Vintage Hi-Fi Info
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Turntables, Arms, Cartridges, Phono Stages & Cables
Hi-Fi Myths Debunked! Save Your Money.
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• Turntables ↑
In Vintage, Turntables are as hard to buy as Speakers. Many Vintage Turntables beyond autochangers are clunky in use & barely Hifi. The Dual & Garrard budget-midprice ones are not very well made with semi-automatic mechanisms that are triggered by a lever on the arm hitting a point, so hardly free moving. Be sure Vintage turntables need Servicing which means taking apart to remove dried oil & grease else the thing won't work right & can stick or jump. Garrard SP25 is a popular brand but these were very cheap new & look it. Rumbly spindles, platters with a lot of play in the bearings if you can call them that & the semi auto nonsense. They are entry level Audio items if never really Hifi quality. We had a Dual one that was rated an expensive model in about 1971, we thought it was worse than the SP25 Mk III or IV that we are familar with. Nasty thing. As we state here the Technics direct drive Turntables are pretty good, after all the SL-1200 & SL-1210 are DJ standard gear. For our Record Dealing, we only use our Garrard 301 & SME for archiving, but the Technics SL-1500 is such a great deck to use & not fuss about as the SME arms can need more careful handing, the SL-1500 original arm once serviced gives good service. But with the Technics they are now 40 years old, the SL-1500 is from 1975 & another earlier black SL-2000 one is best avoided as too early & one we had the IC was faulty so it never was reliable for speed. The 1980s spawned many turntables of midprice quality that were popular, the hair-shirt 33rpm-only ones by Linn are no good to us, we deal in 45rpm singles. Belt drive turntables are best described as low-end & cheap motors, plastic platters & other nasties such as plastic tomearms with spring weight balancing are well away from hifi & be sure they sound awful. The Best Turntables are the early Idler Wheel ones or the Direct Drive type. No plastic platter or top casing that holds the platter & arm is anything but cheap junk. Autochangers are usually not Hifi if a tiny few Transcription ones were made in the 1960s. Semi automatic Turntables are boderline Hifi, if the SL-1500 has a semi-auto version as SL-150. The idea is metal casing, plastic base cover is ok, but belt drive & plastic main parts are not worth having. Then there are the turntables with no arms fitted that we mention next... The Garrard 301 & 401s are the best basic vintage turntable and easily found if much wanted still. Heavy platter, strong motor with an idler wheel. Set up right you'll find no better & even at £800 & £400 respectively for ones on ebay, a wise buy, but you'll need a plinth & an arm and many must wonder if it's worth it. Read on...
Poor Ideas In Turntables. There was a hair-shirt 'craze' in the 1970s & 1980s for Turntables like the "Transcriptor Saturn" turntable that thought to leave the disc floating free just supported by a few rubber posts was a good idea. This is a Lousy Idea based on simple theory of playing a disc: the disc must be damped as closely as possible to the turntable platter to avoid resonances. You don't need to go far as clamping the disc as it'll rub the label. We use on The Garrard 301 & The Technics SL-1500 the original rubber mat with cotton velvet slip mat, exactly as 1920s hand cranked 78 players use. The record is well damped & the sound is "solid". But the "Transcriptor Saturn" just supports the disc mid air on a few posts. The disc can be tapped & pushed to see it's not damped at all. The Record is actually now a Sounding Board & energy that the Stylus & Cartridge should be turning into electrical energy is lost in the disc via the resonating disc. Be sure if you played a loud cut 45 with no amplification, you'd hear the music play. But put it on a well damped turntable & the "Stylus Talk" will be far less as the energy is directed to the Cartridge. The difference will be noticeable: blurry sound undamped, tight solid sound with a properly damped turntable. "Damped" doesn't mean the more solid turntable 'eats' the energy, it's just that the disc is not flexing in the first place giving away energy.
Technics SL-1500 is the one we use for our Computer system is a direct-drive, the same we used before getting a 301. The SL-1500 is a nice deck to use & for £100-£150 you can find one if higher grade ones are harder. The SL-1300 is the autochanger version, £143 new in 1976. Ignore any foolish DJs who say to put the weight on backwards on these Technics decks. Bad advice only sheep believe. The way to get the correct tracking weight is easy. Set the anti-stake/bias to 0 and then with the full cartridge as you use it fitted, turn the weight clockwise gradually to get the arm to balance just hovering above the static turntable. This is therefore 0g so set the weight dial ring to 0 too & then turn the whole weight anticlockwise to set the tracking, eg 2g. You can check it with scales if you wish. Then set the antiskate to about 1 to 1.5, based on what skips then doesn't. Done. Putting the weight on backwards negates the whole ease of setting we've just described and hasn't any real benefit. The feet on this turntable are lousy with feeble weak rubber & bouncy springs. The whole foot assembly is useless as without the lid, the turntable sits flat, but with it on, the front is higher & using a spirit level the bubble is right to the side. What we did was fit solid rubber 25mm feet & then stick 3mm Sorbothane pads on which keeps the turntable much more solid. Springs + Turntables are a bad idea as springs bounce & echo the bounce, even very slightly in use they oscillate. This means your amplifier can be taking in subsonic bass which can affect some amps, if most Phono stages are not fully extended on the bass for reasons of Rumble dating back to the 1950s & why some amps have Low or Subsonic Filter. Low Filter is not the same as Low Pass filter. In 1975, the last years of the similar Garrard 401, basically the same with a different top & a few changes like the fragile power switch, the 401 was cheaper than the current Zero model & similar. It had no plinth or arm, but was about £5-10 less than the newer models. The SL-1500 arm is decent enough for the turntable though initially we found it sticking or jumping on records, but servicing it with fine adjusting it's been perfect since. It is from 1975-78 says the VinylEngine site & a different arm can be fitted easily enough as the circular plinth area removes & a blank one to fit an SME can be done, if we'd say the original one serviced is good enough at the level of the player.
Many earlier turntables have Dust Bugs, basically a plastic stick with a felt brush on it. What's that for? In the early days turntables were built into consoles & dust being picked up was a problem in play, so why not rub the record with a mop & run the dust around instead. Sounds crazy, but only by 1965 did the 'separates' idea of a turntable on a plinth with a perspex cover begin, logical idea, but it took several years for the idea to catch on even after 1965. The idea was you preened your LP & put antistatic spray on it & probably made a gooey mess of it. From the amount of Classical Vinyl we've seen, much is 'played twice' grade, very rare to see a "partied hard" Classical LP if we have.
Turntable mats are another thing. Those nasty BSR autochangers had hard plastic turntables that records were dropped onto, skidded until they caught friction leaving a circular scuff mark on the record. Others had rubber mats & left a circular rubber mark on the vinyl that may remove. What we use is simple: the original platter mat on both turntables but a Velvet slip mat that is perfect, both are old curtains but have suited for years as so perfect. Easy to cue up as a slip mat, easy to put on & remove without fingernails scoring the vinyl at there is a dip in the mat still that wears in. The Foam 'professional' slip mats & antistat ones we've tried but nothing beats a bit of vintage cotton Velvet, not the synthetic stuff.
Why Bother With Expensive Turntables? ↑
A question you'll never find answered, so we'll step up. The concept of a cartridge relies on accurately tracking the detail moulded into the grooves. The stylus is the "reader" of the disc directly, but there can be losses caused by turntable & arm absorbing the tinest vibrations made by the stylus tip. This is known as 'damping' and in certain places, damping is good. The stylus cantilever 'rod' the diamond sits on it damped in the rubber of the stylus assembly, but the magnet, as in 'moving magnet' disturbs the cartridge coils to create a voltage. Therefore the arm needs to be totally rigid & fixed in place to not damp the signal traced. The SME 3009 fails miserably for the 'knife edge' pivot & the lousy 'soup strainer' cartridge shell. That SME shell was introduced c.1965 to lessen the weight, but it damps the stylus too. We had a SME 3009 with our Silver 301 & then getting the Garrard TPA arm similar to the one the 4HF has, the differences in sound were very obvious, revealing the SME 3009 to be "imprecise & blurry". The turntable platter, such as a Garrard 301 or 401 needs a solid plinth to damp the turntable. In the right plinth, the turntable is totally solid & putting a record on is very different to using the Technics SL-1500 on it's sprung feet. The only thing the 301 isn't so good is where you rest your hand to cue a 7" record means the Speed Changer lever tip is right on your wrist. This is a quick idea of what the rest of this page is about. A turntable must be as "lossless" as possible to gather the most information from the grooves. Then you need a very good Amplifier Phono Stage to bring the depth of the detail out. Valve-Tube amps do this best if there are a small few Transistor Phono stages that give the detail we crave. So no plastic Turntable with unweighted plastic arm into an IC Phono stage will be anything less than a travesty of the original. 1970s-80s ones were awful, if later ones may be better, but it's grading turds still... In terms of Hifi Phono stages, this page covers this also, so read on. We test the Phono stage works right on Transistor amps, if don't usually critically listen to Phono stages as there are some amps post 1970 we rate highly that have disappointing Phono stages that you'd have thought they would have spent more money on. Unfortunately cost-cutting started as early as 1969 & sadly Phono stages could be ICs even on early 1970s amps. This is why CDs took over vinyl in the mid 1980s as most used Budget gear with rubbish turntables, so pound for pound, CD offered better value for sound. But Vinyl is getting more popular each year as people miss the delight of owning a tangible item compared to a heavily compressed MP3 that is easily deleted or lost & has zero owing pleasure. But people love 'reality' computer games but don't go outside no more... Playing 45s or LPs, or even 78s or Cylinders, your interest is directly on that one physical item & it just means so much more than putting on a CD & barely noticing ones past track 5. But some people are lucky that playing a tinny portable radio was & still is adequate, after all the typist was a radio listener from the age of 6 & only wanted better sound when starting to "improve" audio gear after their teens. Our first Hifi was the Hacker record player & the Realistic amp. Buy the best you can afford in anything, or bargain hunt used goods to get items you'll keep for years.
*The Gadget Show: Vinyl vs MP3 May 2016 ↑
This was on TV early May 2016. They showed the vinyl being cut on the acetate & how the track was mixed from many tracks as recorded. But the outcome we thought was poorly offered to the 'Gadget Show Live' crowd. We used the Dokorder 8060 amp totally rebuilt by ourselves on our Tannoy Golds. We keep some amps on test on TV sound to hear what they are like. They played the generic Pop singer artist music first with MP3 as we could tell with ease. It was clear & crisp but the MP3 compression really screws up the treble & the rough limited artificial resolution was instantly obvious. Then they played Vinyl, after showing how the disc was made, cutting lathe on an acetate master with the cutter showing small speakers on the head with rods to vibrate the cutting tip, if not showing the system used to power the cutter. The typical ones are Neumann or Scully lathes. See Curved Pressings website for more info & they make custom vinyl, not that we've used them. The cutter & amps used for cutting the groove need maintenance & alignment as does any precision item. The sound was much smoother, but unfortunately they used a basic transistor or IC based Phono stage. Phono stages are almost universally lousy, the Dokorder amp stage is a delight, the Phono stage is typically uninspiring. Only Valves & a tiny few 1960s transistor amps get Vinyl sounding right. As you'd expect, the "more realistic-brighter" sound is more like real life so despite it's noticeable failing in treble detail, that few know about anyway, the duller sounding vinyl despite it's overall superior sound wasn't preferred. Track A-MP3 got say 10 & Track B-Vinyl got 7. Then Jon Bentley smugly says MP3 is better as it's more reliable. Hmm. As with anything, you only know better once you've heard it & actually for Vinyl to score so close despite it being offered sounding too dull is telling. MP3 is there & ready to use. Vinyl requires much more work & money spent, but be sure Vinyl done properly will outdo MP3 but only if your Hifi Vinyl system is good enough. Amazon reports their Vinyl Turntable was a best seller Xmas 2015 but look at the cheap plasticky thing as putting 'Turntable' into Amazon finds, currently the £120 Sony PS-LX300USB is the best seller. It will have a tiny op-amp IC phono stage built in for USB use. It's the same cheap junk that 1980s "Stereos" had. Other 'Record Players' are cheap & nasty portables, nothing quality because buyers don't know or won't spend. But Vinyl is great as it's an object to Love & Cherish as our front page image says, it's a tangible item. Vinyl takes work & money as does anything good, you got to work at it, see our Turntables page to reveal how much of a difference just changing the headshell on our Technics SL-1500 makes. For transcribing vinyl to .wav digital we use a Garrard 301 + SME high model + our own custom designed Valve Phono stage.
Early Vintage Turntables ↑
Looking through the early Hifi Yearbooks there are very few Turntables listed. There were plenty being made but the majority were 'Radiogram' quality with Autochangers & generally average mechanics & construction. Most people used these & sadly it's why Amplifiers had to be made so limited on the Bass & even had extra Rumble filters. Buyers bought mediocre turntables yet bought better Amplifiers & unless you knew how to overcome those weaknesses & the odds are few even knew a 0.05µf coupling capacitor ruins the bass & blurs the rest for how limited it is. We found this on redoing the Rogers HG88 Mk III, it had 0.022µf coupling between two stages which was ridiculous, but done right unsurprisingly the sound opened out. To look in the 1961 HFYB you'd be saying "is that all there is" as only a select few were deemed of Hifi Transcription quality. The fact that these turntables are still used today when most 1961 era Hifi is just looked at shows something. The Cartridge & Arms section has many more, some cartridges look very like modern ones but some arms are truly ancient designs with no anti skating on SME at this time even. Crazy ideas like the Wordern Articulated arms trying to be parallel tracking arms may have worked with 10g playing weight, but 2g is a typical weight past 1970.
Turntables in 1961 ↑
Prices quoted are the price new in 1961, not our selling price today... Motors or Decks they were called. Garrard 301 white version, probably crossover grease to oil bearing at this time depending on age of stock about £23 for plain platter, strobe platter £1.50 extra for 50Hz, other countries with 60Hz had their own options. Garrard 4HF £27.50, see below for more. Goldring Lenco GL58 £18, GL60 £24. The GL60 is the cast aluminium platter as the Garrard, the GL58 will be a steel platter causing MM cartridges problems. Sugden Connoisseur Transcription Motor Type B £28 is a full sized deck but the Connoisseur 2 Speed Stereo Transcription Motor is an undersized base plate. Sugden couldn't have sold many with such awkward names & Connoisseur is very easy mispelt. Thorens TD124 £54 is very expensive compared to the Garrard 301 if the 301 is the preferred one of the two today & looks better. That's all they recommended & today the 4HF & the 2 lesser Goldring & Sugden wouldn't be considered the best. So just 4 early turntables. By about 1966 the Garrard 401 replaced the 301, not such a well made item & the arm fixing is tricky as the corner of the 401 goes into space an arm would be in as in using an SME. Plenty of other turntables were added, usually cheaper efforts laden with springy suspension which is a rubbish way to use a turntable as the old foam damping is long gone the things bounce about wildly & we saw one guy with an expensive LP collection using one so overspringy. Best mounting on a solid plinth & use Sorbothane feet.
Other Vintage Turntables ↑
Beyond the familiar few Money turntables, most pre 1978-ish, unless expensive & clearly a better design, are actually best avoided. The big selling Garrard SP25 Mks 1 to IV are semi autochangers. We had a Dual 1229 to service & after thinking it was quite decent found out beyond the heavy platter it was still budget price elsewhere & a compromise at best, we thought it was worse than the SP25s. The clunky arms with heavy headshells made of plastic to absorb the cartridge vibrations instead of getting the most of the music. Try playing records on these, the SP25 III is clumsy to use & risk of naffing a stylus is high. Most Garrard beyond the 301 & 401 are very different quality, only the 4HF as well as the early ones for 78s are of better quality. Of the turntables we know the Garrard 301 & the Technics SL-1500 are the ones we liked the best for nice to use & reliability.
Needs A Good Amp. ↑
On just about finishing recapping & upgradeing the Sony STR-6120, an interesting result was found. We've rated the Technics SL-1500 & Goldring Elektra as OK but only fairly ordinary if competent. But the Sony brings a focus to playing 45s that we've not heard before in any of our testing of Transistor amps. The Phono stage in your amplifier is crucial to making a few millivolts into a Line Level signal like TV, Tuner & CD. Most Phono Stages are pretty awful especially the cheapo single IC ones. The quality the Sony brought from vinyl after using the Rogers HG88 Mk III the day before & considering the cartridge the weak point, the Sony just focussed it into a high quality sound, if later trying a customer's £100 Ortofon which bettered the Elektra if seemed more fragile in use. This leads to the question: do you need a megabucks turntable, arm & cartridge when we've got this result? Sadly 'Yes' as most amplifiers cannot resolve the input as well as the Sony & to put a fairly average input into most amps sounds rough, to have a better source is making it easier for the phono stage. Loud cut tracks need very accurate front end items to pick up the accurate waveform, else you hear rough sounds that are not the recording or the record itself. It must be said we archive a lot of vinyl & some especially 1963-66 are very poorly mastered & the grooves, if you understand their formation, reveals they used substandard cutting lathe amps whereas USA is far better quality, UK vinyl can be pretty badly mastered.
Other makes & eras of Turntables are rated, just we've not bothered much having the 301. Thorens, Connoisseur, Goldring Lenco, some high end Sony ones & plenty of mid 1980s onward designery ones Mitchel Gyrodec & the like. All have a motor spinning a platter that you plonk a 45 on & use an arm with a cartridge to read the grooves. How sturdy & tight the tolerances & movements of bearings, resonances of all materials, noise of motors, ability of the lid to keep out dust, accuracy of speed in hot or cold weather, speed of start up, strength of motor to allow slip mats use, ability of the mat to support & dampen the vinyl but not damage the vinyl with silly disc supports or no mat nonsense. There are lots of variants, some more a waste of money than others. Best avoid the majority of cheap players including most later Garrards, the SP25 Mk3 or 4 is often found but it'll need servicing & lacks quality in many ways. Anything all plastic is just junk & will play a record but skip easily & sound like musical sandpaper.
Playing your Vinyl directly on the Rubber Mat we don't like & use a Velvet slipmat cut from some old curtains, the vintage cotton Velvet, not synthetic. Oh yes. Put some Mr Sheen on the rubber mat to coat it & a record will cue up beautifully. Takes a couple of goes with Mr Sheen to build up the layer & then it's good for years. Foam or DJ slipmats will catch your stylus, a velvet one will not. The early 78 players even wind-ups often had velvet on the platter, so nothing new on our idea, if one forgotten.
Garrard 301 ↑
There are 2 colour variants: Grey-Silver Hammerite style or plain Cream-White. There are various combinations of Silver or Black plates for the 3 switches on top. Then the Bearing exists as Grease on the early ones & Oil in the later ones. We had a barely used early Silver Grease bearing one but on getting a later Cream Oil one there is a difference in sound, the Oil is a better medium for the bearing, the grease damps too much & with ultra revealing Hifi & a top range arm the difference in sound is apparent: the Grease one sounds Slow & Damped, the Oil one is Faster & more Natural. We sold the Silver Grease one & kept the Cream oil one therefore. Grease has a problem, it goes hard & can slighly corrode some metals if left to go hard & dry. Modern grease is synthetic & has a different texture but remains constant unlike traditional Grease which varies & goes hard after decades.
Oil bearing to us is clearly the better one, Garrard would not have changed it for any other reason. Which sort of oil you use is not too important though we used 3 in 1 oil & had to fully clean our one after 9 years on checking it. Then the Oil gasket on the base can leak which lets oil out & air in helping the oil go stale. We have a better gasket now & it doesn't leak. The classic arm combo for a Garrard 301 is an SME 3009 as noted below it's not very good as not very rigid. If you want to spend for the best, the top 2 SME arms available today are the best buys, but at a deep cost. The last year the Garrard 401 & Garrard SP25 Mk IV appeared in the Hifi Yearbooks was 1977 as the company was sold, if had been sold to Plessey in the mid 1960s.
To use the 301 or 401 you need a heavy plinth. We use a Maxplank one as we read of in the Hifi News Supplements of the mid 1990s, but did trim one layer of the ply off as height was excessive. No need for any other supports or add ons, just use it as it sits in the plinth. Adding the supports we noticed lost some musicality, this is very fussy comparing here. At 50 x 46 x 22cm size it's big & it is heavy too. The 401 is easier to find but the back corner stops the SME arms being fitted in the optimal place. The best way to buy is look for a complete 301/401 plinth arm lid combo as you get it all in one go & it’ll be a good worker too. To buy it in parts today is more expensive as people upgrade. The 301 is now old though, first out in about 1953 & white ones from about 1957-58 make it a 55-61 year old item, but serviced & lubed right it'll be good for decades again. Because it was made properly in those days, not wanting you to buy a new one 3 years later as the idea today is.
Living With a Garrard 301
We've had our white-oil 301 for 11 years now & the grey-grease one for 3 years before that. The white one we fully serviced on getting it & the turntable spindle got serviced again 10 years later & finding the oil wasn't very fresh. The 301 warms up as you use & if transcribing Records you'll need to keep the Strobe adjusted right for up to 30 mins in colder weather, in warmer weather 5 mins or less will do it. But it will still slightly alter even up to 80 mins later if from winter temperatures. The trouble here is you need the old type bulb for the 50Hz flicker as a ES bulb won't do. Not plug & play perhaps but the sound quality with a quality SME arm & a decent cartridge the sound has suited us for 15 years of digitizing Vinyl from the early EQ machine & CD-R machine. Open the lid after not using it for a few weeks & the idler smells as it's the original one slowly decaying though it could be fine in 20 years still when it'll be 70 years old. Reliable they are & the only issue we had was the platter being too tight & impossible to remove, but heating it up with a hairdryer expanded it. Never force it as you'll damage the cosmetics & maybe damage the bearing. The only parts you need to be wary of are the Power & Speed levers & explain to others the speed locks when it's on & not to knock the levers as they can crack if hit as they are bakelite. Buy a nice 301 & keep it serviced for life & it'll still be serviceable & usable by future users. But they are expensive, must be serviced first, you need an arm & a plinth with lid. To think you can get into one easily is not an option unless you can find one being sold as such. For most vinyl users, the later big brand Japanese Direct Drive ones with heavy platter & cast top plate are not so far off, you can fit an SME to the Technics SL-1500 & similar will do surprisingly good, if the 301 done correctly will better it, is your hifi good enough to reveal it? If you use Valves a 301 is worthwhile, but for Transistor amps the resolution is never as good. Our SL-1500 + Goldring Elektra played through valves sounds surprisingly good, if the crudeness of the Elektra reveals itself on loud-cut midrange mono 45s where it doesn't track or reproduce anywhere as smoothly. On other 45s it can sound very clean, but it is only a £60 cartridge.
Garrard 401 ↑
First pictured in Hifi News in October 1964, stated to be an improvement over the 301 for issues with Moving Iron cartridges that were never popular anyway & adds the useful Strobe neon which using the 301 today with Energy Saving bulbs is needed as the new bulbs don't flicker. But this to us has always been the ugly sister compared to the classy 301 in either colour. The 401 is an awkward shape with the square edge protruding into the area an SME arm mount goes into which makes setting the geometry less easy, did they not use the SME in development? SME have used that fixing plate long before the 401 was made. Careless. But the quality of construction on this late one was similar in some ways but cost cut in others. The mains switch was broken on the one we had to repair & ringing up the Garrard suppliers he said these were long ago sold out, so we had to make parts which is the best that can be done. The switch contacts are made of what seems bronze & any slight bend means the switch contact parts snap like a biscuit, are they sintered bronze like bearings? Earlier ones have a bulb-strobe fitting, the one we serviced had this removed as cut wires proved. If buying one of these it needs to be a working one for the problems of the switch, the strobe lamp should be there & working too. Much more to go wrong with a 401, the 301 unless damp stored & never oiled for the few we've had to service, the 301 is understandably the more wanted.
Garrard 4HF ↑
This is a midprice semi-Hifi version of the 301 that has a fitted Tone Arm. It sounds pretty good but has a bulky arm & worst of all a ghastly mains voltage speed changer which is always burnt out so your player runs too fast. The T&G guy we asked over 20 years ago groaned on being asked for spares, all long sold out. A Turntable used by 1960s DJs though they'll have been using the original ceramic cartridge. An awkward unit as the speed controller is a wirewound resistor type that is always burnt out. So the 4HF will always run too fast, so beware. We've not had one since the early 1990s. We've found the Hifi News page from when it was introduced, from as early as February 1959 if reviewed shortly after & on reading the review, it actually has a Steel Turntable if it uses the same high quality oil bearing of the later 301s. The trouble here is Steel attracts Magnets so if you manage to fit a Moving Magnet cartridge into the Arm that is designed for old-style Turnover Ceramic cartridges, you'll have magnet pull to the steel platter, depending on the design of the cartridge. The Goldring G800 has a magnet in the casing that will cause issues if later ones only have the tiny modern magnet on the stylus cantilever. But these are too fragile for the bulky arm. So our verdict of this is clear: too many problems & incompatibility for modern use, if a sturdy turntable for 1960s & 1970s Reggae DJs who have a fondness for this player. But it'll always run fast as the speed adjuster is usually burnt out as the power rating of the controller working on mains is way too low & if run at the extremes it'll burn out the wirewound core. The New Products page says it came with a Garrard GC8 crystal cartridge in a MPM3 plug-in head & is wired for stereo cartridges if we remember it has a common ground as 3 pins? The higher option was the Garrard GMC5 moving coil cartridge & transformer. Also there are two voltage versions: 200-250v & 100-130v with the pulley for 40Hz, 50Hz & 60Hz, though which country used 40Hz is unknown to us. The rheostat type variable speed control of ±3% so if yours is burnt out, be sure it runs 3% fast. To drop the voltage isn't easy, some suggested a lightbulb in the early days if perhaps a variable voltage transformer-variac is the only way to use this. Can you be bothered?
Which Garrard 301 or 401 will you'll buy... ↑
This depends on how much you have to spend, but for us the 301 Cream & Oil bearing is the best one. Either will need an arm & a plinth which will cost an arm & a leg, you could end up spending £1500-£2500 to get the full deal. You could cut your own plinth out of thick worktop wood, ply or whatever & veneer it to save money but tools & skill are needed else it'll disappoint. But having made the right choice, you'll never want or need to buy another turntable, but all you'll need to do is check the oil & grease are good & give the bearing & other moving parts a service every 10 years.
Idler wheels will be good if they were good to start with, a little dressing & cleaning will be required. Certain parts need oiling but other than that it's not high maintenance. The only issue you may get on the 301s is the motor doesn't turn off when the switch is turned off, all this means is the switch suppressor has failed & needs replacing, but the block type one is long obsolete. We have a spare one from the Garrard spares sellers, Technical & General, it's a 0.1µf capacitor 250v AC with a 100 ohm resistor in series, you just connect it & bolt it to the chassis. The rubber idler on our 301 does smell a bit now as the lid stays shut more than it used to meaning the rubber is aging & at some point the rubber will go hard & become noisy. For the silver 301 the idler was damaged from leaving it on & creating a 'flat' that makes a bumpy noise & to reshape it made it too small. To strip the old rubber off & use the metalwork to use a piece of synthetic rubber car mat to make a new one from actually worked well. In 1998 there were no makers of replacement ones though we did buy one later to sell the silver 301 on getting the superior white & oil 301. The new idlers weren't of the greatest quality as mould pour lines in the rubber could be seen & our home-made one was a better item in use for several years. What the ones today are like could be better, depending where it's made.
Using a 301 is not as exact as using a Direct Drive, like our Technics SL-1500, it is the exact speed within seconds & doesn't vary. The 301 needs time to warm up, from cold the metal is slightly contracted compared to after 30 mins use & if using it to record tracks to digital, there will need to be speed adjusted as it warms up, or leave it on 30 mins before a session. The speed adjuster is rarely set exactly middle for perfect speed, though a position will remain constantly the right one once warmed up. Changing speed requires the motor to be turned off as linkages underneath lock the speed, so no forcing it or the bakelite levers will break. Beyond making sure the power is turned off by the on-off switch not by the mains, the idler wheel will not sit on the turntable rim or motor spindle & may get bumps in it that affect quality.
Most of these turntables are 50Hz ones for UK sale & most are with strobed platters, our early silver one was a plain platter, but if you are in USA etc with 60Hz the strobe is invalid & the spindle on the motor is too as the speeds are wrong as speed is governed by the 50-60Hz mains, not the voltage. A 60Hz spindle is not hard to find as these were supplied when new as well as ones are made today, but a 60Hz strobed platter may only be found in the same country you are if not in the UK-EU. The plain platter ones therefore are selling at a premium to non 50Hz mains countries.
Top End Turntable vs Technics SL-1500 ↑
A verdict that appears never to have been much tackled, but as we use a Garrard 301 + SME high model + Roksan Corus Black plus the Technics SL-1500 + Goldring Elektra, this is a compare that is interesting. The 301 is in a modified Maxplank plinth & the Roksan is a high quality cartridge without getting into silly money plus one that takes the Goldring 10-series stylus so we could get our varied custom stylus sizes made to play all types of vinyl including difficult ones. See the Vinyl Pressing Quality page on the menu. The 301 combo gets used for archiving vinyl & the Technics gets used for general use. Both turntables have been fully serviced & correctly adjusted. Firstly the Technics one; the arm gets criticism but once serviced it won't skip & behaves well. The limitation clearly is the Elektra, is can sound rough in less good phono stages & a £110 Ortofon we tried on one we serviced for another proves the Technics SL-1500 is a very good deck. The only minor fault we see is the speed adjust pots need a bit of usage to work right so need servicing more. The 301 + SME are a different deal, the price of entry here is a lot higher, which gives you a very solid non-resonant deck & this reveals itself as extra precision in the sound as groove vibrations are not damped by the arm. This is what makes the SME 3009 with the tea-strainer headshell so bad, they are too flimsy & dampen the sound. Like comparing a sharp new knife to one used for hacking weeds in the garden. The top system turntable is capable of extreme precision limited only by the vinyl mastering. In terms of rating the Technics plus the Elektra is a 6/10 on using the Sony STR-6120 phono stage. Adding the Ortofon it raised to at least a 7, but in comparision using a transistor phono. The 301 & SME combo is perfection & we've never felt the need to buy Koetsus or similar as our Valve phono stage pulls all the detail there is. The transistor stage gives a very good effort but lacks all the finesse & resolution. Oddly using the 301 & SME on the Sony, the combo sounds dull as the neutrality suits the valves stage, but the brighter Elektra or Ortofon suits the transistor design better. In terms of just turntable & arm, the Technics is quicker to use as the SME is a bit rigid & limited in movement, the Technics allows headshell swapping if this is a point that loses rigidity. Compared to other 'rated' turntables like Dual which we found awful like the Garrard SP25 Mk III-IV, the Technics SL-1500 is a very worthy turntable. We had one before getting a 301 & needing one for less precise use for playing record stock, it is very worthy of having, but only if serviced. The 1970s Technics headshell isn't very good either, best buying one of the modern cast aluminium ones for about £25 as the SL-1210s use them. The original is cast aluminium but has a plastic insert to screw the cartridge too. Plastic damps the cartridge which does lessen sound quality, going from good if a little blurry to much more focussed & detailed as well as smoother, just for swapping headshells a very obvious improvement.
Cecil Watts & "The Dust Bug" ↑
A man who certainly made his mark in the early years of Hifi with his Photomicrographs of Record Grooves with wear-based images that will have helped manufacturers make better products & into the early years of Stereo. In the early Hifi News mags, the Dust Bug was an essential item, but all it did was scrape the dust around the whole record until you cleaned the fluff off the pad. Cecil Watts is name now just about forgotten, he died in 1967 if the company coninued, but underservedly forgotten so as with G. Briggs (Gilbert) the Wharfedale & Hifi books guy. But the Dust Bug is an item not fondly liked today, hated even, for leaving stain marks on the Garrard 301 white paintwork. The Dust Bug we've seen before long ago & thought "what's the point of that?" but it was introduced in the late 1950s & was a very popular item if falling in popularity as things the modern Hifi user now expects with a turntable: a perspex lid. In the early Hifi days, the Turntable was out in the open with only a wooden lid or cupboard door to hide away the turntable. The idea of a deeply recessed turntable or one deep in a cupboard is sadly how it was though there were ones that mounted the turntable easily accessible on the top as we'd expect today. So with the turntable left open for 20 minutes whilst the cumbersome arm & stiff ceramic-crystal cartridge scraped the high treble out of percussion LPs as 5g or higher was the playing weight in the Mono days, there was dust of airbourne & record debris (eek) littering the surface of the record. Don't forget Smoking was common & nicotine goo will have clogged up the grooves, if you've had low grade early 60s pop 45s they can still stink of their Dancehall Days. Cecil Watts showed photos of the record debris in some of his record groove photos which looks quite shocking. So The Dust Bug was a required thing. Just a piece of perspex on a pivot with a bristle brush & a velvet roller it will have collected bigger dust particles but ultimately pushed smaller ones back into the groove. They weren't supposed to be used on 78s either as the plush wears out on the slate dust in the grooves, if you wash an old played 78 a lot of black dirt comes off, this is the dust in the grooves worn off from use with a heavy arm or old needle player. After washing, the 78 will be as good as it'll ever be & won't wear anymore. Some high-end later Shure cartridges have this brush too, utterly pointless says we. Comes Stereo in 1958-59 & playing weights are much reduced meaning less record debris but still airbourne dust. By the mid-late 1960s the familiar perspex lidded turntable was here with a turntable mounted on a plinth with the lid, so on goes the LP to play for 20 minutes but with the lid down dust would have not been a problem if static was low. We used to destat an LP by finger on the turntable spindle & grounding the outer edge of the record to lose the static charge. Any fluids or washing can sort this too but then you get a residue in the grooves. So the Dustbug is an unpopular item today & the fact it looks a bit naff means it gets removed in contempt, but the glue will have soaked a stain into the turntable paint making certain turntables forever with a dark mark unless you respray it or maybe polish it out.
• Turntable Arms ↑
These are then needed if one isn't fitted. Get a SME 3009 say many on forums. Not us, SME 3009 is not a very good arm, loose, wobbly & with a tea-strainer of a headshell and oddly that's how your music sounds. Weak & ill-defined, first out in 1959 with the amateurish-looking string weight added later, but only found out to be mediocre in comparison with better. And that better can be as cheap as an old 60s Garrard arm the TPA12 like the 4HF has, though it's not too modern-friendly. But go higher up the current SME to the big bucks arms & there's your perfection. An arm must be totally rigid & solid, any chance of minute bending, resonance or 'give' is where the sound escapes rather than just staying as vibrations in the cartridge.
We see you can buy an "Isolator" to put between cartridge & arm. What an Awful Idea. It has metal plates either side of a piece of sorbothane or rubber. You actually glue your cartridge to it, adding more rubbery decoupling. So as your cartridge vibrates in the record groove, energy is lost in this isolator making sound blurry as the SME 3009 does with it's poor design. All the groove energy must be vibrated into the cartridge with the most rigid arm not to dampen any of the energy. You'll probably hear "rave reviews" saying it reduces surface noise, as it will also reduce music transients too by damping. But fluffy thinking & ill-concieved ideas of "better" aka just different plague any sorts of comparing, unless you really understand your subject.
The Technics SL-1500 is seen upgraded with SME arms as parts are available to mount it. We had problems with ours, it stuck or skipped towards the end of a track, which is pretty useless. This may be what others found & replaced it. But the thing really to do is Service it. The bearings need exact adusting & to be clean & then the arm works fine. Too loose or too tight causes the problems. Not skipped since. **As with a page like this, written over several years, some points do get repeated, but to edit this is too difficult now. It was meant as as a blog-type one-page that grew to this & to edite & rewrite it would lose the appeal, but the Index helps you find specific topics.
HOW TO KNOW YOUR ARM & CARTRIDGE ARE MATCHED. ↑
A cartridge that is too heavy for an arm will appear too front heavy in use even if the playing mass-weight as it's variously called is correct. A cartridge too light in an arm suited for heavier arms will fly away scarily. There is also the range of weight, our Technics SL-1500 is fine with a Goldring Elektra, but with a skinny £100 Ortofon that sounded much better, weight was difficult as the arm only has a small adjustment range & even machining the weight down is hard. We tried this & 4g less weight allows 1g extra on the scale. But it's not ideal to do this, go choose a different cartridge. You can rake through spec sheets to find the info or maybe not find any. So the easiest way to see if a cartridge matches is as simple as setting the arm weight midway & seeing what weight the cartridge has with a scale. If it's more than 2g out then this is a mismatch. A game of see-saws really, the laws of physics mean an overlight cartridge can jump easily & a too heavy one will be 'slow' in it's reaction times to the groove. Then there is the issue of scratching records. We as Record Dealers saws this a lot with 1950s & 1960s LPs if very rarely on ones past 1970. The early autochanger arms played very heavy & groove wear at the start of LPs together with a nasty across-the-grooves curved scratch killed many a good LP. Many kept these old radiograms until the music centre era. Not that anyone into Hifi should use an Autochanger, but USA buyers liked them, record labels skidding around with poor tracking, side bias to trigger the mechanism & heavier weights so you could stack 8 singles. The thing here is the too-heavy mismatched arm will be easy to scratch a record with if such an event occurs. The too-light one will fly away in a way the arm does when you set the weight to zero, it will bounce across the record leaving lots of click sounds, ie it's trashed, and also it may not track very well on complex loud parts. A cartridge & stylus in a well matched arm will have enough strength-force to move tiny bits of dirt out of the way, not that you should be playing dirty vinyl, but it gives the idea. The too-light arm will fly away & jump on the speck of dirt. Old ideas of putting a Penny Coin on the arm show what rubbish BSR record players people used to use. As Record Dealers, vinyl in high visual grade free of visible grey needle scratches usually sounds fine once washed. See our VINYL INFO sections pages on the top bar menu, after all we are Record Dealers!
One easier way is to look for what Cartridge was recommended for the Arm when it was new. If it's a 1970 one the Goldring G800 was the typical one, for a 1977 one the SL-1500 is we got a Shure V15 with it, both these are bigger size cartridges. The skinny type Ortofons are not suited to early players therefore, but will suit the Pink Triangle--Ariston big sellers of the early-mid 1980s. The big money SME IV & V have a lot more range in adjustment & to use a cheap or midprice cartridge with a £1k arm isn't likely, these are made for the cartridges of the £150+ range.
HOW TO KNOW YOUR TURNTABLE & ARM ARE MATCHED. ↑
This one isn't so difficult. You can get card templates to show where the arm should be placed on those that are the turntable part only, ie a Garrard 301. The Garrard 401 is a difficult one as the back right corner extends where you'd like to fix the SME arm fixings. The better arms can be adjusted vertically & horizontally and as long as the flat base of the cartridge or the centre line of the arm is true horizontal to the top of the platter with a record on, then that one is sorted. Tracking cards show the placing of the cartridge which can be less easy in some. It takes time to set up the geometry as is the term, but once set it'll not need altering.
• Cartridge & Stylus ↑
Only a fool buys a £1000+ cartridge, they are a waste of money but good for vanity and kudos-peer pressure only, the Koetsu type from the 1980s got lots of mag reviews but sales will have been tiny. Don't bother with budget cartridges or DJ ones like Stanton for anything more than casual play as they are without finesse. A good start is the Goldring Elektra at £50-60 which is acceptable if emphasises the midrange roughness a bit on whatever Phono stage you use or head upwards with a £200ish Goldring 10 series or Roksan based on one is the highest you'll need to go. With the right system, dog rough too-loud mastered 45s played elsewhere now sound sweet & detailed.
With our SL-1500 we got a 1977 Shure V15 III in good condition for free & it'd sell for £100+ as they are much wanted & it sounds much like the Goldring 10-series. The V15 III is a noted classic that has made crazy prices for NOS boxed unused ones. Those saying the V15 sounds boring as is found on forums are clearly used to hearing rough cartridges that add artifacts & distortion to the music. We could hear the V15 has a little roughness of it's own on a top valve preamp & lacked the extra treble of the Roksan, but on the small Trio amp it wasn't a bother & the Roksan was better on the valve system but yet was a little too raw sounding on the Trio. The Shure tracks ultra light & is a bit fragile for general use. Neither is better in one situation, but both are great sounding on the right amp.
The Stanton 500.V3 tried just to have a cartridge for general use, sounded awful on the Technics-Trio & the Hacker, the volume output was about the same, but it has less treble detail & a hard very obviously distorted midrange. It's a DJ cartridge where hifi is hardly a main thing, scratching & cueing survival matter more.
We researched how to play all types of Vintage Vinyl years ago as a tiny few are not a Standard Size & they need custom stylus sizes to play right. See that page Here.
If you're playing 1950s & 1960s records especially 45s & hear that supposedly "worn" hard midrange buzzy sound, be aware it may be your cartridge that is the weakness, not the vinyl, as a better cartridge will reveal. It could be your Phono stage isn't so great either, read on. A brand new stylus on our Goldring Elektra reveals midrange buzz on top grade vinyl, but played with a superior stylus on an all-valve amp, gone is that roughness & smooth as you like, based on how good the vinyl was recorded naturally. Not all UK vinyl from 1963-66 especially is mastered as good as it should be though. You may need a custom stylus size, see the link in bold just a few lines above, but usually it means either the stylus is worn or the stylus is not correctly adjusted & is mistracking, or simply your cartridge is not as good as it could be. Having the Roksan Corus Black, playing old vinyl via a valve phono stage with the stylus as provided, the rough midrange distortion is all gone except on ones cut to clipping levels, yes get your eyeglass out & look at the grooves & see the square-wave type clipping patterns. Another difference with a midprice cartridge to a better one is revealed using the Yamaha amp we've been playing our new stock with: a sort of vague swooshy sound of mild mistracking on louder midrange-rich parts. The better stylus with a finer profile sits in the grooves tighter collecting all the record groove wall info as it plays, the midprice one is not sophisticated enough. To spend more than the price of a Roksan Corus Black or it's Golding 10xx series is the limit of sound for your pound, though you used to find £1000+ cartridges. A 54 year old single, Johnny Kidd 'Shakin' All Over' sounds remarkable on a better cartridge as we found on first getting the Roksan years ago. The Goldring Elektra delivers a decent sound, but the midrange is not solid like the better one delivers, or is it?
We've used our Elektra a lot, as of checking this page Apr 2016, if always on 45s we've washed. Got a new one ready if it came with a useful microfibre brush. To see how worn our stylus was, we used the brush & played a few known rougher sounding 45s on both. Verdict: the new stylus is still in the box, the 'old' one is still very useable if not perfect, the brush & other methods of keeping the stylus tip clean are worthwhile. We usually undo the technics headshell & blow it which reveals it's clean with an eye glass. You can get 50x magnifiers, but to compare old to new is the best test. Even the Cecil Watts photo micrographs of the 1950s in Hifi News revealed less than perfect vinyl or stylus tips are still 'good enough' & at £35 a new stylus, don't prematurely bin the old one without checking it's clean against the new one.
The Elektra does show it's weakness playing loud cut vintage 45s that are cut Mono. In the ideal world, a Phono stage should have Mono switching right on the input before it's amplified, but none do, unless you do this yourself. This tightens the focus greatly. But play a Mono 45 with the Mono switch set to Stereo, it can be a nasty screetchy mess & the Elektra does suffer with this, on louder higher frequencies the Elektra isn't too sophisticated & can give a metally sounding imprecise sound set to Mono. We'd not using for archiving vinyl, but for general play it suits. Would you even notice that? The sound of YouTube videos is generally pretty awful if they copied the vinyl. Some don't even Mono it, others are lacking bass or are dull sounding. Those who record the sound in the room with a camera instead of using hifi are unlistenable, if as always, some will be happy with the most unnatural racket as they know no better. Older videos are heavily compressed & misguided noise reduction using poor monitoring gear loses the life, much like CDs which is why we don't play music from CD, only from Vinyl we recorded onto CD since 1998 with the first CD recorders.
We found on using the Trio WX-400U valve amp with valve phono stage, we were surprised how smooth the Elektra was. This was in 2012 when we first got the Trio, this is an older paragraph that still stay as it fills the story in... We've used it on plenty of transistor amps & it usually sounded a bit rough. Playing a Mono 45 but set to Stereo the added wide noise on several transistor amps led us to believe it was not so good. But on the Valve amp the Mono record was barely different played in 'Stereo' mode beyond a bit of Stereo crackle. It just shows how poor most Phono stages are & to blame the cartridge is wrong. This paragraph spawned the rest of the section, so to see our thinking on why.
A TEST... £50 CARTRIDGE vs £250 CARTRIDGE.
The below Phono stages section shows we've been designing the "perfect" Phono stage, just to see if it can be done. We've been using a good brand one, but it's their cheapest model, the Goldring Elektra. Now we are designing, you'll just be using the design as made, but this reveals the fact that even a £50 Goldring Elektra with "the right circuit" can sound as good as our more expensive £250 Roksan Corus Black, the model we've used since last Century for archiving. A cheaper cartridge on lesser Phono stages, which is most of them as tests above show, will lack focus & have that harsh "grainy" sound on notes around 1kHz which are cut the loudest on the record. The truth actually is the roughness is due to lack of resolution. On a Phono stage with extreme resolution, it can sadly reveal how rough the records are mastered if delivering precision based on what there is. But finding vintage 45s to use as test 45s, as in ones we sell on this site, we found with our newer higher resolution that some are revealing rough sounds on the vinyl. To find a spitty siblant & slow the disc down by hand on the turntable reveals the grooves are cut roughly. Once a disc is cut distorted, the high resolution will tell you every detail. Whether you want such detail is another thing, but to purposely design to resolve it was the challenge. Sone 45s sound wonderful, some are really rough & a close magnified look at the grooves reveals 'bad audio' as cut. Most Vintage vinyl still sounds good if not perfect as distortion is heard as mastered. Trying the Roksan with the same 45s on the Roksan surprisingly showed very little difference. So is a £50 cartridge or a £250 one better? Only depending on your Phono stage. When typing this, we played a small batch of 1960s UK mono 45s on the Elektra's Technics SL-1500 turntable. Then tried the Roksan with the Garrard 301 & SME. The tonal balance differs, the Roksan is brighter needing -1 on the treble setting from using the other, but both are as clean as the other. The one with the overloud treble sounds as bad on the Roksan. On playing a few more, the Roksan reveals itself to be more different as in the midrange on the Goldring Elektra is better giving more detail, if we did design the Phono stage to the Elektra's sound. The Roksan here has the bass of the Elektra, midrange sounds a bit lower & treble is higher, which shows how different Cartridges sound. For listening to the Elektra, we prefer it to the uneven sound of the Roksan, but if we'd used the Roksan to design with, it'd match better. The 45 we ended with the Roksan goes on the Elektra, The Beatles "Revolution" which is cut very loud with their fuzz guitar. On the Elektra, the sound again is balanced & brings not a grimace as the Roksan did. This further adds to the idea that Phono stages vary enough in quality as shown below & a brighter cartridge may suit one better. Another Look Jan 2017: The valve amp we use for MP3 Soundfiles on our Record Sales we designed & tuned to the Goldring Elektra. Wondering how good the amp or cartridge was as the R channel is slightly lower, only about 1dB, it reveals the Goldring is the culprit. It was only a £50 cartridge, so not to expect closer tolerance. The Roksan Corus does sound quite different on playing the same 1960s Mono 45s. The Roksan is noticably brighter, needs 1 notch less on Treble Tone, Bass is a bit fuller if Midrange sounds a little more recessed, which emphasises the extremes. On comparing the same obscure track from the Goldring to Elektra shows the midrange is the same volume, once normalised peaks to 0dB, if the Roksan is certainly brighter & bassier. Here we prefer the Goldring sound balance, simply as the phono stage was designed to compliment it. This shows how different cartridges can sound & for the phono stage we use, the £50 one is good enough. But that's our valve phono stage, others using as-sold Phono stages would benefit from the 'extra' the Roksan gives & the Goldring we know on other amps can sound rough when the Roksan is smoother. It's what you play the cartridge with. It also brings into question to use a Garrard 301 & SME or the Technics SL1500. Again the weaknesses in your amp will benefit from a better cartridge, arm & turntable. It's really bordering on Dark Arts to get the best from Vinyl. Vinyl is always best with a Valve-Tube phono stage, even the fairly basic 1963 Trio WX-400U valve receiver had a nice sounding Phono stage, if hum & no bass were it's weaknesses.
PHONO STAGE LOADING. Using our Phono stage there is no more 'roughness' with either Cartridge, if one matches our design better. Roksan Corus states 47k ohm loading & 150pf-300pf loading. Goldring Elektra states 47k ohm & 150pf-400pf. To decide the value of 150pf to 400pf, the best option is just to have a selection to solder in until the sound focusses best without losing treble detail. Not exactly what many can do, soldering iron & find film capacitors & solder them in as well as knowing what sounds right. Use a loudly mastered Mono record is the best test disc for this. Never use ceramic ones in audio, only polystyrene & similar poly- type ones & silvered mica which are perhaps the best if the most expensive. with a MM cartridge, 47k ohm is the standard value, if most vintage amps have no capacitor loading & the wrong resistor loading. Having 68k to 100k loading as older amps have, almost randomly, will mean treble will be brighter which may suit some duller phono stages, but loud treble such as sibilants will be unbalanced.
1968-1990s Goldring G-800 Cartridge.
This was first released in 1968 as the Goldring 800, later called the G800 & variants with different stylus profiles G800E etc. So trying it on the Technics SL-1500 after usiing the Goldring Elektra on a different headshell. There is a difference in focus between the modern Technics headshell & the original one, so to bear that in mind. In weight it's heavier in itself than the Elektra & needs the counterweight rolled back, oddly to the expected place to use the weight, not right up to the pivots block. We've got a new elliptical stylus in, the generic replacement one. It'll take a few known & recently played 1960s Mono 45s to get used to the sound, but it's actually pretty good. It's a little different handing a heavier cartridge in cueing up a record. Last time we tried the same cartridge was about 5 years ago & it seemed a bit rough. The sound on our self-designed valve phono is enjoyable. The overall sound balance is a little more bassy & the treble is more extended. Playing a Mono 45 to switch out the Mono switch gives a nasty mess with the Elektra & we are tiring of how it mashes the treble unnaturally. The output seems a little lower on the midrange so the volume needs turning up slightly which brings up the background noise of the amp a bit. The opinion so far is the G800 betters the Elektra quite obviously. G800 stylus £14, Elektra stylus £35. So to put the G800 in the newer Technics headshell, sound tightens. After a few more known Mono 45s, the G800 is easily the better, smooth midrange, fuller bass if not boomy, cleaner treble & the important play Mono 45 in Stereo is more like the Roksan Corus which is based on a Goldring 1012. The output is better on the newer headshell too for reasons obscure. One known 45 that sounds 'rough' with bad 'rip' sounds, one track actually sounds right, oddly we've had that 45 for ages & only ever recorded the Jamaican copy as the UK sounded rough, is this the conical stylus or the cartridge?. The G800 sounds cleaner on several other 45s, the heavier build has to keep the sound tighter than the lighter Elektra & the weightier cartridge stays in the groove better, as a better match to the SL-1500. The white stylus is a Conical Stylus that appears to suit 1960s 45s well. To get a G800 on ebay for £20 & fit a £14 cartridge for sound this good is one of the best Hifi Bargains. But this is our opinion using our high-def valve Phono stage & it didn't sound so great using transistor phono stages. As it's 1968 it is likely it was designed with valves in testing, further playing reveals it is very decent, if not Roksan Corus quality, actually not so far off it. We're not putting the Goldring Elektra back on the Technics SL-1500, the G800, for us, is vastly superior. How strange we are still using the same cartridge we first used with a Garrard SP25 Mk III & the Philco-Ford M1550 amp when a pre-teen first playing records. Catches you up.
GOLDRING G800 VERSIONS (info from vinylengine.com)
G800 Standard version. 5 thou conical, 5mV output 1.5-3.5g play range. D110 white stylus replacement.
G800E Elliptical version. 7 thou x 3 thou biradial, 5mV output, 0.75g-1.75g play range, D110E grey stylus replacement.
G800H high Output DJ version. 7 thou conical, 8mV output, 2.5g-4g play range.
G800SE Super version. 7 thou x 3 thou biradial, 4mV output, 0.5g-1.25g play range D110SE grey stylus replacement.
The following is on the March 2017 blog & concerns the Goldring G800 with Conical & Elliptical styli plus a quick compare back to the Goldring Elektra.
Conical vs Elliptical Stylus Part 1. We play 1950s-60s singles a lot as the website name suggests. The Goldring G800 reviewed above we've played lots of known 45s on since & the conical stylus is a very different, we'll get an elliptical one to be sure. The sound is more intimate even when using the Roksan Corus on known 45s. The Conical stylus profile doesn't get as deep into the grooves is the typical reason why elliptical or bi-radial stylus is preferred. The standard G800 is 5 thou & an Elliptical is 7 thou x 3 thou. There is a possibility we're playing slightly deeper into the groove to find better condition grooves, but we've played Mint ones that were unplayed in the 60s. The treble isn't softer at all, it's all better focussed, if that could be the G800 cartridge. Ours has to be the Conical as at 1.5g it doesn't track quite so good, but 2g is right. A 78 stylus exists for the G800 & we used the G800 before getting the Roksan Corus. But we remember it costing £14 & G800E stylus is £16.50 now. The only way is to buy a 800E one & see if they are different, the one on it was unused. To be continued... Conical vs Elliptical Stylus Part 2. Been playing a lot of 1960s 45s on the Goldring G800 & oddly it has a retro appeal with tracks we've played since the 1980s on our Hacker GAR500 or 550 & the G800 with the conical stylus was the preferred cartridge. Remembering " it used to sound like that" instead of the thinner elliptical stylus sound, is it the G800 or the conical stylus? To be continued... It certainly makes 60s vinyl that can be as rough as sandpaper on the Elektra sound focussed. To get the idea that Mono vinyl was quality tested with a conical stylus. One rough 1965 UK London 45 by 'The Twilights' sounds awful on everything including a 1.1 thou Mono elliptical stylus on the Roksan Corus that still leaves a bit of a buzzy sound, playing the recording we done years ago. Here the G800 plays it better without any cringy face expressions, if the record is very roughly mastered, the G800 brings a crisper sound that would have got through an uncritical quality control. The Elliptical Stylus appears to have been introduced by Shure in 1964 with the V-15 if unlikely many UK buyers bought Elliptical Styli until the 1970s. So those very loud cut Decca 45s do sound best with a Conical Stylus. The G800 catridge has been sat on the SL-1500 for years, but tiring of the Elektra recently, remembered it was there & to try it. On one 1965 UK Columbia record a midrange distortion that we've not heard on playing that before suggests conical may not be the ideal. On another very loud cut UK 1966 Ember 45 to hear it not quite get the full sound out as it goes a bit dull. On a UK 1966 Reprise 45 is brings a clean focus to it. A UK 1960 MGM that 'rips' badly on the Elektra, the sound here doesn't rip if it sounds a little flattened. USA 1950s singles sound cleaner with the conical stylus. Conical vs Elliptical Stylus Part 3. The G800E stylus arrives as as we put on the Turntables page for Specs, the E version is in grey plastic, so the white one was conical, care needed on buying these therefore. The G800E we got from StylusStore on ebay. So to try the few 'very different sounding' 45s with the elliptical set at 1.75g play weight. The roughest one is The Twilights one & the G800E plays it cleaner than the conical. The 1960 MGM is crisper, it's rough but doesn't 'rip' like the Elektra did. The 1966 Island mentioned earlier is rough on on early section, but the G800 & G800E play it better than the Elektra, the 800E have a more detailed sound. The 1966 Ember on the Elliptical sounds crisper on the section the Conical dulled. The 1965 Columbia on the E loses the mysterious distortion. The 1966 Reprise is fresher still with the E. Verdict: The Goldring G800 with the grey Elliptical stylus still sounds great. In comparing to the Elektra which is ragged on the upper midrange & treble as well as being louder as the midrange is louder compared to the bass, the G800E is still much more refined.
A Mystery c. 1957-60 Cartridge.
A random section written early on... Early on with the typist, Radiograms were used for playing 45s on the odd visit when still young. The most remembered was the Pye Black Box Stereo, a long coffee table piano lacquered record player, not the brown tabletop player. One such Radiogram was a big chunky dark wood unit with a record turntable in the cupboard sort but it looked classier than the usual cheap items. It got some of our early 45rpm chart buys played on, even the day it was released bought from Woolworths. But the cartridge was very unusual, it had 2 stylus pickups on it, not the flipover sort but both on the same lower side & to select LP or 78 you rotated the whole head about 15° to use either stylus. It intrigued the young typist & the thing pulled out to see that there were 2 stylus tips (Red & Green) set at different angles & it worked fine. The only ones in the HFYB that look anything like it are the white headshell cartridges made by Philips & perhaps the whole gram was Philips too? The 1959-60 HFYB show the Philips AG3301 that is a regular flipover type cartridge but it is the only one that looks anything like this one remembered from so long ago. Any ideas?
• PHONO STAGES ↑
Phono Stages are the hardest part of an amplifier to get right. As vinyl playing folk, vinyl was the sole way of hearing music until we made CDs & now have the recorded tracks on the Computer. This page isn't really comparisons as opinions taken at various times, but the opinion is based on what we consider a good phono stage & there aren't very many at all as this states...
This page details some of the Phono stages on some of the earlier amps we tried until finding some better sounding ones, just to see what they were like. Generally most Phono stages are too Thick on the Bass & too Dull on the Treble gives a muddy sound hiding the fidelity. The RIAA curve is pretty useless if it can vary so much to those who state "0.5dB accuracy" but then it sounds dull & thick as the music isn't resolved correctly. In our upgrades, we can sort out the Dull sound of a Phono stage & make it crisper sounding to a degree without it sounding too bright for the sound the user expects, but redesigning Transistor Phono stages just can't do what Valves can do, if we've tried. The ratings below are based solely on the Original Design.
What Do Vintage 1950s to 1980s 7" Singles sound like in Top Hifi Sound? ↑
We record a lot of Vintage Vinyl to Digital in the .wav format. We use our own spec Valve Preamp, Garrard 301, SME & Roksan Corus Black with various stylus sizes to play all vinyl. This gives full resolution of Vinyl & what does it sound like? At best it can sound detailed sweet & smooth like you'd get from a Master Tape, to find many this good from 1955, 1962, 1965 or 1968 is possible. We don't say CD as most pre digital era CDs are so badly mastered with treble severely chopped off mastered so loud to 0dB the waveforms look like a heavily trimmed box hedge. Very few are mastered to the quality Ace do. Back to the vinyl, the trouble is they had to use an amplifier to drive the cutting head & the recording can be high fidelity but played through a rough sounding amp that is poorly maintained gives huge distortion, "sandpaper grooves" that are vvvvv looking with no fidelity or detail. Others clip & "bark" hard on midrange notes. Just playing a John Mayall 45 in great clean sound, but then a very loud guitar note caught their mastering out as it clips as not fully resolved. Playing Johnny Kidd 'Shakin' All Over' UK 1960 HMV there is a bizarre squelchy distorted treble section twice on the same phrase. Later playing The Ink Spots 1954 UK single "Ebb Tide" the very loud sections really mess with the cutting amp & heavy deep bass is heard as the low spec amp fails to cope. The trouble is these records were overmodulated to sound "good" and loud on cheap portable players. Another rough one is Tommy Bruce "Ain't Misbehavin'" from 1960, the UK is very harshly distorted, if we got a New Zealand copy mastered better & it sounds far better. All down to the Mastering Engineer. Not all 1950s & 1960s £££ Stereo Classicals sound as good as they should either, the SXL early ones on very loud sections are really rough even on barely used copies. The best Classical are the UK Mercury plum labels using the USA masters. Generally the USA 45 is better mastered, if the vinyl is less good quality & can wear badly. Some 1955-66 era US vinyl is as noisy as a 78 almost. So for 45rpm Singles, some of the earliest ones from 1949-54 USA & the UK exports can have a different EQ so sound thin & dull if mastered at a lower level so can still be good sounding. But sadly there are enough to be a bit annoying as they are carelessly mastered so sound lacking in full resolution. There are also those mastered from USA 45s or Acetates that can be otherwise quality or dog rough. UK Red Atlantics 1966-67 were usually dubbed roughly from the USA 45 if it oddly adds more Party Appeal, such as the Art Freeman one is far tougher sounding than the USA copy. Those that are recorded too loud, the sound fully resolved ends up in an artificial "soupy" sound that glosses the heavy clipping into a swampy sort of sound. Be sure we play with a good stylus, swapping to non-standard ones for tricky ones mastered with a damaged cutter or a transcription one as some early USA 45s are. UK Pye from 1968-69 has this swampy sound from some sort of limiting or poor amps, to us it's obvious. Of course these Records are still enjoyable played on All-Valve Phono to amp stage amplifiers as the Valve harmonic distortion is "kinder" on these records and even on headphones it's not offputting. Generally a Transistor Phono stage in an amplifier, except for the better ones, will just make these sound even worse especially if it's IC based. Resolution is the key & few Phono stages are good enough so hide the roughness by making the Phono stage sound dull, yet supposedly being RIAA-true. As the years go on, usually by the early 1970s the record companies are using Transistor amps for the cutters & for the lack of maintainence these need compared to valves, the Fidelity is far better, if there still are the odd rough ones. We prefer the vinyl always as it's as near to the original recording session without some fool's hack idea of removing every trace of hiss or ambient realism vinyl has. We play 78s from the pre vinyl era & we're happy hearing them well recorded using correct stylus sizes & even after recording these in 1998 we've never bothered to de-crackle or de-noise them as the music is so precise. But we recorded them Flat, not with RIAA that many CDs wrongly use, why use RIAA on a flat mastered track? Older Record Players & Amps had a "78" setting that plays them flat, our 1957 EAR Triple-Four portable record player has this & no bass gain & cleaner treble is noticeable from LP to 78 mode. Read more on this below in the "Valves for the best Phono Stages", below the "3 Amps Test"
A LATER OPINION... Just to prove how Expensive Cartridges aren't really worth the £££, we keep improving our Luxman valve Phono stage. The thing now is matching the quality of our Garrard 301 & SME & Roksan, if using the Technics SL-1500 & a well-used Goldring Elektra, if a new stylus compare shows it's still good. This sort of negates the point of Expensive Turntables, Arms & Cartridges really, but the truth is our Phono Stage is very precise. We are Record Dealers also & Sell Vinyl, the "New Stock Updates" page has the latest Soundfiles done via the Luxman valves & Technics, if they are a little compressed as 64kb MP3, they still sound good. Compared to playing the 45, the treble is a little brighter & a little squashed, if the hifi detail you can hear. Playing 50s & 60s vinyl which we do a lot, it reveals how badly some records are mastered. Rough Treble from distortion of matering too loud shows itself as a metally squishy sound that is far from natural & these treble clips can put you off playing some tracks. The midrange distortion is a little worse as "sandpaper grooves" as noted above contain no music, just a bad noise. Then bass can be cut distorted leaving a sea-sick squidgy sound. Do you really want to hear Vinyl in such detail? With Vintage Vinyl as with CDs, the disc is only as good as the mastering engineer. We don't like CD sound as it's heavily chopped on the detailed waveforms by 0dB-ing even midrange sounds leaving obvious clipping if looked at on an Audio program. CDs are often badly "sound restored" by taking any background noise away & unaware they lose much detail & ambience, they use 5" "Monitor" speakers it appears that hide their mess. So no Vinyl or CD is perfect, if Vinyl is usually far more pleasing, if as this page below shows, most Phono stages are sub standard as their level of resolution is generally lacking, leaving a blurry sound. You're reading the page by one who has tried to get "the real sound" for vinyl for over 20 years. It's only found with valves, if some as you'll read below in transistor amps can be good, they still don't compare to valves. Generally Phono stages are "warm" sounding, ie soft treble & muddy detail to hide how bad vinyl is mastered & how poor their designs are. We've yet to hear of a Digital Phono stage as you could use on the computer "live", you can record & add RIAA filtering & EQ. But you can't plug a Record Player Cartridge direct into a Soundcard as the S:N ratio aka Noise is unusable. So you need a Phono stage. Another thing, on designing our Phono stage, we used the Decca test tone LP, but in the end found it "wasn't our sound" & it needed treble & bass lift in the Phono EQ to sound good on 50s & 60s vinyl. Sticking by the Rule Book of RIAA EQ didn't work. Your Transistor Phono stage is RIAA-true but sounds dull & bass light. Funny old world of Hifi.
PHONO CABLES Why Spend More? ↑
This is one we found out on finding some cable we bought in 1998-2000 & found again Dec 2016. Straight Wire Chorus (then £40, blue) and Sonata (then £60, green). Cables we talk about lower down the page but this was an interesting one. The valve phono stage amp we use for MP3 Soundfiles on our Record Sales we've designed to Our Perfection, using RIAA test tones but adjusting to our taste. So on playing records they sound as we wanted. This was done with the blue Chorus one. On seeing the green Sonata one & noticing via old Google reviews it was the more expensive, to try it out. We'd played a new 45 arrival & were used to it, so playing again with the "better" green Sonata the sound wasn't liked, it lost a lot of treble detail, as in flicking the High Filter (Low Pass) switch, if our amp doesn't have one. Straight back to the blue Chorus & the fresher sound returns. So what's different? The cable colour makes no difference & the insides of the plugs are no different. As we say below, it's the cable construction using LCR (inductance, capacitance & resistance) creating a Low Pass filter with character smoothing. So the hype about cables being better or worse makes a difference on the tiny signal from a MM cartridge, but no difference at all on Line-Level (CD) signals. "Better" aka "More Expensive" cables are just adding a sophisticated LCR effect to the cable, making it appear cleaner. But when you are much higher up the fidelity ladder, the truth using a Phono stage is revealed. Do you need expensive cables? It's a cheaper way to slightly improve a rough Phono stage than get a better amp, but as with HDMI cables truths being told, as long as you get something of at least entry-level quality, not 99p cables, then you are just being sold a false dream. And an LCR circuit.
An update on this. April 2017 after using the Goldring G-800E for a while, the treble can get tiring as the cartridge played Mono sounds a bit 'metallic' on highest treble which is for the cartridge, not the Valve preamp. The blue Straight Wire Chorus and green Sonata get a swap over, the Sonata being the more expensive. It tames the harsh treble losing the 'metallic' sound for the LCR capabilities. We've used the Roksan Corus Black with G1006 stylus on the same preamp & using a non-standard SME cable, as the other one broke too easily, the sound was very clean, none of the 'metallic' sound. The G-800E now sounds sweeter if treble is now better contained, rather than rolled off as the SW Sonata cable did. So these cables certainly act as a filter, taming cheaper gear. The only difference we can notice is with a Phono Cartridge, for CD-Line level cables made no difference if they can do on Loudspeakers if the cable guage is too thin as one who bought our second Akai AA7000 very clearly found. But the idea is still, with "the best" you don't need expensive cables to filter roughness & harshness away.
Phono Stages in Transistor Amps are usually mediocre. ↑
As Record Dealers, we play a lot of vinyl to learn the Vinyl, play test it, to digitally archive vinyl we like the music & to play the vinyl itself sometimes. We've always thought most Phono stages were pretty rubbish to be blunt, no wonder CD took off so big in the 1980s & even tape cassettes were popular before as easy. The whole disc to speakers route requires precision & full resolution & we never found this with any valve or transistor amp. Turntable, Arm, Cartridge, Cables, Phono Stage compared to CD or Tape player. The Phono stage we use is our own Valve one we designed long ago in a Rogers Cadet III initially, so all the tracks we have from CD-R introduced in 1998 to straight to the computer in .wav format are from the 'same' phono stage, if rebuilt & altered much. We tried the Hitachi IA1000 which is a remarkable amp with all our difficult upgrades. But the Phono stage soon becomes annoying as the resolution is weak so we upgraded it a bit more but it's not as good as the rest of the amp still. We're just using the Technics SL-1500 & the Goldring Elektra and know this can sound pretty decent on the Trio WX400U valve phono stage. But on the Hitachi it is clearly a "small recreation" of tracks we know well. Loud cut 1960s vinyl needs a top level of resolution else it just sounds rough, but done right it is as smooth as the mastertape. Here playing some 1965 'Them' UK Decca 45s, these are revealed as limited in Bass & Treble, the midrange is very harsh as the Phono stage doesn't resolve the music properly so it sounds rough & clipped which is blamed on old 45s but it's the weak Phono stage every time. RIAA, as we note below, is a bad compromise as the Phono stage designer can hide poor sound with the heavy treble roll of so never bothers to do the midrange resolution right. We cannot listen to the Hitachi phono stage for long, it's still as original but it is weak. Most of this page is a few years old now & we generally don't bother rating Phono stages, just seeing they work right & to recap them on amps we sell. The aux input is the main sound of the amp after all. Beyond the Sansui AUG90X which is a bit of a freak amp in 1984, it's Phono stage is very good if lacks a Mono switch. But most Phono stages are just average at best. 1973-78 Yamaha are quite dull if accurate, but up the treble to full & it's still too dull. We had the 1986 Pioneer C90/M90 200w combo & were shocked at how bad the preamp was, loads of ICs for switching & amplification as well as a rat's nest of unshielded cable. The Phono stage here was overdesigned with lots of transistors & an IC, it just sounded boring & very limited. The Best Transistor Phono stage we've heard is the Sony STR-6120 one, it's just three transistors per side & it sounds very clean, we can play it for 4 hours & not tire of it, if it's not the Valve Phono stage quality, it's still kind on the ears of the typist. The USA 1960s Fisher phono stages are good if have ceramics in their capacitor blocks. Onto the 1980s make-them-pay-for-more-dumb-boxes ideals of Linn & Naim (ptui) these are seriously overdesigned & be sure ICs are your lot, though you can upgrade your IC turd to a Burr Brown Turd. Turds, oops ICs, in phono stages are general purpose Op-Amps stuffed with about 12-18 transistors plus diodes & resistors. No chance of any quality as our ICs page says. Record Buyers really are sold a lie with how good vinyl sounds, vinyl with full resolution is as good as the master tape mix if it is mastered well. We play all styles except Classical & some simple acoustic sounds will sound better than loud rock with hard riffs, even MP3 sounds better than a bad phono stage, if MP3 on even advanced VBR never gives enough samples on sharp treble so it is gritty. With Cartridges, the more expensive ones are more neutral & we tried our Roksan Corus (Goldring 10 series based) on a Trio 18w receiver a wile ago & it sounded very dull, but the £50 Elektra was brighter to cover for the mediocre phono stage. On upgrading a SL-1500 for a customer, they had a Ortofon OM10 Super, a £78-100 buy online. This sounded much better in the STR6120 but it's better resolution was wasted on other Phono stages. The idea fools pay £1000+ for a Koetsu or whatever today has is money wasted if the Phono stage mangles the sound. We use DC Art for Sound recording & it has an option to EQ like a Phono stage, only trouble is you put a Cartridge direct onto the Soundcard & amplify it, the noise level is very high so it's useless. You need a Phono Amp stage which always has RIAA EQ. The world of Hifi really only gives "Good Enough" which irks us perfectionists, but we design things for ourself as there is no other way. We recap & subtly upgrade Phono stages on amps we sell, but having tried to get the Valve Phono amp sound from Transistors, it requires redesign & this takes a lot to do. But Hifi manufacturers only make items apparently good enough to get you to buy a new model which is often less good than the earlier one, they cater for those who work best in groups in that office way that we despise. At Electronics College doing the BTEC a group of 4 were given a task to build a basic headphone amp designed by the tutor. Not being a group player, the typist took control as the others were clueless on talking it through, or saw they could get out of it to leave it to another & the typist made one that impressed the college head by making it neatly & customising it with car paint techniques & bits nicked from our failed Realistic amp. If he knew it was part done with a nail on a stick stuck in the gas fire as hadn't got a soldering iron initially, he would have been amused. The design was lousy & clipped out too easily though. This is the Hifi attitude of us & we are not willing to conform on things which gets advances. Maybe one day we'll design a Phono stage to Our Ideals & sell it, it'll be a valve one naturally.
RIAA EQ is Seriously Flawed in How It Sounds. ↑
Despite it supposedly being 0.5dB accurate, the sound from Phono stages varies hugely, read on for some compares. When working on the Trio WX400U valve amp, the Phono stage gets a look. The sound through the Tuner is crisper than the Phono stage on every amp you'll try. In designing our own valve Phono stage we used TV sound to get the correct sound balance. Some designs resolve treble much better and yet still have the RIAA specs the muffly ones do. It's all about how well resolved the sound is before it's filtered down, as in running valves hot. To have the option to vary the curve of the RIAA from 1kHz up as Flat to full RIAA is one we done years ago when we played US early 1950s R&B 45s that were cut with a more flat sound. But to design it to the ideals of Sound rather than Maths is an expensive job so to keep it muddy is the easy option as muddy hides poor resolution. The trouble then is CD & Phono stages sound too dull, badly mastered CDs & poor Phono stages. Why there is such a difference in FM and TV sound compared to Phono & CD is a thing we've never been happy since our early amp playing in the early 1990s. A valve Phono like the Trio uses 2x ECC83 with the first valve for the first Stereo stages & the second for the second stages. You could also use one valve for one channel with both stages in one ECC83 valve. To apply RIAA EQ in the Trio is a typical stage between first & second stages. There are other ways that are more complex. To get the Treble matched to FM Tuner sound is possible in a few ways & you can add a switch to use RIAA or Flat on the treble & also no RIAA to suit prewar 78s. But other amps all still use RIAA & CD sound & will think it's too bright, but you can play it flat needing no Tone stage to alter it which keeps the SN levels better. The fact some records aren't properly balanced makes problems too.
Testing RIAA Phono Stages by Frequencies ↑
We have the Decca LXT 5346 Test LP from 1957, ours looks about 1962 so was an Industry Standard disc. The Disc says it accords with British Standards 1928-1955. Whether this is 'true' RIAA is to be discovered. Oddly we find 'Graham Slee' has done research into EQ on Record Equalisation & confirms as we've found that most 78s are cut "flat" over 1kHz. This is how we prefer to play all vinyl as it brings out the most detail & negates the need for Tone gain, if this is far from Standard, it's how we test Amps using our Recorded Music using these ideas. The Decca EQ curve does differ & on testing the Fisher 600-T that we've recapped the Phono but not altered it beyond capacitors, it shows the Decca LP is incorrect on the Treble. The LP is cut -6dB on 12-18kHz (or kc/s as pre 1967) to double the values gives a balance back (as per -6dB is 0.5 the voltage) to the same level as other tracks. With 1kHz being 0.327v, 18kHz is way down at 0.140v, 16kHz is 0.182v, 14kHz is 0.224v & 12kHz is 0.288v. 10kHz is 0.327v correctly but then it slightly rises to 0.430 at 7kHz before slowly settling to 0.327v by 1.5kHz. It's then acceptably 'flat' around 0.327v until rising slightly to 0.367v at 50Hz. The LP is far from the RIAA curve of the Fisher, a USA designed amp. This is the problem as Records pre 1958 are generally very varying in EQ & even after 1958 many rely on a good Sound Balance Engineer plus high quality masterinmg, neither of which is that standard even into the 1980s. This is why you need Tone Controls therefore. The Fisher test offers a sample of an amp & be sure a UK or Japanese amp will differ & it's always a variation on Lower Bass or Higher Treble. Perhaps the only way to 'perfect' Vinyl Reproduction is to have a Flat amp to add some gain & use a Computer Audio program to EQ it, or use a Test Record to calibrate your Phono stage & when recording, use a Preset EQ to perfect the sound. But that's no good for playing Vinyl for pleasure. An interesting test, if also a fairly pointless one as Phono EQ curves & mastering differ quite substantially, the Fisher 600-T Phono stage is about 8dB down on the highest treble compared to the UK Decca spec. Some amps therefore could be ±8dB on the highest treble explaining why Phono stages are often too dull sounding, hiding weak design also. The only usual way really is to use Tone Controls to tame the high treble or increase the lower Bass if a bit thin. This tells us the Decca Test LP is the 'sound' we consider Vinyl should be. Having created a valve preamp to play the Decca LP curve, the sound is spot on for Vintage vinyl if we can better it. Our design playing 1950s & 1960s Vinyl is very sweet, smooth & accurate with Resolution even deeper than the Phono stage we designed several years ago that we use for Vinyl Transcription, or Recording to Digital on the Computer. As with any Phono stage, it'll differ with various cartridges & the Records themselves. But to be based on a good Test Record of the Era of Vinyl on testing, some use of Tone Bass & Treble is needed. After playing more Vinyl with our new Phono design, some records really are very badly mastered with heavy distortion & accentuated midrange for the lack of Bass & Treble giving a 'hard' sound. One known 45 sounds heavily distorted on the treble, is it our design at fault? A check to the same 45 recorded a few years before reveals it's the 45 that's badly mastered which unfortunately makes some 45s disappointing to play as rough sounding. The Higher The Monkey Climbs.. The More He Shows His Rough Bits... Others sound very nice, if well mastered Vintage Vinyl is not the typical quality. To use the Decca LP & record it, to see the actual levels as per the bands is as good as a bar graph. After some de-crackling, the sine waves are well formed, if the subsonic frequencies of a Vintage LP as 'pressing noise' is evident, with the sine waves not solidly on the Y-axis. On testing the output with an Oscilloscope, the voltage did vary & the LP shows clear peaks of up to twice the 'height' of the signal, based on Subsonic bass again as zooming in on the waveforms shows, the sine waves are correct. To read the Average Lowest Value is the better way, rather than considering the Peak Value as the output. Maybe the idea at the time was to use it with a Filter below 25Hz to eliminate the Subsonic issues, rather than one that is Full Range & can pick up Bassy Warp & even general vinyl noise. To run it twice through a steep Hi-Pass Filter at 25Hz removes that issue, giving the true response after +6dB gain on the 12kHz-18kHz tracks that are cut lower. Peaks remaining will be crackle. To fine tune the EQ better after getting the 'graph' of the outputs is then possible. Once correct makes some busy tracks sound different, Jimi Hendrix on 'Stone Free' original UK 45 has his vocal mixed up higher & cleaner than we've heard before. Any Phono stage from Valves to 1970s Op-amps can be balanced to the Decca test LP, or any other Test disc, as has been done for decades, but Resolution of detail is what none of them get right, which leaves it dull & blurry sounding. If we can do this in Valves, to do one in Transistors based on this should be possible. To find an amp with 2 transistors per channel like a Valve Phono pre uses. The Dokorder 8060 amp has this, if it's Phono stage was pretty average after how great the Line input stage sounds. After perfecting the Phono stage EQ plus a little tweak to fit "our" sound, the sound is as good as Mastertape, if with the Head Cutter amp & Mastering process the only distancer & depending on their quality. Thinking if the valve design could be done in transistors... 'No' is the opinion, we've tried this before & it didn't work out well. No transistor design could take the valve design spec, Valves can take excess current in audio signal & distortion well, but the Transistor just shorts & burns out resistors based on the KLH 27 amp we had to redesign after trying to upgrade it. So we'll leave it at that with Transistors. Possible to do a less demanding circuit, but then the resolution isn't there. For similar reasons, in Guitar Amps the Valve is still preferred for the overdrive & soft clipping.
We've tried setting Test Tones on the Computer soundcard to the exact levels on the Decca LP, with -30dB as the 0dB point, to match typical record volume. But this is hopeless as it relies on the Impedance of the Computer soundcard. The various RIAA EQ curves can differ by 5dB on bass & 2dB to 3dB on Treble, the 'Standard' RIAA EQ is supposed to be used by all Manufacturers since 1953, but in reality, records can be bass light as bass reduced for long tracks & not EQ'd right on the treble or cut at the correct volume leaving a dull sound. all of this is pretty rubbish really. To do what sounds right by ear on known tracks with a knowledge of real life musical sounds is how we do it
Comparing Phono Stages in Amplifiers ↑
This test is purely on how good at Archiving vinyl these amps are. We're just using the Phono Stage to 'Tape out' without rating the entire amp. As with all we put here, it's for our interest & makes interesting reading. Comparing Amplifiers means plugging them in & swapping Heaphones & Aux input cables which is easy enough. But comparing Phono stages involves a lot more fiddling & really isn't possible to do as you are listening to the Amp as well. Solution: use the same Turntable & Cartridge, Technics SL-1500 with Goldring Elektra cartridge, with a stylus that's still good but not brand new. We have compared it to a new stylus & perhaps the old one is 90% of the new so good enough & what you'll be using as a new stylus isn't cheap with the stylus often 75% of the cost of the catridge, even on £200 ones. We'll use the same two UK 7" 45s each time, Jimi Hendrix 'Stone Free' and The Pretty Things ' Rosalyn'. Both are well mastered but cut loud, especially 'Rosalyn' to see how the Phono stage via Tape Out socket does. The vinyl is Mono but Amps usually output the signal as Stereo so we'll make a Mono version on the computer to compare, after seting all to the same level. Output levels on three amps we've recorded from show the Output level does vary by amp. On the Sound Card Mixer, to adjust the Input Line Level to Record without getting into clipping. So far to set it at 50% to 90% reveals the variation. Once we have done all the amps we have to try, we'll put samples to give you an idea of the varying Phono Stage sound. Some will be better than others naturally. The only one the Mono switch affects the Tape out is the Fisher 600-T, which is the loudest output needing 50% setting. Of couse in using a Phono stage, it relies on adding Treble on Tone controls & you'll be judging the Tone stages too. Which is why we've recorded the output from 10 amps to hear how well they transcribe vinyl.
The results are played on our Valve Amp to compare. Amps tested are  Akai AA-7000 from 1966.  Dokorder 8060 from 1968.  Fisher 600-T from 1966.  KLH 27 from 1966.  KLH 52 from 1971.  NAD 160a from 1972-75.  Sansui AU-G90X from 1984.  Sony TA-1120 from 1965.  Trio-Kenwood KA-6000 from 1969.  Yamaha CR-2020 from 1977. A very wide range of Years & Brands, if these are in terms of Amplifiers stages, ones we rate highly, as in all are "Excellent" once Upgraded. All except for the Yamaha were Recapped. All are, beyond electrolytic capacitors, the original design except for the Sansui which we slightly altered as it sounded too hard. We recorded the Mono 45s in Stereo if on comparing them we just used the Mono button. A good Phono stage will show on seeing the waveform, on Diamond Cut DC8, to have a good "hairy" pattern showing a good lively dynamic sound with peaks not overly limited or flattened off due to clipping or weak design.
THE TRACKS need setting as a Standard for how they sound. Tk 1 "Stone Free" starts with a bass note intro with the cow-bell with bass guitar sounding rich but detailed. The vocal comes in high in the mix as in not mixed down. The 1966 UK 45 is well mastered if many amps can miss the rich bassy sound & just leave it thin is how we've heard this track over the years, first heard it in about 1984 so one long known. Tk 2 "Rosalyn" is also one we've known since 1984 & on cheap Stereos it was a glorious racket, but in Hifi it's actually cleanly recorded. A powerhouse sound here with a lot of percussion & guitars plus the vocals. The sound on the UK 1964 45 is well mastered but does show limiting, or more likely 'going into the red' and soft clipping, as the treble extension appears a bit flattened giving noticeable harmonics that most amps will make a real mess of. For most of the track the dB level barely alters beyond ±2dB showing how loud it is. The sound is balanced but there isn't much deeper bass that 'SF' shows on the Spectrum Analyser. This is a very hard track to get sounding good on vinyl. The fact it is actually cleanly cut on the 45 but sounds lousy on other amps means it is a real assault course to any Phono stage.
 Akai AA7000... This one sounds pretty good on Tk 1, if the sound is noticeably drier, a little up on the midrange & the deep bass is clearly missing, even on a Phono stage we've recapped with upgrades. The sound is clean & well presented. Tk 2 isn't so good, it's untidy & the detail is not resolved too well, but overall it's a better one & of a good sound.
 Dokorder 8060... This is more natural than the Akai if resolution is a little blurry on Tk 1 leaving it lacking a lot of what the track has. Tk 2 isn't so good, once music gets a Grimace on the face, you know it's not well reproduced. It's just a blurry mess & we didn't want to listen to more than 30 seconds. Not a Phono stage we'd like to play.
 Fisher 600-T... before even playing, we can see the waveforms are far less "hairy" than the previous ones. This stage we expect to be either too dull or limited in quality. As we normalised all these Test Tracks, the lack of dynamics means it's louder than the others. Tk 1 is rough & distorted, fidelity is clearly lacking here if the sound is balanced, not especially bassy. Musically it's listenable, but quality is obviously lacking here. Tk 2 is similarly served up as a messy racket. Using a valve amp will make this sound better than playing the entire amp as the Fisher review shows. This is far from Hifi & may not be overly offensive, distortion from the ceramics blurring the sound, as the Fisher uses ceramic capacitor blocks to EQ the Phono stage. Again we didn't want to listen to the tracks for long. The Fisher seems to have been designed for USA cartridges & clearly isn't quite up to modern spec, perhaps a lower output cartridge would suit it better, else it needs redesign & with Fisher tricky hardwired boards not really one to want to alter.
 KLH 27... despite this looking detailed on the track waveform, the sound is very bassy & even with Bass control set to minimum, it shows a small sound not dissimilar to MW-AM radio for the dynamics are mediocre. Tk2 is similar. The Phono-Preamp stage on the KLH isn't very good, the Rec Out has a 33K resistor limiting fidelity & Aux goes onto the Phono stage in that awful early way through a large resistor. The KLH amp stage if using Tape In to bypass the inputs board is actually pretty decent. The Phono stage with the limited output frankly is unacceptably poor sounding.
 KLH 52... this is a very different design to the KLH 27 so we have to get a sound reference so need to try the Akai & valve amp ones again. This is a far better sound. Tk 1 is clean & crisp if the midrange isn't so well resolved leaving the treble sounding a little scratchy. Tk 2 is served up pretty well, just the roughness of the treble more evident, the circuit reveals the cartridge loading is the weakness here as it's not a bad sound really, if with the unfocussed treble it's a little tiring. But to add what loading it lacked improved it to be one of the better Phono stages.
 NAD 160a... Tk 1 reveals this is a good Phono stage if a little thick on the upper Bass, resolves detail well, if never getting to the valve amp quality or having the precision on treble. Tk 2 sort of upsets that good impression as treble detail is really not there, it's not bad to listen to but detail is not there.
 Sansui AU-G90X... this is the only one we altered as it was a bit too 'up' on the midrange. Playing it now reveals our alteration was correct as the resolution is the best so far beyond the valve amp. Still not the full resolution & personalness of the vocal of Tk 1as this is the only one we've felt worth comparing to our valves design. The absolute maximum clean resolution is what takes it as lesser to valves. Onto Tk 2 which was chosen as it's a vicious track & here shows the Sansui up as the resolution just isn't there, it's like it's not fast enough to deliver the track fully. Trying the valves version is very different, all is resolved that the Sansui does skate over slightly, leaving the track a bit blurred. The Sansui phono stage is very decent though, No ICs in this design & our review below of this amp shows it's probably the Best Phono Stage in transistors.
 Sony TA-1120...the 1965 early one with the 'Safety' light needs a little more care to understand it. Phono 1 is 5mV input so requires some sort of higher output cartridge if it's MM for the EQ stage, rather than it being a MC input. To use Phono 2 therefore with 1mV is the one to use. To keep the blanking plugs on Tape Head & Phono 1 therefore. This one we tested a week after the others here & plugging the Rec Out cables it reduced the level slightly as well as making the sound a little duller. This confirms the "Impedance Problem" section just below. Playing the amp as it records, the Sony is very clean sounding in Mono, if one of the few amps that set to Mono (L+R) the output is Mono too. Treble is a little soft even with Treble Tone to full. Further to be found. The 1965 amp still has ancient resistors & film capacitors, but to keep it original beyond what else we renewed, to see how good it may have been in 1965, if higher spec in many ways. Playing the recording the TA-1120 made back through itself, it sounds duller & more bassy than the amp itself from Phono to Headphones (via a box on the speaker outs). Playing our recorded version of Tk1 the Sony sounds very clean & detailed. Playing the recordings through the valve amp, the sound is very clean if a little dull & bassy so the imbalance as heard on plugging Rec Out cables does affect the sound. On Tk1 beyond the imbalance, the TA-1120 phono stage is Excellent, look at the circuits to see why. On Tk2 again the sound is Excellent beyond the imbalance. After playing the other amp's recordings, the Sony needed +4dB equally on the higher treble 8kHz-16kHz plus +2dB on 4kHz to match the sound that was "lost" by impedance mismatch. This problem was more noticeable with the KLH27 which is a 1966 amp, suggesting it's different impedances of some very early amps from 1965-66. With the extra EQ the Sony sounds as good as the other top ranked ones. Testing this using the EQ'd tracks, the Sony is the best Transistor phono stage if our Valve design can pull deeper detail.
 Trio Kenwood KA-6000... we were a little wary playing this after the Sansui, but the amp didn't disappoint. It has a MC stage, very unusual on any 1960s amp, but it reveals a quality of design, if the hiss level on the original transistors will have meant MC use was a bit early. Tk 1 is resolved in the same league as the Sansui if it just betters it overall for resolution if it's not quite full on the Bass. On the difficult Tk 2 it does very well again so comparing to valves, a tiny difference in upper midrange level plus the bass not full are the differences. But this does reveal a lack of resolution on the loudest part of Tk 2 about 60 secs in where is slightly blurs the detail, if delivers it better than the Sansui. Read on for testing it fully by phono.
 Yamaha CR-2020... This amp we've not recapped as of testing. Our opinion on Yamaha Phono stages has varied, the CR-1000 elsewhere on this page we rated highly, if other models we thought were dull & lacking detail. As the above says, using Phono means using the Tone stages. So to play this, the CR-2020 on Tk 1 is decent, not the most detailed or well resolved leaving a little roughness on vocal sibilants. It doesn't sound overly realistic. Tk 2 brings this out further, it sounds muddy with more roughness from lack of resolving the busy track. Strangely the CR-2020 has MC inputs too, but it is in a very different league to the KA-6000 above. Recapping & upgrading the Phono stage on this amp is tricky as it's stuck on the Tuner board making access difficult. For the age of the amp, capacitors in the Phono will be good still & for having recapped & upgraded before, it doesn't elevate the sound enough, even recapping the tricky preamp didn't hugely alter the sound.
Conclusion. The best Transistor Phono stages in our test is clearly the Sony TA-1120, then the Trio-Kenwood KA-6000, followed by the Sansui AU-G90X. Other positions are less clear, the KLH 52 with proper cartridge loading could do far better & the Akai AA-7000 matches the KLH 52 in overall opinion. No point scoring stars-out-of-5 as some do, as the 5-star is only relevant to knowing "perfection" in Phono stages & no doubt we'll improve our valve Phono further. The comments tell you more than star ratings, none are 'perfect', two aren't very good & the others are acceptable. But don't forget we are playing Recordings made by the Phono stages, using the entire amp often sounds very different. Phono Stages output is generally not as Trebly as TV or FM radio such as Radio 2 as it's uncompressed. Many Amps don't sound too great playing Vinyl, which is why CD & MP3 of today is the easier option as Sound For Your Pound is much higher. Vinyl does not sound "Warm" if the Amp design is of high quality throughout, as 'warm sound' means "treble detail is lacking".
An Impedance Problem Is Known. There is a problem using any Recording Device, from our Soundcard to Tape Machines to CD-R machines. The Impedance. There is no easy way to read Impedance as it's a maths formula value, but we can read resistance. The Soundcard reading the Resistance which probably equates well to Impedance, we read 23k ohm & 24.1k ohm using the cables connected. This is a very low impedance-resistance reading & explains why on recording with our earlier Valve Phono stage, the response was incorrect. In reality, it needs a Buffer stage to match High Impedance "Rec Out" to Low Impedance of the Soundcard. We remember reading the CD-R & it's Impedance was 47k ohm. Some amps have Buffer Stages built in, such as the Fisher 600-T & Yamaha CR-2020 to stop switch noises, but none have them on 'Tape Rec Out'. A buffer is also known as a Cathode Follower, Source Follower, Emitter Follower depending on Valves, FETs or Transistors, or simply named Unity Gain, if in reality gain is about 90%-95% for circuit losses. Possible to build one from 2 transistors for Stereo, we made one long ago for the Sony STR-6120 on first noticing this issue & it worked well. Later we designed our Phono stage without a Buffer but having the EQ be correct to the Recording Device being plugged in, a CD-R player in those days. You can buy Valve Buffer stages for little money but how a typical valve can work on just 12-18v appears pointless. Therefore with mismatched Impedance, it will go a way to understand why the KA-6000 sounded so different "within itself" to how our recording sounded. Sort of makes testing a little pointless, but in reality this is what a User is going to be met with too. As there is no Buffer stage box beyond the valve ones, maybe an Isolating Transformer will do the job, we have one on the Soundcard output to stop Ground Loop & computer noise, if modified it a lot. To buy a Ground Loop Isolator, it has 2 small transformers inside where + and - are isolated giving a lossless unit. It may or may not work as a Rec Out isolator... it doesn't, only a buffer stage will solve this, the transformers have other issues creating gain reduction & probably altering the tonal balance. See the Sony TA-1120 test (8) above as we did this later & it reveals this is true. (from the Sony Test..) After playing the other amp's recordings, the Sony needed +4dB equally on the higher treble 8kHz-16kHz plus +2dB on 4kHz to match the sound that was "lost" by impedance mismatch. This problem was more noticeable with the KLH27 which is a 1966 amp, suggesting it's different impedances of some very early amps from 1965-66. With the extra EQ the Sony sounds as good as the other top ranked ones. Trying the Impedance Mismatch on the valve amp, plugging 'Rec Out' cables affects the bass making it thinner sounding if the treble is unaffected, adding EQ to the recording shows +2dB on the 31Hz-62Hz balances it. In reality you really do need a Buffer on a Rec Out socket. The tests also show the Goldring Elektra isn't giving the same output L to R from a Mono record, the R channel appears less dynamic with about 2dB difference.
Further Testing of The 2nd Place Winner... The Sony we tested a week later & it bettered the KA-6000... As the Trio-Kenwood KA-6000 was the '2nd place winner' of the Transistor Phono Stages test here, to try the Phono stage through the amp. With this amp using Phono 1 you need to set it to the MM setting not the MC ones, Phono 2 is identical if MM only. The clean sound can be heard if the Treble through the amp leaves it sounding dull. Playing the Recording we made which we Normalised to get the Levels from all amps tested, the KA-6000 playing Tk 1 recorded from itself set to Mono sounds pretty good if again the Tone stage treble hasn't got the gain or resolution of the Valve amp we compared. Playing Tk 2 from the KA-6000 recording it sounds clean but a bit dull. Playing the 45 through the Phono stage it's crisper if less clean sounding. The differences are due to level normalising & impedances within the amplifier stages & to the computer soundcard. Tk 1 reveals weaknesses on louder sibilants on the KA-6000 as a whole. Therefore the Tone stage of the KA-6000 is the weakness here. It would be possible to test valve using the pre to power main in input on the KA-6000 as both have pre in-main out sockets. How does the KA-6000 sound using the Valve Phono stage recording? Sounds much cleaner with no sibilants weaknesses on Tk 1. Tk 2 is better too, if both a little 'cardboardy' sounding as the KA-6000 preamp reveals resolution could be better, full depth & detail of the recording is left lacking. After thinking on this result on playing the 'perfected Phono' recording through the KA-6000 giving an uninteresting sound, which wasn't expected, it gives the idea that the lack of fidelity-roughness is what most Hifi with Phono stages is about. Such as in imperfections are complimented by the rest of the amp to give a sound most will enjoy. In 1969 for example, the only line level audio was from a Tuner or a Tape player. For the fact most still played MW & Tape Players were too expensiver, Vinyl played averagely was all most heard. Perfection in one stage will leave disinterest in the listener, leave it a bit rough & it sounds 'more lively'. But having played lots of vinyl now on our Valve Phono stage, some sounds great, much is good enough, but some are very badly mastered, including huge Hit 45s. The trouble with going after 'perfection' is the Source is revealed to be rougher than you think. One obscure 1967 non-hit we've played lots on the UK copy but with the current Phono stage it reveals some unheard-before distortion. So is it the amp? No, slow the record down by hand reveals the 'rough' sounds are there if slower as lower frequencies, as we tried in the £50 vs £250 catridge test. The moral here is therefore to use the same quality throughout & it'll all sound the same "within itself". Going further into 'Perfection' will hit a level where one weakness will limit you. In this case, the Vinyl itself. We are select45rpm as 45rpm singles appeal to us, for the diversity of Music 1949-83 is best on 45s, LPs have never appealed much beyond finding the best tracks to record, tracks that should have been on a 45. To find ones that are less than good sound can be surprising. But overall... shut up & enjoy the music as it's more important. Lucky is the man who is content listening to a transistor radio or today's music" out of a mobile phone tiny squeaker. Annoy them and play a favourite song on good Hifi & make them realise what they're missing...
Buy a £5500 Van Den Hul "The Grail"? ↑
Seeing one on ebay Feb 2015 means someone didn't like it & dented it even, to buy for such money & damage it is remarkable. So we look online & find there are two versions, a two box or a one box one. They use Inductor Coils to shape the EQ & get very even RIAA response apparently, but many amp makers state this. What's worse is the stupid thing has the cheek to use OP-AMP ICs instead of transistors or valves as you'd expect at this price. Then again Van Der Hul make a wooden body cartridge, wood being a sound absorbing dampening material so it'll deaden the sound to a degree depending on the wood. This is the sort of "High End" crap fools with more money than sense. But there are other modern 'perfect solutions' that we see as just insulting buyers who don't know vinyl via valves...
Graham Slee Phono Stages ↑
This company has a good web presence with Phono Stages & DACs, but as they are looking at things from a Digital-IC viewpoint. Their Phono EQ page is interesting as they plot various EQ & RIAA curves. But we look at Hifi from a Valve-Tube perspective & the fidelity and Resolution is the important thing as Vinyl holds a huge amount of detail obscured by mediocre design. Read the 'Testing RIAA' section above. We've heard about these, not hear one play & don't care to seeing what's inside, but to see the insides of one online, the 'Era Gold V' this sells for about £600, but it's too easy to criticise it. Is this for real even? An offboard power supply on a plug block apparently, Op-Amps for amplification, nasty Tantalums & the sum total of parts that are found easly in the online electronics stores, beyond the case & connectors would leave you change out of £10. Bargain basement mediocrity at a rip-off price because buyers really do believe the hype... Their site has a Snake Oil warning section about cables & yet offers this cheap quality-expensive Phono stage? Oh well... Op-Amps are Not Hifi, they are a multitude of averaged circuitry based around every bit of overblown circuitry, 12 transistors in the Op-Amp pictured on the Vinyl Asylum site. Differentials & Push-Pull Outputs much like many later 1970s amps use. As one commenter says "that a store sold 5c & 10c Pickles both from the same barrel" reveals this is about what you get here. You pay more as it makes you feel better as you think you are getting quality. Maplins used to sell a £7.00 Phono stage board not too dissimilar if no case or externals. The trouble is that many Phono stages in Amps are pretty lousy some amps we rate highly have disappointing phono stages. Dull & Muddy repeatedly is our complaint, yet it's supposedly RIAA true, but even with full Treble tone it still sounds dull compared to TV sound. Using one of these sort of units will likely give more detail than most amp Phono Stages so it's reviewed as "great" by many. The fairest comment therefore is it will better many lousy amp Phono stages as it probably just sounds less dull & muddy by reading reviews, but there is far more detail in vinyl that few have heard... try Valves.
The Phono Stage We Use... ↑
The best Phono stage we've heard is one we made for our Valve pre & have used it in it's various upgrades for years. Only trouble now is the output isn't buffered for recording direct to the Computer so the EQ is affected if we worked out the frequency outputs to make a custom filter on DC Art, until we build a new one, not to mess with what is useable still. But the ideas in ours aren't too far off early valve Phono stages like the Trio WX400U used, if it was bass light as an early MM stage. Resolution in a Phono stage is the important thing which needs careful handling not to blur or leave treble unresolved. In terms of Vintage Amps, the Sony STR-6120 & Sansui 3000A phono stages as original spec if recapped are the best sounding we've had to early 2015. Later we found the Fisher 600-T phono stage a very detailed one.
REVIEWS & OPINIONS ON PHONO STAGES IN AMPS
Leak Delta 75 ↑
Some of these Phono sections are early & a bit repeating in places, but as rewiting this is too complex, we'll leave them in their blog-style, if re-reading to see it makes sense still & typos... This was written in 2012 & was found to be the first decent Phono stage in a Transistor amp. Using as the design the amp was made with, no upgrades beyond recapping, we use it for our Vinyl playing & testing needs & it resolves the detail well. It's not perfect but just the best match to the sound we are used to from vinyl as we've recorded digitally. Using other amps the Leak sound wasn't found in many, though the Sony STR-6120 can deliver the best vinyl sound, but only once recapped & upgraded, as is usually the case.
Sansui 3000A ↑
This amp is from 1967 & a good detailed sound. Odd how it's ±1db to RIAA yet can still be clean & open sounding when others are dense & murky. From looking at the others details on the page, these 2 are the best sounding for Vinyl based on how music from FM & TV sounds. Later opinion was it was a little hard on the midrange, if still with good detail.
Yamaha CR-1000 ↑
This amp with the later NA06460 board delivering a clean detailed sound without the Bassy bloom of most Phono stages. This is rating it as Unaltered. No Phono stage will ever match the resolution our own self-designed Valve Phono stage has, but for the amount of Vinyl we play as Record Dealers this is a pleasing one & the Sansui 3000A one which is a bit less on detail & a bit more on upper bass thickness sound that hides detail. RIAA is a meaningless standard as the curve can be followed but the sound can hugely vary. But don't think this is the Best Phono as it's still limited on Treble & Bass, an acceptable midrangey sound without the extremes could be upgraded, but it'll likely reveal weaknesses elsewhere. On comparing with the CR-1000 the CR-2020 is very similar sounding, a little lower on Treble detail, with the 'easier' sound of the 2020 making it different enough to notice. The CR-1000 Phono stage brings more detail & loses a slight murkiness the 2020 has. Later Verdict: Having used the CA-800II and CR-1000 quite a bit now the CR-1000 sound does have a fine precision in the treble few others can do, but a little thickness on upper bass loses it neutrality on more than just a few tracks that could be tweaked, that thick sound masks how solidly the overall sound is. But the trouble with the vinyl we sell is EQ varies on every track & a nice Hifi recorded track sounds fine. To blame the mastering of old records may be a part the deal here. The Yamaha CA-800II has a quality Phono stage too, a more simple design than the CA-1000 or CR-1000 that actually is a fresher sound than the CR-1000. The CA-800II does have a bit more background hiss as less NFB giving the fresher sound.
THREE GREAT AMPS - HOW GREAT ARE THEIR PHONO STAGES?
Fisher 600-T ↑
(2016 review #1) A great 1965-66 USA Transistor amp. The Amp stage is very decent once upgraded. but for the reputation of Fisher for smooth sound, what's the Phono stage like? We've been playing the Luxman valve amp which is not quite the quality of our main Phono stage, but is very listenable. First with the 600-T Phono into "Lo" Phono input, but where does the Ground Cable go? There isn't any Ground point at all. We quickly put it onto one of the screws on the Transistor Outputs, else you get that unearthed noise. Playing the same 45s we'd enjoyed on the Luxman valves, this isn't very nice, even all recapped. Resolution isn't particularly good, bass is adequate if treble is edgy & midrange a bit rough on playing a 1960s Mod Beat track. The Phono stage does use Ceramics in a block on the Selector switch & be sure the fizzy sound makes Vinyl not a pleasure. It at least has a Mono switch. On playing something less modulated on the grooves, a Jazz 45 from 1959, the sound is better if still not what the Luxman brings. Before you all think Valve Phono is perfection, our one we've redesigned a lot as well as upgraded, which is why it doesn't get a review. The soundstage isn't particularly deep & dynamics are rather limited. Sadly this sort of sound is what nearly every Phono Stage done in transistors brings.
Akai AA-7000 ↑
(2016 review #2) This is an exceptionally great amp from 1966, once recapped & upgraded. But what's the Phono stage like? We've not played it critically so here goes... First the Jazz 45, Nina Simone 'Love Me Or Leave Me". This has more depth to the sound if the treble is a bit less even with Tone Treble to max. The 1960s Mod track is much cleaner & smoother, none of the midrange roughness the Fisher has but it doesn't really give the sound we know is in Vinyl, the sound is cleaner but just not resolved properly, is dull & uninspiring even on music that should stir you.
Sansui AU-G90X ↑
(2016 review #3) An outsider from 1984, but not your typical 1980s nasty thing, as our Reviews page reveals. The Phono on the 90X, unlike others in the ranges, is all Transistor with a MC Transformer, so no ICs in this one. The big minus with the 90X is... no Mono button but ways to improvise. We've played this before & after recapping & much upgrading this amp the Phono stage here is exceptionally good. It was a little hard on the Midrange so a minor alteration-redesign made sorted it. The whole amp is very detailed, a little dry for it's precision, but not Clinical either. The Jazz 45 is delivered very pleasingly. Not quite the deep dynamics of valves, but all is correct here, clean crisp treble, if we altered the Tone stage to give a better 1960s type gain. Midrange has none of the Fisher roughness & bass is tight but not limited. Resolution is unusually good, delivering sibilants fully not just muddying them as Phono stages usually do. In terms of Fidelity, this is crisper than the Luxman valves, focus is better if the dynamics are not quite as lively, if not that far off. In terms of musicality, the Luxman valves is more listenable. The Sansui phono is an excellent one, if the whole amp sounds very different to the openness of valves.
But... For Best Phono Stages, only Valves can do it ↑
As the above 2016 reviews reveal. So what are we hearing in our Luxman LX33 Valve amp? For a start, like being a few rows away from the sound to being front row centre, in terms of people playing musical instruments. Resolution is far superior, dynamics that are flattened on all the 3 ones above, are now open & can startle you on certain tracks. It just sounds more real, more 'there'. The 90X we said was crisper, but it's a slightly processed crispness, valves just give it as honestly as far less circuitry & designs run more precisely. Valves have different harmonics to transistors, see Wikipedia about the theory on Harmonics. The Jazz 45 comes alive, the room acoustic can be heard adding more feeling to the music & the bass is more natural, as is the entire soundstage. It captivates you, it brings you just so much more. But... that's not the valve amp we transcribe 45s with. This uses the 301 + SME combo & precision is far better on the front-end. The valve pre we designed to run 'hot' so resolution is close to master tape quality, based on the source we have is a vinyl record & can suffer mastering weaknesses, but resolve rough & muddy records to bring a level of detail. But as this should make clear, getting the best sound from vinyl isn't buyable in the shops & the Gadget Show MP3 vs Vinyl challenge shows, to most music listeners, that MP3 sounds 'better' as it's easy & cheap. Like comparing a Donkey Ride or a lift in Del's Three Wheeler to a cruise in a top range Rolls Royce. Both do the same thing, but once does it with excellence. Most music listeners are happy with MP3 & don't hear the rough treble we can. On valves we can play music for hours on headphones, but on transistors the want to play more tunes is less willing. What feels good you do more. Buy a new amp that's better than your old one & be sure hours will drift by as you hear your music with 'new ears'. The want for 'better' in life is sadly dictated by money, which is why we started upgrading amps.
We've tried to better several Phono stages but transistors could never do it within the confines of original designs. A few we do think are better than the usual sound though they still do sound dull compared with FM Stereo treble levels which match TV sound. CD & Phono stages are usually muddy yet people just accept it. We didn't on our Valve phono stage & to get the best fidelity from vinyl doesn't mean rolling it off on the treble, but to fully resolve the treble first, then have a switch for 'Flat' over 1kHz or to a RIAA roll-off. We found on using the Trio WX-400U valve amp with valve phono stage, we were surprised how smooth the £50 Goldring Elektra was, if the WX400U hasn't got much bass on the Phono. We've used the Elektra on plenty of transistor amps & it usually sounded a bit rough but was adequate & many soundfiles on our Record sales use this, though MP3 quality rolls off the detail for smaller file sizes. Playing a Mono 45 but set to 'Stereo' the added wide noise on several transistor amps led us to believe it was not so good. But on the Valve amp the Mono record was barely different played in 'Stereo' mode beyond a bit of Stereo crackle. Just how it is on our Valve Phono. It just shows how poor most Phono stages are & to blame the cartridge is wrong.If you look at a Valve Phono stage it's just 2 valve stages with NFB to give the RIAA curve. Some transistor amps range from just One Transistor (early Sansui) to well over a dozen & stuffed with ICs too.
The Ultimate Phono Stage? The Luxman LX33, despite the silly hype on the fascia... "designed under full command of perfect knowledge about valves", is actually a really lousy design throughout & when original the mediocre soft sound compared to even a decent 1979 transistor amp when it was new is why these were abandoned. But the amp itself is a great basis for the best integrated valve amp with phono, only if you totally redesign the thing. The Phono stage as their design was dull & muddy as well as a bit harsh. We've improved it only slightly & it's been used to do MP3 soundfiles on our Record sales, so most on the 'New additions' page are from this amp. Because we can & have the nerve to try, we've been redesigning it even more. So the Phono stage gets a go. It was listenable but never had the precision & focus of our other self-designed Phono stage & for the want of making this one sound right if using RIAA & playing Bass flat but Treble to max, after having sorted the Tone & Power Amp right. To run the valves "hot" is the way to get full resolution but to be careful not to clip it & for it to sound balanced with Bass, Midrange & Treble soundinmg 'how it should'. The obvious difference on having 'bread-boarded' our design using the SL-1500 & Elektra, is focus is way different with a 'tangible solidness' to the sound, it's sound that is heard, but it feels resolved instead of soft & blurry. Beyond that, the rest is design & not for telling, but the sound on vinyl is never fully delivered by any Phono stage because they miss the crucial resolution issues. This 'sound' we crave others will consider "cold & clinical" because they are used to a mushy blurry sound. But fidelity is way improved as it's as close to the mastertape as possible, a very intimate sound using well mastered vinyl as well as revealing rough mastering as any Phono stage does, but here making the best of what there is without sounding harsh or bring grimaces, it's never perfect, but delivered as true as is possible. Even hoary old Ska 45s can have the sound focussed & delivered with a midrange that is balanced & smooth. Even playing the run in brings a sound that is very different, you sort of feel more like you're in the groove, baby... The downside is you can now hear how badly mastered many records are, some are mastered very cleanly but many mid 1960s ones are very distorted with bass not resolved well on the cutting heads amps if the treble can be crisp. We read Leak & Quad amps were used often as cutting head amps, shows their quality when 1950s vinyl can be so purely mastered. Also it proves it's not so much the cartridge & stylus that are the weak point, the Phono amp is a large part of it, we're still using the SL-1500 & Elektra. But then the cartridge & stylus better fidelity is left wanting with the Elektra, even using a new stylus, playing Mono 45s in Stereo reveals the limits of the cheaper cartridge, a mess in Stereo but Mono switch tidies. Onto the 301 & Roksan reveal the finesse & tracks that sound a bit 'buzzy' on the Elektra are tracked better & the whole sound is far smoother with extra precision. Overall the sound is different, the tonal balance of the Roksan Corus Black vs Goldring Elektra is without the upfrontness of the GE which is offered as a deeper focus. Playing a Mono disc as Stereo is far cleaner. But if a record is cut a bit rough, the Roksan doesn't smooth it off, it just delivers further precision, if actually isn't so far off the 'lesser' SL-1500-Elektra combo as a rough disc is still rough. This is why most Phono stages don't bother to resolve the Treble as it needs a high end front end in vinyl to deliver the sound, or it'd make Phono Stage designers give away too much quality that few would be able to match in other areas of the Hifi. All amplifiers until the later 1970s omit the capacitive loading that modern cartridges need, others don't have the right resistive loading too, all adding to the lack of focus. Strange how a 1953 UK pressed Decca 45 can sound clean & precise yet a 1964 one is rough with heavy distortion beyond the recording. The distortion is often in the lower midrange-bass & resolved well it sounds 'retro' in a good way, but having played some 45s for decades, most 'Stereos' make a mess of the sound. Distorted bass on vinyl needs a untamed Bass response to 'fill it out' correctly but no designer would dare sell this in an amp, as a careless needle drop would fry lower power speakers for the huge bass peak. It'd be good to produce & market our own valve Phono stage, but with it revealing how rough much vinyl into the 1980s sounds, it may be too revealing unless you used high end sources, which means a big investment that Hifi buyers aren't much into in the Digital age. But as "Testing RIAA" above shows, we've redesigned it even further to get even more detail. For vinyl to be this hard to get the real sound out of, it's no wonder Tape, CD & now compressed MP3 is more popular as it's "easy" and more importantly inexpensive to get a decent level of audio.
OUR EARLY YEARS INTO RECORD PLAYERS...
Our First use of a Record player was the family one, Garrard SP25 Mk III, Philco-Ford 12w amp as we review & Speakers plus Bush Arena cassette deck. We played many in the family shop & liked the Pye Black Box large Stereo version that's like a coffee table. But before that, as sadly the fashion of the time was to rip the innards out of wind up record players, how insanely stupid, but that was what people wanted. So the typist got some motors & put a nail or pin on a stick to play the grooves of unwanted Russ Conway 45s at 78rpm as they were easier to play. Yes, we kid you not. With our portable Cassette Player 'Ghetto Blaster' as if it could fill a room, it had a line input so we got a ceramic cartridge & fitted it on a stick & span records on a chopstick to play records with intense wow to the speed. Utterly silly but there's the inventiveness that spawns this website. Pre teen the typist got given an old monochrome valve TV to mess with. The valves made a nice bang as they hit the stone path & on taking the screen tube out & hitting it to see how easy it broke it hissed loudly so we ran away to a distance until it stopped. Air entering the vacuum not poison coming out. What's inside it, how hard is it to smash the front screen, a brick crumbled on a corner so we got heavy with it until in bits it was, so buried the bits in the garden... So give your inquisitive kid a old TV to smash up, as he did with a small battery radio previously "why did you do that, it worked", isn't as insane as it seems, oh yes it is, have they no sense... Another retro audio tale was one day a few years before in the large shed the typist used to play in daily found a surprise gift, someone had got in & left a cassette recorder. In those days risks of Bombs were around so the Police took it away as family hadn't put it there, but not a word heard again. Maybe a gift from someone not realising the worry it'd cause as at that time the typist's radio was only a weeny one. We've played Record Players since a pre-Teen & oddly the first one which was the home Stereo was the Philco-Ford which we review elsewhere. We played many Radiograms which were valves that always sounded better than Music Centres & Stack Systems, even pre-Teen we could tell lousy sound as the family stereo, modest as it was, actually was an honest sound reference. Our first Record Player was the Hacker GAR 550 with Garrard SP25 Mk III, an awkward turntable to use as a bit clunky, but the same one the Philco-Ford set up had. We got one of these a few years back to see how well we could upgrade it. It wasn't actually that bad, compared well to midprice amplifiers & receivers as our Review shows. Did get a Philco-Ford amp as on the Reviews page & it was modest at 12w but it did have a good honest vintage sound. On seeing one again, hopefully with a better power switch, to see how it compares playing vinyl, as we never tested it before. To see the amp that influenced all this needs a further revisit.......
The Worst "Hifi" Phono Stages? ↑
Despite the manual claiming pin-perfect RIAA curve matching, the Radford HD250 was one of the dullest sounding phonos we've heard. Well overcooked. HD meant 'High Definition' to Radford but the sound was truly awful as was the Luxman L-100 Phono stage with a midrange hardness, both overdesigned messes. Ignoring the tons of crappy op-amp Phono stages in mediocre 1970s-1990s amps & even expensive Musical Fidelity A308CR big preamp, we are rating the ones with Hifi credentials as noted by the maker & more importantly those we rate. The problem with Phono stages is they attempt only to EQ to RIAA curves, clearly with no listening done. How many records are mastered to ultra hifi standards with full unsoftened pro sound balance & then exactly EQ'd to the RIAA settings, which have even varied, Extended RIAA and all that. Too many phono stages sound dull & muddy from running the design too cool. This does not realise the true treble fidelity in music & is usually disappointing to listen to. All these amps we've been testing mostly via the Aux input to hear the real sound of the amp. To get the full sound out of vinyl, only really a Valve amp designed right to the valve curves & with variable RIAA above 1kHz will bring out the true sound to the same sound balance TV & FM is. RIAA precise Phono Stages "as-is" rarely have the depth clarity & treble that a FM radio or TV sound source has & we've always taken TV/FM as the Fidelity Sound Balance Reference & Phono Stages nearly always disappoint as treble is too low.
• Phono Stages Verdicts ↑
Might as well test all the amp's phono stages to be sure. This below was written 2012-13 until we tired of Phono stages being not so good even if the amp itself was great. These are reviews done over several tests & now condensed for easier reading. We use the whole amp to test the sound, not just using the Phono & another amp for the rest. Some amps may not be so great on Line level, but the Phono stage being used on the amp done a better overall rating, as odd as it may seem.
Using Technics SL1500 & Goldring Elektra cartridge.
The Technics is a good midrange deck, the Goldring is a £60 cartridge, it's good enough for general playing, but as we've found from using the vintage Shure V15 III that came with the Technics, the Goldring is a rougher beast & needs good electronics to get the best out of it. It shows up rougher phono stages well, which means it's a good test.
A Few Amplifier Phono Stage Verdicts from when we first started this page...
Phono Stages onto the Computer & Impedance Issues ↑
Connecting Tape Out to a Computer Soundcard input, or even a CD recorder actually affects the sound quite heavily. We've known this for a long time & the Impedance of the Recording Device dulls the sound & reduces the Volume. In effect it can seriously mess with what is a clean response without any other connections. a Buffer Stage is the ideal solution, but no Vintage amps have such a thing. Seeing the effect a Computer Soundcard has on Test waveforms is quite extreme. Volume is reduced by half & the clean sinewave on 10kHz gets squashed into a strange square wave & 40Hz gets hugely limited. This is what we've just researched using our own Valve preamp & also the Trio WX-400U to confirm the issue.
So how about Connecting The Turntable direct to the Soundcard & Selecting Microphone mode to get the 30db gain. It sort of works but in trying it the sound was flat not RIAA as you'd expect, but strange RF-cable loss-digital artifacts were clear. It's just not good enough & the Trio phono stage was much better.
The DC Art program we use on the computer, the site sells a flat phono preamp to give gain & then to use the Soundcard input on Line would be better, but it'll be Transistors & circuits not anywhere as detailed as we've got from Valves running the design hot.
Because our Valve pre sounded fine before with the old Panasonic CRT TV sound output connected as well as a CD recorder & was designed in 1998 and 2006-08 to be the response we want from vinyl, the sound sadly is very different on playing sound recorded without these connected now & differing impedances. So what do we do with new tracks we record? Just record them & then apply a worked-out EQ curve to all tracks to match the sound it was before. Test Tones & a Test Record with graduated Tones & dB levels can give a correct EQ by reducing the lower frequencies. Far from ideal & a bit of a pain, but until we find something better, we're not altering the Valve Phono pre & maybe losing what can be EQ'd right.
• Hifi Cable, Ferrites & Stands.
A world full of empty promises, the stupidest crap being passed off as fact to gullible people who don't understand simple theory & naturally too much being paid for what it is. A good Phono Plug type cable can be bought for a reasonable price, £8 to £10 to buy the Blue OFC ones are adequate, but don't expect one under £5 to be any good. You read of "amazed" users with cheaper amps that swap cables & the "sound improves". This is just a con, all some cables too is filter off the high frequency roughness with an LCR type construction. No big deal at all, you'd get the same effect soldering a £0.02 costing 100pf to 470pf ceramic capacitor across the inputs. Feel silly now after paying £80 for 1 meter of wire?
But cables are part of your Hifi system, they are not mere accessories. They are part of the circuit & in the case of Speaker cable a direct part of the Amplifying circuit. A cable has to be of ample surface area and quality to carry the signal without degradation over it's required length. Mains cable is hardly of low quality and is cheap. Differences in cables are simply down to LCR circuit differences, there are no wonder cures or miracle bits of wire, only silly hype. LCR is Inductance, Capacitance & Resistance all of which can tune rough treble in amps into nicer sounds, but a cheat not an innovation. 100v PA speakers use the 100v to carry the signal for many metres on top & then transformer the 100v out, with no losses. We used a variant of this between a pre & power amp where they are a good way apart. It works. Skinny bell wire is OK if you are using a couple of watts power only. Look how thin the cables are that connect to a cartridge as only millivolts are being used. Look how thin the wires are that connect to the Speaker Sockets inside the amp. Look how thin a wire in a Fuse is.
My Cable has Directional Arrows On It. Then your Cable is telling you to plug it so the sound signal travels in the way the arrows go. Directional Cable as you'd expect relies on how the copper wire was rolled & the arrows claim to match the way the wire was made. The laughable "fact" the Molecules that make copper are apparently aligned in a certain way when the wire is stretched to get the required size means cable "sounds better" one way or another is totally unproven, except on forums & by those selling said Magical Cable. You can probably find much on these illusionary cables on sites frequented by Linn & Naim types. But the trouble is if you have cables with arrows on as our 'Straight Wire' ones do, the psychological effect of plugging them in the right way makes you feel better in case some Linn user comes visiting & tells you your arrows are pointing the wrong way. Next they'll be selling Directional Paint that you must brush up & down only, not left to right. Silly? So are Directional Cables. Get a tin of solvent & clean the arrows off. Why Do People Believe Cables Are Directional? The fact is "you don't know for sure" and as some 'expert' says so, it must be right & you do as you're told. But look at your 'expert' are they the ones selling or marketing the silly cables with pseudo-science. The same nonsense Women are told about Beauty products. People may sneer that you haven't got expensive cables & use basic speaker connectors, but they can't prove theirs is any better.
The Speaker Cables to Use depends on the length of the Cables required. If you are using 10m or less then ignore all the silly hype about Silver Cables or Silver Plated Cables, it's utter nonsense. The cable we use on our Tannoys is cables we bought in 2005(?) when the Sony TA-1130 was here. We'd tried the bulky bi-wire stuff, it makes no difference & it's too big so looks ugly. Using 5A or 13A mains wire, even the Solid Core stuff isn't good enough. The one we use today is QED Balanced Design Concept cable. Pearl coloured plastic 3.5mm diameter over multistrand copper of 2.5mm total size. Plugs were 'Puresonic' Gold plated ones, yes, the Gold wears off as barely a lick of it, an Audio Con if ever, it makes Zero difference. The trouble with these all-metal cased ones is on some amps the 4mm sockets are very close & too close means shorting & repair bills. Only use metal cased ones if the speaker posts are widely spaced. But the springy bits don't keep tight for very long so we actually use some basic plastic red-black cased ones with the obligatory Gold plated pin. These plastic cases are safe on any 4mm socket even if as near as 2mm apart as plastic doesn't conduct. Why spend more? You don't need to. Silly mags & sites hype cable, but we've been there & found out it's just a marketing tease based on pay more, feel better. As an example of paying more, as we have our valve amps on top of the Tannoys, with isolating feet naturally, we only needed short cables. These we got maybe in about 2004, Hifi Shop Recommended. Utter rubbish in use says we. The QED X-Tube XT400 SPOFC Air-Core ™ Technology Speaker Cable. It sounded no better or worse & is as big as TV aerial cable, if 2 fixed together in the pearly plastic. The Airloc plugs they have a machine to pressure fit we found very poor as they break so easily as there are grooves cut to provide the spring, knock one & off it snaps in the amp or speaker. The cable itself reeks of bullshit (not literally..) it's like a TV aerial cable with a centre core wrapped in copper foil that's empty unlike TV cable & a typical mesh outer ground that's used as the conductor. Look on ebay for QED Airloc & be shocked at the prices, in about 2005 ours was about £50 & we'll never use them again. Forget all the rubbish you read about Speaker Cables, go buy some decent OFC multistrand cable & put some FERRITES on the ends as this really does make a difference, see below. If you need over 10m of cable, you really should just move speakers & amp closer as you'll end up getting losses in the sound which will affect the treble first. You see 100v PA systems, the 100v is a carrier voltage that the audio sits on to not get losses so a huge building can be set up for PA with a 100V PA system. But don't put 100v DC on your speaker cables as you'll trash your speakers, 100v PA systems use special transformers.
Why Do Some Cables Sound Better Than Others? ↑
As stated above, these cables create a Filter circuit that tames the very crisp treble that defines High Fidelity. The cable we use from the computer soundcard to the amps we test may surprise you, it's just one of those £10 Blue cable OFC 10m ones. These "cheap" but decent cables are with enough strands of OFC copper to do the job right. How many '9's purity doesn't really matter, if some will disagree. The cable is well enough made, the plugs are a bit weak, but for £10 just buy another for the amount we use them. As we're using the Soundcard & an amp that's Mains Grounded, we need a Ground Isolator, an £8 box that we've altered for our uses & have a switch to bypass. There is no loss in our version. So our cable may make you wonder why do you need to spend £50, £150 or £250 on cables. You don't. But the amp can sound rougher on treble as it ages, a grainy low-spec sound that we can't listen to now as it's so alien. We upgrade amps to negate the need for these filtering cables. If you've spend £500-£1000 on cables, you've been conned sadly & a lot of this is from Hifi mags who don't tell the truth of why cables sound better. An amp that can only use a certain cable or get into problems is a lousy amp, but people do accept this. The amp is poorly designed to give unrealistic high specs but in reality has to be tamed with filtered cables. Where are these filters? It's built into the wire by the type of contruction. We've had a test of cables on the Phono Stages section above PHONO CABLES Why Spend More? & the Straight Wire Sonata, £60 in 1998-2000, these are much used & once they break, they aren't fixable for the odd construction. The thin main conductor is no different to the OFC £10 ones in size, then a type of plastic outer case, then a metal foil, then a tightly wrapped shielding mesh that's impossible to solder as it has some sort of silicon or oil based goo over it. Then the thick outer case to give the idea the conductor wires are much thicker. It's just lies, if they look "proper" & like most lies of today, it makes you feel better to pay more so you don't look so close. For our main hifi we still use some thick phono cables that Maplin used to sell, you buy the Phono plugs & solder them on, to choose any cable length & maybe £20 in 1998-2000 for these. Buyers don't realise all these fancy cables are so dishonest, the filter effects may fool you into believing "it sounds better", but the reality is, upgrading amps is a far better idea than spending £500-£1000 on cable that's selling you false ideas.
Expensive cables can actually make an upgraded amp SOUND WORSE simply as your amp doesn't sound rough now so the expensive filtered cables are making the sound TOO DULL as we found on the Phono Cables section. No Cable can add back the Deep Bass that nearly all amps lack, based on old 1970s ideas of people complaining when using rumbly turntables. No buyer of any amp of ours has complained about there being too much bass.
See below for Ferrites, these are a far better type of filter that does make sense, but doesn't alter the sound like cables can. Ferrites stop your amp wasting energy amplifying frequencies you can't hear. You can say expensive cables do too, but a Ferrite is a £3 item.
HIFI FUSES? worst Hifi 'lie' yet... ↑
The latest similar new hifi BS is "Hifi Fuses" £35-£65 each to fit inside amps... "99% Silver + 1% Gold = 100% Sound - more speed, dynamics, clarity, better 3D Audiophile-Grade Fuses, Your system will play with increased power, dynamics, clarity, and coherence." It has anti-resonance parts too. Noticed some others.. ISOCLEAN 13 Amp UK Mains Plug Fuse "This is a vast improvement over the stock mains fuse. Gives your HiFi a lot more detail, air and tone. As well as my HiFi, I tried these in our TV, Freeview and DVD player plugs and the wife would not let me take them out due to the vast improvement they made to the picture quality and sound. I also have them fitted to my guitar amp and home recording studio. The fuse is directional." The Fuse is 2cm of wire in a ceramic case with soldered end caps. Utter total cow plop but people are sadly gullible. we saw one seller with secondhand "lightly used" ones, did he blow the fuse that fast? Some have silicon beads inside to aid Fire risk prevention. A Fuse is a deliberate weak point in the Mains supply to purposely fail if the current is exceeded to cut off the Mains supply. Any Wire that "Sounds Better" is because of Inductance, Capacitance & Resistance, the LCR circuit principles. Perhaps the fools hyping these have replaced aged fuses with oxidised contacts both on Fuse & Plug parts, but it'll make a Perfect Zero improvement. But people like to believe this BS & for the fact most people are Not Technical & unable to even wire a plug, it means this nonsense gets believed.
Fuse Ratings ↑
More important in Fuses is to select the correct Fuse Amp rating as a New Plug is fitted with a 13 Amp fuse to use with 3kW Heaters & Kettles. Your Fuse Rating should be the Maximum Wattage the item states in W or VA (Volt-Amps). A big amplifier like the Yamaha CR-2020 is 110w output but at full power draws 690w. This misleads many a novice saying it's a 690w amp, not a 110w. But the Max Power rating should be stated in VA as transformers are to make the difference, but rarely it is. The 690w Yamaha fuse? The PIV formula says Fuse Amp (Current) = Power (Max Watts) divided by Mains Supply Voltage. So your "unknown fuse" = 690/240 = 2.8 amps. You could safely put a 3A or 5A fuse in, but a 13A leaves it open to risk. If a Fuse blows it either blows softly the wire merely breaks with no discolouration. But a fuse under a huge amps overload will go black-brown-silver inside darkening it totally when it blows. It could draw Infinite Current until the Fuse breaks meaning in some areas like Speaker Outputs a Fast Blow fuse is preferred. Things like Tin Foil around a Blown Fuse, a Nail squeezed in a screw-cap type fuseholder & Soldering across the Fuse we've seen & they will not work as a Fuse does. One amp we know has no internal fuses, we alter it to sell, but if it has a 13A fuse in it & a fault develops, it'll draw 3000w before the fuse breaks. This means the amp is trashed & a fire risk. Be sure to fit the right Fuse in your Hifi, 3A or 5A is all it needs usually.
Read below why FERRITES are your best buy in Cables...
DIN cables ↑
are found on many Vintage amplifiers for 5 pin DIN inputs & 2 pin DIN speaker outputs. The DIN inputs are not too bad, but the speaker outputs limit using better cables. DIN means Deutscher Industrie Normen (German Industrial Standards). The DIN inputs are best used as a regular Phono cable & then plug into an adaptor you can find for about £7 on ebay. You can buy expensive cables as with anything, we got some "Premium" ones which were no better than £3 cables plated Gold. Look inside the amp & see how thin the wires are inside, though they are only short, so even a short budget DIN to phono lead is probably more OK than some would like to tell you. Speaker DIN plugs are a pain unless the amp is 20w or less & the bell wire is actually adequate if lacking in Kudos. They are easily bought but usually only the cheapest type. But DIN speaker plugs & solder, but try to solder a 5 pin DIN cable & that's much tougher. DIN is OK but a compromise is the idea & really only good for lower powered amps that they were used on. Seen DIN inputs on a 40w Sugden A48 but it had 4mm plug outputs.
If you're planning to do it cheap for Speaker cables, using 13A mains wire, solid or stranded will do the job, any differences using £50 a metre cable are in the mind or at least in the LCR features of this supposed wonder cable. We have 80w amps that use skinny two conductor 5A type USA mains cable. Is it adequate? 5A at 240v is 1200W. The amps are rated 250W max power, which means playing at full output including the power used as heat in transformers etc. The skinny cable is more than adequate therefore, if with no kudos.
Speaker Connectors to use ↑
Anything that is the easiest is the best answer. Our amp we have banana plugs on the amp end & heavily tightened bare wires on the other. One quick removal, the other pretty much fixed. DIN plugs on Amps? If an amp has 2 pin DIN sockets then leave them be, don't butcher the amp. Spend about £20 on purpose made better quality cables to plug into the amp & cut off whatever is the other end of your new cable & if possible tighten up bare wires. Adding crimped banana plugs both ends isn't really necessary & some that aren't cheap are still weak & snap off. A Banana plug actually only connects on a small surface area, be it a cheap 1 spring solid one or a 4 spring umbrella styled one. Bare wires are better.
Cables to use ↑
If you are thinking of believing The Hype & paying £100 for any cable or interconnect, you are paying for the hype and you are gullible, the 'Feel Good' factor or a LCR circuit and we'll say Don't. Don't buy too cheap: any cable with OFC copper & metal Phono plugs will always be better than a plastic ended one. But read on & DIY & save money. Gold plated is a con as the plate aka gold dip is often so thin plug in & out & it's worn off. If you need DIN plugs for inputs, buy a Y shaped connector & use regular cables. Any 99p cable is generally rubbish & we bought HDMI ones knowing the fact once you pay over a certain price, ie £5, you're fooling yourself. But 99p delivered means it's crap & won't last long if you plug in & out & the amount of copper in large looking cables has decreased since metal prices soared. Big plastic outer & the actual copper amount is usually no more than a few cotton threads size. Older cables were 10x as copper weighty.
Thick Cable sold for under £5 a metre as looking on Maplins now (maybe they don't sell this now...) shows a big selection. You can but 3mm core thicker OFC cable for £10+ a meter elsewhere, it looks more substantial but for amps under 100w it's way overspec & without Ferrites added will be no better than using Mains Cable bought from a DIY store. Commercial hifi cable is more like 30-50A cable, does your amp give or draw that much power? Do you need it to be solid silver too? You will likely be told you do as you don't know enough you will be told stories. Tell them all where to go & be wise and buy a premium chunky cable at Maplins for £5-£7 a metre & add your own 4mm plugs, though if you have the right connectors, to really tightly clamp the wires semi-permanently is far better as 4mm plugs actually only touch a small surface area & are prone to snap as well as need occasional cleaning unless all gold plated.
Many fools think buying silver cables or silver plated cables is a good idea as silver is more conductive. How long are your cables? 5 metres max? Silver gives bigger profits & side splitting laughter as people actually buy cable made from it is the truth. Silver plated cable? How about the skin between the silver & copper, that will limit conducting surely. Life today is the "Because you're worth it" syndrome. You buy these things to feel good. If you want to buy things to feel good, buy some art or an antique, at least you can see it. Silver cable buyers are the epitome of gullibilty. Green pen for your CD anyone? The "Original" Gadget Show has reported more than once on the current HDMI cable rip off. Nothing new there.
Cable Comparing finds 'Better' Ones? ↑
You will hear "respected" Hifi mags etc saying one cable sounds better than the other. But the cold truth as stated above is cable is slightly resistive and slightly capacitive & variants including inductance will make a cheaper amp sound better or worse. For any line level interconnect, even the ebay-bought budget blue cabled OFC copper ones with 'Digital' stupidly put on are adequate, if they're not going to impress anyone. If connections inside are properly made, the skinny inside copper wire is all you need. Read all the HDMI cable hype, buy a £10 one or a £200 one and hear or see no difference. It's like buying expensive dog food that just makes you feel better, in truth your dog would eat any leftovers & bin remenants and then finish it off with a guzzle of eau de toilette pan. A cable with a fancy pattern matching the price will often make Hifi sound "Better" as the cable has LCR qualities that filter out RF, but so does a Ferrite. Some cables have a slighly different resistance but a cable 1m to 5m isn't going to make any difference.
Long Cables can get problems ↑
As the cable has resistance, inductance & losses can be heard using 5m long cables. We tried the usual long interconnect between our valve pre & power amp & on doing some work on it, a 1m long one was used having both together. The delicate detail & ambience lost was rather shocking. Long speaker cables are even worse: they act as RF aerials & the speaker is just an extension of your power amplifier circuit, look at all the RF you're adding to the signal, wasting the amp's power. See Ferrites below. Todays wi-fi thinking has designed wireless units to send hifi multiroom. A good idea in practice but sadly the technology gives too much loss of quality, so wait a few more years. Until then, to buy long cables instead is the only option if not a good one as us trying to connect Computer to Turntable & Preamp in another room even using a mains extension lead from the same mains socket still brought an unearthy mains hum as the wires were too long. The only way is coupling Transformers that are about £10 that have 2 wires out of a tube type thing. It's just a cheap isolating transformer inside & brings losses if impedances differ. The entertainment system of the future will be TV, Digital TV, PVR, Computer, Hifi, Music Collection & Internet all in one unit. Some we've seen aren't too far away from that now. A big server to go in the loft, under floor or a lesser used room, all linked together wirelessly.
Mains Cables ↑
If the idea buying a £150 mains cable seems good to you as someone 'self-important' said it was good, someone likely on a commission or writing a veiled ad for themselves, then go wire your whole home with it & while your at it go back to the Sub station transformer & connect directly to that. Don't be a sucker. Solid core mains cable that reaches your mains socket is perfect if the contacts are clean & good. Be sure to check fuse are clean & replace aged ones as they can spark & cause hum, but this is for an Electrician to deal with. 99.99999% pure OFC cable? Same with the Ground system your home uses. The expensive cable or length of 5A or whatever cable you use from the wall to hifi isn't going to make any difference to anything. The mains goes into a hifi transformer stepping it up for valve amps & down for transistors. Then it gets rectified, smoothed & usually RF filtered. In valve amps the best smoothing circuit is the traditional capacitor-choke-capacitor one. Add in a few low value capacitors across the voltages to remove any RF mains hash. These pricy cables actually just use that LCR circuit type to lose the RF hash, but your amp should do that already. Same for those foolishly buying Mains filters or expert-recommended power supplies. Do you really need a fancy mains cable now? Can you see any purpose for it now? No. You're just being sold a dream by a person just a little less stupid than you are, the difference being he's on a commission. We don't like expensive cables. Buy an amp & we'll fit new 5A mains cable to it, 5A covers 1200w so adequate & tidy too. The best mains filters are in old valve amps: a LCR circuit with a natural resistance & then a large reservoir capacitor will give exceptionally clean mains. Today you can add Metal Oxide Varistors MOVs to catch mains spikes, computers use these blue disc items if most hifi doesn't need this. Even without the choke a valve amp can have eg 7mV AC ripple on 250v DC whereas cheaper transistor amps with very basic power supplies can still have 0.4v AC ripple on a 45v DC voltage. The Choke removes all the high frequency hash that is on AC Mains, with BT & others actually adding TV-Broadband signals to the Mains in your house & filters to get it out again just means more mess on the Mains. Even bigger BS in this scene, £1025 for Harmonix X-DC 15 Studio Master 350 power cord together with idiots saying they can hear differences. We don't doubt they can as one displeased reader told us. But clearly they've never heard what a LCR circuit can do. We played with LCR circuits in our early days of Hifi & the results can sound impressive. But so can "it" done properly...
Audio Cables - Phono RCA Connectors ↑
These are the next big money spinner & waster. You can buy nice looking fancy cables that may be £40 or £200 for a metre of cable. Do you know what you can buy much cheaper? All the length of similar dual phono cable you need, at Maplins or similar get the High Quality AV Signal Cable under £4 a metre & then buy some decent plugs, solder it together & done. Home made cable sounds no different to these fancy pre-made cables. We have 'Straight Wire' cables bought for £40-60 in the 1990s, they break eventually & to try to reuse one shows the bulk of the "cable" is the plastic covering with... a skinny cable inside it not unlike a 99p cable one is sized, if covered with meshed earthing braid that is impossible to use. Some of the 99p cables use so little copper strands that you'll break them easily & go buy another rubbish one for 99p again. What a con cables are...
Earth Ground Loop Problems ↑
Hum will arise connecting units together that don't share the same common grounding point. This can be very annoying as the solution is not obvious. There are sites giving info on how to lift ground off items so only one item is grounded, but as these may affect safety, go read their pages rather than us give a quick idea someone may half read & get into bother. Some amps are with 2 core mains with no ground connection and early ones can have the casework at 80v or more potential to ground until you connect an item that is grounded & ground the ungrounded by the connecting cable. For our audio source to test amps we use the Computer Sound card, but despite both amp & computer sharing the same plug socket, a ridiculously noisy Earth noise can be picked up by the earlier amps & we've needed to fit an isolator transformer box to our cable to silence the noise. We had one amp buyer complain about the amp humming, of course they think we are wrong as is human nature, but then we find they used an amp with a wooden top but no grounded lid, a Yamaha, near another electrical item & it picked up the hum. Be aware mains cables going to items the other side of a non-cement wall can pick up hum from items only a few inches away in reality.
Caig Deoxit ↑
This is a very expensive can of switch cleaner. It has mild agents in it to very slightly remove oxidisation, but trying it on some amp input sockets & one switch known to be a bit erratic, the basic idea is... not worth the money. It barely touches it. As with any Domestic product like the recent Astonish brand products, there are better industrial products that actually do what you think the domestic ones pretend to do. We used the stuff on certain problem switches & it did no better than other products. We'll not bother buying any more.
• Buy Ferrites for Success. ↑
Not those furry long wriggly creatures, they are ferrets. Ferrites are clip on items to put onto cables. To really make some difference to any Cable, not just Sales Hype nonsense. Use as many as you like wherever you see fit. Audio, Mains & Video, add those clip on Ferrites to every cable that carries a signal, on the end that the signal has travelled along & picked up RF. You can add ones on both ends though this won't add anything if it's a TV to a Preamp as the signal goes one way only. The biggest difference is putting it on the Speaker cables simply as it loses the 1MHz+ RF hash that the cables pick up & your amp wastes power amplifying. If your amp picks up 999-type calls if the response vehicle is nearby, you badly need ferrites. There are smaller size cased ones, but having tried those, they don't seem as effective. RF is everywhere, your TV cables benefit from them on Scart & HDMI of today uses ferrites to keep the picture edges clean from 'wishboning' of RF artifacts. Maplins confusingly says put on the "noisy end" of the cable which means the end of the cable the signal has travelled along rather than the start, ie on your TV input put it by the amp & the speakers one put by the speaker inputs. Buy dozens of them if needed, they really do work. Looking to buy new smaller size black ones, not the bulky RS ones we've had for years with the Y opening tool long lost, they are £3 each on ebay & Maplin, but as low as £1.05 each inc VAT for 10+ on Farnell. Ferrites work on the principle of Inductance. Inductance limits high frequencies. But...
Which Ferrites To Buy?
We're looking to get an amount to update the awkward rectangular ones, so as of Sept 2013 we go searching. The fact Audio Signals are not Sampled over 22kHz & younger people can hear 20kHz but some older might only hear 5kHz, to limit RF over say 50kHz is worthwhile. To see which sells best on Farnell is telling: for 6.5mm cables the 220-230 ohm ones they have big stocks of, nearly 13,000 of the 6.5mm Multicomp. Ferrite Core, Split, 6.5mm, 220 ohm, Frequency Min: 10MHz, Frequency Max: 300MHz, Impedance @ 100MHz: 220ohm. But we said over 50kHz is really what needs limiting. But the fact of Radio & all it's relations starts over 10MHz as their specs state, there is no need to be too strict on it. But look at your Wireless broadband & see it's 2.4GHz or 5GHz, so if the Ferrite only covers to 300MHz the Broadband will affect your Hifi? But then go see the Frequency ranges Transistors work on, ie 2N3055 a commonly used output transistor & see it amplifies no more than 2.5MHz. A small signal transistor, eg BC550 can deal with 150-300MHz that is covered by the Ferrite here. You may choose ones that block higher MHz, ones that block up to 1GHz such as Fair-Rite Ferrite Core, Split, 6.3MM, 230 OHM Frequency Min: 200MHz, Frequency Max: 1GHz, but that misses the 'busy' area of 10MHz to 200MHz the other one covers, so for Hifi use, it's not much use. Looking at all the other ones, the ones to buy are the ones they have 13,000 of, the Multicomp 10MHz-300MHz one. So these are the ones we buy. To buy 10+ is £3.26 each plus VAT. Looking at what Maplins ones are is confusing, their page layout is awful so we give up & stick with those we've found. These are in black & smaller size rectangle than the other ones which are WürthElektronik ones 74271112. BUT... Wurth Elektronik - 74271112 - Ferrite Core, Split, 6mm, 321 ohm Ferrite Core. Frequency Min: 1MHz, Frequency Max: 1GHz are still available & cover a much wider frequency range. So after all that, we'll just get another Ten of the old ones. They have nearly 3000 in stock, £3.06 each for under 50 plus VAT, so these are popular too. Perhaps why we rate Ferrites so highly as these are a Broader range.
We put Ferrites on our short 1m speaker cable as the amps are very near & the huge difference in focus was quite remarkable, in a world where excited words are overused ad nasueum, this was a genuine case of where amazement that such a simple item would make so much difference. It took a few days to get used to how strong & accurate the treble was, as with anything once you're used to it, it fades into normality.
Why do Ferrites work? Wikipedia states... "According to Lenz's law the direction of induced electromotive force (or "e.m.f.") is always such that it opposes the change in current that created it. As a result, inductors always oppose a change in current, in the same way that a flywheel opposes a change in rotational velocity." This we see in use as taming the stray RF that is in the air from excessive use of Mobile phones & Mains Electricity. The "flywheel" idea makes sense too, it keeps the signal stabilised. All explained better elsewhere, but Ferrites add a taming element if not limiting the audio ranges, allowing the amplifier to not waste energy amplifying stray RF & focussing the audio frequencies better. Ferrites, Chokes & Inductors use the principle of Inductance. Older valve amps used to have a Mains Choke to limit the frequency of the voltage after the transformer, so a cleaner 50/60Hz is possible to a chosen Mains Choke value to provide Reactance to Filter the Mains RF noise. Inductors are Low Pass filters, values can limit higher frequencies. Capacitors are High Pass filters, values can limit the lower frequencies. Plenty online about LCR circuits.
In terms of Audio, the early JVC amplifiers use Inductors in their EQ stage giving a cleaner sound than other types of EQ, such as 1980s Graphic Equalisers which sounded rough & grainy as well as being lossy in use. Unfortunately for our early CD-R recordings we used these Graphic EQs & hearing the tracks now, some that needed more EQ on treble can reveal a sound that leaves us wanting to get the vinyl again to record them afresh & EQ on the computer with Digital.
• SPEAKER, TV & HIFI STANDS ↑
As you'd expect you can spend a Fortune here too as with Cables. Some of it looks very stylish, but beware as things techno change and our TV stand has obsolete big gap shelves for the bigger sized units of a few years ago & itself is big like a coffee table for the old 36" CRT TV that we're used until seeing LCD ones were irresistable to buy. The CRT TV cost enough & it was good as LCD until HD took off so why get rid of it before you need to? The TV stand is still used & the junk that used to be put on the TV is now on the stand gathering dust ion a new way. But it's the perfect height to watch TV sat on a sofa, couch, settee or if you're a still a hippy- the floor. The idea of TV cabinets is an idea popular in the 1980s based on 1950s ideas where Electronics were built into cabinets & consoles. A ghastly fashion in the late 1980s was to buy a chipboard veneered cabinet with doors to put your big TV in, usually only a 24" would fit & tough if it had side speakers. TVs were rubbish until the late 1990s really. Even the big expensive console ones with remote controls that output ultra sounds were awful things with Live Mains chassis, very hot resistors that pinged open circuit to give TV engineers the chance to charge you £35 in 1990 to "fix" the fault & to justify the job charged 5p for a resistor. Only when NICAM Stereo TV started in the mid 1990s did TV improve, but the LCD TV market is back to rubbish speakers again. We digress... the stand market is more a wall bracket market now, see our opinion on that below.
For those with amplifiers & the like, most just use a solid piece of furniture, or a chipboard box like the old cheapo stack systems used. Stands can be custom made, but with more using computers to store music, we do, and have no CD player, sold it in 2009, you hardly need a stand just for a preamp or amp! The turntable you will have, if not why are you on a Records site?! Any piece of furniture if standing solid will do and you don't need stands despite being told you do by those wanting to sell you stands. Where you put speakers should be dictated by the Tweeters being within 12" above or below ear height at the usual listening sitting area, if not exactly at ear height as it can get wearying. Other items like stands or wall mounting can be problematic & wires ugly, we've not bothered with them before so you'll have to read elsewhere if you need these things, but try to avoid them.
A popular but actually highly stupid modern TV idea
It's how unthinking people deal with the big LCD-Plasma TVs. On a stand the same height as you'd put a CRT TV so your line of sight is just about as head level to the centre of the screen as possible & away from reflected daylight is the sensible way. But UK houses that are pre 1970 built have fireplaces & the unthinking idea is to put it wallmounted over the fireplace, like a mirror was hung before. So you are forever looking up and wonder why your neck always aches, duh. Thought & Common Sense is at a loss in so much these days. Together with the popularity of tiny satellite speakers in 5.1 sound & a sub, it's all junk to us. We play TV in stereo through the hifi & often get surprised at hearing door knocking noises or thuds & thinking it's in the home not the TV soundtrack until replaying the segment & hearing the noise isn't ours!
Our opinion is if you buy Bookshelf speakers & use stands, then you've bought the wrong type of speakers. Speakers either side of the TV is our way of doing Speakers & floormounters are the only way, if the cost & spouse displeasure may stop you. Depends how important sound is to you, you're reading this so we assume you're not interested in silly sugar bag size satellites & a sub. The aged ide of toeing in the speaker for a supposed "Stereo Seat" to us is useless, to have speakers firing down the room set parallel to the wall is the best way. The old ideas of having the sound meet at a point & diffuse losing Stereo Imagery be sure 'experts' still quote.
Speakers are meant to be sited so the Treble tweeter is just below or above the seated listening position. Fitting speakers on brackets up towards the ceiling will annoy neighbours above as well as not give much of a sound. It suits PA work, not Hifi work.
The days of having a CD player, Tuner, Amplifier, Single or Double Tape Deck and even Graphic Equaliser are the ideas of Hifi systems from the later 1980s, all stacked in a heap & overheating as the amp is the one at the bottom. Then came Minidisc, DAT then CD-R. Stack type Hifi stands were once seen often in Hifi shops, now they are mostly selling Surround Sound TV systems & Music is relegated to a lesser interest. We aren't interested in modern hifi ideas as old ones are much better sounding, but modern living & minimalism may mean units are stood like as on Sideboards of old & also under the TV with the Tivo, Sky+ or Virgin+ box. These ideals of minimalism we saw in a 1970s Readers Digest style book, very odd, the houses looked current, but they had weird old electrical goods. Life's not moved on much really since the Scandinavian futuristic designs of the 1960s.