EDWARDS AUDIO MC3 PHONO PREAMP
Dr. John Richardson
Thanks to Carl James of USAHIFI.COM for making us aware of these products and providing them for our review.
The design brief for the Edwards Audio MC3 Phono Stage was that it should hold its own in any company, at any price without it costing a King’s ransom. An amazing piece of equipment, well, actually 2 pieces of equipment that make up one. The phono stage needs a power supply! This one comes with its power supply in the same sized chassis as the phono circuitry. Two small “boxes”, designed and made in the UK, with a very huge punch.
THE PHONO STAGE
According to website, the MC3 has fully user adjustable input loading and gain, using internal jumpers. With no less than 10 internally regulated supplies used for each of the separate channels and sections to maximize all areas of performance, especially bass drive, detailing, stereo imaging, transparency but most importantly rhythmical integrity. It will support low output moving coil (MC), high output moving coil (HOMC) and moving magnet cartridges. In addition it has two inputs (rear panel switch-able), one dedicated for MM and the other for MC all using high quality, gold plated sockets, so if you have two 'tables with different carts, no unplugging and replugging. Unusually at this price, it also has a rear panel switchable unique MONO mode enabling any input to be summed to mono, this can be selected to be either passive or active, with makeup gain, via internal jumper selection.
It also features gold plated custom made double sided PCB’s, natural anodized extruded aluminum case and high quality internal parts like its use of 1% thin film resistors plus Wima and Vishay polypropylene film capacitors throughout. The RIAA equalisation accuracy is within 0.25dB across the audio band and signal to noise is very low at -75dB. The circuit topology has a fully discrete input transconductance gain stage featuring two paralleled super matched pairs of bi-polar PNP input devices with a current mirror devised from another NPN super matched pair. This is followed by their unique op-amp based active/passive RIAA filter which uses the best op-amps available; this is then followed by a totally buffered output section with very low output impedance of around 10 Ohms. This helps to reduce cable effects and improve output current and drive. It will easily drive a 600 Ohm load!
THE POWER SUPPLY
The PSU3 is based on a custom wound, multi-tap toroidal transformer with an inbuilt custom board level mains filter with full DC blocking; this is no ordinary power supply. To reduce noise, it uses a split rail design with cascaded super regulation stages that has the benefits of maximum rejection of RF noise, resulting in maximum dynamic range and improved overload margin. It uses a 1oz double sided gold plated, custom made PC board. Connection to the MC3 is via a custom made fully screened 4 pole locking power DIN.
THE SOUND & COMPARISONS
I’ve written about the smaller and less costly Edwards Audio 1 phono stage, this is the big guy and he can knock the crap out of its siblings. I had a phono stage costing at least 5 times more than the 3, but as beautifully as that one sang, it was and is out of my league.
I can at least think about buying this one, and believe me I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. The Coincident Statement I recently reviewed captured sound like nothing I’d ever heard, but for 6 grand, it had better do so and wash my wife's car on weekends. The Edward’s Audio is musical throughout…every audiophile need is met. Load and gain are accessed and changed with jumpers. The Statement is changed with a simple turn of a dial. Yikes, 4 times the price for dials? Well, you know it’s not that simple, but incredibly close…magnificently close.
When a record I know well reveals itself to be good enough sonically to examine micro-details. I, Robot is a great tool for listening to a variety of sounds. I love the music, but listening for artifacts, good or bad, hearing attack, for instance, that literally amazed me…consistently so. Sibilance controlled beautifully, I was really impressed by how real the sound can be. No fuzz, slur, or lisp, the sound beginning and ending naturally, more than I can remember with any phono stage, not enhanced nor over-damped. James Earl Jones/ Lawrence Olivier type enunciation and pronunciation!
AND, that articulation with all difficult sounds…T, for instance, K as in can. Consonants produced with uncanny accuracy…I’m in love.
Vowels…the meat of each word are what gives us the chills, the fear, hatred, love a single word conveys. Female vocals, Joni Mitchell, Ricki Lee Jones, Janis Ian, Billie Holiday…whoever and whatever they sang was rendered so smoothly that a number of times I replayed the cut on the LP. I needed to hear how the heat, vitriolic hatred and despair, the joy and happiness with being in love, experiencing life; knowing ones’ ups and downs; all this conveyed within each word and captured, then released for the audience…ME!
I really was amazed to hear inflections, subtleties I’d never noticed before as Ella sang a love song. A duet with Louis revealed the love and respect both had for each other’s artistry.
One song I play too rarely (it’s too painful) is Strange Fruit. It is interesting, however, to hear a song that rips your soul apart, sung by two very different singers, Nina Simone and Billie Holiday. Nina’s Pastel Blues contains some heart-wrenching, soul searching songs. Truly exciting, evocative music. But I’ve heard it when it moved me and then, as played through the Edwards phono, moved me to tears.
Billie Holiday delivers the same song it in a way that grabs you, shakes you, allows you have a bit better understanding of why a song such as that would even be written. The song brings an understanding of the fear of racism taken to its most decadent form. I’ve listened to this many times, with a lot of different female vocalists.
I have to admit that some systems couldn’t shake my soul as the Edwards has done listening to this music. It gets the notes, it gets the sonic details, but best of all it gets the feeling, the meaning of the music.
I’ve read that Billie was afraid to sing the song, thinking it was too strong of a statement and there could be retaliation from doing so. She was urged by others to continue singing the song in her performances and for most listeners; the song was “hers.”
Nina and others have shown that to be untrue; singing the song in such a way as to make listening to it a difficult task…but of course, worth doing so. Diminishment of any of the sound artifacts and inflections in playback would and could be considered a crime. Enhancement would also be an egregious crime…great components reveal the sounds, but more importantly perhaps, they reveal the meaning.
The Edwards, if the LP was recorded well enough to hear those subtleties, makes a singer reveal the meaning, the feeling of that song.
How does one decide which gear he wants to purchase? There are so many top performers out in the world today; prices vary from laughably inexpensive to “just plain expensive” and then stratospheric.
I believe there are components at every level that should BE priced the way they are, and some that are severely under priced for the performance the component is able to give.
There are those of us who buy for looks. Let’s face it, those guys (and I have to say I’m not one of them) have to see thick face plates, big chunky transformers and capacitors; and lots of parts about which they have no idea…they don’t open the case or are intelligent enough not to do so. Worse, they say they want to see the big caps and the huge chunk of metal that’s the transformer,and wouldn't know those parts if they fell out of a parts bin and bit them on the ass! There are some included fun, artistic toys if you need them; the MC 3 has a pretty face with a back lit blue logo and input/mode legends, also in blue, which turn green in mono mode. The backlit front panel is made from optical grade, scratch resistant hard acrylic, similar to that used for modern camera lenses. The brightness of the display can be adjusted or turned off using the internal user controls.
Three grand is a lot of money for most folks, for those who have that type of discretionary funds, the $3,000 is in a niche that a lot of "flashier" components reside.
If you need flash, go somewhere else…there are some gorgeous phono stages out there…some very, very good and some, sadly not so.
Does the The Edwards walk the walk? It definitely talks the talk.
Does it sound like a $3,000 piece? There is absolutely no question.
Dr. John Richardson
I have a couple of turntable setups in my home, so I’m always ready to hear any promising new phono stage that may come my way. Such was my luck recently when James Darby asked if I would be interested in taking a listen to the new MC3 phono stage and power supply from Edwards Audio.
These days, I do my casual fun listening, as opposed to serious listening through the main system, through a little mixed vintage/modern system I’ve set up whose source consists of a stock Technics SP-25 ‘table in a stock plinth equipped with a Syntec 220 tonearm and a Grado Black cartridge. This setup represents a typical radio station playback ensemble from say the mid-1980s. I had been using an old (but nice) Sansui integrated amplifier with an inboard phono stage powering a pair of totally rebuilt and modernized EPI 100v speakers.
This particular SP-25 got sent to Jim Howard of Applied Fidelity for a total overhaul, as I wanted to see how far a Technics direct drive design could be pushed. What I got out of the deal was a custom high-mass Finland birch plinth, Jim’s most sophisticated main bearing rebuild, a custom Delrin mat, and a high mass record clamp. Jim was also able to totally re-wire in silver the Audio Technica AT-1009 tonearm that I bought for the ‘table and provide a set of his best silver phono interconnects. Fitted with a Shelter 901 low output moving coil cartridge, I’m bowled over by what this turntable/tonearm combo is capable of.
I primarily bought it as a reliable and high fidelity means of transferring my valuable vinyl collection over to high resolution digital files, and it most certainly hasn’t let me down. I even enjoy occasionally listening to vinyl with it just for the sake of listening to vinyl! The MC-3 certainly took this setup to a new and rather astonishing level.
Once in the big system, I was able to put the Edwards MC3 through its paces. I really liked the degree of flexibility this stage has with regard to gain and loading options, several of which I tried with the Shelter. I ended up settling on a lower gain setting for vinyl digitization, as my Metric Halo ULN-2 A/D converter also supplies some gain. I also ended up going with a loading of 100 ohms, as this gave the Shelter just the right amount of zip and zing but without becoming too untamed on top. Accessing the jumpers to set the gain and loading was easy- you just unscrew the rear panel and slip the entire analog board right out of the chassis. Not quite as nice as flipping a couple of switches on the rear panel, as in the case of the Zesto Audio Andros, but not really hard either.
Like the Zesto Andros (pictured), I noted that the Edwards MC3 had a very low noise floor. In fact, it was just as low as I can get running the phono leads right to the Metric Halo ULN-2 and using its ultra quiet preamps to provide the required gain. The manual accompanying the MC3 makes mention of the highly regulated power supply design; this was obviously paying off big-time with the vanishing noise floor.
Sound-wise, the Edwards came across in the serious system as big and ballsy, in a really good analog sort of way. The thing had presence, real meat on its bones! The bass had a sense of grunt that made me look up and pay attention. While I do a lot of my vinyl transfers running directly to the Metric Halo, letting the RIAA correction happen in the digital domain, the Edwards made me remember that vinyl is truly an analog medium.
Maybe bypassing an analog phono stage is more pristine and possibly closer to the master tape, but there seems to be something a tiny bit clinical about it. Via the Edwards, I got just as low a noise floor, but I also got something very organic and lifelike coming out of those grooves, something I could hear even after the digitization and subsequent noise reduction had taken place. I also recall hearing this same sort of thing when I got to listen to the Zesto Andros phono stage. If my recollections are correct, the Zesto might have been a tad more refined than the Edwards, but I think the Edwards might have just a bit more verve and personality. While on the subject of comparisons, the Edwards MC3 has something of a simplified industrial look to it, while the Andros looked more like a piece of modern art worthy of display in the Guggenheim. Of course, the Andros is also $1000 more expensive than the MC3.
A record I have been listening to quite a bit as of late is Freddie Hubbard’s “The Hub of Hubbard,” which was recorded in Germany in 1969. It’s an excellent recording and performance, with Hubbard and his sidemen in particularly good form. I especially enjoy side two, which contains only two songs: “Blues for Duane” and “What We Did Last Summer.” Each showcases Freddie’s soulful trumpet, especially the latter, which is a lovely ballad. I decided to do a little experiment. I made two digital transfers: one bypassing the analog phono stage altogether, and another with the Edwards MC3 in the signal path. Both were normalized to the peak amplitude, and identical noise reduction was applied. This way I could quickly and easily compare the files without having to switch the analog phono stage in and out. As I suspected, I had a slight preference for the file made with the MC3 in the chain, as it was just punchier and more organic sounding; in short more “analog.” Maybe the MC3 is adding something to the signal, but whatever the effect, I found it beguiling.
While not quite at the level of elegance visually or sonically of the much more expensive Zesto Andros, I can still recommend the Edwards Audio MC3 phono stage as an outstanding value. Give it a try - your records and your ears may well thank you.
Max Input MC ............................................26mV
Max Input MM ...........................................116mV
Gain ............40dB (MM)-/58dB/61dB/64dB/67dB/70dB and 73dB
THD Distortion ...........................................<0.005% 1 kHz
Signal to noise. (MC - 64dB Gain)...............-75dB
Signal to noise. (MM - 40db Gain)…………-83dB
RIAA ........within 0.25dB
Stereo separation better than ....85dB - 20-20kHz
Input Loading Resistance - Input 1 MC.........22R/47R/100R/470R/1K/47K
Input loading Capacitance - Input 1 MC .......120pF/1n0/2n2/4n7/10nF and 22nF
Input 2 - MM Input Loading (Fixed) ...47K with 120pF
Output impedance.............<10 Ohms
Max output level...........11.5v depending upon input
Dimensions WxHxL..........175mm x 52.5mm x 160mm
Power consumption (Max)..............................3.5W
Output …………………………………………+/-21vDC @1.5A
Dimensions (WxHxL)…………………………175mm x 52.5mm x 160mm
Power consumption (Max) ............................3.5W
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