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Phono Cartridge Comparison

Discussion in 'Recording' started by zemlin, Sep 25, 2007.


Which sample do you like best?

  1. A

  2. B

    0 vote(s)
  3. C

    0 vote(s)
  4. D

    0 vote(s)
  1. zemlin

    zemlin Well-Known Member

    If you have a few minutes to kill ... I did some messing around with some new toys and thought I share. I recently picked up an old Rega Planar2 turntable for doing vinyl transfers. My old B&O was working OK, but I REALLY wanted something that used standard cartridges.

    After getting the turntable, finding I needed to rewire the tonearm, repair the anti-skate adjustment, and adjust all the bearings, I was ready to play. I received a test LP today so I could confirm cartridge alignment and all that, so when that was done I recorded a few sample tracks.

    Here are (4) 30 second samples from Paul Simon's Graceland. I selected this track for a few reasons:
    * I have both the CD and the LP
    * The CD was not loud-a-fied
    * I like it
    * The album was near the top of the stack

    Here's the signal chain, fwiw ... Rega Planar2 with R200 tonearm -> NAD 3140 integrated amp phono section -> Echo Audiofire12 via NAD Tape Out @ 88KHz 32 bit -> Adobe Audition, downsampled to 44x16. These are all WAV files to keep MP3 out of the equation (roughly 5MB per).

    The choices are:
    Commercial CD release
    Numark Groove Tool cartridge (I ended up with 4 of these for free, that's why)
    Denon DL-103

    The main question I have is which one do you like best. If you'd like to take a swing at matching samples with cartridges (or CD), I'll post answers in the near future.

  2. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    After listening to all 4, I first preferred D. I thought it had a slightly more open and crispier sound. But after a few more passes, I actually preferred and believe that A, was my favorite. I found it smoother with less sibelant artifacts. I thought B & C, were very close to one another and equally pleasant to listen to? I also believe that A was the CD? I've been known to be 100% wrong before. I can't wait to find out!

    That was a beautiful comparison Karl I really loved it. Good source material! I was really quite impressed with your expert level match and consistency with those numerous different sources. Of course I was only listening through crappy headphones for this. And it's also 4:30 a.m. and I am crispy fried. But it's quite obvious to me you are one hell of a wonderful engineer, even though you had nothing to do with the original production of those recordings. Your playback system and engineering expertise is wonderful and spot on!

    Golden around the edges
    Ms. Remy Ann David
  3. zemlin

    zemlin Well-Known Member

    Garsh, Ms. Remy ... Thanks.
    Thank AA Amplitude Statistics for level matching (average RMS).

    It doesn't appear that you entered a vote in the Poll though ... :wink:
  4. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    Oooops. You're right but I have now!

    Ms. Remy Ann......Look! A chicken!
  5. zemlin

    zemlin Well-Known Member

    so, did I put this in the wrong forum, or is it just that nobody gives a hoo-hah about vinyl. 109 views and 2 votes. :?
  6. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    Not sure Karl? Perhaps any forum that I am in is the wrong forum?

    I found your comparisons so good and so close that I have a feeling it may have intimidated others? I know I was somewhat intimidated. It was tough. I can still hardly wait to find out what the results were? But don't let the cat out of the bag here yet. I love these ear games! Keep them guessing. Perhaps nobody heard enough of a difference that they felt they couldn't vote on any of them? Very strange. But then, that's how most of us are.

    I know, speak for myself. I think I did?
    Ms. Remy Ann David
  7. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    Nice comparisons, Karl.

    I don't possess this CD (or the vinyl), but have heard it on several occasions over the last 20 years. Maybe my ears have become more tuned, or maybe because here you are inviting us to listen critically at differences between samples, but I really don't remember that amount of sibilance on this album! As a separate matter of interest, was whichever was the CD extract ripped digitally or played via a CD player and re-digitized?

    Anyway, the easiest on my ears is A, followed by D.
  8. zemlin

    zemlin Well-Known Member

  9. zemlin

    zemlin Well-Known Member

    Well, since this poll seems to be a dud, I'll spill the beans.

    A - Numark Groove Tool
    B - Commercial CD Release (DAE)
    C - Denon DL-103
    D - AT440MLa

    My favorite is C, but I know the answers so it's possible I have false expectations I hear details in C&D that just aren't in A - subtle mouth noises, details in the percussion, and C is just a little more laid back than D.

    It's also worth noting that my hearing doesn't go much past 12K, so the stuff above that might make a difference to y'all that I'm missing.

    I certainly expected a bigger difference between the vinyl recordings and the CD - I'm quite pleased with what I'm getting from the album.

    Also, a fella' from work has my album right now and is going to do the same tracks using more "pedestrian" gear - a turntable with an integrated preamp going into a low-cost USB interface for his Mac - and he also has a "hundred year old turntable from Brazil" that he's going to try - don't know what kind of preamp that will go through.

    In any case, I'll be interested to see how his tracks turn out - and if my time, money, and effort actually result in a noticeable difference in the final product.

    I may post those tracks too - my personal bias doesn't get in your way, but it might alter my perceptions. I might have to put my daughter in control of the solo buttons when I'm listening.
  10. VonRocK

    VonRocK Active Member

    With my gear, and my ear, I could tell nothing different between the samples. This is no surprise.

    Can you kind folks point out some of differences for me to listen for? I've been trying to open my ears for some time now.

    On my first listen, I thought D sounded best, but I had no idea why. Subsequent listens turned up no evidence to support my first impression.
  11. zemlin

    zemlin Well-Known Member

    To my ears:
    A lacks width - it doesn't envelope the listener as much as the other tracks. I also feel it lacks subtle details. The vocals sound a little boxier than the other tracks. This is my least favorite.

    C sounds a little ... rounder ... a little cozier, slightly less in-your-face than B and a little darker - less bright. I also think C has the best bass - a nice punch without any boom.

    D is brighter than C, but lacks the low end body I hear in B and C - it just seems a little thin by comparison. Good detail and good image.

    Listen and visualize the percussive smacks
    Listen to the DETAIL in the vocal - mouth noises, quiet consonants, etc.

    All of these are very subtle differences. I have to listen closely.
  12. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    Incredible Karl! I've been a fool again! Cool! I would've never thought it was B that was the ripped CD. Fascinating. In fact, I did that was least impressed by that example. So to a great extent, I think Boswell and I heard things similarly? And I felt that D had a greater amount of sibelance than A. Which is why I preferred A in the end. But I'm really not that kind of girl.

    Reputation kaput, obviously.
    Ms. Remy Ann David
  13. zemlin

    zemlin Well-Known Member

    I have some other material here that's much more telling. I think even cloth ears could hear the differences on these. I do not, however, have this on CD.

    This is a 45 second sample from a Wynton Marsalis LP. I'm not hiding the answers here, but I AM interested to hear your opinions/thoughts.

    These are still WAV files, and come in at about 7.8MB. I figure that's still a manageable size for most folks.

  14. moonbaby

    moonbaby Mmmmmm Well-Known Member

    Hi, Karl:
    I played your samples (Graceland) to a friend (another sound geek) and I can unequivocally say that you have 2 fansfer yer transfers! I was initially struck by how close the vynl sounded to the CD, I expected there to be more deviation than there turned out to be. D was my fave. Good work!

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