Phono Preamp Reviews

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Michael Fremer  |  Nov 04, 2017  |  16 comments
CiAudio (better known as Channel Island Audio) is an American-manufacturer of high quality, moderately priced electronics that you can explore at the company’s website. The PEQ 1 MKII is built to an unexpectedly high standard given its $995 price tag and American heritage. The outside is a sturdy milled aluminum chassis unusual at this price point as are the highest quality panel mounted Cardas™ RCA jacks. Inside is a dual mono design with each input jack going to an identically laid out, independent mono circuit, which helps to eliminate crosstalk.

Michael Fremer  |  Oct 17, 2017  |  16 comments
First let's all agree that these short clip tests are useful and fun but must be taken as "for entertainment purposes only."

For those joining late, we twice asked the question "Should You Buy a MM-Only Phono Preamp If You Own a MM Cartridge"?, each time offering "blind listening" and voting. The first time was way back in May of 2017 where you could listen and vote for one of eight phono preamps, some MM-only and some MM/MC running in MM.

Michael Fremer  |  Oct 08, 2017  |  20 comments
Way back in May AnalogPlanet published a feature titled Should You Buy a MM-Only Phono Preamplifier if You Are Using a MM cartridge. There you could listen to each and "blind" vote for your favorite.

Some were MM only, others were MM/MC. The point was, should you buy a MM/MC phono preamp now for your MM cartridge with an ear towards the future, or should you maximize performance with a high quality MM-only phono preamp, and perhaps later add a step-up transformer or head amp?

Some were MM only, others were MM/MC. They were compared here, and the results of the voting published here.

Finally it's time to fully answer the original question using a MC cartridge. However, there are a few changes (remember this is not a scientific test, but rather an informative and useful one that's also entertaining for some of us).

So here's what we have: we are using the Hana SL low output moving coil cartridge (.5mV output) mounted on a Graham Phantom III mounted on an Air Force 3 turntable. And again we have the following phono preamplifiers:

Music Hall pa 2.2
AVM P 1.2
Lejonklou Gaio
Lehmann Silver Cube
Graham Slee Era Gold V
ifi phono2
Musical Fidelity MX-VYNL

Missing is the Jasmine 2.5DU. Why? It had to be returned to the importer but of equal importance is that despite the online "noise" about how great it is, I thought (and most of you thought) it sounded mediocre and not at all competitive at its price compared to some of the others.

So instead, add the Ciaudio PEQ-1 (formerly known as Channel Island Audio). This is a $999 MM/MC unit that's made in America and is of uncommonly high build quality for the price point. It will shortly receive a full review. In the meantime other phono preamps have also arrived including the Graham Slee Accession and a few others. These will have to be separately reviewed or this "vote" will get totally out of control!

Added to the mix are two step-up devices: the original Hagerman Audio Piccolo, which is an electronic "head amp" that's been replaced more recently with the $279 PIccolo2 and the Bob's Devices Cinemag 1131 an $1195 step up transformer. Both units are shown in the photo at the top of this story.

So what you will be listening to are the Music Hall, AVM, Lehmann, Musical Fidelity, ifi and Ciaudio in moving coil mode loaded at 100 ohms and the Graham Slee Era Gold used with the Bob's step up transformer and the Lejonklou used with both the Hagerman head amp and the Bob's Devices step up transformer. The files are 96/24 aiff digitized via a Lynx HiLo A/D converter.

The music has been changed too. Instead of the Sonny Clark Memorial Quartet we're using a excerpt from an extraordinary Reference Recordings double 45rpm issue, Fiona Boyes' Professin' the Blues (Reference RM 2517).

Boyes is a well respected Australian blues veteran who I'm sure you'll enjoy even if for less than two minutes. This record needs and will get a full review. It was chosen because it is a fine Keith O. Johnson recording that will tell you about each phono preamp's transient response, bass extension and control and delivery of spatial information. The differences will in some cases be obvious, while in others more subtle.

Please keep in mind that the levels are not matched due to the differing gain and outputs among the participants so adjust accordingly and each track is not of the same length but they are close. Again, this is not a "scientific" test!

So here we go:

File "1"

File "2"

File "3"

File "4"

File "5"

File "6"

File "7"

File "8"

File "9"

By the way, the interconnect used between the head amp and step-up transformer and MM phono preamp was a very inexpensive cable (as in under $20).

So please listen and vote! And sorry about all of the hyperlinks but they should be useful!

Well Then, Should You Buy a MM-Only Phono Preamp If You Are Using a MM Cartridge?
Michael Fremer  |  Jun 30, 2017  |  24 comments
AnalogPlanet asked the question Should You Buy a MM Only Phono Preamp If you are using a MM cartridge? and then provided readers with capsules of 8 phono preamps followed by 8 unidentified 96k/24 bit files, asking readers to listen and vote "blind".

Michael Fremer  |  Jun 21, 2017  |  1 comments
Posted stories go to the bottom of the page and then disappear but the eight phono preamps compared story lives on and there's still time to vote for your favorite in this blind listening test.

Michael Fremer  |  May 04, 2017  |  12 comments
Here’s a comparison of eight phono preamplifiers incorporating a variety of features and ranging in price from $399 to $4500. The adjacent “vote” story includes files made using each of them so this write-up will not contain sonic comparisons. Those will follow when the voting closes. When that happens depends upon how many readers participate and how quickly they vote.

Michael Fremer  |  May 04, 2017  |  28 comments
Many vinyl fans using a moving magnet phono cartridge invest in a MM/MC phono preamplifier figuring they'll eventually get a moving coil cartridge. But is that a wise decision?

Or does it make more sense to buy a dedicated MM phono preamplifier now and maximize performance for the dollars spent and later add a "head amp" or a step-up transformer to use with a moving coil cartridge?

So here is the same excerpt of "Cool Struttin'" from the great 1986 Black Saint album Voodoo (120 109 1) performed by The Sonny Clark Memorial Quartet, which was Wayne Horvitz, John Zorn, Ray Drummond and Bobby Previte.

I chose this because A) it sounds awesome, B) it has excellent dynamics C) it is a good test of "rhythm'n'pacing", D) it has really taut bass, and E) the music is outstanding (someone should reissue this AAA recording along with many other Black Saint/Soul Note records).

The same excerpt has been recorded through eight different phono preamplifiers, a few MM-only and the rest MM/MC using the superb sounding Audio-Technica AT150ANV MM cartridge mounted on a Rega Planar 3.

The phono preamplifiers (in no particular order) are the:

Music Hall pa 2.2
AVM P 1.2
Lejonklou Gaio
Lehmann Silver Cube
Graham Slee Era Gold V
ifi phono2
Musical Fidelity MX-VYNL
Jasmine 2.5DU

Please download the 96/24 files and listen. Then vote in the order in which you like the sound. Also please post comments about which you preferred and why.

The prices range from $399 to $4500. The files are not listed to match the above order! In another story to be posted shortly, you'll find a description of each unit's features but not the editor's sonic assessment, which will only be posted after the close of voting in a few weeks (giving you plenty of time). At a later date, we will repeat the vote with the MC inputs of the units that are MM/MC and with both a Bob's Devices step-up transformer and a Hagerman Audio battery powered "head amp".

Here are the files:

File "1"

File "2"

File "3"

File "4"

File "5"

File "6"

File "7"

File "8"

Should You Buy a MM-Only Phono Preamp If You Are Using a MM Cartridge?
Michael Fremer  |  Mar 29, 2017  |  12 comments
Some may find it difficult to believe, but the new $2000 solid-state McIntosh MP100 phono preamplifier is the sixty eight year old company’s first stand-alone phono preamplifier.

Michael Fremer  |  Jul 26, 2016  |  37 comments
While the new iPhono 2 appears on the outside to be identical to the original iPhono, reviewed back in 2012 on analogplanet.com, don’t let the similar appearance fool you: the iPhono 2 is a completely new and vastly improved phono preamplifier—and the original was already plenty good.

Michael Fremer  |  Mar 23, 2016  |  32 comments
You might be skeptical about electronics products from a company best known for its mechanical ones but Pro-Ject’s extensive Box-Design electronics series has gotten rave reviews over the past few years. The company has assembled a skilled electronics team to design and build a full electronics line in both the analog and digital domains.

Michael Fremer  |  Jan 28, 2016  |  9 comments
New Zealand-based pure audio is a partnership between former Plinius Audio co-owner and chief electronics designer Gary Morrison and industrial designer Ross Stevens.

Michael Fremer  |  Aug 11, 2015  |  10 comments
Much to the probable consternation of Luminous Audio Technology, I’ve sat on this MM/MC preamplifier review for more than six months. I probably could have literally sat on the Luminous Audio Arion too, so solidly is in constructed, but I didn’t.

Michael Fremer  |  Jul 16, 2015  |  13 comments
With nearly 500 votes cast, File "A" received 23% (104 votes). File "B" garnered 54% (240 votes), while 23% of respondents (103) felt the two phono preamplifiers were either "identical" sounding or it was "too close to call."

Michael Fremer  |  Apr 02, 2015  |  5 comments
The Italian-built Tektron Italia Mono Phono preamplifier manufactured exclusively for Robyatt Audio is an all-tube design housed in a wooden box topped by a solid copper plate that serves as the unit’s ground plane.

Michael Fremer  |  Nov 24, 2014  |  9 comments
The compact, two piece VERA 20 Phono Preamplifier from MR Labs may look more like a piece of medical technology and less like high performance audio gear, but don’t let its plain looks deceive you.

It consists of two relatively small chassis, one containing the amplification and signal processing electronics and the other the power supply. The power supply chassis (which at approximately 6 pounds weighs 3 times more than the amplification chassis) is capped at one end with a beefy heat sink more typical of a power amplifier. The two chassis connect via a pair of multi-pin umbilicals.

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