Which part reduces surface noise most?

Hi all -

I have been lucky enough to hear a few turntable setups that put surface noise/cracks and pops "on another plane", which makes focusing on the music so much easier. These tables have included:

Well-Tempered w/ unk Audio Technica Cart and modified Dyna PAS 3 preamp
Linn LP12 with various Benz Micro cartridges and Audio Research phono stage
Kuzma Stabi with Cardas Heart (Modded Benz Ruby) cart /BAT phono stage

However, I've yet to recreate this phenomenon at my home. Granted, I've never spent the kind of money required to buy the 'tables listed above, but I'm wondering where the next upgrade step is for me.

I currently have a Techncis 1210 with Cardas wiring and the KAB fluid damper with an Ortofon 2m Blue cart playing through a NAD 304 integrated. The sound is pretty good, but the crackles and pops still really bother me.

In your experience, is it a function of the the stylus profile, the phono stage, low-output vs high-output, mc vs mm, or any combination of the aforementioned that will help me in my quest to separate the noise from the music?

Any input will be most appreciated, thanks!
An excellent record cleaner with good cleaning fluids (Audio Intelligent, MoFi, Disc Doctor)!
I suppose I forgot to mention that I am a Disc Doctor user. And while I'll agree that cleaning with good stuff -including vacuum machines -helps reduce noise, I haven't found that it does that magic "renders the noise insignificant" thing I'm talking about.

To further illustrate: listening to slightly noisy records on my current system, I "see" a sonic picture somewhat like noisy film - the action and scratches are both on the same plane. In contrast, when listening on the Well-Tempered table I mentioned, I felt like I was looking through a window at a live performance, and the little crackles were like smudges on the glass that I could easily see around.

That's what I'm aiming for. I hope I'm being clear :)
If you have a clean record and a good cartridge, the pops bad crackles aren't there. That's when you hear the other artifacts that need to be addressed, though. ;)

I really not sure if it's a war that can be won. As soon as you think you are there, you'll hear something that's better!
I have the same table with the same mods. I found a Benz Micro Ace cartridge
did what you're seeking, as far as separating the music from the surface noise.
Others who heard the rig made similar comments.

I presently have a Dynavector XX2 MK2 mounted, and while it is a better
cart...e.g. more balanced from top to bottom...I don't think it has the same
magic with surface noise as the Benz Micro Ace.
My experience has been that stylus profile is the biggest factor regarding surface noise. That said, records have surface noise for lots of different reasons. If a record is dirty, it's noisy with any stylus. If a record has been played with a damaged stylus, or played dirty even with a good one, the damage will be mostly where that stylus was contacting the groove, so playing the record with a stylus with a different contact profile can help. Overall, my Zyx Bloom with the line contact stylus is quietest on most records, but a few are quieter with the conical stylus of my Denon 103R. My Empire EDR.9 is in between; not sure of the stylus profile, hard to determine from the descriptions.

I also suspect that compliance has something to do with it, with higher compliance cartridges being a little quieter than low compliance carts.

Of course, since clicks and pops are high frequency phenomena, any part of your system which rolls off highs will lessen their impact.

For what it is worth, I've owned Rega 3 and 5, Nottingham Spacedec, Linn LP-12 AND KAB-modded Technics. While I love Kevin and the product itself, it is the least kind (of the bunch) when it comes to "snap, crackle and pop". I used Stanton and Shelter carts. I think the tonearm is the weak link on the Technics-Kevin does not agree.
I have had good results keeping surface noise to a min. with ZYX cart. ,first a R20 , then upgrading to an R100H
The tonearm/cartridge pairing.
I suppose I forgot to mention that I am a Disc Doctor user.

If you are using the DD solution, make sure to rinse extremely well (several times). Otherwise the DD solution tends to create more crackle & pops than it removes. This was always one reason why I don't quite like the DD solutions.

Otherwise I agree with the answers above: Different cartridges highlight noise more or less.
TVAD - which version of the ACE were you using?
TVAD - which version of the ACE were you using?
Joelv (Threads | Answers)

Medium output.
The consensus seems to be that the solution cartridge-related, and as I'm not totally happy with my current cart, I will experiment.

I'm curious about:
1) Audio Technica AT150MLX
2) LP Gear modified AT95SA
3) Shure M97E
4) Benz Micro ACE (any output versions better than others?)
5) Grado Prestige Gold
6) Used higher-end Benzes

I am very open to suggestion on this end. I wonder if I should just suck it up and save for something over $500.00?

Thanks for all of your help!
Dear Joelv: +++++ " In your experience, is it a function of the the stylus profile, the phono stage, low-output vs high-output, mc vs mm, or any combination of the aforementioned that will help me in my quest to separate the noise from the music? " +++++

you already receive very good advise about but let me explain a little different approach:

the right whole set up on an audio system ( and better hardware ) with analog source makes a paramount difference on the quality sound reproduction and as better is your music sound reproduction performance as lower are the noise from the music, not because the noise disappear no the noise is still there but with the better music sound performance on your system you enjoy so higher the music that you forgot/don't care any more about that evry day noise.

Regards and enjoy the music.
I would also do a direct comparison of your records played on the other decks you mentioned, it may give you some more specifics to work from.
In addition to the Benz Ace Medium, I owned the AT150MLX. The Benz is
quieter, IMO. The AT150MLX was slightly more three dimensional in its
presentation, but the top end was tizzy compared to the Benz, and the
surface noise was slightly more pronounced with the AT150MLX.

On the positive side, the AT150MLX better tracked the bias test bands of the
HiFi News Test LP (those used to set anti-skate). The AT cart got through
through the third track (which is excellent), whereas the Benz only made it
through the first track.

Still, I preferred the Benz.
Raul - The holistic approach to audio enjoyment is a great one.
I am definitely tightly focused on this one aspect, but as I can't afford to upgrade the amplification yet (NAIM or tubes), I choose to focus on the source.

Headsnappin - Your idea is a great one, but I am now located too far away from any of the aforementioned faves for that to be practical.

As Raul said, every part of the reproduction chain can help reduce surface noise and remove it to some other plane (perfect description - I know exactly what you mean by that). Some of the most significant factors include:

Record cleaning - Disc Doctor fluids leave much to be desired IME. You'll get a notable reduction in hard clicks and pops with an enzyme based system like AIVS or Walker Prelude. Highly recommend you make that switch.

Stylus profile (already noted by Tvad) - in addition to running quieter, a micro-ridge stylus massively reduces inner groove distortion and makes a big improvement in the clarity of high frequencies.

Arm/cart matching - as noted by Raul.

TT quality - particularly the platter. In this area there's nothing better IME than a well damped, high mass platter.

Phono stage quality - no one has mentioned this yet but it's the BIGGEST FACTOR OF ALL. The componentry in most entry level phono stages is easily driven into ringing, overload and distortion by transients with very fast rise times and large peak amplitudes (e.g., from the stylus whacking a chunk of dirt in the groove). Top class phono stages have higher quality components and more stable power supplies, which lets them reproduce the size and shape of the dirt accurately, with less of the exaggeration that makes such noises so noticeable.

It's a long, difficult and (unfortunately) sometimes expensive path to reach the kind of "distancing" of noise that you mentioned. And it's pretty much guaranteed that without a good quality phono stage you will never achieve that.

Doug, excellent points especially about the phono amp ;).

A small question aside: On the topic of fluid, which AIVS do you recommend? The Super Cleaner (with Alcohol) or the Archivist solution without alcohol? I just ordered some AIVS (both types) to try this out for myself and compare to DD and RRL.


Improper loading of the cartridge, MM in particular, will result in a high frequency resonance in the responce. Ultra-sonic noise can excite this resonance, causing ringing that will shift the noise lower in freq. to the audible portion of the spectrum.
Besides steam cleaning and a basic record hygeine routine, the single biggest improvement in music over surface noise came when I upgraded phono stages. I was not prepared for the improvement, in fact.

In my case, the upgrade was financially quite modest. I went from the built-in phono stage of a mid-'80s Amber Model 17 pre to a Cambridge 640p outboard phono stage. A whole buncha noise went away with that one change, along with more clarity, frequency extension, dynamics at both ends of the range, speed, and microdynamic subtleties. And all for a measly $169.

I also got incremental improvements in surface noise with an Oracle Groove Isolator mat (I'm sure any number of mats could help here) and using the rubber KAB Record Grip. That seems to knock a couple dB off the surface noise as well.
I really like the Record Doctor stuff, but early on I learned too I rinse and rinse and rinse the record afterward. I suppose we're all too liberal with the cleaning fluid..?

I have to admit that the $169.00 Cambridge phono stage has now piqued my interest. It's such a small price, cheaper than a new cart, hmmmm. Everything I've read about it so far is glowing.

Has anyone compared this to something more expensive? Is it really a giant killer?
Similar topic in a thread from June... I thought Ralph's answer particularly insightful.

tt surface noise reduce or tolerate

07-28-08: Joelv
I have to admit that the $169.00 Cambridge phono stage has now piqued my interest...

Has anyone compared this to something more expensive? Is it really a giant killer?
This review helped me decide to try the 640P. It was such an improvement over what I'd had that it kicked off upgrade fever. Next came a new cartridge, and then I tossed my sat/sub system for a 3x as expensive set of floorstanders that I am bi-amping. Now I'm shopping for a better line stage and amps.

*Based on what I've read,* at this point I suspect I'd have to go to the Dynavector 750 or Graham Slee Era Gold V to hear a significant improvement in phono stages.
Thanks Johnnyb53, I read that review too and I think that will be the next purchase, though I'm selling my cart and will need another one of those too :)

It's funny how upgrade-itis strikes, isn't it? I bought a Technics 'table, began upgrading, then before the fluid damper even arrived, I had new floorstanding Triangle speakers (that ROCK by the way!), new speaker cables, and a new old integrated (The NAD 304 that I always regretted selling back in '96). Here I am considering a new phono stage and cart already. This has been an expensive 2 months!

Tim - Thanks for the link to the earlier thread...topics really are cyclical in a forum. I wonder how to check if phono preamps utilize zero-feedback circuitry if the manufacturer specs are hard to come by? I'll go read a little on this.

Has anyone used the Benz-Micro L2? I wonder if that will get me close enough to the Ruby that I won't want to upgrade for a while.

We use all four AIVS solutions, but as you know we're fanatics. We did try using just three (Enzyme + Super Cleaner OR Archivist + Ultra Pure Water), but repeated experiments demonstrated that all four solutions provided an audible benefit (to our ears/in our system/blahblah).

We actually do two rinses with UPW, making five steps in all. Using our somewhat slow (but very effective) Loricraft, it takes about 15 minutes/side to clean our records. We surely wish there was a faster way, but we haven't found one that compares.

Paul also thinks there's a scientific argument. The enzymes are essential, nothing quiets a record or removes mold release chemistry better. The alchohol in the Super Cleaner denatures the enzymes. The surfactant in the Archivist helps displace the alchohol. The UPW removes the surfactants... FWIW.

Aren't you glad you asked?!
Tim,"that" was a superb point of info,and coming from Ralph,you just know it is valid.
Interesting development- I bought the LP Gear AT95HE, which is the AudioTechnica AT95 with a hypereliptical stylus. $75.00 from LPGear.

It is in a different league altogether from any cartridge I've owned with regard to noise. It is, above all, extremely clean sounding. So far, with about 10 minutes of break-in, it is a little dry, but surface noise is almost inaudible on the first two records I put on, and the pops and crackles are .... well, mostly irrelevant...finally!

It's a little bass shy compared to the Ortofon 2m Blue, but sounds like it might be more accurate and definitely faster. Sounds a bit like an MC to me.

I hope the bass warms up, but even if it doesn't, I'm closer to the "noise on another plane" than I thought I'd be with a $75 cart.

If I get some time, I'll post needle drops. This is fun!
I'm using the Benz L2...fantastic cartridge in my system. I can't say how it will do compared to a Ruby, because I have a policy: if I can't buy it, I don't audition it. I much prefer the L2 to the Glider that I once tried - the Glider had the same overall tone, but was missing a certain balance that the L2 has.

One thing I can say - when I bought my L2, it was on order by my dealer, and he lent me his M2 in the meantime. The surface noise was MUCH less noticeable on my phono stage at the time (it was a Musical Fidelity XLP) with the M2. When the L2 arrived, it prompted a phono stage upgrade.

While a low-output cartridge is more resolving of low-level details, don't get thrown off by the 3 Benz's being the same price: the low-output model will necessitate a more expensive phono stage to sound any better than the M2.

My advice would be...with the Cambridge phono, go with M2, whether it be an Ace, Glider or Wood. If you plan on going with the L2, budget at least $1K for a good high-gain phono stage.
My take is that the record cleaning machine has little to do with this. In order to get the clicks and pops on another plane, your system has to be capable of 3 dimensionality. That means, that your CD player and/or tuner has to exhibit 3 dimensionality as well. Next in importance is the cartridge/arm/setup. I agree with Raul that the sound at your ears is the sum total of everything.
Countingbackwards - Thanks for the valuable feedback re: L2 usage...I feared that once I went down the expensive lo-output MC road, I'd want to spend more on a phono stage.

Stringreen - You're so right. I noticed last night that the new cartridge is definitely more of holographic imager than the 2mBlue.

More listening revealed that the AT95HE has less overall resolution than the Ortofon, less bass, more of a veil over everything, yet better 3D imaging, better tracking, and way, way less surface noise.

Does anyone have experience with this or a similar cart? I wonder how long it will take to break in.

Also, if this cart hints of what the AT150ML can do, I can't wait to try that one!
I am going to conclude, then, that stylus profile plays the biggest (not the only) role.
Joelv, if you saw the earlier thread from June, although the stylus profile does a lot, any ticks and pops it picks up are going to be part of the signal. It is the interaction between the preamp and the cartridge that will 'put the noise in another plane'. An example of the interaction is ringing, wherein the cartridge is inadequately loaded by the preamp/cable system. Ringing will enhance ticks and pops.

Loading the cartridge will eliminate ringing (MMs are no different in this regard as compared to MC cartridges, although the loading values are usually a lot higher). Note that different MM cartridges will load differently with the same preamp, IOW the differences you have heard may have nothing to do with the stylus at all. You won't be able to tell that until you have loaded each cartridge correctly and then performed your auditions again.
One relatively inexpensive means to lowering surface noise is cartridge alignment. Many (or most) users of the MintLP arc tractor find that once alignment and overhang are optimized, surface noise becomes less prominent. Stringreen pointed this out after getting his arc tractor. I can't recommend it highly enough. Even at the new price, $110, it is a screaming good deal. You owe it to yourself to find out what your analog front end can really do. You will be amazed, I'll wager.