Letters • May 2010

Which analog upgrades?

May 24, 2010


I am considering making some improvements or changes to the analog portion of my system. I currently have two turntables: a Thorens TD 125 MK II with an SME 3009 Series II Improved tonearm with an old Grado Signature 8MX cartridge, and a Linn LP12 with an SME Series III tonearm (effective mass of 5 grams) with a B&O MMC1 cartridge. The knife-edge bearings in both arms seem to be tight -- i.e., there is no movement when the 'arm is gently pushed front to back.

As with most things, bang for the buck is always a consideration. Both 'tables were purchased new, are in excellent condition and have no issues with motor or bearing noise. The 'table that I would make changes to is the LP12. The SME Series III 'arm does not seem to get much love, but I've been told that with a proper cartridge it is a fine tonearm. My current B&O MMC1 is such a cartridge. Looking around, my choices with that 'arm are the SoundSmith Aida, the Benz Micro Glider SH (possibly a push, with a resonance of around 12Hz), the Grado Reference Master or the Ortofon 2M Black.

The SoundSmith Aida is probably the best choice for the SME III, but I am somewhat drawn to the Benz. Can you describe the audible differences among moving-coil, moving-iron and moving-magnet designs? Changing 'arms on the LP12 is an option, and I am impressed with the AudioMods Series III, which is a beautifully rebuilt Rega.

As for the 'table itself, I was considering a Circus upgrade, but in talking with people in the UK and looking at forums on the internet, the opinion seems to be that if your original bearing is OK, some of the aftermarket subchassis, such as a CeTech or a Sole, give better results for less money. The thought seems to be to use the latest Linn armboard or one made from polymer or carbon fiber.

Depending on which option is chosen, considering a new 'table is an option, but will more than likely result in the highest cost. I read your review of the VPI Classic and was impressed. The problem with this table is that at 10" in height, it will not fit my cabinet. Mike at VPI seems to think that by changing the feet and modifying the tonearm wire he can possibly get me the 3" that I need. He also said that possibly a different 'arm could be used. I have no experience with non-suspended tables and unipivot arms. How would the sound of the VPI Classic compare to that of an upgraded LP12?

Bill Thomas

First off, I see no reason you should sell either of your 'tables and buy a new one. You have a pair of classics, and as so many owners of such 'table are discovering, they are still the source of some great sound.

Interestingly, I have owned two B&O moving-iron cartridges, so I'm familiar with their sound, which is somewhere between the incisiveness of a good moving-magnet and the extended top end of a moving-coil. Given a high-quality phono stage that can deliver enough gain, you will derive your best sound with a low-output moving-coil -- provided the cartridge is up to the task, of course. You'll hear more top-end extension and air, and because moving coils often use styli with finer profiles, they often sound more detailed overall and handle groove noise better. An Ortofon 2M Black has a very good stylus too, and it is the best moving-magnet cartridge I've heard. However, the Audio-Technical AT33EV low-output moving-coil is better still, and I also have to say that I greatly preferred it over either of my B&O cartridges, which I sold for surprisingly good prices (they're sought after by people with B&O turntables, which can only use those cartridges, or equivalents made by Soundsmith).

You should have no problem changing the tonearm on either of your 'tables because so many 'arms use the SME mount. However, if you plan on keeping both 'tables, the fastest and easiest way to upgrade their sound is to buy new cartridges, and given that you already have two 'tables, perhaps some variety is in order. For me, that would mean mono and stereo cartridges, likely both from Audio Technica. The AT33EV stereo cartridge is available in the US, while the AT33MONO is only available in Japan but easy to buy via eBay. You may opt for moving-iron and moving-coil, where a Soundsmith Aida and Benz Ace or Glider would fill the bill. I know there are many LP12 upgrades, both from Linn and other companies. However, I would still start with the cartridge and then introduce other changes systematically, so you're not simply throwing money at the issue. -Marc Mickelson

Sign him up

May 17, 2010


I'd like to join your reader list. The equipment reviews are very well done as well as very easy to read. I like very much your writing style and the way you describe your equipment experiences.

Thank you and best regards.

Richard Morgan

Using dual subs

May 12, 2010


What are your thoughts on using dual subwoofers? I have both of mine directly connected to my preamp. Am I draining a lot of power? Am I better off with just one sub? My wife is always complaining, asking me to turn down the bass.

Sheldon Simon

Your subwoofers are taking a line-level signal from your preamp, so there is no worry about "draining" anything from your system. Two subwoofers with large amps probably do tax your home's AC delivery to some extent, but only when they're working hard, which shouldn't happen very often.

In terms of using a pair of subwoofers, that is actually ideal. Bass frequencies, especially for home theater, are largely nondirectional, so a single subwoofer will often be adequate. However, from my experience, music is more challenging, and I've heard setups with a single subwoofer whose mono bass ruined the stereo spread with certain recordings.

If your wife is often telling you to turn down the bass of your system, your subwoofers are probably not integrated correctly with your speakers and their output is too great. Unless your main speakers are severely bass shy, most of the time you shouldn't even know your subs are on. -Marc Mickelson

From Tice to...?

May 7, 2010


I've consulted with you several times in the past. Thanks for your recommendations. I bought Shunyata Antares interconnects and ESP Essence Reference power cords based on them, and I'm very happy with both. Before I ask my question, I want to tell you that I've just bought an Audio Aero Capitole Classic Signature Edition CD player, to replace my old Krell KPS-20i. The Audio Aero player represents a big step up.

My question: For many years I've used a Tice Power Block IIIA Signature Power conditioner. As you may know, George Tice was a pioneer in the field of AC treatment for audio components, and my conditioner was his last. Do you you know the Tice products? Unfortunately, George Tice is out of this business. In the past few years, I've read excellent comments about Shunyata Research and PS Audio power conditioners, but unfortunately no one can tell me if they represent a better option than my Tice.

Because I live in Argentina it is impossible to compare them all, so I decide to write you. I always appreciate your opinion and recommendations. If I didn't have a power conditioner, I would probably buy a Shunyata, but in my case I already have the Tice, which, in the 1990s, was considered the best power conditioner on the market.

Pablo Hoffman

I have no firsthand experience with Tice products, but I owned an early PS Audio Power Plant, and I have been using Shunyata power products for many years. (I just finished a review of the Hydra V-Ray Version II.) The Shunyata products are completely passive; they don't re-create or regenerate any AC power. Instead, they clean the incoming power through various methods before passing it to your audio gear. This makes them good for use with all kinds of components, including power- and current-hungry amps. I've found their performance to be completely positive, even as I move products into and out of my system. Essential Sound Products also makes a power distributor that comes with its own captive power cord. It's a very good, completely passive product that gives the sonic benefits of ESP power cords to everything plugged into it. Given that you like your ESP cords, it's worth considering as well. Both the Shunyata and ESP power products protect your audio gear against power surges and spikes in ways that won't hurt sonic performance. -Marc Mickelson

Search us

May 5, 2010


Good going on that Search feature. It sounds neat and very useful.

Ben Harris

Desperately seeking Chet

May 1, 2010


I'm kicking myself because one of my favorite albums of all time is Chet by Chet Baker. It was released in 45rpm format, but it's sold out, and I can't find it anywhere. Do you know of any sources I might have missed?

Michael Dubrow

I know what it's like to be in search of a particular record or CD, only to find that it's out of print. That's the case with the 45rpm version of Chet, a great album featuring, among other notables, Bill Evans. Acoustic Sounds, which produced the 45rpm version, is sold out, as are the other online sellers I checked, including Amazon's Marketplace.

Your best options for finding a copy now are eBay and Audiogon -- none are listed at this point, and when they are, you'll pay a premium, I'm sure. A search on the recording's catalog number also turned up a lead in South Africa, called Vinyl South Africa (www.vinylsa.co.za). It might be worthwhile to contact them and see if they have a copy to sell.

The best option right now is the single-LP, 33 1/3 version of the album from Acoustic Sounds, which costs $25. That's the way I'd go, keeping my eyes open for someone selling the 45rpm version at a reasonable price. -Marc Mickelson


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