Audio Equipment and Home Theater Audio : Vinyl record players

Vinyl record players

Recently I've considered listening to music on vinyl mainly cause I've not been satisfied with the way music sounds on any CD player I've listened to in the last few years or on my laptop - it has this really harsh, kind of metallic sound that's unbearable at a high volume but I can't seem to find anything to play music on that doesn't sound like this - I'm thinking maybe vinyl wouldn't have these kind of problems? I was hoping there's someone out there who listens to vinyl who can recommend a player or what I should look for - I've looked at players on Amazon and used ones on EBay - I'm not bothered about transferring to computer files or any of that kind of modern stuff which the ones on Amazon all seem to have, I just care about how good the music will sound and being able to listen to loud music again without the sound becoming unbearably harsh - can anyone recommend a vinyl record player that sounds great with none of the ' harsh ' sound I mentioned?

A Distorted Reality Is Now A Necessity To Be Free

Re: Vinyl record players

Pro-ject makes good turntables.

Re: Vinyl record players

I have a Technics turntable from the early 80s which I would recommend. So yeah I recommend to get a used Technics, preferably a direct drive but doesn't have to be a top of the range DJ one for just listening. There are probably other good makes out there from the 70s or 80s too. Providing it has a new stylus and everything works it'll be better than buying a new turntable in my opinion. You'll likely need to buy an amp separately if you buy something like a Technics.

I think most of today’s new turntables are very cheaply made and aren't really for an audiophile experience, unless you wish to pay a small fortune. I have a newish one by Steepletone and my parents have one by Sony from the 90s, the old Technics blows them both away.

The world is your lobster.

Re: Vinyl record players

I have a Technics turntable from the early 80s which I would recommend. So yeah I recommend to get a used Technics, preferably a direct drive but doesn't have to be a top of the range DJ one for just listening. There are probably other good makes out there from the 70s or 80s too. Providing it has a new stylus and everything works it'll be better than buying a new turntable in my opinion. You'll likely need to buy an amp separately if you buy something like a Technics.

I can recommend the Preamp from NAD. I have an old PP-1, which i have hooked up to my Technics Quartz turntable and my modern Marantz AV Receiver.
The newest one from them is the PP-2:

Re: Vinyl record players

"I've not been satisfied with the way music sounds on any CD player I've listened to in the last few years or on my laptop - it has this really harsh, kind of metallic sound that's unbearable at a high volume..."

That harsh metallic sound is amplifier clipping. Either turn down the volume, or buy a more powerful amplifier.

I'm not saying that I doubt you, but your stated experience sounds suspiciously like hipster marketing designed to part fools from their money. Unless you have tested and eliminated each and every other part of your music playing system, I don't see how you arrived at the conclusion that "CDs sound harsh" all by your self. Mine sound very nice. And back before there was mass market digital audio, I would have made a deal with the Devil to get my hands on the quality of sound reproduction that a CD gives today. If I want to relive my LP days, I can just unhook the tweeters in my speakers and put cotton in my ears.

But if you must...try a Rega turntable. They are well engineered and a great value. Your first upgrade should be to replace the MM cartridge with a MC one that should cost about twice what you paid for the turntable itself. You'll need a good phono preamp if your existing stereo lacks one. (Even if yours does, buying a separate one is a worthwhile upgrade.) ART is a brand I know that I respect and makes a few models. $100 should get you a good no-nonsense model new. That's about the only component that can be had for cheap.

After you've spent a few grand on a new record playing system, and a few grand more on records to play on it, if you're very lucky all that time and money will have at least taught you how to set up a good music playing system regardless of input medium.

Re: Vinyl record players

Whenever I talk about this, people always respond with ' it's something in your system that's wrong ' but I'm really just talking about portable CD players rather than a more complicated music system setup with different parts - I don't really understand what anyone means when they talk about amps or receivers, call me a philistine! I've never really been able to afford anything more than the kind of relatively inexpensive portable CD players you'd get in the high street - I know the response to that might be ' you get what you pay for ' but for years those kinds of CD players that I got from places like that sounded great, including listening at high volume - the strange thing is, from about the 2000s any CD player I've tried has had the problems I describe, that may be ' clipping '. I also seem to hear this on anything else, eg on my computer on websites, songs from Amazon/ITunes - to some extent, it all seems to suffer from this kind of harsh ' clipping ' effect but I swear I NEVER heard this before around 2000 - I'm sure even cassettes sounded better than music on anything I use now . I know this must sound strange, but I can't believe I'm just imagining this

So you say CDs sound great to you - Could you possibly tell me what CD player you use? I take it you have a setup with different parts , or have you just got an allinone CD player? The thing is I really can't afford anything that expensive so I wouldn't be able to get some setup with different parts like a separate amp or whatever.

A Distorted Reality Is Now A Necessity To Be Free

Re: Vinyl record players

Well I won't say "I told you so" but the fact is that those boom box-style CD players are of inferior quality. I can't explain why there would be a sudden drop in quality c. 2000, but because the Compact Disc is a "mature" product with low profit margins for those who make and sell them, it only follows that there will be more and more cost-cutting measures by the manufacturers.

Now that I know what kind of gear that you're using, I suspect that as well as clipping distortion, that the tiny loudspeakers in those boxes also make a great deal of distortion. And because harmonic distortion makes higher frequencies, and the speakers can't reproduce the lows, that is what's causing that harsh sound.

What CD player do I use? I don't use one any more. I rip all of my music CDs to files that I keep on a computer. I use a software media player, usually VLC, to play the music files. The computer has a digital Toslink output that I use to get the music out of the computer, and send to a stand-alone DAC, which in turn feeds a power amplifier that powers my large and costly loudspeakers. I can afford the expense, and excellent sound quality is a high priority for me.

I see that you don't have the same budget as I do. I've been there most of my life too. Switching to vinyl is costly, so there's another reason to keep your CD collection.

If you lived close enough to me, I'd be able to give you some of my spare equipment and help you set it up to best effect. I love music, and am all too happy to share the love when I can. I'm guessing by your use of "high street" that you're in the UK though.

Here's a setup that you might consider:

- An inexpensive CD player. The portable kind that's used with earphones. Look for the ones with skip protection. The skip protection feature has the added benefit of jitter reduction. Look for models with "line out" and/or a Toslink digital output.

- A pair of powered speakers. The Edirol / Roland MA-15D are no longer made, but have lots of features that make them ideal for a minimalist setup: line and digital inputs, a subwoofer output, front panel volume and tone controls and even a headphone jack. They don't have much power though, so if you like to play loud, you should look for more powerful models. Look for "active near field monitors" which are prosumer grade and usually the best value.

- A cable to connect the CD player to the powered speakers.

If you shop carefully and buy gently used, you can have a cracking little system for less than £80. I'll be happy to assist you in your search if you like.

Re: Vinyl record players

Actually I meant the smaller portable CD players rather than the boombox style ones. I had ones by Sony and Panasonic in the 90s that sounded great but the similar modern ones by those same brands don't sound anywhere near as good

I considered your first point about costcuting by manufacturers . Around the time I noticed this drop in quality, DVD Audio and Super Audio CD were being introduced and the conspiracy theorist in me wondered if the makers were deliberately somehow making their CD players sound crappy to force people to buy new technology. I've wondered that again since IPods came in but that was several years later

Although I've tried using modern portable CD players, eventually I gave up and just use my computer and IPod Touch to listen to music on - there's a site where loads of albums are there to hear for free that I use a lot, also YouTube - again, the sound's not great.

It's strange, but I don't seem to enjoy music like I used to years ago as I'm constantly aware of the defects in the sound - also a weird thing is when I've tried buying used CD players on EBay from the 90s that are the same as I had back then they sounded bad too - I thought maybe this was due to their age, like the the sound quality kind of goes down after years of use though?

I like to listen through headphones rather than speakers and yes, I'm in the UK - do you get better sound through speakers? You just listen through speakers rather than via headphones?

I 've also looked at Marantz CD players which get rave reviews but as I said, I can't afford that much and would have to save up for one and would have to get it on faith that it would sound good as I'd only be able to buy it online via Amazon or somewhere - have you tried this brand?

Getting a vinyl record player was kind of a last resort as everything I've tried has these kind of sound problems and I assumed vinyl doesn't suffer from this clipping effect as that affects digital forms of music?

A Distorted Reality Is Now A Necessity To Be Free

Re: Vinyl record players

Where to start... Maybe I should define "clipping" first; I fear you might misunderstand what I'm saying about that. The clipping that I'm talking about is when someone turns up the volume beyond the capacity of the amplifier's power supply. The input waveform is nice and curvy and sinuous, but when the amplifier runs out of volts that waveform gets its top "clipped" off, distorting it and generating unpleasant harsh noises as a result. Clipping is always something that amplifiers do, not CDs or vinyl records.

When you get into the digital domain, it's the other way around--you want a digital waveform to be nice and square so that every last bit can be read properly. So there are clipper circuits that are desirable, but those I'm not talking about.

No matter how your music is stored, when it gets to the place where it moves a speaker cone, you want the waveform to be as close to identical to the original as possible. There are many exceptions to this rule, but for the sake of simplicity I'm going to ignore them.

If you've ever looked at a vinyl record under a microscope, you'll see the audio waveform in the grooves--that's what "analogue" means, that the music is stored and transported as something that's analogous to the vibrations in the air that was recorded. The analogue recording process is very careful to preserve that waveform at any cost. Unfortunately the end user doesn't have the same budget for electronics gear that the producers of the music have, and that is where most things go awry.

CD digital audio is a different way of storing music that turns the waveform into a bunch of numbers. Your CD player reads those numbers and restores them to the original waveform. In the interest of brevity I'll simply say "trust me, it really works". You're not likely to get clipping distortion anywhere near the CD or the CD player, presuming that it's functioning properly of course.

OTOH I see that you've been buying used equipment that can be fairly old. In that case you may be buying electronics that have bad capacitors. While most solid state parts rarely fail, capacitors are the weak link, and its possible that you've been buying gear that has already begun to fail. After 10-15 years things get dicey. That's why I suggested that you buy a new portable CD player as these cost very little new. If you buy this one critical component new, you have some assurance that it will not be the weak link in the chain. Since there are mechanical bits inside, that's one more thing that can wear out and go bad with age.

You can use your computer to play music! Just don't count on the analogue output jacks to give good fidelity because the analogue circuits inside the computer tend to pick up junk from the digital circuits. You can try using it to drive powered speakers or headphones; perhaps it will be OK. If not, a USB DAC will move the analogue part outside the computer, and give you improved circuits as well. The "you get what you pay for" maxim does apply if you're buying budget parts. You may need to try a couple different brands and models before you find one that sounds good enough to keep, so make sure that you can return before you buy!

If you prefer headphones, that's great! Especially for your budget. I use both loudspeakers and headphones. In my living room I use speakers with my TV and the computer that I play music from. In my bedroom I have another computer, an old Lucid DAC and power amp (Crown "Amcron" D-75) that drives Audio-Technica ATH-M50. If you like to listen to loud music and strong bass, these will do it! When I travel I use cheap Koss earbuds (~US$15) that sound pretty good. Another advantage to earbuds is that they need less power than full size headphones.

This is probably a good time to note that warped voice coils in headphones or loudspeakers can also make distortion that can sound a lot like amplifier clipping. If you get a strident, scratchy sound no matter what level, you should borrow another set of headphones that you know sound right, just to see if yours are the problem. Troubleshooting means checking every link in the chain, and eliminating all suspects one by one.

You make a good point about manufacturers making their CD gear sound worse to boost sales of new gear. However I can't imagine it being a total conspiracy. you may need to shop around, read reviews and even buy and return before you find the best unit. You'll not be popular with the shopkeeper, but the only "sure thing" alternative is to spend lots of money, so...

How is the sound of your Ipod Touch? I have a COWON X5 that I bought in part because it has a good headphone amp.

Re: Vinyl record players

I've also tried buying new portable CD players and they sound pretty bad too, at least listening through headphones - I've also tried different headphones, trying ones that have got good reviews on sites like Amazon . To be honest, the new CD players I've bought have sounded worst of all! In fact, they were unlistenable at anything above a moderate volume - I couldn't get my head round this, as even a fairly expensive £100 portable CD player I bought new several years ago sounded like this - like I said, switching headphones made no difference either - I guess ' clipping ' isn't what I'm hearing then?

I came across articles about the loudness wars recently and thought I'd found an answer to current CD players sounded bad - unfortunately, everything seems to suggest it's just in the way individual records are made that causes this effect, rather than the actual players. I assume you're familiar with this as you know a lot about music?

It's kind of hard to describe to anyone the difference between the sound I hear now on anything I use and how it sounded on CD players I had years ago other than saying it sounds ' bad ' rather than ' good '. There's these kind of harsh effects that make letters sound distorted, like ' s ' sounding like ' sh ' or ' h ' sounding like a kind of ' hkkk 'sound and it just becomes uncomfortable to listen at a high volume.

My IPod Touch sounds... OK, I suppose. It's odd, some things I use to play music do sound better than others, but there always seems to be the kind of harshness and effects I just mentioned to some extent

It's strange but I just haven't enjoyed music in the last few years as much as I did years ago - I don't listen to albums that I loved and listened to constantly years ago, or if I do have to switch them off, whether it's ones I still have on CD and listen to on a CD player, playing the same albums on YouTube, on MP3 sites - all I can think is how bad it sounds and how harsh the music is - I can't just relax and lose myself in the music like I used to - I know this must sound insane

A Distorted Reality Is Now A Necessity To Be Free

Re: Vinyl record players

I may have glossed over an important point before. The idea is to use the CD player strictly as a CD transport, not to use its analogue stage! The key is to get a model with S/PDIF output, and use that to feed the best DAC that you can afford. You'd use the far superior analogue section of the DAC rather than the "afterthought" headphone amp of a £10 player.

However if you're willing and able to use your computer to play your music, that's an even better option. But again it's the outboard DAC/headphone amp that is key to making it all work properly.

As for loudness wars, I've been through two: the first on FM radio here in the US, and the one in the CD era that had less to do with the CD medium than it did with changes in the record industry that put corporate profits ahead of the music. In the latter case the only thing you can do is eschew poorly produced recordings. Fortunately many poorly mastered releases have been remastered and re-released since their original, over-compressed version. Again buying new is key here, as the discs in the used bin are likely to be the poor-sounding originals. You can use sites like Amazon to search for "- Original recording remastered". There's no guarantee that the remastered releases will be free of the dynamic range squashing of "loudness wars" days, so be sure to check the reviews to see what people who have already paid and listened think.

I'm taking shots in the dark here, but from what you've said, I wonder if at least part of your problem is that the business end (the side without the label) of your discs have become scratched and dirty. The extra data that CDs have to correct small errors can be a mixed blessing, as there will be no obvious sign that the sound quality is degraded until skips occur. I've wished for warning lamps on CD players to tell me when errors were occurring, but none came. I've pretty much given up on playing CDs in real time because ripping and playing on a computer eliminates all of the potential for playback errors and the distortion they cause.

I have ripped my CD discs on a Linux machine with software like cdparanoia that has the capability to detect read errors, notify the user (just what I wanted!) and optionally to correct the errors. I've ripped my entire CD collection into zero error, bit-perfect LPCM files, which I play back on a computer, using its quartz crystal clock as the time base. Based on what you've said, you may also benefit from "rip first, then play" as I have.

If you're an Ipod owner, perhaps your laptop is a Mac? If so, you should be able to get and use cdparanoia or similar free software to rip bit-perfect music. I use a program called abcde that runs from a BASH prompt and uses free software including cdparanoia to rip tracks ans automatically name the files using the CDDB database.

I should say that I owned and continue to own each and every CD that I've ripped, so I'm 100% in compliance with the law. I am strongly against copying music without paying for it! Please do not use my advice to break the law or deprive artists of their rightful income!

BTW, have you had your hearing checked? If this is such a chronic problem, and you like to play music loud, you might have some hearing damage. Better to know now IMO.

Re: Vinyl record players

(Nuts, I didn't read that fella's last bit, making my suggestion, while heartfelt, quite repetitive. Well, anyway...)

I am not saying this to be sarcastic or a d!çk. I'm thinking about what you were saying about "when you play music loud since yr 2000." What about your hearing? If high ends are dropping out on everything you might not be the stuff your listen on is all I'm saying.

I've been listening to albums, on medium (technics-ish) and crappy cassette/turntable/cd combo all-in-one POS. I collected albums all my life (about 3, 000) and from my20s on my favorite thing to do was mixing up songs on tapes. Always with headphones, always LOUD.

Mid-80s came CDs, mp3s, and I'd make MixTape CDs, copy old tapes, radio shows, etc. Crank it up! I even listened to soft music loudly. I woke up my kid, sleeping upstairs, and I was using headphones, volume on 10.

My ears have not stopped ringing (tinnitus) for 10 years. I'm a deaf old man, before I'm an old man. HUH? Its embarassing, and I was stupid. Don't worry about the best audio equipment you can buy, worry about the audio equipment you came with and need to keep for the rest of you life.
(I just made that up, I swear to God.)

When I hear a car's basses comin' a block away, I wanna yell at the young man behind the wheel ( - talk about feelin old - ) but he'd just yell back: "Huh?".

You don't need more, "better" stuff, none of us "need" more crap to hear more electric crap ( I'm actually a fan of electronic crap, but that's beside the point). Stop and hear the roses, or whatever the sound equivalent is for that old saying.

Again, this is coming from the heart: "Turn That Shtuff Down, and Get Your Ears Checked!"

"Ladies & Gentlemen, this week's new pop sensations , 'Drimble Wedge and the Vegetations'."

" . . . You Fill Me with Inertia."

Re: Vinyl record players

Great post!

Oddly enough, more amplifier power can actually help save your hearing...if used properly. (DISCLAIMER: I am what you'd call "a professional"; do not try this at home!) More often than not it's the harmonics generated by amplifier clipping that damages hearing the most and sounds brighter. For someone who already has hearing loss at higher frequencies (those frequencies where the clipping artifacts are), this sounds "brighter" and more correct to someone who is partially deaf, causing a vicious cycle of turning up the volume for that brighter, and more destructive sound.

I was the one guy who wore hearing protection to rock concerts and other loud places when others never thought to do so. After doing everything right to protect my hearing, I got my partial hearing loss and tinnitus when someone kicked me in the head. Years later an insanely loud "fire alarm for the deaf" took away even more. Today I use heavy equalization at home just to be able to understand voices, and heavy compression to keep the dialog louder while keeping the annoying sound effects from blowing out my ears.

At least my hearing loss wasn't self inflicted, as it was with countless musicians who I worked with. Bad enough living with tinnitus without having to carry the guilt that I did it to myself. Either way, let both of our stories be a warning to people coming up to not waste their hearing!

Re: Vinyl record players

A turntable outputs a much weaker signal than a CD player. Most amplifiers these days require a pre-amp to boost the signal, and unless you get an expensive model with an adjustable volume, this signal will be much less boosted than the output from a CD.

Also, vinyl is always mixed and mastered in a completely different way to CD. It's impossible to "brickwall" the sound on an LP, whereas most CDs these days are overcompressed to make them sound louder and more aggressive. So no matter what your setup is, vinyl will always sound smoother and more natural, even for albums recorded on digital equipment - which account for about 95% of music recorded since the early 90s.

However, your problem could simply be that you have the treble setting on your sound system turned up too high. Try reducing this, and try comparing some older CDs to newer ones. The signal strength on newer CDs is generally a lot higher than older ones.

Re: Vinyl record players

Vinyl sucks. After about the first 6 plays, even with religious record and stylus cleaning, the pops, clicks, scratches, grit and other surface noise mask the music. The sound becomes unbearable. I lived with vinyl in the late '70s through mid-'80s, before CD took off, and I don't miss vinyl one bit. I agree that early CDs sounded a bit flat and shrill, because recording engineers hadn't yet figured out to properly master sound for CD.

Invest instead in a 10-band or 12-band graphic equalizer with a 15db boost/cut range, then boost just the highest highs, 12khz or so, to max while keeping the mid and low highs, 4khz and 8khz or so, the more shrill high frequencies, flat, for more clean, silky highs. Also, if you're using speakers with horn tweeters, replace them with speakers with cone tweeters.

And, yes, a high-quality CD player does make a difference. Get a blu-ray player! Then you've got the best of both worlds, a good CD player that plays blu-rays and DVDs as well.