Equalization for vinyl nirvana

Hi all,

I have a question for the Audiogon and vinyl community: do you think equalization is helpful for getting good results with vinyl playback? I ask because I'm a vinyl newbie. Recently added a nice turntable and phono preamp to my rig and have slowly been collecting the recommended audiophile jazz, blues and rock albums that I like. But with few exceptions, most of the time I'm underwhelmed by the results. Lack of bass and midrange fullness is usually the problem. Sure, I could look for another amplifier, subwoofer, better cables... but I think a simpler, more affordable solution would be to get some Eq in the loop. So I just put an order in for a Schitt Loki+ 4-band equalizer. Figure it's a low-cost way to test the theory. 

Do any of you have similar experiences or related wisdom to share?

I'm also curious about the Sunvalley All Purpose Phono Eq that Herb Reichert loves, that has adjustable eq curves (https://www.stereophile.com/content/gramophone-dreams-42-sunvalley-audio-sv-eq1616d-phono-equalizer), as well as the Decware ZRock2 eq (https://www.decware.com/newsite/ZROCK.html).

Thanks for your help!
EQ is absolutely vital.

Even with a "perfect" system, the systems the engineers used and the home systems they expected to be played back on have radically changed over the years.

However, my general guide is to also start looking at your room as cleaning that up will often help with the rest.

The purists have absolutely no idea how different the engineering systems were to what they have at home.
... with few exceptions, most of the time I’m underwhelmed by the results. Lack of bass and midrange fullness is usually the problem. Sure, I could look for another amplifier, subwoofer, better cables... but I think a simpler, more affordable solution would be to get some Eq in the loop. So I just put an order in for a Schitt Loki+ 4-band equalizer ...
If most of your LPs sound bad, then I do not think an EQ will resolve your issues. The problem is elsewhere.

Yes, there are some recordings that may benefit from mild EQ, but they should really be the exception.
All recordings are flawed. Some are worse than others. EQ is just putting a bandaid on a wound. I never use it! Learn to accept reality! 
Phono preamps definitely sound ok, good, great, and I advise having the option of return for any phono preamp. However, what you are describing/intending is far from normal.

I agree, something else is wrong, additional eq after RIAA phono eq should NOT be needed, especially for all LP's.

RIAA phono equalization 'curve' grew into the standard for the LP recording/playback industry. ALL modern LP's are cut using reduced bass and boosted highs as per the RIAA spec. ALL modern Phono preamps boost the bass and cut the highs as per the RIAA spec. Minor, very minor differences result, by random parts deviation, or by designer's intentions, repeat very minor.

Prior to that, various recording/playback equalization 'curves' existed. Some phono stages, like the Sunvalley you mentioned, offer the RIAA standard, AND optional curves, intended for playing ancient lps recorded with those historically optional eq curves. Yes, you can use them with modern LP's but that is not their intention. This exists for Reel to Reel tapes also, early eq curves until a standard emerged.

LP, ' long playing' records, getting more content on a disk, was made possible by cutting the bass during recording (thus physically smaller width grooves were needed), and, like Dolby later, boosting the highs helped to reduce noise on playback.

Is your cartridge MM or MC?

Perhaps your Phono Eq has internal optional switches, resistors, settings for various cartridges, and current settings are 'bad' for your cartridge.

I would check with the manufacturer, and, go to eBay or Amazon, pick something you can return, try it, all should be well. If not you have problems down the line.
The dominant view in high end audio is “straight wire”, the least amount of electronics for the best sound. Almost no high end audio equipment has any kind of tone controls... because they introduce noice and reduce overall fidelity. I recommend fixing the problem, equalization is a band aid likely to move you further away from good sound.

My rule of thumb is that at any given cost level (mid-FI up) an analog rig will sound better than the digital end. So my Analog end (TT, arm, cartridge, and preamp) cost about $31K... my digital end (streamer plus DAC) cost $41K. The analog end edges out the digital. It would do this (in general for compatible equipment set up correctly) at the $1K component level as well as at the $100K level.
So, having said that. Is the cartridge set up correctly, the phono stage quality is VERY important. What are you comparing it too. What is your other equipment?

I hope you understand the difference between Equalizers and Phono Correction (which sometimes called Phono EQ) ? 

If you're newbie then maybe you need simple tone control (bass and treble), nice integrated amp like this Luxman have it. 

If you're always using tone control in your system then something wrong in your system. 

With matched components you don't need tone controls. 

One advice, before you will buy components:

Look for high efficient speaker (90db or higher), low power amp are perfect for high efficient speakers, and buy yourself a decent phono cartridge (this is where it is all started). 

jasonbourn52. I love this: "Learn to accept reality!"

Kidding aside, we know there is no such thing as perfect recording or reproduction. If by "accepting reality" you mean that the goal of a good hi-fi system should be to accurately reproduce whatever is in the recording to the nth degree... suppose that's one worthy approach. 

But, if say 9/10 listeners appreciate boosting the bass when listening to a bass-deficient recording, then are they all wrong? Do all these listeners just have bad taste in audio and should be more appreciative of transparency no matter what?
It use to be the same everywhere.

The guy would come to work and say, I changed the CART on my TT and I couldn’t believe my ears.. 100% of the time..

MM carts with a stylus change 50% of the time. :-)

THEN the RtR guys said try this new Tape preamp, it made my turntable sound great, while I was doing some recordings. People learned how to LOAD carts correctly EVEN MM carts, it made a world of difference in reproduction. This was in the mid 70s for me. Same with RtRs you get the bias correct.. its a world of difference in playback.

Head or Cart same idea, the phono section on an old Pioneer, Marantz, HK, or Mac sure sounded good back then.. Because they did.. Nothing fancy..

So what’s up with todays 15K rigs sounding anything BUT mucho good, onbre’? I think it’s the same thing.. CART and set it up with a good matching phono stage. Simple tone control on you preamp will be all you need..

Brite digital STUFF for comparison? Your ears are OK? no heavy roll off on the highs right.... ;-)

If you remember Hi-Fi systems from the past then you’re familiar with this type of Graphic Equalizers. If you want something like this in your system then you can play with it pretending to be a "mastering engineer" in your room, actually many re-mastered reissues are terrible compared to the originals. The reason is that someone EQ-ed them too much. Another example is car stereo with a sub that you can hear two blocks away (some drivers love bass boost:)

Analog audio system must reproduce what mastering and cutting engineers expected you to hear. It must be neutral. If you can put together system like this then it's audio nirvana, but it can take years and years or trial and errors.  


Good idea to check the loading/setup of the phonostage for your cart.

What TT, cart, and phonostage are you using?

Records don't sound as bad as you're describing.
Before you start spending money on bandaids, use a test record to check the sound of your system. 
Google Sheffield, Analogue Productions, or Chesky.

It would be nice to know the equipment that you have in your set up. We would like to know what kind of turntable you have, arm for your turntable and your cartridge. It might be something as simple as setting up your cartridge better. Perhaps just raising or lowering your turntable arm will solve the problem. Best of luck and let us know if you solve your problem.
I would do a lot more listening using a much wider variety of musical genres and the highest quality recordings in my collection, before I would think of adding an equalizer.  And if there are consistent deficiencies in tonal balance, a told to me by my ears and brain, I would first wonder about the room EQ, then tonearm and cartridge, again before thinking about an equalizer.  Of the two devices you reference in your OP, one (Sun Valley) seems to be a way to make slight alterations in the RIAA equalization curve, and the other (Decware) seems mainly to be a way to enhance bass response from vinyl.  All the LPs we own that were recorded after the mid- to late 1050s were made with the RIAA curve in mind.  Yet not all of us sense the same problems that you sense, so it is unlikely that the RIAA filter per se is a problem. Those two devices are both interesting toys, and who is to say that you would not like either of them?  Not me.  But first I would look elsewhere for a cure to your malady, as I noted above.  I admit, that approach can end up being more expensive than just buying an equalizer.  By the way, conventional "graphic equalizers" that offer a series of narrow band filters in the audible frequency range, are a definite no-no, in my own experience of them.
Hi all,

I left out a description of my system because I'm more interested in hearing from folks about their experiences adding EQ, and whether it might be a more direct/sure-fire/affordable way to address sound deficiencies in recordings and playback. 

But, since some responders to this posting have asked, here is my system (what I would describe as a modest system):
  • Tekton Electron SEs
  • Willsenton R8 with EL34s and other nicer-than-stock tubes
  • Sutherland KC Vibe Mk2 phono preamp
  • Marantz TT15 turntable with Clearaudio Virtuoso cart
  • Wires are mostly modest Audio Quest; QED speaker cable (probably a weak link); and a Decware power cable for the amplifier
  • Digital, I use a Bluesound Node into a Denafrips Ares II DAC
All of the above, with the exception of the speaker cable, is generally well reviewed. With some recordings, digital or vinyl, this system can sound really good in my opinion. But, with many many recordings, I find myself wanting more. Especially a bit more bass and warmer midrange. 

I have a question for the Audiogon and vinyl community: do you think equalization is helpful for getting good results with vinyl playback? 

Um, no it is essential. RIAA equalization is required. Anything beyond that- look let's cut to the heart of the matter, okay? 

Either you got some crap gear, or you got some crap ears and want everything to sound the way you want it to sound instead of the way it is. Or maybe you drank the Cool-Aid and think digital is the reference and are trying to make your records sound like that. Or another possibility I guess, troll. But even trolls we take seriously, at least the one time.

I am just trying to cover all the bases here because anyone like me who knows vinyl knows it is perfectly capable of bass and midrange all the other formats but open reel can only dream of. So the last thing you need is EQ. Now if you want to talk about what else might be a good way to go, we can have that discussion. But the very fact you got one of the most clueless of all saying it is "absolutely vital" and pushing you to EQ that fact alone ought to be enough to make you step back and reconsider.
If you are underwhelmed by the sound of vinyl with a good recording it is a problem somewhere in the system because the best vinyl recordings sound as good as anything out there.
Sometime I think it's Donald Trump posting on audiogon under different names since he was banned on Twitter. 
@joshindc Since we have very similar components from source to output I think I can offer some pointers. As many have mentioned the room’s architecture, furnishings and treatment are key, but that’s the unknown here. Next, the method at which you’re placing and isolating the Marantz TT is extremely important - another unknown. Next the vinyl source: Playing Originals vs. Remasters, which related to what @erik_squires commented about studio engineering vs. home audio reproduction gaps. Then, setting the right Willsenton controls to towing the precise distance of the Tektons which you hooked-up with quality AQ cables. Before you invest more money in phono preamps, cartridges, other cables, power conditioning, EQ devices, etc. try experimenting with the above placement and room treatment. After you hear improvements from tweaks then you’ll know better what to upgrade with. Overall, EQ will better-attained in totality per above. 
In my house of stereo, I have two vinyl systems. One a VPI  Classic TT with Kleos cart running through PS Audio stellar phono stage, the other a basic Pro-Ject TT with ortofon cart running through a Puffin phono stage. Both run into a Prima luna evo 100 preamp and parasound halo 23+ amp. I have a couple thousand LPs and I use the puffin system to equalize the ones that really need it. In the end, in the last year, I have put in about 35 hrs on the Puffin and over 600 hrs on the PS Audio, meaning that's how few records I feel are in need of equalization. The quality of your system and your listening room set up are the major factors in how many records may or may not sound good to you with or without equalization.
Equalization is necessary if you don't enjoy the sound. Far too often, we tend to lose sight of how enjoyable music can be...because we try to nit pick things about the sound.

Try to keep it sounding polite, but not too bright. Neutral, but not boring. Detailed, but without exaggeration. 

Using an equalizer at 16 KHz for air may also be useful if you find midrange and treble are competing too closely. 
With a Puffin you can EQ each cart and save the settings. Plus tube and tape transfer functions. Selectable bass boost, room EQ, rumble filter, warmth, air, bass, treble. Set it, save it, forget it.
Not to mention 1dB gain grain and ultra fine channel balance..
Some recordings are just too bright. I have digital and analogue versions and both can sound too bright if they were mixed that way. Some early 60’s recordings, originally released as mono but then remixed in stereo sound bright and hot as lp’s, cd’s, and streamed. Your Loki will come in handy, at only slight aural cost (foreshortening in depth perception in my system). It is a great product, with the new version even better, according to the audiophiliac.
I have 107 cartridges in my collection. Each one sounds different. Some emphasize the mids; back in the day, it was called “presence.” No amount of auxiliary EQ (not RIAA!) will give it to you if your cartridge doesn’t have it.

Other cartridges will sound thin, or “recessed” in the mids. Your Clearaudio cart is known for being “presence” shy, and recessed. Trying to EQ your way into a better sound will leave you disappointed.

Shure cartridges were renowned for great “presence.” ADC ZLM/XLM were as well. The Shure M97 Era IV will give you great presence, hard bass, and satiny, clear and focused treble with lots of “air”.

Way too many modern carts have a sterile, analytical sound.

Bottom line, you can’t get where you’re trying to go with that Clearaudio cartridge, even with auxiliary EQ.
The OP is not speaking of RIAA equalisation.  Yes that is vital to restore  (very close to) equal volume at all frequencies from what is a very unequal cutting process.

The producer had a very big equaliser panel in front of him when the recording was made.  He was probably a fiddler, anxious to be seen to earn his fee, so likely he moved some frequencies away from flat.
That was his decision and he felt his work improved the sound of the recording.

If you buy an equaliser and fiddle about with the producer's frequency balance, all you are doing is saying you don't agree with the producer's decisions and want to change them.

Oh, and also introducing loads of noise and distortion from the equaliser instead of using straight wire whenever possible.

I use a Loki between my phono preamp and my preamp. I have a very nice system. As I have upgrated my phono preamp and cartridge, I tend to use it less than I use to. I find that a lot of albums lack the amount of bass that I prefer so I use it mostly to bump up the low end. I find that in most cases if you mess with the mix it only makes things worse but there are a few records that I cut a little treble or add a little mid. Would I recommend eq, sure why not. If it increases your listening pleasure then go for it.
Let's tackle this question using a different analogy! If you go into an art gallery to view paintings the most important piece of equipment you need is a pair of glasses that is correct for your eyes so you can clearly see what the artist draw. Now if you don't like some the colors used in a painting or the details used in that painting do you go and get correction color filters or stronger prescription glasses?....NO!.....the same is true in Audio. Your system is the window looking into the music being played. If that system is accurate then nothing else is needed. You are going to like most of the music played on it but there will be some that you do not like for whatever reason. Trying to adjust everything to your liking sometimes will get you away from what the artist intended. I personally am not a fan of "Phil Spector's" Wall of Sound but I love the music so I just listen to the music or if really annoys me then I don't !!! I am sure some people will disagree.
Clearthinker, the two devices that the OP says he would consider buying to solve his problem are not classic equalizers. Both afford ways of messing with RIAA equalization. Actually, though I personally wouldn’t go there, either of those devices is preferable to a typical graphic equalizer, all of which s&&k. These days we also have equalization that acts in the digital domain. I’d be interested to hear what that does. Very expensive.
Most people dont even know that mechanical equalization exist at NO cost.... And in my opinion is better than electronic one....
This is a phono stage with different (optional) RIAA curves.

6 EQ Curves:

You can choose one of three standard EQ curves (RIAA, DECCA-LONDON, AMERICAN COLUMBIA), all with optional “Enhanced” function.

You know Master M has a point.. you can EQ a room mechanically too.

IF the dynamics are GONE on one recording and not on the other it pretty obvious that’s a recording issue. If it’s lacking in the vinyl playback ONLY, there is a gear problem. If your music just varies from recording to recording irregardless of the source, AGAIN it’s the recording.

SO OP what is it. JUST Vinyl and just some records? or All your records and depending on the source SOME recordings?

Back to Brokenwood Mysteries. New episode!

My recent purchase of the Schitt Loki+ 4-band equalizer was an excellent addition to my system. The facts that you can defeat any changes made with a simple flip of a switch and its low cost, makes it a no brainer. Remember, nobody but the recording engineers could know if your system sounds like they recorded it. You can spend thousands of dollars and many hours experimenting with different cables and room treatments that may or may not provide the benefits of the Loki+.

I’d be interested to hear what that does. Very expensive.
@lewn, not necessarily, I know that some dsp systems are expensive  but the Parks Audio Puffin is very reasonably priced with a plethora of functionality and some folks love'em.

Simple tone control on you preamp will be all you need.. 
@oldhvymec, I really enjoy the way you never go with the 'this is the way you do it and that's it' crowd and say hey if you haven't tried it, stick your toe in and try it. You might like it! When did 'tone control' become a bad word? 

Don't we use it in everything from room tone control, interconnects, connectors, tonearm, headshell, speaker wire, tubes/valves, cartridges, damping, and gosh knows what else for tone control? 

Do you enjoy listening to vinyl as much as other sources - a TV or radio for example, or music in the car? 

How about other sources on your vinyl system? Do you enjoy them? Do they share the same problems?

Those comparisons may help show what the problem is.

Live music often doesn't sound 'impressive' in the way that hifi can. It can also sound natural and involving but that is harder to achieve.

If there's a specific tonal problem, others have suggested where to look.

Personally I haven't felt any need for bass, treble, tonal controls since my first system with a Rega turntable in a small bare room, since these wouldn't fundamentally alter the experience. But that's not to say it's the answer for you.

Dear @lewm  : the idea to use eq. in a system it can helps in some room/system conditions.
Now you posted twice against graphic eq. :

"   "graphic equalizers" that offer a series of narrow band filters in the audible frequency range, are a definite no-no, in my own experience "

""  to a typical graphic equalizer, all of which s&&k. ""

When you could have the opportunity to listen to KT equalizers I know that you will be surprised. KT is in a different quality league :


and exist the 370 model too with a little better specs.

I gave this recomendation to other Agoner in this forum and he bougth it and he is really happy and surprised for an unexpected very high quality level of the KT units. Btw, made in England.

I knew about KT in my early audio years but I could not bougth it because of money and I bougth Soundcrafstmen and other " inexpensive " eq.  Maybe I can try the KT and see what happens.

Till we make tests on audio alternatives we can't know if we can get a true improvement in the room/system quality reproduction levels.

Regards and enjoy the MUSIC NOT DISTORTIONS,
To be fair to graphic equalizers, I admit that my opinion of them is now based on old data.  Once I had heard several that were commonly available in the "old days", meaning more than 20 years ago, I gave up.  Plus, the trend for the past 30 years has been away from electronic methods of altering the frequency or tonal balance of the output, which has resulted in the total absence of tone controls from modern preamplifiers.  It's fair to say I am not up to date on the latest best equalizers.  But it seems that the OP is interested in two devices that fiddle with the RIAA equalzation curve; they are not typical graphic equalizers, which was partly my point. 
You can choose one of three standard EQ curves (RIAA, DECCA-LONDON, AMERICAN COLUMBIA), all with optional “Enhanced” function.
Only the RIAA curve is used for stereo LPs. The LP mastering electronics do not have a provision for changing the curve- they are pretty picky about it- my electronics are matched to my cutter head.
Good eq existsThey are used in mastering studios dailyThey are costly- no surprise
Only the RIAA curve is used for stereo LPs. The LP mastering electronics do not have a provision for changing the curve- they are pretty picky about it- my electronics are matched to my cutter head.

The OP asked for EQ and if someone looking for this option then with GoldNote PH-10 phono stage...

"You can choose one of three standard EQ curves (RIAA, DECCA-LONDON e AMERICAN COLUMBIA), all with optional “Enhanced” function." -GoldNote 

... Enhaced option for each as stated above if some OLD VINYL is too dark. 

Personally I never used anything but standard RIAA for all my vintage vinyl. 

Nice list of equipment, you should be in Vinyl Nirvana without additional EQ.

I like adjustable preamps. I am still suspicious of your preamp settings, and now also wondering about your amp settings. Options are terrific, UNTIL they aren't.

It is easy to check and verify correct or adjust them on both pieces.

Your phono preamp has internal adjustable settings: 5 optional load settings; 5 optional gain settings. Note: separate settings for each channel, verify they are set identically.


they don't say what the factory defaults are.

For MM cartridges, like your Clearaudio Virtuoso,

the preamp setting recommendations are: Load: 47k; gain: start with 45db (see if enough volume, more gain if needed). I suspect you need more gain, see below.

Sidebar 1: Specifications

Description: Moving-magnet phono cartridge. Stylus profile: Not specified.  

Output voltage (1kHz, 5cm/s): 3.6mV. 

Frequency range: 20Hz-20kHz. Channel separation (1kHz): >30dB. Channel balance (1kHz): <0.2dB. Trackability: >90µm. Recommended tracking force: 2.0-2.5gm. Electrical impedance (1kHz): 660 ohms. Coil inductivity: 0.42mH. Load resistance 47k ohms. Load capacitance: 100pF. Cantilever: aluminum.
Weight: 6.0gm.
Serial number of unit reviewed: V00873.
Price: $750. Approximate number of dealers: 160.
Manufacturer: Clearaudio International, Weberackerweg 10, D-8520 Erlangen, Germany. Tel: (49) 9131-57702. US distributor: Musical Surroundings, 5856 College Ave., Suite 146, Oakland, CA 94618. Tel: (510) 420-0379. Web: www.musicalsurroundings.com.

Note: Your cartridge output: 3.6mV is lower than many/most MM. I suspect, after you verify correct load settings: a higher gain setting in the preamp will improve things. Not enough phono gain requires more gain down the line, perhaps a boost in the preamp gain will move another component back into a more compatible setting.

Your Integrated Amp is like an identical twin of my Cayin A88T


You have the advantage of rear switch for KT88 or EL34 tube types, AND Bias meter and bias adjustment screw (they even provide a screwdriver).

You also have optional Triode or Ultra-Linear. I much prefer the sound of KT88's to my optional 6550's; and much prefer the fuller and more impactful sound of ultra-linear mode. Note: you can change modes while playing. You don't hear/have a volume jump when switching (as I expected); you hear the differences of frequency presentation. I realized, the power difference shows up at the far end, the speakers ask for the same amount of juice at mid volume.

The review has a video showing the bias procedure, but first verify the rear switch is in the EL34 position.

PS: that stylus


has a LONG cantilever. Rarely, but worth checking: that can lead to trouble if it gets 'bent', as my friends high priced Grado is (and a prior stylus of mine was). His plays, he never checked. I had a good look, found it bent. To keep using it 'bent', I had to make a big adjustment to his arm height, raising it to adjust the stylus VTA properly. The darn thing sounds pretty good, certainly better, but it is time to get a new cartridge.

I stand firm: you should have Vinyl Nirvana with your current equipment.

One last thought: the 6SL7 and 6SN7. We think the Power tubes make the big difference, but when I changed a set of my 6SL7's the amp sounded thin, cold, thank god it sounded great before so I knew it was the 6SL7's. Brent Jesse let me finish breaking them in then return them for a pair I love the sound of.

Tube rolling is a rabbit hole to go down. Do you have the factory KT88's? I would suggest using KT88's, rear switch in KT88 position, warm up, adjust bias, change to Ultra-Linear mode. 

After I first checked/adjusted the preamp.

@atmasphere Only the RIAA curve is used for stereo LPs. The LP mastering electronics do not have a provision for changing the curve- they are pretty picky about it- my electronics are matched to my cutter head.  
Yes but what about mono records from late 50,s through the 60,s , I have found that there are a few records that do need a different eq other than RIAA, I think their is still a debate whether the few phono preamps  (for ex. gold note , sun valley, ifi) who provide different eq choices are valid for those of us with mono records.  I have encountered a few 60,s london mono records that you  can  hear that RIAA eq is not used but i can,t be sure of that because I have no eq curve choices in my phono preamps that i own. I know M Fremer has already adressed the issue and says that by mid 50,s Riaa was the standard everybody was using, but my ears tell me it was not always the case.
@cardani Yes, if you are talking about pre-1958/stereo era mono recordings, its a bit of the Wild West just like it was with 78s.
A good number of mono LPs mastered in the US were done with the RCA Orthophonic curve which is where the RIAA curve came from. But not everyone used that curve and I don't think any from Europe did.

All mono releases after 1958 are on the RIAA curve.
@atmasphere ¨All mono releases after 1958 are on the RIAA curve¨
Interesting, i was thinking of a particular mid 60,s mono recording of Istvan Kertez Dvorak,s symp #2 on london FFRR, it sounds extremely bright as if a different eq was needed.
Interesting, i was thinking of a particular mid 60,s mono recording of Istvan Kertez Dvorak,s symp #2 on london FFRR, it sounds extremely bright as if a different eq was needed.
I've heard a few that are like that myself. But this was originally a stereo recording and if I have this right, recorded around 1967. I think there is a different reason for the brightness.
@atmasphere  Exactly, i have all of that Dvorak--Kertez cycle on stereo (which sound very good) except for that particular record on mono. Tried it with both ortofon 2m se mono cart and AT33 mono using RIAA with my ARCph3 phonostage and with both i hear the same brightness.  Probably a bad mono remastering job, I guess.