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 Post subject: PJL Tube Phono Stage
PostPosted: Sun Dec 10, 2017 12:38 am 
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Location: Victoria, BC, CA
Hello All. I recently purchased a very nice tube phono stage through e-bay that uses two Electro Harmonix 12AX7 valves. It is built by a company called PJL Electronics based in New Jersey. A very nice chap by the name of Pat builds the stages and owns the company. This was a "what have I got to lose?" decision, as it is currently priced at $230 CDN plus $32.75 shipping to the West Coast. Pat has a few different models on offer. I was intrigued with the "Retro Edition" model, and it is this unit that I purchased at $230. I'd like to share my thoughts regarding this stage. Occasionally I like to try a piece of gear that appears to be well built that incorporates quality parts for an excellent price, one that I believe may have the ability to topple what I presently have in place. My goal and challenge has always been to build a good sounding audio system economically. I felt that the PJL qualified well after communicating with Pat prior to purchase.

My new speakers are breaking in quite well, they're almost there. I had to get my ear around the new sound, but I understand and appreciate what they're doing now. I can now comment in a more meaningful way regarding the phono stage. The impressions are in comparison to my on board Sugden A28ll stage, which I have always considered to be very good. The Sugden has seen off challengers in the $4-600 range, and one upwards to $1,000.

Bottom end

The Sugden has a bigger, more full low end, however this has proven to be disadvantageous on some recordings. The bass is quite pronounced with the new speakers, perhaps a little too much with some recordings (even with the foam bungs inserted into the ports). I've been spending a lot of time fine tuning speaker placement in an attempt to avoid the room modes. I'm getting there, but the low end on offer is significantly more with the new speakers. So, the lesser bass experienced with the PJL is preferable to my taste. Indeed, the PJL low end may be less but the sound is less bloated, cleaner and just more more natural. Sometimes pushing a lot of low end through smaller stand mount speakers can result in a less than desirable outcome. So, I am appreciating the PJL's cleaner presentation.

Mid band

The Sugden's mid is more forward and emphasized, whereas the PJL is softer and more laid back. This can be recording dependent in terms of what I prefer, but I'm coming around more so to the PJL's presentation overall. In comparison, the Sugden can seem a little too forward at times. The new speakers handle the mids and highs in a different way, in that they incorporate a 2.25" BMR flat driver radiator, crossed over at 250Hz. So, the mids are really clean without contribution from the bass driver which occurs with a more conventional 2-way system. The radiators seem to respond better to the softer approach offered by the PJL. Both stages offer good detail levels in the mids. However the Sugden provides for a bit more presence (slightly better feel for the studio or live venue ambiance), but the PJL digs up a bit more inner detail.

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Both stages have a good top end but again, are different. The PJL is softer, has nice detail with slightly better extension. The Sugden has a bit more texture perhaps to brushed cymbals and that "presence", but I think the PJL sounds a bit more natural overall. Out of the box, the PJL was a bit bright, but it has calmed down considerably. This is probably more likely due to the new speakers leveling out over the past few weeks. I used a Nordost cable from stage to Sugden upon first listen, and removed it for a warmer cable. But the Nordost now sounds very nice with the PJL and any brightness/harshness is gone. Stage break in? Speakers? Both?

Mild levels of tube rush/noise is present at mid to higher volumes, but it does not interfere at all with the enjoyment of the music. I was a bit concerned about that initially, but not any longer. Of course, the Sugden is quieter in this regard being solid state. I'd like to try tube rolling. I'm thinking of a pair of NOS vintage such as Mullard, or maybe Sylvania, RCA. I also have my eye on a pair of new Gold Lion.

To conclude, both stages sound very good. I would evaluate their respective quality levels as being very similar, in the same league so to speak. Neither is a run away winner, just different, and it really comes down to a subjective preference. The Sugden has seen off a number of stages over the years, but it won't be seeing off the PJL. I will likely run both depending on the listening mood, however the PJL is seeing more play time than the Sugden the past few days. Last night I reconnected the Sugden after listening to the PJL for about 6 hours over 2-3 days. For the first time (ever) it sounded heavy and slow. After a couple of tracks, I reconnected the PJL. It is very musical (the bottom line of course), is very light on it's feet, and is an enjoyable and pleasant listen. I played a Chet Baker recording from 1958 yesterday, and Chet was damn near in the living room with his vocals and horn, it was really very nice.

The true beauty of the PJL comes shining through when put into comparative perspective however. Stages I've had over the years include the Yaqin MS-22B, Pro-Ject Tube Box SE ll, Rega Fono, Musical Fidelity XLPS-V2 (with outboard power supply), Graham Slee Gram Amp 2, Ifi iphono, and the PS Audio GCPH. I prefer the PJL stage over all of these, as it is better at just getting out of the way, presenting the music in more natural fashion. All of the above stages are good at their respective price points, but the PJL outperforms them (IMHO) at less than half price of most.

The stage is very solid and well built, is housed in a full metal enclosure and looks very retro and utilitarian. This appeals to me, as I am not one to go for fancy glitzy looking gear. Give this one a hard look if you're in the market for a good sounding stage for what is essentially peanuts in this hobby. I doubt very highly that you'd be disappointed.

https://www.ebay.ca/itm/Retro-Phono-Sta ... Swax5YzBua


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 Post subject: Re: PJL Tube Phono Stage
PostPosted: Sun Dec 10, 2017 5:11 am 
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Location: Toronto, ON, CA
That's $230.00 worth of records that could have been bought instead.That's what I get from all this.


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 Post subject: Re: PJL Tube Phono Stage
PostPosted: Sun Dec 10, 2017 6:47 am 
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Location: Whitby, ON, CA
You put a lot of thought into your post - much appreciated.

So basically it’s worth the money you paid, but it’s not a show stopper?

How are the silent parts between tracks? Or I guess how “black hole” the sections between tracks?

What tubes are you using?


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 Post subject: Re: PJL Tube Phono Stage
PostPosted: Sun Dec 10, 2017 8:30 am 
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Location: Edmonton, AB, CA
I'm super glad to hear you are pleased with the product and it seems to have a rightful place in a Hi Fi system. PJL has a 4 channel tube buffer I might try. My Modwright Pre only has 2 channel output and when I hookup my sub and crossover it loads down the preamp too much and effects the sound in a negative fashion.

Also, that Yaqin MS-22 can be Modified and brought up to audiophile standards quite easily and will give a lot of expensive phono stages a run for the money. They get a bad rapport because of some silly factory wiring errors that can introduce hum.

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Last edited by petersch on Sun Dec 10, 2017 8:36 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: PJL Tube Phono Stage
PostPosted: Sun Dec 10, 2017 8:33 am 
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Posts: 1069
Location: Stratford, ON, CA
Hi,

Note to cyrus: Thanks for the user review and the heads up on PJL. You have offered us all a very measured subjective evaluation. I like that approach and especially that your conclusion is that the two phono stages are different in certain ways but one is not clearly 'superior', which is I think a realistic assessment. The Sugden phono stage is a well regarded Class A solid state phono design and the PJL evidently offers the usual tube like dimensions. It is all a matter of taste. I have long lived with a Graham Slee Gram Amp 2SE and every once in a long while I get an urge to change it up, usually with a EAR in mind, but maybe there are other good options. If you have a phono interconnect cable that cna be replaced I would point you to this thread and a recent discovery that may add even more bliss to your listening.

viewtopic.php?f=32&t=48150

By the way, it would be good to know which speakers you are using.

Cheers,
David Neice

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 Post subject: Re: PJL Tube Phono Stage
PostPosted: Sun Dec 10, 2017 8:40 am 
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Joined: Fri Apr 01, 2005 7:15 am
Posts: 4671
Location: Newmarket, ON, CA
Sgt Pepper wrote:
That's $230.00 worth of records that could have been bought instead.That's what I get from all this.


You have to read the stuff *after* "Hello All."

;)


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 Post subject: Re: PJL Tube Phono Stage
PostPosted: Sun Dec 10, 2017 8:48 am 
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Posts: 358
Location: Toronto, ON, CA
b3733366 wrote:
Sgt Pepper wrote:
That's $230.00 worth of records that could have been bought instead.That's what I get from all this.


You have to read the stuff *after* "Hello All."

;)



It's the difference between listening to the music and listening to the equipment.


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 Post subject: Re: PJL Tube Phono Stage
PostPosted: Sun Dec 10, 2017 9:33 am 
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Location: Surrey, BC, CA
Sgt Pepper wrote:
b3733366 wrote:
Sgt Pepper wrote:
That's $230.00 worth of records that could have been bought instead.That's what I get from all this.


You have to read the stuff *after* "Hello All."

;)



It's the difference between listening to the music and listening to the equipment.


Well it is an unfortunate reality that you need equipment to listen to the music. With that in mind, why would you poo poo someone that took their time to write an intelligent review on a reasonably priced piece of gear.


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 Post subject: Re: PJL Tube Phono Stage
PostPosted: Sun Dec 10, 2017 9:53 am 
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Posts: 358
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Because he obviously did not need to buy it.


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 Post subject: Re: PJL Tube Phono Stage
PostPosted: Sun Dec 10, 2017 12:18 pm 
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Joined: Tue Aug 04, 2009 8:31 pm
Posts: 1080
Location: Victoria, BC, CA
Sgt Pepper wrote:
That's $230.00 worth of records that could have been bought instead.That's what I get from all this.


True Sgt Pepper! But hopefully others will get more from the post than what you were able to take from it. Yes, I enjoy the gear component of the hobby in the pursuit of the music. Bottom line is the music for me too, however I do enjoy trying other pieces of equipment, and as said, maximizing sound quality for a relatively small investment. I have a true appreciation for over achievers, and like to try them. It's just an enjoyable part of it all for me. My intent in posting too, was to hopefully shed some light on a stage that others may be interested in looking into, as it is very good for a modest amount of money (in this hobby). That's all really.


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 Post subject: Re: PJL Tube Phono Stage
PostPosted: Sun Dec 10, 2017 12:24 pm 
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Location: Victoria, BC, CA
triathleteman wrote:
You put a lot of thought into your post - much appreciated.

So basically it’s worth the money you paid, but it’s not a show stopper?

How are the silent parts between tracks? Or I guess how “black hole” the sections between tracks?

What tubes are you using?


Hello triathleteman. In my opinion, the PJL is worth more than the money spent, as it compares very favourably to stages that are essentially double or more in price (for those stages that I've tried over the years). Anything in the phono chain is tricky of course, when one has to consider the table proper, tonearm, cartridge, proper set up of, etc. And, as with all other pieces of gear such as the amplifier, speakers, cabling etc, does it all work together, match and synergize? In my case, it does all come together nicely including the PJL.

I am presently using the tubes that came with the stage, those being Electroharmonix 12AX7EH. I'd like to try others however.

-- 10 Dec 2017 20:28 --

petersch wrote:
I'm super glad to hear you are pleased with the product and it seems to have a rightful place in a Hi Fi system. PJL has a 4 channel tube buffer I might try. My Modwright Pre only has 2 channel output and when I hookup my sub and crossover it loads down the preamp too much and effects the sound in a negative fashion.

Also, that Yaqin MS-22 can be Modified and brought up to audiophile standards quite easily and will give a lot of expensive phono stages a run for the money. They get a bad rapport because of some silly factory wiring errors that can introduce hum.


Yes, from what I understand, the Yaqin can be upgraded considerably. I thought mine (had one about 8-9 years ago now I think), was reasonably good in stock form. I recall connecting it through my brother's Linn Intek line stage, and it sounded very good. It was an example of excellent synergy going on.

-- 10 Dec 2017 20:38 --

buybye88 wrote:
Hi,

Note to cyrus: Thanks for the user review and the heads up on PJL. You have offered us all a very measured subjective evaluation. I like that approach and especially that your conclusion is that the two phono stages are different in certain ways but one is not clearly 'superior', which is I think a realistic assessment. The Sugden phono stage is a well regarded Class A solid state phono design and the PJL evidently offers the usual tube like dimensions. It is all a matter of taste. I have long lived with a Graham Slee Gram Amp 2SE and every once in a long while I get an urge to change it up, usually with a EAR in mind, but maybe there are other good options. If you have a phono interconnect cable that cna be replaced I would point you to this thread and a recent discovery that may add even more bliss to your listening.

viewtopic.php?f=32&t=48150

By the way, it would be good to know which speakers you are using.

Cheers,
David Neice


Thanks David, I always enjoy your forum posts. I'm aware of the Stephen's cables, and yes, he makes a very nice product. My current speakers are Cambridge Audio Aero 2 in a close to near field environment. Actually, I am hearing some good things by utilizing the Cardas placement calculators for my room which place the speakers only 64" from my ears (less from the front listening plane across the baffles). The 2.25" BMR present the mids and highs differently from what I have been used to over the years. They remind me somewhat of my Magnepan SMGa that I had 23 years ago. The Cambridge are not true high end speakers by any means, but they do sound quite good.


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 Post subject: Re: PJL Tube Phono Stage
PostPosted: Sun Dec 10, 2017 12:51 pm 
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Joined: Wed Mar 09, 2005 7:29 pm
Posts: 723
Location: toronto, ON, CA
Quote:
Because he obviously did not need to buy it.




What are you doing here? This is a place to discuss equipment for poeple who enjoy the whole thing, whatever their reasons. Which you joined for some reason. One of our members took a good amount of time and effort and produced a very thoughtful and high quality review for our benefit alone. your behaviour is disrespectful and innapropriate. You owe him an apology.

How old are you?

I recall a while back someone crapping all over uhf magazine with a comment revealing a laughable absence of perspective and an alarming lack of fundamental respect. As you did, the person showed consummate arrogance despite having nothing at all of value to contribute. An absolute ass of a comment and a person. I think it was you. ill look back.

But why? There must be a sale somewhere on overpriced workshirts and steel toe boots you can buy to walk around in for no particular reason, :roll: This time of year you can probably get them bundled with crappy mass market 70s turntables out of sombodies junk pile so you can suck the life out of the room blabbing about the 'warm sound of vinyls'. :lol:

Whatever dragged you away from your afternoon on pathetic pickup artist websites and dropped you here? Certainly the universe isnt that spiteful.

smarten up ,and apologize.

turning 180 degrees.

OP, was going to comment anyway before Door Number 3 chimed in to make life suck that little bit more.

Thank you very much Sir for your superb review! within the scope of what you did,I dont think ive read better tbh.

Your communication was excellent- it was clear what you valued and why. You took the time to explain your terms as well as your perspective- for instance- id have taken the term 'presence' differerently had you not defined it but knew exactly what you meant afterward, allowing me to understand the product relative to my own experience and clearing the semantic fog of audiophile vaguery so many reviewers seem bent on enhancing. extremely useful and well done. thank you very much!

a very neat sounding product too.


Last edited by phowell1 on Sun Dec 10, 2017 1:25 pm, edited 6 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: PJL Tube Phono Stage
PostPosted: Sun Dec 10, 2017 1:41 pm 
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Location: Surrey, BC, CA
Please stay on topic and avoid name calling
Thanks


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 Post subject: Re: PJL Tube Phono Stage
PostPosted: Sun Dec 10, 2017 2:54 pm 
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Posts: 1080
Location: Victoria, BC, CA
-- 10 Dec 2017 22:54 --

I'd like to offer another way of looking at the pricing of the PJL in comparison to what I often refer to as the "usual suspects" for phono stages (those, among others of course, listed in my original posting). I stated that, in my opinion, the PJL was certainly in the same league (or better) for sound quality in comparison to other stages that retail in the $4-600+ range, at essentially half price or less. But perhaps the PJL's pricing is more representative in terms of true sound quality value. PJL does not have a large distribution network to maintain around the world. No wholesaling middlemen, no retail space to maintain, no large advertising budgets, and all of the margins necessary to realize over the various levels of cost from factory to end user. PJL builds to order, and sends to the end user direct. As opposed to the PJL being worth 2-3X it's end user price, perhaps the other stages listed are worth 2-3X less.

I realize that this is a rather elementary pricing analysis, but certainly buying factory direct from a relatively unknown name (in hifi) will equate to much better pricing and value? Perhaps a brand new Rega Fono would also be $230 if offered factory direct. But this could not realistically happen, as a large company such is Rega is out to maximize sales on a global scale. But we all pay for that effort in a product's end user retail price.


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 Post subject: Re: PJL Tube Phono Stage
PostPosted: Mon Dec 11, 2017 9:57 pm 
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Posts: 1080
Location: Victoria, BC, CA
buybye88 wrote:
Hi,

Note to cyrus: Thanks for the user review and the heads up on PJL. You have offered us all a very measured subjective evaluation. I like that approach and especially that your conclusion is that the two phono stages are different in certain ways but one is not clearly 'superior', which is I think a realistic assessment. The Sugden phono stage is a well regarded Class A solid state phono design and the PJL evidently offers the usual tube like dimensions. It is all a matter of taste. I have long lived with a Graham Slee Gram Amp 2SE and every once in a long while I get an urge to change it up, usually with a EAR in mind, but maybe there are other good options. If you have a phono interconnect cable that cna be replaced I would point you to this thread and a recent discovery that may add even more bliss to your listening.

viewtopic.php?f=32&t=48150

By the way, it would be good to know which speakers you are using.

Cheers,
David Neice


The Gram Amp 2 is a really nice sounding phono stage, I enjoyed mine too. I'd like to hear the Era Gold V at some point, it is so highly reviewed. BTW, how is your new(ish) turntable going for you?


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