Turntable Evaluation - what do you need to know and how do you know it?

tima

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A topic came up In Phoenix Engineering's thread VPI HW40 Direct Drive about a buyer's responsibility to be self-informed prior to making a turntable purchase.

I noted that while we have several resources for test/evaluation information about electronics and speakers (eg. Atkinson, Bascom King, etc ), there is a general absence of independent test results for turntables - meaning confirmation of specs and other technical information relative to what a manufacturer provides.

Imo, this is a gaping hole in the turntable market place. The terminology of turntable evaluation and what counts as important is scant and unclear. Few manufacturers offer specs that customers can use for comparison. Few manufacturers offer information about their table's drive system (motor, controller). I read more turntable buying decisions based on price and looks than anything else. Vienna discusses discrepancies between manufacturer information and actual product.

-- Absent readily available journalistic or consultancy information about turntable design and performance: If a potential customer, typical audiophile or even a reviewer wanted to evaluate turntable speed accuracy, stability, and noise what should he do? I'm talking about someone who is neither an engineer nor owner of specialized diagnostic equipment.

-- What information should the manufacturer provide and how does the buyer assess this?

-- What other aspects of a turntable can and should a potential buyer learn about on their own?

PeterA suggested using a Sutherland Timeline - a laser emitting timer placed on a table's spindle for gauging speed stability and accuracy. Take one of those from dealer to dealer? Fremer publishes graphics from a cell phone app that uses a 3150Hz test tone. Analog Magik gives the results of a playing a test tone record into its computer program. Take your laptop and test record from dealer to dealer? Phoenix Engineering's own RoadRunner tachometer was popular when available. Should a table buyer invest in (or more likely, borrow) test equipment before making a purchase?

And what about assessing turntable noise? In one of my Monaco reviews I used a stethoscope; surely there is something better.

Before making a turntable purchase, what information should a consumer have and how should he get it?
 

ddk

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May 18, 2013
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A topic came up In Phoenix Engineering's thread VPI HW40 Direct Drive about a buyer's responsibility to be self-informed prior to making a turntable purchase.

I noted that while we have several resources for test/evaluation information about electronics and speakers (eg. Atkinson, Bascom King, etc ), there is a general absence of independent test results for turntables - meaning confirmation of specs and other technical information relative to what a manufacturer provides.

Imo, this is a gaping hole in the turntable market place. The terminology of turntable evaluation and what counts as important is scant and unclear. Few manufacturers offer specs that customers can use for comparison. Few manufacturers offer information about their table's drive system (motor, controller). I read more turntable buying decisions based on price and looks than anything else. Vienna discusses discrepancies between manufacturer information and actual product.

-- Absent readily available journalistic or consultancy information about turntable design and performance: If a potential customer, typical audiophile or even a reviewer wanted to evaluate turntable speed accuracy, stability, and noise what should he do? I'm talking about someone who is neither an engineer nor owner of specialized diagnostic equipment.

-- What information should the manufacturer provide and how does the buyer assess this?

-- What other aspects of a turntable can and should a potential buyer learn about on their own?

PeterA suggested using a Sutherland Timeline - a laser emitting timer placed on a table's spindle for gauging speed stability and accuracy. Take one of those from dealer to dealer? Fremer publishes graphics from a cell phone app that uses a 3150Hz test tone. Analog Magik gives the results of a playing a test tone record into its computer program. Take your laptop and test record from dealer to dealer? Phoenix Engineering's own RoadRunner tachometer was popular when available. Should a table buyer invest in (or more likely, borrow) test equipment before making a purchase?

And what about assessing turntable noise? In one of my Monaco reviews I used a stethoscope; surely there is something better.

Before making a turntable purchase, what information should a consumer have and how should he get it?
Unfortunately Tim assessing the sound of a turntable from specs alone is impossible, same as buying amplifiers based on THD and slew rates. You’re right about people making purchase decisions mostly based on looks and price but they don’t have much of an alternative. Like anytime in the past the market is flooded with both cheap and expensive junk and like everything else one needs some knowledge and experience to navigate the field. Analog rich forums like WTB are the best resource for people.

david
 

tima

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Unfortunately Tim assessing the sound of a turntable from specs alone is impossible, same as buying amplifiers based on THD and slew rates.

Of course and I'm not suggesting that tables can or should be evaluated from specs alone. Same for electronics and speakers, we don't assess them based on specs alone, but at least we have those specs. And WBF is no less valuable because we have them. We agree that people making purchasing decisions don't have much in the way of alternatives for information but that's not a argument for saying we cannot use specifications if we had them.

You yourself say you're not against measurements. All turntables try to rotate a record at 33-1/3, but not all turntables are equal in either sonic or mechanical capacity. The questions of what measurements are important and how do we make them - and how does a purchaser know what counts and what doesn't - seem like relevant questions.

If as is claimed that a consumer has an obligation to learn if a product meets its claims and the user's need, what information does he need about a turntable and how does he get that? And are there ways to confirm what a turntable manufacturer claims?
 
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microstrip

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Most turntable buyers do not look at specifications - they learned since long that in general they are meaningless as we can't correlate them with performance. But you asked the proper question : "What counts as important?"

IMHO a classical spectral analysis of the 3150 Hz signal is all that is needed to evaluate the technical performance of a turntable. But most consumers and reviewers will not be able to interpret it. At less we would need a good database of measurements to compare and educate ourselves.

Considering absolute speed IMHO a large strobe disk and a LED lamp are more than enough . If you need absolute ultimate accuracy you can check online for the exact frequency of the mains (50.025Hz in Portugal when I write this post) at each moment and perform the needed corrections using a simple formula and a calculator. Or just buy one of the many LED pulsed strobes currently available in the market. Should we ask for a NIST certificate to come with the LED pulser? :)
 

Vienna

VIP/Donor
I am probably the person with the least of the experience here, but i would say that is a very complicated task to evaluate a turntable and it is not just the accurate steady speed and low wow measurements.
With the bad experience i got from VPI, I would take into consideration for evaluating a turntable :

1. The manufacturer‘s reputation and the longevity of the specific design
2. The motor type, specifications and the torque
3. The power supply and controller
4. The motion transfer medium from motor to the platter
5. The bearing design and thrust pad as well as the materials they are made of
6. The plinth design
7. the plinth isolation and feet
8. the system for hooking the tonearm (s)
9. the manufacturers specifications

for the actual evaluation i would use:

1. My ears
2. The Phoenix Tachometer
3. the analogue magic software or
 

microstrip

VIP/Donor
May 30, 2010
20,807
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Portugal
I am probably the person with the least of the experience here, but i would say that is a very complicated task to evaluate a turntable and it is not just the accurate steady speed and low wow measurements.
With the bad experience i got from VPI, I would take into consideration for evaluating a turntable :

1. The manufacturer‘s reputation and the longevity of the specific design
2. The motor type, specifications and the torque
3. The power supply and controller
4. The motion transfer medium from motor to the platter
5. The bearing design and thrust pad as well as the materials they are made of
6. The plinth design
7. the plinth isolation and feet
8. the system for hooking the tonearm (s)
9. the manufacturers specifications

for the actual evaluation i would use:

1. My ears
2. The Phoenix Tachometer
3. the analogue magic software or

IMHO you forgot one of the most important things for us living out of the US - the reputation and quality of the service of the distributor or exceptionally, friendship with kind US dealers can helps us a lot.

Your list of sections covers almost all the turntable parts , the hard part is finding objective criteria to analyze them. In this hobby one man's meat is another man's poison - IMHO it is impossible to have rules to evaluate them, common sense is the more valuable asset in this task.

Turntables are not new or rocket science - some of the best ones were designed and manufactured many decades ago. IMHO there is little to add on the subject of measurements - besides most people prefer those who have poor specifications - the EMT 927 specifications were easily surpassed by any modern cheap turntable, as can be seen in the vinylengine site large database.
 
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Vienna

VIP/Donor
Microstrip in Greece dealers are not quite the same with the ones you may have in mind.
in Greece the good dealers are those who will not steal the clients’ down-payments.
the VPI dealer could only afford, pay and get for demo a VPI prime signature and a Gryphon Diablo 300.
i had to take the whole risk (without prior auditioning) and pay to get the Avenger Reference and the Gryphon Pandora, two Legatos and Mephisto. I had to pay the price in full on order.
Also for warranty issues the Greek dealers cannot understand the technical issue due to luck of knowledge and training, therefore are either afraid or do not know how to deal with claims.I have to fight personally with VPI and in the past with Kiseki to get after sales support.
 
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microstrip

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May 30, 2010
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Microstrip in Greece dealers are not quite the same with the ones you may have in mind.
in Greece the good dealers are those who will not steal the clients’ down-payments.
the VPI dealer could only pay and get for demo a VPI prime signature and a Gryphon Diablo 300.
i had to take the whole risk (without prior auditioning) and pay to get the Avenger Reference and the Gryphon Pandora, two Legatos and Mephisto, I had to pay the price in full on order.

I feel sorry for your problem, it is an expensive item, but again we are faced with a distributor problem. If we buy from a distributor the factory will never reimburse us, as the distributor got the money and added their profit margin, assuming all the legal responsibilities.

Although I understand you feel disappointed, it seems to me that the aspects you addressed in your VPI Avenger Reference the could be easily solved if there is no possibility to return/exchange the turntable with the dealer.
 

Vienna

VIP/Donor
I feel sorry for your problem, it is an expensive item, but again we are faced with a distributor problem. If we buy from a distributor the factory will never reimburse us, as the distributor got the money and added their profit margin.

Although you feel disappointed, it seems to me that the aspects you addressed in VPI Avenger Reference the could be easily solved if there is no possibility to return/exchange the turntable with the dealer.
I am really sick with this situation. The dealer accuses VPI for luck of communication and VPI accuses fedex and Facebook. On the other hand the dealer is struggling to pay his monthly Fixed costs to afford such a refund.
 
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ddk

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May 18, 2013
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Utah
Of course and I'm not suggesting that tables can or should be evaluated from specs alone. Same for electronics and speakers, we don't assess them based on specs alone, but at least we have those specs. And WBF is no less valuable because we have them. We agree that people making purchasing decisions don't have much in the way of alternatives for information but that's not a argument for saying we cannot use specifications if we had them.

You yourself say you're not against measurements. All turntables try to rotate a record at 33-1/3, but not all turntables are equal in either sonic or mechanical capacity. The questions of what measurements are important and how do we make them - and how does a purchaser know what counts and what doesn't - seem like relevant questions.

If as is claimed that a consumer has an obligation to learn if a product meets its claims and the user's need, what information does he need about a turntable and how does he get that? And are there ways to confirm what a turntable manufacturer claims?

I can't think of any measurements that will help anyone with their purchase, all of ours is to check if the unit is within production parameters or not. Even speed accuracy figures are of little use without knowing about accuracy over what period of time, how it's measured and how the speed is maintained. What manufacturers generally provide is bearing type, mass and materials construction which can be helpful if one has enough knowledge and experience with materials and bearing types, of course implementation is key. On paper a turntable like Garrard 301 is mediocre at best but in the right plinth it will give many current high end turntables not only a good run for the money but beat many if sound is the main criteria.

david
 
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tima

Industry Expert
Mar 3, 2014
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I can't think of any measurements that will help anyone with their purchase, all of ours is to check if the unit is within production parameters or not. Even speed accuracy figures are of little use without knowing about accuracy over what period of time, how it's measured and how the speed is maintained. What manufacturers generally provide is bearing type, mass and materials construction which can be helpful if one has enough knowledge and experience with materials and bearing types, of course implementation is key. On paper a turntable like Garrard 301 is mediocre at best but in the right plinth it will give many current high end turntables not only a good run for the money but beat many if sound is the main criteria.

So, buyers are left with looks, price, and whether they believe the manufacturer. Otherwise it's a crap shoot.

That was easy. Next ...
 

ddk

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May 18, 2013
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So, buyers are left with looks, price, and whether they believe the manufacturer. Otherwise it's a crap shoot.

That was easy. Next ...
It's the same as buying any other piece of high end equipment. You're in the same boat with most other luxury items like jewelry, rugs, art, etc., you either know what you're doing or you work with someone who does and you can trust. In case of turntables one can really benefit from expert setup and this is when a good dealer is invaluable.

david
 

microstrip

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May 30, 2010
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So, buyers are left with looks, price, and whether they believe the manufacturer. Otherwise it's a crap shoot.

That was easy. Next ...

Please note that some measurements can be relevant and very useful to users, such as the suspension resonance frequency.
 
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tima

Industry Expert
Mar 3, 2014
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It's the same as buying any other piece of high end equipment. You're in the same boat with most other luxury items like jewelry, rugs, art, etc., you either know what you're doing or you work with someone who does and you can trust. In case of turntables one can really benefit from expert setup and this is when a good dealer is invaluable.

david

I'm generally v supportive of dealers and manufacturers. And I understand you are talking your book, and that's fine.

But I (and others) also have curiosity and and an interest to learn. It would be dissapointing if every time I wanted to change a cartridge if I had to schedule an appointment with a setup man or fly one in. That does not encourage adoption of vinyl analog. There are fewer dealers today. And fewer dealers who can say more about turntables than their training. On the other hand there are a folks like Bill (Phoenix) who are willing to share their technical expertise. I'm a bit incredulous about having to make a case for more end-user knowledge.

I agree that numbers alone are worth far less than when considered with factors such as, for example, controller approach, design, implementation, and methods for acquiring those numbers.
 
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ddk

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May 18, 2013
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I'm generally v supportive of dealers and manufacturers. And I understand you are talking your book, and that's fine.

But I (and others) also have curiosity and and an interest to learn. It would be dissapointing if every time I wanted to change a cartridge if I had to schedule an appointment with a setup man or fly one in. That does not encourage adoption of vinyl analog. There are fewer dealers today. And fewer dealers who can say more about turntables than their training. On the other hand there are a folks like Bill (Phoenix) who are willing to share their technical expertise. I'm a bit incredulous about having to make a case for more end-user knowledge.

I agree that numbers alone are worth far less than when considered with factors such as, for example, controller approach, design, implementation, and methods for acquiring those numbers.
I don't disagree with you Tim, I recognize the problem because I struggled with it for years but haven't come up with easy answers. Bill's a great guy to learn from you can follow him on the DIY forum too where he gets more detailed.

david
 
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tima

Industry Expert
Mar 3, 2014
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the Upper Midwest
Please note that some measurements can be relevant and very useful to users, such as the suspension resonance frequency.

So, per the OP, how can we learn/acquire that and others.
What, in your studied opinion Micro, are the relevant parameters for gauging turntable self noise?
 

Mike Lavigne

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So, per the OP, how can we learn/acquire that and others.
What, in your studied opinion Micro, are the relevant parameters for gauging turntable self noise?

this one is simple.

assuming you have a solid floor (6" of concrete works), and a solid rack, place it on a piezo electric active isolation table with a read out screen, turn the turntable on, and see if any resonance shows up to attenuate.

my NVS registers zero noise. zero. some others not so much. my Saskia model two showed a good deal of noise. i'd assume that my CS Port would also show noise but i have not tried that. we know what happened with Chris's AS-2000 on the piezo table.

most turntables are not candidates for active because they are sources of noise. which is not a criticism; only a data point.

this only measures noise coming through the footers, and i'm not claiming that lower noise makes for a better sounding turntable, but it will measure the plinth/motor noise.

passive isolation solutions can work just fine for tt's with noise through the footers. but YMMV as to the result. that is what my Rockport had, was an integral passive air suspension. along with an air bearing......so does the TechDAS AF1 series.

before anyone gets too defensive; my opinion is that there is almost zero relevance of motor/plinth noise through footers and overall turntable performance. so what good is this measurement? i will say that fine detail retrieval of the NVS (sitting on my Tana active system) at warp 9 is remarkable. the active really makes a difference if it can be used.
 
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ddk

Well-Known Member
May 18, 2013
6,261
4,042
995
Utah
this one is simple.

assuming you have a solid floor (6" of concrete works), and a solid rack, place it on a piezo electric active isolation table with a read out screen, turn the turntable on, and see if any resonance shows up to attenuate.

my NVS registers zero noise. zero. some others not so much. my Saskia model two showed a good deal of noise. i'd assume that my CS Port would also show noise but i have not tried that. we know what happened with Chris's AS-2000 on the piezo table.

most turntables are not candidates for active because they are sources of noise. which is not a criticism; only a data point.

this only measures noise coming through the footers, and i'm not claiming that lower noise makes for a better sounding turntable, but it will measure the plinth/motor noise.

passive isolation solutions can work just fine for tt's with noise through the footers. but YMMV as to the result. that is what my Rockport had, was an integral passive air suspension. along with an air bearing......so does the TechDAS AF1 series.

before anyone gets too defensive; my opinion is that there is almost zero relevance of motor/plinth noise through footers and overall turntable performance. so what good is this measurement? i will say that fine detail retrieval of the NVS (sitting on my Tana active system) at warp 9 is remarkable. the active really makes a difference if it can be used.

Which data point Mike? You make some nonsensical claim about noise without anything to back it up with. The AS2000 didn't work with the Herzan because sticking a wiggly platform which is perpetually in motion is an idiotic choice for turntables and I've always said it long before that disaster. The only data point in your universe is that the NVS has some serious shortcomings needing thousands of dollars of shaking plywood covered crap (in this context!) for it to sound right and the other tables don't:)!

david
 

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