Made in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, USA, using where possible American parts, designer Bill Hutchins’ LKV Research Phono 2-SB has the kind of Japanese corporate name that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.
A second NuWave Phono Converter sample arrived the other day and after swapping the two back and forth a few things became sonically obvious. One is that the second sample was not as hard, bright and mechanical-sounding as the first one. And the other was that like the first sample, the second NuWave's lower midrange and bass were less than fully fleshed out.
On January 2nd analogplanet.com posted five 96/24 bit files, each containing the same minute’s worth of John Williams’ “Liberty Fanfare” performed by the National Symphonic Winds conducted by Lowell Graham excerpted from the album Winds of War and Peace originally issued in 1988 on Wilson Audio Specialties Records (W-8823) and used with permission.
This is a review of the NuWave Phono Converter's phono preamp section only. A review of the double DSD based A/D converter will follow soon.
Multipurpose products like PS Audio’s snazzy new NuWave Phono Converter offer a mix of great possibilities and possible compromises. In one sleek box you have a capable and versatile MM/MC phono preamplifier and an analog to digital converter through which you can conveniently digitize your vinyl—as well as any analog input you feed it— at up to double DSD resolution. All for $1895.
Norbert Lehmann’s Black Cube phono preamplifiers have surprised and at times amazed for their superior sonic performance at near bargain-basement prices. He’s been designing, building and upgrading his phono preamplifiers for nearly two decades beginning in 1995 with the original Black Cube.
The $399 iFi iPhono phono preamp first spotted at the 2012 Rocky Mountain Audio Festival is the result of a joint venture between ifi micro (ifi-audio.com) and U.K. based Abbington Music Research, also known as AMR. ifi micro also manufactures a fits-in-the-palm-of-your-hand 192/24 bit USB DAC, a headphone amp and a USB power supply but the phono preamp is of the greatest interest around here.
Back in 2005 I reviewed what was then the $1500 Jasmine LP-2 MM/MC phono preamplier. It was a two box unit with an umbilical between the power supply and the signal path circuitry. The 70dB gain MC input was commendably quiet and the unit sounded pretty good but I couldn’t justify the performance for the price.
The all-FET, class-A, B2B-1 phono preamplifier ($1749), made in the US by Liberty Audio, is beautifully built inside and out, and comes in a heavy-duty aluminum chassis with a baked-on crackle finish and a 3/8"-thick, black-anodized faceplate. The overall build quality and physical appearance suggest something that costs more than $3000, which is probably what it would cost were it sold through retailers and not factory direct. It comes with a two-week return policy.
The phono preamplifiers reviewed this month are both affordable ($400$1960) and highly accomplished, and the most expensive of them offers versatility that's unprecedented in my experience. Three of them are designed to be used only with moving-magnet, moving-iron, and high-output moving-coil cartridges, so I installed Shure's V15VxMR cartridge in VPI's Classic 3 turntable and listened in MM mode to all of them, beginning with the least expensive.
According to Parasound's founder and CEO, Richard Schram, the Halo JC 3 began as a phono-preamp retrofit for the JC 2 line stage, with separate small circuit boards for each channel. The smaller the board, the better, Schram says, so as to attract less noise than do larger boards, whose many copper traces can act as antennas.
This massive, two-box beauty from Denmark costs $60,000, and I wish I could tell you it wasn't really better in most ways than the already outlandishly priced and sonically superb Boulder 2008. I can't.
As long as you're spinning an LP for your listening pleasure, and if digitizing it at a resolution of 24-bit/192kHz is transparent to the analog source, why not record and store the LP on your computer at that high sampling rate for future convenient playback via iTunes or for iPod use, or for burning to CD-R? And, while you're at it, why not record the LP unequalized and apply the RIAA curve in the digital domain, where you're not dependent on capacitors and resistors that are imprecise to begin with, and can drift over time? With no drift of phase or value, the virtual filter's results should be better than with any analog filter. And in the digital domain, you can program in any curve known, and select it at the click of a mouse. Aside from the sweat equity invested in programming it in the first place, it wouldn't add a penny to the program's cost.
The minuscule electrical output of an analog signal from a moving-coil cartridge needs to be boosted before it can be converted to digital and equalized in the digital domain. Of course, you could use your current phono preamplifier and record an equalized signal to hard disk, but then you wouldn't get to experience Pure Vinyl's digital RIAA correctionnor would you be able to avail yourself of all the equalization curves provide by Pure Vinyl, of which there are almost too many to count.