T1 Phono SB, Debut III Phono SB & A1 Accessory Pack Promo

Winter Promotions & New Products at Pro-Ject USA!

Friends of Pro-Ject,

It's been a busy fall at Pro-Ject USA and we're here to share with you the fruits of our labor! First and foremost, let's make sure you're privy to our winter specials...

Next let's cover some new products...

  • The long-awaited MaiA DS3 has arrived. Look no further for immersive amplification with all the perks: a built-in MM/MC phono stage, an onboard DAC, a Bluetooth receiver and more- it's got 9 total inputs and accommodates whatever you can throw at it.
  • Stereo Box S3 BT, a compact integrated amp with Bluetooth, is perfect for the discerning listener on a budget and with space constraints. Don't be fooled by it's tiny footprint. At 40WPC into 4 ohms and with reasonably efficient speakers, Stereo Box S3 BT can fill your room easily and with grace.
  • Amp Box S3 paves the way to building a system of separates. Offering impressive power handling for such a compact design, the sound quality will knock your socks off.
  • The new Juke Box E1 is Pro-Ject's most affordable turntable/amplifier combo- just add speakers and you're off to the races. It's all you need to play records plus an additional source. You can also use the LINE OUT function to relay your music to another system.

We extend our very best to you these remaining days of 2022 and may your holidays be filled with great-sounding music.

Happy Listening,

Pro-Ject USA


Pro-Ject Debut PRO S Tonearm with Replaceable Headshell - Top View

Introducing Debut PRO S, Power Box RS2 Phono & Vinyl NRS Box S3

Pro-Ject USA welcomes several new models to the states! Debut PRO S is takes the Debut PRO design to the next level with a 10" curved tonearm with user-replaceable headshell, CNC-machined sub-platter and Record Puck PRO. Power Box RS2 Phono provides a linear power supply option for Pro-Ject turntables & phono preamps in one impressive box. The new Vinyl NRS Box S3 gives listeners  control over noise-reduction in their vinyl playback rig. Check out the video below to learn more and stay tuned for forthcoming unboxing videos of the products introduced here. Happy listening! -Pro-Ject USA

 


Pro-Ject & Sumiko Videos!

Sumiko Stylus Replacement & A Unique Tour of the MM Design

Sumiko Phono Cartridges pair well with Pro-Ject tonearms. Their sonic synergy delivers non-fatiguing music that can be enjoyed for hours with no sacrifice to low-level detail & resolution- the things that make our music reproduction spring to life! Upgrading your stylus is an easy, low-risk path to immediate, audible improvement in your analog experience that only improves with break-in. Cartridge/stylus break-in occurs progressively as you listen. Our listeners notice the greatest degree of improvement in the 20-50 hour range. CLICK HERE to view the video tutorial for replacing and/or upgrading your Sumiko stylus on a Debut Carbon EVO tonearm! Also enjoy our gorgeous rendering of a Sumiko moving magnet cartridge in action HERE.


Pro-Ject 2Xperience SB SE Turntable (Mahogany) w/ Ortofon 2M Silver Phono Cartridge

Limited Edition 2Xperience SB SE Turntable Now Shipping!

The 2Xperience series of turntables was a hit among critical listeners in search of audiophile implementations at a real-world price. We thusly reacquaint you with the design via our limited edition 2Xperience SB SE. The highest-quality materials are implemented throughout the turntable. The parts are machined & assembled in-house by Pro-Ject in Europe, enabling 2Xperience SB SE to pack a punch you won’t find elsewhere for your dollar. Speaking of your dollar, talk to your dealer today about special promotional pricing!

From the ground up, 2Xperience SB SE features...

    • 3 TPE-damped aluminum spike-feet for optimal isolation
    • A massive MDF plinth for resonance absorption
    • A beautiful plinth finished in a high-gloss real-mahogany veneer
    • An electronic speed controller/stabilizer for ease-of-use & spot-on speed stability
    • An outboard motor suspended on TPE to isolate the motor from the cartridge
    • Purpose-designed semi-balanced, low-impedance phono interconnects for optimal signal transmission
    • A sophisticated vinyl-topped MDF composite platter with screw-down record clamp for coupling the record to the platter
    • Pro-Ject's 9cc tonearm with ABEC 7 bearings and a one-piece carbon armtube for optimal cartridge performance
    • Ortofon's 2M Silver MM phono cartridge with silver-plated copper coils for 'faster' sounding sonics
    • A hinged, removable dust cover to protect your 'table & records

Stream Box S2 Ultra - New Spotify Integration!

The latest Stream Box S2 Ultra firmware upgrade positions you for completely redeveloped Spotify integration including Spotify Connect! The update can be installed within the Stream Box S2 Ultra web interface under System > System Updates.

Stream Box S2 Ultra Firmware Update 1.079

  • Fixed metadata display for artists and albums
  • New Spotify integration
  • Spotify Connect
  • Minor bug fixes and other improvements

To use Spotify Connect you do not need to be logged in to Spotify on the Stream Box S2 Ultra. Simply update and wait for completion. Stream Box S2 Ultra will restart and it'll be recognized as a Spotify Connect device (click the small speaker symbol in the Spotify app to review/manage devices!).


Top 7 Record Stores in New Orleans

Known as a place to celebrate Mardi Gras and enjoy some delightful Cajun cuisine, New Orleans is also a great place to enjoy various types of music. New Orleans music has all the genres including jazz, R&B, soul, and so much more. Local music venues keep you dancing all night but finding some of your favorite LPs at local record stores in New Orleans is a great way to take the party home. Let’s queue up some of the best options in town for your next visit to the Big Easy.

The Mushroom

The Mushroom is a record store that originated on Tulane University Campus in 1969. In 1972, this unique record store moved to an uptown location, which is where The Mushroom New Orleans now makes its home. One of the most memorable aspects of this location is the cartoony mushrooms on the walls as you enter the front door.

As one of the oldest vinyl record stores and smoke shops in New Orleans, the owners recognize how important it is for audiophiles to hear the record before they buy it. With that being said, there are new listening stations in the shop where you can easily give your vinyl a test run. They also have huge sales on Record Store Day, so make sure to check them out.

Peaches Records

Peaches Records was located in the French Quarter since its beginning in 1975. In 2016, the record store moved to Magazine Street in Crescent City. In addition to selling LPs, they also sell music in other formats such as CDs and cassettes. Three generations have run this family-owned store, and there are some real gems you can find in their collection.

If you are interested in enjoying live music, check out this location on Record Store Day. The store will open an hour earlier than usual, and there will be live entertainment, free drinks, and ice cream for everyone to enjoy. Limited vinyl pressings will also be on sale.

Domino Sound Record Shack

Domino Sound Record Shack, located at 2557 Bayou Road in New Orleans, is a shop that sells vinyl records of all genres. They have a vast selection to sift through if you are interested in reggae, punk, or garage rock. They also have a trove of jazz and R&B albums with tons of hidden gems to enjoy. The store employs knowledgeable staff who can help you wade through the shop’s selections to find what you are looking for without judgment.

This quaint record shack also has live shows from time to time, so make sure you check with the staff to see if there is one that you will be able to attend. If you are looking to sell some of your old records, this shop also buys records for a reasonable price.

 

NOLA Mix Records

Located at 1522 Magazine Street, NOLA Mix Records is a Lower Garden District record shop where new and used vinyl is found. The independent record shop sells LPs in every genre, specializing in rock, jazz, soul, and gospel. They also have records from local artists that you can check out. There are listening stations in the shop where you can listen to new vinyl before making a purchase.

The store was founded in 2011 and started as a youth-based music production and DJ program. Because of this, the record shop still offers DJ lessons for visitors to take part in. They also have in-store events where you can enjoy the sound of local artists. NOLA Mix Records also sells merchandise like coffee cups, glasses, koozies, tote bags, and more.

 

Louisiana Music Factory

Louisiana Music Factory is found at 421 Frenchmen St, New Orleans, LA 70116. At the store, which is often referred to as LMF, you’ll find both new and used vinyl, merch like t-shirts, and even live music. Genres vary significantly at LMF – it’s pretty easy to find jazz, but don’t be surprised to find soul, blues, and indie rock at the store.

Snooks the cat is a major star at this store on Frenchmen street of the Marigny, so pay him a visit while you’re in town. When you catch a live show, you can reminisce after the fact since the store uploads the performances to YouTube.

 

Euclid Records New Orleans

While in the Bywater neighborhood of New Orleans, pay a trip to 3301 Chartres St, where you’ll find Euclid Records. At this record store, you’ll be able to find new LPs and used vinyl, seven-inch singles, and new and used CDs. There is a wide variety of artists available, ranging from Alabama Shakes to McGuire Barry. Music is also accessibly-priced, and the selection is massive.

While Euclid also has a store in St. Louis, the Bywater location is known for being far and away and having the most style and pizzazz. The exterior is painted a bright purple with yellow-painted windows for accent. Set aside a lot of spare time for a visit since the independent record store has rows upon rows of music from indie performers to tried-and-true superstars.

 

Sisters in Christ Records

Despite the devout name, Sisters in Christ Records is a relatively secular establishment that features multiple artists from a variety of labels. In addition to record sales, the 5206 Magazine St location also has a literature section and runs frequent sales.

Some of the featured artists at this record store include Uniform, Portrayal of Guilt, and Gasmiasma. You’ll also find ephemera, such as T-shirts from some of their featured bands as well as items like tote bags that feature slogans like, “Join the Punks – Sisters in Christ.”

 

Honorable Mentions for Record Stores in New Orleans

The White Roach, which can be found on Magazine Street, is a vinyl lover’s dream and has a wide variety of albums from artists like Irma Thomas, Sade, and David Bowie. The store also buys records.

The Lower Garden District’s Disko Obscura is a record store that supports smaller independent/underground artists and labels. You’ll find artists like Faze Island, ANDI, and Billy Lotion as well as merch from multiple supported artists.


New Pro-Ject Balanced Preamps & the X8 Turntable!

NOT FOR RELEASE UNTIL EMBARGO LIFT AT 08:00 AM EST APRIL 19, 2022
PRO-JECT ANNOUNCES NEW BALANCED PHONO BOXES AND X8 TURNTABLE
Sumiko Introduces the Phono Box DS3B and S3B Plus the Latest Turntable Design in the X Series

MISTELBACH, AUSTRIA (April 19, 2022) - Sumiko and Pro-Ject USA are proud to announce the new Phono Box DS3B, Phono Box S3B and X8 Turntable from Pro-Ject Audio Systems. The new products aim to offer listeners a truly balanced experience, resulting in dynamic sound, less noise and improved signal to noise ratios.

The Phono Box S3B and Phono Box DS3B round out Pro-Ject’s complete line of balanced phono stages, both offering a versatile MM/MC phono stage which features dual-mono circuitry, a fully symmetrical and discrete gain stage and balanced inputs and outputs. As the majority of Pro-Ject turntables offer a completely balanced signal from the cartridge to the junction box, a truly balanced signal results in lower noise, and the sort of quiet, deep background typically only experienced in esoteric high-end systems. Previously only available in more costly phono preamps, balanced inputs allow the quietest connection between a moving coil cartridge and the phono stage, the new phono boxes uphold the reputation of high value, high performance the Pro-Ject brand is known for.

The new X8 Turntable is a true high-end solution with major technical features adapted from the Xtension 9 and 10 models. The X8 includes a TPE damped mass-loaded platter, which is precision machined and balanced out of a single piece of aluminum, partially supported by opposing neodymium magnets which decreases the load on the main bearing. This massive, perfectly balanced platter works in concert with the precision ceramic inverted main bearing to create a smoothly rotating base for your vinyl with perfect speed stability.

Like all Pro-Ject Audio Systems products, the new models are handcrafted in Europe and will be available in the US in limited quantities via select Authorized Pro-Ject Dealers beginning April 2022. Suggested MSRP as follows -

• Phono Box S3B: $499
• Phono Box DS3B: $799
• X8: $2399 without cartridge $2499 with factory installed Sumiko Moonstone

LINK TO IMAGES: https://we.tl/t-xGozI9M7Cu

ABOUT PRO-JECT USA
Pro-Ject Audio Systems was founded by one of Austria’s leading high-end audio distributors, Heinz Lichtenegger, in early 1991. A genuine music lover and a dyed-in-the-wool audiophile, Heinz challenged the common “cost-no object” approach to analog audio equipment by manufacturing turntables, tonearms, and accessories at a reasonable price without compromising build quality or sonic performance. With his passion for high-end audio fueling a desire to take a familiar industry in a new direction, Heinz proceeded to use Pro-Ject Audio Systems as a locomotive to bring high-end gear to the masses. By adhering to that philosophy while still only using quality electronic components that deliver sound that far exceeds their stature, the engineers at Pro-Ject redefined what is possible in high-end audio and proven that great things do come in small packages. Read more at pro-jectusa.com or follow us on social @pro-jectusa.


Vinyl 101: The Ideal Turntable Cartridge

A turntable cartridge, aka phono cartridge, is one of the more fascinating elements in the equation of hi-fi analog reproduction via a record player. In principle, one can liken it to a microphone.

Both respond to airborne sound waves and convert them to a delicate, low-level electrical signal that can then be preamplified into something usable (or listenable!). As we know from tapping on the turntable plinth or even by strolling across the room while a record is playing, the cartridge responds to vibration and resonance.

To perpetuate the analogy to a microphone, the signal generated by a cartridge is something similar – it requires special handling (a dedicated preamp) before being sent off to the amplifier.

Turntable Cartridges vs Phono Cartridges

As with previous discussions, let’s begin by clearing the air regarding terminology. ‘Phono cartridge’ is the most widely used term in our industry, but folks refer to them also like the following: phonograph cartridge, turntable cartridge, phono pick-up, stereo cartridge, and more.

This terminology refers to the piece that is mounted to the tonearm headshell, most often secured by two screws and attached to four wires exiting the playing-end of the tonearm). Here’s where it’s easy to get tripped up; the stylus is not the same thing as the cartridge, rather, it’s an essential part of the cartridge.

Technically speaking, ‘stylus’ refers only to the actual diamond that tracks the record grooves. Practically speaking, folks refer to the stylus assembly as just the stylus.

In the case of replaceable styli, the stylus assembly is the actual diamond stylus (or stylus tip), the cantilever (the metal rod that carries the diamond), the magnet at the other end of the cantilever, as well as the housing for all of this that allows you to slide or snap the stylus assembly into a turntable cartridge. A magnet then interacts with coils to generate an electrical signal.

Casual listeners or folks new to the hobby often refer to the cartridge as the stylus and vice versa. This isn’t inherently wrong though perhaps incomplete. In this hobby, we use the most descriptive terms we can muster, and this varies from listener to listener. However, it is an important point of clarification if you’re shopping for a replacement stylus or a new cartridge.

Types of Turntable Cartridges

Next, let’s cover what sort of cartridges you may stumble into on the market. At the top of the list, you’ll find things that perhaps are a bit more obscure. Toward the bottom, we’ll get to the meat & potatoes of what’s most relevant to us as hi-fi enthusiasts.

types of turntable cartridges

Ceramic cartridges

Ceramic cartridges are either vintage pick-ups typically found on very old machines or new all-in-one tabletop players. This technology predates the current landscape of cartridges. There is no doubt that the newer technology is capable of ‘better’ sonic performance and is more forgiving on the vinyl record.

 

Single-screw mount

Single-screw mount cartridges are usually proprietary or vintage, these are not user-replaceable without expertise. It usually means a single screw enters through the top of the headshell and threads into the top of the cartridge.

 

P-Mount cartridge

These were immensely popular in the 80s due to their ease of use and are really only relevant today for folks who have a turntable from that era. ‘P’ stands for ‘plug,’ as in ‘plug-mount’ cartridge, and it connects directly to a p-mount-compatible tonearm. This eliminates the need for the user to bother with the cartridge setup. Alignment is not adjustable nor is the tracking force (usually).

There are no vertical screws nor wires to futz with (often there is a horizontal screw that enters through the side – it’s not needed but is used to lock p-mount cartridges to the arm more firmly). You simply plug the cartridge in and away you go. You may also stumble into a thing called a ‘standard-mount adapter.’ This is a jig into which you plug a p-mount cartridge that can then be mounted to a standard-mount headshell.

 

Mono cartridge

There is a subset of listeners out there who are mono devotees, thus this type of cartridge is still being made. The best variant on the market is a ‘true mono’ cartridge or one that’s designed specifically and wired internally for mono (one channel of musical information as opposed to stereo’s left + right channels). Albums recorded in mono benefit greatly from this type of turntable cartridge, and the listening experience is quite a different one but no less engaging. Re-releases in mono are also a popular thing these days. The other, more affordable, and common type of mono cartridge is one whose output pins are bridged for mono. This is a happy middle ground between true mono and using a stereo cartridge to play mono records, which is also common among folks who prevailingly listen in stereo but have a few mono records they like spin from time to time. Keep in mind 78 RPM records are mono, but are comprised of different materials and have different groove sizes thus requiring a 78 RPM replacement stylus made specifically for that purpose. Note that some turntables require a 78 RPM pulley. There are plenty of stereo cartridges on the market these days that offer a 78 stylus as an aftermarket add-on, so keep an eye out for those too.

DJ cartridge

This can mean several things, but this sort of cartridge usually offers high-than-usual output, a conical (spherical or ball-shaped) stylus, and a rugged cantilever assembly that can accommodate high tracking force values. The output delivers robust, immediate-seeming sonics meant to keep you thumping at the club. Higher levels of sheer volume are within reach. Due to its shape, a conical stylus allows for bi-directional motion in the groove, meaning it’s appropriate for DJs who want to scratch and/or back-cue. DJ cartridges most always either come in standard ½” mount (more on that shortly) or in what’s known as “Concorde” style, which is a cartridge and headshell integrated into one piece that can be plugged directly into a tonearm with what’s known as “bayonet” style compatibility (often these are S-shaped tonearms). There are certainly DJ cartridges that use an elliptical stylus and even some moving coils that are heralded among DJs. As always, there are exceptions to the basic principles – to each DJ their own!

 

Moving-iron cartridge

A less common design principle but functionally similar to moving magnet. Internally it uses magnetic alloys near a fixed magnet, the assembly of which interacts with electrical coils that generate the signal.

 

Standard-mount cartridge

By leaps and bounds, this is the most common mounting style among turntable cartridges. It involves two vertical screws spaced ½” apart from that either thread directly into ‘wings’ with threaded screw holes (optimal), or into nuts that you leverage from underneath the screw holes (a little trickier). Four wires exiting the playing-end of the tonearm are attached to standard-mount cartridges (red/green = right channel hot/ right channel ground, white/blue = left hot/left ground).  Most often a standard mount cartridge is mounted to a headshell that has slots that allow, nay, encourage you to move your cartridge and secure it to its optimal position in the tonearm’s arc. In part, this is subjective as several prevailing geometries are widely used, but each was established long ago by experts and is agreed upon as best for both sound quality as well as wear & tear to the stylus & record. A cartridge alignment protractor helps you to achieve these geometries. If a protractor did not come with your turntable, there are many available from entry-level to high-end.

 

Moving-magnet cartridge

This is a design principle and the nomenclature is quite literal. The magnet’s motion propels the electrical signal that’s sent down the armtube. The basic anatomy is this: stylus bonded to cantilever (playing end)  >  magnet attached to cantilever (opposite end, inside the cartridge)  >  magnet motion directed by the stylus in groove  >  magnetic field interacts with nearby fixed electrical coils  >  electrical signal passively generated by coil windings. A moving magnet cartridge almost always has a user-replaceable stylus – an advantage to the design principle.

Moving-coil cartridge

Again the nomenclature is literal. Here it’s the motion of the electrical coils that generate the signal. A similar walkthrough: stylus bonded to cantilever (playing end)  >  coils attached to cantilever (opposite end, inside the cartridge)  >  coil motion directed by the stylus in groove  >  coils interact with nearby fixed magnet  >  electrical signal passively generated by coil windings. For practical purposes, MC cartridges do not offer user-replaceable styli.

 

High-output moving coil cartridge

This sort of turntable cartridge delivers the flavor of an MC with the functionality of an MM. Their output is usually in the neighborhood or 2.5mV, meaning you can use them with most MM phono preamps (they’re also designed for an electrical load that mirrors MMs). For reference, MMs tend to output around 4mV (give or take) and load at 47k ohms as standard.

 

Low-output moving-coil cartridge

The usual choice for the discerning audiophile, low output MC cartridges deliver the lowest possible moving mass, which in turn yields the highest possible fidelity of the stylus in the groove. Such cartridges usually hover in the neighborhood of 0.5mV and require different electrical parameters on the phono preamp (gain & loading) than MMs. Sonically as well as on paper, MC cartridges are capable of the ‘best’ performance because the design yields the most direct & accurate translation of the stylus’ motion.

They tend to be most ‘convincing,’ conveying not only the music itself but the nuances around it – ‘air’ around instruments, approach & decay, textural subtleties, and so on. It’s about musical information, and an MC cartridge can bring it. Let it also be known that because this design has the highest threshold for performance, manufacturers tend to invest more in their materials. Using more pure and rigid metals, better magnets, and sleeker diamond profiles can facilitate high-end analog reproduction via better specification (frequency response, channel separation, internal impedance, etc.) which of course is part of what you end up hearing.

There's So Much to Learn About Turntable Cartridges

We’ve only scratched the surface of some pretty big topics here. Stylus profiles, cartridge alignment, MM & MC design pros & cons – a few things we’ll be coming back to. In the meantime, we hope you’ve gathered some new and useful information today. Remember that priority #1 is your enjoyment.

Looking at Pro-Ject turntables, you'll find some models outfitted with Sumiko phono cartridges while others have an Ortofon 2M Red. With copious testing, we've found that these cartridges and styli are most compatible with our tables.

Feel free to contact us for tips pairing your table with the perfect stylus!


parts of a record player debut carbon evo

Vinyl 101: Parts of a Record Player

In the beginning, there was the phonograph, then came the turntable, today there is the record player. The main difference among these terms is who happens to be uttering the words. ‘Phonograph’ is the oldest term for this analog instrument, dating back to the mid-1800s when the concept of a stylus responsive to vibration was first being explored. Back then, the parts of a record player were different.

On a victrola, a horn was fixed near a vibrating stylus that amplified the noise with simple acoustics - like a horn to your ear as a hearing aid. Remember that even today, putting your ear near a record while a stylus is tracking reveals that it’s transcribing what’s in the record groove acoustically (in addition to electrically).

‘Phonograph’ remained the mainstay until ‘turntable’ entered the picture. This was somewhere near the time when folks started building component systems as the industry learned that there was much more to explore in the way of sound quality. The nature of the audio system changed when the principle of amplification moved from acoustic to electrical.

Enter audio receivers (amplifiers & preamplifiers with tuners & built-in phono preamps), loudspeakers, audio signal-carrying RCA cables & speaker wire as well as a slew of options among phono cartridges and styli. Here we also entered the era of the vinyl ‘Microgroove’ record as the audio community had begun to move away from shellac-coated 78rpm discs – the beginning of the audiophile era as we know it. As it remains today, ‘turntable’ was a way to describe the record-playing portion of a Hi-Fi component system.

The latest and current generation of vinyl record enthusiasts understands the term ‘record player.’ Acknowledging that this dates yours truly, more than once I’ve been met with a blank stare in response to using the word ‘turntable,’ followed by the quiet inquiry, “…you mean record player?”  To this day, ‘phonograph,’ ‘turntable,’ and ‘record player’ are all active terms and we’re all speaking the same language (at least generally). No one’s right and no one’s wrong here. I say ‘turntable’ because that is the generation from whence I came.

I digress… we are, after all, here to discuss the basics of the modern turntable. I find it helpful to start from the ground up…

Parts of a Record Player: Isolation Feet

…so let’s begin with isolation feet. It’s hugely important to understand that the impact of vibration & resonance on your turntable goes well beyond the skipping of the stylus in the groove. As an example, when you play your music, your speakers resonate everywhere (including on the floor and up the walls!). The more effectively you can separate your turntable from any and all external low-frequency vibration & resonance, the better it will sound. The feet that support the turntable are therefore significant, particularly for folks who don’t want to bother with the likes of fancy audiophile racks, platforms, and so on.

A good isolation foot usually implements some sort of spring and/or damping material (such as TPE and various types of rubber). Such a foot is good at absorbing resonance coming up from under the turntable. Another tried & true foot is the classic conical one, known in the plural as spike feet. These minimize the contact surface between your record player and the surface on which it rests, disallowing a good amount of vibration & resonance to travel upward. There are many combinations of these designs as well as plenty more ‘sophisticated’ approaches out there. Try upping your isolation for better sound. You’ll hear it in varying degrees in your playback’s clarity, spatial awareness, and low-level detail.

Parts of a Record Player: Plinth

The feet support the plinth, otherwise referred to as the turntable base or platform. Mass & solidity are paramount here. A hollow hunk of plastic serving as a plinth will resonate internally, regardless of how well you isolate the turntable. A plinth that’s optimized to give you the best sound will typically be solid (not hollow or minimally hollow) and will be made of something resonance-absorbing, resonance-dispersing, or some combination of the two.

MDF and other off-shoots of wood are typically good and keep production costs low. As plinth isolation gets more involved, many turntable makers aim to disperse and/or eliminate unwanted resonance a) through uniquely shaped plinths and/or b) by eliminating as much of the plinth as possible. Many audiophile turntables on the market lack a conventional chassis for this reason. Where there is a plinth, keep in mind that resonance not inherently bad. Some materials and combinations of materials are used specifically because of the way they resonate (their resonant frequency). The idea, though, is that resonance is controlled and deliberate.

Parts of a Record Player: Drive System

Next, we move to what’s usually mounted to the plinth: the direct drive system. The conversation regarding belt vs. direct drive is a big one that we will save for another day, but suffice it to say that a direct drive turntable uses a motor that drives the turntable platter directly, i.e., the motor & platter are coupled. We will focus today on the belt-drive system, which is widely agreed to be capable of better sonic performance (again, there are no absolutes – there are damn good direct drives out there).

There are a couple of reasons the belt drive system is most common these days: a) in the consumer range, it keeps costs down and b) in the vinyl aficionado range, it de-couples the motor from the record platter. The belt (usually some sort of rubber) is what drives the platter, so motor noise and/or resonance are isolated from the record-playing surface, amounting to a lower noise floor which in turn makes musical information more available to your ears. Stand-alone motors that are entirely decoupled from the plinth are more effective still.

The quality of the power supply, motor, and motor mounting is also very important. Shortcuts in the development and production of these parts amount to noisier motors that vibrate more, and with lower speed tolerances. Your turntable cartridge, cantilever (the metal rod that houses the diamond), and stylus (some folks say ‘turntable needle’) are highly sensitive and will only amplify unwanted noise.

Parts of a Record Player: Platter

Now we move on to the platter – that which rotates atop the drive system. Principles here are similar to that of the plinth. High mass is a good thing (less prone to being affected) and selected materials should be anti-resonant. You’ll find plenty of low mass aluminum platters on the market. When you get a chance, remove a similar platter and give it a rap or two. You’ll hear it ringing, which is far less than ideal if sound quality is your priority. Steel is better because it’s less resonant and more massive, acrylic is acoustically dead.

More advanced platters use various coatings and/or ‘sandwich’ designs that combine materials to affect resonance. The sky is the limit.

Turntable Mats and Slipmats

The turntable mat is of course the last line of defense in terms of isolating your cartridge & stylus from external unwanted vibration & resonance. As with the above, everything under the sun has been at least tried as a record mat. Some mats are meant to couple the record to the platter (to simulate the resonance properties of the platter and/or record itself), or to de-couple (to add another resonance barrier). Since it's in direct contact with your records, which in turn makes contact with your stylus, the record mat can make audible differences in playback.

For the record (no pun intended… seriously), most stocks felt mats are OEM, and their main function is to protect your vinyl from the hard surface underneath. Their greatest value is in peace of mind. They do little in the way of promoting sound quality. Cork turntable mats or rubber slipmats do the most when it comes to dampening.

The Tonearm is Essential

Needless to say, as the carrier of the phono cartridge, the tonearm is instrumental in getting the most from your system. There should be no ‘play’ in the tonearm bearing, meaning basically that tube should not wobble in any direction. Here again, plastic is no good. It resonates and is not rigid. Rigidity in the tonearm structure allows your cartridge to do its best work, unimpeded by vibration & resonance that negatively color the sound. Aluminum & carbon fiber are commonly used materials that are light, rigid, and anti-resonant. Basic elements for pivoted tonearms (most common) are the headshell, armtube, bearing & counterweight.

The headshell (sometimes user-replaceable) is the end-portion of the tonearm to which you mount the cartridge. We recommend a carbon fiber headshell.

The armtube is the prevailing length of the tonearm, longer in curved tonearms. As a general rule, a longer tonearm allows for less ‘error’ in the tonearm’s arc across the disc, yielding cartridge alignment geometry that’s closer to optimal.

The bearing structure is at the pivot point. Its job is to provide secure and fluid lateral movement of the arm. The counterweight is used to balance the cartridge and at an optimal value so that the right amount of VTF (vertical tracking force) is applied to the stylus in the groove. The anti-skate mechanism can take one of several forms, but its task is to offset the inward-directed momentum of the tonearm so that the only force applied to the stylus is vertical force (so that the stylus retrieves information equally from each lateral groove wall).

Phono Cartridges AKA Record Player Needles

sumiko phono cartridge pro-ject turntable

The cartridge and stylus are a larger conversation that we will discuss down the road, but let’s briefly go over the basics. Put simply, the stylus (the actual diamond) is responsible for responding to the contours of the record grove. At the opposite end of the cantilever (a metal rod with diamond bonded to it) are magnets and coils that generate an electrical signal based on the motion of the stylus. This principle is known as electromotive force (energy created by motion).

The signal is passively sent to the cartridge output pins to which the tonearm lead wires are connected. The tonearm lead wires carry the signal through the arm, out the turntable jacks (usually RCA), and over to the phono preamp. Moving magnet & moving coil are the two main types of phono cartridge. If a cartridge has a replacement stylus that you can swap out yourself, you can usually infer it’s a moving magnet. If the stylus is not user-replaceable, it’s a moving coil in most cases.

Keep Dust Away With a Dust Cover

Last, atop the whole machine, you’ll usually find the dust cover (some record players don’t accommodate a proper cover). Its main utility is just as its name suggests; it’s a cover that protects your gear from dust. Of course, one should use it for its practical function and/or maybe aesthetics, but it’s best to remove it or to leave it open (if hinged) while listening. The dust cover is a known resonator – it creates a cavern over your turntable, like listening to your vinyl collection inside a cave.

Feeling Like an Expert?

We hope you’ve enjoyed our overview of record player parts & principles. Indeed your CD player or MP3 player might offer a bit more convenience, but we love the notion that listening to vinyl forces you to engage more with an album proper. Truly it’s a different listening experience entirely. Turntable parts can be a lot to consider, and as always, we advise you to engage with your collection to the extent that’s best for you as the listener. The main priority is that you’re having fun. Some folks will dive in deep and make a hobby of it (or even a profession!), others will spin records from their kitchen countertop while washing dishes. What matters is that it brings you joy.

 

Happy listening!


phono preamp

What is a Phono Preamp? Boosting Your Record Player

Before we get into what is a phono preamp doing for your listening experience, let's clear the murky waters regarding terminology.

"Phono preamp" tends to be the most commonly used term, but you may also have heard the terms phono stage (or phonostage), phono preamplifier, phono section, and/or phono equalizer (among others still!).

For practical purposes, it's important to understand that these terms refer to the same thing: a pre-amplification circuit that deals specifically in the delicate phono signal generated by a phono cartridge.

Therefore it can be said that any turntable - from the most affordable to the most expensive on the market - requires a phono preamp at some point between the tonearm output and any line-level input on the main amplification section of your sound system (this could be the receiver, integrated amp, line preamp - whatever it is that you play your music though!)

What Does a Preamp Do For Your Turntable?

The phono preamp has 2 main functions imperative to the proper handling of the phono signal:

A: The preamp amplifies the phono signal by applying gain (dB).

B: Your phono preamp can equalize the signal based on a standard most widely agreed upon for vinyl playback since the 1950s (the RIAA equalization curve).

Essentially it preps the signal for the amplification stage so that it can be handled similarly to other sources such as CD players, DACs, and streaming via your phone, tablet, or computer. Since the signal generated by a phono cartridge is extremely low-level, it requires a huge boost in gain to mirror that of other sources.

Due to the way records are cut and the phono signal's delicate nature, simply applying gain is not enough. Gain without equalization would amount to untethered sonics with great amounts of extraneous noise. So that more musical information can be captured on a given record side, records are cut such that low frequencies are reduced (reducing groove width), high frequencies are boosted.

The RIAA circuit thusly accommodates for these exaggerations and returns the signal to something listenable, re-emphasizing low frequencies and trimming back highs.

How to Boost Your Vinyl Experience With a Phono Preamp

tube box phono preamp

Investing in a high-quality phono preamp makes a more substantial difference than many listeners may realize.

You can own the world's best-sounding turntable and it would sound poor relative to what it's capable of without proper phono pre-amplification. To allow all the benefits of a good record player to pass through your audio system, a similarly good phono preamp is essential. A more 'audiophile' phono preamp will implement better componentry, whether a tube box or an integrated circuit phono box, optimizing the signal and minimizing noise.

Minimizing noise is paramount. Even subtle noise levels that may seem inaudible can swallow up the low-level detail and nuance that draws us to vinyl. It's not just the circuitry that contributes to optimal sonics. The quality of the power supply, the RCA jacks (sometimes XLR), and even the chassis can lend themselves to reducing noise and improving sound quality.

As an example, the duo of a preamp and power supply upgrade is becoming increasingly popular just because of the difference a better PSU can make. In short - and as is the case with most things analog - every little bit can have an effect, which is why you see such variance in price and design market-wide. Entry-level preamps tend to handle moving magnet cartridges only.

MM cartridges are the most typical cartridge types because, among other things, the design principle allows for a user-replaceable stylus. Mid-range & high-end phono preamps usually accommodate moving coil cartridges in addition to MM. It’s widely agreed that an MC cartridge is capable of better sound, though of course there are no absolutes in this hobby.

A good MM cartridge can certainly out-perform a mediocre MC. However, the main X factor is how you prefer your vinyl records to sound in your stereo system.

Do I Need A Phono Preamp?

Keep in mind that a phono preamp can be hidden. It doesn't always take the form of stand-alone audio component. The hi-fi integrated amplifier (aka receiver) of yore had a PHONO input.

What this means is that phono preamp circuit was implemented therein. An external preamp is never advisable in that scenario (you'd be double pre-amplifying and heavily overdriving), nor is it advisable with turntables that have them built in (unless that preamp can be disengaged). As the vinyl listening hobby continues to grow in popularity, you'll find that today’s audio equipment includes phono preamps in their designs (including powered speakers!).

There are a million things to consider if you’re a critical listener, especially one who prefers vinyl.

Again, it’s often taken for granted just how significant a difference the best phono preamps can make. If you haven’t done so yet, do yourself a favor and explore this as an option for your next upgrade. There’s a good chance it’ll compel you to pull your old records from your bookshelf and enjoy your vinyl collection like you haven’t previously.

 

As always, we wish you happy listening!