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bierfeldt
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$2k-$3k for a phono stage

I am looking for the "last phono stage I will ever buy." I am looking at a few units an I am curious if anyone has a POV on these -

Ayre Acoustics P-5xe - it is superb, stupidly quiet and would pair well with my Ayre preamp. Issue is, it is the most expensive unit I am considering at $3250

Parasound JC-3 - my Ayre dealer says this is their go to for high end systems. In general I find Parasound equipment to be a hair bright but this unit gets a lot of love. Still, it's $2995

Manley Chinook - Kevin at Upscal Audio raves about it and I do trust him. However, it is not balanced which is annoying. Price is $2250.

SImaudio Moon 310LP - fully balanced with particularly strong reviews. My Rogue dealer raves about it and it is their go to in premium systems at $1900.

Musical Fidelity kW Phonostage. Fremer had said "I have never heard so ruthlessly revealing a phono preamp." This was 9 years ago and the unit is out of production but this is evidently a new unit and was the MF flagship for a long time. $1750 though originally it was $3500.

I was also looking at the PS audio NuWave phono converter. It seems highly regarded as botha phono stage and as an AD converter. I glanced at the Rogue Audio Ares but at $2K, it is unbalanced and not superior to the Chinook at $250 more.

Any other thoughts? Does anyone feel strongly in favor or against any one of these units?

In the short term this will be used with a Rega RP3 with an Exact2. Longer term, I am thinking I will get an RP8 with an Alphetta or maybe a VPI Classic 1 since I seem to be moving to all US built equipment.

commsysman
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Musical Fidelity

I currently have the Musical Fidelity M1VINL phono stage, which I bought from Audio Advisor for $1200. I highly recommend it. It sounds a LOT better than the Audio Research PH-5 that it replaced, which cost $2500 originally.

It is in a system with a Music Hall MMF-7 turntable and Micro Benz Ace cartridge, and the sound quality is superb. The rest of the system is a Audio Research LS-26 preamp, Musical Fidelity M6PRX amplifier, and Vandersteen Treo speakers.

My system uses balanced interconnects throughout, and the balanced outputs of the M1VINL was one attractive feature.

It also lets you select cartridge loading and displays it.

bierfeldt
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The M1VINL

I need to call them because both they and Music Direct used to carry it and both no longer have it on their websites. It was one I was really excited about as it is fully balanced.

Btw...I did go listen to the Audio Research preamp you suggested. It sounded great but I could not pass up the deal I got on their floor model of the Ayre Acoustics as it also sounded great.

rrstesiak
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My recommendations based on research

bierfeldt:

I find the good reviewers here at Stereophile to be rarely wrong when they apply an A or A+ rating to a component. I noticed at least the Parasound JC3+ received an A rating; and was the second cheapest in both A+ and A lists for Recommended Components 2015.

Good luck assembling your fully balanced dream system!

Best Regards,

Ron

FYI..here is the excerpt to save you the time hunting it down:

Parasound Halo JC 3+: $2995 $$$ ✩
The Halo JC 3 is a true dual-mono design with a large R-core transformer power supply. Construction quality is first rate, top-shelf parts are used throughout, and the stout, heavy chassis is beautifully finished. In the JC 3, designer John Curl favored purity over adjustability, offering minimal loading options: 100 ohms or 47k ohms for moving-coil cartridges and 47k ohms for moving-magnet cartridges. Its fully direct-coupled RIAA equalization circuit is based on the circuit used in Curl's famed Vendetta Research SCP-2, while the JC 3's output stage is a true dual-differential, balanced design. In addition, the JC 3 has a built-in AC line conditioner, and its power supplies are modeled after those found in the extremely quiet JC 2 line stage. Though it lacked the dynamics and transparency of either the Pass Labs XP-25 or Ypsilon VPS-100, the JC 3 combined superb musical grip and control with a timbrally and texturally ideal midrange. "The JC 3 represents the best current value in a phono preamp that I know of," said MF. Though it lacked the Sutherland 20/20's tonal richness and punchy sense of pace and drive, the Halo JC 3 produced a detail-rich sound with tight, extended lows, a clean midrange, and carefully drawn images on a huge, open soundstage. "If your tastes run to purity, clarity, neutrality, and detail, you'll be hard-pressed to find a better phono stage for anywhere near $2350," BD concluded, recommending a Class A rating. The JC 3 sounded remarkably similar to BJR's reference, the Vendetta SCP-2, but lacked some high-frequency purity and ambience recovery. JA noted superb measured performance.

bierfeldt
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I love the PHO-8

That PHO-8 is awesome and I am extremely pleased with it but my long term plan for it is to be paired with P3-24 in my home theatre. That was my intent when I bought it and I am using it in my main music system until I get a balanced unit. I plan on having this Vincent for a very, very long time.

Every unit has its pros and cons on that list and the Parasound's price tag at $3k is a major con. I am going to see if I can hunt down an M1 VINL. That is the best value, though It is tougher to find than it used to be.

bierfeldt
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M1 ViNL discontinued

I called Audio Advisor and the M1 ViNL was discontinued last year. It looks like it is still available in the UK but here in the U.S. we are out of luck.

commsysman
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Musical Fidelity

On the other hand, the Musical Fidelity M6PRE preamp is a fully balanced preamp with an outstanding phono stage included, and is only $2499 now at Audio Advisor.

It may sound better than the Ayre, which you could then sell.

bierfeldt
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I have not heard the M6

It was high on my list originally and when I was hunting down dealers one had an M8. I may try and get a demo set up to hear the M8 with the Rogue. I can get one for $3300 and with Ayre's price increase, can probably get full value back for it. Might be worth a few hours of my time.

rrstesiak
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Music Fidelity

All:

I find this post to be relevant here...

Why in the world would I buy the M6 series PRE and AMP...for $6,000...when I could just buy the M6si Integrated for $3,000? It removes a cable to bother with, is fully balanced, and almost the same power as the amp alone. I truly think Music Fidelity has a temporary pricing issue or something that I certainly would capitalize on if I were in the market for a new pre/amp or integrated and had $3,000 in budget.

Respectfully,

Ron

bierfeldt
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The biggest problem with Musical Fidelity

So few dealers are actually displaying dealers of their equipment its impossible to hear anything in advance of a purchase. One of my local dealers said they changed importers a few years ago and the new importer took them on line which annoyed the existing dealer network.

I have an appointment to hear the M8 later today. We shall see how it sounds.

bierfeldt
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I demo'd it

Three of the four had built in phono stages. Additionally, I took my Rogue Power Amp and my Ayre preamp with me. The dealer sells Revels and had my speakers so I used that to set my baseline.

The M8 did not sound bad, but it wasn't as good of a match sonically as the Ayre. After listening a bunch of other preamps, the dealer and I both agreed on the outcome which is the Ayre is a fabulous sonic match for the Rogue and his suggestion was to accept my good fortune in saving $2600 on the Rogue and Ayre units and get a darn nice phono stage. He suggested the JC 3+ since that is what he sells and incidentally, I will buy it from him if that is the direction I go in.

So, I am back to my list above. I talked to a different dealer today and his perspective was the Parasound and the Ayre units are head and shoulders better than the others. He also sells Simaudio. Because of the potential synergies in sound and matching circuitry, the Ayre unit is the way to go. Alternatively, if I had a different preamp, then they would suggest the JC 3+.

Agree? Disagree? Anyone have any thoughts?

rrstesiak
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I've been pushing the JC 3+ all along.

Go for it. And it's also now a no-brainer on the Ayre. Their reputation is formidable.

I wish I had these problems!

:)

Cheers,

Ron

putting my statement to fact, and the fact Stereophile Ratings have never steered me wrong, they give the JC 3+ an A+ rating.

bierfeldt
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Now that I have decided

Now that I have decided and I think I am going to go with the Ayre, I know this sounds odd, but the lack of an on/off switch is really appealing. It is one fewer thing for my wife to deal with. I'm the end, I am very cheap and hate paying reatail so I am going to wait for a used unit or demo to come available. I may break down and pay full price eventually, but I have only done that twice and there were extenuating circumstances.

rrstesiak
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Phono Stage

bierfeldt:

The posts are a little confusing... Did you ever get a chance to audition the Ayre and Parasound PHONO stages?

Best Regards,

Ron

bierfeldt
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No I have not

There are no displaying dealers of the P-5xe in NYC metro though I have heard the JC-3+.

The words quiet and detailed don't really do the JC-3+ justice. The Vincent is noisy and muddy relative to the Vincent and you own the Vincent and know how quiet and detailed it is.

There is a dealer on Long Island that carries both Parasound and Ayre and said they are very comparable. They recommend the JC-3+ because it is $250 less if you have a non Parasound or Ayre preamp. Evidently, if you have Parasound, they always recco Parasound and Ayre with Ayre. They used to recommend the Ayre over the JC-3+ when it was $500 less.

The price increase Ayre took in March was monstrous and it was accross the board. The P-5xe went from $2500 to $3250, the V-5xe went from $5k to $6K and the K-5xeMP went from $3500 to $4350. I don't know how much the other prices moved but evidently most things went up in Ayres line.

Since it doesn't seem like anyone out here has any firsthand experience with the two units, I have to trust the dealers who have first hand experience along with reviews. The quote from Fremer on the P-5xe is so complimentary, it makes me feel safe. See it here.

http://www.ayre.com/src_p5xe.htm

"The P-5xe lets you forget it is even there"

That combined with high praise from dealers is going to have to be good enough.

rrstesiak
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Logic

bierfeldt:

If the two units are already very close in performance, I would definitely agree on principle alone to go with the Ayre for system synergy if budget is not a major hurdle. If it were my own system, I would save up for the Ayre, to word it differently.

I wish I had better advice, but I know sometimes the obvious is overlooked when bogged down with a major decision; go with matched components if they truly are very similar in performance.

Good luck and enjoy it when you can get it!

Best Regards,

Ron

bierfeldt
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My expectation

My expectation is that this is going to be the last phono stage I buy for a very, very long time so the $250 difference is not a concern. In a perfect world, I might find one on Audiogone and when I travel, I will call dealers to see if they have a floor madel for sale. Otherwise, this one will wait till bonus time.

This will likely be my St Patricks day gift to myself. Now, onto plotting my digital purchases.

rrstesiak
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Digital? Yes!

Digital? Now we're tallkin'....
What DACS are you looking at?

Ron

bierfeldt
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Here are the specs I need to meet

Here is what I need:

1 Balanced DAC with XLR outputs
2 Must support ALAC & FLAC (my NA7004 doesn't support ALAC)
3 Apply AirPlay or a Simple Aplle based app
4 Can't depend on any sort on screen service since there is no TV near this system
5 Collectively needs to be under 9" with adequate space for cooling

I also want to keep my total spend under about $4500 including CD and Headphone Amp. For a CD transport I am planning on a Cambridge CXC at $499. I will move my Marantz CD player down to my home theatre where it will likely get more use.

For the DAC, I am thinking about a few units:

1. Cambridge Audio Azur 851n - obviously I don't need the preamp functionality which seems a waste but the 851D gets an A rating by Stereophile, it is fully balanced, has built in Apple AirPlay, Spotify and has an apple based ap and at $1799 seems like a stuipidly good value and with the CXC is only 7.5" in total thickness.

2. Marantz NA-11s1 - Gets an A+ rating from Stereophile, is fully balaced, has AirPlay built in, streams Spotify and Pandora and has an interface my wife and I are both used to since it is replacing a Marantz NA7004.

3. An Aurender N100H for $2600. It has a built in 1TB HD and an ap that is supposed to work flawlessly. My MAC is on 100% of the time and I might use it or an external as a NAS. It lacks Airplay but is has Tidal built in and I could add a bluetooth dongle to a DAC that would deal with streaming. For DAC, it is then a bit tougher.

Ayre just introduced a $1500 DAC called the Codex that has a built in headphone amp and has a USB and Optical input. The downside is, it would not be possible to listen to a record via headphones then. I can see several other options for DACs that are superb and I can get a deal on; Bryston, Musical Fidelity, Benchmark, Bel Canto, etc...

Although I think the Aurender is the best streaming unit and I like the idea of it, however it is going to be the most expensive option by far. Additionally, if I really want it I could add it to the Marantz or Cambridge after the fact.

My hunch is, that if I find an open box or a demo on the Marantz, I will order it. If not, I will end up trying the Cambridge. The reality is, I am not sure if it is going to be that much better than my exisitng Marantz unit. That NA7004 was a $1000 DAC when it was new and received a 5 star rating from WhatHiFi for a reason. It sounds really, really good for a single ended unit. If the Cambridge is not much better, I would have the option to return it and then go with the Marantz regardless.

rrstesiak
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A unique suggestion..

As you know, I found my nirvana in a used older Bryston...

However, I also have my sights set on a sister component to it called the BDP-2...it connects to the DAC via AES..and together, they are what you're after and meet all of your requirements listed. They also have a very low rack profile and fit that need as well. The BDP-2 is Bryston's media server...I also LOVE the idea of separating the functions with separate player and DAC.

Check them out.. google will do alot better than I... search for : Bryston BDA-1 or BDA-2...and Bryston BDP-2.... together, the 2 series retails for around $4000, or $2000 a piece. You can almost cut that in half to $2000 for BOTH if you don't mind the first release of each (BDA-1 and BDP-1)....the DAC also received Class A rating in Stereophile. I found it a tad dry, but with the new subwoofer, it actually adds back in a touch of warmth if that makes sense.

Ron

bierfeldt
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I have looked at the Bryston and NAD

I looked into both the Bryston units and although they are highly regarded for sound, the feature set stinks.

NADs M50 is actually pretty sweet and might have the best feature set I have seen. That is rising in my interest and the M51 DAC gets an A+ Rating. Although expensive, I feel like this might really be worth it at $4500.

Two other units have actually sprouted as very interesting. The Simaudio Moon Neo 280D with the Optional MIND Module at $3K. With the cambridge CD Transport, it would be $3500. Nicely placed between the $2300 for all Cambridge and $4000 for Marantz/Cambridge.

I listened to the 260D with DAC and external MIND module when I demo'd the Rogue Audio RP5 and was impressed though that is a $4300 combo.

Then there is the Primare NP30. Audistream gives it an A rating but the irritating thing is the Bryston, Simaudio and Primare lack screens to tell me what is playing at the moment.

Marantz, NAD and Cambridge all have effective displays.

rrstesiak
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confusion

bierfeldt:

wrt the Bryston, I think you are slightly confused. While the DAC does not have a way to tell song and artist, the BDP-2 does; though modestly..it does:

Image hosted by servimg.com

In addition, it also has iPhone, iPad app that shows artwork, songlists, etc... it also has a connector and space for an internal hard disk; as well as a plethora of USB connections and is fully balanced. (BDA-2).

Just making sure you are aware of the capabilities of a Sterophile A component before dismissing it.

As for the others mentioned, I have no experience..but I truly do think the BDA-2/BDP-2 combo would be a formidable kit to beat at any price.

Respectfully,

Ron

bierfeldt
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I didn't see that the screen shows the artist and song

That is helpful.

I do agree that the older BDP and BDA-1s would be a superb value. I am sure I could find them for about $3K which would put them in the meaty part of this range. Honestly, the BDP and BDA-2's with a combined cost of over $5K don't actually feel like a great value compared to the other units. Check out the feature set on the NAD

http://nadelectronics.com/products/masters-series/M50-Digital-Music-Player

The Bryston is Tidal enabled. The NAD has a stupid number of services and gets an A+ rating as well. I do use Spotify, Apple Radio and Pandora. The Bryston is nice and if I was simply streaming audio off of a NAS or my PC via USB, it would be a super unit. I currently do neither of those. This is partially because the Marantz I currently have is not able to read ALAC files unless they are sent via AirPlay and I am very lazy.

rrstesiak
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Final clarification

With the BDP-2, a PC or NAS is not necessary.

I really don't mean to push the Bryston DAC/Server combo...but to my mind, they really merit consideration in your price range.

However, if you have auditioned a Bryston and do not like their "house sound", then that is an entirely different matter and I of course respect that.

Respectfully,

Ron

bierfeldt
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My issue with Bryston

I have not listened to Brystons media server and DAC. I have listened to their preamps, power amps and CD players and my experience has been that Bryston sounds very good. It is a bit short of extraordinary for the money. Bryston is just expensive. For instance, the BDP2 would be priced right at $2500 to $2600 relative to its peers, yet it is $3K.

Unfortunately, that seems to be the case with all Bryston items from my perspective. There is always one or two items that are as good or better at lower price.

rrstesiak
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my mistake

You're right..the BDP-2 is $3,000. I was thinking $2400. If it was a DAC AND media server, $3,000 would make more sense. I respect your decision.

I myself am going to pursue the BDP-1 in the used market. They claim little sonic differences with the BDP-2...just a faster CPU and more memory for very large music collections; which I don't have. I think it is rated up to 10,000 tracks...I have 6,000 roughly.

Keep us posted through your decision making process!

Cheers,

Ron

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If you are technically inclined...

bierfeldt:

If you are at all computer savvy, I am in the process of building my own music server..running Linux (never ever crashes and is much leaner than bloated windows), is bit-perfect, and supports apple AirPlay, AFLAC, AIFF, WAV, FLAC, MP3, (gapless playback too), Spotify, and last.fm.

I already have a prototype built and tested and the thing works flawlessly. I have it sending audio to my Bryston BDA-1 via BNC.

I plan on ordering components to build a nice rack mount unit for around a measly $330!

Here are some pictures to give you an idea of what I am doing and what it will look like..

the case:
Image hosted by servimg.com

the LCD to display artist and album:
Image hosted by servimg.com

I am planning on custom fabricating a mount in the case for the LCD....making it look like this Bryston; only my case is black and my display will be blue letters on a black background:
Image hosted by servimg.com

I am not joking.... this system performs severely well..I am also contemplating on changing to a linear power supply, which will add roughly $75 to the cost, bringing total cost of a very powerful, fanless, linear power supply music server to $375.

Bear in mind, when building one's own music server, your choices are endless....there are many many many different case designs to choose from as well..mine was chosen for its cost as well as its industrial, minimalistic rack mount appearance, but more "elegant" cases can easily be found.

Also of importance, if usb or coax or BNC spdif isn't your cup of tea, for another $200, one can purchase the exact same sound card used in the Bryston BDP-1! This adds the following professional/studio hifi capabilities:

2 analog input channels, 2 analog output channels
24-bit/192kHz AD converter with 114dB(a) dynamic range
24-bit/192kHz DA converter with 112dB(a) dynamic range
swappable socket (Unbalanced RCA with -10dBv or Balanced TRS with +4dBu )
coaxial S/PDIF digital input
synchronisation to digital S/PDIF input signals
optical S/PDIF digital output with automatic shutter (max. 96kHz specified)
coaxial S/PDIF digital output (max. 192kHz)
1 MIDI input (16 channels) / 1 MIDI output (16 channels)
support for DirectWIRE 3.0
4 inputs and 4 outputs can be used with 24bit/192kHz simultaneously (incl. MIDI I/O) - full duplex

Of crucial note, an adapter can easily offer up a balanced AES/XLR port..

Finally, like the Bryston (which also runs Linux by the way and the exact same music server software!!!!!), the way to control this thing is through ANDROID apps, iOS apps, as well as supporting a web interface if using a computer. I currently use my iPad and it shows album art and is extremely fast and a pleasure to use. The app is exactly the same one as recommended by Bryston. If I wanted to, I could also add control buttons to the front of the chassis for play, please, track, etc.. but I will never ever use that feature as I will solely use the iPad interface..just saying it is possible to add.

Let me know if this track interests you at all -

Respectfully,

Ron

bierfeldt
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my issue is space more than anything else

I have a nice repository of music on my Mac in the room and can run it with the Remote app on my iPhone and iPad. The apple is super quiet and the only noise that I ever hear from it is the tiny bit of access noise from the 3TB external hard drive.

The issue is, that room is getting cramped and I simply don't have room for incremental equipment. I think I have made my decision on my next components:

DAC/Streamer - Cambridge Azur 851N - it has all the features I want like AirPlay, is an A rated DAC be Stereophile, is fully balanced and only 4.5" high. The key thing for me is that my wife will not need to adjust as she uses this system.

CD Player - Cambridge CXC - It looks great and is a super value as a standalone CD transport. At only 3", the 851N will sit on top of it and the 851N will have enough room to cool.

Phono Stage - Ayre P-5xe - My wife is excited about it because it lacks an on/off switch. That is the primary feature that interests her and I am willing to ride that.

The best part of the Cambridge units is that I can get them from Crutchfield and if I don't like it, I can return them. This seems like the best path for me moving forward based on my space constraints and desired feature set.

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Bierfeldt, I found this, your

Bierfeldt, I found this, your thread, in my quest for information regarding the Ayre phono pre. I also have an Ayre preamplifier and am debating phono pre choices and am writing now to ask how your enjoying your new Ayre P-5xe and whether or not you’d recommend it? Was it the right choice for you?

bierfeldt
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As it turns out

I started divorce proceeding three months later and never was able to buy this unit. Turns out that was a good choice as that divorce cost 7x what I was expecting which has negatively impacted my budget for stereo equipment.

That being said, I spent a fair amount of time listening to this unit in a retailer. It sounds amazing in an all Ayre system. I listened to it attached to a K-5xeMP (my preamp) and V-5xe. The thing that stands out is just how quiet all Ayre gear is and the complete absence of sound when it is called for. A track like So What from Miles Davis is just amazing on it.

I recently added a PS Audio Directstream DAC. My CD player is circling the drain so I need to deal with it and then I will be turning my attention back to vinyl rig. I am looking seriously at 5 units, the P-5xe, the Parasound Halo JC3+, the Manley Chinook and the Rogue Ares Magnum or if I decide to go cheap, the Wyred4Sound PH-1. I have absolutely no idea which one I will end up with but am biased toward the Ayre or Rogue for aesthetics given I have an Ayre preamp and Rogue Power Amp.

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I am sorry to hear that,

I am sorry to hear that, although I hope it’s for the best - your divorce. You’ll be able to catch up with your audio purchases, in time.

And, thanks for the info - I’m leaning towards the Ayre phono and/or the new Sim Audio 310 lp.

Enjoy your system!

bierfeldt
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Thank you

No worries about that. I am quite happy with the divorce, just not the legal bill.

I heard the old Simaudio 310 and it was great. The price was outstanding for a fully balanced unit and the sound profile was really good. It is a unit I have been watching for in the used market but they never seem to come available. With the discontinuation I was hoping to get a good deal on it. Haven't heard the new one but I would guess it is excellent.

Good luck to you and enjoy your system.

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Yes, I am sorry to hear about

Yes, I am sorry to hear about your divorce too(( it is painful sometimes

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