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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"

ron.kadish's picture

Thought I'd share that Mehmet Ali Sanlikol's big band album whatsnext?, used in the test above, is available on CD on the DUNYA Bandcamp page,

Not as cool as having the vinyl but at least it's available!

ron.kadish's picture

Thought I'd share that Mehmet Ali Sanlikol's whatsnext?, used in the test above, is available on CD from the DUNYA Bandcamp page:

Not as cool as being able to buy the vinyl but at least it's still available.

Dorian Workman's picture

I voted A but can honestly hear very little difference, admittedly playing through crappy work Dell laptop with my Etymotic ER-4P IEMs plugged in.

Thoeme's picture

Although I preferred C a little, of this group I'd go for the $99 spread. There just wasn't that much difference -- certainly not $500 worth. I had to listen on a couple different setups to make sure I wasn't imagining the subtle difference I thought I heard. There certainly wasn't as much difference as between the mid-priced pre-amps from the earlier test.

amudhen's picture

File C seemed to be the best, but not by a wide margin.

Bobs Bob's picture

With my setup, B sounded the best, able to hear each instrument more clearly, sounded more three dimensional.

thequietman's picture

Tonality better for me with geek out + b&w p5

Jim Tavegia's picture

I thought that A and B were similar, but B was the lightest in overall bass presentation. C was the loudest and might have been why it was selected most. Once normalized I found it somewhat hard to choose between C and D, but C carried slightly more bass weight to me, but both C and D presented the piano tone better than A or B. Considering that one of them was $99, that one is a pretty decent bargain I would say. I also thought that at the end of the track all 4 of them did a good job presenting the sax solo in a decent sized space with good air.

Jim Tavegia's picture

Thought I should mention my headphone choice.

Rick Tomaszewicz's picture

C had more "there" there. I could clearly follow the bass line in C, much less so in the others. D in particular was limp in the bass. Instruments floated apart in C and were mushed together to varying degrees in the others.

But more importantly, what a great band! Discovering new musical talent is way more fun than fussing about tiny differences in gear.

Jody's picture

I first looked at the RMS (average volume) levels for each track, and adjusted accordingly. To even the playback volume to the loudest track, levels should be raised:
A) +.31
B) + 2.31
C) 0
D) + 1.19

Using replay gain in Foobar for windows would also do the trick.

A is my least favorite. Sounds like a big cut in the midrange. B had the most midrange presence, leaning toward the edgy side. C was smoother. D was my favorite, or maybe C. They were close.

2channelguy's picture

I voted C. D was close. I'm hoping C is the ifi iPhono. I can say the ifi iPhono is better than the NAD PP-375 phono card I was using

doublea71's picture

Off topic, but I enjoyed your Jackie Mason impression on the Howard Stern Show - I hope you're right about him buying a turntable within 3 months!

Michael Fremer's picture
But I thought I sucked. The format wasn't helpful to me. If you want to see the routine I prepared go here:
Chris F's picture

After level matching I picked B. To me it had the best imaging though it had less bass then C/D.

C/D sound *very* similar to the point where it's hard to tell them apart. After listening to the sample from the bandcamp page ( I think the bass presentation is exaggerated in both these samples.

To me A is a big step down from the others. Sounds muddy in comparison.

Chris F's picture

I just realized I had the EQ enabled in Foobar which added some low end...

With the EQ off C becomes the best. Too bad I can't change my vote.

weibest's picture

My verdict is based on listening through a pair of Audioengine2 speakers directly linked to a HP computer. The sound quality thus might be limited by my four-year old PC. Through this setup, 'A' seems to draw me more to the music and excite me more. Its bass is a little muddy compared to 'C', but the sound in 'A' is less grainy and feels more natural and organic. I am a kind of new to this HiFi hobby, and don't know much about the sound description with technical terms. So I just judge the music sound by comparing to what I heard in concert halls or live music.

doublea71's picture

Well, that's a tough room, for sure - he doesn't mince words. You weren't bad - if you were, they never would have contacted you and brought you in. The guy who did High Pitch was spot on, and had really good material...look at it this way, you planted a seed in the King of All Media's head. T-minus 3 months...

BillyJ's picture

To me, A was the most dry, the least tonally present. The piano and horns don't sound as full as with the other three. In my system, (Sennheiser HD650's, Burson headphone amp, JRiver MC v19 off a desktop computer with an ASUS Xonar Essence SC) C had way more base than the others. Not just more base, but more total lower energy. It made the piano warmer, fuller, and gave the horns a pleasant burn. But, for me, I found it also had a overall thickening effect. Less distinction between the instruments, a little congested. D had base weight and excellent tone. The horns, particularly the saxes sounded great in D. Lots of character from the reeds audible. The base was tighter to me, and it had the best cymbals crash (just before the sax solo at the end) of the four.

PeterPani's picture

to compare analog sound via digital files?

Packgrog's picture

Michael Fremer's picture
And whatever is lost is equally lost on all files. Plus at 96/24 using the Ayre A/D you are getting an awful lot!
PeterPani's picture

But to get it right: Since You are the only person, which hears also the analog sound - I would be curious how the recorder digital files sound to You compared to the analog first-hand listening experience?

Jim Tavegia's picture

There is no other way to do this test other than mail each of us 45,s he cut in his garage . 2496 is certainly good enough for discerning listeners. We can certainly hear the differences and I bet you can to.

bluedelity's picture

To me A is clearly the worst. I could be though satisfied with either of the other three. Between C and D, which sound similar indeed, I would prefer C. But my preference goes to B for the clarity and texture that provides, which make me to feel it more tube like, I guess ...

jimel84's picture

I wouldn't feel like I was being deprived of a musical experience with any of them. Having said that I think that the sins are mostly of omission. However I would have to give the nod to C. It seems like there is a little more "air" around the instruments. The trumpets and sax have a little more bite.

calaf's picture

File A: fun, but lacked detail
File B: mmhmm, where did the bass go?
File C: great imaging, neutral with a touch of excitement. My favourite
File D: close enough to C but a touch brighter

Rudy's picture

Was there a reason you went with this choice in cartridge and stylus? (In other words, is there a review of that combo coming soon?) I'm thinking of putting my old V15VMR into service again, but I am not sure of which stylus to go with (or having Soundsmith have a go at it).

jimel84's picture

The Jico/SAS stylus is in my opinion a no-brainer upgrade. It improves upon an already impressive stock stylus.It is money well spent. I also have a V15VMR and I did the upgrade a couple of years ago.


saronian's picture

I'm surprised "C" is first choice, I placed it 3rd. But agree that "A" sounded worst.

B - 1st - Outstanding involvement with the music. Sounds neutral with great rhythm.

D - 2nd - Smoothest sounding, with excellent timing and good bass. A bit too layer back.

C - 3rd - Good tonality but sounds constricted with average timing, not as bad as 1.

A - 4th - Similar characteristics to 3 but worse. Constricted with poor timing. I was not drawn into the music.