LP12MF Listening Test: Mober DC Motor Kit

In the latest edition of the LP12 Modification Frenzy, I listen to the effects of the Mober DC Motor Kit. You can read all about the process of installing the Mober DC Motor Kit. You can check out my listening methodology. Full listening impressions are below. Digestible, numerical summaries of all my listening tests are here.


The Mober DC motor kit has been nothing short of a revelation in my system. As I’ve said many times in these pages, I’ve always been a little skeptical of — and confused by — the notion that the motor and power supply are the most important parts of a turntable and that they could have the most impact on sound. I’d always thought that since the cartridge is the thing actually generating the signal, that’s where the big improvements would come from, followed by the things with which it is most intimately connected, like the tonearm.

Well, not so, apparently. The Mober DC kit has fundamentally changed how my turntable sounds, and all for the better. From the first needle drop, there was a sense of immediate visceral excitement, and it never went away.

There are two words to describe the change it has made: clarity and dynamism. I’m hearing instruments more clearly, and they are more alive. Again and again in my listening notes — especially when comparing the Mobered analogue system against digital — I note how the tone of the music is more lifelike: how basses sound more like basses with the Mober, voices more like voices.

I also talk in my listening notes about what I call the “Mober Sizzle” — an energy in the music that you can feel in your belly. (While listening to Paul Simon’s Graceland, I called this “aural umami.”) I noticed this especially on electric guitars, which I happen to be obsessed with. I’ve spent many decades trying to get my ideal tone from different woods, pickups, amps, tubes, and pedals. So I know my electric guitar tones. I’ve never heard any music replay system get the tone and feel of electric guitars as right as the the Mobered LP12. I felt like I had the guitar against my body and was playing it myself.

Nearly all of my Test Tracks sounded better with the Mober in place, and some of them sounded much better; the Beach Boys and Beatles tracks made their digital counterparts sound like AM radio. I noted an 8.3% average improvement over the previous round, the largest jump since my very first upgrade (not counting jumps that came after disasters). My ranking strategy figures that my turntable is now sounding 6.6% better than ever. Obviously take those precise-seeming numbers with a very big grain of salt. But I have no doubt: the Mober DC kit has fundamentally changed and improved the sound of my system. At $880 USD on eBay, it’s not cheap, but in the world of analogue upgrades, it’s a total bargain.

(Full disclosure: Edmund Chan, who makes the Mober DC kit, sent me this unit to review at his own expense.)

Of course, saying that the Mober DC kit made all this difference on its own is inaccurate. One thing I’ve learned from this LP12MF is that turntable upgrades aren’t linear: adding one thing changes how everything else sounds. Given that my Ekos and XX-2 were previously underperforming relative to my expectations and their cost, it’s very possible — and likely — that part of what the Mober did was to unlock the potential from the more expensive arm and cartridge — waken the dormant beast. So the usual the disclaimer: the Mober kit may not have exactly the same effect on your system as it had on mine, because your system is not identical to mine. They call them “systems” for a reason, after all.

Next steps

I’m going to move this section up from the bottom since there are so many listening notes below.

My very next move will be to try this same combination with a few other cartridges (my venerable Adikt, and a Linn Troika, which I’ve never tried before). Then I’ll swap arms and subchassis: the Ekos/Mober will come out and an Aro/Greenstreet will go in. Since that setup only remotely matches the geometry of one of my cartridges — the XX-2 — this test won’t take as long. Then I’ll swap in another arm — one I’m very excited to have tracked down this week — the Tiger Paw Javelin. I’ll try it with all three cartridges.

Then I’ll do some bearing-related fiddling: a Tiger Paw Tranquility and the Mober bearing.

Then, I think — gasp!! — the LP12MF will be done.

(Detailed) notes on casual listening

I listened to a lot of records in the weeks after I installed the Mober DC kit. Yes, partly because the lockdown left me lots of time for listening. But also because I was having one of those “rediscovering your vinyl collection” moments. Rather than summarizing it, I’ll just paste my notes in directly. (I already posted some first impressions in the installation post; see the bottom.) Many of the records I describe in the notes below are in my Test Albums; you can read more about them by following that link.

I haven’t listened to Belle and Sebastian’s The Boy With the Arab Strap in a really long time — and I feel like I’m hearing it for the first time. (I’ve listened to it a lot: I needed to clean off decades of dust before putting it on.) I had no idea it was such a beautifully produced record. “It Could Have Been a Brilliant Career” just blew my mind! The title track is the real hifi stunner, though. Especially the the driving organ and the cymbals and hand claps on the left channel. 

“Mrs. Morgan” on Go-Betweens, Bright Yellow Bright Orange, is a total audiophile tour de force with gorgeous acoustic and electric guitars and gorgeous cymbals. Everything is so clear and so beautifully situated in space. 

Had a somewhat “meh” experience with Mingus Oh Yeah (Japanese 70s), but then things got very exciting again with Joni Mitchell’s Blue. Acoustic textures and beautiful kick drum — woweeeeee. 

Young Marble Giants sounds gorgeous: so clean, everything so well-defined and dynamic. It’s clarity, width, separation. Everything is so glossy and beautiful. The star of the show is the lively, juicy bass. Admittedly, it’s been a while since I’ve listened to this disc, but definitely best ever, I’d say.

Twin Peaks soundtrack, which I haven’t been listening to, is most definitely sounding gorgeous, like never before. The quiet, lonely, calm cymbal in the left of the soundstage in the classic first track is particularly nicely rendered. “Audrey’s Dance” is tickling my ears and making them very happy. Beautiful. I should be listening to this more. “Freshly Squeezed,” with its brushed snare, is full of audio thrills. The dynamics on “Into the Night” are out of control (or, to be less idiomatic, precisely under control): the massive crescendo, the incredibly fine brushed cymbals. 

Talking Heads, Remain In Light, is sounding frighteningly good. So wide and clear. I’m just astounded by how beautiful this is sounding. 

Yo La Tengo, And Then, not mind-blowing or anything; pretty good. Cymbals are staggeringly good, so delicate and detailed. But when things are louder, it’s not a great experience. 

Shape of Jazz to Come is SSSSTTTUUNNNIINNNGG. All the clarity I love about this recording, but also really smooth, not at all harsh. 

Like fireflies are dancing around in my head on side two of Autobahn. Absolutely, jaw-droopingly amazing. One of the best hifi experiences of my life. 

“Orpheus Beach” on Friends of Rachel Worth has the best kick drum and bass sounds I’ve ever heard. My whole head is shaking. Unbelievably gorgeous. One of my favourite records and I have NEVER heard it like this.

El Perro Del Mar sounds really quite excellent. Gorgeous acoustic guitar textures. (Great album, BTW).

Introducing Style Council notably excellent and better than I’ve heard it before. Handclaps, tinkle-synths, and hand drums particularly excellent. Sense of space and precision at the start of “Headstart for Happiness” is exceptional. There is a SIZZLE to the brass on “Money Go Round.” I think that’s a good word for the sonic effect the Mober DC has added. The slap bass (of course ) on “Long Hot Summer (Club Mix)” is pretty stunning in its clarity and impact. For an inner-groove track, this is pretty amazing. 

Ooh, Kakashi, which has never sounded great on vinyl, has totally come to life. Crisp, bright, vibrant, with lots of bass and slam. Wow. Sax texture on “Suiren” is not as good as the surrounding clinks and barks, creating a sort of dull centre to a sharp and brilliant picture. But still really, really good.

Haven’t listened to my copy of Unknown Pleasures (1980 PRS pressing) in a long time for some reason. And: wow. Started it on the wrong side by accident (why is “Inside” side 2?) and “She’s Lost Control” started and knocked me right back with its huge drums, angry bass, and awesome delicate hair-spray “sssh sssh.” On “Outside” (ah, right, because it’s white on black, like the cover, and you see the outside of something before the inside?), “Day of the Lords” and “Candidate” sound especially excellent, the latter with an absolutely massive soundstage. Pretty amazing experience. I tell you what, it’s been pretty nuts packing all of these generational hifi leaps into a few months. I am utterly astounded at how great vinyl can sound. Also at what my existing equipment — the Mjolnir, the HE-1000v2 headphones — can do with an excellent incoming signal. 

Haven’t listened to my copy of Unknown Pleasures (1980 PRS pressing) in a long time for some reason. And: wow. Started it on the wrong side by accident (why is “Inside” side 2?) and “She’s Lost Control” started and knocked me right back with its huge drums, angry bass, and awesome delicate hair-spray “sssh sssh.” On “Outside” (ah, right, because it’s white on black, like the cover, and you see the outside of something before the inside?), “Day of the Lords” and “Candidate” sound especially excellent, the latter with an absolutely massive soundstage. Pretty amazing experience. I tell you what, it’s been pretty nuts packing all of these generational hifi leaps into a few months. I am utterly astounded at how great vinyl can sound. Also at what my existing equipment — the Mjolnir, the HE-1000v2 headphones — can do with an excellent incoming signal. 

Let’s do that classic back-to-back, Unknown Pleasures and… Paul Simon’s Graceland. The accordion-sounding instrument that opens the disc sounds really wonderful. The vocals and the drums are a little hard and lifeless, though. Strange behaviour on that side — distortion and skipping. There are some marks in the disc, but the behaviour was a bit more like the arm was catching on the finger lift, though there seemed to be plenty of room. Anyway, switched sides and no problems. The drums sound better over here, too! Most impressive thing is the stringed instrument on “Under African Skies” — so dainty and delicate. “Homeless” is a stunner, good lord. This is aural umami — a warm feeling in the stomach. Getting a wee little bit of sibilance distortion, which comes through low on the left side. The kick drum on “Crazy Love” is anything but flat. Stunningggg. Also, I’m reading the liner notes and feeling a little less ambivalent about Paul Simon: he at least took the time to carefully explain how every track came into being, and to credit all the musicians involved. Can’t quite stomach “That Was Your Mother,” so it’s time to take the record off.

A more predicatble transition, maybe: Dire Straits, just because I know that’s a record audiophiles talk about a lot. Sounds good alright, but just not what I’m in the mood for tonight. 

Okay, more Joy Division: Brazilian pressing of Closer. Wowwww, really, really good. On a Brazilian pressing! Weird. Stunning, though: “Atrocity Exhibition” is absolutely huge in dimension and those drum are astounding. These Joy Division records are excellent candidates for ultrasonic cleaning. Some fairly annoying surface noise, but “Isolation” sounds superb: crisp and driving. This setup is really very good with electronic music. 

Gorgeous dynamic tones on Mingus at Antibes. Especially impressive are the cymbals, but wow, Mingus’s bass is so clear. This is a really remarkable pressing (and I love the hell out of this record). Need to add this disc to my Test Albums. Astoundingly good. Need to go to something else and am dragging my heels…

Robert Forster’s Inferno, which also needs to be added to the test albums, has the clarity, dynamics, and “sizzle” I’m coming to recognize as the Mober DC unit’s sound signature. Tons of heft and tons of that filigree detail, especially on the acoustic guitars (everywhere) and the hand drums on the Bossa-nova-esque “Life Has Turned a Page.” Astounding.

Transatlantic first pressing of Pentangle, Cruel Sister — not my fave Pentangle disc, but good lord, the clarity! Incredible and beautiful.

Test tracks

1. The Beach Boys, “I Know There’s an Answer,” Pet Sounds (1966)

Full digital. After listening to a LOT of stunning music on my vinyl setup this week, this really doesn’t sound very good at all. It sounds pretty hard, flat, flinty, and boring, with no energy, and really crappy-sounding shakers. I am officially a vinyl snob now.

Full vinyl. Aaaah, yes. Different universe. Full tones with lots of juicy bass and lots of impact, much better detail on the shaker, and gorgeous smooth-but-sharp vocals. Those timpani are finally actually sounding good! Definite first for that. Pretty thrilling. I noted a graininess to the presentation last time; absolutely not this time. Such authority on the bass guitar (Carol Kaye, I bet!). The bass harmonica part is great, but what stands out is the little stringed instrument (banjo?) playing on the right channel there, which is in perfect focus. This sounds really great. 

Slight delay. Brutal contrast for digital. Clangy, dead, brittle. Just awful, horrible, disgusting in comparison. Good Lord. That timpani gap is of grandcanyonesque proportions. It’s actually painful listening to digital. Absolutely dispiriting rendering of the bass harmonica part on digital. At least 35% better on vinyl here. Crazy. 

S-2-s. Luckily for comparison’s sake, the levels are identical between the two and I got the timing spot on. This is unlucky for digital. It is seriously like switching from FM to AM radio. So hissy and disgusting and unpleasant on digital. Crazy levels of difference: more than I have ever heard between any two tracks. The biggest difference I’ve ever noted before is 35%. So to be consistent I need to call this 40%.

Verdict: vinyl is 40% better (15% improvement, 15% better than ever)

2. Charles Mingus, “Track B — Duet Solo Dancers,” The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady (1963)

Full digital. Again, because I am getting spoiled with superb musical reproduction, or because I am becoming a snob, or whatever, this sounds really bad to me, even though I’ve always said this digital transfer sounds quite good. This is flat and harsh and lifeless. Yes, there is power in the blasty portions. But the balance and tonality is all off. Everything sounds hard-panned left or right; there’s no centre. And that cymbal sounds straight up pathetic: tinny and dead. I can’t even get excited about the cordy sax. Time for vinyl.

Full vinyl. God, it’s crazy how much more music was in this pressing than I was hearing in early rounds on the LP12MF. The grainy quality I complained of in early rounds is pretty much gone. And it’s so wide and smooth and calmly strong. More power than I’ve ever heard from this pressing — or any vinyl pressing — in the “duh-duh-duh-duh-duh.” Lots of detail, lots of little spatial cues coming though really strongly — but all in a really smooth, listenable way. The cordy sax is super nice, and so are the cymbals and all the delicate bits. Incredible.

Slight delay. The piano is the big differentiator early on: it’s so hard and harsh on digital, so clear and full on vinyl. Total ice-pick on digital. Digital does not even muster more force than vinyl in the “duh-duh-duh-duh-duh,” which it has done in all previous rounds. Vinyl has digital absolutely destroyed on the texture of the cordy sax, which is rich and smooth but also filled in in micro-detail; on digital, it’s so sneezy and harsh and nasty.

S-2-s. In the busy parts mid-song, the vinyl doesn’t sound miles better but keeps things in much better control, never becoming screechy or painful to listen to, which absolutely happens on digital. On the quiet drum part, vinyl gets the detail and the kick and the smoothness. I don’t think the gap is quite as big with The Beach Boys — possibly owing to the slight surface noise on this pressing, or what it’s been through in its 60ish years — but it’s definitely at least 30% better. Let’s call it that. (Oh man, I really don’t want to stop listening. I’ll need to return to this one soon…)

Verdict: vinyl is 30% better (10% improvement, 10% better than ever)

3. The Pentangle, “Let No Man Steal Your Thyme,” The Pentangle (1968)

Full digital. We’ve entered a new phase of the LP12MF. My vinyl setup is now sounding so much better than digital that I am never going to say “this sounds good” again, I don’t think. It sounds lousy. It’s harsh and screechy and lacks the smoothness, warmth, and life I’ve become used to in the last week of constantly listening to my turntable with the Mober DC motor kit. Seriously, I called this “very enjoyable” in the last round? Absolutely not enjoying it right now. Having just done a Pentangle Best Pressing Shootout today, I’m sure the Reprise isn’t going to trounce the digital as much as the Transatlantic would, but I’m sure it will nonetheless trounce this hard, harsh, nasty performance. 

Full vinyl. Exactly. While I can sort of imagine how this would sound a little better on the Transatlantic pressing, this is nonetheless really great. Full and rich and dynamic and wide and really pleasant to listen to. Last time, I said this had “similar detail” to the digital. No way: much more detail and impact and space on vinyl here. If I’d heard this disc first on this table, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to track down the Transatlantic (not that I regret that now, knowing how excellent the Transatlantic sounds). Really really good.

Slight delay. The opening bowed bass: buzzing like a bee on digital, sounds too bright for a bass, and with no sense of spatial location. Much better balance, tone, sense of space — and sparkle, impact on vinyl, where the breakdown is just gorgeous. On digital, it is all wrong: the rim hits are too loud and are totally splotchy, making it hard to hear past them to the lovely, delicate, springy guitars. Nasty.

S-2-s. Well, we’re clearly well beyond the “gross” threshold here. It’s the tone of the instruments that digital misses most: a belly-tickling quality to Bert’s guitar that comes through on vinyl but is absolutely absent on digital. Only because this pressing maybe lacks a wee bit of laser clarity, I’ll say 25%. But it could definitely be 30%.

Verdict: vinyl is 25% better (10% improvement; 10% better than ever)

4. Mariah, “Shinzo No Tobira,” Utakata No Hibi (1983)

Full digital. This’ll be digital’s best chance to impress me. I haven’t listened to a record all day — I’ve been out painting my garage and fence — and so I do not have the miraculous tones of vinyl system in my recent audio emory. And so, yes, this does sound pretty good. Nice crisp rattles, quite driving bass. 

Full vinyl. Immediately on another plane. Beautiful bass behind the shakers, incredible detail on the shakers themselves, lots of impact on the louder bass notes when they kick in — then an angelic effect on the main vocals. Wonderful, beautiful, amazing.

Slight delay. As last time, the detail on the shakers is better, but the impact of the bass is the main differentiator. Big difference, but not of the 40% order like with The Beach Boys. In the synth breakdown, the details really are a lot clearer on vinyl, and the snare is much sharper, clearer. 

S-2-s. Clarity and impact much much better on vinyl, but not a staggering delta here. Differences in slam much more apparent when the drums and bass kick in. The main difference, this time, is on the tone and timbre of the vocals and the synths. Both are just off — tizzy and weak — on digital compared with the thicker, more deeply-textured digital. So much better. BUT, still at the 25% amount from last time, I think. I’m not having the shocked/horrified reactions I was having yesterday when switching from one to the other.

Verdict: vinyl is 25% better (no improvement; equal to best)

5. Joy Division, “Atmosphere,” 12″ single (1980)

Full digital. Really, not too bad, even the fine performance the Mober just gave there on Mariah. Very little sparkle, decay on the drums — I know this could sound much better. Cymbals are tizzy, synth-icicles are hard and not very well defined. 

Full vinyl. YES! Okay, THAT is what I’ve been waiting for: to hear this astounding song sound better than I’ve ever heard it. Because I have heard it sound AMAZING. Last time I mused that perhaps I had built this track up in my mind to something unattainable. Clearly not. This is definitely the best ever. The impact and roundness of the drums is ASTOUNDING. It is really like being right inside the drum kit (not sure why I’d want that, but it does somehow feel extraordinarily good). Synths create incredible space, and then the “icicles” are brilliantly defined. Astounding. I could listen to this all day. (But I think my brain would get bruised from all the direct hits it’s taking from those drum sticks.)

Slight delay. Poor digital. You sounded so decent so recently. Now you sound so veiled and nasty, so totally lacking in impact, so coated in grey sludge. Massive, massive difference in terms of impact, clarity, space — and, yes, emotional impact. Just astounding. 35%? 40%? 

S-2-s. Switching from one to the other, so much just falls away on digital — you literally seem to only hear every other beat on the hand drum, for instance. And again, the tone is just WRONG on digital. Best I’ve ever heard it, and I think by some margin. But let’s say 35%.

Verdict: vinyl is 35% better (10% improvement; 5% better than ever)

Couldn’t resist flipping the disc and listening to “She’s Lost Control.” ASTOUNDING! Good Lord!!!! A song I’ve heard hundreds, thousands of times — never like this. 

6. Low, “Just Make It Stop,” The Invisible Way (2013)

Full digital. True, it sounds okay. But rereading my notes from last time, I was impressed by the “delicate cymbals.” Hmm, definitely not now — not after being treated to that master class on recorded drums on “Atmosphere” (and “She’s Lost Control”). This sounds grainy and constrained, without finesse and extension. I’m dying to hear this on vinyl — I love this track and am ready for the transcendent experience I had a few rounds back…

Full vinyl. Well, I did forget to make notes there for a minutes. It’s beautiful, huge, clear. The main thing is that every instrument is clearly placed in the soundstage, there is no mush, no confusion. And all that clarity does open the way for the kind of emotional engagement this song calls out for…

Slight delay. Aside from the aforementioned mush, it’s the covering of grey spray-goo, and the sense that instruments just sound tonally wrong — not like themselves. Mimi’s vocals, too: they don’t quite sound like a human voice on digital. 30%? 35%?

S-2-s. It’s the space between instruments you get on vinyl — that clarity and room to listen in. And then the tones, the thickness, the rightness. There is one exception: Mimi’s vocals on “You see I’m close to the edge” sounds strangely muted on vinyl in comparison to the other parts. Maybe something happened with the recording there. The difference between the two recordings does recede a little bit in the very busy part — the vinyl system is better (i.e., totally astounding) in the quieter parts. Oh man, the cymbal in the “Now I’m looking up” part: gloriously defined on vinyl, almost literally inaudible on digital. Because of that one somewhat underwhelming passage, I’ll say 30%. But another very impressive performance.

Verdict: vinyl is 30% better (5% improvement; 5% better than ever)

7. Yo La Tengo, “Stockholm Syndrome,” I Can Feel the Heart Beating as One (1997)

Full digital. Another listening session begins, another after a day too busy get in any listening, so this is the first music I’ve heard in nearly 24 hours. It doesn’t sound sound great. While the bass has a certain amount of drive and force to it, everything else sounds pixel-barfy, flat, lacking finesse and filigree and impact,

Full vinyl. Ooh, very nice. All the usual things I like better on vinyl — snap on the acoustic guitars, space, clarity — but also a lively kick drum thomp I don’t remember noticing in previous rounds. Really nice cymbals during the guitar solo. But the big difference are the gorgeous kick drums, which have real weight to them — you feel more than hear them. 

Slight delay. Shocking! Ack! Blech! I just switched from the gorgeous vinyl to the dreadful digital, and it was truly sickening. The acoustic guitar, so rich and detailed on vinyl, almost isn’t there: it fades in and out behind some artificial threshold. The drums, so lively and real on vinyl, with so much impact, drawn in such fine relief, are just little blips and splashes. 35%? 40%? The difference feels as stark as The Beach Boys this time…

S-2-s. On the acoustic guitar, you hear the notes but not the impact of the pick hitting the strings on digital. There’s also just some kind of energy sizzling through the music on vinyl that is just not there on digital. Indeed, that’s the best description of the impact of the Mober DC kit on the system: it has injected a sizzling energy into everything. This is better than I’ve ever heard the track, so let’s say 40%. But that’s not to say I think it’s absolutely everything it could be. This track now feels a little too weighted to the bass, and could have just a bit more sharpness and snap. Maybe it’s the recording, maybe it’s something in the phono cable —> phono stage —> interconnect —> headphone amplifier —> headphone cable —> headphone chain. But I can imagine a slightly sparklier, less bassy rendering that I would like even more… The 40% difference also reflects what a really terrible CD transfer is on Tidal.

Verdict: vinyl is 40% better (10% improvement, 5% better than ever)

8. The Beatles, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” The White Album (1968)

Full digital. Old Me would have enjoyed and focused on the full bass and the impactful kick drums. New Me hears the slushy cymbals and the lack of texture on the acoustic guitars. Old me would have been thrilled to hear the left-channel clippety-clop at all. New me wants it to be crisp and clear and beautiful. 

Full vinyl. New Me is appreciating this very much. Cymbals are detailed and filigreed, acoustic guitars are clear, I can reach out and touch the clippety-clop. The bass is massive (MASSSIIVVEEE!) and the kick drum demonic. 

Slight delay. We’re in Beach Boys levels of disgusting here. Digital is coming in from another planet. A planet made of tin where everyone is made of tin and all the instruments they play are made of tin, and the atmosphere contains large amounts of tin, which forms into ubiquitous tinny fogs. The gorgeous, full-blooded, thick-as-hell, detailed-AF (yep) vinyl just puts the digital presentation to shame. I do actually feel a little sorry for Tin Man. 40% or so.

S-2-s. In direct second-to-second comparisons, you get to see all the details of presentation. A few months ago I wouldn’t have believed how big the differences would be. Instruments that are very palpable in one version just disappear on the other. It’s like that here with the acoustic guitar, which I really need to lean in to hear on digital, and sound beautiful and right up front on vinyl. The most pleasant parts of this on vinyl performance are, in order, Ringo’s kick drum, Paul’s bass, Whoever’s clippety clops. The guitar solo — that’s Eric Clapton, right? — also sounds really good here. The digital sounds so bad — and weird and wrong and physically awkward — that I’d almost say it was out of phase, if that were possible with this cabling setup. 

Verdict: vinyl is 40% better (15% improvement, 15% better than ever)

9. Dungen, “Panda,” Ta Det Lugnt (2004)

Full digital. Okay, I’ll do the Old Me / New Me thing one more time and then retire it forever. Old Me would have been blown away by the full drums, excited by the electrified-cobra guitars, thrilled by the full-out sonic assault — loud sounds, quiet sounds, starting, stopping, treble, bass, the Swedish language. New Me, a much more discerning character, hears how hissy the electrified cobra is, knows how much rounder well-recorded drums should sound, wants not to have his ears literally ringing for the rest of the night after listening to all this hiss.

Full vinyl. New Me is so into this. Drums are insanely round, space is massive and brilliantly defined, guitars are cutting without causing me actual pain. As with other tracks that are totally thrilling me, the SLAM factor is massive here: so much punch to the bass guitar and the kick drum. But the details are stunning, too — especially the smooth, absolutely tizz-free cymbals. Feels like another 40%. (This truly is a stunning pressing!)

Slight delay. Digital: grainy, distant, with a sour expression on face. Curdled. Vinyl: smooth, wide, alive, natural, sizzling with energy. Good Lord, that “audio mushroom cloud” at the end is something else…

S-2-s. We’re not quite in Beatles/Beach Boys territory here, but we’re close. 35% difference, for all the reasons described above. 

Verdict: vinyl is 35% better (10% improvement, 5% better than ever) 

10. Julee Cruise, “Rocking Back Inside My Heart,” Floating Into the Night (1989)

Full digital. Another day without any music — and this does sound very nice right off the bat! Full and rich and not distressingly harsh on any of the trebly accents. Nice to start off with a reasonably high standard… The sax breakdown is nice, the palm mutes are decent. Can’t wait to hear it on vinyl…

Full vinyl. Aaaah, so nice! More bass, more detail and heft on the palm mutes — and more “dimension” on Julee Cruise’s vocals, like I can see around her voice in 3D.

Slight delay. Ack ack ack. The digital loses so much of what is special about this track: its spacey width, its delicacy mixed with confident strangeness. Its presentation is clinky and distant. The sax breakdown is just superb on vinyl, and well, there is one on digital — that’s about all you can say about it. It’s nuts that I called it “nice” up there. Vinyl totally rewrites the rules of the game, resets all comparisons. Vinyl has better tone, more heft, better balance, more slam, a better sense of space, better detail, more realistic textures… Much better in all ways. 35%?

S-2-s. In momentary comparison, all the above is there, but maybe a little less starkly. The loss of tonality and richness, the tizzy, flat, buzzy, chalky quality is what comes across most clearly. But the differences feel more at the 30% level than 35%. Might as well fight grade inflation. But no doubt this is the best I’ve heard this track.

Verdict: vinyl is 30% better (5% improvement, 5% better than ever)

11. Can, “Halleluwah,” Tago Mago (1971)

Full digital. Wow, snob hat back on. The drums sound like trash. Harsh, tinny, flat, harsh, nasty. Painful to listen to. No question, the urge is to turn way down rather than up. Can’t stomach this for long…

Full vinyl. A little distant, a little weak on the top end at the start of the track — but much fuller and more pleasant: no harshness, no flatness, fun to listen to. This track always kicks in with the impressive SQ a little further in, when the drums get heavy… Yes, THERE. Amazing, amazing, amazing. A tremendous thomping, but in the midst of it I hear subtle details, other instruments and textures with total clarity — little still centres of the vortex. Comprehensively better after that point, with crazy amounts of slam and detail and texture. I can still imagine a bit more focus and finesse on the high end, but it’s for sure 30-35% better than digital. 

Slight delay. Everything above applies. But the thing you notice in direct comparison is the widening of the soundstage. Things are all squashed together on digital, everything’s puffing up, like overproved dough. Everything has lots of room on vinyl. It’s not just the impact and tone of the bit, fat slamming drums but also the finer details: the space-creating synths are much clearer and with nicer texture on vinyl. The chucke/rattle part right before the quiet part, just no excitement on digital. The headphones are popping right off my head on vinyl. Okay switching mid-song to S-2-s.

S-2-s. Space, tonality, excitement — all to vinyl, massively. So I am loving this very, very much. But I’d say it’s right at the 30%, so same as last time. It’s really, really good but it’s not quite putting the digital comparator to shame as other tracks have done.

Verdict: vinyl is 30% better (no improvement; equal to best)

12. Bill Callahan, “Javelin Unlanding,” Dream River (2013)

Full digital. Ah, this vexing track. It really does sound nasty on digital. Then, for many rounds, it also sounded nasty on vinyl. Last round, it was better. Let’s see how it likes the Mober DC motor. This digital listen: same complaints of everything covered in pixel-barf (probably part of the production to some extent), flat, boring, distant, dried-out. 

Full vinyl. The end of the preceding track sound nice: really lovely delicate cymbals. Oooh, yes, much better. Really nice and wide with actually (shock!) well-recorded hand drums. The guitar at the centre and the lead vocals have that pixel-barfy shittifying effect on them, clearly on purpose. But the electric guitar and the hand drums wrap all that up in nice, natural sounds. Wow, the electric guitar on the the chorus is beautiful: thick and palpable; you can feel it in your belly, like my SG Jr sounds when I hold it tight against me and hit a bit open chord. Actually a very nice audio experience now, with some deliberately chalky sounds surrounded by cool, rich ones. The “Mober Sizzle” is very much in evidence in the atmospheric electric guitar flourishes off on the right channel. Beautiful tones, timbres, as always. Ooh, and on that “Unlanding” BC’s voice went VERY low and got VERY resonant. 100% the best I’ve heard this track, I’m sure. 

Slight delay. 30% territory: much richer, much wider, much better details, much better focus, much nicer tones and texture. Obviously most evident on the instruments that actually sound good: the hand drums and the electric guitar, especially on the chorus. None of that SG Jr tone on that. The scratchy washboard-swish is another spot where vinyl just destroys digital, delivering it with wayyyy more delicacy. 

S-2-s. Subtle details discernible clearly on vinyl (the little stringed instrument behind BC’s voice) are not on digital at all. No extension or finesse on digital. The little echoing space around the lead guitars disappears on vinyl. And all the usual attributes listed above. A crushing defeat here. Just off Beach boys level, just short of AM/FM difference level.

Verdict: vinyl is 35% better (10% improvement, 5% better than ever)


Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

Shane Pleasancereply
May 16, 2020 at 11:10 pm

Very similar to my findings with the MOBER. My SONDEK originated a few years back from (Literally) a few boxes of bits I purchased over time. I used to be a Linn dealer in the UK, but this is the first sondek I have owned. I decided on an xmas present to myself to bring the sondek up to a reasonable spec this last xmas, and have been doing it up since. Now it is a braced afro plinth from ’74, the Mober DC PSU and motor (isn’t Edmund the gent!?), Stack Audio top plate and subchassis, Tiger paw tranquility, Cirkus bearing, Linn Ittok Arm and new cable from an Ekos SE.The cartridge is an elderly Linn K18 with a new paratrace stylus. On Thursday I took delivery of a HANA ml, but I am not sure when I will be able to fit it, as work is interfering with my life again. The rest of my system is a Linn Akurate DSM with built in pre and mm/mc phono input, 2 x Linn 5125 power amps with active covers fitted for Linn ESPEK speakers – consequently running in active mode. It is difficult to tell exactly what made the biggest difference, as I did most of the mods at once – as one might when one doesn’t have a jig and certainly don’t have the patience that you seem to have! The Dynavector cartridge you are using is on my list also, and I will decide when I have tried this HANA. Very much enjoying having my own progress and then discovering your journey. Fettle, and greetings from New Zealand!

May 16, 2020 at 11:40 pm

Very similar journeys indeed! The Stack Audio top plates are really interesting — different approach with the vibration-damping adhesive. I probably won’t get around to trying one, but I’d be interested to see how they compare. A Tiger Paw Tranquility is in the mail to me — as is a Tiger Paw Javelin tonearm, which I’m very excited about. I’m listening to some music through the my Troika right now and am mostly really enjoying it — it’s definitely brighter and more “strident” than the XX-2, but it has a “snap” that I love on acoustic guitars. The Hana is naturally very interesting to me too. Your loudspeaker setup is definitely many orders of magnitude better than mine; some day, when I have a bigger room to listen in.

How do you like the Sondek compared to the other turntables I’m sure you’ve tried out over the years?

Thanks for the comments and thanks for visiting from NZ!

Shane PLeasancereply
May 17, 2020 at 5:02 am

Here is the turntable in my home office. https://youtu.be/3ul60rqTVNQ

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