The Musical Fidelity
V-LPS II Phono Stage: A Tale of Mystery and Wonder
"We're just two lost
souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year,
—"Wish You Were Here" by Pink Floyd
When I first bought my Triode Audio Corporation TRV-A300SER, I thought it sounded good. In fact, I thought it sounded very good. When I replaced the supplied tubes with Western Electric 300B's and all NOS tubes otherwise, I thought it sounded much better. But all along—and I originally attributed this to my Rega P6 turntable—I thought I heard more record noise than I had when I owned an Audio Note Meishu Phono Silver and a Transrotor Fat Bob Reference.
No surprise you say given the cost difference, right? Well, maybe … but something just wasn't right and I asked the ever affable Nick Gowan to help sort things out. He pointed out that the MM-level phono stage in the TRV-A300SER was very good but a bit more dynamic than the phono stage in my venerable Meishu. So he suggested that I temporarily move the modified Audiomat Phono 1.5 phono stage I had in my office system into the main system and see what happened as it had a bit less dynamic range.
Well, that did indeed seemed to fix things! Suddenly my records—those that didn't have obvious defects—sounded much quieter; and I found myself in a sort of personal vinyl renaissance. The problem was that the Phono 1.5 remained very well suited to the office system and I wanted to move it back into that system eventually; however, these things don't happen overnight and while I waited—and continue to wait—for a good long-term solution, I missed playing records in the office.
Nick had nothing to offer in the short term, so I called Graham at Music Lovers Audio in Berkeley, CA and asked for an inexpensive stopgap. He suggested the Musical Fidelity V-LPS II, which—much to my great relief—looks far prettier and more professional than the picture I have seen of the original V-LPS; all for $189 before tax and shipping. I did not choose to purchase the V-PSU II supplemental power supply because I really wanted to spend as little money as possible and I already had an Equi=Tech balanced transformer and PS Audio Power Plant 10 AC regenerator cleaning things up. About two weeks later, a box arrives.
I must confess, I felt impressed from the beginning! The packaging looked very solid and the device itself quite spiffy for $189 despite the only real alternative they had of using a "walwart" given my refusal to pay another $249 for a real power supply. I played a clever trick; I bought an adapter from Amazon for just such a situation which let me turn one of my Stealth Swift power cables into a high-end extension cord. This was plugged into one of the analog sockets on my Equi=Tech (in turn plugged into the Power Plant 10) and the "wall-wart" into that high-end extension cord. I connected the V-LPS II between my Rega P3-24 turntable with an Audio Note IQ3 moving magnet phono cartridge and my Triode Audio Corporation TRV-88SE using the stock cable and connectors on the Rega but stepping things up a bit by using the Audio Note AN-Vx silver interconnect with Eichmann silver bullet plugs that form the backbone of my office system between the V-LPS II and the Tri. The speakers are Micropure mini-monitors flanking a 27" Quad Core iMac with an Essex 12" subwoofer under my desk, all stock tubes in the TRV-88SE and Audio Note Lexus copper speaker cable between the Tri and the Micropures. The little blue LED on the V-LPS II glowed nicely. I put on the Analogue Productions reissue of Tea for the Tillerman by Cat Stevens, making several observations:
I also found—and I fully admit that this came cold straight out of the box—a certain warmth and bass definition that really surprised me. In other words, it did not sound tinny and unlistenable, just a bit forward in the treble. After playing and thoroughly enjoying Tea for the Tillerman, I put on Accelerando by the Vijay Iyer Trio (on vinyl, yes) and found myself even more pleased with the sound. Had I warmed things up a bit with Cat Stevens or did Accelerando have an intrinsically different tonal balance? It's hard to tell, but things were definitely moving in the right direction (and it felt oh so fun to play records while I worked on the iMac).
Now I just let the V-LPS II running—with no signal passing through it—for the next 24 hours. Then I played Like Minds by Gary Burton et al, carefully comparing it to the CD layer of the SACD of the same title and to the 24/88.2 download from HDtracks.com. In both cases, even with "just" the V-LPS II, the vinyl trumped the other formats by a fair margin; and I used a very good CD player (the Tri TRV-CD4SE) and a very good digital setup (an Audiophilleo 1 going into a Rega DAC with all Locus Design digital cables). So what can I say? Sometimes you get what you pay for; sometimes you get a little bit more.
I am now sitting in my office listening to My Oracle Lives Uptown by William Orbit on vinyl from Linn. I originally thought that the sound seemed a little harsh and bright; and it still has an edge. However, the fact that I am able to play vinyl music and enjoy it at all for $189 is really quite remarkable. And please do remember that I am playing electronica, which has, by its very nature, a bit of bite to it. Here are the things that V-LPS II does well:
So I guess you can read in between the lines that this is not an Audiomat Phono 1.5; but then it cost 1/5th, maybe 1/10th the price of the Audiomat and has a "wall-wart" as a power supply. So I wouldn't expect it to. What surprises me is that—despite all that—I am not plugging my ear with cotton or putting in another source, like a CD, but playing vinyl albums. So in that sense I am very happy. Imaging and sound staging—for the price point—are superb and tonal balance only seems a little off. If this were going to be a long-term solution, I would probably get a V-PSU II to go along with it. As it stands, I have plans to play more vinyl.