Zen Phono. I’m reminded of a favorite Haruki Murakami quote from his novel South of the Border, West of the Sun:
Shimamoto was in charge of the records. She’d take one from its jacket, place it carefully on the turntable without touching the grooves with her fingers, and, after making sure to brush the cartridge free of any dust with a tiny brush, lower the needle ever so gently onto the record. When the record was finished, she’d spray it and wipe it with a felt cloth. Finally she’d return the record to its jacket and its proper place on the shelf. Her father had taught her this procedure, and she followed his instructions with a terribly serious look on her face, her eyes narrowed, her breath held in check. Meanwhile, I was on the sofa, watching her every move. Only when the record was safely back on the shelf did she turn to me and give a little smile. And every time, this thought hit me: It wasn’t a record she was handling. It was a fragile soul inside a glass bottle.
iFi’s new wallet-friendly ZEN Phono ($149) has a lot up its sleeve. From iFi (my emphasis):
The ZEN Phono’s circuitry is of balanced, symmetrical dual-mono design – a topology usually reserved for high-end audio products owing to complexity and cost. Balanced circuit design has the ability to reduce noise and crosstalk, thus increasing sonic clarity, and has long been championed by renowned high-end audio electronics engineer John Curl – a man whose analogue amp designs, including several landmark phono stages, have been lauded since the 1970s. Curl, now a technical consultant for iFi, has worked with iFi’s in-house technical The ZEN Phono’s discrete, balanced, dual-mono circuit design is unique at the price team, headed by Thorsten Loesch, to produce a circuit design of exceptional quality for such an affordable phono stage.
The ZEN phono sports your usual stereo RCA inputs and outputs but adds the rare-as-hens-teeth 4.4mm Pentaconn balanced output, which can be used to connect to any preamplifier’s balanced input (using an adapter) or to like-equipped input as can be found on the ZEN CAN analogue headphone amp. The ZEN Phono can handle both MM and MC cartridges and offers four gain settings: 36dB (MM), 48dB (high-output MC), 60dB (low-output MC), and 72dB (very-low-output MC). There’s also a subsonic filter, iFi’s subsonic filter removes the effect of record warp from the vertical plane, doing its job efficiently without the common drawbacks of attenuating any low bass or adding group delay.
Find a fragile soul inside a glass bottle for $149. The iFi ZEN Phono hits iFi dealers tomorrow, September 4, 2020.