Phonostage comparisons

I decided to look for a dedicated phonostage for my London Reference whch was sent out to John Wirght for an overhaul just before the end of Octoboer last year. If you will recall, he announced his retirment and at the time there was no heir apparent to take over the helm. I decided, even though my London had about 600 plays left in it,  to get her gussied up. As of now, a company has stepped up to continue the legend that is London Decca!

My AMR PH 77 has three inputs but alas, I can hear a fall-off in quality when any inputs are used other than the direct input. It has occurred to me that his could be because none of those inputs have been used for any significant amount of time, meaning they are certainly not run-in. I will put that on my agenda, run-in other inputs on the PH 77. 

I focused on the following phonostages for the London, the SW1X LPU III Balanced, PS Audio Stellar, iFi iPhono 3 BL, Teac PE 505 and the SPL Phonos.

The cost outlier in the group is the SW1x at approximately $10K. It was $12K but due to the strong dollar against the pound it has come down in cost. 

The London, in my system and to my ears sounds best loaded at or above 47k ohms and depending on the stage (how bright the stage naturally sounds) may or may not need to be capacitance loaded between 100 and 200pf. 

The SW1X, based on the tubes in the unit I had in my possession, yielded a gain of 46dB. I would suggest that 46dB is the low threshold gain for the London. This combination produced a big powerful sound with a bit of that tube magic. I could hear the tubes doing their thing. The overall sound was exciting, piano hammer strikes were hard and exacting on fast and furious jazz pieces, very impessive. This was a sound that one could easily live with for a very long time. Of the bunch, this came closest to the sound signature of my Grado Epoch 3 and the AMR PH 77. This is where I found an issue. It was a similar sound and so why would I spend $10K to come close to a sound I already possess? If I did not own the Epoch 3 I probably would have kept the SW1X. While I am no fan of SUT's, I can imagine the SW1X, the right SUT and MC could produce some absolutely beautiful music. 

Next up was the PS Audio Stellar. I really like the Stellar and I think you get a lot for your money with this stage. It is transparent, built like a tank, dynamic and the timing is good. This is the second time I have had the Stellar in my system. Listening to the Stellar with the London, I was a little perplexed. I could not put my finger on it exactly but it was simply not involving. It was the opposite of involving. I don't recall feeling this way back when I reviewed this unit at the request of PS Audio. I will mention, when I reveiwed this unit some years ago it was primarily with MC cartridges. The Stellar was a no go in my system with the London. 

I then queued up the Teac PE 505. This is an interesting and very configurable phonostage, not to mention very good looking. I really wanted to like this unit. I will admit it, I loved how it looked LOL. The timing was excellent and it was more engaging than the Stellar, but I could hear a dynamic constraint as if the sound wanted to blossom but was then pulled back. I attribute this dimunition of the sound field to the active negative feedback RIAA empoyed in this stage. My system is extremely resolving and for good or bad, I can hear EVERYTHING that is in the chain inclduing fuses!

TheiFi Phono 3 BL was up next. I have a great deal of experience with this unit and I will cut to the chase and just say it was excellent. It did everything well, in fact very well. Timing, dynamics, depth of field and bass. Of course it did not play as big as the SW1X, none of them did, nor should one expect them to do so. I was impressed by what that little box was able to pull off. It clearly outperformed the Stellar and the Teac. 

The contest came down to the SPL Phonos and the iPhono 3 BL. The two sound awfully similar to each other and I had to go back and forth quite a bit, I am talking hours at a time over a week long perod! I recalled that the iP3 had hundreds of hours on the clock while the Phonos was newly aquired. I then burned the SPL in for an additional 100 hours and went back to listening comparison testing. The iP3 is $1K and the SPL is $2.5K (it can be had for about $1.6k). Now I could hear the SPL pulling away. Again, the sound is very close and you would need to have a highly resoving system with a higher end cartridge. I could hear deeper into the music with the SPL and the music was slightly more refined.

My overall takeaway ranks the stages with the London Reference in my system as follows. 

1. SW1X LPU III Balanced

2. SPL Phonos

3. iFi iPhono 3 Black Label

4. Teac PE 505

5. PS Audio Stellar

None of these devices are losers. This is simply one mans findings in his system using a non scientific method and his very subjective ears and priorities. I hope you enjoyed the read!

This is not a job for me, this is fun. This is about the enjoyment of music! 



I tried the Elite iPower with the iPhono 3 BL quite a while back. My findings surprised me a bit. I found that the iP3 performed better with the supplied iPower X. I also found this to be the case with the Neo Stream whereas the Zen Stream clearly sounded better with the Elite to my ears. The lesson here is that you have to experiment. Conjecture, as some on this site love to do, typically means nothing. 

I owned the SPL Director/Performer/Phonos and love the performance and small form factor. The only reason I sold was to get into tubes. SPL is seriously good price-performance 

The Herron VTPH-2A still rules.  It's out of production, but still available used.  Under $10K and is still ar the top of the list for ALL phono stages, cost no object.


Yes, all were tested at 47k ohms. I experimented a bit with capacitance on the Teac, SPL and the iP3 BL, ending up at 100pf for the iP3 and SPL units. I don’t recall where I found the Teac to perform best but it would most likely have been 100 or 220pf.

@audiofun Seeking Out Demo's of Phonostages, is a experience that can become quite an eye opener, when having the opportunity to encounter and be demonstrated a selection of Phonostages with different Topologies and Circuit Designs.

I have indelible memories of the enjoyment factor of the experiences I have been party to.

I also like it when additional attendees are present during a demonstration and I am able to observe the reactions of others who are present.

When a new discovery is made, that is outside of pre-conceived ideas, especially when a Commercial Product has got review or two about it, and there is a struggle to reconcile the Sonic from the Demonstration and the description from a previous read article. One other moment of interest is when a Demonstration of a Device that has a low Purchase Value or Low Purchase Component  Value for a Build is able to mix it with much more expensive devices and in some cases make the more expensive device seem the unattractive option.

I am still to be offered on regular occasion, Demo's of a variety of items that are used for the replay of the Vinyl LP.

Additionally, I am active in encouraging works to be undertaken in relation to Vinyl LP Replays, be it Commission Built Bespoke Device or a Investigation into a mechanical or electrical function, where a redesign can be realised as the outcome.

In relation to the Demo's you are looking to continue. If there is a want to add hours to a Phonostage, this can be done using a Reverse RIAA such a Hagerman Design between a CD Player and Phon. Using repeat play I have put appox' a  Hundred Hours on a Phon' over the course of Monday - Friday, leaving the Demo's for the Friday Night or the Weekend.

My experience of this method, is usually, as a result of the re-visiting the device in a continued use every 4-8 Hrs, at about 30-40 Hrs, there is a substantial noticeable change, where the Sonic is harmonised and with a added attraction. Beyond this period of usage there is a noticeable impact on certain frequencies, they seemingly become more present and become cemented into the overall frequency range. 



I am enjoying my Grado Epoch3!
Do you also load it at 47K?

How does it compare to the London?

Am thinking of getting a Zesto Andros Deluxe!

Love the Zesto sound. It should be beyond my full function Atma-Sphere MP-1.
There was some thought of the CS Port ps. But pretty pricey. And I don’t want to loose that Zesto sound.

Hope you can demo cuz the MP1 is no slouch :).

Heard the CS Port and is very good. Depends on priorities but know of a CS Port replaced by EM/IA. Meanwhile RADA ( caveat : whom I represent ) has been the winner compared to EM/IA. So.... off to demo !


I love the Epoch 3, it just may be the finest cartridge I’ve ever experienced. The London and the Epoch sound more alike than not but the Epoch exceeds the London in depth of stage and soundstage width. The Epoch 3 just goes further than the London when it comes to revealing the nuances of the music. It just sounds real.

I am still wrestling with an issue where I hear excessive groove wall noise out of my left channel with the Epoch. This is driving me a little nuts and is the only thing keeping this from being the finest cartridge I have ever owned/heard. I am convinced I can find the culprit. I know it is not prior groove damage to my vinyl as I have played a number of brand new albums and I still experience the noise. Not all albums present this noise but when they do, it drives me NUTS!

I do load it at 47k ohms and I have found this to be best by far. Setting gain to 60dB with a 47k ohm load is musical bliss.

I am going to go through the whole setup process again with my SmarTractor and Analog Majik 2, hopfully I can get to the bottom of this left channel groove noise. I have exhausted anti-skate a possible culprit and I worked azimuth to death, but I will start over.

If none of this works, I may have to send it back to John and have him check it out.

Either way, I am going to get it worked out because the cartridge is simply magic otherwise.

Thank you for the write up. Agreed with your results on the Stellar. It has all the functions and looks that one would probably want. However, there is definitely something lacking in the involvement arena. I purchased one to replace a GCPH that was modified by the Parts Connexion. Figured the Stellar would trounce it in short order…….  Nope…..

@audiofun , you had best have a look at that stylus under magnification to make sure it is not pointed in the wrong direction. A stylus tilted anticlockwise as you face it would explain more noise in the left channel. Much stranger things have happened. Grado will repair that under warranty. 

Wturkey: You’re welcome :)


mijostyn: Thank you for that suggestion! I really do appreciate the information. I’ve only been into vinyl since 2014 and while I’ve read a ton, have some of  the best set up tools and have the advantage of being buddies with and living close to the proprietor of Artisan Fidelity, I KNOW there is always that which I do not know. :)

 Can you better define “groove wall noise”?

On your phono stage comparison write-up, it seems to me, if the units were reviewed in the chronological order as presented, that you may have suffered from reviewing the best sounding unit first. That experience may have colored your listening impressions of each of the 4 units that you subsequently evaluated. Although I do think the best (most expensive) SS phono stages compete with the best tube units, I have usually found that mid price SS units can suffer in much the same way that you describe, compared to very good tube or hybrid units. Don’t get me wrong, the very best SS units do excel, in my system to my ears.

Wouldn’t the top line Whest phono stages be far more costly than even the most expensive of the units he reviewed? And he’s stated he’d rather not stretch to buy that phono stage due to its relatively high cost, although it seems to be his favorite.


Hi hope all is well. Concerning groove wall noise, it simply sounds like the stylus is touching a part of the wall where there is no encoding of infomration and I get a steady sound of dragging. As I stated previously, its more on some albums but some are new albums so it is not do to groove damage.


The Whest sound is not my cup of tea. It is very very solid state sounding. I think I mentioned above that I have decided to part with the London Reference as the Epoch 3 seems to do everything and more than the London. I have decided to send my DartZeel NHB-18NS back to the company for updating and to add a second phonostage (now revision 8 for the phonostage). So, I will have three phonostages between the AMR PH 77 and the Dart. The DartZeel phonostage is very impressive and it surprised me. I did not expect to like it, let alone be surprised by just how great it sounds. It is exceptional!


Honestly, I know what I hear, I have not to my knowledge had a piece of gear color my impressions of another piece of gear. A piece outperforms another or it does not. I know you are not one of those psycho-babble tin eared sods who thinks no one can hear the difference of anything, and that they only prefer a piece because that is the piece they want to own for whatever reason. I don't ever respond to those types. I just figure they have a tin ear and actually believe everyone hears just as poorly.

I actually listend to the stages by two’s. For instance, I would listen to the Stellar for a week or two and then I would bring in the iPhono 3BL for comparisons. I did that untill I had a really good handle on just where the iPhono outperfomed the Stellar. In this case it was the iP3’s ability to actually involve me in the musical event:). So at that point the Stellar has lost and is on the sidelines, next up was the Teac, it too lost to iP3. The Phonos and the iP3 took some time, but ulitmately the Phonos prevaled in depth of field and clarity (if I recall correctly). It was close, but the Phonos was better. The SW1X LPU III Balanced is just in another league and at its cost, it very well should be the best. Cost, obviously does not alwyas dictate what is best but that tubed unit sounded impressively big and bold with the London. Again, if my Epoch3 with the AMR or DartZeel didn’t already do what the London and SW1X did, I would have most likely purchased the SW1X. Man, I wish that unit had a better name :)

I believe he has made some additional updates to the SW1X. The SW1X did make a little bit of physicall noise (like transformer hum) when powered up but nothing too bad. I realize I am a bit spoiled as the AMR and Dart are flat out dead quiet. Actually all of the units were very quiet including the Phonos. I recall the first Phonos I ever had in house, a dealer demo, was noisy. I now know that it probably had some kind of issue because the one I just recenly purchased (didn’t keep it) was super quiet.


Thank you. I have the Epoch 3 set up as follows:

loading is 47k ohms, gain is 60dB and VTF is 1.854g. 


I agree with your break in strategey and I don't listen to components seriously without proper run-in. I uses a reverse RIAA cable and a Sony tuner that I purchased used specifically for a break-in source. My CD player is much too nice for me to waste the drive unit on break-in:) I built up a couple of RCA connectors with 33k ohm resistors as loads for the device I am running-in. 

No Issues with the Tuner being used in place of a CDP, I have a CDP that is one of my Son's left behind gadgets. It is a cheap to replace device if it fails.

What bugged me about Whest is the lack of information on their website that would allow anyone to derive an opinion regarding their design and build philosophy. Yet they have enthusiastic fans. Also, I wanted balanced inputs and the capacity to handle at least two tonearms, neither of which features is on the Whest menu.

Id like to hear a shootout between the MCCI (which I own) and Mijostyn’s Seta, bearing in mind that the Seta is a more flexible unit, for purposes that don’t concern me. The problem with making such a comparison is that the cartridge is a major determinant of the results with current drive. Thus you wouldn’t necessarily want to compare them using the same cartridge in both instances. It’s rather complex, because of the finite but very low input Z of current driven stages.

I've been looking for a new headshell. I ran across a wooden one. Looked Good  but I get the feeling that Wood is still drying from capillary action thus altering the VTA integrity of possible mistracking. Whats your experences?



@griptube Have a look at a Panzerholz or Picawood Densified Wood used for a Headshell, these materials are extremely stable during exposure to ambient moisture, and are known for their properties for Damping and Dissipation of transferred energies. 

Grip tube, that’s a level of anal thinking that I have not previously encountered. Ortofon and Yamamoto make wood headshells that won’t warp enough to alter VTA by a measurable amount in any of our children’s lifetimes. I’m guessing you’re also averse to wood arm wands.

There are certain diehards who won't have anything to do with a wood arm wand.  I am not one of them, but I entitle them to their opinion.  Fear of a wood headshell is a new one for me.  I wish there were a long Latin word for that phobia.

I personally love the Schroeder CB 1L and I would never ever own the carbon fiber version. 

I plan to add the Schroeder to my table along with the 11” and 14” 4 Points that I currently own.


I just wanted to make sure you know I’m not at all denigrating your concerns or choices, just having a little fun. I thought I was extreme and I am :) but you caught me off guard with the VTA/headshell concern. The net net is, if it’s valid to you, then it’s valid :)