Are You Happy With Your Phono Preamp?

I have been gradually upgrading my analogue components.  Which presently consist of: SME 20/2 turntable (old but good), Kuzma 4Point Tonearm, Soundsmith Hyperion (MI) cartridge (love this), Dynavector (MC) DRT XV1, PS Audio Stellar Phono Preamp (connected to ARC Ref 6, Pass Labs 160.8, Avantgarde Uno).  I have to say that I am very happy with the analogue sound from this system.  That said, high end audio being what it is I can’t help wondering if I am leaving some better sound on the table with the PS Audio phono preamp … though I know I should not judge by price alone.  I have been looking alternative phono stages:  the VTL 6.5i, ARC Reference 3SE, Boulder 508, Pass XP17 … this price range.  Those who are long experienced analogue lovers … do you think I am leaving any sound quality on the table by sticking with the PS Audio phono stage? Do you believe that I would see a meaningful change in sound quality by moving to a phono stage in the price range I have been looking at?



Thank you for these elaborations.

I understand what you are saying, but that is exactly how tonearms were wired to amp inputs before there were balanced domestic set-ups e.g. my first stereo system in the mid 1960s (balanced started in studios where they had long inter-connect runs).  So what has changed to make that connection pattern balanced now?  Note in this set-up the earth is common to both channels, no separate earth for each.

So with that historic pre-balanced pattern I am inclined to think the ARC Ref 3 is not fully balanced..  I was involved a while back here in a thread where a piece was specced as 'fully balanced' but posts were saying it was not 'fully balanced'.  Some while back I had some leads made up with XLRs on one end to suit my tonearm output and phonos on the other to input to a phono only phono amp.  Since then I have decided not to go that way.

I don't pretend to know the answer, but in an environment where some say so -called fully balanced amps are not, I prefer to see XLRs on both sides.

By eliminating the XLRs they once put on their top phono amps ARC may have lost a sale here as I decided not to dem it.

I used the top Stax headphones and dedicated amp when I lived in an apartment from the mid 1990s.  They were awesome. Even if single ended - I have no idea with that five-way single connector.   I ought to get them out again and have a listen.

@chilli42 spend now on software if you feel satisfied, looking for certainties of your doubts among the members of a forum is never a wise idea.

You'd need to see the schematic of one of these ARC pieces. It is possible to use RCA inputs into a balanced phono, and ARC may have done that on the premise that more than 90% of us end users will have RCAs at the ends of our phono cables.  In that case one phase can be on the center pin of the RCA and the other phase can be on the barrel that normally serves as signal ground.  If the cable uses two discrete but equal conductors for the center pins and the outer barrel, respectively, this would work OK. It is a bit odd that at the high price point they did not provide BOTH RCA and XLR inputs, if the internal circuit is balanced.


Even if the tonearm input is single-ended, if the ARC has a differential input stage, then it can be balanced from the point of input through to its XLR outputs. But it would NOT be a balanced run from the cartridge to the ARC’s RCA inputs - so not able to be "fully balanced" from stylus tip to transducer / speaker. Yeah, really I wonder why they didn’t just include an extra set of XLR inputs. It seems like the table to phono stage interconnect would benefit the MOST from a balanced run!!

As an owner of the 3SE it actually does irk me that it lacks XLR ins, but my tonearm cables are already wired RCA and OMG the damn phono stage sounds so good as is! That said, I have had some noise issues with it from a plasma TV in another room that might well be eliminated with a balanced run from the turntable? These noise issues only appear in High gain mode. When I use Low gain mode with a SUT, they disappear.

And Stax headphones are still wonderful today. Big fan here :)