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Turntables, cartidges, and phono stages

Mashcky

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#1
Hey folks,

There is a lot of great discussion about digital audio gear here but not a lot about vinyl playback. This makes sense due to the shortcomings of vinyl as a medium in the realm of audio science. But for those of us who are stuck (at least in part) in the vinyl record world for whatever reason, what is the best gear from an engineering standpoint?

Please refer to measurements or science wherever possible. Though I’m personally interested in gear that achieves good measurements at affordable prices before greatly deminishing returns – if such a thing exists – let this be a thread for any and all discussion regarding measurement-based vinyl playback.
 

Zog

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#2
In terms of turntables there are two main concepts - simple in conception but difficult to achieve. First you want freedom of vibration. The bad vibes come from ambient vibration in the room, footfall, sound from the speakers, the bearing on the thrustpad, and even the needle in groove. Second is accurate speed. Again there are various types of speed misalignment and various attempts to prevent it.
To answer your question you would like gear that measures well in these two aspects and you will have a great TT. You can solve these issues by buying your way out of the problems. Better gear should not suffer vibration or speed issues. Another way to the best gear is to work on your own turntables. My TT of choice is the classic Technics 1200 series as they are very modifiable.
 
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Mashcky

Mashcky

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Thread Starter #3
In terms of turntables there are two main concepts - simple in conception but difficult to achieve. First you want freedom of vibration. The bad vibes come from ambient vibration in the room, footfall, sound from the speakers, the bearing on the thrustpad, and even the needle in groove. Second is accurate speed. Again there are various types of speed misalignment and various attempts to prevent it.
To answer your question you would like gear that measures well in these two aspects and you will have a great TT. You can solve these issues by buying your way out of the problem.
I’ve noted that more expensive designs have larger and more expensive plinth and platter arrangements to deal with isolation from vibration. I’ve also seen external raisers to put turntables on, wall jut-outs with sand, and DIY solutions like you mentioned. Troels Gravesen has a project page for a mag lev turntable with a thick plywood plinth and bitumen pad layer.

How do problems of external vibration compare to the challenge of vibrating motors and internal moving parts? In other words, can the isolation problem be solved inexpenaively but putting a TT in a box of sand, or is this a more challenging engineering problem than I’m making it out to be?
 

Zog

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#4
I don't really compare anything. I just do what I can to to eliminate or at least reduce vibration. I have not heard of a sand-box and I guess it would help but it would hardly look any good.
Where Troels uses bitumen I use dynamat. Basically I put it on any non-visible part of the TT.
The mag-lev is good in concept but I do not know how it would work in practice. You can get mag-lev feet, readily available on ebay. The way I look at it one should use more than one method of vibration attenuation. Mass - a massive table would help. Damping material - I use Dynamat and sorbothane. Isolation also helps.
 

watchnerd

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#5
Here are my cliff notes:

Direct Drive vs Belt Drive:

SNR/Rumble: Best in class direct drive and belt drives (>75 dB SNR) are both below the noise floor of vinyl itself, so a bit moot at this point:

Wow & Flutter / Speed Accuracy: There is no doubt best in class direct drives win this from a measurement standpoint. However, best in class, electronically regulated belt drives can be within .02% of direct drives, so this might be below the realm of audibility. My bet is that SOTA in each category are so close that the subjective experience will depend far more on other factors (arm, cart, vibration isolation, etc.).

Suspended TT vs Not:

This should be dictated by your environment. My old house had a concrete floor, which was great for unsuspended TTs. My current house has a suspended floor, which creates issues with unsuspended TTs. Hence, I currently favor suspended designs. But if I were to switch homes, that might change.

Arm/Cart/Alignment:

Once you get to a basic level of TT competency, the arm, and even more so, the cart, will dominate the sonic signature. And that signature will be affected by alignment and set up precision far more than most purveyors of expensive carts want to admit.

A moderately priced cart, set up very well, will beat an expensive cart, set up sloppily.
 
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watchnerd

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#6
Oh, and your phono stage:

Flexibility for configurations, whether pF for MMs, or Ohms for MC, plus clean gain, with low distortion, is incredibly important and can massively increase ROI for upper tier MM/MI carts, as well as mid-tier MCs.
 

SIY

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#7
Oh, and your phono stage:

Flexibility for configurations, whether pF for MMs, or Ohms for MC, plus clean gain, with low distortion, is incredibly important and can massively increase ROI for upper tier MM/MI carts, as well as mid-tier MCs.
My hobby horse: balanced. Most cartridges are, or can be easily modified to be, essentially balanced sources, so why not take advantage of that? The TT-to-preamp cable needs to be changed, and you need a phono stage with a balanced in, but the noise pickup immunity advantage of balanced really can make a difference at these low levels.

For MM: low intrinsic input capacitance. You can always add C, but you can't subtract what's already there.
 

Thomas_A

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#8
Examples of cartridges with linear response up to 20 kHz, Ortofon OM line, Shure V15-VMR/original stylus. The best Technics measured flat up to 50 kHz.

The Shure V15V with JICO SAS boron stylus have excellent crosstalk - 35-40 dB and within 1 dB channel balance (stylus dependent). Also low measured overall distortion and low inner groove distortion.

There are others with perfect linear response, but many MM cartridges shows peaking in the 10-20 kHz range with nominal load, and this applies to many MCs as well. The JICO SAS stylus peaking in the 10-20 kHz range; needs special loading to tame it. Se pic using 130 pF and 47 kOhm with two different JICO SAS boron stylii (one old and one new). I prefer higher capacitance and lower resistance to tame the peaking, around 600 pF and 33 kOhm.

New stylus 2.jpg
 

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BDWoody

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#9
Oh, and your phono stage:

Flexibility for configurations, whether pF for MMs, or Ohms for MC, plus clean gain, with low distortion, is incredibly important and can massively increase ROI for upper tier MM/MI carts, as well as mid-tier MCs.
So, regarding the phono stage...

In my previous Vinyl existence there was always a set of phono in rca's on any receiver I would have been using, which means I never had to consider anything else. Fast forward 30 years and I have been trying to find useful information on phono stages, and nothing seems straightforward. I ended up getting a Pro-Ject Phono-Box DS+ ($350) which gives me a few setup options, and looked like it would serve the purpose until I figured out more. The Pro-Ject products I've read about generally seem pretty well engineered, so figured I could do worse for a stab in the dark.

Any thoughts on what would be the differences between the Pro-Ject box and other options as I move up the food chain? Will I experience chills and thrills that are unimaginable without something 'better'?
0818190745.jpg
 
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SIY

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#10
You quickly hit the limitations of the medium and the cartridge.

I'd love to get my hands on that unit for measurement.
 

BDWoody

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#11
You quickly hit the limitations of the medium and the cartridge.

I'd love to get my hands on that unit for measurement.
So, point of diminishing returns wrt phono stage comes early?

I'd be happy to send it to you.
 

SIY

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#12
So, point of diminishing returns wrt phono stage comes early?

I'd be happy to send it to you.
Assuming it's engineered rather than "designed," yes.

Drop me a PM if you'd like it put through its paces. I'll post the results here.
 

watchnerd

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#13
My hobby horse: balanced. Most cartridges are, or can be easily modified to be, essentially balanced sources, so why not take advantage of that? The TT-to-preamp cable needs to be changed, and you need a phono stage with a balanced in, but the noise pickup immunity advantage of balanced really can make a difference at these low levels.

For MM: low intrinsic input capacitance. You can always add C, but you can't subtract what's already there.
I agree 100%, but phono stages with XLR inputs, even at the high end, are not as common as they should be.

Allegedly, the phono inputs on amp are somehow balanced while using an RCA plug. I don't get how that would work.
 

SIY

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Allegedly, the phono inputs on amp are somehow balanced while using an RCA plug. I don't get how that would work.
That's because they aren't and it doesn't.:D
 

watchnerd

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#16
So, regarding the phono stage...

In my previous Vinyl existence there was always a set of phono in rca's on any receiver I would have been using, which means I never had to consider anything else. Fast forward 30 years and I have been trying to find useful information on phono stages, and nothing seems straightforward. I ended up getting a Pro-Ject Phono-Box DS+ ($350) which gives me a few setup options, and looked like it would serve the purpose until I figured out more. The Pro-Ject products I've read about generally seem pretty well engineered, so figured I could do worse for a stab in the dark.

Any thoughts on what would be the differences between the Pro-Ject box and other options as I move up the food chain? Will I experience chills and thrills that are unimaginable without something 'better'?
My experience with the DSP-based phono stage in my Devialet has convinced me that ADC/DSP phono stage has the potential to offer "as good as it gets" performance.

Fortunately, others seem to have agreed and have made stand-alone products at a lower price point. I haven't personally used or heard one, but from what I've seen and read, the Parks Audio Puffin ($449), which also uses ADC and DSP, looks really interesting and flexible:

http://parksaudiollc.com/
 

kaka89

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#17
Pro-ject's entry level product, "optical box e phono", is a phono with optical output.

I'm using it with my RME ADI-2 DAC since I don't have an analog preamp.
 

watchnerd

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#18
Examples of cartridges with linear response up to 20 kHz, Ortofon OM line, Shure V15-VMR/original stylus. The best Technics measured flat up to 50 kHz.

The Shure V15V with JICO SAS boron stylus have excellent crosstalk - 35-40 dB and within 1 dB channel balance (stylus dependent). Also low measured overall distortion and low inner groove distortion.

There are others with perfect linear response, but many MM cartridges shows peaking in the 10-20 kHz range with nominal load, and this applies to many MCs as well. The JICO SAS stylus peaking in the 10-20 kHz range; needs special loading to tame it. Se pic using 130 pF and 47 kOhm with two different JICO SAS boron stylii (one old and one new). I prefer higher capacitance and lower resistance to tame the peaking, around 600 pF and 33 kOhm.

View attachment 31602
This is the top end of the Audio Technica AT33EV (my main cart), a LOMC with alu cant and elliptical stylus:




It doesn't exhibit the typical top octave spike that's so common, which is one reason I like it.
 
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#20
@watchnerd Is the AT33 subjectively preferable or does it offer any notable advantages over your Nagaoka? I note Miller's measurements seem to indicate both as good and competent performers.

@SIY Recall previously that you had Puffin due for review and test? Is that still incoming?
 
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