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.



@nlitworld If I ran the phono at stage 3, it looks like that’s an match for .5 mV output, no? I could entirely be reading that wrong.


Would it be worth just tacking on the SUT and cables to what I already have if I can really dial it in and there'd be a mismatch with the cart anyway?

It wouldn't necessarily create a mismatch in settings, but the output of your phono preamp would go down thus making it quieter and seemingly less power which is what started you down this path to begin with. But cartridge stats and phono stage settings are really finding a good combo and reading up on it will take some time to understand the quirks. If you were to upgrade cart, the settings could and should sound just fine, but your output from your phono stage would go down from 0.88v (3.5mV with 48dB gain) down to 0.5V (0.5mV with 60dB gain). While that is not a large issue most of the time, it may get where your Saga is almost full volume. With gain setting #4, the forced 100 Ohm impedance would be too low and would sound quiet, dark and blah. Not a deal breaker, just something to keep in mind. 

With getting into MC carts (and especially LOMC) you really have to watch your impedance settings as they will wildly effect the sound of your system. Too little resistance and things will sound bright and thin, but too much and you'll be quiet, dark and blah. LoMC do sound better for sure, but only when you can get it right with adjusting settings. When I built my phono stage, I went through 5 different resistor values to find a nice happy medium, so I got some good practice with a soldering iron.

Currently I'd say if you were making ONLY one change, you'd be better off with a phono stage upgrade. Given your setup, I'd suggest another option with multiple gain settings but also independent impedance and capacitance settings as well. Going back to my fat kid brain food analogy, the best steak (cartridge) prepared in a microwave (underperforming phono stage) will still not equal a great meal. Lol. I made that mistake buying my Benz Micro cart while still using that Project Tube Box. My Ortofon 2M Blue into my current phono stage would have been far superior to my Benz Micro into the Project. Point being, you'd set yourself up much better for current system and future upgrades with a better phono stage over a better cart. And if you were going for a better cart suited to your current setup, a Sumiko Wellfleet MM cart would be an easier plug n play than the Hana EL.

Someone posted your table's arm is w/o height adjustment. I found this at Vinyl Engine trying to understand what TT you have: 

The tonearm definately IS adjustable in height. (RTFM) Their is a screw on the right side in the lift assy. Push down the lift as the screw is a hex that needs to be un-locked prior to adjustment. Then adjust height of arm with screwdriver: clockwise is lower, anti-clock is higher. 

Check your arm/cart set up in every aspect. Then consider a cartridge upgrade IMO.

@robbiesd That was actually me that posted it. Thanks for following up. I looked at it yesterday and saw that screw. I used my alignment tool on it's side to check the head shell angle while on the record and it's dead level so I ended up not needing to adjust.