Phono Preamp Reviews

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Brian Damkroger  |  Aug 22, 2017  |  1 comments
"Saying that Sutherland Engineering builds a nice line of phono stages is like saying that the Porsche 911 Carrera is a nice line of sports cars." So began my review of Sutherland's PhonoBlock in the January 2012 issue. I went on to note that similar philosophies underpin both product lines, and to link the cost-no-object PhonoBlock ($10,000/pair) with the GT2 RS ($245,000), then the pinnacle of Porsche's 911 family. It's now 2017, and though Sutherland and Porsche have both gone through a complete development cycle and replaced their flagship models, the analogy still holds true.
Art Dudley  |  Jul 27, 2017  |  2 comments
How can you tell a classic product from the hi-fi hoi polloi? One sure sign is when third-party developers spring up around the thing, offering parts and service intended to maximize its performance—or just to keep it on the road. Thus regarded, a few true classics emerge: Quad's ESL and ESL-63 loudspeakers. Altec's 802 and 806 compression drivers. The Linn LP12 and Garrard 301/401 turntables. The Rega RB-300 tonearm and its direct descendants.
Michael Fremer  |  Jun 15, 2017  |  0 comments
Maybe you've seen the widely circulated New Yorker cartoon: Two guys stand in front of a nicely drawn, tubed audio system, under which are shelves full of LPs. One guy says, "The two things that really drew me to vinyl were the expense and the inconvenience."

If you can't laugh at that, you've lost your sense of humor—even acknowledging that, oddly, convenience is the raison d'etre of some recent phono preamplifiers—including Dan D'Agostino Audio's Momentum and the CH Precision P1, both of which offer multiple, switchable, configurable inputs saved in memory. Today's well-heeled vinyl enthusiast might have two or more tonearms mounted on a single turntable—or even two turntables, each with two arms. Zesto Audio's new Andros Téssera tubed phono preamplifier takes aim at that market segment.

Art Dudley  |  Mar 29, 2017  |  2 comments
Before I revert to form and leave the subject for another nine or ten months, I'll pick up where I left off in last month's column to focus once again on step-up transformers (SUTs) for moving-coil cartridges. There's yet another choice you should know about—in this case, a thoroughly brilliant, handmade SUT that sells for well under $1000.
Art Dudley  |  Feb 21, 2017  |  7 comments
In contrast with such line-level source components as DACs and CD players, record players generate a lower-voltage signal that requires extra gain from either a standalone phono preamplifier or the phono stage of another, more comprehensive component in one's system—typically, a full-function preamplifier or an integrated amp.

But when the phono cartridge of choice is a moving-coil (MC) type, which generates even less voltage than its moving-magnet (MM) and moving-iron (MI) friends, even more gain is required. This presents the user with an additional choice: he or she can select from among the many standalone phono preamps that offer sufficient gain, or augment an existing phono or full-function preamp or integrated amplifier with a phono step-up transformer, which boosts gain passively, without using tubes or transistors.

Art Dudley  |  Jun 01, 2016  |  5 comments
Though Westchester County, New York, seems a likelier locale for Bikram yoga studios, pet psychologists, and pricey restaurants specializing in "grain bowls" and fermented vegetables, the idea of manufacturing audio gear there is not without precedent. Cartridge manufacturer Micro-Acoustics (Elmsford, NY) thrived there for over two decades. George Kaye and Harvey Rosenberg's New York Audio Laboratories (Croton-on-Hudson, NY) assembled Moscode amplifiers there. Even the notorious loudspeaker manufacturer Fourier Systems (Yonkers, NY and Cocytus, Hell) got their start in the county that Hillary Clinton calls home, as needed.
Art Dudley  |  Apr 27, 2016  |  2 comments
I still remember how difficult it was for me to transition from mass-market to high-end audio. The former, for all its flaws, gave me things to do: switches to flip, buttons to push, knobs to turn, meters to watch. I was in control—and if my attention happened to stray from the music or the liner notes, I still had something to keep me busy. By contrast, the first perfectionist-quality amplifier I bought—an Amber Series 70—was an oblong box with an on/off switch. Where's the fun in that?
Art Dudley  |  Nov 14, 2015  |  1 comments
At some point within the last few years of his life, the late Ken Shindo designed an outboard phono preamplifier—a decision perhaps made inevitable by his earlier decision to answer popular demand with line-only versions of the Aurieges and the more upmarket Vosne-Romanee preamps...
Herb Reichert  |  Oct 15, 2015  |  11 comments
I used to get invited to these highly secret audio soirées, held in a basement workshop at the end of a dark, garbage-filled alley in Manhattan's Chinatown. There was no street address—only a wire-glass window in a metal door—and if you didn't know the password (ie, if you weren't carrying some type of audio amplification), you weren't allowed to enter. That said, sometimes nonmembers were allowed to attend, but only when a member needed help carrying monoblocks: There was no parking nearby.
Art Dudley  |  Sep 30, 2015  |  10 comments
"The way that young people will get into high-end audio is not through streaming: It's through the LP."

When that observation was offered during a recent phone conversation, I wrote it down word for word—not just because I agree with it, but because it was so remarkable: The audio-industry veteran who offered it owns a digital front end worth tens of thousands of dollars, and hasn't owned a turntable for at least a dozen years. Nevertheless, as became clear during the remainder of our conversation, he understands the dynamic that keeps vinyl at the top: a confluence of marketing psychology and genuine sonic goodness.

Herb Reichert  |  Oct 24, 2014  |  7 comments
With quiet elegance, the Sentec EQ11 phono stage and equalizer entered my expanding world of gramophone dreams. The EQ11 ($2500) is a modestly sized, tubed phono stage with the industry-standard RIAA phono equalization and five other EQ curves. These additional curves are for records pressed by companies that did not fully or promptly comply with the new, supposedly global industry standard introduced by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in 1954.
Michael Fremer, Art Dudley  |  Sep 17, 2014  |  First Published: Aug 01, 2013  |  0 comments
Veteran phono-preamplifier designer Ron Sutherland has been partial, of late, to battery power. Getting off the grid can produce superb results, as demonstrated by his Hubble phono preamp ($3800), powered by 16 alkaline batteries.

I favorably reviewed the Hubble in the February 2010 issue, and remember loving most everything about it—particularly its drop-dead-quiet backdrops, its solid, weighty bottom end, and its fully fleshed-out instrumental textures. I was less enthused by its somewhat soft, muted high-frequency transients, though of course tastes and associated gear will differ. I need more grit, particularly for rock; you may not.

Stephen Mejias  |  Apr 24, 2014  |  0 comments
What I failed to make absolutely clear in my April column is that I really, truly, thoroughly enjoyed all three USB DAC–headphone amps that I auditioned: the Audioengine D3 ($189), the AudioQuest DragonFly v1.2 ($149), and the Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS ($199). Each offered a slightly different perspective on the music, but none could be accused of closing lanes on the George Washington Bridge, dumping several feet of snow on top of our car, or doing anything especially wrong.
Art Dudley  |  Apr 24, 2014  |  First Published: May 01, 2014  |  0 comments
Except for a few titles I've combined with the ones in my listening room, and a few others that I intend to sell, the record collection I bought last year remains in three rows of boxes on the floor of our guest room. Because that room is spacious and comfortable, and equipped with a small refrigerator and a flat-screen TV, it is also the place where my 16-year-old daughter and her friends have their slumber parties and Dr. Who marathons. Thus, as you can imagine, I must sometimes explain to our young guests the Tao of collecting records.
Michael Fremer  |  Aug 26, 2013  |  First Published: Jun 01, 2013  |  1 comments
In July 2008 I reviewed the intriguing Phono 2Ci moving-magnet/moving-coil phono preamplifier from Aqvox Audio Devices. Though it then cost only $1400, the Phono 2Ci's current-input circuitry represented a high-tech departure from the typical voltage-gain circuits used by almost everyone else. Although keeping its retail price so low resulted in some sonic compromises, it sounded remarkable, and tough to beat at the price.

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