A phono amp that beats the MFA Magus's phono?


I've been using the phono stage on my MFA Magus for the last year and, overall, I like it pretty well, but I'm wondering if I could get more out of a dedicated phono amp. Can anyone suggest a stand-alone phono amp that would improve over the sound of the Magus's phono stage? I'm hoping to buy in the 1k-2k range, used.

The Magus is part of a small phono-only system that includes Wright Monoblocks (3.5 watts), a Rega P5 TT with a Koetsu Black cart, and Reference 3a MM DeCapo i speakers bi-wired with Kimber Kable 4TC cable. It's a small, sensitive, all-tube system that has a lot of air, tight but somewhat thin bass, and slightly etched-sounding highs. The mids sound nicely liquid to my ears. This is my second system, and it's in a small office (10x8) with wood floors and walls.

One possibility is the EAR 834P. It has volume controls, which would be nice, because then I could take the Magus out of the signal path altogether, since I only use a TT in this system. I've never heard an 834P though, and there are no high end audio stores within 90 miles of where I live, so my chances for auditioning gear are rare.

Thanks in advance for any suggestions.
klein_rogge
You won't beat the Magus easily. It's awesome. A nice Audio Research could be an upgrade.
Upgrading the tubes to NOS can make a huge difference too.
Grinnell, I've seen those come up from time to time and they've disappeared too fast for me to snatch one up. I also wasn't sure that they would best the Magus.

Newbee, I was thinking of a phono pre that had volume controls that can run directly between a source and an amp. I've read about a couple that are out of my price range that I think can do that, including the Aesthetix Io-VC and the Manley Stealhead V2. I thought the EAR 834P could do the same, but I could be wrong. I'm pretty new to the audiophile obsession.

I haven't done any tube rolling yet, and I don't know anything about tubes, but it sounds like that would be a good way to go for now. The Magus started making a windy/rushing noise a couple months ago, so I retubed it, which took care of that problem completely. I used basically the same tubes that were in the Magus when I bought it from its original owner, so this is what's in it now:

1 Electro-Harmonix 12AT7
2 Electro-Harmonix 12AX7s (Gold)
1 GTE Sylvania Jan 6DJ8

Would the Mullards be warmer than the EHs?

And yes, the Koetsu Black is an MC cart; I think it's output is something like .25mV, but I can't remember off the top of my head. As you probably know, the Koetsu carts are supposed to sound a little thicker than others, especially in the bass (although Koetsu lovers seem to debate this). I do think the cart has deepened the bass and made it stand out a little more than other carts I've used (Denon 103R, Dynavector 20xl).

I don't know much about setting VTA on my TT. I think it might be difficult with Regas in general, because there's no VTA adjustment nut (not sure what to call it) on them. I use one Rega shim between the tonearm's base and the plinth to raise the tonearm so that it's perfectly horizontal when the Koetsu cart is on it. Maybe that's not what you mean by VTA though? I know enough to know that it's a complicated issue.

Thanks again for any insight you all can offer.

Audio Research PH5 is very good. This might work for you as well.
First thing to do is get the impedance load between the cartridge and the pre-amp matched. The Magus has a nominal impedance of 47K which is fine for most MM cartridges but not for most MC cartridges which run best somewhere between 500 and 100 ohms.

Find out what the manufacturer recommends for the load of the cartridge. Then find a techie who will make a couple of male RCA plugs with resistors with the load values - then plug them in. You'll note the proper female RCA's on the back of the Magus right next to the Phono RCA's. That what they are for and that alone could solve your entire problem (well most of it anyway). And it is highly recommended in any event. Either that or get a MM cartridge. A MC cartridge with a 47K load will more often than not sound bright and thin.

Re tubes - I'm not enthused by EH 12AX7's at all and warm they are not. Unfortunately the tubes I use are practically unobtainable now. NOS Mullards should/could work well but are spendy. Before you go that far I'd buy some new production JJ's for all tube positions and see if that tone would work for you. If so at least you have a benchmark for further exploration if you want to fine tune it further. And these four tubes would cost less than $60 total.

Re VTA, save that for last unless you can find out what exactly that cartridge likes. Some cartridges like to be set up so that the rear of the arm is a degree or so lower than the cartridge. Another fine tuning thing - but don't get to anxious about it, as different records will sound different depending on their thickness, and how they were initially cut. Also the shape of the stylus plays a big role in the sensitivity of it to VTA as well.

BTW, I know some will disagree, but using a phono pre with a volume control is similar to using a standard phono pre with a passive volume control. Even though using a phono pre w/VC may avoid a couple of issues of the latter you still loose the dynamics that an active pre-amp will add.

As I mentioned before, this little Magus is a fine unit! Just learn how to use it. Getting vinyl right ain't a Sunday walk in the park :-)

Hope that helps a little bit.
I build the JLTi phono, which someone recommended - way better than the EAR in my opinion.

But I disagree with the advice about loading your MC cart with between 100 and 500 ohms - that will just suck the life out of it. Loading down a MC is a very poor way to shift the tonal balance of a system, better to find what is causing the problem than bandaiding it and killing your dynamincs at the same time.

Regards, Allen