Phono Preamp Reviews

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Michael Fremer  |  Dec 29, 2013  |  7 comments
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.

Michael Fremer  |  Dec 03, 2013  |  9 comments
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.

Michael Fremer  |  Dec 01, 2013  |  12 comments
Rega’s versatile $1500 Aria phono stage combines high build quality, flexibility and dynamic capabilities more commonly found in more expensive phono preamplifiers.
Michael Fremer  |  May 24, 2012  |  2 comments
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.
Michael Fremer  |  Feb 13, 2012  |  0 comments
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.
Michael Fremer  |  Oct 24, 2011  |  1 comments
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.
Michael Fremer  |  Nov 07, 2010  |  0 comments
Why bother with three phono preamps most of us can't afford? For the same reason the enthusiast automobile magazines cover the newest Ferraris and Lamborghinis: just reading about them is fun.
Michael Fremer  |  Sep 23, 2010  |  0 comments
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.
Michael Fremer  |  Aug 19, 2010  |  11 comments
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.
Michael Fremer  |  Aug 19, 2010  |  2 comments
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 correction—nor 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.
Michael Fremer  |  Aug 19, 2010  |  0 comments
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 correction—nor 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.
Michael Fremer  |  Jul 06, 2010  |  0 comments
Why bother with three phono preamps most of us can't afford? For the same reason the enthusiast automobile magazines cover the newest Ferraris and Lamborghinis: just reading about them is fun.
Michael Fremer  |  Sep 24, 2009  |  0 comments
This tiny, lightweight, battery-powered jewel is loosely based on Nagra's VPS phono stage that I reviewed in October 2008 but uses bipolar transistors instead of tubes. The bottom of the company's familiar brushed-aluminum case has a grippy rubber material die-cut to spell Nagra. It's intended to keep the preamp from sliding, but stiff cables will have the BPS hanging in the air if you're not careful. The BPS costs $2399.
Michael Fremer  |  Sep 18, 2009  |  0 comments
In an ideal world, I'd have every phono section I've reviewed in the past 16 years on hand to compare with these three and with all that arrive in the future. But because I have a life, I don't, and I wouldn't even if I could, though some readers (and one retailer) have insisted that that's the only way that I could possibly be of any use to them. Ha! And for those who are concerned that I've neglected the Manley Steelhead, not so! It's still my reference.
Michael Fremer  |  Aug 31, 2009  |  1 comments
I first spotted Audia Flight's exquisite-looking two-box phono preamplifier ($6100) at last year's Hi-End show in Munich, and now that Musical Sounds is importing Audia Flight gear, a review of the Phono seemed a good idea. I know nothing about Audia Flight or the designer, or what Italian audiophiles think of them, but the more time I spent with the versatile, exquisitely built Phono, the more I liked everything about it.

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