Zesto vs K & K phono stages


I wanted to see if anyone has had the opportunity to listen to both the Zesto and the K & K Maxxed-Out phono stages, and if so, what your impression was if these two phono stages
franklin
I've had both of these. Get the Allnic H1201 and save yourself some $. It's better sounding and better built than Zesto or K&K.
Agree with allnic
Right between those in price is the Herron VTPH-2. There's no need to get anything else. The Herron will be your last phono stage.
I am looking at all three of these phono's. Is the allnic better if so in what way? That is supriseing that allnic is better than the Zesto which just upgraded.
I've only heard the original Zesto. It's noisy. Bass is not that great. It's ugly and the build quality is poor for a $4300 device. The Allnic is tiny, uses the same step up transformers as their much higher end phono stages, quality materials throughout, 4 MC settings compared to 2 with the Zesto. The Allnic is more lively and fun to listen to, the bass is incredibly good.
The K&K might not win any audio jewelry competitions, but I assure you this is a serious phono preamp. As you probably already know, the circuit design is the same as the Art Audio Vinyl Reference. I have owned one since 2003 and have loved every minute of listening through it.

Shakey
surprised at Vortex comment. I own an original, not upgraded Zesto Andros and it is anything but noisy.

I run it into 103db Avantgarde Duos, thru a GAT pre and Audiopax 30 monoblocks.

This is an all tube system and I have to put my ear right next to the speaker to hear any tube rush. Also no hum (unlike my TE Groove it replaced ).
Andros has over 60 db MC gain and easily provides live level volumes for both my .2mv Ortofon Anna and my .35Mv Benz LPS without turning up the GAT volume past 50.

Can't comment on bass comparison with Alnic or K&K, but the Andros was much better than my Tom Evans groove. My best performance came when pairing the Anna up with a Bobs Sky Cinemag SUT into the Andros MM stage. Bass and treble extension and dynamics are excellent. I switch between this set up and the Benz LPS thru the low output MC section for excellent although slightly less dynamic performance.

My Annas better performance with the Bobs SUT into the MM section might be indicative of Andros having lower quality internal transformers compared to the Bobs SUT.

In looking at the Alnic specs, it appears the max MC gain is 38 db, and there are no exterior loading options.

I would assume one would need a separate SUT to use any MC cartridge with less than .5 mv output.

The Alnic might be better match for higher output MC cartridges due to it's 4 levels of gain, but the Zesto has a low and high output MC gain. The Andros has two switches for MM vs MC on the back which is kind of a pain if you run two tonearms like I do. The Alnic's single front switch would be easier to live with, but I just deal with reaching around the back of my unit when I want to switch between my two cartridges.
surprised at Vortex comment. I own an original, not upgraded Zesto Andros and it is anything but noisy.

I run it into 103db Avantgarde Duos, thru a GAT pre and Audiopax 30 monoblocks.

This is an all tube system and I have to put my ear right next to the speaker to hear any tube rush. Also no hum (unlike my TE Groove it replaced ).
Andros has over 60 db MC gain and easily provides live level volumes for both my .2mv Ortofon Anna and my .35Mv Benz LPS without turning up the GAT volume past 50.

Can't comment on bass comparison with Alnic or K&K, but the Andros was much better than my Tom Evans groove. My best performance came when pairing the Anna up with a Bobs Sky Cinemag SUT into the Andros MM stage. Bass and treble extension and dynamics are excellent. I switch between this set up and the Benz LPS thru the low output MC section for excellent although slightly less dynamic performance.

My Annas better performance with the Bobs SUT into the MM section might be indicative of Andros having lower quality internal transformers compared to the Bobs SUT.

In looking at the Alnic specs, it appears the max MC gain is 38 db, and there are no exterior loading options.

I would assume one would need a separate SUT to use any MC cartridge with less than .5 mv output.

The Alnic might be better match for higher output MC cartridges due to it's 4 levels of gain, but the Zesto has a low and high output MC gain. The Andros has two switches for MM vs MC on the back which is kind of a pain if you run two tonearms like I do. The Alnic's single front switch would be easier to live with, but I just deal with reaching around the back of my unit when I want to switch between my two cartridges.
Gain isn't an issue with the Allnics (I have an H-3000). The built-in SUTs add gain to the 38 db of MM input gain, which means at least 70 db for MC carts at the 40x winding.

Allnic's approach is a little different from most phono stages, more like giving the user four high-quality SUTS already on board an MM phono stage. If none of the four is an ideal voltage match for your cartridge, you can supply your own outboard SUT, plugged into an MM input. For example, I use a Bob's Sky 30 with one of my cartridges, not because my Allnic doesn't supply enough gain but because this cartridge happens to love a 30x winding in an SUT, whereas Allnic supplies 13x, 20x, 26x, and 40x. The 26x and 40x sound pretty good with it but 30x sounds even better.

I've never heard the Zesto but I know several people who really like it, even up against more expensive pieces like a Steelhead. I owned a K&K Maxxed Out and liked it a lot but sold it in preference for a Steelhead, which was, in turn, dramatically outperformed by the H-3000. That's not to say the H-1201 is in the same ballpark, though.
Mallen123 - the ground hum was pretty bad. I thought I had a defective unit, so I bought another one, and had the exact same issue. I even talked to George on the phone about the hum at the 55db MC setting and his response was "you should always switch it to 65db". I see in the v2 Andros the grounding scheme is different, which should tell you something.

And has someone else mentioned, you are not looking at the Allnic specs correctly in regards to gain.
One needs to take any comparison to the K&K Audio Maxed Out with a grain of salt. The "Maxed Out" has undergone several major (sonically) revisions in the last couple of years. If the person does not specify which version he/she is referring to then it may be that they heard an older incarnation and not the current offering. I can think of three major changes in the last couple of years. The addition of a CCS plate load to the input tube with the switch from series RIAA resistance to shunt resistance, greatly increasing the dynamic expressiveness. The switch from a JFET to a MOSFET in the JFET/vacuum tube cascode in the input stage, which made for a much more natural musical presentation. And finally the addition of current source fed discrete shunt regulators in the B+ supply which really enhanced jump factor and musical flow. One of the nice features of owning a K&K Audio product is looking forward to the improvements that Kevin continues to make. Improvements that Kevin won't charge an arm and a leg for like some companies. He prices his upgrades on the actual parts cost, not on the sonic benefits.
All that is true for any piece of high-end gear. Constant upgrades and revisions. It's why I usually qualify my description of the Herron VTPH-2 as being the best I've heard. I haven't heard any other phono stage equal it (most aren't even close), but I may not have heard the latest editions or revisions to the more popular units. This holds especially true of the smaller companies that are constantly pushing the performance envelope of each other.

I usually suggest that those looking for a new phono stage contact Keith Herron to see if they can arrange to secure a unit on loan / approval. IMO, it's really the only way to be sure.
That's a great point, John. Mine was from around 2009. No doubt Kevin has improved upon what was already a very fine phono stage. He's a wonderful person to work with, too, smart and honest.
John,

I bought my K&K phono stage in 2003. In 2005 I sent it back to Kevin for the Cardas cap upgrade. A couple of weeks ago I sent it back for the full maxed out upgrade to bring it to current specs. I should have it back this week and am looking forward to the improvement. You are right about Kevin and his extremely reasonable parts/labor charges. No one else would provide upgrades for what he charges, it's almost ridiculous.

Shakey
Franklin,

I have owned the original Zesto Andros. After trying several phono stages I settled on the Zesto. The only other one that I listened to that I like better thean the Zesto Andros is the Allnic H3000; which I now own instead of the Zesto. Funny, just this weekend I had some friends over for listening and I was asked about the Zesto. I said it is the only other phono stage I would get if I were to sell the Allnic H3000. No JOKE!!! I really like that phono stage. I did not experience any noise; but I did experience a ground loop caused by another equipment (a ventage QE)in my system. I would advise you to buy it from a trusted dealer where you can try it first or you can return it. I even did tube rolling with soild results.

My $0.02 worth.
Another vote for K&K and the support Kevin gives to his customers. My phono stage is about 7 years aold and has given no maintenance problems, ever. I have upgraded twice, the last time to near the current Maxxed out stage. I believe older models can not be made into maxxed out ones, the construction is not compatible, but to near the maxxed out one. Not a very scientific description. The latest upgrade was a very big improvement.

I have compared mine to a number of stages, including an attempted blind testing in my house, they are'nt easy to do. The only one to better it, was a Tron phono stage in an all Tron system and that was'nt by much.
David, although not all the upgrades in the current Maxed Out are officially supported for older units it is possible to do (with cavets). I was the owner of the very first complete phono pre kit sold. When I acquired a beta Venice I sold "Old #1" to a buddy and have kept him up with all the latest upgrades including a current source fed, shunt regulated B+ supply (this was an alpha test of the idea). I was floored by that change. So was Kevin. He felt, quite rightly, that this would be too difficult to migrate backwards to all previous K&K phono pre's. That said: if you happen to have one of the older units with separate L/R Chn. boards and separate PS board; there is room to do this. The maxed out with the PS and L/R channels all on one board just do not have the room. As for bettering the Maxed Out, unfortunately the Sonus Veritas Venice, Kevin's all out 3 stage fully differential, series feed, transformer coupled, $25K phono stage never really had a chance to be heard by very many vinyl fans which is too bad.
http://www.analogplanet.com/content/my-beta-venice-phono-pre
This is a photo of my beta Venice taken before adding a CCS fed shunt reg. to the input stage.
For the record, I had what is probably the latest K&K design since I got it around 2011. I agree, Kevin is a real pleasure to work with and very responsive to questions.
John, I must contact Kevin, it seems there may be new upgrades I could take advantage of. The last one must be 2 and a half years ago, which bought me close to the maxed out.
Vortrex, if your K&K phono experience is circa 2011, then no, it's not the latest design. The last three years have seen more that one upgrade.
Anyone owned a Herron and the newest K&K? How they compare?
Shakey & John
I got my Maxxed Out phono stage a week before Thanksgiving 2015. It replaces an ARC PH3-SE with a Great Northern Sound reference mod. I liked it a lot.Owned it for 13 years. I have been in this hobby for about 36 years. The system has come a long ways. The phono stage is the last to try and improve the system. The Maxxed Out is beyond what I was hoping for. The tonal balance, imaging, dimensionality, dynamics, and flexibility to have proper gain and loading  and it is very quiet. No doubt there are mighty fine phono stages out there. For the money the Maxxed Out performs far beyond its price. I was considering Hagermann, Herron, NVO, Zesto, and several others.After talking with the men that make the product and reading forums and reviews for about 2 years I decided to go with the Maxxed Out and don't regret it at all and it will be my last phono stage.I agree with Shakey. The parts quality is beyond what one would expect at this price. I have the silver face plate and like the looks. My line stage and amps are McCormack TLC and DNA-1 mono blocked. TLC and amps all have Platinum 1+ revisions from Steve McCormacks SMC shop.