Phono pre-amp discussion

Discussion in 'Vinyl Nutjob World: Turntable and Related Gear' started by JoshMorr, Jan 11, 2016.

  1. Mrgonzo42

    Mrgonzo42 Rando

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    Does anyone have recommendations for a good phono around 400 dollars? I have a Scout II with an SAE 1000LT cart at the moment. I've been looking at the Loungeaudio MKIII and the Cambridge CP2. Thanks :)
     
  2. k4rstar

    k4rstar Done his time

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    I owned the Lounge unit and I liked it quite a bit, it was a bit more mid-centric than accurate and a tad dark (though there are trim pots you can adjust under the hood for 1-2dB treble boost), so perhaps best matched to a bright cart. It also needed some significant break-in (~30 hours of play) to open up. Robert is working on a tubed version of the same phono that will be $399 instead, no idea when it'll be ready.

    I believe @shaizada has had the Cambridge unit to play with, maybe he can chime in on that. You can also check out the Parks Budgie http://parksaudiollc.com/budgiepreamp.html or see if you can find a Tavish 6SL7 second hand for ~$500. I know there are a few more good budget options but I'm drawing a blank right now. Pro-Ject is coming out with a new Tube Box phono for $399 which will be fully discrete and have loading/capacitance options but I don't know when it'll be ready for the American market.

    Oh, and here is a very cheap BH Seduction build: https://www.audiogon.com/listings/phono-bottlehead-seduction-phono-2017-07-31-preamplifiers
     
  3. dmckean44

    dmckean44 In a Sherwood S6040CP relationship

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    I have owned both of thes
    I have owned both of these and the Lounge is a better unit. It's a great value.

    I second @k4rstar 's recommendation for the Tavish 6SL7, I love mine!

    [​IMG]
     
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  4. sfoclt

    sfoclt Friend

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    I had to put my main unit in the shop for a bit so just bought a used Tavish Vintage 6SL7 for 500 (with extra tubes) to hold me over. Waiting on delivery now so curious to see how it does. Will still use my Bob's Devices Sky 40 into it so will get the full tube MM stage. First thing I'll do is cover those runway lights.
     
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  5. dmckean44

    dmckean44 In a Sherwood S6040CP relationship

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    Don't be afraid to try out the MC section on the Tavish. I use a ZU Denon 103R and have DIY Cinemag and Haufe SUTs and it holds it's own.
     
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  6. Pyruvate

    Pyruvate Friend

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  7. PoochZag

    PoochZag The Shadow knows - Friend

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    I also have the Tavish Vintage 6S7L and I really enjoy it. The only other phono I've owned is the modded tc750 tho, so idk how much weight my recommendation can really hold. The Tavish is much less warm, more lively and detailed, with a more forward midrange in conparison though
     
  8. sfoclt

    sfoclt Friend

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  9. shaizada

    shaizada Friend

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    I have been playing with a Cambridge Audio CP2 because I wanted to try out the unique balance control feature (if you have a cartridge where one channel is higher/lower in output, you can use the balance control to match the channels out). The sound quality of the MM side is too good to be true....I have not tried the MC side at all yet and have no idea how it performs. The MM side is organic without a hint of etch, while being fully extended in the treble region. The bass is natural, with the right amount of tightness. The thing costs $229 retail. There are zero adjustments to the phono....it has a 47k MM section. 100 Ohm loading on the MC section. 220pf capacitance for both. 39db MM gain, 55db MC Gain.

    Not very versatile, but the sound quality hits it out of the ballpark for me. Strong recommendation to buy from my side. :) Thanks for the alert @k4rstar. I had been meaning to mention this to the community at large.

    @Pyruvate , I still have not heard the MoFi phono, so I can't say it with conviction.....but knowing the lineage of these phono stages from MoFi being designed by Tim de Paravicini, they will be a landmark product as well in their price category and beyond. Tim does NOT know how to design for a price. He just designs. Everything he touches, for me, turns into audio gold. So I am going off that thought process. If I end up hearing this phono stage and it turns out otherwise, I will share my thoughts again. Till then, based on reputation alone, this is another solid buy.

    Also, I would recommend the cheaper phono only version if you don't need the headphone output. The dedicated phono won't share electronics or power supply with headphone circuitry...it will likely be more purist.
     
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  10. deniall83

    deniall83 Acquaintance

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    @shaizada @Marvey an EAR 834P (MM only, no volume knob) phono stage has just popped up in my area for sale. I need to move fairly quickly if I want to snap it up but I'm concerned it wont be a good match for my HOMC carts. I believe it has over 50db of gain which is high for an MM stage. What do you think? Worth the investment or get something else up to $1000?
     
  11. Biodegraded

    Biodegraded Friend

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    How H is H? Denon DL110 (mfr spec. 1.6 mV but is widely suspected to be higher, and Needledoctor claims to have measured 2.2) into my 40 dB MM pre gives enough output that the volume knob on my integrated stays around the same place for vinyl and CD listening.

    Depending on your particular carts though others might have advice on impedance (I presume the EAR MM is 47k ohm?). I can't help you there.
     
  12. shaizada

    shaizada Friend

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    You didn't mention your cartridge. If it is 1mv output or more, go into the Moving Magnet input at 47k ohm and u are all set. EAR 834p is a a wonderful phono stage and has been around for almost 20 years for a reason.
     
  13. sphinxvc

    sphinxvc Gear Master (retired)

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    So a few months ago, I compared the RSA Nighthawk to my VTA PH16-X in this thread. The short version of it was that the PH16-X had a step on the NH. The comparison didn't last very long either b/c the RSA couldn't hold my interest. Listening to both gave me some satisfaction though, because my first few months with the Space Deck were with the NH, and after I sold it I had this nagging curiosity about whether it was better than the PH16-X I ended up with.

    For anyone interested, this spoiler has the longer version of my PH16-X v. NH comparison: Keep in mind I still held out hope for the NH when I typed that up. Eventually though, it was clear the NH wasn't keeping up.
    "The Nighthawk is a bit darker than the PH16-X. I'm still getting impressions of deeper and tighter bass, but perhaps the first part is just a byproduct of the darker tonality, and the latter genuinely faster transients. Bass quantity-wise they are about the same. On some tracks, the PH16-X out resolves the NH, has more presence, better dynamics, and like I said yesterday, just plain sounds bigger. Surface noise is more apparent on the PH16-X, while the NH comes through with a blacker background. I'll be listening again this week to confirm today's findings, and will use my Andromedas to compare tonality."​

    A few months later, I was texting with @PTS about one audio thing or another, when he starts talking about a phono pre that captured his fascination: the Avid Pulsus. Apparently the Pulsus trounced the NH in a shootout and boom, I was intrigued. Despite my earlier findings, I concede the NH is no slouch. If I hear about anything under $2K trouncing it, you can bet I'd be interested.

    Interested enough, as it turns out, to buy one. I guess this is my long ass introduction to the following:
    FullSizeRender (10).jpg

    Avid Pulsus v. PH16-X. The Pulsus is an unassuming solid state preamp from British TT maker, Avid. I've never heard an Avid TT before, but I hear they're precise and have pin point imaging. The way the Pulsus is voiced, I can see that reputation making sense. One of the things that drew me to it was that it didn't have any bling. The same thing intrigued me about the PH16-X, actually. I've a hard time pulling the trigger on units like the EAR 834P, despite the positive impressions around here. That look just reminds me a little too much of a strip club's facade, or Trump Tower which I walk by on some days.

    I've been going back and forth between these two all weekend. The Pulsus is impressive.

    Compared to the PH16-X, the Pulsus is more:
    • Spot on in terms of timbre/tone
    • Capable of the making the speakers disappear. Even in just the center image there is nuance. Some things are perfectly center, others just a few degrees off to the right or left, etc.
    • Capable of letting you track concurrent lines/instruments
    • Resolving, by a hair or two. I'm still testing this one, as I think the overall presentation lends itself to this conclusion, but I suspect I'm not getting greater absolute resolution.
    Compared to the Pulsus, the PH16-X is more:
    • Enveloping, the PH16-X might not place things as precisely, but it's better at putting everything on the track in the room with you.
    • Dynamic, when there's subtlety, it's more subtle, when there's exposiveness, it's more explosive
    • Evocative, the engagement factor is increased due to the last two things
    • Harmonious, I tried not to use six moon-esque descriptors, but I swear this is the only word that seems to fit. I will try to break it down: the PH16-X tends to have a lingering decay on certain notes. These tend to blend into one another and you're left focused only on the sum of the parts, and not the parts.
    Things that are a wash:
    • Resolution - I'm intentionally putting this here to leave room for doubt. I do think there's equal absolute resolution on both these, but from different points of view, if that makes sense.
    • Bass - the Pulsus is regularly praised for its bass in reviews online. I'm not sure what these other guys are listening to, but I wasn't floored by this aspect. The PH16-X seems to hit deeper and harder on some tracks, and on others the Pulsus seems to be a bit more defined. I could put either of those impressions down to the greater presence/in-the-roomness (PH16-X) or greater timbral accuracy (Pulsus). Tough to tell.
    I don't have an MC cart around to test both with, just my Nagaoka MP-500, but I might be borrowing an MC from @Dr. Higgs next Sunday. We'll see. I'll come back and post more thoughts as I go on.
     
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2017
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  14. Stapsy

    Stapsy Friend

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    I wonder how much of a step back from the Pulsus the Pellar is? The Pellar is closer to the price point of the Night Hawk and seems to be a stripped down Pulsus with an onboard power supply.

    I had written off Avid after hearing their entry level Diva table. It was a strange combination of bloomy mid-bass and strident/grainy highs. Nice to know that their phono stages don't follow that formula.
     
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  15. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    I feel that once a phonostage reaches a certain level of competence, then it's more a matter of synergy, especially for speakers. I've got four phonostages, two of them custom, one of them a proto, and last is the RSA. I use the phonostages according to the TT and cart. Sometimes I just like to hear what a different competent phonostage brings to the table.
     
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  16. Gaspasser

    Gaspasser Flatulence Maestro

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    Are there any rough guidelines for matching style of turntable to type of phonostage? From the reviews here of RSA, I suspected it would be a good match for my skeletal Michell Tecnodec. I was trying to extrapolate from Muppetface’s excellent post about the different sounds of turntables and apply it to phono stages. For example, would mass loaded tables synergize well with tube phonostages?
     
  17. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    It's hard to make generaliziations. Preamps, speakers, amps will also play a big role. I still use the RSA on 45 system. The Fostex 6" BLH's are tuned to sound slightly warm and bassy, and being a 6" driver (even with sub), the midbass quality isn't the best. The clean, articulate, and zippy RSA does a good job here, along with another custom solid-state phonostage (with some Jensen SUTs). I might actually prefer the RSA a bit because SUTs aren't exactly distortion free - the RSA (which does best with MCs) has cleaner bass.
     
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  18. Stapsy

    Stapsy Friend

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    It is easier to make generalizations about turntables because the mechanical designs each have fairly consistent advantages/disadvantages. I found those stereotypes to be quite true after demoing a variety of tables and trying to reconcile my impressions with the established dogma.

    There is a lot more variability to circuit design than just tubes vs solid state. In fact, there is a lot of solid state that tries to approximate the stereotypical lush tube sound. Unless you are starting from scratch, I think your best bet is to figure out what sound you are trying to get or how you want to change your current sound. Once you have a baseline there is no need for generalizations.
     
  19. sphinxvc

    sphinxvc Gear Master (retired)

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    @Stapsy, I've no idea on the Pellar, but just wanted to say the Pulsus is comparable in pricing used, to the NH new. I got my Pulsus for about a grand. The PH16-X was about $800ish and I paid a bit extra for a few fancy Mundorfs. Obviously the used NH at $500 is a ridiculous bargain.

    I'm glad you said this. Having tried these three, I don't feel the need to try a hundred more. Each has been respected online, has solid engineering, and to be honest, they're not too far from one another. @PTS mentioned an Allnic H-3000 he heard recently was a bit better than the Pulsus, and I'm sure the reviews online about the Pulsare being better than the Pulsus are true, but a few thousand is more than I want to pay for a phono preamplifier at this point. If I heard a few more and came away with similar experiences, I would be tempted to say about $1K is the sweet spot for phono preamplifiers.

    It's crazy how my understanding of value in audio has changed over the years. My thoughts on phono pres is settling a bit. On carts, I understand expensive ones, same goes for tone arms. For expensive turntables, not so convinced yet. For DACs, finding a natural sounding one is 'win' enough, for preamps, buffers and ladder/passive attenuators seem to be the way to go (i.e. not so expensive), for speakers, the vast majority of what you buy you overpay for, much better to DIY or buy something w. high value, and amps - this is what I find worth sinking money in. Makes a lot of difference. /value rant.

    I have to say I was a little intrigued with the Coincident Statement Phono recently, which while expensive gives you a line stage built-in. They're probably the only ones that have gone that route. Usually you get a mediocre phono pre built in to a better preamp, but this one's the opposite. Still blisteringly expensive though.
     
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  20. PTS

    PTS Friend

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    You're getting a little mixed up. My friend has a high-end Allnic L-5000 tube preamp, not a phono stage. I said it's a little better than his mid-fi Van Alstine preamp, which makes you question whether it's worth spending thousands of dollars extra to squeeze out the last few percent of audio quality. I'm actually looking forward to shooting out between the Saga and Allnic preamp.

    As @sphinxvc previously mentioned, I originally compared the RSA NH to the Avid Pulsus. I thought the Pulsus was a much better phono stage, rarely have I heard the difference be so night and day. System synergy will cause everyone's mileage to vary though, it's true.

    If any Friend status forum member in SoCal wants to borrow the Pulsus to demo, drop me a line. I won't be using it much until I pickup the VPI table I have on hold.
     
    Last edited: Nov 30, 2017

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