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Thread: Are expensive phono preamps worth it?

  1. #1
    Join Date: May 2010

    Location: Vancouver, Canada

    Posts: 2,125
    I'm Alex.

    Question Are expensive phono preamps worth it?

    Inspired by a very good thread on expensive cartridges, I pose the same question regarding the phono stage.

    My personal experience is very limited, having tried just a handful of economy/midrange phono preamps. But even within those constraints I've noticed huge differences in the sound quality. I've currently settled on iFi iPhono Micro 2, and am quite happy with the tremendous improvement it is giving me over my old Emotiva XSP-1 phono.

    But now I'm wondering if going for some higher-end phono would give me a similar lift? Please chime in if you've had a chance to listen to some high end phono preamps, and if you think those can make a noticeable improvement.
    Don't you just hate it when you cannot detect where the post ends and a signature line begins?

    Alex.

  2. #2
    Join Date: Feb 2013

    Location: W Lothian

    Posts: 52,057
    I'm Grant.

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    think it can depend again on your kit etc, but I dont think, in general you have to go all the way to the top of tree for quality. one of those areas where middle ground is sensible. The firebottle for instance is about 500and does both types of cart well. MC's need a fair bit of attention sometimes due to the nature of beast, but if, like me your happy with mm then I would say stick to the 200/500 level.
    Regards,
    Grant ....

    I've said it before and I'll say it again: democracy simply-doesn't-work
    .... ..... ...... ...... ................... ..... ..... ..... ..... .....
    OPPO BDP-103D DARBEE - JBE SERIES 3/B&O SP1 - QUAD VENA 2/TWIN PRO MONOBLOCK POWER AMPLIFIERS - XS VALVE DAC - AVANTREE OASIS PLUS + LEAF HD BLUETOOTHS - OPPO PM-3 PLANAR +NURAPHONE HEADPHONES - ZBOOK/WIN10 PRO/AUDIRVANA 3 PLUS/TIDAL - SMSL M6 MINIDAC - RPI 3 DIGIONE/VOLUMIO - FULL RANGE TWIN TELEFUNKEN MAIN SPKRS/Q ACOUSTIC BT3 ACTIVES & CANTON SUB - P.INSPIRED MAINS REGENERATED.

    **Men are not punished for their sins, but by them**

  3. #3
    Join Date: Aug 2008

    Location: Suffolk, UK

    Posts: 1,359
    I'm Paul.

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    The ifi Phono is supposedly a very good phono stage and if that is the case I imagine that you are starting to get into the territory of other phono stages just sounding different. Whether they are better is more down to if you like what they do more than what you have. It can be a tricky one as what may initially sound very impressive might start to really grate on you in the longer run.
    ~Paul~

  4. #4
    Join Date: Aug 2014

    Location: Norfolk

    Posts: 394
    I'm Andrew.

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    Definitely! Having just upgraded to a Linn Uphorik I was astounded by the improvement over my former Lehmann Black Cube SEII and a Decade that I didn’t even own for a month before I traded it in!
    My System:

    Turntable - Linn Sondek LP12, Kore, Lingo 3, Roksan NIMA, Lyra Delos Cartridge, Roksan HDC-03 arm lead, Trampolin 2 base, Tiger Paw Vulcan, Technics SL1200G, Cambridge Audio CXC, Chord 2Qute DAC, Nordost Blue Heaven coax, Nordost SPM Interconnects, Nordost Red Dawn Leif Speaker cable, Red Dawn Interconnects, Linn Uphorik Phono Stage, Spendor Classic S3/5R, Target R1 speaker Stands, Soundstyle Hifi Rack, Sennheiser HD565 Ovation headphones

  5. #5
    Join Date: Apr 2008

    Location: Cheshire, UK

    Posts: 2,698
    I'm Clive.

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    I'd say the phono stage is more important or harder to get right in a system than pre and power amps. It's an important component in voicing and giving your preferred character to a TT. As said above, it's not necessarily down to price. At 300 quid I find this phono stage a great match for my London Reference cartridge: http://www.templeaudio.net/harmony.html I also love my diy valve phono stage for mono deck & records.
    TT 1 Trans-Fi Salvation with magnetic bearing + Trans-Fi Terminator T3Pro + London Reference
    TT 2 Garrard 301 with NWA main bearing + OL Encounter mkIII + Ortofon 2M Mono SE
    Digital Fanless i5 Skylake ASUS H110T Windows file server with HDPLEX LPS / Allo USBridge into Ciunas Audio ISO-DAC & Pi/DigiOne into Metrum Musette
    Preamp Hagerman Cornet 2 phono stage, John Chapman's Slagleformer-based AVC-1 into Transcendent Sound Sub Buddy
    Power Amp Temple Audio Monoblocks with Supercap LPS / 300B WE91 SE Monoblocks / Firebottle EL84 PSE
    Bass Amp & DSP Behringer iNuke NU3000DSP x 2
    Speakers 1 Bastanis Sagarmatha Duo with twin baffleless 15" bass drivers per side
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  6. #6
    Join Date: Nov 2015

    Location: Wolverhampton

    Posts: 7,866
    I'm Oliver.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Clive View Post
    I'd say the phono stage is more important or harder to get right in a system than pre and power amps. It's an important component in voicing and giving your preferred character to a TT. As said above, it's not necessarily down to price. At 300 quid I find this phono stage a great match for my London Reference cartridge: http://www.templeaudio.net/harmony.html I also love my diy valve phono stage for mono deck & records.
    I'd agree with this. It's harder AND more important to get that part right than anything else. The cartridge + SUT/HA combo will kill any phonostage if it isn't right then you have to get the phonostage right too. This has been the hardest part for me. Finally accomplished with a DIY Valve phonostage and the use of JFets instead of a SUT. no one solution is best mind you, that's all down to personal taste.
    Analogue: Technics SP10 MK2 > Phonomac AT-1010 MK6 tonearm > Ortofon Kontrapunkt b > Bigbottle Jfet MC Valve Phonostage (Telefunken Valves)
    Digital: Raspberry Pi 3+ With Allo Boss.
    Amplification: Nelson Pass DCB1 with Khozmo 48 Step Series Attenuator & Krell KSA100 MK2 Amplifier
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    Speakers: Pioneer CS-77A

  7. #7
    Join Date: Feb 2013

    Location: W Lothian

    Posts: 52,057
    I'm Grant.

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    Quote Originally Posted by magiccarpetride View Post
    Inspired by a very good thread on expensive cartridges, I pose the same question regarding the phono stage.

    My personal experience is very limited, having tried just a handful of economy/midrange phono preamps. But even within those constraints I've noticed huge differences in the sound quality. I've currently settled on iFi iPhono Micro 2, and am quite happy with the tremendous improvement it is giving me over my old Emotiva XSP-1 phono.

    But now I'm wondering if going for some higher-end phono would give me a similar lift? Please chime in if you've had a chance to listen to some high end phono preamps, and if you think those can make a noticeable improvement.
    That should be xps-1... ps they are very good but need running it a fair bit and respond well to use of battery power
    Regards,
    Grant ....

    I've said it before and I'll say it again: democracy simply-doesn't-work
    .... ..... ...... ...... ................... ..... ..... ..... ..... .....
    OPPO BDP-103D DARBEE - JBE SERIES 3/B&O SP1 - QUAD VENA 2/TWIN PRO MONOBLOCK POWER AMPLIFIERS - XS VALVE DAC - AVANTREE OASIS PLUS + LEAF HD BLUETOOTHS - OPPO PM-3 PLANAR +NURAPHONE HEADPHONES - ZBOOK/WIN10 PRO/AUDIRVANA 3 PLUS/TIDAL - SMSL M6 MINIDAC - RPI 3 DIGIONE/VOLUMIO - FULL RANGE TWIN TELEFUNKEN MAIN SPKRS/Q ACOUSTIC BT3 ACTIVES & CANTON SUB - P.INSPIRED MAINS REGENERATED.

    **Men are not punished for their sins, but by them**

  8. #8
    Join Date: Jul 2009

    Location: Hampshire, UK

    Posts: 2,562
    I'm Buriedunderaloadofturntables.

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    I don't think there are any hard and fast rules. I've heard underwhelming 200 models and impressive 100 ones, and can also recall a 3500 phono stage that was extremely disappointing, and another 3000 model that is still possibly the best I have ever heard.
    Adam.

  9. #9
    Join Date: Mar 2010

    Location: Sheffield

    Posts: 2,921
    I'm Simon.

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    Are expensive phono pre-amps worth it? No, absolutely not. But the value for money ones at the same price are.

  10. #10
    Join Date: Sep 2014

    Location: Tunbridge Wells, Kent

    Posts: 35
    I'm Steve.

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    I am currently demo'ing a Pass Labs XP-17 in my system. At an RRP of 4k you would expect it to be better than the Arkless 640p I was using before but I have been surprised just how much better. Everything is clearer, instruments well defined and separated, incredibly black background and great rhythm. I am hearing lots of new things in records I have played hundreds of times.

    I haven't listened to anything in-between these extremes so can't tell whether I can get most of this for a lot less money but certainly I can hear the difference spending more money makes. Of course ymmv.

    I am sure there must be a middle ground which I aim to investigate as 4k seems rather extravagent to say the least....

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