Thursday, July 16, 2015

Meanwhile, playing around with a cheap table

I picked up an old Denon DP790 online a few months back at a price that seemed more than reasonable so as to get a handle on all this love for direct drive technology that we find in multiple forums. Would like to have heard the VPI direct drive but we've discussed that problem earlier, so a cheap, used Japanese table from the 1980s found its way here instead. Unfortunately the seller had little or no experience packing tables and left the platter on and the cover down, imagining I suppose that those nice people in UPS would always lift gently and hold the package upright. A bit of clean up later, I installed a Clearaudio moving magnet (MSRP $250) on the arm, tweaked a few settings and gave the old girl a spin in my secondary rig.

All sounded fine, a decent basic turntable into a Harmon Kardon receiver driving some old Kefs provided me with reasonable but not earth shattering sounds but what can you expect for this price? Well, you can expect a whole lot more than you might believe if you get the partnering equipment right (as an aside, I know Audioholics reported that the HK receiver I use sparingly has some of the best measurements you can get, but man, it has never sounded great to my ears with any speaker I've used).

A move to my main rig, just to know, proved very interesting. Connecting to my Whest .03RDT SE phono stage (running in MM mode) gave me sounds that really caught my ears Super quiet background, reliable solid bass without any overhang or smear, and nicely articulated highs. Vocals were clear, instruments sounded accurate and most of all, the whole sonic picture was pleasing and engaging. Not bad thinks I - and not just for the price, this little table is not out of place here with my high end components.

Time then for a few tweaks without concern for the sanity of these additions. Off with the rubber platter mat and on with a TTW heavy mat. Hum.....better resolved bass, super-quick, distinct, with bass drum and guitar separated clearly. Add the HRS clamp over the spindle and things seem even a little better still. Yikes, that well over a $1k in tweaks on a used table found for $200, but man, that little Denon is good enough to warrant it.

Would I give up my SME 20 for this? No, it's good but not quite that good but it is easier to nail the exact speed. Using my phone app, I got the Denon to run dead on 33.3 with just the slightest adjustment of its speed dial. The tonearm is height adjustable, and with the standard headshell, you can adjust azimuth sort of quickly by loosening the collar or swap cartridges in a heartbeat. Speaking of this headshell, cartridge positioning is simplified by the manuals instruction to move it until the stylus tip to collar measures 48mm. I did this then used a Stevenson alignment to final check and position. Super easy, the sort of no fuss set up anyone can handle.

The gaps between this table and my reference are there to hear, the SME just gives everything a bit more space around instruments and lines, and provides a larger window into the performance but I wonder now how good the Denon might sound with a comparable MC cartridge. Surely it's madness to put a $1k+ cartridge on this table/arm but I cannot help believe it would sound even closer to my SME. Don't have one to hand and am not about to take my Pearwood Celebration off my SME V given the hours I've put in getting it just right but the opportunity to try one will surely present itself at some point, even if I just swap the Pearwood over when it's time for a replacement.

So, if you are confused by turntables but want to dip your toes in, take a chance on a used Denon or equivalent direct drive. Just make sure it runs ok and the arm is adjustable. From there, the set up is simple (or as simple as vinyl can be), and you will have taken a significant step on the road to understanding what vinyl can provide. A table like that can live with upgrades and decent partnering equipment before its own limitations show. Right now, I don't think I've even reached the limits of what this little Denon  DP790 can provide. Try that with any 1980s cd player and see where you get!


Jim said...

Actually Patrick, my 1990 (does that count?) Meridian 208 cd player, used as a transport for a variety of DACs for the past 15 years, still astonishes me when I occasionally unhitch it. No, it doesn't have the ear-scouring resolution of today's technology, but the euphonious, full-bodied sound is a treat still. And the tweaks (sorbothane feet, a marble plinth and occasional clean with a treatment disc) cost me less than £100.

PatrickD said...


I have an old Rotel that does same duty for me...but when I play it on its own, it does not compete. Still, I have several players, including a Denon SACD less than 10 years old, which won't play anything. Lesson here? I have no idea...but that old Denon turntable kicks ass, their SACD players I'll never touch again.