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4-4-2020

The Best DAC is a Turntable

All my life I have been concerned with exploring high quality music experience
I started with vinyl records, then came the CD, and also the DAT recorder.
After that the music became “mediumless”, meaning that the record shops in the cities disappeared and nowadays buying music had become a online affair…

But there are exceptions, to my great surprise when I visted a High-End show I saw the analog gramophone records and players were very popular, the gramophone records were sold as sweet cakes :-)
In fact record player has never really been gone, and now they are getting more popular
over time.



Why are turntables (still) so populair?

Many years ago when the cd player was introduced I thought it was an huge improvement on the gramophone record
Now I know better, after having had many years of experience with High-Resolution audio streaming, I have found out that the gramophone still sounds better

Analogue audio sounds just more realistic, more pleasant to the ears than the digital variant
This is because Live music is analogue, not digital
I am not the only one that thinks like this, given the large increasing popularity of the analogue turntable market.
Apparently, the advantages of the record player outweigh the disadvantages

When I was visiting the XFi Show last week I was not I was not impressed with the sound quality that I heard
Digital music was played in many rooms, and I found that the music sounding rather dead, and also especially flat to my ears
there was no life in music

Then I entered a listening room (I forgot which one) and the music sounded so organic, so fluid, it was perfect!
I tried to figure out were the music source was coming from and I was this:

A old skool looking turntable named “Linn Sodek LP12”
Wow, this devices rocks, this is how music should sound, I thought
The question why turntables are still popular these days has been answered.

When I was home I did some research about this turntable, and how more I read about
how more I got interested

When I discused with another analogue vinyl music enthousiast, we both agreed that digital music has some side effects.
The first disadvantage is that the ease of streaming digital music from a huge music collection makes you lazy.
The ease with which you can stream digital music in combination with the excessive choice of albums in your music library ensures that you no longer going to listen serious to music...
In my case music has become more of a background wallpaper that has to match my mood

But this is not what I want, I want the best music quality possible
I want to enjoy music attentively



Are there no good DAC’s?

Short answer: No,

Long answer: good sounding Multibit DAC chips like the “Burr Brown PCM1704-UK” comes close, but compaired with real analogue turntable like LINN LP12, the LINN LP12 sounds better in my ears.
Unfortunately these “Burr Brown PCM1704-UK” DAC chips are no longer produced…

DAC manufacturers are currently still not able to make a DAC chip that not only has good specifications, but also sounds realy like a good analogue music performance...
Personally I believe that the current development of digital to analogue is still in its infancy (children's shoes fase) and that perhaps in the future there will be developments that really can convert digital audio well
but now this is not yet the case.

Ladder (R2R) DACs for example, all these developments are still far from perfect, there are too many disadvantages.
And the question is also is R2R DAC’s the right way?
There are many ways to Rome...there are also FGPA developments that are looking very promissing.
FGPA (
Field-programmable gate array) can be reprogrammed to implement different logic functions, allowing flexible reconfigurable computing as performed in computer software.
Some DAC manufacturers are using this technique already, perhaps in the future
in the combination with a new (standarlized?) audiophile/master quality audio file format, this could give great results
so that digital music finally becomes mature.

I think it would be best if “analogue recorded music” just could be stored “analog” on the computer instead of digital.
But today this is not possible without an analogue to digital “conversion”.

My position is: with the current state of technical developments, perfect conversion from digital to analog is unfortunately not yet possible.

I write this article in 2019, so maybe in the future there will come a audio format that is able to store analogue music without loss, without conversion in a file that can be stored on a computer.

Just like a .SVG graphic file that can that can be enlarged indefinitely without the outline lines becoming blocky

We will see what the future will bring us, but till that time luckily we can enjoy perfect music by playing grammaphone records on a good turntable!
I am a bit tired of all that waisted time for striving for better quality rather than just enjoying my music

I am so happy that I discovered the turntable, this product is already 45 years on the market, and only recently my eyes (or better ears) have been opened!


Which turntable should I buy?

unfortunatelly also the turntable manafactures have discovered that the turntable is becoming very populaire again
You can see this in the prices and the quality of their products...

Example 1:
My father had a nice Thorens TD 110 turntable in the 80's but unfortunattely he sold it a couple years later.
A shame because it was a nice sounding belt driven turntable with ortho-inertial suspension system for the floating chassis and an improved Isotrack-tonearm with fully shock protected jewel bearings.

If you look now what a new generation Thorens turntables costs, you will discover
that the build quality and the value for money are not the same that it was in the 80's
The build quality now is much worse than it was then, and the prices now are too high for what you get...

A sub-chassis belt driven turntable of the same quality that my father had, costs now at least 4 till 5 times more!

Example 2:

I owned a limited edition Technics SL-1200LTD turntable, it was a good turntable, but it's black/gold
colour scheme didn't fit with the rest of my hi-fi equipment
I also found that the turntable was too much designed for DJ's than for audiophiles
There were a lot of functions than I never needed, and later I found out that the belt driven Thorens turntable of my father sounded still better than my direct drive Technics turntable.
The Technics SL1200 direct drive turntable has a specific sound quality that you should like or not...

But the turntable was very well made, it was build like a tank, nothing wrong about that, but then
Technics decided to stop producing them....

At that time I lost my love for that turntable, and I sold it for a good price, because owning something
you don't like or use is a waste, better make other people happy with it.

Now Technics have restarted their production of SL1200 turntables, but again just like other manafactures
there is a catch.
First of all they are more expensive than they were many years ago...
and they are not all build anymore in Japan, but in other countries
Another disadvantage is that the quality of the parts, and also the build quality are less than it was then.
The turntables now are lighter, and for example if you tab on the chassis while playing a record you can see the needle move, this was not the case with the Technics turntables that were build in the 80's

Because of all these disadvantages I lost my trust in this brand, so I looked for other solutions...

But what should I do? all the modern brands I listened to were too expensive for what you get, I didn't like this, it feels that you have missed the boat...

Conclusion:
Most turntables you can buy now are in my opinion overpriced and they don't have the high level of quality anymore...
The LINN LP12 is a very nice and good sounding turntable but too expensive for my budget.
Also the upgrade costs are so high, that I'm afraid that the player becomes a "black hole" for my wallet...


Then I visited a company that restored older Thorens TD124 turntables and sold them, they were too expensive for me, but I liked the idea of restoring the good old turntables
So I went looking for a good turntable that was not too expensive, but had a quality that was worth restoring and of course sounds very good.

Then I found the turntable I was looking for!



It was a custom DIY project of somebody else, that was offered for sale on the Dutch Ebay like website called "Marktplaats.nl"
It was a custom build "Gerrard 401" turntable with a "12" inch Japanese Jelco SA 750L tone arm


The Japanse Jelco arm was my first choice, luckilly the person
that build this turntable also liked Jelco :-)


The Gerrard motor in detail









I like this build from the beginning, I liked the robust, modern look of the Gerrard 401 and I always wanted a Japanese Jelco tone arm, because the way it was build but also how it sounded.
And this was even better, because it is a 12 inch version, 3 inches longer than normal



Why 12 inch instead of 9?
A longer tonearm is better at maintaining the right tracking angle for the needle as it tracks across the record. Theoretically, the longer the tonearm the longer it will maintain the correct angle
The first thing I changed was the cartridge


Nagaoka MP200



Real Neon light! no over bright cheap LED's...

Of course every part on the turntable is important but in the end the cartridge is

the part that makes final contact with your valuable records, and it also determines for a large part the final sound quality of your turntable
Before I decided which cartridge I wanted to buy, I first had to decide if I wanted a Moving Coil or Moving Magnet type of cartridge.

My turntable came with a Audio Technica AT95E cartridge which is considered one of the best MM cartridges
available, but I didn't like it's sound character
It sounded too bright for me, no warmth, no life...

I also had experience with a Yamaha MC11 cardridge many years ago, but I had no positive experiences with it.
I found the MC
11 cartridge too analytically and there was also too much emphasis on the treble
resulting that every imperfection of your record became immediately audible...

For my new turntable I would like to have a cartridge that's specialized for Jazz and Classical music,
where the music sounds warm and pleasant, but not too
warm, the sound must also be dynamic and sparkling

When I visted some audio expo's I listened to many different turntable cartridges
I found the entry level Ortofon Red MM promising sounding
The sound quality was very pleasant, nice warm but I still missed a little bit detail and the sound image was a bit too flat for my taste

I also listend to a "Grado" cartridge that I like very much but it was too expensive, and I found out that I liked the sound character of MM cartridges more than the analytical sound of the MC cartridges.

Then my colleaque at work attented me on a video on Youtube on the "HiViNyws channel"
The video is about a budget series of turntable cartridges where one brand clearly stands out above the rest
and sounds even better than cartridges that are more expensive.
This brand is the Japanese "Nagaoka"
When I did more research on this brand, I got a positive feeling about it,
I thought yes!  this brand seemed for me a good candidate for my Japanese Jelco tone arm.
So I ordered the Nagaoka MP200 which is positioned in the middle class between de MP110, 150 and the MP300 and MP500.

The MP200 is also advertised as a premium "Jazz" and "Classical" music cartridge, just what I was looking for!
MP200 review - https://youtu.be/E4G7hSUQoOc


Can I play records yet?

My first amplifier was the Rotel 840 BX III, this was a nice sounding amplifier that played it's first watt in Class A.

Therefore the amplifier got pretty hot.
This amplifier had a "Phono" function selector so that you can detach your turntable directly on the phono input of the amplifier.
Unfortunattely I sold this litte gem of amplifier....

On my new Audio-Gd Master 10 amplifier, there is no dedicated "Phono" input
So how do I attach my turntable to my amplifier?

The answer is to buy a seperate phono pre amp like this one:


I did some research about phono preamp and I also found that these needed devices are highly overpriced...
The best deal for me was to buy a very nice "EAR834" clone from China, but the delivery time was too long for me, because I wanted to listen music now...
So I decided to first try a little phono pre-amp that was on stock in my local hi-fi shop.
After a lot of reading I ordered the NAD PP4 phono preamp, that also works as a digitizer (till 48 kHz)
This pre-amp has RIAA filter build in.

Because I have no other phono pre-amp in my house, it's difficult so write something about the quality
of this device.
I can only write about the final result or outcome when I play a record...

Listening

After adjusting the arm and calibrating the cartridge it was time too listen!

I ordered several records:

This nice one that is recorded "direct to disc" in Artone Studio in Haarlem, the Netherlands.
https://www.artone-studio.com/


and of course some records from Rhapsody Analog Recordings
https://www.rhapsodyanalogrecordings.com/

   

Carmen Gomes Inc. “Sings Belafonte” (RAR-17-001)

Denise Jannah & Atzko Kohashi “Lost & Found” (RAR-17-002)

and also this nice one from "AC Records' label from Poland

    MAP Grooveoberek – Limited Edition LP
    https://acrecords.pl/en/welcome/


When I listened to these records one thing became clear to me,
these records in combination with a good arm and cartridge generates a sound quality
that surpases my Roon streaming solution with ease.
The music sounds much more defined, better definition, more details, and music sounds just more real
I was really impressed by the sound quality

For me personally the situation is now clear, when I want to enjoy music I will play vinyl records,
and when I just want to listen to some background  music I will switch to digital audio streaming

I am conviced that the sound quality will even improve because my cartridge is just new,
they say it will sounds better after some hours
I am very happy with the sound of this turntable, the Nagaoka MP200 cartridge it's a bit expensive but it sounds amazing
Highly recommended

I made the right choice, I finally can enjoy music!




Audio Dandy

(Maarten van Druten)

 

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