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K-A-B Electro-Acoustics PH-1 phono preamp

Affordable opamp-based phono preamp

[Italian version]

Product: K-A-B Electro-Acoustics PH-1 phono preamp
Manufacturer: K-A-B Electro-Acoustics - USA
Address: Post Office Box 2922, Plainfield, New Jersey 07062-0922 USA
Phone: (908) 754-1479
Price: $149.95 Plus Shipping and Handling
Reviewer: Nels Ferré

[KAB PH-1 phono preamp]
The KAB PH-1

Background and Description

Kevin Barrett of K-A-B Electro-Acoustics loves vinyl. This was obvious in a recent telephone conversation, and comes through in the product catalog of his company. If you need something for your record collection, chances are he has it. His firm stocks record cleaning machines, fluids, record sleeves, phono cartridges, and his own line of turntables, based upon the Technics line.
In addition, if you are into shellac, Kevin carries most anything you could imagine to get the most out of those old 78s, including special styli, cartridges, and external processors.
After reviewing the catalog, it became clear why the K-A-B company slogan is "Preserve, Enhance, Restore".

The PH-1 is the least expensive outboard phono preamplifier in the K-A-B lineup. It is quite compact, measuring 4 inches long, 2 inches wide, and 1.5 inches high. Each end of the unit sports high quality Teflon insulated gold plated jacks, input on one end, output on the other (clearance is needed on each end for the RCA cables for input and output).
There is a grounding post on the underside of the unit. It is powered by an external power supply. The PH-1 is designed for use with MM cartridges. K-A-B also makes a step-up pre-preamp for moving coil cartridges, the Pre-MC, also priced at $149.95. That unit still requires a phono preamp like the PH-1 to operate properly.


I will leave the description of the design to Kevin as I quote the data sheet that accompanies the PH-1:

"The design is built around one low noise Operational Amplifier IC. The circuit is operated in single ended class A. It is a passive EQ dual gain stage design. The first stage provides 28db of gain. This is followed by the precision passive RIAA EQ network which is followed by the final gain stage of 28 dB gain. Making for a total gain of 36db at 1 kHz."
I will admit that I was a bit disappointed to see that the PH-1 is an IC based unit. When I questioned Kevin about this, he explained that he could have made a discreet unit, but it would have been priced higher, similar to the Creek OBH-8, which he also sells.

Listening and Overall Impressions

I listened to the PH-1 upon receipt of the unit, to verify proper operation. I then left the unit powered up for approximately 2 weeks before conducting serious listening (it is designed to be left on all times, and consumes very little current).
Upon initial installation into the system, I found the PH-1 to be rather bright. Not irritatingly so, mind you, but bright enough to be noticeable. I was hoping that after being powered up and used for some time, that the top end tilt would vanish. It did.

I found the unit to be accurate, and very similar in sound quality to the phono section of the preamplifier that I had used for the past 9 years. That phono section is far more advanced, with capability for both MM and MC cartridges, as well as adjustable cartridge loading.
After listening for a bit, the sound from the PH-1 dispelled any initial reservations as far as its design. The frequency balance even across the full range, from bass to treble. Dynamics were good, and I was especially impressed with how quiet the PH-1 was.

The one fault I noticed was that "depth" is not quite the level I am accustomed to. On the Classic Records reissue of "Stardust" by Willie Nelson, through my usual phono preamp, he sounds as if he is at least 6 to 7 feet in front of his backing band.
Through the PH-1, I lost 2 or 3 feet of depth. This recording is quite revealing, and pointed out a shortcoming that was not audible with most other recordings. At the price of the PH-1, this is being picky, indeed.

I lived with the PH-1 for a month, and I find it very difficult to characterize the sound. It really doesn't have one. Other that the one "fault" I just noted, there is nothing to really write about. No "otherworldly" shimmering highs, deep bass, or anything else to call one's attention to the PH-1. I think this is good!!
Think about most other low priced components- they do call attention to themselves...mostly with really bad sound!!! This definitely is not the case here.

I did find one really cool thing about the PH-1 however, and it was completely accidental. Recently, I rearranged my system, to make it easier to move preamps and power amps in and out of the system as different components arrive for review.
My system is housed in a Scandinavian style teak "low boy" cabinet with the turntable (now a Rega Planar 2) on top right side, just above the preamp.
I took my usual preamp out of the system, and placed a vacuum tube preamp on the shelf below the turntable. Upon firing up the system again, I was getting a horrible hum through the phono input on the preamp.
After checking and rechecking connections, I finally determined that the hum was caused by the unshielded motor from the Rega interfering with the vacuum tube phono preamp section of the preamp.
I plugged in the PH-1, using a high level input on the preamp and voila!...the hum was gone!!! Now that the PH-1 has been returned to the manufacturer, the turntable rests on the top of the cabinet on the far left, as far away as it can be from the preamp, and no hum.
If I had not had the ability to move the Rega, I would have needed an outboard phono preamp in the system at all times, to keep the hum away.

I think that K-A-B Electro-Acoustics has a very special value in the PH-1. I would recommend it for anyone who wants to add phono capability to a system without spending a fortune. In fact, I suspect that the PH-1 is the lowest priced high quality phono preamp on the market.

Kevin Barrett is working on a "high end" phono preamp. I hope I get the opportunity to hear it when it is finished.

Manufacturer's comment

Thank you for the review. It conveys everything I tried to do at this price point and describes the sound quality just as I hear it here. Kevin Barrett

© Copyright 2000 Nels Ferré - http://www.tnt-audio.com

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