By Don Lindich
Week 30, 2016
Q. I currently have a Nobsound 6J9 headphone amplifier, Grado SR60e headphones and an Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB turntable, all purchased based on your recommendations. I also have a receiver and speakers I use with this system, but I am most interested in better headphone sound. I’m thinking of upgrading to the $300 Grado SR325e headphones. Are the headphones where I should focus my spending? Where should I go from here for a major difference in sound quality? I have about $400 set aside for the upgrade and have been eying the $399 Pro-ject turntable.
-Jason L., West Allis, WI
A. You are on the right track. The two best ways to improve the sound of your system is by either improving the source which creates the signal, or improving the transducer that converts the signal into sound.
An example of improving the source would be upgrading from video streaming or a DVD player to a Blu-ray player for watching movies, because Blu-ray has much better sound quality. Another example is playing a CD in a CD player instead of streaming music from your phone over Bluetooth. The CD will have better sound quality because it is not compressed and will play at full quality. In your system the source is the turntable, or more accurately, the entire phono system of turntable, cartridge and phono preamp. In your case the phono preamp is built into the turntable.
The best cartridge I can think of for you and your system comes from Grado, like your headphones. The $350 Grado Reference Platinum 2 is a wood-bodied cartridge with a high electrical output suitable for your turntable. Introduced late last year, it is an improved version of the Reference Platinum that has played to rave reviews for many years. It is one of the very best cartridges I have heard for under $1,000, and definitely my top choice under $500. It has the warm, dynamic sound that Grado is known for, along with absolute crystal clarity and strong, clear and defined bass. It can track difficult passages easily so even drum solos and orchestral crescendos are extremely realistic. You really need to hear it to appreciate it.
This column’s takeaway lesson for everyone, vinyl aficionado or not, is that if you want better sound, improve the quality of the source. Instead of streaming from your phone, find that old CD and put it in a CD player. When your import CDs to your computer use a lossless setting. Your ears will thank you later!