07 July, 2010

Talk Vinyl: Current NYC setup (keywords Denon DL-304, Koetsu Black, Linn LP12, Thorens TD-125, SME 3009, BAT P5, GCPH)

Talk Vinyl: Current NYC setup

As I was about to write about a new "surprise" purchase, I realized I had not written about the extensive changes my vinyl setups underwent towards the latter part of my last stay in NYC.

Enter the Black. Koetsu vs Denon
The arrival of the Koetsu Black (read this Art Dudley review) induced great changes in my setup. The sheer weight of this cartridge precludes installation on any of my other arms except the Ittok on the Linn LP12/Lingo. Fed into the BAT P5 , the sound was not that far off from the Denon DL-304 used previously. After protracted listening I made the decision of not using the WE 285L transformers and just using the high-gain setting of the P5. The gain offered previously was not quite enough for the Denon, but the Koetsu's slightly higher output and somewhat wilder streak made the difference. Here, I shall repeat that, whenever possible, for step-up my preference goes to active devices rather than transformers. Aside from the gain and energy, the Koetsu is also bolder and more romantic, with a lush treble. The Denon DL-304 is quite neutral I'm sure (more so than the 103), but the black veers off from neutrality by a much smaller factor than I'd have thought.

As much as I was enamored of the Koetsu sound, I also gained even more respect for Denon, the DL-103 having long been a personal favorite. Indeed, it's always valid to ask, upon hearing any Denon, "Why pay more"?

Merry-go-round 1. What, 304 on the 3009?
Displaced by the Koetsu, the Deonon DL-304 went on the Thorens TD-125/SME 3009S2Imp. The cartridge is likely too heavy for the arm, and the "resonant structure" may not be perfect, but I didn't want to install it on the Technics SP-1200. The result on the SME 3009 though was surprisingly good. After the initial promising sound, I concentrated on mating it with phonoamp.

The neutral DL-304 had always taken to the tubed BAT more than the PS Audio GCPH. Previously, on the Linn LP12/Ittok, I had tried it extensively with the GCPH. With the gain setting maxed, the GCPH had enough gain for the DL-304 but the sound was just that tiny bit etched in the treble. While this brought great brilliance to percussion pieces I missed a little heft down below. At that time, the WE285L transformer fed into the BAT P5 outclassed the GCPH decidedly.

On the SME 3009 the DL-304 sounded lighter still. As I ran several TTs at once and with the BAT P5 now bonded to the Koetsu, I decided to try out the WE285L transformer in conjunction with the lower gain setting of the GCPH. Bingo, that did it, with added heft and elimination of the slight whiteness. Comparison with the Koetsu/BAT setup was close and I was immensely satisfied.

Is it the 3009 or the TD-125?
Assuming the TD-125 is similar in sound to the LP-12, the 304 on the 3009 sounded remarkably different from the Ittok. To be expected was a lighter and less dynamic sound, with the bottom lighter in heft and slam. However, it was also immediately apparent that there was a delicacy to the treble that was quite a bit more refined than the LP12/Ittok. Rhythm and pace was superior on the TD-125/3009 too: while pop material was obviously less heavy-footed, it was in certain classical material that the difference was most felt; the phrasings on violin recordings instantly felt more sinewy, the flow more organic. I'd venture to say, if you are a violin aficionado, there would be little reason to own the Linn combo.

As the TTs are more similar than dissimilar, I personally felt the arm to be more responsible for the obvious difference in sound. But is that completely true? Somehow, as in previous observations, I have a nagging suspicion that the TD-125 is also a superior turntable to the LP-12. What is inescapable is that the Linn is over-rated.

Merry-go-round 2. A sliver of Silver
Last, I installed the Benz Micro Silver on my bedroom system's Technics SP-1200. I was very pleased that the sound reached new heights. As a matter of fact, they proved so synergistic into the Linn Majik I integrated amp and Linn Kan I speakers that I may have to up my opinion on this particular cartridge by a notch. It has refinement as well as tremendous rhythm and pace that makes me think about how to further improve the main gig a little in this regard.

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