MC phono stage without transformer?

A newbie question:

I read a lot of 'reservation' about using an external MC step up transformer to increase the gain of an MM phono stage. But as I searched around for MC phono stages, I noticed that a lot of these actually have internal step-up transformers, some of these transformers are exactly the same as what some people used to make their external step-up.

So if transformer is no good, I should really be looking for an MC phono without the tranformer? Do these exist though?
What is the voltage output of your cartridge?
Personally, I've never used a transformer-based MC stage ("passive"). Basically, you can design an "active" phono stage to provide the requisite gain. But, as you add gain, you also add noise. In the case of a low output MC, you might not be able to get the necessary gain without too much noise, esp with tubes. It can be done though. I've run a relatively low output Ortofon Salsa thru my CJ PV-8 "MM" stage and it has plenty of gain (31 db linestage gain and 47 db phonostage gain).

That being said, others have used transformers in their setup to great effect. I don't think that all transformers are bad, but like everything else, some are better than others and some carts may mate with them better than others.

Yes, they do exist (I own one) and I bet all/most of them were developed using a step up as the benchmark. The external sut is still the most cost effective solution. There are things that have to be addressed. Such as loading, length of output cables, etc.
if transformer is no good

but it is. Your fears are unfounded.
I currently have a MM phono stage (tube) with 50dB gain. I am using a cart with 2.6mV output. But I want to experiment with Low Output MC (like a Lyra Skala).
Why not get a step-up to see if you like the LOMC cartridge in your system. You can get a K&K Audio Lundahl step-up for about $350 (built) and it's easy to use with a plug n play resistor feature so you can easily change loads on the cartridge.
There is nothing wrong with a transformer, but the Herron phonostage uses a jfet to boost the gain to 66dB. There are plenty of others that don't use transformers.

You will want to use a sut. Depending on the gain of your pre your MM has pretty good gain, but it will sound closed in and tipped up. The sut will allow you to load the MC properly which will fixed the sound. It will also give you back more fine volume control.

K&K is a good recommendation.

Also, last time I talked with John Chapman of Bent Audio he was planning to start shipping the new MU sut replacement this July. If you are not familiar, the MU has been one of the highest regarded suts for several years. People don't usually part with them, even if they have an active MC gain stage.
Do you mean the $875/pair as shown in this website?

I'll call up K&K to see what they have... if it only cost $350 then it's a no brainer to try.
Yep, if you want the best that is the one to consider. Hopefully, John will be shipping soon.
If you want to go cheap, but still get some quality contact this guy.

Al Gallacher

Otherwise known as anumber1 over on AA-vinyl.
Well, actually not that cheap. K&K would be better.
Dan_ed, do you know what transformer is Bent Audio MU using? I was told that certain cartridge do not like certain transformer.
I've used LOMC phono stages both with and without transformers. My transformer experience is limited unfortunately to only the Tron Seven I currently use. That being said, having compared it to another decent transformerless LOMC stage, (Pass Labs Xono), and IMO your transformer fears are unfounded.

The Seven sounded more realistic to me and was just as quiet as the Xono. I'm sure people will jump in and say they suck and mess up the music relative to a quality transformerless phono-stage but in my system based on what I've used, they do not.

Regardless of what people say, (me included), I'd just try to listen to whatever you can and not limit yourself based on a specific technology and buy what sounds good to you. Good luck. worry.. I did a search and found that it's S&B trannies inside the Bent MU
MC stepup transformers introduce distortion based on hysteresis losses inherent in any inductive device. These distortions will mask a certain amount of detail and it is unavoidable.

In addition, the transformer, again like any inductive device, can ring, which is another kind of distortion (harmonic) that blocks detail and also makes things brighter. Ringing can be controlled to a certain degree by proper loading, but now things get a bit tricky as you have to make sure the cartridge is loaded properly as well. Of course you can ignore these things if you like but that means you won't get all the performance that the rig has to offer; its worth paying attention to.

OTOH there are phono sections that are completely MC capable; at least IME the very best stepup transformers are a degradation to the signal with such preamps. They are a great problem solver if your preamp is not already MC capable.
Bent can not get the s&B trannies any more, that's why they are redesigning the MU.
Bent is no longer using S&Bs for the trannies as S&B stopped shipping out their trannies to DIYers and OEM manufacturers a while back. I believe John selected Magnaquest as the new supplier. I have a feeling its still going to be a while before you see them though.

Dan_ed, glad you caught that on the Cinemag.

I have read many posts by Ralph and Raul on the subject of SUTs. I respect their opinions but would say that I have had no issues with the use of SUTs in my set-up. That being said I'm going MM now anyway, mainly due to my VAC Avatar SE but also because I agree with Raul and others here that MM cartridges are overlooked and underrated.
If your going to try an sut it must be a good match for your cartridge. Before you jump call and talk to someone like Kevin at K&K and have him do the math for you and make a recommendation. Many feel it is best if you can avoid having to use load resistors mabey youll get lucky and find an sut that has an natural impedance to match your cartridge. Also look at jensen they show a zobel network for the loading on their trannys and probably have something that will work for you.
I'll love to try Jensen too, but I'm not a DIYer
Im sure someone here can recommend a trannie that works well with a Skala. Theres a guy on ebay called capn bob that builds suts with a variety of different transformers you might contact him and see what he offers. The tricky part is getting the loading right as to some degree its up to your ears to decide what load sounds best.Its worth spending the time to find a good match as when its done right your cartridge can really come to life. Of course you could just get a manly pre and dial it in to your hearts content.
I would urge you to give Kevin a call at K&K.
The latest Lundhall offering LL1931 he carries is exceptional and some feel it surpasses the S&B based Bent. $400 a pair.

I believe Dave Slagle is supplying the new magnetics for the Bent. I've been using Dave's autoformer volume controls for a while now, and they are extremely good.


I don't get how it is best to avoid load resistors but apparently ok to use a zobel that adds both resistance and capacitance? Seems counter-intuitive to me. Or, are we talking about the pre-amp side?
As Atmasphere pointed out, there are certain inherent limitations of transformers. But, that is true of ANY means used to amply the signal of a low output MC cartridge. If an additional active stage is needed, that too, has its problems. Unlike a transformer, any active stage will increase noise. It is easier to control noise with solid state devices, but, solid state has a particular sonic signature that some may prefer to avoid.

My own preference is for tube-based phono stages. However, that usually means an extra stage of amplification over an MM phonostage or the use of a transformer. Part of the problem with transformers is that they need to be carefully matched to the particular cartridge to work their best.

The other "problem" is that really good transformers are NOT CHEAP. I've heard great sound from Audionote (uk) and Kondo stages that had breathtakingly expensive transformers in them. I heard homemade units with the Audionote transformers that were also terrific. Another transformer that sounded good to me is the Jensen. My own phono stage (Viva Fono) has a transformer in it, but I don't recall its provenance.

The Slagle autoformers are being used for the TVC.

A post from John on his Audio Circle forum regarding the step-up transformers:

"Finally I have a new transformer I am happy with. It's a unit wound by Magnequest that we worked on together over a good part of the past year. We tried quite a few options and this one really stood out from the rest and it felt good to land on something like that! Just now getting the shielding can's on order and arranging a production run with Magnequest so it'll be the end of June or so before I get the stuff needed to make the first production run.

Pricing should be the same as before - or very close. The 1:10 / 1:20 gain switch will be standard now."

He had a couple at VSAC so he is probably very close to full production.
Ralph is absolutely correct in that transformers have their problems. Designing one that gracefully hides their limitations is quite the challenge, with some of the main contenders being Lundahl, Bent (Slagle), Jensen, Tribute, Audio Note, et. al.

Now, designing a phono stage capable of accepting a .25mv cartridge and producing musical output is not a trivial affair either, and Atmasphere, Nick Doshi, and Essential are some of the main contenders in this arena.

I've heard entrants from both camps produce very musical results.

A while ago, I did a bypass test with a pair of Lundahl step-ups (LL 9206) into my full-function Quicksilver preamp. The Quicksilver is MM-only capable with total gain (including line stage) being 58 dB. The good news is that it is extremely quiet, and the gain structure of the rest of my system permits me to get reasonable volume when fed by my Dynavector XV-1s.

Running the Lundahl, there was the slightest bit of audible smearing, but all in all, it was remarkably close to running straight in to the Quicksilver which is a very revealing phono/pre.

Some MC capable phono stages have separate MM inputs. You would be advised to try this test yourself if you have access to one. Run a step-up into the MM stage and compare it against running straight into the MC stage.

For the price of the Lundahal (while not perfect, it is faithful to the music), you'll learn quite a bit about what may or may not work in your system context.

Also note that Jim Hagerman makes a solid-state head amp, which I believe is called the Piccolo. It's another option for those with MM-only phono stages. I've yet to try one, so I can't comment on it.

The problem you will face is in auditioning in your current system context. You may well find yourself preferring one architecture over the other, only to discover later (with an equipment swap), that your results change 180 degrees. This isn't the first time you've heard this, but in the case of analog, the number of variables you're dealing with make the analysis exponentially more difficult to sort through.

Thom @ Galibier
Ahh ... I missed Clio09's comment, noting that John Chapman is using Magnequest for his Bent/Mu step-ups (and not Intact Audio/Slagles). John is using Intact Audio (Dave Slagle) autoformers for his TVC however. I heard a pre-production unit over the weekend.

Sorry for the confusion.

Thom @ Galibier
Dan-ed, It may not be possible to avoid using load resistors with certain cart/trans. Im merely showing a resource for another solution. With some trans the cap is supposed to suppress the ringing although jensen is the only one Ive come across so far that gives precalculated networks for a given load. Ive been experimenting with a variety of trans various loading options and so far no resistor (or cap) has sounded the best but only after finding a trans that is a good match (nat imp and gain) for my cart. The search goes on. I also found that the high priced trans were not necessarily the best for a given combination. If I wasnt into experimenting and diy solutions Id just call Kevin at K&K and go with his recommendation.
Thanks, Rccc. That makes more sense, a zobel to correct load imbalance that may be contributed to ringing with some trans. I also agree that no components at all should sound the best. Good luck with your search. I've also begun to take a more DIY approach as of late, except I've started at the speaker end and am working backward.
Maybe a higher output cartridge would be a start? .35-.45mV should be an easy device to amplify.I noticed that approaching this level has many benefits in amplifier cost ,sophistication and sonics-and no need for transformers.Shy away from PSs that employ vast numbers of tubes to provide their gain.Noise and tube expense for matched,;ow noise NOS can add up quickly and finding the culprit can be fatigueing.IMHO-YMMV

You're absolutely bad. I would be curious to hear how the Magnequests stack up against a pair of copper S&Bs (which I always felt were a very good SUT, though I prefer the Lundahl LL1931)...has anyone done a firsthand comparison??

Tpsonic, the problem is that a lot of really musical cartridges have low output- 0.2mV to 0.3mV. Many tube preamps have troubles with cartridges this low.

One of the better SUTs we auditioned was made by Jensen, outstanding in the world of transformers with decades of experience.

We found that loading was paramount to reducing the artifact from the transformers. Jensen was well aware of the issues and has a loading chart for their devices along with a lot of popular cartridges.

Despite having the loading optimized, you could always hear the insertion of the SUT. Admittedly, it was more on the subtle side, but over a period of weeks and months you got to be more and more aware of it. Switching back to running direct (our preamps are designed for low output MC), there was an immediately noticeable improvement in air around the instruments, a greater sense of delicacy and obviously improved detail.

I suspect that having a direct-coupled output on both the preamp and the amps helps us hear extra detail, but one thing is for sure- it was the sort of thing that anyone in the room could easily hear and it was very repeatable.
Dear Viper and friends: I posted somewhere:

+++++ " The SUT is an old patch for bad SS phonopreamps designs and for the inherent limitations on tube phonopreamps for handle low output MC cartridges. It is a " cheap solution to a complex problem ".

There is no synergy between low output MC cartridges and tube phono preamps and less than that there is no synergy between SUT's and quality music sound reproduction.
The problem is not on your phono preamp the problem is in that you buy the wrong cartridge for your phono preamp. Your phono preamp is for high output MC cartridges and MM cartridges. " +++++

and here this link:

The SUT subject has many " sides " to analize/comment.IMHO to understand why people like Atmasphere, I and some other people speak in that way it is a must to undertstand what happen ( which hard " road/process " most pass the cartridge signal ) for the cartridge signal goes to the amplifier/speakers with out noise/distortions/colorations and almost intact and truer to the recording, these means with almost no degradation at all!!!.

Through my music and audio life I learn many many things like what to do and what not to do ( on many subjects ), I learn too through the professional magazines like TAS, STPHILE, etc, etc and I learn from them for what they say but for what they don’t say too! I always try to learn ( every single day and from any where. ) on what is my passion: music and home music reproduction.

I already state many times the paramount importance in the Phonolinepreamp ( that only a few people agree with ) I have to understand why is so important? What is the main work of that item? What happen inside it? What does not must happen inside it? And many other questions.

What happen with that tiny/fragile cartridge signal ( LOMC or any other ) when goes inside a Phono and line stage?, first the signal has to be amplified ( in some cases , very low output ) almost 10,000 times before could be amplified for the system’s amplifier, 10,000 times!!!

This Phonolinepreamp work is a “ tour du force “ because that amplification level must be with out any signal contamination of every kind: RFI, EMI, noises, distortions, colorations, etc, etc, how to do it with so tiny/fragile signal level? Well this is the first challenge that the designer has to understand and try to handle it.
How to do it with almost no degradation on the cartridge signal? How to do it making that the cartridge signal be always truer to the recording? How to do it with a minimum signal “ manipulation/handle” ? well these are our design challenge.

Second the cartridge signal must pass a very critical stage where that signal can suffer a heavy degradation if you don’t take care, I can say extremely care: inverse RIAA curve equalization where the signal ( in a simple explanation way ) must have around 20 db of boost on the bass octaves and 20db lowering in the high frequencies, after this process the signal have a flat frequency response that will be amplified at the line stage and final in the amplifiers.
This is a lot more easy to say that to do it with accuracy. What I mean with accuracy? Well that the phono stage RIAA curve be a mimic ( inverse one ) of the RIAA curve with which the recording was made, any deviation in the phono stage RIAA curve makes that the reproduced “ sound “ be far away from the recording and what we want is to be near and truer to the recording!!!

Because the RIAA eq. is not linear but a curve any single deviation at any single frequency “ disturb/degrade/ have an effect on almost three music octaves, this kind of RIAA eq. deviations makes and create distortions and colorations in the cartridge signal, distortions and colorations that are not on the recording: so the target here is to conserve intact that tiny/fragile signal with out no RIAA eq. deviations.
That’s why I always say that a good Phono stage must be ( at least ) at no more than 0.05db deviation from 20hz to 20Khz.
My Phonolinepreamp is calibrated to achieve a RIAA deviation of no more than 0.015db, this figure could make a difference? no doubt about. I’m not a measurements item lover but at the RIAA eq. accuracy is the name of the game other things equal.

As you can see the cartridge signal can/could suffer a heavy degradation through the phono and line stages, more than in other analog links. So we have to take care of that cartridge signal in a way that can/could suffer a minimum degradation.

We need that the cartridge signal pass for the SHORTEST “ road “ before the amplifier/speakers/room final stages, because in any single stage ( phono stage, line stage, phono stage connectors, line stage connectors, IC phono to line stages cable, etc, etc ) the signal suffer a different type level degradations that alter the original signal and that puts a lot of “ veils “ between the signal and you ( your ears music signal perception ), in any single stage/link we are “ loosing “ part of the signal that we can’t recovery ever and at the same time we are adding distortions/colorations that was not on the original signal.

We take in count all these subjects in the design that’s why my system unit has the phono stage and the line stage integrated on the same unit ( we don’t degrade the cartridge signal through a lot of additional stages: phono stage connectors, input line stage connectors, IC cable, etc, etc, SUT, SUT connectors, SUT IC, ) .

We don’t only take care of the Phono stage design but we take care ( with the same “ passion “ ) to the line stage design because the cartridge signal always must pass through it and here the signal could suffer additional degradation.
As you can see ( again ) to have a well designed Phonolinepreamp is a complex task. There are many other critical subjects on the design, please let me explain only one more:

It is not only important to have 0.015 db on RIAA deviation but most important is to maintain it over any playing condition!!!!: all electronic parts ( transistors/valve/resistors/capacitors ) change its performances with temperature changes, this means that if we don’t care about that RIAA deviation can change with changes in the item running temperature ( high distortions and colorations ).

Now, to introduce a SUT ( internal/external ) put several additional " veils " between you and the reproduced cartridge signal, those " veils " from different kind and with differente range level of distortions/colorations/omissions/additions/etc/etc.

So, why too many people use SUT's?, well it is a cheap solution, it is more easy to design with SUT that to make a high gain active Phonolinepreamp design ( SS or tube one ): a lot lot easy!!!!

But that: lot lot easy!! means too: a lot lot degraded sound against the very high quality performance of a well active high gain Phonolinepreamp, no doubt about!!!

The very SAD subject on this " history " is ( like in this thread ) that many un-informed ( non-knowhow ) people not only accept the SUT's but support it when the SUT's goes against the quality sound reproduction in any audio system and not only this but that acceptance send a very clear/precise " message " to the Phono Stage designers/builders: EVERYONE IS SATISFIED WITH THE POOR SUT's PERFORMANCE SO WE DON'T HAVE TO TAKE CARE ABOUT TO IMPROVE THE QUALITY PERFORMANCE OF OUR PRODUCTS !!!!, because you have to know that all those SUT's builders/designers know what they produce.

Of course that to achieve a high quality sound reproduction through a non SUT based design has a price ( $$$$ ) to pay, no doubt about and of course that you have to choose what do you want, what performance level do you want, what quality sound reproduction level do you want and of course too that not all the people have the money or the same high level performance priorities and that's is another reason why exist the SUTs.

Regards and enjoy the music.
I will just say that there are several active head amps and phono stages that can handle LOMC at around 0.25 mv so both SUT and head amp are viable. The impact of very small changes in loading of a good SUT (Bent) was very audible in one very revealing analog rig that I've heard and clearly but not very audible in my (at the time moderately revealing) rig. So if you go SUT, make sure you can easily adjust loading (again like the Bent) and then incrementally zero in on the right load. You may need to run resistors in parallel and changes as small as 1 or 2 ohms are audible.

If you have a good MM stage, then I would consider an active gain stage if you can afford it; if you are starting from scratch and the phono stage (internal or external) you are considering has an MC option, whether it is SUT or active gain based, implementation and matching are probably more important than the actual technology. THere was a recent article in S'phile, by MF I think, that discussed the SUT/cart matching issues in depth and he concluded that the "best" SUT depends on which cart it is being used with. And also there are the cabling issues; the "effective" length of the interconnect, if you have an outboard SUT, is "multiplied" by the step up ratio (I'm using the term multiplied loosely; I don't really understand the technical issues involved). With an on-board SUT, IC length is essentially zero, so that drops out of the equation.

if there was a universally applicable answer, then only one of the two technologies would persist. As usual, it depends. With the v. low voltages involved, as Raul indicated, the what "it depends" on becomes very complicated. And esp so with an SUT where the cart/SUT needs to be looked at as a unit.

FWIW, I now use a ZYX ss mc phono/active gain stage into the line stage of a either a tube integrated or a tube pre and OTL amp, with a ZYX cart LOMC cart. I also had v good results from a ZYX head amp into the MM stage of my tube pre; better than the MC stage, but then the MC stage did not have user adjustable loading at all, let along the ability to vary it in very small increments. The ZYX phono and gain stages are not adjustable in any way, but they make magic iwth the ZYX carts. The bass in particular is stunningly good.
Raul, I agree with your post in principal but sut's are an affordable solution to a complex problem. not all of us can throw $12k at our phono pre and a properly implemented sut whether active or not can and does provide an accurate, clean and musical signal. For most systems its a matter of choosing your preferred distortion.(id love to hear your pre amp)
Rccc- cost is of course an issue for most of us, but IIRC, Raul's product (which I have not heard) is as he calls it a "phonolinepreamp" or as most of us call it, a full function pre-amp. If its $12k, that's not out of line for v good similar products like VAC Ren, Atma-sphere MP-1, Asthetix, etc. BAT VK-51 line stage plus standalone phono stage is more than that. Manley Steelhead phonostage is $7k alone w/o a line stage. And that does not consider the bleeding edge products like Audio-note. High end SUTs seem to start at just under $1K, but you still need a phono stage and line stage (integrated or stand-alone) plus cabling and PCs to go with them.

An SUT can be a cost effective solution for sure; perhaps Raul's choice of words "cheap solution for complex problem" could have been different (inexpensive or economical solution to complex problem), but let's not forget that he is not a native English speaker.

Analog rigs are transducers that have very complex mechanical, electrical, and audio issues, so its not surprising that there is "more than one way to skin the cat" and of course many listener's have different priorities and so may favor one design solution over another. For many of us, cost is also a factor. and every design is a compromise in some way. So the "right solution" varies from individual to individual and from rig to rig. Viva la difference!!!
Swampwalker, I completely agree but want to defend the lowly transformer. Lets not forget that the majority of recordings were obsessing over were made with microphones going into the same transformers at the input of the mic pre so your listening to a transformer whether you want to or not.
Dear Swampwalker/Rccc: I agree with both of you because ( as I point it out in my post ) the subject of price is an issue and not everyone can afford an expensive solution even if it is a lot better one.

Anyway, things are that I would like that instead that the analog industry stay making noise about the new SUTs ( that IMHO don't bring any good to the music reproduction and stop the growing up area. ) it will be better that that noise was on the " news " about Phonolinepreamps that could bring several improve steps in our analog perfection quest performance.

It is a SHAME ( for me ) that the Editors of Stereophile/TAS and the like don't do nothing about when their reviewers support with a very high enthusiams the SUTs, how can we ( the analog industry ) grow up? how the designers/builders of active high gain stages ( like Atmasphere, dartzeel, Doshi and many others ) could go to lower prices when the people that are wealthy goes too for the SUTs because a little non know-how about and too much of those professional reviewers that support it?

I'm in favor of better an affordable quality performance for all of us and of all us can/could help for that happen but not like in the SUT case where almost everyone: customers, reviewers and audio dealers forgot a little about quality for business and I think that we can have both quality/business at the same time.

Well it's enough about.

Regards and enjoy the music.
I agree with Raul on nearly every point save that of the fact that tubes can work very well indeed with low output cartridges, direct.

Rccc, while it is true that there are transformers that were in the signal path in a lot of the recordings you favor, it is misleading at best to say that these are the **same** transformers as in the case of an SUT. Mic input transformers have different requirements as do line output transformers or the output transformer of the tube cutting amp for the LP.

You might be curious to know what an LP could sound like if some of **those** transformers were eliminated; the answer is "better!"

"High end audio" supports a diverse community: tubes, transistors, horns, CDs, LPs, headphones... there are people who are trying to get the best sound they can, those who buy only on cache, those who only care about the music and those for whom the experience of live music in the room is their only goal.

Raul and I represent two aspects of this community wherein we have the same goal of no-holds-barred experience of live music in the home, but he is solid state and I do it with tubes. In both our cases, since we are able to work with some of the best equipment available, the experience of the degradation that transformers bring is easily revealed. This is not so easy for those who have to struggle with a budget, who have sorted out how to get their hands on a low output cartridge but not figured out how to get the gain for it: the SUTs represent a compromise and as good as they get, they will always continue to **be** a compromise.

Raul and I would prefer to work without compromise to the best of our abilities.

A serious problem we all face on audio forums is that audiophiles all use the same terms but we don't have a good measure of the intensity of experience that comes with each term, regardless of the term. So at some point a leap of faith is required and often that leap runs short of expectation :)

In a nutshell, the more resolution you are able to get out of your system, the more artifact you will hear from SUTs.

Atmasphere, I should have said some of the same transformers used for mic pres are also used for mc step up. Im thinking of peerless, byer,neuman and jensen whos mic trans were used for mc step up before they started making purpose built trans for phono. Im using a peerless 4722 which I believe was originally for mic pre input. I agree its far from ideal but they still sound very very good. Making a tube stage that can properly load and amplify a low output mc with no trans is no small feat, my hat is off to you I hope one day I can experience it in my system. Great to have your input (so to speak)
A lot of people never heard a high class step up transformer when they talk that transformers are no good...listen to a Kondo KSL-SFz and into a high class tube phono stage in an appropriate set up and they will forget about their high end solid state phono stages...
That comparison has been conclusively made, and my Nick Doshi Alaap (FET's for MC gain, tubes for MM and line stage gain) isn't going anywhere. A well known Kondo dealer performed the A/B in his own system last year, using a customer's older Alaap that's actually two generations behind the current reference level. Despite that advantage the Kondo dealer reported that his "high class" ($40K) units got "killed" (his word). He tried to sign up as a Doshi dealer, but since Nick only makes 10-12 preamps a year he doesn't need any more dealers.

I think Ralph summed up this subject well,
This is not so easy for those who have to struggle with a budget, who have sorted out how to get their hands on a low output cartridge but not figured out how to get the gain for it: the SUTs represent a compromise and as good as they get, they will always continue to **be** a compromise.
He might have added that any other solution in the same price range as a good SUT will **also** be a compromise. There are no MC head amps in the $1-2K range of a good SUT that don't also represent a compromise. Swampwalker's ZYX head amp is very good, better than my Bent Audio MU's for example, but it's still compromised vs. reference class equipment in a very revealing system.

For those on a budget however, SUT's and head amps both offer viable and - big point - ENJOYABLE ways into the world of LOMC's.
FYI, Viva makes their own transformers. Also, the Sowter 8055 SUT is what Michael Elliott of Counterpoint/Alta Vista Audio/Aria fame prefers and uses.
Dear Dougdeacon,

I havnt said that all solid state mc stages are bad, Im sure that there are a lot of good sounding units out there. I was really happy with my former Gryphon Orestes which was solid state. But besides things like dynamic, resolution etc. (where a lot of people put there attention on in separation) a high class MM tube phono stage and a high performance step up leave the music more intact than any phonostage I know (ASR, ARC, Gryphon...). Sure there is also a major influence of the MM stage in the preamp used. At least in my set up the build in phono stage in my preamp and a good step up are "better" than all the phono stages I used with the same preamp. I also have to say that the 7000,- Euro Gryphon (I had a all Gryphon system before going for tubes) was close but not on the same level in "giving music sense" as the tube step up combination. I just say this cause I cant stand people saying "transformers are crap" after hearing their 100$ Denon transformer...

What Ralph said is true and yes, all attempt to replay music at home is a comprise no matter how good the technology gets...on the way to the technological perfection it is often forgot about music, at least thats my feeling with a lot of highly acclaimed components I heard. For instance the highly regarded ASR Basis exclusive. It was a big disappointment. It had everything from frequncy extension, resolution dynamics etc and I'm sure it measured perfect..BUT it left me uninvolved and emotionally cold in the long run.

Sure transformers might be "old" technology and might not be the best choice for some modern high impedance carts but they can provide a sound that lets you focus more on music than on sound. By the way the Bent, as good as it is (I have also one, copper version), it is very "different" in the way it connects you with the music than a Kondo or Auditorium Hommage (my references for transformers).
Another contender for a high gain all tube phono stage is the Wavestream Kinetics fro Scott Frankland.
While I very much respect Raul's and Atmasphere's comments on the subject, and I agree that the subject is a complex one . . . it isn't terribly ambiguous, and there are some simple facts to the subject.

First, transformers and inductors are eschewed components in undergraduate EE design practices, and this is for sound, logical reasons. But their potential shortcomings have been very well researched over many decades, and they can be measured . . . and it is indeed possible to transparently apply a high-quality transformer to the task of a MC input stage.

Second, since when is an audio transformer an 'economy' or 'low-budget' component? Yes, a designer can save some time and effort by slapping an off-the-shelf transformer in front of an existing MM phono stage and calling it done . . . but if the product is designed in this manner, the transformer's shortcomings are likely to be only the tip of the iceberg. This is a problem of methodology, not philosophy.

Third . . . in a low-noise circuit, input stage noise will dominate, if the designer has done his/her job correctly. And low-impedance transducers (like a low-output MC cartridge) simply do NOT deliver their best noise performance when coupled directly to an input stage, especially one that uses JFETs or vacuum tubes. Now I understand and respect a design approach that tolerates a mismatch here to acheive other objectives, but in terms of noise performance for i.e. a 5-ohm phono cartridge, a well-executed transformer/autoformer input topology will ALWAYS perform best.

And finally, the biggest issue with improper cartridge loading has very little to do with the transformer or the lack thereof, but with the lack of standards and consistency among cartridge manufacturers. There is simply too much variation in cartridge design and manufacturing methods to be able to allow EVERY cartrige to work its best with a single type of phono preamp . . . a simple gain adjustment and loading resistor can only do so much. Kinda like finding ONE amp that will bring out the absolute best from EVERY speaker.
Dear Ron: In my case ( as I already posted on other threads ) I have in deep experiences with Audio Note whole products ( from the Ongaku through speakers, cartridges, SUTs, etc, etc ) due that the distributor here is a close friend of mine. I tested it ( SUTs ) in a whole audio Note system and in my system too.
I already owned almost every single ( top named ) SUT out there including Expressive Technology one.

I can asure you that I know exactly what I'm talking about, please don't have any doubt on the subject.

+++++ " a high class MM tube phono stage and a high performance step up leave the music more intact than any phonostage I know (ASR, ARC, Gryphon...). " +++++

I respect your opinion but like you say " that any phonostage you know ", well you don't know every one and certainly not the best integrated units ( tube or SS ): Phonolinepreamps that are the ones that I reference about quality performance against any SUT.

+++++ " with a lot of highly acclaimed components I heard. For instance the highly regarded ASR Basis exclusive. It was a big disappointment. " +++++

IMHO ( an no quibes against ASR ) " highly regarded " for people that does not care or does not know too much about music, that design is based on op-amps and can't represent a standard to compare with it.

Ron, till you hear the right Phonolinepreamp ( SS or tube one ) you are ( with all respect to you ) " out of base " trying to support the SUTs ( including what you own ) against a well designed active high gain Phonolinepreamp.

Ralph, some other people ( including me ) can do it because we have an in deep experiences about, maybe I'm wrong but at least I already try it.

You have to look to have the opportunity to test it and maybe after that you could think in a different way, you like me have the every day opportunity to learn something about music sound reproduction best quality performances.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Dear Kirk: +++++ " Now I understand and respect a design approach that tolerates a mismatch here to acheive other objectives, but in terms of noise performance for i.e. a 5-ohm phono cartridge, a well-executed transformer/autoformer input topology will ALWAYS perform best. " +++++

I have to disagree with you here because IMHO that depends on the design, that btw we don't tolerate any mismatch at any single level " to achieve other objectives ".

+++++ " NOT deliver their best noise performance when coupled directly to an input stage, especially one that uses JFETs... " +++++

here I agree with you.

+++++ " There is simply too much variation in cartridge design and manufacturing methods to be able to allow EVERY cartrige to work its best with a single type of phono preamp .. " +++++

again it depends on the design.

+++++ " And finally, the biggest issue with improper cartridge loading has very little to do with the transformer or the lack thereof, but with the lack of standards and consistency among cartridge manufacturers... " +++++

that's another reason why the SUTs are not the best way to go.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Dear Raul,

"well you don't know every one and certainly not the best integrated units"

sure my notes are made out of my experiences and I cannot have tried ALL high class units. The mentioned ones have been the ones I was living with for a longer time, but I heard more in different systems (most of my audio friends made the same experiences like me and listening with step up transformers now). Do I heard the best integrated units?...I dont know, but I had one of the most regarded and exclusive solid state phonostages which is said by many people to be clearly above the level of most SS designs, the Gryphon Orestes. As mentioned this one was very good, even slightly "better" in some specific hifi terms such as bass power BUT it doenst let you forget about the technical aspect of music reproduction as my actual set up. My maybe limited experience is enough to make my say that a good transformer is at least not a bigger compromise than a SS unit in general. There might be units like the Atmasphere preamps with high gain tube MC stages which might be a good way of getting rid of the transformers. I just heard the MP3 which was ok but doenst convinced me.

Before getting my actual stuff I was running an all Gryphon SS system never giving a thought about tubes and transformers. But after getting my actual preamp "by accident" I was almost shocked what I was missing all the time. Here we are for sure also on the area of personal taste and I have experience that different people have different ways of listening to music. For me, the more a component lets me forget about hifi, gives sense to music and touch me emotional the better I find component, but I also have made the experience that a lot of people rather focus on things like dynamic, detail, frequency extension instead.