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jsaliga
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« on: October 17, 2011, 05:57:49 AM »

I'm pretty happy with my current vinyl rig, consisting of a SOTA Star Sapphire Series III vacuum turntable, SME 309 arm, Ortofon Jubilee MC cartridge, and Ray Samuels Audio Nighthawk phono preamp.  So it probably begs the question why I would consider a change at all.  This might even seem a little out of character for me to those who know something of my views about equipment and audiophilia.

However, I am at the point where my focus is mainly on vintage and audiophile jazz and classical music vinyl pressings.  Digital music has a significant presence in my library, but I listen to it less and less.  I go to digital when it turns out to be the best source I can get, such as 1920s, 30s, and 40s jazz recordings - stuff from the 78 era that is tough as nails to find on shellac records in decent condition.  

My preamp and power amps are tube driven.  At one point I had a tube phono preamp, the Eastern Electric Minimax, and I liked it quite a bit.  I bought the Minimax out of curiosity as a purchase of opportunity, and I am a little sorry that I didn't keep it.  But at the time my audio racks were bursting at the seams with all sorts of gear, including an open reel tape deck, a Slim Devices Transporter, and a Denon DVD 5930CI.  I ended up with the RSA Nighthawk due to its small size and Lithium Ion battery power.

Some months ago I decided to sell my open reel deck and tapes.  They just were not getting enough use to justify keeping them in my system.  After that I decided to consolidate my digital setup and now use my computer as a source with an M2Tech Hiface USB to SPDIF converter that feeds a Eastern Electric Minimax DAC.  I have been very happy with the digital rig, and this consolidation has freed up a shelf in my rack.

So now that I am at a place where I am willing make a considerable investment to upgrade my phono preamp and have the space to accommodate whatever I choose to buy...I am in the process of researching and mulling over some options.  Here is what I am looking at so far as viable choices:

Fosgate Signature Tube Phono Preamp ($2,495)



I am intrigued by the design: dual mono with three triode pairs.  It also has an interesting power supply implementation.

E.A.R. 834P ($1,695 to $2,495)



This is a well known and well-established piece and has been on the market for nearly 15 years.  I have to admit that I have been wanting to try one for quite some time and I probably should have done it years ago.  The weak dollar and inflation has really puffed up the price, which has more than doubled for the flagship model in just 10 years.  I don't see it as a compelling choice as I did even five or six years ago.  I am still considering it nonetheless.  

Given the 834P's footprint it makes a number of interesting possibilities viable.  For example, pairing one with a Cinemag 1131 step-up transformer from Bob's Devices would, at the low end bring the tab to just under $2,700.  



I've always found the idea of using a SUT quite seductive and have long wanted to try one.  At the high end of the price scale one could match a chrome 834P with the E.A.R. MC4 SUT for a cost of $4,700.  I haven't ruled that out yet but don't honestly see myself making that choice.  There seems to me to be a number of attractive alternatives for a much lower cost.


Eastern Electric Minimax ($1,495)



Since I have already heard this phono preamp and am familiar with its sound I may end up buying one and pair it with the Cinemag 1131 SUT.  This is the lowest cost option I am kicking around right now.

--Jerome
« Last Edit: October 17, 2011, 06:00:40 AM by jsaliga » Logged
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« Reply #1 on: October 17, 2011, 06:21:02 AM »

well, if the Fosgate sounds as good as it looks, you have a winner.

I've had the EAR 834P for going on a year, recently rolled the 3 Mullards out for 3 smoothplate Teles, I love it. With that said, I'm thinking of getting outboard transformers for my LOMC cart. use. The Cinemag would be good, jtsnead in MD is using them with his Jasmine pre and speaks well of it. BobM just responded on a different thread here at AN that a Hagerman Piccolo might be a cheaper alternative, we'll see.

There are other mods listed on the net for the 834P, guess the question is, do you want to buy something to diy, or do you want to 'buy it and forget it'.
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jsaliga
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« Reply #2 on: October 17, 2011, 06:30:49 AM »

Not really looking to mod.  I have plenty of tubes on hand to roll into anything I would buy.

--Jerome
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« Reply #3 on: October 17, 2011, 07:15:19 AM »

 Jerome,
             Some nice choices especially the Fosgate. Now as good as the SUT from Bob's Devices is it is another link in the chain that can be eliminated by choosing a Phono Pre with enough gain for LOMC cart. saying that I would think your second feature wanted would be adjustable RIAA curves for your vintage records.
   Have you heard of the Miracle Audio Phono Pre ?? An all SS unit, now don't be afraid of the SS Wolf. We put it up against my highly touted Loesch & Weisner PP and were quite surprised that the Miracle PP not only held it's own it bettered the Loesch in dynamics, noise floor, bass, information retrieval and spatial cues. A worthy contender in an all tubed system.
   I have an interst in the Miracle Line as one of our club members Mark K. is the owner/designer of Miracle audio which we do home demo for. This piece stands on it's own. So NO HYPE by me that is unwarranted. I'm buying one myself.
  If you like I can bring over one for a in home demo . Can't hurt. www.miracleaudio.com check it out and let me now.
  BTW ever going to make one of our AudioSyndrome meetings. One coming up this Friday in Cambria Heights Queens.  Thumbs Up





charles
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jsaliga
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« Reply #4 on: October 17, 2011, 01:38:16 PM »

The thing is that I am already happy with the RSA Nighthawk, and am not considering going from one SS phono pre to another.

I am most interested in the combination of a tube phono pre and step-up transformer.  For me this is a curiosity itch that I just need to scratch.  Aside from this change the only other thing in my vinyl rig I would someday like to try is a Koetsu cartridge.  I came pretty close to pulling the trigger on a Koetsu Urushi a few years ago but got cold feet.

--Jerome
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jsaliga
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« Reply #5 on: October 17, 2011, 01:42:33 PM »

  BTW ever going to make one of our AudioSyndrome meetings. One coming up this Friday in Cambria Heights Queens.

There's a bunch of AN guys I'd love to hang out and listen to music with.  I'm not too far away in Northeastern, CT, but it would need to be a day gig on a weekend given my crazy work schedule and my preference not to be making the drive back from NY in the wee hours of the morning.

--Jerome
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« Reply #6 on: October 17, 2011, 01:58:51 PM »

Jerome,
I have the Cinemags stepups that are red  label Qee 3440A's, you pictured the blue labels which are supposed to be much better.
The Red label SUT go for $90 a pair where the blues go for almost $500 for the pair, but then again still alot cheaper than Tango SUT's Duh!
I love the Cinemag stepups. I am in no way an authority on step up tranasformers, but can say honestly that they add a nice touch of weight and beauty as well as air, I much prefer my pre at 47K with the step up done with transformers.
But that is me.
As an aside I own a SS phono pre a Vista Audio pre that I love, but I must admit it was easily crushed by a tube phono pre from JJ Audio. It was not even close.
Of course there are better SS phono pre's, I just don't own any of them. Duh!

BTW, I only spin vinyl ...no digital in my house
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jsaliga
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« Reply #7 on: October 18, 2011, 04:25:21 AM »

I have the Cinemags stepups that are red  label Qee 3440A's, you pictured the blue labels which are supposed to be much better.

I love the Cinemag stepups. I am in no way an authority on step up tranasformers, but can say honestly that they add a nice touch of weight and beauty as well as air, I much prefer my pre at 47K with the step up done with transformers.
But that is me.

As an aside I own a SS phono pre a Vista Audio pre that I love, but I must admit it was easily crushed by a tube phono pre from JJ Audio. It was not even close.
Of course there are better SS phono pre's, I just don't own any of them. Duh!


That's good to know.  It has been while since I have done anything with my vinyl rig.  I usually will only buy equipment to solve a problem and never on a blind expectation that sound quality will be improved over something I already like and cannot find fault with.

So this would be the first time in years that I would make a change for the sake of change.  That said, it is pretty exciting to be thinking about it.  I also might buy a new cartridge since I no longer have a backup (it went to another AN member).

At the moment I am strongly leaning towards the Fosgate Signature phono preamp and Cinemag 1131 SUT.

--Jerome
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« Reply #8 on: October 18, 2011, 11:09:30 AM »

A good friend had recommended the Rogue Aries phono section, It uses the Cinemags as step ups.
I trust his ears, though I have not personally heard it.

Mike
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jsaliga
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« Reply #9 on: October 20, 2011, 04:18:45 AM »

I have decided to buy the Fosgate Signature tube phono preamp.  I was having a hard time finding information about it on Vinyl Asylum and professional reviews are practically meaningless.  But I did find several active threads on the Audiogon forums.  I was very interested in owners' tube rolling experiences and some comparisons to other units I was considering.

There were a few other phono preamps of interest, such as the Dodd Audio battery-powered tube phono preamp and the Cary PH 302 MKII tube phono preamp.

I will be using the Fosgate as a MM preamp and will buy the Cinemag 1134 Blue step-up transformer from Bob's Devices. I sent him an email this morning asking about availability.

I have also decided to upgrade my cartridge, and will be buying a new Benz Ruby Z.  I have an old Benz Wood Body that qualifies for the trade-in discount so I will get the cartridge for $2,600 rather than $4,000.  The Ortofon Jubilee will become my backup cartridge.

I'll order this stuff in the next week or two.  I want to time it so I can take some time off of work to set it all up and then do a lot of listening.  I'm putting the finishing touches on a large IT project and should have things wrapped up in the next week or so.

--Jerome
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« Reply #10 on: October 20, 2011, 04:43:19 AM »

Good stuff there. I'm sure it will be really enjoyable once it all arrives and gets broken in.
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« Reply #11 on: October 20, 2011, 06:39:42 AM »

Have a blast.


I have decided to buy the Fosgate Signature tube phono preamp. --Jerome
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« Reply #12 on: October 20, 2011, 07:03:54 AM »

  Nice choices Jerome. I loved my Micro Benz M2 wood body before old age set in.  The Ruby is in another class. Using a Linn Arkiv at .15 mv with a Lenco stepup until I install a new Goldnote  Boboli HOMC at 2mv.
 Well anyway enjoy the new gear.



charles
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« Reply #13 on: October 20, 2011, 10:26:34 AM »

I have decided to buy the Fosgate Signature tube phono preamp.  There were a few other phono preamps of interest, such as the Dodd Audio battery-powered tube phono preamp and the Cary PH 302 MKII tube phono preamp.

I have also decided to upgrade my cartridge, and will be buying a new Benz Ruby Z.  I have an old Benz Wood Body that qualifies for the trade-in discount so I will get the cartridge for $2,600 rather than $4,000.  The Ortofon Jubilee will become my backup cartridge.

I'll order this stuff in the next week or two.  I want to time it so I can take some time off of work to set it all up and then do a lot of listening.  I'm putting the finishing touches on a large IT project and should have things wrapped up in the next week or so.

--Jerome

Hey Jerome,
That Fosgate phono pre is gorgeous looking... nice eye candy & should sound great... Your new cartridges should be impressive as well!  Thumbs Up

Congratulations, Very Happy/
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jsaliga
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« Reply #14 on: October 30, 2011, 06:11:20 AM »

I backed away from this decision and have yet to order the preamp and SUT.  I did come around on the cartridge however, but opted for a Benz Ebony L rather than the Ruby Z.  The Benz trade up policy allowed me to send in my broken Wood M2 in exchange for a $1,250 discount so I ended up getting the Ebony L for $2,250.  That cart should be here in a few days.

As for the phono preamp I was having a difficult time getting comfortable with the purchase.  Not because I have some great concern about the Fosgate Signature or using a SUT.  It's really about the pragmatist in me.  When you are already working from a very high level starting point, trying to improve sound can be a very costly and futile endeavor.  That wasn't what was supplying the primary motivation here but it did cross my mind and I concluded that the Fosgate, while providing the tube topology that I was after, was really just another phono preamp.  I wanted more than that.

There are other audio adventures that the vinylphile in me has, at one time or another, wanted to pursue but never got around to it.  One of those pursuits is a turntable with a 12 inch tonearm.  The thought has fascinated me for years.  But I suspect the claimed advantage of reducing tracking error is probably quite small, and more than likely imperceptible at the business end of one's system.

I feel that if I were go in that direction I would not give up my SOTA Star Sapphire (which cannot accommodate a 12" arm) in pursuit a 12" rig.  My SOTA is made from Koa wood and is rather rare since it is no longer offered as a custom finish.  I expect to be keeping that deck for the rest of my life.

So I would be thinking of adding a second deck.  This brings me back to the phono preamp, because if a second deck is something I might actually go for then it makes the most sense to buy a phono preamp that has multiple inputs and can handle two or three tonearms.  So I am looking at the Aesthetix Rhea tube phono preamp.  It has three inputs, each configurable with its own gain and loading settings.  I am trying to negotiate a deal for a used one as I write this.  I would never pony up $4,500 for a phono preamp, no matter how good.  But spending about half that for a nice used one brings the price in line with what I was planing to spend on the Fosgate Signature, and the Aesthetix Rhea will give me the flexibility of adding another turntable without the added purchase of a dedicated phono preamp.

This brings me back to the table with a 12" tonearm.  Assuming that the deal for Rhea goes through, this second table would be a longer term project that would not be cheap.  There are a number of ways to go with this: 1) a vintage Garrard 301 or Thorens TD124 on a custom made plinth with 12" armboard (a rig I have often dreamed about), or something a bit more contemporary such as a Origin Live Resolution or Nottingham Analogue Spacedeck.  I think the Nottingham is becoming less of an option since I have contacted the US distributor twice overt the past week and have not received a response.  For a tonearm I was thinking either a SME 3012, SME312S, Ortofon RS-309D, or even a Jelco SA-750L.  Two very nice things about the Jelco arm is that it is relatively inexpensive (about $700) and it is high mass which would make it an ideal choice if I wanted to buy a Koetsu cartridge (another audio adventure I have long wanted to pursue).  So I figure that the table and arm would run between $3,000 and $5,000.  And then add another $4,000 for a Koetsu cartridge if I ended up going for one.

I would do these things not out of concern over the performance of my current rig.  This would be nothing more than a self-indulgent experiment.

In closing I have often expressed concern that audiophiles are oftentimes too focused on gear and gizmos and don't spend enough time getting lost in the music.  And here I am spending a lot of time, at least lately, thinking about gear that at the end of the day I really don't need.  I suppose that makes me something of a hypocrite, contemplating the ultimate indulgence in a self-indulgent hobby: while at the same time cautioning others about spending needlessly on stuff that is not likely to improve their listening experience.

If any of you have some experiences with 12" arms that you want to share I would love to read about them.

--Jerome
« Last Edit: October 30, 2011, 10:04:29 AM by jsaliga » Logged
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