Vinyl's Noise Floor

vinyl's noise floorI'm actively considering returning to analog after a 19 year hiatus from it. I listen to a lot of classical music, which, as we know, has many pianissimo, i.e., soft passages. If the soon-to-be desuetude 16 bit format has an attribute, in my opinion, it would be an extremely low noise floor. I've read about the advantages of analog, the most salient of which is its innate sense of continuity and palpability. What concerns me about vinyl is its, supposedly, high noise floor.Assuming that the recording is of the highest calibre, the vinyl impeccably clean, and the analog rig unequivocally great, will there be even a modicum of distracting noise during a near-silent segment of music?
No, there won't be if you supply the motor with clean power & isolate the turntable well.
It is possible to get vinyl as quiet as CD, but there are dozens of factors making an absolute yes or no answer difficult. Much Depends on how hard you want to work to get there.

There is nothing in your post that hints at related equipment or quality of software. Even if "highest calibre" as you state, does this mean brand new or always cared for LP's from your collection?

What is the quality of the turntable arm and cartridge, how efficient are the speakers and what are you using for the phono stage? How close do you sit from your speakers and at what sound pressure level must you listen to fill your listening room and convince yourself that the balance of the presentation is correct?
I think that what you are pointing to is the Achilles heel of the analog turntable. While devotees of vinyl insist that they can hear around or through the noise, I fail to see how that can be done. They insist that the musicality inherent to analog shines through despite this noise, or deny its existence, or minimise it to such a degree that no one should be concerned with it. From what I read here and elsewhere on the subject, the best tt/arm/cart. makes the recording more silent. How this can be achieved still has me scratching my head. I am often told that my reservations about impact noise and generally the quite noticeable background noise inherent to a stylus following a groove, stems from the fact that I have never heard a state of the art vinyl front-end. I admit as much. ( What about the records? Even when vinyl was readily available, every second pressing turned out to be a dog, no not a shaded one, I can just imagine what buying used is like) I have not heard any tt other than mine in almost twenty years and, while decent, it never was state of the art to begin with. I can't seem to find any shop locally that has them anymore. I have asked on more than one occasion in this forum for a suggestion as what such an analog front-end would consist of so I could try to hear it for myself. No one has directly answered the question yet. It may well be that one requires both types of front-end so that one could chose on a record by record basis which version yields the better compromise sound-wise. Not my idea of fun. At any rate, I am quite curious as to the answers other participants may have to your question. Regards.
Albert, although I'm almost certain I'll like the sound of vinyl, it would be prudent to start with a modest front-end in order to discern whether I do indeed dig analog. My prospective introductory rig will consist of a VPI Scout with the factory mounted cartridge and a Lehmann Silver Cube phono stage. This is to be coupled to a Wavac MD300B integrated amp and Merlin VSM/M speakers. Audioquest Anaconda interconnects are will be interpose between the table's rca jacks and phono stage and P/stage to amp. The speaker cables are AQ Volcano. In addition, I plan to purchase the VPI LP cleaner.

I am willing to be punctilious with regard to table/arm/cartridge set-up and, of course, cleaning and storing the LPs per recommendations--whatever it takes. The listen room is very isolated from external sound, thereby heightening my tinnitus. I prefer to listening volume of about 90db.

If I like the VPI Scout's sound, I may ascend to the Clearaudio Master reference/Insider cartridge/ Walker P/stage, if one can find these on the used market.

Thanks for your response!

With that analog rig, you're in for a treat...
I listen to analog predominately and the vast majority of my LPs are not noisy. I buy lots of used vinyl and still buy plenty of new releases. Noise is rarely an issue. My system consists of a Sota Star with the Rega RB 900 arm and a Benz Glider cartridge. My digital front end cost more but I still prefer the sound of vinyl. I understand this is more expensive than what you are looking to buy but don't be afraid of "returning to analog." A relatively good TT setup and a record cleaner will get you music you can't get from/on CDs.
A clean record on a good TT will give you great music (yours) and there's no reason it has to be noisy. Some recordings are better than others but I have recordings with backgrounds so deep and black you could fall into them.
Pbb, while I love vinyl and consider it the best way to listen to music, I am not advocating that it is perfect. I have numerous less-than-great albums and some that are in pretty bad condition. I can hear plenty of noise on these. They are not my favorites, but sometimes I play them because they have some music I like. Not all records are quiet, and I see the point that this might distract some people. My good condition albums do play quietly, and are very enjoyable. But, bad recordings show through on any recorded media. So, nothing is perfect, but good condition vinyl on a good turntable gives the best possible musical source. If a quiet background is more important than the musical reproduction, I think that is a reversal of priorities. Background noise floor should only be considered after the quality of reproduction is considered. If the sources are equal, musically, then I would agree that the lower noise factor would be the more enjoyable one. The problem is, the sources are not equal, musically. Analog is a better sounding media, and can be very quiet, given good records and equipment. So which is more important to you as a listener? Better music with the chance of a few clicks here and there, or lesser music with a consistently quiet background? To put it in an automotive analogy, which would you rather have, a Ferrari with a free-flow exhaust that can be loud when you get on it,but is usually quiet around town, or a Toyota with a real quiet muffler that is quiet all the time?
Two observations. First is that LP noise is minimized by the dynamic range of the medium. With CD the quiestest sound is defined by the medium itself. Too quiet and a sound is not reproduced at all. Many pallatives have been tried, dither being one that adds distortion to allow the medium to reproduce the quietest sounds. To my ears it is, at best, somewhat successful. With analog the quietest sounds continue and are audible well into the noise floor; quite a contrast to digital black. The other aspect that distinguises the LP noise floor is that, with correctly set VTA the noise exists in a seperate plane from the music. The brain's sensory gating mechanism is able to tune it out to a great extent. My experience is that digital noise exists within the fabric of the music itself doing far greater violence to the signal. No doubt, many will disagree!
Having recently returned to vinyl after some 20 years, I too was apprehensive about my ability to hear beyond the inherent noise that does exist on lp's. I'm using a Rega P 25 with Super Elyse through the new Black Cube with upgraded power supply. The problem is software. I listen to classical and have purchased a goodly amount of brand new, never played, factory sealed lp's. Without exception, every RCA, Columbia, Angel (read pressed in US) has surface imperfections; high degree of surface noise,clicks and pops on the FIRST PLAY after a thouough VPI cleaning and rinse followed by a zerostat! On the other hand, virtually every new or used Decca, London, Richmond, Argo, earaly Mercury (all the same company except Merc) pressed in England or Holland has had wonderfully quiet surfaces with very little backround noise. Furthermore, many of the US discs mentioned above seem to have the same distortion and high frequency glare that led me away from cd's in the first place. Unfortunately for those who favor rock or popular music as opposed to classical, they cannot avail themselves to what may be the ultimate analogue sound

I have also had a good degree of sucess with Telarcs, which if I'm not mistaken, are Japanese pressings, as were Mobile Fidelity.

No one can convince me that a better table/arm/cartridge combination could cure the inherent problems of the above mentioned labels. It's all in the quality of the software.
PBB, let me say once again I prefer digital to analog. But, AlbertPorter is absoultly correct. Despite all the technological hurdles analog has to leap(it's amazing it works at all!).I have never heard any digital source sound as good as a carefully set up, money no object, top flight turntable playing well maintained vinyl. It takes passion to make it all work. If you haven't heard a really good set up in twenty years, your long over due. Leave your prejudices at the door. Relax and listen. Again, I still prefer digital for a multitude of reasons. Just don't dismiss analog out of hand with out a fair audition.
Pbb- I don't know where or how you had gotten the impression that "the best tt/arm/cart makes the recording more silent". Clearly, any playback medium cannot change the actual recording in any way as a noisy recording is a noisy recording. A playback system can't go back in time to re-do the master tape, record mold or pressing to make the recording more silent. What a higher quality playback system (analog or digital) can do is be more faithful to the existing recording. Vis a vis noise and noise floor, a better quality table/arm/cart will be able to drop the noise floor very significantly as extraneous vibrations during playback will generally be minimized so as not to be introduced by the table as noise. This results in a much quieter background and much greater clarity in transciption. (I suppose that some might mis-interpret this to the RECORDING sounding quieter, but it's really the equipment playing what's on the LP more accurately.) Also, a better quality cartridge will better track the groove sides (where the music is) and minimize contact with the bottom of the groove where there is more LP surface noise and not much, if any, music.

And yes, Formula One, there may be some slight noise on the quietest passages. But, like most things in life, it's a trade-off. As TWL pretty much said above- if you want dead silence in the background, don't mind strings sounding like synthesizers and want convenience, go with CDs. If you don't mind a little effort, some slight noise (which most folks cancel out psycho-acoustically) and enjoy a more natural sound, then go analog.

Lastly, to Pbb- There have been many, many threads giving suggestions for the best analog rigs at various price points so I can't imagine why you would have any trouble settling in on something to try in your price range. From your comments, though, I'm sensing that your priority is dead silence and convenience, so your best bet might be to just stick with CDs. I don't think anyone on this analog forum believes analog is for everyone all of the time, just as CDs aren't for everyone all of the time.

Loves music - you have noticed something that has been noticeable since 1970. The vinyl used in US made records is re-cycled vinyl. This is due to the Clean Air Act that makes vinyl manufacturing in this country nearly impossible. the re-cycled vinyl has impurities in it that show up as noise and pops. Import records generally(not always) use virgin vinyl and sound much quieter. Also, records made in the US prior to the Clean Air Act MAY have also used virgin vinyl.
To Twl; You ar dead on with regards to earlier US pressings. I seem to remember some old Columbia SAX and early RCA's sounding pretty good. Please give LATE 70's English pressings a try...some of the best viynl sound ever is there.
Interesting thread. Viridian's correct about CD "silence".

One caveat is that one has to be very careful with cartridge selection. I find that some cartridges diminish surface noise, or don't pick it up. The experts tell me this has to do with stylus shape, polish, record condition, and of course setup. I also find on some of the very best clasical records with wide dynamic range (say Chopin) the artifacts one hears in the pianissimo passages are that of the recording venue and the recording electronics, not the record itself. A good "front end' will clearly delineate this for you so you can "bracket it" as you become a more perceiving listener. So there is another factor to throw in in your search for perfection. Accepting the journey with its singularity is the end in itself.
Not putting up with some noise while listening to vinyl is like not going to see live music because someone might cough or a telephone might ring or glasses might clink. It simply goes with the territory.
Hi everyone,

It seems like the Hatfields and McCoys are at it again.

I really don't want to cause any hard feelings but the truth must be told. To Pbb, whether the noise floor ceases to exist with a quality rig or we listen around it or there is some brain phenomenon where the noise floor isn't perceived is largely irrevelent. The point to be made here is that analog has brought an enjoyment factor we vinylphiles can't find anywhere else.

First of all, I want to inform this intelligent group that I'm not an expert on electronics but I've found through listening that a lot of what is going on is being ignored to the detriment of this hobby we all love so much. I have many more questions than I have answers and hope that before I leave this life these mysteries are solved.

Get a lead fishing sinker and a marble. Toss each one on the sidewalk. You then may get an understanding of a momentary imperfection in vinyl with the marble being the result of playback on a lesser turntable and the lead sinker being the same imperfection played on a quality rig. Knowing quite a lot about mechanics I will state in no uncertain terms that lesser rigs echo dirt/static/imperfections making them much more audible.

Through personal experience I have found that lesser cartriges play back noise with gusto equal to the music.

Some phono stages amplify the noise floor and some don't.

Crossovers behave the same way. Lesser ones enhance the presence of the noise floor and others don't.

I really feel sorry for the folks that post analog questions as, IMHO, they are not being well served. Case in point. I know that many of the turntables recommended here are of way less musicality than the LP12 which I have owned for over thirty years. It seems cool to be down on Linn. Yes, I REALLY am offended by the manufacturer and many of the retailers who represent this product line. I have even stepped up to the pump and sent Linn a critical letter about the state of affairs in this country. No, I wouldn't buy a new Linn tt today as I feel they are way over priced, but used is an entirely different story.

To those that are considering getting into vinyl I suggest you follow TWL's lead and buy the Teres. Also, if you aren't going to get into vinyl correctly, then don't do it. You won't be happy and if you stay in the vinyl game it will just cost you more in the long run. Yeah, you may find an older Thorens and do it on a real budget but it's unlikely since the sun, the moon and the stars rarely line up.

With the vast majority of my vinyl library what is referred to as the noise floor is simply silence. This is with an analog rig that the idealogues love to hate. Sure, a VPI or Rega will sound superb with great pressing as will my LP12 but I maintain that on lesser recordings my Linn will blow them away.

Grab a few of these recycled vinyl American pressings and use them to audition your choices. Only using the best software is what the retailers want you to do.

Active crossovers have done more for my enjoyment factor REGARDLESS OF SOURCE than any other improvement I have made since the purchase of the LP12. Most of my complaints about digital are minimized through my active system. Of course, this is another concept promoted by Linn so will be largely ignored by the idealogues. Does this sound like politics, or what?

TWL is again ahead of the curve on this concept by eliminating crossovers entirely. Should his research prove fruitful I would love an invitation to listen because I relish the day I can dump my Linn electronics and buy from a manufacturer that doesn't insult me every step of the way. Until then however, I will continue my dance with the devil because I like listening to the music.

If any naysayers are coming to the Boise area send me an email and I'll show you a good time. Dinner is on me and if we get tired of listening we can always load up my drift boat and go fly fishing.


Yes, Patrick , this is once again seeming to get into a tussle between Digital Heads and Vinyl Junkies while poor old Formulaone doesn't get the answers he's looking for. (BTW- In case my previous post wasn't clear, yes, Formula, there may be a barely perceptable surface noise while playing an LP under the best conditions.)

I find a use for both LPs and CDs. For serious listening, my personal preference is LPs. Sure, sometimes even a new LP can be unlistenable but, on the whole, the medium is alot more sonically satisfying for me. For those who are passionate about CDs, it's good for you that you found something that you can be passionate about.

And, while high-end CDP manufacturers love to claim that their CDP "sounds more like analog", I'm still waiting on a turntable manufacturer to claim that their product sounds more like digital......

(Hey, at least I didn't post that last comment on the DIGITAL forum!! Hoo-eee!! That'd make the Hatfield's and McCoy's relationship look like kissin' cousins in comparison!!)



I thank you all for your responses.

I was 12 the last time I heard vinyl, which was played on a mass-market Pioneer table in conjunction with similar quality ancillaries. Juxtaposing my aural memory with the sound of the Clearaudio Master Reference table/Insider Gold cartridge/Walker phono stage ought to be a real revelation!

consider how science and industry deals with isolation and "noise". at a laboratory or precision machine shop much effort and expense is expended on these issues. nothing is left to chance.

reading the groove of a vinyl record is just another technical challenge that requires first isolation; and then precise reading. in a cost-no-object situation you would first have considerable mass, then some sort of cushion of isolation, then another cushion of isolation for every moving part. then the item to be examined would need to be firmly held for maximum resolution. the reading probe would need to be very compliant and yet controlled for proper measurement at the desired resolution.

whether you are cutting something, useing an electron microscope, or any other precision operation, any deviation from uncompromised solutions to these issues would compromise the result.

turntable designs exist that meet these standards. in these designs the so-called noise-floor of the vinyl format is revealed to be mostly an issue of compromised designs, not an inherent characteristic of the format.

when hitting price targets, turntable designers balance various compromises to offer the best performance results for their priorities. with any compromises there is noise introduced.

this is not voodo, it is science. there are certainly software noise issues that exist, but they are very minor compared to the turntable design contributions to noise. this assumes a comprehensive approach to vinyl care (handling, cleaning, etc.).

if you want quiet vinyl playback, you can have it.

i would also add that once the noise-floor is lowered, there is way more information that is revealed to exist in those grooves.
Mikelavigne makes a very interesting, and accurate, point regarding noise and LP playback. Contrast that with the CD format that actually throws away the quietest sounds to rid the system of noise. Taken to the extreme, if you kept audio rig off it would never produce any noise either. Of course you'd be throwing away the music too.
bottom line is this

digital sounds more dynamic because there is no discernable noise, however vinyl is more dynamic from noise floor up.

our ears filter the noise as they hear it and natuarally process the music or sound... that's what it is all about.

digital is a lie and a pure money grab that continues today.

analogue is a relic only because there are 999/1000 lazier than vinyl lovers or they just don't have ears or better yet don't care.
Viridian, well said. I have been wanting to say just that, but, I didn't because I thought that I would be too confrontational. I am really glad you said it, though, because it needed to be said.

There are two "noise floors." There is surface noise floor, the clicks and pops on a lp, and there is the noise floor that one can hear through to the "quietest of sounds", as Viridan points out.

Referring to the latter, digital (redbook cds) has a higher noise floor because digital does not deal with information beyond 20khz or below 20hz. Analog has a lower "noise floor" because it is able to reproduce a greater range of information- regardless of whether we can hear (through the surace noise) or sense it. And therefore, analog has the potential to sound more complete.

In the best possible analog setup with top quality lps, the surface noise should be a minor concern. Issues of cost, convenience and availability of music should be addressed before spending a lot of money. In all likelihood, a $2000 cd player will sound better than a similarly priced turntable setup (tt,cart, and phono amp) and, of course, will have less surface noise.
This certainly doesn't need to be the usual, unfortunate, LP vs. CD dragout. Most of us can agree that both sources can deliver a high degree of enjoyment.

Just to address a couple of the technical points raised above -

- it is in fact possible to detect signals under the noise floor of an analog source; this has to do with the signal being decorrelated from the noise. Note that with dither (see below), it is equally possible to do this with digital.

Dither is not a pallative, but rather an integral part of the digital recording process.

There are factors in vinyl reproduction which do limit the noise floor, surface roughness of the LP for one. This is why you'll never find a setup delivering greater than, say, in the mid-70s dB signal-to-noise.

Oh, and Sayas - please stop with the "people who prefer digital are lazy/can't hear/don't give a damn/cheap/etc." refrain. It just isn't universally true, and insulting to imply that it is.
really funny! who the hell on earth claims that no noise floor render playback more musical and more truthful to what had been recorded. If this is the case, CD has long been a standard since its introduction way back in the early 80's. There were a lot of problems in CD playback;jittering is just one example, and until not long ago,with a better understanding and advancement in the technology, it becoming more listenable. I, in order to compare cost set up for CD vs LP playback, decided to invest huge sum of money in the state of art Burmester 969/970 combo. I am convinced, in my system with what I heard, I could use very much lesser money for TT/tonearm/cartridge combo to attain similar musicality, and in many areas better performance as compare to Burmester. I am not here to criticise which is a better playback system. Most importantly, I enjoy different software collection in both LP and CD playback.
Just a couple of experiences I've had for you guys to ponder. In my room when I'm doing serious listening the peaks measure 90-93 db. That's where I like to listen. At that volume when I lift the tonearm I first sense the small amount of tube noise that is present. Note that to really hear it I must place my head pretty close to the speaker. It annoys me. Since my dedicated music room is open to the rest of the house through a six foot opening there is ambient noise that masks the tube noise and the surface noise, in plane or out of plane, to some extent. When a number of my audiophile group friends are here and in the sweet spot in control of the volume they almost always listen at a lesser volume, around 85 db. The tube noise and surface noise is imperceptible at this level making me wish that I was satisfied listening alone at this volume setting.

Upon visiting with a friend and listening to his SOTA analog rig with software ranging from very nice generic pressings to the best audiophile pressings AND the uncleaned used record just bought that day the background was so dead silent that I doubt anyone could tell blindfolded between tracks if we were listening to digital or analog. I'm not exaggerating here at all. Sure, there were a few occassions during several days when you could acutally hear a defect but it was exceptionally rare. We also were not generally listening at the volume levels I listen to at home in solitude. This experience was in Dallas at the home of Albert Porter. I'm so glad that I was able to go and experience this. Understand, Albert has about as impressive a collection of viny as I've ever seen and he has been most anal in his approach to system setup, record condition and cleaning. But, once the listening starts he's not anal at all. He's not one to let an uncleaned LP go unplayed if it adds to the enjoyment of the moment.

I respect today's digital players and a lot of the software offerings and I'm glad that many are totally satisfied with it. Sometimes I'm even glad that's the case since it leaves much more software for the rest of us to buy at favorable prices. I embrace buying whatever software is the best be it analog or digital. That's the best of both worlds and I'm really envious of those audiophiles with deep enough pockets that can afford SOTA players of both kinds.

As a follow up on my first paragraph here I just this week had doors installed to isolate the rest of the home from the music room. Big difference for sure with the ambient noise level. Today I'll be installing dedicated circuits for the system. Hopefully these changes will make vinyl surface noise THE issue with my listening. Maybe I'll find happiness with an 85 db level which I think will happen. I'll report my findings.

Enjoy it all my friends!
Software? I recently purchased a boatload of Columbia Miles Davis reissues. They sound fantastic. Quiet. Same for the boatload of Herbie Hancock reissues. Same for most of the indie/alternative rock I buy.

Regardless, the sound of vinyl is more important than the noise anyways so I'm biased here. The openness and soundstaging from a decent setup is just such a revelation.
Cheers! Please enjoy! Don't miss the golden opportunity if you willing to invest in vinyl and LP playback system. We have the best electronics around at this time let alone the cartridges. I can't breathe anymore, I am busy toying around with all the phono stages which are really state of art in sound reproduction. Its really fun!!!