Looking for a phono stage with pleasing coloration


I have recently completely overhauled my analog front end. I have gone from a Marantz TTS TT-15S1 with a Clearaudio Charisma to a Rega Planar 8 with a Soundsmith Paua II cartridge. There have been definite improvements; improvements in dynamics, resolution, and spatial separation.  Phono stage is currently a Tavish Adagio running into a Prima Luna Evo 300 preamp and Parasound JC 5 amp; speakers are Monitor Audio PL 100 II. I’m overall pleased with the system but I find it a little too modern sounding; instrument separation, and mid and low bass are a tad too tight and disciplined. While the Paua generally outclasses the Charisma; I preferred the tonality of the Charisma. Maybe it’s because the Charisma has a wooden body but it has more of a warmth and vintage coloration to its tonality that I like.


I would like to make change to Phono stage to address these issues, so looking for recommendations on a phono stage that has a bit more of a vintage coloration, body, warmth, slightly looser bass and low noise floor and retains good top end extension. I currently have the PS Audio Stellar phono on order for a home trial but every review I have read has praised it for its neutrality but what I really want is added coloration that I find pleasing.  I guess I can try tube rolling the Adagio but I don’t want to go down the rabbit hole of trying to find low microphonic NOS tubes. Finally I want to stay under $3K and I’m open to vintage phono preamps (but I don’t want to sacrifice dynamics and sound stage).


arize84
Two options. One cheap, the other still within your budget. Cheap one, Audio Research PH3SE. Had one well over 20 years, has all the qualities you want. Specifically the warm woody tone with good extension. The warm woody tone is very slight. Did not even think it was there at all until going to my current Herron which is in every way far superior, but unsuitable for you since you ruled out superior in favor of colored. A little over budget anyway.  

Within budget, Decware ZP3 which even with their SUT is still well within your budget. https://www.decware.com/newsite/ZP3.htm This should give you everything you want, and then some. oldhvymec has one on order so check back in a few he will probably have some good news to report.
The Decware looks beautiful but the gain is too low. The gain on the Adagio is 64db but I wish it was a little higher. I like to run my poweramp slightly attenuated and drive more of the gain from my preamp (for whatever reason I find my system sounds better that way); preamp only has about 10db of gain so I'm already running it pretty hard hard. I know I'm going to sound picky but gear looks also matter to me and I just don't dig the industrial aesthetic of Audio Research gear. I also would like readily accessible controls on my phono stage (so not a fan of opening cases to tool around with dip switches). Price point wise, I could push myself to $4K for the right product. Thanks. 
I missed your comment regarding SUT for the Decware. I will look into this. Thanks.
I have the Soundsmith Paua II into a Simaudio LP5.3 with the external power supply, and as Soundsmith and others report the Paua II is a bit lush and sultry.  I run the loading at 1000 ohms for a bit more high frequency detail.  

How is your cartridge setup -  the tonearm  TA-RB880-RETAIL-UNI.pdf (rega.co.uk)  does not show the ability to alter the vertical tracking angle (VTA) which for a high end cartridge such as the Paua II can be critical to get the best results.  Can you set VTA?  Viewing the telescoping aluminum cantilever which has a flat spot where the stylus is inserted, is that flat spot level or tilted with the record?  Each position will yield a slightly different sound quality.  Tilted too far fwd "will tend to have good stage width but the strings will sound unnatural, edgy and irritating.".  Tilted too far back "the sound will be slightly muffled, with a lack of high frequencies and air around the instruments."    Sedrik Harris: Setting Up Cartridge VTA (enjoythemusic.com) .  Others on this forum can fill-in with more details and there are many articles on the web on VTA. 

What loading do you use with Travish?  The maximum is indicated as 500 ohm which would be the 'normal' minimum (470-ohms actually); lower would cause some high frequency roll-off.  Have you tried running at 400-ohms?  Also, have you tried tube rolling?  The Travish manual  Microsoft Word - adagio_owners_manual_rel6.docx (shopify.com) implies its using new current available tubes - not New Old Stock (NOS).  Some NOS tube(s) could make a huge difference.  Check with Travish to see what tube or tubes will have the most musical impact; and then consider some NOS for that or those tubes.  

Just some thoughts.  Good luck.
Dealer came to my house and professionally installed Soundsmith; he also used shims to adjust VTA. I have always run cartridge at 400 ohms (and going up to 500 doesn't make much of a difference). I think the setup and installation is well done. I'm also already running NOS tubes (GE 12x7 and Siemens 12au7). I used to find tube rolling fun but I'm a bit over it now; there's just too much variability with tubes.
Yes the SUT is more or less essential. I've never been into them but this Decware design is integral and using theirs, exchange program even, its an interesting solution. Seriously considering trying one, and I have a Herron which is a fantastic phono stage, just not a pure tube let alone SET zero negative feedback passive design.
I know the Paua well - I suggest you start by auditioning the matching Soundsmith phono - as the loading and gain requirements for the Paua are unusual - ie gain of a moving coil stage, but the ability to adjust the loading between 500 and 1000 ohms.
Good idea. But note the Decware SUT uses infinitely adjustable loading - on the fly - simply turn the knob.
How can someone else tell you which sound coloration do you like? 
@millercarbon nailed what I'm looking for by describing warm woody tone. My research is that most current audiophile phono stages are generally voiced to be neutral; I'm looking for a brand/model that is not shy of creating a noticeable house sound.
Lol! Hey all I did was read what you wrote!
Maybe it’s because the Charisma has a wooden body but it has more of a warmth and vintage coloration to its tonality that I like.
Got a feeling you might really like the ARC PH3SE. Mine had a nice warm sound that did have a woody tone to it, but only in retrospect when compared to the Herron. I home auditioned a lot of phono stages before buying the ARC. It did not sound colored compared to those. It did have more warmth than most.

Another one you may like, the EAR 834P which if you really do want warm and woody can’t imagine how you do better than a vintage (mid-90’s) EAR.

The EAR is one of those that has just enough detail, but not in your face it draws you in, which may be just the thing for you. Don’t know about the newer ones, but the ones back around 1995 were warm as a goose down blanket.

The 834 would also be a steal, after all this time probably only a couple hundred bucks. If you can find one. 
"The 834 would also be a steal, after all this time probably only a couple hundred bucks. If you can find one.  "
What world are you living in?
Uh, the world where you have to find stuff in order to buy it? No? How about the world where 20 year old components sell for a fraction of what they cost new? Still no? How about the world where insulting smart alecks with nothing positive to contribute get cut off and ignored permanently?

Sorry. That last one was not really a question. As you will now experience.

Hope it was worth it to you.
Good idea. But note the Decware SUT uses infinitely adjustable loading - on the fly - simply turn the knob.

Not correct.
With a SUT the loading is determined by the gain of the SUT and the phono input impedance.
The highest load the Decaware SUT can provide is 470ohms from their 1:10 transformer, assuming a standard 47k phono input.
The Paua requires 470-1000 ohms to find the optimum.
SUT's also have phase issues but thats another story.



The EAR 834 is unsuitable for the same reasons I outlined above - the ability to adjust load 470-1000 ohms with high gain.
@millercarbon
Here is a listing here for a used EAR! They don’t sell for a few hundred   
bucks like you stated!
EAR 834P | Tube | Briarcliff Manor, New York 10510 | Audiogon
Reading the threats of being cut off and permanently ignored by MC are what keep me coming back to this site. I love how we all create our own intrinsic value we present to the world.  lol
Gotta agree the 834P isn't cheap even used. For now, I'm going to wait on the PS Audio, maybe it will get me what I'm looking for if it at least gives me a fuller body to the sound. Other options are JC3+ and Gold Note but both these are described as very neutral. 
Bin the cartridge,Get a cheap Nagaoka 200 and put a smile on your face
For the record, what millercarbon actually said, word for word:
Another one you may like, the EAR 834P which if you really do want warm and woody can’t imagine how you do better than a vintage (mid-90’s) EAR.
I seem to be getting forgetful in my old age, maybe someone will remind me- exactly when in the mid-90's was 2015??

There's a reason by the way for specifying mid-90's. That was the year I heard. No idea what subsequent years sounded like. Just so as to not leave that one in doubt millercarbon also wrote, in the same post no less:
Don’t know about the newer ones, but the ones back around 1995 were warm as a goose down blanket.
I'm a little foggy. Seems to me 2015 was a good 20 years later?

Long time readers will know my disdain verging on disgust for the truly appalling lack of reading comprehension. Which sometimes is so bad- one time I said THREE TIMES "not saying these speakers are perfect" only to be told again and again each time by the same inept reader that I said they were perfect. So either its third grade (if that) reading level, severe mental (oh wait we're not supposed to use the R-word) underdevelopment, or plain old stubborn disregard for the facts.

Any way you slice it, what point can there possibly be in trying to converse with such a one? All we have are words, which they have a proven inability to comprehend. Also if you do try and buck the odds and converse what is going to happen other than one misunderstanding after another? Like Forrest Gump, minus the charm. Simple Jack. Good for a gag in Tropic Thunder, but come on, man!

But if on the other hand you explain what is going on and why- you are being ignored because you are insulting and have nothing to contribute (the "and" is deliberate) well then isn't that the most merciful thing possible all around? This way if Simple Jack keeps going, well, there's that lack of reading comprehension again. Not like he wasn't told. Just didn't understand. Again.


OP, I can’t help but think of an earlier phonostage I loved before moving on to the ARC REF3 phono: the Manley Chinook.  
@millercarbon
Stop the presses. The self acclaimed guru of high end audio has spoken. The EAR 834P has not changed from 1995 to the present. Here is a list of the  new listings and sold listings from HI-FI shark.   A few hundred bucks?
https://www.hifishark.com/search?q=ear834p
https://www.hifishark.com/search?q=ear+834p
I recently upgraded from the Aria to the JC3+ and love it...
The highest load the Decware SUT can provide is 470ohms from their 1:10 transformer, assuming a standard 47k phono input.

<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Mr.donvito, pardon me!

It’s 1:20 if you read, there are 3 selections, of SUTs
V1 is 1:20 Low MC
V2 is 1:10 High MC low ohm
V3 is 1:10 High MC hi ohms

And yes you can change the preamp settings on the fly...for RtR NEC or IEC, thus the SUT also... Does that impact the SUT, OH heck yea...

BTW, they are not the only one with on the fly adj for carts... I’ve done it for 35 years....YES there is magic in that pot, in spite of the "I haven’t tried it, so HOW could I know it crowd", friggin DA, to be polite.

Two ears one mouth use it accordingly. Cotton out of the ears and in the BIG MOUTH...

Should read before you go spouting off. I’ve dealt with Decware for almost 20 years, now...

Again Ear834 clones are abound...I’ve used them, quit impressive to. They also make a good RtR pre with a few mods, like the Marantz 7 pre/ C22 clones. Clones 2-400.00. The real THING, ad a ZERO 2-4,000.00.
That’s 10 to 1. LOL
Just need to look up a schemo or two and do the mods, LIKE 600 ohm for the RtR input and on the fly Bias for NEC and IEC tape standards.
2-400.00 MAX if you can solder a little and read a LOT...

OP You want a type of sound, Valves are always the way to go.. But it sounds like you got tired of rolling valves. I don’t think you can have it ALL unless you are willing to roll a valve or two.. It takes me a whole 5 minutes to do a roll.. I wish you the best, in any case..

Decware is the BOMB, the problem is the 4-6 month waiting list. I wonder why? Different ideas, and better in a lot of cases... The word Art comes to mind. Wonderful workmanship... ART.....Point to Point ART...

Picky, is good, perfection is not...It will drive a person NUTS....Ay?

Regards


@oldhvymec
What does this have to do with my comment on the price of a used EAR phono preamp? Please clue me in!
"The 834 would also be a steal, after all this time probably only a couple hundred bucks. If you can find one. "

<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

That’s why. You can find a "clone" for a 1/10th the price, do the mods and have 1600.00 to buy 4 more..

I don’t need the name, I just need what the name does... If I  want better resistors, caps and hotrod the PS HexFred or Schotki.. 

Same with the PAT1-3 upgrade kits for their PreAmps.. 10 X the price of anything even close to that kit/upgrade. That unit has a good modifiable phono stage with RtR MC and MM options.. Just have to tinker a bit...
Retro PLUS on the looks for sure...Again the PS mods and resistor/cap upgrade, makes them BETTER than even the best that came from the factory... .5 THD to .01 ( on the high side actually)

C4-8 monos from Mac will do the job also... ALL PtP and all Valve, OLD, but GOOD

Regards
Wolf BiT IG-1 is what you want. Phenomenal phono preamp.
Not certain why your unhappy with that adagio...its a very very good phono stage. I'll trade you my tavish the classic for it lol. Herb Reichert uses it as his reference phono preamp. Not certain you can do much better at the price. It has pretty much everything you could ever want or need built right in, including the step up transformers...Maybe try a different cartridge or swap out the interconnects. 

The adagio is very good and I can live with it but I just want some more body to the sound; for example my schiit yggdrasil definitely sounds fuller than my analog front end. Also honestly while the adagio looks OK, it still has that DIY look that you get from a lot of smaller manufacturers. The PS Audio should be here tomorrow, will see if that outclasses the adagio.

The new cartridge is way too expensive for me to even think of replacing it, and it also performs very well (it's just a tad leaner than my old cartridge). I went with the soundsmith because of their rebuild guarantee (I have had bad luck with not damaging my cartridges so this is important to me). 

I know I'm being picky but I'm very close to getting my system to a state where I'm completely satisfied with the sound and finally getting off the upgrade train for a while. 
Looks like that Tavish Adagio isn’t delivering enough tube magic? The rest of your system appears solid.

This was flavor of the month years ago, here on Agon
https://positive-feedback.com/Issue57/nvo.htm

The other model "only" has 13 tubes instead of 22.
There are a couple of listings on the "other" site. All these years, and I haven’t found a bad review from a user. If I were looking, I'd have one of these on my radar.

A little generic/DIY looking(build looks cheap) but the sound coming out of it makes up for it? After all the years it been out, I’m surprised it hasn’t been reviewed by Fremer.
The Paua is not a lean cartridge, I know from experience.
I listened to the Paua many times mounted on an SME 20 TT with both the Soundsmith phono and Linn Uphorik - both solid state, but have the ability to load up to 1000ohms.

As I stated in my earlier posts it requires loading between 500-1000 ohms.

The Tavish has Jensen transformers for the MC gain which I suspect limits your loading to a max of 470ohms, and I believe the source of your problem is the use of SUT's ( in the Tavish ).

I think you will find out if you try the PS Audio or Soundsmith phono or a suitable phono that provides loading options 500-1000 ohms withut the use of SUT's, you will be better off.

The other issue that may be causing brightness, might be VTA. Since the Rega tonearm has to be shimmed to get the VTA correct - has this been attended to ? If you can measure the height of the Paua and compare it to the height of a Rega cartridge ( from top of cartridge to stylus ) this will give you an indicator of whether you need to adjust VTA.


@arize84, roll in some shuguang 12A_7 TG types...very musical sounding tube and none of the analytical qualities.
@dover The PS Audio came and I have been listening to it for a few hours. From out of the box it was better than the Adagio.
  • It has a more muscular presentation and I'm getting more punch out of the cartridge
  • Using higher loading options(750 ohms); I got real benefits in the higher frequencies and upper mid range
  • What surprised me the most was in the increase in sound stage depth (both front and back).
  • It is also much quieter than the adagio
  • Finally build quality is really nice and very aesthetically pleasing

I also forgot to mention that I have only had the Paua for 2 weeks and I guess it is still breaking in; it now sounds a touch more lush than a couple of days ago.
arize84
That sounds very promising. Looks like if you just let everything settle in you are on the way. I would suggest just enjoy, and have another look at fine tuning with loading  once everything is run in in a couple of weeks.
Hagerman Trumpet MC is your guy. Beautiful warm open sound quality without going too overboard. In my system it competes with the $14K VAC Renaissance SE in musicality where nothing else can. And it only costs $1K new. It also has excellent loading and gain options - with all loading settings equally available at all gain levels. 
To the OP: The discontinued Sutherland PhD. It was the best sounding preamp I ever had and was the perfect combination of solid state  speed/punch and vacuum tube depth/realism. The only piece of gear I regret selling. 
@mulveling 
Sounds like the Hagerman Trumpet MC met or exceeded your expectations .
Could you compare it to the Rogue and Herron preamps that you own. The primary cost saving appears to be in the power supply. 
Is there anything missing?
Like the OP I'm a big fan of full and warm - a real baby grand in my living room :)

@mulveling 
Sounds like the Hagerman Trumpet MC met or exceeded your expectations .
Could you compare it to the Rogue and Herron preamps that you own. The primary cost saving appears to be in the power supply.
Is there anything missing?
Like the OP I'm a big fan of full and warm - a real baby grand in my living room :)