iFi Audio launches its first entry-level phono stage
Though digital is very much the preferred format of modern music lovers, vinyl record sales have been steadily increasing. But some hi-fi amplifiers no longer have their own dedicated phono stage, meaning that the output from a turntable will need a boost from a little box called a preamp. The latest to come from the UK's iFi Audio is the Zen Phono.
The job of the phono stage is to amplify the output from the turntable and apply equalization without introducing noise. And even if your integrated amp comes with a built-in phono stage, it might not be up to snuff, with iFi saying that they're "rarely as good as a well-designed offboard phono stage placed in the signal chain between the turntable and a line-level input on the amp."
The company has decent form in this area, with its flagship iPhono3 Black Label model reported to offer class-leading, ultra-low-noise performance. That unit is pricey though, so iFi has developed a more affordable external phono stage as part of its Zen range, to "push the boundaries of what can be achieved in an entry-level phono stage."
The Zen Phono features a balanced, symmetrical dual mono circuitry, with surface-mounted components usually reserved for higher end audio gear and a custom OVA2637 op-amp for low distortion operation of 0.0001 percent.
The unit's power supply sits on its own "island" on the board, and is said to create a power supply with an oscillation frequency of 1.2 MHz. And the Zen Phono is compatible with turntables rocking moving coil or moving magnet phono cartridges, delivering four gain settings – 36 dB (for moving magnet cartridges), 48 dB (for high output moving coil cartridges), 60 dB (for lo output moving coil) and 72 dB (for very low output moving coil).
A subsonic filter can be engaged from the front panel, to intelligently filter out any unwanted subsonic output from warped records, without affecting deep bass on the recording.
Around back, users get gold-plated RCA ins and outs, a 4.4-mm Pentaconn balanced output for amps or active speakers with an equivalent input, and a grounding terminal.
The Zen Phono is on sale now for US$149.
Product page: Zen Phono