1. From the D to the A...
So back in Oct 2014 I posted the following...
Thanks Boomzilla. Was about to try the CD3 tube buffer, but made the mistake of staring at my system for a while trying to figure out what upgrades I would probably want to do in the future. I decided that supporting some kind of digital sources would probably be the next step, so instead of the CD3 I ordered a TubeDac-11 from Grant Fidelity (basically a DAC/pre-amp with tube buffer on the output).
Figured that would also let me use a digital connect for the CD carousel, which I remember sounding just a tiny bit better than the analog (with levels at least casually matched).
The unit arrived as expected, I unpacked it, and set it aside until I had time to play with it. Somehow got it in my head that I would have to move it (and an audio system) down into the basement near a computer before I could do anything with it, but last night I was staring at the electronics in the living room (including the Adcom power amp) and realized I could hook it up as a pre-amp any time I wanted.
Started by disconnecting the Adcom and playing the system (MP5HP mains) through the power amp in the HK 3270. Once again even with best efforts level matching the Adcom still sounded better than the HK 3270's power amp even at volume levels where the extra power should not be a factor. Shook my head and carried on.
First step was hooking the CD carousel's RCA outputs to one of the analog inputs on the Tubedac, hooking line out (the SS outputs, not the tube buffered outputs) to the Adcom, and confirming that the thing actually worked. Seemed to work fine, sound was pretty similar to HK pre-amp stage... maybe a tiny bit better, didn't seem to be worse anyways.
Next step was switching in the tube buffer. Definitely sounded different but not in a way I could describe easily, and it'll take more time than I have right now to figure that out. I did think the tube output sounded "nicer" but feel like I might
be losing a bit of clarity or imaging as well.
Last step was hooking up an SPDIF cable from the CD player to the DAC and switching between analog and digital inputs with the source selector. The two inputs seemed about as "different "as I remember from switching between them on my AVR although at first glance the analog seemed more detailed than the digital. Didn't even think about level matching at the time though.
Anyways, I've left the system hooked up like that for now (CD via SPDIF into Tubedac-11 then tube buffer outputs into Adcom) and am listening to that for a while until I have time to play with switching back and forth.
Downside of the new setup is that I lose phono (the tubedac, being relatively modern, does not have a phono input) but that's OK because (a) when I don't have time to tinker with equipment I usually don't have time to play vinyl anyways, and (b) I have pretty much given up on finding room in the living room for an LP rack, so thinking hard about moving phono and LPs down to the basement (which is where the hypothetical third system comes in).
If I'm not going to have a turntable or LPs in the living room, that means I need to think about getting back into LP ripping now that I have a turntable that doesn't suck. Which leads me...
2. And from the A back to the D
I'm probably going to want to keep the receiver in the living room (for FM stereo when the signal strength gods smile on me) which means I'm eventually going to need a phono pre-amp downstairs. There seem to be two main options for LP ripping (other than the turntables with built-in ADCs)- phono pre-amps with built-in ADC and line-level ADCs used for affordable digital recording, generally from musical instruments & microphones.
The phono pre-amps with ADC all seem to be 16-bit, while there are a few line-level ADCs in a similar price range with 24-bit capture. General consensus seems to be that >16 bit resolution doesn't make a noticeable difference on playback, but it is desirable for capture because it eliminates the need for super-accurate level adjustment to avoid clipping the ADC (levels too high) or losing a non-trivial portion of the 16-bit resolution (levels too low).
There is also a suggestion that 24-bit is superior for post-processing, but it's not clear whether the benefit there comes from capturing in 24-bit or whether converting to 24-bit before processing accomplishes much the same. I suspect the former (more precision tends to help with noise analysis IIRC) but not sure.
My recollection from previous LP ripping experiments (there was just the one, really) was that there was enough difference in recording levels among my LPs that a single "set it and forget it" level was not practical, but I also seem to remember that the outliers were relatively rare so there's a good chance that most of my LPs could be captured with a single input level. Software also seems to be better these days, eg tools to run through a file and normalize the levels before playback / burning. I don't remember having that back in the dark ages.
So anyways, I'm kinda leaning towards the Rega Fono Mini A2D. There are similar units from NAD and Pro-ject but all three seem to be limited to 16-bit and only the Rega has continuous level adjustment. Some of the units include Windows/Mac SW but I'm likely to end up using Linux anyways so not much benefit there.
Has anyone experimented with LP ripping recently and found something much better that isn't much
more expensive ?