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External phono soundstage needed?


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My integrated amplifier (Onkyo A-9030) has an internal phono sound stage.

I don't particularly love the sound or volume coming from my turntable (late 70s model Pioneer PL-514A)

 

Would an external phono preamp like the below make much of a difference, or would it be redundant given that the amp already has the phono input?

 

https://www.carltonaudiovisual.com.au/hi-fi/vinyl/phono-preamplifiers/rega-fono-mini-a2d.html

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What cart are you running on the TT, is it MM, MC, LOMC?  That will determine what phono you'll need. Old model SS amps from the 70's and later 80's have some great inbuilt phono and are able to be switched between MM+MC.

 

But nearly all enthusiasts here would run separate phono stages so they can match gain and voltage.

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17 minutes ago, Luc said:

What cart are you running on the TT, is it MM, MC, LOMC?

MM, it's an Ortofon 2M Red. Came with my turntable (old Pioneer PL-514A - have edited original post to add that detail).  The seller told me it was pretty new - but how does one really know...

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12 minutes ago, mud_shark said:

but how does one really know...

You don't.

It's an MM cart and your Onkyo shouldn't haven't a problem with it really.

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Just now, Luc said:

You don't.

It's an MM cart and your Onkyo shouldn't haven't a problem with it really.

So then I'm not sure whether I should be exploring new cart, new turntable, external phono pre-amp.. 

(Yes, I'm new to this)   Thanks @Luc

 

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the Ortofon is a very entry level basic cartridge, i would write down what you don't like about the sound and look at cartridge reviews, look at what music/tracks they use to review, see if you have or can borrow them and compare what yours sounds like  to the review, this may give you a guide as to which direction to head for changes. Is the cartridge optimally set up, could be reason for not so good sound. Someone may be able to checkit for you. External phono stages usually sound better but you need to look at something better than entry level, some phono stages may match better with your gear than others...................to get the best outcome you need to put some time in for research......good luck

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1 hour ago, mud_shark said:

My integrated amplifier (Onkyo A-9030) has an internal phono sound stage.

I don't particularly love the sound or volume coming from my turntable (late 70s model Pioneer PL-514A)

 

Would an external phono preamp like the below make much of a difference, or would it be redundant given that the amp already has the phono input?

 

https://www.carltonaudiovisual.com.au/hi-fi/vinyl/phono-preamplifiers/rega-fono-mini-a2d.html

 

The Rega fono is a pretty average phono stage.  Yes, it may sound better than the one you have in your Onkyo - but that's no benchmark!

 

Maybe try a new MM cart, as @wen suggested.

 

Andy

 

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10 hours ago, mud_shark said:

So then I'm not sure whether I should be exploring new cart, new turntable, external phono pre-amp.. 

(Yes, I'm new to this) 

If you've got the dosh to go exploring then off you go. Even better, tell us your budget and we'll spend it for you on the right system.

 

We're good at that. Start us off with a budget.😎

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I cant comment on wether or not to continue the dollars chat here as Im also new to this community. But I can say a couple of things... Its quite probable that the phono stage in your Onkyo really isnt up to scratch. Newer built in phono stages in amps/recievers are not up the same standard as ones in the golden age of vinyl... the 70's and 80's. A decent outboard one plugged into one of the normal line ins would almost certainly be a decent upgrade. Also the 2m Red is very much an entry level cart and almost any upgade (even to a Blue which is simply a stylus change) would yield definite desireable audible results.

@cheekyboy has been in this game for decades (it should be"@cheekyoldman";-)) and he will definitely offer advice worth listening to. He will also encourage you down the MC/LOMC route... and hes probably right! But ultimately its your dosh and you need to figure out what youre willing to spend all by yourself ;-)) 
Remember one truth... This hobby can have a slippery slope into addiction.... Its very easy to start somewhere and then want more and more! Be ready to stop and be happy somewhere before it eats into your ability to buy new records :-))

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3 minutes ago, ScottyPeace said:

Newer built in phono stages in amps/recievers are not up the same standard as ones in the golden age of vinyl... the 70's and 80's. A decent outboard one plugged into one of the normal line ins would almost certainly be a decent upgrade. Also the 2m Red is very much an entry level cart and almost any upgade (even to a Blue which is simply a stylus change) would yield definite desireable audible results.

So really, is there any potential downside to trying a new external phono stage and cartridge? Even if I end up replacing my old turntable, I could still use those items on whatever new turntable I get, right?

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Yep you could no doubt. Virtually no downside in trying and buying a decent phono stage and cart... Unless you ultimately massively upgraded your 'table. 

At this point my personal inexperience starts kicking in and you really need to speak to @cheekyboy. Many others around here have (with all the best intentions in the world) somewhat limited real world experience. You need to know the advice given isnt given with anything other than your best interests at heart and is driven by literally decades of experience.

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On 02/12/2020 at 7:26 PM, mud_shark said:

My integrated amplifier (Onkyo A-9030) has an internal phono sound stage.

I don't particularly love the sound or volume coming from my turntable (late 70s model Pioneer PL-514A)

 

Would an external phono preamp like the below make much of a difference, or would it be redundant given that the amp already has the phono input?

 

https://www.carltonaudiovisual.com.au/hi-fi/vinyl/phono-preamplifiers/rega-fono-mini-a2d.html

 

freaky I was in a very similar situation a few years back - late 70's TT, Onkyo integrated amp, eyeing off a 2M blue.. and the first external phono stage I moved onto was the wee fono mini. its not an overly refined unit but its... i would say fun - has a tight sense of rhythm and cheeky bass swagger. (its sitting in its box in my draw - PM if you want to talk). I've now settled with entry level Graham Slee  Gram Amp 2 SE with the additional upgraded power supply. to me it just gets out of the way and lets the music and other components shine thru. while i'm running a Bronze 2M now, I'll still swap in the Blue (stylus) for extended periods. They're an easy unit to set-up and dial in the alignment and overhang etc.  

 

i don't think anyone will discourage you from investing in a separate phono, and its a crowded space at that market point with solid performers, more so if you're willing to consider 2nd hand options. however moving on from the 2M Red should be on your road map too - yes its a slippery slope... but those 2 investments really compliment each other (plus good cart set up) and you'll get an immediate shift in sound signature that will have you smiling  

 

 

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7 minutes ago, wasabijim said:

 

freaky I was in a very similar situation a few years back - late 70's TT, Onkyo integrated amp, eyeing off a 2M blue.. and the first external phono stage I moved onto was the wee fono mini. its not an overly refined unit but its... i would say fun - has a tight sense of rhythm and cheeky bass swagger. (its sitting in its box in my draw - PM if you want to talk). I've now settled with entry level Graham Slee  Gram Amp 2 SE with the additional upgraded power supply. to me it just gets out of the way and lets the music and other components shine thru. while i'm running a Bronze 2M now, I'll still swap in the Blue (stylus) for extended periods. They're an easy unit to set-up and dial in the alignment and overhang etc.  

 

i don't think anyone will discourage you from investing in a separate phono, and its a crowded space at that market point with solid performers, more so if you're willing to consider 2nd hand options. however moving on from the 2M Red should be on your road map too - yes its a slippery slope... but those 2 investments really compliment each other (plus good cart set up) and you'll get an immediate shift in sound signature that will have you smiling  

 

 

I basically couldnt agree with wasabijim more... in the fact the 2m Blue on the Bronze cart is a well known amalgamation that reportedly yields very nice results.... particularly for Rock and more modern styles of music. I potentially differ only on one point... The Rega Mini Fono... it was most definitely a step down from the inbuilt phono stage in my Yamaha RXV-2067. Which also is a relatively new receiver but thats just the way it is. Ive kept mine though as my old man is using the usb output on it to put his old albums onto his computer and then his ipod 🙂 It does that quite well :-). Im personally currently waiting on a StereoCoffee phono preamp made by Chris Daly in NZ. On his personal recommendation ive also got a (bought here) Quad 606 mk2 ready to plug it into.... read "the slippery slope!" hehehehe ;-)))

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I must also say.. my wait on the StereoCoffee is 100% my choice... Chris has never built a RIAA phono stage into his incredibly highly regarded preamps before now. Its a totally new thing to a fella who is obviously an absolute electrickery effing boffin. I cant yet comment on sound quality personally... but many, many others can. I can comment on the personal service and answers to my stupid questions however... Chris rocks!! 

If a passive phono preamp with more than a single input is what youre after... look his way. 

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Oh and btw... one input is RIAA phono... the other two are standard ;-)) So im gonna be looking for a nice CD player/transport and dac sometime in the future... not right now! So dont offer stuff yet ;-))

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Your cartridge's output should match OK with your amp, but I'd expect you'd need to crank the volume a bit more on the phono input. Are you feeling that you just can't get the overall volume you want, or is it distorted, or noisy, or is there hum or anything like that? Do you find any particular records that get a sort of fuzzy sound particularly on inner tracks (closer to the label)?

 

Condition and set up are significant on turntables so you want to make sure there's not a fault somewhere with things like: stylus condition, arm settings, cartridge alignment, belt condition, bearing condition, motor condition, and so on. The whole turntable needs to be level and ideally not vulnerable to vibrations coming up through the floor.

 

One question would be whether a better stylus/better cartridge would help improve sound quality compared to a better phono stage (assuming your current one is OK). And in fact they could both help! An upgrade to an Ortofon blue stylus is easy because it plugs in to your red body (noting you'll still get basically the same volume output). If you can trial a different amp or a seperate phono preamp that'd be excellent. Trialling another turntable in your home would be great too!

 

By the way... if you've ever considered DIY, there are lots of relatively low cost phono preamps to build, or find somebody to build for you. You can great performance for the money (especially if you're not fussy about looks).

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40 minutes ago, RCAJack said:

Are you feeling that you just can't get the overall volume you want, or is it distorted, or noisy, or is there hum or anything like that?

The lower volume I can handle - and yes, as others have said, I can simply increase the volume. The thing that bugs me the most is the hum I get when I turn up the volume to say 10-11 o'clock at the beginning of a play... or during quiet moments. Annoys the hell out of me.

 

I've sorted out the counterweight and anti-skate.. No change.

I'm going to get the thing serviced, so I can at least know it's had a grease and oil change.  Then at least I can explore, new cartridge, then external phono amp, then if needed new turntable (and benefit from the new cartridge and phono amp)...  Keen to get this right.

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Some low level hum is normal but if it's really loud it could be a fault somewhere.

 

Obviously, there's that ground wire that connects between turntable and amp and it needs to be very secure. It's not out of the question that wire can break internally and cause hum, so you could try substituting another wire (again making sure connections are solid at both ends). Experimentally, you can connect the end of a piece of wire to the amp, and then try touching the other end to the turntable ground lug, and the tonearm itself and see if you notice any changes.

 

Also, the way the cartridge is attached to the headshell/arm and the condition of the connections in that cable can cause hum if there's anything wrong.

 

Even placement of the turntable is worth experimenting with in case it's picking up hum from another component.

 

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4 minutes ago, RCAJack said:

there's that ground wire that connects between turntable and amp and it needs to be very secure. It's not out of the question that wire can break internally and cause hum, so you could try substituting another wire (again making sure connections are solid at both ends).

Yes, I have a ground wire.  Alas it cannot be unplugged at the turntable end - it goes directly into a hole at the back of the turntable. So I can't see how I'd change it (assuming that's the problem)

 

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14 minutes ago, mud_shark said:

So I can't see how I'd change it (assuming that's the problem)

 

Fair enough - sometimes they're detachable. You could still try running a wire from the amp and touching it to the arm metalwork and turntable chassis and see if it sounds any different.

 

Incidentally, did you demo the turntable on a different amp and notice any issue, or has it crept up as a major irritation after extended listening?

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3 minutes ago, RCAJack said:

Incidentally, did you demo the turntable on a different amp and notice any issue, or has it crept up as a major irritation after extended listening?

When I bought the turntable the demo was through headphones not speakers. There was no hum to speak of there.

I did notice the hum pretty early on once it got home. I figured it was a very low cost 40 year old turntable so was perhaps expecting a bit much that it would be excellent...

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On 04/12/2020 at 10:57 PM, RCAJack said:

Have you listened through headphones again recently? 

I did today actually, the hum is still there. The thing I noticed is that even without the headphones or the speakers - the hum is coming from the turntable itself once it starts spinning - so no wonder it carries through whatever output I'm using.  Given that my TT is over 40 years old,  and I have no idea how it's looking under the hood - I'll need to figure out what the cost of servicing might be - and whether it's worth it vs outright replacement.

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The suggestion of checking the earth lead connection is a good one, so I would do what RCAJack has suggested. There are two other things that you could look into, and I assume that you mean "hum" and not "rumble" from the turntable? Firstly check if your turntable is plugged into the same power point as your amplifier. If they are plugged into different power points you could get an earth loop which will cause hum. Secondly, check to see if the motor of your turntable is located under the platter. If it is then the hum could be caused by inductance into the cartridge. A better MM cartridge will not fix this, but a MC cartridge will. It is a process of elimination and unless the earth lead is broken on the turntable, servicing it is unlikely to help the hum. If you have a multimeter check continuance between the earth lead and the chassis/tonearm base. RCAJack's suggestion of connecting an earth lead from the amp to turntable chassis/tonearm base serves the same purpose. You could also check that the interconnect from turntable to amplifier is clear of power cables. I don't know if your turntable has removable interconnects? If they are wired directly then they should be appropriate, if not they may not be adequately shielded. So, there were more than two things...

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On 05/12/2020 at 11:07 PM, mud_shark said:

The thing I noticed is that even without the headphones or the speakers - the hum is coming from the turntable itself once it starts spinning - so no wonder it carries through whatever output I'm using. 

 

I wondered if you were getting some low level feedback from the speakers into the turntable (I had this when I lived in a place with a very bouncy floor!) however you wouldn't get via headphones.

 

A noise coming from the turntable itself suggests a few issues that a service can hopefully fix: motor lube, belt replacement, bearing lube or correcting something that's got loose and is dragging on the platter perhaps? Does the noise change when you change speeds?

 

This link shows a 514 being serviced: https://liquidaudio.com.au/pioneer-pl-514-turntable-service-2/

 

This link is to a video of a 512 being serviced. Different model, but good coverage of how to clean and lube the key mechanisms: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c_vZHAPGN4I

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