Upgrading my phono stage

MWalt

Active Member
I am on this analog kick at the moment and am addressing perceived weak links in my current analog set up. I've been kicking this around offline with @Deli and we have decided that a new phono preamp is in order. I am also going to get a better phono cartridge in the near future. This is what I am working with:

I have a JVC QL-7, Lounge Audio LCIII or Emotiva XPS-1 phono preamps (don't laugh, but I like the Emo better) a Denon DL103 LCII upgraded with an alloy cantilever and HE stylus. Audio Technica AT740ML, Denon DL-110, Ortofon Red and an Audio Technica AT95 with a Shibata stylus.

I would like to budget not more than 1k on the phono preamp. Deli suggested the IFI 3. I also am looking at the Project Phono Box DS2, Darlington Labs MM-6,
Parks Audio Puffin, Lehman Black Cube SE, IFI2 Sutherland KC Vibe and others. I like adjustability in the phono stage and any opinions or suggestions are welcome.

 
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MrEd

Senior Nobody
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Not sure if I canale recommendations being a diy guy

I would like your thoughts or impresion of the AT95.
 

MWalt

Active Member
Not sure if I canale recommendations being a diy guy

I would like your thoughts or impresion of the AT95.
The AT95SA is a great sounding MM cart, but in my system it just doesn't have enough gain which is why I want the adjustability. I like the 48db gain adjustment that both IFI preamps allow.
 

fiddlefye

Senior Member
I am on this analog kick at the moment and am addressing perceived weak links in my current analog set up. I've been kicking this around offline with @Deli and we have decided that a new phono preamp is in order. I am also going to get a better phono cartridge in the near future. This is what I am working with:

I have a JVC QL-7, Lounge Audio LCIII or Emotiva XPS-1 phono preamps (don't laugh, but I like the Emo better) a Denon DL103 LCII upgraded with an alloy cantilever and HE stylus. Audio Technica AT740ML, Denon DL-110, Ortofon Red and an Audio Technica AT95 with a Shibata stylus.

I would like to budget not more than 1k on the phono preamp. Deli suggested the IFI 3. I also am looking at the Project Phono Box DS2, Darlington Labs MM-6,
Parks Audio Puffin, Lehman Black Cube SE, IFI2 Sutherland KC Vibe and others. I like adjustability in the phono stage and any opinions or suggestions are welcome.

I got the iPhono3 last week and all I say is that it is astounding, not only the best I've heard in my system, but the best I've heard, period. It not only sounds fabulous, but has adjustability twelve ways from Sunday as well. Even on the highest gain setting the background is just "black". I've had (have) some very good phono preamps, but this one is a quantum leap for me.
 

JohnVF

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I have an iFi iPhono2 and am considering a move to the 3. What complicates matters is that my iPhono2 is running off of a big sBooster linear power supply that kicked it up a notch. It was very nice and is now very very nice. I’m curious, like you, of how much better the 3 is. The 2 is very good. It’s running with my Ortofon Cadenza now and it’s great. Silent background. Crazy dynamics. Full, rich, sound. It’s only drawback is that compared to my tubed mm stage that I run with a SUT, it doesn’t have as much bloom and loses a hint of tonal color. But then it does other things well so it’s a wash. I’ve heard nothing but praise for the 3 and those who’ve had both say it’s better.
 

MikeyFresh

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I wonder if the $500 difference between the IFI 3 is twice as good as the IFI 2.
So difficult or impossible to precisely quantify those kinds of things in terms of dollars, especially with all of the other variables involved. Lacking a specific baseline for what = $1 worth of "sound quality", the whole thing is sort of left to each individual opinion or subjective preference.

The specs they publish show a 5dB improvement in dynamic range, and a 3dB improvement in SNR, assuming thats accurate then I guess it would come down to the rest of the chain in use and it's ability to scale up accordingly.
What complicates matters is that my iPhono2 is running off of a big sBooster linear power supply that kicked it up a notch.
I'd be curious if that PSU would offer the same kind of boost to the iPhono3 as well, both are 15 volts?
 
If you are a fan of the Denon sound, then the Denon DL103 LCII is already a good cart- think of it as similar to the 103R. With the upgraded HE stylus it’s putting it into some excellent territory performance-wise, while retaining the 103’s personality. I know you like it- it’s a good cart.

The Audio Technica AT740ML- since it needs a new cantilever, you know I think you should get it retipped and a boron cantilever added. This will sound very different than the Denon, supplying a nice contrast. Read reviews of the 150mlx to get an idea of it’s Sonic signature.

I know we discussed the Ortofon Bronze as a possibility and that’s not a bad route either, although it’s becoming a small leap to go to the next level- some nice moving coil designs appear soon afterwards when a few more bills are tossed in.

I know you- you might kick yourself later if you don’t go for the 3, and choose a lesser model. That said, if a 2 comes up for sale, can be mated with an improved power supply like John has, and is even remotely close to the adjustability of the 3, that might change things.

Anyhow, the 3 sounds like an end-game phono stage. You’d likely have to go big $$$ to improve upon it. I read all about it, and was pretty fascinated and impressed.
 

MikeyFresh

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That said, if a 2 comes up for sale, can be mated with an improved power supply like John has, and is even remotely close to the adjustability of the 3, that might change things.
Interesting to note the iPhono2 comes with the original iPower PSU, while the iPhono3 comes with their updated iPower X. Not sure what the real differences are there, however if purchased separately the newer PSU is $99 vs. $49 for the original.
 

JohnVF

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Six EQ options vs. three, not sure about capacitance and loading.
As far as I know they both have the same number of curves. I'm not sure what they mean by 6 unless its Columbia, Decca, and standard RIAA, each also with the eRIAA option. The iPhono2 has that. From what I've read, and I've read about all that's out there on it, this has improved parts matching and parts quality but is more of an evolution of the 2 than a revolution. The sBooster that drives my 2 would work with the 3, but the one person I found who had used the sBooster with his 2, preferred the new ifi smps with his 3, over the sBooster. It's apparently a very good power supply and certainly looks like a lot more is going on than the one that came with the 2.

I recently brought my iPhono2 out of storage simply because I needed something small until I made room in my cabinet for my Primare stage. I'd never actually used it with my better carts, and what it did surprised me- it was always kind of a backup stage. Kind of like a backup quarterback that comes off the bench and steals the starting position from an injured QB. I was using it with the stock power supply at first, and then liked it so much I dug out the LPS. That did improve things, but its also very nice stock. The sBooster was almost as much money as the iPhono2, so its not a throw-away expense to go that route.

I'm probably going to upgrade to the 3, given how much I like the 2, so mine will come up for sale at some point but I don't know when, or if it would be with the sBooster or not.
 

MWalt

Active Member
Great responses here. Sounds like I have to go with either the IFI IPhono 2 or IFI IPhono 3. Leaning towards paying the extra $500 based off of John and Fiddle's experience. Paul, you are correct. I would get mad at myself if I didn't opt for the 3. However, I kind of feel like if I go with the IPhono 3 route, I will have to buy one of those fancy schmancy big buck MC carts you guys are sporting to get the most out of it. Ah, decisions, decisions.
 

JohnVF

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Sounds like I have to go with either the IFI IPhono 2 or IFI IPhono 3. Leaning towards paying the extra $500 based off of John and Fiddle's experience. Paul, you are correct. I would get mad at myself if I didn't opt for the 3. However, I kind of feel like if I go with the IPhono 3 route, I will have to buy one of those fancy schmancy big buck MC carts you guys are sporting to get the most out of it. Ah, decisions, decisions.
There are still deals out there. I recently bought a Denon DL-207 just back from VAS with a shibata stylus on a new cantilever for $150 and it’s super nice. A good stablemate to my Ortofon. Your 103 with the fancy stylus has probably got a lot more in it to give.
 

JohnVF

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FWIW I got my Primare R32 used for less than a new iPhono3 and it’s a really nice stage, too. There’s lots of nice stages at $1000. Another I’m looking at is the Graham Slee at that price level.
 

fiddlefye

Senior Member
So difficult or impossible to precisely quantify those kinds of things in terms of dollars, especially with all of the other variables involved. Lacking a specific baseline for what = $1 worth of "sound quality", the whole thing is sort of left to each individual opinion or subjective preference.

The specs they publish show a 5dB improvement in dynamic range, and a 3dB improvement in SNR, assuming thats accurate then I guess it would come down to the rest of the chain in use and it's ability to scale up accordingly.

I'd be curious if that PSU would offer the same kind of boost to the iPhono3 as well, both are 15 volts?
The iPhono3 comes with a new, upgraded rather trick power supply, completely unrelated to the ones that shipped with the earlier iterations. iPower X by iFi audio - New Ultra-Low Noise AC/DC Power Supply with International Travel Adapters
 

MWalt

Active Member
That’s the fun of playing records, right? Absolutely nothing is easy or standardized. If it can be made more ridiculous it will be.
So true. Ask @Deli my score on borked cantilevers. I just recently rewired my first tonearm, only to find out that the Silver Litz wire I used was too heavy and doesn't allow my tonearm to move/float properly. Doh!! Tiny wires, tiny screws, delicate parts coupled with my ham-fisted work don't always make for a good ending. There is a reason I prefer the simplicity of streaming and CD's. But I keep coming back for more. There is an IT factor to analog stereo reproduction and the appeal seems to draw me in.

This article gives some perspective on the differences between the 2 and the 3: iFi iPhono 3 Black Label Phono Stage - Positive Feedback (positive-feedback.com)
 

MrEd

Senior Nobody
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So true. Ask @Deli my score on borked cantilevers. I just recently rewired my first tonearm, only to find out that the Silver Litz wire I used was too heavy and doesn't allow my tonearm to move/float properly. Doh!! Tiny wires, tiny screws, delicate parts coupled with my ham-fisted work don't always make for a good ending. There is a reason I prefer the simplicity of streaming and CD's. But I keep coming back for more. There is an IT factor to analog stereo reproduction and the appeal seems to draw me in.
I knackered two cartridges build my tone arm... I know the pain.
 
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