Gold Note PH10, Bryston BP2, Clear Audio Smart V2


As listed in the title, I am very interested in hearing views on the above phono preamps in terms of a comparison.
I have been using the Clear Audio Smart V2 preamp for a couple of years with my VPI Ares3 TT, SME Series lV tonearm and vintage Audio Technica AT15ss, now an AT20ss with a NOS stylus I found after 12 years of searching...!    The system sounds extraordinary and why I like the Clear Audio Smart is that it has adjustable capacitive loading which is an absolute necessity for MM cartridges.

I have read a lot of amazing reports on how nice the PH 10 plays, however it has a fixed capacitance on MM at 200 pf, which is pretty close to where I have mine set at; I think I am around 250 pf., so it will most likely work fairly well until the new model comes out next year with variable capacitance settings.  The Bryston BP2 with the outboard power supply is another option, and it has variable capacitance in 100 pf settings from 100 to 400 pf.  I'd have to find out if 200 or 300 pf works best as I found anything too low or too high really alters the sound from the AT20ss.

I'd like to hear what anyone has to say about any of the above units and how they compare against each other.  I had one sales guy at one of the big online retailer tell me that the Bryston was too forward and detailed for his liking... he likes warmer.  

I also found out that the PH 10 will be released in an upgraded version in a month with new op-amps which reduce the noise floor by 12 db at the same price as the current model... now that would be great; however it is only in the MC circuits, not the MM.  So for me, it would make no difference and perhaps I can find a deal on a used PH 10 from a MC guy who wants to get into the new design.

Anyway, I am all ears now ......???
Cf91c9e5 e6a3 4979 b562 058e70859cc2slimpikins5
I have read a lot of amazing reports on how nice the PH 10 plays, however it has a fixed capacitance on MM at 200 pf, which is pretty close to where I have mine set at; I think I am around 250 pf., so it will most likely work fairly well until the new model comes out next year with variable capacitance settings.

In my opinion capacitance must be tuned naturally by phono cable only, not by the phono stage.

Gold note is the best for MC cartridges in my opinion, i’m using it with two MC inputs. Can be used with external SUT as an option.

For MM cartridges loading is much more inportant, if you can’t change 47k Ohm to 100k Ohm then you can’t use various amazing cartridges at full potential, for example Grage recommended 100k Ohm for their MM.

JLTi phono stage manufacturer can change internal resistors by request, i asked him to use 500k Ohm. And i can load it down to whatever value i need by adding parallel RCA plug resistors on the backside. In this configuration 100k Ohm for MM is not a problem and i’m happy about it, because most of the MM cartridges are much better at 100k Ohm (instead of 47k Ohm).

When i tried in my system the iPhono 2 with all those cap switches it was a garbage compared to the JLTi phono stage for MM cartridges. For the MC IPhono was much better than for MM.


I am not sure that I can agree with the opinion that variable capacitance is not useful or not as useful as the cables being used. 
I have done many capacitance changes via dip switch settings and it makes a world of difference in performance.  I made an error above when I said I the PH10 has a default setting of 200 pf, I found a spec they published and it's at 220 pf.  I am running 250 pf on my Clear Audio therefore I'll assume that it's close enough to the PH10 for comparable performance in that respect.

Then you have to try 100k Ohm for MM to see if you like it better than 47k Ohm. 

Cap switches on iPhono 2 does not make any improvement for me, it was hard to detect any difference. JLTi if the most versatile MM phono stage for me (also nice for MC with many loading options).  They are selling mk5 version now for higher price, but that version has brand new PSU. 
If your phono stage didn't show any changes from capacitance changes on the input interface from the MM Cartridge, I'd say that this is most likely due to either the characteristics of the cartridge being used or the circuitry design of the phono amp is such that its not picking up the nuances of the input changes.

I had a discussion with a Bryston person on this subject yesterday and he said that MM cartridges need variable capacitance to tune it to the system, pretty much exactly what I have been saying.  We were discussing capacitance values and how to tweak it even closer than using the standard 100 pf jumpers.   I ran listening evaluation with 100 pf, 150pf, 250 pf and 400 pf.  It was quite obvious how the frequency response altered with each and the smoothest flat response was at 250 pf with my AT20ss.  The lower settings caused a muddy pillow over the tweeter type of sound, the 400 pf. setting caused the low end to roll off and the highs to be exaggerated.  250 pf. was nirvana, just perfect with a wonderful presentation of definition, etc.  

But I'd really like to hear from anyone who has experience with either of the two other preamps, the BP2 and PH10 vs. the Smart V2.
If your phono stage didn’t show any changes from capacitance changes on the input interface from the MM Cartridge, I’d say that this is most likely due to either the characteristics of the cartridge being used or the circuitry design of the phono amp is such that its not picking up the nuances of the input changes.

It was iPhono 2 which i did not liked at all, but this particular phono stage has so many positive reviews for some reason.

I’ve had more than 20 MM phono cartridges and never had a capacitance issues with any of them if the phono cable is right. I am happy with MM phono stage without caps switches.

You’re ignoring the fact that some manufacturers recommends loading lower than 47k and higher than 47k. Most of the high compliance cartridges from Audio-Technica, Grace or Victor must be loaded at 100k Ohm. The ability to change loading for MM is very important feature for the MM phono stage.

Gold Note PH-10 is a great phono stage, love it with external PSU

AT20ss (or AT20SLa) is a nice cartridge :)
Hi Slimpikins5,

I read your discussion with interest as I am thinking of buying a Clearaudio Smart Phono V2.  I have a Clearaudio Concept with the Concept MC (Moving Coil Cartridge).

I currently have a Trichord Dino Mk3 with Dino+ but it is difficult to match the Dip Settings as the Trichord only has options of 100ohms or 1000ohms. I think the  Clearaudio Smart Phono V2 would be a better match.

I would be very interested to get your thoughts as you clearly know a lot more about this than I do.

Thanks I would really value your input.

Kind regards


Gary
I think the OP ended up with Whest phono stage :) 
Just to point out that both the phono input and the phono cable will inevitably have some capacitance and that both parameters need to be taken into account if you want precise control of the capacitance load. The switches for input capacitance on many if not most phono stages may or may not take into account the inherent capacitance of the input stage. It rankles me that most manufacturers do not provide clear information on that score. All tubes and all transistors have an inherent input capacitance, and within each category some types have much more input capacitance than others.  For tubes it's called "Miller Capacitance", and it results from capacitance between grid and anode and between grid and cathode (so far as I can recall) added together.  For example, the 12AX7, very commonly used as the input device in tube MM phono stages, has a very high Miller capacitance, because Miller is also a function of gain; the higher the gain of the tube, the more the Miller capacitance.  This is actually a very large topic with many variables; transistors can have even more input capacitance than tubes.  You two guys probably know about these nuances but others may not.  Obviously it is also very important to be cognizant of the IC you are using between tonearm and phono input. Length of cable is linearly related to its capacitance. And yadayada. For sure, capacitance has an effect on frequency response, particularly at the high treble. I generally just try to keep capacitance at a minimum and start from there, with MM cartridges.
Plumpton Vinyl, 

It has been a couple of years since I worked on this thread/issue, but in a nutshell to explain where I ended up in all of this: I went Whest young man I went Whest.
After an extensive amount of time using the Clear Audio Smart, a PH10, the Nova III with external power supply, then a Whest Three signature and it was a wow moment.  The Whest Three blew everything above off of the bench.  Hands down, no comparison.   You do need variable capacitance input, that is an absolute, but if you can match the input to the cartridge you plan to use, you can go with a fixed number if its in the approximate range when added to the capacitance of your cables from the turntable to the phono stage.  I was shooting for around 250pf total with my AT20ss.   I loved the Whest Three so much that I decide to have James at Whest custom build me a hybrid Whest PS 30 RDT SE 2019 which used the board from the new PS 40 RDT, the case work of the PS 30 and a custom input stage on one set of switches for 48 db gain and 91 pf capacitance which allows for 250 pf total when combined with my cables from Toronto.  It is a very striking improvement over everything I have used to date.   All of the engineering on this was done by James as he is a huge fan of the AT20ss (he has one too).  He modified one input on the phono stage which is normally set at 70 db for extremely low output MC cartridges to use for the MM input.   
After doing all of this, I found a deal on a nearly new Ortofon A90 MC and installed it into the Turntable and set it up on the 65 db gain input.  I was so impressed with this cartridge that I have not put my beloved AT20ss back in!!   I never thought I'd replace it.  The AT20ss is 90 % of the A 90 MC, but that extra 5-10% is enough so that I am leaving it in place.  Plus James told me that his A 90 MC was re-tipped in England by Expert Stylus with their Paratrace diamond and it is even better.  When mine wears out, I'll try that tip.
James also suggested that I go to their audio interconnects for the phono stage as they use broadcast quality cables which are phase aligned and jump things up to a whole new level.  These are the same cables they supply with the Titan Pro and Reference MKIV phono stages which are at $11K and $18K in price.  I will try that one of these days too, but the cables are not inexpensive.

So overall, I think that you would do very well with the Clear Audio Smart V2 which is an outstanding phono stage for the money.  It is not in the league of my Whest gear but it's also 5 times less expensive.  However I think I like it almost as much as the PH10, if not more.  It certainly has a much nicer sound stage which is more open.  The mid range is smoother in the PH10.  The Nova III is better than either of those two, but at a little more money with the external power supply.   NONE of them come close to any Whest phono stages, hands down.   If you ever see a used Whest for a good price, buy it.  I sold my Whest Three Signature with the outboard external dual mono power supply after a long time of dealing with a bunch of tire kickers who had no idea of what I was offering!!  These guys didn't know a good deal right in front of them.   I lost money on it, but it ultimately ended up in a good home and the guy just loves it.

I'd buy a Whest Titan Pro if I ever stumbled upon one, but they are almost never up for sale.  If I do, my custom built PS 30 RDT SE 2019 will be on the market :)