A phono stage is about as necessary to a turntable as sunlight is to photosynthesis – it is, after all, what amplifies a turntable cartridge’s very low output signal to an audible one. Some phono stages are built into turntables, while they can also be found in stereo amplifiers. Not got either, or simply want to upgrade? A standalone unit, such as the all-new iFi iPhono3 Black Label (£999 / AU$1,699) could be a solution.
Every iFi product we have so far tested – all DACs of some sort – has been feature-packed, and this MM/MC-compatible phono stage is no different.
A series of switches on the underside enable gain and load adjustment: gain can be set between 36dB and 72dB, while there are eight and five load values to choose from for MC and MM cartridges respectively. iFi has created an online ‘cartridge calculator’ to assist with matching up the phono stage to your turntable’s cartridge.
Got a wide variety of records? A toggle to switch between RIAA, Columbia and Decca EQ curves means you can tailor the sound to match specific records in your collection.
While it’s generally assumed that LPs produced from 1980 were made using RIAA equalisation, records released beforehand might differ and could sound better with the Columbia or Decca EQ curve engaged.
Of course, iFi has great confidence in the sonic performance of its iPhono3 Black Label too. It uses technology derived from the £12,000 PH-77 phono preamplifier from its sister company, AMR.
Its circuitry is direct-coupled, meaning there is no coupling capacitor from cartridge to output. A proprietary DC Infinity circuit is able to boost DC gain and, once the feedback loop is closed, cancel offset voltages while cleverly keeping gain and AC behaviour stable to prevent distortion creeping in.
iFi’s third-generation TubeState circuitry has been designed to enhance its solid-state design with the warmth and naturalness attributed to valve circuits, too.
The iFi iPhono3 Black Label, which comes with iFi’s new 15V iPower X AC/DC power supply (£99 / AU$165 when purchased separately), is on sale now for £999 / AU$1,699.