iFi iPhono

Interview with Thorsten Loesch of iFi (Makers of the iPhono Preamplifier)

Recently, we introduced you to the Pro-Ject Audio RPM 5.1 – the turntable that will be driving Murfie’s (currently-in-beta) vinyl service. Today, I’d like to introduce the iFi iPhono Preamplifier. The iPhono is a versatile phono preamp that is helping us accurately reproduce the audio on your LPs as it was originally intended.

For those who don’t know, when vinyl records are pressed, an equalizer is first applied to the audio in order to compensate for some of the physical qualities of vinyl. For example, pressing un-equalized audio into vinyl with no manipulation to the lower range could cause grooves that are too wide for the stylus. To make up for this, different companies have applied different EQ curves before masters have been created. To get accurate audio reproduction, you must then apply a equalization to the raw signal from the record you are playing.

In the process of doing that, you also have to worry about amplifying the signal to line level without adding noise or distortion. There’s also an added complication in that you have to accommodate the myriad EQ curves used over the years.

The iFi iPhono Preamplifier helps us tackle these issues with a simple and robust setup. I sat down for a chat with Thorsten Loesch (Chief Designer at Abbingdon Music Research and iFi) to discuss iFi, the iPhono, music and more.

John: First of all, thanks for taking the time to chat with me today. Tell me a bit about iFi. On your site, I see that iFi is a company striving to be green. Can you tell me what that means to iFi, and what steps you’ve taken to make audio gear green?

Thorsten: Thank you. First and foremost, being majority-owned by Abbingdon Music Research, a maker of ultra-fi audio products, we are upheld to a high, corporate standard. Here in England, as part of the EU, we have to adhere to the EU regulations, and from 1st Jan 2013, the Standby law meant that all electronic products must consume <0.5W when in standby. We went down the other route, which is to not have a Standby option. So the iFi unit is either on or off!

Even when in use, our products only consume 9v. We also use as few plastics as possible – for obvious reasons. We endeavor to make our product range to offer as much long-term enjoyment as possible, so that the user does not have to change any iFi product, or if they do, then they can pass onto friends or family.

Our packaging is 100% cardboard so it can be recycled. These small initiatives give you a snapshot into how we try our best to be environmentally-friendly while still making really, really great sounding products.

John: You guys seem to have been quite busy lately. You were recently at the Guangzhou Show, and you’re headed to CES in January, correct?

Thorsten: Yes. We are going to showcase the nano iDSD and iCAN series at CES. These are palm-sized products aimed at the broader market for audio on the move, but executed to a very high-quality.

The nano iDSD is a ‘Digital-to-Audio Converter’ so with suitable Computer/Smart Device, one can send the highest quality (lossless as opposed to lossy) files and enjoy them direct on in-ear monitors. The nano iCAN is a Headphone Amplifier that has 10x the power of a normal iPhone to ensure aftermarket headphones perform to their full potential.

John: The piece of equipment we’re excited about here at Murfie is the iPhono preamp. Can you talk about about the design of that device?

Thorsten: Abbingdon Music Research manufactures the PH-77 Phono Equaliser, which has 23 EQ curves covering mono and stereo pressings. At US$12,000, it is one serious phono stage. When we developed the iPHONO, we trickled-down a fair bit of the PH-77 technology.

So the iPHONO runs Class A and has 6 EQ curves. It is also super-silent. For us, a good phono stage must be quiet, i.e. its noise floor should not be above, but below that of the below that of the record (so you hear into the recording and are not limited by the phono stage!).

John: Do you still purchase and/or listen to vinyl on a regular basis?  If not, what’s your preferred audio format?

Thorsten: Sure – though in England, vinyl is becoming rarer by the day. But it is amazing that one can find £1 (US$1.50) mono records in charity shops. Though not every day of course! We do also buy new albums. The most recent one was Tales of Us by Goldfrapp which also comes with the CD. Not bad, two for the price of one.

John: What are some of your all-time favorite albums?

Thorsten: There are way too many, and we cannot mention only 1 or 2 as that would not be fair on all the others. On the iFi FaceBook page, we run an Album of the Week, which highlights past and present albums on CD, LP or audio file. It is constantly evolving as we receive suggestions from customers.

John: Any new tunes that have caught your attention lately?

Thorsten: We found Mosh, which is a techno artist from Canada. We came across Oka who are a club group from Australia. At the other end of the spectrum, we really like Zoë Keating, who is a modern cellist.

John: What kind of gear do you guys use with your iPhono?  I’m interested to hear what you, as the makers of the device, pair with it.  

Thorsten: With regards to turntables, we have the Garrard 301, Acoustic Solid One, Revox B-790 Linear tracking turntable. Last but not least, we have a special edition Technics 1200, which is battery powered. The cartridges run the gamut from Lyra to the Supex 901 to the Denon 103-R. You’ll notice we have spherical and elliptical cartridges to cover the different eras of vinyl cutting!

John: Are there any upcoming products we should be looking out for?  I know iFi makes a lot more than just vinyl gear.

Thorsten: We would say the iTUBE, because that little guy really does elevate virtually every system out there.

John: Thanks for your time, Thorsten!


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John Kruse

John Praw Kruse is a Wisconsin-based artist and musician. His ambient works have been used as the primary soundtrack for the independent film Geister (Germany, 2011), as well as a number of short films. He is the founder of Mine All Mine Records and the Lost City Music Festival.

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