Cartridge Hell!

My system has gone through the usual progression and now I think the weak point is the cartridge. As I look for new cartridge options, I am inundated by the choices available and not sure which way to turn! :scratch:

Current cartridge is a Denon DL-103R with a Paradox aluminum body potted with lead shot damping.

TT - Rega P2 w/Delrin platter, RB250, Lim Subplatter & Feet, Rega 24VAC motor, Teknoweight, Rega Natural Rubber Belt, Isokinetik Tonearm Rewire on Rega Wall Shelf

Phono Pre - DIY Pearl 2

Preamp - DIY Mezmerize

Amp - Tubelab TSE w/CX-345's

Speakers - Klipschorns w/ALK CSW crossovers & K-77M square magnet tweeters

Right now the Pearl 2 needs more gain with the 45 amp and the 0.25mV cartridge. I am looking to do what makes sense and value for the dollar.

I have been looking at:

1. Soundsmith Ruby Cantilever/Nude CL diamond on DL-103R w/Budgie SUT
2. Soundsmith Boheme (no SUT needed)
3. Lyra Delos (no SUT needed)

To muddy the waters even more, I am moving back to an all-tube setup and will replace (if it sounds better) the Pearl 2 with a DIY LCR tube phono that drops the gain from 55dB to 36dB. The Mezmerize will be replaced with an LDR. When this happens, I'll need to add an SUT regardless.

Just curious if others have been down a similar path and/or compared any of the above cartridges. The other question is will these cartridges be too much for my little modest modified Rega P2?
 

Bibio

Member
2009-03-08 3:36 am
i'm not slating your system but i think your getting to the point that the P2 is the limiting factor. the P2 is a fine deck for the money but you have to remember that they were built to a price point, yes you can refine them but there becomes a point when you hit a wall.

the biggest problem with the P2 is the plinth as its made from chipboard to keep the price down. most people dont even look twice at changing it but the plinth is the 'foundation' of a turntable and is responsible for a large part of the turntables sonic character.

the RB250 is indeed a fine arm but its still a budget arm and will always sound 'soft' unless you transplant the armtube into something like an Audiomods kit which then takes it up to the next level.

personally with a 'modded' P2 i would be looking at something along the lines of the DL110 or DL301II as i dont think there is any point in going higher till the deck/arm combo goes higher. as a side note i have never liked the sound of the DL103 on the RB250, but thats me and not you or others.

no cartridge in the world is going to turn a sows ear into a silk purse.

sit down and listen to your system with a notepad and jot down what YOU think is missing in terms of sound quality then go about improving or asking what you could do to improve the area that you think is lacking. it could just be a case of not having the loading on your current cartridge set up properly.
 
I appreciate your candor! That is why I posted the question before dropping another $1000+ only to be unimpressed. I have played around with Cinemag SUT, loading, etc. and the sound is VERY good ... don't get me wrong. The highs are very accurate and crystal clear, the midrange is to die for but the bass is lacking tremendously. It is deep and tight but not where it should be vs. CD in the same system.

The Paradox aluminum body and Delrin platter helped bass extension the most but I am still wanting more.

The other issue is the lack of volume with the new amplifier. When I was running the Aleph, the 56db Pearl 2 was more than enough. Now with the TSE45, there are some records that when turned all the way up it is still too soft.

I agree about the DL110 and plan to put one of those on my backup table (SL1200) but I feel that would be a step backwards from my modded DL-103R.

I have looked at the VPI Scout for several years now. My friend just bought one, so maybe it is time to invite him (and his table) over for a few beers and some great music! :D
 
To muddy the waters even more, I am moving back to an all-tube setup and will replace (if it sounds better) the Pearl 2 with a DIY LCR tube phono that drops the gain from 55dB to 36dB. The Mezmerize will be replaced with an LDR. When this happens, I'll need to add an SUT regardless.

With your current system, it sounds like you need a preamp with gain, not a buffer.

I've run a Denon 103 & 103R on my SL-1200 & LP12. They're no competition for the Audio Technica AT33PTG.

jeff
 

kevinkr

Administrator
Paid Member
Lots of good advice in previous posts. I would consider a first step replacing the P2 with something a little more ambitious. Have you considered vintage? Something along the lines of a Lenco, Rondine or Empire?

In the right aftermarket body the 103/103R are pretty hard to embarrass. My ZU DL-103 on a heavy Orsonic head shell on a Schick 12 inch arm was ultimately replaced by an Ortofon SPU GM E II at substantially greater cost; the SPU was subtly better in every respect, but the DL-103 was not particularly embarrassed by the comparison particularly considering the large delta in cost. The AT PTG is an excellent recommendation, but like the 103 or SPU is happiest on a fairly high mass arm. I'd keep the 103R for now..

Change one thing at a time, otherwise it gets to be impossible to determine whether you are making improvements or just changing things out and not necessarily for the better.

I would then focus on a better phono stage (my predilection is for tubes and SUTs) but I would look for a lot more gain particularly if LOMC are contemplated with SUTs. Lots of phono stage projects back here to consider including a number of mine, Salas, and koi farm...

You will need a lot more gain than you are contemplating I suspect. I run two phono stages with 50 - 55dB of gain, use 16x (24dB) SUTs with 200uV - 300uV cartridges and line stage with 4dB of gain. I get CD+ level output from my phono stages.
 

Bibio

Member
2009-03-08 3:36 am
The highs are very accurate and crystal clear, the midrange is to die for but the bass is lacking tremendously. It is deep and tight but not where it should be vs. CD in the same system.

this is making me think that your VTA is out and that your cart is sitting ''arz up''.

you more than likely know all this but i'll go over it anyway.

VTA:
go grab a pin then place it point down on a surface with one of your fingers on the top, make the pin stand straight up and down. with the pin standing straight up and down this would represent perfect VTA of the stylus VTA and for that matter Azimuth has nothing to do with where your cartridge body or cantilever is positioned but instead is how the actual pointy bit of diamond sits in the groove of the record.

with the pin standing straight up and down slightly push the head of the pin forwards, this now represents 'arz up' or high VTA. now pull the pin head backwards which will now represent 'arz down' or low VTA.
VTA 'arz up' gives a clean sounding top end and upper mid/mid sound and low bass.
VTA 'arz down' gives a plummy louder bass and a fizzy top end.

Azimuth:
now push the pin from side to side and you have Azimuth which is responsible for channel imbalance. to set Azimuth requires a mirror. place the stylus on a mirror then look from the front of the cart into the mirror, you should see a pyramid on top of a pyramid in the reflection where the top pyramid is your stylus. if the bottom pyramid (reflection) looks off to one side then your Azimuth is out and you need to twist the cart body till it comes in line.

VTF:
is your vertical tracking force and must be set first. start off with manufacturers recommendations. adjusting the VTF also moves your VTA and this is why a lot of people hear big differences to the sound when they do.

Anti-Skate:
is the force that keeps your Cantilever in the correct position as the stylus moves across the record, if there is too much force in outward or inward pull then it skews your stylus and can sound like the Azimuth is out and this is why you must make sure that the Azimuth is correct first before setting Anti-Skate.

all of the above must be set using something that represents the average thickness of a record.

i'm not going into tracking angle as its a HUGE subject on its own.

now you can see the limitations in the RB family of tonearms. they have no adjustment to properly set up a cartridge.
 

limono

Member
2007-03-02 8:04 pm
You will never going to get CD like Bass from Turntable , also it's not going to happen with 45 amp even on Klipschorn. Your P2 looks well sorted and probably nothing from Rega up to P7 will bring any dramatic change. Those tables are not known for thunderous bass but have nice pace and are fairly musical. For Klipschorn which doesn't have any deep bass it should be adequate. Before you drop big money on LCR phono you could make a copy of EAR834 (PCB on E-Bay). It has ~51db and deep pleasant bass with slightly rolled of (mellow) top end which should work fine with K Horn top end and is cheap to make. Cinemag may be OK with Denon 103 but I was rather underwhelmed by this SUT. Even the expensive 1131 /1254 is just OK IMHO. Hashimoto to me was on another plane but it does cost money.
Too bad you're not closer to Detroit. Among my friends we have a few Sut's /carts /phonostages to share . Maybe there are some vinylystas around Holland as well.
PS. Surely you can buy VTA raiser for rega RB250 but I don't think it's the case.
Last year on Axpona I spent quite a bit time with ZU folks who were DJ'ing two plain Planar 3's with their ZU103's . I'm not a big fan of their speakers but I had really good time listening to music they played without typical Highender attitudes.
 
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If you're prepared to drop $1000 on improving your system why not go with a Rega P3?

The level of refinement will astonish you, even with the supplied Elys-2 cartridge.

That would be a downgrade from what I have now. I have the P3-24 motor in my P2. The only difference is the tonearm and I don't like the RB300 series arms because of the spring in the bearing cup, I prefer the RB250. As for the Rega cartridge, no thanks ... been there, done that and Rega carrtidges are NOT for me! :p
 
Lots of good advice in previous posts. I would consider a first step replacing the P2 with something a little more ambitious. Have you considered vintage? Something along the lines of a Lenco, Rondine or Empire?

I think I am leaning along this route. I have always been a fan of VPI and would love to pick up an old TNT or Scoutmaster. I've also always been a fan of the LP12 but it would cost too much to upgrade to get me where I need to be. I am not familiar with the others you mentioned ... where is a good place to learn about quality vintage tables and what to look for?

Then I could keep my DL-103R, get a Soundsmith ruby/NCL retip and with an SUT I am pretty much set for the current phono pre and the LCR in the future.
 
With your current system, it sounds like you need a preamp with gain, not a buffer.

I've run a Denon 103 & 103R on my SL-1200 & LP12. They're no competition for the Audio Technica AT33PTG.

jeff

The problem I have experienced with MC head amps is noise. With the Khorns, I can hear the FET noise which is why I am considering an SUT instead. With only 55dB currently, I can hear the "popcorn" JFET noise already. On CD, the system is dead quiet turned all the way up.

CD sounds just fine, so the preamp and driving the amp isn't the problem. My problem is phono which makes sense because 55dB is not enough for a 0.25mV cartridge. The Pearl 2 was designed for HOMC cartridges in the mV range.

I have a modified SL1200 right now, so I may put a DL-110 with a Nagaoka headshell to get me by while I sell the Rega and look for a better table.
 

limono

Member
2007-03-02 8:04 pm
I would keep the P2. It will be hard to sell it for any reasonable price compared to investment in the upgrades and I don't think it's a limiting factor in your present system. I like the old LP12 too with its warm midbass hump ,but I agree that to get to the level you want to be it would cost something around $2k with Linn. I would steer clear out of Soundsmith direction and maybe consider cheaper Dynavector 10x5 HOMC instead to stay on the cheaper side. What other phono stages did you try? Are you sure your (assumed DIY) Pearl is OK? How is that SL1200 with DL-110 sounds comparably to P2?
You know , I had Klipschorn Bass bins with Lowther DX4 in Azura 200 on the top and 45 monos (Yamamoto clones) with Rega P9 eons ago so I kind of understand your issues but I don't know how severe the lack of bass is in your system. Did you take your P2 to other friendly soul with vinyl playback and verify that it severely lacks bass in other setups?
 
I would keep the P2. It will be hard to sell it for any reasonable price compared to investment in the upgrades and I don't think it's a limiting factor in your present system. I like the old LP12 too with its warm midbass hump ,but I agree that to get to the level you want to be it would cost something around $2k with Linn. I would steer clear out of Soundsmith direction and maybe consider cheaper Dynavector 10x5 HOMC instead to stay on the cheaper side. What other phono stages did you try? Are you sure your (assumed DIY) Pearl is OK? How is that SL1200 with DL-110 sounds comparably to P2?
You know , I had Klipschorn Bass bins with Lowther DX4 in Azura 200 on the top and 45 monos (Yamamoto clones) with Rega P9 eons ago so I kind of understand your issues but I don't know how severe the lack of bass is in your system. Did you take your P2 to other friendly soul with vinyl playback and verify that it severely lacks bass in other setups?
I am pretty sure it is the table. I can hear motor noise and rumble between tracks in vinyl. Never heard that with the Aleph J but the 45's are so transparent and dead quiet it is now audible.

Phono stages I have had a Yamaha C4, NAD (cheapo), modified RQ-970BX, the last was a incredible sounding Seduction with Auricaps and 7308 JAN gold pins. The Pearl 2 is the best sounding to date. It sounds very good to be honest, just not a good match for the DL-103R output voltage.

I have run RoomEQ with a reference mic and I am sitting pretty flat minus the 70 and 100Hz modals right now. 3dB roll off is at about 30 and 16k which is about perfect for the Khorns as configured. BUT that is with a USB source ala iFi iUSB and Neko D100 MkII, not my phono rig. A buddy and I went to AXPONA last year and I would rank my system in the top 10-15% of what I heard there to be honest. The Rogue tube mono-block powered Magico's literally made me shed a tear but I don't have >$1million to drop on a system of that caliber! :eek:

I am already ordering parts for the LCR phono, so I will compare to that when it is finished and keep the better of the 2.

The DL-110 is on order still, so have not heard it yet but will report back as soon as it comes in.

I also have not swapped gear yet. I have a buddy with a VPI Scout that is comin over in a few weekends and we are gonna do a listening session with my P2, his VPI and the SL1200 ... I'm hoping that clarifies the muddy waters a bit for me. :D
 
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baldrick

Member
2008-12-11 6:57 pm
With your P2, RB250 arm and the P3-24 motor your table setup is right up there.

I still prefer the RB300 arm. Spring or no spring, it does sound better to me, and if the spring bothers you that much you can disable it and use the counterweight. The RB303 arm is a terrific, (although pricey) upgrade. Never mind the spring downforce control. It sounds good and that's what matters

Why not put in a AT-OC9 or AT33EV cartridge with a battery powered step up device?

This will put you in the >$500 range in terms of upgrade, but I think you'd be impressed over what these cartridges could do in your arm.

And putting your table on an isolating sand base would improve the situation as well.
 
With your P2, RB250 arm and the P3-24 motor your table setup is right up there.

I still prefer the RB300 arm. Spring or no spring, it does sound better to me, and if the spring bothers you that much you can disable it and use the counterweight. The RB303 arm is a terrific, (although pricey) upgrade. Never mind the spring downforce control. It sounds good and that's what matters

Why not put in a AT-OC9 or AT33EV cartridge with a battery powered step up device?

This will put you in the >$500 range in terms of upgrade, but I think you'd be impressed over what these cartridges could do in your arm.

And putting your table on an isolating sand base would improve the situation as well.

I have the Rega wall shelf and Michael LIM feet. What I am hearing is inherent in the table ala motor noise and bearing rumble (sapphire bearing), so I don't think further isolation will do any good to be honest.

But as a previous poster said, my bet is it has to do with VTA as I have not modifed the arm at all and have no adjustment currently. The prob is I don't want to spend any more money on a VTA adjuster for a noisy table ...
 

Bibio

Member
2009-03-08 3:36 am
i was going to suggest RJM's phonoclone as it was designed to be used with the DL103 and is easily configured for other carts as per loading. hypnotoad done a shed load of work with mods for it and its a superb sounding stage at a very modest price.

most of the noise from the P2 is the bearing.
 

limono

Member
2007-03-02 8:04 pm
But , he has upgraded bearing with metal subplatter , should be on par with P7-P9 , No?
My experience with RJM first incarnation of phonoclone was far from favorable .I do hope that last incarnations with mods are better. My Erno Borbely Jfet phono stage is only acceptable in low gain setup and works best with step up transformer. I do not think Pearl phono is much better. Somehow it's not easy to get great bass out of tables in horn setup. Much easier to fudge it with direct radiators. K horn with default Klipsch/ Crites driver has a specific bass. It is an amalgamate of reference midbass with a lump of booming lower direct radiating bass. Kind of acquired taste. You can get an out of this world quality of midbass but it means sacrificing a boom and need of subwoofer. The best bass out of Rega table (P9) I heard came from old Dynavector XX-1 HOMC - marvelous cart . Unfortunately , I drank a couples of bottles of red wine and got so uplifted by that I felt that instead taking five I figured playing "taking five" would do me more good and I broke XX-1 boron cantilever on Brubeck . Soundsmith retip ruined character of the cart and following visit at the show of Soundsmith's room confirmed my suspicion that my perception of proper sound is entirely different from Peter's . That's why I'm not an SS fan . What troubles me in Craigstone reflection is his remark on shedding a tear listening to Magico speakers. I heard big Magico speakers last year on Axpona show . It was exemplary bad. I assume there was another better one but few other demos of Magico I heard were also a farce and the staff they hire to do demos are remarkable idiots . I don't know if they have a bad luck or do it purposely to level up with average show goers.
I didn't have much luck with vintage idlers or auditions of them but out of respect for Kevin and others who report great results i won't say more and accept that I may be well mistaken and ignorant on the subject.
 
What troubles me in Craigstone reflection is his remark on shedding a tear listening to Magico speakers. I heard big Magico speakers last year on Axpona show . It was exemplary bad. I assume there was another better one but few other demos of Magico I heard were also a farce and the staff they hire to do demos are remarkable idiots . I don't know if they have a bad luck or do it purposely to level up with average show goers.

OK, I better clarify ... The Magico suite did not sound that good. The room I was referring to was a smaller room run by a reseller. Here is a pic of the room ...

AXPONA 2015 by Craig Myers, on Flickr
 

Bibio

Member
2009-03-08 3:36 am
i could be wrong but i get the feeling that craigtone upgraded the subplatter and the ball bearing and not the bearing housing. i'm also wondering if he bedded the new subplatter spindle in before adding the jewel ball bearing. jewel bearings are superb but they will amplify noise if not perfect mating surfaces. all good jewel based bearings have the jewel encapsulated into the end of the spindle and a high quality ball bearing for the jewel to rest on.

next up is oil, this needs to be a high enough viscosity so as to keep the two mating surfaces of the bearing housing and the spindle from rubbing but also thin enough not to cause too much drag. if the oil is too thin then you will get rubbing of the walls which ends up as noise.

i would bet that Rega grade their bearings at the factory and the better they are the higher up they go in terms of model.

as i said before you can only go so far with a P2 before you hit a wall and after that it takes major surgery to move it up to the next level, one of the biggest factors being the plinth. once you have that sorted you can then move up to the motor and control electronics to reduce motor noise. once all that is done its no longer a P2 and now a frenkentable which will have a sonic signature all of its own.

or you can go out and buy a better turntable.
 
i was going to suggest RJM's phonoclone as it was designed to be used with the DL103 and is easily configured for other carts as per loading. hypnotoad done a shed load of work with mods for it and its a superb sounding stage at a very modest price.

most of the noise from the P2 is the bearing.

I don't think I can be convinced to use another op-amp based phono stage. They all sound "lifeless" to me. I forgot I also have a Hagerman Bugle that I used and find very dark sounding. I've rolled in about 6 different op-amps into the Bugle and the Rotel and never got the clarity and airiness I get out of my discrete JFET stage.