SPL Phonos Phono Preamp


Let me put this very succinctly - I'm blown away by the SPL Phonos phono preamp.  I've been playing around with several phono preamps the past few months to find one that's a great fit for my system.  I have an AMG Giro turntable with a Koetsu Rosewood (standard) cartridge.  My amp is a Gryphon Diablo 120 feeding Clearwave Symphonia loudspeakers.

SPL is a German brand active in the pro audio community.  I never heard of this brand until looking up some reviews/surveys on phono preamps, where the SPL phono preamp received several accolades.  I was able to buy one  from Vintage King Audio, and there was a 30 day return policy in case I didn't like it.

The SPL is a medium-sized unit - larger for instance than the small Rega, Simaudio Moon or iFi phono preamps, but smaller than many others that are the size of your average CD player or line stage preamp.  The SPL has switchable gain, 3 different capacitance choices for MM cartridges and 6 impedance choices for MC cartridges, including 220 ohms which I chose for my Koetsu.  There is also a useful subsonic switch that provides cutoff of frequencies below 20Hz, helpful in reducing rumble.  It's available in red, silver and black finishes.  I think the main sonic feature of the SPL is the use of what is called the Voltair circuit - a higher than usual voltage circuit.

This phono preamp created the most dynamic sound I've heard from vinyl.  The bass is very present and powerful, and provides a great foundation for the music.  There is an abundance of clarity and detail, but not in a manner that screams "transparency".  Rather, this preamp is very balanced and smooth, and nothing sounds exaggerated or out of place.  There is plenty of space between instruments, and the sound never becomes congested - something I absolutely do not like.

The real bottom line is that I'm having a blast listening to vinyl in my system.  It's hard to stop listening to records at night, and that's a great sign that the sound is serving the music well.

I suggest looking at the SPL if you're in the market for a $2k to $3k phono preamp.  Obviously, I've not heard all the phono preamps in this range, but I've heard 3 others (and even one other that was $4k), and the SPL was the best choice for my system and listening preferences.  It's certainly worth a close look.


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Tasos1:

I attempted to inform some people about this unit earlier in 2018. It’s one of the finest I’ve ever heard. I was looking at one of the ARC phono stages ($14k) and I saw this unit. Listened to them in the same system and to my ears the SPL slapped the caps out off the ARC. I now have an AMR PH 77, Luxman EQ 500 and SPL Phonos. 

I recently auditioned for the second time the DS Audio optical cartridge system, the one second to the Master 1. Based on some reviewers gushing over this system I was reconsidering the Master 1. I’ve compared its speed and dynamics to the London Reference. I have a London Ref and use it with the Phonos. I have never heard anything do a drum kit like that combination and I mean nothing. The DS Audio doesn’t approach the SPL Phonos in my opinion. I found the original DS Audio extremely phasey as it relates to noise artifacts. The newer version is better but still phasey with noise and surface artifacts, not the music. It’s almost as though they’ve incorporated some type of (non advertised) noise cancellation circuit and it’s filtering for a select b.w. but some funky phase anomaly is present. I also think it sounds extremely bland, like the equivalent of unseasoned food.

All that to say the Phonos smoked it along with smoking the ARC, a Pass Lab XP25 and others.

I’m not given to hyperbole, but in this case the word “smoked” is apropos. Its one of the best I’ve heard.

I did change the fuse to the AMR MKII Gold. I’m about to add one of my Audio Magic Ultimate Bees Wax  fuses which are simply the best fuses I’ve ever experienced. If your device uses more than one fuse, I’ve found that one of the bee wax fuses is enough, it will overpower the sound. I use one bee wax fuse and the others are replaced with AMR fuses.
My AMR is for the Ortofon MC Anna, the Luxman is for the ART 1000, Ana Mighty Sound 103.3 and Myajima Zero. The Phonos is for the London Reference. Sometimes I mix it up with the Anna sticking strictly to the AMR.

I’m planning to add the new Ana Mighty Sound Sculpture A, A .4 Silver (5.3 ohm) cartridge to the stable. 

Sold my Technics SL-1200 GAE after two wonderful years. Purchased a one owner Garrard 401 to live alongside my Artisan Fidelity one-off custom 4 arm NGS. The 401 is going to Artisan Fidelity as well.
Interesting never knew about this brand, Tasos 1 thanks for your input on them. I have been searching for a new TT setup since last year and im more or less got my eyes set on Herron Vtph 2a, knowing this now made things more interesting for me lol. Would love to hear more reviews on them like you have reported.
audio fun, Thanks - I'll try your fuse suggestion.  Glad to see someone else impressed by the SPLPhonos!
Audiofun, you had me interested until you started talking about fuses. Have beeswax fuses passed UL testing?
Lewm:

If you can’t hear the difference a better circuit conduit makes while carrying the entire electrical signal then by all means keep the stock fuse. I also believe interconnects and power cords that carry electrical power make a difference, a HUGE difference.

If you are interested in UL ratings and know what they are, then I know you are savvy enough to do your own research, if you’re really interested.

Im not interested in debating that issue. I’ve shared what I’ve found to make the Phonos even better, by quite a margin. 
Tasos1:

You will notice quite a tick up in performance with better fuses in the path, it uses two. I would start out with two AMR fuses as they are inexpensive (and the second best I’ve heard). I had the Synergistic Blues but found them a bit hyped and hifi sounding. If you perceive the difference and like what the AMR fuses bring to the table, you may then want to eventually add one of the Bee wax fuses. If you like the stock fuses all the better :) no need to purchase the bee wax fuses which are not cheap, making them is a very labor intensive manual process.
Thanks audiofun.  Do you know offhand the amperage value of these fuses?
Tasos1:

You’re welcome, if if I recall it is 1A for 120v.
Tasos1:

Just took a look at the back of the Phonos to be sure of the fuse rating. It is a T 1A L250V for a 115v environment. A 230v spec’d Phonos would of course see the fuse current rating drop by half.
Tasos1 & audiofun:

The two of you extol the SPL's treatment of dynamics and smooth frequency balance. Would you SPL Phonos owners please weigh in on this phono preamp's sound stage width and depth vs other phono preamps you have personal experience with? Considering it as a replacement for my Audiomat phono with a new Benz LP-S. Thanks.
I think the SPL’s strengths are dynamics, liveliness and clarity.  In my system, it presents a wide soundstage, but is not the best I’ve heard regarding soundstage depth, though it is satisfactory. I think the strengths are more aligned with the pro audio realm, which is SPL’s core business. 
How do you replace the fuses?  I can open the door on the back of the unit, but there's a large red box that doesn't seem to budge.  The instructions on the back simply say to remove the fuse holder.  Do you have to take the unit's casing apart to get into it?  Or is there some way to remove the fuse holder from the back?  Thanks!
Have any of you compared the SPL to the Sutherland 20/20?   I'm looking hard at these two myself.
I'm auditioning both these amps at the moment. I've only had them a week and still getting used to them. 
Initial impressions are the SPL is way more fun where as the 20/20 is very analytical.
The bass on the SPL delivers a nice punch.
I expect both to develope there sound as they break in.
It will be a tough choice.
What are your thoughts on the SPL one year later guys? Still love it?
I just purchased the spl Phonos and it has transformed my vinyl. It is super dynamic clear 3D and an excellent soundstage. I have a Mac system with a vpi scout and a dynavector 20x high output Mc  cartridge. I originally bought that because my Mac mx120 only had a moving magnet phono amp. It worked nicely until the spl took it to an astonishing level and I mean level (volume) bass everything. When I first hooked it up I had to tone it down. And that’s another nice thing about this preamp is that I’m able to even tweek it to each album I play to get the best sound. Highly recommended!
Bought one, it's a goodun.    Beats my best, the Pass Labs Pearl II.
Curious as to why these are now heavily discounted by multiple sellers on eBay right now though?
They're not discounted, that's the normal price $1799.   The only one I saw cheaper than that was used, currently one refurbished for $100 less.
Really?

Then they are playing the normal dealer games by stating mrsp is $2500 and offering at discounted price of $1799.

Not that I should be surprised by that at all by now of course!

https://www.ebay.com/itm/SPL-Phonos-ProFi-MM-MC-adjustable-Phono-Preamp-Black-2500-List-MADE-IN-GERM...
Pro gear usually has a 'list' price that is almost never charged and a MAP price that becomes the standard.
1799 price every place I looked.
I still love it a year later and stand by every single word I stated regarding its performance :) 
Managed to find one used for a $1250. Looking forward to giving it a listen. Kind of stumbled upon this and a few other threads reviewing it favorably after getting pushed into needing a separate phono due to buying a faulty Ambrosia 2000 (non-SE) that I had to return.
counterreset:

Hi, I don’t know your listening preference or your gear but I will be looking forward to your thoughts on the stage. Hope you enjoy.
I just listened to this amp at the Singapore AV show and thought it really kicks ass man. Managed to get the exhibitor to play a Metallica 12" single. Rockers will love this phono amp! 
audiofun, Back in January of this year, you responded to my question about the fuse upgrade by this statement: "If you can’t hear the difference a better circuit conduit makes while carrying the entire electrical signal then by all means keep the stock fuse."  First, while I am always a sceptic of any tweak that has no science behind it, only subjective impressions, I do concede that some such tweaks sometimes do leave me with a favorable opinion.  And I am a believer in power cords, although my thoughts there are that current-carrying capacity (should be in excess of the current demanded) and characteristic impedance (should be as low as possible and depends upon topology of the conductors in the cord) are what's needed, regardless of cost.  So, I am not dead set against or for anything. 


Second, the fuse does not by any means carry the "entire electrical signal".  A fuse must pass the voltage (120V in the US) and the current to the power transformer, so IT can do the job of delivering unrectified AC of a specified AC voltage to the rectifiers/inductors/capacitors that do produce DC from AC.  The DC thus produced provides the "ride" for the AC signal voltage output.  So a fuse is very far away from that vital pathway.  I went to the website and read the specs for the SPL.  It might be wonderful sounding, but there is nothing in its specifications that gives any hint as to why that would be so.  The description of the power supply suggests it's fairly pedestrian.  But by no means do I pass judgement on the quality of the end result; it may be as excellent as you say.
Lewm:

Hi, in retrospect and after rereading my response, I find that I was unduly curt in my response, for that I apologize.

Now to your points :) in fact the fuse in this case absolutely does carry the entire electrical signal as it is in “direct” series with the power line into the unit. This is not a case of a fuse somewhere upstream of the transformer/diodes/filters (pi filters, etc). Remove the fuse, and no power is delivered to any part of the device, i.e. open circuit.
Remeber that the audio signal is nothing more than modulated DC, which was derived from the rectification of the transformer AC output. This is why a fuse does actually have a sound. Everything matters in a highly resolving system.

Now as to why it sounds so good. I believe part of it comes from the 120v rail design used by SPL and the proprietary discreet opAmp technology. The other part is most likely due to the Douglas Self styled RIAA filtration. I am a big proponent of Douglas Self and regularly refer to his book The Design of Active Crossovers (ISBN-13: 978-1138733039).

I am not saying this is the best phono stage I’ve ever heard but it is among them. Does it bloom like my Luxman EQ500? No, but the dynamics! The timing and clarity are just simply top notch.
audiofun, It is I who owe you an apology for being a bit snotty in my initial post.  We can agree to disagree on whether or not AC from the wall socket carries the "entire electrical signal", but I do disagree with you.  You use the word "signal"; the AC from the wall has not one iota of audio signal on it.  It's just the raw material, if you will, from which the AC signal is derived.  I said why I disagree, also, in my earlier snotty post.  The AC goes through a power transformer, rectifier diodes, filtering in the form of capacitors, resistors, and/or inductors, just to produce DC, which STILL bears no audio signal.  The DC runs transistors or tubes to amplify or pass the audio signal coming from an upstream source to some downstream source.  Where in this process does the fuse pass the audio signal?  There's no need to respond, because we are just at odds on this. 

A fuse is a piece of wire designed to burn up when a certain amount of current passes through it for too long a time.  That's ALL it does and all it should ever do.  The only way that I see for a fuse to affect sonics would be if its inherent resistance is great enough to retard the current demands of the component in which it is installed. So, I could be made to imagine that a fuse that displays very low resistance when in operation at tolerable current levels would be preferred over one that exhibits higher resistance at that very same current draw.  Yet I have never seen any of the boutique fuse marketeers touting their products on this basis.  Most seem to prefer an allusion to Quantum Mechanics. Further, the conductivity of different metals is not a scientific mystery. I would have thought that the major manufacturers of fuses have known for a long time what metals exhibit properties (low resistance, high temperature coefficient, etc) that are favorable to optimize fuse performance. Likewise, directionality can only come into play if in the process of reversing the fuse in its holder, you do something to lower the resistance at the interfaces between fuse and holder, either deliberately or accidentally.  Finally, what is the rationale for expensive fuses that are only going to be used in the typical crappy fuseholder?  Shouldn't a fuseholder affect sound, as well?

As to why the SPL Phonos sounds so good, I have no dog in that fight.  As noted, I have never heard it.
Lewm:

We are cool :)
When I used the word signal, perhaps not the best choice, I was referring to the 60hz sinusoidal from the wall.

I understand your point to a degree. Think of it like an auto engines fuel line. All the processing is done in the engine but if I have an inferior fuel line it will directly affect my engines performance. The fuse is a DIRECT corollary to the fuel line. Just like inferior metals (elementally contaminated copper for example) in a power cord will affect the sound, the wire and in fact the material of the end caps of a fuse and its resonance properties will affect the sound. It is the same reason that different power cords absolutely have an effect on my PS Audio Power Regenerators.

The Quantum argument is marketing crap and we certainly are not dealing with quarter wavelength theory or the like.

The entire power source first must go through the fuse, the choke-point. Remove the fuse, no power...
Lewm
A fuse is a piece of wire designed to burn up when a certain amount of current passes through it for too long a time. That’s ALL it does and all it should ever do. The only way that I see for a fuse to affect sonics would be if its inherent resistance is great enough to retard the current demands of the component in which it is installed. So, I could be made to imagine that a fuse that displays very low resistance when in operation at tolerable current levels would be preferred over one that exhibits higher resistance at that very same current draw. Yet I have never seen any of the boutique fuse marketeers touting their products on this basis. Most seem to prefer an allusion to Quantum Mechanics. Further, the conductivity of different metals is not a scientific mystery. I would have thought that the major manufacturers of fuses have known for a long time what metals exhibit properties (low resistance, high temperature coefficient, etc) that are favorable to optimize fuse performance. Likewise, directionality can only come into play if in the process of reversing the fuse in its holder, you do something to lower the resistance at the interfaces between fuse and holder, either deliberately or accidentally. Finally, what is the rationale for expensive fuses that are only going to be used in the typical crappy fuseholder? Shouldn’t a fuseholder affect sound, as well?

>>>>I haven’t been keeping track but I’m pretty sure you just broke the record for the most logical fallacies in a single paragraph. Congrats! 🤗
counterreset:

Did you ever form an opinion about the Phonos? If so, I’d like to know you thoughts regarding its sound.
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Anamighty Sound Sculpture a.4 and Anna Diamond are finally in the house :) neither is run-in so hang in there while I put them through their paces. I will state that the Anna Diamond is the REAL deal and does not appear to be a tarted up Anna, it is an information retrieval monster. Out of the box the Diamond sounds closer to my R2R than ANY cartridge I have ever heard. My original Anna sounded decent out of the box as well, unlike other cartridges I’ve used such as the Audio Technica ART 1000, a beautiful and awesome sounding device (but only after about 40-50 hours). The a.4 is a work of art but was really tight right off the bat, i.e. it displayed a great deal of information and a wide sweeping soundstage but it was too relaxed, almost lazy sounding. After about an hour on a locked white noise track the a.4 loosened up considerably but I can hear that she will need more run in to get the suspension compliant.

Over the next week I shall be performing a great deal of break in and comparisons between the Anna, Anna Diamond and the a.4 using the AMR PH 77 and the Luxman EQ 500 on my Garrard 401 with the Artisan Fidelity Reference platter and bearing set. The SP10 MK 3 NGS is still being turned into something very very unique and heavy :)

I’ll let you all know what I hear.


Still using the SPL looking to get a new stage to work with mu Ortofon MC A95