Turntable got absolutely crushed by CD

Long story short, i've just brought home a VPI classic 1 mounted with a Zu-Denon DL103 on JMW Memorial 10.5 with the appropriate heavier counterweight. Had everything dialed in..perfect azimuth, VTF, overhang, with only a slightly higher than perfect VTA. Levelling checked. All good. 

I did a comparison between the VPI and my Esoteric X03SE and it's not even close. The Esoteric completely crushes the VPI in all regards. The level of treble refinement, air, decay, soundstage depth and width, seperation, tonality, overall coherence is just a simply a league above from what I'm hearing from the VPI. The only area the VPI seems to be better at is bass weight, but not by much. 

I'm honestly quite dumbfounded here. I've always believed that analogue should be superior to digital. I know the Esoteric is a much pricier item but the VPI classic is supposed to be a very good turntable and shouldn't be a slouch either. At this point I feel like I should give up on analogue playback and invest further in digital. 

Has anyone had a similar experience comparing the best of digital to a very good analogue setup?

Esoteric X03SE 
VPI Classic, JMW Memorial 10.5, Zu-DL103
Accuphase C200L
Accuphase P600
AR 90 speakers

Test Record/CD:
Sarah McLachlan - Surfacing (Redbook vs MOV 180g reissue)


Just one opinion here, but you asked for them, right? The Esoteric X03SE is an unusually good CD/SACD player, your cartridge merely good; a better cartridge would improve the sound of your LP’s. A cartridge is like a loudspeaker, a transducer. Both greatly determine your system's abilities to accurately reproduce vocal and instrumental timbres, one of the most important aspects of music, imo, and of a hi-fi system's jobs.

Speaking of LP's, how many do you have? How are you going to play them if you "give up on analogue playback"? By "give up", do you mean sell your table? And what, get rid of your LP's? How much does the music they contain mean to you? Why do you have so much more invested in your digital player than in your table? Do you have a lot more CD's than LP's? Were you thinking of building up an LP library? Time to think long-term!

Use a true analog recording for your comparison.  "Surfacing" was recorded digitally.  Your Esoteric could still win, but at least it will be a fair contest.
Music on vinyl recordings are hit and miss as well.  I’m not familiar with that particular one but some of them are not great. It all starts with the recording 
Great CD player v. Ok record with mediocre cartridge mounted on mediocre arm. Tough to predict that outcome
+1 to above comments. Some people love the DL103 and its various iterations but to my ears they're far from the best. 
If you bought the table combination used, the cartridge could be worn out. I could never get the Denon 103 to sound good on a VPI arm. 
And then there is the phono amp...

I'm skeptical when I hear a cartridge is aligned perfectly in all parameters.  I read this post as azimuth parallel to the record, mid VTF,  VTA is admittedly off and, since no break-in is mentioned, a used - maybe very used - lower end cart.  The main bearing could have a flat spot increasing the noise floor.  On top of that VPI regularly sends out a table with the P2S way off, meaning the supplied jig will produce improper overhang.  The quality of the integral phono pre is suspect too.
Yes, digital is much easier and takes less devotion.  You're in the trenches with analog.
"Had everything dialed in.......... All good." You forgot to say, "Trust me". No mention of stylus condition(if purchased used). Too many variables! ie: The C-200L preamp was released over 30 years ago(1984). There’s an excellent chance, that the electolytics in it’s phono section, have dried up. All it takes is one bad cap, to ruin/degrade sound from any component.
MC cartridges need a good step-up transformer (SUT) for best sound! High-gain phono stages won't do! I know this from 40 + years of using MC cartridges! In fact, the best active head amp I heard was a Levinson JC-1 clone. It was very, very good with the 103. But my Verion (Cotter) P transformer was even better! Lower noise floor and more dynamic sounding! 
At this point I feel like I should give up on analogue playback and invest further in digital.

Your call. You can get your vinyl sounding closer to your digital, if that is your objective.

As long as you understand that Vinyl is a total setup game based on vibrations and resonances. It is only (somewhat) plug and play for that person that is happy and content with the outcome of the first setup. No need or desire for further tweaking.

Since you are making comparisons to your digital, and finding the digital better, it's up to you to decide if you want to pursue this. If you do, I recommend keeping your current setup and focus on the tweaking of your current setup. Just changing the turntable feet and stand components will dramatically change the sound. As will using a higher still  VTA;  since you state that the Bass is more with vinyl (it shouldn't be)  Just remember that when you change the JMW tonearm VTA, it is NOT "on the fly" you will need to readjust the other set up parameters. Once tweaked out if your setup is still lacking compared to digital, then consider changing out components, if you desire.  My 2 cents.   

With that, as ones experience grows on how to refine the setup (usually through trial and error ) to manipulate and manage these vibrations and resonances, your vinyl setup can continue to be improved. How far you go down the rabbit hole depends on your state of Audiophilia Nervosa at any given time. 

So good luck and have fun since you are dealing with the audio hobby aspect, discussing how "Gears" sound, and not how really great that album is, no mater what medium is used to play it.

fwiw . I have also found a bass recording emphasis on Sarah's LP's.   Surfacing has some really low tones that can test out how much your house, floor, walls, TT components, (wife) ..... vibrate.



I question the 40 year old phono stage in this preamp matched with a somewhat hard to please DL103. Would be interesting to match an outboard phono preamp, more suited for the DL103 (or better cartridge), for possible better results. Quality wise, I don't think you are comparing apples to apples.
And your TT/arm combination is suspect! I'd wager my Sondek/FR arm and 103 would handily beat the VPI. These Scottish TT's (Ariston and Linn) have such an overall pleasing "musicality" that has kept me using them for so many years!
Analog playback is fraught with peril! A lot of experimentation is necessary! TT + tonearm + mat + cartridge + phonostage vs. CD player/transport/DAC. I said back in 1978 that I would get rid of my LPs if Sony/Philips could perfect their digital system. Alas ...
I have heard some very good digital sources in my day and I still have not heard any digital rig produce the subtleties deep in the grooves of good analog.  Digital is getting much better but still falls short of great analog.
@dill : You sir are right! Phono stages vary widely in SQ! As do cartridges! Add in tonearms and the variables become too much for the less dedicated! 
I took a look at the very detailed brochure on the C-200L that can be found at hifiengine.com if one is registered there. It appears that for low output cartridges the only loading choices are 10 ohms, 30 ohms, and 100 ohms. While the recommended load for the Zu/DL103, at least in its MkII version, is stated to be "200 to 300 ohms, or as needed to get the phono preamp to mate well and make you happy."

Several of the sonic characteristics you referred to as being crushed by CD seem to me to be consistent with excessive loading of the cartridge (i.e., load impedance that is too low).

Probably other factors are also contributing to the issue, such as those that have been mentioned by the others. But I wouldn’t be surprised if excessive loading is a major factor.

-- Al
P.S. to my previous post: I see also that the specified nominal impedance of the cartridge is 45 ohms. Applying a 100 ohm load to a 45 ohm signal source will result in a loss of nearly 1/3 of the signal voltage, in addition to numerous other kinds of adverse interactions that can occur when the source is a phono cartridge.

Also, I'm of course assuming that you are using the 100 ohm setting.  If by any chance you are using 10 ohms or 30 ohms, look no further for the major contributor to the problem.

-- Al
and just like that, the vinyl crowd was all over chad like white on rice (:
Something is very wrong.....there are some aspects of CD that are very good, but in truth, LP in properly setup system Is better.  Check your setup,....cartrige, pre.....etc.
@almarg : You are correct! 10 times the cartridge impedance is about the proper loading for an MC!
@ jmolsberg - And most: presenting possible reasons, for the(unlikely) scenario. Is there a problem?
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@rodman - no problem at all good sir. i just got a good chuckle this morning because every reason presented is perfectly valid
as to why CD is CRUSHING turntable.  
Hmm... I have a VPI Classic 1. I've compared it to loaned CD/DAC's in my system. 

Digital playback, while very precise and accurate, doesn't hit the emotional nerve like a good record on the Classic. IMO, setup with a cart and best phono state you can afford, may help you "see the light"

The Classic gives a good slice of what serious rigs offer, with some effort. The choice of cart, phonostage & settings all important.

Reissue LP's? Part of the problem.May as well stick with the CD or file. 

My $0.02 of subjective opinion.

According to the "Vinylites"; that's the religious order that resides here, a "Midfi" dual turntable will kill any CD player; that's crap, it takes a minimum of 3K before analog sounds better than digital.

Chad, if you want to get to vinyl heaven, and surpass your excellent CD player, you got to put out a lot more bucks, and get some help with set up.
You just need to mess with it more.  There will come a time when playing records make sense.  There is a certain "stillness" to vinyl, and I find it's easier to engage with the music.

Because of the critical initial conditions of the transducers and amplifying such a low source signal, cartridges evolved along a line of compromises, with different design decisions producing different euphonic solutions.  These can sometimes strike a deeper emotional chord than a more detailed and analytical presentation (which requires more intellectual processing and can be more effort to listen to).
Wow thanks for all the advice here.. didn't really expect this much response on this. I only began my vinyl journey a year ago and I'm definitely still learning. Please pardon my ignorance.

With regards to alignment, I've tried to get it as reasonably close to perfect as I can with the supplied jig. VTA is slightly higher due to the bass weight I'm hearing but I don't really see that as being the reason for the huge gap in performance? I've seen somewhere that the jig is not the best. In that case, what should i be looking at for a more accurate alignment?

On the point of a mediocre cart on a mediocre arm.. the ZU-Denon (Mk.1) was mint when I recently bought it. I know the DL103 is far from the best and maybe that wasn't a fair comparison, but will a better cart... like the Dynavector dv xx2 mkii actually push the vinyl setup way ahead of the Esoteric? A cart like that is a significant investment and I fear that even then it still might not match up to the Esoteric...and hence my question on whether anyone has had experiences of comparing high-end digital to high-end analogue? 

I was also under the impression that the JMW 10.5 tonearm was capable enough to take high-end cartridges since I've seen many mounting Lyras and Koetsus on this thing. Am I wrong about this?

The C200L and P600 was restored and recapped when i bought them from HifiDo. I'm thinking the C200L might be the bottleneck here with its in-built phono stage. Yes I'm on the 100ohms loading as the Zu-Denon DL103 mk.1 brochure actually recommended a load of 80 to 200ohms and quite a number of people seem to be on 100ohms too. Coming back to the mention of  Dynavector dv xx2 mkii, maybe that will be a better choice given a recommended >30ohms loading?

@ jmolsberg-   Gotcha!   I too had a short, "chuckle"(more of a derisive snort).   Attention to detail is everything(and everything in the chain- critical), with analog.
I think most of the MOV stuff is sourced from digital files, not that this is bad per se (i've heard some great reissues that aren't "all analog") but I will add this: I have been a vinyl die-hard all my life and in the early days, found digital (CD) sound to be intolerable. I have a very good vinyl front end and have a large record collection, much of which is not "audiophile" vinyl at this point, just good pressings, many of which would be hard and/or very costly to replace.  
I only started using digital in my main system recently and didn't spend nearly the money on the digital front end that is sunk into the vinyl front end. 
I'm actually quite stunned at how good digital sounds on my system. Not every CD or file, but a lot of them.
 I like the black backgrounds, lack of any surface noise (I go to a lot of trouble to source very clean playing copies and clean and maintain the records to a very high standard). There are times when I suppose I could compare a recording on both formats and conclude that the vinyl betters it, but both 'formats' have their strengths. 
If I were starting out today without a sunk investment in a lot of records, I don't know that I'd concentrate on vinyl-- it is a PITA, can be costly to get to a high playing standard, turntable, arm, cartridge (a consumable that can be costly), phono stage, proper set-up, isolation, etc. along with a good record cleaning regime. 
I've become more agnostic despite my life long commitment to vinyl LPs. There is stuff that never enjoyed a quality reissue on CD or hi-rez and there are CDs that are absolutely stunning. I straddle both formats at this point despite the considerable investment I have in the LP. I've gotten over the 'one is better than another' thing-I think you need both types of formats to get access to the range of music that is available, old and new. 
@ kahlenz I too, enjoy vinyl very much for the same reasons so you can imagine my disappointment when I wanted to believe that the Classic would sound better.
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As Almarg pointed out above, change the load resistor to 400-500 ohms the DL103 will be much happier with that.  I don't know if your Accuphase has a pull out card for its phono stage, some of the later versions did.  If it does is should be quite easy to do.

Good Listening,


I believe you regarding the Esoteric.  its a great piece.  Since you have the classic, not sure what your phonstage is.  maybe try a moving magnet cartridge, see if you hear any difference.  many MM cartridges are very good and sound great on VPI stuff.  Vinyl does take a while to learn but it can be addicting as it makes me want to listen in an intimate way.
@whart I agree...if I were starting out today I'm not sure if I'd go down the vinyl route. At this point I've actually spent more on the analog front (turntable+cart+accessories close to USD3K) than my digital (Esoteric USD2.3k) and by the looks of it, I've to spend a lot more (cart/arm/SUT) before the VPI could match the Esoteric?

The same amount invested in digital could probably push the Esoteric even further ahead, eg, adding a word clock generator

It's getting hard for me to be further invested in vinyl but hopefully more tweaking will help me "see the light"

@chadsort- Since the advent of digital, some recappers have taken to offering the refreshing of an internal phono stage, as an option to their standard preamp service. Is there a way to inquire, regarding your unit? Know anyone that might lend you an outboard unit, for comparison?  Your location(anywhere near Indiana?)
As much as i think the classic is a good table.  I think an older scout with acrylic platter, scoutmaster with acrylic platter, or an older Aries are better.  i never did like the aluminum platter from VPI.
@roberjerman thanks, i've never really looked at SUTs before..in fact i thought they were worse than a good phono stage. Guess I'd have to start looking
@pbnaudio  Unfortunately it doesn't have the pull-out card and 400-500ohms don't seem to be possible. 
@rodman99999 Hm i'm actually in Singapore. What's involved in the process of refreshing the internal phono stage and what are the outcomes? To get more loading options?
@jab Interesting, what was the tonearm/cart on the Linn? I'm guessing you are selling for an upgrade?
@chadsort- Too far for me to drive(a bit)!   By, "refreshing", I meant replacing the electrolytic caps, which can be quite numerous in a phono stage. If that wasn’t done, when the rest of the preamp was addressed, the results would be major. No- that won’t offer loading options(sorry), although: loading can be addressed, via internal resistors.
There are many variables but records will sound different from digital. I don't see the differences between media as being necessarily better or worse, but you can scale the differences between components and systems within a media playback system sub-category (i.e., you can rank MM cartridges, DACS, tonearms, etc.).  I enjoy both digital and analog playback, and choose between the two based on mood, convenience, and, of course, available media.  That I listen to digital most of the time should be no surprise.  But I get a different level of satisfaction listening to vinyl records.
I think you need something more rad but easier.
1. If funds are an issue, get an Ortofon 2M Blue and a Music Hall Mini phono amp ($80 online). If funds are less of an issue, Ortofon Black and a decent tube phono amp or preamp with phono and lose that old preamp.
2. To test and compare, use the same interconnect from phono amp output to amp as for CD to compare.
I'm with Whart as to the necessary requirements for vinyl besting the digital domain. I have a very nice, to me, rig that I enjoy to no end and a nice collection of vinyl. Starting from scratch without a pretty good collection though, not so sure.

Totally different setup but...
The dl103d on my Denon sounds really flat and lifeless loaded at 100ohm.
It comes to life at 470ohm but best response I have so far is set at 1000ohm. Best overall balance.

I would honestly think a good separate phono stage with lots of options to adjust loading and gain would be the next move of you are going to stick with vinyl.
$400 to $500 should see you into a good used model.
I too, agree with whart.
My biggest shock in audio (many years ago, and before digital) was when a Linn dealer, unable to convince me that his Linn was better than my top of the line Denon, offered me a VPI suspension base at half price. I took it home and put it under my TT. My jaw dropped at the difference! To this day, I am leary of non-suspended tables, no matter the mass, unless steps are taken to avoid the deleterious effects of feedback. You will never suspect what is wrong until you hear the difference. See if you can isolate your TT by some means.
Let’s face it. Anyone who weighs into an analogue forum with such an inflammatory thread title is bound to expect some flak. ;)

Even if I had the money for e.g. 3-box DCS CD player, the cheapest of which retails at 40 or 50K(?) I wouldn’t buy one. Don’t know how this type of player stacks up against your Esoteric but it illustrates that analogue’s persuasiveness as a compelling musical medium is much more powerful than you suggest.