Phono Preamp Reviews

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Michael Fremer Posted: Jul 29, 2008 Published: Jul 30, 2008 0 comments
The German company AQVOX Audio Devices has produced an innovative moving-coil/moving-magnet solid-state phono preamplifier, the Phono 2Ci, that's as intriguing for its technology and performance as it is for its relatively low price: $1400. The zero-feedback, op-amp–free circuit uses a compact switch-mode power supply that's built into the chassis and features conventional voltage gain for moving-magnet cartridges via its RCA jacks, and current gain for moving-coil cartridges through the balanced XLR inputs. Rear-panel switches select between RCA or XLR inputs and offer a convenient ground lift. Either the single-ended or the balanced outputs can be used with either input. Unfortunately, the tight spacing of the RCA input and output jacks, which are mounted on the circuit board, will somewhat limit your choice of cables: Pairs of thick-barreled plugs will have difficulty fitting.
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Robert Harley Posted: Apr 09, 2008 Published: Jun 09, 1992 0 comments
What's this? A review of a $3000 moving-coil step-up transformer in this digital day and age? Yep. Although the market for such a product is small, the fact that the Expressive Technologies SU-1 step-up transformer enters previously uncharted state-of-the-art territory warrants these pages of editorial space. Furthermore, LP playback appears to be alive and well at the upper end of the high-end spectrum, a market segment addressed by the SU-1 (footnote 1).
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Martin Colloms Posted: Oct 28, 2007 Published: Jun 28, 1994 0 comments
The Krell KRC-2 can be regarded as a remote-controlled successor to Krell's successful KSL preamplifier of a few years back. The outboard Krell Phono Equalizer (KPE) is a separate box powered from the KRC-2. Priced at $850, it contains a printed circuit board very similar, in fact, to the $499 unit that can be fitted within the KRC. The KPE and KRC phono stages are well-designed universal units; if someone has the need for a stand-alone phono equalizer of Krell KRC standard, a separate power supply may be purchased for the KPE. It is also an advantage to be able to locate the KPE head amplifier in a hum-free zone near the LP turntable.
Art Dudley Posted: Oct 20, 2007 0 comments
Is it my imagination, or has the low-power tube movement of the last 15 years gone hand in hand with a renewed interest in moving-coil step-up transformers? Trannies remain misunderstood or ignored by most of the audio press—requests for review samples continue to be met with genial shock, rather like tourism in the Budapest of the 1990s—but enthusiasm for the practice seems only to grow. That leaves me to wonder: Did the unquestioning use of active pre-preamps for so many years grow out of the same bad attitude that gave us all those awful-sounding high-power amps and low-sensitivity loudspeakers? You know the mindset: Parts are cheap. Gain is free. Do it because you can...
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Michael Fremer Posted: Oct 07, 2007 Published: Mar 07, 2007 0 comments
Simaudio's Moon LP5.3 MM/MC phono preamplifier ($1400) is silly good! It has single-ended RCA inputs and both single-ended and true balanced-differential outputs. It also offers a wide range of adjustments for gain (54, 60, and 66dB), resistive loading (10, 100, 470, 1k, and 47k ohms), and capacitive loading (0, 100, and 470pF), all accomplished via a series of internally mounted jumper banks. You can even choose RIAA or IEC equalization. Removing the top plate to get to the adjustments reveals boards filled with high-quality parts for the well-isolated power-supply and signal-handling circuits.
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Brian Damkroger Posted: Jul 01, 2007 Published: May 01, 1999 0 comments
I've been in love with British sports cars ever since a visiting highway engineer brought a green MGB-GT to my tiny Nebraska town 30 years ago. Since then, there's been a steady stream of ferocious little cars in my life. Triumphs, MGs, Healeys, you name it—right up to my current crop, a Triumph TR6 and roughly two-and-a-half Jensen-Healeys.
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Michael Fremer Posted: Jan 05, 2007 Published: Oct 05, 2003 0 comments
"Everybody's gotta get into the act!" Jimmy Durante used to say. That's what's happening with phono preamplifiers—they just keep being built, and I keep getting them for review. Up for evaluation in next month's column are new models from Perreaux, Musical Fidelity, Graham Slee, and a Chinese one, Ming Da. You can bet there'll be more.
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Art Dudley Posted: Nov 19, 2006 0 comments
Anyone who knows me will be happy to tell you: I'm very bad at letting go of anger. I hold grudges. I'm unforgiving.
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Brian Damkroger Posted: Apr 23, 2006 0 comments
The original plan, back in mid-2004, was to audition an entire Ensemble system and then review the individual components over the next two years. Most audio companies produce lines of matching products, but Ensemble takes it a bit further, with a modular approach and extensive commonality of everything from chassis to circuit boards. They firmly believe that everything affects sonic performance, and their approach helps ensure a consistent sound throughout their line.
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Robert Deutsch Posted: Jan 22, 2006 0 comments
PS Audio's first product, back in 1973, was a standalone phono stage; more recently, their PCA-2 preamp had an optional phono board. The GCC-100 integrated amplifier that I review this month has no room inside for a phono board, so they've gone back to producing a separate phono stage: the GCPH ($995). Like the other products in PS Audio's current line, this one is based on the Gain Cell, one module on the input side connecting to the cartridge, followed by a passive RIAA curve (with a claimed accuracy of 0.1dB over the 40dB range of the curve), and another Gain Cell on the output side.
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Brian Damkroger Posted: Dec 24, 2005 Published: Mar 24, 2005 0 comments
Like the $29,000 Boulder 2008 phono preamplifier, the new Whest PhonoStage.20 with its MsU.20 power supply costs as much as a car. Fortunately for you, that car happens to be my first new Saab, which cost exactly $2737 back in 1972. The solid-state Whest costs $2595, so it's a few hundred dollars cheaper. But at only a tenth the cost, it comes closer to the Boulder 2008's performance than it has any right to. That it's good enough to be mentioned in the same paragraph should tell you something about how good I think it is. Nor did it come to me hyped by the manufacturer—it took me by surprise from the minute I first heard it. I began my listening right away, before reading anything about the circuit design.
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Michael Fremer Posted: Nov 06, 2005 Published: Jan 06, 1999 0 comments
If compact discs are so damned dynamic and vinyl is so dynamically limited, why do they sound just the opposite? Why do LPs sound so "live," so explosive, so "there," and CDs so dead? Even the best CDs usually sink to second-rate when you switch to their vinyl versions. I've heard it, you've heard it. Only those in deep denial, those who refuse to listen, don't. They'd rather read the published specs and consider the actual listening some kind of mass delusion among Luddite LP fans.
Michael Fremer Posted: Jul 10, 2005 Published: Jul 10, 1997 0 comments
No, folks, vinyl is not dead. And even though my colleague Mikey Fremer is beginning to sound like a broken record, the little guy is right: when it comes to the sound on offer, CD still doesn't come close. There are more turntables, phono cartridges, and tonearms on the market today than ever before. Moreover, with companies like Classic Records, Analogue Productions, and Mosaic offering a steady stream of ultra-high-quality reissues, there seems to be an increasing supply of quality vinyl at reasonable prices.
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Michael Fremer Posted: May 15, 2005 Published: Jan 15, 2004 0 comments
The $3000 moving-coil (MC) PhD, available from Chad Kassem's Acoustic Sounds operation, is a monumental achievement that, for me, sets new standards for the cleanness and transparency possible in a phono preamp—and I've had a lot of experience with phono preamps.
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Michael Fremer Posted: Apr 03, 2005 Published: Feb 03, 2000 0 comments
Audio Research's long-promised "final statement" phono preamplifier has finally arrived, and its price is $3500 less than the originally rumored $10,000. That's a pleasant deviation from the audiophile norm, but at $6495, the Reference phono still boasts a steep ticket. That's more than twice the price of the $2495 PH3 SE, AR's previous best—a class sonic act itself.

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