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Musical Surrounding Nova III Review (phono stage)

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed measurements of the Musical Surroundings' Nova III Phono preamplifier. It is on kind loan from a member and sold through dealers. It costs US $1,500.

While not in luxury class, the Nova III is a step above DIY type cases and designs:

Musical Surroundings Nova III Review Phono Preamp.jpg


Nice to see a subsonic filter that is selectable. Back panel shows extensive customizability:

Musical Surroundings Nova III Review Back Panel Phono Preamp.jpg


So I imagine some of the high cost is justified by that. I tested the unit with the switches as you see with gain set to 40 dB, input capacitance of 100 pf and 47 k Ohm.

Musical Surroundings Nova III Measurements
Let's feed the unit 5 millivolt, simulating what a moving magnet cartridge might do:

Musical Surroundings Nova III Measurements Phono Preamp.png


SINAD is rather low but that is because of the mains noise that I could not minimize past the level you see:

best phono stage review.png


Distortion itself is quite low as invisible in the spectrum analysis. Teasing it out from under the noise floor we get:

Musical Surroundings Nova III Measurements Distortion vs level Phono Preamp.png


Needless to say, the format itself can't remote approach these levels of distortion. And what is there is pretty close to threshold of audibility. So no problem there.

Frequency response which can provide the most audible factor is almost perfect:

Musical Surroundings Nova III Measurements frequency response Phono Preamp.png


Headroom is decent but I like to see a bit better;
Musical Surroundings Nova III Measurements THD+N vs Level Headroom dB Phono Preamp.png


Conclusions
Technically I don't see anything wrong with the Nova III unless that mains noise is a universal issue. Otherwise, frequency response and distortion are very good. Is the unit worth $1,500? I am not the right person to judge that relative to its customizability. So not going to leave a recommendation one way or the other.

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amirm

amirm

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Thread Starter #4
82/83 dB would be respectable and perfectly listenable IMO. Wonder if that hum can be eliminated?
It may be due to mains leakage through the switching power supply in which case the answer is no. Otherwise, it will be system dependent.
 

Tks

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#5
It may be due to mains leakage through the switching power supply in which case the answer is no. Otherwise, it will be system dependent.
Would that mean linear would help? Sorry, don't know anything about phono's.
 

wwenze

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#6
I'm slightly bothered by the output being on the left (when viewing from the rear) and input in the middle, and power supply right.

Normally people put input left, output middle, power supply right to get the LV stuff away from the power supply.
But I'm sure they have their reason for breaking the tradition.
 

daftcombo

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#7
I'm slightly bothered by the output being on the left (when viewing from the rear) and input in the middle, and power supply right.

Normally people put input left, output middle, power supply right to get the LV stuff away from the power supply.
But I'm sure they have their reason for breaking the tradition.
It can be convenient to pair with other gear.
 

Frank Dernie

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#8
Shame the subsonic filter isn't subsonic.
Using a phono stage without a high pass filter means loads of spurious rubbish on the output below 20Hz or so, this filters out all of the first audible octave as well :(
A total fail as a phono stage technically IME.
Edit to correct false statement about 2nd audible octave.
 
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LTig

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#9
Shame the subsonic filter isn't subsonic.
Using a phono stage without a high pass filter means loads of spurious rubbish on the output below 20Hz or so, this filters out all of the first and most of the second audible octave as well :(
A total fail as a phono stage technically IME.
I partially agree, -3 dB @ 40 Hz is not a subsonic filter, but it does not remove most of the 2nd octave (40-80 Hz) either.
 

KSTR

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#12
It may be due to mains leakage through the switching power supply in which case the answer is no. Otherwise, it will be system dependent.
Yep. To measure the intrinsic self-noise+hum of the device I'd suggest shorting the inputs with floating(!) shorting plugs. This is the hard limit noise floor a real system setup could ever reach (unless we happen to have some canceling at work).
While this will give better than real random noise levels at higher freqs (as the inputs don't see the nominal inductive impedance of a typical cartridge) it keeps any input cabling related hum away and better exposes the intrinsic hum. And to divert any balancing PSU current away from the unbalanced output cable I'd connect the device to the AP's GND post with a dedicated wire from the other output's RCA shell to perform that baseline measurement, also this maximises the PSU leakage current flowing internally across the PCB. Then, for grins, hover over the amp with tape head demagnetizer to see how susceptible it is to magnetic fields ;-)
 
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#13
Any reason ProJect Phono Box DS2 USB isn't on the graph? Even if you never use the USB, its SINAD (80), features and price are respectable and look especially good next to this one.
 

Francis Vaughan

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#14
I'm slightly bothered by the output being on the left (when viewing from the rear) and input in the middle, and power supply right.
The layout is odd for other reasons as well. They seem to have gone to a great deal of trouble to lay out the inputs with symmetric switching of the input characteristics each side. This is always going to end badly. Internally one can see that the designer has run into the eternal problem - complex components prevent a mirror image layout. So the two channels are not laid out the same, and there are a few convoluted paths to be seen.
Moreover, I'm not sure that the manner in which the gain selection has been laid out is the best. There is a lot of track running out to the gain switches and associated resistors. This is intrinsically a sensitive part of the circuit, and any long path could be an entry point for hum, or other nasties. Keeping loop areas down is one of the prime points of layout.
There are a lot of curious bits of layout, and I'm not convinced a better job could not have been done. This could easily impact on the performance.
The layout seems to be another case of the tail wagging the dog. Someone has decided on the cosmetics of the back panel, and the designer has had to follow. (Could be the same person, just one with poor judgement of priorities.) It strikes me that a dual mono layout would have served much better. Sure, the connector layout might have been ever more odd, but the overall result could well have been superior.
 

Mnyb

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#15
The layout is odd for other reasons as well. They seem to have gone to a great deal of trouble to lay out the inputs with symmetric switching of the input characteristics each side. This is always going to end badly. Internally one can see that the designer has run into the eternal problem - complex components prevent a mirror image layout. So the two channels are not laid out the same, and there are a few convoluted paths to be seen.
Moreover, I'm not sure that the manner in which the gain selection has been laid out is the best. There is a lot of track running out to the gain switches and associated resistors. This is intrinsically a sensitive part of the circuit, and any long path could be an entry point for hum, or other nasties. Keeping loop areas down is one of the prime points of layout.
There are a lot of curious bits of layout, and I'm not convinced a better job could not have been done. This could easily impact on the performance.
The layout seems to be another case of the tail wagging the dog. Someone has decided on the cosmetics of the back panel, and the designer has had to follow. (Could be the same person, just one with poor judgement of priorities.) It strikes me that a dual mono layout would have served much better. Sure, the connector layout might have been ever more odd, but the overall result could well have been superior.
Yes when I had a phono pre the gain and load switches where inside directly on the pcb , you just had to pop the lid ?
Why not do it that way ?
 

anmpr1

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#16
Shame the subsonic filter isn't subsonic...
The filter incorporates the famous (and proprietary) 'Michael Yee Stolen Circuit'. From the manual if anyone is interested:

The Nova III has a very novel implementation of a subsonic filter where a subsonic filter is implemented with OpAmps, but the audio portion of the signal is “stolen” from the OpAmps before the OpAmps can degrade the signal but the low frequency noise is already removed. This “stolen signal” is then amplified by the Nova III’s discrete circuitry. This allows the Nova III preamp section to pristinely amplify the signal.

The layout is odd for other reasons as well. They seem to have gone to a great deal of trouble to lay out the inputs with symmetric switching of the input characteristics each side...
This is first time I recall seeing a phono stage where one sets impedance and gain separately for for each channel. And 17 selections to try out? From the back panel? How ergonomic!

It may be due to mains leakage through the switching power supply in which case the answer is no. Otherwise, it will be system dependent.
FWIW I see the company offers an 'enhanced' low noise power supply for an x-tra $600.00. So to get the the one that works correctly, which is probably going to be the one you want (if you want this kind of thing), you are in to the tune of two thousand dollars.

I guess it has some 'magic' in it, but from the looks and overall 'feel' of the device, and compared with what's available elsewhere for equal or less dollars, I'd say that the only thing being 'stolen' by this design is the customer's money.
 

Helicopter

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#17
To me, the idea of a discrete circuit (not actually sure if this has op amps) with lots of loading options is attractive in a phono stage, but I would be more interested if it were priced way lower, and wasn't so noisy. I certainly don't need any more noise in my LP setup, which is currently using a SET amp and horn speakers. Seems like $600 with the proper power supply rather than $600 for the proper power supply would be a better target. At this price and performance level, you can just buy a whole pile of good phono stages for your MC cart. until you find one that works in your system.
 

SIY

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#18
The filter incorporates the famous (and proprietary) 'Michael Yee Stolen Circuit'. From the manual if anyone is interested:

The Nova III has a very novel implementation of a subsonic filter where a subsonic filter is implemented with OpAmps, but the audio portion of the signal is “stolen” from the OpAmps before the OpAmps can degrade the signal but the low frequency noise is already removed. This “stolen signal” is then amplified by the Nova III’s discrete circuitry. This allows the Nova III preamp section to pristinely amplify the signal.



This is first time I recall seeing a phono stage where one sets impedance and gain separately for for each channel. And 17 selections to try out? From the back panel? How ergonomic!



FWIW I see the company offers an 'enhanced' low noise power supply for an x-tra $600.00. So to get the the one that works correctly, which is probably going to be the one you want (if you want this kind of thing), you are in to the tune of two thousand dollars.

I guess it has some 'magic' in it, but from the looks and overall 'feel' of the device, and compared with what's available elsewhere for equal or less dollars, I'd say that the only thing being 'stolen' by this design is the customer's money.
Michael Yee? The same guy whose designs were shredded for shit performance in The Audio Critic?
 

anmpr1

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#20
Michael Yee? The same guy whose designs were shredded for shit performance in The Audio Critic?
That's the one. His reputation precedes him! As Aczel would have quipped: A legend in his own mind!
 
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