Phono Stage Shootout

garylkoh

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Sep 6, 2010
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The Pacific Northwest Audio Society enjoys music through its reference system - a system that every club member knows the sound of as this is the system played every month unless a guest presenter brings a complete system. When guest components are showcased, it is the club's reference system that is used as complementary components.

Recently, the club upgraded its turntable - a Rega P5 turntable we acquired in 2007. A couple of years ago, we replaced the stock weight on the Rega tonearm with the Mitchell Technoweight and installed an Audio Technica OC9 cartridge. In the past 2 months, the bearing and sub-platter was upgraded with the Groove Tracer Reference Subplatter, and the belt was replaced with the Edwards Audio Little Belter from Deco Audio. The improvement was significant and substantial.

Thanks to the generosity of club member Peter Cheon, we also acquired a Klaudio Ultrasonic Record Cleaner.

The rest of the system comprises the Genesis I60 tube integrated amplifier (retubed with NOS tubes) and the Genesis 7.2f loudspeakers. This makes for a musical and yet neutral system with a large sweet spot to accommodate the usual audience of 20 to 30 members and guests. The club's reference system has to be good enough that members with substantially better systems they listen to everyday (like Mike Lavigne and Bruce Brown) don't have to run out holding their hands over their ears. Yet, it has to be sufficiently transparent for the annual "Live vs Recorded" events.

The purpose of the June Meeting is two fold:

1) Determine if the clubs current Acoustech Ph1 phono stage is a choke point in the system, and
2) Decide if we should pursue an upgrade of this component and at what cost.

We will be performing blind comparisons of different phono pre-amplifiers utilizing several preselected LPs. Attendees will be provided with evaluation/comparison forms. Attendees may also bring LPs and their phono stages to compare to the ones that the club Executive Committee have managed to source.

Comparing different phono stages in a system is relatively easy compared to other component swaps like amplifiers or turntables. The Executive committee will try and tune the system to “finest performance” so differences (and lack of difference) between the phonostages will be evident.

Hope to see everyone in the basement of the church at 7:30 on June 12th so that we can get your feedback.

Pacific Northwest Audio Society
Mercer Island Congregational Church (basement)
4545 Island Crest Way
Mercer Island, WA 98040
 
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Dre_J

Industry Expert
Mar 6, 2012
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Gary and the PNWAS members,

What are your observations from the event?

Dre
 

garylkoh

WBF Technical Expert (Speakers & Audio Equipment)
Sep 6, 2010
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Almost the entire executive committee turned up early to help with the set-up so that we also had a chance to try some AB comparisons to see if we could hear a difference ourselves before the meeting started. Even with two very different phono stages, the harder some of the members tried, the harder it was to hear any difference. There was a bit of panic as some worried that the meeting would turn out to be a great, big flop. Music comparison is a bit like Jeet Kun Do - the harder you try, the more difficult it would be.

Once the more experienced listeners told them to relax, and just let the music draw them in and to allow the subconscious to guide the conscious mind, it became much easier.

We listened to a familiar track to fix a listening level, then used a -20dB pink noise track to level match all the phono stages. It became very apparent that the more dynamic phono stages sounded subjectively softer on music, but had louder and softer bits than the more compressed phono stages. Because the amplifier used had a stepped resistor volume control, we only managed to get the level to within +/- 1dB. Specifically, on a Radio Shack spl meter, we got the -20dB pink noise to between 72dB and 74dB in the center of the front row of seats about 9 feet in front of the speakers.

There were a total of 7 phono stages (I threw in a wildcard), so it was quite an exhausting evening. We started set-up at 4pm and turned off the lights at 11pm.

The phonostages were.

1) Acoustech Ph1 (this was the club's reference having owned it for almost 10 years)
2) Musical Fidelity M1
3) Wild card
4) Z-Infinity Audio Phono
5) Lehmann Audio Silver Cube
6) Linn Linto
7) Thorens MM 008 ADC

Unfortunately, the best of these phono stages showed up the deficiencies of the club's turntable. :(:(
 

puroagave

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Sep 30, 2011
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sooo...what was the verdict? of the units you shot out I had a sutherland PH3d - more or less the battery powered version of the Ph1 - I found it a little 'lazy' and lackluster. I've also owned the linn linto, it was very good in the system I had at the time and still has a following with some Linnites. IIRC the linto only handles LOMC carts and has a low overload margin - I'm curious how it stacked up.
 

garylkoh

WBF Technical Expert (Speakers & Audio Equipment)
Sep 6, 2010
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Seattle, WA
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sooo...what was the verdict? of the units you shot out I had a sutherland PH3d - more or less the battery powered version of the Ph1 - I found it a little 'lazy' and lackluster. I've also owned the linn linto, it was very good in the system I had at the time and still has a following with some Linnites. IIRC the linto only handles LOMC carts and has a low overload margin - I'm curious how it stacked up.

The club's cartridge - AT OC9 Mk II is 0.5mV - so, the top of the range of the low-output MC, and worked well into the Linto. I thought that the Linto was very pleasant to listen to, musically warm and engaging. However, it lacks dynamics and resolution and the bass was a bit one-notey.

The club's Ph1 was also very pleasant to listen to and was best at hiding the deficiencies of the club's turntable.
 

mep

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Apr 21, 2010
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The club's cartridge - AT OC9 Mk II is 0.5mV - so, the top of the range of the low-output MC, and worked well into the Linto. I thought that the Linto was very pleasant to listen to, musically warm and engaging. However, it lacks dynamics and resolution and the bass was a bit one-notey.

The club's Ph1 was also very pleasant to listen to and was best at hiding the deficiencies of the club's turntable.

That's only a good thing if you can't afford to upgrade the table. You probably have members with killer tables sitting in their closets gathering dust. It sounds like the club table needs to be upgraded.
 

garylkoh

WBF Technical Expert (Speakers & Audio Equipment)
Sep 6, 2010
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We were actually feeling pretty good about what we had managed to do to upgrade the club's Rega P5...... until I put on the Prelude to Carmen on LP 3 of the 45rpm Clarity of this. It sounded like crap. May be we didn't optimize the tt for 45rpm. I put on the 33rpm version, and it sounded just as bad. *sigh!*

We'll poll members for a donation next meeting.

Carmen.jpg
 

MylesBAstor

Well-Known Member
Apr 20, 2010
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We were actually feeling pretty good about what we had managed to do to upgrade the club's Rega P5...... until I put on the Prelude to Carmen on LP 3 of the 45rpm Clarity of this. It sounded like crap. May be we didn't optimize the tt for 45rpm. I put on the 33rpm version, and it sounded just as bad. *sigh!*

We'll poll members for a donation next meeting.

View attachment 16120

There are just some records the lesser tables/cartridges just can't handle :) The small Rega/Rega cartridge waved the white flag on the Flamenco Direct disc at Axpona.
 

JackD201

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Apr 21, 2010
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I've been upgrading my front end for this very reason. It's a pity when the gear is the limitation particularly when collecting the LPs is the main focus. In a discussion I had with an uncle years back. I said it was akin to collecting books but not taking the time and care to get the right reading glasses. Ironically, this is the year when my vaunted 15/20 vision suddenly crapped out. Amazing how one can go from perfect vision to being far sighted in months. My LPs are aging much more gracefully than I am!
 

garylkoh

WBF Technical Expert (Speakers & Audio Equipment)
Sep 6, 2010
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545
Seattle, WA
www.genesisloudspeakers.com
I've been upgrading my front end for this very reason. It's a pity when the gear is the limitation particularly when collecting the LPs is the main focus. In a discussion I had with an uncle years back. I said it was akin to collecting books but not taking the time and care to get the right reading glasses. Ironically, this is the year when my vaunted 15/20 vision suddenly crapped out. Amazing how one can go from perfect vision to being far sighted in months. My LPs are aging much more gracefully than I am!

I felt the same with my vision - good thing that with hearing, it's experience that sharpens it faster than age can dull it..... at least at this age anyway.
 

mep

Member Sponsor & WBF Founding Member
Apr 21, 2010
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I've been upgrading my front end for this very reason. It's a pity when the gear is the limitation particularly when collecting the LPs is the main focus. In a discussion I had with an uncle years back. I said it was akin to collecting books but not taking the time and care to get the right reading glasses. Ironically, this is the year when my vaunted 15/20 vision suddenly crapped out. Amazing how one can go from perfect vision to being far sighted in months. My LPs are aging much more gracefully than I am!

Could be worse if something crapped out about 2' south of your eyeballs.
 

Johnny Vinyl

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May 16, 2010
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Could be worse if something crapped out about 2' south of your eyeballs.

Sorry to hear that Mark! I hope your wife is taking it in stride! :p
 

puroagave

Member Sponsor
Sep 30, 2011
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The club's cartridge - AT OC9 Mk II is 0.5mV - so, the top of the range of the low-output MC, and worked well into the Linto. I thought that the Linto was very pleasant to listen to, musically warm and engaging. However, it lacks dynamics and resolution and the bass was a bit one-notey.

The club's Ph1 was also very pleasant to listen to and was best at hiding the deficiencies of the club's turntable.

the linto was optimized for the klyde/troika carts (150-200uv), as you may have noticed there are scant few adjustments on this unit. to make matters more confusing, there's a 'square button' and rectangular button version, i forgot got which had the desired circuit improvements.
 

es347

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Apr 20, 2010
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Midwest fly over state..

Johnny Vinyl

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May 16, 2010
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JackD201

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I can think of another instance where only 2 inches would be worse buddy :p

Gary how did the Lehman do? They've always had a reputation for great value.
 

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