On your price list I saw another model coming up. It seems you're planning on a new flagship phono stage called Horizon.
Yes but we're waiting until the VP4 is fully accepted by the market meaning users and reviewers. Only then can we finally put it aside, treat it as a finished product and move on. We will add some parts and features we couldn't fit into the VP4 and lock them up in a bigger, more expensive, heavier and more complex case.
What extra features are we talking about?
For example not 5 but 10 load settings. Would this be added value from your perspective? There are different approaches to that issue.
I know some designers, mostly Japanese, who offer only 100Ω for MC because in their experience changing loading to other values has such a small impact on the sound that it's not worth their time to design and build in such adjustments.
I agree but we offer what most customers want.
What about gain? Other manufacturers often adjustable gain. The minimalist version is a toggle between "high" and "low". Your gain is not adjustable.
Some say that a phono stage is really a line stage with a phono input. Once we had a power amplifier and a preamplifier before it that featured a tape/recording input, another for a TV, digital inputs and phono inputs for MM/MC. All these features we built into a preamplifier but ultimately all signal went through the final gain stage which today we call a line stage that also features a volume control. What we built is an orthodox phono stage with no gain adjustment, no volume control and a super-simple super-specialized circuit. But yes, we do wonder whether adding a volume control is a good idea although we also realize that would mean doubling up on an amplifier with a volume control. In such a case there would be two volume controls in series so we'd need some form of bypass for ours.
There is one more feature that has gained traction particularly in more expensive phono stages, namely selectable EQ beyond the standard RIAA.
Sure, we could offer more curves, we could have switchable balanced/unbalanced outputs, buffered/unbuffered ones. The problem is that we never know the component our phono stage will send signal to. If we knew it was a high-quality preferably tube preamplifier, we wouldn't need to buffer the output. That means one stage less, fewer problems to worry about and better sound. But since the device could be an unpredictable solid-state preamplifier with a 5kΩ input of very low impedance, an unbuffered signal would mean deviating equalization for no or poor bass. Now we need a buffer to immunize us against whatever component our phono stage will see. Yet since avoiding the buffer could mean even higher sound quality, we might want a switch. Long story short, the number of features we could include in our top phono stage is huge. You can check out the Studio by Paravicini and see dozens of switches and knobs that allow users to find an optimal setting for every situation. On the other hand, each switch or relay introduces some sort of sonic compromise. That's why we prefer not to have all that to offer the best, purest sound possible.
Also as a businessman not designer, we are a small company that can't support a vast lineup. We can only manufacture a finite number of units. So we don't really try to maximize market share. We don't try to please every possible customer. I believe there are far more people who'd rather buy a simple-featured device with stunning performance. I guess we could count those in the thousands which already means demand far higher than we can supply. Satisfying the needs of the far fewer adjust-all clients would be infinitely more complicated and eat up another five years of development to refine what we already know. Adding a new feature may cause hum again and lots of time eliminating it. We could have a large number of equalization curves and some buyers may be happy to spend $100K on a phono stage. But there are just a few of them so it is a matter of deciding who our target audience is. Already Horizon will be more expensive even without hundreds of new features. We assume that since there are many cartridges that cost even more than our current top phono stage, an even better more expensive version will still sell. People who can afford our Horizon DAC will find a Horizon phono stage interesting. Recently a very important guest visited and we prepared our best version of the VP4. Since we also had the Horizon DAC at our disposal, we decided to compare files and vinyl. There were six experienced audiophiles. Which one did they prefer? The Horizon DAC because it was more detailed. This outcome was easy to predict. They listened to hi-res files versus vinyl and we all know the frequency response of a record and its crosstalk. So for those who looked for more detail, the DAC had to be the better choice. But when it came to sonic realism and naturalness, the VP4 was the clear winner. Long story short, we compared our two flagship models and they offered similar levels of performance.
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