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.




It’s not all specs, BUT, if you like the performance of AT’s dual magnet design, as I do/have for a long time:

you have AT microlinear,

yes, but: in a not so great ’engine’ (cartridge guts),


I pointed out earlier, the cartridge is ONLY 23db channel separation

compared to the 540ml version I recommended, with 28db channel separation and tighter 1.00 db channel balance.


the 540 imaging will DEFINITELY be superior

In AT’s MM line, you can spend more, to get up to 30db separation, I think the 540 is the best performance/value.


Eventually I suspect you will try MC moving coil cartridge type.

This is the exchange program they told me about when my AT33PTG/II stylus was worn. Bought new cartridge for half price.


like the MM 540ml; in AT’s MC lineup, I chose and recommend the AT33PTG/II as the performance/value choice.

separation 30db; channel balance 0.5db. (stiffer boron cantilever helps)


All imaging is phantom. Everything created without a center speaker (they used to have center channels)

Give your L and R speakers tight channel balance to locate instruments/vocalists anywhere more precisely. Of course excellent engineering of the source is needed, but a whole lotta excellence is out there.




@nlitworld Another testimony for the ‘cheap vertical alignment block’ cited above. It is certainly smaller in real life than it appears on the website (a frequent issues I have with web purchases), but it works well and helped me ‘correct’ what was supposed to be an expert, professional setup from the vendor I purchased the product from. Caveat Emptor, as they say. 

@oldrooney  sometimes the cheap trick works fantastic. And yes, caveat emptor is real in this hobby. Glad to hear it's improved for you. 👍


Hi everyone,

@nlitworld I went ahead and bought that digital VTF gauge and the Hagerman Bugle phono stage. I checked my alignment with block and that was level vertically and the needle is hitting where it should with the measurement (I had measured that before like I said). I had my VTF set to 2 on the tonearm, the gauge showed it at 1.93, which is still within recommended spec, but I locked it at 2.00 exactly and adjusted the ring on the tonearm to reflect it. Anti-skate was and is set to 2. I hooked up the Bugle, set load to 47K and even on the second gain setting, I’m pretty much exceeding the volume of my digital path, but it’s fairly close. The higher gains are just uncomfortable, even with the Saga set to 12 o’clock. I do think the Hagerman sounds more transparent as far as detail goes, too, but that may just be placebo. 

I just wanted to let everyone know how I made out how that it’s all set up and say that the issue I was experiencing is no more. Thanks so much for your help everybody!


The VTF recommended is usually a good place to start , you should experiment with a little lighter and heavier , also the anti-skate is  controversial issue where you might want to try setting it lower that the VTF , look up Audiogon forum posts about it .