Dismiss Notice
We are making some updates and reconfigurations to our server. Apologies for any downtime or slow forum loading now or within the next week or so. Thanks!

Mini review of the Gold Note PH-10 phono preamp

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by amgradmd, Aug 15, 2017.

  1. amgradmd

    amgradmd Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Richmond, VA
    I've been on a quest lately to upgrade my vinly setup. I started by upgrading my old ClearAudio Concept with an amazing custom table from a local outfit called Fern & Roby called the Montrose. I liked the turntable so much I upgraded my cart from an excellent Ortufon 2M Black to an even more excellent Soundsmith Zephyr MIMC Star. The final piece of the puzzle was upgrading from my PS Audio NuWave Phono Converter phono preamp. It's not that I was unhappy with the PS Audio NPC, it's just that I felt that I was missing... something. Detail perhaps? I wasn't sure. I know I had heard recently the McIntosh MP1100 in an all Mac system and it was glorious. I wanted some of THAT! That being detail, soundstage, tone, air, etc. Well after having read about pretty much every phono preamp under the sun for less than $2k (and a few over), I decided that I would try the Rogue Audio Ares. It had very good reviews and I like the idea of adding a tube phono preamp to my otherwise all solid state system. For a couple reasons the Ares didn't work with the Soundsmith 0.4 mV MIMC Star. I don't really want to go into the specific reasons since I don't want to say anything negative about the Rogue unit. It worked nicely with my 2M Black but not the MIMC Star for whatever reason. Rogue was very accommodating and allowed me to return the unit. So good on them.

    So in my quest for the replacement preamp, I borrowed a Creek OBH15-MkII from my local shop. And you know what? I really, really liked it! It was a bit better than the NPC. Mainly it had a bit more detail and better transients. And a little lower noise floor, I think. But it still wasn't quite what I was looking for, if very close. If I had never heard the McIntosh unit, I probably would have been happy with the Creek unit, honestly. But I was determined and I kept looking...

    Somewhere, I think maybe in Mono and Stereo, saw a review of a phono preamp from an Italian company I had never heard of. It was called the Gold Note PH-10. It raved about the unit. In particular, it described an even tone with detail, low noise floor, and dynamics. And it listed things I was really looking for in easy configureability, two inputs, balanced outs, and the ability to adjust gain up to 71 dB! Why is it so many alleged high quality MC phono preamps top out at 60 dB? I have no idea. In the MC range, the PH-10 allows for 62-71 dM in 3 dB increments. How nice is that? This would definitely work with my MIMC Star, I was thinking. The problem was that there are only a couple US distributors for Gold Note, one internet only dealer CoolKyte.com and a local hifi shop in Illinois for less than $1500. Since my local shop (Audio Exchange in Richmond, VA) has always done me right, I wanted to work it out so that I would get it through them. After multiple emails with Gold Note's Maurizio Aterini, he and my man Donny worked it out so that I would get a PH-10 via international parcel! I was psyched.

    So after 10 days or so I finally got a text from Donny that my PH-10 had arrived. After work I beelined it to pick up the unit and Donny already had it out of the box. It was beautiful. I had ordered the black unit and the side slots cut into the aluminum chassis were sharp. And by sharp, I mean both literally and figuratively . The side slots, while being a distinctive design feature, could easily cut your finger if you're not careful. So be careful, already! I like the size of the unit. The front screen is very attractive and sharp with the tasteful Gold Note logo. The back is neatly laid out with high quality connectors that fit snug with interconnects. One of the best features is the front dial which allows you to control loading, gain, input, and your choice of RIAA, DECCA London, or Columbia EQ curves.

    So after hooking the unit up, I powered it up by flipping the master power switch in the back and then depressing the front knob for 3 seconds. The operation and setup is fairly intuitive. I selected 68 dB for my 0.4 mV cart and standard RIAA EQ curve and 470 Ohm loading and I was off! Right off the bat, I could tell I had made the right choice. The unit was near dead silent. I couldn't hear any hiss at even louder than normal listening levels. I had to really crank up to levels I would never (OK, almost never) listen to to hear anything at all. Then playing everything from Bill Evans to Steely Dan to AC/DC I noticed that there was such detail and clarity, it was stunning. I was hearing things I'd never heard before on well know reference tracks. In particular, the percussion was more distinct whether it be drums or cymbals. And the bass! I felt like I had bumped the bass level a couple of notches, but I hadn't. Mid and low bass is so well defined and impactful. Of course, vocals and instruments were soulful and full with the totality having great soundstage holography. In a word, awesome. I then tested the frequency response with the Feickert Adjust+ disc and what I got was a near ruler flat result with the RIAA curve across the audible spectrum with only 4dB maximal difference and slight tilting toward the bass. Curious, I also tested the DECCA London curve and found an even flatter FR with 3 dB with the bass and treble equally pronounced. For reference I had checked my cart with the McIntosh MP1100 and gotten the same result, so this is a great result. I also chose the "enhanced" curved which tilts the treble above 10 kHz up about 4 dB to give more high level energy/air. In short, I love this unit. I love the looks, the quiet background, the functionality, the versatility, the sound quality. All of it. Plus, more custom curves will soon be available and to upload to the unit. And did I mention that a dedicated linear power supply will be available soon? I can't wait to hear that one. So, obviously highly recommend this phono preamp. It is not leaving my rack any time soon. Hopefully it will be joined by the LPS soon enough, and I'f I'm lucky, one of their amazing turntables like the Mediterraneo or Giglio.
     
  2. Shiver

    Shiver Forum Resident

    Location:
    UK
    Great write-up and interesting to read.

    Have a Bellavista TT - pleasure to own and sounds wonderful. Quality engineering. The Mediterraneo and Giglio are stunning tables (they make some of the best looking gear out there, IMHO).
     
    amgradmd likes this.
  3. Strat-Mangler

    Strat-Mangler Personal Survival Daily Record-Breaker

    Location:
    Toronto
    Frequency curve uploads? Are you sure there's no DSP chip in there changing the sound? I wonder how a unit could keep the signal 100% in pure analog state when there's firmware which can be updated.
     
    bluemooze and amgradmd like this.
  4. Dubmart

    Dubmart Forum Resident

    Location:
    Bristol, UK
    This phono stage is also on my radar, having two inputs being a major bonus for me, plus the fact that you can upgrade the power supply and that I have some pre RIAA mono LPs, if I wasn't in the middle of buying a Jazz collection I would probably have ordered one last week, it's great to get a genuine user review from someone who has spent their hard earned cash on it, I will hopefully get one once I've got buying the record collection out of the way.
     
  5. amgradmd

    amgradmd Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Richmond, VA
    I'm not sure how they do that, honestly. I'm not familiar with the electronics inside or how the firmware/software interfaces with the analog handling of the signal. By all accounts there is no DSP involved. This is from Mono and Stereo, "Most importantly, all the controlled function are not implemented via DSP micro controller, but with actual real high quality analogue heart... PH-10 is among first phono preamplifiers with a USB port, that allows software/firmware updates via simple insertion of the SD card where software is stored. The upgrade can be made “on the fly” without even unplugging power chord." There really isn't any more explanation than that in the review. Those with more expertise can chime in on how this can be done and preserve the analog chain. All I know is that the sound is pure analog as far as I can tell.
     
  6. amgradmd

    amgradmd Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Richmond, VA
    I'd get one as soon as your finances allow. It's all that and a bag of chips, IMO! Gold Note is a great company to deal with. Maurizio Aterini (CEO of the company, I think) replied directly to all of my emails promptly and was patient with all my questions and was wonderful to deal with. I'll gladly give him more of my business.
     
    Dubmart likes this.
  7. Shiver

    Shiver Forum Resident

    Location:
    UK
    Yeah, I was contacted by Maurizio directly too - top bloke to deal with
     
  8. amgradmd

    amgradmd Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Richmond, VA
    I got a response from Mr. Aterini regarding the curves EQ:

    "Just for your information the curves EQ is obtained via analogue components: Capacitors, Coils and Resistors. The USB port allows to update the unit firmware and software that is necessary to control the CPU and the monitor functions. All functions are fully analogue."

    So there you have it. Talk about a slick piece of equipment. Love these guys!
     
  9. Strat-Mangler

    Strat-Mangler Personal Survival Daily Record-Breaker

    Location:
    Toronto
    Sorry but that is a contradictory statement from them. That's literally impossible.

    I haven't heard it but I'm sure its sound is of a great caliber. Having said that, it's digitally-based, same as other such preamps. A bit disappointing to see them deny the obvious but audiophiles tend to be rather attracted to the word analog. I don't have a prejudice either way but I will say they should've been more keen on simply stating the audio manipulation is done digitally, which it is.
     
    bluemooze likes this.
  10. amgradmd

    amgradmd Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Richmond, VA
    I honestly don't know enough one way or the other to make an argument. I wish someone with significant expertise would chime in. Could this be a hybrid situation whereby digitally controlled components affect analog circuits such that the EQ curves are affected?
     
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2017
  11. Strat-Mangler

    Strat-Mangler Personal Survival Daily Record-Breaker

    Location:
    Toronto
    Doesn't matter either way. As long as it sounds awesome, you win! :)
     
    amgradmd likes this.
  12. Manimal

    Manimal Forum Resident

    Location:
    Southern US
    Envious of that Montrose.
     
    Tlay, amgradmd and Strat-Mangler like this.
  13. Davey

    Davey very clever with maracas

    Location:
    SF Bay Area, USA
    It's probably a similar setup that many preamps use for volume control, where you have digitally controlled switches that set the resistor dividers for the analog volume control. In this case, you are also switching other passive components (inductors and capacitors) in the analog filters. I tend to favor analog playback without any digital devices active, but that's not as much a concern with some of the modern well shielded, low power, and low EMI devices. Sounds like these guys must know what they are doing.
     
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2017
  14. Tlay

    Tlay Forum Resident

    Location:
    West Coast
    Totally agree. Can't wait for an in depth review of this table. It's one of about three or four I'm considering.
     
    Manimal likes this.
  15. amgradmd

    amgradmd Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Richmond, VA
    Thanks guys. I love my Montrose. It has an incredible presence right off the bat. Visually stunning and solid. Christopher really has a knack for industrial design, that's for sure. It's hard to take your eyes off of it. The richlite plinth and richlite and brass platter have a wonderful solidity with very quiet surface noise. The speed control is amazing adn dead on accurate. The tonearm is ingenious and dead easy to setup. I have had no issues with the unipivot tonearm at all. I have become friends with Christopher since he's in town and he's a great guy. Very receptive to feedback and based on discussions with me regarding setting up azimuth he's modified the tonearm collar and laser etched the arm so that adjustment will be super easy. I think he's also modifying the junction box so that is more easily accessible for the cables and will be able to incorporate his Maverick phono preamp, if the user wants. He also may make available as an option to upgrade the headshell and tonearm wires to silver Cardas to the junction box, which he raves about. If I had to describe the sound of the Montrose, I'd say it is very quick and detailed with excellent PRaT. It's definitely not a super-relaxed table, i.e. VPI. It's closer to a ClearAudio sound, IMO. More detailed and dynamic. I upgraded from the CA Concept and it was definitely a step up. I love the combination of the Montrose with Soundsmith MIMC Star and Gold Note PH-10. I feel like I'm not leaving much, if any, detail behind and am getting a wonderfully engaging sonic picture. If anyone wants I could Dropbox you a sample of some vinyl rips I've made with my setup using the Gold Note into the analog input and ADC of the PS Audio NPC. You can get an idea of what I'm talking about.
     
  16. Manimal

    Manimal Forum Resident

    Location:
    Southern US
    Pics of your setup would be great:)
     
  17. Diskhound

    Diskhound Forum Resident

    Location:
    Canada
    The PH-10 seems like a really interesting option in the $2K range. I have been looking at it too following the stellar reviews. What bothers me a bit though is the lack of a mono function. I find it quite surprising that a manufacturer would include older equalization curves without the ability to sum the channels. Seems incomplete to me. I wonder if such a function could be added through a firmware upgrade.
     
  18. amgradmd

    amgradmd Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Richmond, VA
    I would email them and ask. They are very responsive.
     
  19. Diskhound

    Diskhound Forum Resident

    Location:
    Canada
    Done! I will report back.
     
    Strat-Mangler likes this.
  20. Diskhound

    Diskhound Forum Resident

    Location:
    Canada
    Maurizio Aterini has responded to my question regarding mono functionality and it's exactly not the answer I had hoped for.

    "The mono is not a feature of the standard unit. It will be available with the additional EQ curves unit available next year."

    I have responded politely asking him to reconsider this approach but I don't know yet whether it's impossible to incorporate mono into the set of standard eq curves or whether it's a choice on their part. I am hoping it's the latter. In my view, making customers buy another potentially expensive box so they can have a basic feature like mono really raises questions about exactly what value there is in having the USB port with the promise of upgrades. I have also indicated that if it's a matter of capacity for the SD card then customers could be given the option of not getting one of the other eq curves. If it's a matter of money then I have also suggested that they could charge a small fee for the mono download.

    I'll update if Mr. Aterini responds further.
     
    amgradmd likes this.
  21. amgradmd

    amgradmd Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Richmond, VA
    Working on it!
     
    Manimal likes this.
  22. Diskhound

    Diskhound Forum Resident

    Location:
    Canada
    As promised here is my follow-up with Maurizio Aterini regarding mono functionality. In short, he has indicated that it is a hardware issue with the PH-10 and can only be implemented through the addition of the separate eq curves unit that will ship in the future.
     
  23. Strat-Mangler

    Strat-Mangler Personal Survival Daily Record-Breaker

    Location:
    Toronto
    I know it's probably not a sexy solution, but you have the ability to get a mono switch. One is cheap and advertised on this forum and has garnered nothing but praise.
     
    amgradmd likes this.
  24. Diskhound

    Diskhound Forum Resident

    Location:
    Canada
    Absolutely and thanks. The mono switch is on my radar. I could simply insert it into the tape loop on my preamp. My PH-10 will arrive next week and I will figure it out. I probably only have a hundred or so mono LPs in my collection so it's not urgent. I might just wait to see what the external eq unit offers.
     
    amgradmd and Strat-Mangler like this.
  25. amgradmd

    amgradmd Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Richmond, VA
    Great to see you're going with the PH-10, @Diskhound! Please report back your impressions. I'm sure you'll love it! I must say that I'm loving the "enhanced" curves more and more. Using it with slightly warmer EQ'd LPs really rounds out the sound. This is much more natural sounding than boosting the treble on my preamp, IMO. Plus it allows me to rip the LP with the enhanced curve so it's already baked in on future digital playback.
     
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2017
    Diskhound likes this.

Share This Page

molar-endocrine