Phono Stage Upgrade - Tube, SS, Battery Powered?

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by Dream On, Jan 1, 2018.

  1. Dream On

    Dream On Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    Canada
    So I'm thinking about upgrading my phono stage. Think the rest of my system is pretty set and this is the one piece that I can upgrade. I'm looking for a unit that has both MM and MC capability.

    I'm considering three options:

    1. Easter Electric Minimax - an all tube design

    2. A battery powered unit, such as one from Sutherland

    3. The CI Audio PEQ•1 MKII - a solid state design, offers some adjustability and a separate power supply

    I could certainly go another way, but I think I have things narrowed down to three different approaches. I was curious to hear from people who are partial to one of them. Why do you think one approach might be better than the others? Or, is any one approach just as valid as the others and it all comes down to execution? On the surface, a lower noise floor would seem to be the benefits of #2 and 3, and a little bit of tube bloom the benefit of #1.

    I'm hoping this thread might turn into a discussion of different approaches and what to desire in a phono preamp, not necessarily a series of recommendations of products to try.

    My phono stage now is a 2 x 12ax7 tube design, which was a huge upgrade over the budget Cambridge model I started out with. Noise has never been an issue (that I have noticed). With this in mind, pairing it with a SUT is also a possibility, but this seems like a chance to upgrade to more capable preamp so I am leaning in that direction.

    Thanks!
     
  2. vinylkid58

    vinylkid58 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Victoria, B.C.
    That's the route I'd take. There are lots of options for an upgraded tube phono.

    jeff
     
    Shivermetimbers likes this.
  3. swvahokie

    swvahokie Well-Known Member


    Sutherland no longer offers battery powered units. You could probably pick up a used Phd model if you want to go that route. Sutherland claims his AC power supplies are now so good, that using batteries have no advantage. I have the KCVibe model that replaced the Phd, and it is dead quiet. With gain at max on my amp, you would never know that the phono was active until the needle hits the groove. Sounds pretty good too.
    I see you are in Canada, so I have no idea about distribution in your country, but Music Direct carries most models up to the Phono Blocks.
     
  4. vinyldoneright

    vinyldoneright Forum Resident

    Location:
    Ca
    Have had the Minimax, I would look at the Parks Audio Budgie paired with their SUT
     
    Vinyl Fan 1973 likes this.
  5. beavis

    beavis Active Member

    Location:
    Sayre, Pa. USA
    Second on the Budgie.....

    Make certain you get a SUT that will mate as perfectly as possible with your MC cartridge.....this is of the utmost importance!
     
    Shivermetimbers likes this.
  6. Vinyl Fan 1973

    Vinyl Fan 1973 Forum Resident

    Sorry what’s an SUT?
     
  7. vinylkid58

    vinylkid58 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Victoria, B.C.
    Step Up Transformer = SUT.

    jeff
     
  8. Jvalvano

    Jvalvano Forum Resident

    Location:
    NH
    I use the minimax. It's a great phono stage. I don't use or need a SUT with it. Matched with the right cartridge it doesn't need a SUT. I did try a very low output MC cartridge once with a SUT, it didn't sound near as good as matching it with a low or medium output cartridge. I've had the minimax for many years I'd easily recommend it.
     
  9. Davey

    Davey very clever with maracas

    Location:
    SF Bay Area, USA
    I thought the MiniMax has SUTs built in for MC, at least the new ones do, does yours just have MM inputs and no transformers on top?
     
  10. Jvalvano

    Jvalvano Forum Resident

    Location:
    NH
    It can handle almost all MC. However one time while experimenting with a friend (years ago) we tried a very low output MC. Below the range of the minimax. It didn't work and with the step up it didn't sound any better than using a higher output MC. The minimax has plenty of gain and works with most MC out there. My friend, who is a wise and knowledgeable gear head, had a very expensive very low output cartridge. I had read about the benefits of super low output so we gave it a try. I'm not a gear head and for me it wasn't worth the hassle of dealing with a external SUT and it didn't sound any better. The minimax is a very impressive phono stage. A friend of mine owns a high end audio/video store. He's tried everything and he uses the minimax in his home system. That gives me a little validation with my buddies who have gone through many many phono stages over the years while I've stuck with the minimax.Tube rolling is great with it. I got the rectifier tube the distributor recommended (huge difference over stock tube ) and have just been enjoying it for many years. I know there are other great phono stages but I enjoy the minimax and it's always held it's own when I've compared it to something else. :cheers:
     
  11. Dream On

    Dream On Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    Canada
    Interesting, didn't know their current models are all AC power. Used is a definite option (most of my system is comprised of used components) and I notice that Sutherland preamps come up every now and then in the classifieds. The other two options not as frequent.

    I am MM only at the moment though I did pick up an SAE 1000E MC cart a while back when some NOS showed up. So I'll have to consider this when I choose a preamp, though I'm not sure it makes sense to reject the preamp of choice all because I have a relatively inexpensive MC cart already in my hands that may not work with it. Nice to hear at least that the EE Minimax can probably handle it...I'm guessing the others probably can too. But it'll be something I check out first just to be sure.
     
  12. Strat-Mangler

    Strat-Mangler Forum Resident

    Location:
    Toronto
    Don't believe they make SUTs, anymore.
     
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2018
  13. swvahokie

    swvahokie Well-Known Member

    The Sutherland KCVibe can handle all but the lowest MC carts. Gain is adjustable from 40-60 db and you can load at 100, 200, 400, 1000, and 47k. You can even load 47k and 60 db so you can use the higher end Grados. It really is an outstanding unit, and is better than the battery powered unit it replaced.
     
  14. Dream On

    Dream On Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    Canada
    Thanks swvahokie, that's good info.

    Yeah, I actually don't recall if I have the 1000E or 1000LT, but either way they are HOMC so I probably don't even need a MC phono stage for this particular cart.

    I'll look into the Budgie a bit more. It almost looks the same as my current phono pre though...the Budgie does have some adjustable MM loading, which the Brio does not. But the Brio has a separate power supply. Is one better than the other? Hard to tell.
     
  15. cyclistsb

    cyclistsb Forum Resident

    I'd ask what budget you have in mind (many threads on best budget MM) but when I upgrade, I try to future proof myself for component and cartridge changes.

    If you are using an Ortofon 2M Blue then you can pretty much grab anything as you really only need 40-45 db of gain (maybe even lower depending on your setup). However, if you actually buy a phono stage in this area you wont be able to buy any other cartridge than a high output one without a SUT which I find can be somewhat tricky in terms of placement and quality...let alone yet another device that needs to be put somewhere and can be easily moved as they tend to be small and light weight.

    If you are thinking Sutherland and used, look around for the AcousTech Electronics PH-1 (made by Ron) which is built like a tank and can be picked up used for a decent price. There is a Premium model too...and the opamps can be upgraded to lower the noise floor. It will give you 40,53 and 61 db gain choices for most situations other than super low output MC cart.
     
  16. Dream On

    Dream On Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    Canada
    Thanks, never heard of the PH-1. I will definitely look into that.

    Budget is around $1K to $1,500. Total cost would be lower as it would partially be funded by selling my current preamp. But I'm not in a rush. I think the Brio is a very nice preamp. It sounds good and noise isn't an issue.

    Part of this desire to change is based on the fact I want to eventually make the move to MC carts (though if I'm using HOMC carts then this point may be moot as my MM phono stage is all I'd need).

    The other part is based on the fact that I'm thinking a change would also be an upgrade in sound. I guess that's not exactly a guarantee.

    I must admit, for what seems like a great price and a well built unit, I am surprised I don't see more buzz over the Channel Islands preamp online. Maybe it's still a bit too new.
     
  17. avanti1960

    avanti1960 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Chicago metro, USA
    for me a tube phono preamp added to my tube integrated amplifier was "too much" and created a big disparity between the sound of vinyl and the sound of digital. I added a dynamic solid state phono preamp (Lehmann Black Cube SE II) and it does the job with flying colors.
    my recommendation is to pick one with a large outboard power supply transformer which brings sonic separation from the rest of the pack that use wall warts- e.g Audio Alchemy PP1, Liberty Audio B2B-1 (dual mono transformers in chassis hugely dynamic sound) or the Lehmann Black Cube SEII, Parasound JC3 jr (large transformer in chassis) or Lehmann Decade if you can stretch the budget.
     
  18. cyclistsb

    cyclistsb Forum Resident

    I'd look for a good preamp in the $800 used and spend the rest on a medium/low output MC cartridge....the problem you'll face is that you won't get the biggest benefit form a new preamp with your current cartridge. Just my two cents as I have been there and done that :)
     
  19. Catcher10

    Catcher10 Forum Resident

    I love Michael Yee designed phono stages (Musical Surroundings). I have used a Phonomena II for years and this summer bought the Nova II, which is battery powered. It can still run either way, battery or charging mode. What I get is just more music coming thru, more resolution and dynamics. His design is so well that switching back and forth it is difficult to notice a difference.
    And of course with all the setting options you have, any cartridge is a great match with the Nova II.

    Have fun!
     
  20. TheVinylAddict

    TheVinylAddict Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Arizona
    Just an FYI - Lounge Audio currently has a tube phono stage in the works, I know for a fact that they have been designing / testing for some time, and heard a rumor (well, more than a rumor) that they are close to beta testing it.... but don't know the timeline.

    If it is anything like the Lounge LCR and how it offered high value at the price point, it should be interesting. I don't know what they are planning on charging, but I do know it will be both MM and MC capable. Don't know much else, had a brief conversation with Robert (owner of Lounge Audio) the other day when I called him with some questions about my Copla.

    Given the success of the LCR, I am keeping my eyes and ears open on this one.
     

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