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tom collins
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phono stage question

For you analog gurus, a question.
I currently use an Arcam A80 integrated that has a phono-stage built into it. My TT is using a benz-micro silver high output mc. As such, I get adequate volume with it as is. However, I have been reading a great deal about dedicated phono-stages, particulary the Sutherland ph3d (battery powered) that sells for about $1,000. Given that my Arcam did not cost must more than that, I was wondering if there were any thoughts on whether I would hear a quieter background and more detail if I went to the dedicated phono-stage. Also, at that price, would it be a piece of equipment that would respond well to my next upgrade in amplifier eventually. I guess I am wondering if that purchase makes sense. Any construtive suggestions appreciated.
Thanks

dcstep
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Re: phono stage question

I recently moved from the integrated phono stage in my Bryston 1B to a stand along tube phono preamp, the Pro-ject Tube Box SE. I did an A-B comparsion and gained considerable resolution and breath (openness in the sound from my Pro-ject RM10 TT).

So, I think you're likely to gain by going to a good, dedicated phono stage, but there's no guarantee. Hopefully you've got a dealer that'll let you audition, as mine did. I took it home, put it in my system, compared and then wouldn't give it back.

I've also gone with a relatively high output mc cartridge, the Sumiko Blackbird. I think this is the way to go, so that you don't add the noise of a step-up device.

Dave

tom collins
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Re: phono stage question

dc: thanks for the input. unfortunately, there is not a local dealer for me to try out the gear i was thinking of. this phono input in the arcam seems very quiet. did you feel that going from the solid state input to the tube stand alone changed the character very much?
in regard to the Sumiko, that would be a logical step up for me and has gotten very good press. can you describe the sound in terms of somewhere between analytical and smooth for me? thanks.

tom

bobedaone
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Re: phono stage question

If Michael Fremer were here, he'd probably say to audition the Graham Slee Era Gold, so I will suggest this in his stead.

dcstep
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Re: phono stage question


Quote:
dc: thanks for the input. unfortunately, there is not a local dealer for me to try out the gear i was thinking of. this phono input in the arcam seems very quiet. did you feel that going from the solid state input to the tube stand alone changed the character very much?
in regard to the Sumiko, that would be a logical step up for me and has gotten very good press. can you describe the sound in terms of somewhere between analytical and smooth for me? thanks.

No problem Tom.

I like to call my system neutral, rather than analytical or smooth. I'm extremely sensitive to midrange accuracy because of deep involvement in live musical performance on trumpet and jazz guitar and my love of female vocalists. I really can't take any hardness or edge in the upper midrange (a very common flaw) because it makes trumpets sound harsh, yet toy like and makes singers sound overly sibilant and thin voiced. On the other end of the scale, I don't want any upper bass hump because it muddies the mids and hides the true character of good bass, which I also enjoy a lot.

I don't believe in the SS vs. tube character thing. If I start hearing a sonic signature, then I tend to avoid that equipment. When I added the Tube Box it added no characteristic that I could identify as tube-like. It was merely more open sounding than my Bryston. In comparison, the Bryston was ever so slightly "congested". It wasn't a big deal and I could have lived with it forever. Doing the Sumiko speaker set had much more impact on the overall freedom of the sound. Still, it was there and the Tube Box only cost around 500-bucks, so I made the jump.

I suspect that your Arcam is comparable to my old Bryston, good equipment, but only 90th percentile. A good phono stage in the $400-$1000 price range will move you up to the 95th percentile. The next 4% may cost you $4000 to $6000 and the last 1% will cost you $20,000. So, I think this step gets you a lot of bang for the buck.

The Sumiko Blackbird is very clear, articulate and accurate. It requires the proper VTA and a little break-in; otherwise it can be too hot, with etched highs. Properly set up, it's very revealing with wonderfully wide and deep soundstage. When you hear Nora Jones and Dolly Parton singing harmony, you'll instantly name both people, as my wife did when she walked into one of my listening session. It tracks some really fierce tracks, like the D2D of Harry James on Sheffield, the Atlanta organ tracks on Crystal Clear D2D and most other hard to track disks. (I haven't tried any 1812 canon shots, but I'm not worried about that). An arm that can handle a Benz can handle the Blackbird.

There's something else about these extremely small-tipped cartridges. They must ride in a different part of the groove because they're significantly quieter. I've got some records that sound so quiet that people are astounded that they're not listening to a CD. The quietness has amazed me, even on some of my 40 year old records.

You could probably call my dealer, Rod Thomson of Soundings, and tell him that Dave Stephens sent you and you want to try a Tube Box in your system. If you'd let him charge your account and agree to pay shipping both ways, I'd be surprised if he didn't agree to send you one for a three-day trial. Soundings is in Greenwood Village, CO, so you can probably find it. If not, send my email at dcstep@swbell.net and I'll send you a phone number.

I don't know the other phono stage you

Yiangos
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Re: phono stage question

Tom,i don't have any experience with phono stages at this price range but based on reviews and personal experience with Tom Evans's "The Groove" i'd suggest the "Minigroove" or even better the "Minigroove Plus" if you can stretch your budged a bit further.

tom collins
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Re: phono stage question

thanks for the input guys. i think i will just sit tight for the moment. it is an interesting hobby. in regard to my question, my dealer believes that any money is better spent upgrading the electronics at this point. he also does not believe in spending large chunks of money on cartridges or arms, but that motors, platters and isolation get the greatest improvement. we shall see.

tom

KBK
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Re: phono stage question

He may be right, when all things are in proper perspective.

After all, it is the shape and timing of the waveform, combined with level and all that again concerning harmonics that determines the sonics we hear, so noise control, of the right kind, can be critical.

tom collins
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Re: phono stage question

kbk: he seems to be right most of the time. i think it is like anything where if you get the basics right, the rest is just refinement.

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