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Andover Audio SpinStage Phono Preamplifier: Review

Can the $250 Andover Audio SpinStage MM/MC Phono Pre-amplifier really upgrade entry-level cartridges? Let’s take a listen.

Andover Audio SpinStage Phono Preamplifier

Vinyl me this…vinyl me that. Who is afraid of the big, black bat?

Couldn’t resist. And nor should some of you when it comes to the Andover Audio SpinStage Phono Preamplifier.

Raise your hand if you thought vinyl would be the best-selling physical music format in 2022? Michael Fremer and Chad Kassem can lower their hands in the back of the room. 

The 17% increase in new domestic record sales was a rather encouraging number according to the RIAA 2022 Music Report — but it was also a rather steep decline from the same period in 2021.

That 17% increase might pale in comparison to the 97% increase during the same period in 2021, but the circumstances were very different. With the pandemic still raging, record stores were mostly still shuttered, but still thriving from rather brisk online sales and 4 Record Store Day events.

With live music venues still closed, limitations on theater capacity for films, and pro sports teams limited to 50% or less in terms of attendance, recorded music and streaming were the two safest options for consumers. 

Fast forward to June 2023; the pandemic is officially over, and consumers are traveling in record numbers and spending on other activities that were prohibited during the pandemic. 

Inflation and supply chain issues have also impacted how much consumers are willing and able to spend on non-essential goods.

Let’s be honest here — $40 records are not exactly essential items when you’re spending an additional $400 to $500 per month on food and you are not earning $4,000 to $5,000 more at the same time after-tax.

Having spoken to a number of manufacturers, the market for high-end turntables is definitely getting rather soft. When some of the bigger brands have to discount new tables by almost 20% to create sales — you know that consumers are having second thoughts.

Let’s also hope that high-end audio manufacturers are not impacted by the collapse of SVB; Roku had 28% of its cash assets in the now defunct financial institution and all kind of rumors are floating around about other consumer A/V companies.

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Andover Audio wasn’t one of them.

Enough with the bad news.

Entry-level tables, however, are certainly doing better and having just spent some time with the lovely people at Audio-Technica, Grado Labs, and Pro-Ject — that end of the market is more stable…for now. 

Andover Audio SpinStage Phono Preamp

Andover Audio has had a really busy 36 months and for the simple reason that some of their products like the Andover Audio SpinDeck Max and SpinStage MM/MC phono preamplifier overachieve at rather affordable prices.

You SpinStage Me Round…

$250 for a rather high quality MM/MC phono preamplifier? 

While turntable and cartridge options have been rather plentiful, the affordable MM/MC phono stage category below $400 has been dominated by only a few models from Schiit Audio, U-Turn, Cambridge Audio, and Rega. Andover Audio sells a lot of SpinDeck and SpinDeck Max turntables but they’ve never offered a dedicated and affordable MM/MC phono pre-amplifier until now.

The Andover Audio SpinStage has two key features not commonly found in budget phono preamplifiers. First, by adding a separate MC gain stage with ultra-low-noise discrete transistors in a type of transconductance topology usually found only in more expensive designs, the SpinStage benefits from providing the necessary gain without added noise.

Andover Audio SpinStage Phono Preamp Rear

Second, the addition of an Auxiliary input restores the input used by the SpinStage when it’s connected to an amplifier that has only a few inputs. For example, a system that includes a CD player or other device may need the input used by the SpinStage.

The MM section adds 40dB of gain, whilst the MC section offers 66.5dB for low output moving coil cartridges.

Phono-cartridge resistive and capacitive loading optimize the SpinStage’s high-frequency performance with any MM cartridge, while its ultra-high-precision resistors and capacitors deliver RIAA response typically accurate within ±0.2dB. 

The SpinStage’s selectable subsonic filter reduces the ultra-low-frequency noise of turntable rumble that can cause excess woofer pumping and waste amplifier power.

Listening

I’ve been listening for the past two months with the Goldring E3 and Grado Labs Prestige Red3 cartridges and they might have a winner here. Especially when combined with the warmer sounding Grado cartridge and their SpinDeck Max turntable.

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I’ve also used the brilliant Goldring Eroica HX, Grado Timbre Opus3, and Ortofon 2M Black to see how this affordable phono preamplifier can handle far more expensive cartridges.

It is a somewhat lively presentation but it’s far superior to any internal MM stage in most $400 to $500 integrated amplifiers. Detail retrieval and clarity are not what you normally expect at $250. 

The SpinStage doesn’t offer the same level of insight or clarity as my Croft RIAA Phono Preamplifier or the Moon By SimAudio LP110 V2 but the price differences are rather substantial; enough of a difference that one could buy the Opus3 or an Ortofon 2M Bronze.

Listening to Donald Byrd’s “Cristo Redentor” using the Opus3 and SpinStage connected to the NAD C 316BEE V2 Integrated Amplifier was rather revealing about its tonal balance and how it thrusts music somewhat forward.

Andover Audio SpinStage Rear

I wouldn’t call the SpinStage totally neutral but it didn’t let the warmth of the Grado cartridge becomes the primary focus.

Detail, speed, and clarity were all very good; especially for a $250 phono pre-amplifier.

Dexter Gordon’s One Flight Up (Blue Note Tone Poet Series) and Andrew Hill’s Passing Ships (Blue Note Tone Poet Series) are rich with so much tone and color and felt like strong tests for the SpinStage with the Opus3 and Grado Prestige Red3.

Gordon’s tenor saxophone was extremely vivid and sharply drawn in-between my Magnepan LRS and the Bowers & Wilkins 703 S3 (review coming this month) Loudspeakers, but there was less color compared to the more expensive phono preamplifiers and the soundstage felt more constrained between the loudspeakers.

The Croft has always had this incredible sense of immediacy and spaciousness that very few phono pre-amplifiers below $2,000 have been able to replicate; the LP110 V2 is excellent when it comes to clarity and speed, but it doesn’t quite offer the immediacy and presence of the Croft.

The SpinStage feels more like a stripped-down version of the LP110 V2 for 50% less and that makes me suggest a warmer, more dynamic cartridge to really find some form of synergy.

Grado and Ortofon (not the 2M Red) are good matches for sure.

The SpinStage was also rather quiet in my system connected to the Triangle Borea BR03 BT; which has a somewhat noisy internal phono pre-amplifier, and the aforementioned NAD C 316BEE V2.

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Does it really make sense to add a $250 external phono pre-amplifier to the NAD?

With some cartridges like the Goldring E3, I actually preferred the NAD because it added some upper bass and lower midrange warmth. Vocals are always very crisp and full of presence with the NAD and it felt like too much of a good thing with the SpinStage and the E3; that extra degree of clarity and detail thinned out the sound too much for my liking.

Any nitpicks?

Definitely be careful with cartridge matching and the overall tonal balance of the rest of the system. A highly detailed and open cartridge with a very neutral sounding system might be impressive at first — but you will notice the lack of color with vocals.

Warmer sounding systems will love this phono pre-amplifier.

Andover Audio SpinStage Bottom

The DIP switches on the bottom offer a lot of cartridge loading flexibility but I wish there was an easier way to set them; even with the supplied tool that works. I’m suffering through a rather severe right hand tendon injury and it wasn’t a lot of fun to use the tool with limited mobility. The print could also be somewhat larger on the chassis.

Between the loading options, build quality, and surprisingly transparent and detailed presentation, Andover Audio has created one of the best affordable phono pre-amplifiers on the market.

Expect to see us try this with every new affordable MM/MC cartridge going forward.

Where to buy: $249 at andoveraudio.com | Amazon

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Michael Fremer

    March 14, 2023 at 9:42 pm

    In 2022 vinyl records outsold CDs for the first time since 1987 beating CDs in actual numbers and dollar volume. To what bad news are you referring? Your stat is as wrong as the opposite, which would be sales went from one record to two so VINYL SALES DOUBLED!

    • Ian White

      March 14, 2023 at 10:14 pm

      Michael,

      The bad news was that the rate of growth fell compared to 2021. That’s it.

      You might want to read the other “Buy more vinyl because it’s the best” articles we’ve run almost weekly for 3 years.

      We send 5 writers out each year to cover every RSD event we can in our hometowns.

      I’ve reported in front of Jack’s in Red Bank 4 times over the past 2 years to promote local record stores.

      We’re on the same team.

      Great to see Tracking Angle back BTW.

      Best,

      Ian White

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