oday phonostages purposed only for MM (Moving Magnet), high output MC (Moving Coil High Output), and MI (Moving Iron) cartridges (made mostly by Grado) are true rarity. To be honest, I do not know why. There are only two types of phonostages without MC section – very cheap ones, for people who are only entering the world of vinyl, and very expensive ones for sophisticated audiophiles. The former count every penny they need to spend, so simpler, ergo less expensive device based (usually) on a single chip is preferred. The latter are quite different – these are guys who prefer to use step up transformers for their MC carts, instead of active circuits. I think most such users can be found in Japan, where many advanced audiophiles use a step-up transformer for particular cartridge, and they connect it to their active MM phonostages.
And I guess that's the case here. As you can read below, Mr Alexander Remmer, the owner and designer of Czech company Remton, wanted to build the best MM phonostage he could, assuming it would work perfectly with MM, MC HO or MI cartridges, but that would also give its user a possibility to use it with step-up transformer for MC carts. So he built the LCR model with custom made Sowter coils, and SCR and Itel capacitors. It is a tube phonostage with ECC81 double triodes in the input stage, one per channel, and one E88CC per channel in the output.
Mr Alexander delivered for test the basic (MkI) version of this phonostage, the one for MM carts. Why? Because, according to him, it is a better solution for any vinyl fan: „I definitely prefer using MC carts with external step-up. In our opinion those who can afford to buy LCR, can also afford to purchase a step-up…” As he says, the Sowter step-up transformers he uses for MkII offer a very good performance but there are many others, even better ones, available on the market. So the basic, MM version, is, according to him, the more sophisticated one.
At the first sight the device looks really good, solid, high quality sockets also create a very positive impression. Even the writings on the front wall are nicely done. Is it a pure coincident that company's logo is somehow similar to the one of Japanese manufacturer Phasemation? I don't think so – I believe it is rather sort of a tribute to one of the best specialist. And it is also not a coincident that this company offers two high quality step-up transformers: T-300 and T-500.
The company is young, and was founded is in the Prague, Czech Republic, with the idea to produce high-quality tube phonostages at an affordable price. The first exhibition we participated in was High End Praha 2013, where we presented Remton 383 and Remton 8382 models (see HERE and HERE).
Remton LCR was first shown at the exhibition High End Munich 2014. LCR phonostage built on the Inductive RIAA emphasis Network, LCR filters using custom made coils from Sowter, SCR and Icel capacitors, and precision non-inductive resistors. Before assembling all components have been handpicked basing on measured parameters.
All models were made with the MM input, because we consider the MC cartridges, for high quality, must be used with appropriate to it MC step-up transformer. But our customers would like input for MC, so it was decided to make Remton 383 MK2 and Remton LCR MK2 with Sowter MC step-up transformer.
The Remton LCR is optimized to work together with step-up transformer. Obviously it could be used as a classic MM phonostage but considering its price one would have to use most expensive unit of this type, like, for example, Grado's MI (Moving Iron) carts.
Records used during test (a selection)
Sound signature of phonostages with a passive element (transformer) differs from ones with active circuits. I guess it is obvious otherwise there wouldn't be two groups of users with clear preferences of one method over the other. Remton is one of the best examples of how the sound of the former is tuned, because on one hand it has its own sonic signature easily recognizable, on the other it provided some elements of the sound that I remembered from my review of Manley Steelhead v2, that are common for most phonostages with transformers in the input stage. Not to complicate this review I will describe the overall sound signature, only in particular cases pointing out whether particular feature comes from phonostage itself, or if it is characteristic for this type of device.
The reviewed system delivered rich, organic sound. That's what I noticed when listening to the first record, but it stayed in the back of my head also after many days of listening. Sound, timbre seems so rich as, in photography, after editing raw picture and adding some color and enhancing contrast. There is no exaggeration here – it is a small adjustment to make sound bit more lively than in reality and thus – more attractive to listen to. Many manufacturers do the same thing using different means. But the Czech phonostage does it in a particularly charming way. There is no significant coloration of lower midrange, no bass enhancement, and yet sound seems “big” and palpable.
It is particularly impressive when mono records are played, as such recordings require a system that is able to deliver large phantom images. The phonostage under review presented Miles Davis and his quintet and sextet exactly in such a way – placed in huge space, delivering rich, palpable sound. I am an owner of a Japanese, 1976 edition of the Miles Davis All Star Sextet/Quintet record from 1956. Even though it was released on a regular vinyl (at the time „180 g Heavy Weight” was still only a distant future), not on „deep groove” (as the original issue), and the sound is amazingly coherent. It sounds almost warm, except it really isn't. Remton conveyed this music in a warm, spacial way, unlike many other phonostages that deliver this music in some formless way. Sound wasn't as fast and not so dynamic as presented by my RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC, but it was simply different. It was smoother, warmer, more palpable, rendered closer to the listener, more organic.
The last feature, I believe, is why many people decide to use step-up transformers. These make sound more vibrant but without adding any brightness to it. There is incredible intensity of midrange and treble combined with softening of the attack. That's what make the sound of this system so attractive, so lively, so intense. And yet it is quite... unobtrusive, non-aggressive. What's more – it seems like this system with phonostage and step-up is able to play any records in such an attractive way, not just some classics that sound well on 1000 PLN ProJect and 250.000 PLN TechDAS, like Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms or Diana Krall's All For You (although I started my listening sessions with such classics and only later moved to other records).
I listened to the Mobile Fidelity 2 x 45 rpm 180g vinyl recent release of Dire Straits. Breaking its own principles MoFi released this recording in their „Original Master Recording” series, that is used exclusively for re-issues made of original analogue master-tapes. As all fans know, this Dire Straits recording was done in digital domain and mixed using analogue console to digital tape (DASH or DAT – not really clear on that). Whatever the source of this material, the new re-issue sounds fantastic, so I don't care what they used to prepare it. The system with Czech phonostage delivered smooth, rich sound, slightly underlining Knopfler's voice, and in Money For Nothing also Sting's. Leading guitar was prominent, rich, although not as three-dimensional, so distinct as delivered by RCM Audio. The lesser selectivity and dynamics are a price to pay for more organic, more palpable presentation (also warmer, although this feature doesn't influence perception of music that much).
This phonostage is tuned in such a way that a combination of such system – transformer with tubes – would offer the best possible performance. I had no chance to compare them head to head but I think I remembered pretty well what were the differences between above mentioned Manley Steelhead and my own RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC.
Now, comparing Sensor to Remton, I was able to compare the differences I could hear now, with those from Manley test (that's why I always have to be honest in my reviews as, sometimes years later, I read them again to refresh my memory and use some previous experience in present tests). So I can now conclude that American phonostage was more resolving and offered better dynamics than the combination of Phasemation and Remton. But its sound was also more colored, especially in the lower midrange.
The Japanese-Czech duet conveyed a sound that was more balanced. It was also more vibrant and more “active” in terms of timbre differentiation. Not only with Dire Straits, or Diana Krall (a wonderful release from Original Recording Group on a double 180g vinyl), but also with other records that I wouldn't call „easy listening” kind at all – like, for example, the latest release of Karlrecords with experimental, electronic music called Double Automatism Yasunao Tone + Talibam! + Sam Kulik, or with Andriej Tarkowski's (Андре́й Арсе́ньевич Тарко́вский, 1932–1986) Solaris movie soundtrack with Eduard Artemiev's (Эдуа́рд Никола́евич Арте́мьев) music. This is surely not an “easy” music. It Is dense, rich, multi-layer music that is supposed to move listener inside.
Remton, together with Phasemation T-500, was capable to convey this multidimensional structure of this music. The presentation wasn't overly sterile, I mean this system didn't try to deliver maximum number of details at the cost of sound's coherence. It played records cut from digital tapes in a similar way. That's how Karlrecords prepares its releases, and that's how a material for Maria Callas Remastered was prepared too. This title was released at the same time as a special box with Maria Callas recordings that were remastered. Sound of vinyl is not that rich as original recordings. And it is obvious even knowing that Remton does “enrich” sound a bit, emphasis slightly lower midrange and upper bass. Differentiation of this system is really good despite the fact, that selectivity isn't its strongest suit.
I'm not a big fan of step-up transformers. It is about my personal preferences not about some sort of conviction of superiority of one solution over other – I know that both are equally good. Remton LCR and Phasemation T-500 are a great example of a system of this type offering impressive performance. Sound is not as resolving and as dynamic as offered by other active systems from the same price range, or more expensive ones (like, for example RCM Audio THERIAA and SPEC REQ-S1 EX).
But it is dense, rich, palpable and vibrant. Its sound is perceived as organic – it is a great pleasure to listen to the music via this system. That's what Japanese love such systems with step-up transformers for. This phonostage is a great partner for high quality step-up transformers – it will add some richness, warmth, density, and wonderful tonality. Mono recordings will offer big sound, and stereo ones will be presented closely to the listener with amazingly palpable instruments. Powerful, nicely extended bass will be a solid foundation for presentation of any music.
The device s not too big nor too small – just accurate. One might say it's a classic design from a small manufacturer with an aluminum front plate and steel enclosure. It also sports classic feet.
No wonder also back panel is very simple – an RCA input and output, IEC socket with fuse and that's it. The RCA sockets look really well – they remind me of WBT products. Even writings on the back panel are really nice. Most manufacturers use some label with information printed on it – it rarely looks well. But it seems that Remton decided to go other, more aesthetic way – silver letters are engraved (?) which looks damn good.
Inside of the device looks equally impressive. This phonostage uses passive RIAA equalization placed between two gain sections, with zero negative feedback. E88CC tube with golden pins from Slovak JJ works in the input section, and ECC81 also with golden pins from the same manufacturer works in the output. Gold plated tube sockets would be a nice addition to these tubes. When designing LCR Mr Alexander Remmer decided to close tubes inside aluminum cups to minimize noise and hum. That's a pretty effective way and yet rarely seen in phonostages. The whole circuit seems well thought-through, high quality elements were chosen to do the job like: precise resistors, polypropylene capacitors (SRC and Itel), and Sowter shielded coils. Signal to the main PCB travels with quite long, shielded cables.
Power supply is separated from the circuits with a metal sheet. PS is build around quite large toroidal transformer with four secondary windings. It seems that there is separate power supply for each channel for anode and for heater. Device use a „soft-start” circuit which extends tube's life. AC voltage is filtered by two double Pi filters Pi. Designer used high quality Rubicon filtering capacitors in power supply circuit. Really well executed design, especially considering its price (but it still would be impressive even if the price were higher)!
Parameters (according to manufacturer)
Suitable for MM, high output MC and MI phono cartridges
I presented a history of this particular recording and its following remasters some time ago in the article Wojna światów (in Polish only, HERE). New facts and another take of this matter was recently presented by Michael Framer in his article Brothers In Arms at 45rpm From Mobile Fidelity, reviewing the latest issue of this material prepared by Mobile Fidelity (see HERE). Let me only remind that the whole material for this album was recorded on a multi-track SONY DIGITAL tape recorder (16 bits and 44,1 or 48 kHz) and then mixed via ANALOGUE console. Material mixed to stereo track was recorded on digital tape as 16/44,1. If the SPARC code would have been used it would have been a DAD record. All vinyl issues were cut from digital master-tape of CD quality.
It seems that the latest BIA version from Mobile Fidelity as a part of their Original Master Recording series was done in the same way, despite the fact that this series was always based on analogue master-tapes. But it is not the first time when MoFi abandoned their own rules – they did the same with CD and LP issues of John Lennon. These were prepared not from original analogue master tapes but from new, digital tapes, that were newly remaster, which was supervised by Yoko Ono herself. The old, original master-tapes are “not available”. The new release of Dire Straits is delivered in a beautiful gatefold cover, with two 180g, 45 r.p.m. records inside.
While I started to listen to this album it didn't matter anymore how it was prepared – it sounded simply remarkably. Digital recordings from 1980ties are bright, rough, coarse – that's what digital technology allowed at the time. And one can still hear that on Dire Straits album, but these features of the sound never overwhelm listener, they are there but just slightly indicated. Sound is dense, rich, powerful, saturated. I loved bass on this issue, which was always a problem on all previous editions. I compare the MoFi's release with original pressing and with a CD that is commonly recognized as the best of them all, the SHM-XRDC, and the new vinyl release sounded better, WAY better. Spacing, imaging, tonality, differentiation – all these elements of the new release are simply great. I loved listening to this new release.
Sound quality: 8/10
- Turntable: AVID HIFI Acutus SP [Custom Version]
- Cartridges: Miyajima Laboratory KANSUI, review HERE | Miyajima Laboratory SHILABE, review HERE | Miyajima Laboratory ZERO (mono) | Denon DL-103SA, review HERE
- Phono stage: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC, review HERE
- Compact Disc Player: Ancient Audio AIR V-edition, review HERE
- Multiformat Player: Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD
- Line Preamplifier: Polaris III [Custom Version] + AC Regenerator, regular version review (in Polish) HERE
- Power amplifier: Soulution 710
- Integrated Amplifier: Leben CS300XS Custom Version, review HERE
- Stand mount Loudspeakers: Harbeth M40.1 Domestic, review HERE
- Stands for Harbeths: Acoustic Revive Custom Series Loudspeaker Stands
- Real-Sound Processor: SPEC RSP-101/GL
- Integrated Amplifier/Headphone amplifier: Leben CS300XS Custom Version, review HERE
- Headphones: HIFIMAN HE-6, review HERE | HIFIMAN HE-500, review HERE | HIFIMAN HE-300, review HERE | Sennheiser HD800 | AKG K701, review (in Polish) HERE | Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro, version 600 - reviews (in Polish): HERE, HERE, HERE
- Headphone Stands: Klutz Design CanCans (x 3), review (in Polish) HERE
- Headphone Cables: Entreq Konstantin 2010/Sennheiser HD800/HIFIMAN HE-500, review HERE
- Portable Player: HIFIMAN HM-801
- USB Cables: Acoustic Revive USB-1.0SP (1 m) | Acoustic Revive USB-5.0PL (5 m), review HERE
- LAN Cables: Acoustic Revive LAN-1.0 PA (kable ) | RLI-1 (filtry), review HERE
- Router: Liksys WAG320N
- NAS: Synology DS410j/8 TB
- Interconnects: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, review HERE | preamplifier-power amplifier: Acrolink 8N-A2080III Evo, review HERE
- Loudspeaker Cables: Tara Labs Omega Onyx, review (in Polish) HERE
- Interconnects: Acoustic Revive RCA-1.0PA | XLR-1.0PA II
- Loudspeaker Cables: Acoustic Revive SPC-PA
- Power Cables: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300, all system, review HERE
- Power Distributor: Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu Ultimate, review HERE
- Power Line: fuse – power cable Oyaide Tunami Nigo (6m) – wall sockets 3 x Furutech FT-SWS (R)
- Power Cables: Harmonix X-DC350M2R Improved-Version, review (in Polish) HERE | Oyaide GPX-R (x 4 ), review HERE
- Power Distributor: Oyaide MTS-4e, review HERE
- Stolik: SolidBase IV Custom, read HERE/all system
- Anti-vibration Platforms: Acoustic Revive RAF-48H, review HERE/digital sources | Pro Audio Bono [Custom Version]/headphone amplifier/integrated amplifier, review HERE | Acoustic Revive RST-38H/loudspeakers under review/stands for loudspeakers under review
- Anti-vibration Feets: Franc Audio Accessories Ceramic Disc/ CD Player/Ayon Polaris II Power Supply /products under review, review HERE | Finite Elemente CeraPuc/ products under review, review HERE | Audio Replas OPT-30HG-SC/PL HR Quartz, review HERE
- Anti-vibration accsories: Audio Replas CNS-7000SZ/power cable, review HERE
- Quartz Isolators: Acoustic Revive RIQ-5010/CP-4
- FM Radio: Tivoli Audio Model One