Improve volume from turntable with a new cartridge?


Hi all,

I am getting back into hifi after years of iPod and computer speakers. Last week I bought a Music-Hall integrated amp and a pair of B&W 686 S2 speakers, and a JL Audio powered 8" sub-woofer. CD player is a Sony CDP C-445 multi-disc player that I bought for $100 used. Turntable is one I have from years ago, a Technics SL-D2 direct-drive with a plastic-looking Grado cartridge, not sure of model, it was back in the early ’90s.

This morning I tried to do an A/B comparison between my turntable and my CD player. Music was Pink Floyd’s "Dark Side of the Moon". Old scratched 20-year-old CD versus brand-new bought yesterday LP from the local vinyl store.

It was difficult to do a proper A/B because every time I switched to the phono input on the amp, I had to increase the volume to about 2 o’clock, and when I switched back to the CD input I had to dial back the volume to about noon.

The amp has a phono input so I am assuming it has a built-in phono pre-amp, right? If so, why is the volume still so low? Would upgrading to a better cartridge increase the volume? I am open to a newer, better-quality turntable if it will improve the sound considerably. I have hundreds of LPs, about half of which are in good condition and would probably be good to listen to after a good cleaning, BUT I also have hundreds of CDs, and if the turntable / LP would not yield significant improvement over the CDs, then I am hesitant to invest further in analog.

So.... back to the point... if I could get close to the same volume from my phono as I do from CD, it would be easier to do a decent A/B. Could a different cartridge in my existing turntable achieve that?

Alternatively I could check with my local hifi store and see if they would let me bring home and test-drive a turntable.

Sorry for the long post. Thanks for reading and thanks in advance for your time and advice.

Eric Zwicky
Richmond VA
ezwicky
You only mention trying one vinyl and one CD. If that’s the case, you haven’t, "A/B’ed" your Phono and Line circuits, or cartridge. Only the two recordings and the levels at which they were recorded. You’ll probably find that you own some CDs of lower recorded level and vinyls of a higher, than your two Pink Floyds. If the sound quality is consistent, trying to obtain the same spot on your volume control, between various media/recordings, is an exercise in futility. The output level of a cartridge is not necessarily related to it’s, "quality". Some of the world’s most highly regarded carts, have the lowest output levels. If you’re set on replacing the cart, you can enter the make and model of what you have, in the following database and compare the output voltage to that of other carts, you may be considering. (https://www.vinylengine.com/cartridge_database.php) You didn’t mention whether the Integrated is new, which(if not) may present another variable. If it’s very old, some Phono sections contain a plethora of electrolytics, which dry out over time and will lower the circuit’s output and presentation quality. Then too, sometimes the elastomers of a cart’s compliance(cantilever suspension) dry out with age. Bottom line: How’s the system sound, irrespective of knob position?
Thanks for the reply rodman99999.   I only have one LP record in excellent condition that I also have a CD of, so it's all I am able to use for an A/B.

The integrated is a new Music-Hall a15.3.   

I took a closer look at the cartridge and then at the Grado site, and mine looks like a Prestige Black1.    I can't remember how old it is.


Your equation has too many unknowns for anyone to give you a good  answer to your question.  First and foremost, you need to verify that your integrated amplifier does indeed provide phono equalization.  There was a time during the downturn in use of vinyl as a source that such components were marketed with a pair of inputs labeled "Phono", but that was only a suggestion where to connect the output of a separate phono stage. It doesn't necessarily mean that there is a phono equalization and gain network inside.  If your LP sounds tonally balanced, similar to the CD, chances are you do have a phono section in the box.  Next, you need to know the gain of the phono section and the voltage output of your cartridge.  Almost certainly, your phono section, if you have one, is designed for high output cartridges, probably like the one you are using, but you do need to find out the signal voltage output of your cartridge.  This is usually stated in "mV" or millivolts and it refers to a particular stylus velocity, either 3.54 cm/sec or 5 cm/sec.  If the output of your cartridge is 3mV or more, it is likely that it can drive your phono section to full output.  If the output of your cartridge is stated to be 1-2mV or less, then it cannot drive your phono stage to full output, and in that case you might improve matters by purchasing a cartridge with higher output. And, by the way, it is not at all unusual for there to be more gain from a CDP than from a phono stage.  Nearly all CDPs put out up to 2V signal; not all phono stages can equal that.  The difference in setting between 12 and 2 o'clock for CDP vs phono is not at all unusual.  

Thanks lewm.      The manual for the integrated amp says input sensitivity for the phono (MM) input section is 1mV.   The Grado Prestige cartridge is 5mV, so I should be OK there.

The aim of this exercise is to determine whether or not I should invest more money in analog, or just stick with what I have.  I have a pretty good collection, maybe 1000 LPs, but a lot of them are older and scratched or otherwise marginal.    

If it's normal to have the 12-:00 - 2:00 disparity in volume knob between CD and turntable, then that pretty much answers my original long-winded question.

I think to make an informed decision I will have to see about bringing home for audition a better turntable and cartridge.


Eric- Are you getting dynamics with the vinyl. 5 mv is a healthy output. All very tough to say without knowing your phono section, and the condition of your cartridge. Needledoctor has plenty of cartridges with the listed specs to explore on their website. but why not give Roy Hall or your dealer a call. 
You aren't going to find ANY cartridge with an output significantly greater than 5 mV.  And if your phono section can make do with only 1mV input, I would say your max'd out as far as being able to drive the linestage section of your integrated amplifier.  If you want to make changes, I would go for quality rather than trying to find a cartridge with higher output voltage or a phono section with more gain.  Just make sure you have some guidance in choosing a cartridge and maybe an outboard phono stage that are well matched.  For a system like yours, you might consider the iFi iPhono2, as an outboard phono stage; you would plug that, or any outboard phono, into a pair of hi-level input jacks on your integrated (NOT into the "phono" inputs).
ezwicky - not exactly what you are asking about but somewhat related and hopefully helpful...

Why not just enjoy what you have for a while before upgrading to an external phono pre-amp? Not saying don’t do it ever, but sounds like you have a lot of vinyl that has been unplayed for some time and are trying to get reacquainted with its sound.    I'm not surprised you need to bump up the volume when playing records vs CDs.  The output voltage from my CDP is way higher than from my phono-pre.  A volume adjustment isn't unusual.  It isn’t like you are trying to run a low output moving coil and just don’t have adequate gain.

I use a Technics table w/Grado Black cartridge. The nice thing about the Prestige series is you can substitute a higher end stylus in the lower level cartridge bodies like the Black. You could go with a Grado Gold (top of the Prestige series) or get an 8MZ V stylus that some people think is an improvement (the option I choose). Price is the same: $150 for either. If unsure about the health of your current Grado Black stylus, get a new one for $50 bucks from Needle Doctor (they carry the full line of Grado replacement styli including Gold and 8MZ). Use the Black stylus for older more beat up vinyl and the Gold or 8MZ stylus for the pristine stuff. Enjoy the stuff you have for a while. Get used to the sound. Then decide if you want to invest further in vinyl playback.

Don’t make yourself crazy with volume matching and A/B testing from the get/go. Live with the sound of your records for a while. Once you are familiar, volume matching - while still helpful - won’t be as much of a distraction and I think you will begin to better hear what vinyl has to offer you vs digital.

Lewm’s last comments make a lot of sense.
My cartridge has a high output of 5mV, and my volume control is at 10 o’clock and 12 o’clock between TT and CD.

If you want try an outboard phonostage, I have heard good things about the iFi iPhono2, as well as the Schiit...
http://schiit.com/products/mani

Agree with ghosthouse, listen to your records.
Eric,

When I decided to get more serious about sound quality a few years ago I was disappointed in the sound I was getting from my low-fi vinyl rig. I wanted vinyl to sound better, but found that for me, I had to invest quite a bit more on the analog side to get it there. This is just my opinion, but I think digital sound comes cheaper, but once you invest in better analog equipment it is the better experience. 

I would predict that with your current equipment, I would not find a preference for the vinyl.  But my ability to discern may not be as good as yours or the next guys.  This is the type of thing a good dealer would help you with and could do an A/B comparison at different dollar levels.

If you haven't seen this thread, you might find it helpful.  Good luck.

https://forum.audiogon.com/discussions/when-and-how-did-you-if-at-all-realize-vinyl-is-better
Thanks everybody for replying.  I guess at this point I need to see if I can clean / restore my old records, then see how they sound.   The lone brand-new one (Dark Side of the Moon) sounded awesome, if quieter than my CDs, but still sounded great to my ears.   If I can get some of my really good older records to sound that good, then I will invest in a better turntable and cartridge.   My local hifi store is a dealer for Music-Hall and Pro-Ject, so those would be two possibilities.
Tough to coax a vinyl system to sound better than CD. Tough to listen to CDs once you do. The vinyl obsession is expensive. Like a very beautiful woman, you have to know that even if you can swing it, it's going to be very expensive.
This is what I worry about, being somewhat obsessive...
" If I can get some of my really good older records to sound that good, then I will invest in a better turntable and cartridge. "

You can have the same problem with other components, regardless of cost. Its not a quality issue.
A better turntable will make your old records sound better than that old SLD2. So don't write them off based on what you hear on it. 

When you A/B, match the volume approximately then listen to the whole song, repeating if necessary. You’ll find out which version you enjoy more this way.

Update: I cleaned the (built-in to the turntable) RCA connections at the pre-amp end with Caig De-Oxit (I use it on my motorcycle electrical connections) and now there is less of a volume discrepancy between the turntable and the CD.

Also, I have found several more records that I also have a CD of, and some of them are really close, for example Ornette Coleman’s "The Shape of Jazz to Come" and "Horowitz in Moscow".

So I am getting closer to a halfway-decent A/B setup.

Looks like now I will most likely get a better TT / cartridge. Maybe a Music-Hall or Pro-Ject, since that’s what my local hifi shop carries.
Good. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised with a better front end. 

Update:    I ended up getting some new components, all from Music-Hall.   And I am really glad I did.     I got the mmf-5.3 TT, bought a Herbie's mat, and have been really enjoying my old records.

I have been following some record-cleaning threads, and have been spending a lot of time cleaning my old records, and even new ones (Janos Starker Bach Cello Suites for one example) and I am finding that there is something different about playing records as opposed to CD.    Not just the sound, but the actual experience of it.   It's more of an "event", if you will, and it makes me devote more of an effort (not the right word, because it's not an effort.. it's rewarding) to actually listening and paying attention to the performances.   Rather than just as a background, as it was with CDs.

The other thing is that I am renewing my acquaintance with stuff I haven't listened to in a couple decades.   I have a couple hundred really nice Blue-Note records, and even my old Riverside records sound good after a thorough cleaning.     I haven't listened to this much McCoy Tyner and Thelonious Monk in a long time :)

Anyway, I think I digressed a bit there...  thanks for reading.

Eric