Where to upgrade next? Need critiques of my vintage setup.

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by Tamla Junkie, Feb 16, 2017.

  1. Tamla Junkie

    Tamla Junkie Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    Detroit, Michigan
    Folks, I'm looking for recommendations on future upgrades to my system. My system is designed around the vinyl I play, which dates from the late 40s to the early 70s. Which components could I replace and get the most bang for my buck? I'm fairly satisfied with my system as-is, bit some records sound a bit muffled or veiled. As it currently stands, I have the following setup:
    • A Shure M3D with a JICO N3 stylus.
    • A stock Empire 298 with the stock Empire arm.
    • Two tube phono pre-amps, one of my own design, the second is a Tetra Sans PS with the tube Janus Shunt Reg power supply.
    • A linestage of my own design, unity gain, tube.
    • A pair of EL84 monoblocks, Circlotrons of my own design, loosely based on the EV 15 watters.
    • Two sets of speakers: a pair of ESL Quad 57s, and a pair of EV Regencies with type 15TRX drivers.
     
  2. Fishoutofwater

    Fishoutofwater Well-Known Member

    I see a really good system there!! I f you like the sound, why change it? I would love to hear your system. I bet it sounds great. Be proud and enjoy!! xx
     
  3. Steve G

    Steve G Forum Resident

    Location:
    los angeles
    you should upgrade to a contract with an audio equipment manufacturer who will produce your designs at a factory and pay you a royalty. other than that, leave it alone, like Fish sez...
     
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  4. Fishoutofwater

    Fishoutofwater Well-Known Member

    Soooo true x
     
  5. Jtycho

    Jtycho Forum Resident

    Location:
    PA
    Not knowing the quality of your work, I'd vote to improve the source. Put a new arm on that Empire.
     
  6. Tamla Junkie

    Tamla Junkie Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    Detroit, Michigan
    I was taught by the best. All point to point wired by hand, circuit designed using SPICE, tweaked by hand with the aid of a scope, etc.

    I was thinking the arm too, maybe the cart.
     
  7. Otlset

    Otlset Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Temecula, CA
    Yes some records do sound that way, even on the best systems. And maybe upgrades won't do a lot to improve their sound.
     
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  8. Tamla Junkie

    Tamla Junkie Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    Detroit, Michigan
    That's fair. I suppose that my system may be revealing enough to make a poor mastering sound as bad as it is.
     
    timind likes this.
  9. Warren Jarrett

    Warren Jarrett Forum Resident

    Location:
    Fullerton, CA
    I think deciding what to upgrade is a personal process, not a matter to be advised by other people. You must decide, one step at a time, which component is most providing your "muffled or veiled" sound. I like going from the back end first. So, the speakers need to be evaluated on their own, by changing amplifiers and listening to that effect. No matter what amp you use, do you still hear that problem? If so, you don't love your speakers anymore, try a different pair. Audio stores will loan speakers, so they would LOVE it if you determine that a speaker they sell is exactly what you need.

    Then, if changing amplifiers DOES make a big change in the character of your speakers, then the problem is not your speakers. You have got to find a complementary match of speakers and amp that truly create a magical synergy, before you can evaluate any component upstream. So, let's say that no matter what speakers and amp you try, it just doesn't improve your satisfaction with the sound. Well, then I would say both of your's are just fine. The problem is upstream. In this way, you will discover by the process of comparison, what component is really causing your dissatisfaction.

    The preceding advice covers steps 1 and 2. In my view these are the most important to take your time and carefully evaluate. Only after the speakers and amp are decided upon with confidence can (I believe) the rest of the system be evaluated, again one component at a time, one-by-one. The turntable, tonearm and cartridge should go last, because they are most difficult to evaluate separately.

    This is a slow and methodical process. It involves time and careful listening, rather than just money. If you want a quick, easy answer, then you will only find subtle improvement, and plenty of people who advise you how to spend your money. If you want the RIGHT answer, take your time, expend effort, and enjoy the results of the hobby.

    Personally, I am most suspicious of the turntable, tonearm and cartridge. But, without fully "vetting" the rest of the system first, I wouldn't assume, unless you happen to find someone who will loan you another record-player rig (the British say "kit") for quick comparison. In that case... hmmm... maybe troubleshoot your system in the reverse order of what I suggested above.
     
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2017
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  10. crestwood23

    crestwood23 Member

    Location:
    North Jersey
    I would second a source upgrade. Your Quads will reveal everything a cart/table upgrade can offer upstream. To keep it vintage I'd look at a restored idler like a Garrard, Thorens or Lenco - paired with a classic cart like a Denon DL103 or Ortofon SPU.
     
    Thorensman likes this.
  11. Tamla Junkie

    Tamla Junkie Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    Detroit, Michigan
    See, I borrowed my father's Garrard 301 and it felt like a major step backward within my setup. Either it wasn't the giant I thought it was, or the Empire is a giant killer. I'm inclined to agree that it's at the source though. The Quads are extremely revealing, I think, and the amps are flat past 50 kHz with very low distortion. (The EL84 really was a mouse that roared, eh?)

    To clarify a bit, I doubt the amps are the issue. I'm getting better-than-Williamson performance at the full 15 watts the Quads can safely handle.
     
  12. Tamla Junkie

    Tamla Junkie Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    Detroit, Michigan
    I think an SPU and a new arm might be a step forward. I've heard people refer to the Shure as the "poor man's SPU" so I'm guessing the qualities I like in the SPU will still be prevalent in the Ortofon. Maybe a Schick arm and an Ortofon... that could work.
     
    VinylRob likes this.
  13. crestwood23

    crestwood23 Member

    Location:
    North Jersey
    Interesting... What cart/arm was on the 301? Is the 301 fully restored?
    My buddy has a nice Empire 298, it's a great table but he and I both agree my Garrard 401 is in another league. You are lucky to have that 301 at your disposal, I would look into seeing how far you can take it with a restore/arm/plinth and cart upgrade.
     
  14. patient_ot

    patient_ot Forum Resident

    Location:
    USA
    Could OP build a plinth to accept multiple arms on that Empire? If so, I'd go that route. I'd make the second arm something with a removable headshell to facilitate easy swapping of carts.
     
  15. Tamla Junkie

    Tamla Junkie Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    Detroit, Michigan
    I can't; every time I use powertools I injure myself. I have a Grandfather that would for a case of Blatz though. Excellent idea! Thank you.
     
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  16. monte4

    monte4 Active Member

    Location:
    Ontario Canada
    As mentioned by a couple of others I'd upgrade your source.
     
  17. Tamla Junkie

    Tamla Junkie Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    Detroit, Michigan
    The 301 was "recently" restored according to my father, but that could have been 30+ years ago. His memory isn't what it was, and he's still refering to events from the late 90s as having happened about 10 years ago.
    The arm was one of those big 12 inch SME jobs; I used my Shure M3D to provide a sort of baseline standard to compare the tables.
     
  18. Ron Scubadiver

    Ron Scubadiver Active Member

    Location:
    Houston TX
    Nice system. Why mess with it?
     
  19. VinylRob

    VinylRob Forum Resident

    Sounds like a pretty envious kit, way over here. Congrats on the hard study and hard work. A labor of musical love, I'll bet.

    Though I agree with your notion toward tonearm, headshell, and cart (Schick arm and an Ortofon).
     
  20. Gibsonian

    Gibsonian Active Member

    Location:
    Iowa, USA
    New MC cart and a matched SUT to start.
     
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  21. Tamla Junkie

    Tamla Junkie Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    Detroit, Michigan
    That's the direction I'm leaning at the moment. Actually, this gives me an excellent idea: modify my monoblocks, linestage, and phono preamp(s) for balanced input, and perform the phase splitting duties in the SUT instead. The results could be very interesting.

    One of the weak links in any practical push-pull valve amplifier is the phase splitter. If you give up adequate gNFB in the amplifier, you can perform splitting duty with iron, but that doesn't seem like a terribly logical trade-off IMHO.
     
  22. VinylRob

    VinylRob Forum Resident

    Tamla Junkie, you are local to us, you might look us up... SMAC Southeast Michigan Audio Club. Eleven years and running month to month, low key meets.
     
  23. Gibsonian

    Gibsonian Active Member

    Location:
    Iowa, USA
  24. crestwood23

    crestwood23 Member

    Location:
    North Jersey
    Lol well I refer to events from the late 90s as having happened about ten years ago too, and I'm 41 years old! :laugh:

    Your dad sounds like a cool dude, if he ever wants to unload that crappy 301 tell him to ship it over to me for proper disposal!
     
  25. AmericanHIFI

    AmericanHIFI Active Member

    Location:
    California
    It is impossible to tell how well your self- designed and built electronics perform unless someone other than your ears evaluate them. Most tube topologies are simple, easy to execute, and sound real good if you use quality vacuum tubes (speaking from experience). Chances are you've nailed it.
     

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