Encore 7 Eggshell Prestige PS5 - phono Stage

[PS5 Alongside Turntable]

Valve & Vinyl Harmony?

[Italian version here]

Product name: EGG-SHELL PRESTIGE PS5
Manufacturer: Encore 7
UK Distributor: GPoint-Audio
Cost: 1,999 (Currency conversion)
(YMMV)

Reviewer: Mike Cox - TNT UK
Reviewed: January, 2016

While visiting the National Audio Show recently, the large number of vinyl replay systems on show was amazing. The number of vinyl replay accessories was out of this world, but the number of phono stages was limited.

It is, therefore, nice to see this beautifully made phono stage from Encore 7. The PS5 is a moving magnet (MM) only input so for MC you will require some form of step up device, don't forget to factor this into your budget.

I decided to use a MM cartridge as I had no step up device and to start with splashed out 26 on a Rega Carbon. An amazing cartridge for the money, that gave me a taster of what the PS5 is capable of.

Whilst the Carbon is great value, it is not the most sophisticated device, and so was quickly upgraded to a Rega Elys 2, an easy fit in my Rega arm with the 3 screw fixing i.e. no alignment required, just set the tracking weight.

The PS5 is simplicity personified, a true plug and go device, with no adjustments to play with.

The rest of the system consists of my Garrard 401 turntable in custom plinth with Rega RB1000 arm, an MFA classic pre-amp with the latest transformers, Emotiva XPR-2 power amp and DBA Envy2 speakers.
The first impression is how quiet the PS5 is, some valve phono stages can be noisy and the valves producing pops and crackles. From my listening position the PS5 seems as quiet as my solid state Whest PS30R.

[PS5 Top View]
PS5 from the front, as well as the glowing valves there is a lovely red power indicator

The PS5 uses 4 ECC83 and 1 ECC81, and has the usual 47k input with 300pF capacitance load. The inputs and outputs are the usual RCA phono sockets plus a grounding post for the turntable. This all sounds very normal, what makes this phono stage stand out from crowd is the case. As you can see from the pictures the case is unusual with the glass front to show off those lovely valves. The lid is easily removed as, like the power amp I reviewed previously, it is held on with magnets.

[PS5 Top View]
PS5 aerial view showing the 5 beautiful valves, transistors never look this nice!

The painted metal work is very well done and is available in a range of colours to suit all tastes. The PS5 is styled to match the amplifiers in the Prestige range and paired up they look fantastic to my eyes. There are elements of Art Deco in the styling of this range of equipment and they may be more acceptable in the house hold than the usual collection of silver or black boxes most manufacturers serve up. If you desire, you can even have the ventilation holes in the top custom cut to your own design.

[PS5 Rear View]
PS5 Rear view

How does it sound?

For the last couple of years I have been using a Benz Micro Wood cartridge feeding a Whest PS30R phono stage as my regular vinyl front end. This setup is considerably more expensive as well as using a moving coil cartridge.

You would think that there would be a huge difference in aural quality, but I was very surprised to discover the PS5 with Rega Elys 2 put up a very good fight. Firstly I was more relaxed using the Rega than the Benz Cartridge.

The Benz has always struck me as bit delicate, it is not, it is the elevated price that makes me nervous. My previous expensive moving coil cartridge was destroyed by the simple slip of a finger!

I gave the new Elys 2 cartridge a couple of weeks playing time before settling down to evaluate the PS5. The first impressions of the PS5 are how unobtrusive it is, there is no immediately obvious valve colouration as you might expect.

The PS5 is whisper quiet, and with no knobs or buttons to play with simple to use. Switch on, sit back, and listen to your favourite vinyl. I spent many happy hours with the PS5 exploring my record collection, digging out some old friends and enjoying them all. It is really hard to pick out any bad points with the PS5 in my setup and using the Rega cartridge.
The sound is well balanced, clean, with no obvious undesirable artifacts.

Even with the constraint of the moving magnet cartridge the PS5 presents a deep and broad sound stage. The album "The Big Band Spectacular" by the Syd Lawrence orchestra led by Chris Dean is a double album with the first LP direct cut, no tape recorder between the performance and the vinyl master.

This is a hard process to get right, and in this case the results are very good. The PS5 and Elys 2 combination present the orchestra in a detailed sound stage behind the speakers. The rhythm of the music is entertaining, some systems appear to slow the performance down where as the PS5 lets the music progress at a good pace.

Next on the turntable was Vivaldi's Four Seasons played by the Interpreti Veneziani chamber orchestra on the Chasing the Dragon label. Like the Syd Lawrence recording this is another direct cut recording and the result is very clean and detailed.

The harpsichord is, in my experience, a hard instrument to reproduce, the sound can be splashy and with the tonal structure hard to hear. Likewise the violin can be strident and unpleasant, but with the PS5 and Rega Elys the sound is well resolved and tonally accurate, the sound is not splashy or strident.

This performance of the Four Seasons is different to that I am used to, the chamber orchestra produces a lighter weight sound. What this means is each instrument is more audible, letting through some of the details perhaps hidden by a larger orchestra. The PS5 and Elys combination let all this detail through, each time I listen to this album I hear something new.

As this is a direct cut recording it has to be recorded without a break, so between movements you hear the sounds of the orchestra turning the pages of the score, adding to the entertainment.

Adding a step up transformer and moving coil cartridge

After some time with the Rega Elys 2 cartridge, Greg Drygala, the UK distributor of the Encore 7 range, loaned me a Music First Audio MC Step-Up 632 so I could use my Benz Micro Wood cartridge.

The Benz cartridge replaced the Rega in my regular turntable and it was a very rewarding upgrade. As with the moving magnet setup, there are no adjustments required, it is plug and go.

If you want adjustable gain and loading then you will need the Classic MC Step-Up from Music First Audio at more than 3 times the price! The combination of PS5 and MC Step-Up 632 is a similar price to my regular Whest phono stage so is a fair comparison.

The impact of adding the Benz cartridge was as expected with any MC cartidge, a more open and detailed sound and improved sound stage. Playing Dave Brubeck "Take 5" you get a more realistic percussion from the playing of Joe Morello.

The piano of Mr Brubeck had a richer, deeper and more realistic tonal structure. Overall the system sounds more relaxed and enjoyable. Returning to the Vivaldi recording, the harpsichord and strings had a wonderfully realistic presentation with bags of detail and ambience. For me, the Vivaldi Four Seasons should be delivered with a real bounce, the rhythm and timing need to be good and this setup really delivered.

Conclusions

The PS5 is a very enjoyable listen and awakened my interest in modern moving magnet cartridges, I had forgotten how good they can be and so much better value than most moving coils.

The PS5 is simple to setup and very quiet when listening, none of that rushing sound that you can get from some phono stages. Tonally it is on the cooler side of warm, cleaner sounding than the valve phono stages I have heard in the past.

Adding the step up device and moving coil cartridge showed that the PS5 is capable of an even greater musical performance, sounding as good as anything else I have heard recently.

Compared to my regular Whest, it has a warmer tonality and is easily on the pace, playing the tune without sounding slow or lacking in rhythm. Whilst the PS5 lacks the gain and loading adjustments of the Whest this did not seem to matter with my cartridges. Too many adjustments can drive you to distraction trying to work out which is best.

[PS5 Top View]
PS5 with matching amplifier, the sphere is the remote volume control

The PS5 looks are a refreshing change from the standards we are used to and will match very nicely with the Encore 7 Prestige series amplifiers. A PS5 with a 15WS amplifier finished in red, to match my equipment rack would be splendid and even better with a matching remote control. Take a look at the amplifiers and especially the remote which is definitely innovative.

One minor disadvantage of size of the PS5 is it will not fit on my Soundstyle equipment rack as it is too tall, something you should consider when budgeting for this lovely piece of kit!

Facebook logo

© Copyright 2016 Mike Cox - mike@tnt-audio.com - www.tnt-audio.com