Making my turntable set up not suck (phono preamp, etc.)
Feb 17, 2009 at 3:34 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 9


New Head-Fier
Feb 7, 2009
I've been collecting vinyl for a little over a year now, and now that I've got a turntable in the place I'm living for school, I want to make my setup not suck.

I've got a Sony USB turntable, which I'm not totally satisfied with, because the needle often just randomly skips out of nowhere, on pristine records that work fine on anything else. Anyway, that's not really the point of the thread--I just mention it to make it clear that the turntable itself is not a set-in-stone part of this setup.

I have a roommate and I live in an apartment, and since I'm a courteous guy, that means I listen to almost all of my music on headphones, no matter what the source is. With this rationalization, I've decided to finally break down and buy a headphone amp. I've got some IEMs and some supra-aural headphones, and although I use the cans pretty much exclusively when I'm at home, I do use the IEMs sometimes since they actually isolate worth a damn. My primary computer is a laptop, so I thought it would be prudent to get a combination amp/DAC.

My question is, then, should I get the headphone amp/DAC and an independent phono preamp, or something bigger that has its own phono preamp?

I'm really leaning towards the amp/DAC + phono preamp setup, for a few main reasons. First of all, space is at a premium. Since all of this has to go in my room, on my desk, I'd like the setup to be as small and easy to move as possible. The other reason is, of course, the price tag. I'm a student, so naturally I'm going to have to make some concessions in the sound quality department out of financial necessity. Basically, I'm willing to forgo flawless audio reproduction and the 'ideal' setup in lieu of a setup that's easier on the wallet and is more convenient.

What do you think? Are there any specific preamps that are recommended over others? Or if my head is completely up my ass, what other sort of setup should I be looking at?
Feb 18, 2009 at 2:38 PM Post #2 of 9

Originally Posted by Actionist /img/forum/go_quote.gif
I've got a Sony USB turntable, which I'm not totally satisfied with

That would be the first upgrade I'd make. With analogue, putting the source first is by far the best way to maximise sound quality. Adding better electronics downstream is only going to make the Sony's shortcomings more painfully obvious top your ears.

Since you are a student I would look at the 2nd hand market. For the same price you probably paid for the Sony you can pick up all sorts of far better quality vintage decks like the Pioneer PL-11 or Sansui SR-222. Here is a list I made a while back

As far as Headphone pre amps / DACs / Phono pre-amps go, there arn't (m)any boxes which contain all three...
Your cheapest option with a compact footprint would be something like the TCC TC-754 phono stage - [English] with a matching Jec / Beresford style DAC/Headphone amp
Feb 20, 2009 at 7:09 AM Post #4 of 9
You are going to want to first upgrade that table. How much are you looking to spend? The Pro-Ject Debut III with the built in phono pre-amp would be a good option. It is a pretty good table, and with the built in pre-amp you are going to save a few bucks for sure. (Not to mention the fact that it is a sexy looking table.) Then, take the money you saved, and buy a good headamp to plug into, and you will be set (this would also benefit your digital listening needs). Last, you are going to want a kick ass headphone to go with all of it.
Feb 20, 2009 at 7:58 AM Post #5 of 9
Find a used Thorens 160 for $100.00 on E-bay find a $30.00 Stanton needle. Go to a thrift shop find a 70s used Pioneer. You will love it!
Feb 21, 2009 at 5:47 PM Post #6 of 9
That Pro-Ject table is sexy, but I have a lot of records that play at 45 rpm, and having to take the platter off and move a belt around every time I want to switch between 33 and 45 seems like it would get really old really fast.

I've actually got a line on a used Technics 1200 for a very reasonable price. Like I say, the turntable itself isn't the main issue here, since I know that needs upgrading. I'm happy with my headphones (Alessandro MS-1s), and although I could do with something bassier, I'm not really looking to upgrade them yet. My main question is just about the viability of having a dedicated phono preamp and a headphone amp, rather than a full-size receiver like my dad keeps saying I should do
Feb 21, 2009 at 6:00 PM Post #7 of 9
The advantages to the receiver are multiple inputs to connect more sources, a built-in radio tuner, the ability to power speakers, and convenient switching between sources. The separate headphone amp and phono preamp will sound better than the same stages in the receiver. The TC-754 or TC-760 sound very good for budget phono preamps.
Feb 22, 2009 at 12:34 PM Post #8 of 9
not a vinyl related point. but if you want bassier headphones, you could just put the grado flat pads on the MS1. when i had my pair, the flats really helped bring out the bass.
you can get them from ttvj.
Feb 23, 2009 at 8:29 AM Post #9 of 9

Originally Posted by Redcarmoose /img/forum/go_quote.gif
Find a used Thorens 160 for $100.00 on E-bay find a $30.00 Stanton needle. Go to a thrift shop find a 70s used Pioneer. You will love it!

x2 on a vintage Thorens. I bought a 125 MKII last year in excellent condition for ~100€. It think it had a Stanton needle as well and did sound very well - and you can upgrade from there easily by adding more expensive systems (I am now running a budget Benz MC 20).
There are also nice budget phono stages available at budget these days if you don't want to go for a vintage amp (like Clearudio nano phono or apparently the Musical Fidelity V Series).

Just my 2 cents :wink:

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