Real Cable Mini-LP50 - phono preamplifier

The Real Deal by Real Cable

[Real Cable LP50 phono preamp]
[Italian version here]

Product: Real Cable Mini-LP50 - phono preamplifier
Manufacturer: Real Cable - France
Approx. price: 105€
Sample supplied by GiVi Sound - Italy
Reviewer: Lucio Cadeddu - TNT Italy
Reviewed: February, 2020

Foreword

Guillerval is a very small village, in the Essonne department in Ile-de-France, with less than 800 people. There you can find Real Cable, a factory almost entirely dedicated to cables, adapters and accessories.

The factory develops and designs “in house” its own products, and even custom lenghts of any cable they make is available on request. Besides cables and adapters Real Cable also make a small series of HiFi components, namely a DAC and two phono preamps, the entry-level LP1 and this Mini LP50 under review.

[Guillerval - France]
Guillerval - Northern France

What's inside?

The Mini-LP50 is a small solid-state MM/MC preamplifier with external switching power supply. It is extremely simple, just a grey metal cabinet with a nice and clean aluminium front fascia (just an led on it), while in the rear there are the usual input/output RCAs, the ground screw, the on/off and MM/MC switches and the power supply socket. Four small soft rubber feet complete the package. The external PSU is a small wall-wart unit, precisely the GVE GM16, with 12 volt output and 1A of power capability. According to the Real Cable literature, a particular attention has been paid to keep the noise floor as low as possible. Namely:

“We have found appropriate to avoid the use of a linear power supply, a solution with a DC/DC converter inside Mini-LP50. The DC/DC converter used in our high frequency preamplifier works (up to above 20 KHz), which allows to have a complete cancellation regarding the filter residue at 50 Hz and 100 Hz”.
Moreover:
RC filters were added in the input stages inside Mini LP50. We used 4 filters coupled in pairs on each channel to prevent noise overlay the signal.

Inside, the Mini-LP50 appears clean, well engineered and made. It certainly looks better than other entry-level competitors. Gain, input impedance and capacitance can't be adjusted, which is normal on a 100euro; phono preamp. In this price range there are many phono preamps in the market, just to name a few: ProJect Phonobox, TProgress PM-06, Dynavox UPR 2.0, Rega Fono Mini A2D, NAD PP2E, TCC TC-750, Pyle PP555 (and PP999), Behringer Microphono PP400, Music Hall Mini (i.e. Rolls VP29) and several others. Many of these can be used with MM cartridges only, so the MC option, which is available on the Mini-LP50, should be considered as a plus. With its +60dB gain, this preamp can amplify moderately low-level output carts (say, 0.25 mV @ 5cm/s).

[Real Cable Mini-LP50 - rear view]
Real Cable Mini-LP50 - rear view
[Real Cable Mini-LP50 - inside view]
Real Cable Mini-LP50 - essentially clean!

Claimed tech specs

[Real Cable Mini-LP50 - PSU]

The Real Deal by Real Cable

I've tested the Mini LP-50 against different phono preamps, and finally I've decided to use the Musical Fidelity V LPS (first series) as its ideal sparring partner. The V LPS is a budget-level solid state phono preamp that is just a little bit more expensive (150/160€, more or less) of the Mini-LP50 under review so it is a fair competitor. Of course, I've used other, better phono preamps as “reference” just to “set the records straight” (pun intended).

[Musical Fidelity V LPS]

The Mini LP-50 is a mostly neutral component, with a quite evenly-balanced frequency response. Its forte is the mid range, which is clean, precise and agile. Vocals, for example, are naturally reproduced, thanks to the extremely low level of distortion and good signal/noise ratio. When compared to the Musical Fidelity (MF for short from now on), the LP50 mid range appears cleaner and more refined while the MF sounds a little bit smoother. Perhaps one could refer to the mid range of the MF as more analog-like, provided we all agree on the meaning of this term (smooth, warm, silky? Whatever!). While the MF adds a sort of velvet touch to voices, the LP50 seems more rigorous and precise.

The bass range is beefier and deeper with the MF, though it appears punchier and more controlled with the LP50. Despite the fact the bass range has less depth, it sounds faster and more lively. Bass lines are extremely easy to follow and the kick drum punches hard. Instead, with the MF, everything seems more relaxed, though both the bass notes and the kick drum sound beefier and boomier.

The high range on both preamps sounds similar, perhaps just a bit harmonically richer on the MF. Then, again, the LP50 is more precise and transparent. It seems a sort of give and take game: while one component seems to give something more in a certain area, then the other one performs better in different areas. On the other hand, neither the MF nor the LP50 can perform on a par with a reference preamp. Generally, the sound is “smaller”, less refined and contains much less information. Obvious, maybe, but it is not always the case.

In the macro-dynamics department, it seems the LP50 outperforms the MF, by a small margin. Dynamic variations are reproduced with ease, while the MF seems to make everything sound louder (traces of compression?). This is also due to a certain attitude of the MF to sound a little bit “forward”.

Even the soundstage created by these two preamps is different: while the width of the virtual stage is mostly the same, the height and the depth are better with the LP50, and not by a small margin. Even the focus on instruments and players is clearly better. Of course, we're dealing with 100/150 phono preamps, so do not expect the huge soundstage a good phono preamp can create, though the performance is surprisingly good for the price and certainly better than I was used to when listening to entry-level phono preamps, like the TCC TC750, the ProJect Phonobox or the NAD PP1.

Summarizing, I'd say that the performance level of the 100€-range phono preamps has improved over time, and this Mini LP50 is the living proof.

Complaints

Nothing to complain, actually. For the price level, this preamp has no serious flaws. It is well engineered and built, and it offers a nicer finish than its competitors, making it appear more expensive than it actually is. It does not offer the possibility to adjust input capacitance, impedance or gain, but this feature is almost impossibile to find on similarly-priced phono preamps. It does offer MC input, which is uncommon.
Soundwise, I'd have preferred a beefier bass range and a harmonically richer high range. At this price, though, it is difficult to find a phono preamp without flaws. Even the more expensive Musical Fidelity phono preamp does something better and something worse. It's a always a compromise.

Availability

Real Cable is distributed worldwide through a sufficiently large network of official dealers. Click and visit to discover the one nearest to you.

Conclusions

The entry-level niche of phono preamps has a new kid on the block. Nicely crafted and cool looking, this Mini-LP50 is a real deal, for just 100€. If you are in the market for a good 100€ phono preamp, that also offers MC capability, add this one to your wish list. It will give your vinyls a lively, punchy, clean and detailed sound you'd never expect from such an entry-level component. The deal is real.

DISCLAIMER. TNT-Audio is a 100% independent magazine that neither accepts advertising from companies nor requires readers to register or pay for subscriptions. After publication of reviews, the authors do not retain samples other than on long-term loan for further evaluation or comparison with later-received gear. Hence, all contents are written free of any “editorial” or “advertising” influence, and all reviews in this publication, positive or negative, reflect the independent opinions of their respective authors. TNT-Audio will publish all manufacturer responses, subject to the reviewer's right to reply in turn.

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© Copyright 2020 Lucio Cadeddu - direttore@tnt-audio.com - www.tnt-audio.com