Review: MoFi StudioPhono, Part II
Review: Schiit Saga, Part II
Review: Shelter 201, Part II
Review: Shindo Monbrisson, Part III
Review: Harmon Kardon Citation I, Part III
Talk Cable: Gotham GAC-2 and DGS-1
Letter from NYC (70) 2017 (9)
MoFi StudioPhono, Part I and Shelter 201, Part I
Schiit Saga, Part I
Shindo Monbrisson, Part I (extensive basic info and review); Part II (vs Manley 300B preamp)
Harmon Kardon Citation I, Part I (basic info and review), Part II (in a group preamp shootout)
Round I (MoFi Studiophono; Shelter 201)
Using my Reference System II, In Part I of my MoFi StudioPhono review, I used the Schiit Saga as preamp. Since elsewhere I did find the Saga to be on the neutral/lean side, this time around, I swapped it out for my usual tube preamps, and that made all the difference in the world. Whereas last time I had to use a smoother cable (DIY 47 Labs) with the StdudioPhono to tone down the sound, this time I re-instated my Gotham DGS-1 with no problem. I also think more run-in helped.
Analog 1: Audio-Technica AT-PL120/Shelter 201
Analog 2: Thorens TD-125/SME 3009i/Denon DL-304
Preamp: Shindo Monbrisson and Harmon Kardon Citation I
Amp: Wavac MD-811
Loudspeakers: YL 4-way Horns
LPs Used: For this rather big round of testing, I relied on several LPs which I wrote up in my last post (roll down, or here). The same LPs were played through both preamps' own phonostages, and through the StudioPhono through the preamps' linestages.
As there are a lot to cover, I shall be brief with each entry, and sum up my findings in my Conclusions section.
StudioPhono + Shindo Monbrisson
Through the line section of the Shindo Monbrisson, the StudioPhono performed brilliantly. As with the Schiit Saga, I was particularly impressed by the way it separated the orchestral instruments and defined them in space. In Finlandia, I definitely could visualize the front, middle and back of the orchestra. As also with the Schiit Saga, the bass reached impressively deep and was suitably taut. The Shindo's warmth and sweeping power in the bass, however, was like a great air cushion and immeasurably enhanced the StudioPhono. However, when it came to the Budapest Quartet, there was still a little lingering leanness.
MoFi StudioPhono + Harmon Kardon Citation I
The performance was still very good, warmer than with the Schiit Saga. However, the line stage of the Citation I, though still warm, lacked the depth of the Shindo, and at higher volume things became just a little ragged. The lower brass in Bruckner 4th did not have quite the desirable heft.
Interlude: MoFi StudioPhono chez Andy
I took both cartridge and phonoamp to Andy's for a brief listen. On the Garrard 401, the Shelter 201 replaced a Decca cartridge. In his more forgiving system, the sound was quite listenable, without any undue leanness. The Shelter, however, did not have the color and force of Decca. Andy actually thought the StudioPhono to possess a reasonable warmth, whereas he was not too enamored of the starker sound of the Shelter. We noted the calibration may not have been precise.
Round II (Shelter 201, Denon DL-304, MoFi StudioPhono and Full-Function Preamp Use)
Up to this point, I had used mostly the Shelter 201. Then, I added to the source my Thorens 125/SME 3009i/Denon DL-304, likely better in every way than my go-to Audio-Technica.
As mentioned in Part I, the StudioPhono had no problem whatsoever with the low-output Denon DL-304. Indeed, through either the Shindo or the Harman Kardon, the sound acquired a new smoothness and have a subtler inflection, while retaining all the positive attributes mentioned above.
I then turned my attention to the performances of my preamps in their intended full-function mode. Most interestingly, much as I like my Shindo, I did not find running the Shelter 201 into its MM section to be decisively superior to using the StudioPhono. Although it produced fleshier images and a fuller tone, the Shindo was darker, less detailed and somewhat colored. It also did not reveal space in the highly accurate manner that StudioPhono did. With the MC Denon DL-304, which I first ran through the Western Electric 285L and then through the Shindo's own input trannies (which I prefer in this case), it was a different story - clearly superior to Shelter 201, through the Shindo MC stage it in almost all aspects of performance surpassed the StudioPhono, which however still managed to have image definition and layering precision to its advantage.
Harmon Kardon Citation I
Used as full-function preamp, the Shelter 201 performed much like with the StudioPhono, with just the right added warmth. Unlike the Shindo MM section, the Citation I was almost just as good in the areas where the StudioPhono excelled, and a little better it other parameters - not surprising given the Citation's modernist tube bent. I did not get to use the Citation with DL-304 as it would necessitate trials with SUTs.
Round III (Schiit Saga; reunited with StudioPhono in System III)
At the end of my last trip (see Schiit Saga, Part I; link on top), I left the Saga in my Reference System III, but was not happy with the phono setup. Equipment:
Analog 1: Pioneer PL-50/Raos MC Mono
Phonoamp 1: 47 Lab Shigaraki
Buffer: Schiit Saga
Preamp: Langevin 102
Amp: Wavac MD-811
Loudspeakers: YL Acoustics 4-way Horn Speakers
I swapped in the StudioPhono for the AQVOX, using the same Gotham DGS-1 cable to the Saga. But I also swapped out the phono cable, switching from Mogami 2534 to Gotham GAC-2. That did it! A Miracle! Unlike the duo's performance in System II (again, see Part I link), the sound was synergistic, indeed superb. It even had gravitas in the Bruckner 4th. And in Pollini's Chopin Piano Concerto No. 1 (EMI HMV Concert Classics), the strings now sounded much sweeter, the woodwinds natural and the piano focused. Most amazingly, even though I knew the StudioPhono was good in the bass, I was surprised that the system had a sweepingly solid bass foundation much like the Shindo - for this credit must go to the Langevin 102 preamp.
Note on Remaking of System III I also did a bit of re-cabling for the rest of the system. For the Sparkler CDP, I installed the Gotham DGS-1, to excellent effect. Now, only a small trace of dryness remains, even in big-boned pieces like Finlandia (PO/Ashkenazy, Decca) and Brahms 3rd (VPO/Giulini, DG) - some of this is definitely the inherent character of Sparkler; and some of this may be due to the recording (the DG is certainly drier than the Decca). I also installed the (DIY) Belden 8451 (another unsung hero; good at cooling things down) and it similarly improved the mono LP playback. I hereby declare this system ship-shape. Done!
Yes, the Schiit Saga forced me to re-cable the system, almost from top to bottom, but it is eminently worth it, and it is staying in the system (saves me space)! More below in Talk Cable and Conclusions.
Round IV (Shelter 201 with Nagra PL-P in System IV)
The Shelter 201 did well in my newly promoted System IV (here.)
Round V (Linn LP-12 Lingo/Ittok LV-II/Air Tight PC-1 in System II)
This is part of Restructuring. System I right now is seeing less action, so I decided to move the Linn LP12/Ittok/Air Tight PC-1 to System II. Also, in System II, my Thorens 125/SME 3009i/Denon DL-304 is doing so well that I did not want another Denon cartridge in the system, Hence, I moved the Thorens TD-124/SME 3012/Denon DL-103 to System I. Suffice to say, the sound of the Linn/Air Tight was just absolutely splendid through the Shindo. Even more detailed, warmer and sweeter than the TD125/SME/Denon DL-304, the PC-1 exudes a subtle elegance. More on System I later.
Cable Talk: Gotham GAC-2, DGS-1 vs Mogami
I have been using professional cables for the last 20 years. Prior to Gotham, I used mostly Mogami (2534 and 2549) but that changed after Gotham. Generally speaking, Mogami is neutral but a little on the "white" side, suitable for warm tube and vintage gears. While Gotham is just as neutral, their cables have a bit more warmth and excelled at the frequency extremes: an airy and extended treble and a tactile and deep-reaching bass. I have used the (Austria made) shielded 4-conductor GAC-4 and 2-conductor GAC-2 for the longest time in HK. The GAC-4 is a little airier than the GAC-2 and hence preferred by most HK audiophiles. Here in the US, I bought a roll of GAC-2 (earlier) and coaxial DGS-1 (later) each and have been using them mostly in my systems. With my sensitive horns, the GAC-2 is more than transparent enough, with a wide soundstage and excellent imaging. The DGS-1 is less so in those parameters, but even more direct and emotive (a parallel would be non-oversampling in digital). Due to the large number of equipment that I have, I cannot make Gotham cables fast enough, and so sometimes in less critical stations/areas use other makes, including Mogami. This was the case when I first tested the Schiit Saga at Station III (see part I, link above). This time I shuffled things around and re-cabled with Gotham and things got much better. With neutral gears like AQVOX, Schiit Saga and MoFi StudioPhono, Gotham works well but Mogami doesn't. It should also be noted that some of the current Gotham cables (like the Ultra Pro series) are even more resolving, but I wonder if it has gone overboard (I have the GAC-1 Ultra Pro, which I like, but Andy thought it too bright).
- Shelter 201 This round hasn't changed my impression of this cartridge. This is a commendably highly resolving cartridge with a very neutral tone. It is sensitive to VTA. Although generally MC-like in resolution and musical enough, it is not quite as nuanced in microdynamics and tonality. Should be partnered with warmer gears.
- MoFi StudioPhono The StudioPhono finally found its footing in the round. Perhaps further run-in helped. The StudioPhono has outstanding resolution - image specificity and definition in space are world class. Its bass quality and reach are irreproachable. This is very neutral phonoamp and care should be taken with cabling and partnering gears - not for people who prefer warmth. It is not quite an EAR 324 (from memory) but a seriously good bargain that performs way beyond its price point.
- Shindo Monbrisson As usual, it was big, bold and colorful (or as Art Dudley would say, force and touch), but with the Shelter 201 it surprisingly sounded colored and uneven. This is in fact a little puzzling, as before I had used it with numerous MM's to great effect. Even so, it shone with low output MC's. My fondness for it has not abated.
- Harmon Kardon Citation I Compared with older vintage preamps, the Citation I is a model of neutrality. Its phono section is just superb, very neutral, not unlike the StudioPhono with tube warmth added. Its line section is neutral too, but gets a little taxed when the going gets rough, lacking the Shindo's sweeping power.
- Schiit Saga As before, I am convinced the Saga is like a surgical instrument. While it sometimes demands one to think out of the box, it is a valuable piece of kit. As I said before, if your system needs more details, it is a good choice; but if your system could use more warmth, stay away.