Vincent PHO-701 review: Best Budget Tube Amp?
In today’s article, I’m going to cover everything you need to know about the Vincent PHO-701 phono preamp. I’ll discuss the benefits of a tube preamp (which the 701 is), how this particular amp changes and improves the sound of your vinyl records, how the 701 compares to the popular Vincent PHO-8, and ultimately whether or not the PHO-701 is worth your money.
And, to better help you decide, please take a moment to view the interactive guide below, where you can directly compare the Vincent PHO-701 to other notable preamps on the market.
|Project Phono Box S2|
|Project Phono Box DS2|
|Pro-Ject Tube Box DS2|
|NAD 316BEE V2|
|Clearaudio Smart Phono V2|
Who Is the Vincent PHO-701 For?
Buying the right phono preamp is always a bit tricky. You want to find a quality amp that’s going to compliment your system and greatly improve the sound you hear coming through your speakers.
And yet, it’s also a piece of technology that you almost always haven’t heard or used prior to making your purchase. And on top of that, many people use vague terms when describing audio components like phono preamps, such as “warm” or “bright.”
So the big question most people find themselves asking is: How do I know if the Vincent PHO-701 is right for me?
Well, first off, the PHO-701 costs about $599. So right off the bat, while it’s certainly not the most expensive phono preamp on the market, it’s clearly a preamp that’s aimed at those committed enough to the hobby that they are willing to jump into the higher end tech pool.
I genuinely believe the Vincent PHO-701 is ideal for two kinds of people:
1) The first type of person would be someone that has a cheaper phono preamp that they’ve been listening to for years and are finally ready to see what else is out there on the market.
For example, my personal preamp journey has been quite gradual. I first used a built in phono stage that was housed inside a Marantz integrated amplifier. Then, I decided to get an external phone preamp, so I purchased the very affordable Schiit Mani.
After that, I graduated to the Vincent PHO-8. And now, I’m using the Vincent PHO-701.
So, I think someone considering the PHO-701 is looking for better sound when compared to their current phono preamp. And, in particular, I think this person is hoping to appreciate the sonic improvements that come with a tube phono preamp.
2) The second person who would be interested in the PHO-701 is a vinyl enthusiast that not only loves great sound, but is a major fan of upgrading his or her audio components.
One of the interesting things about the PHO-701 is that it’s a tube amplifier and not a solid state amplifier. When you get into the realm of tube amplifiers, part of the fun is in figuring out the right tube you can upgrade to to take your amplifier to new heights.
And like upgrading cartridges or speakers, part of the vinyl hobby is inherently tied to never being fully satisfied with your sound and indulging in the art of experimentation through upgrades.
So, I think someone that is interested in the PHO-701 is potentially a person that is interested in trying a tube amplifier for the very first time and is ready to embrace a whole new world of potential tube upgrades.
What Makes the PHO-701 Unique?
What’s interesting, too, about the PHO-701 is that it’s not just a phono preamp that allows you to enjoy your vinyl records. It also features a USB port. So now, you can connect your Vincent PHO-701 to a computer, download free software like Audacity, and begin transferring your vinyl records to MP3 or CD.
Some might be wondering: “why would I want to transfer my records to CD or MP3? The whole reason I enjoy vinyl is because it isn’t MP3’s or Spotify or CD’s.”
Well, keep in mind that when you buy a brand new (modern day) vinyl record, it often comes with a download code inside. And that download code essentially gives you access to the entire album in MP3 form.
So, you get the best of both worlds—enjoying the wonderful sound of vinyl at your home, and the flexibility of enjoying the very same album on the go.
But, what about your old vinyl records? What if you don’t subscribe to a streaming service or don’t have that same album on CD, but want to still enjoy the music outside of your house? That’s where vinyl to MP3 transferring comes in.
On top of that, I’d argue that transferring vinyl records to MP3 is much more important when it comes to rare vinyl treasures. If you have a LP or a 7” vinyl record that contains music that has never been released in any other format ever, you’re going to want to preserve that music somehow. Because if the vinyl copy ever got lost, stolen, or damaged, you’d be very happy to know there’s a MP3 version of that song or album somewhere on your computer or in “the cloud.”
I discuss all of the great benefits of purchase 7” (45 RPM records) in this video below (if you enjoy the video, I encourage you to subscribe to my Devoted to Vinyl channel on YoutTube!):
So, while the addition of the USB port to the back of the Vincent PHO-701 isn’t necessarily vital, I do think it’s an important feature for certain vinyl collectors.
Another great feature of the 701 is the ability to fine tune the amplifier for a bunch of different phono cartridges. And this is done via the DIP switches located on the bottom of the phono stage. These switches allow you to adjust the input capacitance and input impedance.
Vincent PHO-701 Specs
We’ve covered a little bit of what you can expect to get when you buy the 701. But, let’s take a moment to go into all of the notable specs for this amplifier:
- Frequency Response: 10 Hz – 20 kHz
- Harmonic Distortion: < 0.05 % (20 Hz – 20 kHz)
- Input Sensitivity: MM: 58 mV, MC: 6.8 mV
- Signal-Noise Ratio: MM: > 81 dB, MC: > 69 dB
- Input Impedance: MM: 47 kOhm, MC: 99 – 1000 Ohm (adjustable)
- Input Capacity: MM: 15 pF – 350 pF (adjustable), MC: 15 pF
- Output Impedance: 250 Ohm
- Amplification Factor: MM: 40 dB, MC: 60 dB
- Max. Power Consumption: 15 Watt
- Inputs: 1 x Stereo RCA
- Outputs: 1 x Stereo RCA, USB (24 Bit / 192 kHz)
- Tubes: 1 x 12AU7
- Colour: Black / Silver
- Weight: 2.2 kg
- Dimensions (WxHxD): 130 x 95 x 225 mm (for power supply and PHO-701 each)
- You can also check out the Vincent PHO-701 manual right here.
Vincent PHO-701 Setup
The Vincent PHO-701 comes in two components—the power supply chassis and the tube amplifier chassis.
Before we get to how to set up the 701, let’s first talk about what you’re going to see when you view the back of the power supply and phono stage.
On the back of the power supply, you’ll of course see the Power switch. This turns both the power supply and the phono preamp on and off.
Below and to the right of that is the DC OUT. You’ll need to use the supplied DIN cable to connect the power supply unit to the DC INPUT of the 701 phono preamp.
And lastly, you’ll see the AC/Fuse power connector and fuse holder. What’s nice about the 701 is that it comes with a detachable power supply cord. You can use the supplied one and connect it here. Or, if you’d like more bass response when spinning your records, I’d recommend the Pangea Audio AC-14 Power Cord.
Let’s now move onto the back of the phono preamp unit.
Now, one of the interesting things the 701 has is a window (on the front of the amp) that allows you to see the tube of the phono preamp. And Vincent has added a lamp within this window, giving you a nice orange glow illumination of the tube.
Well, on the back of this phono preamp is a Lamp dimmer switch. It has four settings, so the illumination can be bright, less bright, dim, or turned completely off.
Next to the lamp dimmer is the USB connection port. As mentioned in the previous section, this is where you can connect a USB cable from your phono preamp to your personal computer and transfer your vinyl records to MP3s.
Also in the back of this phono preamp is of course the DC INPUT. This is where you’ll need to connect the other end of the supplied DIN cable.
We also have the MM or MC (i.e: Moving Magnet and Moving Coil) pickup type switch. Essentially, if you’re using a Moving Magnet cartridge on your tonearm, be sure to keep this button extended out (i.e, don’t push the button in).
If, however, you’re using a Moving Coil cartridge on your turntable, make sure you push the button in.
On both sides of this MM/MC button is the AUDIO INPUT and AUDIO OUTPUT. For the Audio Input, this is where you connect the red and white cables that are coming out of your turntable. Also, make sure to connect the ground wire here too by unscrewing the ground clamp, placing your ground wire or ground wire lug onto the ground terminal (marked GND on the back of the amp), and then screw the clamp tightly around the ground wire or ground lug.
Finally, I made a video on my Devoted to Vinyl YouTube channel showing you how to connect your turntable to your amplifier, so you can check it out below:
Vincent PHO 701 Hum or Buzz Noise?
When you turn on the Vincent PHO-701, it should be relatively silent. However, if you turn on the preamp and you hear a buzzing sound or a hissing noise, it’s possible one or two things could be wrong with it.
1) You put your 701 power supply too close to the 701 phono preamp. Remember, the 701 comes with an independent power supply and independent phono stage. And, despite what marketing images have suggested, you should NOT place these units on top of one another.
Instead, spread the units a bit apart to allow for them to breathe and to limit and any interference you might hear (i.e buzzing or hissing).
2) Another reason you may be hearing this noise is because you have the MM/MC Pickup Type Switch set incorrectly.
So, if you have a MM cartridge, you need to make sure this switch is NOT pushed in. It needs to be extended out. And if you have a MC cartrdige, that switch cannot be extended out—it must be pushed in.
If you have an MM cartridge and the switch is pushed in, or if you have an MC cartridge and the switch is extended out, there’s a good chance you’re going to hear a hum or a buzz or potentially some kind of hiss when trying to play your records.
Does the Vincent PHO-701 Sound Good?
So, is the sound quality for the Vincent PHO-701 good? Well, the answer is yes—it’s very, very good.
There are a few things I was impressed with when it came to the PHO-701, namely the wider soundstage that allowed the music to feel more open and fill the room. And the second was the impressive dynamic mid range and lower end.
Records I played sounded more alive than ever before. It felt like a veiled layer was pulled away from my speakers, allowing it a better opportunity for the music to blossom.
The sound is not overwhelming or fatiguing—the PHO-701 does a good job of revealing more music to the listener by expanding the breadth of the sound in your room.
Out of all the things that I think the 701 does well, I think it’s impressive mid range might be #1 on my list. I heard so many more minor sounds or instruments or cues in my records that I hadn’t heard before when using lesser amps. I also really felt that the 701 brought out a bit more texture or character to the voices of certain vocalists, as well.
The lower end is a bit improved with the 701 too. I don’t use a subwoofer, so I was impressed that simply by connecting the 701 to my system (Clearaudio Concept Black turntable, Cambridge CXA61 amplifier, PSB Imagine Mini speakers) that I received a sudden got a boost in bass. There were vibrations that were clearly able to be felt within the furniture in the room, and I use relatively small bookshelf speakers (about 10” in height, give or take).
Finally, one thing I also really appreciated about the 701 is how I believe it benefits modern day records. Records produced in the 70s and 80s often sound especially great, having really nice dynamics and room filling sound that’s satisfying.
Modern day records (records cut today from modern day artists or re-releases of older artists from yesteryear) can often sound a bit condensed musically. And one thing I really liked about the 701 is that it seemed to open up these records a bit, making them sound much more open and dynamic than they did when using a previous amp.
Vincent PHO-8 vs Vincent PHO-701
I listened to many songs using both the Vincent PHO-8 and the Vincent PHO-701. And I found the results to be pretty interesting.
First off, the PHO-8 costs about $250, while the PHO-701 costs about $600.
Both are very good amps, and I’d argue that the PHO-8 actually gives you better value for your money than the PHO-701.
But, does that mean the PHO-8 is a better amplifier? In my opinion, the answer is no. The PHO-701 is indeed superior.
With that said, the differences are not massively earth shattering. Going from the PHO-701 back to the PHO-8 to test the sound differences wasn’t a massive hit in quality. It’s not overly dramatic, and I certainly didn’t dislike the sound of the PHO-8.
But the differences are noticeable enough to me that, having had a taste of the PHO-701, I don’t find the PHO-8 quite as appealing as I used to.
The #1 thing I like about the PHO-701 over the PHO-8 is the fact that records sound less compressed or less muddled in the mid range. The 701 really opens things up, allowing each section of the song mix to breathe. It just provides a more fulfilling listening experience.
I also think the 701 is a bit of a warmer amp (as it should be, considering it’s a tube amp), and I felt the music overall had a bit of a “rounded” feeling on the high end of the music. In other words, the PHO-8 is a bit brighter and “sharper” on the high end.
Another thing I noticed is that the character of an artists voice on the 701 seems more illuminated and precise than on the 701. When listening to Adele’s “Love in the Dark,” the 701 brought out the subtle pain and grit in her voice in certain portions of the song that I felt weren’t as pronounced when using the PHO-8.
I also felt that the 701, perhaps through its wider soundstage and more open range, allows the vocals of an artist to be more in front of the music, as compared to be more condensed within the music. This, to me, allows the 701 to give you more of a live concert feeling, in which the lead singer would be closer to the front part of the stage (and as a result, closer to you in the audience), while the musicians/band would be a few feet behind the him or her.
When listening to records, this allowed for the vocals to sound a bit more separated from the music. This is especially great when listening to not just a solo artist, but an entire group. Listening to The Jones Girls singing “Nights Over Egypt” or “Let’s Be Friends First” was a highly enjoyable experience for this very reason.
With that said, despite my love for the 701, I do remain a bit torn when it comes to this comparison. While the 701 is indeed a better amplifier, the PHO-8 is no slouch. In fact the PHO-8 is a really, really great amplifier for $250. I’m impressed with what Vincent provides to those on a tight budget.
Ultimately, if you can afford it, the 701 sounds very good out of the box, and will only get better once it’s fully broken in. It’s a beautiful sounding amp.
However, the differences between the PHO-8 and PHO-701 are not extreme enough in my mind that I would recommend you rush out and purchase the 701. Don’t be so quick to dump your PHO-8 if money is tight. However, if you do have some disposable money lying around, and you want to spend it on a new amplifier, you’re likely going to be really happy with the PHO-701.
- You can read my full Vincent PHO-8 review here!
PHO-701 Break In Time?
Whenever people buy things like speakers or amplifiers, they often want to know how long the break in time is. For those that don’t know, break in time refers to how many hours of use (of a speaker or amplifier) it takes for it to truly open up and sound optimal.
For the 701, there’s no set time (per se), but it seems like 70 hours is a pretty safe bet. I noticed a difference in the sound immediately out of the box. However, everyone is different, and it may take you several hours to really be able to appreciate the sound of the 701.
Vincent PHO-701 Tube Upgrade
The PHO-701 comes with one 12AU7 tube. However, part of the fun of tube amplifiers is trying to upgrade the tube and see how well that can change or even improve the sound of your records.
If you’re interested in upgrading, you may want to consider looking into NOS Amperex tubes (although you can certainly consider other options like NOS Mullard, NOS Tungsram, NOS Brimar, etc). You can go here to learn more information on finding the right tube to upgrade to for the PHO-701.
The Vincent PHO-701 is wonderful sounding amplifier. I think its biggest strengths is its warm sound, excellent mid range, and a bit of a kick when it comes to bass in the lower end.
Those looking for an amplifier that will provide a lot of brightness in the higher end will probably need to look elsewhere. I found the 701 added more dynamic range to the music and expanded the soundstage, but was a bit more rounded off towards the higher end of the music. Which, to me, is a good thing, as detailed music that forgoes brightness in the higher end tends to be far more pleasing to the ear (and less fatiguing, to boot).
I still think the Vincent PHO-8, while certainly not a better amplifier, is a better value purchase.
But, an already good amplifier out of the box, the PHO-701 has almost limitless capabilities thanks to the ability to upgrade its tube. And, on top of that, if you ever needed to archive your vinyl record collection, the USB port on the back of the 701 allows you to do just.
All in all, the Vincent PHO-701 is an excellent phono preamp (especially for just $600) and will make your vinyl collection sound great.
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