My conclusion: mid level $$ analog vs digital

Good morning

I purchased a mid level analog system 6 months ago 
     project classic
     Hana sl
     Musical Surroundings Phenomena II+I’ve compared the analog to my digital 
      Chord Qutest 
      24/192 & Streaming 

and ;

After listening to a bunch of albums and music.

A well recorded album with a well setup analog is tough to beat . The analog has a certain snap to the drums and bass that digital cannot match.  Extremely , quiet and smooth
 The mid level price point and the associated quality is surprising to me 
Do not get me wrong , digital is close , but good albums really can show a difference 

Ive listened, at homes with much better analog setups, and the difference seems to get better 

So, For you guys think to take the analog jump ?

Don’t worry 


There’s a fullness and naturalness to analog sound that is difficult to match with digital. I’ve got a older Linn Axis with a Benz-Micro MC Gold cartridge. Sound quality of the Linn Axis seems to be about the level of a Rega Planar 6 as a modern comparison. I’ve been listening to a variety of DACs at increasing price points: Audioquest Dragonfly Red, Rega DAC, Denafrips Ares II, Chord Qutest, Denafrips Pontus II.

Several of these DACs sounded quite good, especially with local files (not streamed). Then I would put the same record on and the sound from the record just sounded fuller and with better flow.

I do have to say that the Pontus II DAC attached to a Pro-ject streamer is quite impressive. It’s just slightly less full than the sound from my Linn Axis. It seems just as articulate and perhaps resolves detail a bit better. The Pontus has the same type of naturalness of sound that I hear from records that the Qutest does not.  
The Pontus II DAC brings the sound quality of digital much closer to the sound qualities that you like from analog.

I notice that you are comparing your analog system to a Chord Qutest. I had a Qutest in my system for 2 months. One tweak that warmed up the sound, lowered the noise floor and broadened the soundstage was to run it off of an Anker phone power bank instead of the stock switch mode power supply. (Note: make sure the output is 5V to avoid frying your Qutest DAC).

I would also suggest considering using a dedicated streamer if you are not using one. What the dedicated streamer might do better than a PC is better management of both digital jitter and analog noise such as electromagnetic interference and RF interference. Benefits that I’ve heard from a dedicated streamer are:

- Better resolution of complex musical passages: Electric bass in Blue Moon Revisited on Trinity Sessions, Cowboy Junkies & Waltz for Debby, Bill Evans Trio
- Tonal colors are more evident
- Notes seem to hang in the air longer. Reverberations continue instead of being cut off.
- More presence around voices and instruments.

As much as I like analog and pretty much have not spent much money on digital for the past 3 decades, the advent of high quality streaming encouraged me to build a digital source this past year. It’s good for both finding new music and being able to switch music quickly while doing work.
like comfort food we enjoyed in our childhoods, we like what we like, it is part of our journey, our programming in taste...

good digital and good analog are different, good systems are tuned for the chosen source and show either at its best

either can be lovely

Thanks for response

ahh, A linn TT and Benz 
A nice combo , my preferred choice, but a tad $$ for starting , what are your other components phono, amp , speakers etc 

I’ve used Roon for Dsp and upsampling on the Qutest . I find upsampling to DSD rounds the sound profile and gives me a sound I’m looking for , with extra bass weight 

“There’s a fullness and naturalness to analog sound that is difficult to match with digital.”

This comment appeals to me. I’ve been debating on whether I should fork over some money towards a mid-priced TT to see what all the fuss is about. 

I just wonder why digital hasn’t been able to replicate this experience? Surface level question with answers that are probably way over my head. Still wonder, though.
@frozentundra Other components are an ancient Creek 4140 integrated amplifier with a MC phono input and Monitor Audio Silver 300 speakers. I just built up a digital front end. but when I work on my analog source once again I'll probably start with a phono pre-amp to allow a wider range of integrated amps that don't have a MC input.
those who are into hifi and music and haven’t tried one of analog or digital/streaming owe it to themselves to try the other and experience what the fuss is all about... it’s fun, educational and the experience is quite rewarding

caution here that going for a high degree of musicality in either is a slippery slope though... hahaha
In general spend an equal amount on well chosen compatible analog end and digital end... the analog will edge out the digital in detail, naturalness, and musicality at the $2K, $10K, $100K, and higher... all levels. Analog is not as convenient, but can be fun. I listen to digital about 85% of the time. But love the time with my analog setup and record collection... now over 2,000.
Yes, it can be a slippery slope because it gets better and better. Noice floor drops, dynamics get better, more layers of detail. It can be an endless delight.

In general spend an equal amount on well chosen compatible analog end and digital end... the analog will edge out the digital in detail, naturalness, and musicality at the $2K, $10K, $100K, and higher... all levels.

not so clear cut in my opinion and experience... there are several recent threads where this issue is broadly discussed

i would venture to say that digital front end will outperform analog at low (1-2k) to middle levels (2-4k) but when you get into really good analog, have it all dialed in (no trivial task) it sounds better but then you are into quite expensive territory at that point - all cases here factoring in the all important phono stage too...
Just compared my Thorens TD 124 (rebuilt, slate plinth, Kuzma reference arm, Hanze springs, ART-7 cartridge, retro tone upper platter, +) vs my new Lumin X1. With 75 hours breaking for the Lumin the TD124 has a slight edge in detail, space and PRAT; close but I was surprised...playing through Pass Labs 30.8 and Magico A3. Time will tell as the Lumin needs 250hrs to settle in...or so I am told.
jjss49 said:
i would venture to say that digital front end will outperform analog at low (1-2k) to middle levels (2-4k) but when you get into really good analog, have it all dialed in (no trivial task) it sounds better but then you are into quite expensive territory at that point - all cases here factoring in the all important phono stage too...

I agree with you on that. At lower price points, digital can be very competitive or better.
I sold a $15k turntable setup and all my vinyl because getting a very good dac surpasses a good analog setup. I spent $7k on a dac and it sounds better than my analog setup. If you go on a budget, its going to be hard to get the best sound in either setup. I use a network interface to the dac instead of the flawed USB which improves SQ. When I was into analog, I have friends that have $100k in analog setups and in those cases, a very good vinyl album would be very close to the same album in DSD or MQA format.
Popcorn anyone? I’m with jjss49... both can be good in their own right. I prefer my vinyl overall, but my digital stuff gets it done for casual listening. Digital streaming CANNOT be beat for sheer musical exposure, and one of the primary reasons I use the medium. CD’s on the other hand? Not too impressed after listening to really good vinyl.
Lately two audiophiles I know did comparisons and both preferred 
digital over analog which surprised me. Of course this says nothing really about how fair the comparisons were. 

Difficult to do a blind comparison as the surface noise on analogue would be easily identifiable.
You're not keeping your records and stylus clean.
Only just a few of my ~4000 LPs haven't yielded up all their surface noise to diligent and sensible use of modern cleaning systems.

When doing blind tests, first do a playthrough of chosen material to check there is no remaining noise.

But even then it's difficult to run a blind test that will satisfy everyone.  You choose a recording that was released on LP and CD at around the same time.  But the LP guys will say 'oh but that was badly cut' or 'it was cut a little too hot' and the CD guys will say 'the LP was re-mixed slightly differently.  Even when they weren't.
“good digital and good analog are different, good systems are tuned for the chosen source and show either at its best”

I agree with @jjss49, either can be lovely. 
Thank you!! I had your very same set up, except with hana was terrific. Blown away at the quality of analog sound for the money. That hana and that pro-ject the classic or the sb classic are hidden gems in my opinion. I have since gone the SUT route with a Jensen transformer into a Tavish design tube phono preamp, sold the musical surroundings preamp. To, me, it made an improvement.
mazian, if you are doing a comparison for your own sake blinding is not necessary but you have to do a "rapid" comparison and you have to be honest with yourself.  I have done this many times with recordings that I have both the vinyl and digital copies. You have to be able to switch sources by remote from your listening position. You Q up the digital and analog sources in a synchronized fashion matching levels as closely as possible then switch back and forth between sources. You can only analyze one characteristic at a time, bass, voice, cymbals, image and so forth. The number of switches you can make is infinite. What I find varies depending on what I usually think is mastering technique. Sometimes I prefer the vinyl, sometimes the digital. It always amazes me how dragging a rock through a trench can be even remotely close to raw science. 
Besides my preference, which is vinyl, not surprising due to investment, i still enjoy both.
So listening is simple. 

I think the op has already proven to himself what most already know, analog just sounds better. 😁
No need for rapid fire A/B comparison. You know right away that it just sounds right.
have said this before in similar threads

those who so clearly favor one of over the other in a ’hands down’ way probably haven’t heard the other well implemented in a really good system -- those who feel the need to put down the other is short sighted and narrow minded

key point is, either can sound truly wonderful and deliver the toe tapping, emotion inspiring, incredulously good sounding musical experience that we are all vigorously chasing in this hobby/undertaking

each delivers its own lovely experience and unique benefits, and we as an audiophile community are much better for it in the present day
I've thought about this subject too.  It's hard to draw a conclusion because you could spend similar amounts of money on digital and analog and windup in the same place or drastically different places.  Further, spending smart and finding synergy can reap huge awards.  All of that creates noise for me in the logic of the original post subject. 

I will say though, assuming purchases and integration are taken seriously there is a point where analog starts doing things that digital doesn't do or not as well.   

I do subscribe to the wise ones' view that digital and analog are just different, and it's not a zero sum game. 

Different though can be very intoxicating and compelling.  A friend popped by last night.  He's got a mainstream all digital system that he had configured.  He says with the house integration he's got $50k minimum in it.  I've heard it many times. It sounds really pleasant.   

He asked to hear my system.  I first played digital (Roon -) Tube DAC).  Later, when he requested Dark Side of the Moon (felt a bit shopworn, but still a classic), he said, "Woah, I get it."  Then he struggled to define what he liked about vinyl.  

Point is, I think he was responding positively to a careful put together analog rig, as it was doing things so differently than he was used to.  

+1 jjss49-- each delivers its own lovely experience and unique benefits

What a great time for audiophiles!
I agree with you on that. At lower price points, digital can be very competitive or better.
Yes especially in a controlled acoustical settings in synergetical correspondance with your speakers and gear where the distinction will count way less and will erased itself greatly... The conditions for a true contest ask for a kind of "mike lavigne system" environment... But the remaining differences which subsisted are minute even if audible, then did not count really for us in daily listenings...

Like usual digita/analog and others falses oppositions mask essential problems, acoustic being the more important....

By the way a digital system is more vulnerable to room bad acoustic  condition than an analog system... It is my opinion not science here....
@jjss49 ...
“i would venture to say that digital front end will outperform analog at low (1-2k) to middle levels (2-4k) but when you get into really good analog, have it all dialed in (no trivial task) it sounds better but then you are into quite expensive territory at that point - all cases here factoring in the all important phono stage too...”
I agree, at the low end consumer level anything goes... I hadn’t intended on implying anything in the $1K - 1.5 range would conform to this generalization. The question was on mid-level, which to me would start at the least around $2K.
I always consider the Phonostage part of the analog end. It has a very profound effect on the output and cheap ones really sound bad. My examples of comparisons started at $2K simply because you do not get much consistency below that level... and even that is pretty low. There are lots of variables, but I said for compatible and complementary components. I know a person that has put together a system costing over $30K and it simply sounds terrible, both digital and analog. I could do better for $5K or less. So, myself and several other people I know and trust have confirmed this generality, and it is a generality, normally holds... equal investment in a quality analog end and digital end will result in a better sounding analog end. While the ratio has changed radically over time. It used to be an analog end costing a fraction of the cost of the digital end would out preform. Over the last thirty years that ratio has gotten smaller.

I now have the best digital end I have ever heard. It caused me to upgrade my analog end. I thought that finally analog had met it’s match. But, my analog end at about $10k less than my digital end.. but it still bests my digital end. This data point fell right in line with the generalization. I keep thinking the generalization is going to fail but hasn’t yet in my experience and those I know and follow,

Having said all this. I love listening to both, period. Both ends are satisfying, musical detailed and wonderful. But, I have to give the nod to the analog end. I listen to the analog end when I feel like choosing an album, or hearing more deeply into something. I have no noticeable surface noice on 95%+ of my albums. I clean all albums when I buy them and they really never need more than a quick wipe with Last cleaner if the get really dusty... very unusual. As you get up in quality of turntable surface nice just goes away. With a disk washer virtually all pops go way... handling records properly will result in no skips,

Assembling a high end system is challenging. Some people cannot do it. My example of my friend. He has three degrees in science... he is highly analytical. But, is not good with the ambiguity and the nuance of putting a system together. He uses his skill to choose a single component... then another... then another... when put together they sound terrible. He isn’t able to calibrate his tastes and observations to that of reviewers and to remover their prejudices (which they try and show) and then to integrate over the whole system. It is a lot of work, it requires it to be a labor of love. I really love huge unstructured problems... and am good at them, so high-end audio has been really rewarding for me, and really frustrating for my friend of over 50 years.
There are two steak filets. Take one steak...cut out very thin strips along the length of it and put it back together so it looks like a steak again. If you do it very carefully and pat it down just right, you wouldn't even know the difference from a visual or taste perspective  But your tummy will know it had less food.

You can cut even finer strips out (24/192k). But tummy will know...tummy always knows. Trust your tummy. 

This doesn't mean much anymore as nowadays recording studios are mostly digital. Workflow is more flexible and efficient. Especially when more and more artists seem to possess less virtuosity. And time is money.

But as digital closes in, analog will not disappear. It will just become a premium option.

I never left analog. I knew in 1983 that CDs didn’t match LPs. My first listen was to a CD of Alan Parsons Project “Eye In The Sky”. The silence of the CD was stunning. But the SOUND of the LP was just amazing! 

It hasnt ever changed. Analog still outperforms digital every time!

The 1983 comparison was made in a High End boutique. State of the art Conrad Johnson SS and tube amps, Infinity Beta Speakers. 

After that demonstration, I kept my receiver, turntable, cartridge, LPs, and updated speakers and TT and added cartridges. I have streaming, DACs, SACDs, CDs, and none of the digital sources best my analog system. More convenient, yes for digital. But not better.
my experience was that it took lots of $ before my analogue system equaled, then surpassed, the digital side.  

Your experience, of big dollars, to achieve equality for analog was my fear . 
But, Surprisingly , with my hearing and my level of resolution that my system achieves .

I can feel very satisfied, at this level 
What digital & system did you have when you were picking turntables ?

I especially, enjoy older albums recorded using old school tape and few microphones 
The air and ambience is very nice and wide 
Sheffield labs does nice stuff, too



What sound differences did you hear by adding SUT to your phono preamp ? 
I debated buying a Conrad JOHNSON phono pre that has both and internal SUT and a full gain side 

I bet that would be a hoot to listen to, but sadly they are.  It pricy for the SUT .  
There are many that spend hours upon hours refining their analogue playback but don't think beyond the plug-in about digital.  Is your router up to date and capable of easily streaming the data you need?  Have you abandoned wi-fi to go Ethernet to get the best signal transmission..  and that means Cat 6a and higher Ethernet cable.  How many digital cables did you try to see what the result was?  ..  after all, they all sound different.  Have you done the same with all cables?  If digital sounds slower on transients and such it's your system not the medium since there is no mechanical response time involved with digital.
In the 60 + years I've been messing with "hi-fi" and 30+ in the high end I've been through most everything from vinyl, R2R, cassettes, FM and horrid digital in it's infancy.  Spend as much time setting up and dialing in your digital with the same love and care you do for your vinyl and here's what happens next; you go to the garage to try and find that album in 6 or 7 thousand you have there you may have misfiled and I'll tap tap on my phone and have access in a second to everything the artist ever had published.
I agree with this statement: "Assembling a high end system is challenging. Some people cannot do it." Getting an analogue system properly set up can be a real challenge especially if there's not a good, experienced stereo shop nearby for assistance. The advent of "plug and play" turntable/arm/cartridge systems from good manufacturers should go a long way to rectifying this potential problem for those (like me) that appreciate the help.
Jeff, the difference was not night and day so to speak, but to me the Hana el sounded more unleashed for lack of a better term. The mc stages in some tube preamps are an afterthought and don’t always benefit from the actual tubes. Instead they rely on solid state circuitry. On the tubed Tavish the classic, the MM section benefits from full tubes. So by using the Jensen mc 2-rrL sut (JT-44K-DX 1/10 transformers) connected to the MM inputs of the tavish, I’m getting a more tubey sound. So in essence, the SUT will allow you to utilize the full benefits of a tubed preamp by stepping up the mc low voltage to the higher mm voltage. Some preamps with mc sections accomplish this with solid state components (rather than passive transformers) and to me, something is lost or just not right with the sound. Some may beg to differ, but I hear a difference using the SUT, the Hana el was more free, and the transients seemed faster. The hana el as well as your sl both call for 400 ohm or greater load impedance. What is good about the Jensen SUT is that the L model has a built in 430 OHM impedance, so a great match to the Hana. It is also a 1/10 step up, so the .5 mV is stepped up to near 5 mV. These numbers are perfect. Lastly the compliance of the Hana @100 ohms is 17. When plugged into the vinylengine calculator using 13.5 gram arm (the pro-ject classic arm) and cartridge total weight, including the hardware, of about 6 grams, you arrive at a resonance of 9hz. So the Hana is a good match for the pro-ject the classic arm. The hana’s also use Alnico magnets, which to me provide a more organic sound. Herb Reichert mentions this in his review of the Hana el.
In my personal opinion, the Hana, the pro-ject the classic (especially the SB), and the Tavish design classic are all steals at their price point. You seemingly get a performance from all three of these components that are above what you would expect for the money. If you want to add in the Jensen mc 2-rrL @ $599, then you can say 4 steals.
I would also advise you to grab the EVO machined aluminum sub platter for your classic to replace the stock plastic/abs one.  From the pro-ject web page:
"It adds more mass to the entire platter and drive system, resulting in additional damping of noise and unwanted resonances. The improved tolerances during production will increase overall speed accuracy. The additional mass improves short term speed stability, or also called Wow & Flutter."
When I used to have a vinyl setup I would occasionally compare the same album on vinyl with CD. Some of them sounded nearly identical with a moderate grade cartridge and phono stage. Some sounded very different. I think the mastering is a big deal, and perhaps the implementation of the RIAA curve in the phono stage and how well it mates up to the cartridge it’s being used with. I heard a lot more variation between cartridges and phono stages than I heard between dacs and transports. My favorite vinyl setup had a Sumiko oyster cartridge and a Carver phono stage with various settings. This produced an obviously colored sound that I found very pleasing. When I upgraded to a Bluepoint cartridge and Creek phono stage it sounded much more similar to CD to me. It was technically better but lost some flavor that I enjoyed. What’s the point if it sounds pretty much like the CD? Well, there’s the mastering differences. It would seem we’re all sensitive to different aspects of the sound. Other than the very earliest CD players I never heard anything specifically wrong with digital. And even then it was a lot less overall than I could always hear with analog. To my ears it was and still is a big step forward.

I acquired a digital 31 band equalizer while I still had the vinyl. Playing with that I was able to very closely match the sound of records and CDs of the same album that had sounded different before. The trick was usually to apply a gently sloping downward curve across the entire audio band to the CD playback.

One other thing I'll say - I LOVE turntables as mechanical gadgets that are beautiful to behold and operate. I'll never feel the same about solid state electronic devices. I also LOVE old film SLR cameras. I'll never feel the same about any digital camera. 
In building a number of systems over twenty years I've experienced so many variables in regard to vinyl vs. digital. In earlier years vinyl generally won out, digital exclusively cd, likely vast majority of these 1980-90's cd's remastered from analog masters, Analog to digital converters pretty bad in that era (D/A not much better). Somewhere around 2000 digital became better as A/D converters improved, so DAC was upgraded, digital closing in. During period 2005-2015 or so, vast majority of my resources used in upgrading digital, result was digital superiority. In reaction I upgrade vinyl, result vinyl superiority.

So, moving on to around 2015 and the discovery of streaming. Past five or six years almost exclusive upgrading and optimizing diy streaming setup. Result digital superiority again.

Based on my experience, optimizing streaming setup is NOT plug n play. Every single link in the chain is critical, the myth of digital simply being ones and zeros is a simplistic notion and detrimental to the digital experience.  My streaming setup is far more complex and somewhat more costly than analog setup, and I do have all the setup tools, cleaning apparatus, etc for analog. I have more than 2500 albums from 1950's-contemporary recordings. Point being I love all aspects of vinyl. I presume my analog could well challenge superiority of digital with expensive cartridge upgrade.

My point in all this is that digital vs analog superiority is SO subjective. Systems not optimized for both cannot be fairly compared. And yes, digital and analog do not sound the same, I've always heard vinyl superiority as what I'd describe as 'flow', a sense of calming that digital just doesn't quite do. Digital also has some inherent advantages. As for the 'flow' thing, latest digital closing in on this elusive quality. My present digital is not in the least fatiguing, I simply hear a sense of living, breathing performers in room. Visitors to my dedicated listening room happily listen for 5 hour plus sessions listening exclusively to steams and cd rips. Have a hard time getting rid of them at 3am.
Both digital and analog happily coexist in my listening room.
@sns - Well said. That has been my experience too. Right now my streaming setup is the best, but I could put more effort into my analog front end and maybe then it would be king of the roost. Back and forth it goes.

Thanks for link
1 hour long.      
Great listen 

I agree with intro turntable setups description 
They all sounded dull and lifeless to me , too

The knee for “ that vinyl magic” 
where you get the “ wow” moment is the big question ............

The tone audio guy said $10-20k , now days 

I had my wow moment on a setup, about 8 yrs ago
      acoustic solid Tt
      Triplaner arm
      Kisiki cart
      Esoteric phono 

So, I know what it sounds like 

But, The 3k in mine is , gosh darn , I get a good pile of the magic 


I swore off vinyl years ago.  I have been staring at my big shelf of records for a long time with no way to play them.  I decided to buy a PS audio nu wave phono stage, party because of it's AD converter to use for other reasons.  I have always kept an old Dunlop Systemdek IIX laying around.  It has a Grado black cart.  I plugged it all in and played a couple records and was quite disturbed at how great it sounded, this was with a worn out 75 dollar cart.  I decided to get a better cart.  Ortofon Quintet black.  Now this was a big jump up.  Music I had tried to connect with via digital (and really good digital, DCS Rossini DAC and clock) I was now getting into.  There is a density to the sound that the digital lacks.  Also yes very frustrating at times with the pops and clicks and even complete crap brand new records (I swear the colored vinyl sounds worse)  I have upgraded my player to a VPI Classic 3 and Hana ML cart.  Nowhere near the top of the heap but mid level analog probably.  I know I can do better with phono stage and probably cart and table and arm but for now I am enjoying the ride and playing full albums and getting to know things I thought I should like but always my mind wandered when playing.  Now I have a connection to albums I hadn't before and if it takes playing it via vinyl then it's worth it.  There is so much to learn and tweak with vinyl it's not an easy thing but there are moments of pure bliss in sound you can achieve.  I am coming from very top of the line digital and dollars to dollars aren't even close in my digital system vs current analog but when the record is good and quiet I have to say I prefer the analog over the digital.  There is also a bit of joy in owning the music as an actual item you can hold in your hands.  Shopping for music has always been a lot of fun and now I'm able to do that again.  I just need to learn how to best clean these records to make them as silent and pop and click free as possible now.  
Just by chance the CD happened to come out when I was just out of college, broke, and moving around a lot. My turntable and records were boxed up. By the time I had anything to put into audio it seemed CD was the way to go.

Several years of serious system building later I am feeling "almost done" when I read Robert Harley saying "the turntable is the heart of a high end system." WTF? I never saw a turntable in any store the whole time I was searching stuff out.

My Technics was still in a box in the garage so I dug it out. The only thing I had for a phono stage was my old 1974 Kenwood integrated. I hooked it up. Told this story before, totally true: the cantilever was bent. I carefully straightened it out.

Could have knocked me over with a feather. Wife comes home, What’s that? Tom Petty. No, I mean what CD is that? No CD, record. WTF?!?! We are both incredulous. Especially me. 25 year old $325 Technics with Kenwood is absolutely kicking butt on $1200 California Audio Labs CD. With a cantilever with a kink in it.

Then followed many years of improving both, until gradually slowly realizing the only thing CD had going was convenience. I could program which tracks, hit one button, but that was it. With CD I was playing music. With records I was enjoying music.

The rest, as they say, is history.

I really don’t care one bit which format anyone prefers and the reasons why.  The endless debate about which format sounds better and the insistence on the part of some that I can’t possibly hear what I do hear gets kinda tiresome.  What I do care about is what my ears tell me and my ears tell me that there is a fundamental difference between the sound of analog and the sound of digital.  To one degree or another, this fundamental difference can be heard at any price point.  As one climbs the ladder on the way to SOTA equipment and assuming intelligent/synergistic system matching of gear this difference becomes less important, if not less obvious.  Everyone has different tolerance levels to ticks and pops, the inconveniences of one format vs the other, and those or other things can be deal breakers; especially at the lowest price points.  

I listen primarily, not exclusively, to music that is minimally processed and mostly acoustic in nature and FOR ME, analog recordings simply do a better job, OVERALL, of mimicking the sound and the feeling of music as heard live.  This is not to say that digital doesn’t sound good and it is true that sometimes it does a better job OVERALL; but, that fundamental difference is always there.  Simple as that. 
Thanks for sharing your findings on this.  It's a lot of fun to reach a point with analog gear where it sounds better than digital.  

One thing I would like to clarify is the use of mid-level in describing your set-up.  These days I think mid-level is closer to $3-5K for TT plus preamp.  I would put your TT in the (upper) entry level category simply based on price, not considering its performance.  And I do wish to emphasize that you can get excellent performance in this price range with proper set-up.  One of the nicest TT set-ups I've heard was less than $2K including cartridge.  I would say that if you are hearing the differences you're hearing at this level you will be even more delighted when you move up to the next levels.  There are diminishing points of return at some point but I am sure you will hear big improvements as you move up, assuming you have the desire to do so. 

Most importantly, have fun as you go, and enjoy the music.

I'm with Frogman; I don't care for anyone else's opinion, but I do respect anyone else's opinion.  This is not an issue that can ever be resolved to everyone's satisfaction, because we all have different personalities, different cues we look for in sound quality from our carefully selected components, and.... because vinyl is better, goddammit!
It's a lot of fun to reach a point with analog gear where it sounds better than digital.
It sure is. That point is called the gramophone, and once you hear one you will never forget.


   I can't say exactly at what point my tt surpassed the cd. It was around the time I had a Muse model 2 dac and Pioneer elite cd (used only as transport) vs. Thorens TD-850 tt, Grado Statement cartridge, upgraded Rega arm.
    The problem is that it's not just the tt, a good tt system consists of turntable, tonearm, cartridge, phono preamp, sut, cables, and probably some kind of isolation platform (all of which I use now; the Rogers PA-2 phono pre has the SUT built in.) That's a lot of (expensive) moving parts for a turntable! vs. cd player, dac, and cables, and nowadays a streamer.
    I do use the digital side a lot, for convenience, background music, the tv.  I suspect most of us would never trust a spouse or child with our records.  Records require a lot of effort to play, cleaning the lp and stylus, flipping every 20 minutes, etc.
  I don't always want to really listen to music, but when I do, I play records.