Primary tabs

Which MM Phono Preamp Sounds Best?

Which MM Phono Preamp Sounds Best?
Please download these four files, compare the sound and vote on your favorite. Then put on an audio reviewer hat and please post a comment about each file containing as much detail as you wish to contribute.

To download on a Mac, hold down the "control" key, click on the file, then select "download the file". Not sure how to do it on Windows but the files are 96/24 so if you don't download it will take quite a long time to load.

The four are the the $99 Nerve Audio PH 1.1 (MM only), the $269 Micromega MyGroov (MM/MC), the $399 iPhono (MM/MC) and the $595 Creek OBH-15 MkII (MM/MC). A future post will let you audition the latter three’s MC sections.

The record chosen for this test, used with composer’s permission, is a new big band project called what’snext (DÜNYA Records). The record is actually more of a promotional tool since it contains selections and not the entire recording. Only 1000 copies were pressed and they have all sold out. Whether or not another run will be pressed is up in the air for the moment.

The composer/arranger Mehmet Ali Sanlikol is a Turkish born pianist/composer applied to study at The Berklee College of Music at age 16 and was accepted but his parents wouldn’t let him attend.

His mentors include the late trombonist Bob Brookmeyer among others. While the opening track was “Ellington-inspired” the composer (who is a classically trained pianist and fan of Brit “prog-rock” as well a Fellow at Harvard and a faculty member at College of the Holy Cross and Emerson College) adds musical elements of his Cypriot and Turkish roots.

The turntable used was the $4180 Zorin Audio TP-S3, a belt-drive, three post “plinthless” design of polished stainless steel and aluminum alloy featuring a ceramic bearing upon which rides a massive machined aluminum 2.25 inch tall platter the underside of which is machined out concentrate mass near the periphery.

The arm is the $2280 Zorin PUS-12, a 12” inverted unipivot design featuring a patented headshell—all of which will be discussed in greater detail in an upcoming review.

The cartridge was the Shure M97xE with the Jico stylus upgrade. Good luck and may the best MM phono preamp win! The four reviews will be posted shortly.

File "A"

File "B"

File "C"

File "D"

wsca's picture

I could hear a significant difference only in D file (worse in my opinion)... the other 3 were pretty similar -- maybe it could be the wine effect.

sagakatt's picture

I haven´t voted yet, I will in time. But I´m not that impressed with the arm, it certainly has a lot of low frequency rumble. This is of course effecting the music with all phono-amps, in a negative way. Hmmm

amudhen's picture

Ready to identify which phono preamp was used with each file?

GeeLP's picture

Seemed to me that A had the best transients and "snap"...instruments sounded to me like they do when I am standing on stage beside a concert band during a performance. B and C sounded like they had more space and air, but they also sounded more diffuse. D came close, but I just like the power I hear when I click on A.

sagakatt's picture

Can´t really decide. I believe the arm is effecing to much, and not in a good way, not to me. None of the files sounded really good, as I see it.

Ian's picture

I preferred C

Had more weight and realism, but I can only listen via my PC so I can't judge on sound staging ect' so with a pinch of salt.

ppripper's picture

C has an air around the instruments that none of the others have, although D shows more power on the highs.
A is the worst of the lot and B is ok as well.
Mind to identify which is which, or they are in the sequence listed on the text?
A=Nerve, B=Micromega, C=iPhono, D=Creek

BillK's picture

C sounded the best to me, with the best reproduction of the piano and of the air around the cymbal hits.

By comparison, D seemed compressed and most typically like what you'd hear on a modern CD.

NerveAudio's picture

Michael, thank you for the opportunity to go head to head with these other great products. This is a great/unbiased way to evaluate these different preamps. I would say all the devises sound pretty close with the audio samples provided. I think I like the sound of B and C the best. May the best preamp win and ultimately the listeners win!
Curtis Howard
Nerve Audio (Owner/Operator)

sirnosedavoidoffunk's picture

Ok there are differences we can all hear but they all sound muddy and preamps have nothing to do with it. I voted C but maybe B is preferable with properly recorded lps.

Bronxboy58's picture

My initial response was that it was between B & C for best sound. I chose B because to me it provided the best soundstage to distinguish the various instruments.

jkorten's picture

But only because it tamed a very aggressive sounding cartridge that wasn't too enjoyable. B second best IMHO. Hurtful to the ears most of them. Maybe too many semiconductors in the mix for my taste. Does Mikey know he can level match after the fact? Especially if recording in 24 bit. Would help in these comparisons.

dgwalizer's picture

C and D are close, but I gave the edge to D - thought the instrumental timbres were more accurate. A really lacked dynamics and bass, pretty bad overall. In truth, I couldn't live with any of these, assuming that you used a high quality ADC and these are close to the analog sound that you heard. None of them even come close to what I hear through a Graham Slee Special Edition with an Ortofon Super OM 20 or 30 on a Technics SL1200 MKII.

egsp's picture

I used the ABX software to see if I could tell them apart.I see after reading the comments I should have normalized the volume.

1. vs 2- slightly rolled to comp to 2-
so 2 sounds like has more air. Trial 1 80% then 100% on ABX
3 vs 4 very very close, I would say 4 has slightly better bass while 3 has a little upper mid low treble, midrange peak, 3 sounds a little coarsr in the midrange, perhaps due to peak which accentuates the cartridge, which I find a bit rough in the mids. 4 sounds more fluid. Ir took me quite a bit of time ABing but eventually could relll them apart- ABX isr trial was %100
1v4 very difficult- ABX 60% 1st trial. Late in listening session, tired.
track 1 may be a hair louder or upper midmidrange peak- horns are coarser, overall not as smooth as 4- .I did a 2nd session: 1 rolled treble- 4 has more treble but 1 is more refined? ABX 60%
2v3- 80% ABX 2 is more one dimensional, or just boosted midrange?, less bass and less treble than 3, 3 is a hair darker, bass is more palpable. Perhaps louder track
1v3- 1 duller on top, 3 sounds better, cymbals crisper, easy 100% ABX.

Ranking was not easy,with some conflicting info. All were pretty close. If pressed I would rank them :
4 smoothest and most detailed, just above 2 & 3.
3-More bass and treble than 2.Perhaps loudest track?
2-Slight midrange peak?
1-defintely a step below-perhaps loading was not ideal? Or perhaps with flat treble it did not seem as lively?

I agree wit those that noted oeverall audio quality was poor (like my typing :-) )

This was the most (hours!) fun I have had from Strereophile—thank you!

egsp's picture

still waiting patiently for the identities.

Michael Fremer's picture
They are revealed. Look under "Reviews" at the top of the home page and select "Phono Preamps" and you'll easily find it!
marryjanes's picture

The post presented me with a wealth of information, allowing me to broaden my horizons