Help.... I'm scared to 'upgrade'!

Help…. I’m scared to ‘upgrade’!

I’m an unrepentant audiophile. I love equipment; buttons, knobs, dials, beautiful design, meters. Of course, I’m enthralled by music. It’s a deeply enriching and important part of my life. This makes me the perfect mark for spending way too much money on gear. I know that, oh well. So I want to upgrade from my cheap phono-stage but I’m full of doubt and hesitation. Let me explain….

I have what I consider a pretty great system, the heart of which is an Accuphase E-470. My speakers are a pair of ATC HTS-40’s (same drivers and specs as the SCM 40’s), and a pair of JL Audio D-110’s. Streaming is through a Bluesound NODE and an RME ADI DAC 2 fs. Mostly that great digital front end is used for TV and podcasts. When I settle down to really listen to music it’s through my analog front-end. That’s what this post is about.

I’ve had four or five phono-stages over the years and in fact I just sold a very nice all-tube one for $4,200. It simply wasn’t as quiet as the AD-50 input board installed in my E-470. I want all of those ‘audiophiley’ qualities like a holographic soundstage, magical midrange etc., but those have to emerge from an extremely quiet background and with extra high resolution. That’s why I sold a Parasound JC 3+ years ago because of too much hiss. And it was easy to sell a Rega Aria because that thing was great at generating it’s OWN noise. Yes, I’m picky. The AD-50 in my Accuphase is nice but the allure of ‘the next level’ is always tugging.

Then I accidentally bought an iFi Zen Phono! I was helping my son-in-law with his first TT and found a great used one here on Audiogon. He lives far away and I wanted to install a nice cart I had and dial it in pretty close before sending it on to him. I recommended one of those based on ‘buzz’ and he ordered one immediately. I did too, thinking I’d send it along with his TT. Anyway, for less than $200 I decided to keep it for a nice back-up. The thing is, it sounds absolutely phenomenal in my system. It’s paired with an extremely customized and modded Rega deck with an Hana Umami Red. I also have a Luxman PD-171A with an Ortofon Cadenza Black. That combo generates some great sound too.

So here it is…. The iFi Zen Phono is just crazy good. I think it’s better than the JC+, the Rega Aria that I had, and even the Luxman EQ-500 that I recently let go. Has anyone upgraded from the Zen Phono and to what? My short list includes the Whest Audio PS.40RDT, the new Accuphase C-47 (which would mean selling as much gear from my stash as possible), or an FM Acoustics FM 122-MKII. What else should I consider? I’m very intrigued by the Thoress Parametric Phono Equalizer too. What scares me is that might spend 6 to 12 grand on a unit that barely outperforms the ‘lowly’ Zen Phono.

Thanks for Reading!


well, this little tiny corner of the internet is a place for discussing high end gear, right? 

If sgreg thinks I am pressing for the OP to spend big bucks, that is not at all the case. The OP himself talked about a $70K Swiss unit and then about a 13.5K Accuphase. IMO you can acquire superb phono stages for much less. But on the other hand, let’s not pretend that the Zen is under-appreciated gold just BECAUSE it is cheap. The iPhono3 with an upgraded PS should kick its butt for way under $2K, and if it doesn’t I’d take a look at the linestage performance. 

I am curious about one thing here: I own both the Aria and the JC3+ and don’t hear any noise issues with either? 

I am curious about one thing here: I own both the Aria and the JC3+ and don’t hear any noise issues with either? 

It's a function of your cartridge output (lower output carts are harder) and how loud you listen. Then there's the bugaboo that even if you achieve a dead quiet noise floor from your phono stage in the seating position with volume up way high and no music playing, this floor might be completely swamped by your minimum groove noise anyways. 

The JC 3+ is an excellent phono stage designed by one of the true masters of phono stages. It was either defective or it was not set up correctly. 

Phono stages can be very difficult to evaluate. They are equalized devices and easy to design them with a pleasing sonic signature by monkeying around with the RIAA circuit.