From Greece, the Echo Diastasis PH-79 Phono Stage is a dual mono design using E-Core transformers and costs £2760. Janine Elliot gives it a whirl.
Georgios Loutridis is very proud of his PH-79. This new Echo Diastasis phono-stage from Greece is the fourth product in his portfolio, all sharing the number 79, and replacing the PH-7 phono-stage before. This new model has many developments over the previous model including being a dual mono design and featuring two E –core transformers, as used in their other products, as opposed to a single toroidal in the PH-7. It also comes with better parts and materials, and a different circuit design. It maintains the active RIAA EQ of the previous model though better design and components. It is also significantly better looking though much bigger. The number 79 was very special to me; the year I started university, and the number of strands on my first serious cable. For George the number derives from his favourite numbers 7 and 9;
He refers to his four models (phono-stage, integrated, pre and power) as his ‘children’ and suggesting that as a parent he should love all his children equally, but that actually this baby up for review is really special. With pride he told me “It is to my knowledge the only phono stage on the market combining zero negative feedback with an active RIAA curve”. So much emphasis over the years has been on playing about with feedback, and whilst zero negative feedback is not a new idea, it has recently seen a lot of publicity. Zero negative feedback can, however, be taken to mean that there is no feedback at all, and whilst in this model there is indeed no global feedback loop there are however controlled local feedback points, but not loops. George informed me that this kind of feedback is very small, and the gain stages are ultra linear. Whatever the magic in this design it certainly does contribute to some very pleasing listening I had during the few weeks of reviewing this unit. The pros and cons of feedback in a design is a complex story. In its simplest term a circuit with negative feedback aims to remove distortion by feeding back a negative sample of the signal onto itself, something that I learned about when Quad introduced their iconic 405 current dumping power-amp, though had actually been present in earlier amplifiers. Conversely Sansui’s infamous Super Feed-forward system, as seen in some of their AU- series amplifiers of the 1980’s, was more complex and had the error signal amplified in a separate error amplifier whereby its output is combined with the main-amplifier output at the point where it drives the load, the intention to reduce all distortions to zero. Different ideas, then, that aimed to have the same outcome; that of a pure, distortion free output. If not done correctly they can actually increase distortion and even oscillation. Using such systems does however mean more components and effectively two amplifiers per channel, which can have their own drawbacks and increased cost. There have been designs with no feedback at all; I do believe RCA issued such a design, though this was valve, based on a USA 7025 (a sort of ECC83 double triode). The Echo Diastasis’s low noise characteristic is largely due to a no-feedback filter circuit in the power supply. With an additional noise rejection stabiliser and a design ensuring that the low level phono cartridge signal is amplified without any unwanted noises, this is indeed a very quiet amplifier.What is also good to see is an active RIAA EQ at a time of emphasis of things passive, claiming to be within 0.05dB between 20 Hz and 100 kHz. The design states ‘separation of high and low frequency poles and matching materials’. The separation is done by two active circuits in the RIAA circuitry, with the idea of achieving a better and strictly controlled RIAA accuracy. It was an excellently flat response, working well on all types of music. The unit is also a dual-mono single ended full Class A product which for me was a welcome sight. The PH79 also has their proprietary noise-cancelling technology that practically obliterates current noise. I was surprised at how large this unit was when I opened the carton it was in; with big writing on the front 10mm thick aluminium front panel and two gorgeous large knobs for selecting cartridge type and load impedance, I had expected it to be much smaller from the initial photographs, though of course it didn’t worry me. It was taller than my own Manley Steelhead, though that has a separate power-supply. The PH79 only contains one circuit board and two transformers, so could easily be 2u high, rather than the almost 3u size (excluding feet). At 147mm (5.8 inches) total height this is a substantial machine. Those large knobs allow a choice of six different settings of loads (of 47, 100, 220, 470, 1000 and 47,000Ω) and 3 gain stages. The latter selects moving magnet (41 dB), high output moving coil (60dB), and low output MC (65dB), offering -90dB noise floor on MM cartridge with 5mV input, and -79dB for 0.5mV MC, both A-weighted, both very respectable levels. I initially chose to use the Audio Technica AT33sa cartridge on my Pre Audio tangential turntable at 220 Ω and low output. These rotary selectors control high quality relays, so it means the audio signal itself does not go through them. The unit also has a 5 second delay circuitry on switch-on, as seen on respectable high quality phono-stages particularly valve, and happily for me has the on/off rocker switch under the left front of the unit, rather than hidden at the back of the unit which many of you will know tends to annoy me! The high quality input and output gold-plated and Teflon-coated RCA sockets are clearly indicated at the back, including writing both normal and upside down, to save you cranking your head too much if wiring from the front; yet another detail from this Greek company that impressed me. I didn’t expect any balanced XLR sockets by virtue of its design. Even the instruction manual, whilst printed on A4 paper, is well laid out and easy to read. At £2760 this was a well thought out package.
Crossing two continents by playing Supertramp’s live ‘Paris’ album and their infamous “Breakfast In America track, it soon became apparent how transparent and open the sound was, being relaxed and undaunted, allowing me to easily hear a well-controlled soundstage with space enough to place each instrument clearly and the audience as well. Ride cymbals were very clean and not tizzy like some less flat designs might give. The ease of presentation allowed me to clearly experience the band’s notorious speed changes between verses and choruses. Whilst it would put any professional music teacher on edge if their student played around with the speed of their Beethoven as much as Supertramp did in theirs, I wasn’t actually that bothered by it all and could see just why it was important to do so here. The Echo was very open and just let it all happen and did so in a gentle and authoritative manner. “Bloody Well Right” had much more oomph, showing a good noise level between the quiet piano and loud ‘crashes’ from the percussion and guitars. The song title said it all.
“I’ve Got you Under my Skin”, “Begin the Beguine” and “I get a Kick out of You” from the Chasing the Dragon Grammy’s nominated Ella Fitzgerald 100th anniversary record gave a rather relaxed account of Clare teal’s vocals that seemed more in the back of the soundstage compared with some of the instruments, and the smooth performance doesn’t get me as involved as some phono-stages arriving for review, but its musicality in terms of timing and warmth made the instruments come to life, and matches his own belief that just as all the best components make up the best hand-made musical instruments, so an equal care products are used in this hand-made electrical instrument. This is a really pleasing machine sounding almost valve-like, and whilst not as fast as some, certainly has the edge over many in terms of listenability and control. Again, it was a surprisingly quiet phono-stage, and even scratches seemed to disappear into the background.
Playing Schubert String Quartet in G major D956 (Chilingirian Quartet) has each of the upper four members of the string family playing a timely and well defined rendition, with each member placed well in front of me. This is an elderly record in my collection but it showed no signs of age though this Greek product. I was now beginning to enjoy this unit, managing to get more detail front to back when playing with 100Ω load; so good to make changes on a front panel, rather than using dip switches underneath which stop you doing a-b comparisons. Turning to Sviatoslav Richter, piano, in Schubert’s Trout Quintet D667 (The Borodin Quartet), this much louder recorded album might have the piano further back in the layout than the string members, but I still felt very much involved with the epic work; indeed the damper-pedal was clearly audible hinting that there is no subsonic filter; I could hear very low frequency damper pedals on a piano performance through my Wilson Benesch Torus subwoofer that I really enjoyed hearing, showing this was indeed a human recording. My turntable is very much in control at all frequencies so it was glad to hear it so well behaved through the phonostage. Indeed George himself also believes that “there is lot of musical information down there and there is no need to cut it”. Of course the danger of subsonic noise needs to be dealt with at the cartridge itself, and through the Townshend Rock 7/Ortofon Kontrapunkt b with its trough/paddle the same album was particularly carefully portrayed at the lower frequency end. In the quiet C –major development section, the noise floor was exceptional, and gave a good hearing of the foot pedal central stage, though the piano itself in the recording isn’t as well mic’d as I would have done myself; bass frequencies are more muffled than the higher ones, a fault of the sound engineering. The PH79 was just plain honest, something missing in a number of new phono-stages appearing these days. The instruments were well positioned with them performing naturally including a good portrayal of bowing and notes. Muse “Drones” was powerful but still modest, just slightly missing out on the energy and ‘bite’ I am used to hearing on my resident phono-stages. It was just not quite as quick as some phono-stages I know well, but in its place the sound was extremely natural, making it very real. Stereo spread is good, as it should be on a dual mono design.
This was a surprisingly good product from a company I had not listened to before, and I was surprised how analogue and almost valve-like the portrayal of the music I played on it was. For those wanting a human-like experience with their music and don’t mind the size and traditional look of the package – I liked it – then this should be well worth an audition. With good facilities and relatively low cost for such a good performer, this phono-stage could become one of your own children, too.
BUILD QUALITY: Good Basic build with thick 10mm aluminium front panel and good quality components. Well laid out inside.
SOUND QUALITY: Good signal to noise levels and flat frequency response. An open and honest reproduction of the music, particularly the lower bass end, due to there being no low filter in the design.
VALUE FOR MONEY: At £2760 this falls into the lower end of the serious section of the market and gave a good account for itself. Well worth a listen for the price.
Well controlled reproduction of music
Extremely flat frequency Response
Low noise design
Could lack a little energy in some performances
The box is rather old fashioned in looks and perhaps doesn’t need to be so tall
- Zero negative Feedback
- Audiophile Dual-Mono Circuit Design
- E-core transformer
- Gold plated Connectors, Teflon insulated
- Output impedance 20Ω
- Input impedance 47,100,220,470 / 1 kOhms and 47 kOhms
- Gain MM 41dB, MC 60dB, MC 65dB
- Inputs: 1 pair RCA (L%R)
- Outputs: 1 pair RCA (L%R)
- THD+N 20Hz-20kHz,MM c 0.02%, MC c 0.05%
- Signal to Noise 20Hz-20kHz unweighted:MM -85dB, MC -79dB
- Accuracy Riaa 0.05dB
- Dimensions (WxDxH)440x340x147 mm
- Weight 9 kg