Rather than dive straight into the vinyl vs digital debate, I’ve been biding my time, building experience with different setups and getting a feel for what it’s like to maximise vinyl sound quality on a tight(ish) budget. This playtime has been going on the best part of two years now. Here’s a diary-summary:
November 2011 – January 2012. I bought a few Talking Heads records at a market for old times’ sake. They sat unplayed for weeks and weeks….but I soon crumbled though and spilled for a Rega RP1 – “just to play them”. What harm could come from spending a few hundred bucks on a basic turntable? I already had an amplifier with an in-built phono stage: a Sansui AU-417. This would be a simple setup that I’d feed with a few records each month. The Sansui soon gave way to the punchier Rega Brio-R though. Then came a move to off board phono pre-ing with a Graham Slee Communicator.
February 2012 – March 2012. A $100-200 upgrade wouldn’t hurt, would it? Time for a new cartridge. An Ortofon Blue was bolted to the RP1. The Slee went when I scored a bargain-basement-priced PS Audio GCPH. Better bass, bigger, bolder, brasher – a more American sound.
April 2012 – October 2012. The vinyl seeds had taken hold. Damn! I sold the RP1 and bought an RP3. The Ortofon cart was shown the door after scoring a Zu-modded Denon – ah, so this is where all the tone and timbre had been hiding! I went record shopping in Portland. I filled a flight case and had to fake its lightness in order to squeak it onto the plane as hand luggage. Swinging thirty kilos to make it look like less than ten isn’t easy. I did this twice within six months. The collection grew. I dropped dollar after dollar at Amazon, Vinyl Eye, PopMarket. The big black discs kept coming…but they’d started eating up space huge chunks of space in my lounge room. That which I owned had begun to own me. (Personal) Vinyl playback began to encroach upon my (professional) digital audio investigation time.
November 2012 – March 2013. The chaff was trimmed from the record collection and the PSAudio GCPH done got eBayed. In its place: a loaner Pro-Ject USB Box. The record-buying habit needed a tighter leash. Out went the Rega RP3. There was a temporary fling with a Technics SL100 MKII. A buddy encouraged me to drop a coupla hundred bucks on a (Goldring) Lenco L75 found on eBay. The stock tonearm hit the bin immediately (in favour of Grace). With this ‘table came more drive and propulsion. The final piece of the budget puzzle? An iFi iPhono stage (US$399/AU$449).
I’ve no plans to start reviewing turntables, phono stages or tonearms – I simply don’t have the experience. However, I thought it might be interesting to test the generalisation that vinyl is superior to digital by comparing very specific price-matched setups from both camps: Lenco L75 + Zu DL-103r + iFi iPhono vs. MacMini + iFi iUSBPower + Resonessence Labs Concero . You can read my (somewhat inconclusive) findings in Issue 55 of TONEAudio (P132).