A Tale or Three Phono Stages

Fred Crane

Industry Expert
Apr 23, 2020
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A Tale of Three Phono Stages
The Destination Audio Reference WE 417A Phono, the Synästec Igniculus and the Trafomatic Collins​



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(The Destination Audio WE 417A Phono Stage)

In the world of audio engineering, it could be argued that the phono stage presents the greatest challenge to the engineer. While a traditional preamp can require an amplification factor of about 10, a phono preamp can be well over 100,000. What do you get for your hard work? A component that by its sheer magnitude of amplification will show absolutely every flaw, even the thought of a flaw, for all the world to hear. How many times have you sat to hear a DHT phono stage whose bloom and space was stomped on by their concomitant noise.
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What we’re featuring today are 3 phono stages each with their own unique circuit design and pedigree. To my ears, any of them could be my last. One unit is single ended and tubed based, another fully balanced and tubed based, another still is solid state albeit a balanced octal solid state. Both balanced units can manage 4 different cartridges with their own specific cartridge loading and capacitance…so excellent choices for the archivist or analog committed audiophile.

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Synästec Igniculus​

If you wish to adjust for the correct RIAA curve beyond the standard, you may opt for the Synästec Igniculus. As Synästec’s site attests, ‘In addition to the standard RIAA EQ curve, the Igniculus offers three additional EQ curves for compatibility with record labels released before RIAA standardization, such as Columbia's "Six Eye", Decca/London's "FFRR". and the vintage EMI. The original sound of these historic record companies can be brought back to life by using the appropriate EQ curve.’

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The Igniculus has the distinction of being the quietest phono stage we have ever measured. (It should be pointed out that all of the phono stages presented today, have self noise factors below our ability to hear them.) The degree to which it stages and appears real, is only limited by the associated equipment. Of course implementing the octal circuit from jump to speakers is something truly special. We’ll have a sneak peak of a never before heard model of loudspeaker from Audionec this July which will benefit from the fully octal solid state amplification of Synästec.

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Trafomatic Collins​

The Trafomatic Collins phono stage was named for Arthur Collins, an American who held more patents than sharks have teeth. His brilliant work in transconductance, many radio, military and aviation electronics made this circuit possible.

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The Collins is a special order phono stage, so you won’t find much about it on the net. Suffice it to say, that along with the Tara 30A preamplifier, we find it to be at the pinnacle of tube amplification. The transformers are all custom, the tube stages completely isolated by their own suspended boards. It uses an LCR RIAA solution and two c3g-s tube per channel in triode mode. There are a total of 4 custom interstage transformers and a custom line-level output transformers.

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Destination Audio WE417A phono stage​

Lastly the Destination Audio WE417A phono stage is a re-invention of what’s best in a single ended tubed phono stage.

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It sports the best iron possible. There is LCR RIAA correction and amorphous interstage transformers. With that combination and moreover, the meticulous matching of every component and wire, we are gifted with one of the most gorgeous sounding phono stages to date. The SUT’s at the circuits end are themselves works of art. Do you like tubes and horns? Do you favor a single ended system? You could do no better.


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There you are…three ‘new’ phono stages for your consideration. Depending upon the synergy and topology of your current system, we feel that these analog giants offer an inspiring solution for spinning tip top vinyl.
 

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Steve Williams

Site Founder, Site Owner, Administrator
absolutely world class Fred.These look like the New Kids on the Block''Best of luck with this incredible line
 

Fred Crane

Industry Expert
Apr 23, 2020
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absolutely world class Fred.These look like the New Kids on the Block''Best of luck with this incredible line
Thanks Steve! Hope we can get you out for a listen. It's always a pleasure to confer with a GM70 lover. Maybe we can listen to some transmitting tubes too.
 

SOS

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Jun 20, 2015
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Very interesting. What's the prices of these beauties?
 

Fred Crane

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Ovenmitt

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Nov 21, 2017
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I'm going to be moving from Austin to Boston later this summer. Is it possible to hear these and do comparisons? I'd also be interested in learning a bit more about features and specs - where do I find this? Price would be nice to know too.... just sayin'. My EMT only has four inputs... I may need more, lol!
 

Fred Crane

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Apr 23, 2020
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I'm going to be moving from Austin to Boston later this summer. Is it possible to hear these and do comparisons? I'd also be interested in learning a bit more about features and specs - where do I find this? Price would be nice to know too.... just sayin'. My EMT only has four inputs... I may need more, lol!
Hi Ovenmitt,

Thanks for your question. The Destination Audio Ref 417A is $33k,

The Synaestec Igniculus is $49k and the Trafomatic Collins is $85k.

The Collins is specific to the end user, so it can be configured in many
ways. I'll follow up with specs shortly.
100,000x amplification is +100dB. I am not aware of any phono preamp with that much gain, nor why that would be necessary.
To quote from the Synaestec Igniculus page, '

'We've already set the highest standard in the industry with our ultra-low-noise Octa-Drive amplifier technology built into the Fulcrum preamp. While the amplification power of a line preamp is only multiplied by about 10, a phono preamp requires a gain of over 100,000. That's why we've spent years developing to incorporate Octa-Drive technology into a super high-power amplifier while retaining its ultra-low-noise qualities.

The result is the ultimate phono preamp with a breakthrough signal-to-noise ratio of over 105dB! The Igniculus is the only phono preamplifier with an efficient resolution that rivals the best digital audio technologies.'

With the lowest output cartridges ever produced, gain in a phono stage is a good thing...but what we're talking about here is the factor of gain compared to any other component in the chain of amplification.
 

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To quote from the Synaestec Igniculus page, '

'We've already set the highest standard in the industry with our ultra-low-noise Octa-Drive amplifier technology built into the Fulcrum preamp. While the amplification power of a line preamp is only multiplied by about 10, a phono preamp requires a gain of over 100,000. That's why we've spent years developing to incorporate Octa-Drive technology into a super high-power amplifier while retaining its ultra-low-noise qualities.

The result is the ultimate phono preamp with a breakthrough signal-to-noise ratio of over 105dB! The Igniculus is the only phono preamplifier with an efficient resolution that rivals the best digital audio technologies.'

With the lowest output cartridges ever produced, gain in a phono stage is a good thing...but what we're talking about here is the factor of gain compared to any other component in the chain of amplification.

It's an interesting product from the standpoint of feature set. But 100dB and THD <0.001 sounds like op amps. Is there an explanation of "Octa-Drive" available? The challenge with 105dB SNR is staying "musical", i.e. being able to avoid sucking the life out of the music. Many have tried.
 

Fred Crane

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Apr 23, 2020
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It's an interesting product from the standpoint of feature set. But 100dB and THD <0.001 sounds like op amps. Is there an explanation of "Octa-Drive" available? The challenge with 105dB SNR is staying "musical", i.e. being able to avoid sucking the life out of the music. Many have tried.
Thanks for your input. Natural to be skeptical, despite having an assumption lead you to a conclusion of something as yet unheard.

I can pull exceptions out of my hat all day long. (The Spec gear for instance...caps and class d making beautiful music : )

When Synaestec returns from their post show vacation, we'll answer your questions from the source. Still and all, listening is the primary arbiter of truth. My experience was positive to the point of adoration and investment. YMMV
 
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Fred Crane

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Apr 23, 2020
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$33K is (almost) not stupid money, and that Destination Audio Phono stage looks absolutely amazing!
I hope you can give it a listen. It becomes all the more beautiful upon hearing.
 

PeterA

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Wow no idea that Natural Sound thread had so much effect

Natural sound isn’t like the rest of Boston just like Austin isn’t like the rest of Texas.
 

Ovenmitt

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Natural sound isn’t like the rest of Boston just like Austin isn’t like the rest of Texas.
perfectly said, Peter….. I love it. I’m hopeful that I can meet you in person sometime soon. My great migration to the north east is about to begin. I might need to bring a little TexMex, BBQ, and deep TX blues with me…. Throw in a y’all every now and then, and I think it’ll be okay.
 

PeterA

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Dec 7, 2011
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perfectly said, Peter….. I love it. I’m hopeful that I can meet you in person sometime soon. My great migration to the north east is about to begin. I might need to bring a little TexMex, BBQ, and deep TX blues with me…. Throw in a y’all every now and then, and I think it’ll be okay.

Ovenmitt, I will be happy to host you anytime and welcome you to the Boston area. We can even go out sailing for an afternoon if you have any interest in getting on the water. One of my daughters goes to school in Dallas so I’ve been getting to know that part of Texas the last couple years. Let’s just say the cultures are very different. Both have a lot to offer.

Fred Crane is an exceptionally friendly guy and has an incredible loft north of Boston with some very interesting audio equipment. I’ve been there once and plan to go again after sailing season. Making the trip to his show room is well worth the time.
 
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Fred Crane

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Apr 23, 2020
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Natural sound isn’t like the rest of Boston just like Austin isn’t like the rest of Texas.

Ovenmitt, I will be happy to host you anytime and welcome you to the Boston area. We can even go out sailing for an afternoon if you have any interest in getting on the water. One of my daughters goes to school in Dallas so I’ve been getting to know that part of Texas the last couple years. Let’s just say the cultures are very different. Both have a lot to offer.

Fred Crane is an exceptionally friendly guy and has an incredible loft north of Boston with some very interesting audio equipment. I’ve been there once and plan to go again after sailing season. Making the trip to his show room is well worth the time.
Peter, Very kind of you to say. The space and systems have come together since your initial visit. We hope to host a few WBF open houses this summer. Ovenmitt, don't pass up Peter's offer to get out on the water and later be immersed in the Natural Sound Ethos. Both offer an instant perspective shift.
 

Fred Crane

Industry Expert
Apr 23, 2020
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When amplifying signal from MC cartridge the DC gain is typically 80dB (100,00x).
100,000x amplification is +100dB. I am not aware of any phono preamp with that much gain, nor why that would be necessary.
Thank you for your comment. You raise a good point. This from Walter Weiss at Synaestec.

'Phono amplifiers are, by definition, much more complicated than line stage preamplifiers. We need to take the RIAA equalization into the account. RIAA suppresses a lot of the bass in the vinyl during the mix. That’s why we need to apply a lot more gain in the bass in order to bring the frequency response back to flat. If you look at the RIAA curve, there is 20dB difference between 20Hz and 1KHz. That means at 20Hz, we need 20dB more gain, or 10 times more gain in the linear scale.

Speaking of gain, to bring a 0.2mV low output cartridge up to the modern 2V standard, we do need the gain of 10000 in the 1KHz. But in this case, the phono preamp will require the internal gain of 100000 in the 20Hz. This much of gain is always desirable but is very hard to achieve, because there is noise penalty and limited headroom. We are the very few people who have managed to make it.'
 

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