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Exposure VXN

Exposure VXN

External phono stages are a relatively recent development for Exposure. The company still produces (rather good) internal moving magnet and moving coil phono cards for many of their integrated amps and preamps and this will be entirely sufficient for many customers. Nevertheless, the option of appealing to people whose compulsions will only be settled by having their phono circuitry in a separate box and competing for the attention of people who own amps without internal phono cards has resulted in the arrival of standalone models of which the VXN is the new flagship.

The VXN might be seen as ‘expediently new’ in that it is a refinement of some existing thinking and makes use of a device that is already in the range. The phono circuit is a development of the one in the XM3; the other Exposure standalone phono stage which has been in the range for some years. The VXN has the same combination of a dedicated moving magnet input and a separate moving coil input that is configured via dip switches on the back. I’ve never been a huge fan of this arrangement and as I become older and more myopic I am still less keen but the ones that Exposure has selected are reasonably tactile. If you are relatively sane and have one cartridge to play records, you will set the VXN once and be done but it might be less appealing to those of you with a few on the go. 

Good range

Furthermore, the range of adjustment is pretty good. The moving magnet input fixes impedance at 47kOhms but allows for gain to be adjusted between 40 and 55dB which is handy for high output moving coil designs which will work into moving magnet inputs but tend to work just that little bit better with a bit more gain on hand. Moving coil gain is adjustable between 54 and 66dB which should also handle most gain requirements pretty well. The range of load adjustment for the moving coil section is also very good. Multiple increments are available between 32 and 1,000 ohms, the latter being very useful as one of the resident cartridges here is a Vertere Mystic which requires 1kOhm to sound its best. 

Exposure VXN

While the circuit is the same as the XM3, the VXN refines the process. There are more components in the moving coil stage and these are higher quality devices made of polystyrene, polypropylene and metallised polypropylene. The biggest revision though is that the internal power supply of the XM3 is removed and replaced with a pair of power supply inputs. This is potentially going to be a source of some confusion because you can technically purchase a VXN Phono on its own and be the proud owner of a well finished paperweight. 

The VXN Power Supply is required to run the phono stage and this has been around for some time as the power source for the exceptionally talented active crossover system that can be used with Kudos Titan speakers. It supplies two 30v DC outputs via the same locking connection as found on the phono stage. Technically, it’s possible to add a second VXN Power Supply so each channel has its own independent power feed but Exposure only supplied one for testing and I suspect the notion of a two plug phono stage is going to be a bit ‘full on’ for most people. 

Any Colour You Like

Both phono stage and PSU are in half width ‘XM’ style casework that is available in black only. Barring their brief foray into out and out design with the MCX Series a few years ago, Exposure has generally gone in for fairly sober looking devices and the VXN Phono is no exception. It’s well made though and in a time when LEDs can come in all manner of arresting colours, there’s something comforting about the red ones used here. Something else that’s worthy of note is that when I first installed the VXN, I kept power supply and phono a shelf apart but the arrival of other things meant they’ve also been tested stacked on top of one another and this hasn’t had any significant effect on noise levels. 

Exposure VXN-PS

In fact, the absence of noise full stop is notable. Even running at the 64dB gain level, the Exposure is seriously quiet and this has attendant benefits to absolutely everything else that it does. Listening initially via Vertere MG-1 MkII turntable, SG-1 HB arm and Mystic cartridge, the manner in which it handles the slow build up of Quail Poppy Ackroyd’s Resolve [One Little Indian] speaks to the fundamental engineering of the Exposure being absolutely correct. This is a deceptively simple piece of music- there’s nothing terribly complex about the melody but the unique technique both Ackroyd and Jo Quail bring to playing their instruments leaves it laden with micro detail that the VXN makes apparent. 

Tonal realism is also consistently good. The various instruments that make up the bluegrass rework of Sturgill Simpson’s All Around You on Cuttin’ Grass Vol I [High Top Mountain Records] are all captured in a manner that is unforced, natural and completely believable. Simpson himself is in good voice too with this distinctive tone and annunciation sounding as it should. Compared to some other phono stages I’ve tested at this sort of price point, the soundstage that the Exposure creates is smaller and it tends to sit between the speakers rather than extending beyond them but this is achieved without it tipping over into sounding congested. 

This also gives narrower recordings a focus that really benefits them and this does mean that the VXN is truly sensational when it comes to unpicking Indie rock LPs. The dense and potent In This Light and on This Evening by Editors [PIAS] is a case in point. The sweeping urgency of the synth line at the start of the title track that opens into the full fury of the band is something that the VXN delivers with an effortless combination of speed and control that also helps to ensure that bass is usefully deep but impeccably controlled at same time. It undersells the capabilities of the Exposure to say it’s a bit of a rocker but, if you’ve got a library of angsty guys and girls with guitars it’s not going to struggle. 

Admirable transparency

There’s an admirable transparency to the way that the VXN goes about its business too. It does a fine job of maintaining the Vertere’s ability to largely not be there (a skill that made it a pig to review but did result in me buying it) and when the MG-1 was used to review the Platanus 3.0S, it was the Exposure that highlighted its imperious ability to be unforced but incredibly involving at the same time (and that had the choice of low loading settings that really benefitted it). Switching to a Michell GyroDec, SME309 and Vertere DDT-II saw the Exposure capture the more propulsive nature of this combination and also benefit slightly from the near cinematic width that the Michell tends to bring to any record that you play on it. The reality is that there are unlikely to be any mainstream turntable arm and cartridge combinations that upset the VXN.

Exposure VXN-PS

There’s also an indefinable quality to the way that the VXN makes music that I’ve experienced in a few different Exposure devices of late. I’ve often felt that lumping the brand in with the ‘flat earth’ contingent did it something of a disservice. Sure, it times well but other priorities to the performance, particularly around tonal qualities and detail retrieval that are beyond reproach,  too. For every ballistic edge it can demonstrate, there was also effortless musicality it delivers so effusively and is no less arresting. 

The result is a formidable all rounder. Some people will want something more ornate and the VXN isn’t the best choice for multiple cartridge setups. The musical joy that the VXN brings to pretty much everything you play on it and the spread of equipment that it will work happily with at the same time makes this a tremendous device that continues Exposure’s tremendous recent run of form. 

Technical specifications

  • Type: MM/MC phono preamplifier
  • MM Input: Sensitivity 5mV for 500mV output, 40dB gain setting
  • S/N ratio (ref 1kHz and 500mV, A-weighted): >82dB
  • MC Input Sensitivity: 500mV for 500mV output, 60dB gain setting
  • S/N ratio (ref 1kHz and 500mV, A-weighted) >72dB
  • Nominal output 00mV (depending on gain setting)
  • Maximum Output: 7.8V @1kHz
  • Output Impedance: 50Ω
  • THD @ 1kHz ref 500mV output: <0.005%
  • Frequency response: 30Hz–20kHz ±0.25dB ref 1kHz with LF roll-off below 30Hz
  • Weight: 2kg
  • Dimensions (H×W×D): 9.9 × 21.8 × 34.8cm
  • Price £1,790 (PSU £1,090)




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