Recommended Components Fall 2023 Edition Phono Preamplifiers

Phono Preamps/Moving-Coil Step-up Devices:


Boulder Amplifiers 2108: $62,000
When he reviewed Boulder's flagship 2008 phono preamplifier in 2002, MF concluded that "it's hard to believe that, for some time to come, any [phono preamp] will equal or surpass the monumental performance of Boulder's 2008." Almost two decades later, the new two-box flagship replaces the 2008's three power supplies with four: left, right, logic, and an independent standby supply. The through-hole components and boards have been replaced by surface-mount equivalents, and the circuitry features proprietary, house-made, "phono-specific," 993S and 995S discretely implemented "op-amp" modules. There are now three equalization choices, as well as switchable high-pass filters at 10Hz and 20Hz. Gain is adjustable. With the MC input, the default loading impedance is 100 ohms, though resistors can be added to provide impedances from 50 ohms to 1000 ohms in 25 ohm increments. When set to MC, the third input offers a 1k ohm impedance. The MM input's loading is also adjusted with resistors, from 1k ohm to 10k ohms, while the third input set to MM offers the usual 47k ohms. And the sound? "The 2108 produces both a sense of soaring exultation in the upper registers and gritty drama in the lowest one," enthused MF, adding "Boulder detractors who think their products are too analytical, sounding dry and bleached, ought to give the 2108 a listen." He concluded that the 2108 "is very musical, plus, like the original 2008, it is granite-like in the best possible sense. JA was equally enthusiastic about the 2108's measured performance: "the performance of the Boulder 2108 on the test bench reveals it to be an extraordinarily well-engineered (though expensive) phono preamplifier." (Vol.43 Nos.8 & 10 WWW)

CH Precision P1 Phono Stage:$31,000—$90,850
Built with a sleek aluminum-alloy case with no screws visible on any of its surfaces, the Swiss-made CH Precision P1 is no less sophisticated inside. This solid state phono preamplifier offers multiple inputs, two of which address current-amplification circuits—an approach that, according to MF, produces "the best signal/noise ratios" and does not require cartridge loading to achieve flat response. For use with its voltage-amplification inputs, the P1 offers a menu-driven "wizard" that analyzes the entire record-playing system and calculates and applies the optimal load. Beyond that, as MF points out, the user can manually test the P1's entire loading range of 20 ohms to 100k ohms, selectable in 500 steps: "load fetishists, knock yourselves out!" Used with its optional X1 outboard power supply ($17,000), the P1 provided Mikey with tonal neutrality and an ultralow noisefloor: "Some products have me up all night, pulling out record after record; some don't. The P1 did, and gave me an exciting and fully pleasurable sonic ride every time." In the June 2017 Stereophile, MF refocused his attention on the X1 power supply, observing that, "with the X1 off, the P1's image solidity and pile-driver—like rhythmic certainty...were somewhat diminished" —and noted that he'd purchased the CH Precision combo for his own enjoyment. In August 2018, MF wrote about his experiences with a double P1/X1 combo—something that seems to have been done by more than one hobbyist of immodest means. Thus connected, these four high-tech boxes know what has happened and behave accordingly—but while "the four-box version was even more dynamic" and possessed of "a more relaxed and supple midrange," Mikey could not countenance a $96,000 phono preamp. In his July 2023 report, MT discussed his auditioning of the two-box P1/X1 combo, especially using its current-mode input. While noting that the P1 is supremely quiet with both current- and voltage-mode inputs, he wrote that the P1's characteristic quality "was its uncanny ability to unravel densely packed music and present it with utter clarity." It offers "resolution and transparency that belies its apparent complexity," he concluded, though he warned that "it doesn't offer a rose-tinted view of your record collection." (Vol.40 Nos.4 & 6, Vol.41 No.8, Vol.46 No.7 WWW)

Channel D Lino C 3.3: $3799, basic model; $7082 as reviewed
This battery-powered, direct-coupled, wide-bandwidth, balanced, transimpedance phono preamplifier keeps the basic circuitry of the Lino 2.0 that was reviewed in Vol.42 No.6 but adds a high/low cartridge impedance damping switch that allows the use of cartridges with internal impedances up to 40 ohms even in current mode, as well as an impedance reduction by a factor of 3 of the RIAA network's passive section. The "fully loaded" review sample was fitted with ultrahigh-precision RIAA certification, front-panel LED indicators, and a remote control. It also had the optional balanced or unbalanced moving magnet input and an optional voltage-based moving coil input, both with variable gain. As with the 2.0, if your tonearm cable isn't terminated with XLRs, you'll need RCA-to-XLR adapters—and pin 1 must not be internally connected to either pin 2 or 3. MF loved the sound of the Lino C 3.3, writing that it offered "ultratransparency; jet-black backgrounds; deep, tightly gripped, powerful bass; airy, fully extended highs free of etch, grain, or hardness." He found the soundstage expansive with solid, 3D imaging and the sound was fast, responsive, effortless. "Macro- and microdynamics were impressive, producing forceful macro slam and subtle micro shifts when on the record," he noted. JA was equally impressed with the 3.3's measured performance, finding that it featured astonishingly accurate RIAA correction, extremely low noise, high overload margins, and vanishingly low distortion. "Channel D's Lino C 3.3 is the best-measuring phono preamplifier I have encountered," he concluded, adding "Wow!" (Vol.45 Nos.6 & 7 WWW)

Manley Laboratories Steelhead RC Special Edition Mk II: $10,899
The RC Special Edition Mk II is the result of a collaboration between Manley and Los Angeles–area audio retailer, tube dealer, and importer Upscale Audio. It differs from the original Steelhead, reviewed by PB and MF in 2001 and 2003, by offering different loading settings for the autoformer that also serves as the MC step-up, and two cryogenically treated 6922 tubes. The review sample substituted Tungsram PCC88s. (The other tubes are four American-made military-spec 7044 dual triodes.) It still has two inputs for MC cartridges, one input for MM cartridges, a volume control, a remote control, a tape loop, an outboard power supply, and buttons for muting, lowering the volume by 20dB, activating a line-level input, summing the channels for mono playback, and entering standby mode. Listening at length to a John Prine LP, AH wrote: "The Manley rendered the band in holographic high relief; Mike Leech's electric bass sounded more thunderous and better defined than I'd heard it. Every wisp of reverb around Bobby Emmons's organ became obvious. The tone colors of the band bloomed like wildflowers in an Appalachian meadow. But what captivated me most was how relentlessly the Manley zeroed in on the flow and emotional meaning of Prine's songs." He decided that the Manley phono stage "sounded more detailed, refined, and coherent than most of the step-up transformers I've heard, and more colorful, textured, and vivid than most of the solid state preamps." (Vol.46 No.1 WWW)


Audio Research Reference Phono 3SE: $19,500
This revised version of the original Phono 3 features new internal components and a wiring change but still incorporates a FET input stage, six 6H30 tubes, and a hybrid tube/solid state power supply. MF found that the original preamp, reviewed in January 2017, sounded slightly "bloomy and generous in the lower midrange/upper bass" ; that coloration was eliminated from the 3SE, which produced a faster, cleaner, more transparent sound with greater midbass control. "For owners of the original 3, the $3000 upgrade is well worth doing, " he concluded. (Vol.44 No.2 WWW)

Channel D Lino C 2.0: $2699 ★
The Channel D Lino C 2.0 is a current-mode phono preamp and as such is intended for use with cartridges that combine low output and, especially, low internal impedance. This battery-powered, solid state design comes with a wall wart for charging, which takes place automatically; once the Lino C detects a signal, the charger is electrically disconnected and the preamp itself is galvanically isolated. Inputs are balanced (XLR) only, requiring the user of a nonbalanced tonearm-output cable to buy and add an adapter, but both balanced and single-ended (RCA) outputs are supplied, and there are DIP switches inside for adjusting gain. MF praised this phono preamp's "drop-dead, noise-free backgrounds and lack of obvious colorations," observing that the $2699  Lino C "operates way above its pay grade." JCA also noted that the Lino was extremely quiet, and, compared with the current-mode Sutherland Loco, the Lino "seemed subjectively brighter—but not bright—which led to more sparkle on high piano notes." In a Follow-Up, JA noted impressive measured performance including superbly accurate RIAA equalization. He noted that the Lino C 2.0 offered vanishingly low harmonic distortion before the onset of clipping, as well as extremely low levels of intermodulation distortion. (Vol.42 No.6, Vol.43 Nos.2 & 4 WWW)

Channel D Seta Model L: $5899 ★
Designed to take full advantage of the Pure Vinyl app's digital RIAA correction, the beautifully built Seta Model L includes balanced and single-ended inputs, balanced unequalized outputs, variable gain, and a built-in, rechargeable battery power supply. Recordings made using the Seta Model L's optional RIAA-equalized outputs were "models of clarity, definition, tonal accuracy, detail resolution, and spatial coherence," wrote MF. "There is no doubt that the Seta Model L has been superbly engineered," praised JA. Compared to the Liberty B2B-1, the Seta Model L lacked some midbass energy but did a better job of preserving recorded ambience, said JA, who also admired the Channel D's superb measured performance. He subsequently purchased the review sample. An optional internal RIAA compensation module adds $1199. (Vol.33 No.8, Vol.36 No.12, Vol.43 No.11 WWW)

Consolidated Audio "Monster Can" : $5700
The review sample of this 1:20 step-up transformer featured a low-inductance Nano Crystalline core wound with 99.99% silver wire. (Versions are also available with a mu-metal core and copper windings, with 1:10 and 1:15 turns ratios.) MF found that the Monster Can produced "open, transparent, supple, rich sound," concluding "While hardly inexpensive, the $5700 Consolidated SUT strikes me as a good deal, especially if you want silver wire." (Vol.43 No.8 WWW)

DSA Phono III: $19,000
This incredibly versatile, remote-controlled, "Lab Grade," solid state phono preamplifier impressed MF. EQ curves include, in addition to standard RIAA, pre-RIAA curves for Columbia and Decca/ffrr, including for 78s, all realized with passive, low-pass networks. The Phono II is supplied with four patent-pending "Critical Mass" isolation feet and titanium threaded adapters that screw into the chassis underside. The rear panel has three pairs of inputs with a choice of single-ended RCA and balanced XLR inputs and one set of outputs via single-ended and balanced connectors. There's a rumble filter, a polarity inversion switch, variable loading, and gain can be set to 40dB, 46dB, 50dB, 56dB, 60dB, and 66dB. "If you are looking for a phono preamp with a timbral 'personality,' the Phono III might not be for you. It hasn't got one, not that I could identify," wrote MF. "But if you want a phono preamp that gets out of the way and lets your cartridge or cartridges express their timbral personalities...the Phono III could be for you," he summed up. (Vol.44 No.7 WWW)

EAR Phono Classic: $1695—$2395
Rating is for the MM-only version, or for the MM section of the MM/MC version; rating including the internal SUT, for use with MC cartridges, is Class B. The biggest change over the late Tim de Paravicini's EAR 834P preamplifier is the switch from 12AX7s to tubes with a slightly higher operating voltage, of which there is a more dependable supply. Available in three versions: MM-only for $1695; MM and MC with step-up transformers for $1895; and an MM/MC version with a heavy chrome front panel for $2395. HR reviewed the fully loaded version. He found the MC input "clear, easy on the ear, and cinematically detailed," but compared with expensive SUTs, "kind of thin, flat, and low in contrast." Feeding the EAR's MM input with the Bob's Devices Sky 20 SUT, HR heard that the bass was deeper and tighter, the midrange glowed, and the treble seemed extended. Overall, it took less than one side of one LP for HR to recognize the "fundamental truthiness" of the EAR's way with records. Highly recommended for the MM section. (Vol.45 No.3 WWW)

EMIA Phono step-up transformer, with copper wire: $3375
with silver wire: $6000
Dave Slagle, whose radically rebuilt Quad ESL loudspeakers have astounded more than a few listeners, winds his own step-up transformers and sells them under the brand name EMIA—a collaborative design and manufacturing effort with Jeffrey Jackson, who specializes in tube amplification and horn loudspeakers. The EMIA Phono transformer, which is housed in a steel box with solid walnut top and bottom plates, is unpotted and has a fairly large core with 80% nickel content. In addition to one pair each of RCA input and output jacks—multiple primary coils aren't available—the EMIA Phono has a third pair of jacks, wired in parallel with the primary and intended for use with resistive plugs (supplied), for cartridges that might need such things. The EMIA is available with copper or silver windings; AD spent some quality time with a copper-wire version wound with a 15:1 ratio, for use with his EMT TSD 15 and Denon DL-103 cartridges. He described the EMIA as offering "an immense sense of drive" with his EMT, as well as "texture and tone in spades. In buckets. In tanker holds." All in all, AD found the EMIA to sound "clean, clear, rich, detailed, and, above all, musically exciting—all for approximately half the price of the deservedly well-regarded Hommage T2," the latter transformer being his longtime reference. HR found that the EMIA sounded delicious and played "butter-smooth" with his Koetsu Rosewood Signature Platinum. Although AH was not a fan of silver conductors, he found that the silver-wired EMIA sounded nothing like the silver wire he remembered. It provided "an addictively smooth, highly resolving facsimile of my music. While it wasn't quite as punchy as the Auditorium 23, it produced a little more detail and a lot more space as well as deeper, more precise bass." (Vol.40 No.8, Vol.44 No.11, Vol.45 No.11 WWW)

EMT 128: $11,995
The front panel of this slim, well-finished preamp features four toggle switches, one each for Off/On, Mono/Stereo, DIN 78/RIAA EQ, and Mute/Sound. The rear panel features one pair each of single-ended (RCA) inputs and balanced (XLR) outputs, and the circuit uses NOS 5784WB tubes. Lundahl transformers are used for both inputs and outputs. Using EMT's high-output JSD Novel Titan MC cartridge and the low-output Miyajima Labs Madake Snakewood MC cartridge, MF wrote that the 128 "produced that magic ether that only the best tube-based phono preamps produce, and it resolved and unraveled small details in the upper frequencies of many familiar recordings. Ether, yes, but without lower-midband timbral bloat or thickness, without midrange excess but with mesmerizing transparency and delicacy." On the test bench, the EMT 128 offered superbly flat RIAA correction from 30Hz to 10kHz, primarily second-harmonic distortion, very good channel separation, and low noise. However, the overload margins were on the low side, which means it will work best set to its lower gain and with low-output MC cartridges like Ortofon's Verismo rather than the high-output Novel Titan; low overhead margins lower rating from A+ to A. (Vol.45 No.5 WWW)

Gold Note PH-1000: $11,999 as reviewed
The programmable PH-1000 is "by a considerable margin the most sophisticated, most configurable phono preamplifier that any audio manufacturer has ever produced," MF wrote. Or at least that he's aware of. It offers two single-ended (RCA) inputs and one balanced (XLR) input. It can also be fitted with two line inputs. Each phono input can be set to MC or MM, with gain adjustable from –9dB to +9dB in 3dB steps relative to the default 0dB setting. There are multiple choices for input impedance and adjustable input capacitance for both MC and MM modes. In addition to RIAA deemphasis, there are 18 alternate EQ settings. In addition to fixed output in Stage mode, a Preamplifier mode allows volume to be controlled. JA commented that "RIAA correction was superbly accurate," adding that both distortion and noise were very low in level. He also noted that while the overload margin at the top of the audioband was relatively low, "this can be increased by increasing the phono stage's gain without incurring any significant noise penalty." MF described the Gold Note's sound as "smooth, silky, sophisticated." Though he found low frequencies somewhat polite, he concluded that the PH-1000 "was quiet and both micro- and macrodynamically accomplished. Its transparency, clarity, and freedom from congestion in the midrange were notable." (Vol.45 No.3 WWW)

Haniwa HCVC01: $6000
Featuring a pair of XLR inputs, a pair of RCA outputs, and a ground connection, this passive current-to-voltage converter is analogous to a step-up transformer. It is intended to feed a moving magnet phono preamplifier that can handle its maximum output of 10mV. Used with Haniwa's HCTR-CO phono cartridge, the HCVC01 produced an excellent level of transparency "and (especially) timbral neutrality," noted MF, adding that "the presentation did veer toward cool." (Vol.43 No.7 WWW)

Koetsu SUT: $4995
This transformer uses a shielded and vibration-isolated transformer with a permalloy core, offers 26dB gain, a 20Hz–50kHz (±3dB) bandwidth, and is intended to be used, naturally enough, with Koetsu phono cartridges. HR tried it with Koetsu's Rosewood Signature Platinum and played the MoFi reissue of Miles Davis's In a Silent Way—"The reverb was dramatically more intense. I repeat, dramatically more intense, with more force behind it than I normally experience," he wrote. (Vol.44 No.11 WWW)

Lejonklou Entity: $2795
This utilitarian-looking, solid state MC-only design from Sweden uses transistors, wire, solder—even the washers used in the component's casework—that have all been obsessively selected by designer Fredrik Lejonklou after hundreds of comparative listening tests. Out of the box, the Entity sounded bleached, felt AH, but after about 50 hours of use, the preamp "began to sing with its authentic voice," sounding neutral, extended, transparent, fast, and resolving. AH found that the Entity was at its best with unbalanced Linn Silver interconnects ($452/1.2m pair), when it sounded more refined, dimensional, controlled, and tonally richer. In the test lab, the Lejonklou's RIAA correction featured a very slight plateau in the midrange, coupled with excellent channel separation, low noise, and very low distortion. Overload margins were very good in the bass and midrange but less so at the top of the audioband, meaning that the Entity will be best used with low-output moving coil cartridges. (Vol.45 No.7 WWW)

Luminous Audio Technology Arion Mk.II: $8000
The Arion Mk.II is identical to the original version of this phono preamp (reviewed by MF for except that it eliminates the MM input and features higher-voltage–rated dual-toroidal transformers and an upgraded MC input stage. MF echoed the manufacturer's claims, writing that the Arion exhibited "a sense of purity and low-level detail resolution that [was] highly dynamic and musically involving." With the Audio Relax EX1000 cartridge mounted on the Schröder arm on the OMA K3 turntable, feeding the Arion Mk.II loaded at 100 ohms, the combination produced a dazzling presentation; MF said it was "among the most enticing vinyl-playback combos I've yet heard." He's heard a lot. (Vol.44 No.12 WWW)

Luxman EQ-500: $6695 ★
Before he'd played a single note through the EQ-500—even before he'd plugged it into a wall outlet—this phono preamp had impressed AD by offering virtually every feature he'd ever wanted from such a product, and at least one he'd never imagined: adjustable gain, adjustable resistive loading, adjustable capacitive loading, switchable scratch filters and rumble filters, a mono switch, a phase switch, a very unexpected built-in cartridge demagnetizer...everything except a video camera for backing it out of the driveway. Best of all, the EQ-500, which uses a mix of ECC82 and ECC83 small-signal tubes plus an EZ81 rectifier tube, sounded wonderful to AD, who observed that "the textures of the close-miked violin, cellos, and double bass in [the Electric Light Orchestra's] "Queen of the Hours" were almost overwhelming—a very pleasant overdose." Art's conclusion: "If your budget can stretch this far, the Luxman EQ-500 is a must-hear." (Vol.39 No.5 WWW)

Nobala step-up transformer: $8495
This violet anodized-aluminum SUT from Japanese company Murasakino is intended for use with MC cartridges with impedances of 5 ohms or lower. AH found that to be the case and noted that the Nobala reproduced more of his music than any other SUT, and possibly any phono device, he'd heard. "It simply let through more of everything: detail, texture, dynamics, even groove noise," he wrote, though he commented that it didn't sound quite as colorful as the Auditorium 23 or the EMIA. (Vol.45 No.11 WWW)

Parasound Halo JC 3+: $2499 $$$ ★
The Halo JC 3+ is a true dual-mono design with a large R-core transformer power supply. Construction quality is first rate, top-shelf parts are used throughout, and the stout, heavy case is beautifully finished. Its fully direct-coupled RIAA equalization circuit is based on the circuit used in Curl's famed Vendetta Research SCP-2, while the output stage is a true dual-differential, balanced design. In addition, the JC 3 has a built-in AC line conditioner, and its power supplies are modeled after those found in the extremely quiet Halo JC 2 line stage. The JC 3 sounded remarkably similar to BJR's reference, the Vendetta SCP-2, but lacked some high-frequency purity and ambience recovery. JA noted superb measured performance. Of the Halo JC 3+, which adds variable cartridge loading for the MC input, HR wrote: "The John Curl-designed Halo JC 3+ is the best commercially available phono preamplifier I've used—period." (Vol.34 Nos.3 & 10, Vol.35 No.2, Vol.39 No.6 WWW)

Pro-Ject Phono Box RS2: $1999 in Black or Silver $$$
The full-featured, fully balanced, dual-mono RS2 has unbalanced (RCA) and balanced (XLR) inputs and outputs. Gain ranges from 40dB to 70dB in eight steps, four each for MM and MC. Resistive loading for MC cartridges is continuously variable from 10 to 1000 ohms, plus 47k ohms and variable capacitive loading for MM cartridges. There's also a switchable rumble filter, RIAA and Decca/ffrr equalization, and a balance control. JMu auditioned the RS2 both with its standard switch-mode supply and with the optional Power Box RS Uni 4-Way linear power supply ($799). Her first impressions with the standard supply and a Clearaudio Talisman V2 MC were that the RS2 seemed neutral to slightly cool, detailed, and lively: "It sounded clean, almost pristine, on the lighter side in terms of body and heft." With her MoFi UltraTracker MM, the sound was more midrange-focused, with good detail and musicality. Experimenting with resistive loading in MC mode, JMu found that with the optimal loading "the degree of detail seemed to increase, as did realism and clarity. The musicians' placement seemed to grow more spacious and specific." JMu felt that with the RS Uni supply, backgrounds became more silent and sustains and decays seemed to linger longer. Writing from his test lab, JA was impressed by the superbly accurate RIAA deemphasis, the extremely low distortion and noise, and the high overload margins. Peculiarly, he found that the RS2's superb measured performance with the linear Power Box became even better when he substituted the standard switch-mode supply. Tom Fine echoed JMu's recommendation and commented on how useful he found the RS2's output-balance control and the options for adjusting capacitive and resistive loading. He concluded that while this preamp is the opposite of set-it-and-forget-it, "if you have a few cartridges in rotation and you want to spend some time dialing in a favorite sound profile, it's a great option." (Vol.44 No.9, Vol.45 No.3 WWW)

Sunvalley Audio SV-EQ1616D: $995 (kit, without tubes), $1585 (assembled in Japan, excluded tube sets)
Sunvalley's SV-EQ1616D's phono equalizer is available as a kit or fully assembled. It uses 12AX7 and 12AU7 tubes for MM gain with a FET-based input stage for MC cartridges. There is a choice of two filters for 78rpm enthusiasts, tailored to match either European or American standard preemphasis, as well as selectable EQ for pre-1956 microgroove pressings from Columbia (NAB) or Phillips, Capital, etc. (AES). It also offers a high-frequency boost-or-cut adjustment, and the two pairs of outputs can be switched from stereo to moNo.HR found that with his Hana, Koetsu, and My Sonic Lab moving coil cartridges, used with auxiliary step-up devices, the SV-EQ1616D "generated the most vivid and nuanced analog sound" he'd heard in his bunker. Trying the Koetsu into the Sunvalley's MC input, HR was impressed by the preamplifier's "ability to boogie [and] recover substantial 3D spaces" without shaming this venerable, much more expensive cartridge. (Vol.43 No.11 WWW)

Sutherland Engineering Little Loco Mk2: $3800
Although phono preamps that work on the current-amplification (as opposed to voltage-amplification) principle still account for a small minority of the market, that technology took a step forward in 2019 with the Sutherland Engineering Little Loco, itself a less expensive version of the company's recent Phono Loco. The Little Loco, a solid state phono pre with 46dB of gain, is designed for moving coil cartridges only, and even then not every make or model of cartridge will lock in with it. But at its best in Brian Damkroger's system, the "trivially easy to use" Little Loco provided "a completely new amount and level of detail," and on the test bench it coaxed JA into declaring, "This is a very linear circuit." Keep in mind that, as with all other current-amplification phono preamps, only cartridges with very low internal impedance are suitable, and one's phono cable must be ungrounded and fitted with XLR plugs or adapters. The Mk.2 Little Loco, which HR reviewed in January 2022, has single-ended inputs—he found that with the <1 ohm Ultra Eminent Ex the Mk.2 made "the Ex's quiet spaces quieter, its deep spaces deeper and easier to see into," adding that the Ex–Loco combo emphasized the physical character of instruments, the materiality of wood and metal. "Rich inner details, like the tautness of drum-head skins or the decay of cymbals, are not submerged in the larger mass of orchestra and hall sounds." (Vol.42 No.10, Vol.45 No.1 WWW)

Sutherland Engineering Phono Loco: $8200
The imperative "use as directed" no longer applies solely to big pharma: In recent years it has become key to the enjoyment of that newest hi-fi category, the current-amplification phono preamp, which shines with moving coil cartridges of very low internal impedance yet fails with all others. So it is with the Phono Loco, the dearer of two current-amplification models from Sutherland Engineering. Like the more affordable Sutherland Little Loco ($3800), the Phono Loco offers user-adjustable gain; the more expensive model differs in its use of higher-quality parts and a more robust power supply. The Phono Loco rewarded MF with "finely focused...solidly three-dimensional images" and a good sense of immediacy. Timbral performance was "overall on the warm side," although MF described note sustains as "stingy," resulting in "a dry quality." JCA also spent time with the Phono Loco, echoing MF's thoughts on its "extremely quiet" performance and enjoyably "corporeal" images. (Vol.42 No.12, Vol.43 No.2)

Sutherland Engineering SUTZ: $3800
The SUTZ looks exactly the same, inside and out, as Sutherland's Little Loco. Inside, it sports the same three jumper-activated gain settings (to be upgraded in production to five) but it lacks RIAA correction, instead using a transimpedance circuit with solid state devices to convert an MC's output current to a sufficiently high voltage to feed a conventional phono preamp's MM input. HR decided that the Sutherland's current-drive input was passing on more information from Dynavector's XX-2 MKII MC, with less noise and IM distortion, than other phono preamps. Using the SUTZ to feed a Tavish Adagio phono equalizer, he concluded that Ron Sutherland's headamp "let me add my own choice of tube glories to the quiet steadiness of virtual short loading." (Vol.46 No.3 WWW)

SW1X LPU I Special SPX: $4375 as reviewed
MF was impressed by this sweet-sounding, handmade-in-England, vacuum tube–based moving magnet phono preamplifier. RIAA EQ is passive, an EF86 pentode tube is used for each channel's input stage, a 6N6P dual-triode for the output stage, and there's no overall loop negative feedback. Basic price is $3150—the review sample featured 5Y3 rectification, Audio Note copper-foil-in-oil caps, M6 EI grain-oriented–core power transformers, and a choke-filtered power supply. MF summed up the LPU I by writing that it is "a high-value, smartly designed, classic, 'purist,' vacuum tube–based MM phono preamp that achieves all of the positive things such circuits can offer—especially timbral and textural generosity and transient delicacy—at a very reasonable price, while avoiding pitfalls such as noise, limited bandwidth, soggy bass, and constricted dynamic range;...great for jazz, classical, and acoustic music." (Vol.44 No.6 WWW)

SW1X LPU III Special: $11,775
A MM preamp with an input pair of EF86 pentodes that drives an active RIAA equalization network. The output stage consists of a pair of triode-connected, choke-loaded 6S45P triodes. The balanced output is achieved with a transformer. (There are also single-ended outputs.) MF commented on the LPU III's "airy and convincing spatial staging" that was matched by its delivery of well-saturated, natural instrumental timbres with rhythm'n'pacing and "punch" to spare. He concluded that while the SW1X LPU III is easy to recommend for classical and acoustic jazz, "rockers in need of full electric bass extension and transient grip should look elsewhere." (Vol.45 No.8 WWW)

van den Hul The Grail SE+: $24,995
Designed by German engineer Jürgen Ultee, The Grail SE+ is a "super deluxe" upgraded version of the $7950 The Grail phono preamp that MF reviewed in August 2018. It offers two current-mode MC inputs, one of which has both balanced and single-ended jacks, and a single MM input. Internal switches allow MC gain to be adjusted to 56, 64, 70, or 73dB; MM gains are all 23dB lower. MF felt that its larger, more robust power supply gave The Grail SE+ greater dynamic "slam" and drive and a tighter, more robust bottom end than the standard Grail. The SE+ was also considerably "faster" : stiffer and better controlled in the midrange. "The Grail SE+ is a quiet, timbrally neutral, transparent, get-out-of-the-way-and-let-the-music-through phono preamp. It produces effortless, wide dynamic swings and seemingly full, flat frequency response," Mikey concluded. (Vol.43 No.5 WWW)

X-quisite SUT X-20 step-up transformer: $13,000
A 4Ns silver-wire toroidal transformer with a low-loss alloy core developed for the X-quisite phono cartridge that's said to match it "magnetically, electrically and mechanically" and to be optimized "regarding eddy current and hysteresis loss in order to provide the best properties to the unique ceramic transducer in combination with a tube preamplifier." Gain is +26dB (1:20). MF found that the X-20 magnified everything about the X-quisite ST that he loved and eliminated the qualities that gave him pause. Used with the SUT, the X-quisite did a much better job with high-frequency sibilants, and it completely eliminated the upper-frequency ledge. In its place were impressive linearity and timbral neutrality. (Vol.44 No.9 WWW)


Auditorium 23 step-up transformer: $1299—1499 $$$ ★
The surprisingly heavy Auditorium 23 is about the size of a pack of cigarettes. AH's sample was optimized for the Ortofon SPU—other versions iare matched to the Denon DL-103 and the EMT TSD. Nevertheless, using Ortofon MC Cadenza Bronze and Dynavector Te Kaitora Rua low-output cartridges, AH noted that this German SET sounded tactile and vivid: "It made recordings tuneful and colorful, if a little warmer than real, and did the usual hi-fi things with aplomb." With the Denon version and Denon, Zu, EMT, and Benz cartridges, AD found the sound "dramatic without being brash, and consistently full-bodied and colorful." He found the Auditorium 23 "slightly coarser" than the Audio Note AN-S8, lacking some sweetness and color, but "a bargain" nevertheless. (Vol.30 No.10 Vol.45 No.11 WWW)

Cyrus Audio Phono Signature: $2600
User-friendly, remote-controllable phono preamp with a front panel dominated by a green LCD screen. Seven buttons are for choosing the input, setting the rumble filter (labeled "Warp" ), cartridge type (MM or MC), gain (40, 50, 60, or 70dB), resistive loading, capacitive loading, and saving the current settings. RCA inputs and output are tightly spaced, which might be an issue with some cables, but there is also a balanced output on XLRs. MF found that the Phono Signature started off warm-sounding and somewhat syrupy in the bottom octaves, but over time it brightened up and achieved a much better balance. Optional PSX-R2 power supply ($1199) produces a subtle but worthwhile sonic jolt that doesn't significantly alter the Phono Signature's reserved but well-organized Brit personality. (Vol.44 No.9 WWW)

Erhard Audio/Lundahl Premium SUT kits: $535—$1930
The K&K is based on Lundahl LL1931 Ag transformers with amorphous cores and silver wiring. HR auditioned the K&K with Zu Audio's Zu/DL-103 MkII moving coil and enthused over the combination's clarity and the "goose-bumpiness" of its transient bite. "Bass reproduction could be thrilling," he wrote, "just-right tight with genuine power." The Lundahl transformer's best, most obvious trait was "how specifically it rendered recorded information," he concluded. (Vol.44 No.11 WWW)

Kitsuné LCR-1 MK5: $1498—$2298, depending on options
The made-in-Korea, two-chassis, solid state KTE LCR-1 MK5 is unusual in that it uses inductors in its equalization networks. Four DIP switches allow users to set gain at any of 13 levels between 40dB and 72dB and resistive loading at any of 12 values from 14 ohms to 47k ohms. In his system, HR found that with various MC cartridges the KTE LCR-1 sounded its most polished and exciting when driven by high-quality step-up transformers. "On its own, with its 63.5dB gain, it did not sound as smooth, refined, or 'correct'" as the twice-as-expensive Parasound Halo JC 3+ phono stage, he wrote, though he decided that "the LCR-1's tone, solidity, and vigor" was preferable to the Musical Surroundings Nova III's "more laid-back, slightly gray refinement." "The Kitsuné KTE LCR-1 has become my daily-driver solid state phono equalizer," concluded HR. He subsequently compared the Kitsuné with Music Hall's Analogue A3 phono preamp, writing that the performers sounded farther from their microphones with the A3 and that its presentation "was less dramatically dynamic and less physical sounding" than that of the LCR-1. (Vol.44 No.7, Vol.45 No.10 WWW)

Lounge Audio LCR Mk.III: $380 ★ $$$
Lounge Audio Copla: $385 ★ $$$
Lounge Audio Silver Wire Copla: $525
The solid state LCR Mk.III is named for the type of circuit chosen for its RIAA equalization stage: a zero-feedback inductor-capacitor-resistor (L-C-R) circuit. That stage is constructed with discrete components—remarkable for a US-made product selling for only $340—and combined with class-A biased op-amps for a total gain of 40dB. Power is supplied by an 18V wall wart. HR has logged literally hundreds of hours with his LCR Mk.III review sample, both on its own for use with MM cartridges, and, for MC cartridges, in tandem with Lounge Audio's Copla, a JFET-powered step-up device that does the same job as a phono transformer, only electronically. In both setups, the Lounge rewarded HR with "full-bodied, accurately toned" sound, and enough emotional impact that a favorite Doc Watson song had him weeping. Referring to the $26,000, Class A rated Ypsilon VPS-100, HR wrote: "Could the Ypsilon make me cry 86.7 times easier? I doubt it." HR returned to the Copla in March 2023, using Dynavector's XX-2 MC and feeding the Copla to either SunValley or Tavish Adagio phono equalizers. "The Copla made recordings sound charged and vivid in the extreme but also lucid and relaxed," he wrote, concluding that it "behaved like someone forgot a zero on its price tag." Writing about the more expensive Silver Wire Copla, which looks exactly like the regular Copla, except on the bottom of the chassis, where Lounge Audio founder Robert Morin has tagged and signed it, HR said that the Silver Wire Copla intensifies energy delivery and texturizes harmonics to a degree that makes the extra $130 seem trivial. "Coupled to a Denon DL-103, this is the highest-value phonography I know of," he enthused. (Vol.41 No.2, Vol.46 Nos.3 & 9 WWW)

Music Hall Analogue A3: $1199
With its two caged 12AU7 dual-triode tubes sticking out from the top like ears and two outlined-in-red knobs, one for volume control, the A3 reminded HR of "cartoon cat eyes." It offers both MM and MC inputs. While HR found that the A3's MC input made a good match with Ortofon's inexpensive 2M Blue cartridge, he felt it worked best with the expensive Koetsu MC cartridge when used with Koetsu's SET feeding the MM input. Compared to the Kitsuné LCR-1 MK5, which he described as "sometimes cool, hard-punching—dare I say masculine-sounding?" HR felt that the A3 presented itself "in a more feminine manner. The A3's presentation was less dramatically dynamic and less physical sounding. But I think the A3 was playing closer to the truth." He concluded that "fine tube sonics and a quality Alps volume control make Musical Hall's Analogue A3 easy to recommend." (Vol.45 No.10 WWW)

Musical Surroundings Nova III: $1500
Used with Koetsu Rosewood Signature and Hana Umami Rd moving coil cartridges and powered by Musical Surroundings' optional Linear Charging Power Supply ($650), "the solid state Nova III exceeded my expectations for a moderately priced solid state phono stage," wrote Herb Reichert. He was impressed by the Nova III's transparency, though he felt that it did have a tendency toward partially grayed, less-than-fully-saturated tones, especially when compared with the similarly priced Kitsuné KTE LCR-1. (Vol.44 Nos.4 & 7 WWW)

Paradoxpulse Phono 70 Signature: $3995
This hand-built, solid state phono preamplifier is designed exclusively for very low-output moving coil cartridges and offers 70dB of gain. Inputs and outputs are both single-ended, and an additional pair of RCA jacks is used for custom resistive loading. (The unloaded input impedance is a high 100k ohms.) RIAA equalization is passive. The Pi-filtered outboard 18VDC power supply uses wet silver-tantalum capacitors and expensive Audio Note silver-tantalum resistors, the same resistors used in the preamplifier circuitry. MF did most of his auditioning with Ortofon's Verismo cartridge. Playing Sarah Vaughan's Live at the Berlin Philharmonie 1969, he found that the Phono 70 Signature produced a "glistening, remarkably transparent, living rendering of Vaughan's voice and hung it effortlessly and convincingly in 3D space between the speakers." "If you crave warmth in a phono preamp, the Phono 70 Signature isn't for you," he concluded. "But if you want a neutral player that's quiet, super-well-organized, and can plumb the depths and scale the peaks without adding colorations, the Phono 70 Signature is well worth considering." On the test bench, the Paradox offered a low level of predominantly second-harmonic distortion, low noise, and high channel separation. However, overload margins were too low to work well with MC cartridges with a nominal output any higher than that of the Verismo's 200µV. The relatively high output impedance will require careful matching with line preamplifiers if the lows are not to sound lightweight. (Vol.45 Nos.3 & 5 WWW)

QHW Audio The Vinyl: $825 (plus shipping)
Budget-priced solid state design from Spain offers independent MM and MC inputs. A recording of a double bass sounded natural and well-controlled, felt MF, while drums were immediate and natural-sounding—particularly the cymbals and rim shots. "Add a transparent, generously sized soundstage presentation that had width, height and especially depth...and you have...a ridiculously good phono preamplifier that I think you could insert into your system and fool the most demanding audio fanatic into thinking it cost 10 times what it actually costs. And it's quiet." (Vol.44 No.9 WWW)

Sculpture A Mini Nano transformer: $990
Toroidal step-up transformer with a nanocrystal core and 99.99% copper coils. Available with 1:10 (20dB), 1:20 (26dB), and other gains. HR auditioned the Mini Nano with Sculpture A's A.3l cartridge, with its bronze and wood body—see "Phono Cartridges" —and felt the combination "excavated myriad details and dense textures but ran a bit dark and wet." However, with the aluminum-bodied Zu/DL-103 Mk.II, "the sun came out and scintillating transients returned." With the Mini Nano and Zu/DL-103, image size, brightness, and raw presence increased, as did the intensity of reverb on Miles Davis recordings, he concluded. (Vol.44 Nos.5 & 11 WWW)

Tavish Design Adagio: $2290 ★
Among the handmade electronics offered by Westchester County, New York–based Tavish Design is the Adagio phono preamp, a two-box design with audio circuitry in one enclosure and a power supply in the other. The Adagio's gain and EQ circuitry—the latter a mix of active and passive—is implemented with a total of six small-signal tubes, while power-supply rectification and regulation are solid state. Switch-selectable inputs for moving magnet and moving coil cartridges add to the product's flexibility, as do separate six-position rotary switches for adjusting load resistance and capacitance. MM inputs offer 44dB of gain, MC inputs 64dB, the extra 20dB provided by a stereo pair of Jensen step-up transformers. AD found the Adagio's MM circuit to be "beautifully, prettily clear, in a pleasantly liquid sort of way," with "exceptional" detail and openness. The MC circuitry was also impressive, especially with a Shindo-rebuilt Ortofon SPU cartridge, although the Jensen transformers appeared not to provide the same sense of drama, force, and bass weight as (far more expensive) outboard transformers. Still, as AD observed, "the comparatively inexpensive Tavish Adagio punched above its weight." In his Follow-Up in the March 2018 Stereophile, HR wrote that the Adagio is "a cool, quiet, neutral-sounding phono preamplifier, and it's a joy to use: I know of no better for under $3000." Compared with the EAR Phono Classic with a favorite John Lee Hooker LP, HR described the Tavish as reproducing the room Hooker was playing in as "much bigger and emptier," adding that the window he was gazing through "seemed squeakier-clean than it did with the Phono Classic." (Vol.39 No.6, Vol.41 No.3, Vol.45 No.3, Vol.46 No.3 WWW)

Boulder Amplifiers 508, PS Audio Stellar, not auditioned in a long time.

creativepart's picture

Does Stereophile ever question the validity of this twice a year list? Perhaps it really helps with newsstand sales, but I've come to dread it's release twice a year. First, there are the stupidly priced A+ turntables all reviewed by one staffer that's been gone for quite some time. The entire A+ section will go away with "not tested in a long time" and rightly so.

Some items are ranked by full reviews with testing and others are just columnists saying - highly recommended - at the end of their monthly column. And those items are many times totally out of the mainstream of the product marketplace.

And, while price doesn't indicate quality, it is so jarring to see $500 products achieve the exact same ranking (A or B usually) along side $15,000 products.

I'd love to see you folks test more of the items people are buying in fairly large numbers everyday... even though they don't have the same 5 popular distribution partners or those that advertise in the magazine. No, I'm not saying it's pay to play. But MoFi Distributing buys a lot of ads, it's friends with staffers and routinely gets their products reviewed. It's not payola, but it is a symbiotic relationship.

I'd recommend you scrap the listing and retool the whole thing - and put some thought into how and why you test the products you test.

tenorman's picture

Very objective , well written and fair . You’ve made some great suggestions . Thank you

HeadScratcher's picture

I too recommend scrapping the current format for a complete retooling of a listing that isn't so time lapse convoluted...

Glotz's picture

Creativepart is mincing words to that they fail to commit to... They are saying it's pay to play in no uncertain terms and views their listings with mistrust. To imply MoFi has a friendly relationship is complete conjecture and Stereophile does not make nor position themselves as a symbiotic relationship with any manufacturer or distributor. If they get their product reviewed, it's because a reviewer saw or heard their product at a show, and anything else is implied BS. Rather, they hate MoFi for their lack of transparency about their debacle on digital masters, and want to see any association of Stereophile's behalf as condemnation of their own lack of transparency and veracity. That implication stinks like jaded political pundits grasping for correlated facts.

What CP is also implying directly is that he or she would like validation of their mainstream products purchased to be favorably reviewed (so they can feel good about their purchases of gear). It's generally opposed to what Stereophile does and any long term reader or subscriber would know that as gospel and the very reason the magazine exists on one level- to provide a review of one person's experience with a hard to find or less-investigated piece of gear. It is easy to find, learn and buy any mainstream piece of gear. I do think that should change a bit.

What is important is for Stereophile to review these mainstream audio products and compare against their audiophile offerings and EXPLAIN why they are different and (if) superior. That would be bring in more readers if the descriptions of well known products (vs. audiophile products) could be compared and contrasted well enough. This acts to bring real-world reference points to levels of sound quality that more non-audio dudes would understand.

I do not think this magazine is as good at comparisons (though understandable) as they used to be in the 80's and 90's (less HR and JA). Manufacturers don't like comparisons to their products because often the context is misunderstood by readers. Yes, almost all products in any category are vastly improved and the 80's performance points were much more obvious to hear and report about as negative or positive. Technology marching forward has changed that and leveled the playing field drastically. The fundamental design approaches of audiophile companies still focus on sound rather than ergonomics or functionality.

What should happen is to NOT name the product under comparison in the review but only use price as an indicator of quality vs. price in any comparison. That way readers can understand the product from a price perspective and not feel they have a field day crapping on the product that they 'KNEW was audiophile garbage'.

Side note- Other than subscribers, no reader should be allowed to make comments on this or the other sister websites. By way of omission of the subscribed investment, we will be able to separate the dross from water. I'm pretty sure there are a lot of other websites that do this outright, but I get that Stereophile wants to increase it's readership. Perhaps, this is actually a better way to do it. Require subscriptions for posting comments here and there (AP).

Jazzlistener's picture

high when you wrote this? Talk about verbal diarrhea. Creativepart made some good points. Although I do personally enjoy the Recommended Components feature, I too find it questionable (e.g. the Rega P3 makes it into Class C but none of their higher end tables can crack Class A? Pluh-ease. What I would really love to see is more system recommendations in Stereophile like in some of the British Hi-Fi mags, and at different price points.

Glotz's picture

But I was pissed a bit. Implied collusion ruffles my s***.

Great recommend on the system point you bring up. That should be a regular feature if they can create very different systems for each 'type' of listener. From there they could build on hybrids of system types involving tubes and solid-state, etc.

These rankings are just one reviewer judging a component in relation to their system. The Benchmark reviews come to mind- Certain people loved them, others not. There's massive nuance there and goes to the heart of preference thing- accuracy to source vs. myfi, vs. 'the absolute sound'.

They all need to fit somewhere into the classes here. It may be a hodge-podge like it is, but whatever. It just is.

The Belles vs. McCormack amp comparison from Sam Tellig (2000) comes to mind as well. The pursuit of accuracy vs. warmth and obscuration of detail lent the McCormack the nod and the higher rating for ST in Class A and the Belles to Class B. Same realm of performance and price (in my listening as well) but they don't share a rating. In more ways and in my lighter balanced system (at the time), I preferred the Belles.

I think dollar amounts do have play a part here as sometimes there are positives that 'overweigh' the subtractions to placement a certain class and could serve one particular group of listeners as a justification for a higher cost or greater perceived value.

Expensive modern tube power amps are a great examples. To get to a greater level of measurement and subjective performance to that of solid state one has to spend sometimes thousands more. The classes do need adjustments for a positive listening value like 'superb depth', even though there may be subtractions for other weaknesses.

I look at the classes as just a rough guide. I doubt that the Project DAC reviewed as Class A a few years back could compete with the top dollar DAC's like dCS, but I haven't heard the Project. I would think there is enough areas of merit to make Class A, but probably not as many facets of performance as the dCS or other pricey DACs.

Anton's picture

One of those turntable must surely be A++, no?

And some of that 'A' gear must really be 'A-.'

I think we should switch to the Moody's rating system...

Or, perhaps the Robert Parker 100 point scale.

Glotz's picture


RobertSlavin's picture

First let me say I heard the Raidho D2-1 speakers several years ago and was very impressed.

However, given how uneven the measured frequency response of the Raidho TD3.8 was in the Stereophile measurements, I question whether it should have even qualified for Class E if it were sold for $700. Instead, we find it recommended at Class A+ for $117,000.

It is generally acknowledged that there is a strong correlation between even measured frequency response and generally perceived speaker quality.

I realize that to get in A+ just one reviewer has to think that way. But it does raise my eyebrow.


Scintilla's picture

Despite my recent foaming-of-the-mouth and throwings-under-the-bus here, I do think there is value in the list each year. I have used Stereophile reviews and the list to both narrow my choices and to purchase goods based on a long-standing relationship with a reviewers words. Fremer might think me a random hater but I used his reviews to pick both a phono preamp, and a tonearm. I trusted my own ears to pick other parts of my system before glowing reviews appeared here. Assembling a modern, high-quality audio system is made much more difficult by the sheer number of products available, companies and general noise on the Internets. In the 80's we could go to a hifi salon and listen to products like the Robertson 4010 with some Soundlab A1's (made my neck hair stand up) and find Celestions with omni subs paired with Bedini or BEL amps. In this age, having a curated list to help people at least find products to seek is more valuable than ever. What it comes down to is whether you trust the ears that made the choices. And I do not trust all the new reviewers and neither should you. They haven't earned it yet.

Glotz's picture

Haven't you given a reason why you can't trust them?

Specifically why.

Scintilla's picture

Because they can't actually hear differences. I only trust Kal, JA1 and nobody else; maybe Herb; maybe but he's one of those I just write for pleasure guys. So why trust them? Because the rest of the new writers, including JA2 have not proved themselves over time. It's one thing to have a good review when many people agree. Why is JVS reveiwing the highest-end equipment like J10 did? WTAF does he really know about that gear other than his association with the magazine? Not much, actually. He's an amateur listener no more skilled than me. At least Fremer proved himself as a real arbiter of sound quality. I may not agree with his choices for equipment, but the man proved his prowess as a listener. Not so with the rest of these newbies. They can be indignant all they want to be but until they have a record of salient, quality reviews, they are nobodies... And this is Stereophile's big fail.

Glotz's picture

I wasn't trolling you- You didn't give reasons until now.

I thought these reviewers had enough experience at shows, with their own multi-thousand dollar systems and constantly refining their own craft by interviewing and working with manufacturers.

It would seem strange that a manufacturer or distributor installed-system would be anything less than successful playback, as they don't leave until they are satisfied. They certainly have the respect of manufacturers, dealers and distributors when I see them talk together at shows. (And if collusion ruled those relationships, we would see a different dynamic here.)

MF's system is real close in many ways to JVS' so what is the culprit?

Is it your perception of measurements don't match JVS' experiences? Or is that HR has a more observable scientific method by way of comparisons of gear that seems more transparent? Or the way either communicates their observations?

It just may be about the type of subjective tests that reviewers are performing that fails to bring one type of measurement to be audible. Classical music omits a ton of performance areas for review parameters. The component review may be really for classical lovers. I certainly don't read anymore into it if he isn't remarking on other music.

Yet I do see JA defending JVS' experiences in his measurements section in last month's Infigo review. No one seems to ever acknowledge or comment on those reasonable defenses- ever.

Thank you for your explanation no matter what.

ChrisS's picture

...from mine?

No problem!

creativepart's picture

I went to pains to explain I wasn't claiming payola. And, I'm still not. I'm saying that products with distributors are granted more reviews due to attendance at shows, relationships with editors, and just increased personal contact. Companies expect their distributors to represent their brand for them and to advertise their brand for them. And, that's what they do.

Reviewed products end up on the Stereophile Recommended Products list because of this greater exposure to Stereophile writers and editors.

When someone from a small equipment company calls an editor their call will not be answered as readily as a call from that nice rep you met at the Munich show and shared a beer with last year. It's how the business works.

And, everyone should know when a product is getting a review in a future issue the Ad Dept is made aware and sales people call to suggest an ad be placed in that same issue. It's not pay to play because the ad sale has nothing to do with the product review being printed. But companies recognize synergy when they see it.

Add to this that most reviewers seem to be in Urban areas that have the traditional HiFi Shop. Where the rest of the country only has internet forums and online reviews to audition various products.

My entire point is... the list is tilted, skewed toward bigger budget, higher priced gear that is professionally represented and that is not necessarily representative of the broader equipment marketplace, and what mainstream audiophiles are buying.

Jazzlistener's picture

“My entire point is... the list is tilted, skewed toward bigger budget, higher priced gear that is professionally represented and that is not necessarily representative of the broader equipment marketplace, and what mainstream audiophiles are buying.”

I do not begrudge any company that does a good job marketing itself, attending shows, building a presence in the industry, etc. That’s a lot of hard work and investment. There is a boutique speaker company in my home town that makes outstanding speakers, but the owner has steadfastly refused to show them off at shows, market them properly, or work with dealers. The result has been failure to grow his company or draw attention to his speakers. That’s on him. Stereophile is only one of myriad sources on the Internet where audio enthusiasts can find reviews on gear. Many other reviewers cover mainstream products. In fact, if you’re interested in a product you’d be hard pressed not to find a reasonably to excellent credible review on it.

ChrisS's picture

Does no one know how to do that anymore?


Jean-Benoit's picture

It seems like an obvious thing to include, or else the reader is left to "manually" go looking for reviews of every component that piques his/her curiosity. Seems like a wholly unnecessary hassle for what is otherwise a really useful list.

CG's picture

Good suggestion!

I tried to search for the review of the Ayre VX-8. No luck, link or no.

John Atkinson's picture
CG wrote:
I tried to search for the review of the Ayre VX-8. No luck, link or no.

This review will be posted to the website on Friday. The other reviews in the new (October) issue will be posted over the next 10 days. (Stereophile gives priority to print subscribers.)

John Atkinson
Technical Editor/part-time web monkey

CG's picture

Ahh! Coming attractions, as they say. Fair enough, all around.

ChrisS's picture

The review for the EX is online...The new one should come up soon!

ednazarko's picture

Always stunned by how many people are compelled to tell the world at length how outraged they are about something online they don't like. Maybe insufficient joy in their lives? A lack of purpose? Afflicted with oppositional defiant disorder? I don't know. But if you think online comparison rankings of audio gear are a fruitless exercise, why read them? If you didn't read them, how can you have much of a useful opinion? Expressing outrage about something you refuse to read is mostly chest pounding and declaring superiority over the fools filling the world.

Don't like the comparison reviews? Really, just move on. Less rage hormones in your blood will extend your life span. Or raise money, buy the company, and show us your better ideas in action.

I enjoy reading through these comparison ratings. Don't agree with some, do agree with others. I've found over time that there are reviewers whose ears and preferences seem to match up with mine and others who don't. (In these twice yearly ratings, and in the ongoing reviews published.) These cyclical ratings and the ongoing reviews have been quite useful for me in trying and buying gear when living in a location that limits my ability to hear a lot of gear for myself.

Right now massively enjoying listening to Kingfish Live in London on my Okto stereo DAC, which I'd never have heard of without the review here, and would have never bought other than the reviewers were ones who's opinions and ears have matched with mine in the past, along with the wildly excellent measured performance. Through an old Anthem integrated that was well reviewed way long ago... and through B&W 702 speakers that got mixed reviews, but in the mix there were specifics that told me that they'd work well with my other components and in the large studio listening space I had. (And that I definitely needed the smattering of sound panels on the walls behind and to the side.)

Just because something pleases you not, or strikes you as ignorant and wasteful consumption of bits on the internet, doesn't mean that others don't find value and useful insights. Save your time and your cortisol and ignore the stuff you think it dumb. Life is short. Spend it well.

Glotz's picture


creativepart's picture

No anger, no stress on this end. Simply making suggestions in hopes of improving this twice a year feature (of the printed magazine). If you read anger and vitriol in phrases in my post like "I'd love to see you folks..." then it's not me that's overreacting.

If you like the listings as they are, then great. No one is stopping you. Me, I think they could be more meaningful than they are currently. But that's just me.

pinkfloyd4ever's picture

It would be really helpful if you posted a link to the full review of each of these products in this list

Jau's picture

In delections from their latest Recommended Components they relate to the Devialet Expert 140 Pro and say that it has been replaced by a new model which has not been tested. However, the Expert 140 Pro continues to appear on the Devialet website and there is no new model to replace it. (?)

Firemike's picture

Maybe a quick visit to Funk & Wagnall's might be in order to refresh ourselves of what a review and recommendation is. If a consumer wants to spend $10 or $20,000 on a widget, consider a review as gospel, or only an opinion, isn't that their prerogative? If a person prefers the sound of pink colored audio equipment made from crystals and walnuts from "Big HI FI" that has no scientific or measurable reasoning behind it, who are we to judge? Akin to politics and religion, each person votes with their ears and ultimately, wallet. Not every opposing view is a conspiracy which require's a need to question other's intentions. A review is nothing more than one person's opinion. Aren't we in this hobby to listen and enjoy music - not hyper analyze equipment, materials, and the evil empires that provide it? Somehow fellow hobbyist's have survived all of these years in life - many of them very successfully - without our subjective criticism. Yes, I get it. As a subscriber you have input into how you would prefer to see things done. Maybe a letter to the editor could be a consideration.

moukie's picture

Really surprised NOT to see Bryston 4B3 14B3 or 28B3 in the recommended amps and that is like every year

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