The German company AQVOX Audio Devices has produced an innovative moving-coil/moving-magnet solid-state phono preamplifier, the Phono 2Ci, that's as intriguing for its technology and performance as it is for its relatively low price: $1400. The zero-feedback, op-ampfree circuit uses a compact switch-mode power supply that's built into the chassis and features conventional voltage gain for moving-magnet cartridges via its RCA jacks, and current gain for moving-coil cartridges through the balanced XLR inputs. Rear-panel switches select between RCA or XLR inputs and offer a convenient ground lift. Either the single-ended or the balanced outputs can be used with either input. Unfortunately, the tight spacing of the RCA input and output jacks, which are mounted on the circuit board, will somewhat limit your choice of cables: Pairs of thick-barreled plugs will have difficulty fitting.
Simaudio's Moon LP5.3 MM/MC phono preamplifier ($1400) is silly good! It has single-ended RCA inputs and both single-ended and true balanced-differential outputs. It also offers a wide range of adjustments for gain (54, 60, and 66dB), resistive loading (10, 100, 470, 1k, and 47k ohms), and capacitive loading (0, 100, and 470pF), all accomplished via a series of internally mounted jumper banks. You can even choose RIAA or IEC equalization. Removing the top plate to get to the adjustments reveals boards filled with high-quality parts for the well-isolated power-supply and signal-handling circuits.
"Everybody's gotta get into the act!" Jimmy Durante used to say. That's what's happening with phono preamplifiers—they just keep being built, and I keep getting them for review. Up for evaluation in next month's column are new models from Perreaux, Musical Fidelity, Graham Slee, and a Chinese one, Ming Da. You can bet there'll be more.
Like the $29,000 Boulder 2008 phono preamplifier, the new Whest PhonoStage.20 with its MsU.20 power supply costs as much as a car. Fortunately for you, that car happens to be my first new Saab, which cost exactly $2737 back in 1972. The solid-state Whest costs $2595, so it's a few hundred dollars cheaper. But at only a tenth the cost, it comes closer to the Boulder 2008's performance than it has any right to. That it's good enough to be mentioned in the same paragraph should tell you something about how good I think it is. Nor did it come to me hyped by the manufacturer—it took me by surprise from the minute I first heard it. I began my listening right away, before reading anything about the circuit design.
If compact discs are so damned dynamic and vinyl is so dynamically limited, why do they sound just the opposite? Why do LPs sound so "live," so explosive, so "there," and CDs so dead? Even the best CDs usually sink to second-rate when you switch to their vinyl versions. I've heard it, you've heard it. Only those in deep denial, those who refuse to listen, don't. They'd rather read the published specs and consider the actual listening some kind of mass delusion among Luddite LP fans.
The $3000 moving-coil (MC) PhD, available from Chad Kassem's Acoustic Sounds operation, is a monumental achievement that, for me, sets new standards for the cleanness and transparency possible in a phono preamp—and I've had a lot of experience with phono preamps.
Audio Research's long-promised "final statement" phono preamplifier has finally arrived, and its price is $3500 less than the originally rumored $10,000. That's a pleasant deviation from the audiophile norm, but at $6495, the Reference phono still boasts a steep ticket. That's more than twice the price of the $2495 PH3 SE, AR's previous best—a class sonic act itself.
I don't know Gram Slee from Gram Parsons, or which House he was in at Harry Potter's Hogwarts School, but let me tell you: If you'd just been listening to a bunch of budget phono preamps, as I had, then came upon the GSP Audio Era Gold Mk.V, you'd think someone had switched out not just the phono preamp but your entire system. You might think you were listening to a different pressing or a different cartridge. How can this be?
It's not every Consumer Electronics Show that someone introduces a $29,000 solid-state phono preamplifier—and I miss it. The 2002 CES was one. My show report in the April issue made it seem as if I'd found out about it there, but the fact is, someone clued me in after I'd returned home. I needed to come clean on that.
The Manley Steelhead tube MM/MC phono preamplifier was first demonstrated at the 2001 Consumer Electronics Show. Nine months later, my long-promised review sample of Eveanna Manley's new baby was delivered. While Ms. Manley may have given birth to the audacious product, it was conceived by the company's chief hi-fi designer, Mitch Margolis.
This is an era in which products and websites are "launched," but in the past two years Herron Audio has sort of oozed its way into the public ear. With little visible promotion or splashy advertising, Herron is now spoken of within an ever-widening audiophile circle.
At a hi-fi show in Germany a few years ago, an audio club had set up a room filled with a dozen well-known turntable/tonearm combos. I recall seeing the Clearaudio/Souther, Immedia RPM-2 and arm, VPI TNT Mk.IV/JMW Memorial, Basis 2500/Graham 2.0, Oracle/Graham, Linn LP12/Ittok, SME Model 20/SME V, and some others I can't remember, including a few not exported from Germany.