Phono Preamplifiers

Sort By: Post DateTitle Publish Date
Review: Adam Smith, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jan 08, 2024
hfnoutstandingWhen vinyl king, MoFi, finally made the move into hardware it sought out designers of proven pedigree – the MasterPhono is scripted by none other than Peter Madnick

MoFi Electronics has gone from strength to strength in the last few years, helped by the roster of designers drafted in to create its products. Spiral Groove's Allen Perkins worked on its UltraGold MC cartridge [HFN Jan '22] and MasterDeck turntable, while ex-TAD/ELAC Andrew Jones is responsible for its SourcePoint loudspeakers [HFN Apr & Aug '23]. Now comes the £5999 MasterPhono, a flagship phono stage from the pen of Peter Madnick, a designer best known for the iconic Audio Alchemy brand and his work as part of the Constellation Audio team.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Dec 21, 2023
hfnoutstandingFrom Japan's Soulnote comes one of the most flexible phono preamps ever developed – RIAA, plus no fewer than 144 legacy playback curves, and support for 'optical' pick-ups!

In the quest for a universal phono stage, designers have to accommodate all manner of cartridges, but for most of us they fall into just two categories: moving-coil (MC) and moving-magnet (MM). Even within those types, however, there are plenty of variants such as moving-iron, moving-flux, whatever you call Deccas, both high- and low-output MCs and even low-output MMs. The list is endless, but Soulnote's E-2 phono amplifier handles all of the above configurations plus DS Audio optical cartridges via a built-in energiser and equaliser.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jun 12, 2023
hfnoutstandingDutch tube aficionado, PrimaLuna, has offered an optional solid-state phono module with its amps for years, but now comes its first standalone, all-tube MM/MC preamp

With vinyl sales now surpassing CD, the revival is back with such force that the flood of phono stages and decks will surely continue unabated. More than that, it's enough for PrimaLuna to show its confidence in analogue to bring out its first EVO phono amp, the EVO 100 Tube Phono Preamplifier at £3398.

Review: Adam Smith, Lab: Paul Miller  |  May 02, 2023
hfncommendedThis artisan phono stage from Germany has been on a journey of refinement lasting rather longer than a decade, culminating, for the time being, in this Jubilee version

With the notable exception of flatscreen TVs and very high-end hi-fi, generally speaking, technology is enabling smaller product solutions. German brand Lehmannaudio has been leading the charge for bijou components since its founding, and the principle is perfectly illustrated by the Jubilee variant of its evergreen Decade phono stage, released to celebrate the brand's 30 years, and retailing for £3149.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Oct 27, 2022
hfnoutstandingMoving-coil pick-ups are inherently 'balanced' and Pro-Ject is determined to reveal them at their best with this balanced-wired version of the X2 deck and phono preamp

One burning question is begged by the arrival of Pro-Ject's X2 B turntable and Phono Box S3 B phono stage: why did it take so long for the industry to simplify a balanced vinyl-playing front-end? It's not like balanced operation wasn't adopted by high-end listeners decades ago as superior to single-ended for both line-level sources – DACs and top-flight CD players – and pre-to-power amp connections. MC cartridges are inherently balanced. So why the wait?

Review: Adam Smith, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Sep 19, 2022
hfnoutstandingReplacing the longstanding VPS, Nagra's Classic Phono is not only significantly more flexible but its technical and sonic performance also marks an equally significant uplift

Acelebratory cake is in order. Swiss high-end manufacturer Nagra turned 70 last year, and its birthday present to itself is something of a first for the company. That's for another time, but I'm not giving too much away by saying that, when it arrives, it will make the perfect partner to the item under review here – the £17,000 Classic Phono MM/MC phono stage.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Aug 18, 2022
hfncommendedAurorasound's VIDA (Vinyl Disk Amplifier), launched in 2011, has marked its first decade with a number of revisions to merit MkII status. How does it stack up in 2022?

Small Japanese specialist brands always fascinate me, due in part to my delight that they can co-exist with the Sony- and Panasonic-sized manufacturers. While every nation has its bijou marques, there's an uncanny aura to the likes of 47Lab, Shindo, Air Tight and Kondo, plus countless MC cartridge makers, that differentiates them from equally exotic producers from the UK, USA, Italy, Germany and beyond. Aurorasound could also only be Japanese, its VIDA MkII, an evolution of the VIDA [HFN Jul '13], ticking every box.

Review: Adam Smith, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jul 04, 2022
hfnoutstandingLatest in Exposure's top-end compact series is this flexible MM/MC phono preamp, inspired by the XM3 Phono but with improved audio stages and an outboard PSU

Despite concerns over pressing delays and the availability of raw materials, the lure of vinyl seems to show no signs of abating, which explains why the selection of phono stages available now is greater than ever. The latest company to add to the audiophile wishlist is West Sussex-based Exposure Electronics, with the VXN Phono. This is the first 'source' item in the only-available-in-black VXN range, joining two-way and three-way active crossover units and the VXN Power Supply [HFN Feb '20].

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  May 19, 2022
hfnoutstandingFans of the brand know that when Audio Research adds an 'SE' suffix, the changes go beyond the cosmetic. The latest to earn this upgrade is the Reference Phono 3

Let's talk about names. Audio Research's abiding Reference range has long been subject to shorthand – even the factory calls the models 'REF' for brevity – while updated (mk2) components are now defined by 'SE'. And that now applies to the £17,500 Reference Phono 3SE. In this case the revisions are retrofittable and, at £3500 and given my delight with every SE model I've tried, especially with the REF 6 and REF 75, I suspect most existing owners will want the upgrade. My optimism was fuelled by Audio Research's CEO Dave Gordon who told us, 'The SE changes incorporated in both the REF 6 and the REF Phono 3 are almost identical, involving many of the same passive component upgrades'.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Mar 22, 2022
hfncommendedStateside tube specialist, ModWright, trickles down tech from its Reference PH 150 into a more affordable all-valve MM/MC phono preamp, featuring an outboard PSU

Nothing yet has convinced me that we have seen any period, since hi-fi separates became a 'thing', when there were more phono stages than we have right now. I say this because the ModWright PH 9.0's price of £2900 puts it smack in the middle of an inordinately crowded sector. I'm obviously being naïve here, or just pretending that you can still go into any number of hi-fi shops and ask, 'Can I compare a few phono stages?'.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jan 20, 2022
hfnoutstandingFew brands can wrestle the combination of performance and adaptability from tube circuits with the flair of Manley Labs, and those skills are at the fore in the Chinook

It may be hard to believe, but I'm certain that the 2020s will be regarded as the golden age of standalone phono stages. How so? Simply by virtue of their plenitude, especially when you consider that this is vinyl's second time around. Manley's Chinook, continually refined during its near-decade in production, creates a phono amp sweet spot at £2699, blending fine sound with broad compatibility.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Oct 04, 2021
hfnoutstandingFrom California via London comes the shapely form of Zesto's Andros phono preamp – all tubes and transformers and now, courtesy of an uprated PSU, in 'Deluxe II' guise

If you demand full control over your cartridges, an all-singing/all-dancing phono preamp like the Zesto Andros Deluxe II is the only thing that will suffice. At £7500, it occupies the lower reaches of the extreme phono stage market – there are £40k-plus units if you're inspired to go further – but one should still be hyper-critical when the market is awash with exceptional, fully-adjustable phono amps for under £1000.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jun 24, 2021
hfnoutstandingJoining the M3scd CD player/DAC and M3si amplifier, the new M3x Vinyl represents the brand's 'entry-level' MM/MC phono preamp. We lift the lid on a novel design

Scratching my head, I remain amazed at the plethora of affordable phono stages now on offer, as if to prophesy that the LP's return has no end in sight. Either that or it's sheer opportunism, but hey, that's all good news for hi-fi users. What these phono preamps do is ensure that LPs are accessible to a wider audience than high-end devices serve, while filling the gap between the costly stuff and those £99 USB-equipped decks which probably chew up more LPs than they actually play. Musical Fidelity's M3x Vinyl, however, begs a different sort of question.

Review and Lab: Paul Miller  |  May 06, 2021
hfnoutstandingFirst from a hand-selected portfolio of 'artisan' hi-fi separates, this pairing of low output tubes with high sensitivity speakers boasts a very special synergy... and sound

System matching remains as much an art as it does a science. There's always the easy route – opting for a collection of one-brand separates with the promise of full technical compatibility and the expectation of similar 'voicing' throughout. aSlightly trickier is the pairing of components from brands that have an overlap in their core design philosophies – a route that often leads to the most satisfying musical experience but which requires a depth of knowledge on the part of both enthusiast and friendly hi-fi dealer. The third route – random component selection and a reliance on blind luck is not one we'll be pursuing here!

Review: Adam Smith, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Apr 13, 2021
hfnoutstandingFor a brand that once suggested it was never going to produce a phono stage, the vinyl revival has proved an irresistible force. So is Hegel's V10 firing on all cylinders?

It's always welcome when individuals or companies offer up their future plans. If not, we'd never have known that Sean Connery was to abandon James Bond after 1971's Diamonds Are Forever, that Ferrari would not be launching an SUV and that Norwegian hi-fi manufacturer Hegel had no intention of ever making a phono stage. Of course, Connery did return to his role of suave super-spy in 1983's Never Say Never Again, Ferrari's Purosangue SUV is due later this year, and here I am writing about Hegel's £1350 V10 phono stage.

Pages

X