Some time ago I owned a Lyra Dorian mono and was really impressed from its Performance. A very good sounding Design for its Pricing. Later I got a Lyra Helikon mono which is a very good performing cartridge, too. Both are discontinued but sometimes they are offered here 2. Hand.
Both carts have no hum (others do), very silent in the grooves, have a good high frequent area and can be serviced from Lyra when something has to be done.
Based on their 2-coil Design they are a bit lower in output than their Stereo 'Brothers' but their sound is full, lively and both can show you the magic in mono records. Most mono carts are 'shortened' Stereo Carts (double output) but until today I didn't hear one of those which made me curious.
I've seen some of the Lyra mono cartridges selling for retail and although obviously considered a gold standard, they seemed far out of my price range. Just recently, I've noticed there being a $1,600.00 plus price tag on the Dorion cartridge and I'm having some trouble locating a price and vendor for the Helikon. Another alternative might be to purchase a Grado Statement Sonata for $565.00 and then start saving for the the better Lyra, thus selling the Grado after acquiring the Lyra. My personal view is that cartridge prices are inflated and that there is little in the way of discounts regardless of the maker or the model.
I've been very happy with the Miyajima Premium BE but don't have much other experience with other dedicated mono cartridges to offer comparison.
I'm very interested in others experiences.
Based only on my reading, which means to say "based on the opinions of others whom I do not even know" (i.e., flimsy logic) and the technical aspects of its design, I would choose the Miyajima Premium Be. The question in my mind is whether one even needs the "Be" version, since as far as I can tell the only difference between it and the Premium is (i) cost, and (ii) the color of the wood used. The non-Be version costs around $250 less. I also have had a notion to have one of my favorite but broken MM cartridges rebuilt as a mono, which would cost far less than $1300.
Miyajima is a cartridge that I had never even considered and don't know much about however I'll look into it. It seems from what others have said on past blogs, that a good MC mono cartridge will be built as a 2 channel mono cartridge versus a stereo cartridge that was shortened into one channel. This factor exponentially increases the cost of a cartridge. As well, I've always understood that a good low output MC cartridge will easily be within the $1400.00 range. The raved about Ortofon Cadenza mono is listed at about this price. And, I like the idea of the Ortofon Cadenza with the exception that it supposedly performs better on narrow grooves than it does on the earlier wide grooves.
Goofyfoot, Your rationale is as pointless as mine, so, go for it. I will say that I trust Syntax, since he is not one to say anything at all, unless it is from his personal experience and is strongly felt.
By the way, I do not know why building a cartridge as 2-channel mono would be more expensive than building it as 2-channel stereo, especially not "exponentially" more expensive. For one thing, a spherical stylus tip is usually preferred for mono, and such a tip is less expensive than any other shape. Be that as it may, the Miyajima Premium is built from the ground up as a mono, for what that's worth.
OK Lewm, fair enough, I will follow the above advice from Syntax as I'm already certain that he's far more knowledgeable in this area than I am. I also trust his Lyra recommendation but will have to work in the diamond mines to afford one. However you ask, why are mono cartridges that are built from the ground up as mono cartridges more expensive; I'm guessing because they typically sound better than other alternatives but I cannot say for certain.
"More expensive" than what? Compared to their stereo equivalents, e.g., a Lyra Delos vs a Lyra Delos Mono? Is the latter more costly? If so, I would guess that it's a matter of marketing and very low production numbers. If the Delos Mono is more costly than a Miyajima Premium, then I would opt for the latter, but that's pig-headed me.
Goofy, lots of questions on the mono subject and that is not as simple as one might first expect.
Original mono cartridges were designed for lateral motion pickup only. Stereo cartridges added vertical motion pickup (although stereo is a 45/45 configuration, that is beside the point here). Many mono fans recommend "true" lateral motion pick up only since that eliminates any vertical noise component, thus quieter playback. That can be important with older records.
It is true that some current mono cartridges are simply stereo models which have been strapped internally for mono playback. For example, some claim the Grado monos are simply strapped stereo cartridges. I have not seen the definitive answer to that question. Similarly, some claim a mono switch on the preamp or phono stage will accomplish the same result as a strapped stereo cartridge. That seems reasonable to me but I have never heard that comparison.
Next is the issue of styli as Lew mentioned. The size of the cutter head (from original mastering) changed over the years so it could depend on the vintage of the LPs you want to play as a guide to which mono cartridge to choose. Mono cutter heads are no longer available so modern mono reissues are cut with stereo cutter heads, thus "modern" elliptical profile styli may be better for playback.
Beyond this is the question of EQ. The RIAA curve was approved around the time of stereo LPs (1957-8) but not all record labels began using that right away. So again, it may depend on which mono records you intend to play. If they are all recent mono reissues, an elliptical stylus of some design and RIAA playback will be fine. But if you have records from the late '40s - early '50s or late '50s -early '60s then you may benefit from more research before choosing. I suggest searching "mono" here and on Vinyl Asylum.
What Pryso said. My predilection for the Miyajima is based on the clear statement on their website that the Premium is a "true" mono design. Added to that, as I understand it (could be wrong) the best stylus for original early to mid-50s mono LPs, which describes most of mine), is an 0.7mil spherical. As I also understand it, if you mean to play even older mono records, especially 78s, you want a 1.0mil spherical stylus. The Premium can be had either way (1.0 or 0.7mil radius, spherical), I think. Then Pryso (Tim) makes the point that possibly later re-issues of those mono LPs may well be best played with an elliptical. I had not thought of that, but he could be correct. I would not go further than spherical or elliptical, however, for mono. No exotic shapes are necessary or recommended. What I would like to know is whether the various Lyra mono cartridges are "true" mono designs, or not.
Correction: Miyajima supplies a 3.0mil stylus for 78s, not 1.0mil. However, for some reason I seem to recall that there is a class of mono LP that plays best with a 1.0mil spherical tip (or "conical", as Miyajima describes it). There is more information on this subject to be found at the KAB website, I think. Note also that Miyajima says not to use their mono cartridges on stereo LPs.
Guys: Let me chime in, since I have done a fair amount of work in this area (smile).
Even if the LP groove is mono, you will get maximum information retrieval if the vertical stylus contact is maximized and the longitudinal stylus contact is minimized. This dictates a line-contact stylus - similar to the requirements for a stereo LP.
But there are two things to watch out for regarding the stylus shape.
One is that many earlier mono LPs have shallow bottoms, and/or the bottoms of the groove are mired in decades of accumulated grime. You can run into problems with tracking and noise if the stylus shape is narrow and pointed enough to allow the very tip to touch the bottom of the groove or the dirt that may be there.
Two is that a line-contact stylus will make the effects of stylus rake angle (SRA) and cantilever rake angle (which I think is a far more descriptive term for cartridges than VTA) more noticeable, and if you have a tonearm that doesn't allow easy height control, you may be better off with a spherical stylus.
Regarding coil structure, it should be real mono rather than strapped stereo. On paper, strapped stereo coils, or using a mono switch on the preamp will get the job done. In the real world the results are audibly better with real mono coils. Canceling whatever vertical noise component that may be present in a mono groove assumes very tight matching of channel output as well as magnetic and capacitive crosstalk - but this assumption doesn't hold up well in the real world. And in general (with amplifiers as well as transducers), not picking up an error component in the first place is preferable to picking it up and trying to cancel it out later.
Regarding vertical compliance, a mono cartridge should have it. Mono LPs are not tougher than stereo LPs, both are made from the same materials, and both will remain in good condition for a lot longer if grooves are not subjected to high pressure - especially if that pressure is concentrated on a narrow area of the groove. If the cartridge suspension has no vertical compliance, the same stylus will require higher tracking forces than if there is vertical compliance.
This also becomes an argument in favor of line-contact styli, since they do the best job of distributing the vertical tracking forces over a wide area of the groove.
Regarding costs, the Dorian Mono was never US $1600 to my knowledge. We do not have any authority to dictate the retail pricing in a given country, but I would be surprised if the US retail cost for the Dorian Mono ever exceeded $1200.
Having designed and produced the Dorian Mono, Helikon Mono and Titan Mono, I can say that the market for mono cartridges is very small. OTOH a mono cartridge requires a different set of parts from a stereo cartridge, different work operations, and the sonic tuning is different. IOW adding a mono cartridge in a manufacturer's product lineup will require its own dedicated design and development program, while making overall production efficiency decidedly worse. There will be some increase in component cost for a mono cartridge, because designing and ordering custom-made components in small quantities inevitably results in higher per-piece costs, but that is not the key issue.
Having made the Dorian Mono, I am somewhat doubtful about the business wisdom of making a Delos Mono, but if we were ever to do so, it would have to be produced perhaps twice, at the most 4 times a year. If we were to set up dedicated production batches for a Delos Mono, and make at least 50 cartridges per batch, m-a-y-b-e the development program and the production effort could be justified.
For the time being, the Kleos Mono is our lowest-cost mono cartridge.
However, we will continue to service, readjust and rebuild all of our previous and present mono cartridges, including the Dorian Mono, Helikon Mono and Titan mono (we even built a very small number of Olympos Monos).
hope that this has been informative, jonathan carr
Wow! Jonathan this is a terrific post - most informative. Thanks for posting.
Thanks, JCarr. I think it was I who conflated "Dorian Mono" with "Delos Mono", which may have created some confusion (at least in my own mind), or maybe it was my own wishful thinking that you would build a Delos Mono. Also, you confirmed what I always thought had to be the case; even a mono cartridge has to have vertical compliance. Good to know you do make a Kleos Mono. That one should be a "contenda", to borrow from Terry Malloy in "On the Waterfront".
Jonathan, thanks so much for again sharing your insights on mono playback. For what would appear to be a fairly simple subject it can become quite confusing. And experience always trumps reiteration, which is mainly all I've been able to offer.
Thanks Jonathan and everyone else for that matter. The $1,600.00 price tag for the Dorion Mono comes from a search engine entry and could be due to the fact that it's out of production. I wish not to cite the name of the website out of discretion. Also, I'm sorry Lewm for not clarifying better but my cost comparisons were within competing mono cartridges, those which clearly state that they are 'true' mono cartridges (i.e. the Lyra) and those who do not. This I realize, is still very vague since I am not giving the names nor the technical specifications of those cartridges that I am cross referencing. I want to say however that coming from a pragmatic and aesthetic description of qualities that I've read from the various competing mono cartridges, the Lyra mono cartridges are the most appealing. All of my records are from the mid 1940's through to the late 1950's. Many of these platters, for example my ARCHIVE PRODUCTIONS vinyl, weighs in at 180 grams and many have never been played. Those that I own with the seals broken, were most likely played only a few times. The rest of the vinyl that I own which I'm willing to put on the turntable, might have a few surface marks but will not effect the sound. I'm very fortunate to have come across classical mono vinyl obtained in estate sales and then sold to a friend of mine who in turn sells them to me for a song.
Goofyfoot: Before you pay big bucks for any mono cartridge, you may want to try a real mono cartridge for low(er) cost, such as Audio-Technica's AT33MONO. IOW, dip your toes in the water for a nominal fee.
You can see that it has a horizontal coil, which means no sensitivity to vertical modulations ("real mono"). The connection diagram in the data sheet suggests that there are two identical coils, which IMO is the best choice for a mono cartridge that will be used in the context of a stereo audio system. Part of the data sheet mentions an "elliptical stylus tip), while the specifications section mentions that the stylus is round. Hmmm. The Japanese data sheet specifies a nude spherical stylus, so that is probably what it has. Vertical tracking force is a bit on the high side (2.3~2.7g), but at least it isn't obscene. The datasheet mentions static compliance, which to me suggests that there is vertical compliance.
The 0.35mV output of the AT33Mono may be a challenge if you don't have a phono stage that is comfortable with low-output cartridges, and the price may still be higher than what you would prefer, in which case you could look at the AT-MONO3/LP (not the SP version, which is designed for 78rpm shellac discs).
I haven't been able to find the data sheet, but according to LP Gear, the stylus is conical, output voltage is an easy-to-use 1.2mV (@5cm/sec.). Again there is mention of static compliance, which implies that there is vertical compliance, and the vertical tracking force range is 1.25g~2.5g, which should be no problem to accommodate.
For a decidedly more vintage approach, you could consider Denon's DL-102.
This clearly has only a single mono coil, and you may run into hum issues if you connect this to a stereo phono stage in the same way that you could do for a stereo cartridge. I suggest connecting this to only one channel of the phono stage.
OTOH, the output is a generous 3mV (@5cm/sec.), which should be enough for nearly any phono stage.
The vertical tracking force range is 2-4g, so it is getting a mite heavy, and AFAIK the DL-102 has no vertical compliance, so you should not play stereo LPs with it. Actually I wouldn't play any of my mono LPs with it either, but I wouldn't mind listening to someone else's irreplaceable mono LPs with it - grin.
I have a Benz LP-S MC stereo cartridge on a Graham Phantom Supreme. My second tonearm is a Schick 12" tonearm with a Miyajima Premium Mono BE cartridge (special low output version). I run it it through Bob's Devices Cinemag 1131. Use both old 1950s mono albums as well as new reissued mono vinyl. I love the Miyajima. Big, bold, meaty sound, with extension and transparency (not dark sounding at all). I love both my cartridges...both excel. The LP-S is incredible, especially for capturing everything and put it out there in a 3d organic manner. But, the Miyajima, while not as spacious as the Benz, excels in drive and sheer heft of musical impact. I'm glad I have both. If looking for mono, the Miyajima Premium Mono BE coupled with Cinemag 1131 is the bomb. And Robin Wyatt the distributor is A+++++++ in my book -- I speak from experience. He has gone above and beyond to make sure I'm taken care of both on cartridge and SUT. He is white glove treatment all the way. Order direct from him and you won't be disappointed.
I don't understand the need for a mono pickup. I play mono records with my LPS and am very pleased....many times it sounds better than their stereo versions...
My skepticism lies in the idea of purchasing a MC cartridge below a standard price point. I'm not skeptical of the Miyajima Premium Mono however but nevertheless am entertaining the idea of a slight upgrade within a MM mono cartridge until I'm capable of breaking the bank. Podeschi, would you mind giving me that distributers contact info and URL?
Jonathan, re: the Denon 102. This quote comes from an on-line information article -
"Basically, the DL-102 is a high output MONO moving coil cartridge which has incorporated both vertical compliance and a 0.7 mil radius stylus, making it compatible with stereo LP playback and is intended for playback of both Mono and Stereo Records."
I can't find a price on the Audio-Technica's AT33MONO
I agree some of my mono albums sound better than their stereo counterparts even when playing both with a stereo cartridge. That outcome surprised me. Reason alone to pick up some mono vinyl even one doesn't have a mono cartridge (eg my mono version of Ben Webster soulville kills the stereo version).
Robin Wyatt can be reached at 1 (855)-robayatt and the website that shows product he carries is robattauido.com. He has a step up transformer specially built for the Miyajima that's awesome and less expensive than cinemag 1131. I needed the ground lift feature of the cinemag or would have been just fine with robin's SUT. U can always run the Miyajima straight into phono preamp without an SUT just like any cartridge. I find the SUT brings more dramatic impact out of the mono vinyl. A fun reason to have 2 cartridges.
I found a price for the AT33 at $445.00. I'll admit that at this price it certainly is tempting.
Pryso, thank you for the clarification!
BTW, I see nothing problematic with Goofyfoot's interest in an Ortofon SPU Mono (first post).
kind regards, jonathan
Thanks for the info Podeschi and thank you Jonathan for the recapitulation concerning the Ortofon SPU mono. The only hesitation I have about the Ortofon SPU however, is how well it is or isn't suited for my Thorens tonearm. The Grado cartridges seem attractive for the price as well but either way, I can then relax and begin saving for the Lyra Titan Mono and a new tonearm!
For anyone in the Dallas area, the LSAF is this weekend and I'll have a shilabe and a premium Be mounted up for some fun stereo vs. mono comparisons in a zero pressure tequilla fueled cinco de mayo environment. (will be there on siete de mayo too)
Local folks should at least be aware that a bunch of audio geeks are getting together even if they aren't vinyl junkies.
anyone silly enough to make a last minute road trip should understand the rest of the system will be about tubes, nickel and tone which is a perfect environment to transport you back to a smokey room in 1956.
It's interesting to note that some but clearly not all MC cartridges emphasize using a step up transformer. I in ways view using the transformers as something necessary in the past however not so much with today's cartridges. Anyway, this is a consideration when deciding which mono cartridge might be the best; should I spend money on a cartridge and a transformer too?
Goofy, MC cartridges are typically classified as "High Output" (HO) or "Low Output" (LO). LO is loosely defined as something less than 1.0mV at 5cm/sec. (This is not written in stone.) Most of the mono MCs under discussion here have an output somewhere between 0.3 and 0.8mV. If your phono stage has enough gain for a stereo cartridge with such an output voltage, then it will also work with a mono cartridge of that ilk. You need to find out what is the gain afforded via your phono stage in order to decide whether you need a step-up transformer (SUT). If the use of a SUT can be avoided, so much the better for both your wallet and your results. On the other hand, some would say that the net result of using a SUT with a phono stage of modest gain capability is to be preferred vs using a hi-gain phono stage that may not otherwise sound as good. There is endless debate on this subject; I have no dog in that fight. You don't HAVE to use a SUT if you don't need it. This is basic stuff.
' it will also work with a mono cartridge of that ilk.' I think ilk being the operative word in your statement as not all cartridges are created equal, which is the point of this discussion or so I thought.
To clarify things a bit more and maybe I should have done this earlier but here are the specifications from the ASR Website;
￼The ASR Mini Basis Phono preamp has the following features :
The case is made from high-quality, lightly transparent acrylic glass
Highly efficient, shielded 72 VA PM (Philbert Mantelschnitt) transformer
High-quality magnetic sheet metal with a low magnetic field gives good dynamic
Ultra fast Schottky-Rectifier, buffer 200,000 uF with Philips switchmode Elkos
no difference between mono and stereo on whether to use a step transformer or not. Either you need the extra gain or not. If you have an MC input with enough gain then you don't "need" an SUT. The benefit of using an SUT is related to running low output cartridges into your MM inputs versus MC inputs that oftentimes aren't as well constructed/thought out/matched as an SUT into the MM inputs.
I have two mono MC cartridgesDenon DL102and Ortofon SPU monoand both have sufficient output for any normal MM phono stage. Of the two, I find the Ortofon has a naturalness that the Denon can't quite match, but the Denon is cheaper and satisfying in it's own right. And the Denon can be mounted on your Thorens arm, and the Ortofon cannot unless you decouple it from its headshell.
Dear Goofy, What you need to find out is what is the rated gain of the phono stage via the MC inputs. What you quoted is just advertising fluff. Somewhere somehow they must also report the gain capability. However, just based on the fact that it is an ASR, I think it is quite likely that you will have adequate gain if you plug your tonearm cables into the inputs labeled "MC" or "MC phono". That is, you probably do not need a SUT. The factors that determine the need for a SUT are (i) cartridge signal voltage output, and (2) phono stage gain. Period. If you have enough of (1) and (2), you don't need a SUT.
Not all cartridges are "created equal", but the requirements for amplifying their outputs are the same regardless of brand, stylus shape, or whether they are mono vs stereo types. The only cartridge parameter that matters in this case is the voltage output for a given stylus velocity. Most manufacturers state the voltage output for a velocity of 5 cm/sec, these days. See also my post above your last one.
Thanks Lewm, I didn't mean to sound snarky, Below is the best that I could copy and paste from the phono stage manual. By the way, there are no separate inputs for MM & MC, just the way it's put together. As a side note, I've always had a basic understanding that low output cartridges tended to sound better than high output cartridges. Yes, the idea here is to see whether or not my phono stage and tonearm are a good match for a particular cartridge.
3.0 Adjusting the ASR Mini-Basis
Before you do any adjustments inside the ASR Mini-Basis please disconnect the power cord from the AC outlet.
a) to adjust the ASR Mini-Basis, please remove the cover of the main unit. Please use a 3 mm allen wrench to loose the four screws
b) inside the main unit you find four DIP switches to adjust the ASR Mini-Basis
c) in input resistance can be adjusted at the 10 pole DIP switches
d) the gain can be adjusted at the 6 pole DIP switches
d) the DIP switches have two different settings: ON or OFF; be sure, that the switches are correctly set (when set correctly, you will hear a slight klick)
c) please set the DIP switches exactly the same for the right and the left channel
3.1 Adjusting the input resistance
The ASR Mini-Basis can be perfectly adjusted to bring out the best sound out of every cartridge you may ever use. Adjustment of the input resistance can be made from 47 kOhms for MM cartridges to 12 Ohms for low output MC cartridges.
We know from experience that if you are using an adjustment with a lower input resistance the ambiance is improved with limited dynamics, with a higher input resistance the overall performance is brighter and more dynamic, but definition and precision are limited.
You can easily find out the perfect setting for you: make an adjustment and listen to the system.
The adjustment you like best is the one you should choose!
￼3.2 U Adjusting the input capacity
The input capacity can be adjusted on DIP switch No. 10: position Off = 50pF, On = 150pF.
You can easily determine the value for your cartridge by using the cartridge manufacturers recommended value and subtract the capacity of the phono cable you are going to use
the result is the value you have to adjust in your ASR Mini Basis.
3.3 Adjusting the gain
The gain can easily be adjusted on the 6 fold DIP switches Gain Adjust. The switches can be combined to get higher gain. The minimal gain of +30 dB is obtained with all Dip switches in OFF, the Maximum gain of +72 dB is obtained by putting all DIP switches to ON.
To know the adjusted gain please add the following values to 30 dB :
switchNo.ON none 6 5 4 3 2 1 All1-6 Gain 0dB +6dB +12dB +18dB +24dB +30dB +36dB +42dB
Please set the DIP switches exactly the same for the right and the left channel (only exception from this rule: your cartridge has different output from the right and left channel).
Goofy, from Lew's information and your ASR gain adjustment quotes, it is obvious that you should not NEED a SUT. Basic phono gain for HOMC (see Lew's description) and MM/MI cartridges will be around 40 dB. Typical gain for LOMC will be around 60 dB. More sophisticated phono stages (such as yours) may offer other gain options below, between, and above those typical values.
Now the question of SUT is then a matter of choice. As Jcarr appropriately stated, choice is a personal matter and there is no absolute right or wrong. Many hobbyists prefer using a SUT for the necessary gain for their LOMC cartridges. Art Dudley, reviewer at Stereophile, is an advocate. But many others, such as Raul who posts on Audiogon based on extensive equipment experience, strongly prefers an electronic gain stage over a transformer.
So the choice is yours, no one here can say absolutely which you will prefer.
Thanks Pryso and point well taken. Of course subjectivity is limiting in the sense that I am unable to purchase 30 cartridges (excuse the hyperbole) audition them all out by comparison and then choose the one that I like best. I cannot even begin to tell you how many hours I had spent reading reviews and specifications before deciding on which amplifier and speakers to purchase. Maybe I'm guilty of trying to dodge grunt work by posting on this site but there is a wealth of information from various perspectives to be had here. In the long term, my intuition tells me to aim for one of the Lyra mono cartridges but I cannot live with this ME+ for that long. Some of the Grado wood bodied MI mono cartridges have gotten rave reviews for their price range and in this case, I would choose one of the low output cartridges (Output at 1KHz 5CM/sec. 0.5mV). But then there are other options, such as the Ortofon SPU MC mono for example. Now it seems as if my approach is to compare the advantages and disadvantages of MM, MI, MC etc... within a somewhat narrow window of affordability knowing that my plan is yet to upgrade once again at some later point in time.
The AT 33 ocassionaly shows up on J&R for $400; I use one myself. Both high gain phono stages and SUTs can work well; Bob's Devices SUT is quite reasonable and sounds very good. Which is better? I have no idea; my Basis Exclusive and Naim Superline are high gain MC only; I did try turning the Basis gain down all the way and using the SUT but this did not work well. On the other hand the SUT works well with MM phono stages. The Basis Exclusive offers up to 72 db of gain; even if the smaller Basis offers less it should work with almost any MC; Basis makes good phono stages.
I concur, I like my Mini Basis and what's it has done so far. ASR makes a nice amplifier also. I'll look at the Audio Technica 33 but it doesn't seem as though 2nd hand mono cartridges present themselves whenever I'm looking. I just take it for granted that they're somewhat of a rare breed to begin with. Being candid, I don't want to spend money on a SUT. I'd first take that money and put a tube circuit board in my MD 90 tuner.
Decouple the cartridge you say, yikes! I do have a friend who worked with a McIntosh dealer back in the day who has all kinds of weird stories concerning things like splitting head shells, attaching cartridges with soldered pot metal, running tonearm wire along the top of the tonearm, ... Anyway, things I have no knowledge or familiarity with.
The factors that determine the need for a SUT are (i) cartridge signal voltage output, and (2) phono stage gain. Period. If you have enough of (1) and (2), you don't need a SUT.
Lew, as I'm sure you realize but others may not, phono stage signal-to-noise ratio is also a factor. I doubt that would be an issue with the ASR Mini Basis Exclusive, but it very well could be with some phono stages. All gains of 60 db, for example, are not created equal, and different 60 db phono stages will produce differing amounts of background hiss. And a 60 db gain stage will sometimes be significantly more noisy than a 20 db SUT used with a 40 db gain stage.
Further complicating matters is the fact that s/n ratio specifications from different manufacturers often can't be compared directly, because they may be based on different reference levels and different frequency weightings, with those levels and weightings not even being indicated in many cases.
As I say, that is most likely not an issue for the OP, but the references to having adequate gain that are frequently seen in discussions of LOMC's strike me as only telling part of the story, and as being potentially misleading.
Yes, I guess S/N would have an effect on whether one would prefer to use the highest gain available from the phono stage or set it to lower gain and use a SUT. I am SUT-less myself, never owned one. My revised Atma-sphere MP1 phono has, if anything, more gain than I ever need for any cartridge. I am thinking of ways to reduce gain, in fact.
Anyway, Goofy, your quote:
"3.3 Adjusting the gain
The gain can easily be adjusted on the 6 fold DIP switches Gain Adjust. The switches can be combined to get higher gain. The minimal gain of +30 dB is obtained with all Dip switches in OFF, the Maximum gain of +72 dB is obtained by putting all DIP switches to ON."
72db is more than enough gain for anything you might choose. In fact you can probably cut back a bit from that max amount of gain, using the DIP switches.
Right dead on Lewm. It's even recommended by ASR engineer Herr Schaefer that one uses the least amount of gain possible in order to reduce noise which to me just seems like practical sense. For my ears, I want clarity, balance, neutrality but I don't want sound waves blaring and bouncing around in my flat. Currently with the Grado ME+, I have the gain set at +12 db which I thought would be too high but it was at that setting when the music came out from under its rock. There is nothing to gain (no pun intended) by increasing it. I'm that way with my QUAD 2905's as well, once I step up to that place then its fine.
I would be interested in Al's thoughts on this, but my subjective impression is that with an "excess" of gain and the attenuator therefore in action, background noise typically seems to be lower (and dynamics much better) than when the gain setting is closer to the "minimum" necessary such that the attenuator is essentially out of the picture (meaning one has to turn the volume control nearly all the way up for adequate SPLs). I am not saying that my attenuator or any attenuator enhances sound quality; I am saying that the sense of musical ease and background silence seems superior with an excess of gain, or maybe what I am describing could better be thought of as the "correct" amount of gain. There is a lack of strain and better S/N, subjectively. This is a subjective judgement, not based on actual measurements of S/N. I know there are a lot of purists who would like to build equipment with "just enough" gain so as to obviate even the need for an attenuator; I don't hear it that way.
I doubt that its possible to generalize in a meaningful way, as every design is different, and has its own set of tradeoffs.
One thing that would seem safe to say, though, is that the signal-to-noise ratio of the signals that are ultimately presented to the speakers, and hence the amount of background hiss that is heard, cant be any better than what it is at the front end of the signal path, which is to say the ratio of the output voltage of the cartridge to the noise that is present in the circuitry at the front end of the phono stage (aside from common mode noise that may be rejected if the phono stage is balanced). Noise that is present at that point will, along with signal, be amplified by every amplification stage that follows, and the signal level at that point will be lower than at every subsequent point in the chain.
A key factor with respect to your question, that I dont have a specific feel for, is how much variation there will tend to be in the S/N performance of an adjustable gain phono stage as its gain is adjusted. My guess is that in general if the gain setting is increased by X db, while remaining within reasonable bounds relative to the cartridge output, the S/N performance of the phono stage will degrade by considerably less than X db, and perhaps not at all in some cases. That would be consistent with your observations concerning background noise, because if the gain setting can be increased without significant S/N degradation at that point in the signal path, the lessened significance of noise generated by downstream circuit stages, between that point and the volume control (relative to the increased signal level at those points), might result in a net improvement in S/N. It would also lessen the impact of noise that may be picked up at the interface between the phono stage and the preamp, as a result of ground loop or RFI/EMI effects.
But of course it might be a completely different story if what is being compared are DIFFERENT phono stages, whose gains also differ by X db, but whose S/N performances are not similar.
As far as dynamics are concerned, a number of additional unpredictable variables may come into play. One of those is the distortion performance of the various circuit stages in the chain, and how that distortion performance is affected by signal level. You may have seen Ralph (Atmasphere) comment in the past, in a different context (that of SET amplifiers), that since the 5th, 7th, and 9th harmonics of a note's fundamental frequency are significant determinants of our perception of loudness, an increase in those distortion components that occurs primarily on high volume transients will result in a subjective perception of increased dynamics. Since line level and phono level stages almost always operate Class A, and consequently there is no crossover distortion that would assume greater significance as signal level decreases, it seems possible that the effect he described could occur in those stages, as a result of the increase in non-linearity that may occur at high signal levels. So in some cases an increase in perceived dynamics might be the result of low level odd harmonic distortion produced by the circuit stages preceding the volume control, when those stages are asked to handle higher level signals as a result of a gain increase further upstream.
Perhaps Jonathan or Ralph will comment further on your question, as Im sure they could speak to it more knowledgeably than I can.
I made my statement in terms of generalities, but your response serves to remind me that I am speaking from my very limited personal experience of comparing my MP1 (pre- and post-modification) to various other phono stages that I have actually had in my home. And perhaps there are some aural memories of the sound of other phono stages I have owned prior to the MP1 that also contribute to the formulation of my statement (which, being subjective, was not really a question, but I am glad you treated it as such). I dislike analogies because of their inevitable flaws, but one that rings reasonably true for me is how it feels to drive a Yugo at 30 mph vs how it feels to drive a Ferrari at 30 mph. The two are equally adequate for driving 30 mph, but with the Ferrari, if you need to change speed in a hurry, the reserves are there for you to hit 100 mph with no sense of effort. The Yugo will protest mightily if you try to take it up to 50 mph. The stressed low-gain phono stage will tend to sound thin and a bit more distorted when pushed to its limits, and noise inherent to its circuitry will be closer to the surface. That's the way I hear it. That's why I put a lot of thought into attenuators; the attenuator quality will become very critical in my way of thinking.
On second thought(s), I don't much care for my analogy. There are problems with it.
There is a book called 'Audio Reality' by Bruce Rozenbilt which was recommended. I just wanted to put that out there. Personally, I find that one of the biggest obstacles, at least now, is that a number of vinyl pressings, especially the older RCA Red Seal Records and those on London didn't transfer very well. I'm guessing that this is more of a challenge for some cartridges than it is for others?