To SUT or not to SUT with a Denon DL-103?

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by Benzion, Jan 30, 2018.

  1. Benzion

    Benzion "Cogito, ergo sum" Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Brooklyn, NY
    I currently have my Zu Denon 103 cart feeding into a Pro-Ject Phono Box DS solid state phono (gain of 40/45/60/65 dB), at 65 dB gain and 100 Ohm loading.

    Lately, it has occurred to me that the phono doesn't really do justice to that wonderful cart, sound wise. But - it's the only phono stage I have with enough gain for so low an output voltage.

    Now, to do the math, at 0.3 mV output and into 65 dB gain gives me around 533 mV output from the phono into the integrated.

    I can purchase a 1:10 SUT, which will up the voltage to 3.0 mV and give me a 470 Ohm loading - supposedly better loading for the cart than 100 Ohm. Feeding it into 45 dB gain now, on the same phono pre, will give me the same 533 mV output into the integrated.

    With the output voltage being the same, the question to the pundits now is this:

    IS THERE APPRECIABLE DIFFERENCE IN SOUND QUALITY BETWEEN THAT PRODUCED BY STRAIGHT GAIN OF 65 dB (MC at 100 Ohm) VS THAT OF 1:10 SUT INTO 45 DB OF GAIN (MM at 47,000 Ohm)?

    I have four phono's at home already, so, if I can, I'd rather refrain from buying another one, so, I'd like to get better sound on a budget, using what I already have.

    I have also considered an alternative solution:

    I have a Pro-Ject Tube Box DS with 40/50/60 dB gain settings. If I get a Hagerman Piccolo 2 head amp, which has a +26 dB setting, I could possibly run the head amp into the 40 dB setting on the Tube Box DS, giving me a total of 66 dB gain, at 300 Ohm loading.

    Opinions as to WHICH WILL SOUND BETTER are welcome. The price difference between a 1:10 SUT and the Hagerman Piccolo 2 is too small to influence my decision price-wise.
     
  2. Thorensman

    Thorensman Forum Resident

    I recently bought a 1:10 s.u.t.
    For my Benz Glyder.
    This replaced a Benz Head amp.
    This brought the cartridge to life.
    Warmer yet more fluid.
    A lot more weight to the bass
    I would not go back to the head amp.
    Admittedly a different set up to yours, but sut. IMHO a better option
     
    Benzion likes this.
  3. Joey Kaspick

    Joey Kaspick Forum Resident

    I too recently changed my ways and went from a Schiit Mani to a SUT (Fidelity Research FTR-4)
    The carts I am using are AT-OC9III and a Spectrum MC924.
    I won't look back. Using a SUT is the way to go and my pre-amp has MC capability.
     
    saturdayboy likes this.
  4. Salectric

    Salectric Forum Resident

    Location:
    Maryland
    SUT all the way! I have a 103R as my backup cartridge and it sounds terrific with Jensen 1:10 transformers. I tried the Denon with two solid state phono preamps (Lehman and Emotive Circa) where I could use either the high gain MC input or the SUT into MM. With the SUT, the sound is warmer, more full bodied and much more dynamic. An easy choice.
     
  5. 33na3rd

    33na3rd Forum Resident

    Location:
    SW Washington, USA
    I definitely preferred my Zu DL-103 with a SUT, (Quicksilver 23dB 240 Ohms), but liked it best at 100 Ohms via loading plugs compared to to higher settings.
     
    Joe Spivey likes this.
  6. Benzion

    Benzion "Cogito, ergo sum" Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Brooklyn, NY
    I appreciate all the opinions. Given those, it seems a 1:10 is definitely in the cards in medium term. In the near term, though, after a conversation with Jim Hagerman, I'm leaning towards a Piccolo2 head amp. And here's why.

    I currently have the Zu running into an SS phono, at 65 dB, and I'm not crazy about it. I honestly believe the Zu cart should be paired with a tube phono. I have one, but its top gain setting is insufficient, IMO, at only 60 dB. I want 65-66 dB of gain total, plus tube sound. The only way I can achieve that is by buying another tube phono with requisite gain, and there aren't too many around, or, say, get a Budgie Hybrid with 46 dB gain plus 1:10 SUT, but that route is close to $1K, or even more, which defeats my budget consideration.

    Getting the Piccolo2 gives me +26 dB gain at the head amp, which I can then run into 40 dB on my Tube Box DS, to get 66 gain total. On top of that, on the Piccolo, voltage gain and impedance are independently set, so, I can choose 470 Ohm load and +26 dB gain independently, unlike a SUT, where these two metrics are inter-related. So, that way I get the gain I want, at the correct loading, plus the coveted tube sound, all for $279. IMHO, a great solution within my budget for near-term improvement.

    There's definitely room for a SUT in the future, though.

    Thank you all.
     
  7. dmckean

    dmckean Forum Resident

    Location:
    San Diego, CA, USA
    You can get a pair of Cinemag 3440A transformers, which are great, for $52 each plus shipping directly from Cinemag. SUTs are by far the easiest way to get great sound from the Denon 103.
     
    Warren Jarrett and googlymoogly like this.
  8. IanL

    IanL Forum Resident

    Location:
    Oneonta, NY USA
    SUT all the way
     
  9. googlymoogly

    googlymoogly Forum Resident

    You'll get lots of opinions on the issue of increasing cartridge gain, and I'm very much in the camp that believes that a well-matched step-up transformer generally does some nice things to the signal coming from a cartridge, besides boosting it. Some people really think that adding something else to the signal path degrades it, but between the other options, I think transformers are usually the more aesthetic option. They really seem to add something very listenable and musical (oops, is that a "coloration"? Oh well, if it works....).
     
  10. IanL

    IanL Forum Resident

    Location:
    Oneonta, NY USA
    AND keep the background noise to a minimum. Especially useful with tube phono preamps. But I agree, also more texture in my experience.
     
  11. googlymoogly

    googlymoogly Forum Resident

    Absolutely with tube preamps - SUT is better by far for keeping noise low. And it sounds good, too (did I say that already? :shh:).
     
    Bob_in_OKC, Warren Jarrett and IanL like this.
  12. elvisizer

    elvisizer Forum Resident

    Location:
    San Jose
    this is an interesting thread, thanks to everyone for all the informative posts so far.
    :righton:
     
    Warren Jarrett likes this.
  13. Agitater

    Agitater Forum Resident

    Location:
    Toronto
    There is an appreciable improvement in sound. What you get with a SUT is zero noise, better matching, less noise to the input of your phono preamp and less noise at its output as a result.

    I’d adivse staying away from the highest gain settings on your phono preamps. Using the highest gain settings is invariably noisy until you get into much more expensive designs. Anyway, the higher gain settings just aren’t needed. Instead, choose the right SUT. I suggest, for any cartridge in the 0.2-05mv range, choose a 1:20 SUT like the Bryston TF2-20 or the Rothwell MCL. Then try your phono preamp at its lower gain setting. The result is typically a blacker background, with perhaps one notch more on your preamp or integrated amp’s volume control.

    To my ears there’s something about a good SUT and good, moderately priced MM phono preamp combo that just can’t be beat until you get into multi-thousand dollar phono preamps.
     
  14. Warren Jarrett

    Warren Jarrett Audio Note (UK) dealer in SoCal/LA-OC

    Location:
    Fullerton, CA
    Now this is the topic in audio that I most like to think and write about: how to make MC carts sound their best.

    Your calculations are correct. For a Denon 103 cart, a 1:10 step-up provides the best sound, the right loading, and the right level for any MM 47000 ohm phono stage. In my experience, a good sounding transformer step-up will always sound better than a good sounding head amp/phono combo or a fully electronic MC phono.

    Of course, not all step-ups are great, so choose carefully.
     
    SandAndGlass and Bob_in_OKC like this.
  15. JackG

    JackG Forum Resident

    Location:
    NJ
    I've had one of Bob's Devices original $395 3440A (red) SUT for about 10 years and it's fantastic with my 103R. Want to try a 103 next.
     
  16. Warren Jarrett

    Warren Jarrett Audio Note (UK) dealer in SoCal/LA-OC

    Location:
    Fullerton, CA
    I think you are too focused on trying to optimize the gain. Here's why: 1) Giving you flexibility for gain is what volume controls are for. 2) Speakers vary in efficiency, amplifiers in sensitivity and gain, preamp line stages also in sensitivity and gain, phono stages in gain, phono stages in S/N -- so it's too difficult to consider all these factors, particularly if you change anything later. 3) A transformer step-up does such a good job of improving overall system S/N that the MM stage's gain and S/N become less important in what noise you will actually hear.

    It's best to focus on making sure you choose the right step-up ratio so your cartridge is loaded for its best sound, and that your step-up and phono stage simply sound the way you want them to with the rest of your system.

    Oh, and going through all those numbers to justify your desire to spend only $279 means to me you are actually most focused on saving money. So, actually your perfect gain and best sound are not at the forefront of your calculations.
     
    Last edited: Jan 30, 2018
  17. chili555

    chili555 Forum Resident

    I agree entirely. I use a pair of Cinemag CM-1254 transformers wired to 1:10 and my 103R sounds great.

    I started with a Denon AU-320 when I first made the jump to moving coil cartridges and I thought it was quite good. My never-ending gear acquisition syndrome compelled me to try the Cinemags and I sold the AU-320 for about what I paid for it.
     
    Warren Jarrett likes this.
  18. Benzion

    Benzion "Cogito, ergo sum" Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Brooklyn, NY
    I don't think you'd read my explanation carefully. I can buy a SUT, custom-made, for the same $279 or thereabout. But, it would mean staying with the same SS phono, when I'd rather use tubes. Saving money, in the long run, is not the objective, for I will buy a SUT eventually, as well as another tube phono, on top of the head amp I'm likely to go with now. The head amp is a stop gap immediate solution for now, that will let me use the tube phono I already have. Buying a SUT now would automatically mean buying another tube phono to go with it, and the difference in expenditure would be 3 or 4-fold. I can always buy everything at a leisurely pace, and in the end have greater variety of gear. Just look at my gear profile.
     
  19. Benzion

    Benzion "Cogito, ergo sum" Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Brooklyn, NY
    It has been the topic of many a thread on this forum before, and I am of the opinion, shared by quite a few members here, although not universally, that the more "heavy lifting" is done by the phono stage - the better. Intuitively, the optimal value aimed for is about 500 mV coming out of the phono stage. Empirical evidence supports it - the average MM cart's output on the market today is 5 mV, and the most common MM stage gain on the market today is 40 dB, which together produce the aforementioned 500 mV.

    A little more than that - and you get sound that is fuller to begin with. Adjusting the volume up on your amp or receiver does not accomplish the same thing as proper phono gain does at the beginning of the chain. That's why I want gain. We can agree to disagree if your opinion is different.
     
  20. beavis

    beavis Forum Resident

    Location:
    Sayre, Pa. USA
    Auditorium A23 SUT built specifically for the 103 (not the 'R') and be done with it.
     
  21. Agitater

    Agitater Forum Resident

    Location:
    Toronto
    Looking at the equipment in your profile, I’d say your excellent CA Azur 851A integrated amp is noticeably quieter than any of your phono preamps. Gaining up any of those good preamps will inevitably add noise that the 851A will happily amplify. On the other hand, using a SUT to bring a DL 103R into territory where only the lower or middle gain setting on your chosen phono stage has to be used, will result in much less noise being sent to the 851A along with the music. Increasing the 851A volume control a notch may be needed, but that’s about it. Blacker backgrounds and better sounding music as a result.

    Your chosen phono stage won’t have to work as hard, and whatever your 851A then sends to your speakers will sound better than ever.
     
  22. dmckean

    dmckean Forum Resident

    Location:
    San Diego, CA, USA
    And it uses Haufe transformers that cost $80/each.
     
    brendans likes this.
  23. Benzion

    Benzion "Cogito, ergo sum" Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Brooklyn, NY
    Will get a SUT soon enough, it's a promise.
     
    Warren Jarrett likes this.
  24. Warren Jarrett

    Warren Jarrett Audio Note (UK) dealer in SoCal/LA-OC

    Location:
    Fullerton, CA
    (---> 05mv = sic, what did you really mean?)
    As Benzion VERY correctly mentioned, the disadvantage of any SUT is that you cannot independently choose "gain" and cartridge load. So you have to decide which is more important (I believe it's cartridge load), choose your step-up ratio, and let the other (I believe gain) just fall as it may. 1:10 is just right for a Denon (470 ohm load), to get the right sound. 1:20 (120 ohm load) will roll-off the highs and compress dynamics. Benzion is all on the right track regarding this.
     
    Last edited: Jan 31, 2018
    SandAndGlass likes this.
  25. Warren Jarrett

    Warren Jarrett Audio Note (UK) dealer in SoCal/LA-OC

    Location:
    Fullerton, CA
    Every phono stage I have ever heard, even expensive ones, with adjustable gain sounds best at lower settings. Every SUT with selectable step-up ratios sounds best at lower settings. And, every cartridge model with choice of output level sounds best in its lowest output incarnation. So actually, you can't win on all fronts; you have to compromise somewhere. I like to choose the lowest output cart, lower step-up ratio if possible (but still correct load for that cart), and lowest phono gain setting that'll work for the overall system. My preamp volume control position is therefore high, noise is not the lowest, and nothing is "optimum" except subjective sound quality.

    If I take this too far, noise would become noticeable and dynamics would suffer, so simple listening and experimenting is critical. But I refuse to accept that some universal number for total mV applies to every combination of cart, step-up (or head amp) and phono. I believe that the "perfect" total mV is ANYWHERE within a range; the limits of this range varies with different combinations of equipment. And, if possible to attain (limited by options actually available), the sweet spot can only be determined by listening.
     
    Last edited: Jan 31, 2018

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