• WANTED: Happy members who like to discuss audio and other topics related to our interest. Desire to learn and share knowledge of science required. There are many reviews of audio hardware and expert members to help answer your questions. Click here to have your audio equipment measured for free!

Please kindly recommend me a MM phono stage (bonus if it has a headphone amp!)

Dogamondo

Member
Joined
Oct 25, 2023
Messages
20
Likes
5
Forgive me as I have another thread going in this subforum which is more focussed on phono streaming so I'll try and be more succinct in this one.

I have naively purchased a Rega P3 with Exact cartridge thinking it was going to be the bees knees. Unfortunately I've been informed (a little late) that there are better options in that price point, however I'm well beyond the return window so am stuck with the P3 for now.

Having said that, I may decide to sell it down the track so I'd really appreciate any recommendations on a phone stage that will pair nicely with the Rega but is also somewhat future-proofed should the tables turn in the future (see what I did there?)

I'm looking for something around the price point of the Rega Fono MK5. If it has a quality headphone amp that would be a huge bonus (am looking at the Cambridge Alva Duo) but that's not a must if it sacrifices the phono pre itself.

Any and all recommendations very much appreciated!

Cheers
 

linuxfan

Active Member
Joined
Mar 18, 2019
Messages
261
Likes
179
P3's (with RB300 arm) are a great bang-for-buck turntable, so don't be worried about being "stuck" with one. The competitiveness of the P3 changes, somewhat, when you add an expensive cartridge such as the Exact, and there are possibly/probably better cartridge options at that price-point - but that doesn't change the underlying value of the P3.

am looking at the Cambridge Alva Duo
By all accounts the Cambridge ALVA Duo would be a great choice.
 

restorer-john

Grand Contributor
Joined
Mar 1, 2018
Messages
13,010
Likes
39,903
Location
Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
am looking at the Cambridge Alva Duo

It looks like a very nice product. The overload margin is a little low, especially if you used a 5-10mV out MM, but for most applications it looks great. Sensible gains.
 
OP
D

Dogamondo

Member
Joined
Oct 25, 2023
Messages
20
Likes
5
P3's (with RB300 arm) are a great bang-for-buck turntable, so don't be worried about being "stuck" with one. The competitiveness of the P3 changes, somewhat, when you add an expensive cartridge such as the Exact, and there are possibly/probably better cartridge options at that price-point - but that doesn't change the underlying value of the P3.


By all accounts the Cambridge ALVA Duo would be a great choice.
Thanks for the reassurance about the P3 and the +1 on the Cambridge
It looks like a very nice product. The overload margin is a little low, especially if you used a 5-10mV out MM, but for most applications it looks great. Sensible gains.
and thanks for the +2 on the Cambridge.

Very close to pulling the trigger now.

To throw one more spanner in the mix - I do have a NAD PP2e that came with the Rega.

Given the NAD is an oldie but a goodie and still well reviewed on this site, would I be better off investing in the Cambridge and using the built in headphone amp for night time listening (even though it didn't review too well) or the keeping the NAD and investing in a high quality headphone amp instead?

Let's say I can't have both the Cambridge AND a new headphone amp :)

Thanks
 

linuxfan

Active Member
Joined
Mar 18, 2019
Messages
261
Likes
179
Regarding headphones - can't you just use the headphone output of your Apogee interface?
 
OP
D

Dogamondo

Member
Joined
Oct 25, 2023
Messages
20
Likes
5
Regarding headphones - can't you just use the headphone output of your Apogee interface?
I can, but that would then mean i can only listen to vinyl digitally. I was hoping to have one analogue path for headphone use, just to scratch that small remaining purist itch :)
 

DSJR

Major Contributor
Joined
Jan 27, 2020
Messages
3,589
Likes
4,764
Location
Suffolk Coastal, UK
The Planar 3 if sited properly and used with lid removed, is a highly competent low priced (in the UK) deck and in my experience, rather better than most if not all price competitors which all have various flaws, often in the tonearms they're lumbered with (the RB330 really is special whatever the looks ;) ).

The Exact cartridge though to me is to me an iffy 1980's home made relic with squidgy tones and a suckout in the lower highs giving a rather 'thick toned' presentation (Rega's older speakers used to have a VERY spiky hf region to kind of compensate). Nice Vital stylus though but they werte 'characterful enough' when launched in the mid 80's. Surface noise will usually be subdued but so is the 'life' which is still there in a vinyl record. I love the Ortofon 2M Bronze in a current 3 (in my previous life the Goldring 1042 *in this deck's predecessor) and for a more subtle pickup, the AT VM740 would be my choice of sub £300 cartridge. The Exact and Elys do have a highish output from memory (7mV @ 5cm/s) so choose a phono stage with good overload margins...

There's some great phono stages reviewed here but I can't really recommend as sadly, prices vary internationally. The Schiit Skoll seems to do what you want so take a look at the recent review first.
 
Last edited:
OP
D

Dogamondo

Member
Joined
Oct 25, 2023
Messages
20
Likes
5
OK, then stick with the NAD phonostage for now, and get a good headphone amp like the Topping L50 -
https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/topping-l50-review-headphone-amp.26210/

If you wish to extend that "purist" approach to your speaker setup, you might consider bypassing the Apogee, and going straight from phonostage to active speakers.

This is really just me trying to have my cake and eat it too.

The Apogee/ADC setup is to enable the turntable to stream to my desktop speakers and throughout the house for every day listening while working, walking from room to room.

I fancied the idea of having an analogue stage to a headphone out purely for late night listening when I can concentrate on the music without the regular distractions, hence the "purist" bent which I throw around loosely as I in no way have golden ears! :D

I guess what I'm trying to decide is whether or not the Cambridge as a phono stage would be a noticeable jump in fidelity from the NAD. Enough to justify splurging on one as it has the HP amp and does look very nice!
 
OP
D

Dogamondo

Member
Joined
Oct 25, 2023
Messages
20
Likes
5
The Planar 3 if sited properly and used with lid removed, is a highly competent low priced (in the UK) deck and in my experience, rather better than most if not all price competitors which all have various flaws, often in the tonearms they're lumbered with (the RB330 really is special whatever the looks ;) ).

The Exact cartridge though to me is to me an iffy 1980's home made relic with squidgy tones and a suckout in the lower highs giving a rather 'thick toned' presentation (Rega's older speakers used to have a VERY spiky hf region to kind of compensate). Nice Vital stylus though but they werte 'characterful enough' when launched in the mid 80's. Surface noise will usually be subdued but so is the 'life' which is still there in a vinyl record. I love the Ortofon 2M Bronze in a current 3 (in my previous life the Goldring 1042 *in this deck's predecessor) and for a more subtle pickup, the AT VM740 would be my choice of sub £300 cartridge. The Exact and Elys do have a highish output from memory (7mV @ 5cm/s) so choose a phono stage with good overload margins...

There's some great phono stages reviewed here but I can't really recommend as sadly, prices vary internationally. The Schiit Skoll seems to do what you want so take a look at the recent review first.

Fantastic and insightful reply. I must admit, the exact cartridge was a very recent acquisition with next to no research. So lesson learned there for next time. But I do keep hearing about that Ortofon which I'll keep in mind.

I'm very interested in your comment about removing the lid. What does that do to the sound?
 

DSJR

Major Contributor
Joined
Jan 27, 2020
Messages
3,589
Likes
4,764
Location
Suffolk Coastal, UK
The open lid acts as a sound-board directly into the plinth. same with almost all far eastern direct drive decks of old (and the various models today) as it increases colouration and feedback possibilities.
 

SteveC

Member
Joined
Oct 18, 2022
Messages
57
Likes
90
Location
Indianapolis, IN
Back when I owned a Rega table my favorite cartridge to use with it was a Denon 103. I think it's a good upgrade starting point and much better than any of the Rega MM cartridges for my tastes. I can also happily recommend Parks Audio Puffin phono stage. No headphone output though.
 

linuxfan

Active Member
Joined
Mar 18, 2019
Messages
261
Likes
179
I guess what I'm trying to decide is whether or not the Cambridge as a phono stage would be a noticeable jump in fidelity from the NAD. Enough to justify splurging on one as it has the HP amp and does look very nice!
Well the NAD might not be that far behind the Cambridge, and what improvement you might gain from NAD to Cambridge may be insignificant compared to the sub-par performance of the Cambridge's headphone amp - which Amir described as a "a throw-away design" -
https://www.audiosciencereview.com/...nts-of-cambridge-audio-duo-phono-preamp.6901/
If you have low impedance headphones, in particular, this will be a problem.
 

linuxfan

Active Member
Joined
Mar 18, 2019
Messages
261
Likes
179
I have a classic 1980's Rega Planar 3 which I haven't used for years (digital suits me fine these days) so my knowledge of suitable cartridges is outdated.
I love the Ortofon 2M Bronze in a current 3
...
for a more subtle pickup, the AT VM740 would be my choice of sub £300 cartridge
What do you think about the Denon DL-110? This was flavour of the month a few years ago, and was considered a good match for the RB330 arm, which is at the low end of mid-weight arms.
I read that the Denon DL-103 wants a heavier arm.
 

DSJR

Major Contributor
Joined
Jan 27, 2020
Messages
3,589
Likes
4,764
Location
Suffolk Coastal, UK
The DL110 is an ancient but still very capable design going back to early 80's at least. It's safe as houses in almost every way (read into that as much as you like :) ), in 1985 or so, it and the Dynavector 10X (then mk IV) cost around £60 - £70 and until 2008, the DL110 could still be obtained in the UK for eighty quid!!! How subsequent price increases can justify a current UK price of around £215 or so I simply don't know. Maybe it's demand and supply, but so much of 'non Chinese made' goods have rocketed in price, it's putting a skew in my old mental pricing structures. In terms of cartridges, only the AT VM95 models seem 'realistic' to my sensibilities in terms of inflationary prices (in '86 or so, an AT95E was well under twenty quid estimated, depending on whether you bought an 'egg tray' full of them, or individually boxed. The aforementioned equivalent 10X now in V form with Shibata tip to refine it further, is now the thick end of six hundred notes :(

The 'nearly as old as me' DL103 has a conical tip with clearly audible rolloff come side end if compared to a neutral analogue or digital source. Ends it for me there and then, but vinyl orientated audiophiles love it for some reason. I always preferred the 103-D and had one in a Mission 774 arm for a then lengthy eighteen months or so before 'upgrading' to an Ittok with Asak T at the time (silly man!!!). If I knew then what I know now yadayada ;)
 
Last edited:

Spyerx

Member
Joined
Oct 23, 2022
Messages
80
Likes
75
I used an Elys2, 2M Black, Benz ACE, and recently a Hana ML, although that is now on my Michell Gyro, but with the modified Rega tonearm. The old Benz and Hana sound best, by far...
Phono stages: Rega, a Graham Reflex (that sounded very good to my ears, but I know doesn't measure well), and most recently the stage built into my Luxman 509x, which sounds the best of them all. I use the luxman headphone out if I am going to (rarely) listen to headphones.
 
Last edited:

MaxwellsEq

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Aug 18, 2020
Messages
1,943
Likes
2,948
I have the Cambridge Alva Duo and it is excellent. I tend to listen to LPs through my speakers so haven't used the HPA much, but I checked it out and it was fine.
 

kemmler3D

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Aug 25, 2022
Messages
4,001
Likes
8,093
Location
San Francisco
I'm far from a vinyl expert and this is probably too cheap to mention here, but I have the Schiit Mani and it probably puts out the best phono sound I've heard. I credit the very tight RIAA EQ they've managed to get in there.
 

Angsty

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Apr 11, 2020
Messages
1,955
Likes
2,336
Location
North Carolina, U.S.
The OP may no longer be around, but I have been impressed with Michael Fidler’s Spartan 5 and 15 models for MM cartridges.

They are a great buy, especially in the UK where they are made. I’d get the Spartan 5 instead of the Mani in the UK.
 
Top Bottom