My LP couldn't beat my CD, until now

I'm an owner of a new VPI Scoutmaster w/Sumiko Blackbird cart. I, like so many recently, have returned to vinyl after a long time, seeking (as always) the absolute sound.

I'm an 80s kid; a product of the CD revolution. I enjoy my Slim Devices Transporter and all the convenience it delivers. However, I've felt that there's been something missing around music listening, and everyone's talking about analog anyway, so I took the plunge.

Imagine my disappointment when I set up my new 'table, wire it all up, and the first few albums sound flat, a little shrill and generally thin compared to a good rip of the same music off of CD.

I chalk all this up to break-in, to everything in the signal chain from the cartridge to the amp being new and untested. I'm also new at this, and have never set up a tonearm in my life (my goodness, it's a fiddly exercise).

I give it 20 hours of playing time or so, forcibly choosing not to judge. I wait patiently for everything to work in. Still, I find most recordings of everything from Pop & Rock to The Firebird Suite to be palatable and fine listening, but far from the nirvana of naturalness and organic ease everyone says is on LPs.

Well, friends, I think I've had one of those 'holy cow!' moments that come in audiophilia so rarely. A fellow AudiogoNer's recent sale just arrived at my door, and I swapped it in. It's a McCormack Micro Phono Drive, and it's made a tremendous difference in this setup. (I also changed the cable from arm to preamp from Hero to King Cobra for length, but I truly doubt that's what I'm hearing.)

My point in posting all this is to say that I never expected such an assumedly minor part of the signal chain to make such a magnificent difference in the enjoyability of LP listening.

It took a pinched soundstage and made it full-bodied. It took a somewhat shrill and tinny, crackly high end and tamed it. It filled in the bass from 'there' to 'wow'. In short, it completely saved what I thought was a flawed and disappointing attempt at analog.

I was all ready to post a 'LP can't possibly beat CD, so what are you smokin'?' message, but this one, simple thing has changed my mind! 80s kids out there, don't lose hope! there really is something to this LP scene.
Congratulations, Forddonald. And welcome. Glad to hear it finally came alive for you as it does for so many of us.
Vinyl is an art form whereas CD's are more a science. Getting it right is getting there, congratulations. As always, Enjoy!
Yes, welcome ! I remember that I had similar enlightment when I changed my modest NAD PP1 phonostage to Graham Slee Era Gold V with a modest Clearaudio Emotion Turntable. I became so hooked that you can see what happened ( click system ) ! Also so addictive that it is very rare I listen to digital @ home. A new interesting music ? I buy CD and listen in my car, try to find it on LP ! The phonostage is the heart of the analog chain, so no compromise with it. You can have a top flight turntabble/arm/cartridge and only have 50% of the sound quality delivered if the phonostage is not up to the task. Watch for the line stage also, it can degrade the signal. Best is no linestage and direct phono to amp but this is a little difficult at the beguinning to achieve. Very important also is vibration control of the turntable. Wall mounting preferred, makes huge difference.After that cart./arm synergy,and so on,...
Every step is so rewarding that it is really a pure pleasure of a hobby.
First, you should ditch this VPI flimsy creature. Save yourself hundreds and buy classic Technics 1200mk2, which is widely available or look for very good Japanese turntables from '75-'85.
Forddonald, I'm happy for you. I too have a fairly new analog setup with Scoutmaster, sound is still not up to my digital rig.

I have found the phono stage to be critical to obtaining quality sound. I suppose I'm way too picky, but I'm completely rebuilding my phono stage, already switched out signal path caps, now I'm working on upgrading signal path resistors and power supply.

I hope I find lp nirvana at some point.
I also owned a Micro Phono Drive for a number of years, bought it new, it was a pretty good unit, never had any trouble with it, I did sell it on agon a couple of years back when I upgraded it to a more costly Phono Stage, the Sutherland PhD. who knows, maybe this Unit you have gotten was originally mine?!

Back then, I was using the first version Hi-Output Benz Glider (1.9mv). I'd assume you are using the low gain setting (40db) and the default 47K Ohms loading. This should be just fine for the Blackbird.

I know Steve McCormack makes a upgrade for this Unit, a seperate Outboard Power Supply, but it is quite costly.
His company, sMc, commonly did-does mods on many of thier Units.(amps etc)

Yet, trust me when I tell you, you rig can get even better. Mine did when I switched out the Phono Drive Unit for the Sutherland PhD. Quieter noise floor, and better sound in every way describeable. Cone Footers, a better heavier Platter on my VPI Table, a better Cartridge, Cabling, some other custom mods, and of course last but not least the very high importance of critical set-up of Table-Arm-Cartridge, so that you will squeeze every last bit of performance from what you have.

CD sound can be enjoyable, and as well a bit more convenient, when you'd perhaps rather be doing some other things while listening to music, rather than getting up every so often to flip LPs, but for critical listening, and ultimate enjoyment, I agree, there's still nothing as sweet, and satisfying as analog playback. Enjoy! Mark

Welcome to the revolution, and, congrats!
Glad to hear you are working your way to audio nirvana but completely disagree with "assumedly minor part of the signal chain........McCormack Micro Phono Drive."

The phono preamp is a MAJOR part of the signal chain. Let me re-state that. It is a MAJOR, MAJOR, MAJOR, MAJOR part of the chain. It takes a very tiny signal from the cartridge and amplifies it to a level usable by the preamp while at the same time applying an RIAA equalization curve, It would be easy to argue it is the most important part of the chain, and definitely not a minor one.
I sold Japanese tables in the 70s including MUCH better tables than the Techinics 1200 such as the DDX 1000. They were no match for the contemporary Japanese belt drives such as the Micro Seki 51 and 91. In turn they are no match for the VPIs. Anyone who thinks the technics is a good table has been asleep since the 60s and has never listened to good MODERN tables. Technics made better tables then than they do now and they were not reckoned the best then. The arm cable VPI sells is very good. You might want to do what I have ; I bought a 4" butchers block from Michigan Maple Block that is 25" x 18" X? Bigger than the table anyway. It was $96 + $25 shipping. I have it on 3 large Mapleshade cones. There are many solutions to vibration control, including wall mounts, but the more you isolate the table the better.

You are crul & cold in your statement about the VPI.

Go take some happy pills and report back to Ford.

I pitty your wife,girl/boyfriend.
forddonald, congrats! i have a sumiko blackbird as well; i too am taking the plunge again, but this time i am re-acquiring the same phono stage that got me into vinyl in the first place; ps audio's gcph. (sold it a few months ago, with sellers regret) i will be connecting it directly to power amp. i have done the same with my dac, using software volume control from itunes. it sounds stunning good. cannot wait to hear with phono stage setup direct.
I completely agree with Stanwal about a Techinics 1200. Its a fine table if one need to carry a table under their arm to a friends house. For it was built just for this purpose as a rugged DJ machine.
I'm curious what was the phono pre-amp prior to the McCormack?

I'm always glad when someone new discovers the unique joys and tribulations of vinyl.

But revolution?


Of course let's all enjoy our records while they're still around but also let's not exaggerate our retro tendencies into a "revolution" quite yet.

Though I guess all revolutions must start somewhere....
As has been stated the technics table is a DJ table at best and cannot even be considered a highend table.
cartridges take something like 50-100 hours to break in and when they do, it can be somewhat sudden...
You did not mention what you used for cartridge alignment and adjustment, but if you got it right on your first -time-ever try - even with lots of jiggling - that would be beyond amazing. Odds are good that there is still room for improvement, e.g., with a better protractor, scale, and practice.
After 15 years in analog, I had a similar 'wow' experience when I inserted Vacuumstate JLTI phono stage into my system (after a Trichord Dino, Wright WPP200C). The second 'wow' followed quickly when I got my first >$1k cartridge. I did not think the rest of my system was up for as big of an improvement as I got.

The quality of phonostage and cartridge combination is crucial in analog playback.
wait until you buy some 180gm pressings!
Caution regarding 180 gm vinyl.

I've heard from others here the quality of many 180 gm pressings is questionable. The quality control of the golden days of vinyl past is rumored to not be there these days.

Just repeating what I've heard. Don't know if its true. I hope it is not but I don't know for sure.

I mostly buy cheap used records in good shape when I find them.

I was in a busy local music store that sells mostly CDs and DVDs recently. They recently opened a separate vinyl room predominantly up front featuring new vinyl releases, not old used stuff.

The store was very busy with dozens of people but none were in the vinyl room except me.

When I saw the prices, I left as well to scour CDs.
LP an art forum? Silly, its all science. Matching that is. Getting the chain right is what it is all about. Glad you are on your way to better sound.
What phono stage did you have before?
The N.Y Times had an article about people in N.Y. who play RECORDS!
At parties, even!
Check out the news: You Say You Want a Revolution (at 33 1/3)

BTW, did you know the word "gullible" isn't in the dictionary?
Mapman, WHOA!!!

There are tons are great sounding 180g and 200g LPs out there. Given the horrid condition and lack of availability of many used titles, must analog lovers are best served by both used and new LPs. There are many threads here outlining great recommendations of various new 180g LPs of every genre. Please check some out. Without sending the thread on a total bender, at least look into Speakers Corner, Classic Records, Music Matters, Analogue Productions just to new a few. Great stuff abounds! Cheers,

So, I don't want to throw anyone's phono stage under the bus, but since several have asked, I was using a Cambridge Azur 640p. I think it's a nice piece of gear, well packaged and attractive. However, in this signal chain, it (clearly) sounded all wrong. And yes, I did give it several weeks of powered on time to settle.

Maybe what I'm hearing is the difference between $180 of today's China-sourced parts vs $800 of parts like Kimber Kaps that McCormack used. Or maybe it's 2 weeks old vs 8 years old (no sure when this pre was made; serial in the low 6000's). Or maybe it's just what so many on this site have stated before, that Steve McCormack designed gear that 'sounds right'.

One of the biggest challenges for me when I researched this project was figuring out where to bias my spending power. For cost-no-object it's easy, just buy the top of the line from each of the mfgrs that appeal to you, or buy what A.S./Stereophile recommends.

I had to route dollars to the table, the arm, the cart, the preamp and interconnects. I knew the sound of the supporting components (Krell, Totem, Kimber). My research suggested it's all in the table, that a solid foundation was the critical component, allowing the arm/cart to speak it's best, and all I had to do was keep the signal path clean to the amp.

Now I think I'd say differently. I'd say it's all in the cart much like race cars are all about the tires, and the signal path from it's delicate wires through the arm to the amp is the critical path. Everything counts, of course, but again, I'd bias my dollars there. Maybe what I should have done was bought the Scout and passed the dollars saved to a Signature arm. I already bought more cart than I intended; I originally focused on the Evo III, but was encouraged to go to the Blackbird by the rep.

Now I wonder... where is the next weak link in the chain? Do people actually spend $900 - $1500 several times on different carts, trying them in and out of the system, listening for that magical moment? Or do I look downstream at the 10 yr old Krell, and try a tube amp (thinking Primaluna or maybe Manley)?

In the mean time, all I know is my Cat Stevens and CCR albums rival the CD copies I have like I wouldn't have believed. Oh, and those 180g pressings are highway robbery!
Vinyl playback is definitely a load of work, patients and money.
The money part of it like anything else is dependent on what you personally want back from it.

One good example on this thread is Rushton's record player / system and vintage Lp collection.

Vinyl playback can have tremendous enjoyment for some, for others an out right disappointment.

There is volumes of helpful information and guidance here for the beginner right through to the seasoned enthusiast.
I don't doubt the McCormick unit sounds great.

There is something to be said for introducing a few tubes into a system.

Probably true the interest in vinyl is higher today than it has been for quite a while. Call it a revolution if you like. One man's revolution is another man's trend.

So what's a good 180 gm product to try to make an instant believer out of me?
180 gm, Bob Dylan's OH Mercy is right up there.
Clifford Brown
Art Blakey

"So what's a good 180 gm product to try to make an instant believer out of me?"

Miles Davis - Kind of Blue

That's a good pick.

I'll keep my eyes out and maybe give it a try!
12-05-08: Eee3
As has been stated the technics table is a DJ table at best and cannot even be considered a highend table.
Not true. The Technics was not designed to be a DJ table. It was designed to be a reliable, speed-accurate home audio table that is so rugged and reliable that it became the DJ table of choice.

The two biggest factors that make the Technics *seem* inadequate are a too-dark tone from the garden-variety tonearm wire and vibration isolation limited to late '70s' understanding of NVH. These are both easily corrected for very little money. You can also bring the tonearm up to more modern standards with a KAB tonearm rewire and fluid damper, which enables the tonearm to work well with a wide range of cartridges and track difficult and badly warped records. The aluminum alloy platter can be tamed with a better mat. Or you can get upgraded tonearm wire by getting the SL1210 M5G.

You have to spend quite a bit of money in the low-torque belt-drive camp to get speed accuracy and s/n ratio equal to the Technics SL12x0 series, and even then you'll never get its ease of operation.

There are plenty of people on this forum with high end rigs who get high end sound from the Technics DD series.
I think your next purchase for analog should be a VPI 16.5 record cleaner. If you think your records sound good now, just try some clean ones.
Stay with what you have and enjoy for now, the upgrade bug will only get worse. lol.
>For cost-no-object it's easy, just buy the top of the line from each of the mfgrs that appeal to you, or buy what A.S./Stereophile recommends.<

This is sometimes a recipe for disaster, but it's exactly what many newbies to our hobby do. Synergy is key to putting together a system that actually makes music. But some would rather just throw money at the problem and cross their fingers. As you grow into this hobby you will see that the expensive stuff is not always the gear that sounds the best. Sometimes, but not always.....

Absoloutely right.
Speed accuracy in and of itself doesn't mean good sound,there're other variables that factor into the equation.
I've been in highend audio almost 30yrs. and around a lot of audiophiles and none have ever thought technics turntables to be highend.
In almost every comparison that's been done, belt drive has beaten out direct drive.
wow! 30 years!
lot of audiophiles?
Settles it.
End of thread.
are adequate to demo the superior sound of vinyl. once the break-in and alignments are done, your collection will continue to amaze you. mine does.

yes, i have some premium releases and they mostly sound damm good but so do most of the rest of what i play. on occasion, a wimpy record gets put on the tt and only leaves if its not good music or is SO noisy that i cant tolerate it.

some audiophile recordings SOUND great but have such mediocre music performance on them that they arent worth the money nor effort.
EEE3, awesome stuff was created for zillionaires in the Japanese home market, by companies you may not realize are beyond high end, such as Pioneer and Technics. The Technics SP10 MK 3 with matching obsidian composite base is considered by some to be unsurpassed, to this day.
Check out Albert porter's thread on the technics sp10, and look at what it replaced. But I digress: Congrats, it really is almost bittersweet when the vinyl rivals, and then completely surpasses your digital source. You are now ruined.
Lloyddc, my point was and still is that the technics 1200 is not a highend table!!
I'm quite aware that there are tables that have been specially made for folks with deep pockets both direct drive and belt drive but again are comparing apples to apples or oranges to oranges or in this case comparable turntables!
"Lloyddc, my point was and still is that the technics 1200 is not a highend table"

I've never thought of Technics tables as high end either in general (I owned one once) until I started to hear recently about how great the 1200 is.

Is it a current model that you can buy new or is it an older model that sold for less that has developed a following and now sells for a lot more, especially with various customizations.

I used to sell many belt drive and DD turntables, Dual, Technics, Thorens, Micro Seiki, and most other popular brands back in the heyday of vinyl.

According to the strobe patterns along the rim of many models, significant speed variations were seldom indicated or heard with units in good operating condition.

I still have a Dual 1264 that I use in my second system with the strobe pattern on the rim that indicates proper speed. This table has never been the most rock solid in terms of constant speed, yet it continues to sound fantastic fitted with the right cartridge (a vintage Goldring of some sort that I've owned for a long time)and a good phono stage (on the 70's vintage Yamaha receiver I have it hooked up to currently) and there are no artifacts of speed variations in the sound I hear that I can detect as bothersome even though the strobe says there are some.
When we're on our death beds, are we going to regret wasting so much of our time heatedly debating insignificant topics such as belt drive versus direct drive, or whether or not the Technics 1200 is a high end table?

I think we are.

I think you're right. Its just I find the love for the Technics table of late, and DD tables in general, a bit of a surprise.

Not that they are not good and deserve some love at leat as much as other tables, more that it does seem so significant to many while I just don't get it.
tvad, I think that when we're on our death beds, the issue of turntables(DD vs belt drive)or whatever will be the last thing on our minds. It ain't that serious!
Folks are just expressing their opinions and opinions are like noses everybody has one.

"..........honey.........there is something I have to tell you. ....."

"I'm so sorry......."

"that I never tried .............a turntable...."


Very good hee haw. =8^)
Happy to report that Forddonald does not have your MPD. I still have it and it has now been completely overhauled by SMc Audio to Platinum + with everything that Steve could throw into it. The bad part is I received it back from them just as I was moving to Canada for my company and have yet had a chance to get everything set for a listen. I'm in the process of putting my system back together as my pair of DNA-1 Dlx Golds were taken during shipment along with a few other things. My story is almost the same as above, I was just discovering the magic of LP's. I purchased MPD from Mark51 to go with my Rega P3. Enjoyed that so much I upgraded to a Rega P25 which I liked even better. Started tweaking it with a few upgrades with added improvements, found a MPD Board that had been upgraded installed that into the MPD chassis with even more improvements. Decided to have the MPD upgraded to Gold with the outboard power supply and was in total heaven. This past fall decided to have the MPD and my McCormack TLC-1 Dlx upgraded with with everything Steve could throw at it. Well I was able to hear the TLC for a couple hours before packing it away for the shippers and if the MPD has half the improvements the TLC has then it will be a force to be listened with.

Point of the story is don't count out the SMc upgrades if your looking for some improvements, come to think of it has anyone seen any Micro Phono Drives that have been upgraded for sale here on Agon?

P.S. Mark just wanted to let you know that your Phono Drive is being well taken care of and to Thank You for making me a convert.
Hee Forddonald you are getting a taste of the madness that analogue engenders! It is certainly better than cd (but worse than good fm). And now you are christened into the belt vs dd vs idler and rich vs poor debates all at once. I own a Lenco, the most maligned tt yet it beat my Garrard 401! Also, Hi Fi World Magazine Editor David Price has of late been astonished by how wonderful his Technics 1200 is with a few simple mods, certainly high end, and maybe in Michel Orbe territory, the last turntable to dent his beloved Orbe - a Garrard 401! My god its a circular game this life of ours, and dont get me started on tuners, the 30 or so i have had in my system have driven me nuts, with a tuner i paid $5 currently giving me gooosebumps and epoplexy in equal measure!!!!!!!???? I need the hi fi doctor....
Oh, and dont get started on cartridges, or Raul might chip in with his mm favorites... heresy to the mc club hee
I found this thread looking for info on the Micro Phono which I am borrowing from a friend. Oddly, as a newbee to vinyl, I had my drop jawed moment of realization the day before he brought it over. The cause of this happy moment was nailing my vta. I too have a vpi (scout) and as the op described way back in 08, I found the sound to be nice, adequate, slightly better then my computer system, enjoyable, but once I hit that perfect VTA, wow. I was literally open mouth for almost 2 whole songs, stunned.
I was very surprised at how small the perfect window actually is, I used some tape to mark the adjustment, and a half a turn away and it is gone. I had read that when you found the right VTA setting, you would know it. I had played around with the VTA for a while and really thought I had it, so if you haven't played with your VTA there could be more to come?

Anyways I really like the micro, and while it was not the cause of my first vinyl moment, it clearly surpassed the last 2 phono stages I have used.

another 80's kid.