Phono pre-amp decision: tubes vs SS

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Tmort

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After a couple years of primarily listening to Tidal through my NAD C658 preamp (Anthem MCA225 mk 2 amp), on my classic 9’s I’ve decided it’s time to step up my vinyl game. Something better than the built in head amp for phono (MM only), in my NAD preamp.
I have a nice vintage TT and arm (Kenwood KD500 and a grace arm), with a middling cart (Grado gold), but am interested in moving up the cartridge to something better near term….for now though I’m interested in a decent phono preamp but don’t want to spend more than roughly $1k.
I am suspecting a tube preamp would be a good match with our beloved electrostatic speakers, but there are more than a few nice SS units out there. I know everyone has an opinion and their own preferences but I’d like to primarily keep the focus on the following preamps:
in no particular order:
1) the hagerman cornet 4, a MM only tube unit (not crazy about inability to use MC, but you can accomplish that with added gear if needed). Currently on sale for $500 through the hagerman website.
2) the Black Ice Audio fusion F9 hybrid tube preamp. I’ve not seen a lot of reviews of this but the few I have seen were positive. Their higher priced F159 unit is very nice too but out of my desired price range.
3) Lastly, my SS consideration: the Gold Note PH5. Pretty well reviewed unit most seem to really like, I just don’t know that it might have the warmth of a tube preamp that might provide some spice to my vinyl listening which would distinguish it from the highly clean and tight stuff I listen too streaming. The PH5 does have easily configurable playback curves which apparently can really tweak the sound depending upon the record‘s label of origin.

I appreciate your time and thoughts!
 
After a couple years of primarily listening to Tidal through my NAD C658 preamp (Anthem MCA225 mk 2 amp), on my classic 9’s I’ve decided it’s time to step up my vinyl game. Something better than the built in head amp for phono (MM only), in my NAD preamp.
I have a nice vintage TT and arm (Kenwood KD500 and a grace arm), with a middling cart (Grado gold), but am interested in moving up the cartridge to something better near term….for now though I’m interested in a decent phono preamp but don’t want to spend more than roughly $1k.
I am suspecting a tube preamp would be a good match with our beloved electrostatic speakers, but there are more than a few nice SS units out there. I know everyone has an opinion and their own preferences but I’d like to primarily keep the focus on the following preamps:
in no particular order:
1) the hagerman cornet 4, a MM only tube unit (not crazy about inability to use MC, but you can accomplish that with added gear if needed). Currently on sale for $500 through the hagerman website.
2) the Black Ice Audio fusion F9 hybrid tube preamp. I’ve not seen a lot of reviews of this but the few I have seen were positive. Their higher priced F159 unit is very nice too but out of my desired price range.
3) Lastly, my SS consideration: the Gold Note PH5. Pretty well reviewed unit most seem to really like, I just don’t know that it might have the warmth of a tube preamp that might provide some spice to my vinyl listening which would distinguish it from the highly clean and tight stuff I listen too streaming. The PH5 does have easily configurable playback curves which apparently can really tweak the sound depending upon the record‘s label of origin.

I appreciate your time and thoughts!
You might be able to find an old Convergegent Audio Technonolgy Signature or Reference model with phono stage for under $2K
 
My thoughts…

Stick with MM. If you switch to an MC cart, you’d probably want to change your arm (I’m betting it’s a Grace 707) for something with a higher effective mass.

I also have an NAD C658 and while it does a lot of things, it’s not my best sounding preamp. Sell the NAD and get a Schiit Kara, the Hagerman Cornet, and Bluesound Node.

You’d have everything the NAD has (except room correction), but with a better sound. You could even try the Kara side-by-side with the NAD and return it if you don’t like what it does.

I would recommend the Freya+, but it might be rolled off in the bass because your amp’s input impedance is only 10 Kohms for the RCA input.

I’ve tried the Kara and the Freya+, and the only thing I didn’t like about them was the volume knobs don’t have a very visible marking to indicate what level it’s at. I think they both sound better than the 658.
 
My thoughts…

Stick with MM. If you switch to an MC cart, you’d probably want to change your arm (I’m betting it’s a Grace 707) for something with a higher effective mass.

I also have an NAD C658 and while it does a lot of things, it’s not my best sounding preamp. Sell the NAD and get a Schiit Kara, the Hagerman Cornet, and Bluesound Node.

You’d have everything the NAD has (except room correction), but with a better sound. You could even try the Kara side-by-side with the NAD and return it if you don’t like what it does.

I would recommend the Freya+, but it might be rolled off in the bass because your amp’s input impedance is only 10 Kohms for the RCA input.

I’ve tried the Kara and the Freya+, and the only thing I didn’t like about them was the volume knobs don’t have a very visible marking to indicate what level it’s at. I think they both sound better than the 658.
Thanks for the feedback! I’m definitely looking now at the impact of my low mass arm and yes they definitely work best with higher compliance carts, doesn’t seem like many MC’s fit that bill. I’d rather not change the arm, that’s a sexy arm and it and the turntable are my only remnants of my audiophile origins in the late 70’s! They’re both in great working order after some recent tweaking. So maybe the Cornet is my best option, albeit I can’t help but desire the black ice hybrid for $400 more and still have the MC option down the line.
Not ready to abandon the C658 just yet, on digital playback of clean material I’m quite happy with the results but I’m sure there’s always room for improvement. I use the balanced inputs on my amp….not sure if that makes any difference in your opinion of the Freya+ option albeit I’ve never really considered any of the Schiit gear, wasn’t on my radar.
 
I would stick with the Grace arm too and move up the Grado line for a new cart (if you like what the Gold does).

The output impedance of Freya (as measured by Stereophile is 3200 ohms (unbalanced) or 6900 ohms (balanced) at 20 hz. The rule of thumb is the input impedance should be 10 times the output impedance. So, I would expect the Freya to work harder with the Anthem and have some bass roll off. Whether that’s audible to you is debatable. I used the Freya (I borrowed from a friend) through the balanced outs to an amp with 100kohm input impedance.
 
I would stick with the Grace arm too and move up the Grado line for a new cart (if you like what the Gold does).

The output impedance of Freya (as measured by Stereophile is 3200 ohms (unbalanced) or 6900 ohms (balanced) at 20 hz. The rule of thumb is the input impedance should be 10 times the output impedance. So, I would expect the Freya to work harder with the Anthem and have some bass roll off. Whether that’s audible to you is debatable. I used the Freya (I borrowed from a friend) through the balanced outs to an amp with 100kohm input impedance.
I may even follow the path suggested by many and seek out a Grace F9, I have the original literature from my Grace tonearm and it’s got lots of info about those carts.
IMG_6150.jpeg
 
I may even follow the path suggested by many and seek out a Grace F9, I have the original literature from my Grace tonearm and it’s got lots of info about those carts.
View attachment 24705
I really like the Grace F-9. I have one and sent it to Soundsmith to get fitted with their ruby cantilever stylus. That’s a great way to go. I’ve never had a Grado so I can’t compare, but felt the Soundsmith stylus was a great upgrade to an already very good cart. I might even have a spare F-9 body to donate to the cause if you want to go that route.
 
I really like the Grace F-9. I have one and sent it to Soundsmith to get fitted with their ruby cantilever stylus. That’s a great way to go. I’ve never had a Grado so I can’t compare, but felt the Soundsmith stylus was a great upgrade to an already very good cart. I might even have a spare F-9 body to donate to the cause if you want to go that route.
That’d be pretty awesome! A fully functional body, I’d just need to get a stylus?
 
Tmort, you're walking me down memory lane ! For I too back in the day had a Kenwood KD-500 table. Mine was set up with a Premier MMT arm and Grace F9E cartridge, loved it !

If you are thinking of staying with a MM or MI cartridge another suggestion would be the 'King' ........ a Shure V15. While no longer in production, thanks to JICO, stylus assemblies are available for the ones easily available on the used market.

As for your phono-pre and tubes, are you willing to go used there as well ? 1k should get you into a nice used Fosgate Signature piece.

https://www.theabsolutesound.com/ar...ifier-fozgometer-azimuth-range-meter-tas-206/
I'm still using mine and continue to enjoy it very much
 
Tmort, you're walking me down memory lane ! For I too back in the day had a Kenwood KD-500 table. Mine was set up with a Premier MMT arm and Grace F9E cartridge, loved it !

If you are thinking of staying with a MM or MI cartridge another suggestion would be the 'King' ........ a Shure V15. While no longer in production, thanks to JICO, stylus assemblies are available for the ones easily available on the used market.

As for your phono-pre and tubes, are you willing to go used there as well ? 1k should get you into a nice used Fosgate Signature piece.

https://www.theabsolutesound.com/ar...ifier-fozgometer-azimuth-range-meter-tas-206/
I'm still using mine and continue to enjoy it very much
I'm using the Fosgate as well and it's not going anywhere.
 
The new 'all tube' PrimaLuna phono-pre is getting some good press as of late. Albeit out of Tmort's target price point.

FWIW, if I had to replace my Fosgate tomorrow here's what would be on my short list....

Modwright - PH 9.OX
Parasound - JC3+
PrimaLuna - Evo 100
 
Tmort, you're walking me down memory lane ! For I too back in the day had a Kenwood KD-500 table. Mine was set up with a Premier MMT arm and Grace F9E cartridge, loved it !

If you are thinking of staying with a MM or MI cartridge another suggestion would be the 'King' ........ a Shure V15. While no longer in production, thanks to JICO, stylus assemblies are available for the ones easily available on the used market.

As for your phono-pre and tubes, are you willing to go used there as well ? 1k should get you into a nice used Fosgate Signature piece.

https://www.theabsolutesound.com/ar...ifier-fozgometer-azimuth-range-meter-tas-206/
I'm still using mine and continue to enjoy it very much
A shure V15 was my original cartridge on that tonearm! I’ve not made a decision on cartridge upgrade just yet but certainly considering an F9 route.
I’ve bought a used Black Ice Audio fusion F159 tube hybrid which is a Jim Fosgate designed preamp. Ironically the gentleman selling me this piece is a neighbor and friend of Fosgate and was able to sample the final prototype of the preamp before it went into production by Black Ice. It should arrive today but won’t get plugged into my system until post Christmas as it’s my gift 😹!
 
IMO in the Grace lineup of cartridges the 'E' or better yet the 'Ruby' is the one to have.
 
Ok it’s post Christmas so that means I’ve opened and set up the Black Ice Audio fusion F159 tube hybrid phono pre-amp.
compared to the built in phono preamp in my NAD C658 it is quite wonderful, literally causing me to fall in love again with my vinyl!
Female vocals and guitars are warm, delicate and involving. Bass is deep and tight. Soundstage is very nice….so far I’ve avoided A/B comparisons to streaming, but I’m truly loving the sound. This is with my Grado gold MM cartridge. About to order a ruby stylus for a new to me Grace F9 cartridge body I recently obtained.
 
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