There is something uniquely satisfying about listening to mono LPs. Your mind kind of shuts down, the ears stop searching for a soundstage and imaging. The music, in other words, just flows.
Especially when you use a mono phonostage. Most mono LPs are played on stereo cartridges and phonostages. I’ve been using a mono Lyra Titan and Miyajima Zero for several years. The reason is that a mono cartridge is quieter than a stereo, at least when it comes to playing mono LPs. A mono cartridge will only track the horizontal groove, which is how mono records were cut. A stereo cartridge will add extraneous noise to the sound mix. Who needs that?
Now Tron, an English company run by a fellow named Graham Tricker, has taken the mono revival one step further (here I should note that there are several other mono phonostages in production from companies such as Sentec EQ11 and Tektron, but that is a story for another day). Tricker has designed a mono phonostage that Jeff Catalano of Highwater Sound in New York imports. When I first heard about the Tron device my ears perked up for two reasons. First, I knew that Catalano invariably produces terrific sound at stereo shows. If he’s going with a mono phonostage, then the chances are it’s a nifty device. Second, I really did wonder what the differences would be between a mono and stereo phonostage. Would they be audible?
Catalano was kind enough to help me answer that question by sending me his personal Tron mono phonostage, which is the flagship GT version and retails for $15,000. It features two gain options on the rear, a ground lift switch, and several curves that can be customized for your favorite LP label—Columbia, Decca, and so on. To achieve the best sound, you only run one lead from your tonearm into the Tron.
While the experiment was not quite as pure as it should have been—I would have to contrast a Tron stereo phonostage versus a mono to accomplish that—I was able to test it against my Ypsilon phonostage. The claims made for a mono phonostage are that it will be quieter and that phase problems are minimized. My impression was that the Tron did indeed deliver the goods. It was extremely focused—superior to the Ypsilon in this regard—and very dynamic. I found myself returning to mono records that I had not listened to in awhile, ranging from Louis Armstrong Hot Five recordings to Count Basie on Roulette.
Having opened up the unit to take a peek, I can also tell you that the build quality is superb--as you would expect for the not insubstantial tariff for the Tron mono. Tricker builds them by hand and sources his own custom transformers. Obviously, this is an item designed only for someone who owns a substantial collection of mono LPs. But it is a further sign of the vibrancy of the LP that a market for such an esoteric product exists today. Long live mono!