You Should Buy a MM-Only Phono Preamp If You Are Using a MM Cartridge! At Least Based on These Results

First let's all agree that these short clip tests are useful and fun but must be taken as "for entertainment purposes only."

For those joining late, we twice asked the question "Should You Buy a MM-Only Phono Preamp If You Own a MM Cartridge"?, each time offering "blind listening" and voting. The first time was way back in May of 2017 where you could listen and vote for one of eight phono preamps, some MM-only and some MM/MC running in MM.

The results indicated a strong preference for the most expensive in the test, the Lehmann Silver Cube ($4500) running in MM mode and the MM-only Graham Slee Era Gold V ($999). But to complete the experiment we needed to run more tests using a combination of the same MM/MC phono preamps in MC mode and the MM-only devices with a voltage boost provided by either a "head amp" or a "step-up transformer" (SUT) to find out if buying a MM-only phono preamp made sense for someone eventually planning on using an MC cartridge. Thus we had a second vote using different music and one new phono preamp that will get a full review shortly (the CIAudio PEQ-1) and minus the Jasmine Audio LP 2.5DU. There were a total of 9 files because we ran one MM-only phono preamp twice, once with the "head amp" and once with the SUT.

The results shown at the top indicate a strong preference for File #7, which just about doubled the votes of the next most popular, which was File #3, which received 18%. Here are the identities of the files:

File 1 is the "Swiss Army Knife" Music Hall PA 2.2
File 2 is the Ciaudio PEQ-1
File 3 is the AVM P 1.2
File 4 is the Lejonklou Giao+ Bob's Devices Cinemag 1131
File 5 is the Musical Fidelity MX-VYNL
File 6 is the iPhono2
File 7 is the Lejonklou Giao+ Hagerman Piccolo "head amp"
File 8 is the Lehmann Silver Cube
File 9 is the Graham Slee + Bob's Devices 1131

So the winner by far here is the Lejonklou Gaio, Hagerman Piccolo combination, which comes in at around $1000 for the two pieces. Incidentally the cable used to connect the two was a Hosa Technology RCA to RCA cable that cost around $12.00.

Coming in 2nd was the AVM P1.2 ($999), which didn't do as well in the first round. 3rd was the least expensive, most versatile Music Hall PA 2.2. 4th was the Lejenklou+Bob's combo with the Ciaudio and iPhono2 getting 6 votes each and the rest getting just a few votes each.

This is hardly a scientific exercise. So yes, the Graham Slee should have been used twice, once with each step up device and some of the preferences do mystify me but there you have it! However, I believe these two sets of files does answer the question "Should you buy a MM-only phono preamp if you're using a MM cartridge?" And the answer is "yes". I didn't know that going in, but I had a pretty strong idea the answer was yes because I think both the Graham Slee Era Gold V and the Lejonklou Giao are two of the best sounding MM phono preamps I've yet heard. So you could buy either one optimized for your MM cartridge and then instead of trading it in when you go MC, just add either a transformer or a head amp. While the original Piccolo is no longer available the replacement Piccolo 2 ($279) appears to be the same basic circuit with a few improvements though it doesn't offer battery power as an option, which the original did. Incidentally the Piccolo has both gain and loading options and it was run with 26dB of gain and at 100 ohms. I think the Bob's Devices SUT is best suited to a super low output, low internal impedance cartridge and it was probably at a sonic disadvantage here.

However, ultimately the winning combo makes a strong case for buying the best MM phono preamplifier you can afford and not worrying about "down the road" because you can always add either a step up transformer or a "head amp" and come out "on top" as did the Lejonklou Gaio + Hagerman PIccolo2 combo here.

sunderwood's picture

It wasn't part of the test, but was wondering if you paired the graham slee with the piccolo just to see how well they worked together. I have a reflex m and I assume both it and the era gold would have similar sonic character.

Jack Gilvey's picture

to have #10 as the Lejonklou Gaio, Hagerman Piccolo combination with the Hosa replaced by the most expensive interconnect you've got.

Corsair's picture

I'm surprised I didn't like the iphono 2 or the lehmann silver more, based on reviews. I also didn't think the second placed avm was very special; it didn't make my top four. interestingly, two of my top four included bob's devices. my favorite was, like most, number 7. I listened using a dragonfly black and oppo pm-3 cans.

OldschoolE's picture

I run MM carts due to efficiency, cost and flexibility. However, I have one MC cart that I might use someday and was thinking, "gee if someone has even one MC cart along with MM carts, should they not get a MM/MC phono pre"? Now Mikey shows us that is not always the case and is actually a more expensive way to go. All one has to do is add a SUT or Headamp and all is right with the world again. Compare a decent to good MM preamp likely around $400 to $600, maybe less vs a MM/MC preamp of same quality likely at least $700 and for MC cart all one has to do is pick up a $200 SUT or Headamp and way you go. Michael Fremer = pretty much the only egalitarian reviewer around. Not forcing things people can't afford down their throats, just offering everything on the table for one's choosing be it uber-expensive or inexpensive.

Jack Gilvey's picture

one of Bob's Devices' original $400 3440A models, so that all I have to worry about is a MM stage. It's been surpassed since then but is fine for any MC in my price range (DL-103r for the last few years, with which it is fantastic). And agreed about MF!

OldschoolE's picture

Ah, the Denon 103, exact same cart I have! It is my only MC cart. It is still new in package. I picked it up almost 4 years ago for about $105 (special sale at some shop). I hear they stopped making it about 3 years ago, but I have not verified that. Supposedly though someone is making them, but a modified version which sells for around $350 last I looked (not that bad for a good cart). I don’t like the aspect of having to throw the whole cart away when it wears out, which is partly why I tend to avoid MC carts these days. They also tend to be more expensive than MM carts in most regards. That said though some of them are supposed to have stellar sound and performance (matched and set up correctly) and the Denon 103 is reported to be one of those carts. I have a Denon DP47-f that I use in my soon to be reference system and that cart was made for that table. Currently I run an Ortofon 2M Bronze on that table, which matches up fine and sounds good, but I hear the lower-priced 2M Blue is supposedly a better match. When I got the table, it had a Sumiko blue 2 on it (an MC) and sounded terrible.
Yes, Michael is an asset. In fact, he is a rare breed given his honesty and way above board ethics. I happen to be friends with him for the last four years going on five, even though we live thousands of miles apart. We are fortunate enough that we do get to meet up for a bit about twice a year usually. Michael is far from the snob some people make him out to be. He is very egalitarian and he is kind-hearted. He is also very funny.

lectrolink's picture

Since I already have a MM phono stage in my CJ preamp, I've been considering buying a Hana SH. However, from reviews I have read, the low output SL is the gem of the series. Wondering if the better move is to buy the SL, along with a step-up like the Piccolo. Or spend just a bit more on a top quality MM like the Clearaudio Maestro.

nagysaudio's picture

File 7 is overwhelmingly the best sound, but it makes one wonder who is the true genius behind that sound? Is it Lejonklou, or Hagerman? Lejonklou Gaio with Bob's Devices doesn't sound all that good. So is it the Hagerman Piccolo that has the magic?

Also, iFi is a piece of junk, always has been, always will.

avanti1960's picture

file 7 has a ring / resonance during the vocal peak.

file 1 sounds the best on my system.

jay sanyal's picture


This is probably not the right thread but I will be traveling to Munich soon and was wondering if there are any used / new vinyl stores that are worth visiting. Any recommendations are greatly appreciated.

- Thanks
- Jay

PaulG's picture

I went to a really great place called Best Records at the corner of Theresianstrasse and Türkenstrasse. Fantastic selection of vintage stuff. I left with stack under my arm.

jay sanyal's picture

fantastic! thanks so much!

DC Bruce's picture

So, this little survey begs the obvious question: is the cheap little Piccolo the preferred alternative to a more expensive step-up if you need, say, 20 dB of gain? As the owner of a pretty modest step up, I’m curious. Although I could just risk the $250 odd and find out for myself.

avanti1960's picture

listen carefully to file 7 for the slightly harsh ringing / resonance at the vocal peak.

nagysaudio's picture

No ringing from file 7, just great sound!

beeah's picture

(and deliciously ironic) that one's ability to discern subtle differences between these analog devices (by way of digital audio files) directly correlates to the quality of one's digital front end.

Also curious to me is, given the inclusion of two generations of Hagerman's Piccolo, the omission of his Bugle as a contender.

mixpro's picture

Michael, These tests are really informative and fun. I found it much easier to differentiate on the "Cool" track than the "Boyes" track as the former had full frequency range material and complex harmonics. I can't, however, find the results of that May group of 8 offering. (The link takes me to the 9-way results.) Are 1-8 the same in both? I'm hoping to correlate my preferences to the correct pre's. Thanks.

orangeaudio's picture

Sorry man, the files are differently loud. The winner is 2,26dB louder than as examble Nr. 6. The tambourine, or whatever it is, sounds very distorted. I am very surprised how someone can evaluate the phono preamps based on these recordings.