Phono Preamp Reviews

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Michael Fremer, Brian Damkroger  |  Oct 24, 2011  |  0 comments
According to Parasound's founder and CEO, Richard Schram, the Halo JC 3 began as a phono-preamp retrofit for the JC 2 line stage, with separate small circuit boards for each channel. The smaller the board, the better, Schram says, so as to attract less noise than do larger boards, whose many copper traces can act as antennas.
Michael Fremer  |  Nov 06, 2005  |  First Published: Jan 06, 1999  |  0 comments
If compact discs are so damned dynamic and vinyl is so dynamically limited, why do they sound just the opposite? Why do LPs sound so "live," so explosive, so "there," and CDs so dead? Even the best CDs usually sink to second-rate when you switch to their vinyl versions. I've heard it, you've heard it. Only those in deep denial, those who refuse to listen, don't. They'd rather read the published specs and consider the actual listening some kind of mass delusion among Luddite LP fans.
Michael Fremer  |  Mar 10, 2021  |  First Published: Sep 01, 1997  |  3 comments
You think Watergate was a momentous break-in? You should hear what a good electronic Rolfing does to the sound of this meticulously built, full-sized, full-featured, and full-priced ($3495) phono section imported from New Zealand by Fanfare International. Out of the box, the Plinius M14 sounds like what it looks like: all silvery, hard, and steely. Just leaving it powered up doesn't do the trick, nor does playing music through it—unless you're prepared for endless hours of truly bad sound before the sonic clouds begin to break.
Michael Fremer  |  Feb 13, 2012  |  First Published: Oct 01, 2011  |  0 comments
The phono preamplifiers reviewed this month are both affordable ($400–$1960) and highly accomplished, and the most expensive of them offers versatility that's unprecedented in my experience. Three of them are designed to be used only with moving-magnet, moving-iron, and high-output moving-coil cartridges, so I installed Shure's V15VxMR cartridge in VPI's Classic 3 turntable and listened in MM mode to all of them, beginning with the least expensive.
Julie Mullins  |  Aug 25, 2021  |  6 comments
Phono preamplifiers could be compared to children as viewed by a previous generation of adults: They are expected to be small in stature, and they should stay out of the way, seen but not heard and maybe not even seen. With the simpler models typically encountered at lower price points, there's little to do except "set it and forget it."
Robert Deutsch  |  Jan 22, 2006  |  0 comments
PS Audio's first product, back in 1973, was a standalone phono stage; more recently, their PCA-2 preamp had an optional phono board. The GCC-100 integrated amplifier that I review this month has no room inside for a phono board, so they've gone back to producing a separate phono stage: the GCPH ($995). Like the other products in PS Audio's current line, this one is based on the Gain Cell, one module on the input side connecting to the cartridge, followed by a passive RIAA curve (with a claimed accuracy of 0.1dB over the 40dB range of the curve), and another Gain Cell on the output side.
Michael Fremer  |  Jan 03, 2020  |  30 comments
We usually save the question of value for the end of a review, but this time it's worth mentioning up front, if only because PS Audio has been in the news lately. Late last August, the company announced they were switching from a traditional dealer network to a factory-direct sales model. So, to some readers, it might seem fair to judge the brand-new, full-featured Stellar Phono Preamplifier ($2500) against ones selling in stores for $5000.
Michael Fremer  |  Aug 19, 2010  |  0 comments
As long as you're spinning an LP for your listening pleasure, and if digitizing it at a resolution of 24-bit/192kHz is transparent to the analog source, why not record and store the LP on your computer at that high sampling rate for future convenient playback via iTunes or for iPod use, or for burning to CD-R? And, while you're at it, why not record the LP unequalized and apply the RIAA curve in the digital domain, where you're not dependent on capacitors and resistors that are imprecise to begin with, and can drift over time? With no drift of phase or value, the virtual filter's results should be better than with any analog filter. And in the digital domain, you can program in any curve known, and select it at the click of a mouse. Aside from the sweat equity invested in programming it in the first place, it wouldn't add a penny to the program's cost.
Herb Reichert  |  Oct 24, 2014  |  7 comments
With quiet elegance, the Sentec EQ11 phono stage and equalizer entered my expanding world of gramophone dreams. The EQ11 ($2500) is a modestly sized, tubed phono stage with the industry-standard RIAA phono equalization and five other EQ curves. These additional curves are for records pressed by companies that did not fully or promptly comply with the new, supposedly global industry standard introduced by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in 1954.
Michael Fremer  |  Aug 19, 2010  |  0 comments
The minuscule electrical output of an analog signal from a moving-coil cartridge needs to be boosted before it can be converted to digital and equalized in the digital domain. Of course, you could use your current phono preamplifier and record an equalized signal to hard disk, but then you wouldn't get to experience Pure Vinyl's digital RIAA correction—nor would you be able to avail yourself of all the equalization curves provide by Pure Vinyl, of which there are almost too many to count.
Michael Fremer  |  Aug 19, 2010  |  1 comments
The minuscule electrical output of an analog signal from a moving-coil cartridge needs to be boosted before it can be converted to digital and equalized in the digital domain. Of course, you could use your current phono preamplifier and record an equalized signal to hard disk, but then you wouldn't get to experience Pure Vinyl's digital RIAA correction—nor would you be able to avail yourself of all the equalization curves provide by Pure Vinyl, of which there are almost too many to count.
Art Dudley  |  Nov 14, 2015  |  1 comments
At some point within the last few years of his life, the late Ken Shindo designed an outboard phono preamplifier—a decision perhaps made inevitable by his earlier decision to answer popular demand with line-only versions of the Aurieges and the more upmarket Vosne-Romanee preamps...
Michael Fremer  |  Oct 07, 2007  |  First Published: Mar 07, 2007  |  0 comments
Simaudio's Moon LP5.3 MM/MC phono preamplifier ($1400) is silly good! It has single-ended RCA inputs and both single-ended and true balanced-differential outputs. It also offers a wide range of adjustments for gain (54, 60, and 66dB), resistive loading (10, 100, 470, 1k, and 47k ohms), and capacitive loading (0, 100, and 470pF), all accomplished via a series of internally mounted jumper banks. You can even choose RIAA or IEC equalization. Removing the top plate to get to the adjustments reveals boards filled with high-quality parts for the well-isolated power-supply and signal-handling circuits.
Brian Damkroger  |  Jul 01, 2007  |  First Published: May 01, 1999  |  0 comments
I've been in love with British sports cars ever since a visiting highway engineer brought a green MGB-GT to my tiny Nebraska town 30 years ago. Since then, there's been a steady stream of ferocious little cars in my life. Triumphs, MGs, Healeys, you name it—right up to my current crop, a Triumph TR6 and roughly two-and-a-half Jensen-Healeys.
Brian Damkroger  |  Feb 25, 2011  |  0 comments
Why no batteries?

It seemed a simple and obvious question, but I couldn't get an answer out of Ron Sutherland. Why did his new 20/20 phono preamp use an AC power supply instead of batteries? I asked directly, I asked repeatedly, I tried framing the question in different ways, all to no avail. Did the AC supply make it sound better? Was it less expensive to build? Were potential customers turned off by having to replace batteries once every year or two?

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