What, me, vinyl?
I’ll man up and just flat out admit it: I bought this turntable on a lark.
I’ve been an audiophile for years and years. Ok, for about 4 years, which technically, is “years and years”, but doesn’t really entitle me to any serious crustiness or wise insights acquired over years in the business. Just wanted to clear that up. But in all that time, I was pretty much a digiphile — all my sources were digital and 95% of my listening was via my computer. I’ve never actually owned a turntable, and the last one I had “control of” was a cast-off from my big brother, back in the late 70s before I got my first Sony Walkman. I’ve never really been into vinyl. Mixed tapes, sure, but vinyl? Not so much, no.
But then, I’ve never really been opposed to it either. I really liked it as a kid, but what the hell does a 10 year old know? Vinyl was my brother’s thing. He was the one with the closed door and the faint rumbles of Led Zeppelin and Foghat. Not me.
So, lo and behold comes 2010. Mysteriously, I had about $2k lying around (I have no idea why), so naturally I had to spend it. I called up Walter at Underwood HiFi and it turned out he had this B-Stock turntable he was willing to cut me a great deal on. Being an idiot, I said “sure”.
Why an idiot? Well, look. If it’s a wire, there’s really not much to do with it. You plug it in and it either works or it doesn’t. Not so much with a turntable. Turntable = complicated. How complicated? Well, let’s just say that it’s as complicated as you want to make it. Let’s just say that ignorance was bliss.
I am a bit of a geek (and secure enough to admit many of my personality flaws in public), so putting it together wasn’t terribly challenging. The reason the table is a B-Stock, apparently, is that the record weight looks like it got chewed. And there’s this tiny ding on the platter. Not too shabby for a deep discount, no? I was pleased.
The table I had spinning in about 15 minutes. Platter onto spindle, belt over platter, adjust distance from motor to platter and … done. Piece of cake.
The new Sumiko Blackbird cartridge took a bit longer, but not much. The table and cart came with some very handy tools to measure the distance for the motor pod & the offset. VTA, VTF and/or azimuth, not so much — but to be honest, when I go the table, I had no idea what those were anyway, so no harm no foul. It wasn’t until a month later that I got my Dr. Feickert Protractor from The Cable Company that I got the cartridge fully dialed in — have to say, though, that I did a damn good job with the tools that shipped with the table. Yea me!
The motor pod has a little switched-mode power supply (SMPS) wall wart that apparently requires proper socket orientation to work well. The platter is big and heavy, and made of frosted acrylic. The plinth is roughly the same size of the platter, so the whole thing has this really nice integrated shape.
The tonearm is the standard 9″ carbon fiber Pro-Ject 9cc. It’s nice and looks pretty space age. There’s on-arm mechanisms for VTA (though not on-the-fly), anti-skating, azimuth and more. The setup of just about everything was factory pre-configured — all I had to do was mount the cartridge and connect the turntable to the phono stage and I would be off to the races.
The wiring connector is standard RCA, which was nice, since I didn’t need to go get a cable with a DIN-connector.
Three very pointed footers ground the table — be careful, this table will not slide on your shelf without scoring the shit out of it.
When I first called and told Walter that I wanted to talk about turntables, I think he was genuinely puzzled. Why analog? He asked me how many LPs I had. I told him I had exactly zero. So, why am I doing this? I have no idea, I replied. Okay ….
Well, by the time the table showed, I had 10 titles from Acoustic Sounds waiting for me. That’s me, Mr. Impulse Buyer. So, once the table was set up (ish), I couldn’t wait to slap a disc down on it.
I had a problem, which I had managed to make myself aware of in advance. I needed a phono stage for my stereo. Unfortunately for me, I’d been driving my Merlin VSM-MMe loudspeakers with an elegant little EL-34 integrated from Ars-Sonum called the Philarmonia SE. This amp did not have a phono stage built in — I would need to get one. So, I opted instead to flip over to my sitting-on-the-shelf set of separates, a Plinius M16 pre and SA-250 amplifier. The M16, luckily, had a phonostage built in that handled the 2.5mV output of the Sumiko Blackbird quite handily, and the amps were more than enough to blow the Merlins to Kingdom Come, so I was ready.
What I wasn’t ready for is how good it sounded. On the first disc, I knew I was totally hooked. I’d been running Plinius pair here and there, and alternating them with the Merlins and a pair of Totem Shaman speakers. The Plinius+Totem matchup was fantastic. The Merlin+Ars-Sonum matchup was much better. And the Plinius+Merlin matchup was somewhere between the two. So, I figured, what the hey.
My primary source until very recently has been a PS Audio Digital Link III DAC that had been thoroughly modified by Rick Cullen of Cullen Circuits. It’s a fantastic DAC and I’ve had quite a lot of fun with it beating the crap out of other “reference” DACs. Last month, my little DL3 got handed it’s ass handed to it by an Alpha DAC from Berkeley Audio Design. Getting that DAC was the best thing to happen to my rig. It’s a $5000 DAC and worth every penny — it’s just fantastic.
And it got schooled by the 9.1.
Now, part of this is the “everything else” part of the rig. The disc, luckily for my new vinyl addiction, was particularly well recorded (a 200g Quiex of John Coltrane’s, Blue Train). I’d had the same album on my computer as well, and, well, there was just that extra something when played back on vinyl that just took my breath away.
Living in stereo
I’ve been adding to my LP collection over time. Right now, I have another 10 LPs on the way from Acoustic Sounds and I am just giddy about getting them onto the turntable. It may be a little cheesy to admit it, but this vinyl experience has totally recaptured and rekindled my interest in being an audiophile.
The Pro-Ject 9.1 has proven over the last month to be an able and playful companion. I don’t actually own a strobe, so I can’t tell you how stable the speed is. You can look up wow and flutter numbers as easily as I can, but I can tell you this — music played on the 9.1 with my Blackbird is just fun. I’m loving it.
For those that are curious, Pro-Ject does have a ton of after market things to get for this table, and I have to admit I’m more than a little curious to see what the Pro-Ject Speedbox might be able to do for me. If I had to get one thing for the table, though, it’d be a dust cover. Nothing comes with the table, and while Sumiko does carry one I can order, another $350 charge for something that ought to just come with the table is a bit annoying.
If forced to nit, I’d have to say I’m not terribly fond of the speed-changing thing with the standard table, either. Switching the belt from one level to another is probably no big deal, but for whatever reason, I’m loathe to fiddle with it. Which is probably fine as I’m not sure I want to invest $50 for a 45-rpm LP anyway.
Other than that, I’m very happy. I got a great deal on a really fun table and I’m having a ball.