Channel D Lino C 3.3 phono preamplifier Measurements

Measurements (from July 2022, Vol.45 No.7)

Michael Fremer was impressed by the sound quality of Channel D's Lino C 3.3 phono preamplifier when he reviewed it in his June 2022 Analog Corner column. Editor Jim Austin suggested I examine its performance on the test bench.

The Lino C 3.3 ($3799, basic version1) resembles its predecessor, the Lino C 2.0, which Mikey reviewed in June 2019. The 3.3 is powered by a rechargeable battery and features a direct-coupled, wide-bandwidth, balanced, transimpedance circuit, which generates an output voltage that's proportional to the current generated by a moving coil cartridge. The fully loaded review sample ($7082) was supplied with a remote control and fitted with the optional moving magnet input, voltage-mode moving coil input, ultrahigh-precision RIAA certification, and front-panel LED indicators.

I measured all three of the Lino C 3.3's inputs with my Audio Precision SYS2722 system, using a two-channel, balanced attenuator module sent to me by Channel D's Rob Robinson for the transimpedance input. I set this module to reduce the signal level by 66dB with its source impedance set to 6 ohms, this typical of a moving coil cartridge. I operated the preamp on battery power for the testing, using the "Off the Grid" adapter so it would function with the battery charger unplugged. I left the cartridge damping button on the bottom panel set to Low and the adjacent DIP switches set to a gain of "0." (The other options are +6dB and +12dB.)

The moving magnet input has four additional gain settings. I measured gains at 1kHz of 44.1dB, 48.2dB, 50.8dB, and 52.9dB. The voltage-mode moving coil input offered 62.6dB of gain; the current-mode moving coil input 62.9dB. The bottom-panel DIP switches increased the MC gain at 1kHz to 68.9dB and 74.75dB. I left the moving coil gain at 62.9dB for the testing of this input. The balanced output impedance was a very low 48 ohms from 20Hz to 20kHz. The single-ended output impedance was even lower, at 10 ohms, again across the audioband.

All three inputs preserved absolute polarity with the polarity button set to Direct. Out of the box, the voltage-mode MC input's impedance measured 93 ohms from 20Hz to 20kHz. Setting all this input's loading choices to Off with the rear-panel DIP switches resulted in the specified input impedance of 2000 ohms. With the parallel input capacitance set to 100pF, the moving magnet input offered an impedance of 45k ohms at 20Hz and 1kHz, 39k ohms at 20kHz.

Fig.1 Channel D Lino C 3.3, response with RIAA correction into 100k ohms (left channel blue, right red) and with high-pass Rumble filter engaged (left green, right gray) (1dB/vertical div.).

The Lino C 2.0 featured superbly accurate RIAA equalization, the best I had measured at that time. The Lino C 3.3's RIAA equalization (fig.1) was even better, the measured error less than ±0.015dB! The channel matching was also superb. The green and gray traces show the response with the switchable high-pass Rumble filter. The output rolls off below 30Hz and is down by 9dB at 11.5Hz. Channel separation (not shown) was excellent at close to 90dB in both directions.

Fig.2 Channel D Lino C 3.3, spectrum, DC–1kHz, of output ref. 500µV input with current-mode input shunted with a 6 ohm resistor (left channel blue, right red, linear frequency scale, 20dB/vertical div.).

The current-mode input's unweighted, wideband S/N ratio, measured with the input shunted with the 6 ohm resistor, was a good 62.3dB (average of both channels), ref. 1kHz at 500µV. Restricting the measurement bandwidth to 22Hz–22kHz increased the ratio to 64.5dB, while switching an A-weighting filter into circuit increased it further, to 73dB. Spectral analysis of the Lino's low-frequency noisefloor with the transimpedance input shunted by a 6 ohm resistor (fig.2) revealed that random noise components were very low in level and, as the preamp was running on battery power, there were no mains-frequency components present. The voltage-mode moving coil input's S/N ratios were very similar and with its lower gain, the moving magnet input's S/N ratios were even higher, at 71dB, wideband, unweighted; 74dB, 22Hz–22kHz, unweighted; and 80.1dB, A-weighted. The ratios were taken with the gain at the lowest setting. Each increase in gain reduced the S/N ratios by 2–3dB, but even with the highest moving magnet gain, this is still a very quiet preamp.

With its gain set to "0dB," the current-mode MC input's overload margin (ref. 1kHz at 500µV) was a very good 16dB at 20Hz and 1kHz. (I couldn't measure the margin at 20kHz because, even with the attenuator module, this meant exceeding the Audio Precision's maximum output of 15V.) The voltage-mode MC input's overload margin was even better, at 19dB at 20Hz and 1kHz, 15dB at 20kHz. The moving magnet input's overload margin was 15dB at 20Hz and 1kHz, 9.4dB at 20kHz. I calculate these margins by comparing the input level that produces a measured THD+noise of 1% with the nominal cartridge output level. All three inputs clipped, ie, reached 1% THD+N, when the balanced output voltage was 4.3V.

Fig.3 Channel D Lino C 3.3, spectrum of 1kHz sinewave, DC–10kHz, into 100k ohms for 2mV input (left channel blue, right red, linear frequency scale).

Like its predecessor, the Lino C 3.3 offered extraordinarily low distortion before the onset of clipping. Fig.3 shows the spectrum of the Lino's output with the current-mode MC input fed 1kHz at 2mV, 4dB below the overload level. The only distortion harmonic that can be seen above the noisefloor is the third, at just –110dB (0.0003%).

Fig.4 Channel D Lino C 3.3, current-mode MC input, HF intermodulation spectrum, DC–30kHz, 19+20kHz into 100k ohms for 10mV peak input (left channel blue, right red, linear frequency scale).

Fig.5 Channel D Lino C 3.3, moving magnet input, HF intermodulation spectrum, DC–30kHz, 19+20kHz into 100k ohms for 100mV peak input (left channel blue, right red, linear frequency scale).

The Lino C 3.3 also had extremely low levels of intermodulation distortion (fig.4). This graph was taken with the current-mode MC input. The MM input had slightly higher levels of intermodulation products (fig.5), but these are still extremely low in level.

With its superbly accurate RIAA equalization, very low noise, and vanishingly low distortion, Channel D's Lino C 3.3 is the best-measuring phono preamplifier I have encountered. Wow!—John Atkinson

Channel D
Lambertville, NJ 08530-3001

Scintilla's picture

I ordered up my Lino C 3.0 last year and Rob had it built in a couple weeks. Rob is really responsive and has helped me troubleshoot several issues over the years, usually digital interface software problems. He is one of the truly good guys in the business and I love my Lino, which I feed with two tables: one setup for the current-input for LPs and another dedicated to 78's with an additional MM input. The Lino, configured for flat output, then feeds an A/D interface for digital RIAA and room correction. I dare you to try that solution Mikey. You might just abandon the megabucks phono-preamp in favor of a true game-changer: Room correction for LPs with Acourate or Audiolense. Don't think that swamps the subtlties of an analog phon-preamp? I got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you...

Glotz's picture

This is the one to own in this range.

Sound quality/transparency, build, aesthetics, flexibility, novel approach to differential even through SE connections, charging power supply. If Michael is gushing, it's legit. I need to hear this unit.

luigui's picture

I'm happy to read about a much improved "current" phono preamp, the list is growing up, Mofi is jumping to this "fashion" too so I’m all ears !!. And I want to give my ETNA SL a current phono !!. Problem with most phono preamps is you can’t hear it at store much less at home. It will be nice to create a list :D (in order of best to not best). After reading the article of Van den Hul the Grail (the normal one, not SE) I fall in love, but it is impossible to hear it at my EU country, the importer said, "sorry no demo unit, if you want it you have to purchase it" :( ... Now I do not have any idea if I would like/prefer this Lino or the Grail.
So I do not really know If the Grail is better (I think) than the internal phono of my Dartzeel preamp or it is a factor of !WOW thats a huge difference!, and I'm looking for WOW factor :D. Oh and yes I had the opportunity of hearing the CH P1 phono + external power supply at (miracle) !! my home !! and yes it was WOW WOW WOW, but out of my league financially. (For my taste it is better than the Ypsilon Silver that a friend of mine had).

gsal's picture

Hello Michael. I know I'm a bit late to this discussion but there is an issue that you did not really cover in your review and I will be facing as I plan to purchase this unit. My AMG Viella has the upgraded Cardas phono cables that terminate in RCA connectors (as do most tonearms). I spoke with Channel D and was told that my best solution would be to simply purchase their $199 XLR to DIN phono cable interconnect and replace my Cardas. When asked, they said that you can not simply change the end connectors on the Cardas from RCA to XLR as the internal construction of balanced cables is inherently different from single ended types. They claim that their unit is totally insensitive to upgraded cable brands. I'm confused and hate ditching my $2000 Cardas for a $199 cable. Since I will be using the Lino with a Backert Labs Rhumba line preamp (it only has one XLR input which I will be using for my DAC) they further said that their RCA output would be just fine and that their is no advantage to using the XLR at the output of the Lino. More confusion. I'd very much appreciate your comments. Thank you.