Don't choose the Lamm phono stage unless they've changed the design. The one I used last year had inadequate gain for a LOMC like the UNIverse. In addition, the Lamm's input impedance was fixed at a rather weird forty-something ohms. That's too low for a ZYX, and for many other MC's too. The Lamm seems to have been designed for a fairly narrow, and non-typical, set of MC's.
I happen to enjoy the combination of an all tube, MM phono stage + high quality stepup transformers with infinitely adjustable loading, like those from Bent Audio. This lets me easily dial in the precise impedance that each cartridge needs to perform at its best. Since you favor tubes this is one route you might consider.
The other route is an all-tube high gain stage like the Audio Research Ref. and others like Aesthetix or Manley. I haven't heard them so I can't offer any comparisons.
I am running a ZYX Airy 3S through an Audio Research Ref. phono and am very happy. I have it loaded at 100ohms, which seems to work well in my system. I have not compared to any others though.
Dear Gary: Stay away from Step-up transformers. All of them ( does not matters price, technology or design. ) do a heavy degradation to the critical signal that comes from your beloved analog rig.
Which your budget?. In the midtime take a look to: www.whestaudio.co.uk
Regards and enjoy the music.
Great move getting the 340, UNIverse and Tri-planar. I have the 340, UNIverse and Graham 2.2 and I am extremely happy with the Supratek Grange.
The newer circuit designs are teriffic and I would highly recommend the new Grange or Cortese. The phono stage is superb, you just need to get some great NOS 6922's and a couple of other NOS tubes and you should be in 7th heaven.
It is a good wait for the Supratek to be built but the wait is well worth it. Read the giant thread "Pre-amp deal of the century:
I am using the Teres 265 with the Graham 2.2, Nightingale, and ARC PH5. The PH5 is very close to the Ref. Phono. This is a great combination.
You don't say what you are using now and what you would like to improve on. For 3-dimensionality and decays that just go on and on, I have found the Aesthetix Io to be unbeatable. This is especially true when you change the stock Sovtek 12AX7s with Telefunkens. The Io has 70+db gain without a step-up transformer. It has a wee bit more noise than the BAT VK-P10 I owned before but the BAT did not have the fullness in the mids.
The BAT also had capability with 70db gain but used a step-up transformer. Contrary to other statements made about step-up transformers, I heard a very subtle degradation in resolution when I tried this with the BAT. I was using the Koetsu Rosewood Sig cartridge at 0.6mv output which was happy with the 55db setting so I did not need the added gain of the transformers but I was eager to hear what it might bring at that time.
So if your budget is in the $2k range, try to get a listen to the BAT as an all-round performer. For the $3k range, the Io is simply awesome. I have not heard the ARC Ref Phono but these are rarely on the used market so that must imply something. There is much prasie about the new PH5 and this appears to be quite an attractive price. The other unit to keep your eyes out for is the Counterpoint SA9. Michael Elliot was a master in preamp and phono stage design.
hey guys - thanks for the responses- I am not using any pre now- I have decide to get back into vinyl, do it once ( hopefully!!) and do it right the first time-Any way What about the Audio Note ? I used to have the M6 pre and liked it - How about an M7?- Also Jfox I think you are talking about the Rhea for $3- the IO (used) is still around $6-8-I guess I would like to stay in the $6,000 or under category- thanks for the help- gary
Dear Gary: Read this:
+++++ " Btw, in my opinion this analog audio stage is the must extremly critical for the quality/accuracy of the music/sound reproduction in any audio system. " +++++
You really can't do a serious/liable tests/reviews of cartridges with out a top performance phono stage, that has to be: low noise, low distortion, impedance versatile, extreme accurate, etc...
We have to remember that in this single stage we have to reproduce ( mimic ) exactly ( inverted RIAA equalization ) the signal that comes from the cartridge ( that in theory is what was record in the recording process and that comes with the RIAA equalization standards. ) and any deviation from this RIAA equalization do big changes to everything about.
I know that any single deviation on any link of the audio chain, do severe changes on the quality music/sound reproduction, but in my opinion and when we are talking about analog reproduction: nothing is more important that our PHONO STAGE. "
If you really cares about music/sound reproduction you can 't do any mistakes with the phono preamp: this is not a matter of money, this is a matter of know-how and care about music. Unfortunatelly any tube phono stage fits the audio standards on this critical stage, they can't, they have heavy limitations. Take a serious look to the link that I already give you.
Regards and enjoy the music.
I have a ZYX Airy 3 with the silver base. I have been using a K&K Audio phono stage (which is essentially an Art Audio Vinyl reference phono stage) It costs around 2k and is a hybrid tube/jfet design. IMO you get the best of both tubes and solid state by going this route. It is phenomenal - both highly detailed and extraordinarily musical; the only part of my system that I have no intention of upgrading.
Before you buy anything else, you owe it to yourself to look into this. Check out K&K's website and do some research on Audioyasylum.
Gary, I will second John's (Jafox's) recommendation of the Aesthetix Rhea or the Aesthetix Io Signature if you only want to do this once. The Io Signature sells for $9000 new and they occasionally are sold used for around $5000. (The standard Io MkII sells for about $6500 new.) The Rhea sells for about $4000 new and around $2800 used.
The Io will provide 82db of gain through three all-tube gain stages. The Rhea delivers about 75db of gain. Sound quality is stunning, with commensurate sonic improvements moving from the Rhea to the standard Io MkII to the Io Signature.
You've made a very significant investment in your turntable, tonearm and cartridge. As others have suggested, the phono stage is really the most critical element in achieving the sound quality you're striving for: don't shortchange yourself at this point.
Best wishes in your analog journey!
Raul's recommendation for the Whest PS.20 is a good one - it's a new(ish) product which has been very well received by the audio press. Contrary to what Raul has posted, there is one REALLY good step up transformer available but it is nearly impossible to find and therefore quite expensive - the Expressive Technologies SU1.
If you use the Whest, you'll need to keep your line stage or find a better one. If you use the ET SU1, you'll need a MM phono stage + line stage too.
Anyhow... There are quite a few options available & I just struggled with a similar exercise myself so hopefully what I have to write will help you.
I too have the low output UNIverse cartridge.
The Aesthetix IO Signature is IMHO the best sounding phono stage I've used however it is huge and takes a lot of space plus requires - if I remember correctly - 22 tubes which all must be of the absolute highest quality and of particular brands / vintage for the IO to sound its best.
Unfortunately, the benefits of the IO are in my experience diminished by any line stage you pair it with. The Aesthetix volume control - while somewhat transparent sounding - tends to compress dynamics. I had bad luck with a passive Placette which also killed dynamics. You could try a transformer based volume control (bent or silver rock) but I think you will need the buffer provided by a line stage.
Suprateks are great options. I had one for many years and loved (still love) it. It represents a great value all-in-one solution which will have enough gain for the UNIverse. IMHO, aside from world class engineering and manufacture, the Supratek's only weakness is in ultimate transparency.
Audionote M6 - great solution - one box (with no external power supply) but does not have a MC phono and will therefore require a step up device. The Stevens & Billington step ups are IMHO the best commercially available devices (also represented by Bent Audio). They've produced a new step up box which can be seen here at Music First
the consumer products division of S&B. Aside from the S&B, you could (as mentioned above) try an Expressive Technologies SU1 (good luck finding one). The Audio Note M6 is actually a great value in the AN line up. It can be EASILLY modified with better parts and AN-Vz wire throughout to increase performance & transparency. This will bring the unit closer to the M8.
I also looked at the LAMM LP2 + L2, Messenger Preamp, Audion Premier Quattro and CTC Blowtorch. All of which are good solutions but get a bit pricey & have their own undesirable quirks.
There really is no PERFECT preamp + phono that I know of.
All those things considered, I settled on the Manley Steelhead. In my system, it has enough gain for the UNIverse's .24Mv output - running through the MM inputs (which by-pass the step up device). Using the MC inputs produces a somewhat warmer / fuller sound (very subtle). It uses a stepped volume control and has a buffer / line stage built in so it can drive your amps directly. Another benefit is a line level input for your digital.
I have opened the box and see that there's about 6 inches of space behind the volume knob. This leads me to think the DACT Remote Kit
will fit inside giving the Steelhead the convenience of remote control.
The Manley has two MC inputs and one MM input (and the line level input) so multiple arms / cartridges become an option for you down the road.
In a world where there is no perfect preamp, the Manley represents what I found to be a good one box solution.
The biggest downside of the Manley is how it looks. Actually, it looks better in real life than in photos but still could use an "extreme makeover".
As mentioned above (and by Raul) - the Whest phono stage is highly recommended by reviewers and has been compared favorably equal to the Manley. I think the Whest is $2,500 but unfortunately you'll need a line stage to go with it, additional interconnects and power cord too. Adding up the cost of the Whest + everything else you'll need to have first rate (do-it-once & do-it-right) performance will cost right up there with the other solutions.
Anyhow.. I hope this helps.
Hey Bebop, I have seen the Io, non-signature version with one power supply sell here from time to time in the $3000-3500 range. I own this model and with the stock tubes replaced, it is phenomenol; my gut feeling is that it is more impressive than the stock Io Signature. The Io Signature sells from $5-8k on the used market depending on whether or not it has volume controls, 2 power supplies or fully decked out with NOS tubes. So keep your eyes open for deals here.
I also agree that the phono stage is very important in the system due to the need for an accurate RIAA circuit and amplifying a very low signal. However, we can talk theories all day long. My experiences from listening to, borrowing and owning some great preamps, line stages and phono stages, time and time again, the line stage makes a far more significant "make or break" musicality presence in my system. I can go back to a previous phono stage that I owned such as the BAT P10 or ARC PH2, or even the built-in phono board I used to have in my BAT 31SE, and the music is still quite impressive. These phono stages do not have the awesome 3-dimensionality of the Io, but still the music is very enjoyable. I can not say this at all about any solid-state line stage I have heard in my system....and several tube line stages too. The space around the instruments and decay of notes is flat out gone in so many of these other cases. Why this is I don't know and I would not have believed it until I heard it.
I would have bet everything on the fact that the phono stage and its associated cabling makes the bigger impact on the system due to it amplifying the smallest signal. But it just has not been the case for me. Two preamps, 4 phono stages and 4 line stages in 24 years and the outcome has been consistent.
And I will make the same claim about cables. The cable from line stage to amp is far more significant than the other ICs. Several years ago when I had just enough money to try out one NBS cable, I tried this vs. the Cardas Golden Cross, SilverAudio and 2 pairs of cheapo Belden XLR cables. The NBS was a huge improvement from line to amp and quite surprisingly, the Belden worked very well from phono stage to line. When I swapped the NBS and Belden, so much of the 3-dimensionality and harmonic richness that the system was capable of was significantly reduced. With the NBS back in the line-to-amp link, the magic was back. After this change, tonearm cable differences were far greater to appreciate as well. So again, I don't understand why, but there's something very signifcant about the line stage and the cable from it to the amp that has a greater effect on my system over the years than other links in the system. m. For SS based systems where harmonic richness, decay of notes and volume of space are not so prevalent, this all could be a non-issue. You just need to try this all out in your system and find what areas benefit the most from changes and what others benefit much less.
Thanks for all the responses- I already have a good line stage in the harmonix reimyo-I am looking for the right mate for a phono pre- any thoughts on using a Audio Note M7 which would give me a pre and a phono stage in one- Also anyone with exp. with the Audio Research Ref. phono stage??
I guess you didn't read my post on your thread.......... I have an Airy 3S w/silver base (.24mv) running into an ARC reference phono in my system. It sounds incredible. I am using Hovland MG II phono cables which are a big improvement over any others I have tried including: Nordost Quattro, Kimber, and Audience. The ARC actually has enough gain from it's MM input (which bypasses the internal x-former) for the Airy. It sounds a little better in this configuration to me (a bit more pure if you will, but it's really, really a small difference, and I like the MC input for some more powerful Rock stuff as it's a little more dynamic in the bottom).
I have not heard the IO or Manley, but I did borrow a Whest from a local dealer recently. I much preferred my ARC in almost every way. The Whest was quieter though.
Hope this helps, it sounds like you have a fun decision to make.......... It's a bitch trying to decide what top flight phono pre to get to go along with the rest of your rig......... which is one of the best.
Dear friends: Especially who cares about music/sound reproduction, not who cares about sound reproduction.
All of us put a lot of money ( thousands dollars ) and time ( overhang, VTA/SRA, VTF, Azynuth, vibration devices, cartridge/tonearm match, and the like. ) to extract all the MUSIC information that was recorded on any single LP: we take really high care about that, and for what? if latter that signal goes inside a tube device that destroy it!!!!! or even worse: inside a step-up transformer ( it does not matters if this SUT is an Expressive Technologies ) and then to an additional tube device stage. This does not have any common sense.
All of us know that a tube device generate his own harmonics: THAT DOES NOT EXIST ON THE ORIGINAL SIGNAL ( and other limitations, like: heavy degradation of the sound at the frecuency response extreme. ). So, what we are hearing through a tube device?: not even a picture but only a: bad CARICATURE. We need, at least, a good picture not a caricature. I know that many of you loves that caricature, but this is not the issue..
Somewhere, in the time, we have to analyze those things that happen with a tube device and that goes against the music/sound reproduction and try to do changes on our audio system for the better.
I know that almost all of you are in love with the tube devices for the phono preamp, I asking you why? if you love the music.
I'm not against the tube devices " per se ", it is only that is imposible to have a good all tube phono preamplifier because the physics laws do that the tube devices unfit for. No body can do nothing about.
If any of us wantt to have a great music/sound reproduction through a home audio system is a must to have the right tools to do it and only the right ones.
Regards and enjoy the music.
Regards and enjoy the music.
Jafox, I agree with your comments 100% regarding the relative importance of phono vs. line stages and interconnects. For whatever reason, the line stage just seems to put more of a stamp on the overall sound of the system than the phono stage. Likewise, I have found that the most critical interconnect is the one from the line stage to the power amp. Common sense says that the earlier cables, especially the tonearm cable, should have a greater effect since there is so much gain after that point. But facts are facts. The final interconnect always seems to have a greater impact---positive or negative.
Bebop86, As for your query re AudioNote M7, I recently had the privilege of using the AudioNote M7Phono stage in my system for a couple weeks. Most of my listening was with the AudioNote SFZ transformer. There is no question but that the AN sounded very nice. In particular, it had a way with vocals that was unique in my (limited) experience: smooth, detailed, dynamic. I have never before found it so easy to follow individual instrument lines without conscious effort. But my final conclusion was that my two DIY tube phono stages with Jensen step-up transformers were more satisfying, at least in my system and for my tastes. While not as seductive in the mids, my home-made efforts are more satisfying in the bass and treble, and are more coherent across the spectrum.
To be fair, the AudioNote gear will probably shine more brightly in an all-AudioNote system.
I think anyone considering products that aim as high as the M7, or the IO-Signature, or the Lamm, etc. really must audition them first to make sure your listening priorities match the designer's priorities.
Best of luck.
In response to your post on tube gear (and please know I am not trying to start an arguement, as I have always found a good deal of insight and wisdom in many of your other comments on Agon). I have been a professional musician for almost 20 years, I play acoustic and electric guitar. I have extensive experience in the recording studio and mixing live sound in numerous concert venues. I can only say from this expereince I would rather eat nails than play my guitar through a solid state amp. Further some of the most coveted and respected studio gear ever made uses tubes in it's signal chain. The recordings that many of us love from the 40's-present day have been recorded with tube microphones, etc.
I am not an electrical engeneer and don't mean to hijack this thread but for my tastes I feel that tubes are a critical part of my experiences in sound reproduction. Whether playing my Stratocaster through my '59 Fender Tweed Twin, recording my voice or acoustic guitar in the studio, or playing Louis Armstrong back on my home system.
Like I say, I'm not trying to start a fight here, but IMO and I'm sure many others tubes rule!!!
Raul, this statement is pure bullshit on your part. "it is only that is imposible to have a good all tube phono preamplifier because the physics laws do that the tube devices unfit for". It is obvious to me that you know absolutely nothing about the "Laws of Physics". BTW, I have a MS degree in physical chemistry from Stanford University and have taken several courses in physics.
Cmo I think there's a difference between using tubes in a guitar amp (where distortion is desirable) and using tubes in a hifi amp (where it is undesirable). I do support your point that tubes often play a vital part in recording though.
My view is that it's futile to generalise - there are as many colored tube amps out there as there are colored ss designs.
Flyingred, Who say's everyone who plays guitar through a tube amp is playing through it becouse it distorts........ Ever heard Les Paul??
Distortion vs clean aside, even a tubed guitar amp that does great cleans is singing because of tube distortion. I wouldn't want a precise amplification of strat solid body guitar because it would sound dry. If you have a hollow body jazz box you might want only the guitar to speak and a good choice then is the Acoustic Image solid state amp preferred by some jazz notables. Solid state. They want to hear only their guitar.
How about the new Tron Syren (see recent 6 moons review). This is a fantastic tube pre-amp. It has standard line inputs as well as a top notch tube phon section with user adjustable gain. It is essentailly a bespoke preamp with short signal paths, special components and transformers and battleship build quality. It sound fantastic is very, very quiet, even on phono. www.tron-electric.com
i am so confused.I Have a 901SHELTER.Was set on a condor then the new shelter 90x now the UNIverse, whats a guy to do? listen to rock and roll mostly and some pop,alot of MFSL albums on VPI extended with a 12.5 arm, THOR 3000 stage, KRELL HTS preamp and KRELL KAV2250 amp with B&W 802 SPEAKERS. came from home theater back to vinyl. all constructive advise apretiated. p.kogan
I have yet to hear the Shelter 90X vs any of the ZYX cartridges, but I had a Shelter 901.
I did do a full weekend comparison of the Airy2, Airy3, UNIverese, Koetsu Rosewood Signature Platinum, and Shelter 901. All of the ZYX cartridges were far superior to either the Shelter 901 and the Koetsu RSP. The Koetsu was far,far better than the Shelter 901 (which is an excellent cartridge).
The Airy2 was far better than even the Koetsu, the Airy3 is signifitcantly faster, more detailed and more dynamic than the Airy2, but a bit bright in my system and for my taste. The UNIverse (what I own and listen to now) is faster, more detailed, more musical, and more emotional than the Airy3 by a large margin and without any of the brightness of the Airy3.
If you like hard rock, big dynamics and don't mind a bit of a lean towards the bright side and your system wants a bit more brightness, the Airy3 would be a great value. If money is not an issue, the UNIverese will end your searching for the great cartridge and leave you focused on working on the rest of your system.
I hope this all helps.
Is anyone using the Tom Evans Groove Phone Pre?. Will it have enough gain for the Universe?.
Dear Kogan: I agree with Cello about the KRSP against the 901.
Now for your kind of music and audio system that you own, my advise goes for the: 90X, none of the ZYX can beat it. With the 90X you will be extremely satisfied: you can't ask for more!!!!
Regards and enjoy the music.
Dear Topoxforddoc: +++++ " as a top notch tube phon section " +++++
This is what you write about the Tron preamp: Can you explain the " why's " of this statement that directly are in " touch " with the music/sound reproduction, other that you own it?
Regards and enjoy the music.
read my review on the whest - I tested it against the groove, and my own conrad johnson ef1