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!