LFD Phonostage LE phono preamplifier Page 3

More listening
More surprising news: It turns out that LFD makes two phono preamps. For $1795, one can buy their Phonostage LE Special: the standard model upgraded with multistrand PC-OCC input wiring, multidiameter silver output wiring, upgraded (and considerably taller) viscoelastic isolation feet, and, most significant, a power transformer that's more than twice the size of the original.

A sample of the Phonostage LE Special was sent to me earlier this year by Gene Rubin of Gene Rubin Audio, so that I could compare it with the regular Phonostage LE. The verdict: Whether or not it's worth an extra $500—your guess is quite possibly better than mine—the Special is distinctly superior to the standard Phonostage.

Through the Phonostage LE Special, the senses of nuance and touch in virtually every recording I tried were greater still, and recorded performances had a larger sense of scale overall. The song "Rising," from Lhasa's eponymous final album (LP, Audiogramme AD 10222), sounded especially fine through the Special. The harp that opens the song and anchors the unstructured vocal had just the right balance of percussive qualities and resonant timbral color, while the upright bass and drum kit—the latter with its eerily slow cymbal sound—were also both rhythmically tight and imbued with believable color. More important, though, was the music's effectiveness; in an album of songs that are mostly about dying, "Rising" stands out as being among the most moving, in an impressionistic sort of way: The LFD Special, like my reference Shindo, got that across more powerfully than the standard Phonostage LE.

The Special also had a superior sense of detail—owing, I think, to an increased nothingness between the notes. Singer Gary Brooker's subtle humming after the line "Now and then my life seems truer" in "Barnyard Story," from Procol Harum's Home (LP, EMI/Regal Zonophone SLRZ 1014), was clearer through the Special than through the regular Phonostage LE. (The dearer version also seemed more dramatic with that number, with greater intensity than the standard version provides in the loudest lines.) At a grander but no less death-obsessed end of things, the Special made it easier to appreciate the details of arrangement in the more densely scored portions of the groundbreaking recording of Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde with tenor James King, baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (substituting for the alto), Leonard Bernstein, and the Vienna Philharmonic (LP, London OS 26005).

As much as I enjoy my own decidedly more expensive gear, and as interested as I remain in each successive—and costly—assault on the state of the art, I'm enthused whenever real design talent and originality are set loose on the affordable end of the electronics market. And I dare say that to most audio perfectionists these days, a $1295 phono preamp is an affordable phono preamp. With that in mind, the standard LFD Phonostage LE is indeed the best I've heard of that breed.

The even-more-musical Phonostage LE Special also offers good value for money—but there's a bit more competition at that price. First to mind is the EAR 834P ($1795), which uses both tubes and transformers: I haven't heard one of those in a while, but I remember loving it for its dramatic sound, as well as its timeless, heirloom-caliber styling. Lovers of Naim Audio gear might also consider that company's Stage Line ($500)—but it requires either an existing Naim unit from which to draw power, or an accessory power supply with a minimum $1400 price tag.

If my money were at stake, I believe I'd go for the less expensive LFD—and spend the rest on an affordable step-up transformer to use with it. The combination of Phonostage LE and Silvercore One-to-Ten transformer ($510) proved especially lovely: There were moments during my listening time—the von Karajan Also sprach Zarathustra comes to mind—when I listened, casually and a bit off-center, and wondered: Why would anyone look harder or spend more?

Both Phonostages are lovingly made and cost-effective: two qualities that appear far too seldom in our hobby, and that virtually never go together when they do. Highly recommended!

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