High end Phono Stage vs good Preamp?

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by jloweinmo, Sep 13, 2019.

  1. jloweinmo

    jloweinmo Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    Kansas City
    Long story short, I'm looking to upgrade my Preamp. Currently running a Rotel 980 with the matched Preamp. I recently upgraded my speakers to Vandersteen 3A Sig. I now feel that my Preamp is my weakest link. I only use this system for vinyl. My question is; should I go with a better Preamp with a good Phono Stage or spend the money on a dedicated Phono Stage?

    I've been looking into the PS Audio Stellar Phono Preamplifier at $2,500 which is about what I would budget for an upgraded Preamp. I do have a very high quality CD player but it has not been out of the box in 15 years. Am I going to get enough sound improvement from a quality dedicated Phono Stage to offset the loss of flexibility provided by a regular Preamp?

    Also considering the PS Audio Stellar M700 Mono block Amp pair. My Rotel Amp is very good but the Vandersteens are very thirsty. The M700 is rated at 350 into 8 Ohm and 700 into 4 Ohm. The Rotel has enough juice to drive the 4 Ohm Vandys but the volume is up quite a bit higher than when driving my previous JBL speakers. I feel like I may be loosing some fidelity here...

    Any thoughts on PS Audio in general? Pretty small company out of Boulder. Not much out there to read on them...
     
  2. Classicrock

    Classicrock Forum Resident

    Location:
    South West, UK.
    Dedicated phono stage. It's probably the built in phono that's holding the sound back. Keep the preamp. A lot of stages don't have enough gain for direct into power amp or a passive pre (in fact most). Run into aux and you can use your Cd player. I think Fremer has the new PS audio phono so there likely will be a full review on Analog Planet or Stereophile coming up. PS Audio Launches Stellar Phono Preamp
     
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  3. jloweinmo

    jloweinmo Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    Kansas City
    Would that not negate the value of a high quality Phono Stage to run it through an average Preamp?
     
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  4. Uglyversal

    Uglyversal Forum Resident

    Location:
    Sydney
    When I search Rotel 980 I get what appears to be a preamp which is also a surround processor. Is late in here so I might be misreading your post but do you want to connect the phono stage directly to the power amp? Has it got volume control knobs? If that is the case I see no problem, I don't know the phono stage you mention but if the system is only for vinyl a good PS could be an advantage but if you still connect it through your Rotel preamp you might be losing the advantage of having a good PS.
     
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  5. Guildx500

    Guildx500 Forum Resident

    Location:
    California
    An outboard phono preamp would be down on my list of upgrades to your system. Your turntable and cartridge don’t warrant investment in an expensive phono stage in my opinion. I do think you would enjoy your Vandersteens more with more power behind them. The 3A really benefits from that. I’d look at a better preamp and amp first. Or an integrated with more power and a built in phono.
     
  6. jloweinmo

    jloweinmo Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    Kansas City
    I think you are probably right. I do really like the Rotel Power Amp. I do think the Rotel Pre is not that great. I was going down the road of upgrading the Pre when I came up with the idea of replacing the Pre Amp with a Phono Stage. I was thinking it was an either/or but it looks like you still have to have a PreAmp with the Phono Stage. It certainly makes no sense to invest in a higher end PS to run through my Rotel Pre.
     
  7. Uglyversal

    Uglyversal Forum Resident

    Location:
    Sydney
    No, under certain circumstances you don't need the preamp. My previous post was probably not clear. TT+PS+Power amp is actually the best you can have and you can forget the pre. BUT and that is a big but, phono stages normally have a fixed output so unless your power unit has a volume control which some have you can't go that way as otherwise you'll play always at maximum volume.

    I am at the moment doing exactly that and the benefits of not having a pre are great, yes there is inconvenience but the pure direct route is the best. I have connected at the moment a power amp straight from the PS and can control only volume but that suits me fine, I have other amps too but I've chosen them also with volume control to be able to feed the source directly into the amp. That's the reason I was asking whether you have a volume knob in the amp.

    [​IMG]
     
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  8. Guildx500

    Guildx500 Forum Resident

    Location:
    California
    Rotel sounds pretty good with Vandersteens in my experience. They made a good phono stage in the 900 series that would be an upgrade on the built in in your preamp if you can find one. It was like $200 too. If you found one of those and an RB 1080 I think you’d hear a big difference.

     
  9. Rotel power amps traditionally tend to far outperform their preamps. I know this from experience.

    If that RB-980 is of 90s vintage and is accompanied by an RC-980 pre then it's a solid and powerful amp, but it's very much a budget amp and won't bring the best out of your speakers. Even worse, the RC-980 preamp probably hides some of what the RB-980 can do. When I replaced my RC-850 preamp with a NAD 1000 preamp, the whole world opened up for me, and my RB850 power amp sang.

    Me? I'd probably swap out the lot for some good used kit to better serve your speakers. But that’s what I’d do and I’m not you.

    To be honest, it took me years to part with my Rotel power amps. I also ran an RB-870BX power amp. A bit of a beast but it swapped refinement for raw power. I still have fond memories of what it sounded like when I was briefly running two RB-850 power amps in bridged mono. It was like being in a studio. It sounded hot, and I mean hot!

    But once I got my Croft kit there was no going back. It’s addictive. For fun, I recently swapped my Croft pre/power combo for my back-up Arcam Delta 290 integrated but that only lasted a couple of tracks before I had to switch back.

    So your first challenge is to find it within you to let the Rotel kit go, or to use it in a second system. From my perspective, that’s how it needs to be if you’re to move forward in a useful way.
     
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  10. swvahokie

    swvahokie Forum Resident

    You need a turntable before you worry about a phono stage. The Vandersteen 3s seriously outclass the rest of your setup Replace the table first, then a phono preamp, then maybe a nice I integrated. I would look at the Rega P6 and Technics 1200gr and a decent mm cart for now
     
  11. macster

    macster Forum Resident

    Location:
    San Diego, Ca. USA
    True, I would suggest dumping your entire budget into a table which you can pair with the cartridge you have. You have a good foundation. The 3A's are very musical.

    M~
     
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  12. jloweinmo

    jloweinmo Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    Kansas City
    Yes, 90s RB 980 and RC 980! Seemed pricey at the time and impressed my friends...

    Sadly, I think your advice is sound...
     
  13. jloweinmo

    jloweinmo Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    Kansas City
    Yeah, I got a good deal on the Vandies...your advice is helpful. I've been looking at upgrading but starting with the amp rather than the TT...
     
  14. jloweinmo

    jloweinmo Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    Kansas City
    Tell me more....I'm into an upgrade but am focusing on the amp/preamp/PS at this point. Feel the Rotel amp is decent but the Pre is poor
     
  15. swvahokie

    swvahokie Forum Resident

    Garbage in....garbage out. Your money, but the Rotel stuff is at least decent. As far as your turntable, momma always told me if I couldn’t say something nice....
     
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  16. macster

    macster Forum Resident

    Location:
    San Diego, Ca. USA
    It's hard to make Vandys sound bad. If you like them, you can take your time to assemble your system. I'm a source first cult member. IMO, get it as good as you can then go from there. As was stated previously your table is where I would start or Digital source if that's what you use the most. I have an integrated amp and a separate phonostage. You can check my profile for my system details.

    Whatever you decide good luck.

    M~
     
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  17. swvahokie

    swvahokie Forum Resident

    I’m in the same cult. Funny thing is, you never know what’s missing until you upgrade the front end.
     
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  18. cyclistsb

    cyclistsb Forum Resident

    I grabbed a Modwright LS-100 with Phono stage and am very happy with it as a preamp and phono stage. It is unique that the selection of phono tubes changes the gain setup. I can say for sure the add-in phono easily competes with those in the $1000 range or higher...and is tube. Sounds great. And I used it with Vandersteens with good success...My 3A sigs and now my 5as

    Also the Vandersteens will get better as you upgrade equipment but nothing beats adding a few subs :)
     
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  19. jloweinmo

    jloweinmo Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    Kansas City
    I don't understand what it is about the TT. All vinyl here. I thought my cart/stylus was decent. Still think pre amp is weak link....no?
     
  20. macster

    macster Forum Resident

    Location:
    San Diego, Ca. USA
    Your cart/stylus are decent and could be used on a much higher quality table. IHMO, the weakest link in the chain that you have is your table. What you can do is perhaps get loaner of a table and a preamp and see which one makes the most difference to you, in your system. This will provide you the information that you need to make a sound decision.

    FYI

    Here is what you are dealing with

    Source: Audio-Technica AT-LP5 Direct-Drive Turntable --- $399.00

    Speakers: VANDERSTEEN - 3A Signature Tower Speakers Speakers ---- $5,499.00

    With your amps some where in between.

    M~
     
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  21. swvahokie

    swvahokie Forum Resident

    No. I’m afraid it’s not decent. You have never heard your records. A Rega P3 is decent. Those new 1k Technics are decent. Vandy 3s need more than decent. Pretty good starts at the Rega P6, Technics 1200gr level. This is where you need to be.
     
  22. dconsmack

    dconsmack Forum Resident

    Location:
    Las Vegas, NV USA
    An external phono stage is important. For moving magnet carts, it’s very, very important to get the capacitance at the phono amp input to be as low as possible. Not many modern phono amps have an input capacitance lower than 100pF. A lot of common moving magnet cartridges used for hi-fi want to see a capacitance rating at 100-200pF. That’s the the capacitance of your tonearm wire (already around 100pF per meter for low capacitance wire) PLUS the capacitance at the phono stage input (usually above 100pF). Even in a good scenario, that puts you at 200pF. When you go above the capacitance rating recommended by the cartridge manufacturer it will alter the frequency response in a not-good way. The higher it goes, you will get a pronounced boost in the treble (usually somewhere around 11kHz and by as many as 7 decibels) and then the treble will roll off quickly above 11kHz - or wherever the boost is. So, having a low input capacitance at the phono input is very important (again at 100pF or below is desirable).
    Another thing about phono stages that is desirable is a rumble filter. That basically rolls off the sub sonic bass frequencies. Some people will say if you have mechanical rumble then you have a problem with your turntable and/or set up. While true to a degree, no matter what turntable you own, regardless of cost, there is a tonearm resonance that happens somewhere between 7-14Hz. It’s part of LP playback and can’t be eliminated. This resonance can have an amplitude as loud as the musical content on the record. You want to use a rumble filter to lower this tonearm amplitude to a level where it doesn’t use any significant amplifier power. Even though it’s not audible, your amp and speaker cones will thank you.
    Lastly, if you listen to any mono recordings it’s very nice to have a mono switch in your phono stage. When you use this, most of the surface noise (the “whoosh” sound of vinyl, not the ticks and pops) will be practically eliminated.
    If you get a new turntable, you’ll still need to have all the features of a good phono stage to get the most out of your cartridge. I think that the MoFi STUDIOPHONO is a great phono stage for not crazy money. It sounds great and does all the things I mentioned. StudioPhono Phonostage — Mobile Fidelity Electronics
     
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  23. Mad shadows

    Mad shadows Forum Resident

    Location:
    Karlskrona- Sweden
    The source sets the ground level for the rest of the system, start there. A fancy phonostage would not be my priority.
     
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  24. Classicrock

    Classicrock Forum Resident

    Location:
    South West, UK.
    It will still sound a lot better than the in built phono stage. I honestly don't know how 'average' the Rotel pre is, probably better than you think. If the PS audio has a high enough output a passive pre could be considered. You do need a volume pot at least.
     
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  25. Classicrock

    Classicrock Forum Resident

    Location:
    South West, UK.
    An expensive source needs a really good phono stage to shine. I would not necessarily go so expensive. Currently using a MF M6 Vinyl (MM/MC) which provides the best balance of extracting detail and smoothness I have heard (£1400). It is actually cheaper in the US than UK. It's fine unless you use MC cartridges below 0.3mv output. Certainly would improve the current source substantially. MM capacitance can be set as low as 50pF. All settings via buttons on front but doesn't have a remote like the PS audio.
     
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