It’s the time of year for saving money!
If you have been an audiophile for any length of time you’ve probably come to realize that assembling and maintaining a high-performance phono system costs a lot of money. And while there are digital front ends from companies such as DCS, Audio Note, and MSB that cost as much as a top-flight analog rig, most high-performance DACs’ prices do not approach what you can expect to pay for a first-class turntable.
The question is, why?
The simple answer is that turntables cost more because they require more in both assembly time and materials to manufacture. And these costs add up due to the number of unique and special parts that require extremely tight tolerances found in a premium turntable. Unlike a DAC where once you have the fancy custom box most of the contents inside the box are off-the-shelf parts that do not require much in the way of specialized fabrication. Conversely, in a premium turntable most of the parts are unique. Also, a turntable has more separate mechanical operations that must perform perfectly to operate properly than any DAC (which has virtually none, except if you consider the volume control a mechanical part). On a turntable we have the motor to drive the platter, the platter itself, the platter’s bearing, the isolation and/or suspension system, and the tonearm…all require precision manufacturing to work smoothly. And then you must add the phonograph cartridge and finally the phono preamplifier needed to re-equalize the LP curve back to line level. And just like the basic turntable itself, top-echelon cartridges, tonearms, and phono preamplifiers are all pricey.
But what about $500 turntables? Could a budget turntable ever perform at the same level as a premium-priced example? Probably not. Sure, they work, turn, and make sound, but with compromises, big and small, to make it into the world at their designated price it means that there is no time of money for the kind of parts quality and tight tolerances needed for a turntable to be a top-performer.
Is there an entry-level amount that I think you need to spend to get a turntable without any serious shortcomings?
For $5000 an audiophile looking for a reference-quality DAC or DAC/PRE has many outstanding options. In the analog phono world that’s enough for a mid-level rig, barely. So, should we conclude that analog phono is a bad value, or not “worth it?”
Some things, by their very nature cost more to produce. An analog turntable is just one of them. Couple this with the fact that most turntables need an initial set-up from someone with the skills to do the job and you have a sonic direction that will require capital to pursue to its fullest.
As to whether a turntable system is a good or bad value, that is more of a personal cost/benefit analysis question than one that can be generalized to everyone. My own two VPI-based analog rigs date from the mid-90’s, when they were among the best available. They have served me well over the years. And if the costs of both turntable systems were amortized over all the years I’ve owned them, their average yearly cost for both has been less than $500 per year.
Given the amount of pleasure my analog rigs have given me, I consider that a bargain…
The reason so-called “audiophile” turntables cost so much is you have people willing to pay exorbitant prices for infinitesimal improvements in sound. Many have rejected this and have turned to vintage turntables from the 70s and 80s such as Denon, Pioneer and Thorens. Typically, these turntables have better specifications, do more and are more attractive. And oh yeah, they cost a lot less. But as they say, a fool and his money are soon parted… especially an audiofool.
Your first point is almost entirely correct; many audiophiles are willing to pay exorbitant prices for very small improvements in sound, but these improvements are very rarely small enough to justify labeling them as infinitesimal.
“At this level, everything makes a difference.” —Dave Wilson, founder of Wilson audio, may he rest in peace.
I’ll be blunt with you here: your claim that Denon/Pioneer/Thorens/(you forgot Technics) turntables from the 70s or 80s are better than newer high-end models is preposterous. You might be able to get better sound—for the money—by purchasing a used vintage model, but many audiophiles have zero interest in buying anything used. They are most often perfectly aware that high-end turntables are overpriced, but they don’t care. They buy what they want because they can.
Isn’t the full truth that the use of sometimes unnecessary exotic materials make the prices so high. $5000+ for a turntable – really. Something like a Rega P6 does a wonderful job for far less. A turntable does not need to weigh 200 kg and look like some monstrosity from outer space to make good music nor does it have to be made from pure Exorbium. Such overprized overkill.
yup! agreed with you all the way ! I did sell high end precision machine tools for such work because yes. you can machine metal precisely to the microns…but do the designs really need those fancy metalurgy and oversised bearings and weight distribution etc..etc..I can bet if there is a blind listening tests on turntables betwee cheap and above 5K it can be difficult to pick them up..Cartridges and amplifications does help though but at the end of the day its the sound we are after that suits our taste..
Is Exorbium more or less expensive than Unobtainium?
yes but only marginally! But what a difference in sound.
Yes, it is overpriced overkill, just like an original Picasso, a beachfront mansion in Malibu, a four-figure steak dinner, and the list goes on. What is your point?
The tone of your reply just verified my point – bye TheAudioExpert!
In other words, you have no rebuttal. Fair enough.
It’s exactly like the jewelry industry. Just look at all those rich suckers buying all those outrageously priced diamonds! Don’t they know that they can get the same look with cubic zirconia? Rich people are so stupid when it comes to money, aren’t they?
Speaking for most audiophiles with sane budgets, I’ve never wanted more than to enjoy the classic sound of mainstream consumer hi-fi from the “golden years” such as the 70’s-80’s when manufacturers made quality gear to play LP’s. I challenge anyone to tell me their $5000 turntable brings them more joy than my Technics SL-1300 turntable and Sony moving coil cartridge, Marantz 2385 receiver pushing 185 watts per channel into Infinity Reference Five speakers! There are NO “weak links” in my system as far as I’m concerned and it still raises the hair on the arms of anyone who beholds that vintage sound! $500 per year?!?!…that’s just poor financial judgment.
$500 a year is less than regular fools pay for direct TV or cable. I would say my financial judgement is just fine…And since your challenge is one that is purely subjective, I will be happy to say that I enjoy my system more than you enjoy yours…prove me wrong? You can’t…so why make that statement to begin with?
your opinion is 100% correct: its yours. ive been a professional sound guy for 25+ years working with the best gear in the business and MY opinion is that guys who need to spend many thousands on gear that sounds 1% better than mine are just like guys who need giant pickup https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/73c6a4b9f54b1f8541844932ab8b4778bc4ac7ea61df410b21d4cccdf1d78453.jpg trucks with fat tires: they are usually compensating for shortcomings elsewhere.
I agree about the giant pick-ups…
“…regular fools pay for direct TV or cable.” Why drag me into this? (LOL) By the way you can get a top-notch DAC from Schiit for $2399. Yggdrasil
I’ll stick to my 1959 second-generation AR turntable. I’ve heard “much better”, but I can’t discern a difference, and, with upgraded cartridges and electronics, I’m perfectly happy. The one thing I’ve found that really helps is disconnecting the drive belt when I’m not using it. I found out long ago, if you leave the belt engaged and not use the unit for quite a while, you get a “wow” that will kill you! And, in the process need a new drive belt.
Why? Because some people have money to burn.
poor explaination on why an expensive table costs so much.
Better than all the others, however… 🙂
What the hell are you talking about? That was an extremely concise, one-page article which summarized the topic very well. Let me break it down into even simpler terms for you: high-quality turntables are extremely expensive to manufacture. Any questions?
Components in the system need to be matched, a chain is as strong as its weakest link. If you are using high-end speakers on a low-end amp or low end speakers on a high end amp, then you will be missing out on the benefits of the high end component.