Phono stages Group Test - Conclusion

Article Index
Phono stages Group Test
ANT Audio Kora 3T Ltd
Trichord Diablo NC
Icon Audio PS3
Holfi Batt2RIAA
Anatek MCR
All Pages


This group was a very mixed bag and contained a few surprises. The thing that became really obvious to me was the division of the contenders into two camps, based on presentational style. The A.N.T., Icon and Holfi are all what I could describe as “dancer’s phono stages”. They all transmitted rhythms in a totally seductive manner. The Lehmann, Trichord and Anatek were more cerebral in their sound, or "listener's phono stages". They didn’t invite the listener to move so much, but instead offered a chance to look at what was on offer, and almost peruse it in slow motion. I think you, dear reader, can guess which I found more appealing to my aural taste buds - but this isn't to say that you might take a different view, of course.


The worst part of writing a group test is the inevitable ranking of items in order of perceived performance. The question of fair criteria when dealing with such a wide bandwidth of pricing can be vexed, but judging on performance alone, and then making adjustments for the price results in the following line up.


In sixth place comes the Lehmann Black Cube Statement. At its price point it offers a very flexible package that gives good value for money, but it is a base model and the limitations of its capabilities soon come to the fore when pushed by complex musical passages. It is fine in its own right, but makes the point that it is worth spending more, as there’s a lot more performance available if you can possibly afford it.


In fifth place I put the Anatek. This will surprise some, given Adam Smith’s tremendous enthusiasm for it in last month’s issue of Hi-Fi World, but in my system and for my tastes I found it simply too revealing. It’s a stunning performer, but still spends too much time obsessing over the minute detail in the sound rather than relaying it as a cohesive whole. I know it is the most expensive unit here, and over five times the price of the Lehmann, so there is a vast chasm between the two regarding everything from bandwidth to imaging. But they proved almost extremes of one another. The relentless insight and analytical detail of the Anatek, in my system at any rate, was too much. This is a fascinating ‘hi-fi case in point’, as it shows you exactly why you should listen to equipment before you buy. Don't in any way take this as criticism of the Anatek, which is superb in its way, rather the ranking shows how different listeners can come to alternative conclusions about the suitability of kit to them and their systems.


In fourth place comes the Trichord Diablo. Although it shared many of the traits of the Anatek, it was a little more restrained, and would I feel be easier to match into many systems. It’s a very impressive device, and I feel a little overlooked recently. Those wanting a grippy, insightful phono stage to ‘wake up’ an otherwise oversmooth system would love this, and should avoid the following two...


The first podium position goes to the A.N.T. Audio Kora 3T Ltd. I loved the sheer musicality of this unassuming little box; it entices the listener into the music in a totally unforced way that’s as effortless as it is beguiling. Especially given the price of £775, I feel the Kora 3T offers something a bit special to the listener, but do remember its deep, dark tonality won’t go down well in less incisive systems. Editor DP’s system is one of the most explicit I’ve heard, and the Kora worked brilliantly in this, but with smoother set-ups it may sound bland.


The question of second place caused me some serious consideration. The similarities in performance between the Icon and the Holfi didn’t make life easy, but the latter finally ended up in second place on the grounds of its lack of a mono switch, and the slightly greater weight and punch exhibited by the Icon Audio when the musical going got really tough. It’s a brilliant bit of kit, the Holfi, so try it if you possibly can.


The Icon Audio PS3 just scraped first place by a whisker. A close race and from an unexpected source. Based on previous experience of DC powered phono stages, I wouldn’t have expected one to match the Icon in any way apart from smoothness. However, a truly awesome performance from the Danish visitor gave the Leicester contender a few breathless moments before being just pipped at the post.

So does spending more bring more? Well, broadly speaking yes, but it’s too difficult to generalise. The A.N.T. Kora punches the most above its price and could soon be even more potent with the forthcoming new power supply that’s just been announced. The Lehmann represents a good starting point but seems a little off the pace these days. The most expensive here, the Anatek was startling, but simply didn’t ‘float my boat’, and the same could be said for the Trichord to a lesser extent. Ultimately I felt that the second and third most expensive units here offered the best combination of price, performance and facilities – so full marks to the Holfi and Icon Audio. The trouble with conclusions like this of course is that music tastes, systems, room acoustics and sonic proclivities are all very individual things – so the advice is as ever, go out and listen for yourself!



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