Phono Stage Bake-Off - Durham - Arkless, NVA, Graham Slee +???

Room to arrange and discuss bake-offs
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karatestu
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Re: Phono Stage Bake-Off - Durham - Arkless, NVA, Graham Slee +???

Unread post by karatestu » Sat Nov 18, 2017 10:21 pm

I am sure i saw some nva units sat on top of each other :naughty:

That is even worse than using a rack. You naughty boys :grin:
I love fluffy bunnies

Andy-831
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Re: Phono Stage Bake-Off - Durham - Arkless, NVA, Graham Slee +???

Unread post by Andy-831 » Sat Nov 18, 2017 10:34 pm

Well here we go with my thoughts of the day

We kicked off with Paul playing us some digital files from his Vortexbox.

The Phono stage bake off started with the Phono 2 with extra Psu. I found this stage to be accurate and dynamic with a well projected soundstage, side to side, back to front and top to bottom. Plenty of air around instruments, easy to identify where on the stage individuals were playing. The stage had attack when needed piano was edgy and in your face, kick drums and bass were accurate and controlled, voices were superb particularly with female vocalists. The whole projection was wide, deep, accurate easy to follow with good clarity and resolution, this is an excellent piece of equipment.

Second stage was a modified Cambridge (Arkless). I found it flat, thin and generally unacceptable . I have had two original Cambridge stages which my audio memory tells me were better than this modified version however its been a good few years since I heard one and time does dim the memory somewhat.

The MF was third up and again was generally found wanting. The last two stages did not recieve any extended play they were simply outclassed by the other equipment on offer.

Next up was the Graham Slee. I quite liked this little box of tricks and could live with this phono stage. It excelled at bass projection gave a decent soundstage, resolution was not quite as nice as the Phono 2 and whilst it was a good package when its pricepoint is considered it did not quite stack up.

We then moved onto the Phono 1 It was very clear this was the "little brother" of the Phono 2. It basically was voiced to sound very similar to the 2 but with slightly less of everything, nevertheless an excellent phono stage that had I not heard the 2 I could very easily live with.

So on balance in Pauls system today I would overwhelmingly choose the Phono 2 as my personal favourite followed by the Phono 1 and close behind that the Graham Slee Which was probably sonically between the 2 & 1 but gets relegated to 3rd due to its price. The MF and modified Cambridge were someway behind the others in my opinion.

Well thats my take on a very pleasant and enjoyable day out

Andy
Analogue
301 / 3012 / 2m black
401 / PU7 / AT33ev / Highphonics SUT
Phono 2 + extra PSU
Digital
Vortexbox, SBT / Teac Dac
Cambridge CXC
Amps
Glasshouse TVC, P50 Sa or Quad 34/44
Quad 303; 606 or Bel Canto Set 40 or NG 300B Set Monoblocks
Speakers
Tannoy GRF Memory.
Q Acoustic 3020.

Andy-831
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Re: Phono Stage Bake-Off - Durham - Arkless, NVA, Graham Slee +???

Unread post by Andy-831 » Sat Nov 18, 2017 10:39 pm

Items sat on top of each other were the Psu's for the phone 2 and a headphone amp that was not switched on. The actual Phone stage was located maybe a yard and a half from the Psu so I guess that's acceptable :grin:
Analogue
301 / 3012 / 2m black
401 / PU7 / AT33ev / Highphonics SUT
Phono 2 + extra PSU
Digital
Vortexbox, SBT / Teac Dac
Cambridge CXC
Amps
Glasshouse TVC, P50 Sa or Quad 34/44
Quad 303; 606 or Bel Canto Set 40 or NG 300B Set Monoblocks
Speakers
Tannoy GRF Memory.
Q Acoustic 3020.

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savvypaul
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Location: Durham
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Re: Phono Stage Bake-Off - Durham - Arkless, NVA, Graham Slee +???

Unread post by savvypaul » Sun Nov 19, 2017 1:46 pm

Toontrev, Andy-831 and myself in attendance. Another fresh, sunny day for the bake-off. It only got cold, wet and miserable in the evening when Man Utd's 3rd & 4th goals went in against Newcastle (sorry, Trevor!).

Phono Stages:
Musical Fidelity X-LP (estimate £200 when new?)
NVA Phono1 (£280)
Arkless modified Cambridge Audio 651p (£250 mod plus donor unit at £80-£100 going on recent ebay sales)
NVA Phono2 w/ additional PSU (£700)
Graham Slee Revelation C w/ PSU-1 (£895)

Music played: John Coltrane, Hank Mobley, The Leisure Society, Martin Simpson, Tchaikovsky Swan Lake, Joni Mitchell, Judie Tzuke, John Cougar Mellencamp, Guy Clark, Magna Carta, XTC, Anthony Moore, Seventh Wave, Volcano Choir, Phil Alvin. A 'core' of these used for each stage, the others were discovered along the way.

I've been using the Phono 2 for around a month and we started there as it was already plugged in. A wide open window, in my experience, to compare the other stages to.

The Arkless was next up, requested so on the basis of some seemingly outstanding reviews at AOS. I haven't heard the unmodded 651p but both Andy and Trevor had. This modded version is poor, I'm afraid. I had rather hoped it would be a bit of a giant killer – perhaps fond memories of growing up in Essex surrounded by souped up Ford Escorts has made me well disposed to the idea of 'pimping the mainstream'. This one is still very much a 1.1L! Rolled off treble, flat and thin elsewhere, non-existent bass resolve, very narrow soundstage. One Word Daily? 'Boring'.

Musical Fidelity X-LP. Just preferable to the Arkless on the basis that it has some treble information and the midrange has marginally better separation. On the Leisure Society track, though, the rhythm section sounded as though they were playing in a different room and from behind cushions. Off the pace.

We played the 'core' tracks with the Arkless and the MF, but no more.

NVA Phono1. A huge relief after the Arkless and MF. Proper bass, proper treble, proper music had returned. Full and expressive. A smile on everyone's face again. Rediscovered the urge to try different and new tracks. Exceptional value for money.

Graham Slee Revelation C w/ PSU-1. This one also has an EQ facility for “restoring the tonal range” of early (pre 1970s RIAA) recordings. This was my phono stage in daily use for around 18 months before the NVA Phono2. This one is quite nice; quite open, reasonably full, times acceptably, resolves bass properly. Obviously in a different league to the Arkless & MF. One thing I do realise is that it does subtly roll of the edges of vocals – clearly shown with the Joni Mitchell and Elvis Costello tracks. Still, plenty to like, and the EQ facility does work well (I have a lot of 1950s & 1960s classical LPs).

The Phono 2 now went back in and the level of musical information and emotion increased noticeably again. The 2 builds on the qualities of the 1, they are unmistakably cut from the same cloth. There are benefits over the 1 in terms of ultimate resolution, grip, propulsion, ease and transparency. We ran out of time (and, sorry, I ran out of memory) to play the Phono 2 with only one supply.

The NVA Phono 2 w/ 2nd supply was the best sounding phono stage. I would place the NVA Phono 1 next for my taste because it does certain things – presence and emotion - that I would not want to live without. I could make a case for the Graham Slee to be marginally ahead of the Phono 1 because it does a lot of things very nicely and the EQ facility is useful to me, but the Phono 1 is less than a third of the price of the Graham Slee and gets in the way of the music less, imo. The Arkless is not worth considering. The MF is similarly outclassed, but might be picked up very cheaply secondhand.

We also had a play with my Okki Nokki record cleaning machine (approx. 2 years old). Noisy, but delivers reliably good results and easy to use without fuss or mess. I don't notice any particular change in basic sound quality after cleaning but it does reduce static significantly and lastingly. Andy has an earlier version of the ON and commented that he thought build quality has increased noticeably.

Good to see you again, Trevor. Do let me know next time you're going to The Cluny or Sage. A special thanks to Andy for putting in the effort of a 6 hour round trip, and for sharing his wide experience of vintage and modern gear...a pleasure to meet you.

I'm thinking about a DAC bake-off in 2-3 months time...
"Supercalifragilisticborussiamönchengladbach"

NVA BMU / WTL Versalex / Transfiguration Axia /NVA Phono2 w/ 2nd PSU / GSP Revelation C / Vortexbox Appliance NAS Server / Sonore microRendu USB streamer w/ LPSU / Chord 2Qute USB dac / NVA P90sa / NVA A80MK2 (bass) / NVA A70 MK2 (tweeters) / NVA Cube 1 / NVA TIS MK1 / NVA SSPMK2 / NVA LS6 / NVA AP10H (& 1x additional PS) / Audeze LCD-2

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Classicrock
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Re: Phono Stage Bake-Off - Durham - Arkless, NVA, Graham Slee +???

Unread post by Classicrock » Sun Nov 19, 2017 3:05 pm

I see the Arkless was found more wanting than I experienced. Agree about rolled off treble and bass plus boring sound but it wasn't thin in the midrange (which could be down to my source). Did anyone try the different loading plugs (and which one was used) ?

antonio66

Re: Phono Stage Bake-Off - Durham - Arkless, NVA, Graham Slee +???

Unread post by antonio66 » Sun Nov 19, 2017 4:19 pm

No surprise to me the Phono 2 was a winner with everyone having also owned the Arkless mod previously. For your info Classicrock I tried different loading plugs but could hear no difference. Pleased everyone enjoyed the day Savvypaul, wished I lived a little nearer to you.

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savvypaul
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Re: Phono Stage Bake-Off - Durham - Arkless, NVA, Graham Slee +???

Unread post by savvypaul » Sun Nov 19, 2017 4:22 pm

Classicrock wrote:
Sun Nov 19, 2017 3:05 pm
I see the Arkless was found more wanting than I experienced. Agree about rolled off treble and bass plus boring sound but it wasn't thin in the midrange (which could be down to my source). Did anyone try the different loading plugs (and which one was used) ?
My transfiguration cartridge has an internal impedance of 8 ohms. Working on a recommended multiplier of 10-20, I used the 100 ohm loading plugs. Consistent, also, with the rating of the Graham Slee and Musical Fidelity stages.
"Supercalifragilisticborussiamönchengladbach"

NVA BMU / WTL Versalex / Transfiguration Axia /NVA Phono2 w/ 2nd PSU / GSP Revelation C / Vortexbox Appliance NAS Server / Sonore microRendu USB streamer w/ LPSU / Chord 2Qute USB dac / NVA P90sa / NVA A80MK2 (bass) / NVA A70 MK2 (tweeters) / NVA Cube 1 / NVA TIS MK1 / NVA SSPMK2 / NVA LS6 / NVA AP10H (& 1x additional PS) / Audeze LCD-2

eagwok33
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Re: Phono Stage Bake-Off - Durham - Arkless, NVA, Graham Slee +???

Unread post by eagwok33 » Sun Nov 19, 2017 4:29 pm

Many thanks to Paul and Andy for the informative reviews of the phono stage comparison. :clap:
Makes me thinking... ;)

Did all the stages have warm up time before you auditioned them?

Best,
Norbert
Norbert

Tubes and Vinyl rule, Music rocks! :icon-wink:

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savvypaul
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Re: Phono Stage Bake-Off - Durham - Arkless, NVA, Graham Slee +???

Unread post by savvypaul » Sun Nov 19, 2017 4:39 pm

eagwok33 wrote:
Sun Nov 19, 2017 4:29 pm
Many thanks to Paul and Andy for the informative reviews of the phono stage comparison. :clap:
Makes me thinking... ;)

Did all the stages have warm up time before you auditioned them?

Best,
Norbert
The NVA Phono 2 was switched on for about half an hour before it started playing. The NVA Phono1, Arkless, MF and Graham Slee went in from scratch. The NVA Phono 2 was switched off for about 3 hours before it went back in at the end.
"Supercalifragilisticborussiamönchengladbach"

NVA BMU / WTL Versalex / Transfiguration Axia /NVA Phono2 w/ 2nd PSU / GSP Revelation C / Vortexbox Appliance NAS Server / Sonore microRendu USB streamer w/ LPSU / Chord 2Qute USB dac / NVA P90sa / NVA A80MK2 (bass) / NVA A70 MK2 (tweeters) / NVA Cube 1 / NVA TIS MK1 / NVA SSPMK2 / NVA LS6 / NVA AP10H (& 1x additional PS) / Audeze LCD-2

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_D_S_J_R_
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Re: Phono Stage Bake-Off - Durham - Arkless, NVA, Graham Slee +???

Unread post by _D_S_J_R_ » Sun Nov 19, 2017 4:46 pm

In fairness to the MF, it can be pimped too, with a much larger 24VAC supply, fresh or better valves and maybe some other internal cap replacements. My X10-D line buffer came up a treat once 'Rock-Grotto'd' and most of the original warm but grubby 'sound' disappeared... Maybe the X-LP would polish up the same a bit as I remember it a bit soft and soggy when new...
...I have renounced the worldly bustle and live in peace at a quiet place,
I live alone in this my heaven, in my love (and) in my songs.

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