Looking for a low cost moving coil phono amplifier? Paul Rigby reviews the Heed Questar
While sub-£300 moving magnet phono amps are commonplace, finding the same for a moving coil cartridge is a little more difficult. Heed has done well to produce a suitable unit for this cost.
To reach this price point, though, Heed has cut its cloth. Hence, the prosaic chassis – a simple metal box – is supported by Maplin-esque feet fixed by a basic set of screws.
Powered by a wall-wart, the front of the box sports a simple power light with the usual sockets on the rear.
Because of the chassis’ long-form factor, the rear of the phono amp is short on space. Hence, the sockets are rather squeezed together. In use, my connected cables became so crowded and so difficult to site correctly that I initially only heard one channel. After further fiddling with the cables I then heard…nothing at all! It was only when I totally removed the outer metal tightening sheaths on the RCA connecters that I had room to force the cables home into the sockets, a teeth-grating experience.
There are no selector knobs or DIP switches on the Questar, the settings are fixed. As the tests show, the Questar is aimed at low output moving coils of around 0.2-0.5 mV with a 64db gain.
I began the sound test with a piece of modern classical fare via Bruce Brubaker from his new LP, ‘Glass Piano’, a solo piano interpretation of the works of Philip Glass and ‘Mad Rush’. This long track features a flighty sequence over a metronomic rhythm before launching into a loud and proud section which tests the phono amp’s dynamic capabilities.
I tested the Heed alongside my reference Trichord Dino Mk.3 that soared with freedom in the upper midrange area. The Heed felt slightly claustrophobic in comparison, despite the Heed’s low noise (revealed during testing). Those results also alluded to possible excessive warmth and this certainly added to the slightly veiled response, especially in the upper mids. That said, there was an excellent sense of low-end emphasis from the Heed during this performance. This meant that varying key pressure on the low registers from Brubaker was easily recognised, making for an emotive performance.
Moving to the jazz/pop of Morgana King and Like A Seed from the 1973 album, New Beginnings, the Heed tracked the funky introductory bass with aplomb while King’s rather sultry and smooth vocal delivery (a mixture of Barbra Streisand and Cleo Lane in style) was particularly suited to the Heed’s warm approach. Although some of the secondary percussion was a little subdued and lacking in pizazz and the strumming guitar was rather tamed in its approach, the electric organ offered a foot-tapping presentation while the drums provided a valuable foundation to the overall track.
As the Heed seemed to be more at home with low-end and powerful music, I thought that I’d turn towards rock. In this case a very early rendition from the Electric Light Orchestra, during their particular hairy early phase within 10538 Overture from The Light Shines On Vol 2 LP, recorded in 1971.
I was impressed by the Heed’s instrumental separation on this track. There is a conglomeration of stringed instruments within this ditty that threatens to be presented as a tuneful lump. The Heed did well to tease each instrument apart and into something recognisable. The more delicate aspects of this song, the rather fragile acoustic guitar pickings and secondary percussion which could easily be lost in this busy soundstage, were illuminated could easily be tracked. The low noise certainly aided this welcome sonic feature. The midrange and treble side of the soundstage lacked a certain extension but this was more than made up by the power and body of the aggressive cellos which dominated the song. They launched at the ear with purpose, giving the track a dominating and portentous danger that threatened to overwhelm the entire song while the lead guitar controlled the entire structure of the track, adding sonic signposts around which the rest of the music flowed. The treated, rather weedy, lead vocal needed the low noise support to make it anywhere near understandable and here, again, the Heed scored.
A compact phono amp that, sonically, packs a lot in for the price. Those music fans who count classical and jazz amongst their foremost listening content will not be disappointed by the Heed but might better look elsewhere for improved value while those attracted to rock, synth-based electronica and richly arranged pop will find much to be impressed with the Heed.
HEED QUESTAR MOVING COIL PHONO AMPLIFIER
Tel: 01242 547663
Good: compact, low end performance, low noise, instrumental separation
Bad: chassis design, veiled mids, no mono switch