So you want the ultimate analogue experience, but you don’t know where to begin. From styli to phono preamplifiers, analogue audio does get a little tricky. But if you understand the four key components and how they work, you’re more likely to avoid the hi-fi traps and begin slinging your favourite LPs sooner.
The four core components to any analogue setup are as follows: a turntable, a phono preamplifier, an amplifier, and speakers. The turntable converts the record’s physical information into electrical signals; the phono preamplifier elevates it to a line level; the amplifier then separates left and right channels, telling each speaker what sounds to make, magnifying the level according to your desired volume; and the speakers convert it all back into physical information in the form of sound waves. Simple, right? Sort of. But the important thing to note with all this is that without one of these four core components, there’s no music. Nada. Nothing.
Now, at first this all sounds like a lot of gear, but any or all of these components can be integrated to reduce clutter and achieve a cleaner aesthetic. Reputable turntable and amplifier manufacturers like Pro-ject or Rotel both offer inbuilt phono preamplifier options, and we here at Vinyl Revival carry a large range of integrated amplifier/speaker sets from guys like Audio Engine and Klipsch; however, any integration will affect the overall performance of your setup, so it’s best to entirely avoid those cheap little all-in-one’s. Analogue is much like a game of whispers in that there is an initial message passed along from component to component until it’s spoken back to the group. When components are integrated, signal interference ensues and degrades the original message - and that message is of a far higher quality than any digital format. It’s why records sound so good. Separation of these four components offers the best sound quality and ability for future upgrades, but there’s no right or wrong here. The perfect system is the one that meets your expectations and achieves the desired effect.
If a clean, uncluttered aesthetic interests you, then a turntable with an inbuilt phono preamplifier is the way to go. When matched with a set of active speakers, you get all four core components for the effect of only two. Active speakers or powered speakers have inbuilt amplification within one or both of the speaker housings; think Bluetooth speakers or computer monitors. If they plug into the wall, they have an inbuilt amplifier. In most cases, these are small digital amplifiers that match the requirements of the speakers they’re married to; however, most Bluetooth speakers are singular, singular meaning mono, and mono is only half the fun. In an analogue system we recommend a stereo pair: separate lefts and rights. That way, you enjoy all the effects of true stereo imaging. This kind of two-piece setup is simple, clean, and perfect for small spaces. It’s the ultimate analogue beginner setup.
A more traditional setup, and something far more dynamic and detailed, is the three-piece: a turntable, an amplifier with an inbuilt phono pre, and a pair of passive speakers. It takes up more space, but the effect is grander and your ability to upgrade becomes less inhibited. Separating the phono stage from the turntable reduces signal distortions and allows you to upgrade preamplifiers as you upgrade styli (needles). It’s one of the least expensive and most effective improvements you can make to the overall sound quality of an analogue system. Again, the separation of amps and speakers offers greater flexibility for upgrades, but it’s the combination of brands and styles that allows you to tailor a system to your favourite tunes that’s most important.
Love acoustics and instrumentation? Perhaps the warmth of valve amps is your preferred signature, rock and pop more your thing. In this case, solid state amps or horn-loaded speakers might just give you the attack and the tempo you’re looking for. Isolating components decreases signal interference, yes, but it also creates more room for future experimentation, and that’s when the real fun begins.
I once heard the role of an audio specialist was akin to the role of a sous chef: meaning any old dude can purchase fresh apples and walnuts, but that doesn’t mean they can make a Waldorf salad. Point being, it’s the right combination of ingredients that will determine dope tunes from dud systems – and that’s where we come in. Knowing the core components is key; they’re your building blocks, and without them you won’t get too far. It’s our job to help tailor them into the ultimate analogue experience for you.
For more expert advice on the world of vinyl, visit Vinyl Revival in Fitzroy and Brunswick or head to vinylrevival.com.au.