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Phonostage MM/MC

Ancient Audio

Manufacturer: ANCIENT AUDIO
Price (in Poland): 9999 PLN

ul. Malawskiego 50
31-471 Kraków | POLSKA


Provided for test by: ANCIENT AUDIO


Translation: Marek Dyba
Images: Wojciech Pacuła | Ancient Audio

No 206

July 1, 2021

ANCIENT AUDIO is a Polish company based in Krakow, specializing in high-end electronics, focusing on tube devices. Its offer also includes loudspeakers and semiconductor devices, such as the tested, first in its history, SILVER STAGE phono preamplifier.


HEN IN 2013, JAROMIR WASZCZYSZYN, the founder and designer of the ANCIENT AUDIO, wrote the history of his company for our magazine, or rather - as he said - its prehistory, he began it not with how he constructed amplifiers - and that’s what Ancient Audio is mostly known for, nor he talked about his CD players, that people also associate with this brand, or even mentioned his loudspeakers, that he actually had started his professional activity with. He started with a TURNTABLE:

It started with a spark, or rather a lightning. On my way home back from the High School No. 10, a way that was as long as possible, I visited a bookstore, electronics store and a pawnshop on Długa Street in Krakow. Through the window I saw the Transcriptor - Hydraulic Reference J.A. Michell turntable. It was a shock. It was a combination of hi-fi sound with absolutely cool form. It was a HI-END. The turntable also impressed many other people because it was featured in the iconic Kubrick’s movie, Clockwork Orange.

⸜ JAROMIR WASZCZYSZYN, Ancient Audio – PREHISTORIA, „High Fidelity” № 114, Oct. 1st 2013; accessed: 19.05.2021 (POLISH).

It was the Transcriptor that made him realize the importance of combining "engineering, sound and form" and it was, in a way, responsible for the idea of founding his own company. Actually, he started with a turntable, a copy of the Transcriptor. As we read in the aforementioned column, a mechanic rolled the aluminum cylinders "for a few half a liters of vodka", and the rest was done using primitive tools by Jarek in his garage. The turntable featured poor quality bearings, the stylus skipped sometimes, but the seed was sown. Unexpectedly, but also as a one-time event, it will bear a fruit in the form of a single project called Lektor Black, a turntable made for the legendary Polish jazz guitarist - Jarek Śmietana.

Let’s skip ahead almost thirty years. One day the head of Ancient Audio calls me and asks what is important in a phono preamplifier and what is worth paying attention to. As it turned out, he decided to design a phono preamplifier. A bit surprised, knowing that he had been specializing in digital technology (CD) for years, and practicing analog with high-level signals (amplifiers), I expressed my doubts. To which he replied: "I know what you are talking about, but ultimately an amplifier is an amplifier".


| A few simple words…

Owner, designer

DESPITE DOZEN OF PRESENTATIONS, the famous CSS session, during which we compared CDs and vinyl records, the sound of a turntable for me had only a sentimental value. A soft sound, but without the feeling of "here and now". And that would still be the case if one day Robert Szklarz, the owner of the Nautilus, had not asked me to try develop some phono preamplifiers he wanted to sell with his turntables. This is how prototypes of several devices based on my ideas were built

The thing seemed natural to me, because Ancient Audio has enormous experience in designing amplifiers, the Silver Grand Mono is an unbeatable benchmark to this day. Naturally, I was expected to develop tube-based devices, as this element seems to be considered an indispensable component of serious audiophilism - even my CD players featured tubes - but the new designs were based solely on semiconductors. Why?

First of all, I think that a phono preamp should be a relatively small, compact and maintenance-free device. It should be set once, matching a cartridge, placed where ever there is the slightest hum caused by other devices, and just play without bothering user.

Secondly, let me remind you of a bit of history. The golden years of the vinyl record coincided with the enormous popularity of a transistor, which simply played well with the vinyl record. The soft sound of the turntable with a slightly nervous transistor was getting a new life. The transistor revealed its disadvantages only with compact discs. This combination was too much, and it caused a renaissance of tubes. What can I say - even such respectable editors office as the "High Fidelity" use a solid state phono preamplifier.

And thirdly, noise. The signal level from a MC cartridge is very low, as is the logic of government action during the epidemic. Grzegorz Świnarski used to count the signal level of a MC cartridge. Not in amperes, but in single electrons. Tubes are quite noisy at this level. A tube preamplifier usually requires a step-up transformer, and a scrupulous selection of tubes.

⸜ A replica of a Transcriptor turntable by Jarek Waszczyszyn

I made the first prototypes based on integrated circuits. The people from Nautilus prepared a good turntable with a ZYX cartridge, and the whole system was reminiscent of the 1970s - vintage high efficiency loudspeakers, no tubes. So I started with the Godspell record, released back in communist Poland. The album from Dad's collection was my first contact with soul music. Emotions, as always with each new device. And .... when the singer screamed out "Turn back oh man ... to Jesus", I was served all my sins on a plate. That was it, finally I got the vinyl record’s class and its advantages: dynamics, momentum, space, naturalness of articulation.

I was inspired by the vertical deflection amplifiers of the oscilloscopes. They had to amplify the signal 100,000 times, in the DC to 1000 MHz band, with minimal distortion. No op amps were an option, as they required operation in a strong feedback loop. And this causes distortions, visible on the oscilloscope. The solution, as it seems to me, are circuits working only with local feedback, with low gain and high linearity. The Silver Stage has five gain stages based on FET transistors.

This solution requires a symmetrical design as FETs are sensitive to temperature changes. And what's worse, the spread of their parameters is 100-200%. So each of the 26 transistors must be individually selected, at the same temperature. It takes a lot of time and effort, which means it is expensive. However, such a topology is less sensitive to temperature changes, distortion, and aging of components. And the symmetrical XLR outputs are the result of a natural design, not of adding phase inversion to the output, which is common in typical solutions.

⸜ Lektor Black turntable, developed and made for Jarek Śmietana

RIAA equalization is based on RC elements. The components are also manually selected, despite the use of a precise series of WIMA capacitors. It's not about the perfect compliance with the RIAA correction curve, but the perfect matching of the left and right channels. All switches are hermetic relays. This is important because the impedance of most MC cartridges are in single figure ohms, similar to loudspeakers, so all contacts must be perfect.

Hence, the wiring is similar to that used in the best Ancient Audio amplifiers - it is a high purity silver wire. Hence the name of the phonostage - Silver Stage.



SILVER STAGE IS THE FIRST Ancient Audio phono preamplifier. It is also a semiconductor, transistor device, based on manually selected field effect transistors of the MOSFET type. It works with MM and MC cartridges, with active gain section for the MC ones. The input sensitivity for the MC cartridges may be set at 0.26 mV, 0.56 mV or 1 mV, and for the MM at 2 mV, 4 mV or 5 mV. I am giving the values for theses because we can change the input sensitivity with a small toggle switch on the top of the device. Importantly, not only for MC cartridges, but also for MM ones, which will also match requirements of MC HO models.

The device is divided into two parts: an amplifying stage and power supply. The gain section take a form of a flat, small box bolted from non-magnetic steel panels, measuring 200 x 40 x 160 mm (W x H x D). All manipulators are accessible from its top, which is very convenient. There are four toggle switches that allow us to change (sequentially): load impedance (100Ω, 400Ω, 47kΩ), cartridge type (MM / MC) and gain (High / Mid / Low). The fourth switch is used to turn on the power, which is indicated by a red power LED.

The inputs and outputs are located on the rear panel. We have a pair of RCA inputs, a pair of this type of outputs and a pair of balanced outputs with XLR sockets. As Jarek said, this is a fully balanced design. Both outputs seem to be active all the time. The output level is 0.775V (RMS) for RCA and 1.55V for XLR. And there is also a clamp for grounding, not a very convenient one, I should add.

The power supply section was moved to a separate housing - it’s a simple box made of an aluminum profile. This, as the designer says, is to reduce the noise generated by the power transformer. The voltage to the amplifying section is led through a shielded cable, looking like an interconnect, terminated with a DIN plug, but in a solid, locking version. In turn, the 230V AC supply voltage is supplied with a thin, permanently installed cable that looks like it was removed from a small desk lamp. What's worse, it ends with a flat plug, not a Schuko one.

The unit can be weighted down with an optional granite plate, the same one used by Ancient Audio for its CD players and amplifiers. Optionally, the upper part of the housing with engraved inscriptions can also be made of brass or gold-plated.


⸜ HOW WE LISTENED The Ancient Audio phono preamplifier was compared in the "High Fidelity" reference system to the RCM AUDIO SENSOR PRELUDE IC preamplifier, a semiconductor device based on integrated circuits; both designs have external power supplies. The system also included the TRANSROTOR ALTO TMD turntable and the SHELTER HARMONY cartridge. Both phono preamplifiers were connected to the AYON AUDIO SPHERIS III line preamplifier using an unbalanced Crystal Cable Absolute Dream interconnect.

Records used for the test | a selection

⸜ COUNT BASIE & TONY BENNETT, Basie/Bennett, Roulette/Classic Records SR 25 072, “45 rpm series”, 4 x Special One-Sided Pressing, 200 g LP (1959/2006)
⸜ DIANA KRALL, This Dream Of You, Verve Records 602507445416, TEST PRESS, 2 x 180 g LP (2020);
⸜ MAX ROACH QUARTET, Live in Tokyo Vol. 1, Denon Jazz YX-7508-ND, LP (1977)
⸜ MILES DAVIS, Kind of Blue, Columbia | Sony Music Entertainment/Mobile Fidelity MFSL 2-45011, „Special Limited Edition 05371”, 45 RPM, 2 x 180 g LP (1959/2015)
⸜ SANTANA, Santana, Columbia CS 9781, LP (1969);
⸜ THE ART ENSEMBLE OF CHICAGO, The Spiritual, Freedom/ORG Music RGM-2121, „Record Store Day 2019”, Limited Edition, 180 g RED WAX LP (1972/2019);
⸜ TSUYOSHI YAMAMOTO TRIO, Misty, Three Blind Mice/Cisco Music TBM-30-45, „Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Limited Edition | No. 0080/1000”, 45 RPM, 2 x 180 g LP (1974/2004)


THE SOUND OF THE TESTED PREAMPLIFIER is so different from what I get with the RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC, that no one who heard them both would have the slightest problem with choosing one of them. These are not even two different types of presentations, but simply two different sound philosophies: we perceive the Ancient Audio preamplifier’s sound in a very similar to the sound when listening to a tube device, whose designers wanted us to know right away that we are listening to this type of device.

I started the listening session with All Blues from the Kind of Blue by Miles Davis, inspired by the information about its latest re-edition, this time in the 1 Step technique, planned by the Analogue Productions label. The backbone of this piece is the rhythm of James Cobb's drums, heard in the right channel, tapped on the right by Bill Evans on a piano. The preamplifier from Jarek Waszczyszyn rounded the impact of the drum cymbals and dampened the impact of the snare drum a bit. The whole presentation was actually warmer and darker than with the reference preamplifier. But it was also denser and lower. Paul Chambers' double bass sounded a bit more authoritative, although it was not particularly controlled at the very bottom, it was rather a blur of sound than an precisely shown pluck of a string.

As soon as the Davis trumpet came in, which was soon joined by John Coltrane's and Julian Adderley's saxophones, I got a massive, tangible sound. It was not as well differentiated as with the RCM Audio preamplifier, and the depth of the stage was not presented equally well. But it was also the case that the instruments had a slightly more velvety character, they were more "tube-like", in the sense that they were denser and more "compressible", as if more mass could be squeezed into the same volume of air.

The amplified effect I am talking about was heard with an album recorded by Max Roach's quartet in 1977 during concerts in Japan - it was recorded on a Denon reel-to-reel digital tape recorder. The Ancient Audio preamplifier added some color, mass and richness to it. Those early digital recorders, or maybe the way of cutting the varnish based on that material, were characterized by a lighter sound than their analog counterparts. The preamplifier from Krakow shortened this distance a bit, lowered the sound and boosted it.

But it also flattened the stage a bit and softened the dynamics. And the dynamics is flawless on early digital recordings, they sound as if they were direct-to-disc recordings. It was no different with the aforementioned album. With the Silver Stage it sounded as if it had been recorded in a saturated way on a tape, and on a tube tape deck. The Sensor Prelude IC, on the other hand, played it as if it had been recorded on a Scully 260 tape recorder, i.e. with germanium transistors, by Mr. Okihiko Sugano, or - as I say, without any tape involvement.

To see what it actually means that with the Silver Stage the sound seemed as if it had been recorded in a saturated way on an analog tape, I reached for the Tony Bennett and Count Basie's Basie / Bennett, pressed on four, single-sided 45 rpm discs by Classic Records. It turned out that this means rounding the sound, bringing the vocals closer and thickening the presentation. Bennett's voice was more massive and denser with the Ancient Audio, but also closer to me, and the accompanying reverb, quite long, was shortened. On the other hand, the instruments, especially the wind instruments, were slightly withdrawn - what was explosive with the RCM Audio and trembling with internal fire, with the Ancient Audio was smoothed and calmed down.

It was extremely pleasant, don't let this constant comparison fool you. Play, for example, Diana Krall from the last album, entitled This Dream of You, and we get a close, warm, dense sound with a large vocal and generally a sound with a large volume. Krall will be shown in front of us, he has good focus, just like Anthony Wilson's guitar slightly to the left, so it is incredibly pleasant.

The device prefers a close plan, and everything that has been placed further away from us by the producers is overshadowed by the events happening "here and now", shown on the listening axis, ahead of us. Interestingly it does not happen because the back of the stage is somehow pulled up, at least compared to other devices in this price range. Rather, it is a way of presenting what is happening in the background. The instruments placed there have an even warmer expression, so they seem a bit quieter. They are not actually quiet, but we perceive them as warmer, which is why the foreground may appears to be stronger.


SILVER STAGE HAS ITS OWN IDEA FOR SOUND, well thought-out by the way. The only thing that I missed with the tested preamplifier was the drama of the recordings - with the Ancient Audio they are quite similar, it’s just that they all sound in a very nice, subdued way. So it is not a phonostage tailored to the tastes of rock fans, but rather to long evening sessions with jazz music, small ensembles of classical music, with electronics, but rather by Vangelis than Apex Twin.

The Ancient Audio preamplifier is like a "wuzetka" cookie - you remember it long after you change the device, its "aftertaste" remains on the palate, even though the taste is quite sweet. It is a product that we will either love or move on to another one without any regrets. But if we love it, it will be a strong, long lasting relationship. The fact that such low stylus travel noise and negligible pops&clicks are not offered by too many, even much more expensive preamplifiers, surely helps too.

A warm, dense, pleasant sound with a lot of mass and internal depth - this would be the shortest description of this device. If this is what you are looking for, then you have arrived at your destination - buy it and enjoy.


ANCIENT AUDIO SILVER PHONO is a small, two-box phono preamplifier, designed to work with both, MM and MC cartridges. Its main box contains the gain and correction circuits, and the smaller one - the power supply section, or at least part of it.

⸜ CHASSIS The gain circuit sits in a solid, bolted non-magnetic stainless steel housing; Brass and gold aluminum versions are also available. The silver plates in the tested specimen were not secured with anything, so you have to be careful when handling it not to leave fingerprints on the surface.

The Silver Phono uses a flat casing with concave inscriptions on top. There are four toggle switches, used to adjust the loading and type of the cartridge, as well as the gain for it, and with the fourth one one turns the power on/off; there is also a red power LED. The device can be ordered with an optional marble slab. Jarek says that it is used so that heavy connecting cables do not tilt the device back. The only thing is that to prevent the slab from scratching the surface on which it sits, it features felt pads. And this made it slide super easy on the Finite Elemente shelf.

All sockets are placed on the rear. Among them there are two pairs of gold-plated RCAs, one for connecting a phono interconnect, and the other for sending signal to a line preamplifier or an integrated amplifier. Between them there is a gold-plated grounding clamp. As with almost all phonostages I know, the clamp is inconvenient to use. And there are also balanced outputs - the device is a fully symmetrical design.

On the far right, there is a DIN socket, adapted to a locking plug. It’s a slightly inferior type, although DIN also connects my preamplifier with its power supply. I think a more elegant solution would be to use LEMO or similar connectors. Power is supplied via a medium-length cable, permanently installed in the power supply.

⸜ POWER SUPPLY And the power supply has a form of a small, black box, made of a so-called "pipe", or a universal section into which a printed circuit board is inserted and closed at its ends with flat plates. Inside you can see a small power transformer, rectifiers and power supply capacitors. And now - I can not understand why the power cord is permanently attached to the power supply. And even less so, why it is one that looks like taken from a lamp terminated with a flat plug. I do not understand this approach, as Jarek repeatedly recognized the need for high quality power cables during numerous CSS meetings.

⸜ INSIDE The amplification circuit is mounted on a double-sided printed circuit board. I didn't try to remove it, and most of the active elements were hidden underneath. However, I know that there are MOSFET transistors there. From the top, nice large WIMA polypropylene capacitors are soldered to the PCB. They are selected manually so that they are as closely matched as possible to the set value. In turn, the resistors, as far as I am not deceived by my eyes, are surface soldered.

The signal to the sockets is led by hand-bent pure silver wires - the same ones were used in top CD players and Ancient Audio amplifiers. Seeing them reminded me of some DIY products.

⸜ SUMMARY The Silver Phono presents a very "garage-like" style, as if it was built at the same time as the components for Jarek's turntable mentioned at the beginning. I know that there are many audiophiles who like such austerity, but for some it can be an incomprehensible extravagance. Especially that there are many good-looking devices from other manufacturers on the market. And this bloody power cable ...

Technical specifications (according to the manufacturer):

Nominal output signal level (0 dBm):
RCA – 0.775V (RMS) | XLR – 1.55V
MC cartridge sensitivity: 0.26 mV, 0.56 mV, 1 mV
MM cartridge sensitivity: 2 mV, 4 mV, 5 mV
Input loading: 100Ω, 400Ω, 47kΩ
Color: silver, gold + black
Optional element: granite base
Dimensions (S x H x D): 200 x 40 x 160 mm


Reference system 2021

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2) Line preamplifier: AYON AUDIO Spheris III Linestage |REVIEW|
3) Super Audio CD Player: AYON AUDIO CD-35 HF Edition No. 01/50 |REVIEW|
4) Stands (loudspeakers): ACOUSTIC REVIVE (custom) |ABOUT|
5) Power amplifier: SOULUTION 710
6) Loudspeaker filter: SPEC REAL-SOUND PROCESSOR RSP-AZ9EX (prototype) |REVIEW|
7) Hi-Fi rack: FINITE ELEMENTE Pagode Edition |ABOUT|


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Analog interconnect Line preamplifier - Power amplifier: ACOUSTIC REVIVE RCA-1.0 Absolute-FM (1 m) |REVIEW|
Speaker cable: SILTECH Triple Crown (2.5 m) |ABOUT|

AC Power

Power cable | Mains Power Distribution Block - SACD Player: SILTECH Triple Crown
Power (2 m) |ARTICLE|
Power cable | Mains Power Distribution Block - Line preamplifier - ACOUSTIC REVIVE
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Power cable | Power Receptacle - Mains Power Distribution Block: ACROLINK Mexcel 7N-PC9500 (2 m) |ARTICLE|
Power Receptacle: Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu ULTIMATE |REVIEW|
Anti-vibration platform under Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu ULTIMATE: Asura QUALITY RECOVERY SYSTEM Level 1 |REVIEW|
Power Supply Conditioner: Acoustic Revive RPC-1 |REVIEW|
Power Supply Conditioner: Acoustic Revive RAS-14 Triple-C |REVIEW|
Passive filter EMI/RFI: VERICTUM Block |REVIEW|


Speaker stands: ACOUSTIC REVIVE (custom)
Hi-Fi rack: FINITE ELEMENTE Pagode Edition |ABOUT|
Anti-vibration platforms: ACOUSTIC REVIVE RAF-48H |ARTICLE|

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Phono preamplifier: Phono cartridges: Tonearm (12"): Reed 3P |REVIEW|

Clamp: PATHE WINGS Titanium PW-Ti 770 | Limited Edition

Record mats:


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Headphones: Headphone Cables: Forza AudioWorks NOIR HYBRID HPC