It's sneaking up on twenty years since I (John) bought his very first high end tubed phono stage, an Audio Research PH3. I was just getting into vinyl, and had a Rega Planar 25 with an Elys cartridge. I went from a decent midrange solid stage phono stage straight to the PH3, creating in a sense a system where I had a lot more phonostage than turntable/cartridge. The PH3 was an absolute revelation in what a tubed phono stage can do for a turntable setup. My system went from having an excellent analog sound, to a magical and alive analog sound that rocketed it's performance above my much more expensive SACD digital front end. It's because, as I found, the tubes give this inner resolution and amplify the natural sense of presence and warmth of vinyl, bringing about what many feel is the best sound source available - Tubes and Vinyl.
Fast forward today, and Pearl Audio is somewhat magically Portland's Audio Research Dealer, a dream come true for me really, and with that comes another dream, the PH9.
Like the PH3 before it, the PH9 is a moderate (58db) amplification phono stage and suitable for higher output ~.7mV)+MC cartridges and virtually all MM cartridges. A low output MC would need the REF Phono. Keeping the PH9 at this median amplification level is a good design move to keep the PH9 design simpler and the costs down. Simply put, ARC chose to build a superb .7mV on up tubed phono stage for $9K instead of a pretty good one that could do .3 mV. I'm a big fan of this approach, especially with the newer high performance MM cartridges on the market.
The PH9 amplifies the cartridge signal with three 6H30 tubes, the preamplification supertube that superceded the 12AX7's, and a 6550 based tube power supply, which gives gutsy dynamic to the sound. The PH9 is extraordinarily organic, quiet and open sounding and also gives that signature Foundation series tube lushness. It has front panel configuration and the ability to drive long interconnects should you wish to have your turntable across the room from your pre-amplifier.