Finding good phono stages can be a real nightmare as they are one of the hardest
components to get right within a system. Many designs so beloved by the press are
able to capture much of the detail within recordings, but few find the passion that
great musicians are able to put into their work. We feel the mid market to hi end
designs we offer allow you to get closer to both the performance and the performers
than many other stages.
Project Phono Box MM
The Phono Box MM is a moving magnet only phono stage from Project. It’s housed in
a very small metal case which provides good shielding, and has an external wall wart
type power supply, both of which help keep noise to a minimum. Inside it uses surface
mount components (see picture below) to keep the signal paths very short and a dual
mono layout for good channel separation.
Rega Phono Box MM phono stage: £59.99
Edwards Audio Apprentice Phono stage
The Apprentice is the new entry level phono stage from Edwards Audio which combines
quite remarkable performance and very a affordable price tag. Designed and manufactured
entirely in the UK this diminutive box contains an exceptionally short signal path
(thanks to the surface mount design) and an external power supply to keep noise to
a minimum.. Much like its larger and dearer brothers (detailed below) it has a sound
that is very well resolved but never tiring or difficult to listen to, and has quickly
established itself as our reference phono stage for under a hundred pounds.
Edwards Audio Apprentice MM phono stage: £89.95
Rega Fono Mini A2D
The Fono Mini A2D is the latest version of the classic Rega budget phono stage and
is ideal for all budget turntables. This new design incorporates an analogue to digital
convertor and USB output, so it can be used directly into your computer for making
recordings, or conventionally into your hifi system via the phono sockets. Unlike
many other USB phono stages a level control is provided so you can set the optimum
output level for making the best of your LP recordings - the quality of which really
surprised me at this price level by sounding vibrant, well detailed and tonally nicely
Inside it’s very neatly constructed, in the above picture the power supply is at
the bottom left, the phono sections at the top left and the Burr Brown analogue to
digital convertor is just behind the USB-B connector on the right (the shiny silver
box), with the level control below it.
It comes in a nicely extruded black aluminium case and is very well made in the UK
as you’d expect from this vinyl specialist company. Power comes from an external
mains supply (included) to ensure noise is kept low and the main unit measures a
diminutive 11cm x 10cm x 3cm.
Rega Fono Mini A2D phono stage £85.00
Project Phono Box MkII
The Phono Box II is a classic budget phono stage, perfect for use with budget turntables
and systems. Unusually for this type of design it can be used with both MM and MC
cartridges via an internal adjustment. It is power by an external plug top power
supply (included) to help reduce noise and is available with either silver or black
Project Phono Box MkII MM & MC phono stage: £69.00
Edwards Audio MM1
The MM1 is a fantastic moving magnet phono stage, and whilst its set at a very reasonable
price it contains design elements you wouldn’t normally see at this price, including
features such as a dual rail power supply. The sound is very musical and enjoyable
and ranks as one of our all time favourite budget phono stages. It is also one of
the most stylish looking stages we’ve seen and quite diminutive at just 11.5cms wide.
-Edwards Audio MM1 phono stage: £179.95.
Edwards Audio MM1+
The MM1+ is based on the MM1 featured above and includes adjustable load (resistance
and capacitance) and gain settings via internal jumpers. This allows fine tuning
for getting the best from both MM cartridges and High Output MC (HOMC) designs.
Edwards Audio MM1+ phono stage £229.95
Rega Fono MM
The Fono MM is the latest all new stand alone phono stage from Rega (which confusingly
has the same name as its predecessor). It is housed in the new look Rega aluminium
casework and measures a diminutive 18cm wide, 14cm deep and 4.5cm tall. Inside surface
mount components are used to ensure a very short signal path (see picture below),
and an external wall wart power supply/transformer helps keep noise to an absolute
It’s available in either silver or black. Our demo model has literally just arrived,
so I will detail its sound as soon as it has had time to run in.
Rega Fono MM phono stage: £198.00
Edwards Audio MC1
The MC1 is a superb sounding upgradeable MM and MC switchable phono stage. It uses
a gold plated circuit board (pictured below) and a very novel active/passive eq stage
for the RIAA correction which gives an accuracy of 0.5dB throughout the audio band.
It can be upgraded with the addition of the PSU1 external power supply which takes
the sound to another level, and frankly one that competes with some of the best transistors
phono stages I’ve heard. Unlike many transistor designs which have a habit of stripping
the sound of texture and concentrate solely on resolution, the MC1 strikes a wonderful
balance of tonal substance and detail retrieval. The power supply brings effortless
dynamics and a completely strain free sound that remains exciting and involving to
New for 2012 is a range of excitingly colourful fascias for both the MC1 and PSU1.
The range is shown below, including classic white and black finishes (the latter
available with black rather than silver aluminium enclosure), as well as the more
vibrant Blue, Green and Red.
-Edwards Audio MC1 with high quality plug top type power supply: £299.95
-Edwards Audio PSU1 upgraded power supply: £279.95
-Edwards Audio MC1 and PSU 1 package price: £549.95
Edwards Audio MC1PLUS
The MC1PLUS is based on the MC1 featured above and includes adjustable load (resistance
and capacitance) and gain settings via internal jumpers. This allows fine tuning
for getting the best from both MM cartridges and High Output MC (HOMC) designs. Like
the standard MC1 it can also be used with the option PSU1 power supply for even greater
Edwards Audio MC1+ phono stage £349.95
Edwards Audio MC1+ & PSU1 phono stage and power supply package price £599.95
Project Tube Box MkII: £290
Neat valve MM & MC valve phono stage, includes switchable subsonic filter and external
power supply. More details and photos coming soon.
Project Tube Box SE mkII
The Tube Box SE is a compact valve phono stage with inputs for both MM and MC cartridges
that is very reasonably priced.
The audio stage uses a pair of ECC83 valves and there’s an external 16V power supply
to ensure noise is kept as low as possible.
When used as an MC stage it offers adjustable loading via links mounted on the rear,
allowing it to work with a wide range of cartridges.
The sound quality is very impressive for the money. Auditioned with moving magnet
cartridges the sound stage is expansive with good detailing and transparency. The
bass may be a little rounded in character but this will be only noticeable with wide
bandwidth speakers whose price is likely to be way beyond the level of this humble
Our experiments with the MC input have so far been not quite as impressive - on test
we were not able to get the same sound stage and openness with our favourite coil
cartridges (whatever the settings), however this is a trait we feel is common on
almost all phono stages with internal active MC stages (whatever the price), however
this shouldn’t be seen as a limitation of this phono stage as such, more a limitation
of active step ups in general.
The solution is to use a good external step up transformer to raise the MC cartridges
output up to the level of a MM design, and whilst this sounds great it does dramatically
increase the cost.
So in conclusion this is box is quite superb value for money, but stick to using
it with MM cartridges (unless you can afford a good transformer) to hear it at its
Project Tube Box SE mkII phono stage: £425.00
Croft Acoustics RIAA phono stage
The Croft Acoustics RIAA is a superb valve phono stage that uses two ECC83 dual triodes,
with an all hard wired circuit that’s hand made within the UK. It’s sound is classic
Croft -a sense of rightness that’s difficult to put into words, but leaves you wanting
for very little. Where the RIAA particularly excels is in its speed and dynamics,
little things like handclaps and percussion are great examples as they are dealt
with with such ease (which often isn’t the case on lesser stages), not only do they
more sound realistic but the Croft is able to give you the acoustic clues around
them which gives you a real idea of the reverberation of the recording venue. This
naturally leads onto its imaging, which is another outstanding aspect, with the width
of staging and musician placement being quite remarkable. By concentrating on these
aspects perhaps makes it sound like this stage lacks musicality, but nothing is further
from the truth, its timing, energy and involvement are exemplary. As you can probably
guess, I can’t recommend this phono stage highly enough for someone wanting a relatively
affordable taste of the real hi end.
Croft Acoustics RIAA phono stage: £500
Project Phono Box RS
The Phono Box RS is a very well featured MM and MC phono stage, that enables the
user to adjust a multitude of settings to suit almost any individual cartridge, such
is the wide scope of adjustments I have tried to list them all below. However despite
the possible number of options it is actually very easy to use and we can advise
on the correct settings for use with your cartridge if you are at all unsure.
On the front, you have the ability to infinitely adjust the cartridge loading from
10 to 1200 Ohms (the F/V swtich allows you to change between a Fixed values of 47K
and 10Ohms or engage operation of the Variable rotary control). The RIAA/DECCA curves
allows switching between these two EQ curves and there’s also adjustable gain on
the furthest right switch, which is useful to correct for any level loss when running
with low impedance loadings and for optimising playback levels in your system.
On the rear we have the DIP switches (the blue blocks in the centre) for adjusting
capacitance (100pF minimum, with the switches adding in up to a total of 520pF) and
fixed loading between 10R and 47K resistance. The toggle switches include a Subsonic
filter (aka Rumble filter, which I always prefer left off whenever possible) and
a switch between RCA and XLR input, as this phono stage supports full balanced use
both from the arm cables and into the connected amplifier.
Sonically the RS is a very enjoyable phono stage to listen to, it has a sound that
is dynamic, with well extended and resolved frequency extremes. It is tonality is
slightly on the dry side but not unpleasantly so, in my experience this is of often
a side effect of using switch mode power supplies like the plug top one included
with the RS - there is going to be a linear power supply available shortly as an
upgrade. Naturally the huge flexibility of the RS means that you can easily dial
the stage in to match your cartridge, so you can be sure that it is optimised for
your setup within moments.
The very compact box (21cm wide, 7cm high and 21cm deep) is beautifully finished
in brushed aluminium and available in either Black or Silver finish.
Pro-Ject Phono Box RS MM & MC phono stage: £600.00
Pure Sound P10
The P10 is a superb MM valve phono stage (for Moving Coil use it in conjunction with
a Step Up transformer). It uses a completely hard wired purist circuit with passive
equalisation and no feedback. It is cleverly made with internal divisions to shield
the noisy parts of the power supply from the audio stage and features very short
signal paths. It produces an effortless sound with great tonality and is very highly
Pure Sound P10 phono stage: £659.95
Just announced is a new phono stage from Rega. We have one of the very first ones
on order, so as soon as we receive it we will update this page, but for the time
being here’s what Rega say:
Housed within our latest half width custom designed case are two entirely separate
high performance phono stages. One fully adjustable dedicated moving coil and one
moving magnet. Each stage is designed and engineered to maximise the potential of
your vinyl system whilst remaining easy to use and set up.
The Aria is an “all analogue amplifier” with no digital control circuitry. The fully
aluminium case screens the internal circuit from any stray RFI signals. Our designers
have avoided including any superfluous gadgets as they obstruct the signal path and
degrade the sound quality. The Aria incorporates many innovative design ideas including
a self-adjusting servo control to keep the MC input circuit at its optimum, compensating
for any variations in ambient or operating temperature. Both stages have their own
separate input sockets and input pre-amplifier circuitry. This enabled us to design
bespoke input circuitry for each cartridge type without compromise. Signal switching
is performed at high level and low impedance (via relays) ensuring there is no degradation
of the signal.
MM Stage design & features
The MM input uses low noise bipolar input transistors configured as a compound pair.
There are two separate power supplies for each channel and further sub power supplies
for each of the low noise input circuits. Nichicon FG electrolytic capacitors have
been used in critical positions throughout the power supplies. Polypropylene capacitors
have been used in the signal path and equalization networks. Discrete circuitry is
used throughout the signal path ensuring full control of the circuit design.
MC stage design & features
The MC input uses parallel connected low noise FET’s (Field Effect Transistor’s)
configured as a compound pair. The use of FET transistors ensures there is no bias
current flowing in the cartridge coil so as not to upset the delicate magnetic geometry
of the cartridge. The MC input has the provision for selecting resistive input loading
of 70Ω to 400Ω and capacitive loading of 1000pF to 4200pF. The input sensitivity
can be changed by 6dB, via the back panel.
The Aria will only be available in a black finish.
Rega Aria phono stage: £798.00
Edwards Audio MC2Plus
The Edwards Audio MC2 builds upon the excellent MC1 (featured above) and features
advances including additional gain (making it suitable for use with passive pre amplifiers),
improved power rails and transconductance input stage. This design can work with
MM and MC cartridges by moving internally adjustable jumpers, a 7Hz warp filter can
also be enabled if required.
This very flexible design offers sound far greater than its compact dimensions would
suggest possible, with superb resolution and musicality in abundance. The large external
power supply means that there’s great dynamics and very low background noise too.
-Edwards Audio MC2 & PSU2 £999.95
Audion Premier Phono Stage
The Premier is a valve phono stage that uses 6922 tubes mounted on an aluminium half
width chassis. It is a very quiet MM stage which has a transparent sound that is
very revealing without being overly analytical in presentation. Its midband is exactly
what you’d expect of a good valve design, there’s no grain or hash, just an open
and expansive sound. Naturally is also works wonderfully with step up transformers
for use with moving coil cartridges.
-Audion Premier Phono MM phono stage £900
Croft RIAA R phono stage
The RIAA R phono stage is one of the latest designs from Glenn Croft. Its circuit
(shown here with its lid off) is effectively derived from the Micro 25 pre amplifier,
and as you’d probably expect it features an all valve hard wired signal path with
extensively regulated power supplies, fed from two toroidal mains transformers. It’s
intended for Moving Magnet but can of course be used with high output MCs or standard
output MCs if you use any good external step up transformer.
The performance the RIAA R achieves at this price level is incredibly impressive.
It has a sound that is characterised by a feeling of enormous grip and authority
(I’d wager largely due to the use of the regulated power supplies), but whilst retaining
a good sense of flow and musicality. Unlike many lesser phono stages it doesn’t bleach
the tonal colour of instruments, which sound very real and present. If you like your
vinyl to sound life like and bold (and who wouldn’t!) then we’d highly recommend
Croft Acoustics RIAA R MM phono stage: £1,000
Audio Note R Zero V2
The R Zero V2 is a valve MM phono stage which uses the a pair of 6112WA dual triodes
and quality parts including Beyschlag resistors and Audio Note tin foil paper in
oil capacitors. It is housed in the smaller Audio note chassis (approximately 2/3
standard width) and is available with either a black or brushed aluminium fascia.
Audio Note R Zero V2 phono stage: £1,045
Audio Note M1RIAA
The M1RIAA is an all valve MM phono stage. It uses ECC83 and ECC88 triodes in a feedback
free circuit and the internal layout provides good seperation and screening from
the power supply and audio board (as shown below). It is available with either a
black acrylic or brushed aluminium fascia.
Audio Note M1RIAA phono stage: £1,420
Edwards Audio MC3
The MC3 is the new top of the range two box phono stage from Edwards Audio. It allows
fine adjustment of loading via internal jumpers and optional rumble filtering. On
the rear panel there are switches for MM and MC switching (it has dual inputs, so
users with two tonearms/turntables do not have to unplug when changing between them
as long as one is MM and one one an MC cartridge). Also on the rear is a mono switch,
this makes a massive difference on mono recordings of course, the display on the
unit changes to red when this mode is engaged.
This sophisticated design has 10 power supplies fed from an external power supply
(not pictured, but in the same size casework as the phono stage pictured).
-Edwards Audio MC3 phono stage: £1,500
Croft Acoustics RIAA RS
The RIAA RS is the new top of the range phono stage from Glenn Croft. It’s housed
in two of the standard sized Croft cases, one of which contains the massive regulated
power supply and the other the phono stage itself. More details to follow soon.