Newbie Question: Why is turntable volume so low?


I'm a newbie trying to get back into analog. Over the last two months or so I've purchased the following components from the boards here and on ebay:

Mcintosh MX120 pre-amp
Mcintosh MC205 amp
B&W 804N main speakers
Denon DP A-100 turntable

The speakers are bi-wired, and I'm using the balanced input / output connections for the left and right speakers, as well as the unbalanced (RCA) connections to / from the amp / pre-amp. The turntable is connected via RCA cable to the aux/phono input of the pre-amp.

The issue is that when I play back a digital source (CD or DVD) the system is LOUD at a volume level of 20 (and sounds great). When I play the turntable, the volume has to be turned up to 40 - 50 just to get it close to listening levels (and sounds just OK).

Please tell me I didn't spend all this money to get back into analog and have it sound so disappointing! Any tips, tricks and / or advice? I'd really appreciate any help I could get.


I have no direct knowledge of this preamp, but I have a couple of suggestions on what you might check.

The info I have read indicates that the phono preamp is for a moving magnet cartridge. You don't list your cartridge, but a low output moving coil cartridge would give you the result you're describing.

You indicate that the input is labeled aux/phono. This input is probably a dual purpose input that can be switched to accommodate either a phono or a line level signal. Check your manual to make sure.
If you look in the manual read the prior pages starting with 31, then at page 33, figure #20 settings, until you get it to read "ZONE A ANALOG INPUT PHON." That may get the gain set for a MM cartridge. This is using on-screen settings.

I'm not 100% sure, but this is where I would start. You may have to read some of the prior settings to get you there. I don't have one, but if nobody else has anything better, give this a shot. A MM phono has a lot lower signal, than a regular component does.

So I'm guessing this may switch the gain to work for a MM cartridge, instead of a higher output device that can also use the same jack. It looks like you do need to do this with the on-screen settings set-up first to do this. Again, I'm not 100% sure, but this seems like the direction to start.
"ZONE A Analog Input
The MX120 has one Stereo Balanced Input that may be assigned
to any of the eight Audio Inputs instead of unbalanced
(RCA Type) jacks. The AUX Input also includes the
option of connecting a Turntable with a Moving Magnet
type Phono Cartridge to PH/AUX unbalanced jacks. In the
steps below, the BALanced Input will be assigned to the
DVD Input and the PH/AUX Input will change over to a
Phono Input." (from page 32)

The above came from the manual's page 32. This is what I'm also referring to, about switching the input gain for phono, or "PHON." I hope this does the job!
That turntable generally is equipped with the DL-A100 cartridge, modeled after their DL-103(.3mV output). As Minkwelder mentioned; Low Output MC cartridges require a phono preamp with sufficient gain(around 60dB). When you obtain one(phono pre): don't plug it into your Phono input, or the signal will be processed by two RIAA EQs(unless that feature is defeatable on your preamp's Phono/Aux input).
When I posted, the above posts weren't there. If it does have the DL-103 low output cartridge, then you probably do need an outboard phono preamp for moving coil (MC) cartridges. Also, you do need to turn off the preamp in the MAC, if that is the cartridge, and if your going to use an outboard preamp.

The phono amp built into the MAC is for MM (moving magnet) cartridges only. You do need to check the type of cartridge being used.
I have a Cambridge 640p phono preamp (sounds great) and I assume, even with a decent output MM cartridge, that the gain from turntables is just inherently lower than standard line level in most cases, as illustrated by my previous setup of a preamp with the built in phono stage being somewhat lower gain with disparate cartridges. I have to turn the preamp up for LPs and I've learned to live with it as it still sounds clean. If the preamp is well designed and still quiet it really shouldn't matter except in extreme cases of the preamp running out of gas (no knob room).
Hi Guys,

Thanks for the answers, unfortunately, I'm still stuck. Hifitime, I have set the "ZONE A ANALOG INPUT PHON" setting (as opposed to the BAL1 or RCA options in that particular menu) but I'm still at a volume level of around 40 for the turntable (vs. 20 for digital inputs). The BAL1 and RCA options offer almost no sound at all (mostly just hum). I'm just worried that if the volume is at 40, and someone changes to a digital input without turning the volume down first, I'll damage my B&W's.

Your last post mentions some stuff over my head. Do you mean I have to buy an additional pre-amp just for the turntable? Totally uninformed newbie question number 3: Can I just buy another cartridge for the turntable instead (cheaper, no)? A different turntable would also be cheaper, I would think.

Sorry for all the dumb questions guys, but trust me, I'm worth it!


Bill, when I posted, I overlooked the possibility of your turntable having a moving coil cartridge. Minkwelder asked about the cartridge type. Rodman said your Denon turntable normally comes with a DL-A100 low output cartridge moving coil (MC) cartridge. This type of cartridge has a real low output, in comparison to a regular moving magnet (MM) cartridge.

I was just guessing it had a higher output moving magnet type. But, after seeing it may have the low output DL-A100 cartridge, I'm leaning toward you needing an outboard phono preamplifier, just for the turntable with its DL-A100

A MM (moving coil) cartridge has a high output for a phono cartridge.

A MC (moving coil) cartridge has a low output. This appears to be the kind you have. Also, this low output type is most likely causing the low volume problem.

Your McIntosh MX-120 doesn't support the moving coil (MC), you appear to have installed in your turntable.

So, yes, I belive you do need a seperate outboard phono preamplifier, if it your Denon turntable has that Denon DL-A100 low output moving coil cartridge.

An outboard phono preamp needs to be capable of supporting a moving coil type of cartridge, since the MX-120 preamp doesn't.

Sorry for not being clear enough. I hope this helps.

Just get a mm cartridge that has higher output (5mv or more). But your levels will never match exactly the same. Another way to make the levels match is to put an ajustable attenuator between the dvd unit and the preamp to lower the volume of the dvd. This is what I do to make my tuner lower so I don't have that problem.
"I'm just worried that if the volume is at 40, and someone changes to a digital input without turning the volume down first, I'll damage my B&W’s.”

Hi Bill, just a heads up:
It’s a good practice to always rest the volume at its lowest setting after use. And after making sure it’s still set that way, the volume should be the last control engaged when starting up.
Bill, I guess my post from yesterday is not going to show up. I don't think your MX-120 is compatible with your present cartridge.

Rodman pointed out that you may have the DL-A100, which is a *low* output moving coil (MC) cartridge. This is most likely the cause of the low volume problem, due to its low output, if that is what's in your turntable.

There's a lot of difference in the output level/voltage between a moving coil (MC) cartridge, and a moving magnet (MM) cartridge.

The moving coil (MC) is a *low* output. I think this is what you have in your turntable and, most likely the problem. This type would need a separate phono preamp to work with your MX-120.

The moving magnet (MM) is a *high* output cartridge. This type of cartridge should work with your MX-120 with no problem.

I'm leaning toward you either need to get an extra outboard phono preamp for your present turntable/cartridge setup to work. This extra phono preamp would have to work with a low output moving coil (MC) cartridge, like the DL-A100, that may be in your turntable.

The other option would be to get a moving magnet (MM) high output cartridge, that should work with the MX-120's built in phono section.

I should have been more clear. I hope this helps.
I don't think anyone has mentioned this, but you don't necessarily need an outboard phono preamp. You could use a step up between the turntable and McIntosh preamp. This could be an active head unit or step up transformers. The cheapest path would probably be to try a Moving Magnet cartridge. I don't know what would go good with your arm, but Grado and Audio Technica make good entry level MM cartridges.

As Mr B mentioned; A good step-up X-former would be another way to go, without lowering the performance of which the table/cartridge combo is capable. What would be the point of buying a table listing for $2500.00, that comes with a cartridge, optimized for it's arm, and installing an entry-level transducer? The DL-A100 cart, lists for $500.00 by itself, and performs comparably with other MC carts, in that price range. The Denon 103 family of cartridges, had very nice presentation, imaging and sense of the recording venue. ( )
Hi Guys,

First, thanks for all the advice! I contacted both Mcintosh and Denon, and they both said the same thing, the way to go would be to get a step up transformer, and they both mentioned the same one, the Denon AU-300LC. I have one on order:

and will let you know how it works out.

I'm pretty psyched to be back in the game!


Hi Guys,

Step-up purchased, installed and sounds awesome! Thanks for all the advice! More stupid questions to come from me any day now I'm sure!