Valve Phone Stage - £500-ish

  • The WAM 22 TICKETS and details can be found HERE
Membership Upgrades
The Wam Show 2022 Confirmed, click to read more.

AndyCC72

Newbie
Wammer
Mar 4, 2021
160
253
68
50
SE London/Kent
HiFi Trade?
  1. No
I would like to dip my toes into the tube/valve sound and I think the phono stage would be the best and cheapest place to do this initially to get an idea of what it’s all about (I’ve never heard a tube amp other than online videos). 

My current TT set up is as follows:

Technics SL1500C
AT VM95ML 
LYNGDORF TDAI 1120 internal phono stage

I’m close to purchasing the Croft RIAA for £499 but I thought I’d ask the following on here:

1 - Does anyone have any experience with the Croft RIAA and if so what do they think 

2 - Any other valve phono stages in the same price range that anyone has experience with and can recommend ?

3 - is £500 not enough to get a decent valve PS that will provide an improvement on the internal phono stage in my amp (which is better than the internal 1500c one)

Thanks in advance !

 
Last edited by a moderator:

Jazid

Wammer
Wammer Plus
Oct 13, 2009
4,275
815
193
London
AKA
James
HiFi Trade?
  1. No
In my opinion it is enough to make the phono stage better than the cartridge you are using. Icon Audio, Puresound, and Big Bottle come to mind as producers with nice valve stages at around that money new or 2nd hand.

 
  • Like
Reactions: AndyCC72

Firebottle

Wammer
Wammer
Jun 13, 2020
313
301
83
The Black Country
AKA
Alan
HiFi Trade?
  1. No
The Croft RIAA is a good entry into valve phono stages. It is quiet as it uses ECC83/12AX7 valves.

The EQ correction gives a little lift on the bass as Glen uses EQ best suited to Decca cartridges.

As stated there should be a good choice if you go 2nd hand.

 

AndyCC72

Newbie
Wammer
Mar 4, 2021
160
253
68
50
SE London/Kent
HiFi Trade?
  1. No
Thanks all. I think i'm leaning towards the Croft.  I'll keep my eye on the classifieds and see if any Icon Audio come up at a decent price as I have read good things about them too.

How do you think the Croft would compare to the Pro-Ject Tube Box DS2?

 

manicatel

Wammer
Wammer
Sep 12, 2009
1,212
262
128
Herts/Essex border
AKA
matt
HiFi Trade?
  1. No
Haven’t heard the Croft, but have heard the ProJect Tube Box ds2 quite a few times. I think it’s a super phono stage. Plenty of setting flexibility for either mm or mc carts, & just a great sound in general. The tubes don’t add massive globs of syrup to the sound, maybe just a hint of warmth compared to some SS stages. Plenty of detail, snappy rhythm,deep clean bass, really good vfm. Probably in short supply at the moment, as everything seems to be at the moment.

 

AndyCC72

Newbie
Wammer
Mar 4, 2021
160
253
68
50
SE London/Kent
HiFi Trade?
  1. No
Haven’t heard the Croft, but have heard the ProJect Tube Box ds2 quite a few times. I think it’s a super phono stage. Plenty of setting flexibility for either mm or mc carts, & just a great sound in general. The tubes don’t add massive globs of syrup to the sound, maybe just a hint of warmth compared to some SS stages. Plenty of detail, snappy rhythm,deep clean bass, really good vfm. Probably in short supply at the moment, as everything seems to be at the moment.
Thanks… I’d like something that would give me a taste of what tubes are all about and what would be an improvement on which is by all accounts a decent phono stage In the Lyngdorf 1120. 
 

I’m wondering if a £500 budget is enough to achieve both of these aims? 

 

Firebottle

Wammer
Wammer
Jun 13, 2020
313
301
83
The Black Country
AKA
Alan
HiFi Trade?
  1. No
I have a Salas VPI phono stage with separate valve rectified power supply, MC/MM switchable input that you could have for £500 delivered.

 

toms wait

Wammer
Wammer
May 20, 2015
2,496
1,235
148
lancs
AKA
Greg
HiFi Trade?
  1. No
Parks Audio Budgie.

Discontinued by Shannon Parks but one on eBay at present.

I have one and it is very good, dynamic, gain is a bit low, but an even tempered thing that I have had no bother with at all.

Having said that I am toying with a Heed Quasar that includes MC input, budgie is only MM.

 
  • Like
Reactions: AndyCC72

Rothwell Audio

Wammer
Wammer
Mar 23, 2016
347
250
48
Lancashire, UK
AKA
Andrew
How do you think the Croft would compare to the Pro-Ject Tube Box DS2?
I can't comment on the sound of those two units but I can say that they are constructed very differently.  Croft's gear is "old school" valve construction, ie all-valve and point-to-point/tag-board construction with large capacitors and resistors, whereas the Project is stuffed full of integrated circuits and surface-mount components with circuit boards connected via ribbon cable.  If I was a cynic (ok, I am a cynic) I'd say the valves in the Project were mainly a marketing feature.

 

rabski

Everything in moderation
Staff member
Dec 2, 2006
32,552
18,567
173
Kettering
AKA
Richard
HiFi Trade?
  1. No
I can't comment on the sound of those two units but I can say that they are constructed very differently.  Croft's gear is "old school" valve construction, ie all-valve and point-to-point/tag-board construction with large capacitors and resistors, whereas the Project is stuffed full of integrated circuits and surface-mount components with circuit boards connected via ribbon cable.  If I was a cynic (ok, I am a cynic) I'd say the valves in the Project were mainly a marketing feature.
Me too (cynical). To be fair, Pro-Ject stuff usually sounds very decent. In this case though, my take on it is that the Croft uses valves because you should, and the Pro-Ject uses valves because you can. Glen Croft designs his stuff in the traditional (read 'proper') way. In the ones I've seen and the schematics I have, the circuits are designed to run valves at their ideal operating point, taking full advantage of their potential for excellent linearity among other things. I would take a guess that the Pro-Ject uses them more to get a 'sound'. It runs on an 18 volt DC supply, so even with some magic, the voltage on the valves will be significantly lower than ideal.

I'm not a fan of using valves to get a 'valve sound'. It's deliberately misusing them, usually to produce additional 2nd harmonic distortion or non-linearity. Pleasant effects no doubt, but totally unnecessary.

 
  • Like
Reactions: DomT and AndyCC72

AndyCC72

Newbie
Wammer
Mar 4, 2021
160
253
68
50
SE London/Kent
HiFi Trade?
  1. No
Thanks. I’ve DM’d Firebottle about the one he mentioned, if I don’t end up buying that then the Croft will be the one I go for.

 
Last edited by a moderator:

HugoZ

Newbie
Wammer
Mar 2, 2020
127
55
33
My vote goes to the Puresound P10; to my ears better than some quite exotic alternatives I've tried, including an Air Tight ATE-2 and Aurorasound Vida.

Only caveat is that its output impedance is quite high (around 5 Kohms) so the input impedance of your preamp or integrated amp needs to be 50 Kohms or higher (preferably higher). 

 
  • Like
Reactions: AndyCC72

AndyCC72

Newbie
Wammer
Mar 4, 2021
160
253
68
50
SE London/Kent
HiFi Trade?
  1. No
Quick update.  @Firebottle let me trial his Salas VPI stage and I've been running it for the last week or so.  A quite audible improvement on the stage in the Lyngdorf 1120. So I took the plunge and paid for it today.  

If asked to explain how it is better, which I always struggle to do I would say It's added a slight warmth to the sound without being at all syrupy. The soundstage which I already thought was good is definitely better and there's more muscle/depth to the sound with an improved timbre across the ranges.  Very happy with the SQ improvement.  Thank you Alan!