PHLUX-III - third-generation active phono-cartridge


The Phædrus Audio PHLUX active phono cartridges represent a new development in phono cartridge technology in which the electrodynamic motor system is buffered by a miniature impedance-converter thereby securing excellent electrical performance with excellent tracking. PHLUX-III is the third generation product and replaces the original PHLUX and the PHLUX-II series.

Click here for a short video describing the PHLUX-II.

The miniature impedance-converter which buffers the moving-magnet motor is supplied power via the signal wires, in much the same way a capacitor microphone is supplied with phantom power. By this means, the PHLUX-III may be fitted to any turntable and arm combination without modifications to the wiring.

With a hand made American black walnut wooden body with rock maple inlay and a brass staging plate, designed and made by a recognised luthier, the PHLUX-III incorporates new amplifier technology with a bandwidth from DC to 2MHz.

As part of my project to digitize my LP collection, I bought the Phlux-II cartridge based on the superiority of needle drop recordings provided by Phaedrus Audio. I used adapters (made following plans on the Phaedrus website) to connect the Phlux-II to phantom-power microphone preamps on my USB audio interface (an RME BabyFace Pro). I purchased Stereo Lab software to apply RIAA equalization (or other equalization as necessary) in software.

I have been very pleased with the Phlux-II - It basically sounds like a very expensive moving coil cartridge but tracks better. A spectacular buy.

Hamish Norton


The PHLUX-III-Folio active cartridges house the same motor and wideband DC-MHz amplifier as the PHLUX-III-SH and complement the top-end model.

The PHLUX-III-Folio cartridge range have bodies made of the composite material known as Richlite with aluminium staging. These modifications enable us to offer full PHLUX-III performance at lower cost and to support versions of this third-generation active cartridge technology for historic recordings.

The PHLUX-III-Folio-NE is fitted with a nude elliptical cartridge offers excellent stereo LP replay performance at substantially lower cost.

The PHLUX-III-Folio-78(M) is a fixed-coil, active cartridge with 0.003" (75µm) bonded round-shank, conical stylus, for shellac records. And the PHLUX-III-Folio-(M) FEATHER is fixed-coil, active cartridge with 0.0006" (15µm) bonded round-shank, conical stylus, for mono and archive work.

To mono or not to mono

Both the PHLUX-III-Folio-78 and the PHLUX-III-Folio-FEATHER are available in both stereo and mono versions. Why? For archive work, and especially when using Psptial Audio's Stereo Lab software, we recommend using a stereo motor because this gives the software two mono signals which may be used to cover-up disc damage and reduce distortion. But for straightforward record listening, a true mono cartrdige is a better solution. With Phædrus Audio's PHLUX-III-Folio cartridges, the choice is yours.

The mono versions of the PHLUX-III-Folio-78 and the PHLUX-III-Folio-FEATHER incorporate electrodynamically reduced vertical compliance to help with tracking.

The wonder of Richlite

Richlite is a sustainable, paper-based composite material consisting of cellulose fibre and phenolic resin. Originally developed for industrial tooling, Richlite is nowadays used in aerospace, action sports, and by the architecture and design community. Superficially, the material properties of Richlite are similar to a very dense hardwood like rosewood or ebony (its density is 1260kg/m³). It was chosen by Phædrus Audio for its excellent mechanical and acoustical properties.

In acoustic terms, when a material vibrates, the frequencies at which it vibrates depend upon: its dimensions; its stiffness (Young's modulus); its density (ρ); and how much it deforms when compressed (its Poisson ratio). The duration of the vibration in the material is a function of its damping factor (η), which is a a measure a material's ability to dissipate elastic strain energy during mechanical vibration or wave propagation. The property is like density, it is irrespective of other properties, including dimensions.

Our experiments have shown that because Richlite is dense, consistent and without voids, it has a significantly higher damping factor than rosewood or African blackwoods. And it maintains this dampling across a wide range of frequencies so it doesn't "colour" the sound when used as the body for the PHLUX-III Folio cartridge.

This engineering advantage complements the overwhelming advantage of this material compared with rosewood and ebony that - as a result of unsustainable and illegal harvesting - many species of tree which yield these tropical hardwoods are now endangered, whereas Richlite is composed of approximately 65% recycled cellulose. Because of the natural variation in the paper fibres, Richlite has a unique look combined with a leathery feel and warmth.

Partnering equipment

A technical article on the benefits of active cartridge technology is given below as well as applications information for those wishing to use the PHLUX-II and are willing to do some DIY electronics. For those looking for a one-stop solution:

You can download the PHLUX-III manual here. The manual contains advice about tonearm matching.

A few audio samples of the PHLUX cartridge compared with other cartridges is available here.

Specification Phædrus Audio PHLUX-III

† JVC TRS-1007 lateral; includes variation due to wavelength loss on inner grooves.
* CBS STR-112
‡ Shure TTR-103
Note that the PHLUX active cartridge is the subject of UK Patent application GB1517805.6

Installed in Pioneer tonearm with the beautiful Technics SP-15 turntable (SH-15B2 plinth)

“The PHLUX-II sounds simply superb. Can’t wait to digitize my LPs with it.”

GM . Montréal Canada

Technical description

The advantage of the greater output signal voltage from the moving magnet pickup is offset by the nature of the source impedance which rises with frequency. This creates a number of practical problems.

Firstly, the cartridge must be terminated with a resistance some 500 to 1000 times greater than the termination of the moving coil type or the high frequency response is unacceptably attenuated. As frequency increases, the increasing reactance of the cartridge fails to damp the electronic noise due to these high termination resistances, and this sets a lower bound on the noise performance of the moving magnet cartridge to a level where the electrical noise is not so far below that of the analogue medium that it may be said to be insignificant.

Secondly, the capacitance of the connecting cables interacts with the cartridge to produce a resonant network with a frequency response peak in the audio-band where the impedance of the pickup inductance and cable capacitance are equal and opposite.

Thirdly, the higher impedances of the moving magnet pickup circuit compromise stereo performance due to crosstalk between the right and left signals in the unscreened wires of the cartridge and tonearm.

Active circuitry

All the disadvantages of the moving magnet pickup may be eliminated by means of a lightweight, electronic amplifier close to, or inside the pickup; power to which is provided via the signal wires. This amplifier:

In fact, it is possible to secure an electrical performance from the moving magnet type pickup which approaches or surpasses the moving coil type and combine these virtues with the lower cost, better tracking of the moving magnet pickup.

Test Results

The wideband, RMS noise-voltage, measured with an AC voltmeter post-RIAA equalisation with the active circuit is 8dB below the noise of the standard moving-magnet arrangement. The figures below illustrate the spectrum of the noise post RIAA equalisation. Listening tests confirm that, once the tonearm is removed from the record there is no perceptible noise from the loudspeakers; just as with a moving coil cartridge.

Residual noise (tonearm parked) standard moving magnet cartridge: 24 bit recording. With 0dBFS calibrated to 50cm/s, the 16 bit noise floor is indicated. This analysis is post RIAA equalisation.

Residual noise (tonearm parked) moving magnet cartridge with lightweight amplifier in circuit: 24 bit recording. With 0dBFS calibrated to 50cm/s, the 16 bit noise floor is indicated. This analysis is post RIAA equalisation.

Listening tests also reveal that gone too is any hint of the "splashy" top-end often associated with the moving magnet cartridge. Measurements confirm the frequency response dependence on capacitive loading is entirely eliminated when the lightweight amplifier is fitted. The familiar "hump" in the frequency response of a moving magnet cartridge is removed. Predictions from the SPICE model in the first figure below are confirmed by the measurements illustrated below that.

Theoretical prediction of response modification due to "activation" of the MM cartridge

Measured response modification (red traces - standard arrangement: black traces - with lightweight amplifier fitted)

And, because there is no LC "filter circuit" to degrade high-frequency group-delay, the result is transient handling which compares with a moving coil type.

Phase response of standard and active MM compared

The biggest surprise noted in the listening tests was the alteration of the stereo image which was radically improved with the impedance converter fitted. Measurements on the PHLUX cartridge show that inter-channel crosstalk improves by >6dB over a sizeable portion of the audio band with the amplifier fitted.

Response and crosstalk standard MM cartridge (pink noise tracks spectrally "whitened" prior to analysis)

Response and crosstalk in MM cartridge fitted with lightweight amplifier (pink noise tracks spectrally "whitened" prior to analysis)

The illustrations above also show that the measured frequency response when only one channel is driven is also greatly improved with the lightweight amplifier present and remains essentially flat, rather than rolling off by about 12dB at 20kHz which the cartridge demonstrates under standard conditions. In other words, the frequency spectrum of an element in the mix remains constant irrespective of its position in the stereo image. It is probably this which accounts for the remarkable transformation of the stereo image with the lightweight amplifier fitted.

Technical conclusions

In short, the sound quality of a standard moving magnet cartridge is transformed when the lightweight amplifier is fitted. All the virtues associated with a moving coil type are secured whilst retaining the significant advantages of the moving magnet type: lower cost and often better tracking due to the very lightweight motor mechanism. Listening tests made with other, much more expensive, moving-coil cartridges were not preferred to those made with the PHLUX-II cartridge.

Applications information (DIY)

A very simple and low-cost "one-stop-shop" solution to use the PHLUX-II with any pre-existing hi-fi system is the Groove Sleuth MICRO PHLUX-Bridge.

Phædrus Audio has also created the PHLO-II a hardware supprt and buffer design for PHLUX-II made available under the terms of the CERN OHL v.1.2 open-source hardware licence.

Otherwise, supporting the PHLUX-II is relatively simple and virtually all phono preamplifiers may be modified easily to supply adequate power for the cartridge which only consumes a minute 0.6mW. A typical circuit is illustrated below.

Power to the PHLUX-II is supplied from rail Vp via resistor Rp. Vp must be +9V or greater and the value of Rp is calculated with the equation,

Rp = ( Vp - 3.5 ) / 0.08

Where Vp is in volts and the result is directly in kilohoms. Thus, for example, if Vp is +9V, Rp will be 68kΩ.

Note that the standard values of 47k and approximately 220p for Rt and Ct respectively are not ideal. It is better if Rt is as high as possible (commensurate with providing adequate bias to the amplifier). The presence of Ct in this circuit is not ideal as it simply serves to reduce the stability margin of the impedance-converter circuit.

Also note that the signal sits on a positive bias which may affect the choice, and possibly the polarity, of C1.

A practical design is given below in which the phono preamplifer may be selected to be in standard moving-magnet mode or PHLUX-II mode by moving a link.

Audio examples

A few audio examples of the PHLUX-II compared with other MM and MC cartridges in a similar price range.

Example 1 - Standard (European) MM cartridge first, second the PHLUX-II

Example 2 - Standard (American) MM cartridge first, second the PHLUX-II

Example 3 - Standard (Japanese) MC cartridge first, second the PHLUX-II

Here are three further examples to download. These are FLAC only. The recording is of the Philharmonia Orchestra under Kurtz of Prokofiev's ballet music Romeo & Juliet recorded in Abbey Road in 1964.


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