Onix PH15 phono preamp


At the beginning of the 80’s, birth age of the Compact Disc, among the countless voices that extolled the phenomenon, stood out the discordant voice of Ivor Tiefenbrun, Linn’s founder, who opinionated: “the CD player is good for the elderly ladies with trembling fingers”. I am not so iconoclastic and I propose you a test. Play the same record in both versions: CD and LP. If the first one will perform better, then reflect! Do not deceive yourselves thinking that the digital format is better. The outcome could rely on the fact that your vinyl is a mix of molten ballpoint pens, or the recording has been clandestinely extracted from an electronic surveillance. I am just kidding, of course, but the fact is that the analog set – the audio chain from the turntable to the phono preamp – maybe does not have the right tweak. I can affirm that a turntable of medium quality, with the correct set up, is capable of discouraging – from the listening point of view – very expensive CD players, but only if you want “to get your hands dirty”.


The CD is ambiguous. It can consist of data, photos, and videos. I also have seen it in the orchards used as a scarecrow. The vinyl is something else. It is the musical support par excellence. The analogue tracking is a mechanical system: it breaths, is vital, sentimental and can involve your senses. The digital tracking is just decomposing and recomposing numeric units.


Today I am very happy because I can speak of a phono stage regardless of the outcome of the tests. I might define the review of the Onix PH15 phono preamp as the second chapter of the Onix saga. Nothing to do with the Beowulf epic or the adventures of Asterix and Obelix, of course. It means the hi-end Onix Audio label about which ReMusic has already offered a sumptuous review of the A65 integrated amp. As for the look and the substance, you may refer to the previous article, since the series is the same. Here I just confirm my considerations on the elegance and good manufacture.


Like all Onix products, inside stands out a well-dimensioned power supply and an impressive pair of 4.700mF Nichicon filter capacitors together with a pair of 2.500mF Rubycon. On the main board, are several Nichicon Gold capacitors and two very good operational Burr Brown OPA604AP. On the rear, besides the IEC socket - that allows the use of independent power cables - there are only two RCA inputs and two outputs. The phono can match both MM and MC cartridges, but in a fixed configuration: 47kOhm/150pF for the MM, with a gain up to 40db, and 100Ohm/470pF for the MC, with a gain up to 60db. Suggested is the MM type with an output voltage between 2,5 and 5 mV, and the MC type with an output voltage between 0,50 and 1mV. I am aware that at this point the fans of the analogue could lose interest, as we cannot argue about impedances, loads, inductances, step-up, interface, etc. But with less than 400.00 euro, what do you expect? Quoting a poet friend of mine: “You cannot ask a linden to be an oak!”


This preamp is direct to a specific category of users. I would call them the lazy aspiring vinylophiles. They are attracted by the vinyl, but they do not want to spend the entire day searching for the right cartridge load. They want a phono input on the preamps and on the modern hi-end integrated amps, without spending lots of money. In our case, just plug and play. The object of my test is very lucky. I have decided to insert it in my main system and interface it with my Audio Tekne TP8301 MKIII preamp. A compulsory pause, breathing in and out and self-control… I do not intend to speak of Audio Tekne: it would be like speaking of my mom, or of God. I just want to say that, with this set-up, the Onix will have a fundamental component for an analogue set: the transformer. This one, even if not used as a step-up, I mean as a linearizer of the feeble output signal of the MC cartridges, will give – I am sure – a substantial contribution in terms of silencing, dynamics and tone. Please have a look at the About us section, in the footer of our website, to know the composition of my system.


The first listening test is dramatic. The PH15 is like a Swiss paymaster stuck in an elevator with two jacks swearing dialect: I cannot make sense of it, but I do not give up. After a week, during which the phono has always been switched on, I repeat the test. The caterpillar has become a butterfly. Meanwhile, also at a high volume, the soundstage is silent and this is a good starting point. The cartridge goes down on the first LP: Southern exposure by Alex De Grassi, Windham Hill Records, 1983, a Teldec Metal Mastering recording of a soloist acoustic guitar, a custom Ervin Somogyi. If you know the Windham Hill, you also know the amazing intertwining of atmosphere and harmony exuding from the grooves. If don’t, I suggest you to get some copies. The parts played in arpeggio and the soloist lines are clean and quite rapid, with a decent level of sustain, while the harmonic structure is rich. Maybe the Onix sacrifices a bit the ambience, but the notes are extraordinary clear and precise, without sounding stiff and bright. Track after track the scene gets wider and the loudspeakers start to disappear. A romantic sound peeps out, romantic in the character not in the genre. The second LP is Raising Sand, by the original duo Robert Plant/Alison Krauss, Rounder Records, 2007, produced by the immense T. Bone Burnett, who leaves an enduring mark on this little masterpiece, assisted by an elite of incredible musicians, among which, Marc Ribot and Norman Blake. Just him, could gather the rock abrasive spirit of the former Zeppelin with the expressive sweetness of the appealing Alison.

The Onix gives back the fantastic voices vibrating and running after a substrate of fleeced instruments, where every single note, every single effect, every overdrive, are perfectly set and nothing is casual. Tonally, I have the impression that the mid-low range suffers of a slight lack of weight and authority, even if the lowest bass is well extended and reasonably solid. The midrange is not very abundant but essentially correct without being rough or sharp, the high frequencies are open and quite airy. The PH15 develops an agreeable sense of physical presence. The combo bass drum and double bass gives an idea of strength although not so deep. The feeling is that everything sounds coherently, without any clamorous fall, but at the same time, without particular excellences.

The listening experience is always pleasant, never vividly kaleidoscopic. It caresses, without shaking you. I would label it as “smooth”, well mannered, controlled like a teacher’s pet. The rigidity of the setting, unfortunately, prevents from the correct expression of the Clearaudio Stradivari V2 cartridge that, with an internal impedance of 30 Ohm, needs a resistive load greater than the 100 Ohm of default.


To indulge my whim of testing the MM input, I decide to operate a system more tuned with the Onix range: Thorens TD166 MKII turntable with homonymous tonearm and Clearaudio Virtuoso Wood cartridge, Fase Performance 1.0 integrated amplifier, Pioneer AS-305A loudspeakers. I play one of all-time best rock records: If I could only remember my name, by David Crosby, Atlantic Recording, 1971. You have tachycardia only in reading the names of the musicians: Joni Mitchell, Grace Slick, Jorma Kaukonen, Jack Casady, Jerry Garcia, Paul Kantner, Neil Young, Graham Nash, the cream of the west coast and psychedelic musical scene of that time. This vinyl has something magic. It gives back lysergic effluvia that open your mind and persuade yourself to love the whole universe and its creatures. Crosby’s open chords and ethereal voice dreamily hover in the room space, with a satisfying naturalness, also thanks to the Pioneer alnico loudspeakers, which have a peculiar tone, oriented to realism.

With respect to the test made with the first system, here the scene is less deep and the three dimensionality is reduced, whilst the dynamics does not yield so much. There is a certain degree of transparency, countervailing the less fine musical grain.

Inserted in the second system, the Onix has a more “human” dimension. It feels at ease and in its imperfections can surprise for its pleasant and graceful way of reproducing music, obtaining therefore the listener’s indulgency.

Now I play Count Basie and the Kansas City 7, recorded in 1962 for the Impulse label. Count here is in a small band, an unusual and fresh contest, where he has more freedom than within his big band. Our preamp is capable of expressing this emancipation yearning and, thanks to the great recording, offers a fresh and refined sound, very personal and always emphatically searching for a swinging jazz, candid and, all in all, less complex.


At the end of the sessions, I can conclude saying that the design characteristics that had inspired the Onix A65 integrated amp and, at this point, the entire Classic line, are also in the phono PH15. Besides the charming livery, what amazes is the fact that, at every listening session, you can catch lacunas and defectiveness of a budget electronic device. However, they are magically metabolized in the service of an amiable, kind, extremely friendly sound. A sound that asks you for love, not for judgement, with the promise of giving you back delight and satisfaction. For the pleasure it has given to me during these few days of tests, the Onix PH15 has performed beyond its price range. Peremptorily, it gains a place among the devices that divulgate in the community the idea of music as an expressive form of art to live actively and not with the aboulia of a soap opera spectator.  




top score ✳✳✳✳✳ ReMusic Sparks

Tone colour: ✳✳✳ | Quite correct, with some weakness directly proportionate to the complexity of the musical message.

Dynamics: ✳✳✳✳ | The breaks between piano and forte are well intelligible, same thing for the crescendo. Energy is present.

Detail: ✳✳✳ | Not a strength point, it prefers the ensemble.

Clearness:✳✳✳1/2 | Decent, even with some spots hither and yon.

Image: ✳✳✳1/2 | Three dimensionality is good, less the depth.

Rise time:✳✳✳ | A further effort would be appreciated.

Manufacture:✳✳✳✳ | Rarely so good in this range of electronic devices.

Price/quality ratio: ✳✳✳✳✳| Excellent.



Official technical specifications:

Gain: MM 40dB; MC 60dB

Frequency response: 20Hz to 20kHz (- 0.25 dB)

Signal/Noise Ratio: MM - 95dB; MC - 75dB

THD: MM < 0.01%; MC < 0.04%

RIAA Deviation: ± 0.2%

Output Voltage: 250mV

Output Impedance: 100Ohm

Sensitivity / Impedance Input: MM 3.5 mV/47KOhm/150pF, MC 0.5 mV/100Ohm/470pF

Overload: MM 22dB; MC 20dB

Recommended Phono Detector: MM 2.5mV - 5mV output, MC 0.5 mV - 1mV output

Power Consumption: 10W

Weight: 3,3Kg

Dimensions: 32x45x20cm (WxDxH)


Official Italian dealer: to Pacetech website

Official current price in Italy: 399.00 EU

Associated equipment: to Giuseppe "MinGius" Trotto's system

by Giuseppe Trotto
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