For a solid state M/C phono stage, the PH60 produced a surprisingly warm and dynamic midrange. The PH60’s high frequency extension, detail, and timbral accuracy were all respectable. It offered a pleasantly musical and non-fatiguing sound.
The PH60’s lower midrange and upper bass were considerably better than MM phono stages that are included in most integrated amplifiers and many entry-level standalone phono stages. The mid-bass and low bass timbral accuracy was also quite good. The PH60 delivered good extension with a natural tone and presence. Overall, my review unit produced decent PRaT, swing, and groove within the lower frequency registers. The PH60 was a pleasure to listen to because it brought a strong sense of rhythm and groove to the music.
During my weeks of testing, my strongest ‘epiphany’ moment with the PH60 occurred while listening to the Dire Straits’ moody album Brothers in Arms.
Released in 1985, Brothers in Arms was firmly baptized in a dirty wash of atmospheric keyboards, sincere and painful guitar lines, and quiet—even reflective—vocals. Their songs tell stories of strange times, exotic places, and defiantly unique people.
Featuring the hauntingly atmospheric tracks “So Far Away”, “Your Latest Trick”, “Ride Across the River”, “One World”, and “The Man’s Too Strong”, quite strangely, Brothers in Arms also launched the multi-platinum hit single “Money For Nothing”.
While listening to an original 1985-era 150 gram British pressing of Brothers in Arms, it struck me like a bucket of ice cold water: the PH60 M/C phono stage reminded me—in a strikingly tactile way—of the sound of a Dynaco ST-70 I’d once owned way-back-when in the mid-1980s. That tube amp created a wonderfully warm and musical sound. So too does the PH60.
Dire Straits always brought an incredible amount of “feel” to the way they played their instruments. Most entry-level gear doesn’t allow a listener to hear—let alone reach out and touch—the tactile subtlety of their music. The PH60 provided a fair insight into the atmosphere and texture of their music. And this is quite an accomplishment for an M/C phono stage positioned in the sub-$1,000 dollar price bracket.
The Rival Sons’ 2012 album Head Down showcases stellar sonics and epic tracks from a superb post-modern hard rock band. Any time I hear someone complain that “There aren’t any good rock bands today,” I always recommend that they listen to Head Down.
Their heavy-handed guitar, bass, and drums-driven sound features the songs “Keep On Swinging”, “Wild Animal”, “Until the Sun Comes”, “Run From Revelation”, and “Manifest Destiny Pt#1 + Pt#2”.
The PH60 reproduced the unstoppable rhythm and groove of these tracks with a musicality and coherency that was a joy to listen to. The PH60 made my records sound like music, rather than recordings. Compared to solid state digital gear in this price range, which usually delivers horribly fatiguing noise, this was a pleasant surprise.
A wise and perspicacious man once told me: “Good things are seldom cheap; and cheap things are seldom good.” With a price of $599 US, Hafler’s PH60 is the rarest of audiophile gems in that it not only sounds good, but it’s also affordable.
If David Hafler was alive today, he’d be proud to see– and hear– that his ‘value for money’ philosophy is still alive and kicking in current Hafler-branded audiophile gear. If I was starting over and looking for a sensibly priced solid state M/C phono stage, the PH60 is exactly what I’d buy.
If you own a sub-$2K USD level turntable with an M/C cartridge and are using the phono stage in a low to mid-fi integrated amp, you should give the PH60 a serious listen. Anyone with an entry-level outboard phono stage priced under $500 USD should also audition Hafler’s beautiful sounding unit.
For more info, please visit www.hafler.com