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Tell me about your tube phono stage

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by DaveyF, Nov 11, 2020.

  1. Whoopycat

    Whoopycat Forum Resident

    Des Moines
    Tube phono stages I have owned:

    Manley Steelhead - expensive but very nice. Neutral.
    Parks Budgie Hybrid - sweet mids and highs, a little soft in the bass compared to SS
    Icon Audio PS2 MM - vivid but tons of gain... needs careful system matching in a high efficiency system
    Decware ZP3 - noisy as hell, even after a tube swap and isolated placement

    My favorite tube phono stage was the onboard phono stage on the Audio Note Oto Phono. Not the most resolving but it just made the music glow.
    jonwoody likes this.
  2. patrickd

    patrickd Forum Resident

    Austin TX USA
    Another ARC Ref2SE owner here, pretty much echo what Keith said above. I moved to it after several years with Whest phono stages, which themselves were pretty satisfying but I felt I could get more out of my vinyl rig and when the ARC started to go on clearance as a new model was being released, I got a good deal on one while trading the Whest.

    Sonically I find it excellent and very quiet. I can only say my records just sound like music. It can handle a wide range of cartridges (I currently run an Ikeda 9TT on it but have used a mod'd Denon 103 and a Sumiko Pearwood with it happily). Loading and gain options are simply set from the remote or front (while I don't make changes often, it's useful for comparisons and far easier than the Whest which required me to unplug it and access DIP switches internally for same functions). I've not played with alternative tubes, the ARC has a usage counter in it which tells you how many hours you've put on your tubes which is useful.

    Downsides are few but come with tubes. They need replacement, around the 2000 hour mark, and a full set will cost you some dollars (about $200 for stock replacements, more if you want play with 'upgrades'). I also notice that since I introduced tubes into my rig, I tend to not have the main stereo powered on all the time as before, so casual music listening is altered and I sort of plan my vinyl sessions now rather than throw music on anytime I feel like it. It's also a fairly chunky component that gives off heat so you need shelf space for it. Still, every time I power it on and let it warm up, I know I'm in for some goodness, and I'm not inclined to replace it unless it dies and can't be fixed. I suppose it's an age thing, but music listening now for me is a more reflective and personal act which I consider part of my quality of life. The ARC fits that use scenario well.
  3. GKH

    GKH Forum Resident

    Somerville, TN
    Cornet3 here, as well! :cop:
    I Love It!!! And, I haven't rolled any tubes yet!
    G E and Rick58 like this.
  4. Otlset

    Otlset Forum Resident

    I have a Tavish Design Adagio phono preamp. I have spent the last several years upgrading the tubes with various NOS and vintage types for improved performance, instead of moving on and buying a different stage.

    I like that it has a separate linear power supply, and has front panel adjustments for loading for both MM and MC cartridges. I use only the MM section on mine, as my cartridge is a London Reference with a high output of 5mv. It is quite sensitive to differences in sound from different tubes, so it has been really fun rolling in various types in all five positions to get that "just right...wow!" sound performance.
    SandAndGlass likes this.
  5. Andy Saunders

    Andy Saunders Forum Resident

    Art Audio Vinyl One user ( Definitive Audio version, blooming great Hovland Music Caps, Kondo wired), it has MM/MC ,volume control and a ton of gain.....sound wise, full, quite dark sounding with a very full and large image- very nice, thinking of maxxing it out further but we will see, purchased for a good price on a well known auction site. It was on my Audio Bucket list to try.

    Mucked about with Poncy and not so poncy valves.... which is all good fun.:D
    DaveyF likes this.
  6. Hendertuckie

    Hendertuckie Forum Resident

    Belmont, Nevada
    I have three TT's in my system, two are connected to a Mcintosh C2500 full function. The C2500 has a MM and an MC phono sections. Not a lot to say about Mcintosh, it's just the best I've heard in my system. The remaining TT is connected to a Jolida JD-9 which I slightly tweaked with shielding and damping material. I never cared for the MC section of the JD-9, so if I use a MC cartridge, it's with a SUT. Each phono section has two Gold Lion 12sAX7 tubes in the path, I enjoy that warm lush presentation.
  7. Jens

    Jens Well-Known Member

    I have had:
    Rega phono MM, very Nice for the price

    HOLFI batteri powered, ok but a little boring.

    Perreaux silhoutte: very Nice sounding and allaround high quality.

    SimAudio Moon 310 & 320s, worst buy I ever did. Nice build but Grey sounding.

    EAR Phonobox, very Nice sounding unit and also beats the old 834p in someways
    Love it!
    DaveyF likes this.
  8. BrentB

    BrentB Urban Angler

    Midwestern US
    Ive had mine for 14 months now and loving it more and more. Excellent soundstaging and imaging agreed! I was drawn to the 701 largely because it uses a 12au7 tube. I am a vintage tube guy and have LOADS of various tubes to try in it. My favorite 3 so far are... 1. Raytheon blackplates 2. Bugle Boy 3. RCA clear top.
    labreahouse likes this.
  9. attym

    attym Forum Resident

    I run a ZP3 and it was one of the biggest and immediate upgrades I made to my system. Even with stock tubes, it delivered the tube magic I was looking for. 3D, holographic, warm and inviting. This wasn’t an audio upgrade where you almost have to convince yourself you’re hearing something different, it was dramatically improved. It’s very easy to tube roll since tubes don’t need to be matched.
    Mine isn’t noisy at all. It’s the last piece I’d consider changing in my system. The only drawback is the lack of loading options. I use a Dynavector 20x2H and like sit so much, I bought a back up.
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2020
  10. DeFriend

    DeFriend Active Member


    Thanks! This is exactly the type of opinion/information I'm looking for.
    I have a number of pairs of 6dj8/6922 tubes on hand for rolling.
    mreeter likes this.
  11. jfine

    jfine Forum Resident

    I've had

    Manley Chinook (6922)
    Mcintosh MX110z (12ax7 phono)
    Mcintosh C2200 (12ax7 phono)
    VTA PH-16 (6922)
    AR PH6
    EAR 834

    was using both MM/MC, one or the other
    now I have a SS PS Audio stellar, to me the best of the lot :shrug:
  12. misterdecibel

    misterdecibel Bulbous Also Tapered

    Has anyone ever tried the tube phono preamp from the RCA tube manual?
  13. hagtech

    hagtech Forum Resident

    I've been using my own Trumpet MC lately, a new unit employing the original differential tube gain and buffer sections, but with a differential JFET front-end attached. Adjustable loading and gain, designed for MC carts, but will do MM as well. www.haglabs.com

    gakerty, G E, Andy Saunders and 5 others like this.
  14. Daicehawk

    Daicehawk Well-Known Member

    i have mine built based on that circuit. Two active stages per channel. Short path. Depth and details are great. I have the phono going into the 70+ kOhm line-in of Korg MR-1000 despite the recommended 220 kOhm - still sounds great. I have another tube phono with a cathode follower at the output stage as the load balancer, and it colors the sound in some way.
  15. Sandthemall

    Sandthemall Well-Known Member

    La Crescenta, CA
    I recently purchased the Hagerman Trumpet MC. Simply fantastic tube phono stage. Quiet. Tubey. Big sounding.
    Might be the last phono stage I own.
    G E and Echoes Myron like this.
  16. dmac67

    dmac67 Forum Resident

    Katy, Texas, USA
    I love my Allnic -it sounds great with low output mc cartridges and with mm cartridges too. After 10 years I started to hear some tube noise. Had the tubes replaced and its quiet again. Throws a nice sound stage with all the cartridges I’ve used with it.
  17. jeff kleinberg

    jeff kleinberg Senior Member

    My first real preamp was a Pass Labs Alephono, then i upgraded to a Chinook. I was great, bigger images, spatial in a new way. Got some Amperex 7922 and it really sang. Ended up with some loud popping noise and despite several trips to the factory, no dice. I upgraded to a Lamm LP2 deluxe that I thought was perfect for about 7 years, then I found a Ypsilon VPS100. I'm home. Big, bad, solid, and sharply defined. So amazing. A SUT into the MM stage was a huge improvement on all of the Valve stages. I use an Ypsilon mc16, had a EAR MC4 and a few others, the Ypsilon is king even with the extra cables..
    jusbe, Echoes Myron and FalseMetal666 like this.
  18. slovell

    slovell Retired Mudshark

    Chesnee, SC, USA
    Jolida JD9 modded with Audyn caps and Sonic Imagery op amps. I use old stock 12AX7 tubes in it.
  19. terzinator

    terzinator boots lost in transit

    Honeymoon phase with an EAR 834p. Loving it so far.

    Replaced a Graham Slee Era Gold V, which was really good, too. This just has extra pixie dust in it or something.

    Three 12AX7 tubes, and I moved them around a bit like a shell game, but I think i have them where I want them.

    james, jusbe, Mr Bass and 4 others like this.
  20. SandAndGlass

    SandAndGlass Twilight Forum Resident

    Vinyl Nirvana,, Thoren's TD-160 Super TT.


    Rega/Moth RB-202 tonearm with the Ortofon 2M Black installed...

    into the Decware ZP3 tube phono-pre, with NOS tubes (very quiet)...


    into the Audio Electronics Constellation (a former division of Cary Audio) 6SN7 tube preamp.


    The Constellation is driving a Decware 3.9 Watt single ended Mini Torii integrated/power amp with 6V6GT tubes...


    which drives the restored & upgraded legacy A7-500-8, Altec Lansing VOTT's, (Voice Of The Theater) speaker's.

    Tubes all the way to home base!
  21. wpjs

    wpjs Forum Resident

    Anyone have any experience with the McIntosh MP1100?
    It’s not the cheapest, but far from most expensive as well.
    From what little I can find- it’s all praise.
  22. 5-String

    5-String μηδὲν ἄγαν

    Sunshine State
    I have heard it in my dealer and it sounded great. My McIntosh c2600 tube preamp has two tube phono stages, one mm and one mc, and these are great too. Very responsive to tube rolling also.
    The ones in my McIntosh preamp are easily comparable to any phono stage that I have auditioned in the price range of $3K or so.
    So, yeah, McIntosh knows how to make some great phono preamps.
    Echoes Myron likes this.
  23. mristuccia

    mristuccia Active Member

    I use the all-tube MM phono stage of my Doge 8 Clarity preamp, fed by a self-built SUT which uses two Lundahl 1933 transformers set at 16x.
    The record player is a Rega Planar 8 with an Ania Pro Cartridge. The power amps are two Class D mono blocks based on the Infineon IRS2092 chip + IRFB4227 FETs.
    Everything sounds open, dynamic and detailed but not over-detailed, it has a smooth high-frequency top end.

    The Doge 8 Clarity Preamp:


    The Lundahl transformers:

    Djohm, Mr Bass and Davey like this.
  24. BayouTiger

    BayouTiger Forum Resident

    New Orleans
    I had an Ares Magnum and it was brilliant. I let it go because it was just too bulky and I rarely spin vinyl any more. I still have my ProJect Tubebox IISE that was a very short run they did. It's good, but I'm never convinced as to just ow much the tubes do in any of the tube boxes. I've heard people sat they are just buffers and others say they are the main preamp. I think it may depend on which one you have.
    Robert M. and SandAndGlass like this.
  25. 5-String

    5-String μηδὲν ἄγαν

    Sunshine State
    I never found what's wrong with my Fosgate Signature.
    It just cannot drive any of my cartridges, both mm and mc, there is not enough gain. So I am not using it anymore, which is such a shame because it sounds great.
    Tube phono preamps are finicky, unfortunately that's a fact. Anyway, here are a couple of photos.


    ellingtonic and BayouTiger like this.

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