You don’t just need records, you need good equipment to get all that information out of the grooves and into your ears, and really experience the power of music.
Serving two masters – analogue and digital
Though in my view analogue vinyl is the audiophile format of choice, some good music is not available on vinyl, existing only on CD, and with some modern recordings, CD is the preferred format as the vinyl version is significantly inferior. CD also works better in the car than balancing the record player on your knees. What you need is the best affordable equipment to play both formats.
For CD, that means digital streaming and not a CD player, which is outdated technology inherently incapable of delivering the highest quality sound. CD players have many problems (jitter, timing, physical transport) that are eliminated by streaming, which requires no moving parts,. Streaming creates the best possible output from a CD source, which can come very close to the quality of vinyl, though in my experience is still not as good.
For vinyl the sky is the limit but investment in the best possible turntable will give you a bigger return than on any other component in the chain, including arm, cartridge, amps or speakers. It all starts with the thing that turns the disc around.
Vinyl source: an Avid Volvere Sequel turntable, origin Live Encounter arm and Dynavector cartridge.
Digital source: for music you can not get on vinyl, a Linn Akurate streaming device. CDs are ripped by computer into lossless FLAC files, which are stored on a Network Aware Server (NAS) box. This is physically connected by ethernet run to the Linn Akurate DS digital streaming player. Armchair control of track selection is through an ipad connected wirelessly to the network through an access point, with the Chorus app controlling both the streamer functions and playlist selection from all 1,000 CDs on the server.
Amplification: Integrated amplifiers are less expensive, but you will get superior results if you have separate pre-amp and power amp components. The pre-amp and main amplifier below serves both sources. Hi fi mags are forever reviewing valve amps. Yes valves are better. But as they say, “if I want to get to there I wouldn’t start from here”. Linn Akurate are very good pre and power amplifiers, and there are many other improvements that can be made before their quality becomes a limitation.
If this looks deceptively minimalist and uncluttered, that is because I have left out all the power cables, interconnects, mains conditioners, which are shown in this master exploded illustration or full story here.
Power to the People!
However before getting to the beef – the turntable – a word or two about power sources and interconnects. Sources require power: good music reproduction starts life with a good power cable from the mains. This is the Russ Andrews Signature SD Mk II. It can not be overstated how much difference good power cables make to the final listening experience. I have absolutely no understanding why but my experience is that they do.
A futher power refinement, added recently, is a balanced mains transformer to feed the hungry pre-amplifier and power amplifier with very clean stable power. More detail on balanced mains is covered under medium cost tweaks.
Are you well-connected?
The back of any separates hifi system is not a pretty sight, and probably the main reason why wives and girlfriends don’t get on with Hi Fi. Wires. Lots of them:
Wires transport the precious tiny electrical signals that will eventually become music. Some people think of wires as just an electrical connection, others as a hifi component no less important than the amplifier itself. I think wires are important because I have experienced the difference they can make to final sound quality. I can recommend Kimber Select 1030′s – though not cheap, they maintain the original quality of the signal passing through, which lesser interconnects impair.
The fact high-end cables are painfully expensive causes hifi trolls much merriment. My ears tell me they work, but I recommend you make up your own mind: it’s your money, your music, their loss.
Getting into the groove
A good turntable, arm and cartridge is essential. This is my choice – the Avid Volvere Sequel, recently upgraded with a separate power supply and base. A British turntable manufactured by specialist turntable designer Conrad Mas. It is not a DJ choice as it weighs a ton, has no flashing lights, does not reverse spin or do hand brake turns. However it extracts information from the groove better even than CIA waterboarding.
Below, the upgraded Avid Volvere with new external power supply and heavier and more rigid base. Sooooperb transformation in sound, thank you Conrad!
Avid Volvere Sequel upgrade February 2012
Call to Arms
Arm: You need a compatible arm and compatible cartridge - an Origin Live Encounter arm manufactured by Mark Baker is a Rega arm with just about everything Rega tossed and replaced. (Right now its probably the weakest link).
Cartridge: Dynavector low output moving coil cartridge. Dynavector cartridges are among the best Japanese micro-engineering quality. Seen here riding the groove is the Te Kaitora Rua – the beast from the East, which replaced the previous Dynavector DX20. Though the DX was good, the TKR is astonishing, complete with fear-inducing nude design.
Wash and Brush Up
You need clean records. Fifty years of accumulated muck and grime is holding back the connection between the stylus and the groove, and creating clicks and pops. There is only one solution: the isopropyl alcohol solution. Watch greasy fingerprints and original vinyl mould-release resist arrest. The Moth Pro Record cleaning machine from Mike Harris’s British Audio Products is noisy but effective, vacuuming the grooves from below as you “wash” the other side.
You need somewhere to store your precious records in reasonable harmony with your home. IKEA Expedit are exactly “record sized”. How thoughtful.
And the Winner is…
The end result – a music system that doesn’t look too much like a hifi showroom.
Beautiful. Mobley, Morgan, Silver, Chambers, and Blakey, all still alive in London and playing their hearts out. Cup of tea, chaps?
Now all you need to do is go “collect jazz”