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I can't tell a difference between 4 phono preamps

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d3miller

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I have a NAD preamp that has a internal phono preamp. I was thinking about buying a Parasound external phono preamp to see if it improves my sound compared to what is in my NAD. As long as I stick with my mm Grado cart. it seems that its not worth spending $500 for the Parasound. Perhaps if I had a MC cartridge that the NAD does not support it would only be worth it at that point.
Agreed. I think if you've got MM only, probably not worth it. It does have some nice features--balanced XLR, switches on the front for MM/MC, rumble filter, and mono/stereo. It also has a 40/50 dB switch for MM, which I actually use and set to 50dB (can explain more if you really wanna know). If you need all that, I think it's a great option. It's bigger than most phono preamps, but I actually think it looks great.

I've been demoing it for almost 2 months now and have been happy, but it's going back and I'm getting the iFi Zen Phono, which actually does most of what I mentioned above for less than half the price.
 

sofrep811

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At that price point I doubt you’ll notice any huge differences. Just saying. If you’re new to listening tests I doubt you’d notice if a Chinook Manley was inserted into the testing. Just stick with best made and option of gain settings for when you swap out your cartridges.
 
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At that price point I doubt you’ll notice any huge differences. Just saying. If you’re new to listening tests I doubt you’d notice if a Chinook Manley was inserted into the testing. Just stick with best made and option of gain settings for when you swap out your cartridges.
Wonder if the JC3 Jr would make a difference?
 

Bob from Florida

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iFi Zen phonos are back in stock at Amazon, so I splurged and ordered one to compare to my Phonomena 2 plus. I am curious if the spec’ed lower noise floor of the Zen will be audible at the speakers. If so, and it sounds fine then perhaps the Zen bargain- $199 - could be the new system choice for me. Oops, forgot to order the 4.4 pentagon xlr cable so I can test the balanced output mode!
 

tonycollinet

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iFi Zen phonos are back in stock at Amazon, so I splurged and ordered one to compare to my Phonomena 2 plus. I am curious if the spec’ed lower noise floor of the Zen will be audible at the speakers. If so, and it sounds fine then perhaps the Zen bargain- $199 - could be the new system choice for me. Oops, forgot to order the 4.4 pentagon xlr cable so I can test the balanced output mode!
Can you hear the noise from your Phonomena with no music playing?
 

Bob from Florida

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Can you hear the noise from your Phonomena with no music playing?
If you crank the volume past any sane listening level you can hear some power supply / hum pickup up from the cartridge - Hana SL at 60 db gain and 1K load. Just received the Zen and hooked it up - set for same gain of 60 db with a 1.4K load (only choice). Direct background noise at same volume setting markedly reduced- a bit of hiss, at a volume setting much higher than I would ever listen. They were not lying when they claimed a low noise floor. Listening to Bob James latest LP - Expresso - sounds fantastic! First impressions of this $200 phono stage is it could be a “giant killer” as in slaying some of those fancy overpriced audiophile phono stages out there that so routinely fail in the noise department.
 
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d3miller

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If you crank the volume past any sane listening level you can hear some power supply / hum pickup up from the cartridge - Hana SL at 60 db gain and 1K load. Just received the Zen and hooked it up - set for same gain of 60 db with a 1.4K load (only choice). Direct background noise at same volume setting markedly reduced- a bit of hiss, at a volume setting much higher than I would ever listen. They were not lying when they claimed a low noise floor. Listening to Bob James latest LP - Expresso - sounds fantastic! First impressions of this $200 phono stage is it could be a “giant killer” as in slaying some of those fancy overpriced audiophile phono stages out there that so routinely fail in the noise department.
That's awesome! Looking forward to mine arriving.... in May :( I would normally cancel and grab off Amazon like you, but I got a roughly 20% discount on it, and I can certainly survive waiting a few more months.
 

Bob from Florida

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If you crank the volume past any sane listening level you can hear some power supply / hum pickup up from the cartridge - Hana SL at 60 db gain and 1K load. Just received the Zen and hooked it up - set for same gain of 60 db with a 1.4K load (only choice). Direct background noise at same volume setting markedly reduced- a bit of hiss, at a volume setting much higher than I would ever listen. They were not lying when they claimed a low noise floor. Listening to Bob James latest LP - Expresso - sounds fantastic! First impressions of this $200 phono stage is it could be a “giant killer” as in slaying some of those fancy overpriced audiophile phono stages out there that so routinely fail in the noise department.
Had a typo in my description of the Zen. Load resistance is 1.0 K not 1.4 K for the 60 db gain selection - which makes it the same load I use on the Phonomena 2+.
 

Bob from Florida

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Received the the iFi branded balanced cable - 4.4 Pentacon to XLR male. Very well made cable. Installed and as expected balanced output is higher than unbalanced. Noise does not appear to increase - no music playing at high volume and ear at speaker. Did a late night listening test - could not crank the volume due to people sleeping - and was pleased with the results. When I get some time I will make an attempt at background noise measurements with the spectrum analyzer on my iPhone. While I won’t have fully “calibrated“ results, I should be able to show rough differences between the preamps at equal fixed gain settings.
 

ahofer

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I'd say that there's quite a bit of potential difference between phonostages, but you may have a selection that are much of a muchness.

I've just build an Emerald, mm/mc stage and it's very different to my Paradise. On simple stuff there's not much between them, but once the music gets busy, rhythmically complex and more dynamic the Emerald gets all congested and seems to run out of steam, the Paradise is utterly unfazed and just keeps on trucking.
Aren’t there different RIAA curve adaptations? Those should certainly sound different.
 

anmpr1

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Aren’t there different RIAA curve adaptations? Those should certainly sound different.
The RIAA curve was designed to do away with differences. Before 1954 or thereabouts, different record companies sometimes used different EQ schemes. Some preamps included the capability to play the different curves.

mac.jpg
 

BDWoody

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Aren’t there different RIAA curve adaptations? Those should certainly sound different.

I know the Puffin has quite a few curves available.

Screenshots_2022-03-26-11-43-18.png
 

MattHooper

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I used to have a cheap Rotel solid state phono stage. Worked great with my (then) micro seiki turntable.

I now own a JE Audio HP10 phono stage:


I have no idea how much, or if, it sounds any different since I upgraded everything at once (turntable, cartridge, arm, phono stage). But what I mostly love about this phono stage is the flexibility and super easy access to all the different settings on the front panel. (Lots of phono stages don't have this many settings available, lots of them have them on the back of the unit..inconvenient...and worse, some of them you actually have to open up to change settings!). I actually like to play around with the impedance settings for slightly different presentations.

At one point I was diagnosing some distortion in my audio system and to make sure it wasn't the HP 10 I bought a cheap FX Audio phono stage to swap in for a while as I did trouble shooting:


I was amazed how good it sounded! Really clean! It certainly made me start thinking "wow, you really don't have to spend much at all for a phono stage." But then later when I swapped my HP10 back in it was like the system got a bit of fuel injection. Everything sounded a bit more dense, powerful, punchy...the FX Audio unit made things sound a tad soggy and wimpy by comparison. At least those were my impressions.
But, still, picking nits...pretty good phono stage for a 100 bucks!
 

Bob from Florida

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I got a chance to do some spectrum measurements at the right channel with my iPhone right at the output of the midrange driver of my Grand Veena loudspeakers. Midrange is direct connected - no crossover and runs full range. These measurements are relative only and may not be calibrated. As such they serve to show noise floor differences only at the loudspeaker. Slide 4 Luxman volume was reduced by 6 db to compensate for the additional 6 db of gain in the Zen balance output mode. By the way I checked typical loud playback volume at my listening position with 75 to 80 db peaks with the balanced output and that was around -42 db on the Luxmen - considerably less than the volume used for hearing background noise with no music playing. As you can see from the last slide Phonomena not nearly as quiet as the Zen with the Zen doing best with the balanced output.
Hopefully Amir will get one of these to test to see how it stacks against the other phono stages previously tested.

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Bob from Florida

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Sunday will be 2 weeks with the Zen Phono. As of now the Phonomena is going to be my backup phono stage as the Zen’s low noise wins the day. Listening to Bob James and David Sanborn Double Vision is quite nice. On side 1 track 3 it has some very low level drum or percussion on the left channel at the beginning of the song and various other parts of the song that I don’t recall noticing before. Highly recommended!
 
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d3miller

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Sunday will be 2 weeks with the Zen Phono. As of now the Phonomena is going to be my backup phono stage as the Zen’s low noise wins the day. Listening to Bob James and David Sanborn Double Vision is quite nice. On side 1 track 3 it has some very low level drum or percussion on the left channel at the beginning of the song and various other parts of the song that I don’t recall noticing before. Highly recommended!
Great! Thanks for the update. Looking forward to mine arriving soon :)
 

sq225917

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I'm looking forward to seeing what chicanery ifi have used to get that -151db noise figure. I expect it uses a signal muting circuit. Because -151,dB of noise on a circuit with 60db of gain is how shall we put it- impossible....
 

al2002

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I'm looking forward to seeing what chicanery ifi have used to get that -151db noise figure. I expect it uses a signal muting circuit. Because -151,dB of noise on a circuit with 60db of gain is how shall we put it- impossible....
That's A weighted. Ein is claimed to be 0.6 nV/sq. root Hz or -141 dBV unweighted which is credible, RIAA eq'ed I assume. This is about par with Paradise, but 6- 8 dB worse than the best DIY designs built around the ZTX 851/951.
 
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al2002

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P.S:- Note that these figures are for Ein, independent of gain.

BTW, Horowitz and Hill, in their 3rd Edition, describe a flat low noise amp with Ein = 70 pV/ sq. root Hz, or -160 dBV. Purely of academic interest, I should think.
 
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