Holding a new Audio Research product is always quite an emotional experience! And if it happens to be a phono preamplifier, the moment is simply thrilling. We couldn't wait to receive this amazing 'Phono Reference III' because the manufacturer approached us a few months ago for advice about the product's finalisation. It was a great pleasure and honour for us to offer our humble advice about the choice of the loading values or MC, gain, equalisation curves and subsonic filters…
The impressive packaging comprises an equally massive product! 50 cm deep, 42 cm wide and a 20 cm front panel! Not to mention the weight of 17 kg… This is definitely a Benchmark product from the Minneapolis-based manufacturer!
The brushed aluminium front panel features the brand's iconic handles as well as a large LCD screen that displays the settings very clearly. The back panel has two RCA input pairs (phono 1 and 2) and an asymmetrical output pair (RCA), doubled with a symmetrical pair (XLR). It also features a ground plug and 16 A IEC male connector. The housing is entirely made of high grade aluminium, except for the transparent acrylic top cover revealing the inside of the machine! And there is definitely a lot in there!
The power supply consists of two R-Core transformers, backed by an electrolytic capacitor bank! This power could suit a several hundred watt power amplifier! Two rectifier tubes (6550 and 6H30) perform voltage-regulator duties. Diodes are only used for 'logical' and 'display' elements. The phono stage uses three 6H30 per channel. It has a fully symmetrical construction with first class components only. The design enables the selection of 3 EQ curves: RIAA, DECCA and COLUMBIA. The two phono inputs are fully independent and entirely configurable separately. It offers the choice between two gains (MM and MC), as well as selectable loads (50, 100, 200, 500, 1000, 47 000 KOhms). In addition to these values, it is possible to adapt a 'Custom' loading. A precise physical resistive loading option can be added to the circuitry (left and right) to your requirements. These features are available via the remote control that comes with the system.
The build quality is perfect and one of the best standards available to date! The values are also stunning! The frequency response spans from 10 Hz to 60 kHz +/- 0.2 dB with a level of distortion below 0.002%!
One of the issues with this great Audio Research Reference Phono III is finding suitable elements to pair it with! This outstanding product is definitely designed to be paired with a great vinyl turntable and a striking phono cartridge. To get a good idea of its personality, we paired it with our best machines and moving coil cartridges… We decided not to test it with MM cartridges, which seem completely inappropriate for this type of machine. It is advantageous to have two phono inputs to use two vinyl turntables or two tonearms, one mounted with a stereo cartridge and the other with a mono cartridge.
Let's not beat about the bush… Regardless of the cartridge, turntable or tonearm we used it with, this phono preamplifier is clearly the best we have ever come across! The sound reproduction is simply amazing! The timbre? Perfect! Playback? Incredibly authentic! The transparency? Incredible! Subtleness and articulation? Fabulous!... The musicality? To die for! An absolute benchmark! Franck
RIAA frequency response: 10 Hz to 60 kHz +/- 0.2 dB
Frequency response at 3 dB: 0.3 Hz to 300 kHz
Distortion: < 0.002%
Symmetrical output gain: selectable 51 dB and 73 dB
Asymmetrical output gain: selectable 45 dB and 67 dB
Compatibility: MM and MC
Loads: 50, 100, 200, 500, 1000, 47,000 kOhms and Custom
Capacitance: 100 pF/47 kOhms
Output impedance: 400 Ohms symmetrical, 200 asymmetrical
Phono equalisation: RIAA, DECCA, COLUMBIA
Maximum input: 250 mV low gain
Selection: 6 push buttons: Power, Menu, Option, Enter, Input, Mute
Tubes: 6 x 6H30P, 1 x 6550WE, 1 x 6H30P rectifier
Consumption: 130 W, 2 W on Standby
Dimensions: 48 x 19.8 x 41.9 cm + 4 cm grip on front panel
Weight: 16.6 kg