Tomorrow I will spend some serious time comparing the upgraded phono pre-amp in the 444 to the NAD C350/Audio Technica combo. On paper, the Sony measures much better, with an 87dB signal to noise ratio, for example. I'm inclined to think that the differences between the C350 and the 444 will make a greater contribution to overall sound difference. I will say this though, the Ortofon 2M Red is an amazingly clean sounding cartridge. I actually like it better than the OM20 I used to have on a Dual CS5000. One of the main reasons for listening to vinyl is that in some cases harsh rock and pop music that did not translate well to CD can sound quite pleasing on record (I give up on hearing Yes or Rush on SACD, which is a shame- the format did wonders for the old Genesis catalog). I have also recently heard a Denon MC that has amazing bass. The Led Zeppelin boxed set thundered through a pair of a/d/s/ towers. The Red is an MM design, and it's new so no upgrade to a pricey MC in the future. Unless I got another turntable. . . I also got the go-ahead on the Optimus 2 channel review, so we are organizing a time for that. I expect that session will also be a speaker shoot-out, Paradigm Atoms, first-gen Axiom M3, and Wharfdale Diamonds. But why bother listening to an old Radio Shack amp, you ask? Well, there are two primary reasons. The first being that we may be warming up for another: "assemble the best sounding stereo you can for $100" competition, like last summer (won resoundingly by an old Scott and cheap pair of Dual speakers), and this Optimus would be in the running, along with others of its ilk. And the second reason being that a quick internet search hasn't turned up much info on it. Google the NAD C350 or Sony TA-F444ES and there's plenty of stuff. There is an especially good "Inside Out" from the Affordable Audio site regarding the 444, I highly recommend it. Don't discount Radio Shack. Back in the day (that's the eighties, for all of the kiddies out there), Tandy and Texas Instruments did some quality stuff. In fact, TI owns Burr-Brown now I think, so many of your pricey DVD and SACD players have TI chips in them. First things first, though- let's get this phono preamp situation squared away. Some more pictures and a comparo to follow, I promise. I wonder if we have enough Sam Adams in the fridge?