Vendetta Research SCP-2 phono preamplifier Jeff Rowland Consummate Comparison
I compared the Consummate phono stage with one of the best such devices around, John Curl's Vendetta Research SCP-2B dedicated phono preamp (reviewed by JGH in Vol.11 No.6), which Stereophile subsequently purchased. The cartridge loading on the Vendetta, which is designed to be continuously variable, was set by ear to what turned out to be 65 ohms. The latter was measured across the Vendetta's input, then the phono stage of the Consummate was set to the same value with its calibrated dials. A 0.5m pair of the newest AudioQuest Lapis connected both phono preamps to the Consummate line stage; the only difference was that the connection from the Consummate phono stage was balanced while that from the Vendetta was not (the latter only has an unbalanced output).
The Consummate more than met its match. The Vendetta edged it out with respect to clean detail and overall balance. And as if to rejuvenate an old truism—you don't always hear the flaws in otherwise first-rate components until you hear something better—the Consummate's high end had just a trace of grain compared with the pristine sound of the Vendetta. Complex percussion was easier to follow on the latter, and detail more gracefully rendered. All was not one-sided; the Consummate had more apparent depth and three-dimensionality than the Vendetta—a more direct "look" into the soundstage. It was not an easy choice by any means. I vacillated considerably in my preference, but ultimately found myself leaning toward the Vendetta for phono playback.
But the Dynavector XX-1L (used in a Graham tonearm mounted on either the Oracle Delphi Mk.IV or the Sota Cosmos turntable), at the front end and the Apogee Centaur Majors at the back made for a rather incisive, somewhat analytical combination, as I've already stated. I therefore substituted the significantly sweeter Benz MC-3 into the system to reassess these two preamps (the loading was left unchanged). (The Benz is not only audibly softer than the Dynavector, it has measurably less upper-octave output.) The Vendetta remained detailed, though definitely less obviously so than it had been with the Dynavector. The good points of the Vendetta remained, but now the Consummate took center stage with its tighter, more immediate sound.
It remained a close call, but of the four possible combinations of these two cartridges and two phono preamps, my top vote-getter was the Dynavector driving the Vendetta, followed closely by the Benz driving the Consummate phono stage. Again, it's clear that proper matching will pay dividends. It's no less true at the cartridge/preamp interface than at the amplifier/loudspeaker. Incidentally, the Vendetta is noted for its quiet operation. Nit-picking between it and the Consummate would be a matter of paranoia; subjectively, I found no reason to choose one over the other on that basis.—Thomas J. Norton