Gramophone Dreams #42: Sunvalley Audio SV-EQ1616D phono equalizer Page 2

Every image in the SV-EQ1616D's construction manual is life-size and in full color. But if I were making this kit, I would rely heavily on making my work match the photos you see with this article. If you make a mistake, no worries, because Sunvalley's exclusive North American distributor, the honorable Victor Kung of VK Music, and his cross-country crew of technicians are here to help.

The Sunvalley SV-EQ1616D uses a simple, conventional, capacitor-resistor (CR) RIAA equalizer with two switchable inputs and six selectable presets to match the various equalization curves used in past and present recordings. Its output is switchable between Stereo and Mono. There is, in addition to the 36dB-gain moving-magnet stage, a FET head amplifier that adds another 25–32dB gain with fixed 50 ohm loading for use with low-output moving-coil cartridges. The basic SV's tube complement is two 12AX7 dual-triode voltage amplifiers (one per channel) and one 12AU7 dual-triode cathode follower output stage—plus any tubes used in the power supply.

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The Sunvalley kit is a lot like the RCA tube manual phono stages I built back in the day. Part of what drew me to review this totally unpretentious preamp was the two features I thought made my home-built preamp better than the Marantz: its passive EQ and its octal-base rectifier tube.

1120gram.With-WE274B

When it comes to rectification, the Sunvalley gives the builder a choice. The standard, included-with-the-kit rectification is a solid-state module that the builder must construct. Optionally, any of the 5AR4, 274B, 5R4 family of octal-based rectifiers can be used. The solid-state rectifier module fits into the same tube socket as the tube rectifiers, so builders can build the solid-state module and try tubes and decide which rectification option sounds best to them. My review sample came with Psvane 274B rectifier tubes.

1120gram.with-ELROG-274B

Besides its playful, old-school looks and its big tube rectifier, what sets the Sunvalley SV-EQ1616D apart from most under $2k preamps is its nearly infinite battery of old-record equalization possibilities, which make it especially attractive to record collectors.If you collect 78s or play a lot of old "Long Playing" microgroove records pressed before the stereo/RIAA era, this equalizer, like the Sentec EQ11 I reviewed in October 2014, will allow you to easily adjust the frequencies above 1kHz to what's appropriate to the recording, or to your liking.

Listening to 78s
There were no 78s before the introduction of long-playing 33.3rpm microgroove records in 1948. Those heavy black discs everybody owned were simply "records," and much of the greatest music of the 20th century still exists only in their grooves. A unique breed of music-loving record collector seeks out the traditional jazz, classical, blues, country, and gospel captured on those heavy, brittle shellac discs. Old-school, fundamentalist 78 collectors use only one speaker—often a corner horn—and typically rely on some sort of equalizer to adjust the sound of each record.

Whenever I choose to play a 78, I do it as a mindful ritual that begins by choosing a disc to play and then a cartridge to play it with. Currently, I am experimenting with two new, affordable cartridges optimized for 78rpm playback: an Ortofon 2M 78 and a Grado Prestige 78E. Both are high-output mono cartridges with spherical diamond tips. The Ortofon uses a 2.5 mil diamond and is specified to track at l.8gm (like its 2M Mono stablemate). The Grado uses a 3 mil diamond with a special, 78-friendly suspension designed to track at 4–5gm.

With the Grado 78E, that blue-label Brahms Columbia I mentioned at the beginning (MM 603-8) played with minimal groove noise and enough sonic refinement to let me forget, for moments here and there, that I was playing a 78. (I couldn't forget for too long because 10" 78s only play for three minutes, and 12" 78s play for five minutes, max.)

If you have never experienced a 78rpm record, I should warn you: On modern turntables, 78s will often sound like the disc is running at the wrong speed. That's because it is. Most of these discs were cut at speeds ranging from 75 to 80rpm (or worse). In 1925, 78.26rpm became the standard for motorized (60Hz) record players in the United States. In Europe, for 50Hz motors, the standard became 77.92rpm. Therefore, adjustable-speed turntables, like the Technics SL-1200 or SP10/SP15, or one of the "GL-series" Goldring-Lenco turntables, are typically favored by 78 collectors. Also, because early 78s were cut on dry, brittle shellac resin, the listener will always hear the needle scraping through the groove. But that's okay; it's part of the youtube.com/watch?v=i9J0bopd4W4 and 78rpm mystique.

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The best thing about playing and collecting 78s is this: There are no rules. Just put on a disc and enjoy the damn music. Other than a little tone or speed adjustment, there isn't much to get fussy or tweaky about or to spend money on. Music comes off these fast-spinning, short-playing discs with a superintense dynamic force that makes long-playing audio seem dull, canned, and restrained.

With long-playing records
I advise all audiophiles just starting out to avoid listening for audiophile checklist things like detail, high-frequency air, imaging, soundstage depth, etc. Instead, try to feel and observe the sound energy in the room. Does the energy coming from the speakers seem to convey the shape and spirit of the original performance? This is important because, in the attempt to achieve all that checklist stuff, density and life force are usually the first things sacrificed. What made the Sunvalley preamp so unusually exciting was how it excelled at all the normal checklist stuff and juiced up and amped up the sound of my records.

During my first month with the Sunvalley, I used only the moving-magnet input. With the Hana ML moving-coil, I used a Bob's Devices SKY 20 step-up transformer. With the Koetsu Rosewood Signature Platinum and the My Sonic Lab Ultra Eminent Ex cartridges, I used my EMIA SUT. With the Etsuro Urushi Cobalt Blue, I used its matching Excel Sound ET-U50 SUT. With the SV-EQ1616D, each of these combinations generated the most vivid and nuanced analog sound I've had in this apartment.

I used these cartridges with SUTs because I've never met a head amp as quiet, natural, or microdynamically charged as a properly matched step-up transformer. To my ears, transformers tend to disappear, moving-coil head amps less so.

But what about the SV-EQ1616D's head amp? I ran the Koetsu Rosewood Signature Platinum into the Sunvalley's MC input, and by the end of Miles's "Shhh/Peaceful," I was smiling. My expectations were low, but the Sunvalley's head amp impressed me with its ability to boogie, recover substantial 3D spaces, and not shame this venerable Japanese cartridge.

My Dr. Feickert Blackbird turntable has provisions for two tonearms, which is perfect, because my current ambition is to fit the Blackbird with a 10.5" Thomas Schick tonearm for stereophonic moving coils and then, on the Blackbird's rear arm mount, use my Sorane/Abis SA-1.2 tonearm for mono and 78rpm cartridges. The SV-EQ1616D might work well with this plan because it has two inputs: MM and MC.

In that spirit, I tried Hana's excellent $750 SL Mono moving coil cartridge direct into the Sunvalley's MC input. The Hana SL Mono generates 0.5mV, and its internal impedance is specified as 30 ohms. The manufacturer suggests a load of >400 ohms. I wondered how it would fare into the SV-EQ1616D's fixed 50 ohm load.

"It's only a paper moon sailing over a cardboard sea. ..." I played a forever favorite high-fidelity mono recording: Gene Norman Presents Mel Tormé at the Crescendo (LP, Bethlehem BCP 6020), and dang, people, this 1957 record played surprisingly well through the Sunvalley's MC input. It was a bit blunt, and the reverb tails on the bongos and double bass were attenuated enough to be a distraction. Don Fagerquist's trumpet sounded too much like a toy for my taste. High frequencies would occasionally scream out. But applause sounded like real hands clapping.

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This Bethlehem LP is a superb mono recording with an apparently precise realization of the RIAA curve. Running the Hana SL Mono through the $850 Bob's Devices SKY 20 SUT into the SV-EQ1616D's MM input solved all the MC input's screech and dullness—that is, all its loading issues. Plus, it reminded me how much I love Hana cartridges and the sweet-sounding Alnico magnets that power them.

Don't forget
Now might be a good time to remind readers that all musical performances recorded between 1925 and 1967 were captured with tube electronics. Like today, record producers, recording engineers, and performers crafted their creations to be enjoyed with the loudspeakers and home audio of the time. The question now is, when these historic recordings are converted to digital, remastered, oversampled, and played back via solid-state amplification, what is left of their original character? Or their creators' intentions?

Audiophiles who collect long-playing microgroove discs are not only the founding fathers of our hobby; they remain its core constituents. Tube amplifiers, preamps, phono stages, and exotic phono cartridges still fuel the "audio-on-acid" wing of our beloved pastime. Even if you can't afford, or don't want, a $52,000 phono preamplifier, you can still experience massive doses of the extramundane by setting a needle on some black discs. The inexpensive Sunvalley SV-EQ1616D could be part of that experience. But I warn you, if you start using the Sunvalley, it could lead to harder drugs.

ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
ken h's picture

Thanks for reviewing this options for us DIYers Herb! Sounds very tempting. I was thinking of a Lounge Audio LCR Silver but this indeed is very tempting. Would you describe to me your thoughts on the different characters of the Lounge Audio LCR and the SunValley? I suspect I would lean more towards the sound of the SunValley.

Thanks

Herb Reichert's picture

You are right. I was remiss in not making the Lounge Audio LCR comparison. The LCR is in the Bunker and I will get on that and report on their differences asap. Meanwhile, everyone I have ever recommended the Lounge Audio to loves it and thanks me repeatedly. I doubt you'd be sad with either.

hr

ken h's picture

Thanks for being willing to describe the sonic character of each. I appreciate it.

Lazer's picture

I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on how the LCR compares. I bought the musical surroundings phono pre and linear charging power supply that you reviewed and am very happy. Thanks Herb!

CG's picture

You hit on too many great points to cover, Herb!

One that I will mention is that a surprising amount of the audio products from about 1950 on, including solid-date designs, had their origin in RCA's and Motorola's product manuals. If people only really knew...

We have an RCA Model 9T table radio that was restored so that it works to the original specification and is safe to use. (Looks pretty, too.) Once or twice a week, one of the small local AM stations plays a couple programs that actually feature music. It's easy to understand why people sat around the radios in their living rooms more than half a century ago. Not hifi, certainly not stereo, but as my kid says, "soothing."

Jack L's picture

....... the most serious issue affecting phono preamplifier sound quality." quoted Herb R.

HI

Bingo!

No need to spend money on however "low-noise, accurate RIAA EQ" as our ears can't hear the difference in deci dBs.

Yes, spend money on the power supply using CHOKES filters to replace cheapie resistors. This will improve the sound noticeably. I always use choke filters to replace cheapie resistors in my amp design/builds.

Listening is believing

Jack L

CG's picture

There's more to the recipe...

Ultimate low noise in the phono stage may or may not matter in the overall system noise. Somebody - actually lots of somebodies over the years - has analyzed that. Here is a recent effort, complete with links to earlier analyses:

http://hifisonix.com/so-just-how-quiet-is-your-phono-stage/

(I have zero connection to the owner of the above web site.)

Jack L's picture

Hi CG

I just ran through above website: I only read the noise specs of opamps published by Texas Instruments, the op-amp maker.

Yes, op-amps are a kind of intregrated circuit chips, built up of many bipolar junction devices, ie. transistors, & FETs with lots of feedback loops to achieve certain gain factor & ultra low noise levels for special field applications, e.g phono preamp gain devices.

I got no doubt op-amps can achieve ultra low noise levels, can even be lower than the noise level of the signal generator used to test them. For noise level alone, it fits excellently for building phono amps.

BUT, but for music amplication, noise level does NOT constitute the key part of the performance. The built in feedback loops form a dual blade sword: one side it delivers ultra low noise level, but the other side causes harmonic distortion, & phase distortion to the music signals which are built of multi high orders of harmonics, unlike the pure sinewave/square waves used to their lab tests.

Sonically, critical ears can detect such transient distortions caused by the op-amp feedback loops.

We got to know the bipolar junction devices, e.g. transistors & FETs that build up the op-amp chips are non-linear devices with kinked signal transfer characteristics.

Therefore, I would NOT use any transistors & FETs, let alone op-amp chips despite their ultra low noise level, to build any audio amps - sonically unfriendly to my critical ears.

As I posted here many times, I use only triode tubes, which are the only active amplification devices with truly linear signal transfer feature. My ears like the music they processed. This is physics.

Listening is believing

Jack L

PS: the compact MM phono-line preamp as seen in my signature logo above was my design/build with triode tubes only.

Jack L's picture

........ phono stage," quoted Herb

Hi

I still got my pair of Dynaco PAS-2 & ST-70 on back burner. Needless to say, both I thoroughly upgraded years years back. 'Cause their original sound was totally unacceptable to my skeptical ears: opaque, slow & noisy.

Back to the topic of phono-preamp, I wanted to keep Dynaco's signature sound, so I only did upgrade rather then rebuild like most most DIYers
out there did & have been doing till todate.

So I still kept its original PCBs & replaced whatever parts really SONICALLY necessary: polypropylene metal film coupling capacitors, silicon rectifier diodes & filter caps for tube filaments, HV: filter choke, oil- filled FIRST filter capacitor & computer-grade fast speed HV electrolytic filter capacitors; computer-grade silver-plated oxygen-free signal wires etc.

I also bypassed the entire 2-stage tone-control linestage to make it PASSIVE. Who needs tone controls nowadays ?

After such upgrade, my PAS-2 sounds totally 'refreshed': fast. crystal-transparent, airy & very detailed. Keeping its major original parts, I managed to keep Dynamic renowned signature sound.

So my upgrade mission completed, driving direct my upgraded ST-70 - no sweat even with its linestage bypassed as passive.

A lot of fun for minimum costs.

Jack L

Ortofan's picture

... $700 Pro-Ject Tube Box DS2 phono preamp.
https://www.project-audio.com/en/product/tube-box-ds2/
https://www.musicdirect.com/phono-preamps/Pro-Ject-Tube-Box-DS2-Phono-Preamplifier

Besides tubes, it has switching for two inputs, five different gain settings, and the MC load is continuously variable from 10Ω to 1kΩ.
Ken Kessler bought one to use as his budget reference.
https://www.henleyaudio.co.uk/_Assets/_managed/shop/product/files/Tube_Box_DS2_July.pdf

If variable EQ is needed, then get a Schiit Loki.
https://www.schiit.com/products/loki

Jack L's picture

Hi

Whatever budget phono preamp chosen, the first thing I would do is to upgrade the HV power supply by replacing the cheapie filter resistor with a choke, & replace coupling capacitors to PP or PE metal film capacitors for superior sound quality.

Jack L

shawnwes's picture

Quite an accomplishment to have surpassed the JC 3+ in Herb's system. Thanks Herb.

williamb's picture

Herb, I've been considering a kit. Can you suggest a soldering iron? I don't want to spend a fortune, but I also prefer to spend a little more for quality .

John Atkinson's picture
williamb wrote:
Herb, I've been considering a kit. Can you suggest a soldering iron?

I'm not Herb but I've been using an earlier version of Weller's temperature-controlled WLC100 - https://www.weller-tools.com/consumer/USA/us/Weller+Consumer/Soldering+Stations/Electronic%2C+Repair%2C+and+Everyday/WLC100 - for many years.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

williamb's picture

Thanks, John!

A5H_EV4N5's picture

Awesome review from a trusted advisor; this unit is extremely interesting especially considering I will get to pull out my trusted soldering iron and make the hidden parts beautiful. Is a step up transformer required for a Hana El MC cartridge?

Timbo in Oz's picture

IME Power supplies matter way more than audio circuits. Valve amps run with HV rails. This allows us to get very high storage and regulation, and very low noise.

I'll NEVER use a 12AU7 for gain again. Wonderful follower though. Blameless, and they seem to last a good while, if NOStock.

Way too many classic era valve power amps have too much inherent gain and need lots of NFB to lower it. My once were Leak St20s suffered from this issue.

They don't, now.

:-) and ;-) !!!

vkmusic's picture

SV-EQ1616D won the top prize in the analog equipment category of 2020 MJ magazine (無線と実験) (Radio and Experiment)
Technical of the Year 2020.

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