The good/bad of too much gain on MM or MC carts?

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by raferx, Apr 17, 2014.

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  1. raferx

    raferx Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Vancouver, Canada
    Hi all,

    I'm experimenting with my new Sutherland Ph3D phono stage and finding that going from 40dB of gain (lowest setting) and 47K ohm loading on my Rega Exact-2 MM cart (6.8~7.2 mV output) to 45dB with 47K loading produces a very punchy, detailed 3D sound over the standard 40dB load. I mean, it really muscles-up the sound. I'm not noticing any increase in distortion and obviously the volume dial stays lower, but lower-volume output is, again, very 'muscled' compared to the previous gain setting.
    I'm not sold on keeping it here, especially if it could cause untoward damage in my pre-amp, or if I notice it takes away from any aspect of the recordings, but is there a downside to this?
    Am I just being seduced by this 'punchy' sound compared to the other vast improvements the pre-amp made to my system when the lowest gain setting was selected?

    Thanks in advance peeps!

    –R
     
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  2. TarnishedEars

    TarnishedEars Forum Resident

    Location:
    Seattle, WA
    I don't know how the Sutherland is designed. But if it increases gain by decreasing its feedback, then that would actually make some sense.

    As far as how much gain is too much: You have too much gain if any of the following are true:
    1) You start to get clipping from your phono stage when loud passages play
    2) You start to get clipping from your line stage when loud passages play
    3) You start to get clipping from any recording devices which you may have attached when loud passages play
    4) Your volume control must be turned-down to its lowest settings for comfortable listening.
     
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  3. sushimaster

    sushimaster Forum Resident

    don't forget the ugly.


    Sutherland PH3D, I lusted for one. She's like the hott mistress that I have to hide from my Bugle Phono Pre.
     
    Last edited: Apr 17, 2014
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  4. raferx

    raferx Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Vancouver, Canada
    No clipping of any kind, and the volume position has changed from an average listening zone of 11~2 o'clock (full range volume pot on my amp), to 10~1 o'clock.
     
  5. raferx

    raferx Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Vancouver, Canada
    It is a truly fantastic phono stage. I'll post an extended review in a couple weeks.
    [​IMG]
     
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  6. KOWHeigel

    KOWHeigel Forum Resident

    Location:
    Manlius, NY
    45 db is not unusually high, ime, to run a MM cart on. I typically prefer 44-46 db depending on the individual gain of the cart.
     
  7. JL6161

    JL6161 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Michigan, USA
    Mine is a fabulous beast. The only thing it's missing (for MM carts) is multiple capacitance settings.
     
  8. raferx

    raferx Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Vancouver, Canada
    I'd agree, I guess I'm just a bit concerned because the Rega carts have such a prodigious output (6.8~7.2 mV).
    My next cart will be the Dynavector 20x2L, which is a 0.3mV MC cart, so I'd expect the Ph3D's max gain of 60dB to be ideal, but I just wonder if it will be as punchy as the Exact-2 at 45dB...
     
  9. Most LP's will respond well to 45db gain. But 12 inch dance singles can easily be 6 db hotter than many LP's. This might put things into a slightly bloated sound because of slight clipping.
     
  10. Keep those batteries up to snuff. Any battery that ages will have an increased output impedance and start eating dynamics.
     
    Alice Wonder and Ortofun like this.
  11. chervokas

    chervokas Forum Resident

    All you're really doing is substituting 5 dB of gain from the phono stage for 5 dB of gain from the line stage (which you've turned down accordingly). If you're not overdriving the line stage, then it's not a problem. And if you prefer the sound it's great. Gain staging to maximize signal and head room, and minimize noise is kinda more art than science as long as you're within the range of no distortion and low noise.
     
    raferx likes this.
  12. jupiterboy

    jupiterboy Forum Residue

    Location:
    Buffalo, NY
    Now you have the flexibility to listen to the options on many different recordings to form an opinion. Versatility in a phono stage is priceless.
     
    ellingtonic likes this.
  13. raferx

    raferx Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Vancouver, Canada
    I listen to pretty much only audiophile remasters, and pristine originals, mostly jazz, acoustic rock, folk and classical. No dance singles... yet :)
     
  14. raferx

    raferx Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Vancouver, Canada
    Absolutely!!! I'm just blown away with the Sutherland, and Ron is such a nice guy to deal with.
     
  15. You are missing out on all that cocaine fuled pop stuff ;):laugh:
     
  16. raferx

    raferx Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Vancouver, Canada
    Thanks for that response Chervokas. I hear you and I figured as much, but was quite curious about the way the pre-amp gain affected the sound versus line-stage gain. Like I mentioned, incredible low-end punch and waaaay more grunt down low and in the mids at lower volume levels.
    I mean drums just KICK now, the transients are razor-sharp and the decay on cymbals and high-hat is to die for, not to mention leading and trailing edges on violins, cellos and bass. And woodwinds? Voices? Acoustic guitar? Fugheddaboudit!
     
  17. raferx

    raferx Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Vancouver, Canada
    I was probably there when they recorded it in the '90s... ;)
     
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  18. blakep

    blakep Forum Resident

    I guess I'll be the lone voice of dissent here and say: Yes, you are being seduced.

    It's easy to fall into the loudness trap. Punchy, aggressive sound. It's initially appealing but it's not real.

    Take some of your favourite, well recorded stuff which is absolutely all analog and listen again, very carefully.

    Your cartridge already has a very high output at around 7 mV. It really only needs about 34 dB of gain, so 40 is more than sufficient and 45 is very likely to be overkill. On peaks, cartridges really output about 10X their stated value which means that cartridge in extremely dynamic passages on your records is putting out about 70 mV and is very likely overloading either the phono stage or your integrated further upstream (with 45 dB of gain you'll typically run into overload around the 35 mV mark so you are way beyond that!).

    I think that what you will find if you listen critically is that the lower gain setting will be more relaxed. Less "punchy" across the board but actually more dynamic in the sense of recreating the ebb and flow of the music, particularly musical passages that have quick and big surges from soft to loud. With too much gain, everything is just loud and in your face, exciting maybe on a short term basis but usually fatiguing in the long run and definitely not real.

    The lower gain setting should also result in more realistic high frequencies. They'll be more delicate, more realistic and less splashy.

    Finally, spatial information, particularly front to back depth on good analog recordings, will be rendered in a much more realistic fashion with appropriate gain. Too much gain results in a literal collapse of front to back soundstage; it literally sounds like all the musicians are on the same horizontal plane. Listen for a more realistic soundstage with the lower gain setting and I think you will hear it.
     
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  19. Actually, I once played a 45 rpm 12" of Foxey - Get Off at Kevin Grey's studio. I said "this is the best sounding 12" I have". It was actually very good and held up admirably against some of Kevin's best pressings. Even Kevin was impressed. It was cut really hot.
     
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  20. chervokas

    chervokas Forum Resident

    I tend to prefer lower gain myself but if the OP is turning down the line stage to get to the same total gain and loudness it's not necessarily a loudness effect.
     
  21. TarnishedEars

    TarnishedEars Forum Resident

    Location:
    Seattle, WA
    Based upon the photos, assuming that you aren't simply preferring some slight peak-clipping (ie loudness), then it looks like the gain setting is just changing the feedback on a couple of op-amps. This may well support the idea of you having an audible preference for less feedback. But this is only a guess.
     
    raferx likes this.
  22. raferx

    raferx Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Vancouver, Canada
    I did notice on some recordings a bit of "lumping" of musicians in the sound stage, in all planes; front-to-back, top-to-bottom and side-to-side. It kinda startled me on a couple songs. I tend to agree with you about the fatigue possibility, but that said, I find it is not an overall loudness I'm hearing, rather a change in the way the mix is presented on the sound stage spatially and selectively. To me, it sounds like only the best parts of the mix are being highlighted, much the way it is presented at 40dB, only the voices/instruments that would be normally more forward in the mix have that extra punch... if that makes sense?
     
  23. gloomrider

    gloomrider Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Hollywood, CA, USA
    I so want a Sutherland PH3D. :love: :drool:
     
  24. raferx

    raferx Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Vancouver, Canada
    Agreed. Is it just the way the pre-amp is engineered to deal with gain?
     
  25. raferx

    raferx Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Vancouver, Canada
    OK, but what does that mean exactly? In what context is the feedback? Sorry, I'm not as well-versed in these technical aspects as I'd like to be.
     
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