to give advice, at least not about T.T.s. Oh and I am just as critical of the vintage/current idler drive units and for many of the same reasons. A trip down basic physics lane will provide you with the obvious advantages and disadvantages of each T.T. design. Dont assume that just because a person disagrees with you that they dont know what they are talking about. Are you taking soft skill lessons from the Klipsch enthusiasts?
I grew up with vinyl and back in the day I strived to get as good a sound as possible considering my budget (AR turntable + Shure V15 cartridge then Thorens + same, etc.) until, fast forward, I ended with my current Roxsan Radius 5 + Hana SH. Even though I'm really happy with the Roxsan combo I find I listen to most of my music using a Logitech Touch streamer and TBH the Roxsan has been relegated to more of an eye candy/nostalgia item. But that's me, if analog rocks your boat then go for it; I prefer the sound and hassle-free convenience of digital 99% of the time.
A cutting lathe and a turntable serve entirely different masters. Kind of like the speaker designers that claim that using the same wood on their speakers as were used on the instruments is a good idea.
Also if mass production were the final arbiter then I guess you own a amp, preamp and speakers made by one the large Japanese firms.
Time, patience, and a heck of allot of research, my first suggestion would be to join https://www.vinylengine.com/. I would also suggest investing in Dr. Feickert Analogue Next Gen protractor and a good but inexpensive vertical tracking force gauge, Riverstone Audio makes a decent one, this will help to remove unwanted distortion in your current set up. Is your TT perfectly level and sitting on something solid? A vintage Stanton 680/681 cart is a keeper and combined with Feickert protractor and VTF gauge you will be ready to upgrade TT when ever you like, my two cents...
Nowdays the audiofile qualities (if not the musicality) of entry level digital has improved a lot. On the other hand, a good vinyl system starts at a relatively much higher price point. While digital is plug and pray, with analogue you need a lot of skill to set it up correctly and to get the most out of it. Slight adjustments do make the difference between crappy sound and gates of heaven. Cheaper vinyl rigs will not have as powerful base as good & similar priced digital rigs, and they play more surface noise than music. You have to step up to serious table & arm, LOMC cartridge, and a serious phono stage to get true base, and lack of distracting surface noise - but when you reach that point, you become a vinyl collector and your living room will look like mine or even worse (you feel as if you are lost in a library... LOL).Also, as it has been mentioned before, the recording is everything. The vinyl rig will not make every recording sound top notch - it will present them what they are. If recorded and pressed poorly, it will sound poorly. If recorded in the digital domain, it will sound exactly as if you were streaming it or it was a CD. If recorded and pressed well, it will transform your world, and flip your expectations around. The most frequent comment I am getting from my better half: "It sounds distorted and noisy, why are we listening to CD again?" Yup. When your vinyl rig is spot on, then digital can often appear noisy and distorted in comparison. Control and artifice, instead of vinyl's music and freedom. There is the often told saying: digital is perfect until you hear correctly done vinyl for the fist time. Then the illusion of perfection is ruined forever.... sadly, it has happened to me. However, I have a modest record collection, can play a couple records every day for decades without playing same thing twice, so I am not afraid of running out of material and be forced back to lean and mean digital diet anytime soon. Fair warning, if you insist on improving your vinyl setup, you have a good chance to end up like I did.... if you have place for a few thousand records, go for it. If you plan to move a lot, and living space is scarce, that's another story. (Even though that never stopped me... ;).
@coys21, you mention a limited budget, perhaps instead of spreading the cash between vinyl and digital just choose one and run with that. If you choose vinyl then digital can always be added later, or the other way round.
At a recent audio show I noticed there were more demos done with digital than vinyl! The top digital rooms I heard were deeply satisfying.
If you go with vinyl then before you upgrade your cartridge rather upgrade TT and arm first. This will sound better with your existing cartridge than your present TT with the most expensive cartridge.
I can ’see’ lots of raised eyebrows at this comment. Explanation. Lets give the cartridge an easy task. Lets ask it to track a 10000Hz sine wave. Easy enough, all the stylus has to do is change direction 20000 times in one second. Now imagine what torture it must go through to play music! To transduce this micro info the cartridge effectively needs to be held immovable above the undulating grooves by the arm/TT combo whilst at the same time moving across the record. This arm also needs a split-personality. A: It must appear to be infinitely massive within the audio spectrum to extract the tiniest of info, B: while also appearing to be massless below the spectrum so that it does not transduce record warp.
It takes expensively manufactured spindle bearings and finely engineered arms to allow the cartridge to do it’s job. The take away from this is to ignore the recommendations to upgrade to an expensive cartridge. In fact a low compliance MC cart. would just shake the arm and TT bearings defeating any chance at improvement and would sound worse. The delicate info would be lost. Sad but true.
I gave up vinyl 40 years ago due to circumstances and now use digital only.