Tavish Designs "Vintage 6SL7 Phono Stage" Impressions

Discussion in 'Vinyl Nutjob World: Turntable and Related Gear' started by loadexfa, Feb 20, 2022.

  1. loadexfa

    loadexfa MOT: rhythmdevils audio

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    Dec 26, 2017
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    SF Bay Area Peninsula
    Loaner Impressions
    Thank you Inoculator for the personal loaner, your generosity is appreciated. :)

    Drop + Audio Technica Carbon VTA Turntable with Denon DL-103 -> iFi Zen Phono / Tavish Phono -> Stratus -> Audeze LCD-4 (RD modded)

    I compared various albums with the two phono pre amps to have a reference point. You can see (above) my vinyl setup is low-end at the moment. Despite that limitation I could hear various differences between the two and definitely enjoyed the Tavish phono. I'm still listening to the Tavish for enjoyment, I'm not looking forward to downgrading when I box it back up tonight.

    Considering the price difference, the comparison between the Tavish and iFi isn't fair but it's what I've got so here we go...

    I found the following better with the Tavish:
    • Much more refined
    • Very smooth without losing anything
    • Better detail retrieval
    • More clarity (which is interesting considering it is also smoother)
    • Sometimes resolves siblilance with some albums in my vinyl setup
    Some other thoughts
    • iFi has elevated bass in comparison. I don't consider this better nor worse, simply different. The Tavish doesn't sound bass light nor the iFi bass heavy.
    • Tavish case has a practical look to it and is compact. iFi definitely went the sexy case route. I know the Tavish is available as a DIY project so you can make the case as sexy or pragmatic as suits your taste and patience.
    • I didn't hear a clear winner in terms of tone. I liked both but neither had more enjoyable tone that stood out. The limits of my budget setup could be a factor here.
    I found the Tavish to be a very noticeable and enjoyable step up from my iFi.
  2. Inoculator

    Inoculator Friend

    Dec 5, 2018
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    Glad you enjoyed it @loadexfa , I am excited to see what the folks on the loaner tour think of this.

    I realized I never really wrote up my thoughts on this. It was my reference phono stage for the last couple of years, so I became quite familiar with it. I wrote about it when I was doing another phono loaner, so if folks are interested can checkout my thoughts here: https://www.superbestaudiofriends.o...n-labs-phono-preamps.10320/page-2#post-337725

    What really impressed me is how effective the JFET based MC input was with my Denon 103r. Having now stepped up to the Tavish Adagio with a SUT, it is really only a minor improvement at least in regard to how well it steps up the MC signal.
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2022
  3. dmckean44

    dmckean44 In a Sherwood S6040CP relationship

    Nov 17, 2016
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    I've had my Tavish Vintage in my vinyl setup for six years now. Before that I was playing phono stage roulette and swapping in something new every six to eight months.

    I've easily swapped in 30 different cartridges during that time including everything from low output Ortofon SPUs to very high output Stanton DJ carts. The loading is very flexible and has always delivered that smooth, laid back sound I enjoy. Listening sessions are never fatiguing and I often lose track of time and 7 or 8 hours pass.
  4. tommytakis

    tommytakis MOT: E.T.A Headphones

    Mar 22, 2018
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    Los Angeles, CA
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    Tavish Loaner Impressions:

    Technics SP10 mk2 (Soundsmith The Voice) > Tavish | Mani 2 | MMP3 > Modded EC 2a3 mkiv > JBL L99

    First of all, thank you @Inoculator for letting us try his phono pre! I've been wanting to try more tube phonos since I heard the abbas one.

    - tonal characteristic seems slightly dark and laidback
    - macrodynamics seems a bit lacking, missing a bit of liveliness when comparing against mmp3 and mani 2
    - microdyna seems kinda weak as well for the price point
    - clarity is about the same i think between the three phono

    For reference, I like really aggressive and energetic sound in all my gear, so this was the polar opposite of what I wanted. So this won't be missed but I'm glad I got to try it. Maybe tube rolling was needed to get the max out of it, or maybe blame it on synergy idk
  5. miter53

    miter53 Friend

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    Aug 17, 2021
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    Thanks to all who made this loaner possible. This is my first SBAF loaner and my first attempt at writing up my impressions. My usual chain:

    VPI Scout w/ Soundsmith Zephyr MkII > Hagerman Cornet2 > Bottlehead BeePre > Merrill Thor monoblocks > Ascend Acoustics Sierra 2-EX

    I built the Cornet2 myself, and it’s got bunch of vintage tubes and boutique parts, and many many hours of use, so this is not perhaps the most fair of comparisons, but I really wanted to see how my Cornet stacked up with another quality phono stage. I don’t have a MC cart (the Cornet is MM only), so I wasn’t able to try the higher gain settings.

    I listened to some recordings I’m very familiar with and often use to evaluate gear:

    Miles - Kind of Blue

    Joe Jackson - Body and Soul

    Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

    Philip Glass - Mishima

    I started with the Tavish, which I let warm up for several hours before listening. My first impression was very positive; bass and drums had body and pop, mids clear and relaxed. I’m sensitive to too much or unpleasant highs, with cymbals being the real test, and they sounded good, if maybe very slightly hairy. I then had to do a bunch of unplugging and reconnecting, and then rely on my always suspect audio memory. A better way of doing A-B comparisons is really what’s called for here. That being said, the Cornet was quite noticeably better in most regards. The stage increased in size, and it was as if a veil had been lifted. Separation and dynamics were markedly improved. Lows were slightly tighter and highs clearer.

    The Tavish is no slouch however. It’s a nice sounding bit of gear, and I’d be curious to see what could be squeezed out of it with some old stock tubes. For now, I’m happy with the Cornet, at least until I feel the inevitable need to drop some zany money on something else!

  6. Erroneous

    Erroneous Friend

    May 15, 2016
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    Big thanks to @Inoculator for sharing his personal equipment with us! It was fun getting to hear this phono stage and add to the ol' mental rolodex of gear.

    I think once dialed in, the Vintage is a great intro to tube phono stages. For those not wanting to drop a ton of money into their systems, it could even be a final phono stage.

    This testing was done over a period of days swapping phono stages back and forth.

    Here's the system: Denon 301 MkII (LOMC)/Ortofon VMS 20E (MM) > Technics SL1200 MkII with pure silver litz cartridge and tonearm wiring > Tavish Vintage/Audio Electronics PH-1 DJH/Allnic H-1202 > Icon 4 Zen > maxxed out Elekit TU-8800 > modified Klipsch Quartet speakers (or for headphones replace Elekit & Klipsch with ZDS & various Sennheisers).

    I started the comparison with the stock tubes and my daily driver Denon 301 MkII cartridge, using the stock loading on the Vintage (it's set for a DL 103 cart and the 301 has similar requirements) and utilizing the MC input. With all stock tubes it wasn't the best. Sounded grainy and congested, flat compared to my daily driver Allnic H-1202. I had let it warm up for an hour ahead of time just to make sure. I played an entire album and then replaced the input tube with a vintage RCA 5691 red base and let it warm up again. Things improved dramatically. The music happened with much more ease, it didn't sound like it was fighting to get out. The 3D staging opened up and the graininess was greatly reduced. Now we're getting somewhere.

    I swapped the 2 rear tubes with a pair of RCA 5691 red base I have and didn't notice a big difference. So in my system the input tube made a huge difference, but the 2 back tubes not so much. Maybe my opinion would be different with a longer-term evaluation.

    I swapped over to the Ortofon cart so that I could compare with the Dennis Had designed Audio eElectronics PH-1 DJH, which doesn't have an MC input and the only SUT I have on hand is just uh, let's say not good. Don't get the base model Lundahl transformers.
    I'd say the Vintage gets you most of the way to the PH-1. PH-1 still wins in musicality, staging, naturalness, but comparison is the thief of joy. In isolation and when not making unfair comparisons to things outside of its price bracket, the Vintage is a nice sounding phono stage that many would be happy with. That it includes the ability to use LOMC without needing an external SUT is a huge mega-bonus.

    Moving on to the Allnic H-1202, it stomps both of these phono stages, but it should given the price point. It's dead quiet, no congestion, the music flows easily and is crisp. The H-1202 is not quite as good as the model which replaced it, the current model H-5500 but it's close enough that I haven't felt inclined to spend the extra money to upgrade. The upgraded power supply on the H-5500 just takes it a touch, a smidge, farther.

    Speaking of moving to the Ortofon cartridge, when I initially plugged it in the sound was soft, muddy and terrible. I looked through the Vintage manual and found that in stock form the dip switches on the MM side were factory set to 47 pF while the recommended load for the Ortofon is 400 pF. I turned it off, let it cool down, popped the hood, flipped some switches and gave it a shot. The Vintage maxes out at 300-something pF (I no longer have it here to get that number) so it was perhaps not exactly what was recommended. Upon playing records again though, the sound was totally fixed and so, so much better.

    I'm a huge tube Belieber and I view the Vintage as a great way for people to see what all the fuss is about and why they should switch to a tube phono preamp, without having to spend a crapload of money. Tubes are the answer and I hope we can convert more people over. The grass really is greener over here. For $700 + shipping you can have a very nice little preamp that, if you're used to solid state phono preamps, just might rock your world.
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    Last edited: May 9, 2022
  7. shotgunshane

    shotgunshane Floridian Falcon

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    Sep 26, 2015
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    Clear, clear water
    I dig the looks of the Tavish Vintage. I definitely has an old school look with the grayish metal top and tubes. And I like the nice selection of MM and MC setting options, however I’m not crazy over having to remove the top to make changes. This makes it fairly unlikely an average user will play much with the options. With the price increases across the board in audio gear, the Vintage is a little bit of a steep price to pay to have to remove the top to change settings. This complaint aside, I’m fond of the sonics.

    My setup:
    Technics 1210 GAE 55th anniversary turntable; Ortofon Concord MM with OM40 Fritz Geiger stylus; QHW The Vinyl phonostage; Nakamichi TA-3A receiver; Elac DBR62 speakers

    Phonostages I’ve heard in my systems: QHW The Vinyl (my current choice with 0pf factory mod), Darlington Labs MP7, Austin Audio Works Black Swan, Nakamichi TA-3A built-in and a Vista Audio Phono 2 (this last one was only heard on my previous Classic 2SE).

    Compared to my QHW The Vinyl, the Tavish is more laid back and I’m pushed further from the stage. The Tavish stage is wider but with noticeably less depth. There is a smoothness about the Tavish. Its hides some of the imperfections of the format I readily hear with the QHW, so from this standpoint, you could say it’s a bit more ‘musical’ with these omissions. I don’t hear it as warmer, just more ‘midrange-y’. The QHW is more extended on both ends with more palpable bass, better texture and more delineation and precision. The QHW is the first phonostage I’ve heard that easily and readily sets itself apart, head and shoulders from the rest. Usually the differences are fairly modest.

    This midrange-y vibe I get with the Tavish is similar to how I felt about the Darlington Labs MP7. It felt more midrange-y, smoothed over and with less authority compared to the QHW too. However the Tavish gets my foot taping much more than the Darlington did, which, from memory, was a little thinner, and less engaging sounding. The Tavish has nice note weight, even if the bass isn’t as authoritative as the QHW. There’s an easiness and naturalness to the Tavish. It’s just really likable, presenting you with goodness (albeit not excellence), while sweeping some of the imperfections under the rug.

    If I didn’t have the QHW, the Vintage would be very appealing but having to removing the top to change settings would definitely give me pause. However the Vintage sonics were good enough to peak my interest in the Adagio. The Adagio places all these setting options on the front panel with rotary knobs, similar to the Black Swan. This would make it really simple for cartridge changes and simply dialing a single cartridge in. If the Adagio can improve upon the the few shortcomings of Classic (more authoritative bass and deeper soundstage) but maintaining a little of that musical smoothness, it would really appeal to me and I’m not normally a tube guy.

    Really appreciate @Inoculator facilitating this loaner!
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  8. scblock

    scblock Friend

    Nov 11, 2019
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    First, I want to thank @Inoculator for generously giving me the chance to listen to this phono stage. It's probably not something I would have otherwise had the chance to hear, and I really enjoyed the short time I had to spend with it.

    Second, I want to apologize for how long it's taken to post this. I had to travel immediately after the short weekend I spent with the phono stage and now I've finally made the time to sit down with my notes and get this written up properly.

    I made all comparisons on my main 2-channel stereo, with consistent equipment from the turntable on: Schiit Sol, Schiit Saga (OG), Russian Tung-Sol tube, Schiit Vidar, and Vandersteen 2c speakers. My primary comparison was to an older Schiit Mani. I listened with both a Grado Prestige Gold and a Nagaoka MP-110 cartridge, with the Grado cart getting most of the hours. As these are both MM carts I was only able to test the MM portion of the phono stage. I used the provided tubes for all listening as well.

    Before I started listening I opened the cover and looked over the dip switches for the moving magnet stage and based on the manual everything was at the default settings, which were reasonable for both of my cartridges. I did all my listening at these default settings.

    I really liked the way this unit looked in my system. The black and silver/gray finish and somewhat utilitarian design were a good fit for the rest of the system, particularly the look of the Sol.

    In listening, the phono stage sounded fairly neutral, maybe slight midrange emphasis. Bass was solid but did not have a huge amount of slam. The overall sound could be described as smooth; not in a way that really hid or smeared detail, but in a way that was very easy to listen to for an extended period. Total resolution was maybe a little shy of the Mani on my system. Highs were clear without harshness. The phono stage also seemed relatively insensitive to surface noise.

    In my system the Tavish phono stage had great synergy with the Grado cartridge. In contrast the Nagaoka cart came across as a little harsh in listening, which I don't perceive with the Mani. So with the Grado cart I would put this phono stage above the Mani on my list, and with the Nagaoka, just below. Either way, I could have happily kept this in my system for the long run.

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