Brand new to vinyl: Help!

I am brand new to vinyl, but quite established in digital (CDs, lossless streaming, etc.).

I made the first foray to vinyl by purchasing an entry level turntable - Pro-Ject Debut Carbon DC Esprit.

I am using an Ayre pre-amp with phono stage and also Ayre amp.

While I am happy I have it up and running, I don’t think it sounds as good as my digital setup (Directstream DAC).

So what can I do to improve, short of buying a much more expensive turntable?

Things in my mind:

1 - Since it accepts DC power, buy a linear power supply

2 - Since my Phone stage on my preamp only accepts XLR three-pin connector, I bought a male RCA to male XLR cable from Amazon, less than $20. Do I need a better interconnect?

3 - Upgrade the cartridge (it comes with Ortfofon Red something)

"I made the first foray to vinyl by purchasing an entry level turntable - Pro-Ject Debut Carbon DC Esprit."

"While I am happy I have it up and running, I don’t think it sounds as good as my digital setup (Directstream DAC)."

You may have  your expectations too high? You got what you paid for. If you made an investment equal to your digital side, IMO your perception may have been different. 

Linear PS and cables are a waste of money with the level of table you have. I would up my game with a budget tubed phono unit and maybe another cart.

Don't expect WOW moments with a budget table setup if you have a decent digital front end. Phono stage is important as well.

I would just enjoy the novelty and save for a serious table/cart/phonostage.

First you can replace that awful cartridge to something much better. Even if you will upgrade with turntable and tonearm later you will need a cartridge. Everything starts with a cartridge when you play vinyl. I have upgraded the same turntable for a friend, we just changed the cartridge and he was so happy. His new cartridge was Stanton 881s mkII with Stereohedron stylus, but it could be much better with Audio-Technica AT-ML170 from the 80s (this cartridge is one of the best MM money can buy) and works fine on many tonearms. It's a mid compliance cartridge. You can also try wonderful Grace F9 or F14 cartridges. 
@tablejockey  you are 100% right on expectations - and I am totally aware of it. But I am not investing big dollars on a top shelf TT until I figure out vinyl is good for me.

Phono stage is top class. It is a Ayre K-1xe preamp with the optional phone stage included, which at that time costed MSRP of $1,800 additional upgrade.

I was just thinking in terms of temporary "stop gap" measure doing something with what I have.

Find a dealer/store who sells hi-end tables and see if you can get a loaner to try in your system. That would include a nice cartridge. That should help you to make up your mind. If you don't care for the sound then no sense in upgrading your Project, and you can simply sell it. Or, maybe the dealer will have a future sale.
thyname-perhaps someone will chime in with a suggestion for a  value cart.  I imagine you want minimal investment moving forward. I'm not sure that would be the solution, since the stock cart is supposed to be decent,relative to the table.

You bought a budget table, it comes with limited expectations.

 Audio Technica seems to be a go to,recommendations sure to come.

I find it helps to think in terms of %'s.  With a decent cartridge (think $400-$500 new) your table, arm, interconnects, etc., can get you 90-95% of what is reasonably achievable.  It is that last 5-10% that requires super stable table, seriously engineered arm, and a cartridge and interconnects made from un-obtainium.  Try a mid-compliance cartridge and let your speakers tell you the truth.
BTW: If you haven't yet, make sure your table is dead nuts level, best tweak ever!
@tablejockey  when you say "value cart", did you mean "cartridge"?

How do I know which cartridge is compatible with my turntable?

I own a Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Esprit SB. Here is what I did to improve the stock performance, at a moderate price:

Replaced the stock interconnect cable with a cable from Audio Sensibility. Significant improvement IMHO. I paid the $10 extra for break-in service so I didn't have to wait days/weeks.....

Performed a complete re-alignment, including level, overhang, azmuth and tracking force. VTA was checked and was OK, but not easily adjustable.

Replaced the Ortofon 2M Red Stylus with a 2M Blue Stylus. When I did this, the cartridge moved in the headshell and I performed a complete re-alignment again.

I like to sound I'm getting at this price point.
+1 reubent.  FWIW, I'd start with the 2M Blue stylus and complete re-alignment.  Those things often have a bigger effect than cables.  I'm not a big fan of XLR adapters; just another mechanical interface set to introduce noise.  Caig DeOxit should be all you might conceivably need given the age of your gear.

Cartridge compatibility is not a concern; your Ayre will handle pretty much anything.  Just make sure your phono section gain is set to 40 dB and resistance is 50 kOhms for your 2M Red or any other MM cart.

That said, some speakers like some cartridges better than others.  That's something that is largely subjective and has been addressed in many other threads.  Again, I wouldn't worry about it; you;re just trying to get a handle on whether the vinyl thing is good for YOU.

Note that the LP itself can have a dramatic effect.  Some are just plain bad, and some will rock your world.  Most are in the middle somewhere.  Use a decent cleaning process (once more, lots of threads here on that) and pick some music you like.

FWIW, I feel that vinyl is superior to digital in every way.  I have a superior DAC, disc player and vinyl rig and after doing hours of A-B testing, I'm always happier with the vinyl.  It just sounds more natural to my ears.

That's why this is such a fun hobby:  Finding that happy listening!
Great advice everyone! Thank you.

I did have to remove the load resistor out of the phono board on Ayre K-1xe, as it was 100 ohms and muffled the sound a lot. According to Ayre, the Ortofon red cartridge was best with no loading. I had to open the Ayre up to do all this.

The gain resistor is 10 ohm, so that means loudest setting, but it's OK, I can manage. 

I don't know what re-alignment means, but I will look it up.

The cable I got is RCA on one end and XLR on the other. No adapter used. That's what Ayre's manual recommended.

 With that project turntable feeding your air system, it's like using a red solo cup to drink really good champagne. The table is good for what it is, but your downstream components are going to reveal all its weaknesses. 

 Still, you can do a lot with it with a better cartridge. You might try a Dynavector 10 X5    Also, ask around your audio store if there's anyone in the area who might be free to come over and help you set up your turntable in cartridge so everything is aligned and cracked the right way. Someone who's in the know about vinyl can really teach you a lot about how to get the best sound out of your system. 
I agree with the comments above you dropped a budget cable into what sounds like a very revealing top tier system. I would recommend finding a good dealer who will not only sell you a table but will expertly set it up and fit it with a cartridge that is compatible with your phono stage. Trust me if you don't have a TT that sounds as good as or better than your digital you will stop listening to it.
You might want to experiment with a new cartridge? Maybe a Nagaoka? the MP 150 is great. 
You are killing me guys! Especially with those analogies. I know it’s an entry level TT. Totally aware. Trying to figure out whether the inconvenience of vinyl is something I can live with, while improving the sound with what I have right now and minor tweaks.

It seems like upgrading to Blue Ortofon is probably doable.

Maybe some ~ $200 Interconnects too.

I have already ordered a cleaning kit, and a level.

If you have an hour and 20 minutes, this is worth watching...

Recently returned to vinyl, and it was a rough start. After much fussing and trial and error, its working wonderfully and was well worth the effort.

Good luck!

Do not despair, Thy.

Set-up is the missing step in most vinyl rigs. Few can do it, and fewer bother. Yet it is not hard - it just requires perseverance.

Alignment, set-up, whatever it’s called - you need to adjust the relationship of the stylus to the vinyl. This includes: VTA (vertical tracking angle, whether the tonearm slants up or down); overhang (distance from tonearm pivot to stylus); VTF (vertical tracking force); azimuth (done with shims on one side of the cartridge on budget tonearms); and torque on the mounting screws.

Think of it this way: the TT gives you stability and reduces noise; the tonearm relates the cartridge to the TT; and the cartridge makes the signal. Obviously, to give its best, the cartridge must be held in correct relation to the vinyl. Also note that cartridges wear out. TT and tonearms, not so much.

Cables give the least bang for buck, IMO.

My views. YMMV


Vinyl vs digital is very subjective. Personally I love vinyl for serious listening; my CD player is for background listening only. And I can seldom use online services like Tidal as my wife insists it sounds like Muzak (it actually does).

If you're in to high quality sound and are prepared for the inconvenience of vinyl (I prefer it because it's interactive; not all do), then stick with your Pro-Ject for now; never mind that it's entry level - it's well spoken of. Upgrade your cartridge - as Simao says, the Dynavector is amazing -- I love mine -- if you're prepared to put in the money. Forget about interconnects for now -- they don't make a difference until you've seriously upgraded your whole system.

What speakers are you using? You get the most bang for your buck a the ends of the music chain -- the cartridge and speakers.

Just my 2-cents!

Thanks @gasbose @terry9 @pekri I will watch that video when I find some time. Bookmarked.

My Speakers are Revel Performa3 F208

While I agree that cables typically give you the least bang for the buck, the stock cable on the Pro-Ject was especially bad. Replacing it with the Audio Sensibility cable, at about $125 USD, really brought my vinyl playback to life. The stock cable really sucked....... 
@thyname - Also insure that you have a few really good sounding records to judge the sound quality of the TT when comparing it to your much more expensive digital rig. Make it a fair fight.....

Some records are simply outstanding, some are good and some are bad. Just like digital.....
+1 reubent.

I would suggest picking a recording that you are very familiar with, research what is the best available pressing of that particular recording and buy a new copy of that to use for your "reference" piece. 

Pretty much everything ever made is avail here:

And you can source what is "best" here:

Good luck!

Align the cartridge

Upgrade to the Ortofon Blue needle. It fits on your Red cartridge and is only $200. It tracks well at about 1.80 grams

Upgrade RCA interconnects.

I use an acrilyc mat. Some people prefer rubber or cork. makes a difference you'll be able to hear.

Like Reubent said, play a good recording. Pink Floyd's remastered Dark Side of the Moon on 189 gram vinyl sounds pretty good and although it seems Diana Krall is pretty much hated around here, her new Turn Up the Quiet album sounds pretty good.

Best of luck Thyname!

I will not even try to get into digital vs analog discussions. At best it’s been covered a trillion times and at worst what sounds great to me may sound average to you. But to put your situation in another perspective that may make better sense you have a high performance car with the cheapest tires. You can change the air pressure, balance the wheels differently even put a heavy load in the trunk and each time the ride will be different. You will only get the best ride out of your car when the tires are appropriate for your car. In all instances all tires will get you from A to B.
Post removed 
+1 on the Nagaoka 150 cartridge; also, their MP-110 is very good, and only $120.  I’d forget about the turntable until you find a cartridge you like, and have it correctly aligned.   What are you using to play CDs?  
+1 gasbose! That Dynavector high-output  mc cartridge will handily outperform ANY Ortofon mm! I myself have one in my collection of various cartridges! Just do a careful alignment and setup! Don't waste money on fancy cables! Buy an original US or UK pressing from the 70's of Pink Floyd's DSOTM to use as a reference (sounds better than any of the new reissues)!
Also, the 1978 Columbia pressing of Floyd's The Wall makes a fine reference LP! 
@cheeg I no longer have a CD player. All my CDs are ripped. I use my Directstream with Bridge II to stream my music via Roon, as well as Tidal Hifi
FWIW, If not sure go the least expensive avenue, Vynil gets real expensive real fast. Sure all the recommendations are great and useful but you'lL never recoup your outlays if you decide you don't like the whole Vynil experience.  It can be quite a shock not being able to hit a button to skip a track. There is a lot of intimacy required with vynil. Just my opinion. I personally am on the vynil side of the tracks.

I took note of all suggestions. Before I go any further:

Is it worth tweaking my current turntable (Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Esprit), or saving up money to buy a "good" turntable down the road?

I am thinking I should be able to save about $2,000 to $4,000 for a good turntable in about six months.

Looks like plenty of info and suggestions to confuse, and possibly waste money.

A favorite album and cartridge in your budget should give you an idea if records are for you.

All the reviews are favorable for the humble Project, when kept in context.

No cable,mat etc will elevate a table meant simply for enjoying records.

Music is a very personal thing, so you'll have to decide what floats your boat.  A couple of newer releases that should be readily available everywhere that could help you figure your sound out:

St. Vincent - Masseducation
Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga - Cheek to Cheek

IME, jazz and niche artists seem to release better sounding vinyl records in general and recently in particular. Not sure why that is or if it's even a "rule of thumb," but a lot of the bigger acts just sound kind of flat to me.

Don't tweak your Pro-Ject beyond a new stylus, alignment and cable.  Save your money, find music you like and keep your eyes peeled here and other boards.  You can pick up one really serious rig complete for ~$4K in the second-hand market.

Remember, shopping for audio gear is kind of like re-aligning a cartridge:  Take your time, take breaks when you need to and don't stress about any of it.
Thanks @effischer !

I have no idea on how to align it. Are you talking about leveling it?

Agreed on a good cable / Interconnects. It is a future proof purchase since I would be using the same cable when I upgrade the entire turntable setup.

Stylus beyond Ortofon Blue maybe too soon to decide on a good one.

‘For future upgrade I am thinking Clearaudio Concept or VPI Prime Scout

+1 Raymundo. Don't try to upgrade turntable -- you'll spend a lot and not get much return. Try the turntable with a better cartridge (again Dynavector for affordable great sound).

If you really like it, then look at a new turntable in a few months. Caveat: that way madness lies; audiophilia nervosa may lead you to keep upgrading... not so good unless you're really rich.

Meanwhile, enjoy what you have!

Agree with the "don't spend money" logic.

I resurrected my 28yr old TT before I dove into vinyl. Bought a Nagaoka MP-110 and installed it. (Had to, because the old Shure was dead). Did the adjustments to the TT/arm/cartridge. Bought a good pressing of Kind of Blue and did some comparative listening. I liked what I heard and have not looked back. Now, the Red is by no means a crappy cartridge. I installed one on my friends Rega P2 and after the break in period, it sounds just fine. I chose it because he has a lot of old vinyl and I thought it would be forgiving on surface noise and other annoyances. 

It is a bit of an expense as you will be hunting for good pressings of your favorites, and they more often than not are kinda pricy.

You are going to find that you're going to want a proper record cleaning machine to be able to get the most out of your records. After having listened to "clean" digital files, you may or may not be comfortable w the snap crackle and oppose of vinyl...

Get what you have set up properly, or confirm that it is set up right. Get a good pressing of one of your fav's and let the cart break in.

If you like what you hear with that, it will only get better w better TT/arm/cart.

Good luck!

I agree with perkri.  What you will learn about setup will be necessary for your next turntable, if you decide to go that way.  I really enjoyed listening to what each parameter does(VTA, anti-skate, cartridge alignment, VTF,etc.)
I am thinking I should be able to save about $2,000 to $4,000 for a good turntable in about six months.
@thyname If that is the case, I recommend the Technics SL-1200G. It looks identical to the old SL1200s you see on Craigslist, but its an entirely from the ground up new design. It is one of the best turntables made and the arm is not bad. If you go that route, its platter pad is a weak point: I replace them on sight. I would look into an inexpensive low output moving coil cartridge for it and talk to us (if you can't find anyone else) about building a cable that will allow you to run it balanced into your phono section (which is not expensive).
Darn @atmasphere  you're an Audiogon member before I was born.

Where are you located? 
A long reply here, so bear with me.

Alignment info is discussed in quite a few posts here and you can search on the Web for even more.  Even minor misalignment can affect playback markedly.  The 2M Red is comparatively forgiving, but better alignment is better sound regardless.  You may also want some magnification to help.  I use an illuminated bench magnifier with a hand-held magnifying glass; there are other and more user-friendly solutions too.  

The simplest solution is a Mobile Fidelity device called a Geo Disc; about $50 from anywhere.  It isn't the most accurate but should be sufficient for what you want to do.  It's a single point protractor with arm pivot point reference and precision molded spindle hole.  It's a fast, easy way to double-check a pre-existing alignment.

More precise protractors are often 2 point or elaborate fixture systems that can be quite costly.  Here's a free one:  and instructions to use it:

Briefly, 2 point systems mean you are trying to make sure the stylus is geometrically aligned at two points on the platter.  Cartridge alignment is a tedious process, so you have to be patient and take your time no matter what method you use.

For both single point and dual point, you have to start with making sure the vertical tracking force (VTF) is correctly set.  That's 1.8 grams for the 2M series and you'll need a scale to confirm.  If you don't have one, you can get one from Needle Doctor or any number of other places.  The catch is you'll have to make sure the balance point of the scale is near to equal with where the surface of the record would be during playback.  You may need to remove any table mat you may have to accomplish this. The reason behind this is so that the reference condition of adjustment as nearly matches the application condition of playback as possible.

To get an idea where that is, cue the stylus down on a record and look at the height of the contact point relative to the table platter surface edge-on.  The arm wand should also be roughly parallel to the record surface.  Shut the table down, turn the anti-skate to zero, place the scale on the platter, cue the stylus down on it and take another edge-on look.  The arm wand needs to be as nearly parallel as possible to the platter surface when you measure the 1.8 grams on the scale.  There are lots and lots of little nuances folks obsess on here, but you shouldn't.  Your table can't readily be made to address them so fuggedaboudit.

At this stage, you can go ahead and check the alignment.  It will either be right or it won't and you should see it pretty clearly.  Pull out your jeweler's screwdriver and your patience and start working on the cartridge position until you get the stylus alignment right.  I can't emphasize strongly enough:  Do not stress out on this.  If you get tired, have a drink.  If you try again and get tired again, go to bed and tackle it another day.  Relaxed patience is the mind-set you want.

The final stages are checking VTF again and resetting anti-skate to the correct value VTF and anti-skate are covered in your table manual.  Note that anti-skate is another topic of much discussion here - fuggedaboudit too for now.   Last, cue up a listening session to see how it all worked.    If you did it right, you should hear a clear improvement.

The whole alignment thing is why Pro-Ject and others offer tables with pre-installed carts.  Not many folks are willing and/or able to deal with it. For those who are, a whole new world of sonic excellence is often revealed.  It's also where better tables, arms and carts make night-and-day differences.  It's definitely paid off for me, anyway.

Have fun!
Ahhh.... @effischer  much appreciate this write up, but unfortunately I am not up to this task. Maybe I can find someone locally to do this for me
I’m using a K1xe pre with a V1xe amp....the sound is fabulous. really need a better cartridge. ..not a blue...... all warts will be exposed. Antiskate is a non issue. Perhaps your turntable could use better alignment, but a meaningful one is in order.  If you live in Arizona (Scottsdale) ...touch base.
thyname - you are up to the task, if you read paragraph 2 from @effischer:
The simplest solution is a Mobile Fidelity device called a Geo Disc; about $50 from anywhere.  It isn't the most accurate but should be sufficient for what you want to do.  It's a single point protractor with arm pivot point reference and precision molded spindle hole.  It's a fast, easy way to double-check a pre-existing alignment.
@thyname, I think the first thing that has to be done in order to get meaningful advice is to quantify the problem. How bad is the sound relative to what you are used to? If a LP sounds vastly inferior than a digital representation of the same master tape, then something is wrong with your set up that needs to be addressed before you even begin to consider upgrades.If the differences are more subtle, on the order of what your digital reproduction sounds like now vs how it sounded before some meaningful upgrade, then you can get your turntable set up by an expert at an audio shop for around $150 to make sure you're getting what  you should be. They can also check your RCA to XLR cable to make sure it is designed as it should be. Not all XLR connections are equal; but that a long story. 
If you should need a new cable, this is one you can customize for length that is quite good and a very good value.
Best of luck!