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post #1 of 33 Old 07-28-2013, 09:16 AM - Thread Starter
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Hey guys, first post here.

I'm looking to buy my first turntable. I will only use this turntable to listen to albums, so the only thing I am concerned about is sound quality. I have a MAX of $500 to spend on the turntable and amp, and I would like to keep it cheaper if possible, but not if I am going to be disappointed in the sound.

I am also willing to go used, although I'm wary about that as I don't know if I know enough to be able to tell if the turntable is in good condition. Also, I do not have a lot of free time, so the less work I have to do on the turntable the better. In a perfect world, I would buy something that is just plug and play, but I realize at my budget that may not be an option.

The turntable will be going through this home theater system
http://www.amazon.com/SLS-Q-Line-Surround-Theater-System/dp/B000JZSYZO/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

I have been doing a lot of reading of similar threads on this forum and others, but there seem to be a lot of mixed opinions out there. I know very little about turntables, aside from the fact that they are divided up into belt and direct drive. Correct me if i'm wrong-but I have read elsewhere that direct drive is better for DJing and Belt drive is better for music playback.

My options so far for the table include
  • pro-ject debut 3/essential/genie
  • denon dp-300f
  • audio technica LP120 with a cartridge upgrade (would that be too hard to do myself?)
  • technics Sl-1200 (again, concerned about going used)

I have absolutely no idea what amp I should get, so any help on that would be appreciated too-unless my home theater reciever has a built in phono preamp-which I can't tell.

Thanks!
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post #2 of 33 Old 07-28-2013, 09:59 AM
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Correct me if i'm wrong-but I have read elsewhere that direct drive is better for DJing and Belt drive is better for music playback.
Audiophile myth. Either can be fine for music.

Any of the options you list would be a good choice in your price range. If you're nervous about going used, don't go used. If you buy from a good dealer (including needle doctor and lpgear online), they can fit a cartridge for you, for a small fee, so you can upgrade with no worries.
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I have absolutely no idea what amp I should get, so any help on that would be appreciated too-unless my home theater reciever has a built in phono preamp-which I can't tell.
If you don't know, then it doesn't have one. Given the system you're using, I wouldn't overspend on a phono preamp. $50 will get you a decent one at www.phonopreamps.com. Ignore the guy who comes on and tells you to blow $200 or more on one.

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post #3 of 33 Old 07-28-2013, 10:13 AM - Thread Starter
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Thanks for the tips!

So you wouldn't prefer one of those models over the others? Are there any advantages/disadvantages to each, or are they all pretty much the same because they are entry level?

Also, you say given the system I'm using you wouldn't overspend on a preamp...are you saying that the speakers are a weak point in the system? I understand home theater systems aren't the most ideal for music playback, but IMO it is a very nice system; would a simpler pair of nice speakers be better for vinyl playback though?
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post #4 of 33 Old 07-28-2013, 12:35 PM
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So you wouldn't prefer one of those models over the others? Are there any advantages/disadvantages to each, or are they all pretty much the same because they are entry level?
Well, I don't want to be dogmatic. Their strengths and weaknesses sort of balance out. Some people insist on belt drives, others prefer direct. It really comes down to personal preference. I usually recommend the AT120 to people looking for a real budget turntable, and I think it can hold its own with the basic Pro-Jects. But I wouldn't quibble with anyone who chose the latter instead.
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Also, you say given the system I'm using you wouldn't overspend on a preamp...are you saying that the speakers are a weak point in the system? I understand home theater systems aren't the most ideal for music playback, but IMO it is a very nice system; would a simpler pair of nice speakers be better for vinyl playback though?
Better speakers are always recommended. If you like the sound of your system, however, you will probably like the sound of vinyl on your system, too. But the difference between a $50 preamp and a $200 preamp will be minimal. That's an area where you can save your pennies.

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post #5 of 33 Old 07-28-2013, 01:45 PM
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I've had several turntables over the years (AR, Technics 1200/1210, Ion, AT, etc) and can honestly say that, if you want a solid turntable at an affordable price, the Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB is a great bet. Get a Shure M97xE cartridge and you'll be loving the sound - I know I am.

That turntable has a switchable line level or phono level output, so you're covered - you can set it to line and go into almost any input (CD, etc) on your receiver.

It's not terribly difficult to install a new cartridge yourself - here's some great info/links on how to do so:

http://www.vinylengine.com/cartridge-alignment-protractors.shtml
http://www.turntablebasics.com/

I've used the printable 'Stupid' protractors and they're fine if you don't want to spend the $$ on a real one. I set mine up using the Baerwald alignment and it sounds great across the entire record.
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post #6 of 33 Old 07-28-2013, 02:31 PM - Thread Starter
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Thanks guys, as of now it's probably between the pro-ject debut carbon and the lp120 for me...

The lp120's price is very attractive, but I have been reading bad things about its built in preamp, what can you all say to that?
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post #7 of 33 Old 07-28-2013, 02:49 PM
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The lp120's price is very attractive, but I have been reading bad things about its built in preamp, what can you all say to that?
Don't believe anything you read? smile.gif

Try it out and see. Worst case is, you decide you want something better and spend $50 on the one I recommended. (Which I own, though I don't use it regularly, as I have a good phono stage in my integrated amp.)

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post #8 of 33 Old 07-28-2013, 07:29 PM
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Music Direct has a nice deal on the Project Debut III, for under $300. Includes an Ortofon cart and dust cover. W/the phono that was recommended it gives you some spare change for cleaning supplies and some albums.
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post #9 of 33 Old 07-28-2013, 08:24 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Class A View Post

Music Direct has a nice deal on the Project Debut III, for under $300. Includes an Ortofon cart and dust cover. W/the phono that was recommended it gives you some spare change for cleaning supplies and some albums.
This is tempting, and I definitely like the looks of the pro-ject better, but I worry that if I got the debut III I would regret not going all out for the carbon...i've heard it's a lot better
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post #10 of 33 Old 07-29-2013, 08:34 AM
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I worry that if I got the debut III I would regret not going all out for the carbon...i've heard it's a lot better
Sure you have. Pro-Ject has marketed the Carbon effectively. But the Carbon is really just this year's model, nothing revolutionary. I presume they're phasing out the older model, which would explain the price drop. That's usually the opportunity to grab a good deal.

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post #11 of 33 Old 07-29-2013, 11:37 AM - Thread Starter
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Lol...why do I feel like you distrust all of my research..I may be new to this but its not like I'm getting all of my information from pro-ject ads. I have been browsing other forums similar to this one and their consensus seems to be that the carbon is well worth the extra $100 for the improved tonearm and 3m ortofon red cartridge
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post #12 of 33 Old 07-29-2013, 12:55 PM
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Lol...why do I feel like you distrust all of my research..I may be new to this but its not like I'm getting all of my information from pro-ject ads. I have been browsing other forums similar to this one and their consensus seems to be that the carbon is well worth the extra $100 for the improved tonearm and 3m ortofon red cartridge
But the question is, where did the people on those forums get their information? AudioWorld is one giant echo chamber, where the marketing department decides what their spin on a new product is going to be, they tell the distributors, who tell the dealers, who tell the customers, who think they're blessed with inside info and want to show off how smart they are on teh Internets. Plus, somebody tells the magazines, who repeat it verbatim, because they know which side their bread is buttered on.

None of those people is an expert on what makes one turntable better than another, and even if they were there's no meaningful technical information available about turntables anymore. Is that new Carbon arm better than the old Debut III arm? How would anybody outside of Pro-Ject know? So everybody who says it's better is taking Pro-Ject's word for it, directly or indirectly.

You asked me earlier which of those three tables I'd recommend, and I declined to answer. The reason is that I don't have any particular basis for making such a recommendation. But neither does anybody else. They have their own preferences and biases, and they know what they've heard. Well, I know what they've heard, too, but I know it's probably bulls**t.

Here's one thing I do know: There hasn't been a major advance in turntable design in three decades. (If you think about your audio history, you can probably guess why that is.) New models are simply not all that different than old models, no matter what the ads and their parrots say.
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post #13 of 33 Old 07-29-2013, 01:59 PM - Thread Starter
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You made some very good and helpful points, what you said about the tone arm makes sense...but what about the cartridge?

the ortofon 2m red is $100 by itself and I feel like if I got the debut III I would eventually want to upgrade to that anyway

so as of now im still leaning toward the lp120...if I went this route would if be a better idea to upgrade to the 2m instead of the shure m97xe? Or are the cartridges more player-specific?
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post #14 of 33 Old 07-29-2013, 01:59 PM - Thread Starter
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You made some very good and helpful points, what you said about the tone arm makes sense...but what about the cartridge?

the ortofon 2m red is $100 by itself and I feel like if I got the debut III I would eventually want to upgrade to that anyway

so as of now im still leaning toward the lp120...if I went this route would if be a better idea to upgrade to the 2m instead of the shure m97xe? Or are the cartridges more player-specific?
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post #15 of 33 Old 07-29-2013, 02:08 PM
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The 2M and MX97e are both excellent cartridges so I'd say you can't go wrong with either one.

My reference for saying that the LP120 is a solid bet is over 20 years of using different turntables, including modding and repairing Technics 1200 series, and getting to hear the same albums on all of them with a huge variety of cartridges. I don't know why anyone is saying the preamp in the LP120 is questionable - on my system with the MX9e it sounds great. Maybe they're using the wrong cartridges or have them set up incorrectly? That can often be the case - usually I see people slapping on Stanton 500AL's or 680's on there and they have *way* too much tracking force, making playback sound muddy.
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post #16 of 33 Old 07-29-2013, 02:42 PM
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My reference for saying that the LP120 is a solid bet is over 20 years of using different turntables, including modding and repairing Technics 1200 series, and getting to hear the same albums on all of them with a huge variety of cartridges.
I'd be tempted to listen to a guy who repairs and mods 1200s on the subject of good turntables.
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I don't know why anyone is saying the preamp in the LP120 is questionable - on my system with the MX9e it sounds great. Maybe they're using the wrong cartridges or have them set up incorrectly?
Or maybe they just have a preconceived notion that a built-in preamp can't possibly be any good. Audiophiles seem to look at phono preamps as black boxes, but they really have two basic jobs, and it's not difficult to measure how well they're doing those jobs. There are better and worse ones, but it really doesn't take much to get the RIAA equalization in the ballpark. Beyond that, improvements are generally incremental.

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post #17 of 33 Old 07-29-2013, 03:08 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Keith Crusher View Post

I don't know why anyone is saying the preamp in the LP120 is questionable - on my system with the MX9e it sounds great. Maybe they're using the wrong cartridges or have them set up incorrectly? That can often be the case - usually I see people slapping on Stanton 500AL's or 680's on there and they have *way* too much tracking force, making playback sound muddy.

check out this thread
http://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/audio-technica-at-lp120-preamp-removal-detailed-instructions-video.318596/
if I got a new preamp for this table I would do this mod immediately

upon further investigation, it seems like its not the preamp itself, but rather the capacitors it must pass through in it-so maybe it is only a problem if you want to bypass the original preamp
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post #18 of 33 Old 07-29-2013, 06:32 PM
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I'm not sure I've ever read anything so stupid.

Piece of advice: Anybody ever tries to sell you a mod, ask for measurements before and after. If they can't supply them (and they almost never can), it's a safe bet they don't know what they're doing.

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post #19 of 33 Old 07-29-2013, 06:58 PM - Thread Starter
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Ummmmm...where do you get the idea that they're trying to sell something?

If you think it's bs listen to the before and after audio files yourself...
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post #20 of 33 Old 07-29-2013, 07:33 PM
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Ummmmm...where do you get the idea that they're trying to sell something?
Didn't. But mods "given away free" are no better.
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If you think it's bs listen to the before and after audio files yourself...
I'm not that big a sucker. Nobody can do two needle drops and get exactly the same sound both times. And since he's already planted in your subconscious the notion that the after file is superior, you're chances (or mine) of making an independent judgment are nil.

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post #21 of 33 Old 07-29-2013, 09:41 PM
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I had a Shure 97Xe some years back on a Yamaha PF-800 TT. Excellent cart. Tracked very well on older vinyl. You can pick one up for around $66. I'd put it in the same category quality wise as the Ortofon 2M red.smile.gif
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post #22 of 33 Old 07-30-2013, 01:52 PM
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I'm confused - why would they not just flip the switch on the back of the LP120 to 'Phono', which would bypass the built-in phono preamp and allow you to use whatever phono preamp you want, including going into a phono input on a receiver (assuming it has one)?
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I'm confused - why would they not just flip the switch on the back of the LP120 to 'Phono', which would bypass the built-in phono preamp and allow you to use whatever phono preamp you want, including going into a phono input on a receiver (assuming it has one)?
Anybody can do it the easy way. smile.gif

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post #24 of 33 Old 07-30-2013, 02:40 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Keith Crusher View Post

I'm confused - why would they not just flip the switch on the back of the LP120 to 'Phono', which would bypass the built-in phono preamp and allow you to use whatever phono preamp you want, including going into a phono input on a receiver (assuming it has one)?
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Originally Posted by External Site 
I was thinking about the issue of the At-LP120 sounding veiled even when bypassing the pre-amp. It seems to be due to the signal passing through a couple of capacitors even when set to bypass. I can see how this could bring the resonant frequency of a MM cart down and thus the roll-off above that frequency down too
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post #25 of 33 Old 07-30-2013, 07:18 PM
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I can see how this could bring the resonant frequency of a MM cart down and thus the roll-off above that frequency down too
Poppycock.

This is from the Steve Hoffman site, right? I believe they have a strict rule barring anyone who knows what they're talking about.

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post #26 of 33 Old 07-30-2013, 08:46 PM - Thread Starter
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Ok could you please explain why its wrong then? From my limited electrical engineering knowledge I cant see anything wrong with the statement.
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post #27 of 33 Old 07-30-2013, 09:24 PM
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Nor can I. Adding capacitance to the cartridge output will lower the electrical resonance of the cartridge. That may help some vintage MM cartridges that spec'ed high capacitance -- e.g. Shure M91ED. But bad for most modern MM cartridges where it'll over-accentuate the lower-treble region. Probably won't matter with most MC cartridges.
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post #28 of 33 Old 07-31-2013, 08:14 AM
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Originally Posted by MetalPhile7 View Post

Lol...why do I feel like you distrust all of my research..I may be new to this but its not like I'm getting all of my information from pro-ject ads. I have been browsing other forums similar to this one and their consensus seems to be that the carbon is well worth the extra $100 for the improved tonearm and 3m ortofon red cartridge

While there is ample reason to distrust nearly anything you read about high end audio, record playing equipment is one of those few things like speakers and room acounstics that actually do affect the sound of music playback. I've never had a Project turntable but I have had a couple of other entry level tables one from Music Hall and one from Rega. I equipped them both with Grado moving magnet cartridges and both performed quite well. I never did any bias controlled comparisons but I would say that when comparing them to my high end VP!/Grace/Benz Micro setup, they were a little rougher and noisier but the differences were certainly subtle. I would think the Project would be comparable to the Music Hall and the Rega.
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post #29 of 33 Old 07-31-2013, 01:15 PM
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Nor can I. Adding capacitance to the cartridge output will lower the electrical resonance of the cartridge. That may help some vintage MM cartridges that spec'ed high capacitance -- e.g. Shure M91ED. But bad for most modern MM cartridges where it'll over-accentuate the lower-treble region. Probably won't matter with most MC cartridges.
Granted. What I should have said is that it is no justification for this particular mod. Any effect, assuming it's significant at all, will be a) cartridge-specific, and b) measurable. The idea that this is a mod that should be done by any owner of this turntable is poppycock. The idea that the way to judge its effect is to compare random needle drops is poppycock.

Now maybe if you actually did the measurements you'd find that, for your particular cartridge, replacing those capacitors would make sense. But I'd be willing to bet that the actual engineers who designed this turntable knew what they were doing, and that for most if not all LP120 owners, this mod would offer no improvement at all.

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post #30 of 33 Old 07-31-2013, 02:28 PM
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Originally Posted by MetalPhile7 View Post


If you go back to the original video that they reference (vwestlife's modification video):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T8sUuaclrZ4

He says that, if you're using the turntable set to Phono it goes through the extra capacitors and presents an additional load - why they are going through those caps, I can't say for sure without going over the circuit.

In this next link they talk about the cartridge load (typically 47K ohm as standard) and how it may not be 'ideal' for every cartridge, etc.

http://www.beavishifi.com/articles/Cartidge-Loading/

The mod that's we're talking about in this thread may or may not be the 'right' mod for the cartridge being used. In the original video by vwestlife he's using an AT ATP-2XN cartridge which, IMO, has too high a tracking force (3-5gm) for getting great sound quality. Typically you want something under 2gm, which the Ortofon 2M and Shure MX97e have.

Without knowing for sure that nothing else changed between the two tests (tracking force being a big one - even a little change can affect the sound greatly), it's difficult to say if this mod would be better or worse for any particular cartridge or even at all. Given that he also removed the weight from the turntable (which may or may not have affected the results), I would call the mod questionable for a couple reasons:

1. No specific info given for test parameters - was the tracking force *exactly* the same each time?
2. How does the mod sound with other cartridges
3. The cartridge used, as I said, is not the best for highest quality sound.

Just changing the cartridge to one better suited for hifi audio would give a better sound overall. I had a Stanton 680AL on this same turntable and the sound quality difference between that and the Shure M97Xe was vast and noticeable. Without taking the time to look at the actual circuit and seeing what it's doing and why, plus all the other factors, it's difficult to give definitive info on why or if this mod is appropriate.

So - your results may vary. All I know is this turntable sounds damn good for it's price without any mods, if setup correctly using a good hifi cartridge (vs high tracking force 'DJ' cart).
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