Lately I’ve had a renewed interested in improving my audio system, and it likely has something to do with my recent move to Vancouver and the sudden accessibility of all sort of neat stuff.
One of the first things I decided to do was play around with my Vinyl Rig. I picked up a Pro-Ject Tube Box II on from Canuck Audio Mart to try out with my Pro-Ject Perspective Turntable the other day and see how it compared with my SonoCable SonoStasis Phono Preamp. I am currently running a Grado Prestige Gold cart on my Pro-Ject Perspective, and have a Grado Reference Sonata cartridge on order.
Price and Components
The SonoStatis sells for around $800 with the full set of upgrades that I got for it including high end Burr-Brown opamps, MIT RIAA Capacitors and MIT output capacitors. The Project Tube Box II sells for $450, and uses two 12AX7 tubes for amplification. I did not open up the Pro-Ject to see what kinds of components were used, but I assume there is nothing really special.
The SonoStasis as I use it also has a specialized SonoSupply which is the reason it’s high cost. The SonoSupply provides a dedicated high-current toroidal transformer filtered by Black Gate electrolytic capacitors and bypassed with Wima capacitors for clean, dedicated power.
The SonoStasis is very limited in features, and only supports MM cartridges while the Tube Box II has MM and MC capability as well as a subsonic filter to filter out rumble caused by wobbly records or kids jumping up and down on the floor which causes your bass woofers to max out and go nuts. This can be especially useful if you have a subwoofer connected to your system. Feature-wise, the Pro-Ject certainly has the SonoStasis beat.
Turning on and off the subsonic filter showed a slight compression in dynamics in the music when it was in the on state. The Tube Box sounded noticeably better with the subsonic filter turned off.
Music – Impressions
First of all, I have to say that I much prefered the attack and presentation of the SonoStasis over the Tube Box II, however that is because I am typically a CD listener, and like that sound. The Tube Box II provided a laid back liquid sound that was noticeably smoother and felt more like background music to me. Perhaps good for company.
First I compared some 80′s new wave dance, which is my primary reason for getting into vinyl. One of my favourite albums to compare is New Order Substance 1987. On the Tube Box II it was so smooth you could call it butter, but it sounded like the music was back behind the speakers. The track “True Faith” is one of my favourites and it has a catchiness to it on vinyl that I don’t get when I listen to the CD. With the Tube Box II it sounded great, but a bit laid back for my tastes.
Next I popped in something new, Tool Lateralus. Tool actually sounded better on the Tube Box, because it lacks some of the detail especially in the high end that the SonoStasis has, which because of the somewhat poor pressing, sounds thrashy. It took the edge off, and made the record much more easy to listen to.
Next I tried switching my turntable to a vintage one, the Dual 704 with a Shure M73HE cartridge. This is a bassy, full-sounding cartridget that makes every recording sound rich and immersive, and in many ways sounds better, though less “hi-fi”, than my main rig.
When I used this with the Tube Dac, I found it a bit too slow and plodding. Almost like the music was slowed down, but checking the pitch on the Dual it was perfect speed. The Tube Dac II works better with the sound of modern turntables and cartridges than the vintage stuff in my opinion. At least with my two rigs.
The Tube Dac II is a strong performer, and with the other rigs in the price range it is a solid buy. If it were me I would spend a few hundred extra and get something better, and likely solid state with a bit more punch and attack to it, but that is my preference in music.