Phono stage for 0.2mv cartridge?


  I am looking for a quality phono stage with at least 72db of gain.  During this last year I obtained a Canary MC10 which sounds beautiful but I am somewhat volume limited and listen at such high volume control settings that tube rush has become an issue.  At 69.5db of gain I hoped that the Canary would work out but...
  Most of the popular stages like the Herron and the Manlely Steelhead seem to run in the 66-70db gain range.  Reviewers seem to routinely report on these phono stages using cartridges with low outputs but that runs contrary to my experience so far.  Any suggestions appreciated.

Bill
wbs
Are you looking for SS or tube? Or does it matter?
Have you considered the Gold Note PH10?
Has a maximum gain of 72db.
Very user friendly and affordable.
Good luck
Keep in mind that all gains having a certain number of db are not created equal. And that certainly applies with respect to signal-to-noise ratios and consequently to hiss levels.

Although I use the low gain (64 db) version of the Herron VTPH-2 (not 2A) with a 0.5 mv cartridge, Keith Herron advised me when I purchased it that it would also be fine with a 0.3 mv cartridge I was considering at the time. Based on that and based on how quiet my VTPH-2 is I suspect that the high gain version (69 db) of the VTPH-2 (and presumably the VTPH-2A as well) would be fine with a 0.2 mv cartridge. And if you were to give Keith a call I’m sure he would provide accurate advice.

Of course this assumes, as is likely, that your present phono stage is what is primarily responsible for the hiss you are hearing, rather than your preamp.

Good luck. Regards,
-- Al
My Allnic H-1202 has 72dB gain (40dB MM tube stage + 32dB from transformer) and it works wonderfully well with my Benz Ebony TR which has an output of 0.14mV.  No discernible noise at any volume I'm capable of listening to.
Why not use a SUT to bump up the output and than run that into a good MM phono stage. SUT will not introduce noise if properly built and grounded.I use a SUT for my Denon DL-103 and run that into a Audio Research SP-8 preamp. Very musical and no hiss or hum. It's a very popular approach. Not easy to build a quiet high gain phono preamp.

BillWojo
You should maybe consider the EAT e-glo. Tubed, and a massive 76 dB of gain.
I do have another concern here.
69.5db of gain should have been more than enough to drive 0.2mv cart unless serious phono to preamp mismatch?
I drove a ZYX at 0.24mv at just 66db gain on my Gold Note PH10.
72db of gain would be more in line for carts with 0.10 to 0.05mv output.
If everything is matched downstream.

So question for the OP.
What preamp and what cartridge and what adjoining cabling?
Agreed with @uberwaltz. Close to 70db of gain is huge for .2mV.
  I am looking for a quality phono stage with at least 72db of gain. During this last year I obtained a Canary MC10 which sounds beautiful but I am somewhat volume limited and listen at such high volume control settings that tube rush has become an issue. At 69.5db of gain I hoped that the Canary would work out but...
@wbs

The difference here is not even 3dB! That quite simply isn't an issue when we are talking about working with a cartridge of 0.2mV. The phono section in our MP-1 preamp has only 66dB and it works fine with 0.2mV.

Something other than gain was afoot in the case above! What was the problem that caused you to seek more gain?
FWIW, I have three tube phone stages, an Aural Thrills Audio Serenade rated at 60db of gain, an Allnic HE1500se II rated @ 66db of gain and a Wall Audio Opus 120 rated @ 70db of gain and in the same system with no changes other than the phone stages the system plays louder at the same settings in the opposite order as you would think from the output rating by the manufacturers. No way I can explain that, will leave that for those that can, but there seems to be more at play here than that rating in output db by the builders. Enjoy the music
Tooblue.
Now that is most interesting.
I had always assumed the difference was in the downstream equipment the phono interacted with that gave rise to variations in perceived" loudness" for same gain.

Obviously more at play inside the various phonos than just the published gain specs!
@uberwaltz, really surprised me as I started trying all three phone stages to decide on the one to cull/sell, as you might remember I was a bit leary of the Wall Audio @ 70db of gain as I had no issues with enough gain to begin with. Even used the same albums and monitored with a hand held SPL meter. Enjoy the music
@tooblue 

Was the cartridge loading the same for all three phono stages? If not, that might explain what you were hearing.
tooblue
well at least we know you aint going to lose your shirt if you decide to sell the wall audio unit!
lmao
Regarding the Wall Audio Opus 120, out of curiosity I took a look at its description and at a German-language review of it which are provided at the Wall Audio site. I see no indication of what its gain is for either of the two settings of the front panel switch that is provided for selection of moving coil (as opposed to moving magnet) cartridges. "70 db" is indicated as the signal-to-noise ratio it provides for LOMC cartridges. (That being a spec which is generally useless, IMO, because as in this case those numbers are usually provided with no indication of the "weighting" and/or the signal levels they are based on).

For moving magnet cartridges there is an indication which seems to indicate that 2.5 mv in results in 777 mv out, which is a relatively high gain (for MMs) of 49.8 db. But no such spec appears for LOMCs.

@tooblue Did the manual provide an indication of gain for LOMCs?

Regards,
-- Al

The Wall Audio is going no where, the ATA Serenade will be listed for sale on U.S. Audio Mart next week, along with 7 other pieces of gear. Love audio, hate selling it. Enjoy the music
@almarg , thank you so much for coming in on this conversation, I was hoping you would. I did not get the owners manual but have requested for one to be sought out for me from a friend of a friend living in Germany so that should be forth coming. The dealer I bought the Wall from is listed as the only U.S. distributor, Highend Audio in California, and he seems to be dropping the line, this was his floor demo, which I bought for a song. He stated the mm @ 45db gain, and the mc @ 64 and 70 db of gain.
@tkr, the Wall is the only one of the three that has adjustable loading and it was set @ 100 ohms, which is recommended by the manufacturer (ZYX Universe). Enjoy the music
Post removed 
Tooblue
Have you tried different loading options?
My ZYX really sang at 470 ohms on the Gold Note.
Sorry not meaning to hijack the OP thread or take it down another path.
@uberwaltz, yes I have and the 100 ohm was most to my liking. I am the one that needs to apologize for the hijack. Sorry OP.
The ModWright Reference PH-150 tube phono stage provides a lot of gain and is very quiet in my system, currently set up with a low-output Lyra Kleos SL (0.25 mV output).  Dan Wright could probably answer some of your specific questions in this area.
This discussion is interesting.  The replies are kind of what I expected, and I hope to understand this a little bit better.
 My preamp's volume control reads in db from -80 to +15.  I listen to a variety of program material and with some symphonic and much rock I like it kind of loud sometimes, up to 90 or 95 db (by my meter).  With digital sources this is achieved with volume settings in the -10db area.  Using an EAT Jo No.5 cartridge (0.3mv) connected to the Canary increases the volume setting to +5 or so for the same volume.  This is fine with me, with low background noise and plenty of volume.  Switching to either of my 0.2mv cartridges requires raising the volume to +10 or more for this volume level and I have found myself maxing out a couple of times.  With my volume control set this high, the hiss (per Al) from the phono stage starts becoming apparent.  More annoying typically with symphonic music.
  My preamp is a McIntosh C100, phono cable is Harmonic Technology.  I am trying to improve on the Mc's already very good phono stage.  The Canary is to my ears a large positive change and I hope to equal that if I can.

Bill
Bill
Thanks for the additional information.
However something really does not add up somewhere.
No way with a 0.2mv output and 69.5 db of gain should you be anywhere near maxing out your preamp gain!

Now maybe it’s further down the chain as even with a digital source you are near the top of your preamp gain.
Possibly undersized power amp with inefficient speakers?
Just generally working hard with your Watts for a living?

So power amp and speakers?
If you posted your full system, it'd be easier to know what's going on.  Agree with @uberwaltz that there ought to be plenty of gain.  Is your old C100 working properly?  Have you tried another phono stage besides the Canary?  You're running a weakling amp, maybe?  Or your speakers are are tough to drive?  Hard to diagnose without more info.
@wbs

As I explain later in this post, in addition to providing the info suggested by the others it may very well be useful if you could describe how much difference there is between the volume control settings you would use for a given cartridge with the C100’s built-in phono stage vs. the Canary’s phono stage. I’m starting to suspect that the Canary may be providing significantly less gain than the 69.5 db spec, for whatever reason.

The gain of the phono section of the C100, fyi, is about 73 db for LOMCs according to my calculations (excluding the gain of the line stage).

It appears that inadequate gain in the C100’s line stage can probably be ruled out as a cause of what you have described. The line stage of the C100 is specified as producing an output of 2.5 volts in response to an input of 450 mv. That corresponds to a gain of about 14.9 db, which is very consistent with your mention of a +15 db max setting of the volume control, and which is significantly above average as line stages go these days.

And if a weak tube or other defect were somehow causing reduced gain in the line stage, it would not account for the more reasonable results you are getting with a 0.3 mv cartridge compared to your 0.2 mv cartridges. 0.2 mv is only about 3.5 db less than 0.3 mv.

What **might** be adding 3 db to that difference, though, are differences in how cartridge output specs are defined. See my post dated 7-4-2012 in this thread.

But regarding the gain provided by the Canary phono stage, 69.5 db would boost the rated output of a 0.3 mv cartridge to about 896 mv, and it would boost the rated output of a 0.2 mv cartridge to about 597 mv. And as I understand it brief dynamic peaks of some recordings, especially those having particularly wide dynamic range, can on occasion cause a cartridge to put out several times the rated output. The upshot being that those numbers seem to me to be several db higher than I would expect would result in the 15 db difference in volume control setting you’ve described for the 0.3 mv cartridge compared to digital sources, as well as the difference of 20 to 25 db with the 0.2 mv cartridges compared to digital sources, if you are using unbalanced interconnections in both cases and if the Canary is truly providing 69.5 db.

More annoying typically with symphonic music.

Not surprising, of course. As you certainly realize the wide dynamic range of many symphonic recordings will often result in the volume control being set higher than for most other kinds of recordings, and the soft passages of symphonic recordings will be more revealing of hiss.

Those are my thoughts at this point. Not sure what else to suggest beyond what I and others have already said.

Good luck. Regards,
-- Al



Al
Great post.
However do you not think also that in general the OP is having to run a lot higher line stage gain even on a digital source than one would expect?
This indicates to myself a potential downstream problem that might be compounding the phono issue.

For instance if I tried to run -10db on my BAT ( which has a range -68 to +22) from my DAC, I would fear for the health of my ear drums and windows!
Hi Uberwaltz,

It’s hard to tell at this point. The additional info you and Goheelz requested will help shed light on that, of course, and your point is certainly a possibility. But given the mention of 90 to 95 db levels and symphonic recordings that presumably have wide dynamic range (probably vastly wider than the dynamic range of most pop and rock recordings), it seems to me that everything downstream could be hunky-dory.

Best regards,
-- Al

Al
That also makes sense as that is not my genre and even with good older rock recordings there is generally a higher level of inbuilt compression and not the vast dynamic range and swings of a full blown symphony.

And just looking at numbers the difference between -10 and +5 is quite something on its own.
Not what one would expect from a true 69.5db gain at the phono.
An unusual phono in that it caters for MC only with no options of gain having a fixed 69.5 db and that’s it.
7 tubes total, I would not think one of those would be cause of lack of gain.
Another piece of information that might help would be what was used prior to the Canary acquisition?
Another Phonostage or using the c100 phono input?
And how was it prior to the Canary in the system with the same carts?
I have no lack of horsepower.  I am passively biamping B&W N801s with an MC2000 and MC1000s.
Thank you for the conversion, Al.  I have wondered what the db gain is.  Actually, I am using my 0.2mv cartridge with the preamp phono stage with good results, slightly more apparent volume than the 0.3mv cartridge and the Canary.  Which kinda supports my position regarding how much gain I might want.
Uberwaltz--I have owned these units since new (whew) and the volume characteristics I have described have been consistent, and I have never considered them to be out of the norm.  The stereo is capable of live seeming volume levels in any genre and can be overwhelming when desired.

Bill
I can't imagine why you have volume trouble with 70dB gain.  Should be plenty.  Listening with volume control up past 12:00 is also desireable, as this is the lowest distortion region.

Hiss?  Well, that could just be the phonostage.  Other ones may be quieter.  Or you could use something like a Piccolo2 on the front-end to put things back together.
Op
definitely no lack of ponies for sure.
but still curious as to what you used for a phono prior to the Canary and how that performed volume position wise?
I am using my 0.2mv cartridge with the preamp phono stage with good results, slightly more apparent volume than the 0.3mv cartridge and the Canary. Which kinda supports my position regarding how much gain I might want.

If the cartridge specs are accurate and are defined on a consistent basis the 0.3 mv cartridge provides 3.52 db more output than the 0.2 mv cartridge under the same conditions. And if the Canary phono stage and the C100’s built-in phono stage are performing to spec the C100’s phono stage provides 3.5 db more gain than the Canary. So those two differences should cancel out, resulting in exactly the same volume settings for the two cases.

However the "if" I began that paragraph with may be a bit too "iffy" to draw any firm conclusions.

BTW, unrelated to all of this I’ll mention FYI that I would expect that you are using the 1.2 volt sensitivity setting of the MC2000, rather than the 2.5 volt setting, to achieve a reasonable gain match between the two amps, assuming you are using the same output taps on both amps and the same type of interconnections to both (i.e. unbalanced or balanced). Although even in that case the higher powered MC1000 amp would still be providing about 2.4 db more gain than the lower powered MC2000 amp, probably resulting in a slight over-emphasis of the bass. (As far as I can see neither amp provides a level adjustment other than the high/low sensitivity switch on the MC2000).

Regards,
-- Al

Like Atmasphere suggesting something went wrong in Dallas. I can not believe it would be a loading problem. Bad cartridge? Bad something. I believe ARC makes phono amps with 72 dB of gain but you really should not need it. I knew somebody who had their cartridge demagnatized. 
One thing that isn't mentioned with gain specs is the noise. A preamp with 70dB might be noisier than one with less gain (although certainly one would hope its the other way 'round). Based on the descriptions here it sounds like one phono section is noisier than the other; the gain thing does not seem to be the issue.


BTW one rule of thumb to observe is this- all phono sections have noise. It really doesn't matter what you hear when you lift the cartridge from the LP; what matters is when the cartridge is in the groove, that the phono preamp noise is less than that of a silent groove. If not, it will interfere in quiet passages. When tubes get weak in a tube phono section, noise is the most likely symptom. The noise will build up as the transconductance of the tubes falls off. This is also true of semiconductors but it usually takes them a bit longer :)

At any rate I'm leaning towards the idea that there is a malfunction or incorrect setting somewhere.

I respect these opinions but I think the system is OK.  It sounds really good to me, and I admit that my concerns are kind of fringe, because the volumes being discussed are higher than I think most folks usually listen at.  Actually, the gain is the larger irritant to me.  I know all phono stages are a little noisy, and the tube stage is louder than my SS phono stage which draws it to my attention.  But live rock albums should play at realistic levels and I cannot achieve those (quite) with the lower gain combination.
  Since they're right in front of me I do watch the big blue meters, and I am used to being able to peg the meters on the MC2000.  I can do so using the 0.2mv cartridge and the preamp phono stage but using the Canary I can only get about 90% of meter travel at full volume.
  Al, you are right about the amps.  When I contemplated buying the MC2000 I called McIntosh and asked if my proposed configuration would work.  The people there surprised at the question but finally decided that the amps should match OK.  Of course they didn't, and I have to pad the monoblocks down a little.  These days I use a little inexpensive one-input one-output balanced passive preamp I found on Amazon.  Works great and is easier to use than the inline attenuators I used to employ.  This limits system output to the MC2000 but there is so much power, and the preamp has a healthy enough output that any limitations are beyond my listening requirements.  My first 'real' system was an actively biamped setup using a homemade (by an EE major at Cal Poly) crossover and I had fun playing with it for many years, giving me a little background on this stuff.
  Previously I was using a Benz Ruby H with a Lucaschek phono stage.  The two were voiced together, I believe, and work well.  Using that combination I was getting volume close to the 0.3mv/Canary setup, could just peg the meters at top volume, and was pretty satisfied.
  I hear what everyone is saying that something isn't right, but so far everything still seems to point to my original contention.  The 73db of gain in my preamp's phono stage is fine.  Works great.  I was hoping to match that performance with a higher quality outboard unit.  I am aware of a couple of units but they are out of my price range, and I am hoping for suggestions to increase the field.

Bill