Chad- how old is the cart? Could be some suspension aging issues with NOS carts.
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Your Theta Pro Basic-II should not be underestimated.
This unit was part of a system which provided sound to make time stop (in dweller's world).
I've had only a handful of these moments in my 16 year audio career.
My point is, a great piece of audio equipment stands the test of time.
Don't assume because equipment is a few years old that it's inferior to current offerings.
Digital gear, just like your home computer, has advanced by leaps and bounds. A DAC that is 15 years old is as obsolete as a computer running Windows 3.1. A current mid priced CD player will easily outperform mid priced digital gear like your Theta from that era.
That said, I find it curious that you find your digital gear to be close to the performance of your analog. The logical conclusion is that the analog gear it is not properly aligned or it is worn out as suggested above.
Dweller hit the mark, Herman is 100% wrong
Analog isn't better when you have the right digital gear, one thing you lucked into is very good speakers, when your speakers aren't tipped up hot rods and your amps aren't glary over driven tubes you might be onto something just right. Fact is your preamp isn't one of those impressionistic RIAA machines that give you a 6db cut in the treble and boosted bass its an honest preamp. Your "problem" lies with your equipment choices and the perception that analog is sooooo much better when in fact its old and obsolete.
My Sonographe SD-1 Beta was everybit as good as my SOTA/SME4/GRADO/Motif MC7 system in 1991. The SOTA hasn't been improved since then neither have your records. :)
I do think it can be better, and the new cart should be exciting to try, but the thing is........it really sounds very good! And I am usually the first to say it couold be better, if you look at some of my postings it will be clear that I find alot of things I would like to improove.
I am getting tons of detail with great bass and no tracking problems with the high frequencies, so I am just a bit puzzled that the digital sounds as good as it does, ofcourse this is recording dependant.
In close all I know is that as good as it sounds now, it will be very cool if it can only get better. The only thing I can add is that I heard a VPI Aries with I believe an SME arm and I cant remember the cart, but that must not have been exactly ideal because mine tracks much better and is alot more pleasing...more info to come but thanks for replies.
Have you considered replacing the tubes in your Sonic Frontiers SFL1 tube pre? The cartridge is important, but don't overlook the phono pre-amp. You've got a good one, but the tubes do need replacing at intervals.
About 16 years ago I traded in my Threshold FET-9 pre-amp w/phono stage when I bought a Krell KRC-3 pre-amp and KSA-50S power amp. I made the trade late Saturday afternoon, so the dealer told me to bring the Threshold in on Monday.
I went home and hooked the Krell pieces up and used the Threshold pre-amp ($3,000) as my phono pre-amp. I had the 'top-of-the-line' Dual turntable ($450.00) with a Blue Point cartridge ($125.00). On the CD side, I had a Theta Data Basic transport ($1,800.00) and a Theta Gen. III DAC ($3,300.00) with a MIT Digital Reference cable ($325.00) and Balanced Magnan Type Vi interconnects ($900.00).
Comparing the same albums against the CDs, the cheaper little analog system blew away the much more expensive digital system. Later I bought a Rotel phono pre-amp that didn't even do the turntable justice.
I don't mean anything bad by this next statement, so please understand what I'm trying to say. It may be that your system, pre-amp and/or amp, aren't yet at the level of being able to resolve the difference between the analog and digital. I'm 52 and my system has been between $20k-$30k since the late 1980's or early 1990's, and I don't remember how well my system before then sounded.
"Digital gear, just like your home computer, has advanced by leaps and bounds. A DAC that is 15 years old is as obsolete as a computer running Windows 3.1. A current mid priced CD player will easily outperform mid priced digital gear like your Theta from that era"
I've read that many times before, I've not found it to be true... The only "leaps and bounds" I've heard are in recording quality of some CD's...very good when they apply the effort and technology.
Hard to make valid comparisons unless you're comparing the sound of the LP vs. CD releases of the same recordings. Even then, the recording may be processed differently to release it in the two formats. An example of extremes is Anita Baker's "Rapture": the LP sounds very good and dynamic and the CD sounds dynamically compressed. An example of very good sound in both formats would be Janis Ian's "Breaking Silence" (it may still be available from Acoustic Sounds). But my personal choice would still be the vinyl version of the latter recording (more air, more fine detail).
I think the Ortofon is the bottleneck in your current analog setup. Even with an upgrade to a Clearaudio Virtuoso Wood (haven't heard one myself, so I may be wrong), it would still be a moving magnet, high output pickup. To get more high frequency bandwidth, you might need to get a low output (low coil inductance) moving coil cartridge. Twenty years ago, the general problems with the latter would have been mediocre tracking and elevated high frequencies. But these days you can buy low output MC's with good tracking and flat frequency response (e.g., Benz, Cardas, Dynavector). Even on a budget, the Audio Technica OC-9 (around $200) has a decent amount of air and fine detail (more than a $1200 Grado Reference), but it has an audible peak in the treble (not as bad as the Blue Point Special). The Denon DL-103 (around $300 imported) is even better.
As for the Theta Pro Basic II, been there and done that (hey, I gave you my DAC). You may not be hearing the best out of it if you're running it through the Sonic Frontiers SFL-1. Try running its output through a pair of EVS attenuators into your active crossover box. You should hear more transparency and detail.
Your cart/arm setup does not do the Sota justice as the Sota is already warm. Your preamp is very good but also "warms" the sound, which compliments digital quite nicely.
I believe you will likely compliment the Sota better with cart such as Shelter 901 and experiment lowering the rake of the arm at the pivot. You can pull a lot of fabulous sound out of your Sota with the right set up. I believe it should "blow the digital away". That is if you enjoy sound that brings you closer to live and natural.