Analog Corner #286: Channel D Lino C 2.0 phono preamplifier

Install a new component in your system and there's usually a period of adjustment as you get used to the difference in sound—especially if the new product costs much less than your reference. Channel D's new Lino C 2.0 balanced phono preamplifier costs $2499, yet my ears instantly accepted its combination of drop-dead, noise-free backgrounds and lack of obvious colorations or sonic personality. I didn't hear it—I heard only my Ortofon A95 cartridge, with which I'm well familiar, as amplified by far more costly phono preamps.

Being a current-mode phono preamplifier—one in which a dead short takes the place of a resistive load, and current amplification takes the place of voltage amplification—the Lino C 2.0 is intended for use only with cartridges of low output and low internal impedance—the lower impedance, the better. The closer the Lino gets to seeing a short circuit, the happier it and you will be—as long as your tonearm wiring doesn't tie chassis common ground to the cartridge's signal leads—which means that unless you operate on it, you can't use your Rega tonearm with the Channel D.

The Lino C 2.0 is battery powered; charging is automatic. As soon as the Lino detects a signal, the wall-wart charging adapter is automatically disconnected and the Lino is galvanically isolated. After 10 minutes of no signal, the charger is reconnected. The instructions indicate that designer Rob Robinson knows his tweaky customers well. He warns them not to substitute a different power supply (for a battery charger!), which of course would be a high level of insanity given the great lengths he's gone to provide a low-noise one with high galvanic isolation.


The truly noise-averse can pull the plug, so long as they remember to plug it back in—after about 24 hours of use, the battery will lose its charge. Better, spend $24 on for an AC/DC control relay device that will automatically and electronically pull the plug. Channel D supplied one for this review, as well as a pair of RCA-to-XLR adapters—pin 1 must be "open"—which are required unless your phono cable is terminated with an XLR plug. The Lino includes both balanced (XLR) and single-ended (RCA) outputs. I used the balanced outputs.

Internal DIP switches let you set the gain at 0dB, +6dB (factory setting), or +12dB, though the actual gain produced by the Lino C 2.0 will depend on the cartridge's internal impedance. Set to +12dB, the Lino C can produce up to 80dB of gain. I used +6dB.

The Lino C 2.0 is a high-tech product that's direct-coupled from input to output. Its surface-mount components include low-noise metal-film resistors and other precision parts that I don't have space to describe here. RIAA is LF active and HF passive.

Users of Channel D's Pure Vinyl LP-recording software can bypass the Lino's RIAA circuitry, digitize the cartridge's output using an external analog-to-digital converter (ADC), and record or monitor "flat"—Pure Vinyl provides the RIAA equalization curve. Although I own Lynx's excellent Hilo A/D and D/A converter, I didn't have time to try this—anyway, I prefer keeping analog signals in the analog domain, though the curve options make this system attractive to use for older mono records produced using curves other than RIAA. Each Lino C 2.0 comes with a printout of that unit's actual RIAA accuracy.

If you own a cartridge with super-low internal impedance, and if your turntable-cartridge-tonearm has the proper grounding scheme, the Lino C 2.0 at $2499 is a no-brainer—unless you have a lot more money to spend on a far more expensive current-amplification phono preamp such as the CH Precision P1, which produces greater dynamic slam and bigger soundstages, etc. And if you prefer to add a pleasing but, I hope, almost-"nothing" coloration—nothing wrong with that, in my opinion—there are many outstanding choices. I'm more than happy to return to service the magical and far more costly Ypsilon VPS-100 phono preamp, particularly when listening to acoustic music.

But plug in the Lino C 2.0 and get ready for ultra-transparency, drop-dead backgrounds, and a no-nonsense accounting of the sound of the rest of your front end—with a few very balanced nips and tucks as compared with the ultimate in vinyl playback, surely the result of keeping costs in line. In terms of vivid three-dimensionality, the Lino C 2.0 comes close to the best current-amplification phono preamps I've heard, one of which I own—the CH Precision P1 with the X1 power supply.

I'm now playing, at a very modest volume, Chansons et Madrigaux de la Renaissance, a superbly recorded album of music composed for small choral ensembles by Giovanni Bassano (1550–1617), with recorder and lute accompaniment (LP, Erato STU 70832—great cover art, too!). I now realize that the sonic satisfaction I felt when I first plugged in the Lino C 2.0 is long-lasting. If you want to enjoy a minor gem, consider Eleanor McEvoy's Forgotten Dreams, recorded direct-to-disc at AIR Studios (LP, Chasing the Dragon VALDC006). It's just McEvoy accompanying herself on acoustic guitar, sympathetically backed by pianist Damon Butcher. The Lino C 2.0's reproduction of this natural, holographic recording clearly demonstrates that it operates way above its pay grade. I highly recommend it—if your cartridge has a super-low internal impedance.

Channel D's biggest problem is that most cartridges with super-low output and internal impedance are also super-expensive—their owners might be inclined to pass on so inexpensive a phono preamp. But if you're well-to-do and have spent a lot of money on a voltage-amplification phono preamp, why not drop a meager $2499 on one of these—Channel D offers a generous warranty of five years—just to hear how your megaprice cartridge performs with a well-designed, high-performance, current-amplification phono preamp? After a few months of listening, my initial enthusiasm and appreciation for the Lino C 2.0 continues. And its specifications are outstanding.

tonykaz's picture

$2,500 is a problem because it's "too cheap" explains 33.3 promoted marketing pretty well.

Tony in Venice

ps. appropriate Phono Cartridges are too expensive ( ridiculously expensive ) or even other worldly expensive

Mycophile's picture

A couple of examples of cartridges that work very well with this preamp are the Hana SL MC and Ortofon Quintet Black, at $750 and $999 respectively. Don't know if you define that as ridiculously expensive?

tonykaz's picture

The reviewer mentions the cartridge price issue.

I agree, the incredible prices for some of his reviewed phono cartridges are other worldly.

Tony in Venice

13DoW's picture

Hi JA1,
I always enjoy the measurements section. You describe making an attenuator of two 10k and one 10 ohm resistors. The Lino would then see a source resistance very close to 10 ohms, but in your results you talk about a 6 ohm source resistor. What did I miss?


Ortofan's picture

... Initially, JA1 used a fixed adapter that he made using one 10 ohm and two 10K resistors.
Channel D then supplied an adapter, which allowed adjustment of both attenuation and source resistance. JA1 indicated that he set the source resistance to 6 ohms.

13DoW's picture

That is what I missed! Thanks :)

Ortofan's picture

... battery-powered unit that uses integrated circuits in the audio signal path?
If so, given that he disparaged products employing such a configuration, could it be arranged for AD to conduct a follow-up review?

shawnwes's picture

As the XV-1s has a 6 ohm impedance I'm guessing it's a very good match for the Lino C or is there something more to consider?
Are there high quality RCA to XLR connectors that won't break the bank?

Mycophile's picture

Channel D used a Dynavector DRT XV-1s and a Lino C 2.0 at the NYC audio show in November 2019 (was not listed in the program, a last-minute addition to the exhibitors). A reviewer from parttimeaudiophile judged the sound as "Best of Show Runner Up: very involving sound."

The Lino C 2.0 ships with a set of RCA to XLR adapters, but for best performance the interconnect should be balanced; that is, shielded twisted pair (two independent conductors plus shield), with pin 1 of the XLRs not connected to any signal connection, just the shield.

shawnwes's picture

Thank you for your comments. Appreciated. I'm probably going to upgrade this year and need to create a shortlist.

shawnwes's picture

What a surprise! LOL

Mikey you have to put us on a private email list when you announce these bargains!

Mycophile's picture

Per Channel D website: "Notice of Price Increase: due to compounded across-the-board supplier price increases since 2017, the price of the Lino C 2.0 will be increasing by 12 percent from $2499 to $2799 when the stock for our current production run is exhausted (about March 2020)."

It's simply the government tariffs coming to roost, and existing stock being exhausted, is all.