Upgrading your turntable
Something to bear in mind when wanting to improve a vinyl based system is that there is a definite hierarchy. It makes upgrading simpler and more productive when you follow this hierarchy.
Amps and speakers can change many things but they can’t recover more information from the record; only a turntable can do that. I am not suggesting amps and speakers don’t make a big difference; they clearly can and do. But working through the system from the front end will normally yield the greatest gains.
The most important part of the turntable is the motor unit itself. The turntable has to perform a number of functions. First is to rotate at the correct speed and it might surprise you to learn that many don’t spin at a consistent accurate speed. Second is to prevent unwanted vibrations from causing a negative impact on the performance and the third is to support the tonearm.
The pitch accuracy sounds obvious but many turntables fail in this department, mainly because the motor is connected to a mains supply which fluctuates. Pitch inaccuracy is a very bad thing for a turntable; even if you can’t actually hear it wowing and fluttering. It may simple sound “wrong” like musicians playing out of time. An external PSU is generally the way to go; offering more accurate and smoother feed to the motor. Accuracy assures pitch stability and musicality, smoother means less noise is fed into the motor that can make its way into the chassis.
Next is the tone arm. Any movement in the bearing or weakness in the materials will result in loss of data; less music. A better arm will retrieve more information and lose less of it. Structural rigidity and lack of resonance is everything here because the arm carries such a minute signal; in fact the smallest signal in an audio system.
Rega and SME make one-piece tonearms which are inherently rigid. They also ensure that the cables which run through the arm from the back of your cartridge to the amplifier are the highest quality and have the least number of breaks or connections. Everything is designed to protect and conduct the delicate and precious signal coming from the stylus tip.
This hierarchy isn’t cast in stone but will usually provide the best results. In theory a better deck and arm will sound better with the cheapest cartridge. For this reason we’d generally say don’t spend a lot of money on a cartridge until you have the deck and arm that can truly do it justice. Cartridges start at about £25 and run up into the stratosphere.
If we take for example a budget turntable like the Project Debut or the Rega P1; they both come with a budget cartridge fitted and they both offer extremely good performance for about £250. They can be upgraded but only by small increments. We would recommend for example that a better cartridge could be fitted but that you wouldn’t want to spend more than say £100 on such a cartridge. Spending anymore would not really provide a huge benefit and the additional money better spent upgrading the record player.
MM or MC?
There are two types of cartridges, moving magnets and moving coils. Moving magnets have a higher output and replaceable styli (in most cases) and cost in the range of £25 to £450.
To use an MM cartridge you need to have a standard phono stage or input.
Moving coil cartridges use a tiny electromagnetic generator, but (unlike an MM design) with the magnet and coils reversed: the coils are attached to the stylus, and move within the field of a permanent magnet. The coils are tiny and made from very fine wire. As a result they offer a lower output and are also more expensive to produce. MC cartridges range from £200 to many thousands.
MC cartridges have fixed styli to ensure greater rigidity and less loss of information. Better examples usually have extremely fine profiles diamonds to ensure the best tracking of the groove.
To use an MC cartridge you need to have a MC input or an MC phono stage.
How to choose
For most people an MM cart is the best answer as they offer high performance and can easily allow a stylus change. We tend to avoid the cheaper Moving Coils because in our experience a good MM is better than a cheap MC.
The amount you spend on a cartridge is of course often decided by the arm and turntable it is being fitted to. Occasionally we see very high-end cartridges fitted to mid-priced record players and in our experience that’s not the best way to get the best performance.
We will always gladly advise on how to best improve your turntable and of course we can demonstrate the improvement easily. Sometimes the improvement is actually trading the turntable in for a better one but once you’ve arrived at a higher standard of record player than upgrades can be made beneath the chassis. Perhaps the prime example of this is the LINN LP12.
Upgrading the Linn Sondek
Basically the same rules apply. The Sondek itself is a very high standard of record player and yet it is still part of hierarchy that allows steady upgrades to be made.
Linn maintain that the mechanical side of the turntable is always the first thing to attend to when upgrades are required. Basically that’s the Cirkus bearing and the Kore subchassis and once these are taken care of the next thing to address is the power supply itself; replacing the basic in-built one and adding a Lingo external PSU.
Next is the arm and finally the cartridge!
Advice is free and we’re glad to help you whatever level of turntable you want or aspire to. We stock a wide range of products and are always happy to let you listen to and compare them. You’ll be surprised at how easy it is to find the one that’s right for you.