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.


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@owl9113 yes, the Moon LP110 V2 or the Schiit Mani would be a good match to your cart, and likely the next one after that. Should be a pretty good cost effective upgrade to "set it and forget it"

I think sound quality on a $600 budget you could do a bit better though. Hagerman Bugle MC would give you similar performance to the Moon but with slightly better adjustments for down the line cartridge upgrades. PLUS with the opamps in there, you could upgrade to something nice like Burson Audio V6 (or V5i if the V6 don’t fit) and still be within the same budget.



You could also try out the Tube route with a Jolida JD-9 which would be better than a Project Tube Box. The Jolida is to vinyl listening like the hot hatch car is to car culture. Most everyone has one pass through at some point in time, they are cheap and fun, and they are ultra, super upgradeable if you like to tinker (or pay underwoodhifi to do the service).



Based on my experience, get rid of the Audio-Technica. Pop for an Ortofon 2M Blue or a Sumiko Oyster "Moonstone" or "Wellfleet" and I imagine your problem will go away. I spent some time with the A-T and was underwhelmed. To me, it sounded listless. If you want rorty response, get an Ortofon 2M Red for $100. If you want smoother but extended response, the Blue and Sumiko Oysters are good bets. (I own both.)

@nlitworld do you feel that the Bugle without the upgraded op amps is still an upgrade to what I’m using? I’m in no hurry to spend my entire budget right now if I don’t have to, haha. I just can’t decide if I want to start getting into tubes, either…

Based on even the simple fact of parts quality, the Bugle MC would be a step up. Your Ifi uses all surface mount thin film parts, where the Hagerman uses metal film resistors and thru hole pcb for a much higher quality build. Granted the true $ in parts is not that much more expensive, but an increase in parts cost between the two is a huge improvement. There is something to be said for small time builders who invest in product quality instead of website quality. 🤣 Add to that the ability to easily do some mild tweaking and you'll be a happy camper.