Phono Preamp Reviews

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Michael Fremer  |  Mar 29, 2020  |  18 comments
ELAC Alchemy designer Peter Madnick is well-known to veteran audiophiles as the man behind, among other companies, Audio Alchemy, the “high end” brand that during the 1990s made high performance affordable. With Madnick designing and the business side run by Mark Shifter—a guy who could sell ham to a Hasid—Audio Alchemy had a formidable, decade long run before it folded.

Michael Fremer  |  Mar 27, 2020  |  8 comments
Parasound’s $595 ZPhono XRM is a compact, versatile MM/MC phono preamplifier that offers flexibility and features not usually found at this price point including gold-plated balanced XLR outputs (and gold-plated single-ended RCA outputs), a mono switch, an 18dB/octave rumble filter and for its MC input, continuously variable loading from 50ohms to 1050ohms.

Caleb Attaway  |  Mar 13, 2020  |  9 comments
Pro-Ject Audio Systems is undoubtedly the king of budget friendly, entry-level, high performance analog components. A definite go-to for sub $1000 turntables and bang for your buck phono preamps. Founded in 1991 by Heinz Lichtenegger during the evil reign of the CD, they fought their way to vinyl success and made it!
Malachi Lui  |  Jan 30, 2020  |  4 comments
Last year Peter Noerbaek offered me a review sample of the Liberty Audio B2B-1 phono preamp. “I’m happy with my MoFi UltraPhono,” I told MF, “but I’ll try the B2B-1.” Not necessarily thinking it would at first make a significant difference in my system, I soon instead found that in terms of imaging, punch, dynamics, and sonic cleanliness, it greatly enhanced my hi-fi’s performance.

Michael Fremer  |  Apr 25, 2019  |  29 comments
For almost two decades now British phono preamp manufacturer Graham Slee has been designing, producing and selling specialized high quality phono preamplifiers. His latest is the $1449 Accession, an unusually versatile model that includes a volume pot, which means the Accession can be used as preamplifier to drive a power amplifier. If all you plan on doing is playing records using one turntable and a moving magnet cartridge (or a high output MC or moving iron), the Accession obviates the need for a separate preamplifier.
Michael Fremer  |  Apr 24, 2019  |  6 comments
Pro-Ject’s DS2 USB combines in one chassis a versatile MM/MC phono preamplifier and a high resolution A/D converter capable of digitizing at up to 192/24 bit PCM or 128 DSD (A/K/A “double DSD”). It’s a feature-packed unit that includes 2 independently adjustable phono inputs and a line input and both USB and optical TOSlink digital outputs as well as an analog output. An outboard 18V “Wall Wart” powers it.

Malachi Lui  |  Feb 25, 2019  |  26 comments
An Amazon search for “phono preamp for turntable” (the last two words theirs) will yield approximately 395 results, and above most affordable Pro-Ject, Cambridge Audio, U-Turn, and Music Hall phono preamps are those of Pyle, a company that makes most every kind of easily affordable product; hifi and A/V components, pro audio products, fitness trackers, subwoofers for boats, kitchen appliances, pest controlling devices, and even security systems! Pyle makes several budget phono preamps with the same specifications, including the $18.99 (MSRP) PP444. Two of Pyle’s preamps have well over 1,000 reviews on Amazon (mostly from real humans as far as I can tell), so quite a few people are buying these for their audio setups. Pyle’s audio products haven’t gotten much coverage, so I gave the PP444 a try.

Michael Fremer  |  Jan 14, 2019  |  15 comments
Cambridge Audio's Duo is a compact, attractive, lightweight (2.1 Lbs) low priced phono preamplifier that will surprise you with its solid sonic performance as well as its low price. It certainly surprised me! It also features a headphone amplifier so it makes for a great desktop or dorm room accessory.

Michael Fremer  |  Sep 04, 2018  |  12 comments
The Lejonklou Gaio MM phono preamplifier is as simple to use as Swedish designer Fredrik Lejonklou’s name can be difficult to spell or pronounce until you get the hang of it. The Gaio has been referenced in various AnalogPlanet moving magnet phono preamp shoot-outs but it’s never been given a stand-alone review.

Michael Fremer  |  Feb 24, 2018  |  4 comments
Phono preamps arrive here by the stack. It’s difficult keeping up. To be honest, Arcam’s rPhono arrived before the JC3 Jr. but here, anything with John Curl’s name attached automatically goes to the head of the queue, especially considering the Jr.’s remarkable $1495 price.

Michael Fremer  |  Feb 24, 2018  |  14 comments
First released in 2010, Parasound’s JC 3 MM/MC phono preamplifier began as a dual-mono John Curl-designed phono section retro-fit for its JC2 line stage. With vinyl’s popularity on the rise, Parasound’s Richard Schram figured a stand-alone version priced right might find an audience.

Michael Fremer  |  Nov 04, 2017  |  17 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  |  17 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  |  21 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".

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