Please Help Me Understand
I don’t get it. What happened to phono volume in newer preamps?
Back story: Perhaps a few of you might remember the “Sounding Board” audio store in Berkeley from the old days. I used to hang around that place from time to time. There was an all-McIntosh, JBL, Dual turntable set-up I was particularly fond of … but couldn’t begin to think about actually owning. Folks working there indulged me, even though I was a fairly broke student at the time.
One day I went in and was greeted with “… it’s not the system you’ve been dreaming about, but let me show you something I think you’ll like.” It was a Marantz 1060 integrated, Phillips TT, and Advent Utility Speakers. The Marantz was 30 watts per channel into 8 ohms, and efficiency on the Advents was 89db I think. That set-up cost nearly half of my entire summer job savings … money intended for college; but I had to have it. I loved the sound of that system, and so did most anyone who heard it.
I didn’t know very much about interpreting specifications then, except that power should be expressed in terms of RMS and that Total Harmonic Distortion (THD) should be as low as possible – the lower the better. That’s it. I didn’t know what the tracking force was, or whether the cartridge was Moving Magnet or Moving Coil. The interconnects were stock issue and the speaker wire was garden variety clear-jacket bare ended copper. Power cords were built right into the amp and TT … real basic stuff. All I remember was the system sounded right (they tell me now that ‘auditory’ memory has no basis in reality). I didn’t engage in “critical listening”.
With the exception of a borrowed reel-to-reel, all music was vinyl. It sounded rich and impactful. Achieving high volume levels was never a problem. In fact, if things got much above 10 or 11 o’clock on the dial, I’d get a few bumps on the apartment wall or a visit from my law student neighbor across the hall. Around that same time a few buddies got together and put on a dance using just that system. We hired a hall, mounted the Advents up high, and rented some lighting – complete with mirrored spinning ball over the dance floor. That place was jammin’!
Fast forward to the present: last night I was playing one of my favorite albums by David “Fathead” Newman. Compared with the DVD/CDP or DAC, the phono volume had to be turned way up in order to hear into the music. I’m using an Audio Horizon phono pre, Audio Technica AT150MLX MM cartridge which - inflation notwithstanding - retails for nearly the entire cost of my first real system. Power amps are rated 200 watts per side (CI Audio D-200); yet the volume is nowhere near the Marantz at a given level. Experience with the Bellari, my first stand-alone phono preamp, was essentially the same. What’s so different about modern technology that causes this? I wonder how a vintage integrated with 30 watts and Damping Factor of only 45 would sound in my system today.