Hardware Reviews

Is the Whest 60Se Pro the ultimate gateway to the groove?

Whest 60Se Pro review

Whest 60Se Pro phono stage

Spoiler alert. The Whest 60Se Pro phono stage has had its tweakability minimised. No, it’s not a one size fits all’, but it’s been designed absolutely with sound quality and listening as the first priorities. For that reason, if you want to swap cartridges out at a frantic pace you’re simply going to have to turn the unit upside down. That’s right: the loading and sensitivity switches are on the underside of the unit, at the back, and deliberately so.

Why? One of designer James Henriot’s ultimate goals is to facilitate the listener with the very best listening experience possible. All the while the settings are within reach on a front panel the temptation is to keep switching between loadings to see what the difference is. Often, the act of continual switching leads to a loss of musical satisfaction rather than immersing yourself in the listening experience.

You’ve got to let the dust settle on a particular setting before you decide to jump ship and try and find a better one – only in this case they’re all equally good. They’re just subtly different from each other. The Whest 60Se Pro was designed from the outset to be as transparent, reliable and unfussy as possible. So much so that thousands have been sold worldwide and such is their reliability and sound quality that Whest doesn’t have a repair department.

Whest 60Se Pro review

No repair department? Servicing for sure, but not repair. High quality tried and tested’ components are used throughout. The circuits are conservatively run (giving oodles of headroom) and hugely long service intervals. The 60Se Pro has been around for nearly as long as Whest – and they’re celebrating 20 years this year; quite some achievement.

Whest 60Se Pro origins

James Henriot is passionate about two things – sound quality, and getting as much as possible out of record grooves. The former is satisfied by his long career in the recording industry. He knows from the outset what things sound like in real life, and, once recorded, how they should sound on playback. This applies to bands, speech, film sets and a whole plethora of environments. Somewhat unexcited by other manufacturers’ offerings way back then, he decided to build his own phono stage, and eventually the Whest 60Se Pro was born.

As a result the circuitry is only Class A using discrete transistors and not IC chips. On top of that, by using an all-transistor stage Whest has complete control over the whole amplification stage. Class-A also means no crossover distortion which, at an early stage in the amplification chain will then be amplified throughout the rest of the chain. So design it out from the beginning. In addition using transistors makes it rather easier (comparative term) to build the stage with high voltage and high current capabilities, something of a tall order with ICs.

As channel balance and timbral integrity is so very important in getting the soundstage right the input and output stages both run in Class A and are made-up of hand built and hand matched modules.  Each module is made up of 40 through hole (not surface mount) components which are hand matched to less than 0.5%.  Much care has been taken with these parts because getting the four modules right is of utmost importance if broadband phase and noise is to be matched.  Whest look at all aspects of audio and audio related artifacts because they all contribute to resolution, image stability and image location as well as dynamic contrast and the instruments dynamic capability. It’s quite rare for manufacturers to go to such lengths to ensure the very best sound, but Henriot maintains that integrity throughout the whole chain (including the recording part) is the key to success.

Similarly with the RIAA filter networks. In some senses this is the easy part (again, a comparative term). As Henriot quietly asserts, “achieving an accuracy of +/-0.2dB across the RIAA band is easy and has been for many years.  At Whest we can do the same and have a spec of +/-0.12dB across a much wider band, but resolving information is key to getting the best from vinyl, and resolving tons of information from the cartridge is really crucial in presenting the musical information to the listener” (as a complete entity rather than the sum of some disparate parts).

Whest 60Se Pro review

Almost in the manner of the old school’ (Quad, Leak and so on) Henriot is very modest about his product, and while he’s happy to wax lyrical about what he does, he’ll only do so if asked. What’s then rather surprising is the wealth of knowledge, research and sheer passion for what he does which sits behind his love of sound, or rather, not just  good sound but the very best sound possible. No boutique components are used just very respectable components from reputable manufacturers. The other bit of information is that those components are very, very carefully matched for their intended purpose and circuit location.

60Se Pro absolutes

The chassis of the 60Se Pro is a heavyweight affair, unusually a single tray which is machine folded with hand-welded seams, and a beautifully sculpted front panel which has been CNC-machined. This method of construction ensures the PCB carrying the oh-so-small musical signals sits within a unit with high structural integrity, making consistent performance across a range of units much easier to achieve. The attention to detail doesn’t stop there. The main PCB has its own suspension to minimise any stray vibration and the unit employs two ultra-low-mechanical-noise transformers that are made in the UK. The PCB tracks are very heavyweight copper, and signal and power lines are separated so the small signals are unsullied by any stray artefacts. Signal paths are ultra-short, and all components (particularly in the RIAA filter section, load and gain areas) are channel-matched. The power rail has also been designed to ensure minimal crosstalk with anything else.

Lastly, the input and output stages (both run in Class-A for the reasons noted above) feature hand-built and hand-matched modules, each of which sports 40 through-hole components, each matched to within 0.5%. It’s crucially important to get the modules right as any imbalance has the potential to undermine channel matching. Whest has taken such care with these parts because getting the modules right is of utmost importance if broadband phase and noise is to be matched.  Whest looks at all aspects of audio and audio related artifacts as they all contribute to resolution, image stability and image location as well as dynamic contrast and dynamic capability.

Lastly, the power and signal tracks are totally separate. The 60 Series and Titan Pro II are made up of modules for a reason and like everything else they do, there is a reason for it.  The audio parts are ‘lifted’ off the main board so that the heavy power currents that travel on the main PCB do not interfere with the Class A modules.

Heavy metal

Connections are all on the rear panel, with gold-plated RCA sockets for phono input, and two sets of output sockets (one for connection to a preamplifier, the second for a a headphone amplifier or similar). There is also a pair of XLR sockets providing a balanced output, but these are to be used with nothing connected to the RCA outputs.

Whest 60Se Pro review

As mentioned, the loading DIP switches are under the unit, behind a small panel. The settings are all noted on the rear panel (and in the manual too) so there’s no excuse for forgetting what your settings should be. They’re there because Whest wants “users to just listen to music” and not fiddle around with settings. On an engineering level the DIP switches are within 5mm of where they need to be because ultra-small signals don’t like travelling long distances.

On the one hand I feel I should apologise for going on about the minutiae of the 60Se Pro’s construction and the ethos behind it, on the other these whys and wherefores are crucial in understanding how and why it came into being, and what one should expect from putting one into a system. For those who do like flexibility, the 60Se Pro accommodates a range of MC cartridge output / loadings, but also has a setting for MM cartridges. However, if you have something really unusual Whest can do a bespoke setting to suit particular needs.

Time to explore

I tend to use my Kondo Io cartridge with its flea-level of output for critical listening. Even pitted against many more modern cartridges it still manages to provide an engaging, enjoyable and insightful rendition of what lies in a record’s grooves. Also in the stable is an Audio Technica Art-9, a Clearaudio and an Ortofon SPU. I’m not going to dwell on which one sounds best. That’s not the object of the exercise. They all do a lot well, and some things differently. The Io is a particular challenge because of its low output. The others provide a range of settings which should put the 60Se through its paces. As a last resort I also dug out an old Shure V15III; yes, it still performs well, but any flaws related to age should show up pretty clearly.

Somewhere in the region of 50 LPs were auditioned while the 60Se Pro was in my care. They were all tried with a variety of cartridges, but mostly the V15 and the Io. Despite the differences in loading which the cartridges need, there was nothing significant about any difference in performance from the 60Se Pro’s point of view. I can’t hand-on-heart say that any setting sounded any better than any other. Any sonic differences were down to the different cartridges, not the 60Se Pro’s ability to cope with the cartridge.


When I was young and of an age when I could travel safely on my own I used to catch the milk train up to London, usually arriving around 3:45 am. I used to take my bike with me and go exploring London as it ‘woke up’ on a weekend morning. Saturday mornings were busier, with early delivery vans eventually appearing, curtains being opened, the smaller shops opening up and taking in the newspapers, and eventually the streetlights going out as the sun started to brighten the horizon. (Later on the Saturday jaunts I’d then head for the piano shops and play instruments I knew I’d never be able to afford. Sunday mornings had a more sleepy and laid-back beginning, particularly nice in the early summer when the temperature was a little warmer, the trees were out, a lot of the parks and gardens in full bloom and the roads were usually rather drier.

Whest 60Se Pro review

Those journeys, those forays into early morning London’ stayed with me. The era is long past. The opportunity to experience that sort of thing mostly consigned to history. But years later I discovered a piece of music which brought all that right into my present. Vaughan Williams’ London Symphony. It captures for me the very essence of those explorations. The waking up of a big city, the slow spread of sunlight through the streets, the swiftly changing shadow-lengths as the sun rose, and the slow waning of the birdsong as the traffic levels started to rise.

I dug out my favourite recording of this work – the one which is my benchmark. A reissue on Decca Eclipse (ECS616) with Boult and the LPO, recorded in 1953. The orchestral colours are very evocative indeed, with variously harp, cor anglais (English horn) and clarinet almost setting the scene for this capital city awakening from its sleep. The 60Se Pro was a revelation: it allowed me right into the mix. My pressing is rather good, and well cared-for, so any surface noise would be attributable to the 60Se Pro, and this in turn would have sullied the listening experience. However, noise was there none (not even with the Io, and the volume rather a long way up). Spatially the orchestra was nicely laid out. It was easy to discern where the various families of instruments were, and the soloists were allowed to shine through the orchestral mix without being smothered. Clarity above all was the overriding facet which allowed me to hear a long way into the recording and performance.

I think what struck me most, though, was the rekindling of those moments in my earlier life, the way the music captured my attention and took me back on an emotional journey and the ease with which the Whest 60Se Pro phono stage allowed me to engage with this musical event, gave me access to Vaughn Williams’ insights into a waking London, and how carefully and deftly he managed to paint this through his aural picture and with the themes and tonal nuances to bring this to life.

I think the 60Se Pro gave an easy transparency to what was going on. It wasn’t fussy (far from it), it didn’t make listening hard work and although it has this lovely air of being utterly reliable it didn’t have engagement removed from its roster of attributes.

Crash of the waves

I’m afraid I’m going to regale you with yet another anecdote before I move on. I have a love-hate relationship with Britten. I keep dipping in to his repertoire, sometimes loving something, yet at another time it does nothing for me. However, one constant in my playlist is the Four Sea Interludes. It’s always been a firm favourite, and since my student days, all the more so. One of my music lecturers was very keen about the context of a composition. It was suggested that the best way to listen to the Four Sea Interludes is to go to Aldburgh, sit on the beach and listen using headphones. In other words, go back to the scene of the crime (metaphorically).

Whest 60Se Pro review

I never managed to get there with my Sony Walkman, but about ten years ago I managed to, on a blowy sort of day, broken clouds scudding across the sky, the sea sometimes crashing on the beach, at other times caressing its edges. I had a portable CD player and decent cans. Armed with a flask of coffee, at about mid-morning time I took my cinnamon bun, coffee and garden chair onto the beach, installed myself, looking seawards, enjoyed the warmth of the sun and started to listen. I was so mesmerised, I listened right through. Twice.

The Whest 60Se has that effect. It can make music mesmerising, magical, totally engrossing and engaging. The performance I listened to on the beach is also on LP – ASD3154 (reissued on CD a while ago) with Previn and the LSO. When I listened to the same recording / performance at home, in the quiet of my listening room I was right back there; with the sea breeze, the crash of the waves.

The 60Se Pro’s ability to bring the orchestra into your room, to have those soaring violins, the deep rumble of the basses, rasp of the brass, incisive shrillness of some of the high woodwind – yes, the sound quality is magical. The orchestra is fully embodied and convened right in front of you. Yes, the basses go deep. Yes, the woodwind and violins go high. Does the 60Se Pro struggle? Not a bit of it. Rather unnervingly the aural image is rock-steady, the orchestra able to shine as each section comes into play. There are parts, too, where you can almost see the players in your head. Obviously orchestras are recorded at some distance’ but there was no lack of detail, no lack of clarity and despite the forces involved, a real sense of the sound an orchestra makes, somehow squeezed into my listening room. Its ability to conjure believable aural images is amazing.

These two experiences are not unique, though obviously for me they have a particular resonance. Whichever LP I decided to play, the effect was that (as long as nothing else got in the way – surface noise, pops and clicks etc) I was beguiled, drawn in, taken on a journey, and particularly keen to explore more music, which, as long as the recording was up to it, sounded real.

I’m not quite sure what it is that Henriot has put into this rather good piece of kit, but it’s utterly revealing, seemingly totally non-invasive (it doesn’t seem to get in the way of anything during listening), and without… I was going to say vice or virtue, but I guess the bottom line is that there’s no side to the way it presents the received signal.

Topographic tales

Yes has been around for a long while. One of the early supergroups in the prog pantheon, their music has stood the test of time rather well. While its evidently a product of its time, it hasn’t aged, and still has a very contemporary feel. The orchestrations and ever-changing creative directions make repeated listening a new experience each time. For me, Tales of Topographic Oceans is perhaps the most played.

A double album with a track on each LP side, singer Jon Anderson wanted to capture his own interpretation of the Shastric scriptures. The constantly woven themes, range of dynamic contrasts and clever left-right placement of sound groups is a very good test of a phono stage’s phase integrity across two channels (otherwise things tend to move when they shouldn’t) and sudden crescendos tend to distort or mask smaller lower-level sounds which are usually quite crucial to the overall effect. Imagine someone alternately shouting and whispering, but all the sibilance is taken away – something of a challenge.

As this was a 1972/3 studio album I thought it only fair to use the Shure V15, so disconnected the 60Se, reconfigured the DIP switches, reconnected it all up and played it again. The V15, though good, didn’t have quite the detail retrieval of the Io, and it was just a tad less incisive on the sudden crescendo. However, at both low and high levels on their own it was a good performer. The Whest is no slouch, and the differences between the V15 and the Io were clear. Is one better than the other? Difficult call. It partly depends on the resolving power of the rest of the system, and partly on how you like your music presented. On balance the Io is slightly leaner, a little more extended at top and bottom, but the V15 has a subtly warmer midrange – which I suppose is what you’d expect when comparing an MC and a MM cartridge.

Whest 60Se Pro review

And listening to Tales’ was genuinely a real revelation with details deep in the mix now being revealed, which made a lot of the music make more sense. In many respects the whole thing gained a sense of cohesion rather than being an assemblage of disparate parts. That’s down to the Whest 60Se Pro’s ability to draw strands together, present complicated soundscapes coherently and allow inner workings to shine through.

A bit of fun hit the player next – Edgar Winter and Frankenstein. This has long been a favourite: pure unadulterated fun with a deep meaty beaty bass riff and soaring guitar solos above. What’s not to like? The best copy I have of this (ironically) is not the original single on Epic (45rpm original from 1972) but the reissue from K-Tel on their 20 Power Hits compilation LP from a year later (TE297). The pressing quality is superb, it’s surface-noise-free, dynamic and absolutely full-blown. There’s some other fun stuff on the K-Tel disc too – Nazareth’s Bad Bad Boy, Albert Hammond’s The Free Electric Band and Mud’s Hypnosis. Real blasts from the past. A highly recommended probably unwoke (by now) record. If you don’t have a copy, get one, put it on your platter and turn up the volume. If you don’t end up smiling there’s something definitely wrong. The Whest broadened my grin which now stretched from one side of the room to the other.

Again, the 60Se Pro made listening an easy affair, and the engagement and tireless presentation made exploring my collection for long into several evenings something of a smile-maker. It’s rare that a piece of kit will give such unending pleasure over a long period of time. In fact, someone once said to me, “You know how to find the best rooms at hi-fi shows don’t you? You wait in the bar till the end of the day, look at which people are there first, make a note of which dem room they’re in, and then on the next day go to the rooms where no-one came down to the bar early”. The reasoning, I was told, that if someone can survive demonstrating equipment for a long day in front of the public, and still not be desperate to turn it off as soon as the show closes that day, it must be doing something right. Well, on that basis the 60Se Pro is certainly doing something right’. I don’t think I turned it off.

Gateway to the grooves

As I said earlier, the 60Se Pro doesn’t have a side’. It’s even-handed, responds well and presents the signal fed into it with such a degree of authority and rightness’ that after a while (and it really doesn’t take very long) you completely forget it’s there at all. I’m not sure Mr Henriot would be happy to have his carefully-designed and manufactured equipment forgotten but you know where I’m coming from. It simply lets the music through – it’s a gateway to the grooves and a very transparent one at that.

I listened to a whole host of vinyl while the 60Se was residing with me, but the other one I want to mention is again another slightly older pressing, a first pressing’ of Claire Martin on Linn Records. Devil May Care is a finely crafted set of tracks with some good, nay excellent arrangements for a small-ish jazz-based ensemble including guitar, piano, bass, drums, table, African drum, a few saxes, trombone and percussion of various types.

When listening to small ensembles, unless the instruments are spatially well separated from each other, two saxes (for example) playing together can merge into one. Percussion can lose some of its identity and discerning which instrument is which can get a bit difficult. All the clues are there in the groove; it’s just that some kit doesn’t have sufficient transparency and resolution to enable you to hear which is which. The timbral nuances are really important and absolute clarity is a must.

Whest 60Se Pro review

Recorded at Townhouse, each instrument is clearly identifiable, and the individuality of each sax, its particular tonal signature has been captured really well. It’s not too close-miked, but near enough that you can hear the wind rush past the reed before the first note takes, and the breathy use of vibrato and note-bending at other times. Claire Martin’s voice is very immediate. You’re absolutely aware that she’s singing for you. You can hear sometimes the urgency in her voice, sometimes pathos, sometimes anger, sometimes sadness. The 60Se Pro conveys emotional content so very well, and despite there being a mass of aural detail to take on board that emotional element never gets masked, never gets overlooked and while sound quality is king, that’s only a small part of what’s going on.

Definitely not hi-fi

The raw takes were mixed at Castlesound Studios near Haddington in Lothian, and here the final touches were made before the LPs were finally pressed. There’s a nice line on the back of the album: “every ounce of sonic performance is important, and accurate reproduction of the music comes before everything else”. While this may have been the intention of Linn’s products, in fact this also fits with Whest’s approach to reproducing music. In the pursuit of getting the most out of the groove, Whest’s considered plan of attack has made this possible. The 60Se Pro is definitely not hi-fi. Its performance capability is beyond high, if not above very high. Its fidelity to the original signal is as close as one could wish it to be. This is a music conduit not just a sound processor boosting the cartridge’s meagre output to something an amplifier can handle. It’s an integral part of an engaging and engrossing home music replay system, and should always be viewed as such.

Having re-read what I’ve just written it’s dawned on me that I haven’t really covered what it sounds like. To be honest, in essence it doesn’t have a sound per se. What it does do, though, is complete the aural image of instruments playing music with those oh-so-fine details which help make the leap of faith from I’m listening to a recording to this is real.

What do I mean by this? Well, if you go to a live musical event the act of making music brings the environment to life. The aura of a solo cello excites the room. What you hear is far more than just the bow on the strings. It’s about the resonances of the instrument, the sound of that instrument in that particular space. It’s how it reacts to and with that  room. And while many systems are really good at conveying the big things, it’s the smaller finest details which inform that listening experience at home. The 60Se Pro doesn’t point the spotlight at anything, but in turn allows that sound, that expression, that nuance, those timbral subtleties to shine for themselves. So instead of being a cardboard cut-out aural picture it has a 3D aspect, a warmth, full embodiment, a sense of having life, energy and purpose.

Whest 60Se Pro verdict

The sound quality of the 60Se Pro is superb. As far as I can discern, it’s about as close to ideal as you could hope to get. Because so much of the smaller stuff is right – because of all the care which has gone in to the design from the outset – Class A, signal paths, channel balance etc – the overall effect at the end of the day is a totally immersive listening experience. It’s neither kind nor harsh to recordings, but faithful, presenting them with everything the stylus retrieved from the groove still intact.

So voices have an almost eerie palpability about them. Off-mic noises are revealed, everything sits in the right place within the recording (in fact, it’s quite apparent when a recording has been panned in order to provide a false L-R image because all the spatial clues get distorted). Each instrument or voice has an appropriate space around it within the environment as a whole.

Is there any point in waxing lyrical about the 60Se Pro’s ability to convey the high extremes of the frequency range or plumb the depths of uber-bass content? Not really. It’s seamless. It sounds natural (in as much as what’s in the groove is natural). The other thing is that (particularly with acoustically-recorded material) things sound real. Regardless of genre, if it’s been well-recorded you can very nearly close your eyes and you’re there (presuming, of course, that the rest of your system is up to the job). It has the ability to bring live music into your home, or conversely, transport you to the recording environment and allow you to enjoy that musical event, happening right now before you.

It’s not kind to recordings. It will show up very clearly differences between one recording and another, and sometimes between takes made on different days. It’s a highly revealing, natural-sounding engaging piece of kit. So where does the 60Se Pro shine, aside from its timbral accuracy and ability to make music sound real in your listening room? It’s the ability to capture and convey emotional content, capture the listener’s attention and engage them in the musical happening which is the key to such a beguiling, such an immersive musical experience. That is what the Whest 60Se Pro does so very well.


Type: Solid-state, MM/MC phono stage
Phono inputs: 2x RCA sockets
Analogue outputs: single ended RCA, balanced XLR
Input sensitivity: variable
Input impedance: MC 30, 100, 220, 470, 2K Ohms. MM 47K Ohms
Input capacitance: 91pF
Output impedance: 100 Ohms at 3kHz
Gain: 42dB, 45dB, 50dB, 55dB, 65dB, 72dB
Output level: 1.48V
Signal to Noise Ratio: 87dB
Dimensions (HxWxD): 84 x 435 x 336mm
Weight: 8kg
Warranty: 5 years

Price when tested:
Manufacturer Details:

Whest Audio Ltd
T +44 7957 263 738


phono preamplifier


Chris Beeching

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