Aria phono preamp - Mike Elliot blog

Has anybody been following the VERY long process of Mike Elliot's development of the Aria phono preamp at

What are your thoughts?
I have -- sporadically. It looks very interesting on paper. The designer also looks very interesting, and his motivation to produce a super fine-tuned riaa is very encouraging.

The expected pricing, while high, seems to follow the retail cost of parts used (i.e., to diy it, were you to have the final fine-tuned schematics, would be more or less the same); example, a pair of Sowter step up trannies (used for MC 20dB boost) cost ~$220+postage. Precision resistors (the "real" precision ones) cost anywhere fm $4-10 per unit...

ASA I can tell, most of the tubes used a) are relatively inexpensive b) operate within a highly stabilised circuit, so tube rolling -- an expensive side activity -- may not be very important.

A slightly worrying aspect is the attenuator circuit being part of the riaa equalisation. This means the user must not tamper, touch, breath, or otherwise impact that circuit -- or the equalisation curve will be off.

Anyway, for anyone investing in a top-level phono this could be one of the options. On the down side, it's still in very small circulation (beta phase?); on the up side, this means access and interaction with the designer and flexibility.
Finally, if one considers some of the known "outstanding" phonos out there (FM Acoustics, Boulder, Aesthetics, Manley, Raul's equaliser...etc), the pricing becomes "reasonable".

Of course, all of the above is speculation.
Anticipating production to commence at the end of first quarter, 2005.

I've been following this. With all due respect, it seems like the guy is winging, it. I mean its good to get the detailed description of the design process, but reading the thing gives me the impression that its being done on-the-fly. Also, its going to be very expensive and I know he always says its cheap given the parts used, but even so, I tend to disagree given the description.

I mean, look at the volume control discussion, he outsourced the relay control logic and now is wondering whether the clicking noise of the relays will be a distraction...of course they click! (not clicking in the audio circuit but physcial noise from the case- you can hear the relays connect and disconnect) I mean I could have told him that before he spent all that $$ to have the board designed. And given the "sound comes first" approach, it is odd that he is saying that he will discard the relay vol control if its clicking noise is bothersome even if it sounds better than the switched attenuator. Plus, you can easily do a remote for the relays.

I've had his stuff, Counterpoint and the upgrades, everthing sounded great, but the newer items/ upgrades are very expensive.

So you asked what do people think? I think that its 3 years behind schedule (prob. wont see it till 2008), sounds interesting, and will not be cheap. But the guy does good work, so looking fwd to see what happens. I would not put a deposit on the thing...put the money in the bank/ invest it and by the time it is done you would have made enough for a substantial discount.

I wonder what people think about the amps that have been out for awhile now.
Great comments.

Southpark, i thought the noise was in the circuit.

I wasn't going to buy one since i don't have my table anymore. I've had a bunch of counterpoint stuff and was just interested in his process.
I have followed the Aria WV thread and have been quite impressed with the level of detail he has shared on his findings. And I was so impressed that I made a deposit for this unit in Dec 2004.

With all due respect, it seems like the guy is winging, it.
With all due respect, this is an incredibly irresponsible statement. Yes, like he was winging it 15-20 years ago with the SA9/SA11. Even the heavily-biased ARC fanatics had to concede that this was the superior preamp. And look at what they still sell for today vs. the ARC and CJ products of that time. Only the SP-10 has held onto any following.

but reading the thing gives me the impression that its being done on-the-fly
Interesting - nearly all engineering activities are done on the fly given a good starting design. And in this case Michael Elliot had such...........the SA9/SA11! As one stage is refined, it tends to expose opportunities to refine existing stages. The result is an iterative process. And this is clearly what is happening with the WV.

I see this as an effort to refine the product and try every available part before rushing a product to market. It sure beats suddenly having an obsolete product in 6 months due to a Mk II version with a capacitor "upgrade" that costs the consumer an added $500-1000 more for $50 in capacitors. And with such a process comes the need to ship the piece back and forth, risking damage, and having the music system down for 2 weeks.

And just as so many companies are throwing in the latest boutique capacitors, and jacking up the cost accordingly, Mr. Elliot has actually take the time to evaluate many of these parts.....and not for his desired coloration but rather, for neutrality. This is covered here.

I mean, look at the volume control discussion, he outsourced the relay control logic and now is wondering whether the clicking noise of the relays will be a distraction...of course they click! (not clicking in the audio circuit but physcial noise from the case- you can hear the relays connect and disconnect) I mean I could have told him that before he spent all that $$ to have the board designed.

Once again, it can be done like everybody else .... and suffer the same sonic degradations ......... or an innovative engineer can step up to the plate and make an effort to implement a new solution. Jumping to conclusions without knowing the facts does not make a lot of sense. Clearly even he was quite impressed with the outcome but is looking for ways to deal with the "clicks".
And given the "sound comes first" approach, it is odd that he is saying that he will discard the relay vol control if its clicking noise is bothersome even if it sounds better than the switched attenuator.
I don't find it odd at all. He clearly states that if he finds the sound annoying, he will not push this onto his customer.......quite different than the "take-it-or-leave-it" philosophy. And what do you suspect Mr. Elliot will do if he ultimately discards the relay volume control? My bet is that he will end up with a solution that still betters the typical resistive volume control network so prevalent in many products out there.

Plus, you can easily do a remote for the relays.
It sounds like you would be a great asset to the WV design team. I suggest you contact Mr. Elliot for an employment application.

I would not put a deposit on the thing...put the money in the bank/ invest it and by the time it is done you would have made enough for a substantial discount.
Well, let's do the numbers. For a price of $7200 in Dec 2004, a typical credit union rate of 3%, for 2005, 2006 and even all of 2007, the $7200 becomes $7867....or for a 5% rate, $8335. If you think this is a gamble, so is every deposit into a 401k account. Clearly enough of Mr. Elliot's customers know the potential here and have given him their support to do an all-out-assault design here.

And what exactly is the substantial discount? The Aria website clearly states the WV will likely sell for $12k upon completion.

Just look at the insane cost of line stages. The ARC Ref2 and Ref3 at $10k.........the top phono stage is going to cost you another $7k....and another power cable and another $3-4k in an IC to retrieve the capability of the two. The same can be said for any pairing of top-tier line and phono stages.

As an owner of the Aesthetix Callisto (2 years) and Io (4 years), I have found this combination to be unbeatable. But all the extra chassis and cabling has been somewhat of a hassle. I welcome the simplicity of the WV. And I will not be surprised if it far exceeds many of these $20k 2-piece preamps. In fact, I am banking on it!

Whoa there big boy! Just giving my impressions of the blog. I did not mean to disrepect the guy, heck I've owned and liked his stuff. It just seemed to me that he did not have the design very far along when he started the blog and that he is kind of doing it as he goes. Now this doesn't mean the end result will be bad, nor does it mean that the price is too high, nor does it mean to imply that no one else does this. And I said I appreciated his candor with letting us in on the design process.

I'm just giving my impression and that's all I can do. I wouldn't want to have paid the guy to design something as I'd rather spend for a finished product, but others of course trust the guy for something great (for good reason) so have apparently funded the development for a fixed price ...that's certainly fine too. I'm sure it will be a nice product (and expensive) when it comes out in a year or three.

I agree with your words! And I bet that Mr. Elliott will do a great job for our hearing! Mr. Elliott is a genius and in the past with every products he has done(from the simple SA 1000 to more complicated and sophisticated SA 11 or SA 9) he proved to be a guru in the hi-fi, hi-end word! And the others like AR and similar have only to learn from great person like Mike!
Mike.. God bless you and your job!
Jafox, you still there? I read on Mike's site that the preamp is ready. Are you excited? I was surprised that he's also coming out at the same time with a line stage version and a full feature preamp.
From what I read the ARIA phono will use a transformer for MC's.

That in itself will rule out a lot of people that don't like transformers in their phono stage.

me I'll keep my opinions open,

however I have yet to hear a transformer designed MC stage beat an active MC phono stage if you are using various cartridges.
Hello Kub, oh yes I am excited...very much so. I too was surprised of all the variations of the WV. And it was great to see the remote volume will be supported as this was one thing Mike had written that he would not provide.

The line-stage-only option makes a lot of sense for those not into phono and/or who may want a top-notch unit for a HT setup. A very cool design feature here is that when powered off, the WV defaults to bypass mode which is a feature I have been looking for over the last few years for my HT setup. With the TV occupying the vast majority of time with the HT system, I would not want to burn my precious WV tubes. I may have to get this version of the WV for my HT system too!

Downunder, I too have some curiosity about how the transformers will perform. But Mike did go through a lot of effort to evaluate many models, and he came away with liking the Sowters very much with the rest of his tube-based phono stage. For those of us who know his work in past preamps, we have a lot of faith in the possibilities with the Sowters. The noise vs. the dynamics vs. the spatial attributes, all of which people point out as the pros/cons of using step-up transformers, will be heard soon enough when the WV comes out. However, there is a 2nd phono input on the WV (for MM) and this opens the door for an external active MC stage to compare to the Sowters.

I have a heavily modified ARC MCP-33 that is all set to be used into the WV's MM stage to compare directly with the Sowters. Unfortunately the external unit adds great expense beyond the cost of the unit itself as a first-rate power cable (Stealth Dream or Dream State) and ICs (most likely Jade Hybrid) from the ARC to the WV will be far more $$ than the ARC unit itself. The modified ARC is magic but wouldn't it be ironic if the $240 Sowter pair outperformed the ARC and all its added fancy cabling and hand-picked premium tubes! I will find out soon enough.

John, when are you expecting to receive it? Have you gotten a photo of it yet?
Got it tonight. 8-)

Congratulations! I've been following the development on the website and had the chance to chat with Michael on the phone. I'm very interested in this product and look forward to your thoughts...enjoy!
Hello Jazdoc,

I am excited and fortunate to have the Aria WV5 XL in my possession. A landmark product like the WV will take 1-2 weeks minimum to get a handle on its performance.

When we put a component into our system, and something is immediately wrong, we know it. Truncated decays, flat presentation, severe problems with tonal coherency, etc., and out it goes immediately. But 5 minutes into listening to a new product and our mind is spinning out of control from hearing a level of refinement we never heard before, and we thought what we owned already was at the top-level of performance, well, we know we are in for a long-haul of evaluations. This is the WV. Seven hours for the first night was only the beginning.

There is much to evaluate here: the line stage vs. others, the phono stage vs. others, with or without the step-up transformers for MC, tube rolling in these two stages, etc. I am dead-tired of cable swapping so I will not even bother with this; the Dream State Dream Catcher PC and Jade Hybrid ICs will be left alone.

I have not written much on A'gon since the Gabriel Gold cables thread. It's a lot of work to write a review on such a landmark product as the WV. I tried this with the Aesthetix Io and Callisto Signature vs. the CAT Ultimate II over a year ago and I put a lot of hours to share my observations. So much playing with cables and tubes, night after night, it can go on and on.

When I read a Roy Gregory, Michael Fremer or Jonathan Valin multi-paged review of a top product, I can appreciate the significant amount of time they took to report their findings. And rather than spending all the time for that, I'd rather be up all night to enjoy the new level of performance the music now has in my home. But I am sure that I will have much to share by the end of the month. Most likely it will be with a handful of friends via email and then we'll see if I want to put forth the effort to document it all here.

Hi John,long time no contact,but no matter,I always remember a friend.Thats great news,looking forward to your thoughts down the road,enjoy,Bob
Hi Bob, yes this is great news. I am trying to enjoy the WV as much as I can the first few nights. I have read many comments that tube preamps can sound very good right out of the box and then they quickly sound horrible and then great again after 100-200 hours or so. So far, the WV is outstanding so I have not hit that "bad" period with 20 hours of play time and 20+ hours of standby time.

What is so cool about this preamp, line stage in particular, is its ability to support a huge library of tube types. The phono stage and line stage are typically suited for the 6DJ8/6922 tube family, but with a switch inside, so many others are supported. I have quite a stash of tubes from owning the Aesthetix Io/Callisto as well as several ARC, BAT and Counterpoint products since the mid 80s. But I also have tried out a few tube types I never owned before but purchased the last couple months while waiting for the WV to arrive. It is amazing how cheap some of these "oddball" tubes are on ebay. And one type tonight at $20 for five, really impressed me here. It displaced one of my favorite mid-priced 6DJ8 tubes by quite a margin.

The WV shows the sonic differences between the tube types to be the same characteristics as what I heard with the Aesthetix gear. However, these sonic differences between tube types are more significant now. I suspect it's due to the WV's greater resolving power. Some tubes are quite mellow with a most distant presentation and others give big and bold projection. So far the only tube that sounds horrible here is the 6H30...a quad that I had when I owned the BAT 31SE for 2 years. The stage was flat and objects were distant and muffled.

I own one coveted tube pair that is absolutely stunning in the CAT amps and the Aesthetix gear as well.....but their magic was most greatly achieved in the amps. And their stellar performance carries on in both stages of the WV. I lucked out and found another pair and will get those soon for the phono stage. And then all I have to do is repeat the process for one final pair.....for the line stage...once I get passed the "bad" period if it ever happens. But this cheapo tube that I got on ebay might just be the ticket for quite some time. Sure beats paying $200-400 for a pair of tubes!

It sounds like a complicated process but really it is only for 2 pairs of audio tubes. Mike Elliot loaded up the power supply with premium tubes that he hand selects for Counterpoint updated gear. I might play a little with one of the tubes but once I get the 2 pairs in the audio stages optimized, the lid goes back on and I can continue the WV's evaluation against other components in house.

Like Jafox, I received my Aria WV5 XL on April 14th. I have used the break in procedure Mike Elliott described in the user's manual on the Aria website. Mr. Elliott advises users to unplug the Aria WV5 from the power amps and then to plug the owner's CD player into the moving magnet input of the phono section. This all works just fine unless and until you forget and connect to your amps again. Could be a big noise. Anyway, this method seems to be working. I have about 80 hours on the unit and it seems to be coming along, getting fuller and richer than it was when first arriving, though it sounded pretty good at first, then sounded just a little less so just a few hours later.

Mr. Elliott's online user's manual is extremely useful. When I first got my WV5, I had no instructions for the remote control. I called Mike, he went onto the website and had something for all owners within a half hour. (Simple stuff: the remote only operates the volume control, the rest is useless ornamentation.) Other manufacturers should consider using online manuals. As a very small company, Aria is running way ahead of some much larger competitors with this innovation.

The 71 pound crate in which I received the WV5 was a brute to carry home but fully protected the preamp. Sure, you don't listen to the shipping crate but companies' packaging often speaks to the care they take in designing and manufacturing the product. If evaluated from the outside in, the crate speaks well of the product. Likewise, the appearance and finish of the product appear excellent.

The WBT 0210Ag connectors are somewhat large in diameter and a tight fit for my Cardas Golden Reference interconnects. I understand that these RCA jacks are the best available for sound but subject to quick wear on the plating. While these may sound great, they may penalize those inclined to compulsive A/B comparisons by exhibiting plating wear quickly.

As for the sound, it is too early for me to tell all that much. I will set the WV5 XL against my Aesthetix Io with two power supplies and Nagra PL-P to see which fits my listening priorities and system. While I hope to post some impressions here, I will give you early notice that my preferences are entirely my own and often not shared with those who listen to my rig. I do what pleases me and involves me in the music. These preferences make the "your mileage may vary" into "your mileage WILL vary." Of course, this does not stop me from bloviating on the website. It is, after all, the political season.

I leave the more exhaustive, highly valuable and more generally applicable evaluations to Jafox, who has been very helpful to all of us on Audiogon. Once he has a chance to break in and thoroughly check out some alternatives, I trust that he will share with us and we will all benefit.
Casaross, what's the word? I'm dying over here.
Hi Kub.....Michael Elliot has contacted his customers that he has provided a newsgroup page for WV users to share their findings with various tubes in the line and phono stages and power supply. This is a great great idea.

Michael Elliot wrote to me that the Voltage Regulator tube has a significant impact on the sound; and I confirmed this over the weekend. But I ultimately had to change two P.S. tubes to make the performance improvement workable.

I hope to finalize on the phono stage tubes and be done with this tube listening process for awhile. Once I have it all nailed down, I will post my tube findings in the Aria newsgroup as well as look to share the overall WV experience here on A'gon.

I have been burning in my Aria WV5XL using the method prescribed by Mike Elliott. So far, I don't have anything definitive to report; it's still too soon to tell. I need to try different power cords and tubes to really get a fix.
John, can anybody access the newsgroup? I don't see info about it on the site.

off topic a bit...i'm not so sure naming his company Aria was a good idea. Searching for info regarding 'aria' is a major problem, as you can imagine.
Kub, As I understand it, Michael Elliot has had much email correspondence with a few of his customers (including myself) on the issue of tube rolling the WV. I think he felt it was more efficient to setup the newsgroup rather than try to decipher and track all this information from emails. It's a great idea. I think that once a few of us finalize on our tube choices and do some write-ups in the newsgroup, he will collect this all and make it available as additional information for all his WV customers. I don't see this being of much value to non-WV owners but you never know....perhaps for those with Counterpoint gear that use some of these same tubes in the power supplies.
So people will pay big money to have this guy make the amplifier or preamplifier the way it should have been doen, before the company folded and the warranty went kaput?

P.T. Barnum was right.
A couple of thoughts...

First, I am sure that P.T. Barnum never met an audiophile he did not like! Absolutely, we are a generally foolish lot, I more foolish than most. Just ask my wife. If we were smart, we would all just get iPod Nanos and listen to devices that maximize convenience and reliability while minimizing cost. Maybe people get all juiced up about discussing those devices on a forum elsewhere but that is not the nature of this thread nor Mr. Elliott's attempt at producing a state of the art full-function preamp. I was interested in following Mr. Elliott's progress as he designed this all out attempt on the full-function preamp and talking to him occasionally as he advanced. It was fun to have a vicarious perch from which to participate in the design process.

Second, I have put the requisite 200 hours on the preamp using Mr. Elliott's suggested break in method of hooking my CD player to the MM inputs while ensuring that the output cables are disconnected from the WV5XL. The alternative is a very big sound.

Now that I have the hours on the unit, I am going to evaluate power cord and tube choices. I have ordered some Amperex 6DJ8s' for phono and line stages. I am eager to see how those will change the picture. Similarly, I have ordered two power supply tubes for V6 (6CM6) and V8 (5651). I may be on Social Security by the time I fully evaluate this and determine my preferences, but it's OK. This is a hobby and is supposed to take time otherwise dedicated to drinking and womanizing. (Actually, being an audiophile has insulated me from any significant risks of womanizing but the drinking risk may persist.)
So people will pay big money to have this guy make the amplifier or preamplifier the way it should have been doen....
The way it should have been done? You mean like the way ARC, CJ, CAT, BAT, etc., all should have done their preamps back in the 80s and 90s .... and yet continue to bring out a new "top-line" model every couple years?

...before the company folded
Terryn, please inform me of another engineer in the audiophile world who had some business misfortunes and yet came back a year or so later to support all of his customers, not only to repair failed products, but to work to improve them far beyond what had been done before.

Never having been able to afford the top-tier Counterpoint SA9/SA11 in their day, today I am fortunate to own their successor and at a much lower price. How many of the top-line preamps from the above companies cost less than their top-line products from a decade ago? Zero.

....and the warranty went kaput
Take note of the warranty of many of the companies above and you find that the warranty for your car is much longer.

As for PT-Barnum being right, as Casaross hints here, I suspect that in Barnum's mind, everyone in this hobby would be a candidate for his famous quote.

Casaross: Once you have found the tubes for the phono stage and line stage that work well for you, I would be willing to send you the pairs that work for me in these stages. You could play for a few days to get an idea and then send them back.

I too ran the WV through the burn-in process to achieve 200 hours, but I enjoyed the music each eventing. And after this time, I went through 20+ tubes in the line stage over a 4-5 night process. Many were eliminated quickly due to severe tonal non-linearities or flat presentation. But a handful worked out very well and a couple were extraordinary ..... neither of these latter two were of the 6922 family.

I soon realized that I could also use these top-performing tubes in the APL Denon CD player and it took that player's performance far beyond the ECC99 tube in there. Several concerns I had about this player were gone or significantly reduced by the replacement of that ECC99 tube. I am eager to hear soon from an APL 3.0 owner how this tube works in his player.

Concerning the PS supply tubes, the rectifier tube V5 makes a profound difference but when I changed this it showed up some edginess with the V7 tube. I had a couple different 6JC6A tubes and one of these locked it very well with the changed V5 tube. Going back to the stock pair for V5/V7 brought on a reduction of clarity. I tried a different V8 and could not hear a difference at all. Keep in mind that V8 is actually not a vacuum tube.

Once I get the tubes back from the APL 3.0 owner, I can bring the WV back to its highest performance that I have so far heard it, and then I will try out a few different V6 tubes....and look to seal the WV's cover for a long time to come. Perhaps we can share notes on the PS tubes in the next couple weeks.

JaFox: Since we both live in the western suburbs of Minneapolis, some tube swapping might be easily facilitated. I have ordered two pairs of line stage tubes and will sort through those and the PS tubes a bit. Once I make progress, maybe we should try to get a tube swap together.
Anyone with interest in this product should see the excellent review posted by Jafox in the "Product Reviews" section of Audiogon. John expended a lot of time, effort and careful thought in exploring the Aria WV5XL.
Guys, I own a WV5 XL and I love it! I have tried a variety of highend gear over the years, including the Aesthetix Io, various Audio Research gear, and the Counterpoint SA-9 and SA-11s, with the maxed out mods provided by Michael Elliott. The new Aria preamp is significantly superior in my opinion.
What is the story one these? I have heard that he is not allowed to sell with dealers and can only do mods and sell direct and can't really start a full blown company. This is what I was told by a former Counterpoint dealer.
Mike has chosen not to sell through a dealer network so he can pass the savings on to his customers. Mike lost the rights to the Counterpoint name and can never sell another piece of new gear under the Counterpoint name. Not true with his new company-Aria. So who ever told you that Mike can't start a new company is dumber than a box of rocks. Lots of people have lost the rights to their name for selling gear that bears the same. Think about Mark Levinson and Bob Carver. That doesn't stop them from starting a new company and doing whatever they want.