I have not personally heard it, though I have a friend that found it very noisy. I would also recommend avoiding the ARC Ref phono and looking into the Aesthetix Io Signature, or the Lamm LP2.
I heard the Steelhead at CES and while it was "nice" and didn't do anything "wrong", it didn't sound to me like a $7000 phono stage. it is hard to really judge any component in a show situation as setup and system context are so important; especially for a phono stage. but my 3 year old $5000 Aesthetix Io seems to have much better dynamics and "musical involvement"......again system context is very important. the steelhead seemed somewhat tame and closed in in comparison.
the front panel adjustments could be real handy if you change cartridges often, and the volume controls might eliminate a preamp in some systems; but it must deliver the sonic goods. i would recommend a home demo on ANY phono stage as analog setups are so varible.
Thomas, any perceptions from CES must be preliminary at best. another issue is break-in......most phono stages i am familiar with improve dramatically in dynamics and openness with time.
I don't know how familiar Chad is with all the phono stages out there. he is mostly going on Michael Fremer's comments.
Mr. Fremer, of Stereophile, has never commented on the Aesthetix Io, so i presume he has not heard it. the Io sets a pretty high bar in my perceptions as far as explosiveness and musical energy. so to Fremer, the Steelhead may be more dynamic than his other references, but still short of mine.
i am currently auditioning the Lamm LP2 in my room. it is very good, much more quiet than the Io, much greater detail, more articulate bass and deeper and more layered soundstage. but the Io has far greater dynamic energy and life "so far". i feel the Io in my gut. the Io imparts an energy to the sound that connects with me.
i have only had the LP2 for a week and it is still openning up and gaining life. i don't expect it to ever reach the dynamic levels of the Io. so i will have to make a choice of priorities. possibly the Io Signature will give me the refinement of the Lamm LP2 and the dynamic energy of the Io.
so the Steelhead, if not broken in, could be similar to the Lamm......i wouldn't know without hearing it in my system.
the Lamm doesn't have all the front panel adjustability and options that the Steelhead has, and it has less potential gain; 57.5db verses 77db. but all the complication of the Steelhead can't help the resolution and purity in comparison to the Lamm or Io.
i look forward to a Steelhead owner commenting on their experiences......with phono stages context is everything.
Thanks for your thoughtful response, I see a bit clearer now.
Well, to Mr. Fremer all I can say, I liked reading his articles a lot a few years ago ( "Old" Tas and so on ) but the past few years he varied very much with quality of his "reviews". Well, I lost interest reading his column, but honestly I can say, compared to others ( Scull ...)he tries more or less still his best...
Yes, let's wait for a honest comment from a owner with a good system.