Finding analog bliss with the iFi iPhone2 w/SBooster linear power supply.

JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
I've long held that the phono stage is the most overlooked link in the analog chain. There are numerous discussions about cartridges and turntables, often being so impassioned as to degrade into the audio equivalent of a drunken frat brother screaming "come at me bro!"...

...but there's a relative lack of heated discourse about the next thing down the line. Which, in my experience, is at least, if not more, important than those two pieces that precede it. I'm not saying we should fight about it. But if you want me to come-at-you-bro about a phono stage, I'd come out swinging for the iFi iPhono2... with a caveat. A big, black-box of a plug-in caveat.

The iFi iPhono2 is a currently available and relatively affordable ($499) compact phono stage. And by compact I mean compact. I've had AV remotes that are bigger. It will run MM and LOMC, and neither is an afterthought. It's well appointed to adjust for the needs of both. Gain can be set at 36, 48, 60 and 72db, which I've found to cover the needs of any of the cartridges I have laying around here. It currently is running a .04mv Shelter 501mkII at 72db of gain, though I've run the same cart at 60db as well.

The settings for impedance and capacitance are not endless, but they are, in my experience here with more than a half dozen LOMC and MM/MI carts, enough. There's a bunch of nearly microscopic dip switches on the bottom of it to change all of this stuff, and a supplied tiny screwdriver to do the tiny dipping of the tiny dip switches, so bring your reading glasses and/or magnifying glass. Yes, I admit to having used the stylus magnifier on my Zerodust box to see what I'm doing, and my close-up vision approaches 20/20. The printing is for bugs.

You can set for a few different EQ standards: Decca, Columbia, standard RIAA, and something they call eRIAA, which I don't quite understand but it seems to play with subtleties in the time domain and high-frequency information that is beneficial or not depending on the cartridge I've used. When it helps, the image is a bit more holographic and the bass a bit more opened up.

Ok, so what's the caveat? Well, it's a pretty big one, at least relative to the size of the iPhono2, and it cost $375 delivered to my door.

See, this phono stage comes standard with an ok but not great wall wart switching power supply. I get it, very tiny phono stages have to hit a price point to be taken seriously by anybody. And I think most people who are going to buy it, will be fine with the supplied power supply. It sounds good with it. But it doesn't sound reference level. And with the addition of the "sBooster BOTW P&P ECO 15-16v" aftermarket linear power supply, the iFi iPhono2 goes from a very good low/mid budget phono preamp to something that can hang with almost anything. A clean but slightly grainy high end smooths out completely. Hall sound, the kind of thing places everybody believable in your room, once dropped off a bit into a veiled blackness at the edges and now just blooms out into the great beyond. The depth of the sound stage increases from front to back. The performers step forward a bit, while the back wall of the room recedes backwards. The entire presentation just sounds smoother, more natural. I've never used an aftermarket power supply before, but man...this thing worked FANTASTICALLY. I now look at wall-warts much like I glare at my creepy stalker ex from 18 years ago that my wife and I STILL occasionally run into in clubs. At least, unlike my wife, I don't attempt to throw punches from the ongoing creep factor. Again, we don't need to turn phono stage discussions into a fight or flight scenario! We're all adults, and this is a very grown-up phono stage.

I bought this at the same time I bought a Primare R32 phono stage, when I decided to stop fighting with a grounding/hum issue I was having with my beloved Juicy Music Tercel II tubed phono stage. The Primare was supposed to go in my main system, and this in my back room. Well, that's not what ended up happening. As good as the Primare is, and it's very good, when running with with LOMC, the noise floor creeped up high enough to be distracting in a system that is otherwise dead quite. Other than that, it's also a lovely phono stage. Very natural sounding, but the iPhono2 is the quietest phono stage I have ever heard. Even when running at 72db gain you have to be right up on the speaker to hear anything from it. The Primare at it's highest gain was clearly audible from the listening chair, though decently quiet in MM.

I realize that buying a power supply that costs almost as much as the thing you're supplying power to sounds ridiculous, but it made all the difference here. I liked the iPhono2 before, but only for the 2nd system. With the power supply, this is one of the better phono pres I have heard at anything approaching a price I can rationalize. And its better than some of the ones that exceed that price.

One other note of caution... it sounds absolutely terrible when right out of the box. Nearly every review of it mentions this, and they were not kidding. Give it a couple of days to figure itself out. Because it was just right nasty sounding for a few hours, then slowly warmed up and filled out over a day and steadily improved after that. People can argue burn in all they want "in theory". I have seen (heard?) the light. But once it breaks in, even with the wall wart, its a lot of fun and very music.

Sonically it's not romantic, nor is it dry. It just is. It's matter of fact in a very pleasing way. It lets the rest of your system be what you want it to be, while just supplying the music without complaints. It won't add bloom to a system without it, but will gladly supply what's needed to a system with bloom and imaging that are already inherent to it. It just sounds...right. It's on song, it's musical, it's got swing and good timing. I love it.

In the time I've had it, I've run it with a Shelter 501mkII, Zyx Yatra, AT OC-9mlII, AT-33ev, Nagaoka MP-500, Stanton 881s, and Shure V-15vmr.

I'd take photos but its unceremoniously hanging from my ridiculous battery-bias cables behind the audio console/rack. The power supply sits on the floor, supplying power and not bothering anybody.

The iPhono2 looks like this:
0716iphono22.png

And the Sbooster power supply looks like so:

61muLpshYBL._SL1162_.jpg

And like this on the inside:

Inside Sbooster linear power supply.jpg

Happy listening.
 

JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
By the way, the photos do not do justice to the size difference between the iPhono2 and the external power supply. I think you could fit about 15 iPhono2s in the space the power supply takes up. That doesn't make the power supply gigantic, the iPhono2 just isn't very big.
 

Try1256

Very Special Member
I have found the truth in what you say since I got my BAT phone stage. Before, I had only experienced built in phono preamps in my recievers and integrated amps. A good stand alone phono stage makes a world of difference. If it can be had at a reasonable price, all the better.
 

JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
Whether the combined $499+$375 price is considered reasonable to any given person, I have to say that I was at one time prepared to pay a lot more and now have no desire to. This hobby is filled with people declaring this or that to be a "giant killer" but this combo has proven to be all that I consider I need and then some..and my setup is pretty revealing. My analog rig goes up against one of the finer CD/SACD players ever made and a world class DAC, and this keeps up.

I've been looking to get off this ride for awhile. I'm far past being sick of the trend in this hobby to always ask what's next, to feel obliged to never be content because there's always something better. And, the thing, I'm not convinced, based on what I've heard over the years, that there's anything better for me than this for under the price of a new automobile. There's something different, but not dramatically better.
 

Redboy

Knobophobe
Very nice write up, John. Thanks for taking the time to do it. I am in the market for a "next" phonostage, and will have to look closely at this one.

Would you do the internet a favor and snap a picture of the phono preamp and power supply next to a reference point that we'd all recognize, please?
 

JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
Very nice write up, John. Thanks for taking the time to do it. I am in the market for a "next" phonostage, and will have to look closely at this one.

Would you do the internet a favor and snap a picture of the phono preamp and power supply next to a reference point that we'd all recognize, please?
Ok. But only because my rack is on sliders and easy to pull out.

Here it is with the power supply and a CD case. DE40DD24-4206-4E8F-9B11-94BA7C6F772C.jpeg
 

TubeHiFiNut

Administrator
Nice write-up, John.

I agree that the power supply is so very important. I'm sure that many USB or wall-wart powered components would benefit from the sBooster.
 

JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
iFi is an offshoot of the UK high-end brand Abbingdon Music Research (AMR). They didn't just come out of nowhere. But they, I guess, wanted to see what of their big high end components could be shrunken down into something for more people.

sBooster makes a variety of linear power supplies to suit different components. This is the 15-16.5v one.

There's a company called Swagman Lab that makes linear power supplies to replace the wall warts off some of the Schiit and Rega products. I was going to get one with a Schiit Mani but ended up going this route instead.
 

JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
Nice write-up, John.

I agree that the power supply is so very important. I'm sure that many USB or wall-wart powered components would benefit from the sBooster.
I have a microphone pre/ADC/DAC for recording that uses USB and/or wall wart...I bet one of these would make a nice difference in it.

This idea came from me looking at the Project Phono box RS, and reading and hearing about how the optional external power supply really took it to another level, and it got me thinking about some other options that might benefit. This was a bit of a gamble but it worked out.

I first got turned onto the iFi iPhone (the first one) on Michael Fremer's Analog Planet site. He loved it, and loved the iPhono2 more. The few nitpicks he laid on it in comparison to his reference gear, and their weren't actually that many, were the type of things the sBooster took care of. I can't say that my reference is equivalent to his, but anybody interested should read his reviews. Analog Planet is a fun site, quite a bit different in tone than Stereophile.
 

fiddlefye

Senior Member
Great review. I've been hearing good things about this phono pre for quite awhile now and your experience confirms them. A good power supply makes a huge difference, whether outboard or inboard. Always has, always will methinks.
 

Redboy

Knobophobe
Thanks to postive-feedback online for the link, which appeared in a review of the original iPhono.
I didn't realize the iPhono was Thorsten Loesch's design. That's an interesting interview!

Also, for the record - I still hate the name of this product. :-/
 

JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
So what kind of schiit are you all running for phono pres? I'm incredibly particular about the things. If I had to pick between "spin this wheel to get a random turntable" and "spin this wheel to get a random phono stage", considering all options were semi competent..I'd go with random turntable.
 

JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
I just put my Supex SD-900 Super on it for the first time, and wow, this is just an excellent combo. All the tonality, detail and dynamics you could want.
 

fiddlefye

Senior Member
So what kind of schiit are you all running for phono pres? I'm incredibly particular about the things. If I had to pick between "spin this wheel to get a random turntable" and "spin this wheel to get a random phono stage", considering all options were semi competent..I'd go with random turntable.
I have two options and will probably use both in the system as there will be more than one arm to service. The Anthem Pre-1 has a very nice phono MM/MC stage (supposedly the same circuit as the first Sonic Frontiers phono pre, minus the options) and a Opera Consonance PM-1 tube stage. I had that one modded with two sets of inputs and a switch so it can of itself manage two arms. With the current NOS Mullard set the tonal balance is dead on and it is by far the quietest tube phono pre I've encountered. In the end I can cover three arms without touching a interconnect.
 
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