Monday, March 17, 2014

Goosebumps again from Vinyl playback

It's been a long road (more than a month now anyway).  I finally got around to mounting my new-in-box Dynavector Karat 17D3 cartridge to the Mitsubishi LT-30 turntable.  This was actually less tricky than mounting the Shure M97xe cartridge last weekend in many ways.  But as I was more careful, and also needed to attach new headshell leads, it took longer.  I used the Sumiko headshell I had used on the Sony PS-X800 back in the 80's and early 90's (after repair, the Sony wouldn't auto balance with such a heavy headshell).  The headshell leads were mostly too tight and hard to get on (especially onto the cartridge).  Some were too loose to fit on the headshell, and I carefully pinched them down to fit snugly so as not to be easily moved.

One of the harder parts was setting the overhang.  I first did this by comparison to my 17D2 cartridge mounted on a Stanton headshell.  Then I put a tiny dot of removable adhesive on the turntable beneath the stylus of the existing Shure cart, and then verified it with the Grace that had come mounted with the Mitsubishi.  Then I verified using blank anti-skating test record.  The first time, the cartridge seemed a bit jittery.  I played a record and thought it didn't sound right.  So I got out the Shure protractor, and decided I had mounted the cartridge too far back.  I next moved the cartridge to the edge of the headshell.  Then about 2mm beyond the edge.  Then back a few times.  Finally, I ended up with the cartridge just about 0.3mm beyond the edge of the headshell.  This is at the limit of my ability to set the protractor straight on the turntable.  On the blank record, the stylus does not move when set down and has no jittery movements.  It still could be off by a tiny amount, but it seems good for now (until I have a different kind of test).

I went straight to the most troublesome LP, the one that at first made the M97xe sound horrible (until I disabled the brush and set the volume levels in pre amplification correctly to avoid overload, but even then it sounded more edgy on the M97xe than on a Shure M55e, which I think is due to excess capacitance in the tonearm cables--they measure about 430 pf whereas the M97xe requires about 275 pf).  This is E Power Biggs plays Bach at the Thomaskirke.  This record was heavily worn back from my college days, using a Shure V15 type III and later ADC XLM Mk2 improved, on a Dual 1209.T

(Update: the cheap TC-750 moving magnet preamp I bought for testing purposes, actually quite good I think for the $55 price, has a pretty high amount of input capacitance, 220pf.  Actually, that would be about right if the turntable had low cap cables, then I wouldn't have to solder in a capacitor, otherwise I would, so it's actually a good design choice.  But combined with the 430pF capacitance cables, the cartridge is loaded by a huge 650pF capacitance.  That's probably creating a 3dB bulge right in the sensitive 2-10 kHz region, centered right at the 6kHz screech zone.  So it would be expected to sound a bit harsh.  Meanwhile, that has less ill effect on an M55e, though it should be noted that cart is on a different table, the Miracord, whose cables I haven't measured.  Other specs for the TC-750 are 20-20kHz +/- 0.5dB RIAA, THD less than 0.05%, S/N 85dB, 3.0mV input sensitivity with 20dB overload (i.e. max input 30mV, which is ok, though I generally like more headroom), max output 1.8V.  Pretty hot for $55, I remember when you could expect +/- 3dB and 3% THD for that price.)

The incredible transparency of the Dynavector 17D3 gave me goosebumps.  I was hearing the flaps of the little pipes open, and even the echoes of the flaps opening.  The spaciousness of the recording was revealed for the first time (I didn't hear it with either Shure).  It was like I was really being there.  There was still quite a bit of groove distortion, probably from wear and dirt, but no more than the M55e, and with far greater transparency.

I got goosebumps from other records also.  I believe the 17D3 has eliminated almost all of the fluttery sound I was getting with the 17D2, the fluttery sound that I now know was coming from the tonearm cartridge resonance (because it went away with the Shure M97xe).  I hear artistic pitch bending, such as in Rick Wakeman's Journey to the center of the earth, and major and minor keys make sense (as they didn't with the 17D2).  I still fear there is a little less than rock solid pitch stability, as I seem to hear with the Lenco and Shure M91e.  I'd have to A/B with the Shure M97xe the LT-30 to be sure they aren't about the same or not--the Shure might have been a tad better for some reason (more damping?).  Might be good for the Mitsubishi to have a complete cap replacement and recalibration.  It might be that the Lenco will always have better sound.

But as of right now, I have respectable vinyl playback, finally, for the first time in many years.  The Dynavector is clearly more transparent than any Shure cartridge I have, and in the Mitsubishi arm it tracks perfectly with well adjusted automatic operation that I don't have to worry about.  (I worry about arm tilt on the Lenco because of the semi-broken condition of its tonearm, which tilts easily and has no working anti-skate and the stylus pressure adjustment is unstable thanks to drooping counterweight.)  I don't need to fear damaging my records with a brand new Dynavector tracking well in a linear tracking arm.

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