Musical Surroundings Phonomena III Review

Last Updated: January 8, 2024By

With the upgraded Power Supply

One or Two Phono Preamplifiers?

The Musical Surroundings Phonomena III, priced at $1,200, is the latest in a series of well-received phono stages designed by Michael Yee in California. This phono preamp offers a versatile range of adjustments, making it adaptable to various vinyl setups. Its low noise floor and flexibility with resistive and capacitive loading, as well as gain settings, make it a standout choice for audiophiles looking to fine-tune their systems.

Elac Speakers

Other Equipment

I installed the Phonomena III to replace my current phono preamplifier, the Audio Research PH5. My time with the Phonomena III was spent connected to two turntables, the Schitt Sol and the recently reviewed Clearaudio DC AiR. The cartridges used were the Hana Umami Blue moving coil and the Grado Opus3 moving iron.

Matching to Your System

The process of mating your cartridge, interconnect with the phono stage is crucial in optimizing your audio setup. Even slight changes in loading can make huge sonic differences. Having a phono stage with a variety of settings lets you fine tune the overall sound while insuring that any new cartridge or interconnect will have the ability to sound its best.

Resistive Loading

The Phenomena III provided a usually wide range of loading options at this or any price point—a total of sixteen: 30Ω, 40, 50, 59, 80, 100, 121, 150, 243, 280, 380, 475, 660, 1000, 2,000, 47kΩ and 100kΩ. The 100kΩ MM option is particularly useful for MM phono since the 47kΩ “standard” isn’t really a standard and some MM cartridges sound and measure more linear at 100k. Set high output MC cartridges at 47kΩ.

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When setting the MC cartridge resistive loading, start with the manufacturer’s suggested load setting or by using the 10X rule, which is to set loading at 10X the cartridge’s internal impedance. For example start with 80 ohm loading for the 8 ohm internal impedance Hana Umami Blue. Lower resistive loading generally produces increased image focus and solidity along with tighter bass, while higher settings open up the higher frequencies, though it’s important to not confuse non-linear rising high frequency response with “more air”.

Capacitive Loading

Lastly, you have a choice of 100pF or 200pF capacitive loading, which is used with moving-magnet cartridges and has little or no effect on moving-coil cartridges, though there’s no harm in trying either setting. When setting MM capacitive loading check with the manufacturer’s suggested setting and be sure to add the cable’s capacitance to the total if you know it.

Gain Adjustments

The Phonomena III offers 12 gain steps between 40dB and 66dB, which is quite impressive for a $1,200 phono stage. 40dB is the MM default setting and for the most part that is the correct MM gain setting since most MM cartridges output between 4 and 5mVs (millivolts). Higher settings should only be used with if you come across an unusually low output MM cartridge, especially if you don’t know the phono preamp’s overload margin.

High output moving coil cartridges are designed to work with MM phono preamps so generally 40dB and 47kΩ are the correct load and gain settings, unless the high output MM is on the low side of high, in which case you can try somewhat higher gain settings but again be careful of overloading the input. 50dB-58dB is best for medium output MCs (.9-1.5mV), 60dB-66dB work best with low output cartridges.

The abundance of tuning options offered by the Phonomena III makes it an exceptionally versatile product. It allows for seamless adjustments when switching interconnects and cartridges, ensuring peak performance or fine-tuning the overall sound quality.

Adding the Linear Power Supply

The inclusion of an optional Linear Power Supply ($1,000) takes the Phonomena III’s performance to another level. It enhances clarity, dynamics, and bass control, resulting in an even more refined listening experience.

Musical Surroundings Phonomena III


The Phonomena III impresses with its ability to handle different genres of music, offering versatility and excellent harmonic expression. Its upgrade path, including the LPS and the possibility of dual mono operation, provides a multitude of options while never having to sell your existing equipment when the upgrade bug bites you.

Whether priced at $1,200 or $2,200 with the LPS, the Phonomena III competes effectively in the sub $3,000 phono stage market. Its adaptability, sonic performance, and upgrade options make it a strong contender for vinyl enthusiasts looking for a high-quality phono preamplifier.

This review was condensed from Dean Cacioppo’s review the Phonomena III on the Tracking Angle


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