Some of the music used for this evaluation ranged from the recent release of Eva Cassidy's Nightbird on 4 LPs—an absolutely stunning live recording that fills the room with a small scale jazz club—to an original red vinyl pressing of the soundtrack to the movie Whiplash that puts the dynamic capabilities of any system to the test. Carmignola playing Vivaldi's Four Seasons is a favorite of mine to assess tonal accuracy on vintage instruments; and Murray Perahia playing Mozart's 21st Piano Concerto with the English chamber orchestra for a more modern sounding classical orchestra. And of course, things would not be complete without Bernstein directing Beethoven's Ninth Symphony with the Wiener Philharmoniker, one of those Deutsche Gramophone recordings that have a tendency to sound a little hot if things are not just right.
Both cartridges worked wonders with the LCRMk3. Dynamics and imaging were superb, with the Dynavector throwing the widest and deepest stage to reach far into the corners of my room on the Eva Cassidy recording. Tonal colors were rich and well differentiated but on Vivaldi's Four Seasons, I couldn't help but notice that textures and nuances I am used to hearing where somewhat reduced. This was more a function of the MM cartridges than phonostage as became obvious after switching to low-output cartridges with the Copla. The LCRMk3 made its budget heart known mostly through small omissions. Its top end was not as airy and shimmering as the best, its bottom end not as deep and tight. Its really most telling sign were slightly restricted dynamics exhibited on the massive contrasts of Whiplash. But keep in mind that I refer to best in class like a Nagra VPS which demands over twenty times as much.

When compared to reasonable playmates like the Clearaudio Nano and Pro-Ject Tube-Box on hand, tables turned. Now the LCRMk3 showed more dynamics, greater separation, richer air and more nuanced tonal colours at a significantly lower price. It is actually hard to describe the sound of the LCRMk3. It does not emphasize any specific frequency range. It does not make voices glamorous. It does not render the bass thunderous. Instead it offers very solid consistent performance on everything that really matters. The Nano was clearly warmer, slower, less dynamic and not as resolved while the Tube-Box exhibited more upper bass emphasis. Neither offered as well rounded a presentation as the Lounge. The LCRMk3 simply got out of the way and let the music pass, a rarity at this price. In its weight class then, the LCRMk3 reigns king although in all fairness, the Nano and Tube-Box can accommodate MC cartridges which the LCRMk3 on its own cannot.

Hence Lounge have launched the Copla earlier this year to close that gap. When I first introduced the Copla into my system, I was greeted by low-level hum which, although non-intrusive when playing music, was still higher than I'd like considering the very low-level signals produced by MC cartridges. I tried the Zu Varial instead of my customary pure silver unshielded phono cable. The use of a shielded cable between table and Copla made a significant improvement at the expense of the last level of instrumental texture. I also connected table and Copla grounds which helped. In the end, the hum simply was never totally eradicated with any of my cartridges. By comparison, the Nagra VPS, a tube design, did not exhibit even the faintest level of noise. Neither did the Clearaudio Nano nor Pro-Ject Tube-Box. Lounge clearly had customers with my problem before. They suggested their own solid-core copper shielded phono cable and jumpers which had proven successful at eliminating hum in other setups. At $27—no typo!—for three feet, I was clearly out of my league price-wise. Even though I tend to favour high-value gear, I had never gone that low on a phono cable. Yet their medicine proved spot on. Introducing Lounge's phono cable and jumpers, all remnants of noise and hum disappeared with minimal sonic impact versus the Varial. Perhaps there was a touch more brittleness in the upper midrange and slightly looser bass but you would have to be really picky to care. These differences were very subtle and mostly offset by the quieter background. At this price, I'd almost advise you to order a pair automatically with your LCRMk3. At minimum, know that if your LCRMk3 and Copla are not completely hum-free, Lounge have you covered with a working solution that is very gentle on the wallet.

A little miffed that a $27 cable set could fix an issue that my far pricier options could not, I reached out to Robert Morin for an explanation. I was absolutely ready to eat humble pie and get schooled in the finer art of phono cable design. "The cables you had run a multi-conductor core geometry with multiple field centroids. Depending on a number of factors, this can cause charges to build up in the cable which wreak havoc with the high-speed electronics in the LCRMk3. We had customers with other sorts of cable problems to start us manufacturing a solution that would work for most. Our phono cables are made from high-quality coax that has thick braided shielding with a substantial solid core center conductor. They have 30pF/ft capacitance. We now also include a 9-inch interconnect when clients buy the LCRMk3 along with the Copla. We sell both a 2-foot and 3-foot cable which can be madeĀ  even longer on a custom basis but it is not always advisable depending on the cartridge used. In other words, there is no need for expensive after-market cables to get rid of hum and noise."