Audio Research PH6 Phono Stage - How is it?

I know most of Audio Research stuff is top end with little complaints about anything they make. I like tube gear and have more of a preference for the tube sound but looking for a phono stage with little noise. I know the PH8 reference phono stage is a true reference standard but way out of my price range. So that brings me to the PH6, which retails for around $3,500. Not too many reviews on this one and hasn't been compared to other phono stages at a similar price point. There are some good competition at this price, especially the Herron VTPH2, which is also a great phono stage. Does anyone have any information about the PH6?

My current system is Primaluna Dialogue HP Integrated Amp, VPI Prime turntable, Ortofon Quintet Black MC cartridge, Sonus Faber Olympica III speakers. Much appreciation!
Djfst, you have have very nice system. What are you using for a phono currently?
There are fans here of the Herron and Aesthetix, both good choices.
In your price range, I would also look at the other suspects-Cary,Rogue,Manley.
You're going to have some noise regardless of brand. My Fosgate(tubed) is very quiet. Unless I crank my PL HP past midway, and put my ear next to the speaker, I don't hear the inherent tube noise ALL units have to some degree. Figure you're going to want to switch the stock tubes regardless what you end up with, which will bring the noise level down a bit depending on what is supplied stock.
You may want to audition the Aurorasound Vida Phono as well in this price range. This is not a tube pre but has many tube qualities with very little, if any, noise. The midrange is very unique and addictive!
Using a Dynavector Xvs-1 cartridge on a full spec LP12.

I am not sure how well the PH6 works with moving coil cartridges. My dealer (who does not have either a PH6 or PH8 on demo) suggested I would be happier with a PH8 for a moving coil cartridge.

For what it's worth, I also have a Fosgate Signature phono stage and I am very happy with it. It is very quiet and easy to adjust. I have thought about the PH8. The rest of my system is all ARC. But at this point I would need to hear one in my system and compare it to the Fosgate.
I've been reading some of your threads, and what you're attempting to do is very risky. I know that you are new to high end audio, but going by reviews and opinions is not good enough. Generally speaking, as you go up the ladder with high end components, they become more detailed and specialized. And that makes them much more difficult to match. If you want to be successful, this is something you have to do yourself. Components don't always sound like they say they do in the magazines.

I won't tell you what to do, but I would recommend that you take your time, and not rush into anything.
Zd542, not sure what people in my position are to do. If you don't have any local audio shops to listen in person or demo, cannot bring stuff home on a loan, what else do you do but ask in forums, read reviews, talk to stores/reps over the phone who are familiar with your system, and then buy? I hear what you're saying though, but I don't' see how else to match. You could buy cheap stuff first, but I would still be in the same boat trying to match stuff I've never heard in my actual system. This is a major problem in high end audio without brook and mortar stores.
Hi I haven't herd it.Guarrenteed to be a winner..
One thing to keep in mind is ease of tube rolling. Very often, changing out generic new tubes with high quality old tubes can lift the performance of an amp and even change the way the amp sounds.
Any phono stages under consideration need(s) to have a head-to-head with a Herron VTPH-2. In my experience, at that price point, the Herron beats every other phono stage. Also, IMO, the Herron competes favorably with any other phono stage regardless of price.

So my suggestion is to make that comparison. I'd call Keith Herron to investigate what arrangements he might be able to make to let you make that comparison in your system.
If you really want a great "world class" tubed phono stage. You should seriously consider the Manley Labs Chinook or Stingray!
I had a ph-5 and listened to the 6. I could hardly tell the difference. I borrowed a Zesto phono pre-amp and it blew away the 5. I sold the 5 and bought the Zestos. I am very happy with it. I also like the fact it is made 30 minutes from my house if I ever have a problem with it. I have never heard the Herron or Manley so I can't comment on them.
Another tube phono stage is the EAR 834, which retails for under $2,000. Not sure how this compares with the others in this thread, but it certainly is the cheapest. Any comments on this? Taters, I will look into the Zesto as well. Thanks for the input.

Zd542 makes a valid point. Before you purchase any piece of new equipment, assuming no local dealer, I would contact the manufacturer directly and ask if there is a dealer in their network that would give you a 30-45 day audition period during which you could return the equipment for a full refund if the unit doesn't perform to your satisfaction. Does The Cable Company carry any equipment you are interested in?

I agree is it definitely one way to go. However, I am building my system from the ground up so there is so many moving parts that it would be difficult to see what is improving or not. You have to make some purchases at the beginning at least. i am not to concerned about choosing the "perfect system" as there is no such thing. There may be even a couple of components that are better than what I have, but not going to get too stressed about it. I am just using the forum to gain more understanding on products. When i do go to demo them or get a loaner, at least I'll have a narrowed down list of what I think I may like. There are so many global manufacturers nowadays and so many different models that I just want to find out more about them from people who have more experience. I think others would benefit from the forum questions and comments as well. From these forums, I was able to eliminate a lot of products after hearing more about and knew they weren't for my tastes. I have demoed everything I've purchased thus far (when I travel I research nearby audio shops), so I hope it is realized I am not just ordering random things blindly.
I compared the herron head to head against the zesto and the rhea signature and it was better by no small margin. I would think the EAR to be a good choice if you wanted to keep the cost down.
The somewhat low efficiency of your speakers (about 85 db at 1 meter on a per watt basis, which can be inferred from the measurements here), in combination with the 0.3 mv rated output of your cartridge and the approximately 0.32 volt sensitivity of your integrated amp, raises some concern in my mind about the adequacy of the 58 db gain of the PH6. Particularly if you are using the amp in triode mode, and particularly if your listening includes material having wide dynamic range (i.e., a wide DIFFERENCE in volume between the loudest and the softest notes, such as many classical symphonic recordings).

Under those circumstances I suspect that you would be using the amp's volume control roughly in the 3 to 4 o'clock position (assuming the min and max positions of the control are at roughly 7 and 5 o'clock, respectively). Which raises concerns not only with respect to noise generated by the phono stage, but perhaps also with respect to noise generated by the integrated amp.

What I'd suggest at this point is that with no music playing you turn up the volume control to the point where noise levels become objectionable, and let us know the corresponding position of the control. Also, let us know if you are using triode or ultralinear mode, and if your listening includes material having particularly wide dynamic range.

Good luck. Regards,
-- Al
"08-05-15: Djfst
Zd542, not sure what people in my position are to do. If you don't have any local audio shops to listen in person or demo, cannot bring stuff home on a loan, what else do you do but ask in forums, read reviews, talk to stores/reps over the phone who are familiar with your system, and then buy? I hear what you're saying though, but I don't' see how else to match. You could buy cheap stuff first, but I would still be in the same boat trying to match stuff I've never heard in my actual system. This is a major problem in high end audio without brook and mortar stores. "

Sorry. I just saw your reply.

I understand your points. They make perfect sense. That said, high end audio doesn't always make sense. I know that you're just getting started and want good stuff, but you're doing way too much all at once. If you continue going down this path, you'll most likely make some very expensive mistakes. One thing that new audiohiles almost never pick up on is performance vs price. Generally speaking, as the price/performance of components rise, the more difficult it is to get good sound. I know this sounds counterintuitive, but its true. High resolution components are not forgiving. If you're new, its much easier to take $5k and build a good soundind system than $25k. So looking at your statement about how you'll be in the same boat if you go with cheap or expensive gear, yes, it seems to make sense on paper, but it won't hold up in reality. You have absolutely no frame of reference by which to judge anything you buy.

I'll give you a couple of examples. Take this thread about the ARC PH6. When it comes to signal transfer, the lower the voltage, the more delicate the signal. That's why preamps/phono pre's tend to be expensive. Your Quintet Black has an output voltage of .3mv. I don't know if its such a good idea to match it with a mid line SE tube phono pre that has only 1 gain setting of 57db. To me, a demo is a must just to see if the combo will even work properly, let alone sound good.

Another example would be cables. I see your other posts on what Nordost cables to buy. Understand this: There's no guarantee that either one of those IC's will sound as good as the free cables they give you in the box that come with components. Sometimes the free cables sound better.

I could keep going on with more examples, but I think I've given enough info to make my point.
I appreciate your response, Zd542. I can see exactly what you mean. My own major purchases have been components I've heard together and really liked. I don't like an over ally clinical sound that gives a great musical presentation for 10 minutes but it is not something I could listen to for hours or months or even years. I knew tube gear what I wanted and the Sonus Faber match that warm sweet midrange I favor so much in vocals and my music genres. I similar read that the PH6 and other Audio Research phono stages are not good for low output MC cartridges. I've always favored the Herron as the tubes can be changed easily to give up to 69db gain, which should be plenty. Cabling is another story. I will follow your advice and demo some cabling starting low in the Nordost and Cardas lines and work my way up. I will then see what I like and see if I can get cables to audition in my specific system before making any decisions. Perhaps your point is why so many items are on the Audiogon Classifieds?
Zd542 has given you some sage advice. One idea is to make contact with posters whose systems and music tastes appear similar to yours, and ask if they are up to a visit from you. Spending a bit of time and cash on travel may save you from expensive mistakes and disappointment. Seasoned listeners have likely travelled the less ideal roads you hope to avoid, and they can explain them to you during your visits. Good luck.
I used to have the 834p. It was a great phono pre-amp for the money. The only thing is when I owned it, it cost 1295.00. At the 2000.00 range you might find something better.
What are ARC PH-7's and 7-SE's going for these days on the used market? I've had both in my system for lengthy periods of time. The "SE" is better than the non-upgraded one, but both were very musical. Using the PH-8 now, and its killer. these phono stages work best with cartridge outputs of between .4 Mv and .8 Mv.
I hope my answer will give you the answer that you are seeking. First I would like to say that lots of people will tell you that magazines and peoples personal opinions that are not based on statistic data are baseless and useless. This is not entirely true. This thread goes on to give you a baseline point of reference to eliminate or narrow down choices. I use dealers, magazines, forums, YouTube and what ever reference point that is available to me, but yes the final decision is yours and I don’t believe you are asking anyone to make that one for you. I have had the Audio Research PH6 and currently own the Audio Research PH8.

My equipment: VPI HW-19 MK IV with Van den Hul Frog Gold, and a SME 309 Tone Arm, Vandersteen 2ce Signatures II, Vandersteen 2wq sub and Vandersteen 5hp Crossovers, Marantz NA-7005 Streamer, Audio Research Vt100 MKIII, Audio Research LS-17se, Audio Research DAC-8, Audio Research CD2 and yes the Audio Research PH8. My local dealer allowed me to use his PH6, which was a demo with no hours on it and I racked up 320 hours in a two week period, a lot of that was leaving it on all day and night. The PH6 is a very good phono stage with very little noise and the only way to hear the noise is to crank up the system over 75 percent and put your ears next to the speakers. The PH6 is a very detailed phono preamp allowing you to hear a lot more than you think is on the record. The PH6 doesn’t get hot and has a mono button and is the same size as a PH8 and LS-17se. The PH6 uses two 6h30s and the PH8 uses three 6h30 and a 6550.

The PH8 is even more detailed than the PH6. My dealer allowed me to use his personal PH8 that had 1700 hours on the tubes and I was blown away when I returned the PH6 to him. The dealer told me that mine, which would be new wouldn’t sound as good due to burn in, but upon receiving it, I thought it sounded very good and better that the PH6. As you go up the ARC line at least with the phono preamps, you get more and more detail. I have about 115 hours in and ARC says on the box to allow 600 hours before doing any serious listening. Here are the negatives after doing research and using two sources: ARC and Bobs Devices maker of Step-up Transformers. The 58db of fixed gain rears it’s ugly head when you use a Moving Magnet cartridge, which normally has at least 5mv of output, which could (I haven’t tried this) overload the phono preamp, but most people spending this kind of money probably won't be using moving magnet, but it is a limiting factor.  According to ARC the PH8 and PH6 are meant to be used with .5mv to 2.5mv and anything at .4mv and under will require you raising your volume and introducing distortion and anything over 2.5mv could overload the phono preamp.  This eliminates Moving Magnet. (My words not theirs).

Bob’s Devices stated that the PH8 was difficult to work with on this and none of his step-up Transformers would work and probably other manufacturers as well because he had tried several combinations and kept overloading the phono preamp. I am coming from a Musical Surroundings Nova Phomenia (Battery Operated) with a gain of 60db and the ability to use any cartridge I wanted, which included four moving magnets, which will be useless on the PH8. Does this mean, that I’m depress and would sell the PH8, no, no, no. I am currently using a VPI HW-19 MkIV with a Van den Hul Frog Gold, which is .6mv a medium output cartridge which works just fine, but does require that the volume come up to at least three quarters depending on how loud the record was recorded at, which requires the Amp to work harder.

I could have minimized this at first by going with the LS-27, which has at least 12 db of gain on it’s own and selectable gain of 24, 18 12 for each individual input, which would have boosted the gain and kept my volume dial lower, but remember whenever you add gain, you introduce distortion so there is no free lunch. Will I get rid of the PH8, no, but I will have to work within the parameters afforded to me as you only get more features with the Ref 2SE, which has more selectable gain options and balanced inputs at almost double the price. The PH6, LS17se and PH8 are being discontinued by ARC and you can get them from a dealer for a great price and even on Audiogon at a great price.
I bought a  used PH-7, about $3k.  Noise is a non issue, even with a .28 mv cart like the DV XX2 MKII, although I did feel the dynamics were a bit restrained. It works great with a Cadenza Bronze .4 mv cart, no reservations.  Maybe try it, resell if you need to.
My PH-8 worked very well with the AT OC9 III that has .4mv output. It works even better with the AT ART-9 that has .5mv output. 
One great thing about the Herron and Zesto is their versatility. Unlike most phono amps (ARC included), they have separate MM and MC inputs, with dedicated circuits. If you add a high output cartridge to your system, with the Herron and Zesto you don't have to also get a new amp which won't be overloaded by that output.
I really like the versatility of the Zestos phono-preamp. I am really glad I bought it over the ARC. I can't comment on the Herron because I have never heard it. Though I have heard nothing but good things about it.

You should consider auditioning a K&K Audio Maxed Out. They have a home audition program now.

I spoke with Kevin Deal about my phono stage in the PrimaLuna Dialogue Premium and he told me the Manley Chinook at under $5K is by far the best phono preamp available. I know Kevin sells them but he has always been a straight shooter so I do trust his opinion. For what your willing to pay, a Chinook could save you $1500.

I think you should listen to a few phono stages before you buy. That what I did. And I ended up with an Allnic H3000 and a Modwright PH150. I must say there is a big price difference. But the Modwright stand up against anything at these prices. You should take a listen to both if you have the chance. I did listen to the Audio Research and the BAT, they are good performers but I think the PH150 is more to my taste. I have the allnic as a backup.

Enter your text ...
Listening to a lot of phono stages was not an option - no audio stores near me unfortunately.  Decided to try the Zesto Andros 1.2 as I got an open box unit at a great price.  The dealer also gave me the option of returning it if it wasn't to my liking.  Needless to say, it is super quiet and has excellent musicality.  The gain was substantially for my low output MC cartridge and has a very organic natural warm sound.  Overall a great buy and has a lot of flexibility with loading settings and tube rolling.  I don't know how others would sound but can't complain with the Zesto.


Congrats on the purchase, sounds like you made a good choice.  As expected I see a lot of good useful feedback here but also highlighting how much system synergy and personal taste comes into play.  I recently purchased a PH6 to pair with my LS-17SE preamp so thought I'd stick in a quick comment and question.

I'm currently running a VPI scout that originally had an Ortofon 2M Blue mounted but when I upgraded to the PH6 the overall combo of 5.5mV gain from MM cart, ARC gear and the diamond tweeter in my Usher's was a bit too forward even for me.  I talked to some people at ARC and they suggested the first place to go was higher-quality but lower output cart.  I wanted to stay with Ortofon but was also concerned about the 0.5mV the Quintet's put out so just bought the Blue model again for comparison.  The change was night and day, best sound I've had to date.  No issues with too little gain or having to crank the preamp volume way up so I wouldn't let that prevent anyone from at least taking the time to audition a PH6 with lower output MC.  Note that I am running a set of balanced ICs terminated with RCA on phono stage end then XLR on the preamp end to take partial advantage of the LS-17SE's balanced inputs (+6db gain).

Long story short I'm considering stepping up from the Quintet Blue and wondering if you could comment on the Black versus other carts you've owned.  Also for the group if anyone has other recommendations in the sub $1000 range I'd appreciate the input.  I'd like to hang on to as much detail as possible while balancing the tendency of my system to get too bright/forward if I let it.  Thanks.


I wish I could comment on the Ortofon Quintet Black MC cartridge compared to others, but this is actually the only cartridge I've owned thus far.  I've only had my vinyl playback system about a year (actually playing less than that), so haven't switched out cartridges.  The Quintet is a very balanced and musical cartridge.  There are others that are more resolving, detailed, etc, but the Quintet seems to everything well (compared to other cartridges around $1000).  If you're looking to staying under $1000, the only other one I was thinking about at the time was the Dynavector.  Not to say there aren't more options that are probably very good, but not too familiar with other brands.   

Now if you expand the budget a little, there are some good options out there that I may consider - if I sell my Quintet Black (which I may).  The Zephyr Soundsmith, Lyra Delos, and higher priced Dynavector, and Ortofon Cadenza all present great options.  You should look on the VPI forum.  I know they have a cartridge thread for turntables that probably will be able to answer your question better than I can.  


I can't comment on the PH6 but I have experience with the PH5 and PH7. I still use the PH7 and really like it. I would choose it over the PH8 because it works better for my needs, i.e., it allows me to tube roll with all its tube types. That helps me get what I'm after rather than what ARC is after, which sometimes isn't my cup of tea. Stock tubes, whether 6922's or 6H30's are okay but can be bettered!! Many of the people who sell ARC gear in my area have never heard it with non stock tubes. A real pity. The ability to choose between 6922's is a must for me and something I wouldn't give up by going to something like the PH8, or any unit that forced you to accept so few options. If your system is perfect sounding than a PH6 may be a good fit. 

I have heard some of their newer gear in a local showroom and have liked it, though it was very limited listening time and was with better speakers (way better) and a better sounding room than mine.


I am in the process of selling my Prime turntable and selling the Quintet Black on it.  It only has about 100 hours on it and was purchased the same time I bought the Prime (2015) from Soundstage Direct.  If you want to buy, message me.  Thought I'd throw that out there.  Moving up the VPI line to an Avenger and Ortofon to a Cadenza series.
Poor S/N ratio for a phono stage!

Too noisy with very low output MC cartridges!