Vinyl records, in many ways, do not sound as good as CD's. Records have a ratio of maximum sound level to the level of noise (Signal-to-Noise Ratio, or SNR for short). The numbers for record SNR is 45dB, maybe a little higher on a good pressing. If you are not technical, this number is a linear number that matches the way we hear.
There are two kinds of noise that exist on good records, the first is a high frequency hiss, and the second is a low frequency rumble. In the section on Proper Record Playing Equipment, on our Caring for your Records page, we talk about the problems in cheap or improperly maintained turntables, and one of these problems is Rumble. Rumble is exactly what it sounds like, a low rumbling sound. This should be inaudible.
A live symphony concert has an SNR of 70dB or so, limited by crowd rustling and coughing, and other miscellaneous sounds such as air conditioning. The music itself certainly has a range of level, from loudest to softest sounds of at least 70dB, if not more.
To record a 70dB range of sound levels, and make it fit on a record that is limited to 45dB - 50dB, some sort of electronic "compression" (level range reduction) equipment is needed to linearly reduce the level of the loudest sound to the softest. This in itself is is a sort of distortion, and is not realistic sounding.
Sound Expansion [dBx]
You can purchase a piece of equipment that does the opposite of this, that is, it "expands" the difference between loud and soft sounds, making it more like a CD, or a live performance. The trick is not to overdo this enhancement (set to an expansion of 1.2 or 1.3). dBx was a company in the 70's - 90's that made high quality equipment that did this. Another advantage of this processing is that it significantly reduces the level of hiss and of rumble. Note that the current dBx company does not manufacture these systems, they specialize in equalization.
Pops and Ticks [SAE & KLH/Burwen]
Another problem with records is the pops and ticks that are left after a used record has been thoroughly cleaned. Two other companies came to the rescue back in the 70's to fix this. They made an Impulse Noise Reduction System, or Pop and Tick Eliminator. SAE is one company that had a model 5000A that did an excellent job of getting rid of pops and ticks. It has an Inverse mode that lets you actually hear the pops and ticks that are eliminated, and any music that was removed, based upon its settings. Then you could optimize one setting to find the best performance.
A comment posted on AudioKarma.org, a notable audio site, said - "Picked up a SAE 5000 Impulse Noise Reduction System unit off of eBAy recently. Payed $50 plus shipping. Tired of fighting the static pops, especially on older vinyl. Turns out this thing is amazing. ... I have to say this unit has given all my older vinyl (some of which I've been carting around since 74') a whole new lease on life." The photos of the two products are from AudioKarma.org.
Another company was Burwen, who developed the model TNE 7000A Transient Noise Eliminator, also sold by KLH. I think they both work well, each has it fans and detractors. I have links to these below.
Connecting and Using This Equipment
The way they are used is to connect the output of the phono pre-amplifier to the input of the Pop and Tick Eliminator, whichever one you have; then you connect the output of the Pop and Tick Eliminator to the dBx Expander (set to an expansion of 1.2 or 1.3). Then the output of the dBx goes to the input of the stereo or home theater amplifier. Because a picture is worth 1000 words, I have included a block diagram below to aid you in the connections. A vintage turntable will require an external pre-amplifier, a newer turntable, especially cheap ones, will have a pre-amp built-in.
It is important to remove the Pops and Ticks first, then expand the SNR, or Dynamic Range.
I think that you will be amazed at the sound of the Standard Treasury or the Basic Library, if you properly clean the records, and use the above described equipment. Besides, these toys are fun to play with and demonstrate to friends.
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