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Positive Feedback ISSUE12
06p phono stage
as reviewed by Dave Clark and Robert H. Levi
The Coda 06p is the fourth phono stage I have reviewed in the past few months, following the Hagerman Trumpet, the Transrotor Phono, and the Sutherland PhD (in house are the Asthetix Rhea and Cary 302). If you have read other reviews of these phono stages, you know that each offers something special, yet different. All are winners, yet each will find a suitable home with a user who desires one thing over another. Each has its own personality, but only you can decide which one is for you. I fell in love with the Sutherland, and went so far as to purchase it, as it did what I wanted with my LPs in my system.
Eric Lauchli, who is one of the three principals in Coda, designed the 06p, and it represents the company’s best thoughts on what a phono stage should be, at least at this price point. The 06p is clearly an excellent representation of quality solid state. It offers the listener a big, powerful sound that is very similar to the sound that the best class A amplifiers have to offer. The 06p uses FETs for voltage gain, and has that clean, mean, pedal-to-the-metal type of sound, but without any harshness or edge.
Why FETs you ask? Well to quote from the manual: "While careful design can yield good results from any device type, FETs consistently seem to have the edge in voltage gain and interface applications…. FETs are inherently transconductance devices, meaning that an input voltage controls an output current. In other words, it ‘senses’ the audio signal without drawing current from the source to provide an output. This eliminates complex interactions with the source allowing maximum performance from each system element and greatly reducing the chance of cable characteristics altering the sound. The absence of input current in FETs also allows high bias currents for linearity and speed without sacrificing DC parameters."
Being the non-technical idiot that I am, this means little to me except that I know that a lot of amplifiers use FETs, so why not a phono stage? Then again, there is the dreaded FET mist that occasionally raises its wet and cloudy head, but that is from a history long past. The again I have heard FET amps that have a slight edge and grain that can obscures the music. The Coda has none of that. It is ever so slightly warm and rich, rather than lean and cold, though it is not a "warmth" one would think of in terms of being like tubes. The 06p is very much like what I hear from my Clayton M100s. Just enough color to the music to make it nice, but not enough to stray from being considered rather neutral. Perhaps, we should also say it is just a tad darker then neutral. Along with that, the Coda is not your typically hard-sounding solid state component. It doesn’t sound hard at all. Rather, it offers a clean and balanced picture into the musical presentation, with again, just enough color that it doesn’t sound colorless and washed out.
It has plenty of detail and presence, and will get the music off the platter in all its glory. It can make bright recordings sound somewhat brighter –I would suggest that this is one of the more resolving stages around, though the issue tends to be more frequency dependant as it leans towards the upper end of the frequency spectrum, but the vast majority of my LPs sounded quite enjoyable. I only found two LPs with which the 06p made things go a bit too far over the top, which probably means that it was more an issue of recording quality than of the playback chain. On the other hand I also heard way more detail and presence on all my LPs as well. The 06p is not going to make your LPs sound rich and luscious, unless they are. If this is an issue for you, go with a phono stage that is not as revealing or tonally balanced as the 06p.
Since the Coda (unlike the Sutherland) is AC powered, I could monkey around with power cords and flavor the sound a bit. I found that the 06p with the Soundstring power cord and interconnects was a match made in heaven. With this combination, LPs sounded very musical, with plenty of drive and just the right tonal shading, making the Coda a close sibling of the PhD, though the two phono stages still had enough of their own personalities to tell them apart.
The Coda 06p has considerable drive and slam and very good dynamics. Its bass drive and punch easily bettered the competition. On the other hand, it was a touch leaner and more "electronic" sounding than the PhD. This may be because the PhD is DC powered, and I really can’t imagine anyone noticing this without making the comparison. I did try plugging the 06p directly into the wall instead of into the Audio Magic Eclipse, and clearly preferred it via the Eclipse. There was considerably more dimensionality and presence, and less of the electronic coloration that bad AC can add to the mix. While the 06p’s power supply is very good, it can still benefit from really good filtered AC. I suspect that much of the transparency and purity—not to mention the drive and dynamics—of the 06p is the result of the power supply. In this respect, the Coda simply rocks!
The Coda is a fine example of what can be done with solid state electronics today. It offers the listener much in terms of musicality, system compatibility, and simplicity. It’s a real winner! Dave Clark
Coda, started by three wonder boys from Threshold, has been around since the late 80s, and now has a whole new line of high end gear. Wouldn’t it be grand if I could say that this new Coda phono preamp was a must buy? That it should join the pantheon of great phono stages? That it was state of the art in reproducing ambience and spacial cues? That it was also bargain priced at $2150? Well, this sleek, ten-pound, plug-and-play beauty is the real McCoy. My only warning is to buy it before the price goes up!
With balanced and single-ended inputs and outputs, enough DIP switches to spend an afternoon with, a detachable power cord, a signal-to-noise ratio of minus 87dB, and up to 66dB of gain, the specs are things of beauty. Hook it up balanced for best performance and let it warm up overnight if it has been unplugged for over an hour. I loved Kimber Select with the Coda, but tried Soundstrings cable with excellent results. I used my favorite Tara Decade power cord. If you run the Coda single-ended, plug it into the same power source as your preamp.
How does it sound?? Like nothing at all. It’s sort of like the Seinfeld of phono stages—it’s about nothing! Just what’s on the vinyl. I distinctly heard my Benz Ruby 2 cartridge gently warm up, and perceived a need to slightly change my anti-skate. I heard the distinct sound of the Kimber interconnects, even more clearly than with SACD! I easily added warmth by employing Soundstring interconnects rather than the leaner Kimber. What a neutral, smooth sound! The Coda is uncolored to the max.
It is quiet, too. Run it through the balanced output and you will hear nothing. I always recommend balanced connections for phono, and the Coda is no exception, though its single-ended reproduction is very close to the balanced. Through the balanced outputs, the 06p is as quiet as it gets. Its black, black backgrounds and specificity of imaging are state of the art. You hear a complete lack of phasiness and distortion, with strong, pinpoint spacial cues. The lack of discernible coloration is amazing. The Coda sounds like the cables and ancillary components. I have no idea what it "really" sounds like. Want to colorize it, make it warmer or cooler? Change any cable connected to it.
The 06p’s imaging and spacial cues are sensational. Whether front to back or side-to-side, images are clearly discernible—clearer than just a handful of more expensive competitors. Its lack of coloration makes you think it sounds slightly lean, but close listening says otherwise. With Linda Rondstadt’s What’s New (Elektra 60262), I heard spectacular clarity of detail and specificity of imaging. I have the DVD-A of this recording, and it sounds almost the same in 24/192 playback as the Coda. I felt like I was listening to the master tape as I compared the formats. The Coda is clean and clear without sounding antiseptic or glassy. The master-tape-sound paradigm occurred to me over and over as I tried different LPs. Rondstadt’s voice was immersed in ambience and locked in space. Violins were layered and sweet, and extended across the room—the special rendering was superior to 192khz playback in DVD-A! The bass was tight and deep, with realistic textures, and the horns were spot-on, never glassy. I had no idea neutrality could sound so musical!
My Mobile Fidelity Getz/Gilberto LP (MFSL-1208), was a revelation, once again with more definition than the DVD-A. I heard imaging which rivaled the best phono stages I’ve had in-house. The vocalists sounded realistic and awash in natural ambience. Macro- and microdynamics were just about flawless, with killer cymbals and a natural sax sound! The clarity again made me think again that this was nearly master tape sound. Note, again, that I was listening balanced—you do lose a bit in terms of dynamics and level of noise in single-ended.
Ellington’s Blues in Orbit (Classic Records 8241), in the new 200-gram formulation, was great—lots of air and terrific imaging, along with that lack of coloration. My MoFi SACD paled by comparison. Though the Ellington was not as rich sounding as I’m used to on other phono stages, it was very, very realistic. I loved the studio piano sound, the jazz violin, and the bass fiddle. You could really hear into the recording venue, as with the very best phono stages.
My best choral LP is Mercury 90150—Howard Hanson, Song of Democracy. The Coda did a fine job placing the chorus behind the orchestra, defining the old tube sound along with the words of the chorus. The lack of coloration and any kind of noise brought this recording to life. I was overwhelmed, and certainly not wanting for more. I debated whether the Coda leaned down the sound to gain this wonderful clarity, but I think not. What I heard was more than just accuracy for accuracy’s sake. I heard real timbre and familiar texture that just seemed right, though this is obviously not the unit to buy if you need to compensate for deficiencies somewhere else in your system.
The Coda is a breakthrough design in its simplicity, and provides the performance of more complex and expensive units. It does not sound like a tube unit, and is more neutral and natural than many highly rated solid state units. I’d like controls on the outside, including a mute switch and an added input, but I love the price, which is a heck of a deal among the megabuck competition. You just won’t find a phono stage this winning, this quiet, this detailed, and this realistic for under $3000 on the planet today. The Coda 06p is a plug-and-play delight that I predict will be at home in state-of-the-art audiophile systems with $20,000-plus speakers. If you are searching for realistic phono reproduction, and want to spend about $2100, my advice is STOP LOOKING and start listening to the Coda. Robert H. Levi
06p phono stage