In this article, I’m going to discuss the Vincent PHO-8, which is one of my favorite affordable phono preamps currently available on the market.
Not only will I discuss what I feel makes this such an excellent external phono preamp, but I’ll also compare it to other notable preamps on the market, such as the Schiit Mani and the Vincent PHO-701.
Before you enjoy this Vincent PHO-8 review, I encourage you to take a look at the guide below, which allows you to see how the PHO-8 compares to other notable preamps on the market:
|Project Tube Box S2||$$||Audiophile Phono Preamp with Tube Tech|
|Rega Brio||$$$||50 watts per channel at 8Ω|
|VPI Cliffwood||$$||Works with MM Cartridges|
|Rega IO||$$$||30 watts per channel at 8Ω|
|Project Phono Box S2||$||Works with MC and MM Cartridges|
Why Do I Need a Phono Preamp?
When you connect a turntable properly and begin to play your vinyl record, you’ll notice that while you can technically hear the sound coming from the back of your turntable, you can barely hear it.
To increase the level or amplify that weak sound, you need to add in a phono stage of some kind.
Back in the day, when vinyl was the main way everyone listened to music, a phono stage would be built into the back of an amplifier. This is sometimes still the case on certain amps today, as you can look on the back of some amps and see if there’s a “PHONO INPUT” on the back. If you see that, that means the amp has a built in phono stage.
But some amps and receivers don’t have built in phono stages, and if that’s the case, you need to purchase an external phono preamp to serve as the “amplifying middleman” (of sorts) between your turntable and your receiver or amplifier.
And that’s where something like the Vincent PHO-8 comes in, as it’s an affordable phono preamp that costs about $249 and comes in either black or grey.
What Makes the Vincent PHO-8 Special?
Often, you’ll see phono preamps that are a “do it all” machine. In other words, everything you need comes housed inside one audio component, But what I love about the PHO-8 is that it actually comes in two parts.
The first part is the phono stage itself, but the second part (and of equal size) is the external power unit.
What’s great about the PHO-8 having a separate power unit is that it helps to minimize any potential interferences harming the integrity of the sound as it pertains to the preamp.
How to Set Up the Vincent PHO-8
Setting up the PHO-8 is very simple, but since you’re essentially getting two components here, it’s worth discussing how you can hook everything up.
Let’s first talk about the power supply component of the PHO-8. On the back, you’re going to see the AC/FUSE (power connector fuse holder), a Power switch, and a DC Output to the PHO-8.
Now, the first thing I love here is the fact that the power supply cord is detachable. And while you can indeed use the supplied cord to plug into a wall power outlet (AC 220-240V-50Hz), I actually purchased the Pangea Audio AC-14 Power Cord and immediately noticed an improvement in the lower end of my records.
While the supplied power cord for the PHO-8 is more than fine, I noticed a significant boost in the punchiness of the bass whenever I played vinyl records with the Pangea power cord hooked up to the external power supply chassis. So, that may be something you might want to keep in mind if you choose to purchase the Vincent PHO-8.
Next up is the Power Switch, which turns the PHO-8 on and off. And then the DC OUT is where you connect the power supply unit to the preamp component. A supplied cable is of course provided to you in the box.
As for the phono preamp component, you’ll notice that the back of the unit shows a MC/MM signal input. This is where you will take your red and white cable (coming from the back of your record player) and connect it into the appropriate inputs here.
Make sure you also connect the ground wire (marked as GND on the back of the preamp). If you don’t connect the ground wire, you’re likely going to hear a never-ending (and very annoying) humming or buzzing sound.
Next, you’ll notice the signal OUTPUT for the amplifier. Here, you’re going to take another pair of RCA cables (again, white and red) and connect the cable appropriately to the preamp. Then, connect the other end of that cable to the back of your amplifier. Specifically, you’re going to want to plug it into an input labeled something like CD or AUX or AUDIO 1 or something to that effect.
Every amplifier or receiver is a bit different. For example, I use the Cambridge CX A81, and I have the cables connect into an input labeled A1.
One thing to keep in mind is the fact that the phono preamp processes sensitive electric signals. And due to this, you’re going to want to place both of these components at a maximum distance from other possible sources of disturbance or interference (like mobile phones, other cables, computers, transformers and more).
Vincent PHO-8 vs Integrated Amplifier
One question you might have is the following: If I already have an integrated amplifier that has a built in phono preamp, do I really need the Vincent PHO-8?
Well, there are two answers to this question in my mind. The first answer is quite practical—no. If you already have a built in phono stage thanks to an integrated amplifier that has a PHONO input in the back, you technically do not need the Vincent PHO-8 at all. You can instead put the money you were gonna spend into more records or better speakers.
With that said, keep in mind that when it comes to the world of vinyl, I have noticed that you really don’t want “all in one machines” so much as you want specific components best designed to do a very specific job.
Meaning, you wouldn’t want a component that can play the radio, CD’s, and vinyl records. You’d instead want three individual components—one that’s great at giving you a quality radio experience, a machine that’s an excellent CD player, and an independent, high quality vinyl record player.
When something claims to “do everything,” it usually doesn’t end up being high quality in every single area. Something almost always gets sacrificed, and that something is usually quality.
In my experience, amplifiers that have built in phono stages are perfectly fine, but the sound isn’t quite as lively and the soundstage usually isn’t as wide as it is on external phono preamps. That’s the benefit of getting an external phono preamp—it’s built to do one thing to the best of it’s ability. An integrated amplifier, by contrast, is trying to do multiple things to the best of its ability. And it turns into being a situation of “Jack of All Trades, Master of None.”
If you already have an amplifier with a phono stage and are pressed for cash, you may want to bypass the opportunity to get the PHO-8. But if you want to upgrade your sound fidelity and get very tight bass in your music, the PHO-8 is a great choice.
How Does the PHO-8 Sound?
I’ve used the Vincent PHO-8 with two different turntables and a handful of different cartridges, so I’ve been able to get a well rounded view of how this phono preamp changes (and ultimately improves) the sound quality.
First, I used this phono preamp along with the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon turntable. On this turntable, I used a handful of different cartridges including the Ortofon 2M Red, the Ortofon 2M Blue and the Ortofon 2M Bronze.
I was outputting the sound to a pair of PSB Imagine Mini speakers (which are bookshelf speakers).
One thing I really appreciate about the Vincent PHO-8 is how great it makes the entire listening experience. From a sound perspective, not only is the music more vibrant and alive, but the soundstage is wider and more enveloping when compared to other phono stages I’ve used.
It’s important to keep in mind that the quality of your pre-amp will not be able to make up for inferior quality components that are also in your setup. If your turntable or cartridge are not up to par, or you speakers aren’t good (or have been used too much or have simply grown very old), you’re not going to be able to fully enjoy the benefits of the PHO-8.
Another turntable I tried with the PHO-8 is my current everyday record player—the Clearaudio Concept Black (you can read my review of this turntable here). On this record player, I’m using the stock cartridge that it came with.
The PHO-8 really makes this turntable shine, providing warm sound overall and a robust lower-end that provides a nice punch to the music—especially given the fact that I don’t use a subwoofer.
Vincent PHO-8 vs Schiit Mani
Before I began using the PHO-8, I was using the Schiit Mani, which I also believe is a very nice preamp that costs $130 less than the PHO-8.
The Mani works with MC and MM cartridges. What’s nice about the Mani is that you can flip it over and notice that it comes with four switchable gain settings (30, 42, 47, and 59dB).
I think the Mani provides excellent value for the price. It does not come with it’s own power supply, but in terms of sound, it does a good job of providing you with a wider soundstage compared to what you’d get if you were using the built in phono stage housed inside an integrated amplifier.
I always was a fan of the sound produced by the Mani, but it’s not all perfect. Part of the reason I ended up replacing my Schiit Mani with the Vincent PHO-8 is because, after about a year or more of using the Mani successfully, I started to notice that when I went to play my records, I was strangely hearing a local radio station coming through my speakers.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that my Schiit Mani, which is a small, lightweight aluminum phono preamp, had essentially become an antenna for a couple local radio stations.
I still to this day don’t quite know how or why this happened. Perhaps it was a frequency or transmission interference issue. And perhaps this issue is rare (although apparently not too rare). What I do know is that the problem never went away despite numerous attempts to fix it (from moving the phono preamp around the room, hooking it up to another amplifier, connecting different speakers, shielding cable wires, etc).
At the end of the day, I decided to upgrade to the Vincent PHO-8 and haven’t had any problems since.
If you’d like to read more about my thoughts on the Schiit Mani, including my issue with the radio interference, you can read my review of the Mani here.
I also made a video that discusses both the Schiit Mani and Vincent PHO-8, which you can watch below:
Vincent PHO-8 vs Vincent PHO-701
The Vincent PHO-701 is part of Vincent’s “Tube Line.” This is a tube preamp, so it’s going to give you a very nice, warm sound.
Just like the PHO-8, there is a separate chassis that’s solely dedicated to the power supply.
Outside of the wonderful warm sound the 701 provides, there are also a couple additional benefits this preamp provides. For one, the 701 comes with a USB port, which will allow you to convert your vinyl records to MP3 or CD if you so choose.
Another big change here is your ability to tweak the 701 to various cartridges you might want to use. And you can do this via DIP switches. In fact, you’ll be able to adjust the input capacitance and input impedance, giving you the ability to fine tune the sound and get the best, most accurate musical experience in your home.
The Vincent PHO-8 costs about $249, while the Vincent PHO-701 costs almost $600. It’s a big jump in price, but it’s also a big upgrade in terms of sound quality and features.
The Vincent PHO-8 is an amazing phono preamp for those on a budget. For under $300, this preamp provides you with quality sound that’s warm and lively.
For the price, the Vincent PHO-8 is one of the best phono preamps money can buy.
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