Turntables with/without the SA30 phono preamp

I am interested to hear everyone’s opinion and experience with turntables and the SA30

Currently considering upgrade to my turntable and I am wondering how far I can go up the turntable quality/cost scale and trust the built-in phono preamp either with MM or MC (but likely more the latter)

So what turntables, cart combinations are you all using, and do you use the built-in phono preamp of the SA30 or an external one?

For reference I have an old project debut in play at the mo, but upgraded. So it’s a debut 3, with upgraded motor and suspension, replaced belt, acrylic platter, aluminium sub platter, external speedbox s2 power supply and a Denon dl-110 cart, so I am running it through the MM input on the SA30

So for upgrade should I stick at around the Rega p3 and project x2 level. or push up to p6/8 or project x8 and at that point should I also be switching to an external phono preamp. That’s where my head is at right now. :slightly_smiling_face:

I have an ”old” Technics SL1200 player with a SME 3009 S2 improved tonearm. Using an Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge (MM). Play it through the SA30 built in preamp (RIAA). Think it plays great! Never tried a external preamp, so I don’t know if it would sound better?

I was using a Roksan Artessa with my SA30 and it sounded good, but I had an issue with it and it had to go back to be replaced.

I put the much cheaper AT-LP5X in its place again using the SA30 MM Phono stage and I was shocked at how good it sounded through the SA30. I then bought a upgrade Headshell and cartridge AT-VM95SH/H combo kit and put that in yesterday and was blown away by the sound quality.
Now that combo cost about 70% the price of the turn table but that is probably me done for some time on that side.

But I did immediately start looking external Phono stages so I would be interested in your conclusion. I understand that the SA30 is pretty good, but I don’t really know what a step up Phono stage looks like cost wise so all feedback is good in terms of what people have tried

I happily used a Nagaoka MP-500 with the built in phono for about three years. The sound stage and clarity were exceptional. When the MP-500 wore out, I moved into MC and found the built in phono to be pretty awful. “Muddy” sums up the presentation.

I now have a Dynavector XX2 going into a Luxman phono and to the SA30, which sounds fantastic though I still think the sound stage with the MP-500 was wider. I also tried the Rega Aria which was a marked improvement on the SA30’s MC stage but not what I was looking for.

In summary, my experience is that the SA30’s MM stage is brilliant and not matched by its MC stage. This may indicate that ARCAM was expecting most buyers to use the MM stage.


That is good to know thanks and it does set the ceiling on what to expect in the future in terms of further improvements

I use a Clearaudio Performance SE (Satisfy tonearm, Maestro Wood MM cartridge) and it sounds great paired with the SA30. Significantly better (ie richer and more dynamic) than with the NAD C390DD and its supposedly “hi-end” analog module, and maybe, if memory serves me well, a little bit less detailed and organic than a Lehmann Black Cube SE with a Lyngdorf TDAI2200 borrowed by a friend - but then, the Lehmann alone costs around 1,000€.

My take is that, for an integrated phono stage, the MM input of the Arcam is as good as it gets and it would take a really good external preamp to better it.

MC stages are trickier to get right by definition, and I’ve read in various places that the one offered by the SA30 is indeed suboptimal for a good MC setup.



I run an Linn LP12/Ittok with a Hana SL low-output MC cartridge. Having tried the onboard MC input of the SA30, I was very disappointed with its performance compared to my existing Heed Questar MC pre-amp (with Heed PS). In support of previous comments, It would seem that whilst the MM input is perfectly adequate, the MC is not. Presumably, Harman considered the size of the market for MC and decided that it was simply too expensive to implement at a premium level for a device that is primarily aimed at the streaming market. This is a shame and further demonstrates the dilution of Arcam brand values: i.e. to provide high quality at an affordable level.


Rega RP3 and Graham Slee Reflex C. preamp. Always worked well for me. Haven’t tried the onboard pre in my SA30 yet. I may never.

Well, you could look at it from different perspective. It’s also possible, that making a very good MC stage would increase the price of whole amp, which would make it too expensive for many users, not bringing any added value for them. As someone mentioned, please look at the market for MC stages, and consider SA30 is MAINLY targetting streaming. So why increase the price to improve something, that will be used by a very small % of users?
Many amps like this do not have MC stage (NAD M10) or any phono stage at all.

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Although now obsolete, the SA30 was sold as a premium product catering for both MM and MC users. From what I’ve read the MM stage is excellent, it’s just the MC stage that lets it down rather. If as you suggest that it was targeted mainly as a streamer, they would have done better to forego all phono inputs and reduce the RRP. In the event, they had to discount the SA30 from its original £2,300 by £500 within 18 months of its launch. A pity that it didn’t do better with its innovative Dirac facility, but I suspect that this was as much to do with the Harman/Samsung ownership. I hope that they’ve learnt from their errors with the replacement Radia range.

It’s a design choice. For me it would be better, as i’m not using phono inputs at all, but for others it would be a show-stopper.
As with all devices, there have to be some compromises.
Anyway it is what it is and you have to deal with it. If you don’t like MC stage, get external one or change the amp. There’s no way to please everyone…

What do you mean? Dirac works very well, so i have no idea what you mean by that.

Actually as far as i know, Harman is looking for synergies (i.e. Arcam is designing devices for multiple brands, like JBL SA750 being re-branded SA30) and trying to market everything as a whole (i.e. demoing Arcam devices with JBL speakers), but at the same time companies have a lot of freedom designing their devices, as long as they are within the budget.
So i doubt they were limiting Arcam in any way during SA30 design process.
And in this case it’s actually wrong, as Arcam is known for it’s poor software and this is one area where they could use Harman’s experience and resources.