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Thread: How good should a phono stage be?

  1. #11
    Join Date: Nov 2015

    Location: Wolverhampton

    Posts: 8,857
    I'm Oliver.


    Quote Originally Posted by ReggieB View Post
    The simple answer is try one and find out. I'd highly recommend seeing if Firebottle has a lone unit.

    Personally, I think cartridge and phono amp are THE main elements you need to get right in a turntable system. Those two make the biggest difference to the sound IMO. And as with most hi-fi, the only way to get the sound you want is to try a few different ones.
    Yup, can't argue that the phonostage can only deliver what's being fed into it. A good front end or TT and Cart will help you get the best results.

    Ultimately, the phonostage needs to deliver what the individual is looking for. I recently bought a phonostage that is heard at a bakeoff. It sounded great there but under closer scrutiny, failed to deliver what I wanted, which was insight.

    It's all about what you want. Most of the journey JohnG went on will have mainly shown him what he doesn't want and then you end up knowing what will work for him. That's what I did a couple of years back. I listened to everything I could get my hands on. Delved into the design and worked out that the phonostages that employed Feedback, didn't tickle my fancy. There are other things along the way which you start to hear or recognise.

    The only way to get to the destination is to take the journey.
    Analogue: Technics SP10 MK2 > Phonomac AT-1010 MK6 tonearm > Ortofon Kontrapunkt b > Bigbottle Jfet MC Valve Phonostage (Telefunken Valves)
    Digital: Raspberry Pi 3+/Allo Boss 1.2/Isolator 1.3 & 2x LPSU's with Volumio & JRiver
    Amplification: Nelson Pass DCB1 with Khozmo 48 Step Series Attenuator & Krell KSA100 MK2 Amplifier
    Cables: SPOTFIRE Speaker Cable & SPOTFIRE IC Cables & SPOTFIRE Tonearm cable
    Speakers: Pioneer CS-77A
    Price List For SPOTFIRE Cables here:https://bit.ly/2Uxiv3j

    Alternative reading: http://www.audioaddictsforum.com

  2. #12
    Join Date: Oct 2012

    Location: The Black Country

    Posts: 4,851
    I'm Alan.


    I have an OTP Mk2 available for loan with no obligation.
    This should give you a flavour of what an external phono stage can achieve.

  3. #13
    Join Date: Dec 2011

    Location: Denmark

    Posts: 33
    I'm Carsten.


    Nice gear you have gathered

    As to your question: "How good should a phono stage be?" It depends on how deep you want to "look" into the recording/music, your taste and wallet/ strategy.

    I have been through a lot af phonestages over the years and have ended up with a Phonostage which is generally considered amoung the top 5 available. Phonostages can make a HUGE difference, but the silly prices of today (when new) is a showstopper for most - myself included.

    So I advise you to have a look at the used marked and here are some affordable gems which I could happily live with:

    NLE 17/ DACT CT100: When released there were serious doubts whether a Riaa could be any better in the future - the constructor actually made a NLE 22 which was better before going into retirement. A NLE 17 goes for 350 pounds and up on the used marked.

    Holfi battriaa/batt2riaa/super battriaa: Made by a fantastic constructor and some of the most musically Riaa's out there. Sadly Holfi doesn't exist anymore, but I often hear that the constructor (Peter Holstein living in DK) still supports his products. A used Holfi Riaa starts at
    600 pounds.

    For both these phonestages one advise: Grab em fast - there are many takers out there and you can always flip them on if they don't live up to your expectations.
    Last edited by Nonnegativ; 01-01-2019 at 13:16.
    Amp: Ayre AX-7e.
    Riaa: ASR Basis Exclusive.
    Speakers: Harbeth SHL5.
    Turntable 1: Sony TTS-8000 with Terminator tonearm & Benz Ruby Z.
    Turntable 2: Garrard 401 with Jelco 750L & Lyra Delos.
    Cables: AN Qssc interconnects and Duelund DCA16GA for speakers.
    Turntable projects: The Voyd, Thorens TD-125 LB.
    Future: I will get back to tubes some day.


  4. #14
    Join Date: Sep 2016

    Location: Brussels, Belgium

    Posts: 126
    I'm Tim.


    Quote Originally Posted by bob4333 View Post
    It all depends on what "flavour" of sound you are looking for, as they all have different characteristics, but don't rule out valves - they're certainly not the high maintenance nuisance some would have you believe and they're definitely not lacking in dynamic range. And for "warm" don't misinterpret this as "soft" or "slow"...
    Only presenting my preferences after a real direct comparison afternoon session in a shop with my turntable and some of my records I did years ago. And I was going in with the intention to buy a valve amp... Came out with a solid state amp double the price of that my initial budget. A valve amp/preamp may not 'lack' dynamic, I agree but can't achieve what some of the better build PCB amps can do there. Different beasts on their own both are.

    So I presented my preferences and not merely some beliefs that I had still some 20 years ago. True ! Long time crate digger for records, I have always been in the quest of the proper phono system for my old MONO 45's. Without the funds, knowledge and or the elder advisers around on such phono matters, I struggled for too long with second hand DJ gear and alike prior. Later got my still now amp and preamp and later a MONO cartridge...

    So when I quote my preferences, I specify 'IMO' not to be 'judgmental' on others. Understanding that in the pure analog approach, the sound colouration are defined between 'cold' - 'neutral' - 'warm' and by the listeners in general as 'bright' - 'neutral' - 'muffled'. In real live comparison dynamic will only shine through the high frequencies evidently. These are evidently less present in the 'warm' colouration. And I acknowledged and respect that some prefer that.

    Quote Originally Posted by bob4333 View Post
    ...The direct answer to your question is that yes, they can make an incredible difference to what you hear - probably even more so than changing to a different type or make of cartridge.

    But it all depends on what you're looking for and what appeals to your ears. It's one area where you can't dodge the auditioning process and any self respecting dealer should be happy to give you a unit to try at home. I know the well respected Graham Slee used to do a postal loan scheme if solid state takes your interest.
    Indeed, a "poor" preamp can never do justice to whatever phono gear stands before and after it's position of the chain. It's the bit that is way too often overlooked (the integrated amp makes this bit invisible to the eye) and since some sell such minimalistic preamp PCB devices for little bucks, they can seem rather irrelevant for many to invest more than that. And yes, real direct test is the best way to compare any phono gear that suits one's ear best.

    Yet the real combo is not so much the amp and preamp but more the cartridge and preamp combo/match that is the key. The specs match for the amp is with the speakers and the turntable with the tonearm logically. That is why an adjustable preamp is no luxury in my experience to accommodate good to better cartridge accordingly and doing so by the ear instead of 'by the book' can prove impressive I have find as well. The preamp is the cartridge revealer !
    - Cart Denon DL-102 in bakelite Ortofon SPU 'G' type headshell
    - TA SME 3009 'Improved' converted in heavy mass with detachable headshell
    - TT Thorens TD160 'E' totally tweaked driven by an 'Eagle & RoadRunner' PSU & tachometer combo
    - Matts top to bottom: leather, cork, felt & 12" vinyl
    - Pre-amp 'Modulis' Isem
    - Amp 'Exampli' Etalon 2x40W
    - Speakers 12" Leak 'Sandwich' first generation creatively recapped

  5. #15
    Join Date: Nov 2011

    Location: Seaton, Devon, UK

    Posts: 1,705
    I'm Adrian.


    Quote Originally Posted by stairpost View Post
    Evenin' all,

    The only upgrade I might consider this year is a phono stage. It's more of an 'I wonder' thought at the moment rather than an earnest plan to make a purchase. So my question is, how good does a phono stage need to be to make a worthwhile difference? What sort of budget would I realistically be looking at?

    My kit should be in my signature.


    In answer to your question directly, as good as you can afford and what sounds best to you in your system. For what it is worth the phono should be as transparent as possible or it will colour audibly what the cartridge is producing, this in its self can imho be misleading as you can then go down the road of changing cartridges to compensate for a characteristics of he phono stage, others who know better than me and are more experienced advise avoiding this.

    From a practical point of view I use a LFD MMC phono stage which is well recognised as very transparent, however the current edition of this is not cheap, but I recently reviewed the Renaissance RP02 phono-stage mm/Mc for the manufacturer as they wanted some direct feedback and comparison as I have there monoblock amplifiers and are familiar with my set up. I found the RP02 to be very good and very nearly as good as my £2000 phono stage, but the Renaissance RP02 is 1/3 the cost. They do a loan service so I would try it out if itís in your price range.

    Hope this helps
    Listening is the act of aural discrimination and dissemination of sound

    Michel GyroDec (slightly modified), SME IV arm(special build virtually a V), Michel Cusis MC cartridge, Furutech AG-12-R4 High Performance Phono Cable, LFD MMC special phono stage, RaspberryPi/HifiBerry Digi to Beresford Caiman SEG DAC, Meridian 508 CD to Caiman SEG, ALLNIC T1500 MKII SET 300B amp, Vienna Acoustics Mozart SE speakers, Chord Epic speaker leads, & signature links, the Eccose Conductor CA1 cd to pre

  6. #16
    Join Date: Jun 2014

    Location: Chorley Lancs

    Posts: 3,863
    I'm Steve.


    I bought a Yaqin MS-22b phono stage as a temporary measure, and six years later I'm still using it. Although I'm happy with how everything sounds, I can't help wondering just how much the little Yaqin may be holding back. At £110 it cost less than a quarter of what my cartridge cost, so a change is on the cards this year, funds permitting.

    I'd love to be able to bring it to a bake-off so I can see how it compares with other kit SQ wise, but I'll have look out for others hosting one as my listening room is on the teeny-tiny side of small.
    Excuse me, are you the Judean People's Front?

    T/T: Inspire Monarch, X200 tonearm, Ortofon 2M Black. Phono: Yaqin MS-22B CD: Densen Beat B400 Plus; Headphone/pre: Myryad Z40; Amp: Audion Silver Night 300b stereo
    Speakers: Zu Omen Def. Atlas Equator interconnects, Atlas Hyper 3.0 speaker cables

    T'other system:
    Echo Dot, Amptastic Mini-1, Celestion 5's, BK XLS-200 DF

    Panasonic 42" plasma, Panasonic Blu Ray, Sony a/v amp, MA Radius speakers, REL Storm sub

  7. #17
    Join Date: Aug 2012

    Location: South Beds, UK

    Posts: 1,274
    I'm Mike.


    There are some extremely good lesser known Phono's out there that can happily run SQ wise with the big boys at half the cost.

    I am planning to downsize to an integrated amp / phono in the imminent future and my major concern, by a long chalk, is that I will not be able to equal my current valve phono.
    My kit, subject to change, frequently -

    TT: SP-10 MkII / Tenuto / OL Silver / Hana SL / AT33PTGII
    Amps: Denon PMA-850 / Marantz PM-4 integrateds and TVC pre / N.E.W. A60 power
    CD Player: Doge 6
    Music discovery: Spotify into foo'd Xiang Sheng DAC-01A
    Speakers: Kralk Audio TDB-6's and TDB-2's
    RCM: Okki Nokki 2

    Free George Lindo !

  8. #18
    Join Date: Sep 2014

    Location: brighton uk.

    Posts: 4,104
    I'm jamie.


    i was lucky enough to have a paradise phono stage made,its skinted me this month and ive had a very plain christmas. was it worth it? too bloody right it was!
    My System
    John Wood KT88 Amp.
    Paradise Phono Stage
    Sony TTS-8000 Turntable.
    PMAT-1010 MK6 Tonearm.
    Sony X555ES Cd Player
    Yamaha NS1000m Speakers
    Audioquest Columbia & Colorado interconnects

  9. #19
    Join Date: Jan 2013

    Location: Birmingham

    Posts: 4,667
    I'm James.


    Quote Originally Posted by karma67 View Post
    i was lucky enough to have a paradise phono stage made,its skinted me this month and ive had a very plain christmas. was it worth it? too bloody right it was!
    The Paradise is one of the best phono stages I have heard Jamie, very wise decision buying that as it is probably an end game piece of kit. Only Phono stage I have heard that beats it was Nick Gorhams but that was I think about £10,000.

    To the OP this should be what your aiming at.
    VPI Scout 1.1 - Ortofon 2M Black FGS - Croft 25R+ - Croft Series 7 - Spendor SP2

  10. #20
    Join Date: May 2015

    Location: London

    Posts: 53
    I'm martin.


    I used a Naim 32.5 for over 25 years till I took the plunge about 10 or so years ago and bought the Graham Slee Fanfare phono stage then upgraded to his PSU 1 supply.

    At the time I used straight through boards in the 32.5 was it better marginally some recordings I preferred the Naim boards.

    I finally took the plunge and bought an Whest Audio 30R which was a leap forward I had this unit for 3 years and I spoke to James Herriot who advised me to upgrade to his 30 RDSE model even with the trade in of the 30R was going to cost me £2.8K !

    Then read an article on the Paradise phono stage about 3 years ago by Mark ( YNWAN) and Simon Clark. I got in touch with Simon and ordered a Paradise. I’ve had the unit in my system ever since an amazing phono stage, a keeper. Simon lives in Sheffield and I live near Bexleyheath and he drove down to South Mimms service area to drop off the Paradise.

    Simon goes to great lengths in building these phono stages sourcing components matching them and his build quality is second to none. He still makes them to order but sourcing the boards is the headache. Should you be able to get one you won’t be disappointed.



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