I have gone through numerous phono stages over the years. I am far from the mega buck arena. Commercial products have been in the under $2000 range. When given the chance to try before I buy, I take advantage of that, and I have returned them all since they did not best my own devices. What I have learned, and this is my opinion, that MC cartridges want to see a transformer first. I have had some pretty good solid state step-up devices. John Curls Vendetta Research SCP-2, Klyne Sk-1 for example and they have been bested every time by my very reasonably priced K&K Audio Lundahl SUT, I built as a kit over ten years ago for around $200. An updated and improved version is still available for $325. K&K Audio also has high end silver wound transformers for the upper crust.
Being involved with Capital Audiofest, I have been lucky enough to become friendly with a lot of our vendors. Bob of Bobs devices is the kind of guy that I would love to have as a neighbor. One of the most congenial people you will ever meet. I have been listening to his products over the years, learning a lot about the intricacies of transformer design and interfacing MC cartridges with ones system. You are dealing with such small signal voltages, that bad stuff can happen in a big way very quickly if one does not take extreme care in execution. Price was always a problem for me for I had a pretty good sound with my Lundahls at $200. Then the Art Dudley Stereophile review came out.
My first reaction was happiness for Bob. He is one of the hardest working people in the business and he deserved a great review. But then there it was, his little device was being blessed by the great Audiophile G-d. Was there something to this? I needed a way to find out.
My good friend Jose (Dr Vinyl) recently became a dealer for Bobs Devices and he had one as a demo. So I pleaded to borrow it for a day or two. Spoiler alert I DID NOT NEED MORE THAN A COUPLE OF MINUTES
I have two records that I use for quick evals:
1) Ahmad Jamal Crystal, 1987 Atlantic Jazz. A straight ahead but polite jazz piano album that was digitally recorded. Its a pretty good recording. That has a lot of very low level high frequency stuff going on that many front ends do not produce very well.
2) Jozsef Reti, Tenor Mozart Arias. French Harmonia Mundi recording from 1973. I find the human voice is always a good test. Does it sound real?
With the Jazz LP the differences in what I heard between Bobs Sky SUT and my K&K were so apparent, so immediate, that I got mad, mad at the world. I just sat there listening to a completely different system that just magically appeared by simply switching out the SUTs. I just sat there and let the whole side play, instead remembering I was doing an eval and jumping up after the first cut and going to the next record.
Not only was the tiny little bells rattling way in the background, which is barely there on most systems, I felt I could hear each individual one playing in its own space. There was more bass, more rounded midrange, clearer highs, just more of everything. I was stepping into the music, and it was swallowing me whole. This was big.
Next LP was the Mozart with Josef Reti. First of all this is just such a glorious recording, and if you have good feelings about Mozarts work you would enjoy this album on a tiny radio from the Dollar Store.
I always chuckled when a reviewer stated It was just as if they were in the room with me. Well I felt that realism in my system, and thats all I will say about that.
So it was time to pack up the SUT and return it to Dr Vinyl.
I brought my two records with me and as a reality check we did the same test on one of his demo systems.
Same results drop the mic!
So I have a big hole in my life now until I can save my pennies and get me one.
You can get this SUT from:
Sota Nova TT, vacuum hold down system
Alphason HRS tone arm, Cardas rewire Alpha Genesis 1000 1987 re-tipped by Peter Lederman 2014
Lundalh SUT, Transcendent Sound Phono preamp, modified by yours truly.
Scratch build 6EW7 preamp, Gary Dews designed, modified by yours truly
Odyessy SS amps built for me by Klaus
Maggy llla's in hardwood frames and custom xover by yours truly
modified Janis W1 subs Marchand Bass Management system modified by yours truly
DIY 10 ga power cords. Dedicated 20amp Mains with 10ga Romex
DIY interconnects various