Audio Research has a long history in creating some of the finest vacuum tube amplifiers and pre-amplifiers in the industry with its roots going all the way back to 1970 when they made their first amplifier. I have heard many great systems with speakers being driven by Audio Research electronics and some of my favorite ones too. With the recent G series, they really have stepped up the mark a good few notches and the performance with the incredible GS150 Stereo amplifier is one of my most listened to amplifier which has incredible power over most speakers that they have been paired with. This is all good but where would a good system be without the pairing of an exceptional pre-amplifier and again this is another area which Audio Research have mastered and mastered really well. The use of tubes in their amplifiers really do set them apart from other companies as far as the high-end audio industry goes, with all their work being carried out at their factory in Minnesota Minneapolis in the USA.
Then not too long after the release of the G series of electronics they released another trio of electronics and this time named the
Foundation series which the PH9 is part of, with the LS28 Preamplifier and DAC9 which makes up for a very nice trio to partner into your system. They also come in at quite a lot cheaper than their older siblings to the G series. A Foundation amplifier is also on the way so I have been told which would then make a complete system for the Foundation series overall. The design ques’ have been taken very much from the G series with the new glass front panel and buttons which are all made to the highest of standards.
Although you can purchase them all together to make a very high quality high end system they can also be purchased individually which gives me a chance to review the PH9 with my own system and see what it can add or should I say what it does not add to the system and allows my turntable to perform to the best level that it can achieve.Features and Build Quality
The PH9 is very simple in its design but does not lack when it comes to features as you can select different cartridge impedance values on the fly, with five settings that should accommodate most of the cartridge’s out there. It also features an auto shutdown which can be set for different time settings if the unit has not been used for any amount of time it will save power and shut the unit down when engaged. You also have a feature which shows you the hours that you have put onto the tubes, which is great as they say that the PH9 really starts to come into song around the 50-hour mark. All of these features can be accessed via the front panel by the menu button, or you can use the beautifully crafted solid aluminium remote control which has all the main functions of the PH9 on it. There is also a stereo and mono setting which can be accessed too.
Build quality is exceptional with the panels of the PH9 made from sheets of brushed aluminium and can come in the brushed silver finish that I have or you can also choose to have it in their black finish if you are looking for a more discreet system.
On the back of the unit you will find the main inputs and outputs which are of RCA type for your turntable to plug into and then out into whatever you are running. There is no XLR outputs which is how I suppose the PH9 comes in at a much more reasonable price, but this does not mean it comprises on performance. Underneath the hood of the PH9 you will find a trio of 6H30 tubes which are the main core of this unit. The simplistic design but use of high quality components means you get the purist signal path and most transparent phono-stage possible.Performance and Sound Quality
For listening tests, I am using my McIntosh Labs MA8000 Integrated Amplifier as the main hub of my system, this is a reference amplifier if every sense of the word and my review can be found in the review section of my site. Cabling is all by Transparent Cables and my speakers that I am using is my Wilson Audio Sophia 2 speakers which are also of a reference quality. The turntable I am using is the Clearaudio Concept Wood version with the Concept MC cartridge, I also have a linear PSU feeding the turntable so as to give it the most stable power supply possible which enhances performance. I have also fitted a Clearaudio clamp for the turntable which is not supplied but again this is small performance upgrade but every little part in the chain helps when listening to such high-quality components.
For listening I am using some familiar albums that I have on vinyl. I have the brilliant album from God is an Astronaut - God is an Astronaut title, this is a great album on vinyl with some stunning rock which gives any audio system a good work out. Also, I have the brilliant album or compilation from the famous composer Ennio Morricone celebrating 60 years of music with compositions from great films such as the spaghetti westerns, and Cinema Paradiso to name a few.
My first album is from God is an Astronaut
and it is the special edition vinyl that I have with a funky yellow LP which looks great but most importantly sound good too. The first track Shadows is a rock song which starts off with an ambient like intro but soon ramps up into a full rock ballad, with the PH9 commanding a strong performance. The ARC PH9 lets you hear every detail that is in this track with a vivid sound stage where every nuance is heard and the drum beat is well defined with each note rounded off with some great definition. Clarity is key here and the PH9 has so much clarity that the term transparent almost becomes a word which you can really appreciate as the PH9 seems to be like lifting of a veil in the music where now I can hear what is on this excellent record. Another point which helps is the noise floor which is nearly non-existent with the Audio Research producing a sound which is defined by its lack of noise or distortion in the music, I thought that my Cyrus Signature was quite good but this takes it to another level and produces a sound or should I say lack of noise and the more you listen the better it gets as your ears adjust to this beautiful bit of electronics that sits in-between your turntable and amplifier.
Track 4 - Snowfall is a wonderful piece of music with the electric guitar having a such clarity to it in the recording and the percussion hitting hard, the shimmer of cymbals trailing off nicely. Never once does the music overwhelm the system, whereas on some systems this track could present problems but the PH9 really digs out and separates each instrument into its own space within the music.
On to my second album which really does poses some masterpieces of music that was composed by the legendary Ennio Morricone which has some 500 scores in film and television and over 100 classical works to his name. I could not think of a better piece of music to listen with the ARC PH9. Track 2 and 3 - The Fortress and Main Theme
from the film The Good the Bad and the Ugly
, with the infamous sound of the big orchestra from the famous Spaghetti Western films which I used to love and watch when I was a youngster many years ago. With the exception of this music sounding much grander through my system than it ever did through my old CRT TV's back in the day. This track has so much detail and is just so beautiful to listen to that it comes alive with a huge sound stage being cast from my Wilson Audio Sophia speakers. The PH9 does not get in the way of any of the music instead it just beautifully allows what is on the record to be heard in full clarity and the finer touches that I have not heard from this vinyl until now.
Allowing the PH9 into my system has made the vinyl part of my system come to life and it is not being suppressed anymore or there is no bottleneck in the chain. Instead allowing the music to do the what it should and it does it with such grace and composure that you can really start to enjoy what is being played.Conclusions and Final Thoughts
Having listened to other phono-stages and owning quite a few I have never once had a phono-stage of the caliber in any of my systems until now and it is truly magnificent to be able to hear what a good phono-stage can do for your collection, and what potential that you can unlock for your turntable.
The PH9 represents great value
for money when you consider how much the costlier Audio Research phono-stages are, and the PH9 gives you that same quality but at a fraction of the cost.
The Audio Research receives an Outstanding product award from The Speaker Shack which I really do think that PH9 should be on your list if you are wanting to get the best, and the Foundation series gives you that, the best for any system unless you can afford the more costlier ARC's that is.
Approx RRP at time of review £7,495
UK Distributor Absolute Sounds website
Audio Research website