28th May 2024

If you know this company, you will know that phono amplifiers are its ‘chef’s special’, so to speak. Paul Rigby selects Moving Coil off the menu. Yum

Back in late September 2023, I reviewed the Accession Moving Magnet phono amplifier from UK outfit, Graham Slee and very nice it was too. In fact, for that review, I awarded it a very high, award-winning rating. 

At that time, I was very much aware that there was a Moving Coil variant of the Accession. Called the Accession MC, this low-output variant arrives in exactly the same chassis as the moving magnet design. More than that all of the toggle switch options at the front are exactly the same while, on the rear, all of the socket options remain the same too, as does the DIP loading switch bank on the bottom left.


In terms of build budget costs, production efficiency and the final price point, this all makes perfect sense. 

Hence, the front of the chassis sports a rotary output control on the far left, so this unit can be used as a pre-amplifier, if you just want a neat vinyl-based HiFi system, if you want to reduce the footprint of that system and if you want to keep the path of your HiFi chain simple. Which is a good thing.


There’s also stereo/mono switch if you run a mono cartridge or want to force the stereo signal into mono.


There are three EQ options. You’ll find the classic, common RIAA (Recording Industry of America) option, which is the nearest we’ve come to a current recording EQ standard. That’s the EQ used in all new and recent vinyl recordings and the one supported by the majority of phono amplifiers currently for sale on the market today.

It wasn’t always thus, however. Before RIAA was adopted as a standard of vinyl recording, there were many competing standards out there. In fact RIAA took a long time from its early 50s introduction to become that standard. I’ve heard that some companies were not using RIAA up through the early 70s. So there’s a heap of non-RIAA vinyl out there. 


Thus, to cover at least some of those non-standard bases, Graham Slee has averaged all of those competing options to two principle, additional EQ choices: British and American.

As an aside? Don’t use the British option on a RIAA recording because that will give the sound a slightly thinner, edgier tone. On the other hand, the American option sounds a little too bass heavy with a RIAA recording. 

Saying that, if you suspect that you have a pre-RIAA recording, from a US or UK pressing plant of the time, give these alternative EQ options a try, you might find that those older recordings make more sense on sonic terms with the British or American toggle switch selected. The settings are worth experimenting with.


As for the CA (Constant Amplitude)/Flat option? Again, don’t use this option for general listening, it’s there if you want to digitise recordings so that you’re only hearing the record’s own characteristics then you can add you own bespoke EQ during the recording, in software. It’s a useful recording tool and one I don’t recall seeing anywhere else, at least on a 2-channel, home HiFi phono amplifier. 


The rear of the chassis offers standard inputs and outputs plus a bank of DIP switches to select one of four loading settings for your cartridge: 75 Ohms; 100 Ohms; 300 Ohms and 500 Ohms.

Finally, I’m not going to repeat Graham Slee’s tech philosophy here because its too wordy and long for this review but I urge you to check out the MC product page for some background on the hows and the whys of this machine. It will give you some useful context. It also explains why the so-called RIAA EQ curve, isn’t a curve at all. Interesting stuff.  


The unit arrives with a separate power supply which is a great way to reduce the noise floor. The PSU1 arrives as part of the Accession package but I will also be testing the Accession MC with the PSU1 Enigma, which replaces and upgrades the default power supply for an extra £200 (£385 if bought seperately).

For the sound tests, as a reference, I used my trusty Trichord Dino (also UK designed and built), upgraded to around the £1k price point with a separate, Never Connected power supply plus improved Trichord power cable.  


So how does the Accession MC perform? As I still had my vinyl copies of Coldplay’s Viva La Vida and Keely Smith’s That Old Black Magic lying around, so I ran with those. 


Playing the Coldplay tracks first, two things hit me immediately. Firstly, the noise floor from the Accession MC is much lower I was expecting or this price point. Yes, I’m using the Trichord phono amplifier here but my comments are targeted at much of the competition out there. The Graham Slee Accession MC pushes that noise floor way down, triggering more detail, finer detail, greater subtlety thus a complex delivery right across the soundstage. 

The second immediate effect here is the sheer control, especially across the upper mids and treble. With some of the best phono amplifiers out there at this price point, I am sometimes blown away by the degree of information on offer and the detail presented to the ears but slightly scared at how unstable the very edges of the upper mids sound to the ear. Almost as if the phono amplifier itself is going to fall over and collapse. That is, I sometimes feel that the phono amplifier offers a rollercoaster ride of instability.


The Accession MC never does that to you. Not once. Instead, while offering clarity and transparency right through the midband and treble areas, everything within those areas sounded completely controlled. I tried the Keely Smith vocal jazz LP and noted how the Accession MC bred confidence during play. So, instead of listening while perched on the edge of your seat, fearing the worst, you know you’re in good hands. You can relax which makes for a pleasant listening experience. 

The soundstage was structured, instruments occupied their own space, they never bumped elbows which also meant that you tended to hear the edges of instruments. Often, if the available space in front of you is too cluttered and restricted, detail overlaps and blurs. Not here. 


I then swopped over the power supply and upgraded that from the PSU1 to the PSU1 Enigma. Now you may recall that I upgraded the PSU1 on the Accession Moving Magnet phono amplifier in that earlier review. Back then I reported how much better the Enigma sounded with that phono amplifier. 


Well, same here. The improvements included a greater confidence right across the soundstage. By that I mean bass sounded rock solid. Every thump from the drums was focused, precise, it was meant, it sounded final. Acoustic guitar strums reflected the force behind them.

What also impressed me was the layered effect of the sound stage with instruments clearly sitting alongside or behind other instruments yet all retained a supreme clarity. There was no sense of a diminished performance if an instrument sat deeper in the mix. 


I tell you what though, the most impressive sonic response was the Accession MC in pre-amp mode. That is, I disconnected the Accession MC from my own pre-amp and connected it directly to my power amplifiers and my goodness, you could be mistaken that I’d just flipped into balanced mode. Such was the further reduction of noise. The smoothness of the mids and the transparency was immense. 

For example, at the beginning of the Life in Technicolour, the first track on the Coldplay album, I heard the bass pause slightly on a couple of occasions. That was a first. I’d never heard that before. Later on in the next track, I heard a second acoustic guitar on the left channel. Again, for the first time. Earlier, I thought it was the same guitar on the left and right channels. No. Two different guitars. Both of these revelations were set deep in the mix and easily hidden and missed. Not here. Vocals were also super smooth and insightful. 


Compact, arriving with a host of expected features and a few unexpected yet very welcome additions, the Accession MC phono amplifier emerges, out of the box, ready to offer you a top performance as a basic phono amplifier but it doesn’t give its all out of the box. That is, it has hidden capacity that is released by that PSU1 Enigma upgraded power supply and, rather delightfully, when used directly with a power amplifier or power monoblocks as a pre-amplifier. 

In fact, in pre-amp mode, with the associated phono amplifier, that power amplifier and a turntable, you’ve got yourself a killer vinyl set up that will sweep many competing systems of a similar price point brutally to one side. That is, out of the box, the Accession MC is excellent, with the upgraded power supply it’s a stunner but in pre-amp mode, with the right turntable setup and power amp, you’ve got one of the best specialist vinyl systems on the market.  


Price: £1,200 (PSU1 Enigma Power Supply £200: bundled price)


GOOD: footprint. extra capacity, sound quality, pre-amp mode

BAD: nothing