Frankly speaking I was not really counting on receiving for testing the phonostage PH-10 from the Italian company Gold Note, which was announced on the beginning of November last year. Although we exchanged some emails with Maurizio Aterini – the founder and owner of the brand, but when we tried to fixed a date we just heard – please wait till Munich. However the wait turned out to be worth the while, as during the High End Show we could finally speak face-to-face, and this approach brought us the desired result, as you can see on the pictures. It turned out, that in the meantime, after the distribution in Poland was stopped for some time, Gold Note returned to our market with new portfolio but also with a new distributor – the Częstochowa based Delta-Audio. So if you are curious, what the team in Tuscany has created for you during the time of absence, please read on.
The PH-10, coming from the sunny Tuscany, or being more precise from the area of Florence – the small city of Montespertoli, looks nothing like the usual Italian, slightly rustic external design. Although we have here aluminum, yet there is not a trace of exotic wood or natural leather. Instead there is a chassis made from one, thick rectangular brushed aluminum profile, available in one of the four colors: standard black and silver, as well as red and gold. Well, you should not define a device by just looking at it, but is a fact, that in this case the looks might have a positive influence on what your wife or girlfriend will think about purchasing it and allowing you to leave the audio salon with the phonostage carried in your hands. It is similar with the front of the Gold Note, where instead of a smooth fascia with just one LED or a multitude of knobs and buttons, with which the competition tempts/deters (delete unnecessary) the customer, we have a very well thought through combination of modern approach and ergonomics. I would even say more. Looking at the front of the PH-10, when it is powered off, we could mistake it for a streamer similar to the Bryston BDP-π. But this is just the looks, and although the golden logo of the company contrasts with the 2.8” color display, instead of the covers of files stored somewhere on our NAS we will see one of the correction curves chosen by the knob placed to the right, or other parameters chosen to match our cartridge. Yes, this means the end of having to pull the phonostage from the cabinet to reach the back of it, or God forgive, having to dismantle the unit, to reach a set of tiny dip-switches to set the desired parameters, when you change the cartridge. Thanks to the SKC technology (Single Knob Control) we make all adjustments just turning and pressing the single knob. Does this solution remind you of something? Of course it does, or at least it should. The predecessor of such solutions was the Danish Thule Audio. It is enough to select the parameter you want to change, push the knob, select the value and push the knob again to confirm the change. It does not get simpler as that. And if someone does not like the lighting of the display – it can be turned off.
The chassis is milled on the edges with classic holes, which allow the innards to work in thermal comfort. The only backdraft is that those holes have sharp edges, so you have to be careful when moving the unit around. On the top plate there is a big circular logo, displaying a roman legionary blowing a buccina horn.
But the true debauch is on the back, where besides two pairs of golden RCA inputs (with dedicated grounding terminals for each of them), allowing to connect two cartridges to the unit at the same time, we find doubled outputs in the RCA and XLR format. But this is not all. The tested phonostage has a modular structure, so we have also multi-pin sockets for an external PSU as well as a proprietary GN port. Talking about modularity – we have a few optional items to choose from: an external power supply, a module increasing the available amount of correction curves, an A-class tube output stage and an amplification section “improver”. It is worth mentioning, that full control over the functionality of the unit is maintained by a microprocessor, and all settings are written on a micro SD card placed next to it, on a very crowded PCB. Monitoring, diagnostics and firmware upgrades can be done using a USB port also placed on the back of the unit.
All right. As even a child can manage the setup and daily usage of the 10, the question rises, how does all this translate into the sound of the tested phonostage. After allowing it to accommodate to the system, a few discs played in the background and … no mercy, so we start to have critical listening. From the first notes of “Extreme II – Pornograffitti” Extreme you could hear, the Italian phono does not hold back. Surprisingly powerful and energetic sound after the sounds of a thunderstorm opening the album and the lyrical synthesizer prelude press you deeper in your listening chair. Additionally, the juicy and monumental riffs strengthened with energetic drums do not have a trace of lethargic bulkiness, because their contours, as well as the precision of placing on the stage, show clearly, that the price of the PH-10 does not correspond with the class of the device itself. Here you can find nothing from the sound of devices costing between 5 and 6 thousand Zlotys, where we can say, that they start sounding good, but we always know, that there was always an exchange of something for something else, and the quality of sound will depend on how the elements were treated, which was more compromised that another. Yet looking at the Gold Note not only through the perspective of its price, but also when it would be doubled, I would claim, that there were no such compromises. Setting aside the hard-rock clatter, the 10 finds its way in the more lyrical climates. The minimalist, ballad “More Than Words” sounded almost audiophile-like – the guitar and vocals were reproduced with great resolution, also the reverberation present in the recording got this treatment. I will not hide, that you can go further than that, much further, but if we do not have the money expected by the sellers for, for example, the recently tested McIntosh MP1100 or our Theriaa, the please believe me, you should better step down, and tackle something much more down to earth. True magic started happening with “You Want It Darker” Leonard Cohen, where the voice of the late Canadian singer was very suggestively, albeit with restraint, saturated and “emotionalized” what made it a tad stronger and more palpable – also served closer to us. And I will emphasize – it was just by a tad, there is nothing like any rough pushing out the first plane to the front, placing the vocalist on the lap of the listener, but only the distance to the performer was shortened, and a more intimate atmosphere was created. But when you read what I write and expect, that the music was presented nicely but dull, where detail stand down for the so called “musicality”, or mudding, then you can be completely disappointed. Instead of a mud pool the palpability of the sound, the here and now, were based on an unwavering balance between selectiveness – resolution and juiciness – saturation. So we have the low, deep and close voice of Cohen, but at the same time the PH-10 makes sure, that the listener is aware of the age and vocal abilities of the late singer. Sibilants are clear, hard and present, and they do not become rounded. The structure of the vocals is rough, painfully truthful, bare, and we know that it is not always beautiful. At this moment I think it is worth mentioning, that the lighting of the midrange-treble turn, as well as treble itself, was perfect. In this iteration the treble provides an incredible insight into the recording as well as provide the multitude of information written on the vinyl disc without falling into irritating offensiveness.
On the reference album “Moonlight Serenade” Ray Brown and Laurindo Almeida, the differentiation of the sizes of the guitar and contrabass was not only obvious, but so clear, that you could see immediately, that the volume of the sounds generated by both instruments is also conform with nature. Now we came to the next, and I must say very surprising on this price level, characteristic of the Gold Note – the truthfulness of reproducing the scale of the sounds, as well as the real size of the recorded instruments. There is no scaling up or down of the whole, so only the rest of our audio set will be responsible for keeping this the same way, or if we modify this behavior. A symphonic orchestra is a big reproduction apparatus, so it would be hard to fit it in our room, so with such repertoire we just become the spectator of an event, sitting on our listening couch, which was surprisingly placed in one of the lodges of the theatre. But the most important aspect is, that the changes of the viewing point happen completely naturally, every new disc means a new environment, and nobody should be surprised, that the Italian preamplifier takes us for a new, magical journey. Can we blame it for this? I do not know about you, but I am absolutely addicted to such voyages, and I do not want to cure those, and the Gold Note only made me even more addicted.
Starting to summarize, I tried very much to constrain my emotions. We tested a fairly inexpensive, and that even for Polish reality, not “western reality” – preamplifier and not a top – exotic state of the art, occupying the top of the rankings like the Audio Tekne TEA-9501B or Tenor Phono 1. Yet it turned out that buying it is not only a good deal, but pure dumping, which was made to annihilate the competition, which does not expect anything. So if you are looking for a phonostage costing around 10000 zlotys, please listen to the Gold Note PH-10 first, and it may turn out, that the surplus money you can spend on a better cartridge. I fear to think, what this Tuscany can deliver after the power supply is upgraded.
System used in this test:
– CD/DAC: Ayon CD-35
– Digital player: Lenovo Z70-80 i7/16GB RAM/240GB SSD + JRiver Media Center 22 + TIDAL HiFi + JPLAY; Yamaha WXAD 10
– Digital source selector: Audio Authority 1177
– Turntable: Kuzma Stabi S + Kuzma Stogi + Shelter 201
– Phonostage: Tellurium Q Iridium MM/MC Phono Pre Amp
– Integrated amplifier: Electrocompaniet ECI5; Boulder 865
– Pre-amplifier: Gato Audio PRD-3S
– Power monoblocks: Gato Audio PWR-222
– Loudspeakers: Gauder Akustik Arcona 80 + spike extenders
– IC RCA: Tellurium Q Silver Diamond
– IC XLR: LessLoss Anchorwave; Organic Audio; Amare Musica
– Digital IC: Fadel art DigiLitz; Harmonic Technology Cyberlink Copper; Apogee Wyde Eye; Monster Cable Interlink LightSpeed 200
– USB cables: Wireworld Starlight; Goldenote Firenze Silver
– Speaker Cables: Organic Audio; Signal Projects Hydra
– Power Cables: Furutech FP-3TS762 / FI-28R / FI-E38R; Organic Audio Power; Acoustic Zen Gargantua II
– Power distribution board: Furutech e-TP60ER + Furutech FP-3TS762 / Fi-50 NCF(R) /FI-50M NCF(R)
– Wall Socket: Furutech FT-SWS(R)
– Antivibration platform: Franc Audio Accessories Wood Block Slim Platform
– Ethernet cables: Neyton CAT7+
– Table: Rogoz Audio 4SM3
– Accessories: Sevenrods Dust-caps; Furutech CF-080 Damping Ring; Albat Revolution Loudspeaker Chips
Today I will have a closer look at a brand, which has a certain recognition on our market, yet was escaping us, so that we could not have the chance of reviewing any of its products. Well, we managed to hear some of the units in some configurations during visits at shows and audiophile homes, but were never able to have a true test conducted. So I am happy to announce, that the moment came, that the Italian brand Gold Note has taken our testing gauntlet. Interesting? I must say, it was interesting for me. But this is not the end of good news, as the product we received for testing was the MM and MC phonostage, named PH-10. So there is not much more for me, than to thank the Częstochowa based distributor of the brand, Delta-Audio, for supplying the device for our tests, as well as invite you for an interesting meeting with the mentioned Italian.
The tested representative of the amplification of the signals of a phono cartridge, is not very big, but you cannot say, that the constructors were trying to get everything into a box as small as possible, to save costs. We just get a medium sized product, with interesting external design. How does it look like, and what does it offer? A short description cannot forgo the information, that brushed aluminum was used for the whole chassis. Besides the fascia, which is a thick, aluminum slab, the rest of the enclosure is a close massive profile, and the material used for it, as well as the design of it, allow the product to gain nobleness worth the Italian nation. Looking at the front, we can see a very readable display, which informs us about the settings used for a given cartridge: the used correction curve, gain or resistance. When we look to the sides of the display, then on the right there is a multi-functional knob allowing us to select all the desired settings, while to the left, a golden logo of the company. Moving to the back, we see on both sides oblique ventilation holes milled in the cover and a much bigger logo engraved on the top. The back plate houses two separate inputs for two cartridges, two grounding terminals, line outputs in the XLR and RCA standards, a multipin socket for the accessory, external power supply, a servicing socket (USB) and an IEC power socket. You must agree, that despite not being too much blown out, the collection of sockets is quite extensive, and I say from my experience, that having two separate cartridge inputs can be very desired.
So how does the tested Italian fare sonically? Probably many of you will be surprised, as Italian brands have accustomed us to putting timbre above everything else, and yet the 10 sounds with ease and loaded with information. But not in the destructive, hyperactive way. It is just that the virtual sources are drawn with a quite sharp line and the treble is zesty. But I note, that this is very refined, there is no feeling of being overwhelmed with superfluous information, music is just presented in a very vital way. Important is, that all this openness does not influence the middle of the sound spectrum. Due to the upper registers it is appropriately lighted, but at the same time it is well saturated. And when we collect all those items together, we could think, the tested amplifier has no flaws. Is this true or not? Honestly? On this price level, I would say it has not. But why am I setting my thesis related to the price? Unfortunately price defines the amount of refinement of the individual components, which in this case result in the music not having as much magic as from more expensive units. But I would also like to remind you, that I am able to define this, as I am using a much more expensive product on a daily basis. But I am not mentioning this, because I want to brag with my system, but to allow the potential buyer of the PH-10 to know, that always there is something that was exchanged for something else, and that in case of the tested preamplifier you will get good sound, but still not being the top achievement from world manufacturers. Ok. So we know the Italian sounds well. But how does this translate into concrete albums? Let me tell you. To start I will propose the newest disc from Diana Krall “Turn Up The Quiet” signed by Verve. Effect? The very pleasant voice of the vocalist introduces so many positive artefacts, that the effect of extra lighting we got from the device, was rather a way of introducing extra joy from listening to music, and not superfluous claptrap. Looking at the aspect of creating the virtual musical stage, we must give to the Italian, that he does it very well, as the spectacle happening before me used up the whole width and a solid depth of the space between the loudspeakers. And if I would have to cavil to something, then I would only say, that the amount and forcibility of sibilants revealed the approach to music by this phonostage from Italy. No, it was not at all a negative aspect, but mentioning all pros and cons, it had to be mentioned. Another disc from my experience with the tested construction was ancient music in the adaptation of Jacob Obrecht from Harmonia Mundi. This issue, similar to Ms. Krall, was a spectacle, emphasizing on joy, with full reproduction of the information about the size of the church housing the artists. But, while in case of the jazz artist this was very convincing, in this repertoire, you could hear, that you could have some extra dose of intimacy added to the singing of the church notes. But also here, measuring the strengths against the purposes, I am not attacking the tested device, but only describing its behavior against expectations confirmed by my experience. Concluding this very interesting sonic sparring, I would like to write a few words about the device fed with free jazz. In this aspect I chose Ken Vandenmark and his compilation of concerts performed in the Krakow club Alchemia called “The Vandenmark 5 – Four Sides To The Story”. How did I perceive that? Without pulling facts it was very good. Speed, energy, strong placement in bass and good air in the club stage showed this recording in a way I always expect from it. Of course, I could have some more magic, given by a small club room, but when I recalled the amount of money asked for the tested preamplifier, all grumbling just faded away, and allowed me to transpose into the event recorded. In one word – it was surprisingly engaging, and I wish this to happen to all people interested in buying the tested device.
I must confess, that unpacking the phonostge and looking at the LCD display, I had not too many positive impressions. That was of course a premature and unauthorized judgment, but I feel a bit justified based on the current trends of implementation of technological novelties in all kinds of gear. Fortunately the constructors of the Gold Note know what they are doing, and despite the slightly extravagant, for such an old technology like the analog, application of a mini TV, were not carried away with the current, spectacularly bloated musical sessions. They designed the innards in such a way, that with a minimal dose of nonchalance in creating the sharpness of sound, keep its tonal balanced. Yes, yes, tonal balance, as all my complaints never saw it as a problem, but only underlined it as a kind of sound aspect, and that is a completely different story. You know not from today, that every device, regardless of its position in the catalog, has its recipe for music, and only its refinement positions it in the hierarchy of requested price. And when we look at the price tag of the Gold Note PH-10, it will turn out, that we have a phono preamplifier, which fares very well in the analog field. And if this is not enough, I remind you of the capability of handling two cartridges at the same time, what is something not to be overestimated for people, who want to use a mono setup at home.
Subsonic filter: 10Hz/36dB octave
Frequency response: 2 Hz – 200 kHz @ +/- 0.3dB
THD (Total Harmonic Distortion): <0,002% MAX
Signal to noise ratio: -102dB
Input sensitivity: 0.1mV MC; 7.0mV MM
Input impedance: 9 selectable options 10Ω, 22Ω, 47Ω, 100Ω, 220Ω, 470Ω, 1000Ω, 22KΩ, 47KΩ
Gain: 65dB MC – 45dB MM with 4 different selectable GAIN levels [-3dB, 0dB, +3dB, +6dB]
Dynamic response: 122dB
Output impedance: 500Ω
Power consumption: 30 W
Dimensions (W x H x D): 220mm x 80mm x 260 mm
Weight: 4 kg
Finishes: Black, Silver, Gold, Red
System used in this test:
– CD: Reimyo CDT – 777 + Reimyo DAP – 999 EX Limited
– Preamplifier: Robert Koda Takumi K-15
– Power amplifier: Reimyo KAP – 777
– Loudspeakers: TRENNER & FRIEDL “ISIS”
– Speaker Cables: Tellurium Q Silver Diamond, Harmonix SLC, Harmonix Exquisite EXQ
IC RCA: Hijri „Milon”,
XLR: Tellurium Q Silver Diamond
– Digital IC: Harmonix HS 102
– Power cables: Harmonix X-DC 350M2R Improved Version, X-DC SM Milion Maestro, Furutech NanoFlux – NCF, Hijiri Nagomi
– Table: SOLID BASE VI
– Accessories: Harmonix Beauty Tone Milion Maestro, Harmonix TU 505EX MK II, Stillpoints „ULTRA SS”, Stillpoints ”ULTRA MINI”; antivibration platform by SOLID TECH; Harmonix AC Enacom Improved for 100-240V; Harmonix Room Tuning Mini Disk RFA-80i
– Power distribution board: POWER BASE HIGH END
Drive: SME 30/2
Arm: SME V
Cartridge: MIYAJIMA MADAKE
Phonostage: RCM THERIAA