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Shouldn't a Phono Stage Be Like a DAC? Why so expensive?

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Sal1950

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#21
This forum is just losing the science angle completely. This sort of stuff belongs in the bog standard audiophile web sites and magazines.

If there's extra detail to be had, this will show up in the specs and measurements. The price is just marketing and psychology - "Reassuringly expensive", in other words. But sure, you can't trust a $20 item on eBay to be any good.

The audiophile cycle seems to be:
  1. Audiophiles keep raising the bar, spending more and more, until a pathetic little circuit block reaches $300, $1000, $5000....
  2. Someone comes up with a slickly marketed version for $100 that measures the same as the others (which, indeed, it always would have)
  3. Audiophiles whoop with joy. Hey! Someone has come up with a great phono preamp for $100 and it measures the same as one that costs $10,000!
  4. Goto 1.
Haven't seen that mindset at work with the audiophool review media since the days of The Audio Critic and International Audio Revview.
 

Burning Sounds

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#22
Good question and yes, in the main what todays market is supporting is "complete BS"
Back before Paul McGowan learned he could make a fortune selling ridiculously expensive components he started PS Audio with just such a product.
I ran his PS III phono amp for 30 years till I sold out all things vinyl.
Ah, yes the days of Paul and Stan - I had a PS III too, together with its matching line stage (and the Supex you mentioned in another post) - very flexible units they were and lasted for many years. After they eventually died I bought and still own a Graham Slee Era Gold V - works well for my (very) occasional forays into my vinyl collection - and anyway Michael Fremer liked it so it must be good.;)
 

svart-hvitt

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#23
Now let's have some humour...

This is one of my favorite cartoons from The Audio Critic:


Source: THE AUDIO CRITIC, number 23, 1995, page 5

I guess this cartoon is telling regarding all sorts of audio components, except speakers where you don't have a Moore's law logic.

Still, my experience is that you need to pay for excellent specifications. Average specs are cheap but if you want engineering excellence, it will cost you. And you won't find phono preamps with excellent specs for $300.
 

Cosmik

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#24
Still, my experience is that you need to pay for excellent specifications. Average specs are cheap but if you want engineering excellence, it will cost you. And you won't find phono preamps with excellent specs for $300.
If the average specs are already far better than necessary, then the cheap device with average specs is the one with engineering excellence while the expensive one is just an indulgence. (And I hesitate to even say that, because in general the expensive one will have been put together by ego-inflated wannabe businessmen amateurs and their version of excellence is just some expensive capacitors, and heatshrink - they use a lot of heatshrink - with a gold logo they created in MS Word. And I hesitate to even attribute expensive capacitors with any sort of implication of excellence because they will have been created by similar people, using some empty-but-technical-sounding sales blurb they put together themselves designed to bamboozle audiophiles..., etc.)

And as is the way, these discussions leave reality far behind as they go on. We start out by saying that vinyl is not as accurate as digital in order to establish our rational, scientific credentials. We then discuss how the medium itself limits SNR to 70dB with some people chipping in with 90dB - but they're forgetting that the loudest bit of the recording (possibly the last 2 seconds of a classical piece) and its content sets the maximum volume on the record - or we have to use dynamic range compression. And let's not forget that the quality decreases towards the end of each side, degrades with each play, suffers from interchannel crosstalk, etc. etc.

Basically, the system is so crude, that a preamp made from $2 op amps would be more than adequate, and if we were really into excellence, we
(a) wouldn't use vinyl
(b) but if we insisted on it, would at least digitise the signal for permanence and probably use DSP to implement the RIAA filtering and to work around some of the other 'characteristics'.
 
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Speedskater

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#25
A special feature of most phono preamps is the fact that they're unbalanced. Some have unbalanced in, and balanced out, though.
......................................................................
Many phono cartridges start life balanced, then a jumper is added to make them unbalanced. Some people are experimenting with balanced input phono preamps.

The Case for Balanced Phono Cartridge Wiring
http://www.proaudiodesignforum.com/...f=7&t=753&p=10312&hilit=balanced+phono#p10312
 

svart-hvitt

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#26
Many phono cartridges start life balanced, then a jumper is added to make them unbalanced. Some people are experimenting with balanced input phono preamps.

The Case for Balanced Phono Cartridge Wiring
http://www.proaudiodesignforum.com/...f=7&t=753&p=10312&hilit=balanced+phono#p10312
I noted this statement:

"They may measure almost identically but they do sound different".

Almost identically means balanced measures a little better. Maybe the sonic differences are due to factors not covered by the measurements? Or maybe he hears voices in the air?
 

watchnerd

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#27
Still, my experience is that you need to pay for excellent specifications. Average specs are cheap but if you want engineering excellence, it will cost you. And you won't find phono preamps with excellent specs for $300.
What's your definition of excellent specs in a phono stage?

Because for $179 you can get a phono stage with +/- .25 dB freq response and better SNR and distortion than the LP medium itself. Which should be sufficient.
 

Sal1950

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#28
Basically, the system is so crude, that a preamp made from $2 op amps would be more than adequate, and if we were really into excellence, we
(a) wouldn't use vinyl
(b) but if we insisted on it, would at least digitise the signal for permanence and probably use DSP to implement the RIAA filtering and to work around some of the other 'characteristics'.
That really is the bottom line on vinyl.
Don't wish to hurt anyones feelings, if you enjoy it that's super. But at the end of the day spending more than a very modest amount on the complete source (no more than $1k) is a complete waste of finances that could be invested in something that would make a real improvement.
 

watchnerd

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#29
That really is the bottom line on vinyl.
Don't wish to hurt anyones feelings, if you enjoy it that's super. But at the end of the day spending more than a very modest amount on the complete source (no more than $1k) is a complete waste of finances that could be invested in something that would make a real improvement.
Well, unless one is paying for looks, too -- that whole mechanical art thing.

BTW, this is one of my own phono preamps. It's handmade by the recently-passed Don Garber of Fi. The model is called the Yph and is a completely artisanal product -- point to point hand wiring, the parts are all a bit one-off like a Springfield rifle, designed entirely by ear and doesn't even come with specifications at all. It's super artsy audiophile, looks awesome, but I only use it part time because the gain is so low.

But I can't give it up because it's such a conversation piece (photo not mine):








Now that listening to LPs is a bit of an affectation, let it at least be an artful one.
 

Frank Dernie

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#30
That really is the bottom line on vinyl.
Don't wish to hurt anyones feelings, if you enjoy it that's super. But at the end of the day spending more than a very modest amount on the complete source (no more than $1k) is a complete waste of finances that could be invested in something that would make a real improvement.
I would quite agree that a good phono stage need not cost much, though I too lusted after the Yph, because of its styling not the engineering.
OTOH as a record player researcher/designer in the 1970s the mechanical aspects of a record player are difficult, but not impossible, to do cheaply and well. I think it is impossible to produce a record player which does not produce audible output due to vibrations coming from structural resonance or sound and environmental vibrations getting to the cartridge either along the arm or up through the platter. These can be tuned to be euphonic - PRaT is created by these resonances being at the right frequency and with low damping - but that requires knowledge.
Most of the shortcomings of record players have euphonic artifacts but speed variation is the exception. Reducing Wow and flutter requires relatively expensive precision.
Having written all that it is true an experienced engineer with good materials knowledge can solve problems without using pointless expense.

A lot of the attraction of LPs is the looks and tactile aspects of playing them IMO. I own 4 record players, they all sound different for easily understood reasons but the one I have connected for occasional use looks the nicest and is the biggest and heaviest so most difficult to move into and out of storage... The fact that it is the least coloured is incidental.
 

watchnerd

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#31
I too lusted after the Yph, because of its styling not the engineering.

It was significantly back ordered when I placed the order and deposit in October, 2015, with an expected 2.5 year wait time. But then I received this email in January, 2016, about 18 months before he passed away:

1/20/16

"Hi David,

I've been working long hours (and weekends) to try to cut down the ridiculous lead time and it seems to be working. Your Yph was completed today and will be tested over the weekend. The remaining balance is $695 plus $40 insured shipping for a total of $735.

Regards,
Don"

I know no details of his health, but since his passing, and re-reading his comments about rushing through the back orders, I wonder if he knew or had a susipicion his time was limited.
 

svart-hvitt

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#32
Hey guys, some of you are making your own reality:

1) I was talking about "excellent" products. Excellent, like in outstanding, standing out from the crowd, is what statisticians call "outlier". Show me a $300 phono stage which is a statistical outlier (in the positive sense).

2) You go on and implicitly define - very loosely, verbally - what constitutes good phono preamp specifications. Why don't you state "good" (enough) phono preamp specs explicitly, and why not back up those specs with a scientific explanation, preferably supported by empirical data, evidence.

By the way: The $300 price point, which then worked as an anchor bias for this discussion, was taken from an article on phono preamps that - in the end of the article - was about much more expensive phono preamps.
 
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watchnerd

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#33
Hey guys, some of you are making your own reality:

1) I was talking about "excellent" products. Excellent, like in outstanding, standing out from the crowd, is what statisticians call "outlier". Show me a $300 phono stage which is a statistical outlier (in the positive sense).
Nobody is claiming that you get a statistical outlier for $300; they're claiming you get 'good enough' engineering for $300.

As for a reasonably price statistical outlier, I give you this, for 799 Eur / 999 USD:

-Fully balanced, XLR inputs and outputs
-Dual mono
-RIAA & DECCA curves
-Configurable capacitance & resistance & gain
-Optional battery / disconnected powers supply




 

Sal1950

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#34
That really is the bottom line on vinyl.
Don't wish to hurt anyones feelings, if you enjoy it that's super. But at the end of the day spending more than a very modest amount on the complete source (no more than $1k) is a complete waste of finances that could be invested in something that would make a real improvement.
With hindsight I think I would upgrade that $ amount. A really good TT and cartridge will run in the neighborhood of $1500 or so. I'd allocate around $2500 total.

Well, unless one is paying for looks, too -- that whole mechanical art thing.
Absolutely, I have the bad habit of looking at things from the Cheapskate's eye and always getting the biggest bang for the buck. (for others).
But I am a hypocrite, as I have and do pay more for things strictly on a cosmetic basis, the pride of ownership thing.
And if I had the $ I'd for sure have one of those elegant TT aluminum towers of machining art in my listening room, wouldn't matter how it sounds or what it cost.
We all divide up our available cash between our passions in the ways we can afford and give us the most pleasure.
 

svart-hvitt

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#35
Nobody is claiming that you get a statistical outlier for $300; they're claiming you get 'good enough' engineering for $300.

As for a reasonably price statistical outlier, I give you this, for 799 Eur / 999 USD:

-Fully balanced, XLR inputs and outputs
-Dual mono
-RIAA & DECCA curves
-Configurable capacitance & resistance & gain
-Optional battery / disconnected powers supply




That's one fine box!

A little short on specs (headroom?), no block diagram. But at €800 a fair deal!

The suggested PSU will add €500, though.

As for "good enough" I await clear specs from those who use such "definitions" because words are in the eye of the beholder.
 
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svart-hvitt

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#36
A fine phono preamp...

This Violectric box sports good specs at a reasonable price (€1300):

http://www.lake-people.de/produktdetails/PPA_V600.html

Anyone with same or better specs at a lower price?

EDIT: Violectric/Lake People has a nice user manual for the unit which is part user tips and part construction philosophy. Recommended reading! Downloadable if you register on home page.
 
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svart-hvitt

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#38
Are there any measurements of Phono pre-amps these days? Does Paul Miller (HiFi News) do it?
The German magazines have reviews with some measurements.

Try the Lake People login, and download a Violectric PPA V600 test from Stereoplay.

Interestingly, the tested specs differ from producer specs.

EDIT: Here's an example of German magazine test measurements:

http://clearaudio.de/_assets/_pdf/reviews/electronics/balance_plus_stereo.pdf

And here is even a Paul Miller review:

http://clearaudio.de/_assets/_pdf/reviews/electronics/absolute-phonoinside_hfn_15-3-en.pdf
 
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RayDunzl

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