Darlington Labs Phono Preamps

Discussion in 'Vinyl Nutjob World: Turntable and Related Gear' started by Azimuth, Dec 18, 2020.

  1. gaspasser

    gaspasser Flatulence Maestro

    Friend
    Joined:
    Jan 16, 2016
    Likes Received:
    5,597
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Suburban DC
    I think Technics tables, since they were originally built for DJ use, are not as susceptible to subsonic bass. However, the Sol and likely Tommy’s Dual are. Ultimately, Darlington Labs is not responsible for this however building in an inexpensive subsonic filter would help their phonos work with all varieties of poorly isolated TTs.
     
    • Like / Agree Like / Agree x 2
    • List
  2. mitochondrium

    mitochondrium Friend

    Friend
    Joined:
    Sep 1, 2017
    Likes Received:
    795
    Trophy Points:
    93
    Location:
    A Cell
    • Like / Agree Like / Agree x 1
    • List
  3. StageOne

    StageOne Friend

    Friend
    Joined:
    Sep 23, 2018
    Likes Received:
    848
    Trophy Points:
    93
    Location:
    US
    My friend @SpeedSmith had a listen to the MM-5 I had from the loaner tour and decided to go for the Darlington full meal deal, MM-3, MM-5, and MM-6 so we did a mini shoot out.

    I’m still deciding on a table so he was gracious and let me borrow his Drop AT table that was equipped with the AT95EN cart. I had this for a week paired with the MM-3 and it was a nice combo, pleasant but missing some detail and textures I had heard from other cart/preamp combos. I also noticed more of the forward presentation that many had mentioned from the MM-5 loaner.

    Setup: Drop AT w/AT95EN cart >> Freya S >> Mono Aegirs >> Spatial M3 Sapphires

    MM-3: Solid, I still think this is a stop up from the Mani. Rolled extremes but decent mids. If this was he first time hearing vinyl I might not be pushed to pursue more but...

    MM-5: Big step up from the 3, getting more airy treble and more bass impact. There was more than a few times I heard parts of recordings that were un-noticed on the 3. I also get more forward mids. But on the right system this can be a great preamp. This brings the texture and natural decay that I really enjoy.

    MM-6: Less of a difference from 3-5 but it brings more nuance, and plankton. Even with the lower priced cart, there is great detail retrieval. At 2x the price of the 5, it may be a harder sell, but depending on the system it could be a worthwhile upgrade.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]
     
    • Like / Agree Like / Agree x 3
    • List
  4. SpeedSmith

    SpeedSmith Rando

    Joined:
    Feb 7, 2019
    Likes Received:
    33
    Trophy Points:
    13
    Location:
    Central Ohio
    Really good assessment @StageOne ! I was kinda surprised by the MM-3. I agree, with the right gear it outshines the Mani in the mids. I think that's because the mids are reproduced with more emphasis, the extremes feel more rolled off. This is where the MM-5 excels. It does both rather well if you don't have a dark table/cart combo.

    The MM-5 is certainly a value proposition. When compared to the Mani, the MM-3 and the iFi Zen, it provides to my ears, more of what I crave...sweet, slightly forward mid range. Upright bass has this texture my Gungnir doesn't reproduce on digital copies. The desperation and resolve in Tracy Chapman's voice on For My Lover is visceral in a way not present on the other preamps, especially the slight reverb that builds as she says "everybody thinks I'm the fool"...it gives me goose bumps. The extension of Hannah Reid's upper range on Metal & Dust is intoxicating in a way that I have to open my eyes to make sure she's not really there. It has this extended decay.

    In fact decay, texture and air were words we came back to a lot when listening on the Drop + AT table. We used a nude elliptical stylux on the stock cart at StageOne's place. During that all too brief session we listened to Rodrigo & Gabriella perform Pink Floyd's Echos. We also tested with The Robber from The Weather Station. Here the MM-3 was polite, almost docile...maybe intimidated by StageOne's M3 Sapphires. If you had modest gear (what I suspect most using the Drop + AT table would use) this preamp could be just right. But the table scaled really well with the MM-5 and the AT-VM95EN. Mmmm...more of the good stuff, cymbal crashes had a sweet ring and...yep..lovely decay. Guitar cords reverberated for the longest time with so much texture you could feel the strings. Adding in the MM-6 and things just got better...all over the range. Bass was richer, deeper, more resolved. There was more air and space...and little details not as present with the other preamps. I want to say more energy too, but no it was more detail retrieval with a sweetness that just made me want to listen more.

    For sure the jump from MM-5 to MM-6 is not as far as from MM-3 to MM-5. But that's with the AT table and nearly stock cart. I have a Grado Blue 3 for this table and I may see if the Stanton 681EEE with NOS stylus will play with the AT's tonearm. I also need to get more time this weekend with the Sol and its Grado Opus3 and Nagaoka MP-200. A short listening session on the Sol tells me the jump to the MM-6 (from the 5) is bigger with a more resolving table/cart combo (even the relatively dark Nag). For reference, my main rig is similar to StageOne's with same Freya S and Aegir monos. But my Spatials are the older M3TS. I use an HSU VTF-2 very sparingly to fill in under 40hz.
     
    • Like / Agree Like / Agree x 1
    • List
  5. Azimuth

    Azimuth FKA rtaylor76, Friend

    Friend
    Joined:
    Nov 9, 2015
    Likes Received:
    4,883
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Nashville, TN
    Home Page:
    Just to be a Darlington shill, they just released the MP-7 (yes, MP, not MM, as it will do MI, MC in high or low output). So all you low output MC cart peeps can get in on some Darlington too. (corrected...see below)

    Although, with all these additional options and gain, it does have a price increase. It also has some options for LED location (in the back if you don't want hot LED in yo' face), upgrade jack options, and mono switch option.

    https://www.darlingtonlabs.com/shop/p/mp-7-high-end-40db-riaa-phono-preamp
     
    • Like / Agree Like / Agree x 2
    • List
    Last edited: May 3, 2021
  6. DignifiedAndOld

    DignifiedAndOld Rando

    Joined:
    Oct 25, 2020
    Likes Received:
    23
    Trophy Points:
    13
    Location:
    Chicago
    It looks like this MP-7 does not (by itself) handle low output MC carts. Won't it need to be paired with their soon to be released SU-7 step up stage? Looks like it's just higher quality parts from the MM-6. Or am I missing something?
     
    • Like / Agree Like / Agree x 1
    • List
  7. Azimuth

    Azimuth FKA rtaylor76, Friend

    Friend
    Joined:
    Nov 9, 2015
    Likes Received:
    4,883
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Nashville, TN
    Home Page:
    Ok, I did not read fine enough...

    "Gain: +40dB at 1kHz, appropriate for the highest quality Moving Magnet and Moving Iron, plus HOMCs (High-Output-Moving-Coil) down to 1.6mV. The MP-7 (“Multi-Purpose”) is designed specifically for use with very high quality external Step-Up-Transformers and Active MC gain stage for LOMCs (Low-Output Moving-Coil)."

    "The MP-7 (Multi-Purpose: MM, MI, HOMC, and LOMC via Step-Up)"

    So step up, active or passive, still required for LOMC.
     
  8. Keith Richardson

    Keith Richardson MOT: Darlington Labs

    Joined:
    Dec 18, 2020
    Likes Received:
    41
    Trophy Points:
    13
    Location:
    Massachusetts
    The MP-7 will need to be paired with another mfg's SUT or our upcoming SU-7 ($529+) or SU-6 ($329+) to handle Low-Output MC's below about 1.5mV output.

    However, it is not just an MM-6 with better parts.

    We actually took power supply technology that we developed for the SU series and implemented it in the MP-7, together with additional enhancements in parts and extension of the low-frequency response.

    Some of this same tech (dual-tiered regulation) has now been incorporated into the currently-shipping MM-6 and MM-5 (since April 2021). Current owners of the MM-6 and MM-5 sold between October 2020 and March 2021 are eligible for a factory update.

    The MP-7 also features internally-adjustable gain. Stock is +40dB, and it can be adjusted down to +32dB internally via a single soldered interior resistor per channel.

    Sincerely,
    Keith Richardson
    Director of Engineering
    Darlington Labs LLC
     
    • Like / Agree Like / Agree x 2
    • List
  9. JayC

    JayC Resident Crash Test Dummy

    Friend
    Joined:
    Oct 26, 2015
    Likes Received:
    740
    Trophy Points:
    93
    Location:
    Eindhoven
    Now that the MP7 has been announced, I can say something about it out loud about it haha
    I've been talking to Keith for a while now, since I was looking for a phono upgrade. He and i have agreed on getting an MP7 over to me in the next few weeks. I will be making a post or two about the MP7 after it arrives and I've had some time to listen to it.

    I'm also coordinating with a local dealer and friends to borrow other phono units to do a shootout (Black Cube, Mofi StudioPhono, iPhono3 black label) so it should be interesting. I will be posting about this as well!
     
    • Like / Agree Like / Agree x 2
    • List
  10. deniall83

    deniall83 Acquaintance

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2015
    Likes Received:
    82
    Trophy Points:
    18
    Location:
    Melbourne
    Currently trying to decide between an iFi ZEN Phono and Darlington MM-5. Because I have to import the MM-5 to Australia, it'll cost me about $200 more than the ZEN. Worth it at that price? I really want to see measurements before I drop the money.
     
  11. SpeedSmith

    SpeedSmith Rando

    Joined:
    Feb 7, 2019
    Likes Received:
    33
    Trophy Points:
    13
    Location:
    Central Ohio
    I have both and prefer the MM-5 as I like the fuller, slightly forward and warmer presentation it provides. Both provide great clarity, but to my ears with my equipment, the iFi presents records cooler almost more like a CD. This is not slight against the iFi, just trying to provide a useful description as I'm more of a subjectiveist and often go by emotion. The iFi is really good for the money and offers change of gain at the push of a button and if you desire, balance connection out.

    If you like a warmer sound and/or your equipment leans neutral, I think the MM-5 is hard to beat even with the extra 200. I think it'll scale as your equipment does. My gear (Schiit pre and amps) does stage width well, but its not the end all for depth. So the slight forward nature of the MM-5 helps create a sense of depth.

    If your equipment is already on the warm side, the choice is potentially harder, but only if your hoping to offset that.

    Given this is all opinion based, I'll add the a lean more Nagaoka and less Ortofon.
     
    • Like / Agree Like / Agree x 3
    • List
  12. deniall83

    deniall83 Acquaintance

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2015
    Likes Received:
    82
    Trophy Points:
    18
    Location:
    Melbourne
    Thanks for the reply. Much appreciated. I think I'll give it a go.
     
  13. Je La

    Je La Rando

    Joined:
    Apr 28, 2021
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    1
    Location:
    Dallas, TX, USA
    If anyone is able to share, I would love to hear sample captures of high resolution (24/96 or ideally 24/192) audio with this MM-5 hardware.
     
  14. Azimuth

    Azimuth FKA rtaylor76, Friend

    Friend
    Joined:
    Nov 9, 2015
    Likes Received:
    4,883
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Nashville, TN
    Home Page:
    I am planning some needle drops soon with MM-6 and some other preamps soon.
     
    • Like / Agree Like / Agree x 3
    • List
  15. Gallic Dweller

    Gallic Dweller Acquaintance

    Joined:
    Mar 31, 2018
    Likes Received:
    45
    Trophy Points:
    18
    Location:
    Midi Pyrenees/France
    I've just sent an email to DL re. their upcoming MC step up stages, be nice to see what they will come up with. I use an AT 33EV and soon a 33EV, SA (Shibata) and an NOS Pickering 7500S LOMM. My phono stage of 10 years, a Talk Electronics MC3 uses op-amps, ic's and feedback with very very low distortion figures but I want to hear a p/stage that doesn't use any of them. The price of these handmade p/stages are excellent. If the step ups and options are on a par I shall definitely buy.
     
  16. purr1n

    purr1n On vacation

    Staff Member Friend BWC
    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2015
    Likes Received:
    78,049
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Padre Island CC TX
    I need to get my TTs set up. Everything is still in boxes. Would love to do a formal review of the line.
     
  17. Azimuth

    Azimuth FKA rtaylor76, Friend

    Friend
    Joined:
    Nov 9, 2015
    Likes Received:
    4,883
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Nashville, TN
    Home Page:
    PM me when you get your TT setup and I can send you my MM-6 to demo. Would love for you to hear this thing.
     
  18. JayC

    JayC Resident Crash Test Dummy

    Friend
    Joined:
    Oct 26, 2015
    Likes Received:
    740
    Trophy Points:
    93
    Location:
    Eindhoven
    The MP-7 in the house! It look a long time to get this to ship since Keith had loads of pressure. Note that newer versions would have pad printed panels which would improve the visual aspect/branding a touch (I got the stickered version). I will be spending some time between it, the Mani and the MoFi StudioPhono in the next week or so, and writing up what I find.

    In the weeks that follow, I'll be heading to a dealer across the country to try it on their setup against other more expensive phonos and post about that too.
     

    Attached Files:

    • Like / Agree Like / Agree x 5
    • List
  19. JayC

    JayC Resident Crash Test Dummy

    Friend
    Joined:
    Oct 26, 2015
    Likes Received:
    740
    Trophy Points:
    93
    Location:
    Eindhoven
    Quick post with initial impressions against the Mani I have at home.. I will be writing all my comments as comparisons, or in reference to another device since that seems easier and hopefully more useful

    My chain is: Clearaudio Concept w/ Nagaoka MP110 -> Mani/MP-7 -> Schiit Saga -> Schiit Vidar -> Dynaudio Special 40

    MP-7 vs Mani
    Played the In Absentia album by Porcupine Tree, and there was no contest. MP-7 was better in every way. Soundstage with the Mani was between the speakers while the MP-7 opened it up in width and depth. I could easily say this rivaled my digital experience and a bit more. Highs opened up, increased clarity and detail were the first things that hit me. Theres "more" bass from the Mani, but its a bit too dark and round/wooly. In comparison, the MP-7 is maybe more bass neutral (a good thing) so I got the impression of less bass but that took only a song or two to get used to. After that, it was obvious that I wasn't missing any bass in amount or impact. In fact I'd say impact was better without the bloom. Switching back to the Mani was a disappointment because I lost so much bass detail and texture so I only really compared two songs from the whole album on the two, and finished the rest of the album on the MP-7.

    I dont think I need to keep going on here with this comparison, its not fair to bash the Mani that served me well over the last two years when comparing it to something 3-4x the price. You'd expect/hope for better performance and its clearly delivered here with the MP-7.

    The more i listened to the MP-7 the more I was amazed at the sheer clarity and detail it brought. I dont know if it was down to device warm up or my ears settling into its sound.. Distorted guitars sounded amazing with texture I dont ever remember hearing from my system before, a veil on the sound was lifted and there was life and sparkle. I was supposed to head out of the house but had to finish the whole album before I did. I thought my Nagaoka MP110 was due for replacement as it seemed to sound dull compared to my digital setup but with what I'm hearing now, I see that I might be wrong and I am going to delay switching to a different cart so I can settle in and figure out what direction I want to head in from here.

    I am super curious to see how this stands up to other devices in its price class and above. I will add pictures and talk more about the unit in terms of build and so on in a thread of its own with additional comparisons against more expensive units.
     
    • Like / Agree Like / Agree x 4
    • List
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2021
  20. ripblade

    ripblade Acquaintance

    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2019
    Likes Received:
    49
    Trophy Points:
    18
    Location:
    Toronto
    I enjoyed a similar change of mind after hearing my rebodied AT125LC with the MM-6. With the previous phono stage (Levinson ML-1 phono modules in a JC-2 preamp) was thinking maybe the stylus was beginning to wear audibly but after connecting the MM-6 any apparent distortion and wear moved well into the background. The MM-6 actually makes the AT sound more like a LOMC with its enveloping, expansive sound stage.
     

Share This Page