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Thread: FIREBOTTLE Phono Preamp

  1. #1
    Join Date: Jul 2008

    Location: Surrey

    Posts: 707
    I'm Paul.

    Default FIREBOTTLE Phono Preamp

    I wanted both a valve and a solid state phono amplifer for my vinyl set up so I asked forum member Alan (firebottle) if he’d build me one of his FIREBOTTLE preamp designs. I’ve had the amp for a couple of weeks now and this is just a short review. I'm currently waiting for my modified Cambridge 640 to return from Arkless and hope to do a more in depth comparison at a later date. Both units come in at a similar price.


    SOURCE: Lenco L70 & Alphason Opal tonearm (A&R P77 with Jico SAS 1)

    AMPLIFICATION: Harman Kardon A402 (PRE) into Quad II valve amplifiers

    SPEAKERS: EMI 319

    First thing to note, the amp is housed in a very stylish enclosure. It looks professional and its solidly built. I particularly liked the way the chassis splits into two halves making access to the innards quick and easy. You need only remove the top two screws on the front and back panels to remove the lid. Looking inside the build quality is excellent, the wiring neat and tidy. It reminds me of a Croft in its simplicity. Alan replaced the standard 47K resistor with a 100K so I could play around with both resistance and capacitance loading. He also fitted internal wire tails on the phono inputs. The amp uses Mullard valves. The line up is 2 x PCF80 (8A8) Triode/pentode. PCC189 (7ES8) double triode.



    Warm up is essential, there’s a dramatic improvement over the first half hour and beyond - in particular, imaging becomes more focused after extended use. Straight off the bat it surpasses all of my previous amps including the stock Cambridge 640. There’s shed loads of gain from this amp in my system and it goes loud effortlessly. The presentation is much more 'up front' across the left and right channels with greater transparency. This has been a problem I've found with previous 'entry level' phono amps which are just too muted in this area, but with the firebottle the balance between the centre, left and right channels, and all the nuances in between, is excellent.

    For the purpose of this review I was using 160K/91pf loading which seems to give the flattest response on my spectrum analyzer. The treble is clear and smooth, but not overwhelming. Most notable, however, was the bass response, I was pleasantly surprised at how rich and deep it was. I’ve been listening to a lot of dance orientated music recently and, in particular, Faithless - New Arrivals, was a joy to spin.

    The overall sound stage is big and spacious, the excellent mid range is key to the firebottle, it's uncongested and smooth. Andy Sheppard's 'Java Jive' was particularly impressive with powerful imaging and realistic instrumentation. This will make an interesting comparison with the Arkless Cambridge - from memory when I had the Arkless loaner unit in my system for a couple of days the centre channel soundstage dramatically shrunk due to the amps ruthless transparency and precision. It'll be interesting to discover how the two compare.

    Overall I'm well pleased with this amp, I can't think you'd find a better value valve phono pre for the money. I'll update further when the modified Cambridge arrives.
    Paul.

  2. #2
    Join Date: Jan 2009

    Location: Essex

    Posts: 8,542
    I'm openingabottleofwine.

    Default

    Any chance of a photograph showing the internal construction? And, if I'm not being too prurient, how much did you pay for your bespoke phonostage? (You can PM me if you would prefer) I would be interested in a balanced circuit phonostage based on ECC83s, a circuit topology that Alan has already outlined for me.

    Is the power supply housed in the same enclosure?

    160K cartrdge loading when the input impedance is provided by a 100K resistor? How did you manage that, or was that a typo for 60K?
    Barry

  3. #3
    Join Date: Oct 2012

    Location: Indre, France

    Posts: 785
    I'm Alan.

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    Thanks for the kind words Paul

    Just to be accurate, only the PCC189 in Pauls amp is a Mullard valve.

    Barry, I'm building these amps for 230 plus p+p, they are powered from a 12V wall wart psu.

    Alan
    I love Hendrix for so many reasons. He was so much more than just a blues guitarist - he played damn well any kind of guitar he wanted. In fact I'm not sure if he even played the guitar - he played music. SRV

  4. #4
    Join Date: Sep 2009

    Location: Essex, UK

    Posts: 2,489
    I'm Andy.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Firebottle View Post
    Thanks for the kind words Paul

    Just to be accurate, only the PCC189 in Pauls amp is a Mullard valve.

    Barry, I'm building these amps for 230 plus p+p, they are powered from a 12V wall wart psu.

    Alan


    Hi Alan, is this the same design as the previous phono stage of yours doing the rounds a while back?
    System; Michell Gyrodec SE/ SME V/ Denon DL103/ Jez Arkless Turbo nutter B------

    Amplification and loudspeaker set up is at the moment being split into two groups, comprising the following;


    1. Same sources as above; SONY TAF-770ES/SONY CDP761E/Cable Talk 3.1 loudspeakercable/ Harbeth Compact7ES2/ Stands

    2. Virtue Audio Sensation M451battery PSU, ClarityCaps upgrade/ Sensation M901/Russy PIO caps with Teflon bypass caps upgrade/ JT Dynamic PSU with various tweaks/ Connex Audio 5N Litz loudspeaker cable New speakers under investigation





    Now a Popcorn emoticon ambassador.

  5. #5
    Join Date: Oct 2012

    Location: Indre, France

    Posts: 785
    I'm Alan.

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    Very similar Andy, with a pentode - triode - triode line up. The power supply arrangement is different.
    The middle stage triode is a different one and the RIAA network has been optimised to be much less affected by the pentode characteristics.

    The pentode stage has also been tweaked as that was where the slight treble loss was in the prototype phono amp.

    Alan
    I love Hendrix for so many reasons. He was so much more than just a blues guitarist - he played damn well any kind of guitar he wanted. In fact I'm not sure if he even played the guitar - he played music. SRV

  6. #6
    Join Date: Jul 2008

    Location: Surrey

    Posts: 707
    I'm Paul.

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    Hi Barry,

    for resistance in parallel, 100K + 160K = 62K. (R1 x R2 divided by R1 + R2)

    The purpose of changing the standard 47K option is you can't go higher than your lowest value resistor - putting in place a 100K allows you to experiment above and below the 47K mark.

    I'll post a pic of the insides when I get a moment.
    Paul.

  7. #7
    Join Date: Oct 2012

    Location: Indre, France

    Posts: 785
    I'm Alan.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Barry View Post
    Any chance of a photograph showing the internal construction?
    Here is a photo of the chassis assembly with a couple of labels:


    Alan
    I love Hendrix for so many reasons. He was so much more than just a blues guitarist - he played damn well any kind of guitar he wanted. In fact I'm not sure if he even played the guitar - he played music. SRV

  8. #8
    Join Date: Jan 2011

    Location: Nr Bridport, Dorset, England

    Posts: 49
    I'm Stuart.

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    I’ve been fortunate enough to have one of Alan’s Firebottle phono stages at home for an extended trial, so I thought I would add my comments to this thread.

    It is a very professional looking item and comes with an external power supply. It is easy to connect and I too found it needs about 30 mins to get really warmed up. I’ve done lots of listening here and I’ve been trying out some different cartridges. My setup is: Cartridge -> Firebottle -> EAR V20 -> Yamaha NS1000Ms. All listening is using a Technics 1210 turntable (stock arm, but Cardas rewired and using KAB damper), so I can change cartridges more easily. My present phono is the excellent Gram Amp2 SE.

    I began with my Denon 103r, into a Denon AU310 SUT (1:10 ratio), and then into the Firebottle. My Denon has a Soundsmith Level 1 cantilever and elliptical tip, and sits in an alloy body. The sound was big with lots of detail and a firm and extended bass. The 103r does not hold back in the lower register, but in this setup there is more detail and a crisper sound. There is plenty of gain, so for low-level listening I may need to find some 1:6 transformers!

    I then tried a Stanton 681EEE, which is a medium output mm and was the reference cartridge for much of the US music industry. I have always had a love/hate relationship with the Stanton, finding it "polite and accurate but un-involving". Well, it's still polite, but much more interesting and involving. Good imaging and bags of detail and the bass has taken a big step forward.

    The next step was to try my Grace F9E Ruby, which was just magic! I’ve had this cartridge since new, and I’ve never heard it sound so good. Smooth easy midrange with great detail and imaging (yes, even with the NS1000s !) I'm especially pleased with the bass - crisp and extended and it really works with the Yamahas.

    Interestingly, the low level gain is ok with the mms (the output of the Grace is 3.5mv which is the same as the Stanton, though subjectively it sounds louder).

    Overall, at this stage, I have nothing negative to say - it is all so effortless and clean. It has none of the solid state sound, but neither is remotely soft, warm and cuddly like some valve units I have heard. I've gone back to the Denon but before that I compared it directly against the Slee with the Stanton, Grace and then the Denon. I think the Slee is in front in the midband detail, but only by a whisker, but the Firebottle wins consistently in terms of imaging and the bass, which is like good snow, is deep and crisp and even…..!

    I certainly consider it a big step up from my Gram Amp 2SE. Unfortunately I can't try it with my other pre-amps as they are all packed away, but as it would always be used with the V20, that is of no consequence.

    So there it is so far. Suffice it to say, I’m now a delighted owner of a Firebottle Phono amp. Thanks Alan.

  9. #9
    Join Date: Oct 2012

    Location: Indre, France

    Posts: 785
    I'm Alan.

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    Quote Originally Posted by StuN View Post
    Suffice it to say, I’m now a delighted owner of a Firebottle Phono amp. Thanks Alan.
    My pleasure Stuart, it's really very rewarding to me personally to be able to offer an improvement to AoS members enjoyment of the music

    Alan
    I love Hendrix for so many reasons. He was so much more than just a blues guitarist - he played damn well any kind of guitar he wanted. In fact I'm not sure if he even played the guitar - he played music. SRV

  10. #10
    Join Date: Jul 2008

    Location: Surrey

    Posts: 707
    I'm Paul.

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    Good to read somebody else's review Stuart, especially when you've got so many interesting carts to roll.

    Funnily enough I wanted to add a few more thoughts myself. I run a second tonearm on my TT currently holding a Shure M3D cart - seen here, (Alphason tonearm not in shot)



    The M3D has a whole host of fans over on Lenco Heaven, and a few admirers here I believe. It's not necessarily audiophile, the top end is rolled off, but it has astonishing bass and huge sound stage. I've found mine struggles a little in the upper frequencies on old worn vinyl, but on new vinyl it can be quite wonderful - very clean, open with huge presence.

    The other day I had the new Braids LP in my possession (Flourish/Perish) which was exhibiting a pressing fault so I checked it on my Bogen arm for a second opinion. The combination of the firebottle and the M3D was astonishing, I think there's perhaps some real synergy going on here on my system. The soundstage was the most holographic I've ever heard and, the combination is quite magical.
    Paul.

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