Vista Audio Phono-2 Review

DaveHoDaveHo Posts: 1,570
First, thanks to @DSkip for putting together this most excellent tour. The timing was perfect for me as I have been contemplating replacing my current phono preamp, a Cambridge Audio 640P. For reference, the 2 channel vinyl portion of my combined HT/2 channel system consists of:

Gear
Pro-Ject Debut III, Acryl-it platter, Speed Box S, Audio Technica AT440-mla cartridge
Parasound P5 pre
Aragon 8008x3 amp
Polk LsiM 705 mains
SVS SB12-NSD sub
Rotel RLC-1040 power conditioner(rebadged APC)

Cables
Kimber PBJ, phono preamp to pre
Blue Jeans Cable LC-1, pre to amp/sub
Canare 4s11, speaker wires, single wire configuration
PS Audio AC-3, preamp power cord
Cullen Cable Gold, amp power cord

The Debut III has a captive interconnect cable. I'm using a generic power cord for the sub & the power conditioner is using the cord supplied with it. The Aragon is plugged straight into the wall, everything else goes into the Rotel.


Since my experience with different phono preamps is pretty limited, I decided to order in another priced similarly to the Vista Phono-2 for comparison. Based on a generally positive internet vibe, I decided on the Pro-Ject Tube Box DS. I don't want to spend much time talking about the Tube Box, so in short, I did not like it. In my system, it was tipped toward the top end, bass was thin, sound stage was narrow, and it had poor instrument spacing. It was anything but tube-like. Overall was it better than my existing Cambridge, yes it was. Did I burn it in long enough? Not sure, I left it powered on overnight before the first listen. On subsequent listens I found it took the better part of 2 hours to sound it's best. Big negative for me. Could the above be remedied with different tubes, maybe, but frankly, I'm just not interested in messing around with tube rolling.


Alright, I've drug this out long enough. Onto the Vista Audio Phono-2! I waited 24 hours before doing any serious listening & left it powered on the entire time I had it for review. No problem, at most the top got barely warm. I'd prefer to leave it powered up 24/7 anyway, so this is good! I did detect the sound signature improving slightly over the first few days.

OK, so how does it sound!? Whoa, now we are talking! This is everything the Tube Box was not. Top end detail is good without being in your face bright. Mids are smooth & lush. Bass digs deep & is tight. The music just flows, it has soul, it's involving. Sound stage is wide, extending 1-2 ft past the speakers on some recordings. Instrument placement between the speakers is good, not a jumbled mass in the middle like the Tube Box. The sound is smooth, never fatiguing, never sibilant. In short it makes vinyl sound like vinyl should. All in all, I'd say I ran the equivalent of 20 to 25 records through it in the time I had it.

Any shortcomings? Well, after the crispness of the Tube Box, which was just over done, I felt the top end was maybe a bit rolled off. But wait! The Phono-2 gives me the ability to play with loading, something the Tube Box does not. In anticipation, I ordered a slew of Vishay-Dale resistors from Mouser ahead of time which would give me the ability set the load resistance anywhere from 30 to 45kOhm. Based of some internet research, it seems many prefer a loading of around 32Kohm with the 440mla. Since I was nearing the end of my time with the Phono-2, I did not extensively experiment with different values and just went with that. I did find the top end to be a hair more extended with maybe a slight loss of midrange lushness. More experimentation is needed. I did try changing the gain. Seeing as how the 440mla has a slightly lower output than many mm carts, I did try the 50dB setting in addition to the normal 40dB. I found the noise increase to be too much & went back to 40dB.

Was there anything I disliked about the Phono-2. Soundwise, nope. Otherwise? I think you could signal an aircraft at 30K feet with the blue power indicator. It's WAY too bright. The top cover of the case vibrates pretty good when tapped on. Needs Dynamat or at the very least some type of padding between it and the lower half of the case.

Would I actually buy one? You bet! I'll be contacting Derek.

Pictars in the next post!

Comments

  • DaveHoDaveHo Posts: 1,570
    edited July 23
    Unboxing.

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    Now you know my real name...
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    p0kxt779p7k5.jpg

  • DaveHoDaveHo Posts: 1,570
    Innards
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    60rcg31i08mx.jpg
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  • erniejadeerniejade Posts: 3,771
    Looks great!
    Lumin D1, KEF LS50 Wireless, Cayin scd-50T, LH Labs VI Dac, Technics 1200, Denon DL160, Jolida D9, HP I7 Laptop, Wireworld Eclipse 7, Wireworld Aurora, Wireworld Electra 7, Signal Magic Digital, Cardas Quadralink 5C, Velodyne SPL1200
    USB helpers: Intona, w4s Recovery

    HT: Elite SC27, Full Polk RTI setup.

  • dromundsdromunds Posts: 6,214
    What's the status of the tour?
  • DaveHoDaveHo Posts: 1,570
    edited August 11
    I shipped it off to the 2nd recipient the day after I wrote this review. Derrick wanted each of us have around 2-3 weeks to eval, so it should be onto the next person soon. Hopefully, he will chime in with a review of his own.
  • andrew82andrew82 Posts: 150
    Finishing up my eval now; hope to post it over the weekend!

    Wow, was I surprised by this box.
  • DSkipDSkip Posts: 13,648
    andrew82 wrote: »
    Finishing up my eval now; hope to post it over the weekend!

    Wow, was I surprised by this box.

    Where's that review? :)
    audiothesis.com/

    Speakers: Harbeth: P3ESR, 30.2, SHL5+; Usher: CP-6311, Be-10, T-515; Rosso Fiorentino: Elba, Fiesole, Volterra; Polk: T50, Signature S60, S55, S35, S30, S20, S15, RTA 15tl, Sonner Audio Allegro Unum
    Preamps: Shuguang S200MK, Dayens Ampino, Parasound P5
    Amps: Shuguang S845MK, Dayens Ampino Monoblocks, Parasound A23
    Integrateds: Dayens Ampino, Triode Corporation TRV-88SER, MastersounD: Dueventi, Compact 845, Evolution 845; North Star Design Blue Diamond
    Sources: AURALiC Aries, AURALiC Altair, Denon HEOS Link, North Star Design: Magnifico, Supremo, Incanto, Intenso, Venti
    Cabling: Wireworld
    TV: Sony XBR-75X940C
  • DaveHoDaveHo Posts: 1,570
    @andrew82 & whoever had this after him. We're waiting! :) Curious how others' opinions compare to mine.
  • Viking64Viking64 Posts: 749
    Dave, did you ever play drums for Judas Priest? :D
    Polk SDA SRS 2.3TL
    Silk Audio MS38SE Tube Amp
    Yamaha DSP A-1 AV Amp
    Panasonic TC-P65S2 Plasma TV
  • indyhawgindyhawg Posts: 826
    DaveHo wrote: »
    @andrew82 & whoever had this after him. We're waiting! :) Curious how others' opinions compare to mine.

    It is currently with me. I received it from Andrew.
    I will have a review once I am finished.
  • dromundsdromunds Posts: 6,214
    It was a month ago we last heard we were going to get a review from the previous user. Would be nice to see it.
  • DaveHoDaveHo Posts: 1,570
    Bump, @andrew82!

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  • mikeyb128mikeyb128 Posts: 2,497
    This pre amp Looks promising, I sure wish there were more reviews :smile:
    2 channel:
    Bryston 4B3, Bryston BDA3, Cary SLP03, Shanling CDT1000SE with parts conneXion level 2 mods, Nottingham analogue ace space 294, soundsmith Carmen MKii, Zu DL103 MKii, Ortofon MC 20 MKii, Dynavector XX2 MKii, Rogue Audio Ares, Core power technologies balanced power conditioner, Akiko Corelli power conditioner with Akiko Audio HQ power cable, Nordost heimdall 2, Frey 2, interconnects, speaker and power cables, Focal Electra 1028 BE 2, Auralic Aries Femto, Black diamond racing cones, ingress audio level 1 roller blocks, JL Audio E110 with Auralic subdude, Primacoustics room treatments.
    Theater:
    Focal Aria 926,905,CC900, SVS PB ultra x2. Pioneer Elite SC85, Oppo BDP93, Panamax M5400PM, Minix neox6, Nordost Blue heaven LS power cables.

  • indyhawgindyhawg Posts: 826
    I will get my review posted later this evening.
  • lightman1lightman1 Posts: 8,709
    indyhawg wrote: »
    I will get my review posted later this evening.

    Tighten up, Jeff.....
  • indyhawgindyhawg Posts: 826
    Okay, I am not sure if I can give as great of a review as @DaveHo, but I will give it a shot. I received the Vista from @andrew82 about a month ago. I would like to thank @DSkip for allowing me to demo the Vista 2 for what I consider a lengthy amount of time. This was a great opportunity to see how gear operates in my system at home as opposed to in a retail store or at a friends house. I do not have a lot of experience with phono preamps. But, I am very happy with my vinyl set up at the moment. However, I looked forward to the opportunity to see how the Vista meshes in my system. My current set up for vinyl is as follows:

    Denon DP-60L with DL-103R cartridge
    Parks Audio Budgie Phono Pre with Telsa tubes.
    Parks Audio Budgie Step Up transformer
    McCormack TLC-1 preamp
    Monarchy SE-100 Audio Monoblocks
    Usher BE-718's
    Doug's cables

    The Vista is very easy to set up. Skip gave me the setting to use in accordance with the cartridge I am using. Due to the 103 being a moving coil cartridge, I have to use a set up transformer in my current set up. The Vista allows for moving coil cartridges so that is a plus right off the bat.

    I began my playing a few albums and my initial impressions were this was going to give the Budgie a run for its money. I was quite impressed. But waited a few days to do some serious listening. The highs are smooth with the snare drums being crisp. Cymbals have a realistic ringing tone to them. The mids are smooth, not as syrupy as the Budgie but still very sweet. Bass response was good, it got a little muddy in the deep low end. Vocals were very forward. On Norah Jones' Day Breaks album, the imaging was spectacular. It was if she was standing right in front of you. The soundstage was open, deep, and layered. I feel the Vista is very musical and does not sounding sterile.

    Now to things I do not like. The blue light on front is distracting. It could be a little subtle. Another thing I was not crazy about was the grounding post is on the opposite side of the unit as the inputs. This works out okay since it is such a small unit, but with my turntable having the input cables and the ground wire together, this was cumbersome. There was an audible, faint, hiss sound I could hear when there was no music being played. I rechecked all my connections several times but could never rid my system of the hiss sound. This was a little annoying, but I could live with it because I could not hear it when music was playing.

    In comparison to my Budgie set up. I feel the Budgie provides a little more detail and is dead quiet. It is also a little smoother sounding. But I need to point out, I have over twice as much money invested in the Budge set-up (counting the step-up transformer and the tubes) as to what the Vista retails for. However, the differences are very slim. If I did not have a phonp preamp, I would choose the Vista over the Budgie based off the fact it is cheaper. It is a true value audiophile piece of gear which hits above its price range.

    In closing, I want to thank Skip for allowing us to audition the Vista in our systems and to have a little more time than average demo tours give. That way the listening is not rushed and I feel the reviews can be more objective based off the fact the newness wore off after a week or so. So after listening for around a month, the Vista was no longer a shiny new toy for me. I feel I can confidently recommend it to anyone looking for a quality phono preamp.
  • DSkipDSkip Posts: 13,648
    For anyone else who might join this tour: if there are any issues like a hum, please don't hesitate to contact me. I have a good relationship with Boris, the designer of this phono, and he is a stellar dude willing to go the extra mile to resolve an issue. This is the first I've heard from anyone having an issue with hum - not blaming Jeff in any way - but I want to ensure this gets resolved if it happens again.

    Jeff, I'm going to contact Boris and get his input. If he feels this is out of the norm, maybe we can work you back in to revisit it at a later date?
    audiothesis.com/

    Speakers: Harbeth: P3ESR, 30.2, SHL5+; Usher: CP-6311, Be-10, T-515; Rosso Fiorentino: Elba, Fiesole, Volterra; Polk: T50, Signature S60, S55, S35, S30, S20, S15, RTA 15tl, Sonner Audio Allegro Unum
    Preamps: Shuguang S200MK, Dayens Ampino, Parasound P5
    Amps: Shuguang S845MK, Dayens Ampino Monoblocks, Parasound A23
    Integrateds: Dayens Ampino, Triode Corporation TRV-88SER, MastersounD: Dueventi, Compact 845, Evolution 845; North Star Design Blue Diamond
    Sources: AURALiC Aries, AURALiC Altair, Denon HEOS Link, North Star Design: Magnifico, Supremo, Incanto, Intenso, Venti
    Cabling: Wireworld
    TV: Sony XBR-75X940C
  • indyhawgindyhawg Posts: 826
    DSkip wrote: »
    For anyone else who might join this tour: if there are any issues like a hum, please don't hesitate to contact me. I have a good relationship with Boris, the designer of this phono, and he is a stellar dude willing to go the extra mile to resolve an issue. This is the first I've heard from anyone having an issue with hum - not blaming Jeff in any way - but I want to ensure this gets resolved if it happens again.

    Jeff, I'm going to contact Boris and get his input. If he feels this is out of the norm, maybe we can work you back in to revisit it at a later date?

    Skip--I realize now I should have contacted you about the noise. However, it was faint enough I felt it could have been the way I had it sitting in my system. If you ever send it back my way, I would be willing to to rearrange how I have things configured to see if that would help. I would be curious if anyone else on the tour hears any sound as well.

    It is also great to see that you stand behind your products and work with the manufacturer on any issue.
  • dromundsdromunds Posts: 6,214
    Review of the Vista Audio Phono 2:

    First I would like to thank DSkip for allowing this demonstration tour. I always appreciate the opportunity to fully evaluate gear in the sanctity of one's own abode without being overly constrained by time. (Or the B.S. from uninformed sales personnel).

    This unit is an attractive, easily adjustable piece of kit that is affordable and punches considerably above its price point. Right out of the box, it presents an attractive and obviously well put-together item. I especially appreciate its flexibility - the variety of settings allows the user to easily optimize the load and gain settings for your particular cartridge(s). Check out the photo's accompanying Dave's July 23 review above, and you will notice the wide variety of settings available with simple switches for load and gain. One is especially grateful for this versatility if you rotate cartridges. In my opinion, this versatility separates the Vista 2 from many other so-called budget phono pre's, as many in this price range (and there are many) offer no ability to configure settings - or it is so cumbersome and complicated to change settings that you simply decline to do so after the initial set-up.

    Regarding the system, I thought it would be useful and fun to assemble a real "vintage" system for this trial, so a buddy of mine and I put together the following:

    Thorens TD-150 with Shure M-95ED cartridge
    Yamaha CR-800
    Original Large Advents
    MIT cables

    At the outset, I was struck by several of the Vista 2's noteworthy qualities. Impressive low end bass response. The Advents have good bass response anyway, and the Vista 2 accentuated the low end without contributing boominess or muddled notes. Yet, the high end was also clear, smooth, realistic and not fatiguing. Several LP's were of particular note:

    On John Hartford's Aereo-Plain, a lean-production album, I particularly noticed the banjo, guitar and fiddle were very realistic and melodic. Overall, top end pretty extended without noticeable sibilance, and good midrange that was also smooth and detailed.

    On Mark Knopfler's Privateering, another very well-engineered LP, I especially noticed the mid-range texture and overall imaging of the Vista 2. The guitar notes were clear, musical and refined, the notes extending and decaying impressively.

    Overall, the Vista 2 is an affordable external phono preamp that does everything much better than its price should indicate. The quality of its sound together with its flexibility - the ease to which one can configure load and gain settings to a particular cartridge - notably separate it from the many other units in this competitive price-range. I have never been a fan of "budget" phono preamps, with the exception of the Parasound Z-phono and one or two others. However, the Vista 2 doesn't sound like a budget phono preamp - it stands out and I recommend it.

  • dromundsdromunds Posts: 6,214
    Pardon me, the turntable in the above review was a Thorens TD-160. I need a better proof-reader! Lol
  • muncybobmuncybob Posts: 1,682
    I have just sent the Vista onto the next happy recipient and again thanks to Skip for not only making this possible but also allowing me the time to audition as I know I had it perhaps longer than anybody else. Now, just because I had it a while doesn't mean you'll get a review to match as I'm usually not a person of many words and writing reviews is certainly not my strong point.

    My 2 channel rig is a modest set up consisting of a Denon DP-1200 table with a Shure V15 Type V cart, a Dynaco Pas4 pre and a Parasound HCA 1000. Interconnects used were a mix of Audioquest, Morrow and Doug's cables...I don't really recall the exact models but think "middle of the road". The phono stage in the Pas4 uses a pair of Raytheon black plate 12ax7 and a pair of Bugle Boy 6dj8. Line stage uses another pair of the same BB's.

    So I started off listening to Brian Davison's "every which way", followed by a few tracks that I really like off of Lindisfarne's "finest Hour", then an album I know really well-Supertramp "Crime of the Century"(Mo-FI 1/2 speed master edition) and finally some of Beethoven's symphonies from the 8 album box set by Deutsche Grammophone. I wanted to get a bit of a mix in types of music and recording labels.

    The Vista is really quiet. Upon connection I amped up the volume and could hardly hear anything where the Pas4 would have a slight buzz(keep in mind I would never listen to music that loud)...impressive and maybe unexpected at this price point? Here is where I will probably fail in adequate description. Keep in mind I can only make a comparison to the Pas4 as I don't have any other recent experience. To my ears there was very little difference in the quality of the sound. Both units have a clear separation of instruments and a good open soundstage. To me, the Vista seemed a little more "forward" just like my SDA 2B's seem that way to me compared to my Vandersteen 2CE's. This is in no way a negative thing...just different. While I truly enjoy my phono pre could I happily live with the Vista instead...sure!

    So, if anybody has a mid-fi set up like I do and wants to get into vinyl I can 100% recommend the Vista to you. My only regret is I didn't have enough critical listening time to devote to this. Have fun with it Bob....it's on the way to you!
    Yep, my name really is Bob
  • machonemachone Posts: 834
    I look foward to it!
    Mojo Audio Joule v5>>Quantum Byte w/JRiver 21 and Fidelizer>> Starlight 7 USB >> Marantz SA 8005>> Equinox 7>>
    Hafler DH-110 Preamp + (Musical Concepts LXII Elite Mod) >>Equinox 7>>
    Hafler DH-500 Amp+ (Musical Concepts PA-6 Elite Mod) >>Belden 5000 10 ga cables>>
    SRS 2.3TL (Fully Modified)...SDA-1A (Fully Modified with Dimensional Tweeter Delete)
    1KVA Dreadnought
    Pioneer PLX-1000 Turntable - Shure SC35C/N35X - V15III/VN35HE
    Yamaha TX-540 Tuner...Sony BDP-S570

    Separate subpanel with four dedicated 20 amp circuits.
    1. Amplification 2. Analog 3. Digital 4. Video

    "All THAT IS LOST FROM THE SOURCE IS LOST FOREVER"
  • machonemachone Posts: 834
    I received the Vista today
    Mojo Audio Joule v5>>Quantum Byte w/JRiver 21 and Fidelizer>> Starlight 7 USB >> Marantz SA 8005>> Equinox 7>>
    Hafler DH-110 Preamp + (Musical Concepts LXII Elite Mod) >>Equinox 7>>
    Hafler DH-500 Amp+ (Musical Concepts PA-6 Elite Mod) >>Belden 5000 10 ga cables>>
    SRS 2.3TL (Fully Modified)...SDA-1A (Fully Modified with Dimensional Tweeter Delete)
    1KVA Dreadnought
    Pioneer PLX-1000 Turntable - Shure SC35C/N35X - V15III/VN35HE
    Yamaha TX-540 Tuner...Sony BDP-S570

    Separate subpanel with four dedicated 20 amp circuits.
    1. Amplification 2. Analog 3. Digital 4. Video

    "All THAT IS LOST FROM THE SOURCE IS LOST FOREVER"
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