MC Transformer or phono stage - help anyone?

I am seeking the sage advice of all the vinyl experts. I have a Benz ruby 2 on an Audiomeca romance arm and turntable. I run it through the moving coil section of my Musical Fidelity Nuvista M3 integrated. The cartridge is medium output (.4 mV) and while I am happy with the sound I suspect the phono stage is the weak link of my system. I notice the bass to be a bit weak particulary lower notes. Does anyone have comments on what sort of improvement adding in either a good moving coil phono stage or transformer would have (little or large). If so which would you recommend (stage or transformer and brand)? I have tried to read up on this but still end up quite uncertain. My price range is uncertain - I would say what would I have to spend to see a reasonable difference. I would hope somewhere between 1-2,000 but less would not be bad. Options I wondered about were the Benz stage or the 47 labs phono cube. The rest of my system by the way is listed. The room is a large one (18 X 40 with cathedral ceilings and I listen to mostly classical and jazz, but some rock as well. Thanks in advance for taking the time to read this and any help would be greatly appreciated.

All that a MC transformer will do, is to boost the gain from the cartridge signal into the phono stage. If your problems are not gain related, this will not help. Sometimes if the signal is not strong enough into the phono stage, it will result in a "flat" sound. Very little life, lacking dynamics and generally shit. I found this to be the case when I put my Shelter 501 direct into my MFA Magus phono stage, in the hopes that I could avoid using my Cotter MC step up transformer. No dice. The sound was flat and lifeless, even with correct loading on the phono stage. There was just not enough gain to make the sound have life. Added the Cotter transformer,properly loaded, and ....awesome!

So, you need to diagnose where your problems are coming from. If there is an inherent problem with your components, then a MC transformer won't fix it. Then you need to change something. If the problem is just insufficient gain in the front end, then the transformer can solve the problem. Also, it will cause the phono circuit to be quieter, because the additional boost from the cartridge will require less gain from the phono stage, and gives lower noise floor.
One other thing to think of that your amp might already have one step-up device for MC and adding another one can only make things worse.
Your comment: "I am happy with the sound.... I notice the bass to be a bit weak particularly lower notes."

The Benz cartridge VTA should be set with the rear slightly lower. This can have a big impact on bass performance.

Also, you likely have it loaded at 47K, you might try 28 K, this is where I preferred mine.
Less likely Ruby 2 gives .4mV rather giving .3mV so the gain is also an issue here.
If you add a small bit to your budget you should get Pass Aleph Ono and forget about built-ins no matter how descent they R.
I have been researching this lately myself and have found that there are two camps with decidely different points of view (so what else is new in high end?).

One side says that no matter how well designed and built a MC stage is, without a transformer to step up the signal it cannot handle the extremely small level of an MC cartridge without adding noise and distortion to the signal. Audio Note prefers this approach. However, their ultimate solution is a transformer in excess of $10,000.

The other side says that the inherent nonlinearities in any transformer are worse than the distortions introduced by a high gain MC stage.

At this stage of the game I suspect that good results can be had with either approach. I have used an Aesthetix IO with my .35 mV cartrige and have been very happy but this is a > $5,000 solution. I also used the Pass Ono and it too was very good.

I have now been forced to downsize from the IO and the only solution I could come up with was to go the transformer into a MM phono stage route. I am awaiting the arrival of this equipment so it is all conjecture at this point, but I think at your price level this is a better approach. There are many good preamps with phono stage for around $1000 used and transformers are not that much. There is an Ortofon T3000 on eBay now for $600 shipped.
You will never know about certain things until you try them in your system. For 199.00 K+K Audio has a transformer step up kit which you can set up 5,10,or 20 times. Even with a grado sonata with 1.5 mv output and about 48db gain phono pre, in my system, the sound was very undyanmic and had little bass. I stepped it up 5 times to 7.5 and it was a whole new ball game. It was more dyanmic and full bodied than my grado reference/reference with 4.5 output and no step up. In theory 1.5 mv and 48db should be fine but it sure liked 7.5mv alot better. In the worst case you would be out 199.00 in your present system, but you would always have a step up device in the future, for various cartridges and or pre amp changes.

Enjoy Tom
I just installed an old "The Head" stepup (precursor to the EAR MC-3) between my 0.6 mV Koetsu Red Standard and CAT Ultimate pre. Just a fantastic improvement with more dynamic and tuneful bass among many other things. This brought back what went missing from my analogue when I swapped out a Rowland Coherence One for the CAT last year.

If you have a lowish output MC and an all-tube phono stage (with a few exceptions) a stepup or head amp would likely be the way to go. This will likely "open up" the sound considerably, reduce any tube noise that the phono stage may generate, and allow you to keep the gain knob at roughly the same position for line and phono sources thereby avoiding nasty surprises when switching between sources.

I have no first-hand experience with the NuVista M3; I think it has a tube preamp section. Also, depending on how it is measured, I think the Ruby 2 cartridge output is closer to 0.3 mV. I suspect a stepup WILL give you what you are looking for. Go for something basic first and just remember to plug it into your MM (not MC) phono input.
By the way, optimal impedance loading for the cartridge at the stepup is usually different from that at the preamp. You will have to research what this is for your Benz and shop for your stepup accordingly. The stepup likes to see 47K at the phono stage (ie MM).
Thanks to everyone who read and responded, the help is greatly appreciated.

If I understand what everybody kind of said it depends on if it is an issue of gain and the quality of the preamp. I like the preamp a lot for cds but understand that low output mc are even more critical of the preamp. If it is an issue of the preamp quality then the phono stage would be the way to go. If it is an issue of gain then transformer. Does this make sense to all of you. From what I have heard the benz stage is unlikely to be a major upgrade, I wonder about the hegtech trumpet (which needs a transformer) or the 47 lab phono cube. Any comments would be greatly appreciated.

your comments are always helpful but I'm not sure how to tell if it is just a gain issue. I like the preamp a lot for cds, the volume is turned up about half and the measured gain in the stereophile review was 70.5 db which should be enough, the impedence was 37.3 though I thought it was to be 47 in the manual.


I will try to adjust the vta a bit, I appreciate the advice. I am not sure I can adjust how it is loaded. Any suggestions. I know you have a wonderful phono stage and wonder if you have any thoughts about a very good stage at a reasonable price (what is reasonable in this world).


the pass was one of the units I gave thought to but size may be an issue as it would attract substantial notice from my loving but only so tolerant wife. I gather though it is one of the best out there.


Your comments mirror my confusion. I saw your io and gave thought to it but was too slow (and I wasn't sure just what I should do). Did you prefer the io to the pass and if so why?

Tom yours makes the most financial sense, and likely the easiest and least to lose.

Kleech the nuvista is a tubed preamp, ss output. As far as I could find the resistance of the benz i 40 ohms (from a listener on the audio note transformers). Is this what I need to match?

Again many thanks, you are a big help and I think bringing some aid to my confusion

From my experiences, 70.5db total gain in the phono stage and linestage combined will not be sufficient for a .4mv output cartridge. I am using a cartridge with the same output, and I have 86db total gain. I am maybe a little too high on the gain because I am at full volume at about 10 o'clock on the volume knob. But I think you'll need at least 80db total gain and maybe even a little more than that, for that cartridge. If it is true that the cartridge gives only .3mv, then you will need 85db total gain, because that was perfect with the last .3mv cartridge that I had on my system. From what you described, I think you need more gain in the front end.
When I had the Pass Aleph Ono I had a different turntable and cartridge than I used with the IO so it would be hard to give a definitive answer. If I had to characterize them, I would say the Ono was a bit tighter, quieter, and a little more analytical, the IO was more musical. The IO and the Ono are both excellent and I could live with either. One thing to consider is that the IO needs to have $500 worth of tubes replaced every so often whereas the Ono is solid state. If money is not an issue I would go with the IO but I have not heard the latest from Pass, the X Ono.
A good tube phono stage with a step up is sonically the best way to go imho. Since you already have a decent phono stage built into your M3, I'd not let it go to waste by acquiring an outboard phono stage which might not even sound as good. I might consider switching over to the higher output version of the Ruby before doing that!

My Koetsu likes a 25-40 Ohm load at the step up so I would not be surprised if 40 Ohms is optimal for your could confirm this with a dealer. The reason I mentioned this is that someone recommended an Ortofon transformer which work best with Ortofon cartridges and offer input impedance of 2-10 Ohms which might not be suitable for you.

I would check out the EAR MC-3. It offers 3 selectable input impedances including 40 Ohms. This lists for $995.