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The circuit
The circuit of Don's Fi Yph phono stage is a relatively low gain high current affair with passive equalization. Don told me that "I really like the sound of the 6922 or 6N1P because, I suspect, of its high transconductance. For those who care to go tube hunting, there are some quite exotic 6DJ8s and 6922s to be flushed out of the bushes." I asked Don what his design goals for the Yph were. "I'm not sure I have design goals other than something that sounds really good, something that when I'm done with just makes me want to play records." Don designed the Fi Yph phono stage to compliment his X and Y amplifiers so the existing Y chassis was a natural choice. Don designed the Yph to work with all his line stages and integrated amplifiers. For fellow idler wheel turntable buffs, you might like to know that Don voiced the Yph with the Thorens TD124 he uses in his studio while his Garrard idle-wheeled away in his living room. How kewl is that?

I love the look of Don's X and Y creations and asked him what inspired their unique shapes: "The idea for the X came to me on the subway one day. I'd been trying to think up something a little out of the ordinary for my next 2A3 amp, something other than the standard Budd box. When the X idea occurred to me, I hadn't been thinking about it. It was the archetypical light bulb. I sketched it on the newspaper I was carrying and it became apparent that the power supply, filter sections and amp would all be in separate wings. The chassis could be relatively light since the 90° bends would give it rigidity. Voilà! But I couldn't think what to call it. It was my wife Ikuyo who suggested the name. No, never mind. I was meditating on a mountaintop when I thought of the Y. (Only one of the above statements is true.)"

The Yph under review features the optional hand-polished aluminum chassis ($75 additional) to give it a matte finish like the Fi 2A3 mono amplifiers. The standard finish is a shinier natural aluminum. Don gave me detailed instructions on how to take the Yph apart so I could snap some photos. I'll offer a snippet of those instructions for an insight into how the Yph (and all of Don's Fi creations) are made piece by hand-crafted piece to be fitted into a whole: "First, mark with masking tape which screens cover which ends of the Yph and then unscrew the feet and remove the screens. You should mark them because the holes for the feet aren't in the same place in each one (these things are built like a Springfield rifle -- pre assembly line -- so the parts aren't necessarily interchangeable)."

When I pulled apart the chassis, I couldn't help but be impressed by the high level of quality of fit & finish in this handiwork. As I handled the hand-formed aluminum panels and saw how cleverly each piece was designed to fit together, how the left & right channel circuits and RIAA circuitry were laid out in the separate planes of the leaves of the Y chassis, I marveled at how much work Don puts into the design, fabrication and layout of the Yph. The level of craftsmanship is extraordinary. Every single chassis piece is handmade by Don and fitted together with care. I honestly don't know how he can price it so modestly with all his labor involved.

Listening impressions
In my article about Keith Aschenbrenner & Auditorium 23 of Germany, I said: "Speaking of phono preamplifiers, quite a few people think the best way to amplify a moving-coil cartridge like the Denon 103 is to use a low-gain moving-magnet phono stage combined with a step-up transformer." One of the people I was thinking of when I said that was Don Garber. His preferred method for amplifying moving coils is to use a low-gain phono stage with a step-up tranny. It's also a very flexible approach should you want to flirt with moving magnet cartridges or already have a moving magnet and want to start experimenting with moving coils. All you have to do is add a step-up transformer.

For this review, all my listening was done with Keith's Auditorium 23 moving coil step-up transformer in combination with the Fi Yph. The turntable was my Garrard 301 with Cain & Cain plinth mounted with two arms: the classic vintage SME 3012 arm/Denon 103 cartridge combo and the Origin Live Silver arm with the fabulous new 47 Laboratory cartridge on review (price and name as yet to be determined). I didn't have a moving magnet cartridge on hand so I'll have to explore that and report back at a later time. The preamplifier was the impressive Tom Evans Audio Design Vibe with Pulse power supply that is in for review, my personal Fi 2A3 mono amplifiers and Avantgarde Duo loudspeakers. Everything was wired together with the 47 Labs cable kit.

The first thing I noticed was how the Fi Yph gets the tone and texture of the instruments right. One LP that's been doing a lot of spin time on my Garrard is the Classic Records 45 RPM version of the Living Stereo remaster of Clair de Lune [LSC-2326] with the London Proms Symphony Orchestra. Clair de Lune -- or moonlight music -- is a collection of mellow and beautiful selections from Massenet, Tchaikovsky, Fauré, Elgar, Debussy, Gluck and Bach-Bantock that will restore peace to your battered soul after a tough day. There isn't a single clunker on these albums (it takes four one-sided 45s to make up one 33⅓ LP) and more than once I've stayed up nearly all night listening to these gorgeous pieces of music. The strings on Clair de Lune are about as perfect as any strings you're likely to hear. The Fi Yph fed by the superlative 47 Labs cartridge & Origin Live Silver tonearm gives you a ravishing tonal palette of orchestral instruments with lots of natural texture and feeling without ever getting edgy.

The next thing I noticed? The Fi Yph very successfully portrays the subtle changes in pace, rhythm, timing, phrasing and tone that makes the sound feel like music. The Classic Records single Send in the Clowns from the Bill Henderson Live at the Times LP has a 45 RPM version on side two and a 33⅓ RPM version on side one so you can experience the difference between the two speeds.The 33⅓ version is truly inspiring, with the recording's big ambient soundspace putting you right there at the Times Restaurant in August 1975. The audience is in such hushed reverence that you can almost hear a pin drop - or in this case, knives and forks. Is that a pepper grinder I hear way back in the soundstage? The important thing -- and what makes the music on this LP so powerful an experience -- is the subtle vocal timing & phrasings of Bill Henderson. Listening to Bill's vocal nuances kept me on the edge of my seat, hanging onto every syllable and breath as he sings. This is a remarkable album and I hope Classic releases the full album along with this single. Joyce Collins' accompaniment on piano is positively sublime and endowed with a bell-like purity and beauty that is extraordinary.

The Yph draws me into the emotive aspect of the music in fine fashion. I flipped over Clowns to play the 45 side and my response was limited to "Oh my God!" The 45 cut has significantly better soundspace, soundstage, imaging and the usual audio parameters. But more importantly, there is an increase in the emotional intensity of the music as the recording opens up musically with a sense of ease and naturalness that is extraordinary. Kudos to the boys & girls at Classic Records for the job they're doing on these 45 albums. The ones I've heard so far are profound. The Yph relays them in a way that just makes you want to sit there hour after hour enjoying the music! Whew, I'm blown away! I hate to break it to the digit-philes out there but the 45s increased the gap in sound & music-playing ability between analog and digital by an unassailable amount.

Many thanks to fellow moonie Michael Lavorgna for sending me the Flanger LP Midnight Sound for a housewarming gift after I moved into my new digs. It's a great album of fun music that sounds terrific. I had Rick and Phil from the local communications company wiring my new home's networking system while I was wrapping up this review. Phil seemed transfixed by my HiFi gear so I cued up a CD on the transport and played a couple of cuts. "Wow!" he muttered, "that sounds great!" Then I put on "So What" from Midnight Sound and dropped the stylus on the Garrard 301. With a look of abject amazement on his face, he said "I've never heard anything like that..." as his voice trailed off listened to the tunes while looking at the big 301. Flanger uses lots of percussive elements woven into the mix that combine with fascinating rhythmic lines to make for a spellbinding treat. And Phil was under the spell alright. The Yph casts music into the room with a wide and deep soundstage and plenty of bass depth and definition. "Angel of Love" has a driving and powerful bass beat that the Fi nails by giving lots of articulation and slam that impressed the heck out of me.

Wrapping up
As stated earlier, when asked about his design goals for the Yph, Don said 'I'm not sure I have design goals other than something that sounds really good, something that when I'm done with it just makes me want to play records." I'd say that Don completely succeeded. The Yph does sound really good and it does make me want to play records. I spent quite a few nights listening late into the night and only getting a few hours sleep before heading into the office. The bloody thing's addictive.

The Fi Yph is neither obviously warm nor identifiably lean sounding but
natural in the sense of real life music. It recovers a goodly amount of detail but isn't the last word in detail like the $7000 Tom Evans Audio Design Groove Plus. But then nothing else I've heard is, either. The Yph has real presence and dynamics in the bass and brings the beat to life, making you want to tap your foot to the music.

The Fi Yph gets the tone & texture of the instruments and voices right. The Yph gets the beat right. The Yph also nails the subtle changes in pace, rhythm, timing, phrasing and tone that makes the sound feel like music. And it does it while allowing this listener to relax into a sort of musical reverie where all the tension flows out of my body and mind while my heart & soul get the maximum musical involvement & emotive wallop I crave from music. The Yph also gives you great sound in all the usual audio ways of soundstaging, imaging, dynamics thrills and detail frills. It's fun to listen to and it glows in the dark. The Yph is made by a music lover for music lovers.

Interestingly, while listening to the Yph right now, I could see cotton candy clouds forming in marmalade skies outside my window just for a moment - really! Then they were gone. I think maybe Timothy Leary was smiling down on me saying he likes the Yph. I think you will, too.

The Yph is beautifully crafted, intelligently designed and priced fairly. I really like its unique and artistic design. As Lethaby said, "The difference between a man-made work and a commercially-made work is like the difference between a gem and paste. We may not be able to tell the difference at first, but when we find out, the intrinsic worth of the one is self-evident."
Don Garber's e-mail