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Review and Measurements of Lounge LCR MKIII Phono Amp

RayDunzl

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Surely an amplifier is a component for which measurement really does tell the whole story as the output should be no more and no less than an accurately amplified image of the input signal?
In the case of a Phono amp, it typically applies the RIAA (or other similar curve) adjustment to the signal, in addition to amplification.
 
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Hi Amirm,

This is great! I’ll tell you what! Have that unit you tested sent to me and I will upgrade it to nearly an LCR Gold sans the volume control and headphone jack. Then you can test it. The numbers you get will probably be worse than you posted. But then, promise me you will actually listen to the unit with a real turntable. Don’t cheat by using a digital source pumped through a reverse RIAA circuit. The source has to be a real cartridge with that little rock dragging across the vinyl.

Up for it?

I don’t design for numbers from a machine but it is always nice to know just for a benchmark. I did work at Alesis Studio Electronics all through the 90’s. That place lived and died by 16 bit digital audio and test and measurement so I know plenty about these rigors.

In regard to your measured adherence to the RIAA curve, I have been including trimpots for HF boost and LF cut. One of the reasons for this is so I can boost 20kz by 2db. This boost level came about by customer feedback. So now the measured RIAA response is even less clean looking.

My primary design goal is details like frequency extension, dynamics, depth (vertical, horizontal, lateral). So far, since 2011 when I started to sell my preamps, a machine has never purchased a unit from me. But, vinyl listeners do and most care about these details of sound more than a measurement number.

By the way, I think it would only be fair if you make my response a sticky post so that whoever stumbles upon this thread can read both aspects of this easily.

Robert Morin
Lounge Audio
www.loungeaudio.com
Even though I am brand new to this forum, I feel compelled to comment on the ILounge LCR Mk III review. I have had this mode Lounge in my system for about 9 months now. The smooth, three dimensional sound with amazing spatial imaging I get from Robert’s Lounge phono preamp is beyond reproach. I have been an avid audiophile for 30+ years and have yet to have found a phone preamp loved more... and that includes some that were crazy amounts of money. My Lounge is connected to a Music Hall MMF-7.3 with an Ortofon Bronze cartridge played through a Musical Fidelity M2si integrated amp into Tekton Double Impact speakers. From my experience, musical appreciation of a particular audio component (especially phono gear!) is rarely, if ever, revealed in prestine signal to noise specifications and diminishingly low distortion numbers.
 

SIY

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Unfortunately, sighted listening tests don't have any validity. A phono stage's job is to make a small signal bigger, equalize to RIAA, not overload, and not add noise or distortion. "Smooth, three dimensional sound" is the job of the recording and the cartridge.

How well a phono stage does its job is exactly revealed from measurements. They don't appear to be particularly good in this case, but once I get the unit on my bench, I can confirm that.
 

amirm

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I have had this mode Lounge in my system for about 9 months now. The smooth, three dimensional sound with amazing spatial imaging I get from Robert’s Lounge phono preamp is beyond reproach.
I hear this about every kind of audiophile product from power sockets to little dots on the walls. Heck I know someone who sells footers for $300 each that says they get you closer to the orchestra and has testimonials like yours. The claims there are even stronger after people spend thousands on these footers.

In this forum we love listening test results but they need to be in a controlled environment where you don't know which is which. Without it, all of us read your type of accolades into audio products even in cases where the sound has not changed or improved one bit.

I have tested these statements in the context of countless other products and never hear such differences and improvements.

On the other hand, when distortion products are as high as it is in this device, I usually hear harshness of high frequencies and loss of detail as measurements predict.
 
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In regard to your measured adherence to the RIAA curve, I have been including trimpots for HF boost and LF cut. One of the reasons for this is so I can boost 20kz by 2db. This boost level came about by customer feedback. So now the measured RIAA response is even less clean looking.
A question for Robert (Lounge), by chance a question from an actual owner and happy user of the preamp. Looks like a typo here: "One of the reasons for this is so I can boost 20kz by 2db." I'm guessing, as you mention HF boost, that this should read "20khz"? Although it might be 20hz? Thanks!
 
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A question for Robert (Lounge), by chance a question from an actual owner and happy user of the preamp. Looks like a typo here: "One of the reasons for this is so I can boost 20kz by 2db." I'm guessing, as you mention HF boost, that this should read "20khz"? Although it might be 20hz? Thanks!
Good catch! I missed the “h”. It is a trim pot to boost highs. I set it to +2db over RIAA compliance at 20khz.
 
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Hmm, most people can't hear out to 20khz as they age so wouldn't it make more sense to have the trim pot at a lower frequency?
 
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Even though I am brand new to this forum, I feel compelled to comment on the ILounge LCR Mk III review. I have had this mode Lounge in my system for about 9 months now. The smooth, three dimensional sound with amazing spatial imaging I get from Robert’s Lounge phono preamp is beyond reproach. I have been an avid audiophile for 30+ years and have yet to have found a phone preamp loved more... and that includes some that were crazy amounts of money. My Lounge is connected to a Music Hall MMF-7.3 with an Ortofon Bronze cartridge played through a Musical Fidelity M2si integrated amp into Tekton Double Impact speakers. From my experience, musical appreciation of a particular audio component (especially phono gear!) is rarely, if ever, revealed in prestine signal to noise specifications and diminishingly low distortion numbers.
Although I share Amir's sentiment about blind listening test (and I have done many myself - failed many and passed many, and I've kept the logs of many of them), then I would also make a case for Motorradmike's position in the subjectivist sense:
He likes a specific sound. Many objectivists seem to say that fidelity is the most important thing, and to a large extent I agree (I for instance refuse to pay for tubes and other products that ruin the signal). But we should remember that we are after all listening to music and that's supposed to sound good.
Vinyl playback is in itself of much lower fidelity than digital, despite the claims being screamed out at full lungs from nutcases like Michael Fremer and his minions. But still, it can create a certain sound that sounds more pleasing to many/most people, which usually happens by changing the frequency response (and to a lesser extent by adding distortion) - which is exactly the case with the phono preamp under review here. The altered frequency response of the Lounge phono preamp will surely be audible.
I bought a very linear phono cartridge around 8 months ago, and all my good records sounded fine, but all the less than stellar records, which is most of my collection, sounded exactly like that - less than stellar. So, instead I bought two other cartridges with less linear frequency responses, which simply made my records sound much more pleasant.
I've also been remastering a lot of music lately for my own purposes, and I usually remaster them in more or less the same way. Although the changes I make are not identical to the frequeny response of the Lounge phono preamp, it's not all that different - and that is because certain frequencies are more pleasant than others. The problem with a lot of modern day music is that there's too much energy in the harshness region, and almost all phono cartridges have a dip in that region, followed by a boost around 10-12 kHz (which sound more plesant than the harshness region), and often also a bass boost, which is how I usually remaster music.
I think this explains a lot of vinyl lovers disdain for digital: They cannot stand the sound of the harshness region. But this is not because digital is a broken technology, quite the opposite since digital is a perfect replica, but because the vinyl lovers don't like the final product that came out of the studio - and I often sure don't like that final product either, which is why I'm remastering so much music.
So, there's nothing wrong with liking a specific sound, as long as we're honest about this. Many vinyl lovers seem to hate treble, and that's okay, as long as they're honest about it instead of claiming that vinyl is higher fidelity.
 

SIY

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The altered frequency response of the Lounge phono preamp will surely be audible...
Although the changes I make are not identical to the frequeny response of the Lounge phono preamp, it's not all that different ...
Problem is (among many!) that the Lounge unit doesn't have "a" frequency response, it has a frequency response that's strongly level-dependent, as I showed in the follow-up post. So you can't fix it or emulate it with EQ; the design is fundamentally broken.
 
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Problem is (among many!) that the Lounge unit doesn't have "a" frequency response, it has a frequency response that's strongly level-dependent, as I showed in the follow-up post. So you can't fix it or emulate it with EQ; the design is fundamentally broken.
And some people like that particular broken sound, and I can accept that (although I don't aim for that myself), as long as we're honest about that :).
 

amirm

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And some people like that particular broken sound, and I can accept that (although I don't aim for that myself), as long as we're honest about that :).
I don't think we know that they do. Most people are influenced by other non-audible factors in their impression of sound without a reference.
 

SIY

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as long as we're honest about that :).
Indeed, being honest about it is what separates the charlatans from the honest practitioners. But I'm personally not thrilled at an effects box that isn't adjustable and can't be turned off, regardless of the source material. I'd rather make adjustments on a case by case basis as needed.

And Amir's point is often correct, but in this case, things are so badly done that the listener would have to be pretty insensitive to not hear the artifacts.
 
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Fair enough, but to take someone like Michael Fremer as a good example of a big group of people (analogue fan boys/digital haters), then he sometimes gives rave reviews to well-built products, like the Boulder phono preamp, although it does seem like the products have to cost a fortune to get a rave review from him (non-audible factors, as Amir says), although he also sometimes give really good reviews to cheap products. But the products he raves most about are often the most poorly manufactured ones - such as vinyl instead of digital, the Zanden 5000 CD player, which he called the best CD player he had ever heard and his own editor called the worst digital product he had ever measured, Wilson speakers, phono cartridges that are nowhere near-linear when more linear models are readibly available, etc. And his minions are exactly the sme - they go for a certain sonic signature that suits their ears, pricey as it may be, instead of fidelity.
Tube gear is a discussion on its own, but many people swear by it, exactly because of its distortion signature and its altered frequency response.
Personally, I value fidelity and would never pay big money for a poorly manufactured product (tubes, etc.), but I am aware that certain frequencies are more offensives than others, and if a dip in the harshness region or a bass boost, for instance, makes the music nicer to listen to, I'm okay with it as long as it's still a reasonably well-made product (this alteration could be in the speakers). But some people don't look for that balance and will argue to the death for "pleasant sound" over good engineering :-/.
 

SIY

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When you're writing for that class of magazines, the important thing is the story- anything relating to actual technology or sound is very secondary. So I don't think it's necessarily a particular "sound" that's selling the boxes.

That's one of the reasons, and maybe the biggest reason, I love writing for AudioXpress; it's all about the technology, the sound, the results. Not to mention my editors' constant support when the measurements might not please a manufacturer but are well done and well presented. If there's a good story, great, but that won't save a bad product, nor will the absence of a good story hurt a good product.
 
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And I agree, SIY, that flowery prose in those highend magazines is the selling-point, but there are after all a whole horde of readers who hold the same opinons, and they can't all be mindless followers (although some are) - they just like a different sound, such as an altered frequency response, which in my experience is the most important parameter in audio reproduction (hence the "amazing" results I have achived with my nothing less than spectacular homemade remasters) :).
 

restorer-john

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And I agree, SIY, that flowery prose in those highend magazines is the selling-point, but there are after all a whole horde of readers who hold the same opinons, and they can't all be mindless followers (although some are)
Why the subjective 'flowery prose' is a selling point is beyond me. Anyone with a reasonable command of the English language can produce reams of such useless commentary. It commenced in earnest in the UK press around the mid 1980s when CD re-scaled everything and 'night and day' differences needed to be invented in order to justify obscene prices for high-end gear.

High Fidelity equipment reviews of the past were factual descriptions and details, technical reports testing key parameters, comments on the results and a final paragraph of perhaps two sentences describing the subjective performance. Now we have multiple pages of subjective garbage, limited testing (if at all) and not much else. In short, they are puff-pieces, not technical reviews.

There's a reason I spend 10x more time reading reviews and technical magazines from the past. There's no excuse, it's all here, and free:

https://www.americanradiohistory.com/
 

amirm

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Many vinyl lovers seem to hate treble, and that's okay, as long as they're honest about it instead of claiming that vinyl is higher fidelity.
Definitely a "thing" in the vinyl world, unfortunately. "Warm" sound is trendy which means anything with rolled off upper mids, including speakers, cartridges, phono preamps, etc.
 
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