I know this comes up a fair amount, but i wanted to put the question out there as I think it’s being posed a little bit differently from other photo stage questions I’ve seen. So, here it is:
As the owner of a SN3, I’ve been using the integrated photo stage. Is it worth considering a phonostage upgrade if my budget is ~$1200-1500 Canadian dollars range, or am I likely going to find the SN3 is outperforming in this price range? My turntable is a Rega Planar 6 with MM “Exact” cart. The SN is driving a pair of Harbeth Monitor 30.1s.
If it’s worth the upgrade within this budget, any recommendations for demo’ing would be most welcome!
I found a Graham Slee Accession, just under £1k/1500 Canadian Dollars new (though I bought used), to be a very nice upgrade to both the XS3 inbuilt stage & a Stageline N. I might be tempted to think about cartridge upgrades as @Puddlesplasher suggests though, or a split between cartridge and phono stage.
It’s an interesting budget point and set of tradeoffs. You could blow the budget on a new phono stage, or a 2m Black, or split it into a new stage and lower than 2m Black, but higher than Exact cartridge. I’m not sure how you meaningfully audition all those options without a pretty considerate dealer.
You can also throw high and low output MC options in to that mix, with the higher replacement costs, and stage upgrade impacts.
FWIW - I recently decided to upgrade a Goldring 1042/XS3 phono stage (plus Stageline N that I also ran, but was broadly similar to the XS3 inbuilt stage) to a Graham Slee Accession and Dynavector 10x5. The phono stage uplift was great, well worth the £750 the stage cost me, and is already in place. The DV cartridge isn’t horrendously expensive to replace when worn out, and sounded awesome on some TTs I’ve recently auditioned. The cost of my used Graham Slee accession (and yet to be received, it is part of a TT upgrade I’m awaiting) DV10x5 is within budget (kinda!?).
I can not give advice on the Phono Stage but have read a few people have been quite happy with using the SN 3/Rega P6 combination. Have you thought about a HiCap DR, perhaps used, as an uplift you your preamp section on the SN 3?
I use my SN3 with a Rega Planar 8 and think that the SN3 phono stage is really good and well integrated. I believe you can have a slightly different flavour (which you may well prefer, of course) with another phono stage up to the budget you mention (I have tried a few at different points) but to improve it I say you would need to exceed it, probably not insignificantly? For example, taking a fairly common choice, the Rega Aria - which to my ears sounds definitely less involving, shouty and a bit hollow compared to the SN3’s own. Especially with an added PSU, I think the SN3 is hard to beat for MM unless one spends a lot and to justify extra 1-2 boxes and connections.
… btw, if you don’t mind me suggesting, you might get much more improvement with a better MM cart than the Exact for a lot less than changing the phono stage?
Actually, I wrote off the idea of the HiCap DR a while back in an effort to minimize boxes, but if I’m adding boxes with an external phono stage maybe I should think instead about the HiCap if it would be a bigger overall system improvement. Not sure what the price is on those these days, but perhaps it’s worth saving up the extra dollars and going this route you suggest. Something to ponder.
If you’re using the Exact cartridge, the best phono stage I’ve used is fairly inexpensive — ifi Zen phono. Why? Because the Exact has a very high output of 7mv and the Zen phono has a gain setting of 36db which is lower than the 40db most variable gain phonos have. The perfect match would be 33db, but I’ve only seen custom phono stages with that setting.
The Zen phono is quite fantastic, especially with the $100 ifi power2 upgraded cord.
…to follow, the SN3 internal stage is made to match 5mv carts so a good match would be any of the Ortofon 2M series (Bronze and Black of course preferred), but the exact is excellent on rega arms because of the lower vta so no spacer required.
I’ve had the Goldring 1042 cart and enjoyed it through my Graham Slee Reflex M phonostage which cost around £550. It was replaced about 2 years ago by the Dynavector 10X5, which I feel is a considerable improvement over the very good Goldring. My deck is a mid spec LP12 Kore, Cirkus, Lingo 1, Akito tonearm. Amps are 82, Supercap 2, 2 x 135s.
A better phono stage will improve things on the SN3 for sure.
Graham Slee do a range of phono stages and a step up transformer, catering for all budgets.
I am sure there are better phono stages than the Reflex M but I am very happy with it and in the context of my system it works well.
The Reflex M is fine with MM cartridges and high output MC cartridges.
The 1042 is a good cart and the stylus can be swapped out easily and replaced. I had the Goldring range I believe 1012, 1022 and 1042 for around 5 years. Dynavector 10X5 worth a go and I find that it has actually lasted longer.
That’s the route I chose to upgrade my SN3. I had tried sub £1K phono stages and thought the HiCap was a better value proposition.
Recently upgraded my 2M black for the LVB 250 version, that was a worthwhile change.
I have a Planar 6. Next move is probably to an 8 or 10
Aye, I’ve run this Roksan chorus blue since 1991 ish. It’s basically a slightly modified Goldring body, but totally compatible with the Goldring replacement stylii. About 250 stylus hours ago I upgraded to the 1042 from the 1022, and continue to be very happy with it. It’s a fabulous cartridge. It’s only because the TT is being upgraded that I decided to change cartridge. Plus, I think I’ve had my money’s worth out of the cartridge body at this point
They are good carts and I had 2 x 1042 stylii in the end, a 1022 and 1012. 1042 is the best. Originally got the cart from a Linn Axis and when I got the LP12 I transferred it over. Got my use out of it too. Have still got the body cart I believe, just in case I go back to it.
It’s nice to go for something different, even if not a specific upgrade.
Very happy with the 10X5. It’s more dynamic than the 1042.
Not sure where I will go next. Will consult with Nick first. Lots of options.