Saturday, May 14, 2005

Phonostages, cartridges and turntables

I'll to keep this as on-going post concerning interesting analoque components - yes, I tend to buy analogue gear in near future.

John Bizar nailed it in "The Cutting Edge - The Resurgence of Vinyl" of TAS April/May 2005: "The reason that analog is so successful is because it's no longer commercially viable. The companies who make turntables and cartridges and associated stuff really build for the aficionado now." And then Garth Leerer in the same article:"The turntable is the barbecue of music: It's the process as much as the result, and that's part of its charisma." Very interesting roundtable overall, I recommend you to read it.

Phono pre-amps

In January 2005 Stereophile Rober Reine ("Mr. Budget Gear") followed-up Michael Fremer's review of Graham Slee's GSP Audio Era Gold Mk.V. "Mikey was right - Graham ... is a pip!" Interestingly he compared Graham with EAR 834P (re-tubed with NOS Telefunken 12AX7s) and Creek internal phono board. As for EAR he commented: "...exhibited more detail, air, delicacy, and body in the midrange than Era Gold...more detailed and extended highs...bass performance was a bit rounder and slower...". Nevertheless, recommended all three phonostages. Quite amazing bearing in mind how old design EAR is, but those NOS tubes evidently lift performance to another level, as do various mods (see AudioAsylum posts about EAR mods).

For their part German audio magazines have been quite enthusiastic about Clearaudio's inexpensive (€250) Smartphono.

In March 2005 Stereophile Michael Fremer gave very positive review for Whest PhonoStage 2.0 + MsU.20: "...was ultraquiet...the West seemed to equal the $7.500 Manley's dynamic expression, image solidity, soundstaging certainty and size, and, especially its ease and liquidity...the $2595 Whest ... is in my list of top 10 phono preamps...sounded remarkably similar to the stock (Manley) Steedhead, and costs a lot less."

In June issue fearing that he went overboard he toned down. "'s not in the same leaque than...Manley Steelhead, though some overoptimistic souls have read that into what I wrote." Hey Mikey, we just read what you indeed wrote ;)

Ken Kessler / Hi-Fi News some months ago found Audio Research's latest "affordable" PH5 Stereo Phono Preamplifier so enjoyable that he purchased one. Interesting points of this phonostage: adjustable cartridge loading to 47K, 1000, 500, 200, or 100 ohms at the touch of a button on remote control, and four 6922 tubes. However, Kessler found to his astonishment that different loading made a little difference with Transfiguration Temper V cartridge. Jimmy Hughes tested PH5 in Hifi+ issue 35/November 2004. "...sound quality is first-rate: smooth and tonally warm, but surprisingly detailed and very holographic." He also emphasized the value of included mono-switch. If you cannot afford a seperate mono cartridge, this might be the reason to buy this unut. Hughes also noted that change loading option "makes it simple and quick to tailor the sound to individual requirements" - read per individual recordings. Both Kessler and Hughes experienced less vinyl surface noise with PH5.


Sumiko Blackbird (MC, 2.5mV, $750). Fremer in January 2004 "...strongest points are its background quiet and the power, extension, and focus of its bass...threw a big, wide-open, very transparent soundstage." In March 2005 issue he mentioned: "I'd put the Sumiko Blackbird's overall sonic performance, and especially its ability to deliver solid musical performance (if not the last word in resolution) up against almost any cartridge at any price!" Stereophile 2004 Analog Source Component Runner-Up.

Lyra Dorian (MC, 0.6mV, $750) Fremer in March 2005 Stereophile:"...Dorian's tranparency, transient speed, rhytmic solidity, resolution of low-level details...brought an overall balance and musical excitement that I've yet to hear from any cartridge competing at this price". I wonder where that leaves Blackbird then?

Benz Ace L/M/H (MC, 0.4/0.8/2.5mV, €500) German magazines have given quite varying ratings, according to Stereo April 2005 issue at least L-model has been improved with quite substantial improvement in sound.

Shelter 501 Mk.II (MC, 0.4mV, €700) The Absolute Sound May 2004: "Let me come right out and say it: The Shelter 501 Mk.II is the best sub $1,000 I've yet heard, and for more reasons than I have space to hint at here." Fremer Stereophile February 2005: "I recommend the Shelter 501 Mk.II without hesitation."

The Shelter 901, in its part, won the prestigious Image Hi-Fi Award for best cartridge in 2004 - and those guys know something abour analoque. Image hi-fi might be considered as THE most serious HE-oriented magazine in Europe.


TAS June/July 2004 had an intriguing review for me as an owner of a 3D Seismic Sink. Paul Seydor tested Pro-Ject RM9 turntable with Sumiko Blackbird cartridge, on Townshend's 3D Seismic Sink (air-bladder-suspended isolation platform). He noted wonderful synergies between table and cartridge, and highlighted benefits having non-suspended deck on Seismic Sink ("was immediately struck by the transparency, clarity, and impact of sound." and "Soundstaging was quite spectacular...offers performance comparable with turntables costing far, far more...". I've identified RM9 as one of the decks I would like to buy, so this was interesting news.

Hi-Fi Choice July 2005 tested mid-level turntables, and Pro-Ject RPM9X (acrylic base version) was summarized as " terms of value, including its carbon-fibre arm, it's most attractive." The "winner" of the test was Michell's TecnoDec with the standard Rega RB250 arm - and TecnoArm might (should) lift performance further.

BTW, what most people are unaware that there is highly flexible top-grade silver internal wiring available for Pro-Ject 9c-arm. Has to be specified at ordering.

VPI has been intrumental in getting Nordost to enter into pickup-arm wire business. According to Harry Pearson in April/May 2005 TAS, he and VPI's Weisfeld were mighty impressed by demo wire, VPI even more so. All VPI arms in near future are supplied with Nordost arm wire (estimated price increase $100).

Pete Riggle Audio offers VTA adjustment on the fly adjusters for Rega arms, priced at $149. For details, go to Audiogon and search VTAF for more information. Think, now you can easily accomodate two arms with different cartridges (e.g. new mono offerings).

A stellar review for the Origin Live Conqueror tonearm in May 2005 Stereo Times.

About mono recordings. The groove of a mono LP is modulated only in horizontal plane, whereas stereo uses horizontal and vertical modulations, coexisting in 45 degree, V-shape groove. The left channel is encoded on one wall of the groove, the right channel on the other.

French Revue de Son had a fascinating turntable shoot-out in January/February 2005 issue. Among the group were the Loricraft restored Garrard 301 (RB300 arm w/ Incognito wiring + Ortofon Kontrapunkt A), the Linn LP12 (Lingo + Ekos + Akiva), the Mitchell Gyro SE (TecnoArm + Shure M97x), and the T+A G10 (SME M2 + Benz C10). Due to different reviewers reviewing different decks it's a bit hairy to conclude the overall winner, but all aforementioned decks were recommended by the magazine. My vote would be splitted between the Garrard (speaks to heart) and the Mitchell (rational decision). But ultimately I would go for Verdier's Nouvelle Platine: maybe not anymore the best price/performance ratio, but imagine that pride of ownership.

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