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Thread: Phono Stage Shootout

  1. #1
    Join Date: Nov 2015

    Location: Wolverhampton

    Posts: 2,739
    I'm Oliver.

    Default Phono Stage Shootout

    Hi all,

    As I was in a position to spend a few hours with some high quality phono stages, I thought id do a bit of a comparison and write up the results.

    I visited Alan (Firebottle) as he had recently purchased a Tron Convergence.
    We decided to do a straight shootout between the Tron and the FB range. The results surprised us greatly.

    So the line up was
    FB-OTP
    FB-Plus
    FB-Vivant (in the KIN pre amp)
    Tron Convergence.

    So, first up.....The Tron (1000)

    This thing is HUGE. It has a beautifully machined case and it looks very imposing and authoritative.

    Unfortunately, the sound didnt match the looks. The first listen was rather underwhelming. The Tron sounded compressed and lifeless. I asked Alan if it needed time to warm up but it had been switched on for about an hour prior to me arriving. I was very disappointed with the, to be frank, bland sound it made. There was no background noise though and surface noise was extremely quiet. This impressed me massively. Channel separation was excellent too. It did create a very good soundstage but its tone sounded flat and lifeless.

    We moved on to the FB-OTP (225)

    Straight away, the boogie factor just woke me up. Thundering bass notes and sweet midrange. Sparkly treble and a very good soundstage. Not the​ same level as the others but still mightily Impressive. The OTP definitely has musicality in spades. There is a solid feel to the music, typical of SS. The most impressive thing about the OTP is how you just listen to the music, foot tapping and with a smile on your face. How this unit only costs 225 is beyond me. A stone cold bargain.

    On to the FB-Plus (600)

    We go up a level here in terms of resolution and soundstage but overall, the OTP is very close and at less than half the price. Im surprised by this greatly. However when we played Eurythmics - thorn in my side, the Plus really moved into another gear. The airy but driven sound was palpable and the tone was perfect. Its got everything the OTP has got, but more of it. Channel seperation is excellent and the stage is very wide and deep. The noise floor is also very low and this is something the OTP couldn't match. The saxophones reed was very apparent in the sound which had a realistic feel to it. Piano also sounded authentic. I am very impressed with this Phono stage.

    On to the FB-Vivant

    Well, its like 20yo Mike tyson has just hit me in the face. Its just not like anything ive heard before. The bow is moving across the strings on Eleanor Rigby and I can hear which direction the bow is moving in. How is this possible ? Witchcraft....thats how. Its the only explanation. The sound stage extends beyond the walls and into the street. We have no roof and the floor is gone. We are in the performance. Remarkable. Truly exquisite. This is the undisputed heavy weight champion IMO. Detail in abundance, ambient and transient sounds are collected from the grooves and delivered with delicacy, Guitar riffs are laced with venom and I feel dirty listening to lynyrd Skynyrd play Poison Whiskey. Its fantastic. I want one !!!

    Alan and I laugh somewhat at the audacity of the Tron being in the same price range as the Vivant, so to mock it further, I ask to plug it in again......but wait, what's going on?

    The Tron appears to be picking itself up off the canvas and having a real go at a comeback

    Eurythmics is now in 3D and hallucinogenic, that flat feeling has lifted somewhat to reveal a real depth. Im slightly confused! It actually is starting to sound very very nice indeed. We play a few tracks, Lynryd Skynrd, London Grammar to name a few and all the time the Tron is clawing itself out of the mire.

    Im now rooting for the Tron. Chanting its name and willing it to win. But it never quite makes it to the FB-Vivants level. The Vivant was the clear winner.

    We try the FB-Plus again and its almost as if we are listening to the Tron with the compression removed and thats the issue I had with the Tron.....it just couldnt match the FB-Plus or FB-Vivant for resolution or air which is a real shame because it actually does sound very good.

    So Alan and I discussed price.....

    FB - Vivant 1000 (ish)
    Tron Convergence 1000 MC version
    FB-Plus 600
    FB - OTP. 225

    So how did they finish ?

    1st Place = Vivant. No competing against the best phono stage in this price point. It beat the competition with a shitty stick. In terms of VFM, the Vivant is cheap. It could easily cost twice as much and still feel cheap compared to its performance.

    2nd Place = FB-Plus. I cant get past the price. Its fabulous and does about 80% of what the Vivant does for roughly half the price ! There is a loan unit doing the rounds. Get it and have a listen.

    3rd place = Tron Convergence. Apart from the slightly compressed sound, it had phenomenal imaging and truly stunning soundstage. It was the quietest of all four stages when no record was playing and had a really solid feel to the sound but its equalled (and bettered in some areas) by a phono stage costing half the price. Its a shame because I really liked how the Tron held its authority on a track.

    4th place = FB-OTP. This placing is far closer than this suggests. It more like 3rd and 1/8ths. Its ridiculous value and only really lost out to the FB-Plus on background noise and that last little percentage of soundstage, resolution and imaging. A stunning bargain and in terms of VFM probably represents the highest return for the money. This should cost more to be honest but it doesn't so grab one before Alan stops making them. Even as a back up, its worth every penny.


    Oliver.










    Sent from my EVA-L09 using Tapatalk
    Last edited by Bigman80; 06-05-2017 at 12:16.
    Alphason HR100 MCS > Toshiba SR 370 Turntable > ZYX R50 Bloom cartridge > Firebottle OTP MK2 Phono Stage > Firebottle Monoblocks > Creek OBH-11SE Headphone Amp > IXOS Speaker Cables > Pioneer CS-77A Speakers

  2. #2
    Join Date: Feb 2013

    Location: W Lothian

    Posts: 34,597
    I'm Grant.

    Default

    Used to have a Plus, although it looked somewhat different, so guessing its undergone a few changes. It was a very good stage and blew away a whest without any trouble. Not heard any of the rest though.
    Good write up
    Regards,
    Grant ....
    Sometimes incompetence is useful. It helps you keep an open mind.
    .... ..... ...... ...... ................... ..... ..... ..... ..... .....
    IMUTO TAURUS X4 BATTERY SUPPLY. - RPI2B & AUDIOPHONICS DAC running MOODE 3.7- TONBRUX BATTERY SUPPLY & CHROMECAST2 AUDIO DONGLE no1 - JBE SERIES 3 SLATEDECK & EMOTIVA XPS-1 PHONO - DENON DV2900 - TWIN PRO MONOBLOCK AMPLIFIERS. - XIANG SHENG DAC\PRE\HEADPHONE AMP. -AUDIO TECHNICA ATH-MSR7 & OPPO PM-3 PLANAR HEADPHONES - WIN10 JRIVER22, SPOTIFY PREMIUM- KINPS CABLES, SMSL M6 MINIDAC, CHROMECAST2 AUDIO DONGLE no2 POWERED BY ANKER BATTERY PSU - FULL RANGE TWIN & SINGLE TELEFUNKEN's - Q ACOUSTIC BT3 actives - CANTON SUB - TANDBERG TCD310 CASS - CARTS.. ACD xlm mk1 integra, AT95SA Shibata, SHURE N55 SAS, SHURE M55E original, JVC MD1029. - RCA CABLES BY BRIAN SPKR CABLES BY MOI HAIR BY MARCO FEET BY ELECTRICBEACH - MAINS REGENERATED BY POWERINSPIRED AND FILTERED BY BELKIN PUREAV.

  3. #3
    Join Date: Oct 2012

    Location: The Black Country

    Posts: 3,535
    I'm Alan.

    Default

    A good write up Oliver. It is fair to say that the Tron did improve over the afternoon, I have no idea of it's previous hours, I suspect they are quite low.

    The possible bottleneck with the Tron is it's built in SUT. A pity we couldn't have tried external SUT's or a headamp.
    It is a beautifully built piece of kit though.


  4. #4
    Join Date: Nov 2015

    Location: Wolverhampton

    Posts: 2,739
    I'm Oliver.

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by struth View Post
    Used to have a Plus, although it looked somewhat different, so guessing its undergone a few changes. It was a very good stage and blew away a whest without any trouble. Not heard any of the rest though.
    Good write up
    Thanks Grant, its had a few tweaks I believe and you can tell. Absolutely fantastic phono stage.

    Sent from my EVA-L09 using Tapatalk
    Alphason HR100 MCS > Toshiba SR 370 Turntable > ZYX R50 Bloom cartridge > Firebottle OTP MK2 Phono Stage > Firebottle Monoblocks > Creek OBH-11SE Headphone Amp > IXOS Speaker Cables > Pioneer CS-77A Speakers

  5. #5
    Join Date: Nov 2015

    Location: Wolverhampton

    Posts: 2,739
    I'm Oliver.

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Firebottle View Post
    A good write up Oliver. It is fair to say that the Tron did improve over the afternoon, I have no idea of it's previous hours, I suspect they are quite low.

    The possible bottleneck with the Tron is it's built in SUT. A pity we couldn't have tried external SUT's or a headamp.
    It is a beautifully built piece of kit though.

    Absolutely Alan. I fear the SUTs may be holding it back. Its very well made and sounded really very good. Just not as good as the Vivant.

    Sent from my EVA-L09 using Tapatalk
    Alphason HR100 MCS > Toshiba SR 370 Turntable > ZYX R50 Bloom cartridge > Firebottle OTP MK2 Phono Stage > Firebottle Monoblocks > Creek OBH-11SE Headphone Amp > IXOS Speaker Cables > Pioneer CS-77A Speakers

  6. #6
    Join Date: Feb 2013

    Location: W Lothian

    Posts: 34,597
    I'm Grant.

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Firebottle View Post
    A good write up Oliver. It is fair to say that the Tron did improve over the afternoon, I have no idea of it's previous hours, I suspect they are quite low.

    The possible bottleneck with the Tron is it's built in SUT. A pity we couldn't have tried external SUT's or a headamp.
    It is a beautifully built piece of kit though.

    be interesting to adapt it to bypass its internal suts with a toggle out to say a head amp.
    Regards,
    Grant ....
    Sometimes incompetence is useful. It helps you keep an open mind.
    .... ..... ...... ...... ................... ..... ..... ..... ..... .....
    IMUTO TAURUS X4 BATTERY SUPPLY. - RPI2B & AUDIOPHONICS DAC running MOODE 3.7- TONBRUX BATTERY SUPPLY & CHROMECAST2 AUDIO DONGLE no1 - JBE SERIES 3 SLATEDECK & EMOTIVA XPS-1 PHONO - DENON DV2900 - TWIN PRO MONOBLOCK AMPLIFIERS. - XIANG SHENG DAC\PRE\HEADPHONE AMP. -AUDIO TECHNICA ATH-MSR7 & OPPO PM-3 PLANAR HEADPHONES - WIN10 JRIVER22, SPOTIFY PREMIUM- KINPS CABLES, SMSL M6 MINIDAC, CHROMECAST2 AUDIO DONGLE no2 POWERED BY ANKER BATTERY PSU - FULL RANGE TWIN & SINGLE TELEFUNKEN's - Q ACOUSTIC BT3 actives - CANTON SUB - TANDBERG TCD310 CASS - CARTS.. ACD xlm mk1 integra, AT95SA Shibata, SHURE N55 SAS, SHURE M55E original, JVC MD1029. - RCA CABLES BY BRIAN SPKR CABLES BY MOI HAIR BY MARCO FEET BY ELECTRICBEACH - MAINS REGENERATED BY POWERINSPIRED AND FILTERED BY BELKIN PUREAV.

  7. #7
    Join Date: Jan 2013

    Location: Birmingham

    Posts: 2,999
    I'm James.

    Default

    Nice write up Oliver. I know most of those amps and have heard a Tron but not that model, I was underwhelmed considering the price! But agree they are beautifully built.

    Not a surprise the Vivant sounded the best out of that bunch as it is indeed a very good phono stage with a great transparent wide soundstage. I think the valves took this phono stage to somewhere the OTP could not reach. SS never capture that illusive Magic presentation of sound that is achieved by valves in my experience.

    Always interesting comparing phono stages. I remember one particular shoot out at my first NEBO where Nick Gorams phono stage wiped the floor with everything else, it was so far ahead and very special indeed but again I think it was about 10,000

    Alan needs to hear one of these
    VPI Scout 1.1 / JMW 9T Tonearm / 2M Black /Croft 25R+ / Croft 7 / Spendor SP2

  8. #8
    Join Date: Nov 2015

    Location: Wolverhampton

    Posts: 2,739
    I'm Oliver.

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Jimbo View Post
    Nice write up Oliver. I know most of those amps and have heard a Tron but not that model, I was underwhelmed considering the price! But agree they are beautifully built.

    Not a surprise the Vivant sounded the best out of that bunch as it is indeed a very good phono stage with a great transparent wide soundstage. I think the valves took this phono stage to somewhere the OTP could not reach. SS never capture that illusive Magic presentation of sound that is achieved by valves in my experience.

    Always interesting comparing phono stages. I remember one particular shoot out at my first NEBO where Nick Gorams phono stage wiped the floor with everything else, it was so far ahead and very special indeed but again I think it was about 10,000

    Alan needs to hear one of these
    I completely agree about the valve aspect. It was apparent that the three phono stages with valves had that little bit extra but the OTP was right in there.



    Sent from my EVA-L09 using Tapatalk
    Alphason HR100 MCS > Toshiba SR 370 Turntable > ZYX R50 Bloom cartridge > Firebottle OTP MK2 Phono Stage > Firebottle Monoblocks > Creek OBH-11SE Headphone Amp > IXOS Speaker Cables > Pioneer CS-77A Speakers

  9. #9
    Join Date: Dec 2011

    Location: sussex

    Posts: 124
    I'm phil.

    Default

    Have you had a chance to listen to any of the angle audio phono amps, I've recently got the studio pro which I'm very happy with.
    Technics 1200, Ian Mac bearing, rb300 AO arm funk mat modded plinth external psu, angle audio studio pro mc virtual battery phono amp, Onix pre and mono amps, Onix CD player, Onix BWD and soap tuner. B&W dm2 speakers or super pencil 12 speakers, atlas cables, seperate mains power supply with earth spike.

  10. #10
    Join Date: Nov 2015

    Location: Wolverhampton

    Posts: 2,739
    I'm Oliver.

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by moodybuilder View Post
    Have you had a chance to listen to any of the angle audio phono amps, I've recently got the studio pro which I'm very happy with.
    I haven't mate. I would welcome the chance to do so though.

    Sent from my EVA-L09 using Tapatalk
    Alphason HR100 MCS > Toshiba SR 370 Turntable > ZYX R50 Bloom cartridge > Firebottle OTP MK2 Phono Stage > Firebottle Monoblocks > Creek OBH-11SE Headphone Amp > IXOS Speaker Cables > Pioneer CS-77A Speakers

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