Parks Audio Budgie Class A Tube Phono Pre: First Impression
I’ve spent the past couple years overhauling my system, and have experimented with several great bits of gear. All modest, and perhaps some are considered mid-fi, but all great performers. There was the Bottlehead adventure, logged here, and the lovely Gungnir multibit dac, Roon software, as well as several cables and a usb filter. Finally, I added the Nighthawks for private listening. Speakers (KEF ->>Tekton) changed too – some time back – and, I may cover that experience elsewhere.
All this time, and I’ve not touched my analog front end. It’s been far too long, so now it’s time to shower some love on my collection. The goal is to get the vinyl up to a similar level of performance vs. the digital side. Driven primarily by budget, I’m starting with my phono pre. The ‘table will have to wait.
I’ve had the Project Phono Box S (US$199)for a while, and am running my AT-LP120 into it. I’ve got a Ortofon 2M Red installed. Cables are Anticables. The Phono Box is a dual mono solid state design, supports MM/MC cartridges, and provides switches to adjust gain to match your cart. On the rear, a subsonic filter button is available along with the standard inputs/outputs, ground connection and input for the 18v power supply. Overall, a good performer for the price, and I’ve had no trouble with it.
I am a tube guy. First, there’s the dimension, tone, texture and nuance. Next, the ability to ‘tune’ the amp for a particular sonic character, and finally it supports my tweaker tendencies. I like to build too. So, when considering my next step for a phono pre I went back to a few I’ve admired for some time.
I had shortened the list to three: Lounge MKIII, Bottlehead Reduction, and the Parks Audio Budgie. The Lounge was quite tempting, but I wanted to go tube. All are highly regarded and are in the US$300-$500 range. I was tempted to build another BH product too, but ultimately couldn’t resist the Budgie.
I found Parks Audio last year when searching online for a 6922 phono pre. The price and great reviews made it a top contender for me.
According to their site, Shannon Parks has been building for years, and started the business in 2013. He also started the forums over at Diytube.com. Parks currently offers two SUTs in addition to the phono pre. He builds and tests each unit that leaves the shop. Each unit is burned in for 24 hours before shipping.
Beyond performance and build quality, I’ve also chosen certain products because I like to support our smaller shops. So far, my customer experience has been fantastic with boutique builders.
The Budgie is a single-ended, Class A tube circuit. It uses the popular 6DJ8/6922 tubes – EH 6922’s come stock – which are top mounted for easy swaps. All inputs, outputs, switches and indicator lights are mounted on the top chassis plate. Convenient if you’re short on space behind/around your rack. The box itself appeals to me: simple, clean and when powered, the tubes add a bit of glamour.
I have a couple pair of Telefunken E88CC/6922 that I used in another amp I’ve since sold. Bonus. I’ll likely cover tube rolling in a future post. Today, a pair of these Tele’s cost nearly as much as the Budgie, so while it may be overkill, it won’t hurt to do a comparison. Plus, I think it’s silly to have these things collecting dust – put ’em to work, I say.
Ok, first impressions:
Note: based on Parks recommended settings for Ortofon cartridges, I’ve set the Budgie at 57.4k.
This is a huge upgrade, all around. The depth and dimension of the stage is remarkable. Resolving. The details are presented, though I’m certain too we’re revealing the limits of my humble tables abilities. It can’t compete with the Gungnir MB on this, though the tonal density and weight is very satisfying. My Bottlehead amp is linear, transparent, and easily reveals upstream changes. The stock EH6922 provide an injection of midrange lushness. Dynamic and punchy, it brings enhanced textures in comparison to the Phono Box S. Exactly right – this was one of the goals.
Ok, I’m going to stop here, and in part two we’ll see how things progress. We’ll do some rolling as well. Even now, with just 12 hours in, I’d recommend the Budgie to anyone looking for a tube Phono pre.