Upgraded to a Rega P3 and VM540ML...now what?

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by 2ndtrumpet, Sep 11, 2019.

  1. 2ndtrumpet

    2ndtrumpet Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    Texas
    Hi guys! I'm a noob here, hoping y'all might find my situation interesting enough to weigh in on a possible solution.
    I recently bought a new turntable to replace an old Technics linear tracker with an A-T P-mount cartridge, and fully expected a nice upgrade to the sound of my mid-fi system.

    Now I have: Rega Planar 3 with VM540ML, Sony STR-D515 AV receiver, DCM QED speakers.

    I chose the Rega after hearing a P1, P2, and a P3, although I didn't care for the Carbon or Elys on classical LPs. So, I chose the VM540ML to get the clarity and transparency for orchestral and chamber music, thinking the jazz and acoustic rock would be fine. Well, now that I've played maybe 50 albums on it, the cartridge seems to have settled in and sounds pretty good on rock, jazz and some classical recordings, albeit a little brighter than I like. But, on most of my classical LPs (over half of my collection), strings and choral music (especially louder passes) sound hard, steely, harsh and somewhat smeared. I'm dissappointed.

    Apparently, the upgrade exposed another weakness in my system, but I'm not sure how to address it. Likely culprits:
    1) The phono stage in my mid-90s Sony AV receiver may not be very good at all.
    2) There may be a mismatch between the cartridge and that phono stage. The VM540ML wants to see 47k resistance and 100-200pF capacitance. The Sony has 50k resistance, but I can't find the capacitance on the Rega wiring or the Sony anywhere. I've seen several comments explaining that if the total capacitance is higher than 200pF, the output can get very peaky in the treble. I think that's what I'm hearing.
    3) My receiver claims 70wpc, but at 0.8% THD - higher than most quality amps...maybe that plays a role here, too.
    4) I really don't think it's the speakers. They sound very good with recordings on CD, and used to sound good with the old Technics table and the AT152 cartridge - pretty linear, a little warmth and very listenable. But now, not so much.

    Seems like a new phono stage is the place to start, but many of y'all know more about this than I do. What I'm considering/wondering:
    1) If the main problem is the capacitance, will a budget, out-board preamp 47k/100pF improve the SQ noticeably? Candidates:
    - Rega Fono Mini A2D: lots of favorable reviews, but presumably designed for synergy with very high output Rega carts - too little gain for a 4mV output A-T?
    - Cambridge Solo: quiet (90dB), very low distortion, and high overload (+30dB) but only two (albeit very favorable) reviews and almost no mentions on this or other sites.
    - Schiit Mani: very popular, but lots of complaints about RFI, hum, and noise levels. Also, apparently synergistic with Nagaokas, which have a VERY different character than A-T's.

    2) Do I have to spend more to get better SQ than the Sony built-in phono stage? Candidates:
    - Rega Fono MM: see question about gain above.
    - Bellari VP130: Conventional wisdom seems to be this will warm the highs, but I can't find capacitance specs on it. Could that be an issue?
    - Vincent PHO-8:
    - ProJect Tube Box S:
    - etc

    I guess the central question, now that I've rambled on, is what preamps will play nice with my new cart and table? I really didn't want to spend more than the $300 range.

    So, what do y'all think?
     
  2. SNDVSN

    SNDVSN Forum Resident

    Location:
    Glasgow
    I have a ProJect Tube Box S2 which can get down to 47pf which is what I'm using with my VM540ml.
     
  3. LARGERTHAN

    LARGERTHAN Forum Resident

    Location:
    Eire
    Potentially capacitance issue, as noted by yourself. Check out the Parks Audio Puffin - ultimate adjustability, plus easy return via Amazon if not your thing.
     
    brn and JohnO like this.
  4. SNDVSN

    SNDVSN Forum Resident

    Location:
    Glasgow
    The budget is $300.
     
  5. patient_ot

    patient_ot Forum Resident

    Location:
    USA
    If your budget for a phono stage is $300 and you need something that works well with AT carts I can recommend the MOFI Studio Phono. Not a good match for carts with output greater than 4mV.

    I have the Rega Fono Mini which I use on a secondary TT. Not horrible but not a primary recommendation. I also do not recommend the Mani, which I used to own.

    Not a fan of tube hybrid gimmick phono stages so I won't recommend any of those.

    If you can up your budget beyond $300 I have some other recommendations.

    After you upgrade your phono stage you may want to consider getting a different receiver/integrated amp.

    There are also many aftermarket products for Rega TTs, which may or may not appeal to you.
     
    bluemooze likes this.
  6. patient_ot

    patient_ot Forum Resident

    Location:
    USA
    Yep, Puffin looks like $150 over budget. Also converts everything to digital which is not for everyone.
     
  7. Dhreview16

    Dhreview16 Forum Resident

    Location:
    London UK
    If you can stretch to the latest version of the Rega Fono (not the Mini) it’s better than the Mini, though that’s fine too for the price.
     
  8. patient_ot

    patient_ot Forum Resident

    Location:
    USA
    Actually, just remembered something. You'll have trouble with the Studio Phono and a Rega table due to grounding issues and the way Rega grounds through the RCA cables. There's a thread on here if you want to dig.
     
    bluemooze likes this.
  9. Maltman

    Maltman Somewhat grumpy, but harmless old man.

    Location:
    Vancouver Canada
    In my experience Rega tts sound best when mated up with other Rega components. I noticed an improvement when I replaced the low end Cambridge phono pre with a Rega FonoMM2. I also have an Exact 2 cart on my P6 and it sounds excellent for jazz and classical. Pretty good for rock, but many of my rock records have seen some hard use over the years.
     
  10. Optimize

    Optimize Forum Resident

    Location:
    EU
    The Mani has made a silent upgraded to V2. And now have address the feature of when RFI reach the signal path before it gets to the Mani.

    I see it as a feature because it is the messenger of that there is something that has entered the signal path that should not be there in the first place is revealed.

    It is a PITA to find the source of the interference or to change to better shielded leads.

    Or we can cover up the problem and filter out the RFI. But it is two different ways to solve the issue if there is any.

    I read somewhere but not in the specifications that it supposedly has by itself 100 pF.

    Good luck with your RIAA hunting! :righton:
     
    Cyclone Ranger likes this.
  11. 2ndtrumpet

    2ndtrumpet Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    Texas
    Thanks for the input, people!
    After reading your comments, lots of the threads here and elsewhere, reviews, etc, the field is narrowing. It appears the solution is a better phono stage that has specs that match the cartridge better than the (probably low-quality) phono stage in the Sony AVR, i.e. 47k ohm resistance, <= 100 pF capacitance (since the Rega wiring capacitance is unknown), and gain level appropriate to a cart that produces 4mV output, although other gain levels might be nice should I want to try a higher output cart, or even a HOMC. I really don't anticipate ever getting into LOMCs.
    Short-term, I plan to order two or three preamps to try out in my system. After the winner settles in, I'll look at replacing the Sony AVR with a dedicated 2-channel stereo receiver or integrated to get cleaner power and more substantial output transformers.

    Under consideration now, under $300:
    Cambridge Solo: Not sure why it gets so little attention (beyond Fremer's 5-star review and Audio Science Review's measurements) - >90dB SNR, >30dB overload margin, 39dB gain, 100pF capacitance.
    Pro-Ject Phono Box S2: adjustable capacitance starting as low as 100pF, >85dB SNR, 40dB gain.
    Musical Fidelity LX2-LPS or V90-LPS: many very satisfied users, unknown capacitance, 80dB SNR, unknown gain.

    New adds, $300+: (I hesitate to go there, since my ears are old enough for Medicare, so I'm thinking the law of diminishing returns may be a very steep curve. I'd rather spend the money on records once the peakiness and harshness problem is solved, but these sound very promising.)
    ProJect Tube Box S2: adjustable capacitance starting as low as 50pF, >77dB SNR, 40dB gain.
    Simaudio Moon 110LP: adjustable capacitance starting as low as 0pF, >104dB SNR (really?), adjustable 40dB+ gain.

    What do you guys think?
     
  12. 2ndtrumpet

    2ndtrumpet Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    Texas
    On another thread, someone said the capacitance in a Rega RB330 tonearm is 161pF, although it may have been an estimate rather than a measurement. By adding 47 pF for a Pro-Ject preamp, the total would be 208, which is just barely above the recommended range for the A-T cartridge, right? Maybe that's why that combo sounds so good. patient_ot has explained the importance of loading in several threads, and he strikes me as very knowledgeable about this.
     
  13. Gibsonian

    Gibsonian Forum Resident

    Location:
    Iowa, USA
    Definitely look at a phono stage with some capacitance and loading adjustments that you can use to dial in your cart. A/V receivers are not really known for high quality phono stages. I'd do some research and go as high as you can on your budget to try to get something you will be more than satisfied with.

    But since other sources sound fine to your ears then focusing on what changed is the right path, which leads me to the next question.

    Is your cart setup properly on your arm/table? Is VTA, VTF, overhang and azimuth setup correctly?
     
  14. patient_ot

    patient_ot Forum Resident

    Location:
    USA
    I generally dislike hybrid tube designs but being able to turn the capacitance down to 47pf is very useful, especially if the capacitance in your cabling is a little high. Note that you may or may not be able to hear the difference in capacitance between roughly 200 and roughly 250.

    Re: the other specs you posted, I think overload margin is important but can be tricky depending on how different manufacturers list this spec.

    The s/n ratio is tricky also because the signal coming off a record is only 70 to 80 DB at best. All cartridges create electrical noise and will limit your signal to noise ratio as well.
     
  15. 2ndtrumpet

    2ndtrumpet Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    Texas
    I assume so, since the shop where I bought it did the setup. They mostly carry very high end equipment - Linn, Simaudio Moon, McIntosh, Benz, etc. as well as Rega, and they are very experienced. The one thing that I know is not exactly on-spec is the VTA - we did not put a spacer on the arm to compensate for the extra height of the AT cartridge (17.3mm), compared to the Rega carts (14mm) - so it is slightly tail-down. Several have commented that tends to moderate the brightness/enhance the low end, if anything.
     
  16. 2ndtrumpet

    2ndtrumpet Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    Texas
    It's ALL tricky to my mind! =| Especially since some manufacturers don't disclose some specs (Rega's wiring capacitance, for example), and many disclose specs in very different formats, so I find it difficult to compare these things directly. That's why I've been looking so hard for comments by people who use a Rega table and an AT ML cart to listen to classical. Even the few I've seen usually don't mention the preamp they use (or it's waaay above my budget), much less anything about their speakers or listening space.

    Specifically related to Rega, I'm not certain my P3's wiring is actually at 161pF. I'm only going off someone's estimate or measurement posted on another thread here. Rega only says it uses low-capacitance wiring and leaves it at that.

    What do you not like about the hybrid tube designs? The Tube Boxes and the Moon 110LP are the only ones I've found at $400 or less that state capacitance values below 100pF. (And they're over the budget I originally set for myself... but so is the Rega.)
     
  17. Dominator

    Dominator Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Ohio
    Check out Audio Advisors, they have a couple of your choices on sale.
     
    2ndtrumpet likes this.
  18. patient_ot

    patient_ot Forum Resident

    Location:
    USA
    If you can get your hands on a capacitance meter (roughly $40) you can measure yourself and be sure about your wiring.

    To me they are a gimmick. I'm not a tube guy (do like the sound of tube guitar amps tho) and prefer a 100% solid state design for phono preamps. You can see what I am using if you click my profile.
     
  19. Echoes Myron

    Echoes Myron Forum Resident

    Location:
    USA
    For your situation>>Phono stage, then speakers, then amp.

    Save up to buy something you will stay with for a while. You don't want to quickly upgrade everything twice. :)
     
  20. Phil Thien

    Phil Thien Forum Resident

    Location:
    Milwaukee, WI
    What are you using for tracking force? Have you double-checked your tracking force? How are you setting your tracking force?

    I'd also consider moving your old P-Mount into the Rega to give it a listen. Adapters are only about $10.
     
    bluemooze likes this.
  21. 2ndtrumpet

    2ndtrumpet Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    Texas
    Tracking force and anti-skate are both set at 2 grams, according to the factory spec.

    I gave that a thought, but the AT is reportedly a bear to mount and align on a Rega arm, plus it would be my first time to do that since sometime in the 1980's. I'll hold that for later.
     
  22. 2ndtrumpet

    2ndtrumpet Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    Texas
    Well, after a lot of reading and solicited advice, I ordered 2 preamps to try out. I guess we can call it a shoot-out. On order are a Pro-Ject Phono Box S2 (low capacitance, a switchable low-frequency rumble filter), and a Musical Fidelity LX-LPS (many favorable reviews, possibility of setting at very low capacitance, low distortion and an accurate RIAA curve). I expect both will improve on the Sony AV receiver's phono stage. If not, you guys have made other suggestions, mostly further up the food chain, that I'll try then.
     
  23. patient_ot

    patient_ot Forum Resident

    Location:
    USA

    Nothing beats trying out equipment in your own home. Good luck.
     
    2ndtrumpet likes this.
  24. 2ndtrumpet

    2ndtrumpet Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    Texas
    The Musical Fidelity product arrived this morning. It was fairly easy to set up, although the documentation hardly mentions the loading plugs, much less explains how to use them. Maybe they intend for that to be a trial and error process to find the best sounding setup.

    First impressions: it is indeed an improvement over the sound produced through the built-in phono stage in the Sony AV receiver. The sound is clearer, with more definition, better bass and the treble range is smoother with less distortion. Strings sound more like a string section, rather than a harsh smear of violin-like sound. So far I've played Karl Bohm's Berlin Philharmonic Mozart Symph #40 on DG (strings sounded much better), Ravel's orchestration of Moussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, with Carlo Maria Giulini and Chicago SO on DG (sounded awesome -btw, the Chicago brass section absolutely deserves its reputation), and a recent re-issue of Abbey Road, which sounded terrific. This is fun!

    The Pro-Ject is expected tomorrow. We'll see how it compares.
     
    patient_ot, 4011021 and Echoes Myron like this.
  25. 4011021

    4011021 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Brazil
    Musical Fidelity seems to be a good company, owners are generally very satisfied with their products.
     

Share This Page