"What a refreshingly honest blog about listening to music through hi-fi. So happy to see views based upon the enjoyment of music rather than so-called sound 'quality'." - Peter Comeau, Director of Acoustic Design at Mission / Wharfedale

Wednesday 13 August 2014

Musings Goes Analogue - Part One

Regular readers will know that the Musings home system is dominated by streaming, using a Linn Klimax DS as the main source.  Prior to streaming the main sources were a mix of CD using a Meridian 508.20 and vinyl on a Linn Sondek LP12 / Ittok / Dynavector 20HX.  Both of these primary sources were sold to fund the Linn streamer as it offered a far better musical experience than either CD or vinyl.

Linn LP12 on the left and Meridian 508.20 on the right - the peak of vinyl and CD in Musings' home system approx 3 years ago
Current main source - Linn Klimax DS streamer

I then sold the majority of vinyl to fund the purchase of the Majik 140 speakers, but retained a few albums that are either of sentimental value or are part of a small collection which took a while to build.  So a turntable was still required for those very rare occasions when I wanted to play one of those albums, or someone else brought some vinyl along to sample some music.  Besides, any decent system needs a turntable or it just doesn't seem complete to me (now, pass me the pipe and slippers please...).  So a few weeks of browsing on ebay netted a very dusty but fully functional Thorens TD280 MkII which I cleaned up and fitted with a brand new Goldring Elektra MM cartridge.  The cart cost nearly 3 times what I paid for the deck, even though its very much a budget cart!  There's a bit more information on the Thorens in this post.  So Thorens is the current state of vinyl replay in the system.  Its very much a plastic, low cost, functional piece of kit that makes a reasonable sound and nothing more.

Current state of vinyl replay - Thorens TD280 MkII and Goldring Elektra MM cartridge
The Thorens is very much plug and play - you put it on the table, hook up the belt, set up the cartridge and away you go.  It even has auto lift / stop at the end of play.  It looks respectable and descreet, so I suppose it fulfils my needs for a turntable pretty well.  And yet...

Although the streamer is an amazing piece of kit - producing the best SQ I've heard in several systems, once you've spent time (around 18 months of elapsed time in my case) ripping CDs, correcting metadata, sourcing good quality album art etc. etc., its a pretty uninteresting bit of hifi.  There's nothing to mess about with, it just gets on with the job of playing music superbly, and looking pretty (to my eyes at least).  Turntables are more interactive and involving (I mean physically, not necessarily musically).

Here's the premise then:  is there a low cost way to mess about with a "proper" turntable for a while, something that is more in keeping with the rest of the system, that doesn't break the bank and offers the opportunity to "mess about a bit" with it as a piece of kit?  And how will it compare to the super budget priced Thorens?

Some will know about the controversy that surrounds the birth of the Sondek LP12 turntable.  I think there's less doubt that Ivor Tiefenbrun really lead the "source first" campaign in the hifi World in the mid 1970s and his LP12 turntable definitely contributed to that message.  But there is more controversy about how original the LP12 design is, when it looks so conceptually and mechanically similar to the original AR turntable.  And the Thorens turntables.  And the Ariston turntables.  Now I wasn't interested in hifi at the time (I was more interested in riding my bike, playing cops and robbers and avoiding kids who wanted to play football at the time) so I wasn't there and I don't know the whole story, but it adds a bit of context.

What happened next was the availability on the market of a couple of very reasonably priced turntables that just happened to come from the same manufacturer.  Both are suspended sub-chassis designs with precision bearings, a wood plinth and a stainless steel top plate.  Both also have high mass platters and belt drive from an AC motor.  But given that the LP12 retains its value ridiculously well, neither of these turntables are from Linn.  In fact, they are from Ariston Audio.

So I now have an RD11S turntable with no arm, and an RD80SL fitted with a Linn LVX (Basik) tonearm.  I've sourced another 2 new Goldring Elektra cartridges, a Rega RB202 arm and some enthusiasm to build them up and to compare them against the Thorens.

I'll document in posts here about the builds of each turntable, then the comparisons between the 3 decks.

Part 2 here
Part 3 here
Part 4 here

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