All Tube Stand Alone Phono Stage MM/MC
Phono stages are very special to me. I have a large record collection and never made the switch to digital. I had a field day when everyone was selling their record to Goodwill. $1 each. I fear these good old days are over as others are discovering the magic of vinyl. I have been building phono amps for many years and have tried many and built many others. I like the low output moving coil cartridges best, as do most people. It has the most detail and you are there feeling for my ears. Unfortunately low output cartridges need extra gain over Moving Magnet cartridges. Many people use a step up transformer. It steps up the voltage at the expense of losing current. It is known to be very quiet but in my opinion sounds flat and loses much of the beauty. Other designs use a small solid state amplifier chip for the extra gain that a moving coil needs. These usually sound worse than the transformer. My favorite is to use tubes for all of the amplification. The main downfall of this approach is that tubes can be noisy. Phono amps multiply the signal many times over. Much more than other types of amps. Noise is multiplied as well. So what is the solution? I have found that there are a few ways of making an all tube phono stage quiet. Regulation, proper routing of cables, layout, grounding, and attention to detail all add up to what you are looking for. Live, you are there is how I would describe the sound. If you are looking for a more traditional sound please see my Marantz7 clone.
Here is a mini review by Frank Alles, Senior editor of Stereo Times
September 18, 2016 Hello Tom, I thank you for your dedication to getting this thing right. PS Audio sold a nice MM/MC phono stage for years (the GCPH) that was quite successful. It had more hum than your Aural Thrills phono stage, and I tried 3 of them. Never could get one quiet in my system so I gave up on it. I don't think it was stated in their literature, but PS Audio and other people in the business recommended not to use the GCPH phono with a cartridge with less than 0.4mV output for that reason. Their current phono stage (the NPC) is lower in noise, but the one I have still has a hum (which is probably louder (or about the same as the hum in your piece). And your piece sounds more musical and true-to-life. In the past few years I have had 3 phono stages in my system that all sell for nearly $2000, the PS Audio NuWave Phono Converter, the Cayin Phono One, and the Manley Chinook. The Cayin had the lowest noise of all of the above--no hum and very low hiss (think ear on the speaker). It has a very good SUT input and three 12AX7's in the high-level output section (copy of the original Marantz 7 design I think). In terms of sheer musicality, correct timbre, and explosive dynamics, your piece beats them all. The PS Audio NPC is very close in the dynamics department but falls a little short in other areas. And your Aural Thrills phono throws a very expansive and multi-layered soundstage that is every bit as good or better than all others I have tried in my system. (Note that I haven't heard the latest upgraded Manley Chinook at $2400). Either way, you have a lot to be proud of. Your fit & finish could be improved a bit, but to me, at the end of the day, the sound quality trumps the aesthetics every time. I'm sure I will be enjoying the Aural Thrills phono stage in my Large-Room System with the Rogue ST-100 tube amp and the Legacy Focus SE speakers for the foreseeable future. Kind regards, Frank Alles Senior Editor www.stereotimes.com
Here are the latest customer reviews:
Just wanted to let you know I received the unit
in great shape. I am leaving in the morning on vacation and won/t get to
listen much until I get back. From what I have listened so far, all I can
say is awesome, awesome, awesome. I will just rotate my Moving coil
cartridges. I have some older preamps for MM. Other cartridge I have is Low
output moving coil Grado Sonata. Haven/t tried it yet. Thanks for
everything. Don/t know what brand of tubes are in it, but they sound
excellent to me. David.
Here is another one.
I changed the setting back to M C @ 100 ohms after trying a higher setting,I took the sot out of the configuration, I warmed the amp up with one side of Bach and then I played my reference album, Dark side of the moon.
HOLY MOTHER OF GOD this would equal the most discerning systems at any cost, the separation and darkness of the sound stage just blew my mind I am not changing the cartridge, it could use a little more mv output to be perfect but it is not worth the effort as this turntable is a bear to change. Thank you for leading me away from the H O M C, I did buy the denon 103 r and I am going to install that on a Thorens 160 that is being refurbished and up graded with todays technology or possibly a VPI classic if I can get the right price on that and sneak it into the house so my wife doesn't see it.
At any rate I could not be happier with this very fine pre amp you would be hard pressed to find one that functions as flawless at any price. It is a great product and you are a absolute pleasure to deal with.
I will send you the tracking # when I go to the post office, but now It is Beatles time
Douglas Robert Hounsell Fri, Oct 17, 2014 at 2:25 PM To: Tom Kenny Good afternoon Tom, The preamp is here and I must say I am quite impressed with the build quality and construction of piece. First rate and it looks great in the rack. However looks aside after plumbing it up into system the real proof of your Phono pre with the balanced outs is what really matters to me! After listening to a MFSL Rolling Stones “Let it Bleed” I was quite pleased, then on to Stealy Dans “Aja” I was rapidly becoming an Aural Thrills Audio fan big time. The punch combined with a subtle smoothness is magnificent. Lower register notes on piano are outrageous clean, tight and dominate. I am fully aware how difficult it can be to accomplish this as I worked my tail off with Leon Russell’s engineer one evening getting this very thing “right” at a show I produced and engineered some years ago. Thank you for your devotion to what matters in your craft. Perfection takes its toil on the less passionate but their always will be folks like me that understand and appreciate folks like you. Now on to the Beach Boys “Pet Sounds” Thanks Again Doug Hounsell [Quoted text hidden]
I have designed this unit for optimum sound and ease of use. It is capable of delivering stunning performance in both MM and MC mode. The reason, it is an all tube unit. No step up transformer needed. I have tried all types of MC step up transformers and solid state amplifier devices for the critical first gain for a MC cartridge. I have tried a high output MC cartridges so I did not have to have the extra gain. Nothing sounded as good as a low output moving coil amplified by tubes.
A phono stage amplifies such a small starting signal that any outside interference becomes a hum or other distortion. RFI/EMI becomes real problems at these signal levels. Tube rush can also be a problem. I have worked years to overcome these obstacles. The result is an amplifier that is dead quiet, has great detail, and can play just about any type of cartridge made. Choose between 50 or 60 db of gain. Cartridge loading is 47K MM and 100, 510, 1.3k, and2.7k for MC.
I started with a commercially available board. I used a combination of and Wima capacitors and 1% film resistors. Included electrolytic capacitors are the new Nichicon MUSE high end Audio grade. These provide a real high end sound.
Nichicon KG Series, designed for high-grade audio equipment,
offers three sound quality variations.
- Capacitance range 680 to 33,000µF
- Voltage range 16V to 100V (Type I, Type II, and Type III)
- Temperature range -40ºC to +85ºC
These are awesome and make electrolytic capacitors sound deep and rich. Four supplied NOS Brimar 12ax7 tubes provide plenty of quiet gain. Take the cover off and you can adjust gain and cartridge loading with with built in switches.
All traces on the board are made of Silver for detail and power. All tube sockets are Gold plated for trouble free service. All parts are hand selected to insure a large soundstage. Transformer is a shielded, which can run on 120/230/240 volts. Unit is completely regulated for quiet operation. It has that you are there quality unlike most phono stages. If you are looking for a more traditional sound, please see my Marantz 7 clone. A proven design.
HOW CAN THIS AMP BE ANY GOOD AT THIS LOW PRICE?
I have used commercially available boards of proven designs to keep cost down. I have used a standard chassis instead of paying hundreds for a custom job with printing. This allows me to buy superior parts and still keep cost down. You will not find this unit anywhere else. It may be the best deal in the audio business.
- Completely regulated voltage supplies
- Custom Torrid shielded transformer for quiet operation
- 120/230/240 Volt
- RIAA circuit built in (radio industry association of America
- Adjustable loading
- 4 X 12AX7 JJ
- Wima/Sonicap film capacitors.
- 1% resistors
- Best sounding unit around
- Muse Audio Grade electrolytic caps
MC MM Vacuum Tube Complement 4 x 12Ax7 Inputs 1 pair single-ended RCA 1 pair single-ended RCA Outputs 1 pair single-ended RCA Gain (Total 60dB) 60 dB/MC 50dB/MM Output Impedance 425Ω Frequency Response +0 -1 dB 10Hz – 50kHz Maximum Output Voltage <1% THD 20V Cartridge load impedance Variable: 47Ω, 100Ω, 510Ω, 1.2k MC. MM 47kΩ, Minimum Recommended Cartridge Output 0.1 mV 1.5 mV Signal to Noise Ratio 50 dB 56 dB Channel Separation > 50dB (20 Hz – 20 kHz) Power Consumption 20W Dimensions W x D x H 21x 12x 3.5″ Weight 14 lbs packed