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Looking into a step up transformer for my Koetsu Black, trying to lower noise floor

drewdawg999

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I've never tried a step up transformer before, but I'm very curious and eager to try one. Reason being that my phono stage, a Musical Surroundings Phonomena, when configured for MC use at 60dB gain, is rather noisy. There's a hiss and a hum that raises the noise floor at idle to about 45dB. I can hear it clearly from my listening position 8-9 feet away from the speakers. It's starting to bother me so I am looking into SUTs. I can then reconfigure the Phonomena back to 40dB gain and 47kOhm loading, where there's no noticeable noise. Otherwise, the Phonomena is a fantastic sounding phono pre, and I lack the funds for any kind of meaningful upgrade so it's a keeper.

The SUT I'm checking out is the Phasemation T-300, quite an affordable option. It's at 1:20 ratio, offering 26dB of gain, which should be good for my Koetsu which has 0.4mV output. That's the same gain as Koetsu's own SUT, which is way out of my price range. Another option is a Cinemag based SUT made by nclayton on eBay. He offers two, one based on the 3440AH, and the other based on the 1254. I checked reviews online and they all agree that the 1254 is a huge upgrade in sound, but alas that option is a little more than I can spend. Don't really feel like settling on the lower model, but wondering how the Phasemation shapes up against the Cinemag. Another option is based on the vintage Altec Peerless 4722 mic pre trannies, supposed to have a sweet succulent sound, but similar to the Cinemag. Found that one online made by a guy named Redboy, who comes highly recommended, but that is also more than I can spend.

Anyone have any experience with SUTs? I guess I don't really have a choice since I'm limited to around $300 budget wise (chump change for these things), and a used Phasemation is the only one that fits, other than the 3440AH Cinemag, which I don't really crave. Currently working out a deal with a Japanese seller on eBay, we'll see how it goes. Hope I can get my noise floor back to an average 30-something dB, looking to make an objective leap in SINAD on my beloved analogue rig. I also have a second table with a high quality MM cart, the Clearaudio Maestro v2, that goes straight into my tube pre's phono input, which is dead quiet. Feel the two need to be closer noise wise to really hear the shining benefits of MC cart quality.
 

MakeMineVinyl

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Blumlein 88

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You can find vintage models from Ortofon, Denon, and Audio Technica on ebay within your budget or USAudiomart. As a transformer doesn't really have anything to wear out or go bad I see no reason not to try one of those. I've used the older Ortofon years back and it works very well. Cinemag certainly knows how to make transformers. I'm wondering why one would sound so much better than the other. People often expect the more expensive one to sound better, but a transformer is pretty simple to make well. Especially one with so little voltage and current as a cartridge step up. So special monks with secret winding techniques might not make the difference many people assume.

Now this might do for you:
John Curl design. Nothing in it to go bad other than batteries. Fortunately they used rechargeable cells in a D-size. So modern rechargeable batteries work. They run for something like 200-300 hrs on a charge and seem dead clean transparent. I owned one of those for about a decade.

Here are some better pictures of one.

This shows the interior view.

Note some you had to change batteries every so often, some later made ones recharged the batteries within. If you are lucky enough to find one of those you can get a wall wart of the right voltage to charge it. On those models it charges the batteries any time it is off.

If you run across a Music Reference RM-4 designed by Roger Modjeski you'll have a pearl of a head amp too. Uses 6DJ8 tubes, but a lovely sounding head amp. Maybe not as transparent and completely dead quiet as the SOTA. The SOTA and the RM-4 usually go for about $300 when you run across them.

I've had all these and the SOTA was the best. Never a hum problem, no FR issues, just completely invisible other than providing the gain you need.
 
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Tom C

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I’ve had Bob’s devices, which are Cinemag, and DIY kit from K&K Audio, which is Lundahl. Been happy with both. In my experience, the most important thing is to choose a turns ratio to give an output appropriate for the input sensitivity of your phono stage. It’s easy to go overboard and use too much. Sound will be better if it’s a little too low, vs. too high, which would overdrive the phono input on peaks.
 

Tom C

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You can find vintage models from Ortofon, Denon, and Audio Technica on ebay within your budget or USAudiomart. As a transformer doesn't really have anything to wear out or go bad I see no reason not to try one of those. I've used the older Ortofon years back and it works very well. Cinemag certainly knows how to make transformers. I'm wondering why one would sound so much better than the other. People often expect the more expensive one to sound better, but a transformer is pretty simple to make well. Especially one with so little voltage and current as a cartridge step up. So special monks with secret winding techniques might not make the difference many people assume.

Now this might do for you:
John Curl design. Nothing in it to go bad other than batteries. Fortunately they used rechargeable cells in a D-size. So modern rechargeable batteries work. They run for something like 200-300 hrs on a charge and seem dead clean transparent. I owned one of those for about a decade.

Here are some better pictures of one.

This shows the interior view.

Note some you had to change batteries every so often, some later made ones recharged the batteries within. If you are lucky enough to find one of those you can get a wall wart of the right voltage to charge it. On those models it charges the batteries any time it is off.

If you run across a Music Reference RM-4 designed by Roger Modjeski you'll have a pearl of a head amp too. Uses 6DJ8 tubes, but a lovely sounding head amp. Maybe not as transparent and completely dead quiet as the SOTA. The SOTA and the RM-4 usually go for about $300 when you run across them.

I've had all these and the SOTA was the best. Never a hum problem, no FR issues, just completely invisible other than providing the gain you need.
Thanks for this! I’ve never heard of it before, but great design concept.
 

Blumlein 88

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Thanks for this! I’ve never heard of it before, but great design concept.
The one I had used slightly different though still D-size batteries and back then rechargeables generally weren't a thing. Shortly after buying it (and knowing the old rechargeable batteries were going out) I was super lucky. I traveled to a huge HAM show they had in Huntsville, Alabama. A fellow with all kinds of NASA surplus had the exact batteries in that SOTA unit NOS. Seems the brand name was Hercules. I purchased them, soldered them in place of the originals and it was good as new. All the components inside were top quality stuff. If you can keep batteries in it they'll last many, many years. The entire thing is such a neat design and among the best of its type it truly is a work of art.

The RM-4 was no slouch, but not quite exquisite art like the SOTA. Here is page with some good pictures of an RM-4.
 

Bob from Florida

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I've never tried a step up transformer before, but I'm very curious and eager to try one. Reason being that my phono stage, a Musical Surroundings Phonomena, when configured for MC use at 60dB gain, is rather noisy. There's a hiss and a hum that raises the noise floor at idle to about 45dB. I can hear it clearly from my listening position 8-9 feet away from the speakers. It's starting to bother me so I am looking into SUTs. I can then reconfigure the Phonomena back to 40dB gain and 47kOhm loading, where there's no noticeable noise. Otherwise, the Phonomena is a fantastic sounding phono pre, and I lack the funds for any kind of meaningful upgrade so it's a keeper.

The SUT I'm checking out is the Phasemation T-300, quite an affordable option. It's at 1:20 ratio, offering 26dB of gain, which should be good for my Koetsu which has 0.4mV output. That's the same gain as Koetsu's own SUT, which is way out of my price range. Another option is a Cinemag based SUT made by nclayton on eBay. He offers two, one based on the 3440AH, and the other based on the 1254. I checked reviews online and they all agree that the 1254 is a huge upgrade in sound, but alas that option is a little more than I can spend. Don't really feel like settling on the lower model, but wondering how the Phasemation shapes up against the Cinemag. Another option is based on the vintage Altec Peerless 4722 mic pre trannies, supposed to have a sweet succulent sound, but similar to the Cinemag. Found that one online made by a guy named Redboy, who comes highly recommended, but that is also more than I can spend.

Anyone have any experience with SUTs? I guess I don't really have a choice since I'm limited to around $300 budget wise (chump change for these things), and a used Phasemation is the only one that fits, other than the 3440AH Cinemag, which I don't really crave. Currently working out a deal with a Japanese seller on eBay, we'll see how it goes. Hope I can get my noise floor back to an average 30-something dB, looking to make an objective leap in SINAD on my beloved analogue rig. I also have a second table with a high quality MM cart, the Clearaudio Maestro v2, that goes straight into my tube pre's phono input, which is dead quiet. Feel the two need to be closer noise wise to really hear the shining benefits of MC cart quality.
I have used Jensen transformers - 20 db gain, Ortofon - 28 db gain, and Quicksilver - 23 db gain. They all worked quietly used with the appropriate cartridge. The Jensen's did not sound as good subjectively and always took a back seat to the Quicksilver. The Ortofon was a special case used with a .25 mv cartridge.
I realize you would like to try a SUT and thats great! If you are concerned with cost I suggest trying an iFi Zen.
 

Kal Rubinson

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How about a nice pair of Sony HAT-10 transformers?
 

SIY

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The higher the turns ratio, the more critical the loading and the less likely you'll get good performance. I'd go no higher than 1:10.

Lundahl, Jensen, Cinemag, Sowter, all make great options.
 
OP
D

drewdawg999

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How about a nice pair of Sony HAT-10 transformers?
I've seen those little things on eBay. Could be a nice cost effective solution, and no need for another pair of interconnects. I'll have to mull it over.
 
OP
D

drewdawg999

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The higher the turns ratio, the more critical the loading and the less likely you'll get good performance. I'd go no higher than 1:10.

Lundahl, Jensen, Cinemag, Sowter, all make great options.
Hmmm, yes I think 4mV is plenty for my phono stage. I also see a pair of vintage Sansui A-603 transformers up for auction and wonder if I should go for it. They are switchable between 1:10 and 1:20. I know Hashimoto are thought of very highly currently (and expensive), but haven't seen much about the vintage ones. Also PJL has a model available with Lundahls that is switchable and quite reasonable.
 
OP
D

drewdawg999

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Now this might do for you:
John Curl design. Nothing in it to go bad other than batteries. Fortunately they used rechargeable cells in a D-size. So modern rechargeable batteries work. They run for something like 200-300 hrs on a charge and seem dead clean transparent. I owned one of those for about a decade.
That SOTA head amp looks quite intriguing, designed by the legend, but the price is only right in dear dear Santa Fe. Too bad it's local cash only or else I might have to jump on it. My options are accumulating though, which is a nice problem to have.
 
OP
D

drewdawg999

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Well I've gone and done it. I've gone and purchased the Phasemation T-300. Now I just have to wait for it to ship from Japan, eta is like 3 weeks, no problem. Feel like I've made a good choice with a newer design that's quiet and with wide bandwidth. Price was $344, not too bad. It's Phasemation's entry level model, but they're serious about these SUTs, making ones in mono boxes that go into 4 figures.

Kind of curious about the vintage Sansui A-603 trannies though, originally used in their flagship tube integrated, the AU-111. They should sound good, maybe if the auction goes well I can snag them for a song, have both which would be sweet. But now I'm getting greedy. They are switchable between 1:10 and 1:20, nice to have a choice in case I don't need that much gain.
 
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D

drewdawg999

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Actually got the SUT today, very quick trip from Japan via FedEx. No delay at customs or anything. Initial impressions of the Phasemation T-300 are it's built like a little tank, high quality and solid. Noise floor is now 35dB at listening levels, down from 45, so that's a pretty good reduction. Pretty happy with that.

As for subjective listening impressions, there is now a much blacker background, with much better SNR. Noticeably better detail and clarity from top to bottom. The bottom end is glorious, tight and punchy with enhanced detail, yet not sacrificing any fatness. Not sensing any distortion, though volume is up significantly. Now at 66dB total gain, no problems amping a LOMC cart like my Koetsu Black. Noon on the volume knob and it's really loud, like peaks over 90dB, avg in the high 80s.

So everything has gone as planned, SINAD up a lot, and really pleased with the investment thus far. My precious Koetsu has never sounded so good, now singing effortlessly with no strain.
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My mighty preamp stack
 

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Newman

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I use a pair of Lundahl LL1681's for my MC gain. Very good quality and in your price range, but you have to wire them up yourself, and either box them or put them into your phono amp if there is room...or even screw them onto its back plate.

cheers
 
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deniall83

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Is your phono cable well shielded? I found that swapping my phono cable for a Blue Jeans LC-1 was a game changer. I was running a Phonomena II+ with a LOMC Benz and I could turn my volume up full with no hum or noise. The shielding is superb. I didn't even need a ground wire.


EDIT I'm late to the party. Congrats on your new SUT. Looks beaut!
 
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drewdawg999

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EDIT I'm late to the party. Congrats on your new SUT. Looks beaut!
Thanks, yeah it's a done deal and it's a keeper. The noise no longer gnaws at my craw, so I'm a happy boy. The bass energy and drive is much improved as well, increased definition, no distortion and no treble roll-off to be heard. It's all good!
 
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