My adventures in analogue gear (turntables, vinyl LPs, valve amps, and more)

Laura Knotek

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Hi folks,

You probably know that I’m a big music fan, based on some of my threads and posts here on Android Central.

I thought I’d do a little writeup of some new analogue gear I’ve recently acquired. I’ve been a music lover my entire life and had my own stereo system since 1985, which I purchased when I was still in high school. I’ve also been a fan of vinyl records since childhood and never got rid of my old vinyl records, even though all of my cassettes and many of my CDs have long since been sold.

Thanks to Jerry and other folks on the forums, I decided to upgrade my headphones last year and purchased Sony MDR-7506 headphones. I had been using those headphones with a FiiO Q1 to listen to FLAC and WAV music files on my PC and on my Android devices (via the HibyMusic app and a USB OTG adapter).

Last December I decided to get a new turntable.My initial plan was to digitise my vinyl collection via a USB turntable and the Audacity software. I purchased an AudioTechnica LP120 turntable, which I was going to use to digitise my vinyl collection. However, something different happened. Rather than digitising my vinyl collection, I decided to stick with listening to vinyl records, add to my vinyl collection and acquire more analogue gear.

I usually listen to music using headphones, since I live in an apartment, and my neighbours and landlord would not appreciate hearing my music. I was not satisfied with the sound using the built-in preamp on the AudioTechnica LP120. I’ve been aware of valve amps for years, since I knew guitarists and bassists who used valve amps back in the 90s, when I used to go to a lot of shows, both at small clubs and at arenas. Family and friends also used valve amps for their home stereo systems back in the 70s. I also read some interviews of well-known musicians I like who also were producers, and these guys preferred the analogue format.

My quest for better sound led to the purchase of both a valve phono preamp and a valve headphone amp.

I initially tried the headphone amp with my Android devices and liked the sound. However, I decided that what I really wanted to do was get better sound from my vinyl records whilst listening. As a result, I purchased the phono preamp. This is a definite upgrade from the built-in preamp on the AudioTechnica LP120. My setup is turntable to Gemtune phono preamp to Nobsound headphone amp to Sony MDR-7506 headphones. I’ve listened to many different vinyl LPs, both vintage and brand new, and the sound is so much better than what I got using the built-in phono preamp, the FiiO Q1, and the Sony MDR-7506 headphones. The vinyl has a warm sound that is much more natural to me. I like this analogue sound so much that I have no plans at all to digitise my vinyl LPs. My plan is to keep using this gear for now, but eventually I’ll upgrade to better analogue gear. It’s really a treat just getting lost in music and experiencing it, which is something I don’t get via streaming or even listening to lossless digital audio.

Note: I purchased replacement tubes for both the phono preamp and the headphone amp. Both came with Chinese tubes. I got new old stock GE tubes (ca 1977) for the headphone amp, and new Slovak Republic tubes for the phono preamp. Both sets of tubes are matched pairs, which is recommended for valve amps. The Gemtune phono preamp takes 12AX7 tubes, which are common in most major brands of guitar and bass valve amps; those may even be purchased at places like Guitar Center if one needs tubes quickly and cannot wait to order them online. I have not done any tube rolling yet. “Tube rolling” means swapping out different tubes to see which produce the best sound. “Best sound” is going to be subjective, based upon each person’s ears. So far, I’m satisfied with the sound using the tubes that came with both devices, but I’ll hear how the replacements sound once the tubes go bad.

Many of you may not have ever used valve amps. I always turn them on and let them warm up about 20-30 minutes prior to playing music. Tubes amplify sound best once they are warmed up. I also turn down the volume on the headphone amp all the way, prior to inserting the headphone jack and starting the music; this reduces the risk of blowing out the headphone speakers and my ears.

I highly recommend trying valve amps and vinyl records if you have never done so. The gear that I got sounds great and doesn’t cost a lot of money. You may just lose yourself in your music like I’ve done, and enjoy the experience, rather than simply hearing some music in the background.

Thanks for reading this, and please ask me if you have any questions.

Laura
 
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Guytronic

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I mistakenly dove into digital music head on when records started to fall from grace.
Still kicking myself today for giving up a modest album collection from the mid 1960's into the early 1980's.

The biggest tech mistake of my life was giving away one of these:
1046706-hh-scott-299c-tube-integrated-amplifier.jpg
Pic credit Canuck Audio


The power tubes in the amp I had were failing and trying to buy a matched set was somewhat difficult in the mid 1980's
This thing specified 4 GE 7189's and matched sets were tough to find and a bit expensive.
At least I know my old friend went to a good home.

If I ever spot another one of these locally I'll grab it for sure.
 

Laura Knotek

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I mistakenly dove into digital music head on when records started to fall from grace.
Still kicking myself today for giving up a modest album collection from the mid 1960's into the early 1980's.

The biggest tech mistake of my life was giving away one of these:
View attachment 252417

Pic credit Canuck Audio
The power tubes in the amp I had were failing and trying to buy a matched set was somewhat difficult in the mid 1980's
This thing specified 4 GE 7189's and matched sets were tough to find and a bit expensive.
At least I know my old friend went to a good home.

If I ever spot another one of these locally I'll grab it for sure.
Wow! That's an awesome amp! I hope you find another one or something similar.
 

kramer5150

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Welcome to the club!! I am not fully analog though. ALAC lossless audio files via macbook and external drive remain my digital media source. I have tube amps as well as solid state, and various dynamic headphones.

AKG K701, K240s, Sennheiser HD650, HD558, Grado RS1, HF1, Sony MDR PFRV1. The MDR-7506 was my gateway drug so to speak too.

IMG_2336_zpscd0dd03d.jpg


IMG_2377_zpsbs21kn37.jpg


IMG_2320_zpsb6fe81ca.jpg


Maintenance on one of my faves... Sennheiser modded HD650
IMG_2442_zpsglojwbgj.jpg
 
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kramer5150

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Oh... have fun tube rolling. It can get CRAZY $$$$ though. Its not uncommon for the tubes to cost more than the amp. The tubes in my Darkvoice are Tung SOL 5998 and the driver tubes are 6SH7GT mesh plates. The little earmax amp has TungSol ECC86... [EDIT] OOps I meant telefunken ECC86, not TS.

As fun as it is, I try not to get too hung up in the gear. Its really more about the tunes. I sit here at my cousins house, listening to Dire straits Brothers in Arms on my LGV10 and a Sennheiser HD201... surprisingly good sounding portable rig.

You mention using Audacity to convert your vinyl collection... this is a great way to build up a digital library. I only have a hand full of vinyl-digital conversions that my friend made for me and they sound AWESOME. The dynamics of an un-compressed original print are an outstanding way to really capitalize on the dynamic capabilities of todays technology. Some of the "digitally remastered" re-releases out there are PURE GARBAGE... IMHO of course. I am not sure what conversion software my friend used. But I don't think it was Audacity. I use audacity to extract audio from my concert DVDs. I think I read somewhere that DVD audio track technically has a higher bitrate than 16 bit CD audio. So it in theory is a good starting point too.... if you believe in that sort of thing. A lot of people dispute the merits of higher bitrate audio.

In fact the Brothers in Arms LP I am listening to now as I type is one of the analog-digital conversions from my friend.
 
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Laura Knotek

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Oh... have fun tube rolling. It can get CRAZY $$$$ though. Its not uncommon for the tubes to cost more than the amp.

The amp tubes in my Darkvoice are Tung SOL 5998 and the driver tubes are 6SH7GT mesh plates.

As fun as it is, I try not to get too hung up in the gear. Its really more about the tunes. I sit here at my cousins house, listening to Dire straits Brothers in Arms on my LGV10 and a Sennheiser HD201... surprisingly good sounding portable rig.

You mention using Audacity to convert your vinyl collection... this is an AWESOME way to build up a digital library. I only have a hand full of vinyl-digital conversions that my friend made for me and they sound AWESOME. The dynamics of an un-compressed original print are an outstanding way to really capitalize on the dynamic capabilities of todays technology. Some of the "digitally remastered" re-eleases out there are PURE GARBAGE... IMHO of course.

In fact the Brothers in Arms LP I am listening to now as I type is one of the digital analog-digital conversions from my friend.
Sweet gear you have! 😊

Brothers in Arms is a great album too.

I'm currently listening to Yessongs vinyl. I love the tones of Squire's bass on that album even better than on the studio albums.
 

kramer5150

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Yep... Prog and prog-metal is my sweet spot too. genesis, yes, floyd, Bowie, zappa, Dixie dregs, Steve Howe, Alan parsons, Asia, Marillion, Rush, BOC, Maiden, Yngwie, Steve Vai, Dreamtheater, queensryche...etc.
 

Laura Knotek

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Yep... Prog and prog-metal is my sweet spot too. genesis, yes, floyd, Bowie, zappa, Dixie dregs, Steve Howe, Alan parsons, Asia, Marillion, Rush, BOC, Maiden, Yngwie, Steve Vai, Dreamtheater, queensryche...etc.
You probably guessed my interests from my avatar. 😊

I like all the bands/artists you mentioned other than Dream Theater. For some reason I never got into them.
 

azcruz

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Hi Laura, I guess we travel the same path.

I've in into analog and reel tape since 5. In high school, I started building amps, mostly solid state. I got into tubes and started designing preamplifiers, amplifiers, and headphone amps. I've have a few turntables but right now I'm left with a JVC and Clearaudio linear tracking turntables. I still have boxes of tubes that were supposed to be used for projects.

I have not played my system for over a year now since my audio room has been invaded by bikes.
 

Laura Knotek

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Hi Laura, I guess we travel the same path.

I've in into analog and reel tape since 5. In high school, I started building amps, mostly solid state. I got into tubes and started designing preamplifiers, amplifiers, and headphone amps. I've have a few turntables but right now I'm left with a JVC and Clearaudio linear tracking turntables. I still have boxes of tubes that were supposed to be used for projects.

I have not played my system for over a year now since my audio room has been invaded by bikes.

Which JVC and Clearaudio turntables do you have? Which of the two do you like better?

I won't have the bike problem, since bikes aren't allowed to be kept inside my apartment. 😆
 

azcruz

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JVC QL-Y66F and this Clearaudio...
DSCF8453_edited.jpg
It is the Champion Magnum with magnetic, ceramic bearing.

I'm using Naim Audio NAIT5i integrated amplifier now, the JVC turntable is on a Naim mu-so. My tube amplifiers have all been sold, but I still have the preamplifier and headphone amp.
 

Laura Knotek

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JVC QL-Y66F and this Clearaudio...
View attachment 252520
It is the Champion Magnum with magnetic, ceramic bearing.

I'm using Naim Audio NAIT5i integrated amplifier now, the JVC turntable is on a Naim mu-so. My tube amplifiers have all been sold, but I still have the preamplifier and headphone amp.
That looks amazing!

What cartridge are you using on the JVC QL-Y66F?
 

Laura Knotek

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I was deep into audio tech via magazines from the 70's to the 90's, but could not afford anything decent. Even now.

The advice as to how to split your budget changed drastically (almost hilariously) in that time.

I too listen through headphones and to the same albums so I know the tracks well.

I have heard a lot of mid and high end equipment from various sources (albeit for short periods).

I have not heard tube amps afaik, but they were becoming popular even then.

My question will follow shortly :)

...
while I get the purist perspective, every combination of equipment presents a well engineered track a little or a lot differently.

So are there purchases you subconsciously regret because you don't enjoy or get involved with an album the way you used to (a good dealer will allow long trials if you can afford it, I know) ....

and (wait for it)

do you use, or miss using, equaliser controls (!) to tailor the sound experience?


I'm quite happy with the sound I have from one particular source, not most others. Equaliser settings do help, and my brain fills in the shortcomings.
My issues have mainly been regretting CDs I've purchased since I dislike the sound compared to the vinyl. I've purchased vinyl LPs that I had on CD originally but didn't like the sound. For example, I regret purchasing ELP's Black Moon CD, which I've had since 1992. That CD is very quiet compared to all my other CDs. I have to turn up the volume twice as loud when playing the Black Moon CD, rather than any other CDs I own. The vinyl LP was never released in the US, but I purchased it from a seller in Italy. It isn't quiet and sounds great.

Brain Salad Surgery is another example where the CD is inferior, especially on the track "Jerusalem", where the vocals get buried in the mix. The vocals sound fine on the LP.

I don't really use an equaliser much. I prefer a flat sound with headphones, and if I were to use an equaliser it would be with my stereo system speakers to compensate for the location of the speakers and acoustics of the room, not to boost or lower a particular tone. If the production is done properly, then I want the music to sound as the performers and producers intended it to sound.
 

kramer5150

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I was deep into audio tech via magazines from the 70's to the 90's, but could not afford anything decent. Even now.

The advice as to how to split your budget changed drastically (almost hilariously) in that time.

I too listen through headphones and to the same albums so I know the tracks well.

I have heard a lot of mid and high end equipment from various sources (albeit for short periods).

I have not heard tube amps afaik, but they were becoming popular even then.

My question will follow shortly :)

...
while I get the purist perspective, every combination of equipment presents a well engineered track a little or a lot differently.

So are there purchases you subconsciously regret because you don't enjoy or get involved with an album the way you used to (a good dealer will allow long trials if you can afford it, I know) ....

and (wait for it)

do you use, or miss using, equaliser controls (!) to tailor the sound experience?


I'm quite happy with the sound I have from one particular source, not most others. Equaliser settings do help, and my brain fills in the shortcomings.

I always thoroughly research and demo before I buy something. I am not an active member anymore, but the head-fi forum can be a great place to sync up with other users and demo/sample various pieces of gear and kit, or at least it used to be. So I really don't have regrets. The used gear marketplace there is a great place to buy, try and sell gear for minimal loss. A lot of times I will gladly take a ~5-10% loss when I flip gear. I come out ahead having learned and refined my preferences from the (often brief) owning experience.

I don't really use an "equalizer"... as in a dedicated piece of gear. I do however use the digital EQ in iTunes to boost 32Hz by ~3db to help compensate for the natural rolloff of my dynamic headphones. Its very-very subtle, and mostly inaudible... depending on the recording of course.

At this level EVERYTHING in the signal path "equalizes something". By that I mean everything colors and flavors the sound in some way. Very few things are truly "wire with gain or wire with attenuation"... there's going to be some coloration of some sort. Whether or not the listener can perceive it is the main question.

Music listening is such a great hobby though. Its always my after hours relaxation drug of choice. I listened for hours last night to my LG-V10 and Grado RS1. I have various amps and stuff... but often times I prefer a less is more approach. (shrug)
 

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