• 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!
OP
Unchanging Window
Joined
Aug 11, 2022
Messages
15
Likes
1
Location
Washington, D.C.
I'd echo the suggestions to stick with your current setup unless you think it's broken or particularly flawed (doesn't sound like it). Your dual input option is particularly handy and difficult to replicate without buying 2 new amps.
Fix it if it breaks?

That itch to upgrade is a beast :) Plenty of other ways to spend the money ... including measuring your current setup and looking at EQ or room treatments.

(I also have the Zen Phono btw, and like it, but there's no way of knowing how it compares to your existing kit which may be just fine. There are other good options too)
Thanks so much! Yes, I'm starting to lean towards just keeping this unit until it stops working. It's not so much that I feel a strong urge to "upgrade"; it's more that I want to see if there's a way to at least get close to where I am now in terms of performance with newer components--at an affordable cost.
 

mglobe

Member
Joined
Mar 18, 2022
Messages
95
Likes
140
Your two cartridges are both MM if I looked them up correctly. Is that right? Looks like the Alva Duo has one input for MM and one for MC, so you couldn't use the MC input with the cartridges you have. I used the Emotive XPS-1 Gen2 while my Apt Holman was being refurbished and was happy with it. edit: It was a Big Ego + that I sent to Amir. But I DID use XPS-1.
 
Last edited:
OP
Unchanging Window
Joined
Aug 11, 2022
Messages
15
Likes
1
Location
Washington, D.C.
Your two cartridges are both MM if I looked them up correctly. Is that right? Looks like the Alva Duo has one input for MM and one for MC, so you couldn't use the MC input with the cartridges you have. I used the Emotive XPS-1 Gen2 while my Apt Holman was being refurbished and was happy with it. It will hopefully be reviewed soon here once Amir gets through all the other stuff in front of it.
Yes, both MM. And looks like another vote for the Emotiva! Good to know.
 

JeremyFife

Active Member
Forum Donor
Joined
Jan 8, 2022
Messages
165
Likes
174
Location
Scotland
Thanks so much! Yes, I'm starting to lean towards just keeping this unit until it stops working. It's not so much that I feel a strong urge to "upgrade"; it's more that I want to see if there's a way to at least get close to where I am now in terms of performance with newer components--at an affordable cost.
I get that.
Your turntable set up and the speakers are pretty well understood (and good) - plenty of options if you wanted to refresh them and also probably little point.
Your amp is more of an unknown (to me - others here probably have experience) but, as you will hear, if it's competent then you can change it to something "better" but you won't really get an audible improvement.
Having said that, there is loads of very, very good kit at all budget levels now - not sure what you consider 'affordable'.

I enjoy my vinyl - but you will get the same or better performance at a much lower cost if you investigate digital sources - just saying!

See if someone here knows your amp and can give an objective assessment.
Do consider getting a measuring microphone and measuring your room too
 
OP
Unchanging Window
Joined
Aug 11, 2022
Messages
15
Likes
1
Location
Washington, D.C.
I get that.
Your turntable set up and the speakers are pretty well understood (and good) - plenty of options if you wanted to refresh them and also probably little point.
Your amp is more of an unknown (to me - others here probably have experience) but, as you will hear, if it's competent then you can change it to something "better" but you won't really get an audible improvement.
Having said that, there is loads of very, very good kit at all budget levels now - not sure what you consider 'affordable'.

I enjoy my vinyl - but you will get the same or better performance at a much lower cost if you investigate digital sources - just saying!

See if someone here knows your amp and can give an objective assessment.
Do consider getting a measuring microphone and measuring your room too

By "affordable" in this case, I mean $500 and under. These are the specs for my current receiver (on paper, of course). In a perfect world, I'd want an amp with a phono stage built-in that is in the ballpark of being as good. But it sounds like that's not really available at my price point.

haha, And I'm aware that digital is superior, both in terms of performance and in terms of value; I'm not one of those dudes who's insisting otherwise. Feel free to judge me for making poor choices! But I've already sunken quite a bit of dough and effort into collecting records/turntables/cartridges, so I want to make the most of what I have and enjoy it. That doesn't mean I'm looking to attain "auditory nirvana," however, via vinyl reproduction; I know and understand how silly that is. Just to reiterate: my goal is just to get comparable performance using components that are brand new (vs. from the 1970s).
 

Cwopete5

Member
Joined
Oct 18, 2020
Messages
18
Likes
15
This is great! Really appreciate the detailed history. I'll definitely keep the Emotiva and Parasound options in mind (having seen them both described favorably in the past). Have you heard anything about the Parasound integrated amps with built-in phono stages (unless no such products exist and I'm just misremembering)?
Can't answer your question. However note that very few manufacturers put their best design effort forward with built-in phono preamps. This explains why I always use a separate phono stage.
 

digitalfrost

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Jul 22, 2018
Messages
1,173
Likes
2,048
Location
Palatinate, Germany
For me, I'd always want an adjustable preamp for proper cartridge loading.


Ofc the measurements have to be good as well, but if you have a preamp that you can't tune to the cartridge, what good are the best technical specs?

Maybe take a look at Pro-Ject Phono Box S3 B. Personally I use this one https://hifiakademie.de/?id=6.1 but it's probably not interesting for people outside EU.
 
Last edited:
OP
Unchanging Window
Joined
Aug 11, 2022
Messages
15
Likes
1
Location
Washington, D.C.
Can't answer your question. However note that very few manufacturers put their best design effort forward with built-in phono preamps. This explains why I always use a separate phono stage.

Ugh, haha, back to the drawing board then. But your recommendations are very helpful! Thanks!
 
OP
Unchanging Window
Joined
Aug 11, 2022
Messages
15
Likes
1
Location
Washington, D.C.
For me, I'd always want an adjustable preamp for proper cartridge loading.


Ofc the measurements have to be good as well, but if you have a preamp that you can't tune to the cartridge, what good are the best technical specs?

Maybe take a look at Pro-Ject Phono Box S3 B. Personally I use this one https://hifiakademie.de/?id=6.1 but it's probably not interesting for people outside EU.

Yeah, ideally I would want one that lets me adjust the capacitance, etc. Again, have heard plenty of horror stories about my cartridges sounding excessively bright without proper loading. Fortunately hasn't been a huge issue (to my ears) on my Kenwood; I'm guessing this is likely because it's already a bit more low-end-oriented, so any treble-forward presentation would largely just come off as "definition" vs. shrillness.
 

JeremyFife

Active Member
Forum Donor
Joined
Jan 8, 2022
Messages
165
Likes
174
Location
Scotland
By "affordable" in this case, I mean $500 and under. These are the specs for my current receiver (on paper, of course). In a perfect world, I'd want an amp with a phono stage built-in that is in the ballpark of being as good. But it sounds like that's not really available at my price point.

haha, And I'm aware that digital is superior, both in terms of performance and in terms of value; I'm not one of those dudes who's insisting otherwise. Feel free to judge me for making poor choices! But I've already sunken quite a bit of dough and effort into collecting records/turntables/cartridges, so I want to make the most of what I have and enjoy it. That doesn't mean I'm looking to attain "auditory nirvana," however, via vinyl reproduction; I know and understand how silly that is. Just to reiterate: my goal is just to get comparable performance using components that are brand new (vs. from the 1970s).
Have a look at the Review Index here for the 'recommended' stuff to give you an idea - obviously limited to products review by the site so it's not exhaustive. Plenty of decent phono stages in your budget that still allow for a new Amp.
For the Amp, because "better" amps don't sound better than "good" amps, there are some site favourites that have not been reviewed ... like the Yamaha AS301 which is often a good second-hand buy too. Interestingly, the Yammy has a decent enough phono stage so you'd get twin phono stages if you added a seperate phone amp into one of the line-in's.

No judgement here :) I still buy and enjoy vinyl - like you I know digital is better, but it's my hobby!
 
OP
Unchanging Window
Joined
Aug 11, 2022
Messages
15
Likes
1
Location
Washington, D.C.
Have a look at the Review Index here for the 'recommended' stuff to give you an idea - obviously limited to products review by the site so it's not exhaustive. Plenty of decent phono stages in your budget that still allow for a new Amp.
For the Amp, because "better" amps don't sound better than "good" amps, there are some site favourites that have not been reviewed ... like the Yamaha AS301 which is often a good second-hand buy too. Interestingly, the Yammy has a decent enough phono stage so you'd get twin phono stages if you added a seperate phone amp into one of the line-in's.

No judgement here :) I still buy and enjoy vinyl - like you I know digital is better, but it's my hobby!
Yeah, I was considering the AS301. I'm so bad at reading specs, though, that I couldn't tell whether it was compatible with my KEF Reference Model Twos (SP3188). And some people at a different audio forum told me that the phono stage on it isn't great (which could have just been audio snobbery, I suppose). But if the AS301 is solid, that was one route I was considering (i.e. pairing it with a "better" phono preamp).

And didn't mean to sound like I have a chip on my shoulder! haha I'm sure people on ASR are used to seeing a lot of vinyl snobs, so I just feel like I need to emphasize that, like you, I'm into it as a hobbyist.
 

deniall83

Active Member
Joined
Aug 28, 2018
Messages
180
Likes
194
Location
Australia
Yeah, I was considering the AS301. I'm so bad at reading specs, though, that I couldn't tell whether it was compatible with my KEF Reference Model Twos (SP3188). And some people at a different audio forum told me that the phono stage on it isn't great (which could have just been audio snobbery, I suppose). But if the AS301 is solid, that was one route I was considering (i.e. pairing it with a "better" phono preamp).

And didn't mean to sound like I have a chip on my shoulder! haha I'm sure people on ASR are used to seeing a lot of vinyl snobs, so I just feel like I need to emphasize that, like you, I'm into it as a hobbyist.
I have an A-S301 driving my Denton 85's. Overall it's a great amp for the money but I don't listen particularly loud (apartment living). FWIW switching from the in-built phono stage to the iFi ZEN was a massive improvement. Noise floor went way down and I was able to get capacitance to within the target range for my cart which helped tame the highs.
 

Jaxjax

Member
Joined
Mar 20, 2022
Messages
58
Likes
29
PJL Electronics has a few in your price range. There hand built in USA & sound excellent. The cases won't win a glam award, but the insides might.
Many of the vintage preamps have an excellent SS phono section. Nikko beta does. NAD has a couple in your price range to, the $200 one is most likely excellent.
 

Digby

Addicted to Fun and Learning
Joined
Mar 12, 2021
Messages
838
Likes
647
Here's my phono preamp history. Take it for what it's worth.
  1. Cambridge Audio Alva Solo and Duo. Both very nice units. Solo was a bit thin sounding and favored the highs; didn't work well with my system which tends to run on the "bright" side. The Duo was very clean sounding to the point of being almost sterile. Sold them both.
  2. Vincent PHO-8. Here's a classic example why a nice flat RIAA response curve is so important. Wish I'd seen the ASR on this before I bought it. Way too focused on the high frequency which hurts my old ears. Sold it.
  3. Schitt Mani (original version). I messed around with this one for the longest time but couldn't get it to sound "just right". It's weakest point was the wall-wart power supply. Too much noise. Also it sounded like Schitt was trying to make it sound "ballsy". Sold it.
  4. Bellari VP549. Hated it from the start. Any click or pop on the record was overly amplified. Sold it.
  5. Pro-Ject Tube Box S2. Used this one for a long time. Rolled all kinds of tubes on it. Really enjoyed it until I started to hear a bit of a channel imbalance which only got worse over time. Swapping tubes between channels or different tubes didn't help. Sold it.
  6. iFi Audio Zen. I really like this one at first. Listened to it for a really long time and wasn't ready to give up on it. But after a while the sound just got boring. Too bland for my taste. Sold it.
  7. Darlington Labs MM-6 then upgraded to MP-7. This was an expensive experiment. ASR on the MM-6 didn't recommend it due to noise issues and the MP-7 didn't really improve on it. While the MP-7 did some things really well, like instrument separation in the sound stage, I just could't get past the high noise floor. Sold it.
  8. Emotiva XSP-1 Gen 2. This has become my cheap go-to unit. It does most everything very well. It's only flaw is it can be a bit too sterile sounding. Regardless, I'm keeping this one because it sounds better than all of the above units.
  9. Parasound Zphono. Traded in some old audio gear I was no longer using to get this one. The jury is still out on it. Pros it has a huge dynamic sound and picks up parts of the music I haven't heard before. Very detailed. Cons that huge dynamic sound comes with 46 dB of gain for MM which overdrives the input stage on my amp. Can't get the volume past 9 o'clock before my ears start to hurt. I should be getting a set of 6 dB RCA attenuators today which hopefully will calm it down a bit. Either that or change the input stage tubes on my amp from ECC83s to 5751s to drop the gain. So far I've been enjoying the Zphono. ASR recommended this one as well as the Emotiva.
  10. TC-750 with upgraded wall-wart. The cheapest unit and also the one I've owned the longest. I keep it on hand as a sort of "battle spare". It doesn't do anything particularly great or bad, nothing offensive. Every now and then I'll drop it in my system and listen to it for a couple of weeks. It has kind of an old-school 70's receiver sound to it. I like it.
I made some recordings through my RME of the Cambridge Solo and Duo, I doubt they could be told apart from each other. I couldn't choose one for the other. Maybe you got a duff unit somewhere?

On a lighter note, if I forward my bank account and sort code, can you put some money in my account? I'm sure it would make you feel better than losing all this money having to sell on phono preamps that keep missing the mark. ;)
 

Cwopete5

Member
Joined
Oct 18, 2020
Messages
18
Likes
15
I made some recordings through my RME of the Cambridge Solo and Duo, I doubt they could be told apart from each other. I couldn't choose one for the other. Maybe you got a duff unit somewhere?

On a lighter note, if I forward my bank account and sort code, can you put some money in my account? I'm sure it would make you feel better than losing all this money having to sell on phono preamps that keep missing the mark. ;)
Hah-hah, good one. All that buying and selling occurred when I was still working full-time. I've recently retired hence the fun and games are mostly over.
 

Cwopete5

Member
Joined
Oct 18, 2020
Messages
18
Likes
15
Parasound Zphono. Traded in some old audio gear I was no longer using to get this one. The jury is still out on it. Pros it has a huge dynamic sound and picks up parts of the music I haven't heard before. Very detailed. Cons that huge dynamic sound comes with 46 dB of gain for MM which overdrives the input stage on my amp. Can't get the volume past 9 o'clock before my ears start to hurt. I should be getting a set of 6 dB RCA attenuators today which hopefully will calm it down a bit. Either that or change the input stage tubes on my amp from ECC83s to 5751s to drop the gain. So far I've been enjoying the Zphono. ASR recommended this one as well as the Emotiva.
Update: I tried the 6 dB RCA attenuators but they just killed the sound quality outright. Then I swapped the ECC83s for the 5751s. That helped some but the 46 dB output from the Zphono is still too hot for the 5 mV output from my cartridge. Next step is trying a "cooler" output cartridge 3.5 mV. Will let you all know how that works out when it get's here.
 
Last edited:

DSJR

Major Contributor
Joined
Jan 27, 2020
Messages
1,836
Likes
2,338
Location
Suffolk Coastal, UK
The thing is here, that comparisons of phono stages go all subjective and in one persons rig, a 'thin' sounding stage may actually be 'correct' where a 'warmer toned' one is actually wrong!

The Mani 2 may be worth a try to keep it in the US and for UK peeps like me, a Rega Fono MM of the latest type should offer reasonable RIAA accuracy and fair headroom as their home made cartridges have high output I remember, almost double the AT's the OP has.

The Cambridge Duo does seem to have the specs licked, so I'd regard that as a reference myself..

Interesting as regards the VM540 and VM740 cartridges. The internals look identical, the stylus is the same one YET, the response is rather different (look up the German Lowbeats reviews of both). The 540 is a touch 'flatter' and more exuberant up top, a real refinement on the 'sssparkly' 440MLa it replaced where the 740 is better in the very top (inaudible?) octave but slightly 'old fashioned recessed' in what I still call the mid-treble region (mid kHz area). I still hanker after the 740 as an update on where the once hugely popular Linn K9 used to be :)
 

Cwopete5

Member
Joined
Oct 18, 2020
Messages
18
Likes
15
Well I've managed to solve my dilemma with the Parasound Zphono and it's monstrous 46 dB of gain for MM cartridges. In addition to dropping the front end gain of my tube amp by 30% with 5751 preamp tubes, I switched phono cartridges to one with a 3.5 mV output. This is my first time owning a Goldring cartridge, specifically the E3, and I must admit it's very impressive.

IMG_5057.jpeg
 
Top Bottom