Phono stages - Nait 50 vs NSC222 vs external

I wonder how many have done some comparisons in this regard? I meant to do a more dedicated direct comparison for a while and managed to have some good fun yesterday and today with the phono stages of the NSC222 and the Nait 50.

I should note it’s not a 100% direct phono stage only comparison as the 222 preamp section was involved as well when its phono was in action.

I did the listening in a relatively small room using as speakers my Marten Oscar Duos for most of the time assuming they would allow for a better opportunity to differentiate resolution and more nuanced SQ differences than with the Spendor D1s which live in that room - which proved to be the case. The TT is a P8 with a AT150ANV cartridge (Shibata stylus).

Setup is TT-222-N50-Martens with careful matching of listening volume levels when changing between phonos.

Yes, no big surprise, these two sound similar, one can immediately tell they are family and tend to finish each other’s sentences. They are not identical twins, though.

What the 222 phono seems to do slightly better - firmer, slightly deeper and better controlled and articulated bass, better defined and stable soundstage, livelier and more engaging, crispier highs and sound overall.

The N50 sounded a bit more mellow overall, no bad thing and if I were to just use the N50 with vinyl (as I do currently, with the Spendor D1s in that room), I don’t think I would be missing a lot. I am also not sure how much of the difference comes from the phono stage and how much from the added 222 preamp working together with the N50. And as an aside, again, I was bowled over how well the N50 sounds with the Marten Oscars. Previously I tried them together in a bigger room in my main setup and now in a smaller room, just amazing!

I will also do a comparison with a decent external phono stage but to me both the N50 and the 222 would comfortably be on a par (or better, especially the 222) with a good external phono stage in the £800-1200 price range?

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Having compared the 222 phono stage against the Rega Fono and Rega Aria, my view is that is between them with respect to the SQ when used with a Dynavector 10X5 mk2. Compared to an NVC TT the 222 phono stage is a fair way behind as expected. I used my 222 with the 10X5 for some months and was happy with this until I started listening to the Aria and then the NVC/NPX TT pairing. Suffice it to say it was a very expensive time, but worth every pound, I now have my LP12 into the NVC TT and my records are sounding better than they ever have.

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I look forward to also listening to the NVC very soon.
I’ve owned both the Fono and the Aria. Ok, not much to say about the Fono but the Aria is quite popular and to me it had what I can only describe as a funny tin can-like, hollow sound that I could never quite get along with. I compared it directly to my SN3 when I bought it and sold the Aria very soon after. Yet there are many other good phono amps around e.g. Whest, Avid etc. and I imagine they would be interesting to compare to?

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Next - NVC TT & NPX TT home demo

2 days with NVC TT with NPX TT vs the 222:

Same setup as the previous audition, now with the NVC TT - so you can see the Nait 50 getting to enjoy some good company!

Ok, with the NVC TT in place music sounds more convincing, with crispier vibrant detail and more lifelike. As if it becomes more coherent and “one whole”, with faster fuller bass, better rhythm and pace. The 222 alone does sound more closed in but to be fair, the difference, at least for MM, is not that huge. Tried the NVC without the NPX briefly - well, just slightly less of the above, mostly in the overall presence.

NVC TT with Nait 50.
This was more for fun really. But glad I did as results were fun indeed. I found the NVC TT to sound particularly energetic, raw/direct and vibrant through the N50 (P8-NVC-N50). To my ears, more so than through the 222 which made music sound more composed and “peachy” (P8-NVC-222-N50 which was my setup to compare the NVC and 222). More than anything, this says a lot about the N50‘s playful character and how well it thrives on good components.

Overall, the NVC TT clearly improves on the 222 but it’s quite a phono stage and at the price point, one would not expect anything less. And I am sure it would be awesome with MC. I also listened with the Spendor D1 and the differences are less pronounced, especially at lower volume so in a smaller room and with less revealing speakers both the 222 and N50 might be all I need … but then again … I find it difficult to unplug the NVC TT from my N50 now that I’ve heard them together!

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A little on the Atom HE

P8-NVC-222-N50 vs P8-NVC-AtomHE-N50

And since I have the chance - how does the Atom HE line input with its analogue to digital signal conversion impact sound quality when used as an input for a turntable, if at all, at least audibly? I’ve seen this question asked a few times and not sure if/how many have compared.

I listened to the same setup only differing by whether I am using the 222 (line in with full analogue path maintained) vs Atom HE (signal digitalised then back to analogue through a ADC and then DAC process).

So, how good is the Atom HE with a TT and how much of a compromise, if any?

I was not quite so sure what to expect but with all else being pretty much identical and at matched dB levels, I clearly liked the music much more through the 222. Although not huge, a bit to my surprise this was much more than expected. The 222 maintained more of the energy, richness and fibre (may be trying to describe analogue sounding here?). In comparison, with the Atom HE everything was just a bit flatter, a bit duller? Like closer to good quality streamed music perhaps? This felt much more than when comparing these 2 with streaming, which I’ve done before.

To put this a bit in perspective, I could probably consider the P8-222-N50 setup at a similar level to the P8-NVCTT-AtomHE-N50 … ok, not 100% in all respects but to give you an idea. So while the HE does very much ok with a TT, I would think of it as more appropriate for relatively modest vinyl listening setups. For anything better performing, I would definitely recommend the 222.

So far, whether using its own integrated phono stage or with a high quality external phono the 222 remains pretty impressive.

As mentioned above the Nait 50 with the NVC TT is trouble and a difficult one because … it’s pretty awesome and a little difficult to justify:)

Hope this personal home demo experience is of help to some wondering about any of these options. Next, thinking to do a comparison with a more mid level “mainstream” phono stage. And also need to decide whether to keep the NVC!??

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Please be aware comparing these that input capacitance (thus cartridge loading) is very different. The 50 and TT having 100pF, the 222 having a whopping 470pF. (Which no modern MM/MI cart will be happy with according to its manufacturer. Just look at Ortofon, AT, Nagaoka etc. specs)

To make the comparison fair you’d need to add an additional 370pF to the 50 or TT. Otherwise it’s comparing apples with oranges as I suspect the loading will make far more of a difference than the actual quality of the RIAA equalizer.

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Thanks, I am no technical expert and wasn’t aware of these exact numbers. Not wishing to open a can of worms but may I ask what you would expect based on these capacitance differences? Would it bias against or in favour of e.g. the 222 in your view? My cartridge is AT150ANV and I imagine my P8 cables are under 100pF for the total length?

Obviously, no comparison is perfect and I am really trying to focus on what comes out of the speakers.

Interestingly AT doesn’t specify a recommended load capacitance for this cartridge. But any of their other, current, MM cartridges specify 100-200pF. I don’t know about the P8 cables, but I would guess something like 100pF for your tonearm cable and phono cables combined. So the 100pF by either the 50 or TT would keep you in that range.

And the 222’s 470pF is by itself already outside this range, so I would definitely expect that one to “sound” worse. At least from a technical perspective, of course personal preference is something different. You likely wouldn’t be the first to appreciate high being rolled off early.

But you can argue whether this is then a quality of the pre-amp as the same could be achieved with the others by increasing the capacitance.

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It may well sound “different” but “worse” will be in the eyes of the beholder.

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Very helpful, ok went on to find the cart packaging it’s also 100-200pF

Must say, if the numbers would create a technical bias against the 222 it’s doing quite well and sounds really very good with my P8 setup, both on its own and with the NVC TT. And I am not usually in favour of “smooth and rolled off”. Remains interesting why the choice of higher capacitance by Naim?

I suppose what you describe may be at least part of why I felt the NVC sounded more agile, immediate and raw (in a good way) directly to the Nait 50 but then these are also features of the amp itself?

In any case, may be others can account better for capacitance “matching” when combining any of these with their TTs.

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Yes @garcon Naim MM phono stages and their unusual high load capacitance in general have been discussed quite a few times, mostly started by @n-lot and replied to positively mainly by me, as we seem to be the only two members to who’s ears this matters, but that’s fine.

Interesting to see that the Nait 50 and the NVC TT are the new exception to this rule whereas the NSC222 stays in the tradition of the XS3 & SN3, the Nait 2, Stageline N and previous boards.

In general members don’t seem to have a problem with it, happily running AT cartridges and Linn Adikts (aka Goldring) which are known to really like a low load capacitance. But for me in my systems it posed a challenge reaching a balanced sound that my ears liked.
In my experience Ortofon and Nagaoka (both Moving Irons actually) and Ortofon HOMC work smashing, also the Rega Exact, and of course vintage Shure and Supex carts, all in all a bit of trial and error involved with this.

Cartridge compatibility is one of the reasons I’m now exploring external phono stages and also MC carts, but as we now know this is not necessary for Nait 50 and NVC TT owners.

As said generally on the forum members don’t express any problems with this (perhaps also due to lack of a comparison) but when you’re experimenting as you are (thank you for that btw) it could be something interesting to try as well (redo the experiment with a P8 with Exact or 2MR Ortofon).

It would do the NVC-TT justice equipping the P8 with an Ania Pro MC, likely a happy combination.

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Didn’t I say pretty much the same thing in the sentence right after the one you quoted? It’s not clear to me what you’re adding to what I already said.

Unfortunately I never got a clear (to me) answer to this. Once I was told it “sounded” better, but that would be cartridge dependent, but which cartridge? And another time “because that’s what we’ve done historically”. But then I don’t understand why change to something more in line with everyone else for the TT (released originally with the solstice) and Nait 50, and then go back to 470pF for the 222.

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The timing could be COVID related. The 222 might have been developed before those two other stages, but not released due to the difficulties of mass producing it during the issues COVID caused. I’m sure I recall reading that the 222 release was (perhaps significantly) delayed.

I am surprised at the candour shown by Naim staff on here sometimes, perhaps they shouldn’t always be so transparent :slight_smile:

Be interesting to see if/as/when any new integrated amps show up, what internal phono stage specifications they have.

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I’ve apparently missed some good fun on Naim and capacitance threads but the truth is until the arrival of the NC I’ve felt quite settled with regards to my not so pretentious vinyl listening. In the past I’ve changed a few TTs, tried a few MM carts including some of those you mention and for some reason never really stayed with any of them long enough. My Rega P8 came with Apheta 2 and I was super excited but, well, I did not quite get along with it either (so there endeth my MC mini adventure). I had almost decided to just do streaming when I luckily came across the higher end AT MMs and thus my P8 stayed.

During this time I’ve had or tried various phono stages - some I liked more than others and then when the SN3 came along I turbocharged it with the SCDR. May be because I liked the combination with the P8 and AT (and the simplicity of an integrated phono) I’ve not really questioned Naim’s approach to their phonos design. As for the information Naim provide quite friendly and openly - this was one of the main reasons I decided to try the NC fairly early (and glad I did).

And to be honest, after I’ve heard the NC phonos (of both traits), I am not sure I should be too concerned … however, to your suggestion, and especially if I keep the NVC TT, it might be a good moment to try another cartridge or two again?? MC? : )

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If nothing else it will at least be more versatile and work with a wider range of cartridges than the 222. One can always add capacitance.

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Yes, don’t worry about missing these discussions :wink: First of all I’m happy for you that you found ways to keep enjoying your vinyl and are even exploring further avenues.

We all have different ears, rooms & systems, yet I found your fairly objective comparison of the level of the various MM phono stages from your experience quite helpful.
Also I meant absolutely no criticism of the Naim products. It’s an interesting design choice that generally yields very good results, and built-in has an organic quality.
Only in my case it meant a need for matching, and I have been able to point some other people to a more matching cart in their systems when they were unhappy with the sound. If one is happy though than that’s what it’s all about and what we do it for.

As to your last remark, since you generally seem to like the AT carts I would first look in that direction for MC as well. I think of the Ania Pro as a nice cartridge, but it does have the house sound of the Apheta just less extreme. Perhaps something like the AT 33PTG/II would suit you, it’s also affordable.
In any case with as good a phono stage as the NVC plus NVX combo (which costs more than what I paid for my entire amp/streamer/cable/dac system) I’m sure you’ll find almost any cartridge MM and MC from many brands to sound really good (perhaps even the Regas).

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Absolutely, very good points and the NC gives me a bit of a new lease on vinyl and an excuse to try some new options (I am anyway stuck with my own two-box rule for the rest of the system! : )

Would definitely look at the AT 33PTG, thanks for the suggestion. I’ve been curious also about the Hana but not sure I can justify their higher end ones?!