Gaffer

Pro-Ject Phono Box DS+

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So I have been listening to my vinyl with this (the 2 boxes in the middle):

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Initially had a Grado GF3 MI high output cart with a  Graham Slee Phono Stage (rrp £150)...... but then I upgraded to an MC (low output Ortofon MC15 Super mkII) and needed either a SUT or other pre-preamp to bring it up to the level to allow me to carry on using my Communicator. I bought a Pickering Perfection PL-Z (rrp £140ish?) to fulfill this role and everything worked well.

Positives are an inky black silence with little bg noise - which I attribute to the PL-Z being battery powered and the Communicator being quite well behaved in this regard.

However, I have noticed a negative in that although it sounded good, it was very bass-light. Switching between CD and Vinyl for the same tracks and bass would just disappear. Reading around the forums and quite a few folk have mentioned this as a "feature" of GS amps, but I think my problem lay with the fact that that PL-Z was designed for Pickering MC carts so I suspect the setup wasn't impedance matched to my cart maybe? (e.g. the Ortofon requires >20Ohm but maybe the PL-Z combined with the GS was less than this - I don't know as it's hard to find quantifiable evidence online about what they're "set up" as).

So anyway, I thought I'd take a punt and upgrade to a different Phono Stage:

H16NEyX.jpg

Enter my new Phono Box DS+ (rrp £275).....a dual mono design with much more configurability than I currently have. I'm amazed how few reviews there are on the web (you can pretty much find reviews of most of Pro-Jects multitude of phono amps but I can't find one for this anywhere).

Stereo Separation/Soundstage: WOW, it's an order of magnitude better than the previous 2 box set up - soundstage wider, deeper and taller with more spread out sound/better stereo separation. For instance, whereas before a vocal and a guitar string for a track might happen to be roughly centre line in the same spot, now they are in distinctly different spaces not just L-R but also Front-Back.

Treble/Midrange: Much better texture and definition - Dire Straits Brothers in Arms sounds brilliant with strings being plucked in the air in front of you.

Bass: Yaaaay - I have bass back. The configurability has let me experiment and with lower impedance the sound becomes bass light, higher impedance a bit bloated. 100Ohms is perfect and within the range Ortofon recommend for the cart. It's not too much to need the Subsonic Filter on ;) but I can feel the floor shake with some records now (talking of which, I don't need the filter on as my sub DSPeaker has one already)

BG Noise: Here is the only negative in that it initially had more bg hiss when I first switched it on than my previous set up, but over the day, bizarrely, it has definitely improved and is almost no noisier than the 2 box setup now. To be fair this has confused me as I'm not sure what to make of stories of "run in" (unless you're talking about speakers).....but there is a definite improvement here over time.

^^^ It just arrived today so maybe it will improve with use and as I fiddle but those are my initial thoughts (given that I found it so hard to get reviews before I took the plunge).

I'm due a different upgrade in the next few days which will give the other reason I switched to the DS+ (will post a separate thread) but overall I'm very impressed and would recommend it to anyone else looking for a circa £250 all dancing phono stage (I got it for £247 online). 

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Looks the business... be interesting to see how it develops with burn in.. does it have a separate psu option?

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Your journey is an illustration why I can't be arsed with phono stages and instead chose a preamp that I knew to have a superlative phono stage (and a transformer for when I dabble with moving coils to boost their output).   

It would have been interesting to have tried a transformer with your Graham Slee to match the Moving Coil .. of course being a transformer it would not add any extra noise (unlike another powered pre preamp) .. but you have solved the problem with a complete upgrade that works for you.  Happy listening  :) 

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 I ran one of these for a couple of years before upgrading to a Lehmann (which I love). Great little boxes. BG noise / hiss was something I eliminated with a mains earth plug connected directly to it, also a bit of tweaking with the input gain will show dividends, less gain on the Phono stage and more volume from the Amp.

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Hi, i have this Phono stage, bloody brilliant, no noise, no hum, i use an Audio Technica  ATF7 on about the same setting as you except for the gain, which is loaded at 60db.

i keep meaning to try out one of my MM cartridges i have knocking about, just haven't had the time.

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Aah, thanks, I'll try reducing the gain to 60dB (today it sounds a bit better though). I have noticed LOTS of interference and hum on the Phono input when I turn the tuner on (which didn't happen before) so I think i'll try something else first as I reckon I can isolate whatever's causing it.....

22 hours ago, radiant red said:

Looks the business... be interesting to see how it develops with burn in.. does it have a separate psu option?

I think you can get Pro-Ject ones like the Power Box (about 4 different models I think) or 3rd party ones. I must admit, it's one of the disappointments with this, the wall wart is probably the smallest/flimsiest pile of carp I've ever seen bundled with a device.....even the Speed Box S has a bigger more substantial PSU.

8 hours ago, Dave Brown said:

 I ran one of these for a couple of years before upgrading to a Lehmann (which I love). Great little boxes. BG noise / hiss was something I eliminated with a mains earth plug connected directly to it, also a bit of tweaking with the input gain will show dividends, less gain on the Phono stage and more volume from the Amp.

I was considering doing something similar. Before I had an earth wire connecting chassis of PL-Z to chassis of Communicator and then from Communicator to TT. Now there is just TT to Phono Box -> should I add one from Phono Box to Amp or is that too much?

When you say "mains earth plug" you don't mean connecting a wire between it and the mains earth directly do you? 

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@Gaffer Re the noise pickup from the tuner, have you tried moving the signal cables and/or mains leads to see if that makes a difference?   Obviously one wouldn’t choose to place a sensitive preamp on top of another item, but I can’t imagine you’ve done that.  

In any case, I usually try to switch off everything I don’t need, when listening to another source. If that fixes it I’d not be too worried.  

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13 hours ago, Gaffer said:

Aah, thanks, I'll try reducing the gain to 60dB (today it sounds a bit better though). I have noticed LOTS of interference and hum on the Phono input when I turn the tuner on (which didn't happen before) so I think i'll try something else first as I reckon I can isolate whatever's causing it.....

I think you can get Pro-Ject ones like the Power Box (about 4 different models I think) or 3rd party ones. I must admit, it's one of the disappointments with this, the wall wart is probably the smallest/flimsiest pile of carp I've ever seen bundled with a device.....even the Speed Box S has a bigger more substantial PSU.

I was considering doing something similar. Before I had an earth wire connecting chassis of PL-Z to chassis of Communicator and then from Communicator to TT. Now there is just TT to Phono Box -> should I add one from Phono Box to Amp or is that too much?

When you say "mains earth plug" you don't mean connecting a wire between it and the mains earth directly do you? 

I would definitely ensure there is a ground between Phono Stage and Amplifier. Also, sorry if I'm teaching you to suck eggs, but TT to Phono Stage cables are critical - I've tested a bunch and you have to be wary of cables with a floating shield only terminated at one end. I have a dedicated Mains Earth Plug on the phono stage, as you say, it's just a mains plug with a wire soldered to the earth pin and nowt else.

2018-09-12%2009.21.00.jpg?raw=1

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Will try that on a spare plug socket :^ (got plenty of wire floating around in the garage so should be able to knock one up easily enough) ..........but.....whilst fiddling around today I moved some things around the back and now the hum has gone (from the tuner input - i'll still do that plug Earth trick though)....

....talking of which, that upgrade I was talking about earlier arrived today:

8fx6n65.jpg

Linear Power Supplies :D. Unfortunately, stupid me didn't order the correct DC Jack sizes (I swear I measured them at 2.5mm but they're apparently 2.1mm).....so until the DC Jack adapters arrive, I can't try 'em out .

PS. They look 'on' but the units are being powered by their SMPSs - this was just to get an idea of what it'll all look like powered up. The LPSs do look a bit oversized where they are so I might move them around later.

EDIT: To give you an idea of how flimsy the original Pro-Ject SMPSs are, here are the Speed Box S and Phono Box DS+ ones compared to a penny:

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...and here compared to the much heftier Graham Slee one:

f2NvXMz.jpg

So I was always looking to upgrade to LPSs ;)

Edited by Gaffer
added piccies of OEM SMPSs

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Yeah.... DC adaptors always have been smaller than their chunky AC counterparts, but they work. I guess this is down to lack of development, and the inherent design for the AC wall wart not moving along at the same pace DC ones have. Most things tend to be DC these days and sourcing specific AC wall warts is becoming more and more difficult day by day. Personally I hate the things, cluttering up everything. But I guess we'll have to live with them until we change the mains over to DC (no really..... there is a movement pushing for this - https://www.emergealliance.org/). Pro-Ject <Pro-ject hat on> have interesting things in the pipeline with the S2 range, and I must admit I quite fancy a bundle of the Stream Box S2 Ultra, Pre Box S2 Digital and the Accu Box S2, that'll make a rather tidy little streaming setup. Anyway - I digress ... time for a coffee and see if my RS delivery has turned up.

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Well I got the 2.5-2.1mm convertor jacks and can provide some thoughts on the improvements:

A-B comparisons between them, with LPSs on = slightly less grainy/harsh treble, same deep bass but better controlled, slightly more forward soundstage.

^^^ Of course this is all VERY subtle so it's not exactly night & day but it's enough of an improvement to warrant the (£69 each) outlay.

I have also heard a friends circa £250 LPS upgrade on his similar phono stage (bought in the UK) and don't think it offers anything better than what these ones do so I'm quite happy with the results....

....happy enough that I've just bought another one from the sister company (Breeze Audio) for the DAC/DSP ;)

Oh, and I did those things as advised:

1) Earth cable to a plug so get earthing lead - connected to Phono Stage ----- No change that I could discern :|

2) Put the gain down to 60dB from 65dB and use the amp to provide the gain ---- MUCH improved with much less audible hiss now. There is still a very tiny bit present if you listen hard for it (which wasn't there with my previous 2 box system) but it is almost negligible and as it has improved with time thus far, I'm hoping it continues to do so :D

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