A trend I’ve noticed over the last few years is that a number of audio companies are producing a range of audio products intended for younger customers. Companies such as Dynaudio, Devialet, KEF, Elac, Innuous, etc., are developing innovative products for people who have always appreciated and loved fine music reproduction, but have busy lifestyles. These customers likely prefer a “set it and forget it” experience rather than the hassles associated with traditionally designed audio products. Gold Note, founded near Florence, Italy just over seven years ago, has been creating just such a range of very attractive audio products with extensive features that are easy to set up and use. Part of Gold Note’s 10-series entry-level line, the PH-10 is an innovative solid-state phonostage with an interesting feature set and an impressive number of functions.
The PH-10 (and matching optional PSU-10 power supply) are half-width components, which make for easy and flexible placement in, or on top of, a cabinet or rack. Three colors are available (silver, gold, or black), and the overall fit and finish is excellent. Sleek and stylish diagonal vents cut into the top, sides, and bottom gives the PH-10 the rakish air of an Italian sports car. The Gold Note logo is stamped into the top and is repeated in a small gold medallion on the ¼"-thick front panel of each component. Very classy!
Except for the front and rear panels, the case is made of a single piece of aluminum. Imagine an approximately 9" x 3" x 10" rectangular box without front and back sides. The ¼"-thick front panel, with the phonostage’s circuit board attached, is bolted to the rear panel with long rods that tie the entire structure together. This assembly is inserted and fastened to the single-piece outer case, effectively floating the circuit board within the chassis, and creating a structure that provides rigidity and vibration damping for the circuit board.
Features and Functions
A key feature of the PH-10 is that all functions can be adjusted on-the-fly while playing music, allowing specific individual settings to be made for every record. Three different LP equalization (EQ) curves can be selected: RIAA, America-CBS-Columbia, and Decca-London. Moreover, each of these can be configured as an “enhanced” mode, providing a slight boost at the upper end of the EQ response curve. Additionally, nine impedance loading settings (10, 22, 47, 100, 220, 470, 1000, 22k, and 47k ohms) can be selected on the fly to allow optimal matching with a large number of cartridges quickly and easily. The PH-10 also provides four different gain settings (–3dB, 0dB, +3dB, +6dB) to adjust the nominal gain of 65dB for moving-coil and 45dB for moving-magnet cartridges.
Front Display and Single-Knob Control
One of the most innovative features of the PH-10 is its 2.8" color TFT display and proprietary control system, referred to as Single-Knob Control (SKC). All of the phonostage’s settings, such as cartridge type (moving-magnet or moving-coil), equalization, gain, and impedance loading can quickly and easily be set using the SKC and color display.
The front panel’s color monitor and SKC are powered by a micro-controller using proprietary firmware from a micro-SD card. This firmware can be easily updated when required by attaching a mini-USB cable from a computer to the rear panel. The micro-controller circuitry is separate and independent from the audio signal path to avoid any interference.
The selected EQ curve is always indicated on the front display, and the enhanced mode, when selected, is superimposed with a dashed red line. The equalization curves are realized by analog circuitry utilizing integrated circuits and low-noise components. Each curve’s setting is implemented using electronic switches which, according to Gold Note, permits shorter signal paths.
The rear panel has a power switch and a full suite of inputs: an IEC power receptacle, two sets of unbalanced RCA inputs with dedicated ground posts, a connector for the PSU-10 power supply’s umbilical, a mini-USB firmware port, and what is presumably a service or test port. Outputs comprise a set of balanced XLRs and unbalanced RCAs. Before evaluating the PH-10, I downloaded and installed the latest firmware from Gold Note’s support website.