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  1. #1
    Audio Enthusiast
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    May 2003
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    Duarte, California
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    357

    How does one go about buying a Phono stage/Cartridge combination?

    My experience from the last few weeks has enlightened me to the dramatic differences made by Phono stages and cartridges. Even to the untrained ear, the characteristics, performance, and compatibility of phono stages/cartridge combinations can be disastrous if the wrong combination is purchased and assembled.

    Financially, I am but a mere mortal so I'm unable to experiment by purchasing the different cartridges let alone the corresponding phono stages. Most are well beyond my financial capability. So when I make a purchase, it is deliberate and final.

    So how does one know if a Manley sounds good with a Koetsu? Or a Linn with an Aesthetix? Does a Shelter have synergy with a Musical Fidelity or Pro-ject phono stage? The possibilities are endless.

    Most audiophile grade shops don't carry analog let alone a wide range of cartridges and phono stages. So I have to rely on reviews which are subjective and relative. And my purchases would likely be from an online outlet or from the Used marketplace. Most brick & mortar shops cannot realistically invest the time or inventory to setup a deck and conduct a comparison. It just takes too much time and expense from the vendors standpoint for a potential customer who may not even purchase their wares.

    And like many of you, my actual experience with hardware varies greatly from reviews I've read.

    So my question is:
    If you don't have the luxury of being a magazine editor to whom everything is donated--How do you audition something like cartridges and phono stages?

  2. #2
    Phila combat zone JoeE SP9's Avatar
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    Jun 2003
    Location
    Philadelphia, PA
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    2,593
    Whatever phono stage you get there are certain things it should have.
    1. Adjustable gain or enough gain for MC and MM cartridges.
    2. Adjustable input impedance. MC's like anywhere from 10 to 150 Ohms or so. MM's look for 47K Ohms usually.
    3. Adjustable input capacitance. This is not so important for MC's but it can be critical with MM's.
    If a phone stage has these capabilities it will probably sound good with a wide variety of cartridges MC and MM. Getting the gain and load correct is 95% of a good phono sound.
    In my case I use the phono stage from my worked ARC SP-9 and a modified Marcof head amp. It's battery powered so hum is not a problem.
    ARC SP9 MKIII preamp,VPI HW19jr, Rega RB300
    Marcof PPA1 head amp, Shure, Sumiko, Ortofon carts
    Marantz CD63SE CD,Yamaha DVD-S1800, MSB DAC
    Accuphase T101 tuner,Nakamichi LX-5, ZX-7 Teac V-7010
    Lexicon MC8 surround processor
    2 Adcom GFA-545,2 radically modified Dynaco MK3's,2 bridged Crown XLS-402, Paradigm X-30, Behringer CX2310, DSP1124P
    2 12" Transmission Line Subs (PASS DIY El-Pipe-O), Acoustat Spectra 22 ESL's (fronts), Acoustat Model 1 ESL's/SPW-1 Woofer (rears)

  3. #3
    Forum Regular royphil345's Avatar
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    Apr 2002
    Posts
    709
    I hear you squeegy!!!

    It seems some people are fortunate enough to live near a high-end shop that deals in analog. Just not happening around here. Trial and error is the best I've been able to do. It probably has kept me from buying more expensive gear because I know I could get stuck with something that just doesn't work for me. There have been pieces of gear that have probably stayed in my system too long for the lack of something to compare them to.

    Audiogon is probably a good way to go... Buy used gear and sell whatever doesn't work out for about the same price you paid...

    For a really major purchase... It may be possible (and fun) to travel somewhere you can audition the gear.

    Some online dealers have very good return policies and you only get stuck for shipping if you don't like something. Not such a bad deal... Best place to audition something is in your system. Probably can't return a cartridge...
    Last edited by royphil345; 11-29-2006 at 02:59 AM.

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