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Moving - or moving magnet? My critical audition began with the Rega Elys MM cartridge mounted on a Rega RB300 tone arm to a Planar 3 turntable, from there to PREference + NuForce Reference 9 V2 SE + Dynaudio Facette. With gain set to high and resistance at 47KΩ, the textural details in the Rossini String Sonatas were vivid and lively. Vocals in The Flying Dutchman were presented with dictional clarity but no excessive sibilance. Soundstage width and depth were incredible, with the sailors’ chorus in the finale of Act 1 coming from the far right and the girls’ chorus in Act 2 from the far left interspersed with stage actions of people moving and spinning wheels in almost pin-point accuracy. The pianoforte in the Dino Ciani album was crystalline and transparent underpinned by the wooden timbre of his period instrument yet the frontal transients of the mischievous leaping staccatos were sharp and witty, never for one moment blunting Rossini’s sense of humor.

With the phono board setting still on high gain (and preamp gain on medium 14dB), I made detailed comparisons between 47KΩ and 100P+47KΩ. Since the Rega specs don’t list the capacitance value, I could only go by ear. With the Elys being a lively and neutral MM cartridge that excels in clarity, I find that the 100P+ setting tends to round things off in a subtle way. For some dry recordings, it adds a bit of polishing air to be absolutely agreeable.

The textural details in the Rossini String Sonatas would be honed to a silky overtone yet I certainly preferred the gutsier feelings of Rysanek’s “Redemption Solo” from Act 2 without 100P+. In fact with the 100P+, layering in The Flying Dutchman was marginally compromised but none too serious. The wooden timbre in the Ciani album could turn too wooden and lacklustre though and I’d definitely insist on a clear bird’s eye view of Smetana’s Má Vlast.

General consensus has MM inferior to MC, which by design has the technical advantage of the cantilever moving a lower mass (as opposed to the larger mass of the moving magnet) to retrieve more inner detail and frequency extension. And that is exactly what my existing phono setups had told me thus far. With the PREference, the gap has not exactly been closed but more articulately and meaningfully redefined. MC is naturally detailed, more refined, airy and holographic. MM is more immediate, vivid and dynamically more exciting. It’s detailed in a different way for a more direct and gutsy interpretation. While I’m fully aware that I run the risk of being irresponsibly conclusive just comparing the two cartridges I own, within this narrow sampling window the PREference phono stage did present MM in the most favorable light. When I played through the Stravinsky Ballets, I relived the same musical enchantment I experienced weeks ago with an MC cartridge. Maybe it was the spell of the music but I didn’t hear anything wrong with MM.

Moving coil: Does that make the MC stage of the PREference inadequate? I put it to the test and compared it with my Ensemble PhonoMaster. The audio system remained unchanged, ditto the gain setting of the PREference but I switched back to the Denon DP-59L turntable with Denon DL-302 cartridge. To match the 40Ω output of the DL-302, the PhonoMaster has the advantage of 7 selectable resistive loads and I chose the closest, 47Ω. With the PREference, I had to settle for 100Ω – and a wild card up my sleeve, 100P+100Ω. Without the wild card, the PREference was perhaps a little less refined during complicated orchestral climaxes, notably the Rite of Spring and the two indomitably patriotic movements “Tabor” and “Blanik” from Má Vlast. But soundstage depth, width and everything in-between were equally awesome. (The soundstage was deeper with the Ensemble but wider with the PREference – so wide as to be outside the speakers.) When I focused on instrumental localization in fact, I’d say that the PREference seemed to be more articulate and three-dimensional than the Ensemble. By that time, I completely forgot about not matching the resistive load.

When I threw in the 100P+ wild card, the less refined textures smoothed out. The already holographic imaging became airier. Most importantly, the overall pacing relaxed. This was the setting that conjured up all the magic in the Stravinsky Ballets. The percussive war march rhythm in “Tabor” became more determined and charged with latent energy rather than brute force, propelling the Hussite hymn “Ye who are God’s Warriors” with an unyielding steadfastness. At that point, I had to say that with this particular recording, I much preferred the PREference over the Ensemble. Of course, it wasn’t a hands-down win entirely. I shouldn’t downplay the musical charisma of the Ensemble and its effortless portrayal of subtle nuances. While it lacked the dynamite to drum up “Tabor” (only by a tiny fraction), it certainly was more harmonious with more intimate chamber music and art songs. 

Now let’s be rational and try to find explanations for my audition findings. Apparently the PREference MC phono stage, when set to 100Ω, is more exciting (more active in the high frequencies). When set to 100P+100Ω, the sonic characteristic is gently nudged closer to the Ensemble, resulting in a finer balance. So we’ll follow that lead: resistance and capacitance.