I just bought myself a Pioneer Elite SC-75 receiver. Usually the SC-x5 series receivers from Pioneer always have a phono stage. To my surprise, after many years of having a phono stage, the SC-75 no longer comes with one. I had to go for its bigger brother in order to get that one feature. Something that. one, I don’t want to do… and two, I already installed everything in my home theatre and don’t want to uninstall everything, repackage the receiver, do an exchange and re-install everything again. That’s a loss of my time equivalent to $350 plus the $200 price difference between the two receivers. A total of $550 + our lovely 13% tax. No thanks!
So to my surprise I found Rek-O-Kut Professional Moving Magnet Preamp mkII for merely $100 including shipping from US to Canada. I thought for my only 100 or so really old LPs I own, as long as it makes decent sound, I’d accept it. Besides, after all, I tend to purchase most of my vinyl from thrift stores, and eBay.
Even bigger of a surprise, is the performance of this cheap unit. Not only this unit is “relatively cheap”… it’s “cheap”…period! Although the appearance of the metal case and silk-screened fonts used for this unit screams “junky”, the sound is phenomenal for the money. It surely doesn’t sound “audiophile grade” (whatever that means) but the designer did not purposefully take short cuts, or build a unit with low quality sound. Of course you won’t find input and output jacks that are made of space-age material alloy, or face-plate that weigh more than the innards of the unit itself. What you will find is pragmatic engineering, with carefully chosen circuits and parts with accurate sound for music professionals and sound engineers alike.
While I completely embrace vintage technologies and believe that some pieces were designed to be as good as they could possibly be, I don’t deny that more recent developments can offer solutions that equal or better an antique design. Modern vinyl formulations are very good; regulated power supplies are quiet; exotic tonearms and cartridges can be miraculously revealing, and transistors can sound really good. Considering the asking price of the Rek-O-Kut Professional Moving Magnet Preamp mk II (or PMMPii), it was a good idea to use transistors and I welcome that. If I want tube colouration, I can always add that later by using my Musical Fidelity X3 tube buffer.
*Highly accurate RIAA record compensation.
*Includes 39 inch 43 pF/ft interconnect cable.
*Input matched to most high-quality pickups.
*6 Hz subsonic filter to cut ultra low rumble.
*High-quality, gold-plated RCA jacks.
*Discrete component design.
*Power: 120 VAC/60 Hz.
*Low hum steel case.
There are some measurements on Esoteric Sound’s page that compare the noise and RIAA accuracy of their little black box against a rebuilt McIntosh tube unit, and a later transistor model. If you look at the charts, it would give you the impression that the Rek-O-Kut is “as good as” the two McIntosh units. I have zero experience with McIntosh tube phono stage so I can’t agree or disagree with that statement. All I know is that the PMMPii is audibly better than the built-in phono stage in all the receivers I’ve been using and for some reasons I hear less clicks and pops from the same recordings played on my non-audiophile Technics SL-2000 turntable with Ortofon cartridge.
It’s amazing that a $100 unit can do a much better job than a $200 built-in phono stage.