2 2A3 Types, 5 Phonos, One Pair of Fanes.

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Cressy Snr
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2 2A3 Types, 5 Phonos, One Pair of Fanes.

Post by Cressy Snr » Sun Jun 03, 2018 10:46 am

Interesting day yesterday at my place.
Simon brought his 2A3 amp round to compare, in my system, his NOS RCA twin-plate 2A3s with my big JJ 2A3-40s.
Later we were joined by Nigel, one of our Ant's customers, who had come to collect his reworked Goldring GL69 turntable.

Nigel brought along four phono stages and the Rozenblit 300B OTL Mk1 monoblocks, I built for him a while back.
The visit had started out being planned as just to listen to my Fane 12" full-range speakers, but had quickly snowballed into a phono bake-off. It proved to be a great day of cluttering the living room up with boxes, wires, good company and good music.

The phono stages running order was:
NVA Phono 1 set for MM
LDA PH1 moving magnet phono stage
NVA Phono 2 with twin power supplies, set for MM
Decware Zen Triode ZP3 all valve phono
DIYHiFi Supply, Cole LCR with S&B LCR unit and valve output stage, designed by Thorsten Loesch, set for MM.

Source was my BTE designs Lenco L75/Rega R200 arm/Jelco headshell/Goldring E3 MM cart.
Amplification was via Simon's 2A3 single ended amp with JJ 2A3-40s on output duties.
Interconnects were a motley collection of Maplin and Belkin's finest.
Speaker cables were NVA LS5 Mk1
Mains cables were various kettle leads scrounged out of the boxes we had, plus a couple of Woolworths 4 way extension blocks chained together.
Apart from the speaker cables, the casual reader will notice that every expense was spared in the cable department.

One could say that with this less than impeccable source and cabling, all we would be doing would be to show up severe limitations of said source and cablng, thereby making reliable comparison a joke. One would be very, very wrong indeed to make such an assumption. :wink:
Last edited by Cressy Snr on Sun Jun 03, 2018 11:08 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: 2 2A3 Types, 5 Phonos, One Pair of Fanes.

Post by Cressy Snr » Sun Jun 03, 2018 12:17 pm

First up was my own NVA Phono1 stage:
Image
First we needed to confirm that the speakers were reasonably transparent to the source. Above they can be seen passing the "boom" test from the Beatles "Abbey Road" album, where, on the wrong speakers, the bottom end can get out of hand pretty quickly, particularly on "Come Together" "Something" and "Here Comes the Sun"
Abbey Road revealed no problems with upper bass boom so the test track to be used on all the stages was cued up. The above is the last time hi-fi will be mentioned.

Sometimes you have to use hi-fi to make sure you know where you are when you first set things up, and I thought the Beatles boom test was appropriate to examine the basic performance of the speaker/amp combination to ensure fairness. I hadn't thought to use it previously when developing the speakers and it was a bit unnerving trying Abbey Road in front of a critical listening audience, but it turned out spot on.

Nigel had brought along a few records and "Making Music" by Zaikir Hussein (ECM 1987) was cued up on the turntable.

Review below:

It's a simple enough concept: gather four great musicians...percussionist Zaikir Hussain, flautist Hariprasad Chaurasia, guitarist John McLaughlin, and saxophonist Jan Garbarek into a studio and see what happens.
In the case of Making Music, quite a bit does happen. The meditative flute work of Chaurasia gives this disc a much deserved Indian feel, Garbarek's soaring horn lines add plenty of soul, and the interplay between McLaughlin and Hussain forms a rich tapestry of sounds. Soothing and soaring, here's an example of genre-fusing at its finest. --(Jason Verlinde)


Now the trouble with this sort of bake-off regime with the test track repeated on all the stages, is that it is all too easy to lose the will to live by the time the final phono is reached, but it is a tribute to the music making abilities of Hussein, McLaughlin Chaurasia and Garbarek that boredom did not set in at any stage, in fact the track got more absorbing as the bake-off progressed, rather than the reverse. So let's get going.
Last edited by Cressy Snr on Sun Jun 03, 2018 12:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Cressy Snr
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Re: 2 2A3 Types, 5 Phonos, One Pair of Fanes.

Post by Cressy Snr » Sun Jun 03, 2018 12:47 pm

So starting with the NVA Phono 1 and the 12 minute long title track of the album.

Things started quietly and atmospherically with McLaughlin's gentle guitar work lulling the listener into a false sense of security. The studio was there surrounding McLaughlin and as he worked his way into the piece, stabbing out percussive hard picked chords, the Phono 1 coped well with the dynamics on show.
Then a sudden saxophone stab from Garbarek shook us out of our reverie and the track started nicely to unfold as the musicians began to improvise together.
Garbarek's sax is very "hot" in the mix and his searing stabs and swoops started to get a bit of a slight edge to them as if the cartridge was about to let go or the amp was about to clip, but more on that later.
Toward the end of the track, Hussein really starts to get into some high speed work with his drums, so much so that our Ant was moved to ask "how many bloody hands has he got?" It sounded like an octopus was playing, such was the complexity and speed he was giving it.
The Phono 1 took this murderous tempo in its stride, keeping everything nicely separated out without any blurring together of Hussein's runs on his tablas. All in all, the Phono 1 was impressive and allowed this complex but thoroughly melodic music to make perfect sense in terms of dynamics, interplay and the combination of melodies on show all at the same time.
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Re: 2 2A3 Types, 5 Phonos, One Pair of Fanes.

Post by Ant » Sun Jun 03, 2018 12:54 pm

Yep that record is fab. I have to buy it. Tbh it is the only time I have heard the same track over and over and not hated it by the 3rd or 4th playthrough.

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Re: 2 2A3 Types, 5 Phonos, One Pair of Fanes.

Post by Cressy Snr » Sun Jun 03, 2018 1:03 pm

Next up was the LDA PH1 basic MM phono stage.
Image

This is powered by an SMPS wall-wart and Nick has done some serious work inside the stage to minimise the effects of this on the music.
He has succeeded admirably with this task, and the PH1 got into its stride PDQ with the test track. Its performance was much the same as the NVA Phono 1 and it handled the atmosphere and contrast of the meditative flute with McLaughlin's percussive guitar work every bit as well as the NVA did.
Garbarek's sax stabs leapt out of the mix the same as the NVA and the speed and separation of Husseins tabla work was maintained at the end with no slurring or blurring. The slight edge when Garbarek let rip with the sax was there too, and I began to think that the £100 Goldring E3 cart was wilting a bit when the going got tough, and we were probably just going to have to accept it.

The LDA turned in an impressive performance for the money and was on a par with the NVA. Some things it did better and some things the NVA did better, but I could live with either of these stages. Excellent stuff so far.
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Re: 2 2A3 Types, 5 Phonos, One Pair of Fanes.

Post by Cressy Snr » Sun Jun 03, 2018 1:46 pm

Moving up the price range we now turn to the twin turbo NVA Phono 2:
Image
This is the maxed out Phono 2 in that it has twin external power supplies, so represents a bigger investment, but does it bring extra performance? Er..... yes it does, in spades.

What we had here was a huge window opening up into the studio. The opening atmospherics were superb and one could hear right to the back of the room the musicians were working within. The difference was instantly recognisable to everyone present. So did we get sonic fireworks, teeth rattling leading edges and the rest of that hi-foo bullshit? Not a bit of it. What we got was a disarming sure-footedness and solidity to the performance that was again, instantly recognisable.

Now Garbarek's sax soared and the edge on his stabs and swoops was revealed as a set of clearly defined harmonics that changed the tone and character of his instrument as he blew hard and fast on the runs and stabs, adding a sense of drama to the more dynamic sax parts that the cheaper stages didn't handle as well.

The fast percussive tabla work from Hussein was also changed. The speed of the cheaper stages was of course still there but an added harmonic richness pervaded the drum patterns Hussein was producing, so that the drums gained notes and distinctive pitch relationships within the fast runs, so that it was easy to tell where on the skins, Hussein was hitting his hand drums, how hard, whether it was palms or fingers, whether he was tapping, dragging, squeaking; everything was focussed and it was dead easy to follow all the parts all the time. The cheaper stages were getting into the music and portraying the rhythms perfectly well, but the more expensive Phono 2 was allowing the more subtle aspects of the playing to get out. Well worth the price increase and easy to see what your extra money gets you. I was chuffed to bits with the E3 cart too. Not heard it play that well before.
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Re: 2 2A3 Types, 5 Phonos, One Pair of Fanes.

Post by Cressy Snr » Sun Jun 03, 2018 2:10 pm

Next in line was the Decware Zen-Triode ZP3:
Image
This USA all valve design, looked to Simon and myself like the classic RCA stage with a cathode follower added to the back end and a trick power supply added to the front. Valve line up was ECC83 for gain followed by ECC82 for cable drive.
A VR75 series glow tube drops the HT in true Steve Deckert fashion and a Phillips, 5Y3G rectifies the AC and sits on the front of a big cap input power supply that Deckert claims, would normally be found powering a 40WPC tube amplifier.

So what did it sound like? Bloody marvelous! It was up there with the NVA in terms of pitch and tune playing and the dynamic contrast on the flute and guitar interplay was lovely to listen to, as were the opening, gentle atmospherics, where the studio sounded both slightly bigger and more intimate at the same time. Garbarek's sax pyrotechnics sounded great too, no return of any edge to the proceedings and the fast tabla work had all the pitch variations and fingerwork clues the NVA had first revealed, all present and correct. It had a thoroughly relaxing effect on the ears of everyone in the room. It's that indefinable rightness that good valves seem to have. I loved this stage.

By now it ought to be clear that there was a hierarchy emerging in that it appeared that with phonos you definitely get what you pay for. The cheaper stages were not disgraced, but it was becoming very easy now, to hear what it is that the extra money was making available to the vinyl enthusiast.
Last edited by Cressy Snr on Sun Jun 03, 2018 2:59 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: 2 2A3 Types, 5 Phonos, One Pair of Fanes.

Post by Cressy Snr » Sun Jun 03, 2018 2:22 pm

Last up was the Cole, Loesch/ DIYHS LCR stage:
Image

From the second the needle hit the run-in groove, we knew there was something special about to come out of the speakers.
It wasn't anything to do with detail, slam, imaging or anything else; this phono stage sounded together and all of a piece. It got out of the way and allowed the musical event to build, unfold and as each layer was added by the musicians, the performance became more captivating. Nobody spoke during the time the Cole was playing. Not much else to say really. It was a window into the studio and the performance.

This was a bit unsettling so Simon suggested putting the NVA Phono 2 back in as the nearest comparable solid state phono we had. It put in a great performance and there was nothing at all missing compared to the Cole....nothing. It was right up there, but yet there was just something about the performance of the Cole that set it apart from all the others. Nobody could put a finger on it, but it was definitely there. :?
Hi-fi used to be exciting and it can be again.

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Re: 2 2A3 Types, 5 Phonos, One Pair of Fanes.

Post by Cressy Snr » Sun Jun 03, 2018 2:32 pm

I think we can conclude from this bake-off that with these phono stages at least, the more you pay, the better the level of performance you get. We found nothing that upset this hierarchy. The top three stages in terms of expense, performed in the top three of the league table.
The two valve stages were great, as was the top NVA model and apart from the LCR unit that just had the edge over the Decware and NVA, nothing unexpected came out of the comparison, except that the E3 cartridge in a modest old Rega S shaped arm proved to be so bloody good when exposed to the forensic floodlights of the top three phonos.
The E3 tracks like it is on rails and sounds superb in a Rega R200 arm. At the price it is a steal.

Power supplies as in everything audio are the major driver to getting the best performance out of your equipment, and the smaller the signal, the more important they become.
Simon's 2A3 amp did a marvellous job and was adept at revealing the differences between all the setups.
Last edited by Cressy Snr on Sun Jun 03, 2018 2:51 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: 2 2A3 Types, 5 Phonos, One Pair of Fanes.

Post by Cressy Snr » Sun Jun 03, 2018 2:41 pm

Nigel had one more ace up his sleeve in the shape of his Rozenblit Mk1 300B monoblock OTL amps and 25Hz AC filament supply box (on TV unit):
Image
Coupled with the Decware phono stage it made a supremely musical combination and after some acapella vocals on CD to round off the session, I was left bereft and broken yet a-bloody-gain! I'd only just gotten over Dave's Son of Beast OTL and Nigel had to go and bring those bloody things to rub salt into the wounds. :lol: :lol:
They made my Fane speakers sing their little hearts out and as a result, they got our Ant a commission to build some Fanes 12 designs for Nigel, so it wasn't all bad.

A great afternoon :)
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Re: 2 2A3 Types, 5 Phonos, One Pair of Fanes.

Post by Ant » Sun Jun 03, 2018 3:55 pm

My thoughts are that the differences between the phono 1 and the Ph1 are one of preference, both have a blend of qualities that is impossible to argue with at their price point.
I could happily use either.

The phono 2 and the decware are the same for me, a matter of preference. i found myself gravitating more towards the phono 2 as I found it had a more solid sound to it, the decware abit more atmospheric, abit more laid back.

The cole lcr. Thats another thing altogether. To me there is some sort of voodoo going on under the hood, it seemed to combine the qualities of the phono 2 and the decware. And was just.... Right.

We couldn't figure out the cost for the Cole, Nigel has had it somewhere around 6/7 years and couldn't find the emails with the original price on it. Whatever it was, it was worth it

And when the 300b otls came out, that was that.
I want an otl and a Cole lcr........

If i had thought on I could have brought the benedict one too but it didn't occur to me.

Nothing wrong with moving magnet at all.

And simons 2a3 amp, i could listen to it all day. D3a trioded driver, simple as you like with quality iron, a very sweet amp indeed.

And a great big thankyou to Nigel for lugging his kit all the way here for an impromptu listen, it was really nice to hear some kit that I hadn't heard of before.

And that astonishing otl.....

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Re: 2 2A3 Types, 5 Phonos, One Pair of Fanes.

Post by izzy wizzy » Sun Jun 03, 2018 5:17 pm

Cressy Snr wrote:
Sun Jun 03, 2018 2:10 pm
This USA all valve design, looked to Simon and myself like the classic RCA stage with a cathode follower added to the back end and a trick power supply added to the front. Valve line up was ECC83 for gain followed by ECC82 for cable drive.
A VR75 series glow tube drops the HT in true Steve Deckert fashion and a Phillips, 5Y3G rectifies the AC and sits on the front of a big cap input power supply that Deckert claims, would normally be found powering a 40WPC tube amplifier.
Thoroughly enjoyed your write ups. What you heard with the LCR seems to repeat the things I've heard reported many times with decent LCR phonos which is why one day, I want to do that. It's usually the end of the road for many.

From the decware site about the config of that phono ... "Thanks go out to J. Epstein who's original circuit inspired my early prototypes, and to J. Haggerman who was kind enough to offer his Cornet circuit boards at one point along the way and let us modify them for use in a ZP3. Even though that didn't end up happening, it was much appreciated. (While the sound and implementation of these three circuits is very different, the Epstein, ZP3 and Cornet are using almost the same split passive RIAA scheme). "

cheers,

Stephen

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Re: 2 2A3 Types, 5 Phonos, One Pair of Fanes.

Post by Cressy Snr » Sun Jun 03, 2018 5:25 pm

That's cleared that up then. Split passive rather than the all in one go passive of the RCA phono.
Nothing like it then.
Thanks for that Stephen.

Apologies to Steve Deckert.
Last edited by Cressy Snr on Sun Jun 03, 2018 6:03 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: 2 2A3 Types, 5 Phonos, One Pair of Fanes.

Post by antonio66 » Sun Jun 03, 2018 5:32 pm

Fantastic write up, of what must have been, a great day for all who attended. I can only confirm the improvement the extra power supplies bring to the NVA, mine being MC.

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Re: 2 2A3 Types, 5 Phonos, One Pair of Fanes.

Post by Nick » Sun Jun 03, 2018 5:49 pm

If someone wants to try building something similar to the Cole, I should have a pair of S&B 600R LCR modules somewhere about.

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