HiFi Review: Vincent Audio PHO 700 Tube Phono Stage Review
Phono Stages. Gotta love e’m as there are just a ton out there. Many, the ones coming in at under $300 or so, mostly all sound similar in so many ways. Over the last 20 years of HiFi, I have never found a Phono Stage that made as big of a difference to my Hi Fi system than a DAC, Amp, Speakers or Cartridge yet some of these can cost up to $5-10,000 for uber exotic phono pre amps. Those MAY make a substantial difference for the better, but they better for the cost! What I am talking about today are two phono stages that come in at $250 and $500, so they will not crush the wallet and they will both perform amazing for the cost.
I have owned around a dozen or so phono stages in the last 20 years. None were good enough, or special enough for me to stick with and keep for the super long haul (3+ years). For me, 3 or more years is the super long haul as most of us into HiFi swap our gear like we change our socks. We always are after that next thing that will bring our system to the next level, even if sometimes we take a step back before taking a step forward.
I have owned units from Fosgate, Cambridge Audio, Graham, Lehman, Cary Audio, Jolida, Bellari and now I have a Vincent PHO 700 unit in my system that uses one 12AU7 tube. How does it sound? Well, sticking with the stock Chinese tube inside, it sounds good but not “WOW GOOD”. Again, a phono stage with a great sound but it sounds an awful lot like the one I just pulled out, but with less of a soundstage..the Cambridge Audio CP2 that came in at $250 and is a hell of a bang for the buck in the phono pre amp world.
The Cambridge was VERY good, excellent actually and at $250 offers a phono stage that I feel, can not in any way be beat at that price. It was detailed without being etched or harsh (once burned in for 50+ hours) and it offered up a nice wide soundstage with my vinyl. Before the burn in it was slightly closed in and even slightly gritty before it blossomed. For $250, IMO, you can not beat the CP2 for your vinyl needs. The Cp2 offers a somewhat crisp but also lush way of spreading those audio signals to your speakers, with great instrument separation.
BUT curiosity got me, and while it may have killed the cat, all it is doing to me is killing my wallet!
You guys know the routine..you have something really good yet you know you paid only a little for it…you then see something that is 2X the cost, with a few glowing reviews and wonder how much better THAT piece would sound in your system! I have done this so many times with so many audio components only to realize the gains we make are so small. Sometimes I regretted selling off a piece and ended up with a more expensive, not as good solution. I was hoping this was not one of those times, but hey, we only live once. I like to experience as much in life as possible and by trying new things, and getting joy and happiness from this is a good thing, as long as it is done responsibly as I always do.
The Vincent PHO 700 with a 12au7 tube. Will it bring magic?
So I see this Vincent Phono stage on Amazon, offered via Amazon prime, which to me is fantastic. Amazon prime offers free shipping and with Amazon we have a 30 days no questions asked return policy. If you do not like it, send it back! You will be refunded in full without restock fees. Of course I would not buy a $30k pair of speakers (though they do sell the KEF Blade via prime) on amazon but for a $500 phono stage, sure.
So I ordered a black PHO 700 (they come in black or silver) and the front looks so cool with an artificially illuminated single tube showing through the display window (the light intensity can be adjusted from 3-2-1 and off). What sets this phono stage apart to me is the two piece design. One for the power, to keep the electrical nasties 100% away from the phono stage itself, then the phono pre amp circuitry in a 2nd metal box. Keeping the power from the actual circuitry helps with many things but notably NOISE. Usually pre amps with a tube can bring in some hiss or noise, but not this one. You usually see this in $1300+ phono stages, not $499 models.
In fact, the PHO 700 is silent as the solid state Cambridge Cp2 was in my system. No noise heard here from 6 feet away, my listening spot.
With the stock tube in and fresh out of the box I thought the sound was NOT as good as the $250 CP2. In fact it sounded a tad muddled, soundstage shrunk a little and the details, some were lost and not heard, treble was softer. I heard a flatter sound, not as 3D and I was like “UH OH….I did it again”. Where I heard the soft breaths, or soft plucks with the CP2, they were gone with the Vincent. At the same time, there was a solidity and cohesiveness to the sound that struck me, in a good way, with the Vincent. While different from the big glorious crisp & wide soundstage of the CP2, the fresh out of the box PHO 700 was duller and smaller but voices were incredibly realistic. It had THAT going for it at least but I was disappointed as after reading GLOWING reviews I was expecting an IMPROVEMENT over the CP2, and having paid 2X the cost ($250 vs $500) I was let down, and ready to return the Vincent to Amazon for a refund but I couldn’t as I had to wait for it to burn in, and I had ordered a tube upgrade to try as well. I also know in the HiFi world, new gear like this always sounds its best after 50+ hours of burn in, and while many do not believe in burn in, I do..so I was giving the Vincent the benefit of the doubt.
I will say that the Vincent sounded better than MANY other Phono Stages I have used in the past, just not the Cp2 from Cambridge, so whatever Cambridge did with the CP2, they hit it out of the park at that price point for what you get.
The easiest way for me to explain the differences between the STOCK Vincent and CP2 is by a list, so here you go:
- The Vincent offers more bass “quantity” (it seems) than the CP2. It goes deep and it goes hard. This IMO obscures some of the details and soundstage. I am hoping with a tube swap and burn it this will calm down.It’s not as “tight” with bass as the CP2 but hits harder.
- The Vincent reproduces male and female voices much more pleasing than the CP2. They sound real, in the room and you can hear the emotion in the voices. THIS is good. The CP2 at times was a tad bright with voices, taking out the body the PHO 700 gives me.
- The Vincent offers better construction with two boxes, one being a power supply. All metal, and the tube glow/display is nice.
- The Vincent is $500, the CP2 $250, so double the cost for the tube unit.
- The Vincent can be upgraded with a NOS tube or better tube. I have some new production PSVANE 12AU7 II’s here to try..more on that later down the review..
- The Vincent, stock, does better on voices/vocals than the CP2 but the Cp2 has a wider more 3D soundstage and more details (yet never sounds harsh or bright, just detailed).
So far, stock, I love the “intimacy” of the Vincent unit but I am not sold…yet. The way it can deliver a voice is better than most recent stages I have owned, and the only one I remember doing as good is the discontinued Fosgate all tube unit at $2k. But that fosgate had a huge big ballsy sound rather than a delicate one. The Vincent has maybe 75% of that and 25% of the Cambridge. It’s a nice mix actually.
So far, I am torn. I love the CP2 but wanted to see what the tube would do for voices and soundstage. I thought the Vincent would have as good or better soundstage width and depth. It does not in stock form but when I added a PSVANE 12au7II in the stick tubes place…WOAH! THIS is what makes the Vincent PHO 700 special. The fact that stock, it is great but is easily improved with a new better tube. So for $40 more I have a tube that takes up the performance a few notches.
WITH THE NEW TUBE…
So stock, I am torn and they are tied. Each unit has their strength but the Cambridge CP2 has proven to me to be, IMO, the best phono stage I have tested up to $500. The Vincent is $500 and stock it does voices better than the CP2 but lacks on detail and air and soundstage.
With the new Tube? OK, Vincent wins, and I would say up to $1000, Again, In My Opinion. I once had a Phenomena II stage I paid $700 for, and I thought it was thin, and a tad on the hard side. Hated it, sold it within a month. The Vincent, for me and my tastes is far better.
So with the new tube in and burned in for only an hour, the soundstage grew wider, the voices grew even more intimate and “there”… and details that were obscured with the stock tube…mostly came back, but the Cambridge CP2 still had more air and treble information and separated instruments better, giving a more 3 dimensional sound. Even so, the Vincent was impressing me more and more as the burn in went on and on. I left the unit on for a couple of days, say back down and listened again to Enya’s new “Dark Sky Island” LP. Beautiful music and beautiful sound. Sounds so much better than my CD of the same album. In any case, Enya’s voice was incredible with the PHO700. Full, intimate, in the room while the music was behind her, some floating to the left, some to the right but she was right in the middle, as it should be. While still missing some of that “spark” of the CP2, the PHO 700 gave a richer sound, fuller, and now bigger. Just was softer in the treble, and a tad looser in the bass but it was not “loose”, just not as tight as the CP2. BOTH units are fantastic.
SO NOW, I have just about all of the good and great things of the CP2 but I also have the much richer vocal performance, and fuller richer sound. THIS is excellent. The last phono stage I loved cost me $2000 and I now prefer this Vincent with the tube upgrade, costing me around $550 to that old unit I tested out. I also owned a nice Lehman stage at one time that cost me $1300, and this one is better as the Lehman was a tad lean in my setup, though a great stage in its own right. IN fact, I think I prefer the $250 CP2 to even the Lehmann I used to own. Crazy. Shows how good these new gen lower cost stages are.
The PHO 700 in stock form offers some nice fattening tube goodness, but lacks detail and depth and soundstage. With a tube swap, it offers so much more which is why I 100% recommend a new tube for this unit if you buy one. Wether it is a NOS or the ones I bought HERE, it will help open it up BIG TIME.
So the Vincent stays for now as it’s giving me almost all I could want from my Vinyl. I feel I would have to step up to a $1500 unit to beat this one. I have a Marantz TT15 with Clearaudio Virtuoso Wood (V1) going into the PHO 700 and it seems like an great match. This will kick ANY built in phono stage to the curb if you have an old receiver or even new one, but so will the very capable CP2.
At the end of the day, most phono stages offer 90% of what they all offer. It’s that last 10% we strive for and while we can get different flavors of sound depending on solid state or tube, what the Vincent offers, with a tube upgrade, is a nice flowing rich sound that will have a nice wide soundstage, intimate rich vocals and a sound that leans SLIGHTLY to the warm side. The CP2 has a sound that leans slighty to the treble side. I’d say if you system is thin or bright, the Vincent in stock form may do the trick. If you want more detail and 3D tricks, try the CP2 as it is a steal for anyone with a Moving Magnet (all I have tested it with though it does have MC capabilities).
Either way, you can’t lose. The Vincent is a winner though, and with it’s build, separate chassis, and ability to tube roll it’s a step above the CP2 in most areas. It will offer you a deep rich analog sound with stunning vocal performance. For $500 or even up to $1000, I can not think of any tube other Phono stage I would recommend over the PHO 700. While not pure magic (I think the pure magic stages are reserved for the high end models, lol) nothing up to $1k will bring that crazy good magic IMO but this is as close as one can get for $500 and some change.
One phono stage I have wanted to try for YEARS is the EAR 834P, and I feel that I will end up giving it a go soon, comparing it to the Vincent. Problem is, new it is $1800 for the basic black or $2500 for the chrome. Ouch. One day! When I do, I will post about it here on my HiFi pages.
Anyway, If the Cambridge CP2 is for those who love detail and crispness, the PHO 700 is for those who like to chill with a drink, turn down the lights and let the glow of the tube seduce as you listen to some great Jazz or rock and roll or vocal performances 😉
Oh and I forgot to mention that yes, the bass calmed down and tightened up with the PHO 700 after some burn in and the new tube as well. During burn in for some reason it did go through a bright/thin phase. Weird but all good now. So if you go with one of these, and it sounds odd about 15 hours in, could be burn in. Hang in there!
Where to buy?