Phono Preamp Reviews

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Art Dudley Posted: Feb 01, 2009 Published: Jan 01, 2009 0 comments
I was walking through the woods one day when I happened on a large, flat rock near the base of an old ash tree. Conditioned as I am from such rambles with my daughter, whose interest in wildlife echoes that of my own childhood, I bent down and lifted one end of the rock, hoping to catch a glimpse of some exotic creature or another: perhaps a delicate ring-necked snake, or a plasticky-looking red eft. The rock came loose without too much effort and teetered on its broadest edge, but before I could let it flip to one side, I recoiled in horror: There, amid the millipedes and ant larvae, was a cluster of teeny-tiny, nasty-looking old men, writhing in such a tangle that I couldn't even count them. They were bespectacled, to a one, and mostly bald—I could tell quite easily, despite the berets worn by some of them—and each pair of feet was shod in a teeny-tiny pair of off-brand Birkenstock copies, with thin, shiny black socks underneath.
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Michael Fremer Posted: Sep 17, 2008 0 comments
Not that many years ago, it seems, every sound crew in Hollywood and around the world recorded production sound using a compact, open-reel analog tape recorder made by Nagra. The first iteration of the Swiss-made machine appeared in the early 1950s. Shortly thereafter, with the addition of an inaudible recorded tone that allowed easy syncing to picture, the Nagra recorder became the industry standard, and remained so through the 1980s. To this day, Nagra's line of audio products retains the look of those early recorders.
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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.
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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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 Michael Fremer 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.
Robert J. Reina Michael Fremer Posted: Jan 30, 2004 Published: Jan 30, 2005 0 comments
I don't know Gram Slee from Gram Parsons, or which House he was in at Harry Potter's Hogwarts School, but let me tell you: If you'd just been listening to a bunch of budget phono preamps, as I had, then came upon the GSP Audio Era Gold Mk.V, you'd think someone had switched out not just the phono preamp but your entire system. You might think you were listening to a different pressing or a different cartridge. How can this be?
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Art Dudley Posted: Jul 18, 2004 Published: Jul 01, 2004 0 comments
When we last heard from Englishman Tim de Paravicini, whose EAR 890 amp I reviewed in Stereophile's April 2004 issue, the veteran audio designer suggested that he could make a transistor amplifier equal in performance to any of his successful tube designs. Whatever else it may be, the new EAR 324 is my first chance to test that claim: a stereo phono preamplifier without a single tube in sight. It isn't TdP's first all-solid-state product: That would be the line-plus-phono EAR 312 preamplifier, introduced to no small fanfare a little over three years ago. For all intents and purposes, the 324 is a standalone version of the phono section of that $18,000 flagship: The designs are virtually identical—excepting, of course, their casework and power supplies.
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Michael Fremer Brian Damkroger 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: 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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Paul Bolin Posted: Sep 21, 2003 0 comments
Trickle-down technology is a grand thing. It's comparatively easy to build an exceptional audio component when there are no constraints on technology, cost, user-friendliness, or lack thereof, but top designers are now packing more and more of the excellence of damn-the-torpedoes components into more affordable and accessible packages. Which brings us to the Aesthetix Rhea, a tubed phono preamplifier of exceptionally distinguished lineage.
Art Dudley Posted: Jan 26, 2003 0 comments
Modern hi-fi is little more than a way of getting electricity to pretend that it's music. Of course, good source components remain all-important, and even if loudspeakers are imperfect, most of us can find one or two that suit our tastes, if not our rooms and the rest of our gear.