How good is the phono section on my Denon 5800?

Discussion in 'AV Receivers' started by Jeff Lehr, Apr 18, 2003.

  1. Jeff Lehr

    Jeff Lehr Stunt Coordinator

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    I've just started getting back into vinyl after 20 or so years. I just got a Rega P3 2000 turntable with an Audio Technica AT440ML cartridge on a RB300 arm a few weeks ago, which I'm running through the phono input of my Denon 5800.
    The Rega seems to be a fussy table, but I've done some tweaks on it that I found on the audio asylum site, and I've got it pretty close to sounding good.
    I say 'close' because I can never seem to find the sweet spot to where I hear the music come alive...there always seems to be something missing or not sounding quite right.
    After messing with this table for a few weeks, and not seeming to gain any ground, I've begun to consider my Denon as maybe lacking for analog sound.
    Can anyone give me any insight on this? How does my Denon's phono section compare to a separate preamp?
    A dealer I visited claimed a $140 NAD PP-1 preamp would 'blow away' my Denon's phono input. Is this true, and if it isn't, how much would I have to spend on a phono preamp to better what I have now? Any suggestions on preamps at ~$500 price point would be appreciated...or do I need to spend more???
    Thanks,

    JL
     
  2. Arthur S

    Arthur S Cinematographer

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    I don't remember, does the 5800 pass the analog signal through or is it digitized and then converted back to analog? If it digitizes, there are many who would say get an analog front end, like the NAD.

    I also played some vinyl after many years. The pops and ticks are very distracting to me. I also remember reading just before CD stormed in that many of the qualities that distinguished vinyl from CD were anomalies of vinyl. Various kinds of distortion like phase distortion,low bass problems and and high treble problems. The vinyl medium simply has to many technolgical problems that no amount of tweaking can remedy.

    Why are there vinyl fanatics? Because people get used to the particular euphonics of the medium and decide that is "better" sounding. Kind of like tubes: lots of even order harmonic distortion that is kind to the ears, but is distored never the less.

    I don't know how much you spent on your TT, I would guess a good bit. Now you are looking to spend more to get the "right" sound quality.

    There is nothing about vinyl that can overcome the pops and ticks for me.

    Now, someone weigh in here and answer the man's question.

    Artie
     
  3. david stark

    david stark Second Unit

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    I own a rega p3 as well (from 2001 I think). I also own a denon 2802, from the model number I would guess this is a newer denon, but lower down the range. I also own a rega brio stereo amp. I always use the brio for listening to music from any source (cd or vinyl), but I have tried the denon with the p3 just to see what it was like. It sucked big time, the bass was awful, not sure how to describe it, but it was boomy and loose and seemed to be on a seperate track to the rest of the music - this is with the denon switched to stereo mode so it shouldn't be doing anything with the signal. The brio amp (cost about 4 to 500 us dollars I think) blows it out of the water.

    CD's played through the denon weren't as bad as the records, but the rega brio was still better. I would guess that buying a decent phone stage will improve things, but if you can afford it I would suggest getting a stereo amp for music if you listen to music enough.
     
  4. gregD

    gregD Second Unit

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    Rega P3?... me too.

    None of the few mass market receivers with a phono section can be described as better than 'passable' in that area... and it doesn't take a big investment for an audible improvement... I use a Parasound PPH-100, $120... other similar phono-pre's in your price range are made by Rotel, Creek, NAD... no direct experience with these, but they'll certainly be better than any receiver's built-in phono section, whether routed direct or thru DACs... if you can move your budget up to $650-700, you might take a look at the highly-regarded Lehman Black Cube.

    Back to the P3... it is a light-weight TT, and (arguably) needs a solid base to stand on... on recommendation, I threw $200 at a Brightstar 'Big Rock' isolation platform, and it did provide an audible -- but not gigantic -- improvement... bottom line, I'm very pleased with the sound of my analog gear.

    But Arthur S above has a point when it comes to tweaking analog gear... you could be in for a long haul if you're looking to yield a certain level of sound... I have a TT mostly because I've collected so much vinyl over the years, some irreplaceable... and some do still sound better than their CD counterparts... but CD mastering has come a long way... eventually, I guess I'll dub the vinyl 'keepers' onto CD-R and unload the whole cumbersome rig.

    Still kinda fun, though...
     
  5. Chu Gai

    Chu Gai Lead Actor

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    well just what is it that you find lacking? it's entirely possible that you've run up against the limitations of vinyl and it hasn't met your expectations. I'm not so sure a different phono section is going to do it unless somehow it's intentionally deviating from the standards. other thoughts, apart from this would be to incorporate a tube based device such as a Behringer UltraQ into your system.
     
  6. Jeremy Hegna

    Jeremy Hegna Supporting Actor

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    Jeff...

    Welcome to vinyl...I hope you don't let other comments earlier in the thread dissaude you from the quest. From your investment, however, it seems you know what you are doing.

    To the naysayers of vinyl, listen to a record on a well set-up system...THEN, share your experiences.

    Where at in North Dakota? I'm originally from Montana myself...I digress...

    Just over a year ago, I got back into vinyl. I, too, own a 5800. Started with a Technics SL-1300 direct into the Denon. It sounded OK, but I was missing alot if those at AA and audiogon were speaking the truth. I bought a Rega P25 with a Garrott P77 cart and the sound was much nicer and full of energy compared to the Tech deck...but there was something missing.

    Someone else mentioned earlier that the Pstage in a receiver is enough to get by and I agree for the most part. I bought the Acoustic Sounds Tango pre-amp from the Needledoctor for $600, the difference is phenomenal. It was amazing to me how much I had to turn up the volume on my 5800 to get the sound I was looking for with it's Pstage, but with the Tango, I use the same volume setting as my CDP. The gain was that much different.

    The sound was much more spacious as well...imaging opened up, instruments seperated themselves from the speakers, pops and clicks are SOOOOOOOO irrelevant when you get the sound dialed in...and a very important part of your overall vinyl system is the Pstage. If you can spend $500, you'll be able to easily out do your Denon's internal stage. $100-$200 will get you an outboard stage comparable to the Denon's. The 5800's is a decent Pstage...equal to that of the Rega Fono or the Parasound PPH(?). Lehman Black Cube and the AS Tango are in your range...check AA for more recommendations...but DON'T give up yet...


    Happy listening.


    Jeremy
     
  7. Jeff Lehr

    Jeff Lehr Stunt Coordinator

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    First of all, thanks to all who responded...I appreciate all your comments.
    I really don't mean this to turn into a cd vs. vinyl thread, but I feel I have to comment on a couple things.

    Arthur S:
    I *think* the 5800 bypasses the digitizing circuit when using it in Direct mode, passing it right through...not sure, tho.
    Yes, pops and ticks are very distracting, but if you're lucky, it's something you don't have to live with. Sometimes it's just a matter of cleaning the record to get rid of them. I invested in a record cleaning machine and have gotten some pretty nasty sounding albums almost dead quiet. If it's dirt in the grooves causing it, it can be removed. Imperfections in the vinyl itself, however, is something you just have to live with...or go find a new copy.
    Those 'low bass problems' and 'high treble problems' seem to me to be limitations on the playback equipment, but not the vinyl medium itself. If you're getting 'low bass' and 'high treble', isn't that what you want when you listen to music...the whole audio spectrum???
    You can listen to vinyl with a cartridge with a frequency range of 20Hz-20,000Hz or one with a range of 5Hz-35,000Hz. The one with a narrower range will sound like....well...a cd [​IMG]

    Chu Gai:
    What I find lacking right now is the 'uneven' sound I'm getting. This can either be an incorrect vertical tracking angle (VTA) of the stylus, a poorly aligned or matched cartridge to the turntable arm, or the way the amp is processing the signal. I guess I was trying to figure out if I had the wrong cartridge for the sound I wanted, or if my amp was lacking. It's sounding like I need to look at a better amp before looking at other things.
    Vinyl may have it's limitations, but only in the respect of inconvenience and poor pressings resulting in unwanted surface noise and distortion. On a properly mastered vinyl pressing, you won't have either of these, and the audio information contained in the grooves is much more than found on any cd. You just need the proper gear to get it off the record and to your ears.

    Michael Fremer, a reviewer and contributor to Stereophile Magazine and high-endaudio.com recently wrote about the 3 reference mediums for audiophile quality sound. They were SACD, DVD-A, and vinyl. Interesting, huh?

    Jeremy:
    I thank you for the suggestion to the naysayers to listen first, criticize later. I'd have to second that. My setup right now is close to beating the sound of cd, and at this point is far from optimal. It won't take a whole lot to push cd's into a distant second place.
    Looks like I'll be researching amps for awhile.
    Thanks.
    BTW...you didn't happen to live in Billings, did you? I purchased my 5800 from a Jeremy who lived there about a year and a half ago.

    JL
     
  8. Brett DiMichele

    Brett DiMichele Producer

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    Currently I use the phonostage in my Onkyo TX-DS787 for my
    vinyl. I am running a basic Technics SL-BD22 semi auto
    table fitted with an AudioTechnica AT331-LP Cart (5Hz to
    30Khz) the table is ballanced and it's sitting on 4 padded
    brass cones and feet.

    The sound is fantastic (aside from dirt in the grooves) it
    easily has the FR of a CD in fact some listeners have not
    been able to tell if it was vinly or cd FWIW.

    I don't belive you have to have a couple thousand dollar
    turn table and a thousand dollar needle to get audiophile
    sound out of vinyl but then again that's my philosophy
    about music setups in general...

    I can't wait to hear the phonostage in my Parasound Halo P3
    when it gets here next week.
     
  9. Chu Gai

    Chu Gai Lead Actor

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    Well Jeremy, your cartridge, a moving coil type, had an output impedance of 47 ohms vs. the Audio Technica's moving magnet 47,000 ohm. With respect to ultimate S/N ratios, all else being equal, these things tend to roughly balance out. However, with respect to the cost-effectiveness, moving coil types require either a preamp for your phono-input, or if bypassing it entirely, a preamp with higher or variable gain, which lead to greater cost and complexity although it does create an aura of mystique. So, no surprises why you observed what you did Jeremy. A gain change allowed you to boost the output of the cartridge to a level that would result in comparable volumes as a CD. As to whether this is desireable, I don't know. I consider it as a matter of personal preference.

    Jeff, I'll not disuade you from investigating an outboard preamp, but your findings suggest that other factors may well be at play here.
     
  10. Jeremy Hegna

    Jeremy Hegna Supporting Actor

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    "Well Jeremy, your cartridge, a moving coil type, had an output impedance of 47 ohms vs. the Audio Technica's moving magnet 47,000 ohm. With respect to ultimate S/N ratios, all else being equal, these things tend to roughly balance out. However, with respect to the cost-effectiveness, moving coil types require either a preamp for your phono-input, or if bypassing it entirely, a preamp with higher or variable gain, which lead to greater cost and complexity although it does create an aura of mystique. So, no surprises why you observed what you did Jeremy. A gain change allowed you to boost the output of the cartridge to a level that would result in comparable volumes as a CD. As to whether this is desireable, I don't know. I consider it as a matter of personal preference."

    Chu,

    Actually, you're a bit off base here...My Garrott is a Moving Magnet, not Moving coil. It has an output of 4mv, the Shure V15 on my Tech is 3mv. All standard "loads" for MM carts are 47kohms. You are speaking of impedence, not output. Regardless, the "output" of my Garrott is a bit higher than my Shure. My point is the difference in pre-amp output on seperate pre/amps vs. internal. The question asked by our original poster. But that is just a fraction of the performance boost you get from an outboard stage vs. an internal stage. The performance not only hinges on volume...but many other aspects of the sound as I mentioned earlier. The Tango pre-amp I bought also has MC ability and many frequency dipstick adjustments to tailor fit the sound to your specific cart to the system. These are benefits anyone will get by moving to an outboard stage. If you are considering getting into vinyl, keep this in mind. You can only align your cart so well. After that, it is a question of the chain...your sound is only as good as your weakest link will allow.

    Don't underestimate the job of the phono stage. I agree with you that all other aspects must be taken into consideration...and Jeff, you are correct...record cleaning is absolutey mandatory to attain optimum sound. Pops and clicks are a specific frequency and can be nearly eliminated by cleaning and a good stage. I'm actually from Whitefish, MT...NW corner...my Grandmother lived in Billings, but I've never sold a 5800...hope you got a good deal...did you upgrade it?

    Jeremy
     
  11. Jeremy Hegna

    Jeremy Hegna Supporting Actor

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    "As to whether the amount of information and the quality of said information on a vinyl is greater, that's highly debateable."

    Chu,

    This is a silly statement. There is no debate. Vinyl is recorded as analog...the information is infinite, only limited by equipment on playback. We hear in analog, not digital...all forms of digital are limited by frequency, IE Redbook at 20khz. I don't want to highjack this thread and talk digital vs. analog because I am a fan of both and listen to both...but there is no debate on which format has more resolution, more information. Not everyone will agree which sounds best, or how much work is necessary to enjoy a particular format, etc. But facts are facts.


    Jeremy
     
  12. Jeff Lehr

    Jeff Lehr Stunt Coordinator

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    Jeremy,

    I never got the upgrade for the Denon. I don't frequent the forums regularly and had no idea there was one available until just recently. I wrote to Denon to see if it was at all possible to still get it done, but haven't heard back from them.
    What exactly was the upgrade for and how much did it cost?

    JL
     
  13. Jeremy Hegna

    Jeremy Hegna Supporting Actor

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    Jeff,

    Call 1-310-974-1010 tomorrow morning. When the message comes up, press 2. You will be connected to service. Ask for Ben, he'll get you set up.

    It was $800 for the upgrade last fall...the price may have come down, I'm not sure. It is worth the cost, IMO. The upgrade is posted on Denon's site if you've not yet seen the specs.

    You are correct, the analog pass-thru on the built in stage, remains analog through the output...forgot to mention that earlier.

    Call Ben tomorrow, let me know if you are going to do the upgrade[​IMG] Welcome to the forums...just another way to spend more money[​IMG]

    Peace,

    Jeremy
     
  14. Jeff Lehr

    Jeff Lehr Stunt Coordinator

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    Thanks Jeremy,

    I'll check into it. Just what I need...more ways to spend money. Oh, well. Can't take it with you, right?
    One thing, tho...that upgrade they talk about on the Denon site seems to be an upgrade to an already upgraded 5800.
    So there are actually 2 upgrades to be done to the 5800?
    Or am I reading it wrong?

    JL
     
  15. MannyE

    MannyE Stunt Coordinator

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    Or you could just get a tube phono stage from bottlehead.com and spend a lot less without having to modify anything. Of course the Seduction phono stage is a kit that will take a weekend to build, but in my case. that's a plus because I love to build stuff. If you don't like to solder, then it might not be for you.

    www.bottlehead.com

    I got hooked on the tube sound after trying out the "Foreplay" preamp, and got hooked on the "tube sound". So much so that the tube stuff eventually grew to a whole rig (TT, phono, preamp, monoblocks, horn speakers) and moved to another room.
     
  16. Geo

    Geo Stunt Coordinator

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    Denon probably considers it one upgrade now, as the second upgrade was free and upgrades the Denon Digital Link to the SE version.

    I agree that if your serious about your LP sound you need an outboard phone stage. I use the Lehmann Black Cube with my Denon 5803. The Denon's phone stage is better than most receivers, but the Black Cube really opened up my LP's sound. Using the 5803 Pure Direct Mode, analog has never sounded sooooo sweet...

    For a change, I enjoy using Denon's Matrix mode for 2/ch multichannel music listening.
    Any other Denon owners try this?

    Regards, geo
     
  17. Jeremy Hegna

    Jeremy Hegna Supporting Actor

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    Thanks for the suggestion, Geo...I will check it out.

    Once through a DSP though, it has been through an ADC, right? Then back through a DAC...

    I agree, Pure Direct is the way...I will try Matrix tomorrow evening. Haven't experimented with the DSPs since my upgrade came back.

    Jeff,

    Geo is correct...just a firmware upgrade for the DLink. Are you sure your receiver wasn't already upgraded? There are many easy ways to tell, if you're not sure. The easiest way is where your volume level begins...if it starts at -70, it is upgraded. If it starts at -60, it has not.

    Jeremy
     
  18. peter m. wilson

    peter m. wilson Stunt Coordinator

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    Hi,
    RE the upgrade of the 5800.
    I was just over at AVS and read a thread from DENON Jeff saying that they are all out of upgrade boards. However, there may be some left in Toronto as i had mine done just after Christmas.
    rick@denon.ca is who i would refer my request to.

    I've been reading with interest the discussion re the phono stage on the 5800. One of the Denon dealers i spoke to suggested an outboard phono amp if i'm going to get serious. I think i've almost decided against the whole LP thing but i admire those that still pursue it and agree that an LP played on a proper and calibrated setup will be much more revealing than and redbook cd.

    Denon sort of made the decision for me by putting 2 sets of analogue ins' on the 5800/03 and i have jumped into dvd-a and sacd with both feet. (about 100 titles already)
    I read the reviews of the combi players which suggest that one format is better done than another in the same machine, so i presently have a couple of enty level machines and between the Denon and my Totem speakers I'm very happy.

    But then comes that nagging thought "maybee i should reconsider vynal"

    Peter m.
     
  19. Michael Cucka

    Michael Cucka Stunt Coordinator

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    Jeff -

    Like many others here, I returned to vinyl just about a year ago and have been on the upgrade path ever since...

    More so than any other equipment in my setup, analog/vinyl benfits greatly from tweaks and upgrades - and they are not as subtle as some of the stuff about cables/bi-wiring/etc. in general (which I also beleive to a certain extent).

    There is so much more sound in vinyl that the fussiness of the setup and tweaks makes it all worth it in the end, but it takes time and patience.

    Like yourself, I started with a Rega P3 thru an Denon 5800 and a Sumiko Blue Point. I've gone thru a couple of different phono stages since - NAD, and now Monolithic PS-1 - and added some of the usual tweaks like a RingMat and replacement Express counterweight.

    The major difference came when I replaced the P3 with a P25 and Sumiko Blue Point Special cart - OMG, the difference is dramatic!

    Also, the time spent with cartridge setup - alignment, VTA, VTF, etc - can't be underestimated. After trying a couple of different tools (like a GeoDisc), a Wally Tools protractor finally did it for me. The VTA on a Rega is a bit of a pain since you have to add on with aftermarket tweaks, but again makes a huge difference. Spending time with the bias setup also paid off in a big way.

    I guess, the bottom-line for me is, the sound you can get from vinyl and your analog setup is only as limited as your time, patience, and wallet will allow - but boy is it worth it!

    Have fun!
     
  20. Jeff Lehr

    Jeff Lehr Stunt Coordinator

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    Michael,
    I am definately hooked on vinyl. Even tho I sometimes get to the point of pulling out hair with messing with my Rega, I still enjoy hearing my lp's. There are so many subtle things going on, I can't help but smile when I hear something I missed before.
    And I noticed my tolerance for listening to music is much greater when I listen to vinyl. I can listen to album after album and never get tired of the sound. I get about half-way through a cd, and I'm ready to watch TV again.
    I'm going to keep my Rega for awhile, but I know it won't be long before I'm going to get the upgrade bug...I'm just hoping by getting an outboard phono stage and maybe a better cartridge down the road along with a couple more Rega tweaks it will help put off the inevitable sucking sound eminating from my wallet.

    Peter:
    Thanks for the info on the Denon upgrade. Maybe I still have a chance at it.
     

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