Review: Aria WV5 XL (Line Stage only) Tube preamp

Category: Preamps

The product under discussion is the line stage of the Aria WV5 XL full-function preamp. The WV5 contains a phono stage (MM and MC) and a fully balanced line stage as a single integrated design. A stepper-motor remote volume control is an option.

To report on the performance of the line stage AND the phono stage at one time would be too much information. And I still have much to learn of the WV’s phono stage capability. Therefore I will only focus on the performance of the line stage.

WV - The Counterpoint ancestry

The WV is the first start-from-scratch high-performance preamp design by Michael Elliot since his groundbreaking Counterpoint SA-9/SA-11 phono/line stage products of the late 80s/early 90’s. Upon the closure of Counterpoint in 1998, Mr. Elliot established a new company, [url=]Alta Vista Audio[/url]. There were to be no “new” products through Alta Vista Audio, but repair of all Counterpoint products and upgrade paths for many were rapidly becoming available, including those for the SA-9/SA-11. Up to the end of 2007, the SA-9 and SA-11 in premium upgrade status remained as Mr. Elliot’s top preamp. The WV’s arrival in 2008 changed this.

Mr. Elliot has reported that listening sessions of the WV compared to his Counterpoint preamps, stock or upgraded, result in the WV outperforming them all. After all, that was the intent of the WV design. The SA-9/SA-11 upgrade options are no longer available as the upgrade cost for these is more than the purchase of a new WV. Retiring the upgrade paths for the 9/11 models makes sense.

Following the successful re-design of the SA20/220 and NPM/S series amps into a 3rd generation NP220 amp series, Mr. Elliot was preparing for a new product line that would take his amplifier designs to a new level. This ultimately resulted in another new company, [url=]Aria Ltd[/url], in 2000. The Aria amps got little press coverage but from what I had read about them, and owning an upgraded NPS400 myself, I had a good feeling that they could be special. However, I was more interested in Mr. Elliot’s preamp efforts, past and what was to come.

WV – The design and development

After a few years’ production of the Aria amps, Mr. Elliot began the effort to create a preamp that would not only outperform the SA-9/11, but would mate well to the performance of the Aria amps. The full-function WV (whole vinyl) preamp was now under design. Throughout 2004-2007, Mr. Elliot maintained a blog of his progress on the WV design. This blog has been removed which is unfortunate as it gave the reader an opportunity to follow the design decisions for the power supply, audio circuit, volume control, comparison of several step-up transformers, choice of passive parts, etc.

The initial WV design put the PS and Audio sections in two separate chassis. The final design puts these under one main chassis. Only the power transformer is in a separate chassis; this is less than half the size of the main chassis. An umbilical cable of customer-specified length (typically 6 feet) and captive at the transformer-chassis connects to the audio chassis with a 9-pin connector.

The WV’s PS tube compliment of 4 tubes is similar to many Counterpoint preamp designs, e.g., SA-2/5/9/11. Clearly Mr. Elliot has improved upon what worked well in those products. I still have to wonder what the sound of the WV might have been with the beefy PS design but the added reliability of the simpler design has its merit as well. A picture of the original prototype PS can be found [url=]here[/url].

WV – The product

Now that the WV is in production, the relevant page for this is [url=]here[/url]. And the online owner’s manual is [url=]here[/url]. This page has much detailed information about the WV and its various configurations. I will highlight only a few things here.

The WV comes in two parts-quality levels. And each comes in line-and-phono or line-only or phono-only configurations. Beyond this, there are options to upgrade the Cardas RCA jacks to WBT, upgrade to the new top-level Vishay TX2575 resistors and a silver-wired umbilical. The model reviewed here is the WV5 XL (line and phono model) with the TX2575 resistors, the silver-wired umbilical, and the remote volume control.

A pair of 6922-family tubes is used in the phono stage and a pair of 6922 is used as the “nominal” tube type for the line stage. The WV ships with 2 pairs of EH 6922 tubes but Mr. Elliot makes it clear that the WV is worthy of far better performing tubes. He also notes that rolling the power supply tubes, particularly the rectifier, will significantly increase the WV’s performance as well. My experiences echoed his findings.

One of the unique design aspects of the WV is its support of 12-volt based tubes (12AU7, E180CC, 7062, 6829, 5965, etc.) in the line stage. This is done with a flip of an internal switch. The benefits of this are covered in the listening evaluations discussed below.

Another attractive WV feature is the ability to use this as a home-theater pass-through and NOT require the WV to be powered on. I looked for such a tube line stage a few years ago, and contacted some manufactures to find this feature for the HT system that I have in another room. I was unsuccessful to find such a product and thus stayed with a solid-state product for the HT setup.

When the WV is put into Standby mode, the HT inputs are routed directly to the outputs. One not-so-obvious benefit here is that the amps do not need to be powered off if the user wants to power down the WV. With the volume all the way down, the WV in Standby, and then powering down the WV, there was a faint buzz through the speakers for a few seconds. This “feature” is great for tube-rolling tests without the need to power down the amps.

A few “issues”:

The WV has only one balanced input and one balanced output. And the HT pass-through does not support balanced connections as well. This is untypical for a product with a truly balanced design. Granted, the intent is to use the built-in phono stage. But for a system configured with balanced sources, I would think at least 2 balanced inputs would be needed….for a digital player and a tuner or balanced external phono stage. Also, if the WV were to be used in an HT setup, it would likely be part of a top-tier HT setup, and these are often balanced systems as well. With the custom work that is often available with Mr. Elliot, I am sure any customer could have these additional connections made to a WV upon order.

As nice as the stepper-motor based remote volume control is here, I wish I had remote mute capability rather than simply the level adjustment. Once I set the volume, I am typically fine with that setting. But with regular interruptions, being able to silence the system in an instant would be nice. However, adding a stepper motor is one thing; adding additional switching or circuitry to accommodate a muting function would likely compromise the performance that Mr. Elliot worked hard to achieve.

Many people might find the 24-position volume control not acceptable for fine adjustment. This has not been an issue for me whatsoever.

Mr. Elliot also writes that the WV must be used with shielded ICs to the power amp(s). The unshielded Jade Hybrid ICs have worked flawlessly for me. Perhaps the one-meter length with the amps directly behind the WV helps here.

On the preamp quest:

I have consistently found the preamp to be the most challenging link. With the exception of a few IC’s, nearly all other components auditioned in my system have retained the portrayal of space and decays to some level of acceptance. However, I have dismissed far too many preamps and line stages as they failed in this key parameter. Only a dozen or so preamps / line stages that I have auditioned over the last 25 years have impressed me enough to be worthy of consideration for purchase.

When I heard the ARC SP-8 at a dealer in 1983, the preamp bar had been raised; I came to realize the significant role that a preamp played in the result of a system’s musicality. As a Linn LP12 owner at that time, I was very familiar with the Linn/Naim sound for which I had always been impressed. But this new experience was altogether different. I was not admiring the accuracy of pace, rhythm or timing, and I was not tapping my toes. Musicians and instruments had body and occupied real space. Harmonics, ambiance and decays were there like I had not before heard from an audio system. I purchased an ARC SP-10 a few years later.

I followed the SP-10 with the ARC PH2/LS5 pair and then onto the BAT P10/31SE. Each upgrade here was a refinement from the previous with greater tonal coherency, a lower noise floor and clearly more retrieval of information. But retaining the dimensionality that I had before each change was critical. The BAT brought on a different presentation with the music now at the plane of (and behind) the speakers whereas the ARC projected the sound more out into the room. I quickly came to like the BAT “sound”. And all subsequent preamp models have had this presentation back at the plan of the speakers.

After a few years with the BAT units, I was ready for a major leap in performance like I had attained with the SP-10 purchase 17 years before. With all the praise of the Aesthetix Io and Callisto, I was eager to hear these products. I started with the Io and then followed with the Callisto two years later. The experience with these was like the first time I heard the SP-8. Such times are rare and special. The Io/Callisto combination conveyed harmonic textures and a most strong fundamental of the notes, particularly noticeable with piano, like no other preamp I had tried. Tube rolling took these to yet another level of musicality, most notably, smoothness.

I had a 1-month home trial of a CAT Ultimate II. This made me well aware of the Aesthetix weakness, e.g., much less extended and detailed top octaves, not quite the power in the bottom octave and clearly more compressed dynamic contrasts. But what the Aesthetix conveyed in the middle octaves the CAT could not match. There was clearly a compromise for which one set of priorities had to be chosen over another.

In mid 2007, I had simplified the CD playback by changing to a one-box player. With the 4 chassis Io/Callisto, I was becoming more and more eager to simplify the preamp as well. A passive volume control had great appeal to possibly replace the Callisto. When a Bent TX-102 TVC (with the rare silver transformers) was available in late 2007 at a local dealer, I took it home to play.

There were immediate pros/cons between the Callisto Sig and the Bent. With the Bent, there was a presence in the upper octaves that was very much lacking with the Callisto. The added level of treble information was a new experience in my system. And this gave a sense of greater dynamics with percussion. A return to the Callisto and the magnificent midrange harmonic textures were back. I had never heard another line stage do this like the Callisto. And with this came incredible decays. I compared the Callisto and Bent for several weeks until I passed the Callisto onto a new owner. I missed the Callisto and yet I was enjoying the new musical presentation with the Bent. The Bent/Io turned out to be a very good combination. But by Spring 2008, I took delivery of the WV …. an entirely new experience.

WV – The sound (Line stage only for now)

With my focus on portrayal of space, other sonic attributes such as a strong bass foundation, low-level resolution and upper-frequency extension and detail have been secondary to me. With each upgrade from the SP-10 and beyond, I achieved more refinements in these areas. But unlike any preamp change before, the Aria WV line stage (and phono stage) has made it clear to me what I have missed up to this point. And for the first time, with the WV, I do not feel cornered to choose one set of strengths/weaknesses of a preamp vs. another. The WV brings through the 3D. But unlike before here, the WV allows a wealth of musical information into the room. After the first night with the WV, I concluded there was one effect taking place that was a new experience to me….in a word, purity.

I think we often equate sonic characteristics such as tonal coherency, extended trebles and dynamic contrasts as contributors to clarity and purity. With the Bent, I had these sonic characteristics. And overall, I was mightily impressed. And then a few months later, I inserted the WV into the system. The result was altogether different: the smearing and grain that I had been accustomed to hearing for so many years was gone. There was suddenly a distinct silence between the notes. I can discern lyrics on old rock LPs that had me stumped for years. And this was the first night with the WV…with its stock EH tubes in the line and phono stages and stock PS tubes as well. The temptation for me to swap those tubes was strong but I needed to hear the WV’s sonic signature for a few days. And I followed Mr Elliot’s suggested burn-in process for two weeks with the CD player driving the phono stage’s MM input during the night and day for 2 weeks to achieve 300 hours.

I was scrambling for a high-resolution source to get a handle on the WV’s line stage capability compared to the Bent. The APL Denon player has much more treble extension than the Io Sig, but I needed to hear LPs. Rachmaninoff’s, “The Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini”, got much time here. Even with the Io Sig’s softened trebles and average dynamic capabilities, with the WV line stage there was a greater hint of massed strings as a collection of stringed instruments rather than simply a “beautiful” sound. The Io Sig renders the fundamental of notes in the mids like no other phono stage I have heard. But this comes at a cost with the follow-on of the notes’ tonal signature highly truncated.

With the WV line stage in place of the Bent, there was ”openness” to the sound. The Io Sig’s strong fundamental was still prominent but there was now some “available time” for the notes to breathe and show some of their own presence rather than to immediately be smeared by the subsequent note. I could still hear the smearing but the benefits of this new silence between the notes were becoming clear. Low-level detail in the music by other musicians was now coming through that had been previously masked. I was aware of the cable upgrades (done months ago) to bring on greater resolution to the system, particularly in percussion, but the WV took this to a new level of refinement over its peers.

A return to the Bent and the silence along with the carry-on of the harmonics as they decayed, was much diminished. The fundamental was now overly prominent and unnatural. After hearing the WV for only a short amount of time, returning to the Bent made me only want to get the WV back into the system. The Bent had excelled in similar ways over the Callisto. But the WV was altogether in a different league as it was not only about upper-frequency coverage but also in the purity of the delivery of the trebles, and the all-important mids as well.

A return to the WV and the difference was significant: midrange and upper-midrange piano tones had much more energy in their harmonics. It was not in the loudness level of the tones but rather a “dimensional” signature of the tones. This was a significantly new experience for me that I still don’t know how to describe. The added follow-on treble energy that had been smeared/masked before was creating a sense of depth to the tones. These tones decayed several seconds from behind the speakers as if the speakers were much further into the room. Still the trebles were a bit weak (due to the Io Sig) compared to piano music that I tried on the APL CD player but I was hearing musical details with the Io Sig like I had not before with the Bent or the Callisto Sig. This all reminded me of my first experience with the Kubala-Sosna Emotion cables and their “see-through” capability unlike all the cables I owned/tried at that time. The WV has this same purity that is far beyond any other line stage to ever be tried in my system.

Surprisingly, the tonal-coherency of the Bent and the WV is nearly identical. There were no immediate peak/valley differences between the Bent and the WV in any region of the frequency range. The difference was all about the tonal signature of each instrument from its initial sound through the follow-on.

After the initial impressions of the WV line stage with the Io Sig and APL player for a couple nights, I played a little bit with the WV’s phono stage before I started the line-stage tube-rolling trials. I wanted to hear the WV’s phono stage after 30-40 hours burned in. And it was only a matter of seconds coming off the Io Sig and into the SUT MC input of the WV, that I realized it was not only the WV’s line stage here to redefine performance. This is for a later discussion on the phono performance of the WV. But it was the SUT input and the WV’s phono stage that I was to use for 2 months for all subsequent listening sessions for the line stage and power supply tube-rolling efforts. I would bring in the APL player to confirm the tube differences I heard when changing line stage or power supply tubes.

As Mr. Elliot discusses in his website, the stock tubes in the WV are a good starting point but the WV’s performance will be significantly improved through the efforts of the customer to try many tubes. The one tube that he has regularly stated to make a major improvement is the power supply rectifier tube. My experience confirmed this but I was to make a far greater discovery for the line stage.

As stated earlier here, with the flip of an internal switch, the line stage supports tubes of the 12au7 family. With the stash of 6922/6DJ8/7308 tubes I had here, and along with many 12au7 varieties I have used in the CAT JL-3 amps, I had 15-20 tubes from all the major NOS brands. Out of these, the Amperex 6922 PQ pinched waist tubes were my favorite as they have been in the CAT 6922 sockets. But I was still eager to try many of the other 12v based tubes. I tried the E180CC, E80CC, 7062, 5963, 6829, ECC99, 5965 and 6414. I knew nothing about these other than some success with the 5963 in the CAT amps. But two tubes here took the WV to yet another level beyond the Amperex 6922 PQ with one clearly being the top performer in smoothness, harmonic structure and dynamic contrasts without adding any anomalies that the Amperex 6922 did not have. And it was mighty coincidental that the tube to become the reference was also Amperex: the 7062 PQ pinched waist. I knew nothing about this tube before but it gets great respect from me now. Surprisingly the tube that was in virtually last place was the Sovtek 6H30 tube. Just as a few tubes were able to take the WV to top-end performance, a few, most notably the 6H30, let none of the WV’s capability through.

With the 7062s in the line stage and the Amperex 6922 PQ’s in the WV’s phono stage, I played for a few nights with various PS tubes. I was not surprised to learn that the Amperex Bugle Boy rectifier tube had clarity and dynamics compared to the other 3 rectifier tubes I had on hand for this evaluation. But with this tube came added energy that was causing some fatigue and forwardness. I hoped this was more of an issue of exposing flaws in the other PS tubes. Evaluating many tubes in 2 of the other 3 PS sockets allowed me to find a combination of PS tubes that worked incredibly well with the Amperex rectifier tube. I now had a nice refinement over the stock PS tubes in terms of midrange smoothness, dynamics and treble clarity. The WV’s cover was sealed for good as I was done with the tube evaluation process, i.e., until another WV owner reported the success of the 5814 tube in the line stage.

Curiosity got the best of me. I tried 3 different pairs of the 5814. None of them came remotely close to the 7062. And so that indeed ended the tube evaluations. One interesting note was that I changed the ECC99 tube in the APL Denon player with a 7062 and I was stunned by the benefits. People pay $10k in digital gear updates to achieve what this tube does in the APL player. But this too is a different topic. The 7062 tube is special.

Throughout the tube evaluation process, I had one primary thing on my mind: I wanted to recover some of the 3-dimensionality midrange magic that was so inherently strong with the Callisto Sig and somewhat lacking with the Bent. Ultimately I feel that I have achieved most of this in the WV primarily due to the 7062. Ideally, I would like a little more authority in the fundamental of the midrange tones. But I am also aware that the midrange smearing is gone. And the follow-on tones are now rendered beautifully. Perhaps the colorations from before added to the sense of what I liked about the Callisto Sig with its strengths clearly coming through in the bottom half of the range. As outstanding as the Callisto Sig had been for me, the WV is altogether in a whole different league of performance. No doubt the latest Callisto version addresses some of the shortcomings for which the WV excels.

As I was assembling my notes from the last 2-3 months for this report, I wanted to try the Bent one last time this week. It had been 2 months since I last had it in the system. A CD getting lots of play here has been the Mike and the Mechanics, “Beggar on a Gold Beach”. This recording is outstanding with great detail and decays. Synthesizer chords and vocals carry on forever and ever. After playing a few tracks 2-3 times and the system powered on for nearly 3 hours, I put the Bent into the system.

The differences between the WV and the Bent are greater now than before due to the WV custom tube set. But the Bent continues to be an unbeatable value here. Frequency response between the two is nearly identical. The Bent renders the decays that very very few line stages can match. But the emphasis here is the decay of the fundamental. It sounds wonderful and with the focus more in the mids, it can be seductive. But a return to the WV and now the decays that fade are those from the fundamental AND the harmonics. It gives a sense of far greater dynamics but I think it is more to do with the notes’ loudness levels lasting longer as the tones shift to the higher frequencies. And this gives each sound that more distinct dimensional signature as it decays in one direction across the room or to the rear for a longer period of time and if there is nothing stopping it. The Bent and WV have nearly identical bass extension but with the Bent, there is a bit of bass “thumpyness” vs. more control with the WV.

I tried another favorite CD, Vangelis “Reprise”. There is a wonderful piano track here. A friend of mine who heard this many times here always commented that something was wrong even though it sounded good. With the WV, I understand what he meant. Now there is evidence that the piano contains strings. You can so easily hear this as if it were a harp. A jump to the Bent and the sound is beautiful, but there is no presence of vibrating strings. And the harp that is playing in the background is much overwhelmed by the piano. A final return to the WV and the result is layers upon layers of harmonic structured details with the decays seeing no boundaries. This is absolutely phenomenal.

With the WV loaded with the custom tube set, I have bottom-to-top resolution and dynamic contrasts like never before. And there is this new experience of depth with sounds so beautifully placed throughout the region behind the speakers. But the most significant benefit is this attribute of purity. I never caught onto the constant use of “transparency” so often used by reviewers. Perhaps this is what this new experience refers to but I have owned some of the preamps and amps that got high praise of transparency. And the WV is in such a different performance level than those that I will continue to be cautious of the use of transparency.

Not only has this retest confirmed to me the incredible performance of the WV, but I have greater respect for the Bent as well. That top-tiered TVC’s are selling for a few hundred to a few thousand $$ makes them an unbeatable choice for someone not willing or not quite ready to jump in to the costly arena of the great active preamps.

I commend Mr. Elliot for his efforts to not rush the WV’s design and delivery schedule. What I have enjoyed for several months is a result of that process. I never had the opportunity to own his previous top models, but I feel mighty fortunate to own the WV. And for the price, I cannot imagine anything out there coming close. To pay $8k for a line stage at this performance level is a bargain with all the $15-20k line stages coming out now. And here we have a full function preamp whose phono stage, even with SUTs, significantly outperforming phono stages I have owned that cost from $4-8k. This too is another topic. When you think of the added cost of another power cord and interconnect for separate phono and line stages, the WV’s value is even more apparent. And add to this the possibility of custom design work and modifications, which is unheard of with all the top preamp manufacturers out there, the WV customer has more options than ever before.

As with the SP-10 and LS5/PH2 that I owned for 8 years each, I suspect I will own the WV far longer. It really is this good.

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First let me commend you on your review. I enjoyed how you structured the piece by providing your background and then detailing your journey with the Aria. BTW, this type of writing is not easy and you are an excellent writer. This truly was a REVIEW and not simply a laundry list of features and characteristics that led you to purchase a piece of new equipment. Having attempted to write a review and ending up with a 'laundry list', I can appreciate the difference.

I currently own a BAT-50VK SE and I've been looking a new preamps. I've been sniffing around the Aria website and had one brief conversation with Michael Elliot. I have one question, did you listen before purchasing or did you buy sight unheard?

Enjoy the new equipment and more importantly, the music.

Thank you jazdoc for the compliments. I was fortunate to have saved my notes from the last three months. I had been delaying this review for weeks. Only because a number of A'gon members have emailed me regularly asking about the WV's performance did I finally get motivated to do this.

I never anticipated it to be so long. And yet I could not dive into the WV's capability without first walking through the preamp designs I had owned before. Perhaps many people close the page when they see how big this is. But for those that have thought about giving the WV a shot, hopefully this was of value.

And yes, for the first time ever, I bought a new product without hearing it first. But I knew the odds were on my side that this would likely be a top performer. Had I preferred my current preamp over the WV, the WV would have been put into the HT setup where I very much need a top performer. This is where the Bent will now live for 2-channel CD playback with the GNSC modified Manley Ref DAC.

Unfortunately the webpage links did not work here. I contacted A'gon about it but they were not tweaked ... oh well.

Yes, an amazing and long-awaited review! Probably the world's first! Congrats!!

Great review. Your comments about your preamp evolution were particularly insightful. I've been going down a similar road with preamps over the last few years, and appreciate your commentary.

Looking forward to hearing the WV someday. Enjoy & keep posting as you learn more...Cheers,
Thank you Spencer. I have noticed that a number of friends have changed their preamp more frequently than other system components. I am counting on the WV and SA-2 to get me off the preamp upgrade path for quite some time.

I see that you have the Vendetta phono stage. This is THE one phono stage that I would love to hear to compare with the WV's MC input and the SA-2 into the WV's MM input. One of these days I hope to get that opportunity.


I really enjoyed your review. Wish I could express myself as well. It reminded me that I forgot to send you a pair of E180CC/7062 D getters to try. I'll get them out right away.


If you ever come to Philly, and want to bring the WV, you can do it here. :) Fat chance, right?

Yes, I was fortunate to find a Vendetta in good shape, and then get Mr. Curl to do all his latest upgrades(e.g. Teflon caps, etc.). I haven't had a chance to compare it side-to-side vs. other top phono stages, but I suspect it will hold its own, and certainly compete with others in the the price range. It took quite a while for John to complete the upgrade, due to parts availability issues, but I'm glad now that it's over.

If you do ever make that comparison, I'd love to hear your thoughts...Cheers,
Great review (or was that a doctorate thesis) John. I already knew you could write on all things audio in a completely professional manner. You also did what many fail to do, try and maximize the components potential before drawing any conclusions or describing a sonic signature that changes with each tube introduced. Thankfully, Mike Elliot did his homework in carefully selecting the finest components available (no modding necessary, thank you). You may yet find a few things to boost the performance a bit and I'm sure you'll make the effort. I just installed a pair of Bybee silver slipstrem purifiers in my preamp and it is a very worthwhile tweak.

Hi Bart....I think I need another 20 or so pages for the Phd it scales down to just a Masters project. 8-)

Bybee products indeed. JD of Jade Audio plays with these in his cables. And Steve at GNSC added these to the Manley DAC and the Io when he did these updates for me 2 years ago. I've been eager to get the WV out to Steve for him to hear but I will wait until I get the SA-2 updated. Steve may have some ideas on a few tweaks as he has good insight right when he pops the hood off a component. But as you noted here, Michael Elliot got it right with this unit right out of the gate.

Hello John

Thanks for your excellent write-up on the line stage review, now any update on the phono session?

Hello Gerbie,

The Counterpoint SA-2 is back with Michael Elliot to have its power supply rebuilt with the same parts he uses in the WV XL. I am very eager to hear the SA-2 into the WV's MM input vs. the WV's SUT MC input. I have also looked into improving the ARC MCP-33 again. The MCP-33 brings on a fullness in piano music which is outstanding. I only wish it were not so grainy in the trebles. This weakness is immediately evident when I return to the WV's SUT input.

I continue to not hear the compressed dynamics associated to SUTs so often discussed on A'gon. Perhaps all the phono stages I have here error in the same way. I guess I will need to borrow a late-model phono stage to get a handle on this.

And when I learn much from the SA-2 listening tests, I will ship the WV back to Michael Elliot to update the WV's phono stage circuit design which he has given the green light to do. It could be a dynamics and gain benefit but at a cost of a higher noise floor. We just have to wait and find out. The noise level is now so much lower than ever before that a little bit is not going to make much a difference if it brings on another level of ambiance and harmonic texture. I am excited about the potential here.

So it's going to be another month or so for any concrete information on the WV's phono stage relative performance.

Thanks John, looking forward to reading your next report on the MC stage.

John: After living with the WV5 for a few months, have you formulated additional conclusions; especially ones regarding the MC Stage?


Comparing the phono section in the WV has turned into a far more involved process than comparing the line stage. With variables such as loading, gain and noise level, it takes time to find an optimum setting for a cartridge. The Aria's MM stage uses a pair of 6922 tubes for a gain of approximately 35db. This simplistic circuit with the two tubes brings on a level of clarity I have not heard before with phono.

I have not had the opportunity to audition other phono stages. I have wanted to try the Lamm LP2, ARC PH7 and Einstein but I have not been able to locate these. I have once again compared the Aestheix Io signature which has been a long time favorite because of its incredible midrange texture and bloom. And the Io's gain when used with ultra low noise tubes on the input stage allows for use of low output MCs.

For both the Koetsu RWS and Clearaudio Accurate, I found the "best" loading with the Aestheix Io to be 500 ohms. Into the WV's Sowter stepup transformer input, there was not much of a difference between 200, 300, 500 ohms. I tend to run at 200/300 ohms now which mates well with the 7062 tubes in the WV line stage being just a wee bit hot in the trebles.

Solid state phono stages have many attributes that appeal to me, but I just don't like the end result of a solid state input for the first gain stage on even an otherwise all-tube design. Years ago I tried the Klyne and this was very resolving and ultra-low noise but it was just too sterile for me. And the same with the Spectral. So I have stayed with tube based phono stages (other than the ARC PH2 10 years ago) noise and all because of the " musicality" even though the noise level was higher. Perhaps modern solid state designs have improved in this respect.

Another direction I have taken has been to play with external MC stepup devices.....the classic tube products from the 1980s. These can be used directly into the Aria's MM input. This allows for a direct comparison to the Aria's MC stepup transformer input.

I have updated an ARC MCP-33 with some Dynamicaps, Blackgate caps and an IEC. And I am nearly done to replace virtually all the parts (Dynamicaps, Backgates and Texas Components TX2575 resistors) on a Music Reference RM-4. But the real prize has been a nearly completed rebuilt Counterpoint SA-2. This has a new Plitron power transformer, rebuilt PS with Blackgate caps and Texas Instruments TX2575 resistors, and the audio stage also with these resistors. Only 7 other caps need to be replaced (to be done soon) to take this unit to the stratosphere. I also have an unmodded SA-2.

Of the stepup devices above, the modded SA-2 is the BIG winner. The Plitron brings on a level of dynamic contrasts and power that is quite breathtaking. Returning to the original SA-2 transformer was quite a shock. With these power transformers in external chassis connected to the SA-2 through a 6-feet umbilical (removable on the SA-2 side) I can swap between the two transformers for comparison tests.

Before I put in all the TX2575 resistors in the SA-2 audio stage, I compared the modded SA-2 with the rebuilt PS and Plitron to the unmodded SA-2 and Plitron. The updated PS brought on a midrange smoothness and clarity in the trebles, but this difference was not to the same level as the Plitron transformer difference. Michael Elliot was clearly onto something when he discovered the major performance benefit with the Plitron transformers.

Comparing the modded SA-2 with rebuilt PS and Plitron to the Aria's MC input with Sowter transformers resulted in pros/cons for each. The MC transformer input is dead quiet as would be expected. The MC input is very clean with good tonal coherency but after listening to the other devices, there is a noticeable lower treble forwardness with the Sowters. It's not an issue of grain nor smearing but rather the trebles have somewhat of a metallic unnatural sound. One thing I have read here on A'gon over and over is that MC stepup transformers cause serious reduction in dynamics. I have not experienced this with the Sowters in the WV.

I listened again last night to the SA-2 vs. Sowters. The SA-2 was big and bold but not so much in dynamic contrasts but more so in how the tones occupied space. The Sowters bring on a more mellow presentation as if sitting further from the stage, but otherwise there is no significant "failing" of dynamics here. I can easily destroy the system dynamics by simply putting a stock power cord in any number of links in the system.

When I changed back to the SA-2 with updated PS and Plitron, the presentation was dramatic. I had solidity and extension in the lower octaves like not before. This foundation brought on a boogie factor that was exciting. And there was significant depth now unlike before. The size and location of musicians and instruments behind the SoundLab A1 speakers was something to behold. Most significant of all was that piano and voice had incredible energy, the fundamental was very strong with a follow-on bloom. There was incredible body to the midrange.

With all the benefits of the modded SA-2, there was still a slight level of grain and lack of clarity in the trebles which was not an issue with the Sowters. And of course the higher noise level with the SA-2. Not only was there a very slight hum with the SA-2 but the noise level was ever present in the background until the music started. But once it started, the modded SA-2 was in a whole different musicality ballpark than the Sowters.

I then changed 22 resistors to the TX2575 in the SA-2's audio stage. This helped significantly to reduce the treble clarity/grain problem. But the Sowters still outperformed the SA-2 in this one key area. After hearing what the Dynamicaps did to the Aesthetix Io, I suspect this could be huge in the SA-2 as well. Once I update the SA-2's audio stage with Dynamicaps, I can report on my findings.

One important note is that the Jade Hybrid IC did not work well from the SA-2 to the WV. This IC is not shielded and thus I had hum issues. The Jade cable from the SA-2 was very sensitive to cable layout and location to other cables and components behind the rack. Just touching this cable's jacket would cause hum. This meant that I had to go with a shielded IC and all I had was an old old MIT 330 pair. And this is a severely colored and low-resolution cable in other applications I have used so this too could be the cause of the treble grain I have experienced with the modded SA-2. I have had my eyes on a couple of ICs but have not seen them for sale lately. Once I get a top-performing IC here, I can also report my findings.

The Sowters outperform the ARC MCP-33 in the same way they outperform the SA-2. But the ARC with its wimpy 1980s power transformer is simply no match to the SA-2 with the Plitron. The ARC's presentation sounds so small compared to the SA-2. But their midrange magic properties are very similar. The PS in the SA-2 is beefier than the ARC as well. The Amperex Bugle Boy EZ80 tube rectifier in the SA-2 brings on another level of midrange smoothness beyond the ARC. I found a quad of Tele 6DJ8 tubes worked incredibly well in the SA-2 and a mix of Valvo PCC88 and Valvo CCA to be the best combination in the ARC.

No doubt a change to the power transformer in the ARC would be a major benefit to bring life to this unit. The ARC's noise level is a bit lower than the SA-2 but so is its gain by 6 or so db. It's a toss between the ARC and Sowters as the ARC brings on the midrange fullness but of course lacks the clarity of the Sowters. Once I finish the RM-4 rebuild, I will have another data point here. And then I can decide whether or not I want to equip the ARC or RM-4 with a Plitron power transformer. I tried various 7044 and 12AT7 brands in the ARC's PS but these made little difference which was surprising as the SA-2 and WV power supplies react strongly to tube rolling.

I used Dream State Dream Catcher PCs for the SA-2, and WV and a Veridical on the ARC. The tonearm cable was Stealth Hyperphono.

As for the Aesthetix Io Signature, this continues to do midrange textures like no other phono stage. But it lacks the refinement in treble coverage, harmonics follow-on in the trebles, and air/silence between the notes in the middle octaves. No doubt replacing many of the passive parts here would improve these areas, but the Io has so many stages and parts and tubes that there has to be a limit in the level of detail and dynamics to be recovered here vs. the other designs. No matter how addictive the midrange magic might be with the Io, once you hear the new level of detail, either brought on by the modded SA-2 or the Sowters, both into the WV's simplistic MM stage with the tube regulated/rectifed PS, it is tough to go back to the good ol' days.

Once I finalize the SA-2 rebuilt and the RM-4 rebuild I can add more information here. And then I should have some opportunities to hear other full-fledged standalone phono stages. But for now, the nearly completed SA-2 into the WV's MM input is miles ahead of anything I have ever heard from a phono playback setup. The WV's second-to-none line stage plays a major role here as well.

Thanks for the cogent and detailed addendum to an equally elaborate and descriptive review!

I thoroughly enjoy reading your posts and learning from your experiences.

You and I have chatted via e-mail regarding your CAT tube experiences. I assume you still have the JL3's and Soundlabs. I'm in the process of acquiring JL3's to replace my JL1's. I'm quite anxious to hear the differences with my S/L M1's. My next upgrade will probably be a preamp, so hearing of your experiences with the Aria have been enlightening.

Thanks again John!

Mrmb - Had I been in your shoes, knowing what I have learned about various line stages the last year or so, I would have focused on this link in your system rather than a change from the JL1 to JL3. I suspect that the CAT amps in any version are quite impressive. And perhaps Steve at GNSC could have taken your JL1's to a new level at far less cost than a jump to the JL3. But getting the line stage performance like that in the Aria takes a lot of time and effort.

This weekend I replaced all the old RelCaps in the SA-2's audio stage with Dynamicaps. Piano articulation is now greatly improved. The performance of this refined product continues to impress me. The only issue that remains with the SA-2 is that of tube rush noise. I emailed a tube dealer asking for advice on low-noise tubes and he suggested that I try 7308/E188CC tubes as they tend to be less noisy than 6922 or 6DJ8. I had one pair of Amperex 7308 which I tried right away. I was mightily impressed with the reduction in noise. He was so right about this. The resultant sound was not as rich in the mids as the Tele 6DJ8 but the Amperex brought on a little more tonal coherency. Ideally I'd like something right in the middle. For the other pair of Tele 6DJ8 in the SA-2, I put in a Mullard 2492 that I liked in the JL3's a couple years ago. This pair too was much lower in noise and resulted in quite a nice sound with the 7308 pair. Ultimately I will look for a quad of 7308 that gives me the resultant sound with a little more midrange fullness but not give up the dynamics that I now have.

The SA-2 is so critical of location and cable routing. Just fiddling with this again and putting it on a higher shelf (for ease of tube rolling trials) brought back the hum that I got rid of a week ago. So I will move it back to where it was and the hum/noise issue should be just about resolved.


Thanks for the detailed (and I mean detailed) update on the Aria phono stage. Like drinking from a firehose for a tube novice! Three questions:

1. If you could change/improve one thing with both the phono and line units, what would it be?

2. How much is the improvement going to separate Aria phono and line amps versus an Aria all-in-one?

3. Not asking which preamp(s) are 'better' (an impossible question with no answer) but rather, which preamps in your experience compare favorably to your Aria?

Thanks for your input.
Hello Jazzdoc,

Wow, those are some serious questions.

1: The line stage is truly a new experience for me. For now, I can not imagine an improvement over this without going to an insane cost. With its support of so many tube types, it takes a long time to find/decide on a tube set that locks in the tonality, dynamics and dimensionality like I now have. I'm ready to try some of the competition. So sound wise I am a happy camper. But I do wish it had two balanced inputs and a muting function.

The phono stage is a tricky beast to report on as I am not a MM cartridge user. So I am forced to use either an external phono stage, an external MC gain stage or the internal SUTs. I know that Mr. Elliot is concerned with tubes in an MC stage due to the noise level, but with fairly quiet tubes, I already know the magic of the modified SA-2 which he designed nearly 30 years ago!

No thanks for a SS or FET MC input stage that is used by so many other designers now. Once you hear the tube magic, it's tough to go with anything else. I wish Mr. Elliot would redo the SA-2 and combine it with the WV line/phono stages into a new product. This would be killer. The PS in the WV is very similar to the one in the SA-2 so I imagine very minor changes if any to support the SA-2's imporoved MC tube stage in the WV. But i am dreaming! 8-)

As for the WV phono stage, I will have it updated to support the 12v tubes like the 7062/E180CC, 12BH7, etc. With the 6922/7308 tube costs being so ridiculous now, and these 12v tubes outperforming these high priced 6v boutique tubes, I'd like to get away from the dependency on 6922 tubes as much as possible. And from my experience with the noise situation, the 12v tubes are mighty quiet in the line stage.

2: Well as reported above, the SA-2 into the WV MM stage is in a whole different league than the MC SUT input stage of the WV. But this comes at a cost of $3k for the fully-decked-out rebuilt SA-2, and the cost of another interconnect and power cord that can put this another $3k. So we are comparing $6k to a pair of $300 SUTs. And for the cost, with the WV's tubed MM stage, the SUT input is MIGHTY GOOD.

3: So far I have heard nothing that comes close. But again, I have not hit the pavement yet to compare. This will certainly be a summer activity for line and phono stages.


Thanks for the additional comments which are quite helpful. Enjoy your toys!
John, Your review and follow-up responses are amazing. Do you have any updates to this thread? Also what would it cost to buy a Sa-2 these days? Did you mention that all the mods cost an additional 3K? I am just venturing back into vinyl and wonder which turntable that you are using. I know what you have still in Naperville at our mutual friend's house! Bob
Hello Bob,

Shortly after my last posting here, another Aria owner informed me to try another tube in the line stage. He was spot on. I'd share which tube this is but I need to buy 100 first before my recommendation here causes these to triple in price overnight. 8-) It truly is incredible to pay $20-30 per tube instead of the insane prices of many others that this tube, and the 7062/E180CC has so significantly displaced in my system.

This new tube has replaced my previous favorite tube, the Amperex 7062 PQ. I have also replaced the Amperex 7062 tube in the APL Denon player with this tube and got the same degree of improvement. And I replaced my favorite tube in the CAT amps' 12AU7 socket, the Tungsram E80CC, with this tube. And again, a step up in performance. Rarely does a single tube make such a marked improvement in more than one product in my system.

The main benefit is an improvement in tonal coherency (the highs a bit more natural) and a more smooth and mellow (but I think natural) presentation with the performance at the plane of and behind the speakers. It truly is incredible the tonal coherency I have achieved here. And this was echoed over the weekend by two local audio gurus I have great respect for.

As for the SA-2, I have seen these sell in the $500-800 range on ebay and A'gon. One for $500 was a very early model (I could tell by fewer parts in the PS) and not in the greatest condition. I got a second SA-2 several months ago for $700 in absolutely stunning condition. If you want to go this route and upgrade the unit, the place to start is to get a small chassis and ship it to Michael Elliot to have a Plitron transformer installed. This was a major of the benefits of this fully decked out SA-2. And with the cost of a chassis, the transformer and the labor, it should not be much beyond $600-700 or so. The remainder of the rebuild can be done incrementally with a few Black gate caps in PS (while they are still available), 8-9 Dynamicaps in the PS and audio sections and 30-40 Texas Components resistors. With this SA-2, I find myself listening to LPs almost all the time now.

I'm using two arms (Graham and Zeta) on a Clearaudio Ref TT. A machinist friend made a custom armboard for the Zeta. I need to find a very good MM cartridge to run into the Aria's MM input. But with only one MM input now, until I have Michael Elliot disconnect the SUTs, I am fine with the Clearaudio Accurate cartridge into the SA-2.

And yes, I have not heard from Mr. Naperville in ages on my other TT. I wish he had that working again.

John how does the SA-2 sound stock just to get started?
Hi Bob,

It's been several months since I had the stock SA-2 in the system. With the latest round of system tweaks, tubes and cables, I will go back to comparing this to the rebuilt SA-2.

I have since replaced the 20+ year-old MIT330 IC from the SA-2 to the Aria with a Silent Source Silver Signature IC. This was a major benefit in clarity and one issue that was a concern early on when comparing to the Aria's direct SUT input. I would love to hear a top-tier shielded IC here. I will keep pestering JD of Jade Audio to build a shielded cable for this link.

I'd like to suggest trying the Von Gaylord Chinchilla interconnects in your system. As much as you crave space and dimensionality, this unusually named interconnect will give it to you in spades, not to mention the correct tonality, timbre,etc. that is so critical in musical enjoyment. The following review is a few years old and the manufacturer currently uses better connectors. These come available from time to time used on Audiogon.

Sherod - Thank you for the tip here. This may be just what I have looked for from the SA-2 to the Aria. I will give these a try and report back vs. the Silent Source Silver Signature.

Bob - I did some testing tonight on the Rebuilt vs. Stock SA-2. I had to do a few things to get as accurate an observed difference as possible. I removed the StillPoints under the Rebuilt.

I also first compared the Rebuilt with a fairly good PC, Stealth M5000, vs. a stock PC. This was necessary as the Stock SA-2 has an attached "stock" PC on its transformer box. The benefits of the Stealth PC were significant. Playing the David Gilmour, "On An Island" LP, changing from the Stealth to the stock PC, David sounded as if he was working extra hard to project his voice out into the room. The smooth and delicate sounds of his singing were much reduced but the tonality was much the same. A quick return to the Stealth confirmed the benefits of the Stealth.

Returning to the Rebuilt SA-2 with the stock PC, I played an album side and then switched over to the Stock SA-2. The PS tubes between the units are identical with my favorite tubes in 3 of the 4 positions....the 4th, a 5651 voltage reference seems to not matter across brands. But I only have one quad of the Amperex 7308's so I transferred them from the Rebuilt to the Stock. And I fired up the Stock SA-2.

To say I was impressed would be an understatement. The result was not at all like what it was 3 months ago when I first did this test. This confirms how severely destructive the old MIT 330 IC was before I got the Silent Source. And to think that the MIT 330 was THE cable at the time the SA-2 and ARC MCP-33 were the top performers! First impressions of the Stock SA-2 was a little boomy in the lowest bass, some sibilance and edginess in the treble, somewhat closed in presentation, but otherwise I was IMPRESSED.

I then connected the Plitron transformer to the Stock SA-2. The result matched what I observed before - the Plitron removes the "box" around the instruments. The result creates an incredible sense of notes floating in space. The bass also significantly improved, i.e., natural rather than annoyingly boomy. But the sibilance was still there. And then it dawned on me - I forgot to put the 500 ohm cartridge loading resistors in. I took them from the Rebuilt and put them in the Stock unit and this helped a ton. Trebles were much natural. But still there was a hint of brightness and fatigue I do not have with the Rebuilt. But I was so OVERWHELMED by the result here that I listened for nearly an hour before I switched back to the Rebuilt.

There is a track where David plays the Sax for a few minutes which leads into the next song. This is a great piece for component comparison as so few components/systems seem to render this very well. The Sax here has a most strong lower-tone fundamental along with a strong upper-tone follow-on harmonic. It truly is magnificent. I noticed that the Stock SA-2 covered the follow-on quite well but lacked much of the energy of the fundamental. This is what makes this track so special....the body of the Sax tones.

A return to the Rebuilt with Plitron and the Amperex 7308s (and the loading resistors!) and the Sax was MAGNIFICENTLY rich again. But I was so impressed with how well the Stock with the Plitron/Stealth-M5000 had performed. Further listening to the Rebuilt also showed how outstanding the tonal coherence is as well, especially the trebles being much more natural vs. "ringy".

It could take forever to get down to the contributions of the various stages of upgrading the SA-2 but hands down, the Plitron and ability to use a top-tier PC is where to start. With much music, I could live happily ever after with this configuration. From there I would likely update the Caps and then the Resistors a little at a time.

A couple of things to note:
1: The tube set here is critical to get the SA-2 to show its magic. The Stock SA-2 with these tubes was really impressive!
2: I have heard single pairs of ICs between the line stage and amp be more destructive to the performance of the system than the differences between the Rebuilt and Stock SA-2s. And the same can be said for a few pairs of tubes I have tried along the way as well.
I look forward to your impressions of the interconnect comparisons from SA-2 to Aria.
Sherod, I got the Chinchilla this week. It has the fat RCA connectors as described in the IAR review. Before I tried this cable in the SA-2-to-Aria link, I had to hear it in the Aria-to-CAT amps link. The preamp-to-amp link has been the most sensitive IC connection in my system since I got the ARC SP-10 back in the mid 80s.

Compared to the Jade Hybrid, the Chinchilla had very similar tonality. But the Chinchilla's bass was a bit boomy, like a one-note tone rather than each bass chord carrying onto natural harmonics; these notes had little decay and structure. Another issue was the Chinchilla's lack of top extension. The fundamental tones of brass and cymbals was quite good, but the result was as if a low-pass filter had been inserted so as not to allow for the notes to carry on and on. This makes the overall presentation a bit dimensionally flat. The "air" that people often describe in the presentation was lacking.

Considering the crazy low price I paid for the Chinchilla, I had to put it into perspective to other cables in the $300-600 price range like used NBS Signature (and Statement for that matter!!!) and Cardas Golden Cross. Compared to these cables which I owned only a few years ago, the Chinchilla performed far beyond them in terms of tonal coherency and much less grain. Overall in the context of VALUE alone, the Chinchilla is the BEST cable I have had in my system. But in the preamp-to-amp link, the Chinchilla is no Stealth Indra nor Jade Audio Hybrid. In a financial pinch, the Chinchilla gets my recommendation.

I then went to the SA-2-to-Aria link. Here the comparison was to the Silent Source Silver Signature IC, the mid line Silent Source product. This retails at the same price of the Chinchilla but typically sells for twice the price on the used market. Right away I had hum issues with the Chinchilla like I have had with all other cables in this link. But careful re-routing reduced this dramatically ..... but not quite to the level of the SS .... but all was fine once the music started.

I was really expecting the Chinchilla to bring on a new level of richness and bloom but tonality was nearly identical to the SS. As it had to the Jade Hybrid, the Chinchilla fell short compared to the SS in the extension of harmonics into the upper octaves. That "ceiling" was present once again. A return to the SS and notes carried on longer and thus further to the sides and rear of the stage. Another thing noticed was how much more initial attack of the notes there was with the SS. There was greater projection and clarity of brass instruments especially with the SS. A return to the Chinchilla and there was just too much low-level detail being truncated or lost. Overall, the Chinchilla was not so good in this link, relative to the SS anyway.

In every case, the Chinchilla's errors were subtractive in nature. Never was there any hint of fatigue or annoyance. But once one hears the musical information through the other cables, going back to the Chinchilla is not so easy here. But again, considering its cost on the used market, it is one heck of a product. However, in the SA-2 head-amp to Aria phono stage link, the Silent Source is by far the clear winner for $400 or so more in cost. It's all a matter of how much someone is willing to spend to get that next level or two of performance. And in many systems, such differences might not be observed at all. In these cases, the Chinchilla is a runaway steal.

I plan to keep the Chinchilla for the Home Theater setup where it will likely stay forever. I will likely not find another cable at this cost that comes remotely close in performance.

Next on deck is to try and get JD of Jade Audio to put a shield on one of his top-end Hybrid ICs and see if we can get it to work in the SA-2-to-Aria link.....or to try a Silent Source Reference IC .... oh my the cost!

Thanks for the detailed impression of your experience with the Chinchilla. I'm assuming you allowed adequate time for it to settle into your system. I would imagine that the saying we read so often in these threads that,"cables are system dependent" would prove true with your own experiences. Or maybe in some cases, "One man's trash is another man's treasure." In any event, you are fortunate to be able to experiment with various models of cables to fine-tune your system to your liking. I'm hoping J.D. is reading this thread to take the hint about building you a great shielded interconnect that will meet your needs. Speaking of J.D., I do hope that he is feeling well and am hoping as well that he'll soon receive his gift of a new heart.

I was fortunate to have JD visit me again this last weekend. And he brought a friend who's quite the electronic wizard with audio gear as well. After we tried yet another round of 3 of JD's latest prototype ICs, I mentioned to him that I really needed him to shield his cables so I could use them from the SA-2 to the Aria. Right then and there, he tied the carbon jacket to one end of the connectors' case and we tried this. It was an original Hybrid cable. And sure enough, it worked. Hum was just a wee bit more than the Silent Source but I am sure I could re-route this cable and resolve this.

There was a bit more body to the tones with the Jade Hybrid over the Silent Source. But the SS has an incredible degree of clarity. JD then did the same trick with one of his prototypes. This cable is absolutely stunning from the Aria to the CATs. This cable had even more magic that was portrayed by the Hybrid but also the clarity is second to none. The mixture of solid gold and platinum lines along with the new connectors JD uses allows this soon-to-be new line of ICs take my system to levels I really had no idea was possible. It is truly incredible the clarity now available through the Aria/CAT/SoundLab. And it's not only the clarity of the individual tones but all else that can now be heard, decays and structures, that were masked before.

You really should contact JD to see if he can loan you a pair of the new cables once he starts these in a month or so.

I'm glad that JD was able to come up with a better shielded interconnect for you. I definitely have my eye on trying one of his cables. Meanwhile, I am testing several cables in my system and need a few weeks of further break-in and evaluation, so I have my hands full at the moment. Enjoy the music, my friend. I'm curently experimenting with some new wire designed by Marigo for my internal speaker harnesses. Amazing stuff.
John, thank you for your most insightful and thorough review of the Aria WV5 XL.

I listen to vinyl only in my listening room, so I am most interested in the mc section of the Aria WV5 XL.

John have you had the opportunity to audition any other phono stages yet like the Lamm LP2, ARC PH7 or the Einstein?

Thanks again for your hard work and sharing with us your wonderful experiences with the Aria WV5 XL.

Hi Ron,

Thank you for your kind words here. I saw a few great deals on the Lamm LP2 here but I noticed its gain was not a good fit with my MC cartridges in the 0.3 to 0.5mv output. The ARC PH7 was indeed another product I was considering but I was so blown away by the finalized rebuilt Counterpoint SA2 into the WV's MM input, that I was done with this project for awhile.

Whether I go with the SA2 into the MM stage or a full blown phono stage into the WV's line input, a pair of ICs and a PC is required. The cabling is as much as the cost of the box. So this needs to be added as part of the budget.

Starting with the WV and its SUTs for MC is a mighty fine entry point.

Hello Jafox,

I currently have a Counterpoint 1000 that I have owned since 1988 and it has served me well. Just was wondering if you still have the Aria and are happy with it? I have read your detailed review serveral times and i am seriously considering purchasing the Aria preamp. Most of my listening is vinyl, so i imagine that the jump in sound quality would be huge. Have you compared the preamp recently to any other preamps and what were your thoughts? Has Mr. Elliot made any updates or improvements to the preamp? I do not see any recent updates on the Aria website. Any additional thoughts that you can add now that you have owned the preamp for a few years. Thanks Mb.
Hello Mb,

Oh yes, I have the Aria and have no desire to replace it with anything else. This with the fully decked-out Counterpoint SA-2 is a killer team.

It is interesting to hear about your long dedication to the 1000. I have no experience with the 1000/3000/5000 series but I have just this last month gained much experience and respect for the Counterpoint SA-5. In a word, WOW! I was so unprepared for the performance at this price level.

I see the SA-5 pop up from time to time in unmodified form in the $1000 range. This is at the peak of the performance/value curve. At the right place and time, you could do a $500 investment to sell the 1000 and get an SA-5. I suspect you would be so overwhelmed by the performance that any ideas to fork out $7k+ for the Aria would be something to postpone. Only after you appreciate the SA-5 might you then want to really make the huge jump....or maybe not. The SA-5 really is this good ... I mean it!

What about the SA-5 do I like? Upon first sound, it is very clear that the Aria is a refined grandchild of the SA-5. The similarities are amazingly close at first sound. The Aria has refinements across the board, especially in clarity and frequency extreme extension, but that magical 3D and depth that I love so much about the Aria is there in spades with the SA-5. Incredible! I truly think it has much to do with that tube power supply.

I then heard a direct shootout of the SA-5 to a long-time favorite of mine, the ARC LS5 II. The LS5 with its 10 tubes, was horribly fatiguing with all Sovteks. A little help from some Tele and Valvo tubes greatly relieved this. But still a little annoying sibilance (a character I remembered well) and the overly live projected presentation vs. the more back at the speakers and behind presentation of the SA-5. The LS5 had more treble detail but also an annoying upper-bass hump (another character that I remembered) vs the more rolled-off SA-5 at the extremes but a much more fluid midrange. Instruments (Sax) that was somewhat hiding in the midst with the LS5 came out front and center with the SA-5. The SA-5 was in a word, Seductive. The line stage had one pair of Tele 6922 and the infamous Amperex Bugle Boy tube rectifier with cheapo russian tubes elsewhere. After being a long-time LS5 fan, the SA-5 would get my vote easily even if they were both at the $2k mark of the LS5 these days. A Plitron power transformer and a few hundred $$ in DIY cap updates would take the SA-5 to a level to stand tall with the competition. Keep this in mind as you consider options to update your SA1000.

Dear jafox, two questions: 1) is it time you told us which tube surprised you in the Aria line stage but you wouldn't tell? and 2) re your original review; when you mentioned Amperex Bugle Boy rectifier, did you mean in location V5? and did you mean an EZ80/81 or?
jafox doesnt answer? I hope you're not out of circulation too. You unfortunately didnt reply to my January 26 comments but also:
Following your recommendationi tried two pairs of Amperex 7062 pinched waist in the line stage socketsa but: while the sound seems more vibrant, they are microphonic like hell. Now, I know that microphony is a tube failure but the probability of two separate purchases and only in 7062 being so microphonic is not high (moreover, I hardly ever experienced microphony with my tubes). Can it have anything to do with the 12volt toggle set up? it is the only use I've had of it so far.
Can anyone else help?
Hello - Sorry - I am not on this site so much as before. A friend told me about your post here. I never had a problem with the 7062 being microphonic and I used many of these in the Aria and APL CD player. But the tube for you to try is the RCA 12BH7. After hearing this, it replaced the 7062 in these locations as well as the best tube ever in the CAT JL-3 amps' 12au7 socket.
Many thanks, it was probably bad luck that I got microphonic 7062s twice in a row. I'll try the RCA 12BH7.
While I'm at it, can you or anyone else reading this remind me who does service for the WV5XL on the East coast? I have a random but consistent rustle sound coming from the right chanel of my Aria (as it goes away if I put it on mute).
Anyone contact info ? I remember when Michael quit, they had it on his website but it is nolonger accessible
I don't know if Jafox will see this so I'm asking you as well; do you have the contact info for the service lab on the East coast that does Aria WV5XL work? thanks is the website that has the information