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Reference Series Phono Preamplifier

Reference Series Phono Preamplifier Reference Series Phono Preamplifier Reference Series Phono Preamplifier
Reference Series Phono Preamplifier Reference Series Phono Preamplifier Reference Series Phono Preamplifier
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Reference Series Phono Preamplifier

Introducing the Reference Series Phono Preamplifier...

It came as a surprise to us the number of people asking whether we have any plans
to build a phono preamplifier, not because we doubt the importance of vinyl, but surprising to find so many people still very much into the whole subject as well as many newcomers.

Enjoying both a digital & a high quality vinyl Hi-Fi set up using a phono preamplifier we designed long before setting up the NJC Audio web site, we realised it was time to revisit this subject & get to work designing an entirely new phono preamplifier which could be be a worthy addition to our “Reference Series”, slightly over a year later & much design work & prototyping, we are very happy to be releasing the Reference Series Phono Preamplifier.

Reference quality sound...

The phono preamplifier has been designed to offer a true reference quality sound experience, by this we mean a sound that is not only very enjoyable to listen to, but also technically accurate with minimum deviation from the recommended RIAA curve.

Sound quality is the single most important aspect when it comes to high end audio, while many of our earlier prototypes were very impressive & could easily have been chosen for the final product, instead we decided to keep the phono preamplifier in the prototype stage for a longer period to ensure everything was just the way we wanted it, it was not until several prototypes later with many tweaks & refinements to the design that the final version which you see here was realised.

Reference Series Phono Preamplifier
Reference Series Phono Preamplifier

Suits all Moving Magnet & High Output Moving Coil Cartridges...

Due to the different requirements between moving magnet (MM) & moving coil (MC), rather than designing a combined phono preamplifier capable of accepting both MM & MC cartridges, this would have meant compromises having to be made since MM & MC require a difference design when it comes to the phono stage.

Instead we designed the phono preamplifier with moving magnet in mind, however since high output MC cartridges have very similar requirements to MM, these will also work just as well with the phono preamplifier.

Low output MC cartridges will require our MC Transformer which is designed to work alongside the phono preamplifier to provide the additional voltage gain for MC.

The importance of adjustable cartridge loading...

Moving magnet cartridges have a recommended loading when it comes to both resistance & capacitance, while resistance is standard at 47kOhm the recommended capacitance loading can vary greatly depending on the cartridge, however when it comes to the actual phono stage this is something which is often fixed at a chosen value (usually 100-200pF) of which you have no control over.

While this is fine for most purposes, when you add the capacitance in the tone arm along with the cable capacitance it is easy to end up with a capacitance figure higher than recommended for the cartridge (especially if using longer cable runs), if you are seeking perfection from vinyl then it is important to be able to adjust the capacitance loading to your own preference.

Reference Series Phono Preamplifier
buildquality
Reference Series Phono Preamplifier

Six position capacitance cartridge loading...

The phono preamplifier is designed to give you complete control, therefore we have designed it with user selectable capacitance, this switch being conveniently placed on the front panel allows you to adjust the cartridge loading live while playing music. Six positions are available to fine tune the sound to suit your cartridge, loading can now be whatever you prefer the sound of, perhaps you may prefer different settings for certain albums, there is no right or wrong, just preference, so you can now decide.

Three stage adjustable gain...

We have also included for extra convenience a three position gain switch, this can be used so that the correct amount of gain is used for optimum signal to noise ratio & is just another refinement making the phono preamplifier more of a pleasure to use.

Soft start feature...

The phono preamplifier also includes soft start circuitry, this ensures that any turn on/off transients if present are completely eliminated, which is just one of many refinements we have included in the design of the phono preamplifier.

Hand crafted front panels...

The front panel, volume knob & even the feet are all machined by hand here in the workshop. Crafted from solid aluminium bar stock, they are all individually machined, finished by hand, anodised & then screen printed, these are all individual processes that we perform right here in the workshop.

Reference Series Phono Preamplifier
Reference Series Phono Preamplifier

Quality components for performance & long term reliability...

Inside each reference phono preamplifier you will find some of the highest quality components, such as 1% polystyrene capacitors*, precision Vishay Dale resistors & Elna Silmic II capacitors, each are chosen for performance & long term reliability.

* For increased RIAA accuracy, multiple high quality polystyrene capacitors are used, while these are far more expensive than standard Polyester or Polypropylene often used, they ensure greater RIAA accuracy with no distortion in the signal path.

While it may not be profitable for many manufactures to use such components, we have put so much work into not only the initial design of the phono preamplifier, but also with each & every one we build, therefore we see no point in using cheaper alternatives simply for the sake of saving a little extra on the cost of components.

High overload margin preserves musical transients & prevents clipping...

During the design stage we also paid particular attention to the overload margin, or put simply the maximum input level. Several popular cartridges were tested for output level & while the nominal output of most moving magnet cartridges vary between 3.5mV to 5.5mV (1kHz 5cm/sec), in reality music content contains peaks & transients which were measured at well over 50mV & in some cases 90mV were recorded.

If the amplification circuitry is not designed to handle such peaks then these transients will essentially become clipped, along with the occasional vinyl pop or click which can present even more of a problem. Despite these lasting no more than a fraction of a second, if the amplifier can not handle such levels then it will cause clipping of the signal which in turn causes unpleasant amplifier distortion. How much of an audible difference this makes would then all depend on how well the amplifier handles momentary clipping. At the very least this situation is not correct & is a condition that should never be allowed.

We have taken great care in the design of the amplification circuitry in order to avoid these potential issues. Quite often many phono stages will struggle to provide overload margins of only 30-40mV, while a few may manage to cope with a little higher. However with the phono preamplifier we have been able to provide an extremely high overload margin of 330mV (low gain), 194mV (medium gain) whilst still achieving a highly respectable 93mV (high gain).

This ensures whichever cartridge you decide to use, whether it be a modest 3mV, a high output 5.5mV, or even a cartridge that is known for being very problematic when it comes to overloading a phono stage. You can be assured that the phono preamplifier will faithfully reproduce all music content accurately with clarity & detail, with no possibility of clipping or distorting the signal.

For more information about the Reference Series Phono Preamplifier,
download the PDF below:

pdf
feedback

If you have purchased this phono preamplifier, your comments would be appreciated, please click here to submit your feedback.
(If you could mention the cartridge & any other equipment being used, this would help others who may also own similar equipment)


After retiring in August I decided it was time to treat myself to a nice audio system figuring if I don't do it now then I
never will. I started by purchasing a Funk Firm turntable with a Lyra moving coil cartridge with my son setting up all the
fiddly parts & alignment. I also splashed out on floorstanding speakers - integrated speaker amplifer - headphones - but I have
mainly mentioned the turntable & cartridge because these are what I am using with the NJC hifi. I was about to purchase another
make of phono amplifier when my son found the NJC Audio website & we both agreed it looked like the better buy so in November
I purchased the reference phono amplifier with the matching moving coil transformer.

The combination of phono preamplifer with the transformers is perfect because they work very well together & sound so
accomplished. My son & I always research everything properly before buying & the NJC hifi has been the best buy.
Now I know what I am hearing & enjoying is not all due to the NJC phono & transformers but also the speakers & the moving
coil cartridge, but when I connected the cartridge into the phono input on the integrated speaker amplifier it was not as good
as the NJC phono & transformers. I am getting so much enjoyment from how good all of this sounds.

On a personal note, you probably get a lot of mails so might not remember me but the advice you gave with the headphones
has turned out to be spot on, I purchased the model you recommeded & they have worked out to be perfect for late
evening listening. After re-reading your detailed mail again I think the sound of these as you described is very accurate.
My thanks to you both & I will happily recommend your products - George.
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Submitted: 2/01/2017 - Name: G Hudson - Location: West Sussex
Comments from (NJC Audio): Nice to know you are enjoying the equipment, many thanks for your comments. Kind regards, Nick
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I think the best way I can describe the NJC reference phono preamp would be as a brilliant combination of British engineering
& electronics design all merged together to create something thoroughly enjoyable, this is a very professional piece of
equipment that even comes with its own test report & NJC were also a pleasure to deal with.

Differences in recordings even subtle details are no longer masked up, I suspect this is due to the extremely low distortion
with no coloration of the sound & with such large headroom when I turn up the volume on my ART Alnico 8 loudspeakers (also British)
the dynamics are marvelous. This is by no means the most expensive item I have ever bought but it is the most memorable for all
the right reasons, recommended.
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Submitted: 14/09/2016 - Name: G Morgan - Location: Cheshire
Comments from (NJC Audio): Many thanks for your comments, it is much appreciated. All the best, Nick.
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From the moment I unpacked the phono pre-amp it is was obvious that the kit is of exceptional quality. I have tried out
the pre-amp today which was bought to improve my current system which used the phono stage in a NAD integrated amp. The
results were immediately obvious with remarkably greater clarity and transparency and reduction in unwanted background.
The high quality of the pre-amp will also give me plenty upgrade room as I improve the rest of my system over time.
Controls are extremely solid and smooth and aesthetically, the machined aluminium front plate looks very stylish and reeks
of quality. Thanks Nick and Richard for meeting my unreasonable demands in terms of timing too, this was greatly appreciated.
(Tried to think of some negatives to give a balanced review.. but seriously can't think of any!). A very satisfied customer, J
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Submitted: 20/06/2016 - Name: J Witter - Location: Surrey
Comments from (NJC Audio): Nice to know you are enjoying the preamp, many thanks for your feedback. Kind regards Nick
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I bought one of these phono stages August last year & its been excellent with my Bronze Ortofon MM & since getting the NJC
it seems to have improved everything & taken it up several notches. I've since bought a Nagaoka MP-500 MM from Analogue
Seduction which sounds absolutely fantastic! & is a really nice cartridge putting out 3mv which works great with the NJC.
This phono stage really does seem to get the most out of a cartridge & its dead easy to change all the settings. It really
is a lovely made phono stage, has top quality construction from top to bottom & it looks great but with a performance to
match that neither adds anything or to that matter takes anything away, very happy.
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Submitted: 14/03/2016 - Name: A Johnson - Location: Dorset
Comments from (NJC Audio): Always nice to hear from owners, we appreciate your comments, all the best Nick
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I have had a few different makes of phono stages & turntables over the years but I have never owned an NJC until now.
Everytime I listen just reaffirms that I made the right decision in buying the NJC. My current turntable has an arm with
removable headshell which is great for swapping between cartridges : Ortofon, Denon & a Clearaudio (my current favourite)
& with the all round superb performance of the NJC its really easy to hear the merits of each cartridge. Thank you, Will.
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Submitted: 27/10/2015 - Name: W Browne - Location: Surrey
Comments from (NJC Audio): I appreciate your comments William, kind regards Nick
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I'm not sure where to leave comments because they are for the NJC preamp & MC stepup so I have just submitted them for
both products & I hope thats ok? The NJC phono preamp has been a very good upgrade with a very nicely balanced sound.
The NJC MC stepup transformer is also really something & is much better than the weak mc input that I was using & such
low noise which is the first thing I noticed, again a nicely balanced sound with no obvious tilt. The only minor gripe
is I have them both positioned closely together but half a meter of cable joining the two was unnecessary. So I had Nick at
NJC make a really short interconnect to keep everything tidy at the back (thanks Nick its now perfect, you should offer
these on your site as an optional extra or something as others might be interested too).

In my humble opinion these are both excllent performers & handsomely built & finished. Apart from royal mail saying they
attempted delivery when nobody had! buying from NJC Audio has been smooth sailing all the way so I recommend them.
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Submitted: 8/04/2015 - Name: B Hughes - Location: Gloucester
Comments from (NJC Audio): Many thanks for your feedback Brian, it is very much appreciated,
I will see about adding the interconnect as an option, all the best Nick.
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I'd like to start with a thanks to NJC for their efficient service & communication. After setting up the new phono amplifier
to my Rega RP8 the first noticeable difference is how much clearer the audio is with music having more life & body. When I change
back to what I was using before it sounds dull. This clearer sound also highlighted a slight alignment issue in my tonearm which I
think was previously being masked up. A couple of slight adjustments were needed & the sound is now right on the money & is putting
the rest of my system to shame.

The amplifier feels very confident & reassuring with solid construction, the silver/black design is a nice change from my other all
black boxes (mainly all Naim), even the Mrs commented on this & she never has anything good to say about my audio persuits so any
equipment that gets her on side is worth its waiting gold & deserves an extra thumbs up.
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Submitted: 29/01/2015 (via online feedback form) - Name: J Brewer - Location: Eastbourne
Comments from (NJC Audio): Many thanks John for your comments, it is very much appreciated, Kind Regards, Nick.
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About 2 months ago on recommendation from a friend I purchased a Monitor II headphone amplifier. I did this without any audition,
purely because I was interested and liked what I saw on NJC's web site. Well what can I say? I was immediately blown away by the amp
and within a month had purchased two of NJC's phono stages and also their DAC.

The phono stages were for use in two systems. The phono stage is clean and neutral (just like a phono stage should be) with a host
of useful features like gain settings and capacitance switching.

With NJC products there is no audiophile flowery language or descriptions. What you get is superb sounding equipment at competitive
prices with a build quality second to none. NJC bend backwards to be helpful and offer great advice with no hard sell. I have never
come across a hi fi company like them - they set a standard most other companies sadly fall short of. Highly recommended!
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Submitted: 8/06/2014 (via online feedback form) - Name: P Bishop - Location: Berkshire
Comments from (NJC Audio): Owners of our Monitor II will quite often come back to us either for the DAC or phono preamplifier,
however it's very nice to know you enjoyed the phono preamplifier to come back to us for a second one for your other turntable,
it's been a pleasure & I wish you all the best, regards Nick.
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I came upon this phono stage by chance one evening browsing the net, I had heard of NJC Audio before but never really looked
seriously until I saw this phono stage, it was immediately apparent to me from the photos on the site that it had way better
components & higher spec than anything I was looking at, even when stepping up my budget to silly amounts I couldnt find anything
comparable.

The NJC phono stage also has more features than most but the ability to tweak the loading was the one that really caught my
attention. My old amp had a built in phono stage with this feature but when it died I was forced to buy a seperate phono stage
but I did not realise I would miss this feature so much.

I am using this with an Xperience turntable & Ortofon cartridge & it is one heck of a phono stage, variable gain is actually
more useful than I thought it would be, but as I expected the variable cartidge loading on the front is just excellent & has given
me back the control I was missing for so long. Now that I know how good these products are I am looking at adding the Monitor 2
headphone amp to my wishlist (thanks for everything & for a great product).
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Submitted: 13/02/2014 (via online feedback form) - Name: M Jenkins - Location: London
Comments from (NJC Audio): Many thanks for your comments Malcolm, Kind Regards, Nick.
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specifications

Price: 495 + 11.00 Postage
Payment can be made in full or 10% deposit
with final payment upon completion.

Delivery to: UK Mainland & British Isles Only
(See FAQ for more information)

These are individually hand built to order for each person, the time it takes us to build, measure & fully test your preamplifier is currently between 14-18 working days.

Please choose a payment option below:

 

Please note: If you require a pair of suitable interconnects, please take a look at this page:

 

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NJC Audio - Quality Hand Built Headphone Amplifiers, Phono Preamplifiers, DACs & Interconnects - Hand Made in England

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