Art Audio Vinyl One or the K&K Audio Maxxed Out Phono. Both excellent, the Vinyl One more rich, the K&K more accurate.
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Another vote for the K&K phono stage. I have used one for 5 years and am about to install Kevins latest upgrade. Having compared it to a number of stages, including the Whest, the only one I thought bettered it was the Tron phono stage in an all Tron system and then not by much. It's nearly twice the price too.
An important consideration is that Kevin at K&K is constantly trying to improve it and offers the upgrades at very reasonable cost.
I have the Fosgate. I really like it, and I prefer the included optional 12AT7 in the V3 position instead of the 12AX7 which I thought had too much bass. The 12AT7 still had a rich tube sound, but was more balanced frequency-wise. I think the stock tubes sound great but I replaced mine with Telefunkens. The Fosgate is an easy recommendation.
I vote for the Part Connexion modded PS Audio GCPH, which I believe Underwood HiFi sells here on Audiogon.
I have tried many others, but this one never loses. It's super flexible, and the mods that Parts Connexion do to it make it dead quiet, and really improve the soundstage depth, and the extension. It's a big, smooth complete sound. Probably the best bargain I have seen in all of audio.
If you have no complaints - don't change it. Really, you should never change an audio component if you don't have a clear idea of what you are trying to accomplish. Otherwise you are just rolling the dice, and will likely cause a problem somewhere rather than fixing a nonexistant one.
Instead - take a good assessment of your complete system, identify any strengths and weaknesses you may have. Focusing on improving the weaknesses is a better approach
My reason for looking to change is that I feel there is more to be had from my setup by changing the phono. I believe the Whest can be bested, but it will take a good step up to get there. I would like a bit of warmth without covering up the detail. My first phono was the basic Vincent model so the Whest was a huge improvement. The next step I think will be harder and requires more consideration and of course more $$$.
In my opinion, switching gears around the same price range will change the sound, not necessarily improve the sound. You may need to spend twice the money you spent on what you already have to yield a meaningful upgrade.
I hardly find any bad reviews on audio components in any of the audio magazines out there (including online). The best way to do is, again, borrow them to compare in your own system and room.
I used to own a Whest Two which was a good phono stage. I ended up spending more than twice its price on one to provide me a meaningful improvement.
Why is it so important to you to keep the cartridge you have no matter what? And the turntable.
I generally agree with the thought that you have to spend at least the double to have a big improvement. That's the reason why I don't upgrade often, but when I do it is at least twice as expensive and more for table/arm.
Just an update on the K&K. I have just had the uogrades to bring my SE up to the current Maxxed out stage, fitted. Everyone else seems to have done it a year ago, but I'm slow on the uptake. To get the platitudes out the way, "My jaw dropped" at the sound. It really is a different phonostage, particularly in terms of dynamics and it's speed. As a result it is much crisper, cleaner and more detailed. I have turned the volume down nearly 25%, to get a similar perceived sound level.
All this cost $85 + postage + fitting of course.
I recently purchased a Parasound JC3. After all the positive reviews (I do not base my purchases only on reviews) and it was in my price range. I also have the highest respect for the designer John Curl.
Now looking fo a different cartridge to go with it. I'm presently running a very low output MC and using a step up xfmr for it. Would prefere not to use a step up.
Seems like it is very well built and after hearing it was sort of based on the Vendetta Research phono amp, I felt it would meet my needs. It does not have all the settings I would like but it does sound very good.
I have not heard the K&K, but from the above posting seems like people like it a lot.
+1 for the K&K Maxxed Out phonostage I had the the latest iteration of the Maxxed Out until about a year ago and in a word (which is useless when trying to describe this unit)was UTTERLY FABULOUS! Fast forward to August, I had Kevin install the latest updates... sorry I can't help the cliches but it IS AN ALTOGETHER different phonstage.Honestly I can't say that I've fully even broke it in, all work you know. Do yourself a favor and at least audition one and see if it's your flavor.
Also not sure if many current Maxxed owners know ,Kevin has developed a new face plate that encompasses polarity,stereo mono, mute and switching between the MM section and the MC section all on the front panel,PLUS,,,, are you read for this? variable loading and capacitance for the MM section.
prior to having decided to upgrade to the latest revision I have always tried to have current owners explain just what was gained, I NEVER got a straight quantitative,or qualitative answer, now I totally understand it's..... (sigh)