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Paradox Pulse Audio Phono 70 Signature Phono Stage

02-20-2019 | By Gary Lea | Issue 101

I came upon Paradox Pulse quite by accident while pursuing eBay looking at some used amplifiers. What first caught my attention, and the reason for my contacting them, was the rebodied and retipped Denon 103 R cartridges they were offering. Officially known as a the Paradox Pulse Guard3 R SMR. That will be the subject of a subsequent article to follow.

After lengthy discussion with Terence Robinson, owner, founder and chief engineer, I discovered that the rebodied and tweaked cartridges were only the tip of the iceberg of what Terrance and his company were about. I have been listening to two of their cartridges and will write about that next. In the meantime I was offered a chance to utilize his signature Phono amp, the Phono 70 Signature, along with some of their other products that will follow in a series about this company as time goes along.

As for Paradox, who may be unfamiliar to many readers, here is a brief bio:

Since 1983 Terence has been building audio gear including the Purpleheart loudspeaker and modifying other electronics.  That first speaker sale came in 1983, and their first and only CES exhibition (with planar magnetic speakers and dynamic subwoofer) was the summer CES June 1984, people called them the monolith from 2001 space odyssey because their size and shape was almost 7' tall, 3.5' wide, and 4" thick, the sub woofer was separate.

They built and sold custom speakers, both planar and dynamic, to include a few horn loaded boxes that resembled the JBL C-40. They were called Paradox Speakers. Terence changed the name to Paradox Enterprise, which had always been on the business license around 2000, and about 5 years ago started the Paradox Pulse line of electronics and the paradoxpulse.com website. 

The Pulse products represent a new and specific level of performance that are available in stock, most of the time. According to Terence even the Pulse Guard body for modifying the Denon 103 motors has technology and sophistication that no others have, including ZU, which had been the best of the Denon modifiers in his opinion.

The Paradox Pulse mono amplifier and Phono 70/70 Signature (they are budget products) is a taste of what they can do in the electronic side of audio.

He also claims that the latest line of Paradox Pulse RED cables set new standards (both for materials and construction) that no other cables at any price are capable of. The cables are made of proprietary material that Terence, understandably, cannot divulge at this time.

The Phono 70 is the budget product to the Phono 70 Signature (budget to Terence means they are not using the best of everything we already are aware of) that allows people to affordably listen to great electronics for their music.

Because of all the speaker manufacturers, they only make them on a order basis at the moment, but that will soon change according to Terence..

As Terence related his, "brother, the real brains of all our audio, listened to his first electrostatic speaker (a $5k Soundlab) when he was 16 years of age (1973), and has been building, modifying, engineering, and designing audio products ever since. I am the younger brother by three years so I naturally gravitated in the same direction."

One thing is for sure... The people at Paradox are enthusiasts in the purest sense, and always looking to improve the audio experience for all audiophiles. Terence in particular is one of those engineers you can talk audio with all day, and then some.

As per usual, a word from the manufacturer regarding the technical aspects of the unit:

The Phono 70 is 70dB of ultra quite JFET passive RIAA gain to allow your MC cartridge to reach it's fullest potential.

This is the newest analog product from Paradox.

With infinite external loading ability you will be able to get the precise load match for your system and moving coil cartridge no matter how often you change something.

I have been listening to and building the finest electronics available and I am claiming that there is NO Phono better sounding period.

I am not saying at a price point, just period.

Try it! if you don't agree with us this product also caries our 30 day money back guarantee.

That is one serious guarantee from Terence, and I can say that in my dealings with him thus far he seems to be a man of his word.

The above statement applies specifically to the standard Phono 70 which retails for $2500. My unit is the Phono 70 Signature which differed in the following aspects: 

  • Proprietary wire.
  • The tantalum resistors for each channel for the base 70 are one 2-watt Audio Note units at a cost of roughly $8 each. The tantalum resistors for the 70 Signature are 2-watt Audio Note units that cost $50 each.

That is a significant step up.

Paradox Pulse Audio Phono 70 Signature Phono Stage

As circumstances would have it, shortly after the phono preamp and cartridge arrived I had a grounding problem with my tonearm, and had to send it off for repair. This caused about a 45 day delay in the review period, but I got back on track with this in mid December. Awesome, right in the middle of Kwans Hanukmas as we call the holidays in my house. Terence has been extremely accommodating and I am very grateful for the patience.

Once back on track I began a rabid listening mission interjecting this preamp in my system. I used the set of resistors that seemed the best match for the Jasmine Tiger cartridge currently in rotation. (My Koetsu is out for service also. It seems that when one thing goes it is followed by a series of issues—Murphy's Law in the extreme).

My main table is set up away from the rest of my system with its own power supply, and the Phono 70 Signature seemed to add an aesthetic balance to the layout. (See picture. Note the Paradox Pulse cartridge). From the very beginning sessions I was stunned at how absolutely quiet the unit was. I have a Goldnote Pamphili phono stage as my reference. I have been pleased with it over the past 6 years, and never had a complaint, but it really astonished me how much difference there was in the two.

The Phono 70 Signature is a two box phone stage consisting of the phono stage and an external power supply. What makes this phone stage so intriguing is it is infinitely adjustable through the use of resistors to fine tune the phono preamp to your specific cartridge needs. I cannot imagine a single cartridge out there that could not mate extremely well with this preamp.

I took the opportunity to examine the build quality of the unit during the short down time. Looking inside the Phono 70 Signature it is immediately evident that a lot of thought and care has been taken in the construction of the unit. The board is pristine in construction and layout. (See photo). Pick the unit up and you sense the quality instantly. There is no skimping on material or corner cutting in this unit. It has a quality fit and feel that you notice right out of the box. The Phono 70 Signature is built to last, and I have no reason to believe that unit is meant to serve the end user for a very long time indeed.

The dimensions and weight for the unit are Phono 70 Signature 9" x.6" x 3" and the Power Supply 5.5" x 3.5" x 2". Weights are five pounds and one pound respectively. Compact and unobtrusive. They fit nicely next to my table.

I used three cartridges with this preamp: the Jasmine Tiger, the Paradox Pulse Guard 3R SMR, and the Sumiko Moonstone. All three sounded the best that I heard them through the Phono 70 Signature! That is pretty serious praise, and perhaps in line with Terence's claim that you cannot buy a better phono preamp. I have not listened to all of them, but while at CES I listened to a $20k phono preamp and can say I could not justify the added $16,000 cost in comparison to the Paradox.

Throughout all of my listening I found the Phono 70 Signature to place itself as relatively invisible in my system. My review piece came with a number of sets of resistors and accompanying RCA plugs. Loads range from 100 to 680 ohms in the standard package. This is a very interesting approach, and worked very well in practice. Instead of DIP switches you can choose various loads, and using the RCA plugs and inputs, custom tailor the load to best match the cartridge you are using. New cartridge, different load? No problem. Just grab the appropriate resistors and plug them in. For more in depth explanation, the unit comes with an outboard power supply and umbilical cable, external power supply, JFET low noise amplification, and passive RIAA with only one 2-watt Audio Note tantalum resistor per channel in the signal path. While the standard Phono 7 uses Cardas phono wire for all signal and power supply paths the Signature 70 uses Paradox proprietary wiring throughout. For more info to the website. Down and dirty, quick and concise explanations just like I prefer them. Some might prefer more info than the website provides, but I am relatively sure Terence will answer any and all requests for more info.

The Phono 70 Signature just let the music come through unabated with coloration and interference. I found myself pulling out vinyl that I had not listened to in years to run it through the Phono 70 looking for some kind of weak spot or flaw. None seemed to emerge.

Billy Joel's The Stranger (Columbia 34987) was easily one of my top ten favorite albums during late college days. So much so that I found myself getting burned out on it over the years. I still possess my first copy of the album, and it is still in great condition. I pulled it out, deep cleaned it on the VPI, and set it up on the turntable. I was immediately caught out as it actually sounded better than I had remembered, and I had a very good setup in college. Luxman amps, Luxman tube preamp, Thorens turntable, Nakamichi Dragon Cassette, Tandberg 10" reel to reel, and Allison One Speakers. Of course, the current line up is very different, but relative in terms of improvements over 42 years. I was not blessed with a dedicated phono preamp back in the day, but it all sounded excellent. My house was a hangout and saw a lot of amateur critics. I dare say they would notice a sizable improvement. The sound was smooth, balanced and came through with a clarity I had not remembered. The highs sparkled, the midrange and voice of Joel was so smooth and creamy, the bottom end was strong, but without bloat or bloom. It was also totally devoid of any background electronic hum, even when pressed to ridiculous levels (but really who does that these days? Uh well...) I was completely engrossed, singing along especially with "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant." I am sure my neighbors loved that!

Next I spun The Doobie Brothers' The Captain and Me (Warner Brothers BS2694), specifically the cut "Dark eyed Cajun Woman."  This song is one of the best marriages of a blues tune merged with philharmonic strings I have ever heard. The guitar is just so sweet, and the string arrangement by Nick DeCaro just couldn't get any better. The underlying lilt of the strings supporting Pat Simmon's and Tom Johnson's lead licks has always held me in captivation at what a perfect mix it is. Playing through the Phono 70 the track offered up all the subtle interplay without getting in the way even in the slightest. The track just rang with the dripping sweetness that I expected, and was so well balanced. One of my all time favorite tracks to this day, and thoroughly enjoyable with Phono 70 between the cartridge and the rest of the system.

I moved on to some of my regular review tracks to see how they fared, and if there was a noticeable improvement with them as well.

The "go to" track on every review for vocal delivery is Eva Cassidy's "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" from the Songbird Album (S&P Records, SP-501). This album is pressed on 180 grams of pure virgin vinyl, so its very nature is quiet. As for the rendering of this song, there is no finer rendition that I know of, and the fact that all instruments and voice are all Eva makes it that much more impressive. A woman of incredible talent, the voice of an absolute angel, and taken from us far too soon in 1996 at the tender age of 33 Eva lives on in a select body of work, and this particular album is a great compilation of her work. Unfortunately she was discovered too late, and her first solo effort was released the same year of her death from metastatic melanoma. When I put the track on, I was immediately aware of a bit more intimacy than normal. I will have to chalk this up to the Phono 70 getting completely out of the way of the music. Quiet indeed! The ultimate test for me is whether or not this song is delivered with enough emotion to cause me to get a frog in my throat at the end. Happy to say it passed with flying colors.

Joe Satriani's "Flying in a Blue Dream," on Relativity Records 88561, possessed all the slam in the bottom end that I have come to know and love. Kick drum impact was every bit as percussive and driving, but seemed a bit more clarified, darker, and more isolated with less interference. It was slight, but definitely noticeable. The high frequencies seemed a tad bit cleaner, possessed a bit more bite and sizzle with no added harshness. The differences in overall presentation were small, but very, very noticeable. It is the first time in years of listening to this track that I noticed a difference and improvement thanks to a phono stage. That seriously caught my attention as a listener. The other noticeable difference was the acoustic guitar that introduces the song and underscores it throughout the track was more noticeable, and a bit more forward than I have heard it before. I believe that it was recorded this way, but always seems to be less noticeable on the studio recording than it does in live performances. Its presence when played now is closer to the live version, and more pronounced. For lack of a better and more eloquently windy explanation, the Phono 70 Signature removed the veil, as it were, and really restored the proper balance of delivery in the nuances. Way to go Terence!

I can think of few things that are more difficult than to describe how the absence of something makes a listening experience better. How do you quantify something that is not there? "Wow that really sounded excellently not there!" Is that even possible? Suffice it to say, once I put the Phono 70 Signature in my system there was an even blacker background on my system with vinyl. Perhaps saying that I went from the emptiness of deep black space into the ultimate void of a black hole does the job, because that is the grandest and most complete way I can think of expressing the difference. No twinkle of far away stars, just an absolute and complete void!

If that sounds like the kind of thing you want in your vinyl world, then I suggest a look and listen to the Paradox Pulse Phono 70 Signature. It would be well worth the time to do so.

Side note - Paradox Pulse offers the standard Phono 70 for a reduced price of $2500.

Phono 70 Signature Phone Preamp

Retail: $4000

Paradox Pulse Audio

Terence Robinson