A JOURNEY INTO VINYL
After listening to high end digital audio for over a decade now, I've finally decided to dabble in the world of vinyl to see what it's all about. The below writeup describes my journey into vinyl, pros and cons, how it compares to digital, hardware used, etc. P.S. This is just my opinion and what my ears hear. Spoiler Alert - Vinyl Rocks!
Speakers : Paradigm Persona 9H, Paradigm Persona 3F
DAC : Anthem AVM 60
AMP: Emotiva Gen 3
Headphones : Abyss Phi TC, Hifiman Susvara
Amps : Woo Audio WA33 EE + KR Audio HP Tubes
DAC : Schiit Audio Yggdrasil
Source : Roon Nucleus+
Woofer: JL Audio Fathom F112V2
Cables : CAD USB Cable, JPS Labs Kaptivator Lite, JPS Labs AC-X Digital, JPS Labs Interconnects and HP Cables.
Misc : Lane 315 Cinema Home Theater Recliner +Transducers
Transducers : ButtKicker LFE, 2 x ButtKicker BK4 Advanced (Stereo), Clark Synthesis Platinum
Player: Rega Planar 10
Cartridge: Rega Aphelion
Phono Stage: Rega Aura
I'm primarily a headphone listener, though I have access to high end speakers at my bro's place, so familiar with those too. For years I've been a fan of high resolution music and my main listening involved playing back high quality digital files via a Roon Nucleus+. I've had countless hours of great listening on digital, however I walked into a Barnes & Nobel and saw some vinyl selling along with players and decided to pick up an entry level kit to give it a try. I picked up an Audio Technica AT-LP60X BT along with a couple records to give it a whirl.
I brought everything back home, got it hooked up to my main HP rig and started the vinyl experience. I gave myself about 2 weeks of vinyl only listening to get used to it before trying to switch back to digital. Then there was the period of A/B comparisons etc.
I was quite surprised at what was being extracted from the record on just a $150 player. The music sounded so natural, so rich, so lush, whiles still retaining detail and resolution. Digital definitely sounded clearer, and I did have to get used to the noise of the player, whiles keeping in mind, I'm comparing a $150 player to a $2500 DAC.
More and more I found myself listening to the vinyl player and slowly began increasing my record collection. The hassle of having to switch discs, clean them, clean the player stylus, maintain a physical collection in general, was quickly overlooked in favor of the sound and enjoyment I got out of record playback. The convenience of digital started to lose its appeal the more I explored vinyl. I eventually began to appreciate the intimate and physical transaction that took place every time I took a record out of its jacket, admired the artwork, place it on the platter, and spun it up
Whenever I'd go back to digital it just started sounding, in a word, harsh.
My brain was saying "This significantly more expensive DAC should be sounding better", but my ears was not having any of it, and eventually all I was doing was listening to vinyl…. Once I realized that I was completely and utterly sold on vinyl, I of course wondered what a high end vinyl player would sound like…..
I've been exploring and hunting for a TOTL DAC for a while, options that were on the short list included:
Chord DAVE + Mscaler
MSB Discrete / Premier
Those represent a big step up in cost from my current Schiit Yggdrasil, the above costing anywhere from $15k-25k.
I was never quite convinced to shell out the cash to make the bump, though I've been researching and considering for a couple years. Seeing as a significantly less expensive record player was, to my ears, beating my Yggy, I decided to drop some $ on a high end player.
The players up for consideration were:
VPI Avenger Reference + Lyra Atal MC Catridge + Esoteric E-02 Photo Stage
Technics SL-1000R + Ortofon MC Anna Catridge + Esoteric E-02 Phono Stage
Synergy SME + Ortofon Catridge + Nagra Phono Stage
Rega Planar 10 + Aphelion Catridge + Rega Aura Phono Stage
After much research and deliberation I decided to go with the less expensive of the bunch and I grabbed the Rega setup.
VINYL PLAYER OVERVIEW
Rega's approach to turntables is to reduce mass. So the Rega Planar 10 is very lightweight and minimalistic. There's a few videos on youtube going over the player, build, philosophy etc, so I won't go over that here. What I will say however it's very well built, looks gorgeous, and clearly a big step up in engineering and build quality over the much cheaper audio technica table. After setting up the table, dialing in all the nick knacks, it was now time to have a listen to what north of $10k in source components gets me.
I took the new rega kit straight to the speaker room and decided to test it out there first before hooking it up to my main headphone rig. Testing was done by myself, bro, and a friend. Started off the testing with some digital content, then dialed in the AT Table. The difference was obvious and apparent and mirrored what I heard on the headphone rig. The vinyl player just sounded better to our ears, smoother, more enjoyable, richer. After doing some back and fort A/Bing between digital and the AT it was time to spin up the Rega….
From the moment we switched over from the AT to the Rega, there was an immediate and blatantly obvious change, we all heard it. That clarity compromise that was made going from digital to vinyl was suddenly gone. The Rega was crystal clear, whiles retaining all of the juiciness that's vinyl. Apart from that however, it was just better in every way across the entire audio band compared to the AT. Bass was powerful and impactful and went to the depts of hell, treble conveyed with brilliance, and the mids….o boy….the mids……THIS! Is what vocals are supposed to sound like! The music sounded BIG, Full, Rich, Powerful, Clear, Amazing.
After a couple songs, we went back to digital, and it sounded, harsh, analytical, clinical. Just was not enjoyable after experiencing the Rega.
We tried a variety of genres as well, from the awesome and wonderfully recorded Michal Jackson Bad, to System Of A Down to The Rippingtons, it all sounded great, and best on vinyl. The playback also had that familiar effect of "I've never heard that before", "Where did that come from". It was amazing to discover just what was hidden in the record grooves, every instrument, every subtle note was brought to life. I could hear the artist breathing, the tap of the wood on the guitar, everything. It was just amazing. I've never experienced music playback this good before. Certain pieces of music brought tears to my eyes and gave me goosebumps.
The experience on the 3H was spectacular, but now it was time to hook up the Rega to my main headphone rig.
Again.…WOW!....amazing. Everything I've heard on the speaker rig was also present here, but now with the intimacy headphones present. I've never heard the Abyss and Susvara sound this good before. I was completely sold on the format, and proceeded to delve deeper into the hifi rabbit hole as one tends to do LOL. I began hunting to try to find the best records, build out my collection with familiar records that I already love on digital, as well as explore new music thanks to vinyl. One of the better sounding albums I managed to get my hands on, is Yes - Fragile in 180G SuperVinyl by Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs which is created from an original master. Man o man it sounds truly amazing. Suddenly I found myself no longer listening to digital much at all, just when working out or specifically for discovery. I also noticed the difference between different recordings. 180g stuff sound amazing, but I also have some regular vinyl that also sound spectacular, like The Rippingtons - Kilimanjaro (great recording). I also manage to get my hands on some rare gems as well, like a 1979 Mozart album, and an Original Master Recording Miles Davis - Kind of Blues. I've never been a big jazz fan, but man on vinyl, I'm now a massive jazz fan.
I feel like I've now achieved a truly spectacular system. The only place I go from here is to a dedicated speaker room like my bro's which is already in planning.
When it's done I'll see if ima move my Rega kit to that room or opt to step up to one of the clearly ridiculously priced kits. In speaking with the Vinyl dealer, he tells me the higher end kits bring more bottom end. I'll do some more research and decide when the time comes, but I'm extremely pleased with the Rega Setup.
IMPORTANCE OF THE SOURCE
Now that the upgrade bug was in the air, my bro decided to path ways with his Persona 3F speakers and step up to the flagship 9H. By the time he got the new speakers, my Rega setup was at my house hooked up to my headphone rig and I was not feeling like moving it. I instead carried over the AT table to test out his new speakers as I've had enough time on Digital, AT and Rega on his old 3F speakers to competently gauge the 9H.
When we spun up digital, I could hear several improvements on the new speakers over the old ones, but…my ears were now longing for vinyl sound.
We spun up the AT and it's at that moment I truly appreciated the important of a good source, especially when you have the speakers/headphones to take advantage of what a good source can do.
The 9H speakers cost 3-4 times the price of the 3F, and I could hear the improvements from the driver level between the 2 speakers.
The 9H was more resolving, better bass, and just did its thing on a higher more refined level. However, what was shocking, was the fact that the 3F + Rega, sounded significantly better, than the 9H + AT.
That revelation clearly highlighted the importance of good system pairing, and matching components in its class. Because a Kit at half the price would sound better if the components are matched right. Upgrading to the significantly more expensive 9H and pairing it with an inadequate player just wasn’t doing it for my ears. Going to the 9H at that point would only make sense if you're prepared to also invest in a comparable source component.
I was comfortable enough with the Rega to know that when paired with the 9H, it would be amazing. Alas that would have to wait until I get my own set of speakers, or if I feel up to the task of disconnecting everything from my house, and driving it over to my bro's, but I know he'd never let my rega leave his house again….so….yea…probably not!
One thing that comes along with vinyl playback, and may discourage a lot of buyers, is the record care process.
Having to keep dust / static off of your records by using an antistatic brush to clean your records after every playback. Using a dust remover to to clean the stylus, etc is definitely something you'd have to be prepared to do to truly appreciate high end vinyl playback.
To make the process a bit easier I've purchased a Pro-Ject vinyl cleaner. Whenever I unwrap a newly collected vinyl, weather new or used, I run it through the cleaner, which makes the vinyl look spanking new if used, and just removes any dust and dirt off of new records. I then apply a vinyl treatment called LAST which I've tested and to my ears makes the records sound even smoother. I then remove the default record jacket and place them in an Original Master Record antistatic sleeve.
At that point I just use the anti-static brush after every playback (I just used the brush at the end of a record side, whiles it's still spinning on the platter for a quick dust removal, then I stop and switch sides or take it off) and I'm good to go.
All in all, not too difficult or troublesome, especially given my love for how the format sounds……There's no going back now.
After a few months of record playback, and the Rega kit and cartridge getting time to burn in, I can say that the quality has only improved.
I was amazed before, but now, wow, even more so. The player post burn-in is performing magnificent, and surprising me all the time. I've also added an Ortofon Cork Mat as I found the default Rega felt mat produced too much static during playback and the felt mat would sometimes stick to my records and introduce some pops and crackles if I didn’t hit my records a shot with my anti-static gun. Since getting the cork mat however, I've never had that issue.
In the end I can say, I love Vinyl. This audio hobby has now grown past chasing gear, and now I find myself chasing quality music to experience.
Vinyl has done for me, what tubes did for me when I got into tubes, but even more so, and more enjoyable.
I enjoy the setup each and every time I spin up a record and anytime I have the need to go to digital to listen to something I'm feeling for that I don’t have on vinyl, I'm annoyed -.-
So there you have the pros and cons of vinyl playback in a nutshell.
• Amazingly astounding musical fidelity and life like reproduction.
• Smooth, lush, juicy enjoyable playback.
• Ability to hear information in a recording that I've not heard on some digital reproductions.
• Maintenance can be a chore for some, but I've gotten used to it.
• Can't make playlists or quickly jump from the start to the end of an album.
• Physical space required to store records.
• Makes you hate digital music.
In conclusion, I still have digital, and it still has its uses for me, music discovery, streaming throughout the house, etc. But when I want to really listen to and enjoy music, I'll always reach for a vinyl record. I've had some truly Eye-Popping experiences with vinyl, manly tears shedding type stuff, and not because of the music specifically or some emotional connection to a song, but manly tears were shed solely on the basis of just how gat dam good it sounds!