For more than a decade, Vincent Audio has been designing and manufacturing interesting phono stages. The PHO-700 may be one of Vincent’s best designs tovincent-pho-700_front date, meeting the challenge of building a phono stage with low-noise and as much loss-free transmission as possible. For a very reasonable price (£549.00), the PHO-700 does just that. It also looks the business with a nice (artificially enhanced) valve glow through the window on the front).

Down to business.

This is a two piece affair with power supply and phono stage kept apart. Excellent! The looks are good – fairly retro but well engineered and solid with a front panel ‘window’ on the PHO-700 through which you can see a 12AU7 valve which is used here in dual triode mode.

Lifting the lid shows quality components from Nichicon, Wima, and their ilk. There is a four position switch which varies the intensity of the six orange-red LED backlights to the valve. If you get bored with the light show, they can be completely switched off as well.

One of the most interesting aspects of this unit is the specially designed and highly developed outboard power supply.  It weighs a ton and speaks to the quality of the transformer, metal chassis, shielding, and other components. At this price point, most manufacturers (Dynavector and Electrocompaniet included) simply provide a noisy OEM wall wart. The PHO-700 uses a similar power supply to that used with the well-regarded (but cheaper, at £280, PHO-8 phono stage).

This unit explains in large part of how the PHO-700 achieves its low-noise performance.  The voltage is highly regulated and filtered, so that the ripple and hum found in unconditioned AC power cannot reach the phono section.

It is connected to the separate-chassis audio circuitry by using a very long cable with D-Sub nine pole connectors at each end. This permits the power supply to be positioned at a safe distance from the phono stage itself, although it cannot really be hidden as the power switch is on the back of the power supply, and it would not be good for safety or for the life of the valve if it were left constantly on.

The phono stage features a double-sided circuit board with good quality Burr-Brown opamps, Wima polyprop capacitors, Nichicon electrolytic capacitors, and metal film resistors. But the key feature is a Chinese ECC82 with a triode used for each channel (cue tube rolling at some stage?).  The valve output stage is delayed from operating until a relay is released only once the valve has reached operating stability.

The PHO-700 can cater for both MM and MC cartridges with a selector switch on the back of the phono stage. The input impedance are fixed value with MM the standard 47 kilohms and the MC cartridge 100 ohms.  That should match a wide range of cartridges and at this price point it would be a bit churlish to want or expect anything else.

There will not be many instances where an exotic (generally read eye-wateringly expensive) cartridge would be used with this stage and, where they are, it might vincent-pho-700_backbe worth noting that I got better results, for example, feeding my low impedance Yamamoto Soundcraft through a SUT into the MM input rather than straight through the MC input. Certainly, I had no problem with my Ortofon MMs or MCs, nor with my various Denons.

Compared to my Whest RS30RDT, this little unit generally delivers most of what it is fed – it can go fast, it can go deep with a powerful and clean sound, going much deeper than I’d expect at this price but with the rich coloration you’d expect from a valve output, and with a perfectly respectable balance from top, middle to bottom and a good wide and deep soundstage.

It will be caught out by good quality MCs on good recordings but how often will it realistically be paired with such a beast? My Ortofon Blue MC complemented it fine, although my Zu Audio 103 did not get shown to such good effect  – poor impedance matching, I wonder. The Yamamoto simply performed more naturally through a SUT and the MM stage but it is an odd cartridge, anyway.

The MMs generally blew me away on all sorts of music. I had to remind myself of the cost of this phono stage. The Vincent and the Ortofon Black (and generally the Cartridge Man’s Music Maker MI) seem made for each other but if the Vincent has a vice, it is exactly where you’d expect it, in the treble. It could do with a little more clarity but, to be fair, I don’t know a comparably priced unit that does any better, and I am clear that it cannot be put down to the usual gripe of valve “wooliness”. It simply is not wooly with the right cartridge.

With cheaper cartridges, this unit, although not as clinical or analytical as the Whest, does about 85% of its work and is probably slightly more forgiving of the weaknesses of those cartridges. It might therefore be easier to live with.  I genuinely struggle to think of a phono stage below £1000 which will best this unit although the Electrocompaniet and Dynavector would bear comparison.

The good news is that it is available on home demonstration through the UK distributor Vinyl Passion, so prospective buyers can see how it matches to their equipment. Certainly worth any vinyl buyers shortlist.

Build quality: 9/10 
Sound Quality: 9/10
Value For Money: 9.5/10
Overall – 9.17
This is a bargain. Recommended for people who want a simple phono stage for a decent turntable and good MM cartridge that performs with exceptional musicality and at a price that makes it something of a bargain. The valve goodness is a bonus!
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Peter Stanton-Ife

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