Why can't I hear 20 years of phono 'progress'??

How can this be??! A well-regarded 1980 Ortofon VMS20e MkII $150 mm cartridge in an ambivalently-regarded 1980 Thorens TD115 $430 turntable sounds identical to a highly-regarded 2002 Grado The Reference (high-output) $1200 cartridge in an equally-highly-regarded 2002 modded Rega Planar 25 $1275 turntable. Before you dismiss me as another naïve wacko, please read a little further.

I’ve been building a whole new system over the past year and a half, made critical auditions of dozens of components, and been quite satisfied with my 45yo ears and results. You can click on my system below for an OTT description, but with everything else in place, I’m listening to the carts through a fine BelCanto Phono1 -> AQ Emerald -> retubed Sonic Frontiers Line1 -> AQ Viper -> Steve McCormack-upgraded DNA0.5 -> AQ Bedrock -> Thiel 2.3 -> great room acoustics, or Headroom Max -> Stefan AudioArt Equinox -> Sennheiser HD600.

I’ve had the Rega-Grado paired for over two months, both items bought separately from A’gon. Cart has several hundred hours, P25 I installed the Expressimo counterweight, donut mat, snugged tonearm nut to plinth and set the speed to 33-1/3 with tape on the subplatter. FWIW, the Thorens has an upgraded mat and cables, record clamp and 10lbs of inert clay in the base, and new belts and styli over the years. The cartridges set up and align perfectly in both units, confirmed with test records. I know the 115/vms20 to be very synergistic, and, hum aside, had always thought the rb600/grado worked well together.

We’ve been just loving the sound of the Rega-Grado for those two months, so before I put the Thorens into storage I just wanted to remind myself what I had been listening to for 23 years.

That was a couple weeks and way too many hours of clinical listening ago. Despite swapping equipment stands, matching levels, and playing every type and quality of vinyl, I’ve never heard two pieces of equipment sound so identical, this after choosing between DACs, CD transports, digital and analog interconnects, vacuum tubes, headphone amps, preamps, etc.

Both the overall sit-back-and-relax musicality and every audiophile definition from general frequency balance and PRaT to bass articulation and depth retrieval are the same(!) The most I can say now is that on the best recordings with the most focused and careful listening, the P25 has more inner detail on vocals, more articulation on complex cymbal brushwork, and smoother massed strings. But most of the time I had to confirm this (barely) with headphones, it was below the resolution of the Thiels that have unraveled every other upstream difference before!

I’m sure a true Golden Ears with a $100K system could be more conclusive. The Thorens' semi-auto operation, sprung dustcover, detachable tonearm wands, replaceable styli, front-panel cueing, electronic speed control are all huge real-world advantages over the Rega-Grado hum, $800 retip and fully-manual operation. So what gives?? Have I done something blatantly wrong with the Rega? How can a 23yo $580 rig equal 5yo designs adding up to $2600? I always knew my 115/vms20 combo sounded good, but never expected this – I’d sell the P25/reference at a loss but for nobody believing that my archaic TT is even in the same sonic league! Plus the newer record player gives more 'street cred' to the whole system(?) All enlightened suggestions, useful comments and curious questions welcome. I've come to trust many of you and your inputs over the months, so don't be shy! No, I won’t be selling my Thorens at bluebook :-)
I do not have an answer as to why YOU cannot hear a difference ;^)
I noticed immediately when I put in an Ortofon SuperOM20 cart vs the POS that came in the used Denon 35F I have. WOW! what an upgrade.
I don't really know what is up with your system??? True the Rega does give you rig a better mystique... Personally I WOULD sell that Rega TT... I'll buy it for $300. just to get it out of your hair...
Well, depending on how you look @ it, this does speak favorably of the Rega 25. LOL!
I don't doubt your experience in the least. As far as Rega vinyl related products go, in my eyes / ears, they are way over-rated. I don't doubt that the Thorens can keep up with the "new & improved" Rega.

As far as the basic Ortofon vs Grado "sound" goes, i think that the Ortofon's tend to sound more open and spacious with the Grado's coming across as generally warmer with increased PRAT. Which one you like better may have to do with the rest of your system and tonal balance. One thing that you might notice is that the Grado will probably be a little more forgiving of surface noise.

I would only add that playing with cartridge loading ( taking into account the electrical characteristics of the tonearm cabling / interconnects used ) may help to spread out the differences to a more noticeable extent. As to whether the differences are really there may remain to be seen, but you'll only know if you experiment.

I'm not familiar with either the quality or versatility of the Bel Canto phono stage, but that may also be part of what you are dealing with. Hopefully, someone that is familiar with the Bel Canto and other phono stages can help you out in this area. Sean
Analogue playback now became rather precious than affordable.
You should now multiply by 10 everything prouced 20 years ago in that direction.
Before jumping to any hasty conclusions, make sure you minutely set the precise interface angle twixt the frammistat and the jammostan :^)

Actually, as the satisfied owner/operator of a 30-plus year old Dual 1219, your comparative results are music to my ears. Btw, I never met an Ortofon I didn't like.
A Thorens is a pretty good table, and has alot going for it. It will sound a little different than the Rega 25, but probably near the same level. So you have 2 tables that really aren't all that far apart. I think the Rega has a better arm. What you probably are hearing most, is the difference between the cartridges.

Also remember that 20 years ago, the money was worth alot more than it is today, and a $580 rig would cost alot more than that today. Add in the fact that vinyl was still the top media then, and alot of turntables were being sold, so you got more for your money, due to the high volume of production keeping the costs down for the manufacturer. Since the CD took over, turntables are a low production item now, and makers can't enjoy the economies of scale in production, and that translates to higher price on the individual item because of lower sales volume. I'd say a $580 rig 20 years ago might cost about $2k right now, if you consider all the factors involved. Even if you look at car prices, a new car in 1980 might have cost $10k, and now cars are around $30k. And cars haven't suffered from a reduced market share.

So, to answer your questions, there may not be an awful lot of difference between those rigs, and that may be why you don't hear much difference.

Others' opinions may vary, but I think that has alot to do with your situation. I don't think that the Rega was sufficiently enough of an upgrade over the Thorens.
Maybe because there has not been any progress in matters of turntables in the last twenty years?

Expectations is what this is all about. To be a true audiophile you have to believe that the slightest change will produce HUGE differences. I think that your observations are as valid as that of those who proclaim a new level of audio Nirvana at every turn.

If enjoyment of music is the true goal, thank your lucky star and buy more records. If you are smitten by the audio thing, you will get numerous suggestions as to why you should be unsatisfied and what you should buy to get a proper fix.

To quote the Stones: "Love is just a shot away, it's just a kiss away".
What makes you think there have been any great advances in analog gear in the last 20 years? It's a dead technology, kept alive at hugely inefficient cost to serve a small corps of avid fans. Anybody with any engineering ability is working on something else.
Twl said it all. My experience: old rigs can still sound great. My Audiomeca J1 which has at least fifteen years of age (I don't know precisely because I bought it used ten years ago) with a Benz Glider (not fifteen years old ;) still sounds phantastic through a very revealing system.
Twl was right. I bought a Micro Seiki MA-505S (S for all silver wires) tone arm in the 70's for less than $100. It was second from the top of the line from Micro Seiki at that time and I bet it would still better any arm under $1000 today. If there is nothing mechanically wrong with your Thorens, why not keep it and invest the money in other areas.
Or become a DJ. Two 'tables is all you need :)
Tom's answer covered most of the bases, as usual.

Start by normalizing the cost of the old rig for twenty-three years of inflation. Let's assume a 4% annual average. $580 x 1.04^23 = about $1,430 in current dollars.

Then throw in another 50% for the economies of scale available in 1980 that don't exist today, as Twl explained. I think that's conservative, their volume has certainly declined by vastly more than that, but we'll go with it. $1,430 x 1.5 = $2,145.

So we're comparing a $2,145 Thorens/Ortofon rig with a $2,475 Rega/Grado rig. One wouldn't expect either of two so closely priced setups to stomp the other. Twl said, "I don't think that the Rega was sufficiently enough of an upgrade over the Thorens." These figures bear him out.

Now you have to decide, do you want better sound or just a better looking system list?!
Sdecker's a *prime* candidate for a fully modded 1200...
Analog didn't really need any advances to beat digital for the last 20 years, and likely will be doing it after the next 20. Hardly dead. The digital world is the one of the eternal promise. "We'll get it right next year, we really will, but if we don't, it'll be the year after that." We've been hearing that same old crap for 20 years, and it still hasn't panned out. Keep on believing the lie. There's only about 2 or 3 of you left on this site. Somebody has to keep the lie going. Looks like you're self-appointed.
Not to start a fuss or anything, but there have been significant advances in at least some areas of analog playback in the last 20-25 years. Cartridges especially.

Come over to my house and listen to my 25 year old TT/arm with a 20 year old MM cartridge. All three were pretty good pieces when new. To be fair, let's install a brand new replacement stylus and let it break in. Sounds pretty decent you say, and I'd agree with you.

Now I'll swap in my new Shelter MC cartridge. Let's make things tough for the new kid. The stepup trannies haven't arrived yet, so the Shelter is seeing improper loading; and of course my phono stage doesn't really have enough gain. Even with these two arms tied behind its back, the Shelter will blow you away and stomp any old (or new) MM cartridge into the dirt. We are talking night and day, Helen Keller's toes would be tappin' differences.

To say there's been no progress in analog reproduction is simply untrue, and to denigrate those who've achieved it by saying they lack engineering ability is both untrue and unkind. It's all about the music. Whatever you like, you like. If you don't like what someone else does, all you have to do is not listen to it.

Now Tom, be fair. Digital MIGHT get it right. Why any day now musical instruments and human voices could start emitting sine waves made up of tiny, squared-off bits. If we all start talking like Arnold in 'The Terminator', digital sound reproduction will be ideal! ;)
TWL, your quick count is wrong. Are you serious when you think that people posting on this site are representative of audiophiles? Regarding the analog tt, you sort of remind me of the Monty Python skit with the parrot as dead as a doornail at the bottom of the cage and the fellow trying to convince the other guy by saying: "this parrot is not dead, it's only sleeping". To you it seems to be a religion, to the rest of the folks it's only a damn record player. Don't get your knickers in a twist. Best regards. One of the three.
After reading the above posts this may sound silly. Remove the "donut" mat from the Rega and use a felt one or whatever it came with. If the donut mat is the "none felt" from extremephono.com it is a stinky dog. You will lose dynamics, soundstage (shrinks) and life in the music. Also, the Grado is lightweight sounding and lacks dynamics. Try mounting the Ortofon on the Rega and then listen. If this does not produce a difference then Tom was right.
I second Ultrakaz. Clearly the best post to this thread. Please report your findings.
I'm relatively new here so I have to ask: why are people who's "knickers get in a twist" whenever they hear the word 'analog' trolling in the ANALOG forum? There's a digital forum, but you won't find TWL or me trolling over there. This behavior is neither helpful nor friendly, and does nothing to further this generally fine community.

The thread starter asked for help with his analog playback system. If you have something to offer him, please do so.
Doug sez:
"If you have something to offer him, please do so."

But, he don't, so he won't. The fact that your are relatively new here, Doug, explains why you are not yet able to consistently ignore these posts (hard for me, too). Just comfort yourself with the knowledge that there is no bliss in ignorance.
Its because your ears peaked 20 years ago, and they degrade year after year.

Its sad, but FORTUNATLY, they have made better audio gear, and it keeps up with your hearing loss in a very close matched fasion! :)

Just kidding! :) :) :)

slappity slap!
I do not see any major improvements in analog over the past twenty years. Not in TTs and not in cartridges that are geared for the MAJORITY of audiophiles. Perhaps the Shelters offer something different, as the Japanese love to tinker around, but if you look at the bunch: Audio Technica OC9, Ortofon X5, Dynavector 10X4, Denon 103, Shure V15 V, Stanton 881S--they've been around for 20+ years!
Francisco, you're correct, the classics are still going strong. But I think there have been advances made, including the air-bearing systems which can be finicky and expensive, but can be exquisitely good when done right. I think this is evident when the Linn and Oracle, which were once near the top of the heap, are now in the middle of the pack. The industry has gotten smaller, but some real improvements are being made.

BTW, the Shelter seems new, but the roots are in the old classic Fidelity Research cartridges from the early 80s. The head of Shelter was a cartridge designer for FR back then, and now has his own company, Shelter. The good old guys are still kicking!

I even see a trend where some really good turntables are now available for a reasonable price again. There is a push for good units in the sub-$1k price range, and it is starting to happen. I think this will be good for everybody, and of course, your classic SL1200 has been available for under $1k all along.

This is like an analog renaissance happening now, and I think that's great.
Right on Tom!
The advent and use of laser technology and the ability to incorporate such precision may be the final frontier in terms of building precision phono cartridges. Being able to trim "pieces of the puzzle" to within milli-micrometers and micro-grams and do so on a repeatable basis would surely result in both a better and more consistent product. Now if someone would take it upon themselves to build such a cartridge using the finest of parts and design technology.... : ) Sean
Lugnut is on target when he says Ultrakaz got it right. Having read your question, I don't at all doubt your ability to fairly and squarely evaluate the situation, but the next step is to isolate all the independent variables. Despite the fact that it is possible that your old rig is as *good* as your new one, I find it more surprising that they would sound the *same*, as they are clearly so different physically. Seems like some sort of complementary synergy could be producing a sonic similarity by pure chance. Also I'm guessing that Sean is correct when he suggests optimal loading for the carts could reveal more. But if you never find a substantive difference, I wouldn't hesitate for a moment to unload the more costly new rig and just continue enjoying your old one, 'audiophile cred' be damned.

P.S. - Although I may be atypical around here, in that my main reason for being such an analog-heavy audiophile has a lot more to do with software (records!) than it does with sound (the music is the thing, and I can be perfectly happy with a decent CD as I can with a decent record - and by a long shot not all of either are - as long as it affords me access to music I value), I am not put off too much by Pbb's usual comments. True, he is utterly predictable, but so are some of the guys on the 'other side'. I never mind being asked to defend myself in these forums, so long as the challenge is sincere and open to fresh input. There's a lot about the straight-up vinyl listening experience that's quite compromised compared to digital (noise, shorter program length/interuptions, no random/remote/programable track access) in an objective sense. I happen to be subjectively fond of a lot about vinyl that's tangential to sound and listening issues, although for me all audiophile concerns are tangential (and subordinate) to my ability to get the music I want in any form. Yes, Pbb's comments are often more needling than they are constructive or instructive, but I've seen plenty of such comments inserted on the digital side by 'analog guys', Doug's claims to the contrary notwithstanding. For me, such manufactured disputes are always beside the point, which is the music baby. :-)
Mr. Zaikesman, your contention that the issue with these two analogue front-ends sounding the same to the original poster being put to the test by suggesting "the next step is to isolate all the independent variables" is entirely laudable. I simply wish that all evaluation of audio gear be done in that fashion. As I see it all, repeat all, of the so-called reviews of equipment that I lay eyes upon, be they from pros at TAS or Stereophile or enthusiasts on sites such as these, never, repeat never, abide by that credo. I could cite very many examples but have no wish to bore you. You call my various interventions "predictable". I will simply say in my defence that they are consistent, quite cogent, reasonable and well informed. Polite, is another story. Needling, I take as a compliment. I keep reading that no one has any business posting opinions in favour of digital in an analogue forum. Unlike AA, I have never seen that Audiogon is actually presented as a folder with numerous tabs. Yes, if one is to start a thread, one chooses such a "tab", but thereafter, and correct me if I am wrong, everything is presented in a seamless way. If one were to read all the various blurbs I have posted, the reasonable conclusion would be that I am not against anything in particular, save and except what I consider to be folly. Insofar as the venerable vinyl LP is concerned, my only true objection is the pronouncement of people proclaiming it to be superior in every way to the other way of doing things, more often than not by the use of misinformation and the most specious of arguments. TWL's argument about inflation is one such specious argument. To take what is a general measure of inflation and to apply it to audio equipment is disingenuous. The prices of staples (food, lodging, clothing, etc.) have increased way more than the cost of manufactured goods such as television receivers, VCRs, washing machines etc. No, the argument presented (and that is not limited to turntables/arms/cartridges) by true-blue audiophiles in response to someone honestly saying that he/she hears no significant difference is invariably that the component(s) being evaluated are not up to snuff and that something higher up in the good, better, best continuum should be auditioned and purchased. If by saying that when someone reaches a point of satisfaction with the equipment, the purchase of software should be given primary status bothers you and it is not considered as the best and most constructive advice someone can give, than your statement that it is all about music rings a bit hollow. For sake of argument, even admitting that TWL's pronouncement on there being only two or three left not adhering to the "Analogue is King" mantra on this site is correct, it only shows how discussion is not the order of the day here. A closed shop is what is aimed for. Like I have often repeated: you eat what you want, I'll eat what I want. Good day.
Psychicanimal...I agree that all of those cartridges mentioned are still around, but I would ask you, or rather the maufacturers, how these cartridges sound compared to the equivalent-named models of years ago. Also, for some of them, those cartridges years ago may have been near the top of there line and are now middle-of-the-pack. I was talking to someone at Grado a few months ago, and they told me they have made many advances since 1980's that allow for much more retrieval of detail and resolution
Tom's and the others' analysis of the relative cost issue was in direct response to a part of the question. Although I must regrettably agree that many things analog are today priced rather exhorbitantly for what they are, this same criticism can be fairly levelled, as you know, at all areas of the high end, and is simply the result of the luxury market process, the playing field of which we are free to pick and choose from (or not) as will and necessity dictate. My only problem with the cost/inflation scenario depicted above is not that it is "disingenuous", but that to a neophyte casual reader, it would be possible to construe from it that higher price is inextricably tied to higher performance. However, knowing Tom's philosophy a bit better than that, I am sure that was an unintentional impression, which is beside the point to his main argument, one that could just as easily be interpreted conservatively as advocating sticking with the older, cheaper solution and, as you suggest, putting the difference back into new software.

What I do perceive as "disingenuous" is your contention that Tom's analysis is somehow offered as a "specious" example of "...proclaiming it [analog] to be superior in every way to the other way of doing things [digital]...". I honestly don't see how you can get here from there, and such a hyperbolic non-sequitor tends to shade your overall critique with the very same "speciousness" you say you deplore. You are correct, however, in pointing out that within the larger audiophile galaxy (not to mention the non-audiophile real world), digital is still king, and it was not necessary or true to paint you as one of the last remnants of a failed revolution. But, as a poke at yourself, the observation was well within the spirit that you entered into the discussion with, so please don't get sanctimonious about it.

As I said, I generally welcome your contrarian/realist perspective in any discussion based on principle, if not always substance, and whether I fully agree or not. Still, it would go a long way for your own credibility if you would acknowledge for the sake of completeness that technically, analog is in important ways the more information-rich medium, and that there are perfectly rational reasons why an audiophile - and a music-lover - would continue to pursue the format even in this new century. And I also advise lightening up a bit - your 'side' is in absolutely no danger of the losing the 'war', so over-defensiveness looks unbecoming. Besides, no one wins an argument by contending that others should not receive the pleasure that they do because it is irrational (whether that were true or not), and in our hobby as any other, receiving pleasure is at the end of the day the only justification possible (the same could be said of posting on Audiogon too, so all of our motivations are quite naked if you think about it...).
Pbb said, "Unlike AA, I have never seen that Audiogon is actually presented as a folder with numerous tabs. Yes, if one is to start a thread, one chooses such a "tab", but thereafter, and correct me if I am wrong, everything is presented in a seamless way."

Since you are quite mistaken, and requested a correction if so, here it is:

1. Go to the Audiogon home page

2. In the right hand column under "Learn", click on "Discussion Forums"

Your screen will display a list of tabs, among which are "Digital", "Analog" and a variety of others. This thread, obviously, is under the analog tab. This path is the easiest way to quickly find current discussions that interest me. When I was shopping for a CDP I kept an eye on all the digital threads. When I was shopping for a turntable... you get the idea.

Visitors to A'gon who are looking for knowledge in a particular area of audio will find it most easily by navigating in this way. For them to click on "Digital" and read diatribes about the superiority of analog would be just as annoying as the reverse. That's why your post and Bomarc's were out-of-bounds.

As Zaikesman said, your contrarian approach can help the rest of us keep our heads on straight. For that I too commend you. But you reach too far, and so risk losing your grasp on anyone.
Doug, I never do it that way. I usually look up new threads in "New Today" or "Recent Discourse". To see what people have responded to my banter and very occasional rants, I go to "My Threads". BTW, I still don't think that Audiogon is set up with titled forums to squelch discussion. Audio is now a minefield or a swamp or a series of gated communities, take your pick. It's a pity. I still plan on installing some kind of acoustically transparent but opaque curtain between my listening position and my equipment, so convinced am I that the mere fact that when one sees the stuff it colours one's judgment of the quality of sound reproduction. Maybe I will pay someone to stealthily change the equipment now and again, for progressively cheaper items to see how low I can go! You probably heard the story about the audiophile being tremendously impressed by a system playing in someone's room thinking it was powered by one of the sacred cows only to find that the power amp hidden in a cabinet was a Quad 405. Well, anticipation works that way. Within wide enough limits, if you think you can hear it, you will whether or not it's there. If the original poster is satisfied with his observation, why can't it be taken at face value? Kudos to Sean for proposing that notion. The most important link in the audio chain is probably one's imagination. Which does not mean it all sounds the same, but that's another story.
Pbb: I try to call it as i see it. As such, sometimes i might be someone's friend and sometimes i might be someone's enemy. Either way, thanks for the kind words : )

As a side note and something that i find kind of a "funny coincidence" given what you said and how it pertained to my comments, i'm running two Quad 405's in my bedroom system : ) Sean
Wow, I sure sparked some good discourse. Thank you all for your varied inputs. Some clarifications and comments:

> My intent of listing the 1980 msrp of my TT/cart was only to underscore these were not high-end-priced components of the day, purely mid-fi. I was only vaguely aware of the emerging Dynavectors and Linns, and certainly didn't have the college budget to consider them.

> Twl and Dougdeacon are right to add inflation and lower volumes, such that my '80 rig may be the equivalent price-point to the P25/Grado today. Twl suggests a $10K '80 car might be $30K today, but the new car is superior in every way. And that was much of my question, I'd have expected 20yrs of hifi tech to make for a superior-sounding unit, even at the same price-point.

> I never suggested the P25/Grado are the pinnacle of record playing, just that they are both so universally well-regarded at that price-point that I could expect them to define the entryway into current high-end vinyl playback. Perhaps I'd get the improvements I sought by spending just a bit more on say a Scout and Shelter 901, perhaps I gotta spend $5K+. Pbb is right that my expectations were formed primarily by the audiophile press raving about these two items being so close to the best at a more-reasonable price: having not seriously auditioned record players - hard to do as you know - I had to take such universal acclaim as having some truth to it. But they're so often driven for insecure audiophiles to buy buy buy...

> Zaikesman hit the crux of my post on the head. I'm impressed that the '80 Thorens/Ortofon (T/O) sounds as *good* as the Rega/Grado (R/G), but amazed that they sound essentially the *same*. Beyond being a generation or more apart, they address playback so differently: the T/O with a heavy, dead, suspended base, DC motor, very light carbon-composite tonearm, and light, highly-compliant mm-derived cart with a mundane cantilever and stylus. The R/G has a rigid composite plinth, AC motor, heavier, deader tonearm, and a moving-iron cart with highly-developed cantilever and stylus. All transducers (speakers, carts, headphones, mics) depend on mechanical designs and tolerancing, so there's always a much bigger sonic difference than between similar electronics.

> Many of the responses could be distilled into "how much has hardware really improved in the last 20 years?" Certainly speakers, all amp types, obviously digital. But even though vinyl playback has become 'precious' (marakanetz), in all areas we've seen even one person's ideas significantly influence and evolve whole areas of this industry. As sean and pbowne suggest, there *are* new and better ideas and manufacturing approaches that should result in better playback. I'm sure a current $10K record player stomps all over the best available 20 years ago.

> My $1200 BelCanto Phono1 is in a well-populated sector of phono preamps, yet I've never so much as seen it mentioned by others or the press, much less reviewed. I may be the only person who owns one. It has 40/54/60dB gain. The Grado Reference is a high-output (4.5mV) mm cart, so expects to see only 47K loading and a fixed capacitance. The BC offers just that on its 40dB setting, though offers a lot of loading options for MCs. We recently did an extensive comparison with a Pass Labs Ono. The Ono made more space and air and delicacy, the BC had more bass weight and slam. The Ono was clearly superior, but it did show that the BC was musical, uncongested, and committed no sins.

> Bomarc makes a provocative point that I'd agree with in part. Certainly in the electronics industry as a whole, the best and brightest move to where the volumes and latest technology are. But the advances in material science, resonance control, manufacturing efficiencies and tolerancing, metallurgy etc trickle down to the bottom-feeders. One regular guy with a lathe came up with the 'expressimo' offset counterweight, which most mfgs are now integrating into their tonearms. It gave me solid sonic improvements across the board when I installed it on the Rega. If the P25 sounded as much better over the Thorens as it did with the OE vs offset counterweight, I would never have made this post, and retired the Thorens. Now, how to get an offset counterweight for the Thorens??

> Ultrakaz and lugnut, I did go back and relisten to the OE felt mat. The differences remained subtle to me as they did when I got the donut mat. The felt mat sounded smoother, the donut mat had better microdynamics. Small changes, and not nearly enough to alter the attributes of these two rigs. I had the Grado in the Thorens for 6 months, and it sounded OK, though I did no A/B with the Ortofon despite having a 2nd dedicated tonearm wand with it already mounted. I had to compromise the Thorens tonearm to achieve the greater effective mass req'd by the Grado, and not the best mounting setup for the wood-bodied cart. I bought the P25 as I thought the Thorens was preventing the Grado from sounding as good as it could. And it did sound somewhat better in the P25, then confirming my belief I was hearing years of TT evolution. But what started this thread was my putting the original T/O against the modded R/G. As mentioned, cart alignment was ideal in both cases. I don't have the energy (this month) to put the Ortofon in the Rega...

> Last night I had a very-keen-eared non-audiophile come over with fresh ears, his own music, and no equipment preconceptions. With matched levels and rpms it was immediately clear to him, and later to me, that the T/O walked all over the R/G. More percussive and natural dynamics everywhere, greater bass slam, weight and articulation, somewhat better detail retrieval, more immediacy, presence and 'rawness'. The R/G was dynamically muted, more polite and subdued, with a slightly-more-refined top end. Not as night and day as I make it sound, but more noticeable with another pair of ears. Ideally mix the T/O dynamics with the R/G refinement, but overall the T/O is clearly the more musically engaging when out of audiophile mode. Pbb, sean and slappy are right that my expectations may have biased my ears: my original post would have been less about the identical sound and more about the T/O superiority, even more counter-intuitive to me.

> I'm heartened nobody pointed out my doing something very wrong with the Rega, my system, my observations or my excessive wordiness. Though I spent far less time summarizing all this here than the listening that led up to this!

> So my bottom-line is now clear. Sell the entire P25/GradoReference/mats/counterweights back through audiogon as a ready-to-play turnkey record player, hopefully to someone who doesn't peruse these forums:-) Sorry Elizabeth, much more than $300. Down the road, see what I have to spend to get the vinyl upgrade I expected, though my stated system goals did not include chasing the ultimate reproduction, just balanced agreeable musicality, and it appears I had that all along! Plus I get to keep semi-auto operation and all the conveniences I was beginning to miss with the Rega...

> Again, thanks to all who posted, I'll be filing a hardcopy of this thread next to the Thorens for all those who ask why I have such an old POS TT in an otherwise modern highish-end system!
The simple answer, I think, lies in the manner in which either package, as a whole, is able to assist in the control of unwanted vibrations and resonances.

Beyond the package itself (Thorens/Ortofon v Rega/Grado), one must take into account the actual environment in which the package is deployed. Acoustical/airborn/structural vibrations can wreak havoc on even the most expensive analog front-ends. Some effect the suspension, others the cartridge and arm interface, and so on.

Whether a function of the "package" - in this case the T/O or R/G - or the environment, vibrations and resonances all add or subtract colorations. Hell, you probably already know all this, but for the sake of anybody fairly new to all this, well I thought it was worth pointing out.

BTW, when I first read your initial post, I was surprised the Thorens did not sound BETTER than the Rega, which inherently requires a great deal better form of isolation than your Thorens does.

Your particular Thorens benefits from design features that appear in the top of the line tables from Thorens (an isloated suspension, for one), while the Rega...well, it's just a Rega, the alternative table from the 1980's for those who did not want to fuss around with suspensions like those found on most Thorens or any of the AR's, including the (1984) $300 AR Turntable which, once set up and in the right environment, really does outclass the Rega in measured performance. Too bad the motor and bearing on the AR tables were not of a better class (thankfully Merril et al came to the rescue with aftermarket mods that both made perfect sense and worked!).

Removing the fairly decent arm from the Rega, be it the RB250/300/600 or 900, and mounting it on the Stock AR ES-1 or EB-101 proved this point. The infantile but nevertheless shocking dealer demo in those days consisted of taking a very heavy rubber mallet to the base of the AR as it played...a clear method if there ever was one of showing how well the platter and arm were isolated from the base!

Good Vibrations All Around,


Thanks for prompting an interesting thread, and happy listening :-)
Well folks, I am in the same boat. I have a Linn LP12 and and vintage Teac tn400. The Linn has an Ittok arm with a Sumiko Blue point special and the Teac has a Stax with a Supex 900. They sound different but they don't sound twenty years worth of different. In fact they sound surprisingly similiar with the warmth going to the Supex and the air going to the Blue Point.

I also use to own said same Ortofon and I made a lot of recordings wih it on my Teac half track. The phonos sound better than the halftrack copies but of course they are not only generation down in the recording chain but they were also made on very differnt electronics.
I use an old and "rejected by audiophiles" Sony PS X800 direct drive linear biotracing turntable/arm. I find it to be flawless. The Shure V15MR pickup (also a vintage design)is not quite as nice as the Ortofon MC that I once had, but the replaceable stylus is a big convenience.

The following are the problems that I encounter with LP's, in order of importance.
1. Halfway through the LP the sound often deteriorates, and I must get up and clean fuzz off the stylus. (The integral brush of the Shure V15 pickup helps, but isn't perfect).
2. Low frequency rumble that is in the record groove, not added by my turntable. This I know because a few LPs are OK. (I have an elaborate subwoofer system, really measurably flat to 20 Hz).
3. Surface noise. Cleaning helps, but if you think it completely solves the problem you are kidding yourself.

None of these problems are the fault of my record player, and could not be corrected by newer and more expensive equipment.

DBX-processed LPs, which enjoyed a brief existence just before CDs arrived on the scene, completely solved #2 and #3, and also enhanced pickup performance by limiting the dynamic range of groove modulation. You vinyl enthusiasts really missed the boat when you let that technology die.

If you need to pause and clean your stylus half way through a record then you need to alter your vinyl hygene habits. Also, even without a subwoofer the rumble you refer to would be visible as any speaker/amplifier would attempt to recreate it unless there is a rumble filter. That's not my experience, ever. Surface noise is real but enhanced by many cartridges. I bailed from the Shure V15 in the 70's because of this very issue. After auditioning several MC cartrdiges I found surface noise on generic recordings to nearly disappear. With the best audiophile pressings the noise was, in practical terms, non-existant.

I will never insult anyone's equipment. We've got what we've got and all that really counts is the enjoyment of music. I do take issue with your statement though that "none of these problems are the fault of my record player, and could not be corrected by newer and more expensive equipment". There are vintage turntables that dealt with these and other issues long ago. One of the vintage tables, and the one I have owned since the 70's, is the Linn LP12 and is still sold to this day.

I need to avoid the accusation that I'm just some type of analog camando living to insult digital playback. Such is not the case. When CD's came out in the early 80's the sound was so terrible a side by side comparison was not even needed. What was emphasized by the sales people was the black background and the "forever" lie. Also, buyers were led to believe that the medium was immune to scratches. I bought my first CDP in 1994 when I felt it was listenable and also so that my wife could use the system without fear. I upgraded in 2002 and was very happy with my personal CD playback but realized I rarely used the thing. I no longer have a CDP and it's not because I don't think they are good. Having listened to arguably the best digital playback avialable (Capitole, Merlins, Berning) I still believe my LP12 inserted in this system (we did it) destroyed the digital playback. And, for what it's worth, the Capitole is history and a new 300 series Teres is in its place. This isn't my system either but one of an acquaintence that had no way of auditioning any real turntables in this audio wasteland of Idaho.

It's doubtful I would embrace vinyl if I were a budding audiophile right now. Acquiring my vinyl library took me a lifetime living through every release. That task would be overwhelming now.

I hope you don't take offense with my positions. I didn't mean it in any way other than an accurate historical account of my life in this hobby. I remain open minded and hopeful about a new type of software that will make these discussions irrelevant.
Lugnut....no offense taken.

I clean records from time to time, and use the brush before each play, but I can't see going to extremes. I live in the real world where there is dust in the air, and it gets attracted to vinyl. Perhaps I am overly sensitive to the degradation that even a tiny ball of fuzz can cause, and perhaps I am too quick to look for fuzz when there might be some other problem (like a well worn LP).

As you say, surface noise may vary with different pickups. Apart from the higher tracking force of MC which probably helps with debris in the groove, frequency response must be a factor. A peak in the surface noise range would accentuate it, while a dip would surpress it. The Shure V15 measures flat by all accounts.

Perhaps I am lucky, but I have never had a CD that developed a play problem because of scratches. Some CD players are more tolerant than others. (I have gotten new discs that had defects, sometimes invisible, that aborted playback).

The low frequency rumble that I mention exists on most records, and can be seen as cone motion even if you can't hear it. For some records it pretty much goes away between cuts, suggesting that it is in the recorded groove. One known source (well below 20 HZ) is air conditioning in the recording studio, but that leaves open the question of why it doesn't show up just as much on CD's. Perhaps digital recordings effectively remove anything below 20 HZ, although they certainly do remain flat to 20 HZ.

Perhaps your low frequency cone excursion is a result of feedback. The good thing is that we can enjoy it all. Hell, I even like the MP3's on my puter at times.
Lugnut...Now you remind me, feedback is another problem with LPs (that doesn't affect CDs) and which hasn't changed in 20 years. My feedback (yes I admit to some) is mostly what comes through the air and excites the record like a drum skin. I have never found an effective record clamp which might help in this area. The turntable is heavy and has good vibration isolating feet, and is mounted in a very solidly built alcove. I can tap quite hard on the shelf (cork surface) and not get anything significant through the speakers.

Just to put things in perspective, my rumble problem really isn't worse than other systems, it's just that it is apparent after playing CD's where the LF is completely clean. Perhaps I run the volume louder than most folks.

In my first post I tried to identify weaknesses of the LP media that are inherent in the media, and therefore not likely to have changed in the last 20 years, per the original question.

Again, I bring up those DBX records, which really could have produced a dramatic improvement. Am I the only guy who had a DBX setup? Am I the only guy who even remembers them?

Eldartford, a couple of thoughts:

1) The shape of the stylus has a big influence upon the perceived level of surface noise, and the more radical 'line-contact' geometries are not generally found in mid-priced carts, or most MM carts generally. But the actual type of motor system used, or its frequency response, may not always be a determining factor.

2) The LF rumble you have could be the result of a cart/arm system resonance that is undesirably high in frequency/amplitude, and is excited by certain recordings more than others, but not as much (or at all) by between-track silent grooves. This would be a different scenario than whatever rumble is contributed by the TT motor or is pressed into records, and could help account for your results. Another possibility could be that your TT is not sufficiently isolated from your speakers and subs as far as mechanically-transmitted feedback goes, and that the variations in 'rumble' you see are mostly being caused by differences in your preferred volume settings with different recordings (with records that are pressed 'hotter' being less problematic).
Zaikesman... Thanks for ideas.
The Shure V15 MR pickup stylus is line contact.
The turntable is exceptionally well isolated from mechanical feedback. Acoustic feedback is more evident. Cartridge/arm resonance could exist. I will load the arm up with some mass (balanced so as to not affect vtf) and see if anything changes. I really think it is recorded in the groove because it starts when the recording starts, but before the musicians do their thing. It really sounds like air conditioning system noise in the studio. It's not on every record, and I am probably overreacting, but it does annoy me after listening to CDs.
El Dee, you're right about the stylus shape of the V15VxMR (my calculations translate the Shure website data [given in mils] to be a mere 3.8 microns X a healthy 76 microns - which, while not the largest major-radius design going, definitely qualifies it as a fine-line-contact design, and considerably more so than my own twice-the-price 6 X 40 micron BenzMicro Glider MC) - I should have looked this up before spouting. However, if no one mentioned it already above, many folks (OK, many audiophiles anyway) through the years have felt the V's built-in brush can exacerbate the pick-up of surface noise from otherwise basically clean records, so if you haven't done it previously, you may want to experiment by listening with the brush locked in the raised position (bear in mind that a VTF adjustment is necessitated by this change, which I believe is specified in the manual).
I seem to remember that it was Shure who introduced the idea of the bi-radial (eliptical), and (even better) fine line stylus. MR means "micro ridge").
I will give a listen or two with the brush raised. I suppose that the brush could generate noise as it sweeps over the record, but I suspect that the crud that it keeps away from the stylus is more significant. This may depend on how clean the record is to begin with. Also, I think that the brush is supposed to contribute desirable damping. The VTF effect of the brush is 1/2 gram. By the way, the stylus in use is a new one-less than 5 hr use on it so far.

My arm/pickup (linear tracking) will track well (no breakup on test record) with vtf as low as 1/2 gram (the minimum setting) but I generally use 1.5 to 2.0 grams, which includes 1/2 for the brush. Shure suggests 1.5 grams.

FWIW (probably not much) my old ADC XLM MkII with an elliptical stylus was very sensitive to dust bunnies. The slightest accumulation was audible.

My new cartridge (Shelter 901) seems virtually immune. Yesterday I happened to glance at the stylus near the end of a side. I was shocked to see a small mountain of junk piled on top of the cantilever, with more accumulating visibly at every rotation. (Back off you hygiene fanatics! We're just getting back into vinyl and a RCM is next on the list). Even knowing that it was there, I could not hear any effects from all that crud.

The new TT and arm may also be helping, but that Shelter stylus just tossed junk out of the way and played cleanly the whole time. At the end of the side there were visible piles of stuff all over the last dozen or two grooves, yet I never heard them. I was thoroughly astonished.

That's a pretty magical analog rig you've got. Seriously. Regarding hygene....DIY is too cheap not to do. Man, I hate cleaning records!!! At least once they are clean it's just a swipe with a carbon brush.

Thanks for the nice words. Magic it truly is, we are still swooning. Don't get me started or you'll have to endure another bout of joyous babbling. There's certainly been progress in MY phono in the last 20 years! :)

The Teres is shockingly quieter than our old TT, but I know we need to clean. Sigh, I'll go bid on a Groovmaster at ebay. Why can't he just sell the damn things. BentAudio's website has a preliminary announcement about an ultrasonic RCM. No details yet but the concept seems better than brushes and chemicals. Hope they execute it well.

Last night I played a virgin copy of Classic Records' reissue of Stravinsky/'Song of the Nightingale'/Reiner/CSO. There was a silk-thin layer of sonic scum, mold release agents I suppose, over some of the most glorious sonics you ever heard. Arthur Salvatore was right to put this on his list of "demi-gods". No point in damaging it or our stylus, so I won't play it again without cleaning. Once we have a machine, we won't play anything before an initial cleaning of course.

Thanks for the nudge.