Author Archives: Ian White

Turntable Restoration Business is Booming

Dave Archambault is a busy man. The proprietor of New Hampshire-based Vinyl Nirvana has been restoring and rebuilding vintage Thorens and Acoustic Research turntables full-time for almost a decade and 2020 proved to be a challenging year; one that he was able to navigate through a lot of hard work, creativity, and a major pivot when events beyond his control both at home here in America and in Asia almost upset the golden applecart.

He has become the source for affordable restorations and reproductions that are second to none, but Vinyl Nirvana is not a large turntable manufacturer like Pro-Ject, Rega, or VPI who have the ability to engineer and manufacture their own tonearms.

2020 was a record year for vinyl sales across the globe with tens of millions of people stuck at home because of pandemic lockdown rules. Americans spent over $600 million on records for the first time in decades. That massive surge in demand also put a lot of pressure on turntable and tonearm manufacturers; which was exacerbated by supply chain issues across the globe.

Japanese tonearm manufacturer, Jelco, a major supplier of OEM tonearms for a number of manufacturers, restoration companies, and the DIY community called it quits creating a massive shortage of tonearms.

Adding to the shortage was the inane decision by British manufacturer, SME, to stop selling its renown high-end tonearms to anyone. If you want one of their tonearms, you have to buy one of their very expensive turntables. Greed isn’t always good.

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ecoustics at TVD: The Top 3 Phono Preamps

Phono preamps come in all shapes and sizes—consumers have never had as much choice as they do in 2021 regardless of budget and the availability of so many great options will only help keep new users in the fold.

Listening to records has never really been a simple endeavor; especially for those of us who suffer from a form of OCD when it comes to cleaning, storage, table set-up, and constant tweaking to extract that last piece of music from the grooves. But unlike listening to CDs or streaming, there is a more obvious and tangible reward from all of that attention to detail when listening to vinyl; the uptick in sound quality is far easier to discern when a cartridge is set-up properly and the matching phono preamp is amplifying that tiny signal to its fullest.

Over the past twelve months of the pandemic, I’ve been fortunate to have a wonderful local record dealer (who just closed his physical location after 11 years due to COVID-19) who kept me supplied with new music, and a constant flow of audiophile phono preamps to review.

Entry-level products like the Schiit Audio Mani, Cambridge Audio Duo, and U-Turn Audio Pluto did their best to not rob music of its pace and keep the sound relatively balanced. Mid-tier products like the LP110 V2 from Moon by SimAudio delivered exceptional results with warmer sounding cartridges and made a strong case for itself in systems in the $10,000-$20,000 range. This $400 Canadian workhorse will never leave any listener up “Schitt’s Creek” without a paddle.

But what about audiophile phono preamps priced closer to $1,000? If your existing integrated amplifier or pre-amplifier doesn’t include a phono stage and you want to really raise the bar on the quality of your analog playback, then it does make sense to consider either the Croft Acoustics RIAA phono pre-amplifier ($995), iFi Audio iPhono3 Black Label ($995), or Pro-Ject Tube Box DS2 ($699). All three of these phono preamps sound exceptional for the money—yet sound nothing alike.

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ecoustics at TVD: Top 5 Vintage Turntables

Vintage turntables have become extremely popular during this new golden age of vinyl, but we are not entirely convinced that consumers looking for a vintage turntable really understand what that entails. “Vintage” gets used a lot as a marketing term to attract a certain type of customer—but don’t confuse that attempt to sell you something with the importance of quality.

Not every vintage turntable is worth considering. This list could have included products like the iconic Linn Sondek LP12, Michell Gyrodeck, Oracle Delphi, or Well Tempered Lab turntable, but we wanted to keep this below $2,000. Gulp. That “quality” thing that we mentioned already comes with a price.

We love the vintage turntables below because the brands still exist, parts are available, companies can restore them for you, and because they sound great when properly set-up. Don’t be seduced by some fancy images you see online or a review from 1983 that makes one of these turntables sound like your dream vintage turntable. We wouldn’t recommend these turntables if we didn’t have extensive experience with them or own them currently.

Thorens TD-125 | One of the most iconic belt-driven vintage turntables of the 1970s, the Thorens TD-125 is in serious demand in 2021. Restoration companies like Vinyl Nirvana can’t work on them fast enough for customers who either found one online or at a garage sale. Thorens sold more than 100,000 TD-125s in 1975 alone (according to the numbers), and that means that there are lot of tables and parts floating around.

What made the TD-125 so unique was the electronic speed control that was a major feature of the turntable. The pitch control was a very important feature that high-end buyers demanded and it makes the turntable a very stable platform for a myriad of tonearms. The TD-125 was originally sold with its own tonearm, but users began switching them out for SME tonearms for their superior performance. It’s a heavy suspended design with a 7-pound platter and they are made to last.

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ecoustics at TVD:
The Top 8 Phono Cartridges That Won’t Break the Bank

Need advice on your home audio set-up? We’re delighted to announce that the good folks at ecoustics are bringing their gear knowledge to TVD weeklycommencing today.Ed.

Americans bought a lot of new records in 2020. Almost 27 million LPs according to the folks at Discogs. If you are in the market for an affordable audiophile turntable, or replacement cartridge, it’s easy to get lost looking through the hundreds of affordable phono cartridges that are available. Deciding if you want a moving coil or moving magnet (or moving iron if select one from Grado Labs) cartridge is just one part of the decision making process. Compatibility with the tonearm is also something that you need to pay attention to; just because you want to mount a specific cartridge on your turntable doesn’t mean that you should without checking with the manufacturer or dealer for advice.

Many entry-level turntables come with a pre-installed cartridge from Audio-Technica, Grado Labs, Sumiko, or Ortofon. Aside from confirming the tracking weight and that the anti-skate is properly set, you’re usually only a few minutes from listening to records in this scenario.

But if you want to elevate the level of playback quality from your records, there are a number of options below $750 that extract a lot more information from the grooves and help shape the tonal presentation of the music. Your choice of phono pre-amplifier will also impact the overall sound quality in a significant way.

Do not spend more on the cartridge than the table. A better turntable with the right arm will maximize sound quality with even an inexpensive moving magnet cartridge like a Nagaoka MP-110 – versus a $750 Dynavector on an entry-level turntable. Proper set-up of your cartridge is more important than what you spend. Clean your records and your stylus. Nothing ruins a stylus faster than dirty records.

Nagaoka MP-110 ($145)
Japanese manufacturer, Nagaoka, has been manufacturing outstanding moving magnet phono cartridges for almost 70 years. The entry-level MP-110 is an excellent tracker digging into worn out grooves with authority and delivers a very open and detailed sounding presentation across the entire frequency spectrum. The 5mV output is on the high side, but that also makes it compatible with a wide range of phono pre-amplifiers.

The cartridge is a good match on both entry-level and more expensive turntables and offers a lot of performance in a Rega, Pro-Ject, or SME tonearm for under $130. It may not be as popular as the 2M Red from Ortofon which shows up pre-installed on a lot of entry-level tables, but it offers a smoother ride and with less top end bite.
For more information: www.nagaoka.eu
Where to buy: $145 at Amazon / Turntable Lab

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