Cool New Phono Stages at CES 2009

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Cool New Phono Stages at CES 2009

Several noteworthy phonostages made their CES debuts. Pass Labs introduced its new high-performance phonostage, the SCP-1 (less than $4000), which has up to 76 dB of gain. Unlike the two-chassis Xono, which it replaces, the SCP-1 has a single chassis, and better parts and power supply, user-configurable loading and gain (via DIP switches), and a lower noise floor. It drove the low output (0.11 mV) Ortofon MC7500 effortlessly in a system with a Basis 2800/Vector 4 arm, and Pass Labs electronics and SR-1 speakers. The sound was utterly quiet, highly resolved, extended at the frequency extremes, and very natural on Cantate Domino.

Jim Fosgate, most known for his work developing surround sound, has returned to his stereo roots with his Fosgate Signature tube phono preamp ($2500). This seven-tube, dual-mono unit features mc/mm switching, variable loading settings, and no solid-state devices in its signal path. I heard it coupled with a Clearaudio Master Solution ’table with Helius Designs Omega Silver Ruby arm, and Benz LP cartridge, Teresonic Reference 2A3 integrated amplifier, and Ingenium Silver Loudspeakers at T.H.E. Show, and I have never heard a Lowther-based single-driver system sound smoother or produce more bass, yet maintain its retrieval of fine details.

Battery power was implemented in two promising phonostages. Ron Sutherland introduced his Sutherland Labs Hubble, a dual-mono design with ingenious plug-in configuration modules for cartridge loading. It replaces the Ph.D. phonostage and has manual control to adjust how long the unit is powered up. The design looks incredibly “clean.”

Nagra’s R&D chief, Jean-Claude Schlup, was demonstrating his small BPS phono stage ($2395), which has a circuit similar to Nagra’s VPS, but in a smaller, less costly, transistorized package. Indeed, this circuit looks like it could also find its way into other Nagra preamplifiers or linestages.