The recent revival in vinyl and explosion of new turntables has spawned an equal number of new phono stages from the bargain basement models to the highly specialised audiophile units costing thousands. Nick Gorham from Longdog Audio noticed that the market was short on quality budget units, so he decided to design one to appeal to most newcomers to vinyl or those on limited funds. The result is a very straight forward moving magnet only unit costing £199. Ian Ringstead takes a listen.
As a budget unit the PH1 arrives in a simple cardboard box but well packaged to protect it and has a standard plug top switch mode 12v dc power supply. The unit is compact and comes in a nicely made aluminium case with very good quality phono sockets for the input and outputs. Nick usually designs very high-quality products with higher price tags than the PH1 but his experience in electronic design has allowed him to eek as much as he can out of the limited budget to produce a truly bargain-basement unit. Nick uses a combination of isolated and regulated power supply technology, along with second stage inductive filtering and a third stage of active regulation. No electrolytic capacitors are used as Nick believe they can impair the sound quality, instead film capacitors are used for the filtering and smoothing. Quality precision components are used throughout the unit to achieve a highly accurate RIAA equalisation curve. Noise and distortion is extremely low, and hum is negligible. I can testify to that.
One end of the case has the two phono socket inputs with an earthing post and a blue power LED. The other end has the two output phono sockets and the 12v dc power input socket. There are no facilities for adjusting level or capacitance due to the unit’s budget, so the fixed level is a good compromise and keeps everything simple for the user.
As a budget unit moving magnet is the affordable option, I dug out my trusty Goldring G1092 and AT95E with paratrace stylus. That’s the beauty of my Jelco arm as it has a detachable headshell making comparisons so much quicker and easier. I tried out a complex album first, Yes’s Tales from Topographic Oceans, an album I know very well and one that I heard recently at their 50th anniversary concert. If you are into progressive rock, then this album is a real treat and deserves higher recognition than it got when it was first released in 1973. It was very brave of a band then to release and then perform live the whole album which consisted of four sides all twenty odd minutes long. I queued for three hours outside the Sheffield City Hall with a school mate in my sixth form wagging it from school to get tickets for that concert. Fortunately, we got the last tickets and it was a great concert. Being progressive rock the mix on this album is very dense at times when all the musicians are playing and really going for it, so it requires a good turntable, arm, cartridge and phono stage to clear away the dense layers and portray them accurately.
I know what my Luxman, Jelco and cartridges can do but what about the PH1? The great news is that it performs remarkably well. There was no hum and the noise floor was very quiet through my speakers. I was greeted with a very clear and articulate soundstage. Jon Anderson has a very clear and distinctive voice which is very pure and high-pitched, and this came through beautifully. Chris Squire, the bassist, plays very complex rhythms and unless a system can produce these correctly then the result is very disappointing. I love tight fast rhythmic bass guitar which Chris Squire excels at and it was easily heard acting as the backbone to the music along with Alan Whites frantic drumming.
The PH1 was more than capable of casting a clear image with depth and all the musicians came over as a cohesive unit. Rick Wakeman on keyboards showed his flamboyant style and deft ability to change the pace instantly like a rally driver hurtling down a forest road going hell for leather. When hearing this music live I marvel at the musician’s ability and if my system can get near to the real thing then I am satisfied. Steve Howe, a fabulous guitarist who has an amazing collection of many acoustic and electric models, including slide guitar, sounded sublime with his precision clearly portrayed through my Audio Physic Avanti’s and sounding holographic, a trait they are famed for. The PH1 didn’t let me down here, coming up trumps once again.
Randy Crawford is a fabulous singer well known for her singles “You Might Need Somebody” and “Street Life” with the Crusaders. I played Secret Combination, an album I have loved since it came out in the late seventies. I spent many a happy hour listening to this album in my bedroom when still living at home and even now it sounds fresh and thrills me. It’s a laid back album compared to my progressive rock collection, but it allows me to chill out and relax when I don’t feel like rocking. The arrangements are simple, with a horn section and superb backing musicians from the likes of Jeff Porcaro on drums, Steve Lukather on guitars and a whole host of who’s who session musicians. No wonder it’s a great sounding album. The album oozes quality and the PH1 lapped it up bringing out all the nuances of the different performers skills and touches. I love to be transported to the studio and wish I could have been in the recording sessions on the mixing desk grooving to the beat of the music. This album does that in spades when reproduced properly, and emotionally I was moved. Another album that transfixes me is the Crusaders “Rhapsody and Blues”. Here were three jazz musicians at the top of their game, who are as tight as a drum when they performed together. The arrangements flow seamlessly and are truly magical to my ears. The PH1 again conveyed the inner beauty of the tunes and allowed the spacious recording to really reach out in my living room and let me drift away (no drugs were involved in this listening session !!). This album always amazes me whenever I play it on a good set up and this set up did just that. I listened to other albums of course but the three listed stood out for me.
Even in my system costing £15000 at face value prices, the PH1 did not disgrace itself. I would be normally using a much more expensive phono stage (Gold Note PH10) which has the performance and versatility I need, but buyers on a tight budget with a moving magnet or high output moving coil won’t be let down.
Is the PH1 a giant slayer? Maybe not, but for such a restricted price I can’t help but admire its verve and joie de vivre. Keeping it simple has paid dividends in its performance and the money has been spent wisely on the components inside the case to extract maximum benefits.
AT A GLANCE
Build Quality: Excellent for the money with a nice case and good socketry.
Sound Quality: Clear with a very low noise floor and no hum.
Value For Money: Excellent when compared to similar priced alternatives and well worth trying out. The designer has made the compromises where it matters so giving maximum value for money.
Pros: Great build and performance.
Cons: Only moving magnet with no adjustments but what do you expect for the low price.