The Vincent Audio PHO-8 is a well finished and appointed dual-chassis phono preamp that belies its entry-level price. Sporting attractive 10mm-thick faceplates, it bears a striking resemblance to Vincent Audio’s Premium Series components. The phono section is gain-and-load-optimized for both moving-magnet and moving-coil cartridges—a convenient front-panel pushbutton lets you choose between them. The $400 PHO-8’s construction is sturdy and the neat interior layout reveals the short signal paths and bundles of high-quality parts necessary to achieve the critical low-noise operation that elevates quality phono preamps from the norm.
Rather than toss in a pedestrian wall-adapter power supply—generally underpowered and noisy little varmints—Vincent Audio, to its credit, opted for a hefty external power supply housed in a separate chassis. This three-pounder has a considerable transformer and superior power regulation to thank for its mass, but you’ll likely thank it for doing its job—reducing AC power line ripples and interference to a minimum. The PHO-8’s power-supply unit connects to the phonostage unit via a five-pin DIN-plug. The two units can be stacked if space is at a premium, but that somewhat defeats the purpose of chassis isolation. The PHO-8 also includes a detachable IEC-style power cord and a rear-panel fuse.
The sonic personality of the PHO-8 leans gently to the romantic side of the spectrum. The PHO-8 offers a fine balance of warmth and resolution without conveying overly hard edges or pointed sonic corners. This contrasts with some phonostages that tend to veer uncomfortably close to a drier and more clinical portrayal of music—components that somehow illicit greater apparent detail from the grooves, while leaving some of the midband blood and heart of the performance behind—or, in other cases, attenuating the ambience and air of a recording. The PHO-8 reproduces percussion transients, rimshots, guitar-pick clatter with lifelike speed and detail that don’t stab at you. Bass is firmly controlled. Soundstage width is very good, and with its relaxed character there’s an added sense of depth and dimensionality. For comparison sake, it’s a bit warmer but perhaps not as finely focused or extended in the bass as the recently reviewed Clearaudio Basic Plus, but more dynamically punchy and fleshed out than the Musical Fidelity V-LPS. (Issue 206)
The PHO-8’s extension at the extremes has limits in absolute terms, but to be clear it’s not as if the Vincent steeply cuts off the high treble and low bass. It’s just somewhat rolled, which creates a light shading of upper-harmonic boundaries to string sections and winds and a rolling back of the throttle on the resonance of bass viols and piano. Voice reproduction is well-grounded and focused. Marc Cohn’s throaty voice and gritty delivery isn’t a slam-dunk for phono preamps by any means. His voice is filled with so much natural texture that any associated treble peaks or colorations from electronics tend to bleach the sound, but I thought the PHO-8’s midrange energy and balance were an excellent match for vocalists in general and this singer specifically [Marc Cohn, MoFi].
The Vincent is admirably quiet in background noise levels, although not quite in the eerie “I think it’s unplugged” sense of the pricier leaders in this segment. Certainly there’s adequate gain for most cartridges, but in my view very low-output moving coils are probably not the ideal match for the Vincent—nor are they likely ones, given the cost of these rare birds.
Low-level resolution was quite good. And if the rest of your system is up to the task, you should be able to plainly hear the tiny ripples of reverberant air coming off the softly plucked low string of the bass viol during the “Serenata” from Stravinsky’s Pulchinella. [Academy of St Martin in the Fields, Argo]. However, the key factor that separates the PHO-8 from the higher-priced spread is that micro-dynamic energy, specifically its lowest gradations, is confined within a smaller dynamic envelope. It’s not always an issue with typically compressed popular music, but orchestral recordings tend to be more revealing of this issue, and the Vincent loses a tinge of the nuance of music captured in a live space. For example, during “St. James Infirmary” from Satchmo Plays King Oliver, it doesn’t entirely capture the buoyancy of the performance; spatial reproduction is less immersive and the background voices assume a softer, less tangible focus.
It’s significant that the foregoing impressions were gleaned using a highly revealing LP playback system—Air Tight PC-3 and Sumiko Palos Santos moving-coil cartridges, an SME V tonearm, Synergistic Tesla tonearm cable, and a Sota Cosmos Series III turntable. Probably not the level of LP playback the PHO-8 will likely encounter in the real world. And yet, even under the scrutiny of this rig, the Vincent PHO-8 performed with nothing less than profound sensitivity to the musical experience. It may not be as dynamically flamboyant or ultimately transparent as some of the gold-standard phonostages out there but my guess is that for many analog playback aficionados—first timers and vinyl vets—the Vincent Audio PHO-8 phono preamp will be all they’ll need for a long while.
SPECS & PRICING
Gain: 40dB, moving magnet; 60dB, moving coil
Input Impedance: 47k ohm, moving magnet; 100 ohm, moving coil
Dimensions: 4.5”, 2.3”, 5.4”
Weight: 3.3 lbs (power supply); 2.6 lbs. (preamplifier)
By Neil Gader
My love of music largely predates my enthusiasm for audio. I grew up Los Angeles in a house where music was constantly playing on the stereo (Altecs, if you’re interested). It ranged from my mom listening to hit Broadway musicals to my sister’s early Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Beatles, and Stones LPs, and dad’s constant companions, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. With the British Invasion, I immediately picked up a guitar and took piano lessons and have been playing ever since. Following graduation from UCLA I became a writing member of the Lehman Engel’s BMI Musical Theater Workshops in New York–working in advertising to pay the bills. I’ve co-written bunches of songs, some published, some recorded. In 1995 I co-produced an award-winning short fiction movie that did well on the international film-festival circuit. I was introduced to Harry Pearson in the early 70s by a mutual friend. At that time Harry was still working full-time for Long Island’s Newsday even as he was writing Issue 1 of TAS during his off hours. We struck up a decades-long friendship that ultimately turned into a writing gig that has proved both stimulating and rewarding. In terms of music reproduction, I find myself listening more than ever for the “little” things. Low-level resolving power, dynamic gradients, shadings, timbral color and contrasts. Listening to a lot of vocals and solo piano has always helped me recalibrate and nail down what I’m hearing. Tonal neutrality and presence are important to me but small deviations are not disqualifying. But I am quite sensitive to treble over-reach, and find dry, hyper-detailed systems intriguing but inauthentic compared with the concert-going experience. For me, true musicality conveys the cozy warmth of a room with a fireplace not the icy cold of an igloo. Currently I split my time between Santa Fe, New Mexico and Studio City, California with my wife Judi Dickerson, an acting, voice, and dialect coach, along with border collies Ivy and Alfie.More articles from this editor
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