Rocky return to vinyl

I've recently moved from an integrated amp with no phono stage (Jolida 302B) to monoblocks and a preamp with phono -- Marantz 2s with a Marantz 7 pre. I've had an old Rega Planar 3 in retirement for a long time. It has what I gather to be the less respected RB200 arm, and I got a Shure M97xE, based on recommendations here at Audiogon. Most of my collection now is CD. My LPs are mostly high school stuff, and I got the inexpensive Shure just to take a small step into the world of vinyl with my new-to-me Marantz amps. As it so happens, the one LP I have that I also have a CD copy of is Earth, Wind, and Fire -- an anamoly in my listening, but fun and the CD sounds pretty good. (I have a Music Hall CD25.) Now, when I converted to tubes a couple of years ago, I got the impression my preference for tubes probably would translate into a preference for vinyl. And it still may. But I was VERY disappointed when I put on that LP. The instruments sounded muddled and congested, especially in direct comparison to the CD. I've tried a couple of more albums, but they all fall way short of what I'm used to from my decently recorded CDs.

I'm assuming the most common response I'm going to get here involves my spending several hundred dollars. But could I just be missing something basic? Should the difference with this Rega/Shure setup be THAT different from the Music Hall CD player?
No. Something's amiss. Badly soiled LP, mis-aligned cartridge, phono section mucked up, dust bunnies on the stylus.

Don't give up. Vinyl, even barely working right, has charms CD doesn't have. That may not transfer into a preference for you, but you have not gotten a fair hearing. Shouldn't be a multi hundred dollar fix, either. If it's the pre, then even a really cheap phono stage into one of your line inputs should give you a better idea what LP can sound like. Get a decent LP, though: junk in, junk out.

I think Richard is right. I just got into vinyl a little over a year ago. I have a fairly modest setup Rega P2, the least expensive Rega cart and a NAD PP2. I also tried to listen to my old records from high school and most of them sounded pretty bad. I've been buying new records and they sound great. I like my turntable better than my Rega Planet 2000 and my setup is not at all "high end". Stick with it. I don't think that you need to spend a lot of money to really enjoy vinyl.
I agree...the turntable shouldn't be the problem here. Are you using the correct input (mc or mm) settings on the phono stage?
The instruments sounded muddled and congested, especially in direct comparison to the CD.

Should the difference with this Rega/Shure setup be THAT different from the Music Hall CD player?

1) I think you're experiencing the effects of stylus drag. As musical passages become complex, the belt drive platter bogs down and the music will sound congested. Changing the belt would be a good thing to do...

2) Yes, because the CD will have perfect pitch and a very low noise floor. The music will flow effortlessly when compared to the Rega.

I use a modded quartz locked DD turntable with outboard power supply. The deck plows through complex passages, having fast transient attacks and linear decays.

The problem (or hobby involvement, depending on how you see it) is that LP playback, done right, requires alot of "stuff".
1. Turntable
2. arm
3. a good moving coil cartridge
4. a good separate phono-preamp or exceptional preamp with built-in versatile phono section
5. a very stable, rigid, level platform to place the table on
6. the proper stylus cleaning items
7. A wet-vacuum record cleaning machine is essential
8. a good record cabnet -- good luck here
For me it has taken 15 years to get this stuff right, and since I'm not a millionare, it takes time to save up the money. You could buy a stock Rega Planar 3 with a Rega cartrige and a decent phono pre unit and be done with it.
I just have gone back into a little vinyl also. I picked up an old Linn Axis with Grado black cartridge.

Some things I have found after about two weeks:

1. poor recordings still sound poor...vinyl has no advantage over digital with these turds.

2. New vinyl is hard to find at cheap prices but used is a gold mine at my local used record shop...$1.50 each.

3. The Grado is not a poor tracker and does not hum in my system (lucky me from what I have read).

My opinion after around two weeks and 32 used albums is that vinyl is as good as digital on poor recordings and simply stunning with good recordings...this with a cheap $50 Grado cartridge and an old used Linn (under $400) table.

My guess is that the recording or setup is the cause of your less than happy early results. I would hang in there untill someone here can help you put a finger on the problem. Also, much good advice and setup links at the Audio Asylum forum.

Sounds to me like everything was fine, until you switched to your current tube gear. Perhaps you don't have the phono stage settings at the correct setting.

Or, perhaps there are some tubes going bad in the phono section, that would not affect the linestage at all.
For what it is worth, I agree with all fore mentioned comments. I too went back to vinyl after hearing that I could not call my self a audiiophile. Not that it mattered but I have a midfi sytem in the 5 digit range so it did make me wonder what I was missing. I pulled out a old Phillips 312 table which in its day wasn't bad, put a Dynavector X5 cart $300.00 and let it rip. It took some playing around to get the tracking and everything going, but once I did I played some of my high school records that I also happen to have matching CD's. Let me tell you the records kicked my Wadia in the butt. I stll have a ways to go as I plan on stepping up to a new player one day JA Michell, or Origin, a better cart, and record cleaning machine. So in summary I would have to say that once you go back (vinyl) you will realize that vinyl blows CD's out of the water. Happy listening.
Ditto X3!!!! But with a bit of elbow grease and some creativity a cheap and satisfying table can be had. Take a look at Project "Cheap Turntable" for some ideas and fun!

For vinyl I give a big cheer

In spite of the noise that I hear

Scatched records and all

The sound is a ball

But oh the equipment is dear
In addition to all the above comments about fine tuning your vinyl rig, I would add you may in part be missing the artifical clarity of digital. This clarity comes from the fact that less information is being given in CD playback than in vinyl, and less can at first seem like it is more. Vinyl can take at least a little getting used to. But if you are like me, once you have listened (at least to a decently set up rig) for even a short while and then go back to listening to digitial, you will feel as if something is missing from the music - something that you want back. Then you'll find yourself spending increasing time in used record stores, planning and saving for your new phono stage, etc. Still, I think good digital has its place, and by no means am I thinking of selling my CD player.
I have gone down both the digital and analog roads for many years. A few months ago I finally parted with the turntable. I have not looked back since.
Okay. You've restored my hope. This feedback has encouraged me to keep tinkering. That's part of the fun of this hobby anyway, the tinkering.

One thing I realize that I miss about LPs is the side -- you know, side A, side B. Sides had distinct personalities. Sometimes you're in the mood for one, sometimes another. Some albums I listened only to one side. A side of what used to be a 45 minute album is more manageable length than a full 65 minute CD to get your mind around. I oftentimes don't know the last half of my CDs very well.
There's more--I've made a goal that my analog and digital rigs sound as close to each other as possible...
Analog is going to be fussy compared to digital. I just got back in with MMF-7, Sumiko Pre and BluePoint Cartridge. It takes a lot of fiddling to get it set up correctly, but I've found, even with a less than optimum setup, a much more lifelike sound from analog than CD. I still cringe at pops and cracks so cleanliness is required in your gear and albums. But the sound is just so engaging, even though I was a digital convert and still love my CD's (RCD-971), I can't stop listening to whatever it is the albums have...

I have about $1000 in each setup (analog versus digital) and I am very pleasantly surprised at how good analog does sound at this price point. I'll probably never spend $2500 on either digital or analog components ( so I may be a punter in this regard) and I'll eventually buy a record cleaning machines so I'll exceed the digital by a small margin, but I'm am entralled by the sound !
All right, while I have your attention, let me ask this. Let's say I too get hooked on vinyl. What are the obvious upgrades for me? Tone arm? Cartridge? I'm talking anything radical here. Let's say, under $500.
INHO, with the equipment you have now the best place to put $500 would be a record cleaning machine or maybe a RB 250. I wouldn't get too crazy until your ready to change something like tables or phono stages, or ...
I can't believe no one has said this but I think your problem is you have your vta set to low. I have the same cart as you and had the same problem when I very first set it up but when I raised the vta everything sounded much more clear and right. also what newmanoc said about being used to the "artificial clarity" of cds probably has a lot to do with it too.
If I might part you with even a little more of your $ ;-) I would suggest that if you can get into the $750-1000 range you could get a setup that you will likely be happy with for a long long time - if that's not an oxymoron around here ;-). That opens up possibilities for P25, Sota, Basis combos. I've a friend with a P25/RB600/Dynavector combo that I liked better than a Cary 308T and held its own against SACD. YMMV of course.
I think it would either be your TT setup or the fact that a recording on vinyl that is mediocre will usually sound bad. In my experience, LP's are either very good or very bad. CDs tend to be more forgiving on mediocre to bad recordings.

A well-recorded LP is still the king. Nothing can match it. That's why people go through all the setup and inconvenience that is involved.

I think you need to buy more LPs - old (probably scratched and dirty) high school LPs aren't going to give you much. Buy LPs from companies that are releasing quality pressings and try them. If it still sounds bad, then it's your equipment/setup. If they sounds good, then you may end up using your CD player as backup as I do.


Ditto to Rob's comments. I have many older rock/pop LPs that just aren't recorded very well. Many of those have a rolled-off, congested sound, like you describe. OTOH, some of my older LPs sound very good. So, do make sure you try a variety of LPs, and maybe try some audiophile-type pressings, before drawing final conclusions. BTW, to me, one of the virtues of vinyl that seems to come through regardless of the overall quality of the recording is that the contours of notes, how they rise and fall, sounds natural.

Other than that, VTA is definitely something to play with, as Spooky suggested. The core of my TT is an old Planar 3 like yours. It came with a thick-ish (maybe 3/16") felt mat. I switched to a thinner felt mat, which definitely opened things up. (I use a different mat now, but there's nothing wrong with felt, and you may be able to find a thinner one for little or no money.) Also, putting my Planar 3 on a good vibration control device also made a significant difference in openness and clarity. This is running into real money, but probably less than stepping up in the level of cartridge or tonearm you have.

Best of luck!
I have to echo this pov. I've had an identical experience with early-mid 70s soul albums specifically Stevie Wonder where the vinyl sounds compressed andd muddy in comparison to the CD. The CD versions have been completely remastered and therefore sound much more open and transparent.

However, if you can get a copy of a mid 80s album where the CD and vinyl were made from the same master you should easily hear the superiority of vinyl. A good example of this is Sade's Diamond Life debut.

I also have Rega gear for my comparison, P25 vs. Jupiter 2000.
All right, after having let my TT sit there in frustration for a few weeks, I went out and bought some LPs. Used, but seemingly in good shape. The first thing I put on was an album I hadn't know about -- Helen Merrill and John Lewis from 1976, i think. A big, big improvement in sound. Merrill's voice (as usual) sounded gorgeous. Most of the others sounded very good too, though there were a lot of pops and crackles on some of them.

So I'm still in the hunt. Now, the pops are quite annoying, and I assume that they are either the result of dirt or damage, and I won't know which until I clean them. Correct? Folks around here seem to strongly urge a vacuum record cleaner. Fine. I found a link to a DIY cleaner that was basically an old TT with a canister vacuum cleaner and a modified crevice tool.
Any experience with this or something similar? Any reason I couldn't pick up an old TT, buy a crevice tool to fit my Sears vacuum, modify it, and save the money on a Nitty Gritty?

Now, apart from cleaning, the question is what to try next to improve the sound, which could still be improved quite a bit, I suspect. I'll try some of the tweaks and adjustments recommended in the thread above.

Why the hell does Rega make its arms without adjustable VTA??
Because the arms are made to be good performers but cheap. Anyway, the RB200 might be a good arm for a lower compliance cartridge like a Denon DL103R. Or, a Dynavector 10x5 (high output).

Do a surf for "Last Record Cleaner"; their products are supposedly very good. And, no record cleaning machine. Just lay it one a nice soft towel and hand wash them. Go find the company and read the information.

Nitty Gritty has been recommended to me a several people if you do want a machine but not one that takes up a LOT of space like the VPI and Clearaudio units.
UHF magazine had an excellent article on DIYing a record cleaning machine. Their website has an index to back issues, so you can figure out which issue to get. Their machine uses an inexpensive shop vac.

I doubt that using a turntable to spin the records will give acceptable results. The VPI RCMs run at 18 RPM. If this speed was wisely chosen, even 33 is too fast. No problem, rotate the platter by hand. I got a good deal on a used VPI several years ago because the motor unit was not rotating the platter. I turn the platter by hand, and it's no big deal - I would've ordered a replacement motor if I thought I needed one.
I use a DIY RCM based on the one in the link you posted. It works great for me. I do have to spin it by hand, but I'd bet the suction is many times better than a VPI or any other commercial RCM. Probably now where near a Loricraft or Monk, but this thing only cost me $50-60.

You are correct. The pops and ticks could be from dirt or they could be from mis-treatment. As you gain more experience buying used vinyl you will learn to do better with visual inspections of LP's you're thinking of buying. Then again I have a few records that look a bit rough but play beautifully, and vice-versa.
Thinking about a DIY RCM, but I'm not going to do it unless I can do it cheap. Question is, how much of a vac do I need? You can get a new shop vac starting at $35 and the price of course goes up from there. Measured in "peak hp", they start at 1.5 peak hp. Regular floor vacs start at $50 and power is measured in amps - they start at 9.5 (I'm looking at the Sears website). How much power do I need to make it worth my while? Or maybe I should just decide that I'll be an air-dry guy.
I use a Sears 2.75hp vac and it has more than enough power. Don't forget, a shop vac is also useful for many more things than a record cleaning machine - just try cleaning the garage with your Loricraft! (LOL)
Anyhow this is the way to go for cheap. The Loricraft, however, does demonstrate one important principal that you should incorporate into your DIY cleaner. This is the fact that greater suction per square inch can be achieved with a smaller opening. When you make your tool for suctioning off the fluid, make just a narrow slit, the width of the vinyl. I recommend using a crevice tool (regular small vac size) and cutting a slit on the narrow side (or wide side if you prefer), I used a roto tool for this. On either side of the cut I use double stick tape and felt which can be easily and frequently replaced. The end of the crevice tool is closed off with a piece of plastic glued to the end. The tool is connected to the vac with a smaller gauge hose that you can buy which is typically used to connect your shop vac to the dust port of small tools like sanders (another use for your shop vac!) I clean records buy placing them on a clean plastic sheet on top of a felt surface. I apply the record cleaner (AIVS) and brush it with a Last Record cleaning brush. I then vac it off by vacuming about 15 degrees and then picking up the crevice tool (the record remains attached by suction) and turning it 15 degrees to make my way around the record. With AIVS I get outstanding results and when you consider the many other applications for your vac - the record cleaner is essentially free!!!
I wouldn't go crazy with the vacuum at all. If you can find an old sweeper at the thrift shop for a few bucks you'd be all set for next to nothing in cost. You may find that you have too much suction, but that is very easy to deal with. A few holes that you can cover or release with your thumb and forefinger will take care of that. I also used a Lazy Susan bracket for the turntable and cut a circle of MDF for the platter which got covered with cork.