Phono preamp question?

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Bryan_d, Jan 27, 2003.

  1. Bryan_d

    Bryan_d Extra

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    A search for receivers leaves me with very few options that actually have a phono input. Phono preamps range in price from $50 to $1500. What are the differences and what do I really need?
     
  2. Burke Strickland

    Burke Strickland Second Unit

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    What you really need is a phono stage (phono preamp), at a price in reasonable proportion to the rest of your system, that has noise and distortion low enough to not be objectionable with the receiver you are connecting it to, that can accept the low level signal from the type of phono cartridge you are using and properly boost it to line level (same level as a CD player, for instance) while equalizing the signal according to the RIAA curve. (Phonograph records are recorded with bass and treble adjusted to overcome the noise inherent in the medium and the phono stage adjusts the playback signal back to a "normal" frequency response curve. I am not aware of any phono stage for use with vinyl records that does not do this. But some for specialized use such as with 78s may omit it.)

    The lower cost phono stages (phono preamps) from about $75 to, say, $350 would probably be very serviceable for use entry-to-mid level systems typically using moderately priced receivers. Quality can vary at any price level, so we can't make a blanket statement that covers all products at a given price point. But it is generally safe to assume that you will not gain anything buying a phono stage that is as or more expensive than the receiver it is feeding. But you will probably want to avoid the really cheap ones, since the lower the price, the more likely compromises had to be made in the design that could affect the sound. (There are probably ones in the price range of $50 - $75 that are OK, just as there are probably ones for a lot more than that which may not be suitable for a given purpose.)

    If you are using a higher end phono turntable with a cartridge that may have more esoteric specifications, and are using higher end components (typically separate preamp and power amp and higher end speakers) with more resolution where the last few per cent of difference in performance in associated components is more likely to be audible, the higher priced phono stages, $350 on up (that is an arbitrary number, but gives you an idea of where the heavy hitters start), are worth considering and will typically offer higher quality parts, lower noise and distortion and perhaps more set-up flexibility to accomodate a wider range of output values from the various cartridges available.

    Note -- if you are using a (typically much more expensive) moving coil cartridge instead of the more common (and typically less expensive, but that is all relative -- we could still be talking upwards of $1k here) moving magnet type, you will probably end up spending more for your phono stage, since the moving coil type typically produces a very low output signal and needs exceptionally fine electronics designed specifically for this type cartridge to properly render the "boost" to line level. Most phono stages are designed for use with the more common moving magnet cartridges -- the manufacturer will specify when that is not the case.

    Asking about specific models you are considering (or should consider in light of associated equipment to be used) might get some useful insights from current and previous owners.

    Hope this helps -

    Burke

    PS -- I am using the Lehmann Black Cube (Improved) phono stage with my Rega Planar 3 / Grado Reference Platinum turntable and cartridge. Its sound is awesome, and it is better than the built-in phono stage in my Integra Research RDC-7 pre/pro, (which I am using for a second turntable), but the Black Cube costs $599, so it would be probably out of the running for use with a moderately priced receiver.
     
  3. Ted Kim

    Ted Kim Stunt Coordinator

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    Last year, Robert A Fowkes started a thread on buying a new phono preamp to go with his Outlaw 950. I suggest you do a search and look it up as it had a lot of posts and recommendations from budget prices and up. One word you could use in the search string is "Graham Slee" who is a phono stage manufacturer.
     
  4. Marty Neudel

    Marty Neudel Stunt Coordinator

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    Bryon,

    There haven't been any major breakthroughs recently in the design of phono preamps. So, you may want to look at 10-15 yr. old high-end preamps for ultra-high quality equalization at an afordable price.

    Marty
     
  5. JohnSer

    JohnSer Stunt Coordinator

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    Bryan, Burke gave you some excellent advice. The only thing I will add, is an option on the low-end. The Radio Shack phono preamp for $25, from the online store. http://www.radioshack.com/product.as...Fid=970%2D1018

    You can find some info on it, on this forum and others. This is what I chose to go with my new HK520. I only listen to vinyl a few times a year, and it is just for a Technics direct drive turntable. The battery was a concern at first, but it is probably easier than having another power cord and wall wart. I was able to mount it right next to the turntable with some double sided tape. No need to find another shelf for preamp. Easy to remember to turn the power switch on/off, when its right there, too.

    I only played a few albums after installing it, but it seemed fine. It did not have any high level of noise or hum. It is definitely not audiophile, but can get the job done. Do those searches to find out what others think of it.

    JohnS
     
  6. Bryan_d

    Bryan_d Extra

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    Thanks you everyone for all of your input it was even more than I could have hoped for. Currently I am leaning toward either the NAD PP1 or the Parasound PPH-100 or even perhaps the Sumiko Pro-Ject Phono Box MM/MC Phono Preamp all of which seem to sell for about $120. If anyone has any further advice pertaining to these specific units that would be great, but if not that is ok because all the info so far was extremely good and unexpected.
     
  7. JeromeS

    JeromeS Stunt Coordinator

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    If you need more information on phono pre-amps go to the Vinyl Asylum and do a search. There is a lot of information on that board.

    To go on what Marty recommended above, here is a link to some recommended preamps with excellent phono stages. The Class C section has some recommendations that are a good value for the price you can get these now compared to when they were new.
     
  8. Mark All

    Mark All Second Unit

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    Hi Bryan,
    I agree with the posts above. You may also want to try the Kabusa site for information. They explain the concepts and differences between moving magnet vs. moving coil vs. high-output moving coil cartridges quite well. There is a lot of information on the old style "vinylasylum" bbs. However, there is also a lot of unfiltered trash there along the lines of "I had a buddy who had a problem with x product so I recommend you get what I bought instead" and a few flame wars every now and then. I much prefer getting information from this forum. In very general terms, I'd recommend buying a turntable you like the look and feel of and trying it out with your receiver's phono input. If the sound level is too low or too harsh you should invest extra in a separate preamp matched carefully to the cartridge you have on your tone arm. The turntable itself isn't all that relevant to your selection of a preamp. I chose a Music Hall MMF-7 with a Creek OBH-8SE preamp myself. Again, matching a preamp with your cartridge is critical. Good luck, and enjoy the smooth sound of analog again!
     

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