New analog system disappoints, please help


I recently decided to get back into analog after a long break. Being on a budget I bought a used system from a local seller. The system consists of a J A Michell Gyro SE with DC motor, SME 309 tonearm and Transfiguration Spirit cart. I also bought a new old stock, factory sealed Plinius Jarrah phono stage. The Gyro, 309 and spirit where all purchased new in 2002 from a L.A. area high-end dealer and set up for the original owner in his home. They have remained there undisturbed and virtually unused since (maybe 15 to 20 hours total use)

After getting it all home I set up the turntable on a carefully leveled rack and tried the bounce test for the suspension. What I got was more like the Jello jiggle than a nice verticle bounce. I followed the instructions I found online for adjusting the suspension (several times) and although not perfect the bounce is much better. I have not touched the tonearm/cart alignment as I know little about this. I left the Jarrah set to factory default high output and adjusted the loading to 100ohms (recomended for the spirit)

After a 24hr burn in for the Jarrah I started to listen to some LP's. The sound is not bad, there is nothing obviously wrong but it sounds slightly recessed, flat and lifeless. I guess I was expecting more even from a relatively modest system like this. It doesn't "blow away" my digital source.

The rest of my system consist of Art Audio VPS DM pre, Art Audio Diavolo amp, Lector CDP-7T-MKIII and Spendor sp100 speakers. Cables are a mix of Nordost Valkyra and Quattro fil.

Any suggestions, incite or setup help would be greatly appreciated.

I really wouldn't describe that as a "modest" front end so I would think that there is something drastically wrong with the setup.

Unfortunately, the problem could be anywhere. From your perspective, I'd look at the easiest thing for you to deal with as a novice and that would be the settings on the phono pre. Perhaps the Jarrah's "high" setting is for high output cartridges, not low outputs like the Spirit. It would seem counterintuitive, but it would be easy for you to try the "low" setting (the gain and output of the Plinius/Spirit are well matched when using the low output MC setting, whether that is the "high" or "low") to see if that is the source of your problem.

This is, of course, assuming you have set Vertical tracking angle and Vertical tracking force properly once you have set the table up? Arm approximately parallel, at least to start and proper VTF towards the high end of the range suggested for the Spirit? Alignment is supposed to be a snap with the 309 if you have the supplied SME protractor.

The only other thing I can think of is if the cartridge leads have been incorrectly connected to the cartridge at the headshell, but that's probably something for a pro to tackle.

You'll end up with a zillion suggestions for things to look at here. Good luck! That setup should sound fantastic.
Hello, I'm certainly no authority on your set-up, and even after being into vinyl for a good 35 years consider myself a "rank amateur" to the world of high end analog.

It appears you have adhered to proper factory recommended Cartridge Loading (100 ohms), but some experimentation here with your Plinius won't hurt a thing. How is gain with the Plinius? Do you feel it is adequate? Or do you have to really crank the volume to get listenable sound?

The other "possible" suggestion, would imply that perhaps the Table-Arm-Cartridge is either not properly set-up, or has deviated from proper set-up? By taking such assumptions for granted, one will never really know for sure. Just an error in VTF, VTA, or proper Cartridge Alignment can make, or break any Cartridge's sound.

When moving such equipment around, there's no guarantee things will stay precisely set, and realistically, like the rest of us, we all seem to require the need of VTF Scales, Protractors, Test LPs to squeeze every last bit of performance from our rigs.

It's great when one has a high-end buddy close by, so one can get help, and second opinions, but many, like myself no longer do, so sadly, we are often on our own.

If you have a local shop, with a knowledgeable tech that can help, this might be a possible route?

Hopefully others with better experience than I can help you come to better conclusion than I with your particular gear, and I'm sorry that I cannot be of better help to you. Mark

First,I would check to see if the system is to your liking by playing a CD. Although CD's may not have the magic that vinyl can have, at least you will get a taste of your system. If you dont have a cd player just borrow one from your dealer. If the sound is good, but that magic is not there, you should tune the system. Experiment with speaker placement. Experiment with anti-resonance gizmos (borrow spikes, cones, pucks, etc. - I like the Gingko products). Ask your dealer for a couple of power cords - you will be amazed how these can help. Dont try to get the balance right with this are trying to find the magic. I try to stay with neutral sounding wires...I'm using the very inexpensive Anti-Cables after trying out many brands. Nordost can sound a bit bright under certain situations..but thats a different issue. I discovered magic in my system with the right combination of anti resonance gizmos and proper power cords. After you get the CD's to your liking, then work on the turntable.
Expectations are a bummer aren't they? I wish people would stop with "blowing away" language. The differences between good quality well-functioning components and the differences between good or great analog vs. good or great digital are more subtle than what the press and audiophiles would want you to believe: they are differences of degree, not of kind.

You may be able to tweak your analog front-end and it may sound better, but if you are looking for Nirvana you will always end being disappointed. I suggest you spin more records and you may be struck at how they vary in recording quality. Or in those qualities that are of utmost importance to you.

Remember, it's only a darn record player!
Sounds like the cartridge isn't even broken in yet. Also, when you say you burned in the Jarra for 24 hours, do you mean you just left it on or did you play 40 records through it. Aside from the above advice to double check set up which is a given, it should change significantly with break in. Even within a given listening session, the second record will sound better than the first because of warm up of electronics and speaker and cartridge suspensions.
there is nothing obviously wrong but it sounds slightly recessed, flat and lifeless.
That sounds like a phono input matter or a phono gain matter or a combination thereof. Check this out first as suggested.

Normally you should have very good sound from that set-up -- so I guess it's lost somewhere on the way to yr speakers.
Assuming the phono preamp is set properly, I would check the cartridge alignment first. Slight tweaks in this area can result in huge benefits to or reductions in sound quality. Difference between "well, sound is coming out" and "WOW!" If you are not up to adjusting this yourself, you might want to take the table to a respected analog geek in your area for a look see.

Idea that the system is not fully broken in yet is also a possibility. A set up like the one you describe should sound different from your digital source and in some ways much better.
In general good responses so far. Cartridge loading is a relatively subtle matter and while it's important to get it right, it's not going to make the huge difference you're looking for.

I'd carefully look at your VTF - is it correct? I would err on the high side - and look at the phono pre, as people suggest. And wait for cartridge break-in (could be as high as 100 hours - I'm not familiar with the Transfigurations).

It's true that the 'blowing away' language is overblown, but you should be able to hear an improvement in warmth, musical involvement and palpability over your digital setup. I suspect either VTF, a cartridge/phono pre mismatch, cartridge break-in, or all three.
if the stylus or cantilever is damaged or dirty you might address this problem 1st. the only fatal flaw i ever encountered was ANY contamination/smutz on the needle, no matter how minute. it would be helpful to experiment with another cartridge- it can even be a fairly cheap one. otherwise, the sound should be wide open, with the obvious limitations of a tonal imbalance from the vta being off.
It is going to take more time. Just be patient and call us back after 100 hours.
From the hi fi+ review of the Spirit:
"Output is healthy and loading is fine at the popular 100ohm value. Tracking should be set at 2g, but you'll need to set the bias by ear, as even slight adjustments around the 2g mark made obvious differences to the focus and transparency of the sound. Finally the Spirit is the most VTA sensitive cartridge I have come across. Seemingly insignificant changes in arm height can have a huge impact on the sound quality and especially the sense of life. Precise VTA adjustment is a must, and you should take that into account when considering arm matching."
Although adjusting the spring tension on your Gyro for proper "bounce" should not change the relation of the arm/cartridge to the playing surface, I would look at the VTA first, and other alignment issues next. High gain on the Jarrah and your loading should be fine for the Spirit.
swap thE leads on back of speakers red and black i had same problem cd to vinyl louis
One of the impt points here is whether the high setting on your phono stage is high gain or for a high output cart. The Spirit is a low output cart and even if there is "enough" gain, you can still have loading issues. In many phono stages, the default loading for MM or High output MC is 47K ohms and if the Spirit is looking for 100 ohms, that would make a huge difference in the sound. Also search the forums for the Magic Eraser stylus cleaning technique and give it a whirl.
What kind of music do you listen to? If you listen to R&R, CD may actually sound better.
polarity is not generally consistent enough to warrant thinking of one orientation as always better, or, arguably, even usually better.
If you can vary the cartridge loading on your phono stage then try progressively higher loadings. You will find that gives you more air and sparkle - that should all be there from vinyl (compared to CD).

I would agree with Patrick that you should try raising the arm pivot slightly - this generally increases HF output (at the expense of the lower octaves).

Have you got a stylus force gauge? If so check the VTF - often a dull, uninspiring sound results from too high a tracking force. Generally, set your VTF at the minimum recommended by the manufacturer and increase it gradually if you encounter mistracking (distortion).

Dull and lifeless can sometimes happen because the belt is shot - try replacing it. Also, did you check the bearing oil? - too heavy viscosity (or not warmed up) will have an effect on the sound. Leave the table running for a few days and see if that makes a difference.
Thank you for all your suggestions. I haven't heard back from Plinius yet but the US distributer says the factory default "high gain" setting is correct for a low output MC. I have tried loadings from 47 ohm to 1000 ohms but will leave it at the 100 ohm setting recomended by the cart manufacturer for now. I know I have a long way to go and a lot to learn. I will probably just listen for a while, get me a set of proper tools and try to find books and other reading material that will help me learn the basics of turntable/tonearm/cartridge setup. I will also try to locate an audio club in my area (Inland Empire area of So. California) and learn from other members.
Hello Emil,
read your quesries also over at a-asylum, and while there were some good replies, some were of no use IMO, and after reading some, I was ready to hit myself over the head with a Frying Pan. Sometimes, it's torture distiguishing Diamonds from BS!

You seem to wish to stay in the Analog game, and as other sensible posters have stated, and although I know it's very hard, try having a bit of patience, and as you said, it is time you get some tools, and see for yourself what the deal is, with the parameters of alignment, VTF, VTA, and your Pre-Amp.

I am unaware what setting are available on your Plinius. These should be in the owner's manual, and would like for you to post them here if you could. This would be a help. I understand the TT Cartridge has a .4mv output? What gain settings are available on the Plinius Jarrah? You probably need to be ataround 58db-60db Gain.

As for loading, and as is recommended, Transfiguration suggests 100 ohm. Why another suggested 47 ohm, is beyond me? With interal Impedance at 10ohms, perhaps nsgarch's rule of thumb might apply, and use-try the 25X rule, which would be 250 ohms. Even try 500 ohms, or 1k ohms if available on your unit. As I mentioned earlier, no harm can be done.

Insufficient gain will hinder performance. Too much gain will also sound horrible, with distortion.

I recommend at least getting a Shure Stylus Force Gauge for $24 minimum. The Micro Tech Digital Scale at MusicDirect is nice, I have one, and it is accurate, serves its purpose, and easy to use.

Doug Deacon has suggested to me the Turntable Basics Mirror Protractor, and this is a bargain at $20 plus shipping. I understand SME uses thier own Protractors, but I don't think you'll go wrong with the Protractor I recommend.

VTA will also be important, and I do suggest seeing exactly how the Arm sits, while the Cartridge actually sits on an LP. (The Platter does not have to be in motion) As was suggested to me, a 3"x5" Ruled Index Card folded in half like a little tent, set on the Platter, or Plinth, and use this to sight the Arm, may help you detemine how the Arm actually sits. Definitely start out level, and go from there, higher, or lower at the back in very small increments.

Others started thier babble about SS versus Tubes, and this of course is all Malarky, and Baloney. Though I won't discount the fact that there could be an incompatibility between Phono Stage, and Cartridge, if Gain isn't correct for your Cartridge.

The Jarrah doesn't appear to be the world's best, this you know, but again, this Unit does sound like a very good Unit.

You may find in your area some great guys at local Audio Shops, who will give you friendly, helpful assitance. In the olden days, Guys like Jim Davis, the owner at MusicDirect in Chicago would "give me" whatever I wanted to try at home, Interconnects, Phono Stages, whatever, to try, and experiment with. Most the goodies he usually gave me, wound up being bought. Hope you can find folks like this to help you. Mark
unless the entire set up is fully broken in there is nothing really to adjust I think. 15-20 hours on the cart is nothing. 24 hours on the phono stage is nothing.
Give the system 200 hours and periodically check VTF to make sure it is in the ballpark.
Took my Benz cartridge over 75 hours to break in and more than twice that time for the phono stage.
Just wait and see. Nobody can guarantee it will sound better than your cd player or if you'll like it better than your cd player, and I don't really think that it should, but it should definitely sound good.
I don't have a large record collection but some things do sound better on cd and some sound better on vinyl. Generally, to me, classical sounds better on vinyl for the most part if I am to compare same recording on CD and on vinyl(although lots of things come into play there too, not just the media), especially the strings have more of a natural tone and intonation. Good luck.
I owned a gyro for several years with a rega 300 arm and van den hul frog cartridge. (my daughter is using now). it was not a dull system. One key to optimizing the system is getting the suspension functioning properly then after that, optimizing the cartridge functions (vtf/vta/overhang)is critical. I was amazed of the impact of the sound once I got this area optimized. I do not know the arm you are using but it must be easier to adjust than the rega (vta is a problem with most lower level rega arms). Also, check the stylus to see if you have buildup on it. lint, or other buildup will make the sound very dull. As far as the suspension, make sure you have the bearings in the top of the springs lubricated. SOunds stupid, but it makes a difference.
Maybe your phono setup doesn't have enough gain.
do you have a voltmeter to measure output from CD and from the phono stage ( while music playing )
2v to 3v is probably what you get.
What vinyl are you using to test your system.. my old vinyl quality was boring with no dynamics... so I went and bought some reference recording (new stuff 180gram pressing's which doesn't mean they will be good FYI) and WOW..what a difference... my other friends even after using record cleaners and steaming find their old collections don't get close to their digital. You have a revealing digital system and so this is a much harder comparision.

The suggestion about bearing oil is excellent!

For anyone interested, after doing a little reading an buying a few tools I was able to greatly improve my situation. Turns out that when I started checking I found out that the clamping bolts on the main shaft of the tonearm where very loose as where the lock down bolts for the VTF adjustment and the removable headshell. This resulted in the VTF, VTA and azmuth being way out. After adjusting these settings, tightening things up and adjusting the suspension some more I had a totally different machine. Sound was greatly improved in every way. I am now hearing what I expected in the first place. I am going continue to read and tinker and see if I can improve things even more.
Take the turntable to a dealer who has the ability to tune it and to also check the cartridge.
congrats! sounds like you're on your way.