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Got the upgrade itch? Try the Noah’s Ark approach

  • The upgrade itch: could it be that our thirst for something better is, in reality, just a desire for something different? One pre-emptive band-aid is not to go all-in in one amplifier, one DAC or one pair of loudspeakers but to split one’s budget between two less costly options. Two amplifiers, two DACs or two pairs of loudspeakers. I call this the Noah’s Ark approach to hi-fi buying.

    With €3,000 at our disposal for a new turnable, we could drop the whole amount on a Rega Planar 8 (€2299), leave ourselves €700 for the cartridge and live happily ever after. Alternatively, Pro-Ject’s Xtension 9 would land at our door for €2185, leaving us €800 for our cartridge choice and, potentially, decades of happy listening.

    That’s the theory.

    For the restless audiophile, satisfaction is fleeting. Matt Johnson said it best in The The’s 1992 song, “True Happiness This Way Lies”:

    And have you ever wanted something so badly
    That it possessed your body & your soul
    Through the night & through the day
    Until you finally get it!
    And then you realize that it wasn't what you wanted after all.
    And then those selfsame sickly little thoughts
    Now go & attach themselves to something....
    ....or somebody....new!
    And the whole goddamn thing starts all over again.

    With a view to soothing the relentless pursuit of the new, how about splitting that same €3000 turntable budget between two more affordable options: a Rega Planar 2 (€520), whose lacklustre factory-fitted cartridge will need to be swapped out for something better – I went with a Zu/Denon DL-103R MKII (US$799+); and a Pro-Ject RPM 5 Carbon (US$1350) that comes pre-fitted with a very decent Ortofon Quintet Red?

    And to make it easier to switch between our two turntables, we need a phono stage with two individually-configurable inputs? Enter the Gold Note PH-10 (€1399) that sidesteps any cable switcheroo when we fancy moving from the Rega to the Pro-Ject and back again. Play one record on one turntable and then use the PH-10’s rotary to change inputs before playing a second record on the other turntable. Alternatively, we could spin vinyl on one turntable for a month or two and then, with a flick of a switch on the Gold Note, cut over to the other ‘table. Any itch for a change is easily scratched.

    Further, as these two turntables setups do not sound alike, we now have immediate* access to two different takes on the same record. The Pro-Ject RPM 5 Carbon and Ortofon cartridge’s strongest suit is communicating a recording’s delicacy and finesse. The Zu-loaded Rega plays it more physical with lots of dynamic push.

    This is how I tackled most of 2019 vinyl playback. Playback that culminated in a run through ten of my favourite Berlin record stores via ten electronic music selections. This video goes deeper on the aforementioned hardware, plus the ancillary gear used to optimise what I hear from those same ‘two turntables and a phono stage’:

    Further information: Pro-Ject | Rega | Zu Audio | Gold Note


    *Tonearms with removable headshells still demand that we spend time re-setting the tracking force,  anti-skate (and sometimes VTA).

    John Darko

    Written by John Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has also contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram

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