Sutherland KC Vibe Phonostage
Whether you are just getting into vinyl or are a long-time enthusiast, you need to know that noise in a phono stage is not your friend. Compared to the output of a typical CD player, the output level of a phono cartridge is minuscule. We measure CD player’s output in volts (typically around 2) and we measure phono cartridges in millivolts, where one millivolt equals to .001 volt. Your phono stage is dealing with a super low-level signal it has to amplify, so what do you think might happen if there was noise in the phono stage? Well, it gets amplified too!
If you want to hear all of the very subtle nuances your cartridge is picking up in those record grooves, you will want the noise floor of your phono stage to be very low. When you experience a phono stage with a very low noise floor for the first time, you will hear little things going on that you never even heard before as they were being masked by noise. This is what we hear all the time with clients who purchase a Sutherland Engineering product; they just can not believe all of the new little things they are hearing. They are also usually very impressed with how quiet their records sound now. What many people think is background noise on the record goes away with a super quiet phono stage.
The KC Vibe is just like every other phono stage from Sutherland Engineering: super quiet! In our tests, we have never heard a phono stage that performed so well for this price. We decided to do a very unfair comparison and test it against the $4000 Duo from Sutherland Engineering. This is a two piece phono stage where each channel is in its own box. We used a VPI Prime with a Soundsmith cartridge.
You could totally tell these were cut from the same mold, but you just got more (or less may be a better term) as you moved up to the Duo. The Duo had more bass impact, an even blacker background (even less noise), and an ease of presentation that surpassed the KC Vibe. However, we are talking about comparing the KC Vibe to something that costs over 4 times its price! Compared to anything else close to its price, the KC Vibe is able to provide all of the things that vinyl enthusiasts lust for: a quiet background, incredible separation of instruments, bass that reaches down super deep, and a three-dimensional sense of space to the music that will keep you pulling out all your favorite albums!
We feel the KC Vibe is good for many types of people having fun with the hobby of vinyl playback. If you are just getting into vinyl, it is a great phono stage that will grow with you over time as you improve your turntable rig. Any of you with a table/cartridge combination over $1500 should highly consider the KC Vibe. Heck, if you are pushing $3000 and up, you should look at the $1400 Sutherland Engineering Insight.
Basically, if you love vinyl and have a decent turntable rig, you should be plugging it into a Sutherland Engineering phono stage. We feel that strongly about them!
For this review I used aturntable and Ortofon 2M Black moving-magnet and Hana EL moving-coil cartridges, and the sound was dynamically alive and vibrant.
With Bob Marley’s 1978 album “Kaya”, his rhythms bounced and moved with life, and when you stop and think about it, this is closer to the way Marley heard it. He never made a digital recording: to Marley music was all analog, so when you play old pressings of his LPs, the music feels more authentic. The KC Vibe gets you closer to the sound embedded in the grooves. Drum dynamics and attack were reproduced with rare precision and the bass was sure-footed, deep, clear and defined. Returning to my budget reference phono preamp, the, the sound softened and blurred, and lost so much of the KC Vibe’s immediacy. Going back was no longer an option!
The Cowboy Junkies 2007 LP “Trinity Revisited” is a much better recording than Marley’s. The sound was more vivid, and the stereo image blossomed into a near 3D holographic presence. The ‘Junkies and guest musicians took up residence in my living room.
Listening to an original 1959 pressing of “Latin Fire (The Big Beat of Candido)” is proof positive of how good early stereo LPs can sound. Cuban percussionist Candido fronts a big band, and his brass section sounds natural, with plenty of bite, but there’s no harshness or edge. It’s a high energy recording — the music practically leaps out of the grooves.
I’m not generally a fan of mono recordings because they can sound too flat, but here with Cannonball Adderley’s “Somethin’ Else” LP, the soundstage had depth and dimensionality.
Match the Sutherland KC Vibe with a first-class turntable and phono cartridge and you’ll unlock heretofore unheard magic in your LPs. For as long as I’ve been an audiophile — a very long time — that experience never gets old. Well recorded LPs, including some I found on the street or bought in thrift stores for a dollar, never cease to amaze me.
The 48 Volt Advantage:
The KC VIBE uses a 48 volt out board power supply. THAT key choice gives an opportunity to get a very good power foundation for the audio circuit. Limited power: fixed. The 18 watt power supply is loafing to meet the 2 watt KC VIBE power requirement. Limited filtering: fixed. Filtering is no longer determined by the external power supply. Within the KC VIBE, an extensive, passive RC filtering network completely removes any incoming residue. Completely isolating the audio circuitry from both the AC power line and outboard power supply. Limited output voltage: fixed. The 48 volt source gives a huge margin for extensive filtering and isolation. A full 30 volts of quiet, clean voltage is available for the audio circuits. Limited quality: fixed. The KC VIBE power supply is rated for over 500,000 hours MTBF (Mean Time Between Failure). In accordance with Military Spec MIL-HDBK-217.
The 48 volt power supply gives plenty of room for effective filtering, isolation and regulation. The audio circuit gets the voltage and power quality it needs for performance.
Gain Settings: 40, 45, 50, 55 or 60 dB
Loading: 100, 200, 475, 1k or 47kOhms
Power Requirements: 86 to 260 volts AC, 2 Watts Universal, No Adjustment Required
Size: 11″ x 9″ x 2″ (KC Vibe)
Size: 14.5″ x 12.5″ x 6.5″ (Shipping Box)
Weight: 6 lbs (KC Vibe)
Weight: 9.5 lbs (Shipping Weight)