What Hi-Fi (UK)
THEY CAN BE HEROES
It won’t be much to look at and its function is less than glamorous, but your system’s phono stage is critical to its performance. Here are five of the best
As unsung heroes go, the humble phono stage is surely a big hitter. It shouldn’t simply be commended for its work, it should be up there on the hi-fi podium wearing a medal for Outstanding Achievement. But it isn’t.
The truth is that these plain little boxes are seriously undervalued in the context of most vinyl-based hi-fi systems. And yet the work they do is invaluable. We’d even go as far as saying that the phono stage is the most important piece of electronics in such a set-up. And here’s why.
Once a turntable’s cartridge has picked up the information contained in a record’s groove, the strength of the signal it transmits is measured in mere millivolts or, in the case of a moving-coil cartridge, fractions of a millivolt. The phono stage then magnifies that signal to a strength – typically around two volts – that an amplifier can work with. The scale of that task means that any shortcomings in the phono stage’s circuit are highlighted and so will be easily heard. The phono stage is also responsible for equalising the signal. You see, when the music is recorded onto the disc the frequency balance is altered so that higher frequencies are boosted and the bass de-emphasised. It’s the phono stage’s job to re-equalise the signal to produce a flat balance. This isn’t an easy job, and there may be tonal issues if it’s not done properly.
Of course, many amplifiers – and some turntables – come with their own stages fitted, but there’s no substitute for a dedicated unit so, to complement our selection of class-leading turntables (see p30), we’ve compiled this round-up of five of our favourite phono stages.
Finally, this is just a selection of the best devices available; there are many other fine examples out there too, so take your time before you buy. Your system will love you for doing so.