New phonostage

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  • 09-29-2008, 10:35 AM
    basite
    New phonostage
    Hi all

    since my previous Pro-ject phonobox was malfunctioning, and I thought it was time for a new phonostage anyway, I got myself a new one...


    so here it is, a Clearaudio Smartphono:
    http://gallery.audioreview.com/data/...phonostage.jpg

    Before I begin the review:

    Yes, I know, it's tiny.

    but the performance is all but tiny. In this small casing, there is a complete dual mono circuit (even separated, on the bottom there are 2 switches to switch from MM to MC, one for the left channel, one for the right channel, the inputs & outputs are also arranged seperately, so on the back the inputs are arranged like this Left in, left out ground right in right out). so True dual mono. Also, while the user can make no own adjustments, the smartphono (smart, it is definitely), auto adapts for the cartridge specs, so no adjustments are actually needed...

    Then, the sound...
    While I was expecting some improvements, I didn't expect them to be as impressive as this little box delivered though...

    I compared the smartphono to a Graham Slee Fanfare 3, and a Pro ject Phonobox SE 2...

    The pro-ject was what it was, an improvement over the standard phonobox, which was nothing that special... it still sounded dull, dead, undefined & thin compared to the other 2.

    The Graham slee was also really good, I was a bit skeptical when I read some reviews that stated the fanfare sounded the same as a cambridge audio 640P. That skepticism left though when I heard it. In terms of pure quality, the fanfare was a good competitor for the smartphono, both delivered very clear sound, with much much more definition in all regions than the Pro-ject phonobox & phonobox SE could deliver. Bass was tight, powerful yet very well controlled with both, albeit the Fanfare had slightly tighter bass & a more neutral sound.

    The Fanfare was slightly more analog sounding as the smartphono slightly warmer, a bit more intimate (?), the smartphono sounded slightly bigger, also a slightly wider soundstage, and the instruments & voices were more separated. The smartphono was slightly faster sounding, maybe a little bit more detail as the fanfare, but definitely lightyears ahead of the pro-ject. Background was much darker with both the fanfare as with the smartphono, with again, the smartphono being slightly (not much) better...

    It was a difficult decision, since both had it's strong points, the smartphono being more neutral and with slightly tighter bass, which makes it more fun to listen to genres like funk and all, where I like that extra spark of neutrality and the more analog, warmer & intimate sound of the fanfare, which I like more for Jazz.

    In the end, I chose for the Clearaudio. Can't say I made a bad decision though, the smartphono was a very big improvement in my setup, I've almost been constantly spinning vinyl the past days, feets are tapping, there's life again in vinyl...

    I can't wait till my lenco is finished...

    oh yeah
    Vinyl Rocks!

    Keep them spinning,
    Bert.
  • 09-29-2008, 04:16 PM
    Wow, that is a nice addition to the gear. I am still using my old standby, the Phonomena, which I still consider an incredible value for the money. I upgraded to it from the Pro-ject phonobox as well and I was very impressed with its performance.

    P.S. I'm curious, how does it auto-detect for cartridge loading and resistance? That's usually the purvue of much more expensive units.
  • 09-30-2008, 11:19 AM
    basite
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by nightflier
    P.S. I'm curious, how does it auto-detect for cartridge loading and resistance? That's usually the purvue of much more expensive units.


    no idea how exactly they do that, but the smartphono shares quite some features of it's bigger brothers, even from their top model...

    it's a huge bargain, even though it seems weird that you pay quite some money and get a tiny box in place for it, but it really performs excellent...


    Keep them spinning,
    Bert.
  • 09-30-2008, 08:50 PM
    JohnMichael
    Bert, congratulations on the new phono stage. I also read the reviews comparing the Graham Slee Fanfare 3 with the CA 640P. Since I own the 640P I must say that since finding the reason for the high frequency peak the 640P is sounding better than ever. I feel it will take quite an investment to better it. I have also been looking at the SmartPhono and it's ability to automatically adjust for different cartridges. I am looking forward to your continued observations.
  • 10-01-2008, 08:07 AM
    jrhymeammo
    Well, Well, well......
    Look what we have here.
    Good choice, Bert.

    I've found PJ phonobox2 to be a good little box, especially for the money, but always knew you'll never be content with its performance. I hope you'll get to enjoy much more of what Denon 103 got to offer.

    Have fun experimenting with IC with your new toy too.

    One question:

    Is gain stage (54dB) on the Smartphono enough for your DL103 and Thiel?
    Sometime we have too much gain throughout our entire system without even knowing it. So that makes me curious.


    Congrats again,
    J
  • 10-01-2008, 08:48 AM
    basite
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by jrhymeammo
    Is gain stage (54dB) on the Smartphono enough for your DL103 and Thiel?
    Sometime we have too much gain throughout our entire system without even knowing it. So that makes me curious.


    Congrats again,
    J


    Thanks,

    I was worried about that too, and while it is a tad quieter than the phonobox, it's actually enough...

    being a 'budget' phonostage (well, 'budget' :p), I think the gain levels are kept lower to lower the noise floor (less gain = less amplification needed = less noise), so I think it's actually for the better they designed it like this...

    when I turn it up halfway open, (12 o clock on the amp), it's actually more than loud enough, even with the quietest LP, I never went past the 2 o clock position yet on the amp...

    I think this is actually better than the phonobox and the cd player, which are already loud pretty fast...

    Keep them spinning,
    Bert.
  • 10-01-2008, 03:20 PM
    Of course, the amp is on the warmish side, too, no?
  • 10-09-2008, 10:52 AM
    Stupid question, but where in the US can I buy the SmartPhono?
  • 10-09-2008, 01:32 PM
    JohnMichael
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by nightflier
    Stupid question, but where in the US can I buy the SmartPhono?






    http://www.needledoctor.com/Clearaud...2&category=401
  • 10-23-2008, 05:29 PM
    I might just snag that one. 'Need to come up with some money first....