Aurorasound VIDA Prima Phono Preamplifier

hfncommendedThe most affordable product from one of Japan's renowned phono stage specialists, its quirky retro looks won't be to every Western taste – but its musical potential will

In Japan, long-playing vinyl records have never really gone away – they just went underground, becoming cool artefacts that sat defiantly away from the mainstream music market. As the country churned out millions of shiny new Compact Disc players in the 1980s and '90s, the humble LP stood its ground, cherished by record collectors who thought CD to be the replacement for pre-recorded Compact Cassette, rather than vinyl.

Even in the mid '90s, Japanese subsidiaries of major Western labels like EMI and Blue Note continued to release new records, while UK music retailers couldn't kill off the black plastic fast enough. Japanese vinyl 'otaku' – record collectors – had a dedication that arguably surpassed any others in the world. As foreign manufacturers were dropping turntables from their product lineups, Japanese brands like Technics continued to sell theirs well into the new millennium.

Homage To The Past?
This sense of specialness, of otherness, of breaking away from the fray, is a big part of the Japanese analogue scene. In a way, it explains why Aurorasound's products don't look anything like those of the country's vast consumer electronics giants. While the latter are often gaudy and shiny, with lots of bells and whistles, the former are wilfully quirky and rather retro in a timeless sort of way. Stylistically the brand's phono stages could pay homage to the '50s, '60s or '70s – one is never quite sure.


Aurorasound's brand aesthetic signals that vinyl isn't part of the rat race, and founder Shinobu Karaki knows this very well, having made a living catering for this niche market for many years. His company is now a respected specialist hi-fi brand in his home market, and the VIDA Prima 'Phono Equaliser Amplifier' is his most affordable product, selling in the UK for £1000.

It's dramatically pared down compared to the impressive mid-market VIDA [HFN Jul '13] even though the Prima's dark wood case and plain, unadorned aluminium fascia with its large orangey-yellow mute button are clearly fashioned after its bigger brother. In the VIDA Prima's defence, it is surprisingly well made and finished, considering its relatively modest price. The 2.2kg, 250x69x246mm (whd) casework is sturdy and the rear panel rugged, as are the gold-plated connectors. These include single-ended RCA phono inputs and outputs and a ground terminal. There are also two small toggle switches, one for load impedance that offers improved compatibility with MC cartridges having a sub-15ohm coil impedance (MC-Low) or a >15ohm impedance (MC-High). The two gain options are rated at +40dB for MM pick-ups and +64dB for MCs.

Silky Response
Look inside the case and you'll see that things are very cleanly laid out. It's basically a single circuit-board with short and broadly symmetrical signal paths. The core RIAA equalisation is achieved through a part-active/part-passive network – using negative feedback for low frequency compensation and a capacitor/resistor network for the treble. Karaki-san says this combination yields wider headroom and lower distortion.

High quality components are used, including Linear Technology and Texas Instruments regulators/op-amps along with WIMA film capacitors and high precision resistors. The power supply uses a small RS toroidal transformer and sports Schottky barrier diodes, FineMet beads and – says Aurorasound – high quality smoothing capacitors. The fascia switchgear has a silky action, especially that big front panel mute button which was enormously handy when changing records and cleaning the stylus. Those rear switches are fiddly to use but you're unlikely to be changing them much, and they do seem to be quality items.

sqnote Digging Deep
Most 'affordable' phono stages are decent enough sounding, even if they don't really dig deep into what's at the bottom of the record groove. The VIDA Prima does better, however, with a particularly smooth tone and an open and detailed nature that's a serious step up from a budget design. Typically, it delivers wide soundstages that are well proportioned front-to-back and, alongside its jaunty rhythmic gait, allows the music to come alive.

Although its grip is not the world's most vice-like, it still keeps a firm hand on the stops and starts of the music, and endeavours to deliver them in a pleasingly believable way. At the same time it has a calm and easy feel, so never makes things sound forced. Last but not least, it's a low-noise design that turns in fine sound whether you're running a moving-magnet cartridge or a moving-coil. During the review period I used a range of pick-ups on my Michell GyroDec/Rega RB301 turntable/arm combination, majoring on an Audio-Technica VM530EN MM and an AT33PTG/II MC, both of which are 'medium output' in their respective categories.

The VIDA Prima has a pleasant tonality that veers ever so slightly towards sweetness. Whereas some solid-state phono stages can sound just a little too 'tinselly' for their own good, injecting a rather brittle chromium-plated sheen to the music, this little box steers clear.

Aurorasound Inc
Supplied by: Pure Sound, UK
01822 612449