Entry level audiophile phono stage with upgrade path.
This is a complete re-design of the Dino phono Stage.
- Fully compatible with all Trichord power supplies
- Noise levels reduced by 4.5dB
- High quality PTFE gold plated phono connectors on rear panel
- Re-designed circuit board with improved ground layout
- New analogue output stage using OPA827 op amps greatly improve sound quality
- Compatible with MM and MC cartridges
- Gain and cartridge loading adjustable by easily accessible DIP switches
The Dino Mk3 is a high performance phono amplifier which at an affordable price gives you tremendous value.
Designed for transparency and realism, this superb sounding amplifier is based on the fore-running Dino Mk1 and Dino Mk2 phono stages which have won many awards and accolades along the way.
Whether you have an ultra-low output Moving Coil cartridge or a high output Moving Magnet the Dino Mk3 will cope easily. A set of user friendly switches on the base of the unit allows you to simply adjust load and gain settings.
These settings are vital to match the amplifier to the cartridge and obtain the best sonic result. If your current phono stage only has a couple of options for this function, eg a MM/MC switch, then you are missing out on the ability to tune your system to it’s optimum.
An entire upgrade path exists for this product which allows you to improve performance each step of the way.
Two main items are required for operation – the Dino Mk3 phono stage itself and a power supply.
Starting with the basic (included) ac Toroidal Power Supply you can work your way up in performance by upgrading to the ‘Dino+’ dc power supply, and ultimately to the ‘Never Connected’ dc power supply. An upgrade from the ‘Dino+’ to the ‘Never Connected’ is also possible by returning your unit to us to upgrade the electronics.
To further enhance the sonic performance of these dc power units an upgrade ‘High Performance Power Lead’ is available to replace the supplied dc power lead.
Reviewed by What Hi-Fi? Sound and Vision, June 2001
What’s in a name? For some, Dino will conjure up images of a baby Ferrari, for others it’s Fred Flintstone’s pet dinosaur. For Trichord though, it’s a phono stage. Trichord felt that there was a gap in the market for a phono stage priced below the £535 of its basic Delphini, and so the Dino was created.
The challenge of course, was to make a cheaper product without sacrificing too much sound quality. And that’s exactly what the company has achieved.
With a Roksan Xerxes/Origin Live modified Rega RB 300/Ortofon MC 30 Supreme front end, the Dino produces a performance that is difficult to fault.
A recording such as Lou Rawls’ classy ‘At last’ demands a high level of resolution and transparency to work, and the Dino delivers, making it easy to appreciate Rawls’ sweet vocals and the skill of the backing musicians
The Dino unearths plenty of detail yet assembles it in a musical, involving whole. No genre is favoured: the smooth jazz of Jill Scott is played with the same skill as the hip-hop of Wyclef Jean or a Schubert piano sonnata.
An even tonal balance with fine timing and excellent sound staging means that this little marvel will please in most systems.
There’s even a wide range of cartridge loading options, via DIP switches, and you can upgrade through improved power supplies. As an all-round package, the Dino has little competition.
For: Sweet and revealing sound
Against: Nothing we can think of
Verdict: A great moving magnet/moving coil phono stage that offers a slice of high-end performance at a very competitive price
Reviewed by Geoff Husband for TNT-Audio, February 2002
Trichord are the electronics arm of Michell engineering and have been responsible for a range of well received pre and power amps and of course phono stages. The Dino is their attempt to produce a phono stage that will appeal to the mid-market rather than the high-end. From being a deserted market a few years back this price point is beginning to be positively cluttered with stages all after our hard earned cash.
The Dino is a two-box design. The power supply being a small toroid in a plastic box. This provides the raw AC which is regulated in the stage itself. It’s ugly so hide it. The Dino proper is prettily cased in a silvered perspex box complete with sexy blue LED. The front is unadorned, the phonos, power supply plug and earth post being round the back.
Underneath is the Dino’s secret weapon. Two sets of DIP switches give a range of input resistances, capacitance and gain – enough to match all but the weirdest cartridge. This kind of flexibility makes the Dino pretty upgrade proof – start off with a cheapo MM and progress through various MM’s and MC’s and the Dino will keep pace. A bigger power supply is available as an upgrade so further protecting the beast against obsolescence.
As to the ‘Guts’ my ignorance of electronics is well documented so forgive me if I hand over to Werner to help me out…
“The Dino is in fact a simplified Delphini, graced by a few later-day upgrades to the circuit. It is a two-stage phonopreamp with passive RIAA equalization between the gain blocks. The front-end comprises an SSM2017 microphone preamp, with variable gain and input impedance (Delphini uses here a different IC biased into class A), the second stage is a FET-opamp compounded with a discrete transistor class A output (The Delphini has a current-feedback output stage). The all-important capacitors in the RIAA filter are MCap polypropylene film and tin foil types, while the Delphini has a combination of these and polystyrene caps. The power supply consists of an external 40VA toroidal transformer, feeding an in-box rectifier with 2200uF smoothing per phase, and then two low-noise voltage regulators built from discrete components, each referenced to a red LED. The upgrade power supply employs a bigger transformer and a first stage of supply regulation with ICs. Owners of an Orca linestage of course can run their Dino (or Delphini) off that one’s PSU, which is a cost-effective solution with much sonic benefit.”
All of which sounds pretty bloody impressive to me…
One note about this… Here the Dino is being fed a signal from a £6000 front end into £3000 amplification and on to £6000 speakers. So outside the price range of its intended market. However the £100 GramAmp2 had worked well in this set-up so I didn’t feel too guilty. The review system will of course pick apart the Dino ranged as it is against a very good all-valve pre-amp.
So with that in mind I bolted up the Music Maker and wired the Dino in – It needs warming up first as it’s a bit clanky from cold.
I slapped on Bronski Beat’s ‘Tell me why’ – a favourite of mine for showing speed, a natural (for Jimmy Sommerville) voice and space, particularly all the electronic ‘slapping’ sounds that swirl at the back of the soundstage. The result was light, open and bubbling with detail, fully exposing the Music Makers natural ability in these areas. The bass was tight and tuneful, ‘playing the tune’.
Slipping on ‘Take Five’ again showed an open detailed sound. Piano was fixed in place with a good harmonic structure. The acoustic bass was nice and dry the drum hits having the required echo from the back wall. Compared to the Audion stage there was a certain lack of weight and warmth but this was a question of balance rather than a fault.
Then I hit a snag… Bolting up the Dynavector DRT-1 and trying the Dino with the Dynavector step-up produced a hopeless missmatch. I can’t quite pin down why but the sound varied from hideously distorted to just nasty depending on DIP switch position. This meant that the Dino could only be tested run as a MC preamp rather than as a MM driving an MC via a step-up. I know this sounds bonkers – I mean who is going to buy the Dino then shell out for a step-up on top? But it would have allowed a more direct comparison with the MM only Audion.
So it meant than the Dino stacked up against the Audion+Dynavector (£3000) as an MC stage. Tough…
The result here was a considerable difference between the two set-ups. The Dino again offered an open and clear view of events, the Audion + step-up had considerably more weight and authority. The Dino didn’t sound that different with the DRT-1 compared to the Music Maker. Soundstaging was much the same but the ability of the DRT-1 to produce a big acoustic and the signature of an instrument was lessened. The Piano in ‘Take Five’ sounds like a big complex instrument with the DRT-1, the Dino made it sound a little thin.
Nina Simone’s voice on ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’ is so ‘real’ on a really good system, once again the Dino sounded a little thin compared to the reference but the percussion of the piano was well handled and the bass suitably snappy. At the top end the cymbal just had a hint of tizzyness, a characteristic I’d noted before when used with the Music Maker. As this is my ‘job’ this sent me fault finding and I tried various records with lots of high frequency energy, ‘Keb Mo’, ‘Blue Rondo a la Turk’, the Sheffield Labs’ King James (stunning) and yes, if provoked I could find just a hint of tizzyness regardless of the cartridge used. Many systems (people) wouldn’t notice, but I did, and once spotted it sometimes irritated.
The Dino is a spectacularly flexible stage. It’s well built, packed with technology and will remain ‘upgrade’ capable for a long time. The sound is open and detailed, tight and controlled, what it isn’t is a valve stage or a facsimile of one. If you want something with a warm, smooth sound, or a silky top-end look elsewhere and top valve stages have nothing to fear, but at it’s price there’s little that will handle as wide a range of cartridges with such ability.
Read the full review here.
Reviewed by Hi-Fi Choice, November 2002
Trichord made its name with the clock upgrades for CD players in the early nineties, raising awareness of the insidious digital distortion called ‘jitter’ in the process. Since then, it has effectively taken over the electronics that formerly went under the Michell (of turntable fame) banner. Which makes the Dino the natural successor to the highly successful Michell Iso which, oddly enough was designed by a former partner in Trichord. As hi-fi circles go, that’s about as complete as they get.
Connections aside, the Dino is a different beast to the Iso. It has a broad range of adjustments for both moving magnet and moving coil cartridges, though the latter are better catered for, with four levels of load resistance and three degrees of gain. This makes he Dino one of the easiest stages to tailor to the requirements of a range of cartridges. So whatever needle you use now and whichever you upgrade to, the Dino will cope.
In standard form the Dino costs £329.00 and comes with a basic power supply in the lead, but for an additional £219.00 you can add the Dino+ power supply. This comes in a matching case with a separate connecting lead and mains inlet, rather than a captive lead. Its claim to fame is an 80VA toroidal transformer and soft recovery rectification designed to minimise radio frequency interference (RFI).
Getting to the Dino’s sonic character proved less than straightforward: it’s a pretty transparent device and any limitations are simply because they’ve been omitted. Compared to its peers, its balance is midway between the focus of the Naim Stageline and the energy of the Microgroove. It’s smooth and revealing of dynamics, imaging, timing and tone, without emphasising any of these elements. It doesn’t have the bass power of the Microgroove, or the timing of the Stageline, but it’s more than able to resolve the low-level detail crucial to building a credible sonic picture. If there’s scale on the record it makes the most of it, and the way the soundstage on Symphonic Dances expands when you go from the 33rpm to the 45rpm cut can be fully appreciated.
This is a subtle yet very fine stage that disappears into the mix, leaving the music to shine through. It’s not as demonstrative as some of its peers, but there’s a lot to be said for audio components that become sonically invisible. After all, you want to hear the music, not the kit.
Joni Mitchell’s Hejira is a very fine album, arguably her best, and with a great cartridge and turntable driving through the Dino and Dino+ combo, you will find it hard to argue – Pastorius’ exquisite bass and layered guitars create a lush backdrop to Joni’s songs of the road and the sky. I’m not sure if this album is still available on vinyl, but if i’s not it should be. This stage responds to its energy and inventiveness with panache; you know the music sounds great, but struggle to hear the phono stage. An excellent all-round buy.
Extremely competent phono stage, relaxed yet resolute with very good image depth and natural balance. Great flexibility makes it a stage for all seasons.
Reviewed by Khairan Nasir for The Star Online AudioFile, March 2003
WE are witnessing a vinyl renaissance. All the indicators are pointing to this, from the number of new turntables entering the market to the increase in prices of second-hand decks and vinyl pieces. In fact, it has suddenly become fashionable to go around music stores toting plastic bags filled with 12” LPs.
Which forms the basis of this review. Renaissance it may be, by and large, manufacturers have often neglected the phono stage of an amplifier, with most modern day amplification providing only line level inputs. This carved a need for dedicated phono preamp units to provide the correct equalisation levels for vinyl replay.
Enter Trichord Research. Tom Evans and Graham Fowler founded the outfit in 1993, focusing primarily on the digital domain with its series of “jitterbusting” master clock modifications for CD players. On a slightly different tangent, Michell Engineering has long enjoyed success with its range of turntables, including the Gyro and Orbe in their various iterations.
Not stopping there, Michell also has some fine amplification products to its credit, notably the Argo and Alecto pre-power combination. Trichord and Michell Engineering however, have recently since merged. This association therefore made complementary sense to see the merged entity establishing their expertise in vinyl territory, culminating in the highly regarded Delphini phono preamplifier. The Dino is positioned as a scaled down, entry-level version of the Delphini, in an attempt to secure a larger target audience.
Perspex, DIP Switches etc …
Physically, the Dino comes pretty understated in a silver finished perspex casing. Measuring at 130mm x 58mm x 112mm (D x H x W), it weighs practically nothing and is a breeze to tuck away though care should be taken with positioning to avoid hum and resonance (perspex reduces shielding from electrical noise).
I faced no such problems in practice but sensible placement should help no end. A blue LED indicator on the fascia indicates the unit in operation. No on/off switch is available; the Dino is designed to be continuously powered on. A set of RCA inputs and outputs together with a DIN like plug for the PSU rounds up the back.
Internally, the Dino’s circuitry is non-inverting and is constructed out of choice sprinklings of audio grade bipolar and JFET op-amps, metal oxide resistors and ultra low impedance capacitors throughout. The chassis underside houses the user adjustable DIP switches. Pretty nifty, these selectable gain switching; some fiddling around with the switches ensure that you can set the Dino up for 100pf, 1.1nF, 33ohms, 100ohms 1K and 47K in seconds, together with 48, 52, 63, 70 and 74dB gain – which also means moving magnet cartridges can be used. This theoretically means that the Dino can last from your Rega P3/RB300/Elys right up to that LP12/Ekos/Arkiv you have always promised yourself.
Obsolescence is minimised through Trichord’s upgrade options. The Dino can be fitted with external power supplies, said to elevate its performance to a different plane.
Meet the Flintstones
The usual ancillaries and some new kit formed company for the Dino in this review. Digital sources were left practically untouched throughout the entire review period. The resident AVI S2000MI was used to route the Dino through its line level inputs, this being interchanged with a Marantz PM6100SA as a control for its built-in moving magnet input. Loudspeakers alternated between Acoustic Energy Aegis Evo 1s & 3s. Interconnects were AudioQuest Jade, Chord Company Cobra and QED Qunex 2, whereas the system primarily ran on a pair of bi-wired AudioQuest SR15/4, alternating with Naim NACA5 speaker cables.
I was spoilt this time around. I had three turntables to play around with; each essentially represented products from different price points. The whole idea was to try and establish the Dino’s scope of works, so to speak, with the objective of exploring its upper limits in terms of suitable performing partners. Kicking off first was a Project RPM4 with the Project 9 tonearm and K4 moving magnet cartridge, representing somewhat the entry-level spectrum of the market. While the RPM4 is by no means bargain basement variety, it does by and large corresponds to the level at which serious vinyl aspirants will initially begin from.
The resident Pink Triangle Little Pink Thing, fitted with a Rega RB300 tonearm and Shure M92 moving magnet cartridge was up next. A midrange offering, this striking combination takes vinyl replay a notch higher and properly set-up, where engineering becomes a crucial differentiating factor, can clearly show differences between good decks and better ones.
As the last test, the Dino was paired with a recently acquired Pink Triangle PT TOO with the RB300 and an Ortofon MC30 Super moving coil cartridge, a front-end set-up that perhaps provide a glimpse of what high-end has to offer.
The progression across every turntable beginning with the RPM4 never saw the Dino failing to rise to the occasion. Trichord’s baby phono stage turned in a sterling performance, with an essentially clean sounding portrayal with no over-emphasis on anything across the frequency spectrum. The sound on offer is a fine balance between analytical and warmth that whilst not lush, presented a fairly revealing insight into recordings.
As a whole, the Dino’s tonal balance veers on the edge of exciting, it has an occasional tendency towards some slight sharpness in the highs, but never really to the point of being intrusive. I suspect this is more a question of system balance rather than a fault. Silky smooth it definitely wasn’t but neither was it tooth-gratingly clinical.
The Dino’s detailing prowess was commendable. A tangible sense of depth and space prevailed across the loudspeaker boundaries. Imaging was well put together and in the best of instances hung eerily lifelike with formidable scale across the soundstage. Musicians were firmly placedin beyond both vertical and horizontal planes. The multi-layered production in Richie Cole’s rendition of La Bamba had me listening attentively; at realistic volumes the busy mix in this Latino-accented recor-ding’s brass section sounded crisp, clear and thoroughly convincing.
I must admit to having been quite impressed with the Dino’s overall transparency. On the RPM4, the Dino showed occasional flashes of brilliance by its ability to draw me into the music. With the stakes raised to the LPT and
PT TOO, the Trichord unit did not disappoint. Instead, it gamely rose to the challenge and held court, giving a more involving experience.
The Dino was unearthing minute details I never heard before, with a more three-dimensional feel to overall imaging and soundstaging. The lower depths demonstrated ample articulation although I felt that depth could have been slightly greater.
Don’t get me wrong, the Dino was never bass light, just that I expected more extension given the Pink Triangle’s pedigree. This was particularly true with well-recorded vinyl; Larry Carlton’s Discovery was open, engaging and lively but could do with just a touch more clout. On cuts with more abundant bass such as Poison’s Open Up and Say Ahh…, the system boogied along, anchored by a well-weighted bottom end. It may not have been seismic, but what bass there was was tight, stopped and started at a dime, with a snappiness to match.
I can’t think of any immediate shortcomings on the Dino. Certainly not much on how it sounds. In many ways, the Dino will likely remove preconceived notions on how analogue will sound by offering a clean, mature yet dynamic music-making experience, so unlike typical “valve” sounds. Whilst it did not make any pretences as to its unmistakably transistor origins, the Dino had a nicely balanced organic feel in how it went about doing its job, giving loads of depth and perspective whilst not at the expense of attack.
Those who want their vinyl experience to be one of “coming of age” will find the Dino to have plenty of appeal, being a relatively neutral performer, majoring on timing and clarity. Griping, the only thing that I could think of that scored against the Dino was its provision of cabling for the power supply. Given that the toroidal leads are of a captive variety, this somewhat limits users’ options in experimenting with mains cabling as a means of fine-tuning their set-ups.
Yabba dabba doo
The resurgent interest in vinyl that is apparent from the current slew of dedicated phono pre-amplifiers proliferating the market (reiterating, not forgetting the increase in prices of second-hand vinyl pieces too) is proof that there may be life to analogue playback just yet. For owners of mainstream amplification that eschews built-in phono stages, products like the Dino are heaven sent.
On to the Dino per se. This is a solid offering from a respectable outfit, combining great sound and flexibility in configuration to accommodate various cartridges. On top of that, the fact that the Dino is eminently upgradeable also makes financial sense and will ensure future proofing to a large degree before it starts becoming a weak link in your hi-fi set-up. A sound purchase and highly recommended.
For: Flexible gain and load settings a boon; equal doses of transparency and dynamics; understated & unpretentious finish; upgradeable with external power supply.
Against: Captive toroid leads? Very slight leanness in the low end, but that’s more a matter of ancillary matching.
Read the full review here.