Recommendations for entry level vinyl setup


#1

I’m thinking about getting a basic vinyl setup, motivated not in the least by the close out of the NuWave phono. I don’t have many albums as I sold most of them back in the 80’s and don’t foresee buying a lot in the future but would like to spin the few we have plus whatever I may pick up from time to time. I don’t want to spend a lot on the TT, $500-1,000 perhaps (plus the NWP).

Looking at the entry level Rega, Pro-Ject, etc. I don’t want to spend more than I need or buy poorly to save a hundred bucks. All advice and opinions welcome.


#2

Speeddeacon, I’m partial to VPI tables but don’t know too much of their lower end tables (e.g., Traveller or Player). My suggestion would be a used Scout, I think you can find one at the upper end of your price range but it may not include a cartridge for that price. A low end Ortofon works good with the unipivot arm. An alternative in the VPI line would be the HW-19, long since discontinued, so a used one would be the only option. The downside to the HW-19 is lots of configurations to choose from which could get confusing. The Rega’s are a solid, but basic performer. I had a Planar 3 for a number of years, but the HW-19 that replaced it was better. The ProJect tables are supposed to be Ok, but my take is they are on the, shall we say, “cheap” side.


#3

My resurrection in vinyl started with the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon with an Ortufon Red cartridge and it was great. Is it as good as my ClearAudio Concept with Ortufon Black cartridge? No. Does it sound 90% of the way there at a fraction of the cost? Absolutely. I think you’d have a hard time finding a better value proposition than that. I think the Pro-Jects and the Music Halls are made in the same factory, actually, so they should be very similar. I don’t have any experience with VPI. I’m sure the Scout is a great option. I’m not sure I’d spend more than the Debut Carbon if I’m trying out vinyl, though. Actually, I know I wouldn’t, because I didn’t when I started out! I am still shocked at how good vinyl can sound, even today, when compared to digital. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with whichever way you go.


#4

Thanks guys and everyone keep the suggestions coming please.

I read somewhere that buying a used TT is a bit risky due to the cartridge and stylus condition and intricacies of a TT in general. I don’t know anything about them so what do you think? Any good sources for used TTs other than A’gon?


#5

I also owned a VPI for a long time; they are very solidly built and sound good.

I don’t think buying a used TT proper is any riskier than with other components. The cartridge, though, may be another matter. There’s no way to tell how many hours it has, how clean the stylus was kept, etc. That said, people do buy and sell used cartridges all the time. I would buy only from someone with lots of good feedback on A’gon or USAudiomart.

Another option would be to buy from a dealer, either in your area or on line, who takes trade-ins. This way you would know that a professional has checked the equipment and probably offers some sort of warranty. Much good stuff comes on the market when people trade up.

Large dealers such as Music Direct often have promotions or sales on turntables – get on their mailing list. You would pay more than used but less than full retail while getting the warranty etc.


#6

I recommend George Merrill’s Gem Dandy PolyTable. You can find it on his website: www.hifigem.com

He makes the tables in Memphis, and they are simply great. I love mine with the 10-inch tonearm and Ortofon Quintet Blue MC cartridge.

You might give him a call.


#7

I used to buy gear from George’s shop, Underground Sound, when I lived an hour from Memphis so I know his reputation from his Stable Table days. I’ll see what he has to offer. His stuff used to be pricey but that was 20 years ago.


#8

Speeddeacon, as pointed out by Magister buying a used cartridge can have it’s drawbacks, but the turntable itself should not be an issue … if you trust the seller. There will always be some risk, even when buying new. It’s not unusual for someone upgrading a turntable to keep the cartridge, so you might have to buy one no matter what. As suggested Music Direct is a good source, but a lot of folks on the VPI forum swear by Sound Stage Direct in Pennsylvania. I have not bought any hardware from them so no personal experience, but I did a quick check and they had several ProJect turntables, but only two Scouts, both over $1K. A local dealer would be a good idea … if you have a good one. Good luck!


#9

Thanks for the info. I do have a “local” dealer, and by local I mean three hours away. I will see what they have available next time I’m over that way. In the meantime I’ll check out sound stage direct.


#10

Another question for you all. If my total budget is $2000 or so for the TT and Phono stage, how would you suggest I allocate the money? I guess I’m asking if spending $1k for the NWPC and $1k for the TT is appropriate for an entry or should I approach it differently. As I’m reading and learning, I’m getting the feeling that a lesser expensive phono stage and TT with more allocated to cartridge/stylus might yield better performance, although I’m pretty much determined to go with the NWPC for the $$ as it will allow me to rip any albums I do buy. What do you think?


#11
speeddeacon said As I'm reading and learning, I'm getting the feeling that a lesser expensive phono stage and TT with more allocated to cartridge/stylus might yield better performance,
As a generalization this might be true. But since you are interested in ripping your vinyl, you can't beat the NPC. (I am ripping a bunch of old cassettes this week, as it happens.) The phono stage is very good on its own; a friend of mine who is more into vinyl than I am says it is competitive with his more expensive phono pre. Then you get the A/D converter too.

Remember that cartridges do eventually wear out. So at some point you will have an excuse (oops – did I say that?) to upgrade to a better cartridge if you wish.


#12
magister said
speeddeacon said As I'm reading and learning, I'm getting the feeling that a lesser expensive phono stage and TT with more allocated to cartridge/stylus might yield better performance,

As a generalization this might be true. But since you are interested in ripping your vinyl, you can’t beat the NPC. (I am ripping a bunch of old cassettes this week, as it happens.) The phono stage is very good on its own; a friend of mine who is more into vinyl than I am says it is competitive with his more expensive phono pre. Then you get the A/D converter too.

Remember that cartridges do eventually wear out. So at some point you will have an excuse (oops – did I say that?) to upgrade to a better cartridge if you wish.

magister said
speeddeacon said As I'm reading and learning, I'm getting the feeling that a lesser expensive phono stage and TT with more allocated to cartridge/stylus might yield better performance,

As a generalization this might be true. But since you are interested in ripping your vinyl, you can’t beat the NPC. (I am ripping a bunch of old cassettes this week, as it happens.) The phono stage is very good on its own; a friend of mine who is more into vinyl than I am says it is competitive with his more expensive phono pre. Then you get the A/D converter too.

Remember that cartridges do eventually wear out. So at some point you will have an excuse (oops – did I say that?) to upgrade to a better cartridge if you wish.


Totally agree with Magister. The NPC is a great phono stage for the $$ and a great tool for ripping vinyl. Keep in mind you will need a high quality USB cable to connect to your PC/Mac. The price of those cables will sneak up on you and blow your budget before you know it! Also check out Vinyl Studio for ripping and splitting the tracks. It’s a great product and well worth the $35 or so it costs.

#13

I second the recommendation for Vinyl Studio – the built-in features intended for digitizing records make it much easier to use than things like Audacity.

About the USB cable I’m not sure. I do believe that cables matter and that playing music back over a USB connection presents many challenges if you want good SQ. But going from the NPC to a hard drive is one situation where “bits is bits” may be true. The NPC handles the A/D conversion internally; as long as the bits it outputs get onto your hard drive accurately, you should be fine. I think even ordinary USB cables (preferably not too long) can do this. But I will be happy to from people who have tried using a better cable from the NPC to the computer and have heard an improvement.


#14
Magister said

I second the recommendation for Vinyl Studio – the built-in features intended for digitizing records make it much easier to use than things like Audacity.

About the USB cable I’m not sure. I do believe that cables matter and that playing music back over a USB connection presents many challenges if you want good SQ. But going from the NPC to a hard drive is one situation where “bits is bits” may be true. The NPC handles the A/D conversion internally; as long as the bits it outputs get onto your hard drive accurately, you should be fine. I think even ordinary USB cables (preferably not too long) can do this. But I will be happy to from people who have tried using a better cable from the NPC to the computer and have heard an improvement.


Magister, I hear what you’re saying in that the USB transmission chain matters more from playback from PC than the recording to the PC. Still if there are ground loops between the two, the recording will suffer. That’s why LANRover (or other USB cleaner/isolators like Regen, etc) is so effective. Without LR I would occasionally hear some mid level distortion in recordings I could hear only during quieter passages. This went away as soon as I got LR. As far as the quality of the cable, I think a good quality cable is important as long as you are going to use it also for playback, like I do. When I’m done recording, I unplug from the NPC and back into my DAC. No need to have two expensive cables! I have definitely heard a difference during playback between a generic cable and my Nordost, but I haven’t experimented with recording, honestly.

#15

I once experimented with a long, active, USB cable and found the noise level on my Mac had gone up to the point that the Vinyl Studio needle drop function had a hard time working. That should not have affected the recording quality since, as magister said, the NPC is doing the digital to analog conversion but I didn’t do a test recording to see, but it might well have fed noise back to the NPC as amgradmd suggested.


#16
amgradmd said Still if there are ground loops between the two, the recording will suffer. That's why LANRover (or other USB cleaner/isolators like Regen, etc) is so effective. Without LR I would occasionally hear some mid level distortion in recordings I could hear only during quieter passages.
This is very interesting. The stuff I'm working on now comes from cassettes -- not exactly a high quality recording medium in general, and the material is some speeches given by a family member so the recording technique was amateurish. Later on I will probably rip some of my good vinyl where I might hear things like ground loops. But my USB cable is very short (1/2 meter), so hopefully that won't be a problem. The NPC is plugged into my P5 and the tape deck and computer into a Shunyata Hydra, so I do have some isolation. The cable is also what I would call low-end audiophle (Pangea), not one of those super-cheap things from a computer store.
As far as the quality of the cable, I think a good quality cable is important as long as you are going to use it also for playback, like I do.
Makes perfect sense. I do have a good USB cable for playback, but I hardly ever use it since most of my music is played through the Bridge. It's a long longer (2m) than the Pangea I'm using with the NPC; wouldn't hurt to experiment, certainly.
I have definitely heard a difference during playback between a generic cable and my Nordost,
I don't doubt it.

#17

The NPC is a definite I have decided. Nothing else out there does what it does for the money. High quality MC/MM analog phono stage, A/D conversion with balanced analog outs for $1k. Thanks for the tip on Vinyl Studio. Ripping is low right now since I essentially have nothing to rip at the moment but that will grow as the library goes and that sounds like a great tool.

Now for the next question: equivalent priced MC or MM?


#18

MC carts are often said to be more subtle than MM ones, but there are very good MMs out there. One of the good things about the NPC is that it provides a tremendous range of gain (55-72 dB, IIRC; the latter being for super-low-output MC carts) along with a number of loading options. So it will accommodate a very wide range of cartridges.

It’s important for the cart to be matched to the arm in terms of compliance etc. for best sound. I’d suggest deciding on what TT/arm combo you want. Then check the specs for the arm and pick a cart accordingly. A dealer, even an online one, who really understands analog can be a big help in getting a good match. In your situation the match between the arm and the cartridge is probably more important than whether it’s MM or MC.


#19

Just wanted to add one thought for the OP: While I agree that it’s safe in principle to buy a used TT (I have owned used Micro Seiki’s and VPI’s) do be very careful about shipping. I would not trust someone to ship an expensive table without its original packaging (or for that matter an inexpensive table.) Platters come off, dust covers get busted, and arms get twisted/bent. The cart/stylus issue has already been covered. But you can trust a good dealer, or consider also looking at Craigslist for local sellers. Depending on what you’re looking for, it may also be worth taking a look at VinylNirvana - he reconditions Thorens and AR tables and from the looks of it does beautiful work. I would think they’d be contenders in their price range.


#20

Well after doing the research, I’ve decided to scrap the idea for now, since I don’t really have any vinyl. I’m not seeing just a lot of LP material that thrills me that I don’t already own digitally. Not that I’m opposed to owning an analog version of music I love, its just paying the steep prices that new LPs are commanding right now tempers my enthusiasm. The plan would be to buy/rip albums in lieu of new CD/download purchases going forward if I really get into it, but I’m just now feeling it right now for some reason. I may break down later but for now I’m losing interest in spending $2k+ to play a handful of albums that tempt me. Perhaps I’ll pick up a used NPC someday and get interested again, who knows. Thank you everyone for your input.