Featuring The Audiophile Lending Library

SUTHERLAND GOES LOCO

SUTHERLAND GOES LOCO
SUTHERLAND GOES LOCO

The LITTLE LOCO is a new kind of phono preamp design, usually referred to as ‘current input.’ Until recently this approach has been the talk of “those in the know.” But now a broader listening group of audiophiles and reviewers should be giving it serious consideration, especially when they LISTEN. 

Many of us here at The Cable Company are analog-oriented for serious listening, so when something comes along that fits into this category, we all want to try it at home. It becomes even more desirable when it happens to be a Ron Sutherland design.

— A Bit of History —


Ron Sutherland of Sutherland Engineering has been making definitive phono preamps for a good long time. By focusing almost exclusively on phono preamps, his design and circuits have enjoyed continued refinement and improvement over the years. Every product is better than the last in Sutherland's case. And now, perhaps his tour de force, along comes his new phono stage concept called Little LOCO ($3800).

Previously all Sutherland phono stage designs were based upon voltage amplification. In this case the cartridge delivers a small voltage to the phono preamp input. That voltage is multiplied to a larger voltage (along with RIAA EQ), and the preamp delivers an output voltage. A voltage multiplier of 1,000 (for example) can be expressed as 60dB. One millivolt in = one volt out.

But in a current input design like the LITTLE LOCO, simply speaking, the input signal comes from current flowing thru the cartridge, NOT the voltage from the cartridge. This current becomes the input for a trans-impedance gain stage. In other words, the input signal is current, while the output signal is voltage. 

— LINKING INTO YOUR SYSTEM —

Connections on the back panel of the LITTLE LOCO appear fully conventional. There is the usual IEC input for the power cord, a ground screw for grounding the turntable, two RCA jacks for the input signal from the turntable, and two RCA jacks delivering an output signal to your line-level preamp. There is, however, a requirement for the phono cable that both coil connections float with respect to ground. Turntable grounds and cable shields need to go to a separate ground wire. There must be no direct connection from either coil side to chassis ground. Happily a well-designed standard tonearm cable (aka phono cable) with the usual ground wire works 99% of the time.

But current input is only appropriate for use with moving coil cartridges - no moving magnet or moving iron cartridges are invited to this party.

Load Settings

There are no loading adjustments needed in the LITTLE LOCO design. Your cartridge will see a load of zero Ohms. The input signal will be the current your cartridge produces into that virtual short. No need to worry about loading at all.

Gain Settings

The LITTLE LOCO is factory-set to medium gain. That should work well in most situations because the usual concerns about cartridge output voltage do not apply. Cartridges of varied output voltage specs tend to supply about the same level of drive current to a short. In other words, higher output voltages usually have higher resistance while lower output voltages usually have lower resistance. Into a virtual short, most deliver about the same level signal.

The LITTLE LOCO ships with 3k resistors for medium gain which will work in most systems. But if needed you can boost the output voltage 6dB by removing those resistors. Or, you can reduce the output voltage 6dB by replacing the 3k resistors with 1k counterparts.

— LISTENING —


So - what's the bottom line?  After trying the LITTLE LOCO in several systems, we all reached the same conclusion- this is an exceptional phono stage that will get the most from a moving coil cartridge. No more fooling with loading, no more adjusting gain settings -  just hook it up and enjoy pristine analog sound! And if you are currently using a SUT (step up transformer) for a low output cartridge, you no longer need it or it's connecting cables!

We will be making the LITTLE LOCO available for your in-home evaluations through our Library. Be forewarned - once you try it there may be no going back.

— FOR THE EXTREMELY LOCO —

For those with EXTREME reference systems, Sutherland Engineering also makes an EXTREME PHONO LOCO ($8200) with maximally upgraded parts and power supply. Unlike the LITTLE LOCO, the Extreme version will only accept XLR inputs, in other words an XLR balanced tonearm set (or use the RCA to XLR adapters which are provided).

Because this is LOCO, while intuitively you may think that the outputs should also be balanced XLR to match the XLR inputs, in fact the best results are attained with RCA outputs, and so this is the only output provided on either version.

— SUMMARY —

The design may seem a little LOCO, but there is no denying the listening results. Add in the ease of set up without a care for loading, and the ability to use even the lowest output moving coil cartridges without an SUT, and you have what we would call a HOME RUN!

Library samples are available for your in-home audition.

Go Back to Main newsletters : Second quarter 2019 Specials and Review
Need Help?