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ART USB Phono Plus Review

Rate this phono stage:

  • 1. Poor (headless panther)

    Votes: 37 39.4%
  • 2. Not terrible (postman panther)

    Votes: 47 50.0%
  • 3. Fine (happy panther)

    Votes: 7 7.4%
  • 4. Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 3 3.2%

  • Total voters
    94

amirm

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the ART USB Phono Plus preamplifier and digitizer. A member kindly donated money for me to buy this to test. It costs US $99.99.
Art Pro Audio USB Phono Plus USB Digital interface Review.jpg

The design is what you expect in this price range although good bit of controls are provided. As the name indicates, this phono stage has a digitizer allowing you to "rip" your LPs over USB to your computer:
Art Pro Audio USB Phono Plus USB Digital interface SPDIF Optical Toslink Review.jpg

The unit can also act like a normal ADC without the phono equalization/preamp. It seems to have a bunch of digital paths that I did not test. It didn't come with a power supply so I used USB power for data and power.

I got a kick out of the unit coming with a CD for the software! Fortunately it is USB class compliant so I could capture using that. I could not get it to play anything though. May have been pilot error.

ART USB Phono Plus ADC Measurements
I initially tested the unit as just an audio capture to see how good its ADC is. Here is our dashboard:

Art Pro Audio USB Phono Plus USB Digital interface measurement.png


This is not half bad:
best audio interface review.png


Same for noise for performance:
Art Pro Audio USB Phono Plus USB Digital interface DNR measurement.png


You can actually get a bit more performance if you stay below 2 volts input:

Art Pro Audio USB Phono Plus USB Digital interface THD vs Level measurement.png


So plenty good enough for digitizing LPs.

ART USB Phono Plus Preamp Measurements
It is kind of tricky to know where to set the levels when using the digital output. I opted to go by when the clipping indicated just stayed green:

Art Pro Audio USB Phono Plus USB Digital measurement.png

As you can tell, performance is heavily dominated by noise. I did my best to get the above performance. If you so much as breath on the unit SINAD can drop to as low as 20 dB! I played with different gains and nothing would produce more than 60 dB SINAD. Needless to say, we land near the bottom of the rankings:
Best digital phono stage review.png


RIAA equalization is actually decent:
Art Pro Audio USB Phono Plus USB Digital frequency response measurement.png


Distortion is actually quite low:

Art Pro Audio USB Phono Plus USB Digital THD vs Frequency measurement.png


Overload is tricky in digital capture pipeline. You have to balance the noise floor against potential clipping. So I ran the test at three different trim levels:
Art Pro Audio USB Phono Plus USB Digital THD vs Level measurement.png


Looks like the noise penalty is actually small at -10 dB so I would go with that.

Conclusions
For the price there is plenty of functionality here and a serviceable ADC/digitizer. Mixing the digital with analog though has the potential for nasty ground loops which impacted my testing. So it is possible you can get better performance than I did. Assuming my results are middle of the road, we have too much noise here when using it as a phono stage.

I can't recommend the ART USB Phono Plus.

1691159589327.jpeg


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As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome. Click here if you have some audio gear you want me to test.

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JeremyFife

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Thank you for another useful review.
Also a handy reminder that every model in a company's range should be assessed individually - just because one measures well is no guarantee that the others will.
Shame otherwise, this looked interesting but there's just too much noise.
 

Grotti

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Thank you for measuring this interesting device. I wonder if the noise floor would have been lower when powered by a good wall wart?
 

Count Arthur

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Ha! Would be so funny if the software came on an LP. That is a missed opportunity. But I suppose there is no point in making a dig at your customers is there.
I still have a CD/RW drive in my PC; pretty much exclusively for ripping CDs. I buy music as downloads, but I sometimes find things cheaper on physical CD - which is kind of daft. :)

I see that most modern PC cases have no space for any 3.5 inch HDs or 5.25 inch optical drives; I guess you have to use an external USB drive.
 

computer-audiophile

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I see that most modern PC cases have no space for any 3.5 inch HDs or 5.25 inch optical drives; I guess you have to use an external USB drive.
Good point. I am also increasingly faced with this problem of reading CDs. My wife still has a laptop with a built-in drive. I no longer have one.
 

GWolfman

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If you so much as breath on the unit SINAD can drop to as low as 20 dB!
I wouldn’t buy it just for this reason alone. There’s no way I’d know when I’m sitting at home what performance I’m getting for any given tuning.
 

restorer-john

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So @amirm what about the performance of the headphone output on this device? You tested that, right, I hope? That is a unique function, being able to plug in a TT and listen via H/Ps without needing a preamplifier.
 

DSJR

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I still have a CD/RW drive in my PC; pretty much exclusively for ripping CDs. I buy music as downloads, but I sometimes find things cheaper on physical CD - which is kind of daft. :)

I see that most modern PC cases have no space for any 3.5 inch HDs or 5.25 inch optical drives; I guess you have to use an external USB drive.
I've just bought a very plain black 'Sharkoon' ATX case with plenty of space for 3.5 and 2.5" drives. Not as 'solid' as the beige c2000 case it replaced, but perfectly functional and deathly quiet loaded up with my son's gaming cast-off parts. I added a used DVD burner as I do this occasionally.
 

noel_fs

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Kinda crazy how many people voted "poor". I would bet my ass if it costed 2x times the price many people would say fine. That said, i think for this price the performance/feature set is incredibly respectable. Clearly its far from toptier performance but it doesnt have any critical flaw either.
 

Dundas

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I also wonder what the results would have been if you had bothered to try different power supplies. The Precision Phono Pre was tested with a 9V DC wall wart.
 
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amirm

amirm

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I also wonder what the results would have been if you had bothered to try different power supplies. The Precision Phono Pre was tested with a 9V DC wall wart.
I tested them how they came.
 

Mulder

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I still have a CD/RW drive in my PC; pretty much exclusively for ripping CDs. I buy music as downloads, but I sometimes find things cheaper on physical CD - which is kind of daft. :)

I see that most modern PC cases have no space for any 3.5 inch HDs or 5.25 inch optical drives; I guess you have to use an external USB drive.
Some CDs are better mastered than those compressed dull remasters that have been made to suit streaming services and such. For example, listen to the early Rolling Stones DECCA revording reissued as CDs from London Records. The sound is better than the original Vinyl. Todays Rolling Stones however - on the streaming plattforms - is crap. So an advice. Buy old CDs cheap today. Someday the price will increase, when they become collectibles.
 

pomstazlesa

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I used to recommend this, instead of the Precision Phono Pre for people just starting out, especially when it involves vinyl and this is just such a versitile unit. Still like it as a swisss army knife of an audio gear, which I don't think really exists in this form factor and price point apart from this unit. But yea, for those starting out on a budget, it would be better to turn back to the other unit. Thanks for the review!
 

Dundas

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I tested them how they came.
Well no, it came without a power supply.
Disappointing given the issues that you observed powering it with 5V USB power that you didn't try another power source.
The manual says: "A power connector on the rear allows you to use an optional external power source to reduce the power drawn from your computer. The USB Phono Plus operates from any external power source that provides 150mA or more @ 7 Volts to 12 Volts DC (either polarity at the tip will work with our unit) or 9 Volts to 12 Volts AC."
 
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