When does analog compete with digital?

With vinyl becoming all the rage, many believe (perhaps mistakenly) that a budget of $1K will allow them to bring their analog front end up to par with their digital. I would like a reasoned assessment of this issue.

How much time, money, and expertise do you think is necessary before one can seriously claim that their analog front end can compete with their digital? What characteristics, if any, are simply incommensurable between these two mediums? Let's use my system as an example.

Personally, I tried to build an analog front-end that focused on texture/warmth (as opposed to dynamics), but I still feel as though something is missing. Trouble is, I can't quite put my finger on it. I'd be grateful for comments/suggestions (system in sig)
They are different. Period. If you want the equal of your digital, in a vinyl system, it is NOT gonna happen. If you want a different, but equally exciting sound, then it DEPENDS on what you listen FOR, in the sound, as to how much it's gonna cost you to get there.
I have both digital and LP. My digital is cheaper than my TTs. But i use a tube buffer to tame the digital. The Lps sound clearer, better, but the CD is more convenient.
I just have to say again, it is a DIFFERENT sound. If you are ready for it, then you could be happy. If you want it to be like your digital, you are in for a bummer.
The problem is the cost of getting even reasonably decent analogue components (yes, plural) just has to exceed the cost of getting decent digital. Lets face it, you can get very good digital for less that $1000, and actually can get reasonably good digital for less than $500. All this at new component retail prices.

For analogue you need a turntable and arm, a cartridge and a phono stage. That's 3 components that need to work synergistically. Even if each one is bought used you are still talking bottom of the ladder components for somewhere in the $1000 ballpark. Of course setup is still a very key component of making vinyl sound great.

The real value in my mind is that significantly better digital than, say an Oppo, isn't gonna cost all that much more. You cag get near state of the art digital for $2000-3000 these days. With vinyl it just keeps getting better as you decide to move up the ladder. It really doesn't top out as fast as digital, which means you can certianly spend far more, and that you will constntly feel that ypou can make it better if you just upgrade here, then here, then here ...
Disagree with Ptmconsulting about 'resonable' digital. Mostly it goes to what sound one desires. Digital has it's own flaws that no $500 or $1,000 is going to come near fixing if that stuff bothers you. if the digital sonic flaws don't bother, then it doesn't. Same for analog. A cheap TT and cart with a cheap phono, say $500. IS going to sound JUST AS GOOD (with different flaws) as that $500 digital front end. They will have different sounds, different problems with the sound, but, IMO, will really be just as good as each other.
I think the issue is: What is your preferred poison?
Bad idea trying to equate one with the other. They are inherently different Better to shoot for a single particular sound you like and tune each t that separately over time until achieved. For most, if done right, it does not have to cost a fortune.
Try not to worry about such things. Establish a realistic budget for analogue. Investigate, read reviews and search forums on personal opinions and advice. BUT! be very careful entrusting completely in what others from so called experts and those who are not may say. Gather a list of products that fit inside your budget. Study each and try to weed out the chaff from the wheat so to speak. Then you will be able to make better buying decisions. Once you then buy and carefully set up the analogue products you need, JUST ENJOY!

In time as your future tastes and budget evolve you can as per this hobby swap out other gear if you wish.

You can get great analogue playback if you are wise with buying for even under $1,000 total purchase, new or used turntable, cartridge and phono preamp. Even at this it may provide you enjoyable analogue playback that could have your CD player collecting some dust. That said I learned a few years ago to move away from being anti-digital. I got tired of the crap many say about it on audio forums. Even though most of the time my analogue records sound better or best to me I have a nice and still very modest digital setup, basically now a Oppo BDP-83 and have enjoyed playing well produced CD's too. It is just that too many CD's made over the last 10+ years suck in terms of mastering and production quality. But don't think every vinyl record you buy was well mastered and produced either, some SUCK BIG TIME TOO!
For some, including myself, your question is backward.
Knowing your Naim and speakers, only knowing your table/cartridge by hearsay, I would have to think your analog better already. Perhaps a different cartridge, not necessarily more expensive, would do the trick.
Knowing your gear/speakers, for as nice as it is for the money, I can think of many tables that I do know that better that in a heartbeat. For my tastes, anyway. For example, a RegaP3 with a highout Dynavector($400) will blow away your cd player....and I've fallen in love with Naim cd players...:)
.... that their analog front end can compete with their digital?


Digital is superior for 1 reason:
- Remote
Put your finger on isolation for your TT before you try anything else!!!! You really need something, isolation/weight, between your TT and the desk top, just eliminating/reducing the vibrations here will improve the TT's performance and help you hear what you actually have!!
I agree somewhat with Chashas1, but I think your turntable and phono stage are a bit out of step with the character of the rest of your system. I might try auditioning a different phono stage first, such as the Dynavector P75. If that didn't help, I'd maybe audition a Rega P3-24 with Elys 2 or 10X5 (again through the P75 phono stage).
Agree totally with jrtrent, i didn't pay attention to your phono stage...I'm just saying, if you could hear a few of the options out there, you might be spinning lots more vinyl. But, I do like your digital/integrated combo, especially with the 3's.
Agree with Chashas 1. I have a Goldring 1022, it is a relatively bright cartridge and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone seeking "warmth/texture".
I suggest you replace your cartridge. A carefully considered replacment would be a cost-effective means for you to decide if further changes are needed in your analog rig.
Plenty of cartridge options available, just ask or research the MM/MC thread here:


Good luck.
a direct drive technics with a nice cartridge can get you some
analog bliss for 1K if your preamp just happens to be excellent for both line and phono. If you mean 1K for good tt, cartridge, and a phone preamp that is not possible even used unless you get the deal of the century on the above items (and set up arm/cart well and isolate tt well diy style).
I got back into vinyl when a, comparatively, crappy turntable sounded better (I will admit "different" as in warmer and more complete to me) than my very expensive, and very good digital set up.

I've never looked back, I like my digital set up, but I love my analog gear. That said, I have about 3x the investment in analog at this point, to be fair.
Great responses, keep 'em coming!

FYI, I posed the question to get a general sense of what others feel about the issue. My own personal view is that comparing analog to digital is like comparing apples to oranges - each have their own strengths and weaknesses. I prefer analog for simplistic music that emphasizes strings and vocals. Analog can convey a sense of emotion and warmth in a way that digital simply cannot. But, when it comes to more complex music, I much prefer the analytical sound of digital, which is more clear and 'in your face', so to speak. That said, I still think it's possible to compare analog to digital, in some sense - much in the same way that we can compare Leonardo to Edison... both were spectacular in their given discipline.

Concerning my analog front-end, it sounds amazing on some recordings (better than CD), but not so much on others. I'm still trying to pinpoint what, exactly, is amiss. Sometimes I think it lacks the ability to capture certain details or nuances, but that doesn't mean I want that digital sound either. Argh, it's so frustrating not being able to articulate what I'm hearing! As you can probably tell, I'm new to hi-fi, so I'm not well versed in the various (ambiguous/unintelligible) adjectives. That said, I've always suspected that the cartridge may be at fault. The Goldring 1012GX came free as part of a package deal, but I had my eye on the Benz Micro Ace S (M). With respect to the pre-amp, I actually like the Tube Box II. It offers the functionality of both MM/MC, plus it adds some warmth to the Nait 5i, which is very analytical.

Part of the problem - if it is a problem - is that I wouldn't classify myself as your typical audiophile. That is, I don't enjoy constantly swapping out components in search of 'audio nirvana'. I much rather save for a particular component that I know I will be satisfied with, then simply sit back and enjoy the music for years to come. Seriously. The problem is, it's difficult to audition all the different equipment (especially in your own home), so I don't know what component is the right fit for my system/tastes. I'm not made out of money either, so I don't have the option of switching back and forth. Given what I've written above, does anyone have the slightest clue as to what might be causing this 'discomfort'? I won't swap any components until I move to a more hospitable listening environment. The current room is 10x11, but I'm moving in September/October (thank God).

Finally, I realize that my analog/digital may have different sonic signatures (or what have you), but that was my aim. I want to play to the strengths of each. For instance, I like to spin Bright Eyes/Son House on vinyl, but rock out to the Black Keys on CD. If this makes no sense, someone please correct me!

Have a good one, people!
After reading my long-winded response, please allow me to clarify the initial question...

Suppose we are trying to compare wine and beer. Some say they are incomparable. However, we would certainly say that a very fine wine is much better than a stale beer. So, they are comparable in at least one respect - we can compare them according to their perceived quality, value, 'bang for buck', etc.

I would consider my digital front-end to be 'very good'. How much should one expect to pay to achieve the same level of performance from the analog side?

That's a general question open to all. It has nothing to do with my particular system/set up. I think it would interesting to hear the various responses...

But I would still like some feedback on my own predicament!
It should read "When does digital compete with analog" as digital is an imitation of the real thing with the exception of some of the newer 24/192 and other high rez digital which is just wonderful if done right..... I usually find I have to spend 2-3 times as much on digital to get close. Now to murky the waters a bit, a good cd stomps a poor vinyl record so the comparison must take into consideration there are fantastic recordings in cd and analog, as well as crappy recordings in both medium. Which is better.....depends on the recording used....jallen
"Which is better.....depends on the recording used...."
well said!
I agree with those who say your question is backwards. Yes, digital can be very clear and extremely detailed. However, this is at great expense in other areas that many of us consider much more important, such as more correct reproduction of instrumental and vocal timbres. Another big difference is that the distortions inherent in the digital realm, even though they are much less than in analog, take place at higher and much more musically objectionable frequencies. Digital processing also simply removes too much information, IMO. The designers justify this by saying that the human ear cannot hear most of the info they are removing, yet research has proven that the brain can still perceive frequencies above what the ear can hear, for example. There is also in digital too much loss of what is sometimes called "low level detail," one example being ambient noise in the concert hall that an orchestral recording was made in, which of course contributes greatly to the effect of the music.

All of these examples above apply much more to acoustic music than electronic, however. If you listen to mostly electronically produced music, then these things probably won't bother you nearly as much as they do others. It's a question of what your priorities are, and only you can really determine that.
You need a PS-X9 with the remote. I finally found one for mine.
Naim gear has long been known for its ability to reproduce music with its original rhythm, energy, and forward momentum intact. Some analog gear (Linn, Rega, Roksan) is also known for this quality. When you said you "still feel like something is missing" when listening to your analog source, my conjecture is that your phono stage, and possibly your turntable/cartridge combination, is lagging in that area. I don't know what dealerships and product lines are available to you locally to audition, but the Dynavector P75 I suggested is widely marketed and is a product that does not mess up the temporal qualities of music. Same with the P3-24, which is most often paired with Rega's own Elys 2 cartridge or with the DV 10X5. I don't know that this is the missing factor for you, of course; it's just my best guess.
...when it comes to more complex music, I much prefer the analytical sound of digital, which is more clear and 'in your face', so to speak.
FWIW, the opposite is true in my system. On music of any complexity, regardless of genre, my vinyl setup challenges the clarity of my digital, exceeds it in presence (if that's what "in your face" means) and demolishes it in terms of low level detail, micro-dynamics and harmonic complexity.

My system differs from yours, obviously. My pretty decent digital player retails for just $2K (+ another $2K for interconnects). My vinyl front end retails for over $20K.

Why this particular ratio? Why not a $20K digital source and a $2-4K vinyl one? Because IME my ratio provides better sound for the money.

No digital front end I've heard - at any price - can approach a really good vinyl rig. IMO this is because the two systems are flawed in fundamentally different ways.

Most vinyl flaws are generated during playback, which means they can be reduced by user involvement (better setup, better gear). OTOH, many digital flaws are inherent in the medium and cannot be reduced by the user for any price.

Further, with vinyl the performance ceiling has not yet been reached. No vinyl replay system in existence is capable of extracting all the information in an LP groove. Despite my seemingly crazy ratio, there are upgrades that would take my vinyl rig's performance even higher. Analog sources contain enough musical information to allow changes in even a high end playback system to make real improvements.

So, as others have said, the better question would be, "When does digital compete with analog?" IME the answer is, "When the analog playback system is of a low enough level so that its (avoidable) flaws outweigh the (unavoidable) flaws built into existing digital media."
PTM hit it on the nose with the multiple components fact of life in analog. I think we all have a price threshold that we psychologically are willing to spend on a component. With analog, over time, we can get up to that level on multiple items cartridges, tables, arms, phono stages, and cleaning. Before you know it, you have a considerable investment because it is in pieces.
I have a problem with the concept of "competition" between formats. I need both to enjoy all of the music I've collected and I expect both to deliver a high level of performance. Also, my system has been assembled so that, on a basic level, both sound quite similar.

For classical music, I listen primarily to CDs. Very few current releases of classical music are available on lp, so collecting CDs and SACDs is the only option for new releases. I appreciate the long, uninterrupted playing time, the lack of ticks and pops in quiet passages, and the ability to easily find my place in the libretto for operas when using CDs. The other factor is that most of the classical labels are actually doing a better job now with recording quality than they have done in the past (e.g., DG) which is a far cry from most popular labels which are making crappier and crappier recordings these days.

For rock, jazz and other popular music, I listen mostly to lps. Particularly with older recordings, lps most often sound much better, in all respects, than their digital counterparts. To me, it doesn't matter if it is a case of one format being superior to the other, or poor digital mastering or degradation of the original master tapes, etc.-- it just is simply the case that most often the lp sounds better. Because most popular recordings do not have the dynamic range of classical music, surface noise (clicks, pops, sputtering) become almost irrelevant with popular music.

When I am doing a demonstration of the very best source material, it is almost exclusively lps. I've never heard digital sources match the dynamic impact of well recorded lps, or have the same kind of vast, open and realistic soundstage.

Because there are so many more components to lp source components, I have spent more on those components, but, my CD player is no slouch (Naim CD555).
CDs or vinyl......These are the big questions we ask ourselves. Regardless of preferences I have personally found it difficult to listen to vinyl in my car. My gimbaled turntable (that's turntable not tonearm) still skips. While I work out this engineering feat I'll continue to listen to CDs.
At home the fullness of sound vinyl delivers in comparison to the silhouette cutouts CDs offers makes an easy choice.

Drewmb1? You have a gimbaled TT in your car? I would love a gimbaled TT. Just for the sake of it. I guess the right way to do it is have a gimbaled platform and mount a TT on it...
"I have personally found it difficult to listen to vinyl in my car." Simple solution, try a Technics SL-10. I seem to remember them coming with a 12volt adapter for use in a car.
It would help to have a small gyroscope mounted on the gimbled turntable platform to keep it level. That could work.

Also, I think to eliminate tracking problems, you would be best served to use a linear tracking arm.
Rumor has it Nasa developed a gimble mounted turntable for the Apollo astronauts back in the day when vinyl ruled that could also operate in zero gravity.

Your taxpayer dollars at work....

Then again, other rumors have it that the whole Apollo deal was staged.

Oh well....
There is no point in me recreating the wheel or in this instance the gimbled platform. I'll check with NASA and see if they can help...........
Luckily my daughters' dance school is at Hwy 3 and Nasa Rd One, about half a mile from the entrance to Nasa's main facility. I am sure at least a few of the girls at the school have parents who are scientists at Nasa. I will offer to drop my girls off tonight, and put a note up on the bulletin board inquiring about the gimbled turntable.

Maybe someone can pull it out of the archives. If they do, let's set up a listening test. Probably best to do it in late October when it cools down here.
My Bimmer does 0-60 in 4.8 seconds. This will obviously cause variations in platter speed, so please address this technical point with NASA in the new design.
I think a gyro is a sine qua non for the gimbal platform, and the trick would be having the platform mounted so that the gimbaled supports to that platform were not rigid (I expect something like a linear bearing might work here, with the gyro keeping the TT in one place). One could potentially mount a Sony PS-F9 on it to "save space." It has the linear arm, but I expect the single biggest issue would be vibration damping, so one would have to have something like a mini vibraplane as the platform base (requiring a much bigger gyro).
This is my new favorite string!!

CajunPepe we will try to solve your acceleration problem. In fact, we will try to solve it for a fast car too, so your Bimmer should have no problem. Once you break 4 on 0 - 60 then you should start worrying!!

BTW, Geaux Tigers!!
If you buy a used modified Sony or Denon cd player, you can get pretty spectacular sound for under 1000.00. I have found it very difficult to get great sound in analog for under $1500.00-2000.00. To me, to get great analog sound is going to cost more like $4000.00 and that's just table, arm, & cartridge. You'd still need a phono preamp. To answer your particular what's missing in your system question, I'm going to guess the jump factor (like live music) and clear powerful bass, and maybe the incisive highs when you listen to lower to middle cost analog. Due to getting those sound traits more in cd, I think it makes analog seem too smooth and you want to hear more grunt with some balls to it. That's my take as a Modwright Sony 9000 totally messed up my appreciation of many of my records. I WANT that jump factor and drive in the analog, too. Very tough to find IMO, even at the $2000.00-4000.00 range used.
I think one of the things that was missed here is why so many (non-audiophiles, mostly) people believe CD's sound better than vinyl. The lack of surface sound, ticks, pops mislead most in thinking CD's are better (more dynamic, quieter). Now, when you climb up the vinyl scale in quality of components and system matching, synergy, set up, leveling, etc, the surface sound goes away and ticks and pops are deminished. I think somehwere there is a cost associated with where that surface noise, etc., goes away. I know you don't get there with a $100 cartridge and $250 phonostage but somewhere above there may be the answer. Once those distractions are gone, one can hear the dynamics, nuances, spatial ques, air, etc (all the things that make vinyl sound great).
Good post by Cerrot. I'd offer a teensy semi-correction. IME one can get where he described with *some* inexpensive cartridges, provided everything else in the vinyl front end is up to snuff.

For example, I own a $125 MM. If I put it in my main system ($6K table, $5K arm, $8K phono stage) it performs pretty much as Cerrot described and delivers a good portion of what great vinyl replay has to offer.

As he noted, however, this would not happen if I cheaped out on any of the other three components, not even if I used my costly LOMC. To hear what vinyl can do, table, arm and phono stage must be very good and in these categories good doesn't come cheap.

Agree completely that the large majority of people, even many audiophiles, have never heard a high end vinyl setup. Such a visitor's reaction is as predictable as it is enjoyable: eyes pop, jaws drop, they're typically overwhelmed by the volume of musical information they're hearing for the first time. Records they thought they new well (from the CD) become a completely new experience.

Unfortunately, when they see the work and cost required to achieve this most realize it's just not for them. They're happy to buy me a bottle of wine from time to time in order to hear it again though. ;-)
"I think one of the things that was missed here is why so many (non-audiophiles, mostly) people believe CD's sound better than vinyl"

Perhaps because so many turntable systems are less than optimally set up; and frequently much less than, IMO.
I think they are less than optimally set up because they take a bit of effort, knowledge, tools and investment (accurate scale, strobe) and the average user doesn't understand what's involved with acquiring the best sound from a vinyl rig, or how to get there. The smarter ones have their dealr set them up in thier homes but you still need the ongoing sped checking, VTF, VTA, erc., throughout the TT experience. Very few are set and forget--CD players usually are. You buy a cd player, plug it in and that's pretty much it. A vinyl rig is much more complicated than that. Many TT's are offered as a one box solution, buy it, open it up,hook it up and they lead you to beieve you're good to go, but you probaly aren't and need to read a book, internet article, one of Mickey's DVD's. A CD payer out of the box usually sounds better than a TT out of the box for these very reasons. You won't buy a $10,000 TT and not understand this, but you may buy a $1,000 TT and have no concept of the work involved to set it up properly. I do believe that a $1,000 TT set up properly can outperform a more expensive TT not set up properly. The set up issue is fairly removed from CD players. IC's and PC's and isolation on a CD player are no where as much of an impact as leveling, speed, etc., on a TT.
there are TTs in the market for under 300 Dollars which are better than any CD player without good/expensive DAC. But this is not an attempt to convice you buying this 300 Dollar item...

I suggest you move the left speaker out of the corner and both speakers away from refractive edges of the desk. It will cost you nothing and will make a huge improvement in imaging and sound.
My apologies for not reading ALL the responses, (lots of them!), but I started back into vinyl with a budget table, cart, and phonostage, thinking that would do just to get a chance to hear more music relatively cheaply. It didn't quite work out that way. I just wasn't satisfied with the fit and finish if the budget table, or the sound for that matter.

Now, $6190 and four years later, my analog finally outdoes digital by a wide margin, on the right recording. I tried to go against my audiophile nature, and settle for less than I normally would in the analog format.

I bought most of my gear (including the Dyna XX2MKII cart with almost no hours on it) used, in great shape here on Audiogon or the figure quoted above would be at least a third higher.

What was I thinking? I'm glad I did it, it suits my hands-on approach to audio. If I had it to do over, I would still do it, but I would learn how to extract the best out of any given group of components before deciding to move onward (and upward in price). If you don't really know how to set up your arm/cartidge, you have no idea how good, or bad, what you have is. It's taken me years to learn the intricacies and variables of set up, and some timely help and advice from such as Dave Garrettson and Doug Deacon, but I finally made it. The knowledge is the most valuable part of the whole system, as without it, you just keep wondering why it doesn't sound as good as you thought it should. But with determination, (it also helps a great deal if you enjoy the process), success can be achieved.

As Elizabeth said, they are different, but analog can and does sound better, when things are optimized (I think there is just more THERE there with analog). I love both formats, but really get a bit more out of analog.

It took me getting a Rega P5 / Michell Techno weight / Groovetracer Reference Subplatter / 2mm spacer / Dynavector 20XL / Rogue Stealth Phono Pre to finally get to where I was happy with vinyl when comparing to CD's. They do sound different and a lot comes down to the source signal. I would say about $2-$3K before it started competing with the sound of CDs.

2 cents.
Darn sorry to hear that. I apologize that my pathetic $60 Empire cartridge and my tubed phono pre-amp kicks sand in the face of ANY cd I've ever heard. Perhaps I just don't understand the concept of the silhouette cutouts that cd offers that I've listened to for thirty years. It doesn't take a lot of energy or expense to have vinyl sound like music, only an open mind.

Digital is superior for 1 reason: Remote

The lack of remote allows me to focus on the music currently playing, rather than thinking about which track to jump to next. However, if I could train my 5-year-old to flip sides, brush the record, clean the stylus, and queue up the first track, I'd be on to something. I'd trust her over my 8-year-old son (but probably be the logical choice to train, as he'd be sitting next to me, listening).
Dear Nrenter,

How sweet to have children to share your life with. They are the music of life.


The simple answer is: every day!

Every link in the analog chain keeps getting better.
With a good analog rig, you just want to keep playing music.

my 10 and 8 yr old are both good to un-que the record, move the arm to the rest, remove the periphery ring, flip the record, clean the record, and place the cartridge on the first track of the record, missing the periphery ring.

Daddy is so proud!!

Both girls by the way, I agree with Nrenter, trust them more.
Young people stand and just stare at my ancient rig with it's Christmas tree lights and spastic analog meters. "You mean all that sound comes out of THAT"? All '70's stuff, Pio. SX-1980, Tech. SP-15 TT/EPA-250 TA, SP-25/Infinity Black Widow backup TT. After a brief flirt with mo-dern MC carts., a venerable Grace F9-E and a $45.00 NOS Acutex cartridge are now favorites. $3500, cost of a new car then or currently obtainable for the equivilent of the same old "beater" now. Experienced others laugh about the antique gear until they listen, for 30 years my musically induced smile has been the Chesshire Cat-like same. A modest Rega Saturn CDP gathers dust, digital is for the ride where on a twisty road I don't really care if my music is reconstructed in teeny little irritating bits.

If cost is your concern, I suggest you'll find good value in vintage equipment.

2K is the bottom line for analog to compete with digital. While there are many ways to get there; you will end up spending 2K or more.
>>07-26-10: Orpheus10
2K is the bottom line for analog to compete with digital<<


A pre-owned Music Hall MMF-7 and a pre-owned Graham Slee Era Gold Mark V will cost about $1000 for the pair.

The combo will startle even the most dubious.


I have no financial interest in either product.