You are here

Log in or register to post comments
judicata
judicata's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Jun 26 2008 - 11:55am
Looking for New Phono Stage - Need a little guidance

I've been having too many issues with my otherwise great sounding Bellari tube phono pre. While it was a huge improvement over my integrated phono pre, I just cannot get rid of some humming issues (probably as much the fault of where I live and my setup). Then there is some distortion that Bellari swears must be from my other gear (I'll explain below in a footnote for those interested).

Thus, I'm looking for a new phono pre. I love the way this Bellari sounds 90% of the time, but it has trouble with dynamic passages, and then there is the noise of course. I love how full and rich it sounds, while still managing to be relatively clean (heck I gave this a positive review in this forum and I don't take any of it back, except maybe build quality, which I didn't mention). I've done some research, and decided I'm open to getting a nice solid state phono pre, as long as it doesn't sound thin or particularly harsh. I'd like to stick with tubes, if the pre has a relatively low noise floor (these Bellaris, for all of their great qualities, are known to be noisy) I'm sticking with my MM cart for now, but may upgrade my table in the future and switch to MC but not completely sure. My budget depends on whether the thing can handle MM and LOMC. I'd like to be able to do quality MM/MC for under $1,000, which means I'm perfectly happy getting a $500 MM preamp now, and a $500 MC pre later, or a step-up transformer.

Of my options below, I'm most inclined to grab a Graham Slee Gram Amp 2 for now, and figure out the MC situation later. I've heard good things about it, but I'm interested in what other people have experienced. I like the idea of having MM-Only for now, since I don't know that I'll use the MC in the near future, and it seems that having extra circuitry lying around is a bad idea.

If I stick with tubes, I've heard good things about Jolida, but not as much about their phono pre.

I appreciate any input.

Solid State:
Graham Slee Gram Amp 2 SE - MM only (just above $400 new)
Creek OBH-18 - MM Only (around $250)
Creek OBH-15 - MM/MC (around $450)
Musical Fidelity X-LPS v8 - MM/MC (around $500)
Pro-Ject Phono Box IISE MM/MC (under $350)
Rogue Audio Stealth MM/MC (just under $800)

Tube
Jolida JD-9A (under $450)
Ear 834p - MM or MM/MC (probably can get one for around $1000)
Pro-Ject Tube Box SE II - MM/MC ($700)

****
Footnote about the Bellari for those interested: Basically, when the volume control on the Bellari phono preamp is above 12 o'clock, everything distorts very badly (when using the RCA outs to either my preamp/headphone amp OR using my integrated amp). Bellari told me this shouldn't be happening, and asked me to check the headphone out. The headphone out sounded clean, even when I hooked it up to my preamp/integrated amp with a 1/4" to RCA adapter (it just sounded really bright and yucky that way). Bellari says it must be an issue with my other gear. Since it essentially happens on two separate systems, I don't get it, but I'm tired of messing with it.

mrlowry
mrlowry's picture
Offline
Last seen: 1 year 11 months ago
Joined: May 30 2006 - 1:37pm
Re: Looking for New Phono Stage - Need a little guidance


Quote:

Footnote about the Bellari for those interested: Basically, when the volume control on the Bellari phono preamp is above 12 o'clock, everything distorts very badly (when using the RCA outs to either my preamp/headphone amp OR using my integrated amp). Bellari told me this shouldn't be happening, and asked me to check the headphone out. The headphone out sounded clean, even when I hooked it up to my preamp/integrated amp with a 1/4" to RCA adapter (it just sounded really bright and yucky that way). Bellari says it must be an issue with my other gear. Since it essentially happens on two separate systems, I don't get it, but I'm tired of messing with it.

It sounds like Bellari is shirking their responsibility they should have asked you to send it in for them to check out, especially if it's under warranty. After buying a new unit you should INSIST on sending it in for service (if it's under warranty) before selling it used or using it in another system.

Have you looked into the Musical Surroundings Phonomena II (http://www.musicalsurroundings.com/phonomii.html)? In addition to being one of the better sounding phono stages that I've heard for less than $1,000 it has lots of adjustability for both gain and loading, is relatively affordable, is built in the US, and they have wonderful customer service.

Buddha
Buddha's picture
Offline
Last seen: 2 years 9 months ago
Joined: Sep 8 2005 - 10:24am
Re: Looking for New Phono Stage - Need a little guidance

I'd say to save up for the Graham Era Gold mark V.

It will be a "buy once" product, and you can add the transformer later.

judicata
judicata's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Jun 26 2008 - 11:55am
Re: Looking for New Phono Stage - Need a little guidance

Thanks guys.

mrlowry - I'll definitely look into that one - I hadn't yet. It looks pretty solid.

Buddha - I had my eye on that one as well. I was wondering if it would be worth it since turning it into an MC (with the step up) would cost as much as the phono pre. But if it really sounds that much better, I'm in. I need to find a way to audition both.

Welshsox
Welshsox's picture
Offline
Last seen: 2 years 7 months ago
Joined: Dec 13 2006 - 7:27pm
Re: Looking for New Phono Stage - Need a little guidance

Ill be honest in that ive not done extensive comparisons but i really like the PS Audio phono stage ive recently added. They can be currently picked up for $699, they have switchable gain and loading and will work with just about any cartridge.

Its a well made solid product for the money charged.

Alan

Buddha
Buddha's picture
Offline
Last seen: 2 years 9 months ago
Joined: Sep 8 2005 - 10:24am
Re: Looking for New Phono Stage - Need a little guidance


Quote:
Ill be honest in that ive not done extensive comparisons but i really like the PS Audio phono stage ive recently added. They can be currently picked up for $699, they have switchable gain and loading and will work with just about any cartridge.

Its a well made solid product for the money charged.

Alan

Ooh, yeah, that's another good one.

judicata
judicata's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Jun 26 2008 - 11:55am
Re: Looking for New Phono Stage - Need a little guidance

Geez. The problem is, you guys are supposed to tell me there is only one right solution for any given issue/need. What is all of this option stuff?

(Wouldn't life be really boring if it worked that way?)

Welshsox
Welshsox's picture
Offline
Last seen: 2 years 7 months ago
Joined: Dec 13 2006 - 7:27pm
Re: Looking for New Phono Stage - Need a little guidance

If you want life to be simple, pick a NASCAR driver and your done !!!

This is the most rewarding but frustrating hobby going !!!

Buddha
Buddha's picture
Offline
Last seen: 2 years 9 months ago
Joined: Sep 8 2005 - 10:24am
Re: Looking for New Phono Stage - Need a little guidance


Quote:
Geez. The problem is, you guys are supposed to tell me there is only one right solution for any given issue/need. What is all of this option stuff?

(Wouldn't life be really boring if it worked that way?)

Maybe I can just have Ethan pop in and tell you to buy the cheapest one 'cause they all sound the same!

commsysman
commsysman's picture
Offline
Last seen: 53 min 39 sec ago
Joined: Apr 4 2006 - 11:33am
Re: Looking for New Phono Stage - Need a little guidance

The Ayre P5-XE and the Audio Research PH-5 are hard to beat for quality and great sound, with plenty of loading options and ease of use.

dcstep
dcstep's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Sep 16 2007 - 4:59pm
Re: Looking for New Phono Stage - Need a little guidance

I owned the Pro-ject Tube Box II and was very pleased with it. I've since upgraded, but it's to a $9000+ Rowland. At your price point the Pro-ject is one of the best choices, IME. You've listed several other good options.

Dave

ncdrawl
ncdrawl's picture
Offline
Last seen: 3 years 3 months ago
Joined: Oct 18 2008 - 9:18am
Re: Looking for New Phono Stage - Need a little guidance

If you want to save up for a product you may never have to replace, I know a genius designer who builds custom phono stages... Mine is nearly complete(I described it in the "your system" thread"), and no...it isnt a sell your house and car sort of purchase. pm me if you want his contact info

EdAInWestOC
EdAInWestOC's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Sep 1 2005 - 11:28am
Re: Looking for New Phono Stage - Need a little guidance

This is my first post here in quite some time. I joined this forum around the time it was first created but spend most of my time on a couple of other forums. For the record, I've been at this hobby for over 40 years, have been an analog fanatic since it was the only format and own and run the Cartridge Database (no flames please...its just an attempt to collect and disseminate info to the masses).

Your list of phono stages is pretty good but I don't recall seeing whether you would consider a used item. If that were the case your selection would open up considerably. Of course there is a down side to going that route but there are pitfalls with any approach.

I've listened to a lot of highly touted phono stages and while they may very good I'm not a fan of "voicing" gear (as a result I am not a fan of some of those). I believe that it is best to choose neutral gear and rely on the source to impart the warnth, excitement or whatever you treasure.

To that end I ended up selecting an Acoustech PH-1P phono stage. It was sold new for $1500USD (a bargain for a former class A stage) and you may be able to find one used for about the price of the Jolida.

I like the Jolida unit but to my ears the PH-1P trumps the Jolida in all respects. I cannot fault the PH-1P in any respect and its a solid product that is capable of conveying the most subtle aspects of a performance and the most thunderous passages of any piece. It is dead neutral without a character of its own...which is exactly the way I like it.

The PH-1P is certainly not a prestige unit and it is a masteriece of understatement for items in the high end audio industry. No fancy front end or flashy knobs...if it doesn't contribute to the sound it wasn't added. It is a plain black box with quality connectors on the back and a single red LED on the front panel. It is also based on modern OPamps so many people turn up their collective noses at the design.

I noticed it is difficult to hear well with your nose stuck in the air, so it may be best to stop and consiider that their are fine examples of many design approaches around. I don't know your preferences but include this in case there are any preconceived notions.

There are a lot of very good phono stages out there. Some are new, some are old. Some are solid state, some are tubed and some are hybrids. Some tout design approaches as if that alone would make the difference.

IMO the truth is far more subtle. A good phono stage can be any design. It is far more important what design tradeoffs were made during the product's creation. Unless you can afford a "cost no object" type of design you will be subject to those design tradeoffs. If you can afford a "cost no object" unit you will be subject to other realities.

Good luck with whatever you choose,
Ed

Buddha
Buddha's picture
Offline
Last seen: 2 years 9 months ago
Joined: Sep 8 2005 - 10:24am
Re: Looking for New Phono Stage - Need a little guidance

As a fellow Acoustech owner, I love your post.

It doesn't look sexy enough, however.

KBK
KBK's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Sep 30 2007 - 12:30pm
Re: Looking for New Phono Stage - Need a little guidance

Ear 834p - MM or MM/MC (probably can get one for around $1000)

Or Capn' Ron's work..it's mighty fine too.

Also to consider: FULL PREAMP..with amazing phono section.

Then sell whut youse gots.

This eagles maximum phono for practically nuttin.

that's the smarty pants way of doing it.

Ie, audiogon is your bud:

http://www.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/cls.pl?preatube&1238606071&/Audible-Illusions-Modulus-3A-r

http://www.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/cls.pl?preatube&1238888890&/Audible-Illusions-Modulus-3-bl

http://www.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/cls.pl?preatube&1240240234&/Nyal-Moscode-Minuet-w/-phono

http://www.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/cls.pl?preatube&1239933928&/Conrad-Johnson-PV-5-MINT

http://www.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/cls.pl?preatube&1239199110&/Conrad-Johnson-Cj-PV12-with-ph

that kinda thing.

Saves on cables- and sounds one hell of a lot better for it.

This is the same correct reasoning on integrated amplifiers.

I sell cables..but if you want to go to the wall..the best system is one without cables.

I see. You already have an integrated without phono - dang. But you can still grab an excellent phono section that way. Just use the tape outs on the preamp..extra gear is always good!

Here..I'll give up one of my closely held secrets:

Early to mid manufactured Bryston preamps had a MC transformer section as an option. Now, what transformer design was in there??

M.A. Cotter.

Soooo..when you find one of those..or the Bryston outboard transformer..you basically get a simplified version of this:

http://www.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/cls.pl?anlgtabl&1238220036&/Mitchell-Cotter-MK-2L-moving-c

This is why people will nearly come to blows over the Bryston Transformer.

judicata
judicata's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Jun 26 2008 - 11:55am
Re: Looking for New Phono Stage - Need a little guidance

Thanks for the very insightful posts.

I found a fantastic deal on a new Graham Slee Era Gold, so I went with that. If it doesn't distort when used as intended, it will be a good starting point right there.

judicata
judicata's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Jun 26 2008 - 11:55am
First Impressions Graham Slee

I got the Graham Slee Era Gold V the other day. First impressions: YES!!!!! Out of the box, it sounds smooth, detailed, controlled, and dynamic!! I'm honestly more enthusiastic about this thing than I have been about any other single purchase in my analog system. Most of this enthusiasm comes from the fact that it does what it is supposed to do.

The Bellari was a definite, clear improvement over the internal phono stage in the Marantz PM7001 - namely in robustness and fullness (and it passed the "my wife can hear the difference" test). But, it had some issues that grew to bother me more over time (1) humming - sometimes worse, sometimes not so bad; (2) distortion (clipping?) when its output level was turned up to Bellari's recommendations; (3) puny sound when the output level was turned lower; (4) Distortion/clipping on dynamically intense orchestral passages. I have to admit, I wasn't sure that the distortion on dynamic passages was from the Bellari, but the distortion sounded the same as the distortion/clipping when the output level was turned up (and its handling of dynamic passages got clearly worse as the output level increased).

All of these problems are solved! I put on some intense orchestral music I'm familiar with (indeed, it was the same record on which I first discovered the Bellari's distortion issues). Not expecting much, I hooked up my headphones and began listening. I noticed that all of the sound qualities I liked in the Bellari were still there (smooth, robust, open), but this thing is clearly more detailed. When it hit the dynamic passage that had distorted with the Bellari - unbelievable - it was just perfect. I heard every detail of the tympani and brass, strings, etc., all the way through the crescendo. I literally said "YES!" and pumped my fist like my team had just scored a touchdown, and my wife came into the room and asked "what happened?" I started to explain, and then I realized I hadn't gotten around to telling her about my new purchase...oops. But it was like the Bellari was slammed with an intense passage and said "Dude, you're asking me to bench 250 and my max is 200. *grunt* *pop* I think I pulled a muscle." The Graham Slee's response? "Bench? Hell, that's what I curl with one arm."

Anyhow, I highly suspect that my Bellari is broken, and my issues with it aren't universal. I haven't found anyone who has had similar problems with the distortion (humming yes, distortion no). And since Bellari has so far refused to inspect it, I can't even sell the stupid thing - I'm not a jerk - , but that's another story. This experience also suggests to me that my phono pre was a real bottleneck on my system. My Woo now has PLENTY of volume (I ran out of room at times before), and everything just sounds OH SO SWEET.

This was a clear, objective improvement in sound. How dare I say objective? Well, unless you like the sound of clipping in dynamic music, this was an objective improvement. Could I have found a $200 preamp that wasn't broken that fixed those problem? Well, I sure hope so. A $50 phono preamp shouldn't be broken.

Graham Slee says that it requires 3 weeks to "break in," so I'll hold off on a more complete review.

Buddha
Buddha's picture
Offline
Last seen: 2 years 9 months ago
Joined: Sep 8 2005 - 10:24am
Re: First Impressions Graham Slee

I am having vicarious happiness due to your happiness!

Hardball method for your problem:

Start a new thread here about the problems with the Bellari and then send a copy of the link of the thread to Bellari.

Should be interesting.

Maybe CC a copy of the website where you bought it, as well. What did your Bellari dealer have to say?

rvance
rvance's picture
Offline
Last seen: 11 months 3 weeks ago
Joined: Sep 8 2007 - 9:58am
Re: First Impressions Graham Slee

Hey Jude, Glad you were so satisfied with the Graham Slee. Stuff that works as it should is a great comfort. The following is an email I sent out last night re my personal Bellari story. Happy listening and someday I hope to have a rig worthy of the Graham.

Dear Friends and Family,

To those who have been following the saga of the humming phono amp I received from Maggie and her son Mike for Christmas, there is finally resolution (pun intended). To those who don't know what I'm talking about, feel lucky you only have to read this once.

The Rolls Bellari tube phono stage was supposed to get my vinyl back on track after purchasing a new Marantz receiver many months ago sans phono stage/input. I decided to buy myself the Bellari for Christmas, but was told no way by the boss of the house. After receiving this generous gift (the 530 model with USB outs for recording vinyl to hard drive when I need a project) I was dismayed at the nasty level of hum it amplified. You could tell it had promise, but the noise was a spoiler.

I contacted Rolls and they referred me to a link that discussed all the ways to mitigate ground loop hum. Since all my components have been isolated and quiet, I knew it was the Bellari. After a little haggling and name calling, they agreed to check it out. THEN I decided to check the audio forums, and sure enough, there were hundreds of complaints, recommendations and solutions for this ubiquitous problem endemic of many Bellari models. It was discouraging. I have a vintage Philips 212 Electronic TT ($75 on eBay!) and a Grado Silver cartridge, so this Bellari, tho' considered "entry level," is still double the cost of the rest of my vinyl rig. I needed it to work.

One of the most frequent complaints on the audio forums concerned the wall wart power supply shipped with the unit. My Bellari was returned today, and when I eagerly opened the box I was glad to see an "upgraded" ac adaptor. It was from an HP Omnibook computer and they had threaded a ferrite choke onto the component lead. The extra cord length was also cool for placement options. I was stoked.

I checked the inputs, outputs and 2 piece power supply and hooked up everything quickly while dinner was waiting and when I heard the familiar hum at moderate volume, I didn't bother playing an album. I was resigned to my miserable fate. After dinner, I decided to try different grounding strategies, despite my previous futile attempts before I sent it back to the factory. Turning up the volume produced awful buzz. Then I noticed the kind of thing that always happens to the truly amateur audiophiles- I forgot to connect the ground wire to the amp chassis, of all things. I still wasn't sure this would have a positive effect because the original set-up was noisiest with the ground wire connected (and quieter if I squeezed it between my fingers). But when I touched the bare lead to the ground post everything went dead quiet. I couldn't believe it. Nothing this obvious ever solves anything for me. The endorphin rush almost blissed me out.

I cranked the Bellari all the way up, then adjusted the receiver to listening level. Dead nothing! At full tilt there was a barely noticeable hum that would be drowned out by the sheer force of high volume music, but at reasonable levels it was not audible or distracting in the least. Victory at last!

I started with Captain Beefheart's Clear Spot- a difficult mix that got the joint jumping. Then a Rhino reissue of Elvis Costello's My Aim Is True that always sounded like crap on my previous receiver's phono stage. It was greatly improved with a real tubey warmth that was missing before. Less Than Zero was a standout. I moved to a vintage pressing (Columbia KC 30130) of Santana's Abraxis- awesome, with fantastic mind melting tone and clarity on the percussion and guitar. Now we were cooking. It was getting late, so I finished off with side 3 of The White Stripes' Elephant- a translucent red disc. This was the most ferociously analog guitar attack of the evening. Jack White's demented, fuzzed out shred on Ball and Biscuit was some of the greasiest, funkiest chunk of psychedelic hillbilly stomp ever scraped out of a groove with a needle. I was higher than Michael Phelps at a frat mixer.

For those who have forgotten, or are too young to remember- you can't get sonics like this from digital files or cd's. It is glorious. I've got some pretty nifty hi-res DVD-Audios and SACD's that are at the top of the digital heap and I still get more cheap, sleazy thrills from my stacks of wax. Long live vinyl!

And thanks to Mike, Maggie and Rolls for helping me through this difficult time.

R

p.s. The new ac adaptor is an HP Omnibook F1434A. It seems to have done the trick. Rolls had the unit back to me within 10 days and did not charge me. It was under warranty, but they are obstinate about returning for hum issues. Instead they provide a lot of do-it-yourself info with the proviso that all systems are different and difficult to troubleshoot and the buyer is responsible for ground hum problems. Luckily for me, they capitulated to my complaints.

KBK
KBK's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Sep 30 2007 - 12:30pm
Re: Looking for New Phono Stage - Need a little guidance

In the most literal sense: Let me illustrate.

Buy an early Bryston preamp with internal MC transformers..and you have the same item.

This item usually sells for about $1.2k-2k as a Blue Cotter Unit on it's own.

  • X
    Enter your Stereophile.com username.
    Enter the password that accompanies your username.
    Loading