The Wonderful World of Vinyl; Marantz TT-15S1 Turntable Reviewed
Published on November 27, 2008
I recently inherited an LP collection from a relative who was as passionate about his music as he was about keeping his records in excellent shape. In the past I’d been given a few collections (consisting of a few hundred records total) from others who had “moved on to CD” and/or didn’t have a record player any more and had no more reason to store the LPs they had collected over the years.
I had duplicate (and triplicate) copies of some records as well as music I decided I would never be able to enjoy. When I sold some of these discs (and mentioned the desire to sell to others) I couldn’t avoid the multiple comments about the “resurgence of vinyl.” From their enthusiasm you’d think vinyl purchases had somehow toppled the sales of CD, but alas my retort was more along the lines of, “well, vinyl just never really left.” And truth be told, those who spin the black gold (as I fondly refer to the discs) range from DJs to diehard audiophiles who own equipment ranging from six-figure systems to portable plastic “close ‘n’ plays.”
The enthusiasts are those who never gave vinyl up, came back to vinyl after their lack of enjoyment from the sound of CD or compressed music like the iPod mostly offers, or were just introduced to the format after seeing ads, TV commercials, movies and other media that has proclaimed vinyl playback to be hip again.
A few things sparked my recent interest. For one, when I met my wife she was playing her records (of which she had about 200) through a plastic turntable she obtained at a flea market. This wouldn’t do! I quickly replaced it with a vintage receiver (with a decent phono input), a set of speakers, and an old Thorens TD-160 I had lying around. Why lying around you ask? Well…I have to admit that my vinyl days had come to an end.
It is not that I don’t appreciate a good analog system—far from it! I had just grown tired of the hassle of storing, cleaning, maintaining, flipping, and messing with the 12” discs. As I write these words I imagine the disappointed vinyl fanatics ready to give me the list of 100 reasons why I should play vinyl vs. the smaller aluminum variety. You can stop right there. This, in fact, is what this article is all about: Rediscovering that which was never really gone to begin with.
By way of reviews I will be exploring the world of analog players and accessory products and perhaps even offer some insight into areas like record cleaning and how to make the whole experience more fun. That’s what this hobby is all about anyway, right!?
I’m not an engineer (although I was studying to be one), so most of my observations will be subjective. If I come across any fantastic technical articles for those inclined, I will reference them at the end of the reviews. Otherwise you can join me on a journey into sound. Feel free to relay your CONSTRUCTIVE criticism and suggestions to my email address. Thanks and let us begin!
Marantz TT-15S1 Turntable
Marantz America, Inc.
100 Corporate Drive
Mahwah, NJ 07430
Acrylic turntable including arm and cartridge (manufactured by Clearaudio for Marantz), 33 1/3 and 45 rpm speed belt drive system, Clearaudio Satisfy radial tonearm with adjustable stylus pressure from 0-5 gram; 3-18g cartridge compatibility; Cartridge output voltage at 1 kHz ~ 3.6 mV with recommended stylus pressure of 2.0 grams, Aluminum cantilever; Souther plastic record clamp; 350 mm D x 440 mm W x 110 mm H (to spindle), 6.125” to top of cueing lever when arm height is adjusted for mat; 3 year parts and labor warranty on tonearm and table—90 days on cartridge.
Krell KAV-400i Integrated Amplifier, Musical Fidelity A5 Integrated Amplifier, PS Audio GCPH Phono Stage, Whest Two Phono Stage, Bowers and Wilkins 803S speakers, Audioquest cabling. Accessories used are too numerous to list—please see future accessories reviews for more information.
It’s been a while since I’ve done any serious turntable setup, so I thought it would be useful to describe the procedure for those who are in the same boat. After unpacking all the pieces, I made sure the table I was using for assembly was level by using two separate bubble levels (which I later used on the playback surface). The manual is excellent and includes pictures and numbered steps to make the setup as easy as possible.
The three turntable legs unscrew, so in case it is impossible to have a completely level surface, the user can level the table by adjusting the legs. White gloves are included to keep the table clean during assembly and for handling the belt. An extra belt comes with the table, but there is no 45 adapter or dust cover. You can buy an aftermarket Gingko Dust Cover for $279 that measures 19” W x 14” D x 6.5” H. A basic 45 adapter costs $3 and a Clearaudio stainless steel adapter sells for $45. Other options will be discussed in a later accessories article.
The table comes with a tonearm, cartridge, record clamp, as well as tools and oil (which you may need in the future). In addition to the ground wire that is attached to the tonearm, there is a ground that attaches directly to the underside of the table. TIP #1: Wait till the ground wire is installed before removing the tape on the topside of the base that holds the bearing in place; otherwise it may fall out, spill oil, and generally make a mess.
The TT-15 comes with a soft mat, but whether it will be used needs to be determined before adjusting the height of the tonearm. I didn’t compare the sound of both, but the included clamp is only recommended to be used with the mat (or with warped records). A vinyl enthusiast I know said that his experience with tables of this type leads him to believe that it would be better to avoid the mat completely. Adjusting the height is incredibly easy—just slip the counterweight under the tonearm and use the small felt piece or not depending on whether you will by using a mat or not. This will be all that is necessary to adjust VTA (vertical tracking angle).
If the supplied Clearaudio Virtuoso Ebony cartridge (exclusive to this table) is used, then setup is very easy. The supplied screws thread right into the cartridge (without need of a nut above or below) and according to the manual, pushing the cartridge into the forward position is all you need to adjust offset. Most cartridges require a lot of work to properly align the cartridge, so it was nice to be able to have it set easily. If a different cartridge is used, the manual specifies that the stylus tip needs to be 32 mm back from the wood part of the arm. I went ahead and checked alignment with a DB Systems Protractor anyway. This is an indispensable tool for adjusting proper offset. I confirmed that the accuracy was within a small fraction of a degree although it was hard to tell definitively due to the fact that the cartridge has rounded sides. TIP#2: If you are going to use an alignment tool, make sure you secure the platter with tape so that the needle doesn’t get damaged by sliding off the tool.
Pinch-nosed pliers are a good tool to attach the cartridge leads, but I was able to do it successfully with my fingers (and nails). All that was left was stylus pressure and anti-skate. The quick and dirty way to adjust stylus force is by first leveling the tonearm parallel to the platter surface (so it floats) and then apply the recommended force to the stylus (most often accomplished by turned the weight on the tonearm toward the center of the platter). The cartridge instructions recommended 2.0 grams of force while the turntable manual indicated 2.2 grams. I chose to go with the lighter tracking force. If you ever see the needle bouncing off the record you know that you have applied too little force. Too much force can cause premature breakage of the needle and poor sound quality. You can always listen and make slight adjustments as well.
Initially I tried to adjust the stylus pressure using the prescribed method, but I’ve found over the years that this is not usually all that accurate. In this case, when I measured the pressure with a digital scale from Steve Blinn I found that I was off on the high side by >.1 gram. Like setting offset, make sure to secure the platter to avoid needle damage and set anti-skate afterwards to avoid bending the shaft of the cartridge.
The manual specifies the magnetic screw be set half way for proper anti-skate (which is what I did since I didn’t have a test record or oscilloscope to check to make sure it was set properly).
Lastly, I set up the motor. The pulley needs to be positioned at 3 mm above the height of the motor which turns out to be approximately the tip of the included screwdriver turned sideways. I would recommend a better screwdriver for actually tightening down the plastic screws for the pulley. The supplied one seemed too fat and I couldn’t tell if the screws were tightening or just slipping.
There is a cutout in the plinth (base) for the motor and it is best if the motor does not make contact with the base. However, the power switch is on the side of the motor and turning it on and off causes the motor to move requiring you to reposition it (if you are neurotic about such things) each time you turn the table on. The switch should be on the top or remotely located.
The spindle was a bit tight on some records so I gently smoothed it down, so I wasn’t fighting with the TT-15 to get records off. That concluded the setup. I used a couple of different amplifiers and phono preamplifiers while the turntable was under test (all listed above).
Operation and Maintenance
This turntable is fully manual meaning you will have to lift the arm to the record and then put it to rest when the arm moves into the exit groove. I would agree with the manual and give the platter a slight spin before turning on the motor—this will increase belt life and prevent slippage or possible locking up of the motor mechanism. Other than that, this turntable worked just as expected. I had an old 45 adapter lying around for use with a record or two that needed it. To change the speed, just lower the belt down on the pulley.
To dust the records off I used an Audioquest antistatic carbon fiber record brush. I tested speed accuracy with a KAB SpeedStrobe. According to my measurements, the turntable was between .5-.6% fast. This disc has the speed numbers right on it (as opposed to bars), so it is easy to keep track of how far off the speed is. Also, it comes with a strobe light, so no worries about differences with line voltage or 50/60 Hz issues.
To clean the stylus I used the Extreme Phono solid-state gel stylus cleaner. This is the best, safest and simplest stylus cleaner I have ever had the pleasure to use. [LAST also makes Stylast cleaner which I use. They also offer record cleaners and a very effective preservative for vinyl....Ed.]
I played music on the TT-15 for weeks–off and on every day. Rating the subjective quality of sound comes down to how you feel and what sort of emotional response is elicited when you listen to any given system. I.e.: what is your reaction to the music and not the equipment per se. My time with the Marantz involves a lot of groovin’ and listening pleasure—about as high a compliment you can give.
For those who enjoy all the adjectives and audiophile descriptions, here goes…
I began with Dean Martin’s Greatest Hits Volume I. Sound was delicate with nice top end extension. The sound of this turntable leans toward clarity rather than warmth. Background noise was low and imaging and focus was as good as you’d expect on this record. This table offers better dynamics and focus in comparison with cheaper tables. There is a bigger image and less flattening of the soundstage, with a more fleshed out sound.
A record I’ve heard many times is Earl Klugh’s Fingerpainting. My notes say “transient response is king.” Sound is easy and yet there is nice pluck and pop with a nice portrayal of rhythm and drive. The feeling that sometimes happens with CDs: that the image or acoustic environment is smaller than it should be, is completely absent.
It always surprises me how even many cheap turntables/cartridge combos can get the bass sound so right. It might be something in the way the recording is mixed, or an anomaly with the playback chain, but for whatever reason drums just tend to sound more real than on CDs. I hadn’t listened to Dire Straits’ Making Movies in years, so I thought it might be worth another listen. The sound of vinyl (when records are well-recorded and in good shape) is highly addictive. Aside from the increasing novelty/coolness of record playing these days, I would absolutely encourage anyone who hasn’t heard a good analog system lately to take another listen—you might just be surprised at how enjoyable the experience truly is.
Another group that hadn’t had much airplay on my system is The Fifth Dimension. The Greatest Hits on Earth has more than a few good tunes and better sounding recordings just shown on this table. The sound was very liquid and musical. Rediscovering old music is yet another reason to get back into vinyl—not to mention how much old vinyl is available in record stores and on eBay. [Whether old or brand new, you might want to consider a record cleaning machine for your vinyl...Ed.]
The last record in the extended listening session was The Doobie Brothers’ Captain and Me. This album was incredibly fun to listen to on disc with the TT-15. Guitar and bass sounded great! All in all the presentation was solid and quite enjoyable.
To put it into perspective, a similarly built table directly from Clearaudio would cost about $1200 for the table and arm, $875 for the Virtuoso cartridge, $200 for upgraded feet, and you get a thicker platter to boot with a 3 year guarantee! In case your head hurts, the math adds up to $2275 vs. $1600—quite the bargain. And these days with the dollar being so devalued it would be hard to find a better sounding combination for less money. Highly recommended!
– Brian Bloom