Weak Link in Vinyl Playback

Hi Everyone,

I’m looking for some input on a weak link in my system, mostly in regards to my vinyl playback chain in a 12’x11’ room.

I currently have a Technics SL-1700 MK1 with an AT-VM95ML cartridge. The turntable is connected to an iFi Zen Phono. The phono is connected to a Schiit Saga S via 3 ft. Blue Jeans BJC LC-1 cable, and the Saga runs to a single Schiit Vidar by the another set of the same cable. The Vidar is connected to Elac Debut B6.2’s via 10 ft. Belden 50000UE cable (as an aside, my digital path is Pro Ject S2 Pre Box Digital connected by the same 3ft. interconnects to the Saga>Vidar>speakers). I’ve connected a sub previously (a Martin Logan Grotto I that I inherited) to the Saga in the past, but am currently running without it.

My concern is that while the digital path sounds full to me, at least as much as can be expected, the vinyl path sounds a bit thin and weak. I guess I’d describe it as kind of lacking energy. My gut tells me the Saga S having 0 gain in both the passive and buffer mode (I run it in passive mode because it sounds more lifelike to me but I’ve used the buffer in the past as well) is the reason for this, but I’m not positive. I’m ready to upgrade to the Freya S if that’s the solution, but I didn’t want to start throwing money at a problem without really narrowing it down first. The Zen phono is set to MM and gain 1, which should be correct for my cartridge, the interconnects aren’t overly long (the speaker cable being 10’ isn’t too big a deal, I think?), the Vidar should be driving my inefficient speakers with no issue and judging by the digital path, it is. 

I’m hoping someone here can weigh in on what would make the biggest positive impact in my listening and give me the oomph I think I’m missing. For what it’s worth, I plan on doing some room treatment down the road, but that’s not what I’m looking for advice on at the moment.



Are most if not all phono stages set to hard values for gain and load or are there adjustable ones with a knob or something like that to really dial in?

The PS Audio and Elac phono stages include potentiometers to adjust the impedance loading. I don’t  know of any with a similar capacitive loading scheme although it is certainly possible to design one that way with screws to vary the separation of the capacitive plates. 

Your Ifi is on the economical starter setup side, so it has limited features with badic adjustments. Not bad for getting started, but now you're starting to expect more performance out of your gear. It's a wonderful/terrible downward spiral where you chase increased sound quality. But yes, a small step up in phono stage gets to either be more adjustments and small improvements in sound, or ones that are still stripped down settings but better sound quality. Project phono stages like the Tube Box has some basic effective adjustments including gain settings independant of capacitance or resistance. Most of these phono stages will use dip switches or potentiometers for convenience. Ones that are way down the rabbit hole will use loading plugs for resistance and internal step up transformers for gain.

@nlitworld what’s the consensus on that Pro Ject tube box and would it make sense to introduce just one stage of tubes in my chain?

I had one for years. It was good until I launched myself way down the upgrading rabbit hole. You'll definitely want to replace the stock tubes though so factor that cost in.