iFi Phono3 Black Label Review

Discussion in 'Vinyl Nutjob World: Turntable and Related Gear' started by purr1n, Jun 22, 2020.

  1. iFi audio

    iFi audio MOT iFi Audio

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    @purr1n I'll just leave it here:

    Who is up for the iPhono3 Black Label #NoiseFloorChallenge?

    Have a chance to win a prestigious iFi audio PowerStation for taking part! Find out more and how to enter HERE!

    Entries close 31st July!
     
  2. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    For this to be fair, it could be difficult. Having a reference of 0.5mV and 5mV for MC and MM respectively helps (note that I used 1mv and 10mV in my THD measurements above). However the issue is one of having totally identical gain. Different phonostages are likely to have slightly different gain settings and even if they have the same gain setting labels, the measured gain could be slightly higher or lower, and this will affect noise floor. It may be difficult to get a straight apples-apple comparison. However, I will explore this, just out of curiosity.
     
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2020
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  3. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Here is the noise test, sort of. FFTs of 1kHz with 5mV (-43.80dBu) input typical for MM. Before we begin let's establish the gains. The gains are slightly different with the Nighthawk (at lowest setting) at about 6.5db higher than the iPhono3 and the TC-750 with DIY power supply 3db higher than the Phono 3. The differences are not huge here.

    upload_2020-6-30_22-5-42.png

    The spectrums below are 1kHz input at 5mV, typical use case for an MM cart. FFT size is 32768 with 8 average. They should give us a general idea of the noise. The results are plotted to dBu and not normalized to each other.
    • At a glance, I'd say the the TC-750 and iPhono3 are in the running with the RSA Nighthawk out. The RSA's performance isn't bad at all in regards to a phonostage since a record will have much higher noise.
    • However, the RSA because it's battery powered does have no AC mains harmonics. However, any AC mains is likely to me masked by the motor noise, so I'm unsure if this really does translate into a real-world advantage. Perhaps in TOTL tables with high mass.
    • Another thing to note is that the iPhono3 has MUCH lower harmonic distortion than the others. This seems to jive with my subjective impressions on how clear and clean the iPhono3 sounded.

    TC-750 with DIY power supply
    upload_2020-6-30_22-38-47.png

    RSA Nighthawk
    upload_2020-6-30_22-44-6.png

    iPhono3
    upload_2020-6-30_22-42-0.png
     
  4. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Here are the results overlaid with each other with the output normalized at 0dBr. Nothing that we aren't comparing apples-to-apples since the gains are slightly different, the TC-750 with the external DIY PS maybe edges out the iPhono3 in terms of noise. However the TC-750 does have the highest level of harmonic distortion whereas the distortion from the iPhono3 is practically zero. The TC-750 does have less 120Hz from the AC mains.

    upload_2020-6-30_22-55-15.png
     
  5. Serious

    Serious Inquisitive Frequency Response Plot

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    I missed it when you first posted these graphs, but I was always under the impression that phono stage gain was specified at 1kHz. Going by your graphs, that would not seem to be the case. Am I missing something or is the gain simply less than specified?

    Regarding noise, I always thought it'd be convenient if manufacturers quoted "added noise" relative to Johnson noise, sort of like the how mic preamps are rated with a 150 Ohm resistor and specified as dBU EIN, making it easy to calculate added noise. With modern opamp designs it should be minimal.
    I think it's mostly academic anyway. Record groove noise/stylus jitter (influenced by cartridge design) should be much higher than phono preamp noise anyway. Really just matters when you don't want to mute the outputs with the needle lifted, IMO.

    I'm still in the market for an MC phono pre. The iFi seems interesting, although I admit I'd prefer a completely discrete design (have been eyeing a used ECP1). Not sure which way I'll go yet.
     
  6. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Phono3 (36db gain setting) - measured gain at 1kHz is 35.3db
    TC-750 (40db gain) - measured gain at 1kHz is 38.4
    Nighthawk (40db gain setting) - measured gain at 1kHz is 41.74
    upload_2020-7-1_8-38-57.png
     
  7. Serious

    Serious Inquisitive Frequency Response Plot

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    I meant the higher gain modes more specifically. If 72dB gain is a selling point and you measure more like 68dB (from what I can tell from the graph)... that's kinda disappointing. Not that it'd really matter in real world usage, just curious about what's going on.
     
  8. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Looks like actual gain is about 4.5db lower.

    upload_2020-7-1_9-59-31.png
     
  9. Joe Bloggs

    Joe Bloggs Acquaintance

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    Maybe you could have an automatic post-amp stage to match volumes, I'm sure someone with the circuit design chops you've demonstrated can come up with something :D

    I've popped the question at HQ about the labelled vs measured gain levels, will hopefully get back to you soon |\/|
     
  10. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    It's not a big deal to be off by a bit. As we can already see, other products can be slightly off too. I don't think vinyl people will care if it's off a bit as long as it's in the ballpark. The point is having a few gain settings which will work with both low and high output MC and MM. We have some members who are super anal retentive, just ignore them.
     
  11. Joe Bloggs

    Joe Bloggs Acquaintance

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    I don't know about calling them anal retentive, maybe we're (me included) just new to the new old world where various errors are measured in whole decibels rather than tenths of decibels :eek: But some are of the feeling that the end result can actually get closer to the mark hmm? No, not that mark on the graph paper :p
     
  12. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    It's gain, not non-linearity we are talking about here. A few db off from listed gain isn't an issue. It's also pragmatically impossible to get gain exact down to the tenth from a design. Usually a designer shoots for a gain, designs for it, but sometimes it's off a bit because of losses, resistors only coming in certain values, etc.

    SBAF isn't part of the new world order of Audio Science. We firmly reject science for the sake of science. We are old school traditionalists where measurements only matter if the errors are gross and may actually represent something perceptible. We wholeheartedly accept subjective observations as long as the reader can relate. Measurements that don't correlate to subjective observation are ignored at only looked at for academic purposes.

    @Serious is not only German, but has historically had issues with the not seeing the forest for the trees. The gain being off 4.5db isn't sonic degradation. It just means a user has to turn up the volume up a little bit - and only in relation to another phonostage set to the same labeled gain, and even then it could be all over the place because the other phonostage could also have the effective gain being slightly different from the label.
     
    Last edited: Jul 2, 2020
  13. JayC

    JayC Resident Crash Test Dummy

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    Not just that, different carts also have slight variations in output level, so having an accurate gain level doesn't really matter anymore
     
  14. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Also different loading on MC carts will most definitely change the gain.
     
  15. Gaspasser

    Gaspasser Flatulence Maestro

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    What MC carts have you found that work well with this phono? I have Iphono3 on the way and I’m looking for something in the $1K and below range to test the waters with on Technics SL-1210GR. I’ve read conflicting things about using DL-103(R) on the stock arm.
     
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  16. wbass

    wbass Facebook Friend

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    FWIW, over on Steve Hoffman Forums, where there are a ton of 1200GR fans, a lot of people are repping the AT ART-9, which is right around $1K (LP Gear). I tried it on my GR and liked it but found it a touch bright and thin. However, I heard it on another set-up and was impressed by its detail and staging. Still more neutral/bright than euphonic though. I think it requires some dialing in, which I haven't had the chance to do yet.

    I've yet to try a DL103(R) on the Technics, but many people seem to think some additional weight or a heavier head shell is a good idea. KAB Audio sells the weights, and they're cheap enough.

    I've not tried the iPhono3, but way back when I had the iPhono2 and liked it well enough with a 2M Bronze. I've since gone tubed for my phono stage, which I prefer. The only thing I didn't like about the iPhono is the end to end plugs, which I find clumsy/odd-looking on a rack, whether it's right out in the open or hidden in back somewhere. It seemed a good product though.

    Okay, enough out of me... Hope this is helpful.
     
  17. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    I suspect the iPhono3 would be at home with the light to moderate weight tables like the 1210GR. It's going to depend upon cart, preferences, and the rest of your setup. Be sure to adjust loading with the DL-103 as you will get a different sound from depending upon loading. The only thing I can say right now is brute force solid-state amps like the Crown did not gel well with the iPhono3, even with adjustments. I would also suspect the same with the 2M Black unless loaded with 37k-ohms since that cart is mid-forward / aggressive. All other setups, regardless of cart, tonearm, table, and things were fine, particularly with adjustments. Heck, even the RIAA curve can be tweaked to the alternative curves to your liking. I wouldn't feel guilty about this at all since phono cart frequency response is all over the place.

    As for Denon DL-103. Take a measurement with a test disc. As long the cart / arm resonance is 7 to 12Hz, then you are fine. KAB makes a fluid dampener, which the DL-103 supposedly benefits from. I haven't mess with the DL-103 enough to confirm if all the claims are true or not. Audiophiles can be a weird bunch and subscribe to myths. A lot of misunderstanding of the DL-103 because the specs that the Japanese provide were not standard.

    I'll report back as I plan on installing the DL103 on my VPI TNT3 table. The arm on that table has a fluid dampener reservoir.
     
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2020
  18. JK47

    JK47 The Beer Houdini

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    I'm probably sounding like a broken record, but a modded DL-103 is a considerably different animal than stock. I've listened to the same cart before and after modding, unfortunately as I stated somewhere buried in the archives here, I broke one of the hair like signal wires and lost one channel. Still, the difference was easily noticeable, the low end was tightened up and the mid range came more into focus very nicely. So I purchased a Paradox while on the Zu waiting list. My SUT was suppose to gel with the plain Jane 103 so I didn't bother with the more expensive R model.

    I keep telling myself I'll retip the Paradox DL-103 I have, but the purchase of off shore fishing gear keeps getting in the way. I'm still using the Zu DL-103 grade 1 and I think this one is getting close to needing a retip. I'll eventually send in the Paradox for surgery and put the Zu up for sale, so someone else can retip it and reap the benefit of a badass budget cart.

    I haven't felt the need to switch out my carts and search for something new after jumping from the Ortofn Red to Blue, and finally the modded DL-103, which I felt was a substantial upgrade in itself for not a whole wad of cash.

    I'm a HD600 guy for reference, I find the the HD650 mid bass a little too much and makes the lower mids muddy, more so when the pads become worn. Whereas worn pads on the HD600 seem to put it right into the sweet spot for me, and I do find a fresh set of HD600 a tiny bit too crisp... Worn HD600, SW51+, and a neutral DAC is tonally where I like to be, even if lacking technicalities, I can listen for hours on this combo.
     
  19. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    I'm checking this out right now: https://www.denonaluminumbody.com/

    It's a cap the covers the DL-103 so no need for surgery. The DL-103 crushes any of the Ortofon 2M MM carts including the Black (severely overpriced). The Black has the Shibata needle that extracts the crap out of everything including surface noise if that's your thing; but in terms of transients and microdynamics, the DL-103 murders the 2M Black. My Cadenza Bronze MC ($2k) is getting worn and I plan on replacing with with the DL-103 or re-bodied variant. I'm not buying expensive carts anymore. It's dumb to pay so much for a wear item. Looking forward to paying off mortgage instead of chasing that last 2-3%.
     
  20. JK47

    JK47 The Beer Houdini

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    I would like to add, initially my Zu-103 was a little bright breaking in for the first 50hrs or so, so I added fluid to my VPI Classic 1's reservoir, and that helped tame things, but after break in I found the fluid kind of sucked the life out the music and removed it with a q-tip, and haven't looked back, smooooth sailing.
     

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