The Hagerman Trumpet Moving Magnet phono stage
more photos: Link
I've been re-thinking my intent to write a review on this piece. If I write one in the next couple of months I'll miss the opportunity to describe the phono stage using different associated components later. Given that, I think I will adjust my intentions a little bit. Rather, I should use this page to maintain a compendium of my impressions. Impressions taken over time and as I gather them. This might be ultimately more accurate than to write a review two months in, and then further thoughts one or two years down the road. At least I'll be less likely to contradict my earlier impressions with later ones....or when I do it will seem more coherent in the turn of events.
Preface, system history:
I've been using for a phono stage the well thought of Wright WPP100C. For the past 11 years, that phono stage has kept me entertained with its very dynamic qualities. My phono cartridge preference is to use moving coils. The Wright, being a moving magnet stage provides a 47Kohm resistor at its input and is designed to use signal voltages on the level of 2mv to 10mv. Therefore it requires a step-up device in-line on its input side to multiply voltage of the rather miniscule volts, coming out of your typical low output moving coil, up to a level it can work with. These voltages tend to be as low as .2mv to as high as .6mv. I tend to lean toward moving coil step up transformers for this task. George Wright, maker of the WPP100C, offered a pair of step up transformers, assembled into a single case, designed to work with his stage. These would multiply voltage by approximately 10 times. This is what I used during most of those 11 years.... what George had expertly put together. (another note: the terms "step up transformer" and "SUT" may be used interchangeably within this article and refer to the same piece of equipment)
Wright WPP100C with optional step up.
Lately I have begun using a different pair of step up transformers. (SUT) These are Beyer Dynamic model TR / BV 351 215 006. These offer two different turns ratios of 1:15 and 1: 30 That is; the signal voltage coming out of the MC cartridge gets multiplied by 15 times or by 30 times, depending upon which rca plugs I use on the input side of that little aluminum case. Just below is a photo of the Beyer Dynamic transformer pair as they were used with the Wright phono stage. The copper case with the 6 vacuum tubes up on top is the Wright.
I've been pretty happy with the Wright phono stage. It is a very dynamic sounding unit that gets to the essence of what is exciting about music. Immediacy. Bass. Extended highs. Articulation of micro and macro detail. It is a good phono stage. And in consideration of its price at the time I bought it, a tremendous deal. $875 for the stage with separate power supply and another $250 for the step up transformer pair.
The Wright does have a few shortcomings. Everything does. The Wright's major sin, for me, is a tendency to induce some listener fatigue after a couple hours of steady listening. This may not be entirely fair for me to say this because I have taken the Wright and put it into a combination of components, and a room that is likely unique and slightly different from every other system that a Wright stage might be used in. In other words, not everyone has the same combination of amplifier, speakers and room acoustics. And mine is just as unique and different as is yours.
But you know, there should be no listener fatigue. That is partly what propelled me to start looking for another phono stage. The other part was a desire to find a phono stage, that I could afford, that would allow me to listen/see deeper into the record groove. A stage that might be able to define and articulate more of what is there. And so once again I was reading reviews both online and in magazines about phono stages. There are lots of them out there. Then I remembered having once met Jim Hagerman, designer and builder of the Trumpet phono stage. That was at an Audio meet called VSAC that was held in Washington State back in October, 2003.
At that particular VSAC, I walked into a room that was demo-ing Jim's Trumpet along with some other nice gear. I think he was sharing a room with Thom Mackris of Galibier Turntable. At the time I was using a Teres turntable in my home system and the folks at Teres, also at VSAC, were rather fond of the Trumpet and using one in their demo room. So I was impressed by that association, and also by what I heard at VSAC. As I recall I spoke briefly with Jim and we swapped business cards. The point being that this Trumpet phono stage is not a new product. It is still in production and over time has been refined by its maker. It has been reviewed in Stereophile by Michael Fremer and it has been reviewed around the web in various audiophile online magazines. Not everyone of these reviews are dripping over with praise. There is usually a criticism or two regarding some aspect. Some will object to the unusual dimension of the Trumpet and state they have no suitable place to put it, because it won't fit any space they have. Yet, every review I've read did praise the sound quality coming from this unit.
moving on to the Hagerman Trumpet MM Phono Stage.......
First part of February. The Trumpet arrived. And I wasted no time, except to take a couple of photos of it up on the kitchen table. Then I put the unit into my system -- and to work.
Here's an early photo:
At first I did not listen too closely. At least I told myself not to. Yet I could not help but notice that the sounds I was hearing, with the Trumpet in the system, were just as dynamic as I had known with the Wright, but with more detail. Keep in mind how when the system reproduces a sound there is a start middle and trailing end to that sound as it plays through the speakers and out into the room. At first listen I noticed how the middle part and the trailing end to cymbal rings seemed to last longer and remain defined as those notes faded gradually into nothingness. I heard this within the first hour of use.
I also heard something negative. 60 hz hum. So this, I figured was a problem to be solved at my end. You can't fairly evaluate a piece of gear that produces hum. And this was not a very obvious hum. Barely heard at listening level volumes. And not heard at all above the music. But, with the stylus out of the groove and the integrated amp cranked to 3 times normal listening volume there was a quiet, barely detectable hum. Crank the knob to 5 times normal listening volume and it was quiet yet very distinct.
I tried different things. At first I figured some extra grounding straps from the turntable chassis to the phono stage might help. No success there. Then I noticed that even without the phono input cables plugged into the Trumpet, the faint hum was still present and just the same as above. hmmmm. Or should I say Hummmmmmm. Anyway, I couldn't quite figure it so I sent an email to Jim. He was gracious and answered my email right away. And this was on a Sunday afternoon (for me). I was in Seattle. Jim is in Hawaii. So it must have been late evening there. Anyway I then sent a photo (the one just below) attached to the next email to show the setup. Jim's reply suggested that I move that blue tranny that is standing next to the Trumpet a few inches further away from the Trumpet.
He was right of course. The isolation transformer that I use to power my Thorens TD124 turntable, and as is shown in the photo above, was standing right next to the Trumpet. And when I moved that transformer away, the humming stopped. Whew. It was magnetic induction happening between the blue tranny and the Trumpet. Problem solved! Ultimately, I moved the blue tranny a few feet away and onto the lower shelf of the other rack. And now I notice that residual system noise, while playing through the Trumpet, is in fact very quiet. More-so than with the previous Wright phono stage. It is true what other reviewers say, the Trumpet offers a very quiet background with which to paint its sonic images.
**About the photo above. Looking at the aluminum case with the step up transformers, you might notice a black ground wire coming from the output side of the case. And that this wire is not making connection to the ground lug on the back of the Trumpet. This is intentional. It proved to be that the system was quieter to simply clip the ground wire from the tonearm cables directly to the Trumpet and leave the ground wire coming from the SUT not connected to anything. In another group of components this may not be the case. One needs to be ready for some trial and error on hooking up record players and their associated downstream components.
I've had the Trumpet in the system for three weeks now and can offer some observations.
Primarily, I listen to record albums dating back from the early stereo period ( 1958 and later) and up until CD sales replaced record sales at record stores. Approximately the middle to late 1980's. The bulk of my record library is of period records. A small percentage of my library is of audiophile re-masters on heavy vinyl. I have some of Classic Records re-masters. Also I have some of the new pressings from Acoustic Sounds and their Quality Record Pressing operation. I have a few Mobile Fidelity 1/2 speed masters....and a DCC re-master or two. There is one Direct-Disk Labs. I have a couple of 45 rpm re-masters from Classic Records and also Quality Record Pressings. Etc. Etc. With the audiophile pressings accounted for, the majority of my listening impressions are from playing old records from the day. And most of these old records are in remarkably nice condition and sound beautiful. It's why we persist with this vinyl hobby. The sound of this music is very rewarding.
Listening and comparisons
But is it a winner?....certainly. And definitely it wins over the
Wright. In every way that the Wright is good, the Trumpet is better.
The Wright offers very good control over bass and delivers plenty of it with
good definition. But the Trumpet gives even better bass with greater
Further listening notes:
For the time being my reference cartridge is the Shelter 501 type II. I would describe this particular Shelter as being an overall very good reproducer with a taut bass at the low end and a fair extension into the high frequency end. It is fairly quick with transient attack. Enough so to be able to produce the occasional goose bump or raised hair sensation on the back of the neck. Not that many cartridges can do this. The Shelter is also famously noted for reproducing a midrange that possesses some warmth and intimacy. Acoustic instruments. The human voice. These are reproduced with considerable texture and detail. Like being up close and personal. Cellos. Guitars. Wind instruments. You get a really nicely fleshed-out flavor with these. On percussion instruments you not only get the impact noises, but a sense of the rushing air being generated within the shell of the drum.
But what about the Trumpet phono stage? Well,...... any phono stage will be limited by the quality of the signal feeding into it. Hence the description of the phono cartridge that provides the source signal. As I see it, the phono stage needs to process the source signal, feeding into it, in a way that does not degrade, diminish or alter the character of that source. My listening sessions, so far, indicate that this Trumpet phono stage is very adept at providing a high quality output.
I've been listening to a wide variety of musical genres. From classic rock to jazz to ancient, chamber and romantic classical. Enjoyment level is higher on these Lps, that I have come to know, than ever before. More details to come after a longer period.
A Minus-K isolation platform was installed under the Thorens TD124 about 1 month previously. This platform has provided a sonic upgrade to the over-all sound quality of the source signal. In general, background noise is lower, musical signal is more sharply defined, and more musical detail is being reproduced than before. These details are slight, not huge, but noticeable. And of course the Hagerman Trumpet benefits from this improved source signal as do the other components in this system.
Notes about the Minus-K here
For the near term I will be listening to the Trumpet while playing through the thorens TD124 (sn# 2729) that has been restored here, and its resurrection has been chronicled within the pages of this website. The tonearm is a black Zeta tonearm equipped with an Incognito silver wired cable set. But the RCA plugs have been replaced with Eichman Bullet plugs, which I like better than the standard issue Incognito plugs.....mainly because the Bullets plug in and pull out a lot smoother than do the Deltron plugs that come with Incognito harnesses. The phono cartridge is the Shelter 501-II MC with .4mv output. With this cartridge I use the 1:15 turns ratio inputs on the BD SUT previously noted. This multiplies voltage to the input side of the Hagerman up to 6.0mv. That is well within its compatibility range. The reflected load seen back at the Shelter by this step up method is 209ohms.