Darlington Labs Phono Preamps

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by DJSpinner, May 2, 2021.

  1. DJSpinner

    DJSpinner Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Chicago, IL USA
    Rather than make appearances in random "Best Phono Preamp under $700" recommendation threads, thought they deserved their own thread, especially with the introduction of their new MP-7

    MP-7 High End +40dB Discrete High-Voltage J-FET RIAA Phono Preamp — Darlington Labs

    Looks like they've updated the quality of parts and brought the price up another $200 from their MM-6, in anticipation of their soon to be released step up stages. Was on the fence about upgrading from my iFi Zen, but this might push me over the top.

    I am curious why the change from MM to MP, since the features on both appear to be the same?
     
    Last edited: May 2, 2021
  2. krichard2496

    krichard2496 Forum Resident

    The change was due to one particularly vocal reviewer of the MM-6 who helped spur the creation of the MP-7.

    The key thought was this: One of the primary purposes of the MP-7 will be in systems which are predominantly using either HOMC or LOMC cartridges, or the excellent Moving-Iron such as various Grados or the Soundsmith (B&O MI) cartridges. "MM" seemed too limiting, when in reality is it simply a very well executed +40dB RIAA-equipped amplifier. Likewise, in 2021 the days of the Shure V15-V-MR vs Stanton 881-MkII-S debates are long over for most people (although we often audition outgoing units on an 881-S).

    Keith Richardson
    Director of Engineering
    Darlington Labs LLC
     
    Dignan2000, trd, Pythonman and 8 others like this.
  3. JackG

    JackG Forum Resident

    Location:
    NJ
    Cool thread, looks amazing. Love my MM-6! But now want an MP-7 with mono switch!
     
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  4. chervokas

    chervokas Forum Resident

    Yeah, I just got a mm-6, which I'm enjoying, but I'm using it with an AT PTG/II and a SUT (going back and forth between whether the 1:10 or 1:20 SUT works best with the mm-6's 40 dB of gain, before I was using a pre with 36 dB of active gain), now I'm wondering what makes the MP-7 better for use with LOMC and wishing I'd waited, for the extra $130 I spent, maybe I would have bought the MP-7.
     
  5. plugmeintosomething

    plugmeintosomething Forum Resident

    Location:
    USA
    Happy owner of the MM-5 here
     
    Stone Turntable likes this.
  6. JackG

    JackG Forum Resident

    Location:
    NJ
    I'm sure they have a trade-up program to take care of you.

    I'm using mine at the moment with an AT-VM95ML but I've also used it with my AT33PTG/2 and SUT @ 1:16 and it was a fantastic as well. I've even used an SUT at 1:9 with my "high output for an MC but still pretty low output for a HOMC (1.2mV)" AT-MONO3/LP and the MM-6 seemed unphased by the (calculated) ~11 mV.
     
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  7. Brand X

    Brand X Active Member

    Location:
    Northeast US
    I'm using a Bob's Sky 1:30 SUT to connect a Dynavector XX2 MKII to a Darlington MM-6. As JackG says, this little phono pre handles high input voltages beautifully. I'm at 8.4 mV and it sounds fantastic. Fantastic punch and a feeling of lots of headroom. But maybe what I like best about this little pre is how it minimizes ticks and pops. Noise is pushed to the background better than any set-up I've heard.

    Of course now I'm tempted to upgrade to the new 'better' MM-7. Hopefully Keith Richardson will tell us more about the specifics of what makes it different than the MM-6.

    I'm hoping Darlington will make a 'statement' product someday, maybe true dual mono, with an outboard power supply, keeping it around $1000. Maybe that's too much to ask, but it would be nice.
     
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  8. Stone Turntable

    Stone Turntable Dedicated Follower of Hi-Fi

    Location:
    New Mexico USA
    I’m eagerly awaiting delivery of an MM-6 with mono switch to pair with my new Soundsmith Carmen cartridge, and hoping for a happy payoff in sound quality.

    I’ve been enjoying digging into the adventurous evolving designs of the Darlington Labs line, along with the pitch that they’re done extensive research and are bringing key aspects of successful high-end phono pre-amps down from the pricing stratosphere. Their website’s long and highly opinionated historical section is a gas.
     
  9. VapourTrailUS

    VapourTrailUS Internet “Person”

    Location:
    California
    I'm really only shopping for a tube pre at the moment, but the write up on the MP-7 site does an effective job of making me want it.
     
    trd likes this.
  10. krichard2496

    krichard2496 Forum Resident

    The MP-7 is not just an MM-6 with better parts.

    We took power supply technology that we developed for the SU series and implemented it in the MP-7, together with additional enhancements in parts and extension of the low-frequency response.

    The MP-7 also features internally-adjustable gain. Stock is +40dB, and it can be adjusted down to +32dB internally via a single soldered interior resistor per channel, whereas the standard MM-6 and MM-5 are fixed at 40dB of gain.

    We do have a generous upgrade plan. For example, users who now have the MM-6 and would have bought the MP-7 are invited to contact us at our email address which is on our website.

    Sincerely,
    Keith Richardson
    Director of Engineering
    Darlington Labs LLC
     
  11. brucej4

    brucej4 Forum Resident

    Location:
    San Mateo, CA, USA
    Keith, you're talking about factory-adjustable, right? Or is this something that an MP-7 owner could safely do?

    I have an Ortofon 2M Bronze, and I sometimes think that 40dB is a little too much gain for that cart.
     
  12. krichard2496

    krichard2496 Forum Resident

    We agree that if you had the MP-7 and were using a 2M exclusively, and assuming has adequate gain elsewhere, then lowering the gain slightly would increase the headroom.

    If you can solder, we can provide technical assistance.
    It can be ordered with a custom gain from the factory at no cost.

    If a client has an MP-7 and later needs the gain adjusted, and cannot do it themselves nor find a local technician, the factory can assist at a reasonable charge.

    It is currently soldered in because we believe that, in general, unnecessary switch contacts are to be avoided, and the unit's headroom as it stands - capable of +27dBu output (greater than the vast majority of solid state units) provides adequate margin in the vast majority of cases.
     
    Gibsonian likes this.
  13. Gibsonian

    Gibsonian Forum Resident

    Location:
    Iowa, USA
    I like what you are doing here K. Richards.

    If I didn't spend have a good phono amp Or 2 I would definitely give this unit a try. You need some sales here, to make this venture a success enough to do that dual mono unit that was smartly recommended earlier! I do think a company with the expertise and balls to take on some expensive units could do well, but the word must get out, and the performance has to be there.

    We are currently paying too significant funds for these kinda things because of the low volumes involved, and the risk. Love to see someone blow some minds with smarts, ingenuity and Value!

    Good luck to you!
     
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  14. krichard2496

    krichard2496 Forum Resident

    If we do a dual-mono unit above the MP-7, it will probably use some tubes....and you just know that it won't be the common types that everyone else is using.
     
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  15. chervokas

    chervokas Forum Resident

    This was, first and foremost, the reason I purchased the mm-6...thinking that the no-feedback design would minimize the intrusive impact of surface noise and any HF, high energy transient mechanical noise. In that regard the mm-6 is an absolute marvel. I don't know if it's the no-feedback design, better immunity to RF ringing, or both. But on that score, the pre is outstanding. But I'm really enjoying records again, even older beat up ones that I played under many years of less than ideal conditions and with less than ideal equipment in high school and college, it a way that I haven't in a while because of the intrusion of surface noise -- despite a vinyl cleaning regime, a lubing regime to reduce stylus-groove friction, etc. I often see discussions around here about people experiencing excessive ticks and pops. Those people really ought to try a no-feedback phono pre.

    I haven't spent enough time with the preamp yet to have a final opinion on it. My first impression, other than the tick and pop thing, is positive -- very good timbral balance, outstanding soundstage width, outstanding bass control and depth and punch, seemingly vanishingly low power supply noise, two immediate things that jump out that could be better to me, not that they're bad but the soundstage depth is not impressive as the soundstage width, and gain hiss seems a little high, though, that said, the pre resolves low level detail exceptionally well so there's not a lot of masking of detail going on from that. But I really haven't given the thing a long time of listening yet. And I'm using it under conditions that maybe aren't design conditions -- I'm using it with an AT33PTG/2 and a SUT. Furthermore, I'm listening to multiple variables. I had the SUT at 1:20 with the old pre that had less active gain, now I've switched to 1:10, so different total gain, different gain structure, slightly different impedance load on the cart, and different load on the SUT because at 1:10 I'm using a resistor on the secondary to the get reflected impedance to 100 ohms. Comparisons are elusive.

    But man, the surface noise thing. That's great. I can't help but wondering -- Is it the no-feedback design? Am I damping the Xformer secondary better (this pre also has a lot less input capacitance than the last on I was using)? Am I rolling off some top octave energy along with the ticks and pops (the sound is so relaxed and easy to listen to even on dynamic peaks and dynamic music with lots of HF harmonics like cymbals, but without a loss of detail, is it better headroom, less power supply noise, less ultrasonic ringing)? Need to do a lot more listening and playing with my gain structure (maybe 1:16 would be better than either 1:10 or 1:20).
     
  16. JackG

    JackG Forum Resident

    Location:
    NJ
    I'm enjoying the same ease on peaks and also wondered if it was just a softer sound overall but I find that nothing is actually missing except for the cringing. Ride cymbals, etc., are all there in full as far as I can tell.
     
    Davey likes this.
  17. Brand X

    Brand X Active Member

    Location:
    Northeast US
    Sounds like you're already working on it, and I'm very happy to hear that. If it keeps the surface noise as blissfully quiet as the MM-6, I'll be in line to buy one.
     
  18. DJSpinner

    DJSpinner Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Chicago, IL USA
    My MP-7 order has been placed! Will report back as soon as it arrives.
     
  19. Davey

    Davey NP: Broadcast ~ The Future Crayon

    Location:
    SF Bay Area, USA
    I think a lot of the reduction in the ticks and other transient noises is due to the tremendous headroom in the DL preamp, and also the stability that comes from the no-feedback design. It isn't really reducing those noises, it just isn't accentuating them like many of the high-feedback phono stages (which describes most of the phono stages these days until you get into some of the tube designs, or the high end solid state from companies like Ayre and PASS that also tend to design without global feedback). The whole spectrum becomes more natural sounding, at least that's my take on it. I've been using no-feedback designs just about exclusively since the mid 90s, originally my own but nowadays mostly Conrad Johnson, but that's one of the qualities I've grown to appreciate most. Doesn't mean you can't get there with a feedback design, but most I've heard don't get there to the same extent.
     
  20. astro70

    astro70 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Southern Illinois
    I bought the MM-5 roughly 2 months ago now. Unfortunately my experience hasn’t been all positive. I initially ordered a custom MM-5 with a yellow LED. After about a week of no word about my order, I asked about it and was told that it would be done the next day and shipped out. I then was strung along with various excuses (probably mostly real issues, it’s understandable when its a small company). Finally, since I hadn’t had a working preamp in almost 2 months and hadn’t been able to enjoy my records, I said just to ship the stock unit and I’m fine doing the part change myself. I was told I’d receive the LED kit in a couple weeks and it would be an easy replacement. I haven’t heard anything since then.

    I do have to say, for $200 it’s a decent sounding upgrade over the stock preamp in my old school Kenwood receiver. I also got a new turntable at the same time so my sound profile was going to change either way, though I went from a Technics to another Technics so it should have been fairly similar.

    I think the MM-5 is a bit quieter than I’d like. I really have to crank the volume to hear details where I didn’t on my previous setup, although that might just be better dynamic range. This results in a higher noise floor though because I have the volume level higher, so you hear almost a quiet roar of most records. Definitely a higher noise floor at listening levels than I had before.

    I think I might get in contact and see if I can upgrade to one of the new mono switch models and get the proper LED this time, and maybe go for the MM-6 since it seems it might fix my noise floor issue.

    Overall, I saw this as in the same realm as the ProJect Phono stages for about the same price. The internals really drew me to Darlington Labs over that option though. I like to Know I can easily replace a component if it fails and I don’t have to go buy a whole new preamp.

    I see Keith is in this thread as well. I in no way mean to bash your company or product, Keith. I just wanted to give my honest opinions on my experience. I like the way you do things for the most part, not many small shops doing this quality of work anymore!

    Just took a gander at the updated site, at $179, I’d take a chance on the MM-5 if you’re curious. I think it’s worth that price for sure. I’m looking forward to seeing what else comes out of Darlington Labs as time goes on. Sometimes I like to be the guinea pig for something new.
     
    Last edited: May 7, 2021
  21. astro70

    astro70 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Southern Illinois
    I would love for others to post their opinions of these as more people have a chance to hear them. I consider myself a novice audiophile. I’ve only ever heard vinyl on a couple of playback systems, but have obviously done most of my listening on my own, and I tend to become accustomed to what I’m used to and be very critical of any change in sound no matter good or bad. As a matter fact, when I got my first real pair of speakers and got rid of my plastic boombox speakers I found in a goodwill, I didn’t think I liked the new speakers as much but as time went on and I got used to the better sound quality, I learned to hate my old speakers and love the new ones. What I’m saying is my opinion of the MM-5 I have will most likely improve after becoming more used to it over the next few months. It was the first upgrade I bought for what will become my ~$5,000 playback system so I will probably come back and post my thoughts as more of my system goes from mid-fi to actual hi-fi.
     
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  22. krichard2496

    krichard2496 Forum Resident

    Your MM-5 is eligible for a factory update to the latest Power Supply technology at no cost to you.
    This will update it to the MM-5's being currently shipped for the last month.
    We invite you to contact us via our company email.

    Sincerely,
    Keith Richardson
    Director of Engineering
    Darlington Labs LLC
     
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  23. brucej4

    brucej4 Forum Resident

    Location:
    San Mateo, CA, USA
    Anybody else having trouble configuring an MP-7 with rear LED and a mono switch? Are they not compatible options?
     
  24. Davey

    Davey NP: Broadcast ~ The Future Crayon

    Location:
    SF Bay Area, USA
    I don't fully understand the rationale for the front/rear LED option, why does it cost more for the front panel option? Why is there even a choice? Does it just save some cost because the front panel doesn't need to be drilled and finished?
     
    Last edited: May 7, 2021
  25. Stone Turntable

    Stone Turntable Dedicated Follower of Hi-Fi

    Location:
    New Mexico USA
    I had a bit of trouble sorting out my LED options when I ordered my MM-6, and it was just a glitch with the web site software. Just email Keith or I'm sure he'll notice the posts here and fix the problem.

    Right now there's an incompatibility between what it says on the MM-7 product page ("If none is selected, a rear panel blue LED is standard.") and what the options are currently making possible, namely that you can't order with no LED option picked, and you can't order if both the rear LED and the mono switch are selected as options.
     

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