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Thread: Phono stages: an observation

  1. #1
    Join Date: Feb 2009

    Posts: 109

    Default Phono stages: an observation

    I've noticed that most of us on here haven't spent a great deal on phono stages, regardless of other components, and wondered about reasons for that. For my own part, I tried a few up to £1k and the one I liked best was one of the cheaper ones. I guess it might have been a different matter if I'd been looking up to £2k - anyone got any experiences they can share? Anyone actually downgraded because they didn't find super-pricey stages to be any better than mid-pricers? Or upgraded because there was a massive difference?
    Simon
    ------
    KEF Reference 201/2, Quad II Classic Integrated, Pure Sound P10, Pure Sound T10, Pro-Ject RPM 10, Pro-Ject 10cc, Goldring Legacy, Atlas Mavros speaker cable, NVA interconnects, Merlin Black Widow mains cables

  2. #2
    Join Date: Nov 2008

    Location: Dartmouth in beautiful Devon UK

    Posts: 1,244

    Smile

    Hi Simon

    I have tested both on the bench and listening, 13 phonostages from £44 to just over £2K. There are differences. The cheapest was not the worst, some mid price ones were the worst and the most expensive was nearly the best.

    Simon, you are listed as trade and a journalist, who are you?



    Regards

    Dave

  3. #3
    Join Date: May 2008

    Location: A Strangely Isolated Place in Suffolk with far away trains passing by...

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    I'm David.

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    I'd rather have a good, non fussy circuit in a cheapo box than a finely tweaked snake oil one in a lavishly concocted case..

    Please remember that many top end products of this nature are chasing well heeled Hong Kong audiophools who buy on looks and price - i.e. implied status. A UK made phono stage at the best part of £3K is regarded over there as the Cambridge 640P is here. Apparently, it betters a £12K one which still sells...
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  4. #4
    Join Date: May 2008

    Location: Cricklewood

    Posts: 9,079
    I'm ILOB.

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    I tried a good few phono stages there are some really good ones around the £800 that can compare well to phono stages costing double the WAD being a fine example I mostly heard phono stages in the £1500 price range yet again a big difference in performance
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  5. #5
    Join Date: Jan 2008

    Location: Wrexham, North Wales, UK

    Posts: 100,312
    I'm AudioAl'sArbiterForPISHANTO.

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    My experience is that, as with anything else in hi-fi, with phono stages it's difficult to quantify performance with price, especially these days when there are so many affordable, high quality phono stages on the market - quite simply in terms of the latter we've never had it so good!

    The key for me lies not in the absolute cost but rather the excellence (and often simplicity) of the design, and whether or not the designer and/or manufacturer has a passion for vinyl and therefore a real handle on how to get the best from it. It is entirely possible for all those boxes to be ticked and the cost still to remain 'affordable', as demonstrated by the designs from A.N.T audio, NVA, Anatek Audio, Icon Audio, Puresound, Creek, Graham Slee, etc.

    What makes for bad phono stages, in my experience, is when they're included as an afterthought on an amplifier which is primarily designed to be line-level only, or merely part of some huge multi-national company's product range where very little 'love' has gone into the product. It's no coincidence that the best phono stages made are generally from small (or fairly small) specialist manufacturers that have a passion for analogue and vinyl.

    Another key factor in my experience responsible for creating a good phono stage is in designing a simple circuit using high quality components which doesn't mangle the 'delicate' audio signal being processed - this is easier said than done. One of the reasons why some expensive phono stages get it wrong and sound disappointing to say the least is because their designs are often overly-complicated from having to justify their (sometimes) exorbitant cost!!

    In these types of designs the signal has to negotiate its way through a multitude of components, many of them often 'over-the-top' and unnecessary. For that reason one could argue that the K.I.S.S principle applies more when designing phono stages than anywhere else, simply because it's so easy to damage the 'delicate' audio signal, especially when it involves amplifying the minute signal from low-output moving-coil cartridges.

    In that respect often the best solution is when high-quality phono stages are factored into the design of a preamp or integrated amplifier and hard-wired into the circuit, therefore negating the need for another box and cables with which to connect it, as this can adversely affect the integrity of the signal. A good example of this philosophy is in the designs from Croft Acoustics. Croft preamps always include a high quality, hard-wired, all-valve MM phono stage - it is their raison d'être as Glenn Croft hates CD and digital with a passion, loving vinyl, therefore you can guarantee that the phono stages in his designs will be excellent; indeed this is what their deserved reputation suggests (the line-level only parts are none too shabby either!) All his designs embody the K.I.S.S principle and use the highest quality components available. Interestingly too, they're also 'affordably priced'

    Don't get me wrong, there are also examples of very costly phono stages from hi-end manufacturers where no expense has been spared in order to get the ultimate performance from vinyl; where genuine know-how and expertise have been applied in the right areas to create truly 'statement' examples of phono stages, and not simply over-complicated, musically inept examples of audiophile 'jewellery' designed to look impressive but ultimately fail where it matters most.

    As ever though with hi-fi, sorting out the wheat from the chaff requires some experience, lateral thinking, and the ability not to be seduced by 'badges'. Think outside of the box, do some research, don't be fooled by marketing spiel, and above all trust your ears or those of someone whose opinions you respect, is the best advice I can give!

    Marco.
    "Count your age by friends, not years. Count your life by smiles, not tears” - John Lennon.

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  6. #6
    Join Date: Jan 2008

    Location: Wrexham, North Wales, UK

    Posts: 100,312
    I'm AudioAl'sArbiterForPISHANTO.

    Thumbs up How very true!

    I'd rather have a good, non fussy circuit in a cheapo box than a finely tweaked snake oil one in a lavishly concocted case..

    Please remember that many top end products of this nature are chasing well heeled Hong Kong audiophools who buy on looks and price - i.e. implied status.
    Hear, hear Dave!

    Marco.
    "Count your age by friends, not years. Count your life by smiles, not tears” - John Lennon.

    "When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace" - Jimi Hendrix.

    Protect your HUMAN RIGHTS and REFUSE ANY *MANDATORY* VACCINE FOR COVID-19!

  7. #7
    Join Date: Jan 2008

    Location: Winchester, Hampshire

    Posts: 303
    I'm Steve.

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    A bit like this then...............................






  8. #8
    Join Date: Jan 2008

    Location: Wrexham, North Wales, UK

    Posts: 100,312
    I'm AudioAl'sArbiterForPISHANTO.

    Default

    No, there are no valves



    Marco.

    P.S Looks very neat - not heard it, though. Oh, and can you do me a favour and reduce the image size? It's causing pages to 'scroll' outwith the available window - ta!
    "Count your age by friends, not years. Count your life by smiles, not tears” - John Lennon.

    "When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace" - Jimi Hendrix.

    Protect your HUMAN RIGHTS and REFUSE ANY *MANDATORY* VACCINE FOR COVID-19!

  9. #9
    Join Date: Nov 2008

    Location: Cheshire UK

    Posts: 198
    I'm Alex.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Marco View Post
    No, there are no valves



    Marco.

    P.S Looks very neat - not heard it, though.
    I am not impressed . An unscreened micro in the middle of a preamplifier speaks volumes.

    Alex

  10. #10
    Join Date: Nov 2008

    Location: Dartmouth in beautiful Devon UK

    Posts: 1,244

    Cool

    Any micro, anywhere in a phonostage, adds confusion and intermod.

    This week or next, I'll have 15 tested phonostages, may be I will reveal all??



    Dave

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