We tried to eliminate the preamp and use the Steelhead alone as a preamp. However, the Steelhead alone sounded soft and not very dynamic so we now use the Steelhead as a phono stage only.
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I had the Steelhead running directly into a pair of Tenor 300 amps. I much preferred the direct run. Much more transparency. Don't agree that it sounds less dynamic. I think it sounds less hyped. Much easier to hear the micro-dynamics. One other thing you might try: even though you may have a moving coil cartridge, use the moving magent output. I spent a full day going back and forth and it is quite clear that the moving magnet output is much more transparent - no contest. Initially, the sound seems a bit thread-bare, but after you get used to it, you realize, what you are missing is just the coloration. The sound is much more natural. The higher the output of the cartridge, the better, but I used the Dynavector DVX-1s. Occaisionally, I would turn up the gain, but tried to avoid it because of the added noise. In any case, I would give it a real try and see if you like it.
>>One other thing you might try: even though you may have a moving coil cartridge, use the moving magent output.<<
The Steelhead does not have a moving magnet output. It has 2 variable outputs and 1 fixed output.
It does, however, have 2 pair moving coil inputs, 1 pair moving magnet inputs, and 1 line input.
As Stringreen indicated, all connections are single ended. That being said, I've used the Steelhead with a handful of balanced linestages (using unbalanced inputs of course) with great results.
Rloggie, I owned the Steelhead for several years and, during that time, occasionally ran the Steelhead as a full-function preamp in addition to using it solely as a phono stage into a separate line-stage preamp. Whereas I regard the Steelhead as a world-class phono stage, I would characterize the line stage aspect of its performance as very competent but short of the performance of a SOTA line stage.
In my system, the Steelhead sounded more "tubey" than I prefer with bass that was a bit "wooly" and sound that was a bit less transparent and less extended at the frequency extremes than a first-class line stage.
So, in short, while I think the line stage in the Steelhead is very good, IMO you can improve on its performance significantly (and at significant cost) if you pair it with a first-class line stage.
I owned the Steelhaed II for about two years. Used alone as line/phono stage and also combined with my two line stages Burmester 808/5 and Klyne 7LX5.
Sound was much more dynamic and transparent; much more present using Steelhead alone. Using the Steelhead only as phono pre I got good experiences only using the variable outputs turning the volume control on about 12 o'clock. However I would not combine the steelhead with one of my line stages anymore.
By the way, I agree with the comments in support of the Steelhead's MM inputs. I experimented running my Dynavector XV-1s into the MC inputs (which routes the signal through the autoformers) and into the MM inputs. I found the sound through the MM inputs to be more transparent as noted above. As long as you have sufficient gain using the Steelhead's active gain stages, I too would recommend using the MM inputs over the MC inputs.
The flexibility of the MM vs. MC inputs along with all of the other features is very compelling. I was just hoping to find the best way to use the SH without having to buy a preamp. I'm going to go ahead with one and use it until I have another pre in the house. Maybe I'll find I don't need one in my setup, but I suspect I will. Thanks for all comments and in advance for any more thoughts.
I did not find running the Steelhead into the amps to "soften" things. If anything I found the leading edge, transients and microdynamics much more defined - i.e., it was much more transparent. Having said that, it is less bloomy (as I said, using the moving magnet output) - at times it could sound threadbare. If I had had a really good pre-amp and put the Steelhead through that using the moving magnet output, that, as Cincy-bob points out might have been the ideal combination. But you have to spend some serious bucks to get a preamp that is good enough to let the Steelhead shine. In the end, I have gone with the Dartzeel preamp which is a great linestage and has a great phono preamp