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Editors’ Choice: Phonostages $2000-$6000

Editors’ Choice: Phonostages $2000-$6000

Sutherland Engineering 20/20 Mk2

$2200 (linear power supply option, $450)

The 20/20 shares designer Ron Sutherland’s “twin mono” (identical circuit) approach to electronics design, but unlike other recent Sutherland models, the 20/20 is not powered by rows of D-cell batteries. Instead, it uses an unusual (for high-end audio) pair of “regulated desktop power supplies.” The sound is classic Sutherland: very low-noise, beautiful throughout the midrange, with a big, transparent stage, excellent detail and focus, and a bit of politeness in the deep bass. Some won’t like the tradeoffs; musical purists will embrace them.

Moon 310LP 

$2300

The stand-alone 310LP phonostage offers the analog hound both versatility and excellent performance in an elegant package.

Channel D Lino C 2.0

$2699

The Channel D Lino C 2.0 is a current-mode (transimpedance) phonostage for low-output, low-impedance moving-coil cartridges. Very linear and coherent sounding, it doesn’t overtly editorialize the musical spectrum at the expense of realistic playback. With features that are not usually available in this range of products (internal high-current AGM battery, current-mode input, meticulous circuit layout, surface-mount components to produce low-noise, direct-coupling, and balanced operation available from input to output), it is well worth an audition by anyone looking for a phono preamp at its price point and above.

EAT E-Glo S 

$2995 ($3795 with EAT LPS Linear Power Supply) 

European Audio Team (E.A.T.) has taken the ECC83 dual triode tube and married it with solid-state electronics to create the E-Glo S phono- stage. The input section is a hybrid that uses JFETs and ECC83 tubes to provide gain. Extensive gain and loading settings make the E-Glo S compatible with a wide range of cartridges. The LPS ($1295 if bought separately, $795 with the E-Glo S) is a dual-output power supply capable of powering two devices (e.g., the E-Glo S and select E.A.T. turntables). Used in conjunction with the E-Glo S, the LPS provides a more robust power supply than the one supplied with the E-Glo S alone. Many phonostages emphasize transients and focus on extracting the last measure of detail. The EAT isn’t one of them, favoring a gentler, more intimate sound. Pleasant and engaging are the words that best describe the E-Glo S.

Parasound Halo JC 3+

$2999

Thoroughly upgraded, the JC 3+ not only adds loading adjustments to the (now-discontinued) JC 3 but improvements to signal-to-noise, tweaks to the mm/mc gain stages, a beefier power supply, and a larger power transformer. With every rotation from an LP collection the JC 3+ conveys a heady mix of profound silence and kick-butt energy, a kiss of romance through the mids, and an ability to extract low-level information and define it in acoustic space.

Pass Labs XP-17

$4300

Pass’ single-chassis, dual-mono design mixes an easy, almost relaxed fluidity with an iron grip of authority. Neither explicitly solid-state nor tube in character, it dishes out savory, textured tastes of both with smooth airy treble response, and extended and controlled bass extension. Vocals have a tactile presence that continues to underscore a key strength of the LP analog world. Nor does the Pass squeeze images; rather it lets them breathe within the acoustic of the venue. Widely configurable for mm and mc, the XP-17 conveys the signal with minimal commentary while letting the music prevail in all its detail and emotion. 

Naim SuperLine

$4599

With no built-in power supply, the SuperLine is designed to mate with either another Naim component or one of three stand-alone Naim power supplies: the FlatCapx ($1690), the HiCap ($2490), or the SuperCap ($7490). With any of the three it’s a terrific phonostage, but when mated with the SuperCap it blossoms into one of the finest tools for LP playback. 

boulder_508

Boulder Amplifiers 508

$5000

The superb 508 mm/mc phonostage is a fully balanced, solid-state design that has all the virtues of the traditional Boulder sound. It’s very quiet, allowing the phonostage to extract tiny nuances from LPs that fuller-sounding phono preamps might gloss over. The 508 is superbly linear in performance, allowing it to navigate the treble region without a hint of glare. Bass is robust but never overwhelming. The resolving power of the 508 means that can render the most delicate musical passages with finesse and ease. The 508 may be diminutive in size, but not in performance.

VTL TP-2.5i

$5000

When compared to the big boys—costly gear from Boulder, Ypsilon, and so forth—the VTL isn’t some kind of giant-slayer. But the comparison isn’t fair, or to put it another way, it’s only enlightening in showing that gear in the TP-2.5i’s price range comes tantalizingly close to achieving the performance of far more elaborate designs with separate power supplies and the like. Anyone looking for a superbly enjoyable but moderately priced phonostage with a touch of tube bliss would do well to consider the TP-2.5i.

Zesto Audio Andros II 

$5200

Zesto Audio’s phonostage embodies all the virtues of latter-day tube design with none of the drawbacks. It has solidity, dimensionality, vitality, transparency, excellent transient response, well-defined and extended bass, a superbly rich midrange, and very low noise. A sensibly wide range of loading options is available for mc’s, which are stepped up by transformers, which must be in part responsible for the deliciously smooth, unfatiguing highs. An outstanding product. 

Tags: AMPLIFIER ANALOG EDITORS' CHOICE PHONOSTAGE

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