Long search ended: NAT phono is the one!


Well-Known Member
Feb 4, 2011
Since we have moved to a new house seven years ago and moved my system to a music room, I have been on a journey of optimizing my analog chain. I have changed everything, from turntable, tonearm to cartridge but found out that phono pre was the weakest link. The search for it was very long and frustrating due to many different reasons.

The search for the optimal one has taken 7 years. I have owned or extensively tried among others: ayon spheris, ch precision p1/x1, arc ref phono 10, 3 versions of thrax orpheus, fm acoustics 122, Dartzeel NHB 18mkii. But the more I have experimented the more I saw how difficult it is to get a real energy, transparency and organic sound at the same time. By gaining experience I decided to use external SUT (NAT XX and Ypsilon) so I was mainly searching for a phono pre with excellent MM input. At last I have decided for the latest version of NAT Phono Signature with nuvistor tubes. I was very exited and anxious when I have brought it home. After connecting it, finding the right grounding I put a first LP on the turntable and wow! First impression: very realistic sound. Lots of energy and drive, drums have real control, impact and speed, trumpets real energy, dynamics of piano great. After listening to it for 10 days I am totally enthusiastic about it. It is one of the greatest components I have ever owned! It is very musical, totally engaging. When you are tapping with your foot and nodding with your head on music you know something is right!
Timber is very natural, not based on emphasis on any part of freq spectrum, no fatigue. It is very controlled, but not in technical way.
Energy, presence and dynamics of voices are unbelievable, transparency and positioning of back vocals very realistic. Listening to live recording by Moby Reprise and Norah Jones Live in Texas is almost lifelike, dimensionality is breathtaking. Layering of stage depth is amazing, you really get a feeling of musicians positions. Music is everywhere in the room. My friend, quite well known speaker designer, said that he had a feeling the ceiling will explode because stage is so enormous. Guitars on Pink Floyd’s Time have a realistic sharpness and directness. Listening to Avishai Cohen playing bass on NuNu is really amazing: controlled, tight, fast but still naturally organic. The dynamics of the bass at the intro of One for Mark has enormous impact and dynamics.
Last evening we were listening with my other friend, audiophile who also knows my system very well and is in favor of more precise sound. He was floored when he heard the system! He said you just can not stop listening to the music, totally captivating, like a drug. We listened not only to a song, but to the whole sides of Norah Jones Live in Texas, Sera Una Noche,, Diana Krall Live in Paris. And this is the way how I have been listening to the music since I got Nat phono: to the whole albums, not just a selected song like too many times in the past.
The phono is very quiet, it is the quietest phono pre I had: almost no hum, no noise, thanks to many grounding options. Also noise floor (clicks, pops etc) of vinyl seems to be lower as usual.
All in all, the best phono pre I have heard. Will try some other combinations ( Thales Statement tonearm, different carts, Aries Cerat Ianus Monoblocks) but do not feel the need to do it. Just want to enjoy music.
My system sounds now totally transformed, on a whole new level. Concluding listening session now usually ends with - wow, is this possible? Wow, it sounds really good! Can not wait for the next session.

My system now consists of Sigma Acoustics MAAT speakers, Nat Magma New power amps, Riviera APL 01 se preamp, Techdas Model Two, Supreme Analog Tangenta tonearm, Hana Umami Red, Cardas Clear Beyond Phono x2, Harmonix interconnects and Boenicke speaker cables, different high quality power cables and grounding.
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A friend of mine has the original phono with 20 something tubes. Luvely sounding unit.
The new one sounds super good from your report.

Interested to know why you are only using the MM section.
Is it not as good as the Ypsilon SUT or more to do with the gain of 62db?

A friend of mine has the original phono with 20 something tubes. Luvely sounding unit.
The new one sounds super good from your report.

Interested to know why you are only using the MM section.
Is it not as good as the Ypsilon SUT or more to do with the gain of 62db?

It is a gain issue. In my understanding the internal step up has ratio 1:5 and 62 db gain is achieved in the output of the phono pre with a +6db switch, which is a neat feature and increases its the flexibility. In my system I need a bit more gain on the source since both the preamp and power amps are a bit of a lower side. I have felt that external 1:20 is the right choice for Hana (0.4 mV, 6 ohm internal imp) that is why I chose to start with this option. I will mount my Thales Statement, which came back from service in Switzerland, and try some carts with healthier output on this one in the next few weeks. I will also try Ypsilon SUT which has 1:14 ratio.
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Tbzc, just a point of curiosity, why did you choose the Signature over the Vacuum IN?
Good question. Have been considering both but decided for Signature mainly due to the following reasons:
(a) Spoke to somebody who heard both and he said that almost equally good.
(b) Signature is a little bit more flexible due to the +6db switch for higher output (important for me) and internal SUT with variable impendance.
(c) I have Signature version with nuvistor tubes. Probably same as in Vacuum In.
(D) Not really big fan of batteries in Vacuum In.
And there is also (f) Power supply of Signature is very good with high energy of 320J. I think this can also be heard in very good drive and control.
All good reasoning. I am in the process of mental evaluations from afar, and your comments are quite helpful as reviews are sparse at best. I found your comparison comments incredibly revealing as those units are well regarded and much more costly, yet you find the NAT to the best you've experienced personally. I have a NAT Single integrated amongst other gear and think it is an excellent unit. Thanks again.
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