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.



A tiny cantilever and tip that is so easy to damage. Having to constantly clean older records, But, its worth it.

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After ruminating and sleeping on this, I think my move is going to be a cartridge upgrade. I just think the rest of my equipment is at least decent enough to get me to where I’m happy (for now of course) that the cartridge is really the bottleneck. I was looking at the output of the Hela (0.5 mV) which directly matches level 3 on my phono and will get me out of the in between phase I’m in now, and also another 12db of gain from level 2 which is plenty loud already. Hopefully my thinking isn’t too far off base here and I know we kind of started down this road initially. I’m totally open to any other cart suggestions anyone may have, definitely leaning MC.

The Hana EL would be a good upgrade in cart, but your perceived loudness would go down due to cart output vs phono gain and your phono stage would create a mismatch in impedance settings running #4 gain setting. You stated you still have some buffer in volume control so it might work fine as is. The plus side if that isn't quite enough oompf to drive your system properly is you could get a 1:10 step up transformer and another set of rca to get everything dialed by running #2 gain setting. It’d be a bit over your expected budget, but a huge step up in sound quality. An inexpensive SUT would set you back $150, plus another LC-1 rca and it’d be $200 all in. At that point, your vinyl setup would NOT be the weak link in your system.

“Maintaining both digital and analog systems is quite costly. You have some inexpensive options suggested above, but before spending more on the analog side, consider how such expenditures might improve your digital. I say this because getting analog right can be an unexpectedly expensive endeavor.”

Well said! @vonhelmholtz

I could not keep up with both and end up dissolving my pretty good analog setup. I thought long and hard about this as my next meaningful upgrade in analog would’ve been close to $50K (previous setup was around $25K). Instead, I decided to focus on digital and I can say unequivocally that my current digital system propels no desire to jump back into TT. And this is no offense to anyone who enjoys the ritual of spinning vinyl and can afford to maintain both digital and analog systems.