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Phono stages - returning to the dark side (maybe)


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Yesterday, my considerations and deliberations about whether to add some dark side to my system culminated in me picking this up from @Brett 10 (thank you good sir).

 

rp40.jpg.af45aa92ffa9aae469b40b32ff8c95c9.jpg

 

I figured it a good foundation for getting back into vinyl after 17 years of digital given its good arm and somewhat respectable MM Rega cart. Plus, it works with the visual theme started with my Cyrus gear. I've not had it for 24hrs and the list of mods I have planned is growing (my poor wallet!).

 

Before I get to those though, I need a phono stage to run into one of my AUX inputs. Something good but not especially expensive. After all, I'm looking at this as a trial to begin with. If it doesn't work for any reason, I'll forget the mods and perhaps, cash up the new RP40.

 

So, there are obviously many inexpensive phone stages available through a number of places and many review pretty well. Of the options below $500 (or even less), is there a stand-out performer which will get me up and running and even be worth keeping as/if my TT upgrades happen? I would like MM and MC because if this sticks, one of the first upgrades will be a dedicated stand and nice MC cart (maybe an Ortofon, Dynavector or Audio Technica at this stage).

 

I know there are offerings from Project, Graham Slee, Rega, and valve products from eBay, etc, etc. My last go at this was with a Rega RB300/Dynavector cart/Musical Fidelity Preamp with integrated MM/MC stage.

 

Thanks for the help and suggestions.

 

Edited by Winno
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  • Winno changed the title to Phono stages - returning to the dark side (maybe)
12 minutes ago, Winno said:

get me up and running

 

 

Don't forget the super cheap $60 Digitech one from Jaycar.   I promise you it produces a good sound, and at the price you can keep it as a spare when you upgrade.

 

 

Edited by aussievintage
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Welcome to the dark side!

 

Schitt mani is worth a consideration - around $300-350 new. Other considerations include offerings from Rega, Project, NAD, CA

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Hi @Winno

 

@cheekyboy has a Graham Slee loaner program for Phonos, perhaps get in contact with him to try a couple to see if they suit.

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I started the same journey back in Aug last year.....good luck.

 

The Creek Audio OBH-15 Mk2 Moving Magnet/Moving Coil Phono is a ripper and you should be able to get a good second hand one for sub $500-.

 

All the best - have fun

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Vincent PHO-8 pre loved should suit.

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Thanks everyone.

So I'm on the right track then so will look to grab something pretty promptly.

 

Re the Graham Slee models, it appear they're MM or MC and no longer offer a product which has a switch to cater for both.

And re Cyrus, I would love one but they're $$$$.

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You can probably get a good bargain if you buy used from the classifieds section. Quite a few phono pre's come up here for sale often. I've bought mine (a Rega) from the classifieds section here 

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3 hours ago, Winno said:

Thanks everyone.

So I'm on the right track then so will look to grab something pretty promptly.

 

Re the Graham Slee models, it appear they're MM or MC and no longer offer a product which has a switch to cater for both.

And re Cyrus, I would love one but they're $$$$.

@Winno If you're open minded - a Parks Puffin DSP phono.  Use its ADC and output via SPDIF into your dac of choice. Couldnt be happier with mine.  Even has tube 2H function to mimic tube distortions if you so please.  Can adjust gain settings from 36 to 72db.. tilt and air functions to alter the tone of your cart should you wish to.  De-rumble function, Last but the best function IMO, is the 'magic' function to minimise pops and clicks during playback...and yes it does work! :) There's an MC mode, but i find it quite limited, so i just use an MC step up for my Lyra delos.

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1 hour ago, MrBurns84 said:

If you're open minded - a Parks Puffin DSP phono. 

+1 if you pick one up in Classifieds - less expensive without digital output option.  Shannon Parks very easy to deal with and does annual functionality upgrades via software.  Use mine for MM down to LO MC, and sounds great.  Tweaking ability an added benefit.

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3 minutes ago, gibbo9000 said:

+1 if you pick one up in Classifieds - less expensive without digital output option.

The mod is simple enough to do with clear instructions on his website.  

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If you want something basic to get you up and running for MM and MC carts, a Cambridge Audio 640P would do the job.

 

A little further up the food chain would be:

 

Ray Samuels' F117 Nighthawk

- Nova Phonomena

- Dynavector P75

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20 hours ago, MrBurns84 said:

@Winno If you're open minded - a Parks Puffin DSP phono.  Use its ADC and output via SPDIF into your dac of choice. Couldnt be happier with mine.  

How did you buy the Parks puffin phono here in Australia? Was it a direct purchase from their US web-site?

 

Apologies to the OP for going a bit off topic. 

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4 minutes ago, anandpkumar said:

How did you buy the Parks puffin phono here in Australia? Was it a direct purchase from their US web-site?

 

Apologies to the OP for going a bit off topic. 

@anandpkumar no..ordered directly from the US.  Dependant upon stock levels too as at the point in time i ordered one, i had to wait 2 weeks for Mr Parks to build one.  Plus ordering from the US can be a bit of a hit and miss with the gst too.  I have 2 units, 1 unmodded and one modded.  The latter one got stung by duties although it was minimal.. :( 

 

On a more relevant note, this phonostage has sent off a few others that i had compared to in my rig - Fieckert woodpecker 2 - Stogi S12 arm - Lyra Delos - MC SUT (hashimoto Step up) - Parks Puffin.

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19 minutes ago, anandpkumar said:

How did you buy the Parks puffin phono here in Australia? Was it a direct purchase from their US web-site?

Drop Shannon Parks an email via his website and he will update on availability and latest guidance on shipping.  He is very responsive.  I ordered one back end of last year and from recall it took just over a week to get here (I think via Fed Ex) - and was under GST threshold so no extra charges.

He also provides regular updates on development through his FB page:  https://www.facebook.com/ParksAudio

Edited by gibbo9000
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21 hours ago, MrBurns84 said:

@Winno If you're open minded - a Parks Puffin DSP phono.  Use its ADC and output via SPDIF into your dac of choice. Couldnt be happier with mine.  Even has tube 2H function to mimic tube distortions if you so please.  Can adjust gain settings from 36 to 72db.. tilt and air functions to alter the tone of your cart should you wish to.  De-rumble function, Last but the best function IMO, is the 'magic' function to minimise pops and clicks during playback...and yes it does work! :) There's an MC mode, but i find it quite limited, so i just use an MC step up for my Lyra delos.

It looks to be a mighty impressive bit of kit and is certainly piquing my interest. What I really like is the digital out (coax) on the latest version. I've used both the analogue inputs on my pre (Cyrus DAC XP+) but have 4 coaxial inputs spare. This means I can add vinyl to my main system without having to unplug the tuner, etc.

 

Plus, it's quite affordable.

 

Thanks.

Edited by Winno
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56 minutes ago, Winno said:

It looks to be a mighty impressive bit of kit and is certainly piquing my interest. What I really like is the digital out (coax) on the latest version. I've used both the analogue inputs on my pre (Cyrus DAC XP+) but have 4 coaxial inputs spare. This means I can add vinyl to my main system without having to unplug the tuner, etc.

 

Plus, it's quite affordable.

 

Thanks.

Unless you really have to, I would advise against using the digital out from the Parks Puffin - reason being that you will do 'Analogue to Digital Conversion' in the Puffin, followed by 'Digital to Analogue conversion' in your Cyrus DAC for your turntable. If you use the analogue out straight into the analogue in of your amplifier, you will save from any sound degradation because of the conversion back and forth.

 

I have DSP speakers that only support a digital input - hence my lookout for a phono that requires digital output. I currently use a cheap ADC (analogue to digital converter) connected to my rega phono for this digital conversion

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1 hour ago, anandpkumar said:

If you use the analogue out straight into the analogue in of your amplifier, you will save from any sound degradation because of the conversion back and forth.

@anandpkumar the comment that is so loosely thrown around about 'sound degradation' because of AD-DA conversion in the chain.  I can understand and appreciate just keeping the analogue output 'as is'  and i was quite skeptical about the Puffin initially as well, but after using it for nearly a year now, there are benefits esp the cart azimuth balancing, pops and clicks minimisation for poor quality records.  

 

For what its worth, i output the spdif sig to a minidsp shd studio and do digital room correction before outputting this back to my dac.  To my ears this gives me more eargasm's then outputting it direct to my analogue tubed phonostage.  Again some might cringe at this, but let one's ears decide :) 

 

Edited by MrBurns84
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28 minutes ago, anandpkumar said:

Unless you really have to, I would advise against using the digital out from the Parks Puffin - reason being that you will do 'Analogue to Digital Conversion' in the Puffin, followed by 'Digital to Analogue conversion' in your Cyrus DAC for your turntable. If you use the analogue out straight into the analogue in of your amplifier, you will save from any sound degradation because of the conversion back and forth.

 

I have DSP speakers that only support a digital input - hence my lookout for a phono that requires digital output. I currently use a cheap ADC (analogue to digital converter) connected to my rega phono for this digital conversion

Hmm, fair point. I have a spare analogue input on my Cyrus AVM8 home theatre pre I could move the tuner to I guess. I could then rename the new spare input on the DAC XP+ for phono.

This also appears to make the Puffin a little more affordable too.

 

(Now, what can I sell to fund all this...)

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43 minutes ago, MrBurns84 said:

@anandpkumar the comment that is so loosely thrown around about 'sound degradation' because of AD-DA conversion in the chain.  I can understand and appreciate just keeping the analogue output 'as is'  and i was quite skeptical about the Puffin initially as well, but after using it for nearly a year now, there are benefits esp the cart azimuth balancing, pops and clicks minimisation for poor quality records.  

 

For what its worth, i output the spdif sig to a minidsp shd studio and do digital room correction before outputting this back to my dac.  To my ears this gives me more eargasm's then outputting it direct to my analogue tubed phonostage.  Again some might cringe at this, but let one's ears decide :) 

 

Fair point - and I could be totally wrong about all the AD-DC conversion 'degrading' the sound quality. Ultimately, it's our individual ears that we have to trust. It's great to hear that you are liking the sound from the digital output of the Puffin more that the analogue output. I'll definitely try this out when the funds permit.

 

On a side note, is the cart azimuth balancing, pops and clicks minimisation etc. applied only on the digital out, or can it be applied on the analogue out also in the Puffin?

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@anandpkumar not necessarily imo.  Depending upon what ADC device is used, but most off the commercial units these days can do this well, or so I have been told. ASR site would be a place to confirm this via measurements.. :) 

 

Yes, the Puffin does all these on DSP and the user can select either the analogue and digital outs. 

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42 minutes ago, MrBurns84 said:

@anandpkumar not necessarily imo.  Depending upon what ADC device is used, but most off the commercial units these days can do this well, or so I have been told. ASR site would be a place to confirm this via measurements.. :) 

 

Yes, the Puffin does all these on DSP and the user can select either the analogue and digital outs. 

Great - thanks for the feedback. Enough diversion from me - back to the OP now.....

Edited by anandpkumar
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4 hours ago, anandpkumar said:

Unless you really have to, I would advise against using the digital out from the Parks Puffin - reason being that you will do 'Analogue to Digital Conversion' in the Puffin, followed by 'Digital to Analogue conversion' in your Cyrus DAC for your turntable. If you use the analogue out straight into the analogue in of your amplifier, you will save from any sound degradation because of the conversion back and forth.

Not sure if I have read the meaning of this correctly - so apologies in advance if I am mistaken.  As far as I understand it the core of the Puffin is digital (and hence all the firmware based capability upgrades) - so its structure is A/D -> Processing - > D/A.  So if you use it as @MrBurns84 and I do with analog in and digital out to minidsp it just does the A/D and everything is digital from there.  If you take analogue out the Puffin does the inbound A/D, processing and then D/A after processing - so the additional step is in the Puffin.

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6 minutes ago, gibbo9000 said:

Not sure if I have read the meaning of this correctly - so apologies in advance if I am mistaken.  As far as I understand it the core of the Puffin is digital (and hence all the firmware based capability upgrades) - so its structure is A/D -> Processing - > D/A.  So if you use it as @MrBurns84 and I do with analog in and digital out to minidsp it just does the A/D and everything is digital from there.  If you take analogue out the Puffin does the inbound A/D, processing and then D/A after processing - so the additional step is in the Puffin.

 

Yes, correct, but that additional step has to occur somewhere, all you do is offload it to the downstream DAC, which may be in some active speakers, but it's still there.  I would be investigating which is the better quality result, especially as I believe the output is digital coax, so maybe noise/jitter problems potentially?  Also, is the DAC in the Puffin better than the DAC in the speakers?  It might be.

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I just picked up one of these for a little over $100 today.

 

g252PBiiB-F.thumb.jpg.9e91291657479fab521126506df85824.jpg

 

It was cheap and after putting some order to a list of planned mods, was the most important as without it, I get no sound.

 

After a list of planned mods, I think the Puffin is a strong contender unless I win lotto and can then buy the Cyrus.

 

 

 

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11 minutes ago, Winno said:

 

I just picked up one of these for a little over $100 today.

 

g252PBiiB-F.thumb.jpg.9e91291657479fab521126506df85824.jpg

 

It was cheap and after putting some order to a list of planned mods, was the most important as without it, I get no sound.

 

After a list of planned mods, I think the Puffin is a strong contender unless I win lotto and can then buy the Cyrus.

 

$100 - cool!.  Should be very nice if you have a MM cart.

 

Andy

 

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3 hours ago, MrBurns84 said:

@anandpkumar not necessarily imo.  Depending upon what ADC device is used, but most off the commercial units these days can do this well, or so I have been told. ASR site would be a place to confirm this via measurements.. :)

 

Ask, and ye shall receive:

https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/parks-audio-puffin-review-phono-stage.19795/

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4 hours ago, gibbo9000 said:

Not sure if I have read the meaning of this correctly - so apologies in advance if I am mistaken.  As far as I understand it the core of the Puffin is digital (and hence all the firmware based capability upgrades) - so its structure is A/D -> Processing - > D/A.  So if you use it as @MrBurns84 and I do with analog in and digital out to minidsp it just does the A/D and everything is digital from there.  If you take analogue out the Puffin does the inbound A/D, processing and then D/A after processing - so the additional step is in the Puffin.

Thanks for this clarification. I did not know that the Puffin did all it's 'trickery' in the digital domain - hence was suggesting to the OP to use the analogue route. If the Puffin converts the analogue signal to digital and then applies all the 'magic', then taking the digital out of the Puffin makes perfect sense.

 

Learned something new today....

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3 hours ago, Winno said:

I just picked up one of these for a little over $100 today.

 

It was cheap and after putting some order to a list of planned mods, was the most important as without it, I get no sound.

 

Perfect! Congratulations - should have you up and listening to vinyl now

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1 hour ago, anandpkumar said:

Any update from the dark side? How's the rega sounding through the project phono box?

I wish Australia Post was that quick :)

 

I'll have to wait a few days yet. I'll be sure to post something in the currently spinning thread for sure.

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