2015 Editors’ Choice: Phonostages Under $2000

Equipment report
Clearaudio Basic Plus,
JR Transrotor Phono II,
Musical Surroundings Nova II,
Musical Surroundings Phonomena II+,
PS Audio NuWave,
Simaudio Moon 310LP,
Vincent Audio PHO-8
2015 Editors’ Choice: Phonostages Under $2000

Vincent Audio PHO-8
Vincent’s phono preamp features moving-magnet/moving-coil flexibility, a massive outboard power supply, plus a level of build-quality unusual in this price range. Its sound is liquid, the soundstage vivid and dimensional with just a hint of warmth and transient softness compared to reference efforts. You’ll need a much bigger wallet to beat it.

Musical Surroundings Phonomena II+
The sequel to the original Michael Yee design, the Phonomena II is based on the latest discrete circuitry of the top-flight Nova Phonomena, minus the battery pack. Like the original it’s easily adjustable and quite extended at the extremes, with a kind of heavy gravity in the bass octaves. A bit cooler and brash on brass fortissimos, its sound is alive and electrifying. For balance and value the Phonomena II is a stunner.

Clearaudio Basic Plus
The Basic Plus is everything a modestly priced phonostage should be. It’s compact yet elegantly finished. It’s switchable between mm and mc cartridges. A robust outboard power supply is included, and yields superb isolation from hum and RFI. Most significantly, the unit delivers a spacious and delightfully resolved soundstage with heart-stopping bass resolution. If you want the last word in isolation, consider adding the Clearaudio Accu+, an outboard NiMH battery supply ($900).

Musical Surroundings Nova II
Grace, poise, low noise, and neutrality characterize this excellent unit, which includes options for fine-tuning the loading and gain of both moving coils and moving magnets. Add the $600 external power supply for lower noise and distortion, and greater transparency. Some listeners may want more dynamic “punch” and personality, but the Nova is hard to beat for low coloration.

JR Transrotor Phono II
Splendidly machined from a chunk of aluminum with enough heat-sinking for a reactor, the Phono II has yet to meet a cartridge it can’t partner with. Fully adjustable for mm and mc, it may well be the last phonostage you’ll ever want. Sonically on the cooler and clinical side—but only slightly so.

PS Audio NuWave
A product that will shock audiophiles who believe that digital cannot sound as good as analog—and that will force those with really excellent DACs to choose between its analog and digital outputs—the NuWave Phono Converter is a really great phono preamp that can also be used to digitize your record collection for streaming. The NuWave combines a Class A analog phonostage with a high-end A/D converter that can stream both DSD64, DSD128, and PCM (up to 192/24) into a DAC or computer. The phonostage section has excellent loading features for moving-coil, moving-magnet, and moving-iron cartridges, and exceptional gain with low distortion.

Simaudio Moon 310LP/320S
Whether you purchase the stand-alone 310LP, or add the 320S power supply, Simaudio’s latest Moon Series phonostage offers the analog hound both versatility and excellent performance in an elegant package.