The extent of these differences will vary from disc to disc and switchable EQ can’t make a musical silk purse out of a recorded sow’s ear. But once you hear what adjustable EQ can achieve you’ll be loath to do without it, whether you’ve got a stack of old or secondhand records or not. Because if you don’t already, you soon will have! That’s the real beauty of the Graham Slee units; not just what they do with the records you have, but the access they give you to the heaps of affordable secondhand vinyl that’s out there. And as I’ve said before, don’t think this is a solely classical preserve. Jazz and pop are just as prone to non-RIAA pressings, especially those originating in the USA or mainland Europe. If I was being picky I’d like an extra loading setting (or two) somewhere between the 100 Ohm and 840 Ohm options, but frankly, it seems churlish to complain, especially about something as personal as preferred loadings.
But what of the Revelation as a standalone MM stage?
Dispensing with the Elevator EXP loses you the extra gain required for a moving-coil cartridge, along with the loading requirements that go with it. It also loses £510 off the bill, and a pair of interconnects too. So, you have to “slum it” with a moving-iron cartridge, but let’s not forget that Graham Slee actually prefers to read his records that way. Perhaps not surprisingly, Hi-Audio, distributors of the Graham Slee products
are also involved with the Cartridge Man, and his MusicMaker is a perfect partner for the Revelation, their combined price of £1335 plays well the wrong side of the £5K attached to the Rev/El-Titan combination. Sure, there are more affordable coils out there, but the economics are self-evident. The question is, what do you lose for all that money you gain?
The short answer is, maybe not as much as you might think. The long answer takes a bit more explaining but goes something along the lines of, not so much better or worse as different. Moving from the Titan i to the MusicMaker there’s no disguising the loss of transparency and dynamic range, the missing detail and texture. But making the same transition from the Dorian, and near price parity with the MusicMaker, is more a case of swings and roundabouts. The moving-coil still offers greater detail and transparency, but the MusicMaker delivers a sense of power and majestic orchestral sweep that the Dorian can’t get close to. Add to that an unforced evenness and natural tonality, the easy momentum of the EQ adjusted Revelation and the ghostly quiet phonostage and you’ve got a recipe for real dynamic power and intensity coupled to a complete absence of strain. The sound of the MusicMaker fed straight into the revelation is sumptuously smooth and lush, powerful and solid. Yes, it lacks the level of insight and detail, the sheer immediacy of a really top-flight coil – but it also lacks the price tag that goes with it. Will I be giving up on the Titan, Koetsu et al? Sorry, the answer is an emphatic no. But if I was on a budget I’d seriously consider the moving-iron option. Indeed, I did. My first Linn carried a Syrinx PU3 and a Grado Signature 8 – first cousin to the MusicMaker. What goes round comes around and I still remember the power and vivid colours of that combination, the more so given recent experience! The Revelation/MusicMaker combination will give moving-coils (and associated paraphernalia) at twice the price a serious run for their money. If you really value natural tonality and perspectives, top to bottom linearity and power devoid of strain, you can push that bar higher still. Unless you are seriously set on the analogue summit you’d do well to treat this route as more than just a viable alternative. Your wallet will certainly thank you for it – and your ears too.
For once the conclusions here are simple. Yes, adjustability matters if you want to get the best out of your phono replay. And yes, each of these phonostages is a bargain in its own way. The SRX mods allow the Groove to keep pace with the competition whilst still costing considerably less – rather like the Titan i that matches its performance so well. One listen will convince; the SRX is a phono-stage that speaks for itself. The Herron VTPS-2 gives listeners all the benefits of a tube unit with few of the failings and a text-book technical performance to boot. It offers a level of vacuum-tube engineering (carefully combined with solid-state circuitry) that’s rare at any price, unheard of at this one. But the real steal is undoubtedly the Graham Slee combination. Offering solid performance at an extremely affordable price, it also provides the listener with a beautifully engineered, switchable EQ set-up that brings older records to vivid life. The benefits are hard to credit until you experience them, so critical are they to proper vinyl replay and the full musical enjoyment of recorded performances that every serious phono-stage should offer the facility. The Revelation is well-named, and along with a decent high-output cartridge represents the gateway to true high-end analogue performance. It says on the instruction manual, “Welcome to a new world of musical realism”. For once, I don’t think that’s overstating the case; record collectors everywhere should hear one of these!