But the times they are a changing, and so is the audience for vinyl – or at least the vinyl they’re listening to. Ever increasing interest in older stereo and now even mono recordings is presenting new challenges to the designers of today’s phono-stages, while all that increased resolution has opening the window on turntable and cartridge performance, throwing the whole question of cartridge loading into stark relief. Suddenly, the adjustability of phono-stages and the variety of parameters those adjustments must address has become a hot topic: gain, loading (resistive and capacitive) and equalization are all back on the agenda. So much so that the question has ceased to be whether we should switch or not, but how to switch better? So with that in mind, I’ve assemble this contrasting trio of phonostages, each with a different take on what you should adjust and just how you might set about it. Let the games begin… But before they do, a quick word on source components. I used two record players for the listening: the Grand Prix Audio Monaco with Triplanar VII tonearm and Lyra Titan i cartridge and the VPI TNT VI with its JMW 12” tonearm and the latest rim-drive setup. The JMW’s interchangeable armtops allowed me to run a variety of cartridges, including the Lyra Skala, the vdH Condor, the Koetsu Urushi Sky Blue and the latest Cartridge Man Music Maker, the latter representing high-output moving-iron designs. Together these options certainly allowed me to ring the changes and investigate the effects and benefits (or otherwise) of loading on different cartridges.
The TEAD Groove Plus SRX
The extended family tree that culminates in the various TEAD Groove models has its roots firmly planted in the original Michell Iso. Designed by Evans for the late John Michell, the Iso might not have been the first standalone MC to line-level phono-stage (lagging behind the Vendetta Research in the US and the FM Acoustics in Europe) but as far as the UK was concerned it was the one that established the breed. Built around Evans’ novel IC-based phase corrective circuitry, it offered a performance whose resolution and transparency (if not its harmonic development and sense of instrumental substance) challenged the then state of the art, in a compact and affordable package that rewrote the rules of record replay almost overnight.