I use a Sony TA-E86B preamp, purchased at a used equipment shop for $100, for a phonostage. Pricey when new (mid-1980s?), the Sony isn’t a great preamp by current standards, but its MM/MC phono section is pretty good— quiet and accurate, with cartridge loading selectable on the front panel. The “Rec Out” jacks feed a pair of unbalanced inputs on my Parasound Halo C2 preamp/ processor, in stereo mode.
Waiver and disclaimer: This is admittedly not a world-class record-playing setup, but it’s adequate for the rare situations when I actually spin vinyl, or more often, when my actress wife digs out an old LP to learn a song for a show. My personal arc in this strange pursuit has taken me from turntable aficionado and obsessive record collector to a music lover much impressed with just how good digital audio can be—and with a minimal “desert island” LP collection. I’ve lost the patience for “listening through” ticks, pops, and surface noise, and don’t have the nostalgia for vinyl that’s common among Baby Boom audiophiles. Neither do I share Gen Y’s fascination with its retrocoolness, probably because I was there the first time around. I don’t begrudge these folks their interests—it’s important to find musical satisfaction wherever you can, but I’m simply not there.
I spent as much time as I could evaluating the II DT, including inviting over a couple of audio buds to audition it with me. One particular evening as deadline neared, my friend Jerry Robinson was visiting from Atlanta. A musician and career audio technician, Jerry’s as familiar with stage and studio gear as he is with high-quality playback systems. He’s got good ears and excellent taste in music—in other words, he likes some of the same stuff I like. We pulled out a selection of old and new vinyl—including some recent Mobile Fidelity pressings—listened through the Sony, then patched in the ASL and listened to the same selections again.
We had similar impressions. The Sony had a quieter noise floor, which gave it a subjectively wider dynamic range. It also had good frequency extension, strong bass, and excellent stereo separation. Front-to-back depth wasn’t pronounced, and vocals didn’t seem to float in space the way they do with more esoteric gear. By comparison, the II DT tended to screech a bit on massed string crescendos, was a tad grainy, and had relatively weak bass. Andre Previn’s recording of Albinoni’s “Adagio” on the original Rollerball soundtrack, for example, has a plucked-string bass line that’s a profound driving force when heard through the Sony, but is barely audible through the II DT. “It’s as if the RIAA curve is tilted up,” Jerry commented. “That’s easily fixable in the feedback loop.”
Frequency extreme anomalies to the contrary, the II DT delivered midrange magic. The voices of Isaac Hayes, Patricia Barber, and Aimee Mann all sounded round, full, and perfectly focused through the II DT. It’s a sound that’s seductive even for reformed vinyl addicts. Would I buy the II DT? No, but I’m not much interested in phono gear. Would Jerry buy it? “Yes,” he said, “it’s a bargain. Of course, I’d probably start modifying it right away.”
Short take: The Antique Sound Labs Mini Phono II DT doesn’t offer the last word in nuance or resolution. What it does offer is a soft, romantic quality that might help transport you back to 1962—or whenever Hi-Fi’s Golden Age was. By high-end standards, it’s an impulse buy at $345. I suspect that many will be sold to folks who want to explore the tube/vinyl vector without spending much money. These buyers will fall into two camps: those whose appetites will be whetted for deeper exploration of this audio niche, and those who will shrug and say, “What’s the big deal?” Both camps, curiously, will be well served by the II DT.
About half the size of most standard components, the Line I DT is a fourinput line-level preamp with two pairs of paralleled outputs. Inside are a compact power transformer, regulated power supply on its own PC board, selector switch, sealed volume pot, and amplification board with a Russian Electro- Harmonix 12AU7A/ECC82EH in a ceramic socket. All wiring is point-topoint, and there’s a “star” ground on a lug attached to one of the transformer’s mounting screws. Parts quality, internal layout, and construction look excellent, especially at this price point.
The back panel is filled with highquality gold-plated RCA jacks, and one IEC mains connector. A one-ampere fuse is clipped on the power supply board; getting to it requires removing four T20 security screws on the top cover. The proper tool isn’t included with the preamp, but is available at most electronics supply houses. The unit’s exterior is finished in semi-gloss black. The only front-panel functions are on/off, input select, and volume. There’s no remote control.