LFD Phonostage LE phono preamplifier Page 2

The Phonostage LE can be configured to provide appropriate gain for moving-magnet (39dB) or moving-coil (53dB) cartridges. Phonostages are sent into the world configured for 53dB, but 39dB can be selected by opening the chassis and removing, with desoldering braid or such, a pair of solder links at the rear-center portion of the PCB.

Early in its stay here, I used the LFD Phonostage LE in its factory-default high-gain setting, driving it with EMT TSD 15 and Ortofon SPU moving-coil pickup heads. Thus configured, the Phonostage delivered very good sound and music, with a pleasant perk: total absences of hum and noise.

That said, even better sonic and musical performance was had by using a step-up transformer between cartridge and Phonostage, with the latter set for low gain. Explanations range from the technical (much ink has been spilled, much of it by me, on the manner in which a transformer optimizes load impedance in a phono system) to the personal (I admit that I simply prefer the more dynamic sound that ensues when a phono stage is preceded by a transformer), and you may take your pick. The point is, the subjective comments that follow are mostly based on preceding a low-gain LFD Phonostage with a transformer appropriate to the cartridge in use.

You should note, however, that inserting a transformer into my phono system always worsened the Phonostage's hum and noise, howsoever imperceptibly at normal listening levels. Note too that, in the context of my system, it never proved necessary to connect the ground lugs of any components in use to the LFD's rear-mounted ground terminal; doing so, in whatever combination, produced no audible change.

A final setup note: Especially with stereo recordings containing strong center-image content—solo voices in particular—I preferred listening to the Phonostage LE when both speaker cables were polarity-reversed. This led me to assume that the LFD inverted absolute phase in my system, driving the line-level stage of my Shindo Masseto preamplifier (which, either on its own or in tandem with the Masseto's own phono stage, does not invert phase). In any event, audio consumers are well advised to experiment with any new amp and preamp purchases, to determine which way they sound best.

It didn't take long for the Phonostage LE to distinguish itself as a sonically refined, musically involving, downright fun piece of gear. If I'd been the least concerned about its reliance on integrated circuits—what a curse it is, knowing the contents of the boxes we hear!—those fears proved unfounded: The Phonostage not only refrained from distorting music's timing and tunefulness, it was also timbrally sophisticated, with a decent sense of tonal color and a good if not consistently perfect freedom from the sorts of artificial texture that can overlay and hamper the genuine item. The Phonostage was better than most affordable products at preserving the physical qualities found in well-recorded music. On "Polly Come Home," from Robert Plant and Alison Krauss's Raising Sand (LP, Rounder 11661-9075-1), the LFD delivered a nice sense of touch: Each string, each distinct rest stroke within the slowly arpeggiated guitar chords, had just the right physical presence. Similarly, the combination of deep bass drum and string bass that underpins the arrangement had good weight and force, although their combined sound wasn't quite as deep or as powerful as through the phono stage of the Masseto. Likewise on that chestnut of chestnuts, the famous recording by Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic of Richard Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra (LP, Deutsche Grammophon 2530 402), the organ pedals had a little less weight than I'm used to hearing, most evidently in the final seconds of the Sunrise motif. But throughout the recording, the LFD performed the arguably more important task of reproducing beautifully rich timbral colors, and it honored DG's house sound with clear, smooth, grain-free trebles.

Detail retrieval was good—in the Plant-Krauss number, the organ that fades into the mix behind the second verse was actually more distinct than through the Masseto's phono stage—but subtle dynamic shadings were sometimes glossed over in comparison to my reference, as I noted during the piano part of Alban Berg's Four Pieces for Clarinet and Piano, Op.5, played by Gervase de Peyer and Lamar Crowson (LP, L'Oiseau-Lyre SOL 282, a wonderful record recently recommended to me by the nice people at Academy Records in New York). Moreover, compared to the phono section of the Masseto—an approximately $12,000 piece of gear—the LFD sounded a little compressed and undramatic, with less vibrant timbral colors and a more "filled-in," less distinct sense of natural textures.

Still and all, I admit to being impressed by the LFD's level of tonal sophistication, which was remarkable for a solid-state product at this price. Far from being harmonically threadbare, it allowed instrumental and vocal colors to sound warm and full, with no high-frequency nasties. I could even enjoy every track on 14 Bluegrass Instrumentals (LP, Rounder 0006), the wonderful 1971 debut by Country Cooking, a "supergroup" that included Tony Trischka, Pete Wernick, and Russ Barenberg: The string instruments therein were all present and clear, with all their distinctive timbres intact—yet without the artificial clatter that often haunts this twin-banjo (!) outing through lesser gear. Way cool.

LFD Audio
US distributor: Fidelis AV
14 E. Broadway
Derry, NH 03038
(603) 437-4769