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Phono Stages above £500

Phono Stages below £499

Croft Acoustics RIAA

The Croft Acoustics RIAA is a superb valve phono stage that uses two ECC83 dual triodes, with an all hard wired circuit that’s hand made within the UK. It’s sound is classic Croft -a sense of rightness that’s difficult to put into words, but leaves you wanting for very little.


Where the RIAA particularly excels is in its speed and dynamics, little things like handclaps and percussion are great examples as they are dealt with with such ease (which often isn’t the case on lesser stages), not only do they more sound realistic but the Croft is able to give you the acoustic clues around them which gives you a real idea of the reverberation of the recording venue. This naturally leads onto its imaging, which is another outstanding aspect, with the width of staging and musician placement being quite remarkable. By concentrating on these aspects perhaps makes it sound like this stage lacks musicality, but nothing is further from the truth, its timing, energy and involvement are exemplary.


As you can probably guess, I can’t recommend this phono stage highly enough for someone wanting a relatively affordable taste of the real hi end. The only caveat, like with many valve phono stages, is it likes to see a relatively high input impedance from the connected amplifier, circa 47k Ohms and upwards is recommend (thankfully this is rarely a problem with most amplifier designs).


Croft Acoustics RIAA MM phono stage: £500.00


Project Phono Box RS

The Phono Box RS is a very well featured MM and MC phono stage, that enables the user to adjust a multitude of settings to suit almost any individual cartridge, such is the wide scope of adjustments I have tried to list them all below. However despite the possible number of options it is actually very easy to use and we can advise on the correct settings for use with your cartridge if you are at all unsure.

On the front, you have the ability to infinitely adjust the cartridge loading from 10 to 1200 Ohms (the F/V swtich allows you to change between a Fixed values of 47K and 10Ohms or engage operation of the Variable rotary control). The RIAA/DECCA curves allows switching between these two EQ curves and there’s also adjustable gain on the furthest right switch, which is useful to correct for any level loss when running with low impedance loadings and for optimising playback levels in your system.  

On the rear we have the DIP switches (the blue blocks in the centre) for adjusting capacitance (100pF minimum, with the switches adding in up to a total of 520pF) and fixed loading between 10R and 47K resistance. The toggle switches include a Subsonic filter (aka Rumble filter, which I always prefer left off whenever possible) and a switch between RCA and XLR input, as this phono stage supports full balanced use both from the arm cables and into the connected amplifier.


Naturally the huge flexibility of the RS means that you can easily dial the stage in to match your cartridge, so you can be sure that it is optimised for your setup within moments.


Sonically the RS is a very enjoyable phono stage to listen to, it has a sound that is dynamic, with well extended and resolved frequency extremes. It is tonality is slightly on the dry side but not unpleasantly so, in my experience this is of often a side effect of using switch mode power supplies like the plug top one included with the RS - there is the option to upgrade the unit with a dedicated power supply, this linear design has two lithium batteries (dual mono) and lets you run for about 4 hours per charge of completely mains noise free listening (whilst it is recharging, performed automatically, you can of course continue to listen).


The Phono Box RS (and the optional power supply) are housed in a compact box (21cm wide, 7cm high and 21cm deep) that is beautifully finished in brushed aluminium and available in either Black or Silver finish.


Finishes: Silver or Black

Pro-Ject Phono Box RS MM & MC phono stage: £699.00


Optional upgrade:

Pro-Ject Power Box RS Phono power supply: £449.00


Pure Sound P10

The P10 is a superb MM valve phono stage (for Moving Coil use it in conjunction with a Step Up transformer). It uses a completely hard wired purist circuit with passive equalisation and no feedback. It is cleverly made with internal divisions within the half width case to shield the noisy parts of the power supply from the audio stage and features very short signal paths. It produces an effortless sound with great tonality.

Pure Sound P10 phono stage: £659.95

                      


Rega Aria

Housed in a black half width box, the Aria is Rega's new MM and MC phono stage. The design is quite novel, it’s fully discrete and is basically two phono stages in one, as the MM and MC stages are completely separate (in most designs the MC input simply has extra gain in front of the MM stage). It has two sets of inputs sockets and a front mounted switch to choose between MM and MC.

              

Above Left: The MC stage is adjustable via DIP switches on the rear panel, with resistive input loading of 70Ω to 400Ω and capacitive loading of 1000pF to 4200pF, and an extra 6dB of gain is also available.


Above Right: Internally good quality capacitors are used including polypropylene coupling caps and Nichicon power supply caps.

           

Above Left: No Rega product would be complete without a cryptic slogan on the board, apparently ‘Uncool is the new Cool’.


The Aria is a very good all rounder, it’s musical and involving to listen to, with good rhythmicality, as well as being flexible enough to use with almost any cartridge desired.


Rega Aria phono stage: £798.00


Edwards Audio MC2Plus

The Edwards Audio MC2 builds upon the excellent MC1 (featured above) and features advances including additional gain (making it suitable for use with passive pre amplifiers), improved power rails and transconductance input stage. This design can work with MM and MC cartridges by moving internally adjustable jumpers, a 7Hz warp filter can also be enabled if required.


This very flexible design offers sound far greater than its compact dimensions would suggest possible, with superb resolution and musicality in abundance. The large external power supply means that there’s great dynamics and very low background noise too.


-Edwards Audio MC2 & PSU2 £999.95


Audion Premier Phono

The Premier is a valve phono stage that uses 6922 tubes mounted on an aluminium half width chassis. It is a very quiet MM stage which has a transparent sound that is very revealing without being overly analytical in presentation. Its midband is exactly what you’d expect of a good valve design, there’s no grain or hash, just an open and expansive sound. Naturally is also works wonderfully with step up transformers for use with moving coil cartridges.


Audion Premier Phono MM phono stage £950


Croft RIAA R

 

The RIAA R phono stage is one of the latest designs from Glenn Croft. Its circuit (shown here with its lid off) is effectively derived from the Micro 25 pre amplifier, and as you’d probably expect it features an all valve hard wired signal path with extensively regulated power supplies, fed from two toroidal mains transformers. It’s intended for Moving Magnet but can of course be used with high output MCs or standard output MCs if you use any good external step up transformer.

The performance the RIAA R achieves at this price level is incredibly impressive. It has a sound that is characterised by a feeling of enormous grip and authority (I’d wager largely due to the use of the regulated power supplies), but whilst retaining a good sense of flow and musicality. Unlike many lesser phono stages it doesn’t bleach the tonal colour of instruments, which sound very real and present. If you like your vinyl to sound life like and bold (and who wouldn’t!) then we’d highly recommend an audition.


Croft Acoustics RIAA R MM phono stage: £1,100


Audio Note R  Zero V2

The R Zero V2 is a valve MM phono stage which uses the a pair of 6112WA dual triodes and quality parts including Beyschlag resistors and Audio Note tin foil paper in oil capacitors. It is housed in the smaller Audio note chassis (approximately 2/3 standard width) and is available with either a black or brushed aluminium fascia.


Audio Note R Zero V2 phono stage: £POA at manufacturers request


Edwards Audio MC3

The MC3 is the new top of  the range two box phono stage from Edwards Audio. It allows fine adjustment of loading via internal jumpers and optional rumble filtering. On the rear panel there are switches for MM and MC switching (it has dual inputs, so users with two tonearms/turntables do not have to unplug when changing between them as long as one is MM and one one an MC cartridge). Also on the rear is a mono switch, this makes a massive difference on mono recordings  of course, the display on the unit changes to red when this mode is engaged.


This sophisticated design has 10 power supplies fed from an external power supply (not pictured, but in the same size casework as the phono stage pictured).


-Edwards Audio MC3 phono stage: £1,500

Audio Note M1RIAA

The M1RIAA is an all valve MM phono stage. It uses ECC83 and ECC88 triodes in a feedback free circuit and the internal layout provides good separation and screening from the power supply and audio board (as shown below). It is available with either a black acrylic or brushed aluminium fascia.


Audio Note M1RIAA phono stage: £POA at manufacturers request


Croft Acoustics RIAA RS

The RIAA RS is the new top of the range phono stage from Glenn Croft. It’s housed in two of the standard sized Croft cases, one of which contains the massive valve regulated power supply and the other the phono stage itself. More details to follow soon.


Croft Acoustics RIAA RS phono stage: £2,200


Audio Note M2RIAA


Housed in the same case as the M1RIAA mentioned above, the M2RIAA  features a 6X5 rectified and ECL82 regulated valve power supply. The audio stage features Oil coupling capacitors and naturally uses Audio Notes own copper wiring throughout. It is available with either a black acrylic or brushed aluminium fascia.


Audio Note M2RIAA phono stage: £POA at manufacturers request


Audio Note M3RIAA


At  the  heart  of  the  M3 RIAA is  an  exceptionally  fine  Moving  Magnet  phonostage which uses three 5670 valves. This is followed by a 5687 valve equipped output stage, and  both  sections  are  powered  by  their  own  dedicated  6X5  valve rectified  power supply based on the M10‟s Galahad PSU. These power supplies also incorporate an ECL82  for  voltage  regulation  and  a  5651  as  a  voltage  stabiliser.  

Audio  Note  (UK) Copper wiring, a mix of Beyshlag and AN(UK) tantalum resistors, SILMIC capacitors and  Audio  Note (UK)  copper  foil  signal  capacitors  are  used  throughout  the  circuit, along  with  in-house  designed  and manufactured,  custom  Audio  Note  (UK) output transformers  which  feature  I-E M4  cores  and  copper  windings, which facilitate both single ended and balanced outputs. Due to the size of the components used the M3RIAA it is housed in Audio Notes full width chassis, with a choice of silver or Black fascia.


Audio Note M3RIAA phono stage: £POA at manufacturers request


Audio Note M5RIAA

The M5 RIAA uses three GE 6072a / 12AY7 valves around the EQ circuit (in the screening cans in the bottom right of the picture above). This is followed by a 5687 output stage (top right), which drive the output transformers (top right). Both channels are powered by their own dedicated 6X5 valve rectified power supply based on the M10‟s Galahad PSU.  These power supplies also incorporate an ECL82 for voltage regulation and an OB2 as a voltage stabiliser, these are in the middle of the picture above. Two substantial mains transformers and a pair of chokes ensure it remains dual mono throughout.


Audio Note Copper wiring, tantalum resistors, Kaisei capacitors and copper foil signal capacitors are used throughout the circuit, along with in-house  designed  and  manufactured, custom Audio Note output transformers which feature IHiB double c-cores and copper windings, which facilitate both single ended and balanced outputs.


Audio Note M5RIAA phono stage: £POA at manufacturers request


             


Audio Note M6RIAA


At  the  heart  of  the  M6 RIAA is  an  exceptionally  fine  Moving  Magnet  phono stage which  uses  three  5670  valves.  This  is  followed  by  a  7044 equipped output  stage, and both  sections  are  powered  by  their  own  dedicated  6X5  valve rectified  power  supply

based on the M10?s Galahad PSU. These power supplies also incorporate an ECL82 for  voltage  regulation  and  an  5651  as  a  voltage stabiliser.  Audio  Note  (UK)  Copper wiring, Audio Note  (UK)  1  Watt  Tantalum  resistors,  SILMIC capacitors and  Audio

Note (UK) copper foil signal capacitors are used throughout the circuit, along with in-house  designed  and  manufactured,  custom  Audio  Note  (UK)  output  transformers which  feature  UHiB  double  c-cores,  copper  windings  for  the  primaries  and  Silver windings  for  the  secondaries, which facilitate both single ended and balanced outputs.


Audio Note M6RIAA phono stage: £POA at manufacturers request


Audio Note M8RIAA


At  the  heart  of  the  M8 RIAA is  an  exceptionally  fine  Moving  Magnet  phono stage which  uses  three  5670  valves.  This  is  followed  by  a  6463 equipped output  stage, and both sections  are  powered  by  their  own  dedicated  6X5  valve rectified  power  supply

based on the M10‟s Galahad PSU. These power supplies also incorporate an ECL82 for  voltage  regulation  and  a  5651  as  a  voltage stabiliser. Audio  Note  (UK)  Silver wiring, Audio Note (UK) 2 Watt Tantalum resistors, Black Gate capacitors and Audio Note

(UK) Silver foil signal capacitors are used throughout the circuit, along with in-house  designed  and  manufactured,  custom  Audio  Note  (UK)  output  transformers which feature HiB 50% Nickel double c-cores, Silver windings for both the primaries

and   for   the   secondaries which facilitate both single ended and balanced outputs.


Audio Note M8RIAA phono stage: £POA at manufacturers request


Audio Note M9RIAA

The current ultimate phono stage from Audio Note. As you’d expect at this level the design and component quality are about as extreme as possible.


The EQ circuit uses what Audio Note dub as their “Virtual Component” design, where a specially wound Nickel-Iron cored silver wired transformer is placed at the centre of the RIAA circuit and whose inductance forms part of the correction curve - basically an LCR (Inductor, Capacitor, Resistor) EQ circuit but using a transformer rather than an inductor. Audio Note claim that the benefits of the transformer in this application is that there is no stray capacitance if you just were to use an inductor in its place, and that it allows a much higher impedance design, making the driver stages job much easier (600 Ohms is fairly normal for an LCR circuit, the M9 runs at 50k Ohms!).


This is combined with Silver foil capacitors a Philips SQ E80F input valve and an E80CC is used for the following stage, all hard wired onto the phenolic treated wood boards, as seen on all top Audio Note products. The result is an flat RIAA response (within +/- 0.1dB) from a seemingly very simple, but very clever circuit. Naturally the output is through 55% Nickel-Iron cored silver wired output transformers, facilitating both single ended and balanced connections.


The sophisticated valve rectified and regulated power supplies fill a second chassis and are connected via umbilical cables to the box containing the actual stage itself.


Audio Note M9RIAA phono stage: £POA at manufacturers request




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