I should start this review with an apology for taking so long to get the review turned in. I had planned to do it when I reviewed the Margules Audio U280-SC 25th Anniversary tube amp and SF220.15 20th Anniversary tube line stage, but somehow got distracted. When I did the article about my three big surprises in 2015, I realized I had never written a review for this surprising phono preamp. So here it is, hopefully better late than not at all.
The Margules Audio Magenta FZ47DB Phono Stage Preamplifier is a small black box with a nice slightly curved front panel. It looks nice enough, but mostly it looks business like. This is ok with me; while I like nice looking equipment, I also appreciate equipment that spends more on the inside than the outside, a category that includes Margules Audio Magenta FZ47DB Phono Amplifier, and the Emia Remote Autoformer I use as my line stage reference. The Magenta has plenty of gain, 54dB with a maximum output voltage of 10V and a S/N ratio of 90 dB at maximum output. It uses a dual regulated power supply, and when you look inside you find a built-in internal DIP switch board that allows you to change the load with 16 different input impedances that vary from 27K to 390 K ohms. While some may feel that it’s a pain to have to remove the cover to use the switches, please remember the huge savings here and that you don’t have to do it often.
I used the Margules Audio Magenta FZ47DB Phono Amplifier with the AMG Teatro and the Allnic Verito Z cartridges. In both cases, I used the Allnic SUT with it as well. Both of these cartridges are well out the league most people would use with the Margules phono stage, but I was using it with their amp and preamp, and they surely deserve a cartridge of this magnitude. I also used it in my reference system.
In each case, the Magenta’s tonal performance surprised me. It’s actually a little more tube like than the tube Allnic 301 that costs $3,000. Does it sound better than the Allnic? It does, and way too close for my comfort. The Magenta has a wonderfully full and round sound. The bass is full but fast enough to never sound boomy.
The upper treble is luscious, but nicely defined. Unlike many inexpensive transistor phono stages and some very expensive ones for that matter, the Magenta was never aggressively in your face. For example, with cymbals, I could hear the bronzy sound they make that gave them a sound that felt so right. I could hear air in the top end, though not quite as much as I hear with more expensive phono stages. To my surprise, this never bothered me when using the Magenta in my system. There was just enough air to make the music sound nicely realistic.
It is in the midrange that solid state phono stages often disappoint me. Specifically, there are two flaws I hear in the midrange of most solid state phono stages that thankfully I do not hear with the Magenta. First is a thin, white-like sound; second, is exaggerated surface noise. Thankfully the Magenta has neither of these traits which make it a phono stage I could easily live with.
If you read my reviews, you know how much I value how my system reproduces voices. With the Margules Audio Magenta FZ47DB, voices sounded nicely alive and full. Instruments like the piano will uncover many shortcomings in any component. Many less than state-of-the-art transistor phono stages may have a tendency to get the leading edge right or at worse add a tizzy shimmer to it, but many of theses just don’t give us the harmonics in a very convincing manner, leaving us with a sound we all know as a recording of a piano versus the illusion of a real piano. Thankfully, the Magenta provides beautiful harmonics. The leading edge is not quite as fast as some, but with the right recording it can give the illusion of a real piano.
Violins were sweet and with appropriate bite. The wonderful thing of the Margules Audio Magenta FZ47DB was that on abrupt violin or cello bowing, I could hear the harmonics of the strings as the bow passed over them. Plucked strings had real weight and were plenty quick enough to make the experience emotionally involving. Whether listening to brass instruments or woodwinds, I never felt for a second that I was sacrificing the enjoyment of the music by having a budget phono preamp in my system.
When it comes to scale, dynamics and size, the Magenta can compete with the big boys. Micro-dynamics are good enough to give it nice Pace, Rhythm and Timing, but it’s the scale and overall dynamics that are truly a standout. On the other hand, the Magenta’s ability to produce a holographic soundstage was dependent on the cartridge. With the AMG Teatro cartridge, the soundstage was very, very realistic, and I was never distracted or left wishing for a better soundstage with either cartridge. I do have to admit that the whole idea of a soundstage isn’t as important to me as it is to some, but I don’t think hardly anyone would be disappointed in this area.
I have reviewed a few bargain preamps, the discontinued Allnic H-1200 at $1,200, the Electrocompaniet ECP 1 at $1500, and the Allnic H 1201 at $2,950 (it does come with its own built-in step-up transformer). This makes the $799 Margules Audio Magenta FZ47DB the least expensive, and I would say it easily bests the first two on the list. When compared to the $2,950 Allnic H-1201 it’s not so easy to say which is best. The Allnic certainly has a more holographic soundstage, better micro-dynamics and is quieter. On the other hand, I prefer the rich, robust tones of the Magenta, the big sound it has, and its ability to portray beautiful harmonic structure. The Allnic does most of the audiophile things better but both plays music in a wonderfully musical way, and they are both exceptionally good for the money.
A Few Faults
There are a few areas where the Margules Audio Magenta FZ47DB falls short of the very best. For one thing, it’s not as quiet as the very best, but the good news is it’s not very susceptible to hum. Second, the Magenta is not the most transparent phono preamp I have heard, but then I am kind of a transparency nut. Third, it doesn’t let you hear into the levels of detail in the music the way my Soundsmith SG-220 Strain-Gauge cartridge system does. Last, the Magenta is not the most refined sounding phono stage I have heard. Still, having pointed out these faults, this preamp really lets the music flow into my room.
I have used and reviewed many great phono stages, some costing over $30,000 when combined with a linestage, and one costing over $15,000 that had over twenty tubes and three huge chassis. The best stand alone phono preamp I have had in my system though was the Allnic Audio H-3000 LCR Reference Phono Preamplifier that now cost $14,900 and maybe I should have bought it. I’ve shared this with you to put this review in perspective. The little Magenta from Margules Audio isn’t better than any of those, but it is insanely good for the money, and it’s dang good for any price. If they had put it in an expensive chassis and priced it at $5,000, I would still be saying everything I’ve said. I for one, am glad they didn’t.
Copy editor: Laurence A. Borden
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