Gramophone Dreams #70: Sutherland Engineering SUTZ & Lounge Audio Copla headamps, Dynavector DV-20X2 & XX-2 MKII phono cartridges Page 2

I began my critical listening to the well-broken-in XX-2 MKII with some Frank Sinatra: Only the Lonely (Capital LP SW1053). My mind bypassed Frank's tone, phrasing, and lyrics, which is all I usually notice, and went behind him to Nelson Riddle's orchestra, which sounded exquisitely detailed, every instrument getting its due and sounding distinctly like itself. I had never previously experienced such a lucid, sharp-focused view of these background instruments. I wondered why.

Maybe because with the XX-2 into the transimpedance SUTZ, feeding Tavish Design's Adagio tube phono stage, the tone of Frank's voice was less vibrantly rendered, less tone-saturated and physically tactile, than it usually is with my four-times-as-expensive Koetsu Rosewood Signature Platinum ($8495) into its matching $5k Koetsu SUT. But, impressively, the SUTZ/XX-1 combo was almost as nuanced and captivating as the Koetsu.

When I replaced Sutherland's SUTZ with Dynavector's own SUP-200 step-up transformer, Nelson Riddle's orchestra came through with a shallower depth of field, less backstage detail, and some extra stereo wideness. Connected to the SUP-200, the XX-2's presentation was measurably taller, broader, and brighter—more wide-awake lively—than it was with the SUTZ. The SUTZ, though, was quieter than the SUP-200, with a deeper, darker, more three-dimensional feel. For me, the step-up transformer and the virtual short created sonically different presentations: Dynavector's transformers won the high-kick dance-energy contest, while the full-current SUTZ charmed me with its flow atmospherics and refinement.

Like all other cartridge manufacturers, Dynavector has a house sound. I would characterize it as Formula 1–fast with sticks-to-the-track handling, bright-eyed awake and superlucid, especially through the top octaves. With Parasound's JC 3+ and HoloAudio's LCR-1 phono stages, the XX-2 directed my attention to the top four octaves, where sometimes vocal and instrumental overtones, while appearing natural and attractive, felt uncorrelated with their fundamentals. As a result, the bass-and-baritone range seemed less than fully fleshed out—less dense and tactile—than the flutes-and-sopranos range.

Ron Sutherland's current-drive headamp ameliorated this perceptual discontinuity. With the SUTZ, recordings appeared fully recovered and equally energized through every octave. The XX-2/SUTZ pairing delivered that same sense of evenhanded completeness I observe in today's most expensive cartridges.

These sonic descriptions fail to communicate the subjective character of my Dynavector experience. I put hundreds of listening hours on the XX-2 because its lively, easy-flowing free-spiritedness made me want to play records. At the end of every side, I needed another.

I encountered a perfect example of what the XX-2 MKII is capable of while playing a recital of mélodie by French mezzo-soprano Claire Croiza (1882–1946). There's no mind-body separation in her art. "In singing," Croiza once said, "one may prefer either the sound or the word. But no sound, however beautiful, will ever give me personally the joy that I get from a perfectly enunciated vowel." French poet Paul Valéry described hers as "the most sensitive voice of our generation." Claire Croiza's haunting, high-sentiment vocals enchant me because when she sings these French poémes (EMI LP ALP 2115), I can feel how completely her mind is connected to her body—how her entire being expresses each song. These poems by Debussy, de Bréville, Roussel, and others never sounded like a recital—ethereal, formal, academic. Their earthly and heavenly yearnings seemed bound equally to Croiza's loins, heart, and transcendent spirit.

The XX-2's entrancing, sharp, direct reading stood in dramatic contrast to how distant and atmosphere-soaked Croiza sounded with Goldring's Eroica HX moving coil, and how she sounded slightly blurred with Ortofon's 2M Black moving magnet. The only moderately priced cartridge that satisfied as much as Dynavector's XX-2 was Grado Labs' low-output Platinum3, which put a moist-throated, rosy-cheeked sensuality into Croiza's voice.

I was raised by my father to view everything in the natural world as part of an immense, vibrating whole, energized by an immanent force. Sound, light, and our perceptions of a shadowed dimensionality all result from this force. Therefore, I seek out experience, like Claire Croiza's poême-singing and those Balinese "Monkey Chants," and cartridges like the XX-2 that let me see it with my eyes closed and feel it in my chest.

Speaking of validating beliefs: I grew up singing in a church choir, so every November my brain slips automatically into the spirit of Christmas as it was sung and chanted in the folk traditions of medieval Europe. Besides their obvious good message, folk songs and sacred chants for Christmas reflect a level of earthbound sincerity that more formal choral programs often lack. This year, I feel inspired to present to you a recording I love, one I always listen to with incense made of frankincense and myrrh, one that exposes the German and oriental influences that affected the Hungarian dialect of Gregorian-style chant: Schola Hungarica – Magyar Gregoriánum – Gregorian Chant From Hungary: Medieval Christmas Melodies (Hungaroton LP SLPX 11477). This disc showed me all I needed to know about how the Dynavector XX-2 MKII moving coil cartridge responds to the SUTZ's 0 ohm load. The vocal tones of Hungary's Schola Hungarica Ensemble flowed smoothly into my candlelit room, with sufficient air and architectural reverberation to spark pictures of 11th century choirs in damp stone churches, boys' and girls' voices energizing candlelit chapels.

Driven by Ron Sutherland's SUTZ, the tubes in Tavish Design's Adagio were having a transformative effect on the XX-2. With this combination, that perception of a top-octaves emphasis (with the XX-2 into a shunt resistor load) was converted into a balanced, harmonically rich 10-octave musical expanse, quieter and smoother than my solid state phono stages. Sparkle was retained, but glare was banished. Choir voices bounced off walls at distances the mind's eye (and ear) could measure. All this was more obvious with the SUTZ than with the Parasound JC 3+, HoloAudio's LCR-1, or Dynavector's own SUP-200 SUT. This suggests to me that current drive is passing on more information from the XX-2 MKII, with less noise and IM distortion than those other phono preamps.

Ron Sutherland went wild and created a new category of phonographic components—the current-drive headamp—that let me add my own choice of tube glories to the quiet steadiness of virtual short loading.

The Lounge Audio Copla headamp
Shame on me: The Lounge Audio Copla headamp I described in Gramophone Dreams #20 in 2018 has spent more time on the shelf than it has in the systems I've assembled for my stories. I've recommended it a lot to friends, but I have not written about it in a long time. I chalk that up to sloth, geezer ineptitude, and a congenital predisposition to use step-up transformers for moving coil amplification.

In an email, Lounge Audio founder and chief engineer Robert Morin (footnote 6) explained how the $355 Copla works. "The Copla is unique in that it uses the internal resistance of the transistors themselves to create the terminating load for the cartridge. The variable input resistance/gain function, which is user controlled by the Transimpedance control knob, is made possible by adjusting the output voltage of a discrete voltage regulator that feeds a string of LEDs. As the voltage is changed to the LED string, the intensity of the light output varies. This variable light intensity is converted to a supply voltage by a string of corresponding photodiodes. The variable supply voltage is sent to the input transistor pair and forces them to amplify more and lower the input resistance as the supply voltage goes up by turning the transimpedance knob clockwise. This is the only MC headamp that I know of that has an active input resistance tied to an adjustable loading control.

"Since the transistors are actually doing the loading of the cartridge, all of the energy of the signal coming from the cartridge is being transferred into the amplifying element. Most MC units shunt cartridge signal energy to ground through a low-value terminating resistor. Traditional SUT units take current from the cartridge and use some of that energy to create a magnetic field that drives the secondary winding of the transformer to create the voltage-amplified signal."

The Lounge Audio Copla's uniquely cool look makes it a stylish standout in its headamp genre. It has an optically isolated power supply (part of which lights up blue around its top lid), and it fits in my hand, measuring only 3" × 6.5" × 5.8" and weighing just 2.9lb. There's a wall wart, but it's not a switching power supply. It's a transformer feeding AC to a rectifier and linear power supply inside the box.

Robert Morin reminded me, "We also have Copla Silver ($485), which uses much thicker silver wire in the critical supply feed lines from the photodiodes to the transistors, higher quality resistors and capacitors around the transistors and a more robust voltage regulator for the LEDs. This results in much better resolution, dynamics, and frequency extension when compared to the standard Copla."

I played Dynavector's $2150 XX-2 moving coil cartridge through the Lounge Audio Copla into the SunValley EQ1616D phono equalizer ($985 for the kit) and listened to Mathias Landæus on piano, Palle Danielsson on bass, and Jon Fålt on drums on a dreamy-sounding disc titled Opening (M•A Recordings LP MO81A-V45). This superbly recorded jazz trio was perfect for listening at length to all three impedance settings on the Copla's front panel. The sounds I heard at 300 ohms were sort of drizzle-lush with lots of soft, shadowy spaces around the instruments. At 100 ohms, Lanæus's piano got hard, and the strings on Palle Danielsson's bass became too tight. Suppleness was lost, bass harmonics stunted. At 40 ohms, Opening locked into a terse, supervivid, slightly forward balance. This loading is close to Dynavector's recommended 30 ohms. Its effect was to make me appreciate better the beauties rendered by Tavish Design's Adagio.

As I listened, I realized I had never before connected the Copla to any RIAA stage other than Lounge Audio's own, $380 LCR MKIII. Feeding the tubed Adagio, the Copla made recordings sound charged and vivid in the extreme but also lucid and relaxed.

Revisiting the Lounge Audio Copla showed me what I had missed during my first auditions. The two Dynavector cartridges powered the Copla's active load in such a manner as to make what was coming out of the Tavish Adagio RIAA stage glow, shimmer, and radiate harmonics more than tubes usually do. It made recordings sound the way the best 1930s Hollywood films look: graceful, nuanced, and evocatively lit. It rendered reggae and bluegrass discs with a feeling of I-was-there intoxication. For only $355.

Without crashing the Ford
I explored two routes off the main roadways to load and amplify a moving coil cartridge. I put Dynavector's super-awake XX-2 moving coil into Sutherland's new recovers-more-info SUTZ, at the front of the latest iteration of my all-tube real-fi system. And I fell in love with both products.

After those experiences, Lounge Audio's Copla headamp made me rethink what I thought an MC headamp should sound like. It behaved like someone forgot a zero on its price tag.

Next month, we'll speed down I-75 and check out the Swamp Rats at the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing in Ocala, Florida.

Footnote 6: Lounge Audio, 13691 Gavina Ave., Unit 383, Sylmar, CA 91342. Tel: (818) 332-3346. Web:


georgehifi's picture

$3.8K for a hi-end phono stage, is a lot better than the stupefying price of $89K for the CH Precision P1 phono stage reviewed last week.
And this "could " even sound better at 24th of the price.

Cheers George

LinearTracker's picture

I would like to understand how the transimpedance phono stage can sound open and airy while loading the cartridge into such a low impedance.
Many years of experience with traditional phono stages has shown me that an incorrect too low load will dull the sound of a cartridge.
Why doesn’t this occur with the transimpedance type phono stage?

georgehifi's picture

"how the transimpedance phono stage can sound open and airy"

Think it works a bit like very low impedance speakers, they need/suck more current from the amp, And let face it, the easy to drive speakers are usually more coloured than the low impedance less coloured ones.

We loaded a Supex SD900 with 1000ohm, 500ohm, 100ohm, 50ohm, and 10ohm the cleanest best damped sound came from the 10ohm loading, but you need higher gain for it, which "can" run into more noise if things aren't designed right.

Cheers George's picture

After reading this I ordered a SunValley EQ1616D kit and a Lounge Audio Coppola with silver wiring and a switch.

I got the SunValley kit in 3 days.

From the Lounge Audio people I got an email saying they'd let me know when they shipped it.

That was 2 weeks ago and I haven't heard from them. They have not answered the 3 emails I sent them.

If for whatever reason it takes awhile to get one that's OK but 1) no response is not when they were happy enough to take and hold my $550, and 2) it should say prominently somewhere on their website that I will be waiting awhile.'s picture

Quote from Lounge Audio's site on shipping


We ship via USPS Priority Mail 1-3 days with signature confirmation in a large flat rate box (12x12x6) anywhere in the US.

We ship to any APO/FPO or DPO. We do not ship to proxy logistics companies.​

We handcraft the unit at our location and it takes us one to two days to ship the preamp from the moment you place the order."

I direct your attention to

" takes us one to two days to ship the preamp from the moment you place the order."