• WANTED: Happy members who like to discuss audio and other topics related to our interest. Desire to learn and share knowledge of science required as is 20 years of participation in forums (not all true). There are daily reviews of audio hardware and expert members to help answer your questions. Click here to have your audio equipment measured for free!

Parks Audio Puffin Review (Phono Stage)

AudioSceptic

Major Contributor
Joined
Jul 31, 2019
Messages
2,189
Likes
2,033
Location
Northampton, UK
This is a review and detailed measurements of the Parks Audio Puffin Phono Pre-amplifier. This is a special device in that it digitizes the cartridge output and then is able to perform a wealth of signal processing on the signal from pop and tick removal to RIAA equalization. The standard one with analog in and out costs US $489 including Prime shipping on Amazon. The version the member purchased with Toslink digital out costs a lot more at $639 including shipping.

While compact, this is an attractive phono stage:

View attachment 108437

User interface is easy to navigate with countless option (22?). As you can see, there is a volume control as well so you could drive a power amp directly instead of going through a pre-amplifier (assuming you don't have other inputs).

The Toslink option is brought out on one side:
View attachment 108438

I tested and compared the unit using both RCA out and Digital.

Parks Audio Puffin Measurements
Let's start with our using moving magnet dashboard of 5 mv in with the device configured to 40 dB:
View attachment 108439

As you see, I had an easy time dialing out mains noise and hum. On the other hand, it is disappointing to see such high level of distortion.

Switching to digital out eliminates all but the second harmonic:

View attachment 108441

We don't gain a whole lot there and performance is still middling:

View attachment 108442

Measuring distortion alone we get:

View attachment 108443

So basically most of the distortion is baked in the input buffer and ADC side.

Where the Puffin shines is in its perfection implementation of RIAA equalization:

View attachment 108444

This gets even better when using digital out:
View attachment 108445

The manual says the internal sample rate is 96 kHz but per above, I am not seeing it clear much beyond 20 kHz which indicates a sample rate of 44.1 kHz. But maybe sample rate is high but internal processing is done at lower rate. Or there is an option to change the same rate -- I did not see it in my quick read.

A tricky part of this design is what to do with wide dynamic range of the input with respect to pops and clicks. So let's run our overload test:
View attachment 108446

This is not much of a headroom. Fortunately there is some pop removal processing so if the ADC doesn't overload, maybe that is a good workaround.

Conclusions
I have a soft spot for the Puffin as it is made locally and looks kind of cute. :) Its RIAA equalization is the most perfect I have seen in any phono stage which is the most audible thing. All the other filters and processing far outweigh anything that is out there and would make for a bunch of fun tweaking. Alas, not a fan of the high price with digital output. As far as I am concerned, that should be standard in the base price let alone incur a $200 penalty. Headroom is low as well and distortion is higher than pure analog phono stages. Then again, the LP medium has so much distortion that the latter point doesn't make any difference in reality.

Overall, I am going to put the Parks Audio Puffin on my recommended list but you may not.

------------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

Appreciate any donations using: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
Some good ideas in this product but it seems to me that they haven't been properly exploited, and is the basic performance good enough for the money? I also don't like the sockets being on the top: that makes for a messy setup, with cables pointing upwards.
 

Helicopter

Major Contributor
Joined
Aug 13, 2020
Messages
2,684
Likes
3,889
Location
Michigan
This is a review and detailed measurements of the Parks Audio Puffin Phono Pre-amplifier. This is a special device in that it digitizes the cartridge output and then is able to perform a wealth of signal processing on the signal from pop and tick removal to RIAA equalization. The standard one with analog in and out costs US $489 including Prime shipping on Amazon. The version the member purchased with Toslink digital out costs a lot more at $639 including shipping.

While compact, this is an attractive phono stage:

View attachment 108437

User interface is easy to navigate with countless option (22?). As you can see, there is a volume control as well so you could drive a power amp directly instead of going through a pre-amplifier (assuming you don't have other inputs).

The Toslink option is brought out on one side:
View attachment 108438

I tested and compared the unit using both RCA out and Digital.

Parks Audio Puffin Measurements
Let's start with our using moving magnet dashboard of 5 mv in with the device configured to 40 dB:
View attachment 108439

As you see, I had an easy time dialing out mains noise and hum. On the other hand, it is disappointing to see such high level of distortion.

Switching to digital out eliminates all but the second harmonic:

View attachment 108441

We don't gain a whole lot there and performance is still middling:

View attachment 108442

Measuring distortion alone we get:

View attachment 108443

So basically most of the distortion is baked in the input buffer and ADC side.

Where the Puffin shines is in its perfection implementation of RIAA equalization:

View attachment 108444

This gets even better when using digital out:
View attachment 108445

The manual says the internal sample rate is 96 kHz but per above, I am not seeing it clear much beyond 20 kHz which indicates a sample rate of 44.1 kHz. But maybe sample rate is high but internal processing is done at lower rate. Or there is an option to change the same rate -- I did not see it in my quick read.

A tricky part of this design is what to do with wide dynamic range of the input with respect to pops and clicks. So let's run our overload test:
View attachment 108446

This is not much of a headroom. Fortunately there is some pop removal processing so if the ADC doesn't overload, maybe that is a good workaround.

Conclusions
I have a soft spot for the Puffin as it is made locally and looks kind of cute. :) Its RIAA equalization is the most perfect I have seen in any phono stage which is the most audible thing. All the other filters and processing far outweigh anything that is out there and would make for a bunch of fun tweaking. Alas, not a fan of the high price with digital output. As far as I am concerned, that should be standard in the base price let alone incur a $200 penalty. Headroom is low as well and distortion is higher than pure analog phono stages. Then again, the LP medium has so much distortion that the latter point doesn't make any difference in reality.

Overall, I am going to put the Parks Audio Puffin on my recommended list but you may not.

------------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

Appreciate any donations using: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
Thanks for the review Amir. I am awaiting the analog one that Woody has sent on a long journey. To me, because the specs are below average and the capability with loading options blows everything else out of the water, this is similar to the QA401 analyzer in its potential role as an analysis device. The toslink version could also be used to rule out ground issues after the ADC for diagnosis. The real application of this is to optimize loading, and test system performance with various loads, and then it can also function as a phono stage if you find settings that work. Plus, it can run non-RIAA curves. If you are lucky, you will be able to use the information the Puffin provides to find another phono pre with excellent loading for your setup and better specs. Since MC stages are expensive and load sensitive, it is not easy to measure phono level system capacitance, and manufacturer specs may not tell you the optimal load anyway, this is really valuable.
 
Last edited:

Billy Budapest

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Oct 11, 2019
Messages
1,435
Likes
2,091
Some good ideas in this product but it seems to me that they haven't been properly exploited, and is the basic performance good enough for the money? I also don't like the sockets being on the top: that makes for a messy setup, with cables pointing upwards.
Some other products share this aesthetic—for example, look at Bottlehead and Decware amplifiers. I agree that it makes for awkward cable routing.
 
Last edited:

AudioSceptic

Major Contributor
Joined
Jul 31, 2019
Messages
2,189
Likes
2,033
Location
Northampton, UK
Some other products share this aesthetic—for example, look at Bottlehead and Deckware amplifiers. I agree that it makes for awkward cable routing.
Perhaps it makes sense in a pro environment, where you might frequently change connections, but I can't see it working at all at home, and is it really good enough for pro use anyway?
 

watchnerd

Grand Contributor
Joined
Dec 8, 2016
Messages
12,427
Likes
10,312
Location
Seattle Area, USA
:) Its RIAA equalization is the most perfect I have seen in any phono stage which is the most audible thing.

Your RIAA graphs looks a fair bit flatter than what @SIY had in his review:

index.php



Thoughts, comments?

Methodology differences? Different Puffin generations?

Eyeballing, it doesn't seem to be all due to differences in graph scaling...
 

DDF

Addicted to Fun and Learning
Joined
Dec 31, 2018
Messages
611
Likes
1,286
It would make sense to either sample at 44 or filter the HF rubbish before the ADC since the RIAA record curve hugely amplifies the HF before the record is cut so the cartridge output potentially contains a lot of inaudible HF signal which, if digitised first and RIAA correction in the digital domain, will maybe limit the dynamic range achieveable. Even just the audio band needs 40dB of dynamic range over and above the music to digitise it all pre-correction.

I agree that sampling above 44.1kHz is counterproductive.

About the EQ: RIAA EQ implemented entirely digitally wouldn't be a very good system design. Far better noise and dynamic range is achievable by implementing the RIAA nominally in the analog front end. It doesn't even need to be hyper accurate (hence "nominally"). The DSP could be used to touch up the response to high accuracy, and to implement any deltas for pre-RIAA equalization curves. This approach would provide better A/D SNR and throw away less bits in the digital domain.

When I ran my phono pre out into an ESI U24XL A/D, even at 37 dB phono gain and the RIAA EQ before the A/D, there wasn't near enough headroom. The analog front end gain could be lowered to support 70 or 80 cm/sec groove velocities with a high sensitivity cartridge.
 

burninggecko

Member
Joined
Apr 6, 2019
Messages
7
Likes
6
Location
Atlanta
I wish Shannon Parks was still doing kits. My son and I each built one of his arduino controlled budgie preamplifiers about 5 years back and we had a blast doing it together. Great bonding time slinging some solder and listening to music. Shannon is a good guy, was super helpful and the directions were easy to follow.

Budgie Preamp with Arduino ->
http://www.diytube.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?f=26&t=6207
 

watchnerd

Grand Contributor
Joined
Dec 8, 2016
Messages
12,427
Likes
10,312
Location
Seattle Area, USA
I haven't looked into it but presumably the Puffin has and input gain adjustment to match the cartridge.
The phono input on the Devialets I have owned do, and it is a critical adjustment to maximise dynamic range and avoid overload.

It does, although you set it as gain in dB, as opposed to input sens on the Devialet.

I made digital rips of the same music, matched to within 0.12dB, using both the Puffin and Devialet, set to 200 ohms, with MC.

I can reliably pass an ABX test between them, despite the good RIAA on both.

If others want to try, the rips are posted here.

It may be a difference in headroom that I notice, as the difference is easiest for me to spot on drum solos with kick drum.
 

Dj7675

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Jan 12, 2019
Messages
1,845
Likes
2,259
Are the shortcomings (headroom etc) of this device fixable via firmware updates, or something bound by hardware?
 

watchnerd

Grand Contributor
Joined
Dec 8, 2016
Messages
12,427
Likes
10,312
Location
Seattle Area, USA
Regarding the headroom, for the people that own this does it seem to be a problem? My Devialet which may have the same problem is if anything better with surface noise than analogue devices.

I can induce analog clipping in either of them with the right settings.

It shows up in Audacity as flat-topped wave forms even well below the 0 dBFS mark.

If I back off the phono gain, the problem goes away.
 

watchnerd

Grand Contributor
Joined
Dec 8, 2016
Messages
12,427
Likes
10,312
Location
Seattle Area, USA
Thanks for the review Amir. I am awaiting the analog one that Woody has sent on a long journey.

My bad, life interference. And I had to mail Amir the Pi DAC first.

Mea culpa.

I concur that its value as a tool for set up / ripping / tweakery is where it really shines and is most differentiated as a product.

It also allows for setting phono EQ separately from the rest of the system, which is handy, and way better than trying to address tonal balance via the cartridge loading dance.
 
Last edited:

Soniclife

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Apr 13, 2017
Messages
4,213
Likes
4,951
Location
UK
I can induce analog clipping in either of them with the right settings.

It shows up in Audacity as flat-topped wave forms even well below the 0 dBFS mark.

If I back off the phono gain, the problem goes away.
When you say the right settings do you mean how a normal person might use it, or by deliberately increasing gain to provoke clipping? The level meter display on my Devialet shows I have headroom when it's set as per the configurator for my cart.
 

watchnerd

Grand Contributor
Joined
Dec 8, 2016
Messages
12,427
Likes
10,312
Location
Seattle Area, USA
When you say the right settings do you mean how a normal person might use it, or by deliberately increasing gain to provoke clipping? The level meter display on my Devialet shows I have headroom when it's set as per the configurator for my cart.

In the case of the Devialet, normal, but edge case.

My ART9XA has an output of 0.2mV.

If I set the Devialet to 0.2mV input sens (as one would expect an average user to do), it will clip on dynamic peaks on a select few records.

If I back it off to 0.25mV, it doesn't.

Annoyingly, the meters do *not* show it clipping in either case....

So I'm not sure I can trust the meters. They may be measuring something else, or just too slow.
 

Billy Budapest

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Oct 11, 2019
Messages
1,435
Likes
2,091
Are the shortcomings (headroom etc) of this device fixable via firmware updates, or something bound by hardware?
I contacted Shannon Parks and he indicated that the Puffin does in fact operate at 24/96. It also has adjustable gain, level monitors, and 100% clip detection and mitigation which assist in setting the gain for the lowest noise and best overload margin. These are manual adjustments done through the menu interface.

He told me that he quickly responds to customers who have questions, too—he responded to my email requesting information in less than a day.
 

BDWoody

Chief Cat Herder
Moderator
Forum Donor
Joined
Jan 9, 2019
Messages
5,952
Likes
18,083
Location
Mid-Atlantic, USA. (Maryland)
Perhaps it makes sense in a pro environment, where you might frequently change connections, but I can't see it working at all at home, and is it really good enough for pro use anyway?

It's not bad with the adapters.

0126211418_copy_600x600.jpg
 

BDWoody

Chief Cat Herder
Moderator
Forum Donor
Joined
Jan 9, 2019
Messages
5,952
Likes
18,083
Location
Mid-Atlantic, USA. (Maryland)
It does, although you set it as gain in dB, as opposed to input sens on the Devialet.

I made digital rips of the same music, matched to within 0.12dB, using both the Puffin and Devialet, set to 200 ohms, with MC.

I can reliably pass an ABX test between them, despite the good RIAA on both.

If others want to try, the rips are posted here.

It may be a difference in headroom that I notice, as the difference is easiest for me to spot on drum solos with kick drum.

I finally had a chance to listen to them where I could focus a bit.

First of all... Great recordings. I didn't set up a test, but would have to listen very closely to distinguish.

That's a nice cartridge.
 

watchnerd

Grand Contributor
Joined
Dec 8, 2016
Messages
12,427
Likes
10,312
Location
Seattle Area, USA
I finally had a chance to listen to them where I could focus a bit.

First of all... Great recordings. I didn't set up a test, but would have to listen very closely to distinguish.

That's a nice cartridge.

Thanks!

I like the cart, and while it's not cheap, it's not nutso expensive, either, especially since I got it for about $600 off list price by trading in an older cart to AT.

I have to listen closely to tell them apart, too, but I got reliable results by focusing on the drum solos that start at about 4:45 or so.
 

BDWoody

Chief Cat Herder
Moderator
Forum Donor
Joined
Jan 9, 2019
Messages
5,952
Likes
18,083
Location
Mid-Atlantic, USA. (Maryland)
I have to listen closely to tell them apart, too, but I got reliable results by focusing on the drum solos that start at about 4:45 or so.

You're welcome.

I ended up downloading them a couple of times, and I didn't pay as much attention as I should have when I hit play for them to play in sequence.

I thought I could hear some differences... Feeling that the second version was better, but ready to go back for another listen, when it queued up again and started to play. I then realized I had been listening to the first one twice, laughed pretty hard at myself, and then listened to the third (actual second) file, and decided I just really liked the song and cartridge.

I have a few versions of Aja... Looking for the best one and I'll do the other side. Is interesting comparing your file to my LP.

I'm pretty much capped out on what I can get for the T4P tables, but I've got room for a nice cart for the Kenwood...
 
Top Bottom