How To Buy: Turntable Upgrades
Want to make more of your turntable? Paul Rigby looks at a number of ways you can do just that…
When manufacturers build a turntable, they will do it to a budget. So, for example, the CEO of that respected company HIFI X might say: “Okay, guys, I want to sell a brand-new turntable – called the Deck X. I want it ready to hit the market in September for the Christmas market and I want it to sell at £500. Not a penny more.”
So there are your limits, in both time and cash. This means, as a developer, you’re restricted by both resources (there are only so many people and only so many hours in the day), and also your budget.
From that skilled workforce, what you get is most probably a very wonderful Deck X that’s a dream to use but, nevertheless, a compromise based on those elements. is also means that there might be certain parts – eminently replaceable parts – that can be changed to enhance and improve the sound quality. These parts would have more than likely pushed the manufacturer’s original budget over the edge, but you don’t care about that, do you? You just want a nicer- sounding turntable.
More than this, there might be parts out there that will work well with Deck X that have been developed – by third-party companies and skilled tinkerers – since Deck X’s release. There might also be parts out there that were never meant to be used with Deck X, but someone had a spare hour to mess about with on a Sunday, matched them together and, would you believe it… and so it goes.
Off The Shelf
Some turntable upgrades are decidedly non-specific. These are items that have been developed independently for the hi-fi market and are intended to be used anywhere and everywhere, without any particular target market or niche product in mind.
For example, there are plenty of specialist cartridge manufacturers out there who produce a host of models for many price points, from Audio-Technica and Goldring to Ortofon and Koetsu. There’s a lot of choice.
The same can be said for producers of platter mats. ese things arrive in a wide variety of materials. Anything from metal to felt and from rubber to cork. Again, the choice is vast – but there’s more to consider… everything from clamps to stabilisers to belts. The third-party, ready-to-buy and ready-to-use accessory market covers items as prosaic as a new headshell to something as exotic as a new type of oil for the platter bearing.
Of course, turntable manufacturers themselves are more than aware that upgrades, down the line, can often improve and enhance the quality of their turntables. Some brands therefore produce kits or enhancements of their own, to improve the sound of their own turntable models.
This practice is not too common, because the money and the profit is in the actual turntable production and not in the supporting accessories. Besides, the brand might not have the capacity to make its own accessories. Nevertheless, you will find branded accessories out there, and they are always worth a look.
The Third Way
Third-party outfits often produce turntable-specific upgrades. That is, they will create one or more accessories that have been developed and bagged for sale, and can be used only with a specific turntable design and no other.
Hence, they might say: “Okay, here’s a suite of four replacement feet that we have made for Deck X and only Deck X, so don’t bother fitting them to any other turntable because they won’t fit or they will be sonic mismatch, etc”. That kind of thing.
When it comes to upgrades of this nature, you might notice a difference. That is, they can be quite ambitious in their goals and targets. So, instead of a platter mat, they might involve replacing the platter itself. Instead of the head shell, they might offer a new arm. Instead of a new set of feet, they might change part of the actual plinth. Upgrades of this type can be large and meaty in approach, but they often insist on retaining the crucial personality and sound signature of the original that they modify. Otherwise, you might as well just invest in a new turntable.
Ready And Waiting
The final type of upgrade is the plug-and-play variant, which is when a third-party company has taken the skeleton of a popular turntable design and added a new arm, platter and cartridge… and maybe new feet and possibly a new platter mat. But this souped-up new version is presented to the user as a ready-to-use item, with no call on the customer to reach for the screwdriver.
Sometimes, the reason for upgrading a turntable can play a massive part in the choice and implementation of the new part. For example, you might buy a new turntable because it offers great bass but the upper midrange is not the best. You knew this at the time of purchase, but bass was your priority then and so out came the wallet. Since that time, the upper-midrange problem has begun to get on your nerves. But help is at hand, because another skilled technical user has also reached the end of their tether and developed a new set of isolating feet for their product, because that was the design ‘fault’ to begin with. New feet installed, all is well and harmonious.
Hence, in this case, the upgrade is not there to enhance the sound or to make a great sound even finer, but to actually fix a design problem.
Turntable Upgrades: Buyer’s Recommendations
What turntable upgrades should you buy? Here’s a selection of three different types, at varying price points. These are just our recommended choices. There are lots of others that I have not been able to include due to space reasons. Why not contact us and tell us about your favourites, so that other readers can be made aware of them? We’d love to hear from you.
Upgrades from the brand who made the original turntable in the first place
24V Performance Motor Upgrade Kit
This new motor fits a range of designs from the RP1 and Planar 2 to the Planar 3 and Planar 25. The aim is to reduce noise vibrations: it enhances stability to improve sound quality.
A great example of niche targeting from a host manufacturer. Aimed at users who want to use a Naim ARO tonearm with an Avid turntable, this enhances sound quality because, for the first time, it allows overhang adjustments to be made during installation.
Heavy Upgrade Kit
Aimed at the Spacedeck, Ace Spacedeck and Space 294 turntables, this upgrade kit has an inch-thick graphite pad, which makes up for the top mat. It also comes with the spacers needed to raise the arm height and rotating mass, and the upgrades are said to help improve both stability and resonance control.
Useful upgrades that will work across a broad range of designs
Most turntables offer extra capacity in terms of cartridges. Hence, the majority of bundled cartridges can successfully be replaced. Swap the Lenco L-3808’s example with £35-worth of Audio-Technica AT95E for good times and extra sonic detail, for instance.
Sometimes, turntable platters can ring like a bell, causing stridency and brightness in the midrange. A top-quality mat can calm these stormy waters. The superb Oyaide BR-12 at £85, for example, features vibration-calming Butyl rubber.
Your cartridge is the most delicate and sensitive measuring device in your entire hi-fi. It can pick up and transmit the tiniest of vibrations: good or bad. The Acoustical Systems arché 5D headshell (£475) not only displays excellent build quality, but you can adjust the cartridge’s rake angle to boot.
Third Party Upgrades
Bespoke upgrades from independent manufacturers
Improvements from these mods – which Origin Live perform for you – are wide ranging, but they include a complete rewiring of the tonearm, structural modifications and counterweight replacement. None of the mods are too expensive and all slot in at under £100 each. The end result is a notable enhancement in overall sound quality.
WTP SERENE PROJECT
For Linn Sondek LP12
The Serene Project comprises six components, all of which have been designed to improve the performance of the part they replace while maintaining compatibility with the original components. They include a plinth, top plate, cross brace, base, sub-plate and arm board. Each enhances overall performance.
This is an all-in-one, upgraded, installed and ready-to-go package. In the case? An original Technics SL-1210 with a new arm and cartridge, platter mat, arm-mounting plate, motor dynamics, power switch, feet, bearing and power supply. A Technics transformed!