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The Gold Note PH-10 phonostage

March 4, 2019

My first experience with Italian equipment is with the Fase Evoluzione Audio PF45 integrated amplifier that I got pre-owned that jumpstarted my way back to audiophilia. Since then, I have admired other Italian brands like Sonus Faber, but never got to own one as their price range is somewhat over what I can usually afford.

Today, I just opened a sealed box of another Italian-made gear from a brand I just learned about from the latest edition of the November Hi-Fi Show 2018. The company is called Gold Note, out of Firenze, Italy and headed by Maurizio Aterini.

Gold Note makes analog equipment that includes turntables, phono cartridges, and phonostages, as well as electronics such as integrated amplifiers, power amplifiers, pre-amplifiers, DAC, and CD players. I am unboxing the PH-10 phonostage.

 PH-10 unboxing

The construction of the unit showcases the Italian quality and built. The front panel is simplified with an LCD display and rotary control, a blue LED indicator lights up upon application of power. The rear panel is much more busy with two pairs of unbalanced female input for the turntable RCA wires, a pair of balanced male XLR output, a pair of unbalanced female RCA output, a male DIN connector for the optional PSU-10 power supply, IEC power socket, main power switch, and finally a mini USB and reset switch. But wait, there's one more... a myterious female DIN labelled GN Port.

 PH-10 facia

The PH-10 boasts of being the first phono stage with two input and six EQ curves. But before I say wow, there's another phonostage that I recently bought that offers two inputs and multiple EQ curves, the iPhono 2 from iFi. But here lies the differences...

  • While both have two inputs, only the PH-10 have independently configurable inputs. The iPhone 2 has one MM and one MC dedicated inputs.
  • Both PH-10 and iPhono 2 offers RIAA, American-CBS/Columbia, and London-Decca but goes further by offering an "Enhanced" mode to all three.
  • The PH-10 offers nine resistive load options (10Ω, 22Ω, 47Ω, 100Ω, 220Ω, 470Ω, 1000Ω, 22KΩ, 47KΩ) while the iPhone 2 offers eight (22Ω, 33Ω, 75Ω, 100Ω, 250Ω, 330Ω, 1000Ω, 47KΩ).
  • The iPhono 2 also offers five capacitive loading options (100pF, 200pF, 300pF, 400pF, 500pF), the PH-10 none.
  • Both PH-10 and iPhone offers four gain options.

Configuration in PH-10 is accomplished with the rotary knob Gold Note refers to as Single Knob Control (SKC) and feedback is displayed on the 2.8" TFT display. As for the iPhono 2 configuration, see for yourself.

iPhono 2 DIP switches

Putting in the PH-10 in my audio chain is trivial and I am playing the first cut from Jack Johnson - In Between Dreams via this unit that is about to be broken in.

PH-10 playback

My first impression is that tonally, I like it. I sat on my listening chair for the first two tracks and continued listening to it as background music while I prepare dinner.

Since it's way past dinner already, I switched to headphones and cued Edenbridge - The Great Momentum followed by Sirenia - Dim Days of Dolor. The Great Momentum sounds great, Dim Days of Dolor sounds poor. I gave the RIAA Enhanced a shot and to my surprise, this poor sounding album is now listenable, but wait, it now sounds enjoyable.

Day 2

Alright, so I got home earlier and was able to play at normal listening level. Dream Theater's Systematic Chaos is a disappointment, together with Sirenia's Dim Days of Dolor. They sounded anemic compared to many of my other albums, even some local pressings. I would like to confirm what I heard from the headphones last night, and it was validated. The PH-10 is set for RIAA equalization and Systematic Chaos sounded acceptable with quite a narrow sound stage. Switching over to RIAA Enhanced, the sound stage goes wider that enhanced (sic) the listening experience. The same can now be said about Dim Days of Dolor, while they don't sound as good compared to known good albums, they are now enjoyable.

Moving over to my known good records that includes Charlene - I've Never Been To Me, Suzanne Vega - Solitude Standing, and String Band Featuring Isao Suzuki, I'm convinced that I like the PH-10 tonally and dynamically. But there's something missing... the lack of depth. Everything is flat. Yes, I get a wide soundstage, but there's no depth. I hope this is just a break-in thing.

Just for kicks, I played Carmen xxxxx using Decca London equalization just because the label printed Decca Stereo. It is not proof that the equalization used on the record was actually Decca London, but nevertheless it sounded pretty good! Lots of details, air, and dynamics and yes, it's FLAT.

Decca London PH-10

I will be snatching the iPhono 2 from my secondary system and compare it head-on with the PH-10 for validation.

The equipment:

  • NAIM NAIT 5i integrated amplifier
  • KEF R300 bookshelf speakers
  • Clearaudio Performance DC 
    • Clearaudio TT3 tonearm 
    • Dynavector 17D3 cartridge
  • Clearaudio Basic Symmetry phonostage
  • Harman Kardon HD-750 HDCD player
  • NAIM Headline 2 headphone amplifier
  • Focal Spirit Pro headphones
  • Raspberry Pi 2B running MusicBox

Cables:

  • NAIM NAC A5 speaker cable
  • Oyaide Across 750 RCA to RCA (turntable) 
  • NAIM RCA to DIN (phonostage)
  • Verbatim RCA to RCA (CD player)