The conventional wisdom that you state is generally true, but bear in mind that the turntable / tonearm / cartridge combo is a SYSTEM, and that it it interactive. Hence, using a fine cartridge with an inexpensive turntable / tonearm makes little sense, nor does it make sense to use an inexpensive cartridge with a high quality turntable / tonearm.
Generally speaking, however, you are best advised to get the best turntable / tonearm you can, since a stable foundation is vital to achieving the best performance from the cartridge. It is always easier (and cheaper) to upgrade the quality of the cartridge than replacing the table and tonearm.
At first, i thought the transducer (cartridge) should be the most important. I mean all a table has to do is spin a record, right? how hard can that be? surely building a tranducer is tougher, right.
Wrong. I heard it myself in my own system with a Michell GyroSE table. Prior to that cart upgrades were ho-hum. the table upgrade was jaw-dropping (same arm and cart)
To use your above price, i would rather have a denon cart on a teres table than a lyra on a thorens or rega p2
Also think of it this way, the cart is NOT the first part of the chain. the lp spinning on the table is. if that isn't done right. fuhgitaboutit!
I agree with sd that it's a system and it's the balance of the components that makes it work.
I'm pretty inexperienced as far as audiophiles go...but I can tell you that the Clearaudio Aurm Beta sounded much better on my GyroSE/OL Silver than on my old AR/Linn. The Clearaudio sonically sounded much better on that AR than the Shure I had on before, BUT something wasn't "right" about the Clear on that table...like it was more than the table could handle, like putting a Ferrari engine in a plain Ford sedan--the performance was there but the match was all wrong. Funny enough, the Clearaudio was considered "too good" for the AR and "not up to par" on the Gyro. Not so sure I agree on the latter, but I do think that putting a very fancy MC on the Gyro would be worth it, if only I could afford it...reason is, the quality of the Gyro and the Silver are such that they could still work well with what a great cart would give them (as could my phono stage, pre, and power amps).
I guess what I did with the Gyro was get the best TT and arm I could afford right away, and got a less expensive "great bang for the buck" cart until I can afford a Koetsu or like brethren, knowing that carts come and go, I wanted to get a "keeper" TT and arm and worry about icing the cake later.
You know, I heard the very inexpensive Grado Black on a VPI mkIII through a very expensive Levinson/B&W 800 rig and it was wonderful...and the music was picked up by a, what, $40 cart. We could clearly see that a better cart would have improved everything, and clearly the rest of the rig warranted a finer cart, but what I'm saying is, it still worked well and was still pleasing, if you could get past the fact that it could have easily been even better with a fancy cart. Then I heard a Linn LP12/Akito/Linn MC (don't recall specifics) through a Conrad PV14/MV60SE/higher B&W CDM rig, which was, I think, pretty well-rounded and it was quite musical and enjoyable, the kind of rig where you forget the gear and dig the music. I think my TT setup sounds very nice and moving the cart up with just open things up more and get that special musicality going.
I'm rambling, but I guess what I'm saying is, I'd rather have a so-so cart on a great rig than a great cart on a crap rig, but neither is as good as a well-rounded system because you miss that musical synergy that makes things sort of seamlessly come together, if that makes any sense.
But, hey, I only know what I hear so I'll move over and let the experienced fellas get into it now :)
I agree with Sdcampbell and Aroc... The foundation of a good analog system is the turntable/tonearm, imo, and I'd always start building a system with the best turntable and tonearm I can manage and then work towards a better cartridge. The challenge is that, as Sdcampbell points out, the tt/tonearm/cartridge make a SYSTEM: there are real synergies to be had. And, there is an iterative process of improvement going on.
This being said, some of the discussion at Audio Asylum greatly oversimplifies the advice being offered. There ARE significant differences between cartridges: they are readily audible and very material. It is simply that, without a strong foundation in the tt and tonearm, you're wasting your time pouring lots of cash into the cartridge.
I don't know the answer...but it would seem obvious that the components must meet some level of solid performance...do what they are designed to do. It is clear that people do have their own strong beliefs on these matters. One topic that comes to mind recently on a thread dealt with the cleaning of records. Some people feel that damage is done to a new record if it is not cleaned before the first play. I myself don't adhere to this belief...if it were true how could there be so many used records on the market...and I mean really old records that are wonderful recordings and sought out by people. The technology of cartridges and maintenance of this medium have advanced leaps and bounds...but these used records were exposed to everything indicative of the time. However, there is truth and substance to a certain degree in all the positions taken on this hobby. Some do take positions too far and one must step back and look at whether a position taken can be supported by actual data as opposed to "their experience".
Thanks for the thoughtful responses thus far. If I may move the discussion from the theoretical to the practical -- I'm thinking of investing $300 to improve my analog setup and am wondering how to get most sonic improvement for the buck. My rig is a Thorens TD-320, with Shure V15VxMR cartridge, with a Gram Amp 2SE preamp. My initial thought was to sell the Cartridge for about $150 and use the $450 to buy a better cartridge. After reading posts about importance of the table itself, however, I'm wondering if it's smarter to sell the table for about $150 and use the $450 to buy a better table. Or maybe I can't buy any significant improvement for "only" $300? Any thoughts? Thanks, Rich
Thorens TD-320 is not ab bad TT. If you're looking to improve the detail and sound stage then I would suggest you replace the cartridge with MC cartridge like Audio Technica OC-9 or Sumiko Blue point Special (nude body so be very careful of installing this cartridge.)
Hope this helps. If you want to stick with MMs, the better Grado also good choice.
If I have to choose with a limited budget, I would definitely replace the cartridge first.
I think cartridge is much more important. I don't think I would be as brave as $2000 cart on a $200 table, but I would go as far as 2000/500 rather than 500/2000.
Winegasman, my suggestion is to be careful doing such small incremental upgrades. My experience has been that I've usually been better off spending such amounts on more vinyl or saving it until I could upgrade to something at least double cost. While there are wonderful values available in audio (and your tt/cartridge combination is one of them), it is also unfortunately true that sonic improvement often follows a pretty steep cost/benefit curve.
Rich, If you want practical, my sugestion would be that you do nothing at this point in time. Spend some time learning about turntable/arm/cartridge interface before you do anything or your likely to be flushing your $300 down the drain. You have to learn how to match the arm to the table and the cartridge to the arm and then match the cartridge to the phono preamp to maximize performance. Screw up one of these items and you're nowhere. FWIW, the place to start the process is with the turntable, otherwise you are building your house on sand (so the saying goes).
First let me say that in the few "mismatched" rigs I've heard, the good table/cheap cartridge combination has always worked better than the other way around. So I agree with Sdcambell, Aroc, Albert Porter and Dirtyragamuffin. A better table/arm can do wonders for a modest cartridge. A topnotch cartridge seems to reveal the shortcomings of an inferior table or arm, IME.
For around $600-700 you might consider the Bix TT. I haven't heard one but I'd expect it to outplay a vintage Thorens. Just my $.01 to give you one option to think about.
P.S. to Skeyebox
I'm one of those nuts who cleans even new records before playing them. I don't just "feel" that it prevents damage, I know it does. YMMV of course, but my approach is also more prudent than your approach, so I'm stickin' to it when it comes to advising newbies. Are you really willing to shoulder some of the blame (and cost) if you're wrong?
The existence of used records in excellent condition is simply evidence that record cleaning is not a new idea. I've been doing it since the 1970's and others for longer. My favorite ebay sellers are disposing of private collections which were meticulously cared for. The junk I occasionally receive from other sellers sounds like it does due to a lack of care by previous owners.
BTW, please explain your distinction between "data" which you'd accept and "experiences" which you'd reject. I could ship you three or four Classic Records reissues that used to be dead silent. They aren't any more and probably never will be again, thanks to being played before being cleaned. Would those ruined LP's be data points or experiences? ;-)
That is an anecdotal experience unless verified by solid empirical data. What would do it for me is an extreme magnified view of the groove showing damage to the groove reulting from the offending substance. Certainly records must be kept clean....as are mine....I just feel the real damage done to records is done through an improperly set up rig that exposes to the groove to improper physical forces that will alter the groove over time. IMO. But you are right to play things safe.
I have no experience in TT/cart combos that could directly answer the question.
However, in CD reproduction, I HAVE realized the value of a solid transport. No DAC no matter how good can make up for a cheap transport. I have a Sony SCD777ES, and as a redbook transport it is far superior to any $1,000 transport.
The comparison is perhaps wrong, but I would say the TT is the foundation and needs to be the best possible.
Also I agree that the small incremental improvement you want to make is NOT the best thing to do.
Save your money and get a substantially better table.
Dear friends: In these part of the anolog chain: TT/tonearm/cartrdige, everything is important. My experience told me that the tonearm/cartridge combo is the more important link on the subject: if you have, for example, and SME 10 and you compare to the SME 20 with the same tonearm/combo, it will be very hard to hear any difference: now with the same turntables, if you change for a better cartridge the combo on the SME 10 and leave the same ( first ) combo on the SME 20: now you can hear very easy the difference.
If we have a decent TT a change in the cartridge makes a huge difference ( this cartridge has to macht with the tonearm), but if we have a decent cartridge and change for a better turntable the differences will be minimal.
Even, with a bad TT the cartridge will be a huge difference.
When I speak of " my experience ", it is because I already try these kind of experiment.
Regards and always enjoy the music.
Raul, IF you have a good turntable and the arm you have attached to it is properly matched to the type of turntable you have selected, even though the arm and turntable are not of the highest quality, then I would agree with you that changing the cartridge would give you the most apparent change in the system.
However, for some one with a turntable/arm/cartridge who wants to improve what they are hearing its not that simple. Tonearms and turntables are not all interchangeable - the design criteria of each narrows down the possible choices. Some arms work better on suspended tables, some better of unsuspended tables. Of the tonearms that can be used on suspended tables one has to be sure that the weight of the arm is within the capacity of the spring suspension otherwise you will never get a good set up. The same can be said for cartridges and tonearms. Its all about matching tone arm mass and cartridge compliance. And as to the phono pre, its all about selecting the one which can deal with resistence or compliance issues presented by the cartridge. Ditto I/C's. To change any single one of the basic components requires some research to get it done right. Thats why I recommended that the poster do some reading on the subject.
In passing, I find it interesting that the poster never stated what he found objectionable about his present system, just that he wanted to improve it. Personally, I don't think he will get the improvement he is seeking by just changing his cartridge (which is a fairly good cartridge), in the dark so to speak, unless he can articulate how he wants to improve his system and what he finds lacking in his present set up.
Both of your examples are extreme mismatch. Playing a $2000 cart on a $200 table will not be acceptable. A $2000 cart will most likely be a mc or a high-end mm, they will require a precision arm and careful setup to sound good. A $200 table just doesnt have the precision they need. It is a waste of cart and money.
Playing a $200 cart on a $2000 table is a more acceptable mismatch although I wouldn't do that either. If I had $2200 to spend, I would have bought a $1500 table and arm with a $700 cart.
In your case, the Shure actually is a very good cart (I have one) and it certainly desires a better table and arm to show its stuff. But for $450, I doubt you can buy anything significantly better than the Thorens you already have. If I were you, I wouldnt do anything right now but save more money toward a better table and arm, probably a used set in the range of $700 to $900.
No matter how complexed could be the decision point there's always a limit or the point after you won't recognize any improvements no matter how big and expencive your analogue setup is. In addition to the two mentioned variables here comes certainly a phonostage that could be palls with $300 cartridge and give a complete mess with $1000 one.
I guess that $2000 for the cartridge is just as far as cartridges can go no matter how big and expencive your table is and contrary $200 isn't enough even for cheap DJ one. The same I could tell about turntables that retail above $4000.
Thanks for the further thoughtful and helpful responses.
Newbee: Actually, I'm not sure what I'm looking for, since, for me, the present rig is as good an analog system as I've ever had. But as I read about equipment it seems clear that there's probably greater musical depth, detail, dynamism to be extracted from my lps than I'm getting now. Again, since I just got back into analog about a year ago, after 15 years away, and since I now own a better rig than I had back then, I'm curious to see how much more rewarding the vinyl experience can still be. Couple that curiosity with the new idea (to me) that the table itself is an important variable in sound reproduction and I began to wonder whether my table or my cartridge might be subject to greater improvement. My intuition, which the majority of the posters here and elsewhere argue convincingly against, was that once a table reached a basic level of steadiness and so long as it turned at the right speed that the cartridge was the key variable. I was also assuming that most so-called "mid-fi" vintage tables (Thorens, Dual) had already solved these table stability problems, so that there's was no need to upgrade my table (unless I wanted to enhance my turntable envy).
Sidssp suggests upgrading the table if and when I can invest about $800 into one. I'm wondering what table (with arm included) will provide me a clear sonic enhancement compared to my TD-320? Thanks.
Winegasman, Actually the art of making turntables has progessed markedly since the days when the Duals, Thorens, whatever, ruled the market. I won't list all of the possibilities, however a couple of the big ones are the removal of the motor from the plinth and the use of a platter with substantial mass to control rotational stability. If you are seriously interested in upgrading your rig, I would start from scratch, or as a reasonable compromise assuming that you have normal budget concerns, buy a modern table that is already set up with an arm. I'm very partial to the principals being used by Nottingham and they have such a table which costs about $1000 (last I heard) including arm, called the Horizon. Add a cartridge and then you can start thinking about diminishing returns from high priced rigs. There is nothing wrong with what you have now, and its apparently serving you well. As I said earlier, save your $300 and, if you are serious, read about whats possible and then decide how its best for you to proceed.
Agree with Newbee. The thorens cannot keep up with newer designs. I heard a Michell GyroSE with newest DC motor absolutely slaughter a thorens in every conceivable category. It was not even close. The thorens is good for what it is, but there is better and it is worth it if you have the money and desire to seek it.
Likewise agree with Newbee. Excellent summary and advice.