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MCX Phono Preamp

by Sutherland Engineering

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Like so many people, I had assumed that moving coil step-up transformers were a relic from the past. Well-designed, modern phono preamps can achieve plenty of gain at very low noise AND a very intimate connection with the music.

Adding a step-up transformer into the signal path seemed like an expensive, unnecessary, and detrimental complication.

But, contrary to this, the popularity of SUT (Step Up Transformer) is on the upswing. So many people were telling me how putting a good SUT in front of their phono preamp brought out a rich, lush and emotive character that was completely seductive. People were passionate about the sound quality.

I realized it was time to take a serious look at the role a SUT could play in vinyl playback.

The Correct Question:
Since customers can always add a SUT in front of any Sutherland phono preamp, this approach is already available. Many people were doing just this and enjoying the results.

So the question became:
Is there better way?

This question was further modified under the Sutherland Philosophy:

Is there a more direct, less complicated, minimalist way?

The Appropriate Answer
First, the SUT needed to sit directly on the preamp circuit board. This decision brought with it many advantages. The connections between the SUT secondary and preamp circuits were now as direct as physically possible. The distance was minimal. The interconnecting cable was eliminated. Two sets of audio connectors were eliminated. The signal path was simplified and made more direct.

Furthermore, the cost of cables, connectors, and transformer case was eliminated. But which transformer should be used?  Although some preamp manufactures design and build their own SUT, that was never a serious consideration for this project. I would much prefer to incorporate the expertise of an established expert in the field. Lundahl has a well deserved reputation for good, solid engineering that delivers both quality and musicality.

Using a transformer in front of the first gain stage offered a chance for some circuit simplification. Then the following stage was revamped for the best overall musicality.

The question of how to offer loading and gain options is a tricky one. All solutions have advantages and compromises. For the MCX I decided on the most simplified signal path — along with flexibility in values — as the highest priority.  The loading and gain resistors plug directly into machined sockets on the circuit board. There are no options on the board. Only the resistors in actual use are on the board. The advantage is the most direct and uncluttered signal path possible. Furthermore, the range of gain and loading options is virtually unlimited. Along with those advantages comes a small inconvenience. Plan on getting out some tweezers and a jeweler’s loupe when changing resistors.

But, all things considered, this compromise is not so bad when compared to turntable and cartridge set up. For best possible performance, it seemed acceptable to sacrifice some convenience.

Lastly, the best stereo phono preamp is actually two mono phono preamps. With a stack of two mono phono preamps, all the most subtle space and dimensionality cues are preserved.

The MCX is just such a mono phono preamp.

The MCX ships configured for a gain of 60 dB and a loading of 200 Ohms. This will be a good starting point for most systems. If you have different preferences, please refer to the GAIN and LOADING pages.

The two MCX are designed to be stacked on top of each other. Plug your turntable into the IN jacks. The interconnecting cables to your preamp go into the OUT jacks. Ground wires go to the knurled screw.

The MCXis designed to be powered on 24/7. The supplied AC power cords are just to get you started. Later you will probably want to experiment and invest in power cord upgrades.

The MCX has a universal power supply. That means it will adapt itself automatically and work with any AC power line voltage between 88 volts and 264 volts. No operating voltage set up is required.

Load Settings
Cartridge loading is determined by the resistor value installed in the LOADING resistor socket.

Dale/Vishay RN65-style resistors are included with the following values.

47.5k for 475 Ohm loading
30k for 300 Ohm loading
20k for 200 Ohm loading
10k for 100 Ohm loading
5k for 50 Ohm loading

Your MCX ships with loading set to 200 Ohms.

NOTE:
the loading resistors are positioned at the secondary of the step-up transformer. The actual value of loading applied to the cartridge will be the resistor’s value divided by 100.

Gain Settings
Gain is determined by the resistor value installed in the GAIN resistor socket.

Dale/Vishay RN65-style resistors are included with the following values.

221 Ohms for 60 dB gain
110 Ohms for 66 dB gain
56 Ohms for 72 dB gain

Your MCX ships with gain set to 60 dB.

Size
17” wide
12” deep
2.5” high

Shipping Box
24” wide
24” deep
11” high

Weight
Net 11lbs each
Shipping 19lbs each

Power Requirements
88 – 264 VAC
10 Watts each


Linear Power Supply Option

For many years now, switching power supplies have been used at many price points by many manufacturers of high-performance audio.   For adequate performance,  special attention must be focused on two aspects of mitigating the noise they inherently generate.   High frequency switching devices leave a high frequency ripple component in the DC output voltage.   It must be effectively removed.   Also of concern is keeping current spikes on the primary side from injecting noise into the AC power line.  If that is not dealt with, the switching power supply will pollute the quality of AC power available to all the audio system components.

Sutherland has been using switching power supplies on several models. In our designs, they have worked well.

There is always that urge to make refinements.   When designing the PHONO LOCO, there was an opportunity to try a new linear power supply design.   With no cost constraints or attachment to convention, it was the perfect place to explore.   It delivered an advancement in AC power line isolation, filtering and regulation.  Which, ultimately,  gave the audio circuits the best ever DC power foundation.  With that foundation, music flowed with purity and authority. 

That same power supply approach is used in the little LOCO. Again, performance was advanced.

Turns out the same power supply designed for the little LOCO could also be installed in the INSIGHT and the DUO.  Over the years, there have been inquires about using linear power supplies with those models.  It has taken a while to develop and refine this new circuit.   That option is now available.

Technical Overview:

The power transformer is toroidal for minimal radiated magnetic field.  The already low magnetic field is further reduced by connecting the primary windings in series rather than parallel.  The transformer flux density is reduced to half of normal.   There is still plenty of power for the job at hand. 

The transformer's AC output  is full wave rectified, current limited and applied to a first stage shunt regulator.   That not only gives the first stage of voltage regulation, it also smooths the current waveform drawn thru the transformer.   The usual current spikes become much more sinusoidal in shape.   Thus current spikes are not injected back into the power line or project a radiated noise field. 

That first cut at regulation is followed by several stages of R-C pi filtering.   A passive approach that has been well proven in other Sutherland designs.   There is another DC shunt regulator applied near the audio circuitry.    

This combination is new and incredibly effective.   It is also straight forward in it's simplicity.  Rock solid in performance, stability and reliability.   Nothing fussy about it.  No active voltage series regulators to add their colorations.  No switching regulator noise to deal with.










 

The above information is from the manufacturer.
Have a question? Connect with our Audio Gurus at 800-328-9973 or 215-862-4870 or Send email or use Contact form. You can also take advantage of our system matching expertise with a Free System Consultation.

Sutherland Engineering MCX Phono Preamp

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