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Well Then, Should You Buy a MM-Only Phono Preamp If You Are Using a MM Cartridge?

Well Then, Should You Buy a MM-Only Phono Preamp If You Are Using a MM Cartridge?
Way back in May AnalogPlanet published a feature titled Should You Buy a MM-Only Phono Preamplifier if You Are Using a MM cartridge. There you could listen to each and "blind" vote for your favorite.

Some were MM only, others were MM/MC. The point was, should you buy a MM/MC phono preamp now for your MM cartridge with an ear towards the future, or should you maximize performance with a high quality MM-only phono preamp, and perhaps later add a step-up transformer or head amp?

Some were MM only, others were MM/MC. They were compared here, and the results of the voting published here.

Finally it's time to fully answer the original question using a MC cartridge. However, there are a few changes (remember this is not a scientific test, but rather an informative and useful one that's also entertaining for some of us).

So here's what we have: we are using the Hana SL low output moving coil cartridge (.5mV output) mounted on a Graham Phantom III mounted on an Air Force 3 turntable. And again we have the following phono preamplifiers:

Music Hall pa 2.2
AVM P 1.2
Lejonklou Gaio
Lehmann Silver Cube
Graham Slee Era Gold V
ifi phono2
Musical Fidelity MX-VYNL

Missing is the Jasmine 2.5DU. Why? It had to be returned to the importer but of equal importance is that despite the online "noise" about how great it is, I thought (and most of you thought) it sounded mediocre and not at all competitive at its price compared to some of the others.

So instead, add the Ciaudio PEQ-1 (formerly known as Channel Island Audio). This is a $999 MM/MC unit that's made in America and is of uncommonly high build quality for the price point. It will shortly receive a full review. In the meantime other phono preamps have also arrived including the Graham Slee Accession and a few others. These will have to be separately reviewed or this "vote" will get totally out of control!

Added to the mix are two step-up devices: the original Hagerman Audio Piccolo, which is an electronic "head amp" that's been replaced more recently with the $279 PIccolo2 and the Bob's Devices Cinemag 1131 an $1195 step up transformer. Both units are shown in the photo at the top of this story.

So what you will be listening to are the Music Hall, AVM, Lehmann, Musical Fidelity, ifi and Ciaudio in moving coil mode loaded at 100 ohms and the Graham Slee Era Gold used with the Bob's step up transformer and the Lejonklou used with both the Hagerman head amp and the Bob's Devices step up transformer. The files are 96/24 aiff digitized via a Lynx HiLo A/D converter.

The music has been changed too. Instead of the Sonny Clark Memorial Quartet we're using a excerpt from an extraordinary Reference Recordings double 45rpm issue, Fiona Boyes' Professin' the Blues (Reference RM 2517).

Boyes is a well respected Australian blues veteran who I'm sure you'll enjoy even if for less than two minutes. This record needs and will get a full review. It was chosen because it is a fine Keith O. Johnson recording that will tell you about each phono preamp's transient response, bass extension and control and delivery of spatial information. The differences will in some cases be obvious, while in others more subtle.

Please keep in mind that the levels are not matched due to the differing gain and outputs among the participants so adjust accordingly and each track is not of the same length but they are close. Again, this is not a "scientific" test!

So here we go:

File "1"

File "2"

File "3"

File "4"

File "5"

File "6"

File "7"

File "8"

File "9"

By the way, the interconnect used between the head amp and step-up transformer and MM phono preamp was a very inexpensive cable (as in under $20).

So please listen and vote! And sorry about all of the hyperlinks but they should be useful!

spivechild's picture

I thought the Jasmine 2.5DU received a good amount of votes and came in a 2nd place?? Doesn't seem like most people thought it was mediocre. Either way, thanks for the experiment. I'll give them a listen later and vote.

Michael Fremer's picture
The Jasmine came in 3rd. Technically second since the first two tied but you are correct. It did better among readers than I'd recalled. I should have checked. It came out much worse in my listening!
Hats Domino's picture

File 7 is the most pleasing to my ear, ell my good one, not the one I injured in a freak accident involving a '73 Nova, a stray dig, and something I found in the crisper of my refrigerator.

It sounds the fullest and doesn't have the high end tilt some of the others do.

On a side note, the speed accuracy of the turntable is amazing. Theses samples stayed in sync, even going in and out of sync without much drift at all. Remarkable.

theboogeydown's picture

Why did you load the Hana at only 100 Ohms? Doesn't it call for >400? What did you hear that got you there?

theboogeydown's picture


Eddie R's picture

You are absolutely correct, the Hana likes to be loaded at >400 ohms. The Bob's Devices CineMag 1131, which does not use resistor loading, can be set for either a 1:20 (118 ohms loading) or 1:40 (29 ohms loading) ratio, neither of which is optimum for the .5mv output Hana Sl.

Curious as to why Michael chose 100 ohms to load the Hana.

Michael Fremer's picture
The Hana SL's internal impedance is 30 ohms. The recommended load is >300. The usual "rule of thumb" is 10X internal impedance or 300 ohms. So, before I did anything, I ran the Hana SL into the MM/MC input of the CH Precision P1 and ran its loading "set up wizard", which includes a test record. You set the load parameters, in this case I chose between 40 ohms and 1kOhm. Then I ran the test. At the end it gives you a graph that you can scroll through for what the frequency response curve looks like from between 40 ohms and 1kOhm. It gives you 20 samples between the chosen parameters. As you scroll through you see the flatness of the response as a graph, the level attenuation and curve flatness. The Hana SL was equally flat at 109 ohms and 350 ohms (within .5dB) but somewhat attenuated at 109 ohms. Ultimately I chose to go with 100 ohms for all of the phono preamps because I also didn't hear any significant difference and I felt that 100 ohms is sort of the "benchmark" setting for many if not most .5mV output MC cartridges plus all of the phono preamps had that while not all had 300 ohm settings (as I recall...they are all boxed for return now).
theboogeydown's picture

You always have the best toys! Bated breath for the review.

Eddie R's picture

Thank you, Michael! I'm anxiously awaited your full review of the Hana. I find your reviews extremely helpful.

Rumblestrip's picture

I went with 7, with 3 a very close second for me.

Halcro's picture


MrGneiss's picture

4 for me!!

thelostMIDrange's picture

how is one to know which number corresponds to which preamp?
this is the order for me....


Michael Fremer's picture
Will reveal which is which....soon.
kkatseanes's picture

For me it wasn't a close call. I love #7 the most and by a fairly wide margin. There is a richness, and presence that is very convincing. Best bass, best voice texture, best separation and definition of instruments. This for me comes the closest to reality.

After this I would rate 2 and 3 nearly neck and neck. After that they were mostly the same with little differences to distinguish one above the other.

I don't particularly care which one is the worst, 2nd worst, etc., but it is great fun to try and decide which one is the best. And I eagerly wait to see the identities revealed. Thanks, Michael. This is so much fun, and such a good way to hone listening skills. It makes one prioritize and itemize sound and spatial qualities, and these skills carry over into other daily critical listening in meaningful and helpful ways. Cheers and thanks.

vinylsoul1965's picture

I haven't missed the final reveal, have I? I also picked 7 but I appreciated the lack of noise in example 3. It was the clarity of the voice in 7 and the 3D-like realism that made me select 7.

Michael Fremer's picture
Going to wait a bit longer...
vinylsoul1965's picture

is it time for the reveal? :)

Corsair's picture

I voted early before reading comments, which I encourage others to do on these kind of experiments. Next favorite was 4, then 1, 5, and then 9. 7 seemed to have great dynamics and rhythm. 1 had deep, rich bass. 4 was decent overall but had a little less attack for me. 5 had a good crispness to it. I could be perfectly happy with 9 but it was nothing special. 2 and 3 were shallow, thin, and noisy.

ericleehall's picture

IIRC, the Rega Aria is two completely separate phono preamps (MM & MC) in one box..

nagysaudio's picture

After playing File 7 it was game over. It's so much better than all of the others that they should all be embarrassed.