Receivers and phono stages, ZVOX AV52 headphones deal (Week 4, 2022)

Sound Advice
By Don Lindich

Week 4, 2022

Q. I am assembling a vinyl playback system and am strongly considering the Cambridge AXR85 receiver with the Music Hall Classic turntable. Both components have built-in phono stages. What would I do to avoid interference between them and maximize sound quality?

-D.L., New Brighton, MN

A. The turntable and receiver phono stages would not interfere with each other because you use one or the other, not both. If you use the phono stage in the turntable, you set the switch on the back of the turntable to “Line” and connect it to any input on the receiver other than the phono input. If you use the receiver phono stage, you set the turntable to “Phono” and connect it to the receiver’s phono input.

Usually turntable phono stages are average at best and you will get better sound from the receiver phono stage. The Music Hall Classic is an exception and manufacturer took pains to not only make it a good phono stage, but to match it to the pre-installed cartridge. I have tested the turntable and it is an excellent choice for $599. If you choose to bypass the phono stage it is completely bypassed so the internal circuitry does not degrade sound quality. See the Classic at

To ensure optimal sound quality I suggest testing both phono stages using the same record to see which one sounds better. You will have to adjust the volume control so they play at the same loudness as there will be differences, with the turntable’s built-in phono preamp likely to play louder.

Q. I have the ZVOX AV50 headphones and have been quite happy with them. I have seen the new AV52 headphones on sale for well under the $199 MSRP and have been sorely tempted, but have held back since I already have headphones I like. What do you think, should I upgrade to the AV52?

-T.B., Milwaukee, WI

A. About a month ago I would have said stay with the AV50s if you are happy, but I just completed a couple of cross-country flights with the AV52 headphones and was really impressed with the improvements. ZVOX personnel themselves have been very modest comparing the AV50 and AV52 headphones, saying the primary differences are the AV52s are more solidly made and the noise reduction is better. That may be true, but the sum is greater than the improved parts and the AV52 impresses as a more mature, better-performing product all the way around. They do feel much more substantial and I found them to fit better, fast USB-C charging is standard and even the case is nicer. The battery also lasts longer, they work with a wired connection or Bluetooth and the microphones have been improved for better hands-free calls.

I love using the ZVOX headphones when flying because the combination of AccuVoice dialogue enhancement and active noise reduction makes them ideal for watching in-flight entertainment. The AV52s were flawless performers in this regard and noticeably better than the AV50s. ZVOX says the noise cancellation is 15% more effective, but it seemed like a lot more than that in use on an airplane. Taking them off after a viewing session really drove home the point. For music hi-fi playback there may be better-sounding headphones under $100, but for watching TV at home or on an airplane, or even making vocals easier to understand these are still by far my favorites.

So, my experience says go for the upgrade. Until February 28th the ZVOX AV52 headphones are on sale for $69.99, reduced from $199.99.