Review: iFi iPhono Preamplifier
This review is fully borne out of the iPhono's ability to portray music at an exalted level regardless of what it costs. I realize the cost of the associated gear is not commensurate with the cost of the unit. The fact that it is completely at home in this environment is amazing to me.
I will start off by saying that it is better than my former Graaf GM70 (apprrox USD $6k when last available) with $1K worth of choice NOS tubes I sourced and purchased from Brent Jessee (great guy and great place for tubes btw). The iPhono is basically silent, and plays with great authority and rhythmic flow. I previously stated that the Graaf did that tube thing a bit better than the iPhono but that the iPhono was quieter and delivered more information. I still hold with those findings (when the iPhono is used with the original power supply) but now I have added the new iPower (the new 12 element 10 times quieter PS from iFi) and to say it is better is an understatement.
The original PS was already quiet at 10uv, but the new is better than 10 times quieter than that already impressive number. I will not state that it sounds quieter. I will state that it does everything better. The weight of the performance is more substantial, the realism of vocals is far better and the decay.., one of the areas where I thought the Coincident and the Graaf bettered the iPhono is no longer a weak spot.
I will say that the unit with the new PS (which is the way the new units ship) is substantially better sounding than with the original PS and yes I have compared them side by side and there is no comparison. Some will recall that I reviewed the Coincident CSPS and preferred the iPhono overall for its musical flow, information retrieval and prat. I stated that the CSPS had a better decay. The advantages all go to the iPhono when the new iPower is in play.
I will state that BOTH (iPower and iPhono) pieces in my opinion require a substantial break-in. I have learned over time living with the iPhono that it really does benefit from several hundred hours of break in (sorry, but that has been my experience with the unit). You can use a reverse RIAA cable and dummy load to break a phono stage in as I did with my AMR PH77. I ran the new PS in for about 3 months before I decided to write this review.
Some of my music selections were:
Reference Recordings Mephisto (45), The Firebird Suite.
Mofi Modern Cool (45)
Jacintha Here's to Ben (45)
Kieth Jarrett Kohln Concert
Diana Krall Live in Paris (45)
Take 5 (45rpm)
Julie London Julie is her name (45)
and various others.
Honestly speaking, had I known this unit would end up sounding like this I would have never gone for the Graaf.
I will admit, I was not terribly impressed with the iPhono when I first heard it. I thought it was a bit tight and small sounding and that it didn't offer much in the way of natural decay when portraying instruments with soundbards (i.e. pianos) of which I am very sensitive. I have lived with this unit alongside my PH77 for some time now and it is not leaving.
What does the PH77 do better? Ok, for $12k it does everything the iPhono does but on a far grander scale. It IS the orchestra in your room.
I know some of you will dismiss this next statement as the rantings of a mad man but, if you are looking to spend up to $9k on a phono stage you really should audition this unit (with the newer power supply) and fully run in (say at least 300 hours to be safe). Note, I am not saying that just anything over a certain price point will be better, as I have heard units costing more than $9k which would be shamed by the little silver box from England. FYI, it is sensitive to loading, so experiment with loading and I am a bit fanatic in that I weigh all my albums and adjust VTA and VTF for 180 -199gr albums, albums less than 180gr and my 200gr and above albums.
I know I know, but I can hear the difference and for me it is worth the effort.
May all your listening sessions sound like those random 3 a.m. sessions we've all experienced :)
Technics SP10 Mk3 NG (Artisan Fidelity)
Kuzma 4 Point
Ortofon MC Anna
Custom Passive Attenuator
Graaf Modena OTL with Sovtek 6C33CB Tubes
Reimyo PAT-777 300B with AVVT C37 300B SL Tubes
Bassocontinuo Apogeo and Accordian Racks
Voice Box Monitors
Graaf GM70 with Siemens and Mullard NOS tubes
Ortofon ST80 SE Step Up
Coincident Statement Phono Stage
AMR PH77 Phono Stage