A decent preamp to complete my setup?


Hey everyone! I'm absolutely new to the hobby and am coming along with a turntable setup and have everything besides my preamp. So far I have a Technics sl-1200mkd3 turntable, two svs ultra bookshelf speakers, and a NuForce STA200 160 watt amp. I'm loving the setup so far because apparently the NuForce will do well with the SVS speakers, but I've been cautioned to use a preamp that has as low gain as possible since apparently the NuForce has a lot already (I admit I'm not too sure if this is a big deal or even much of an issue, but initially it makes sense). I've heard somewhere in the 2-3db region is great, but have no idea where to look for something like that. My budget is $300-$350 so I'm hoping that's enough to get something decent, do you guys have any suggestions? I don't want any bells or whistles like streaming, DAC, etc. Just a good preamp with volume control that's simple to run from my turntable to my amp. If the perfect piece of equipment for me is a little outside of my range I suppose I'd have no problem saving up a bit more to get it, but I'm hoping something that gives me the bare bones I'm looking for will be decently in my range.
bacom15
If you are planning on plugging your turntable directly into your preamp, then you need one with a built-in phono stage. Most newer models don't have that hence the product category "phono stages". Back before CD all the preamps had phono stages built-in. So vintage will accomplish two things; get you older used pricing to fit something in your budget, and it will eliminate need for separate phono stage. 
Complicating things further, moving coil cartridges are usually low output and need extra amplification vs. higher output moving magnet cartridges. So tell us what cart you are using and that will help.
There are hardly any preamps that provide 2-3db of gain. There are passives with no gain, but they are more zebra than a common horse. In all likelihood, a traditional preamp with higher gain will be fine. Comments re: your amp being so high gain and to rule those out seems unlikely. Posting impedance specs for the amp would allow us(paging @almarg !) to confirm that. Cheers,
Spencer
Hopefully this doesn't irk anyone but cartridges haven't come into the equation just yet for me. I'm at work at the moment and away from home for the next month or two in a remote area , but I'm planning to do some local looking into cartridges when I get back to get as much info on them as I can since I know nothing at the moment. That being said I'm quickly coming to terms with the fact that a $300 budget isint gonna cut it in terms of getting everything I need to get up and running.

I can accept that since I really want the pay off for hearing that first note come through sounding marvelous to be as big as possible, and now my price point really opens up thankfully. If a phono stage, cartridge, and preamp are all things that I need, given my current equipment are there any recommendations you (or anyone for that matter) would care to give for any? I'm just a recent college grad so I can't do anything extravagant like $5,000 components, but anywhere up to $1,000 for some of the more key elements is fine with me. I'm patient and don't mind saving for things, I just don't know where to look and for what when it comes to buying things like phono stages or cartridges....for now anyways!

From the Absolute Sound...
The STA200 is a Class A/B amp with 80 watts of output into 8 ohms, 34.4dB gain.

With some preamplifiers, the STA200’s high gain could mean that the preamplifier could be operating in a less than optimal gain range.
http://www.theabsolutesound.com/articles/optoma-nuforce-sta200-power-amplifier/

SVS Speakers...
freq. response: 45-32,000 Hz (±3dB)
recommended amplifier power: 20-150 watts
sensitivity: 87 dBnominal impedance: 8 ohms
bass-reflex cabinet with rear-firing port

Your speakers are 8 ohm so they should be a good match in terms of sensitivity and power with your amp.
As you stated, the NuForce has a high gain and would match well with a preamp of approximately 12 to 15dB.
The 2 or 3db quoted to you may really be 12 or 13dB.

Since your source is TT, the gain of the cartridge and phonostage also must be considered.
Do you know what cart you will be using?


Thanks for all the information and clarification lowrider! Talking shop with specs is still a very new practice to me, but it's great to hear from someone who knows what they're talking about that the original caution about gain wasn't completely off base!

At the moment I don't have an idea for what cartridge I'll be using, but that's mostly because I wanted to do some looking around back home in person at local shops to get a better idea (and understanding) of how they worked and functioned. Taking into account the gain of both the cartridge, phono stage, and preamp however, I'd greatly appreciate any recommendations for either that would help me get an idea of what to look for or even just flat out purchase. Like I said I'm perfectly fine expanding my budget by saving up more at the cost of getting everything up and running sooner, so at this point I'd like to assume I'm decently flexible on price points. I won't be able to throw around $4,000 for a preamp or anything of that magnitude, but I certainly am okay with moving a decent ways out of my original $300 mark since I need other components regardless.
If I'm you, I'd take a look at the Schiit Saga preamp and Mani phono preamp, which are $350 and $130, respectively.  The Mani will handle MM and MC cartridges, so you're not constrained depending on which cartridge you eventually choose.  The cool thing about the Saga is you can use it as a passive preamp that will probably work well with your amp, but you can also try it in active mode with a tube buffer to see if that sounds better to you.  And you can even play around with tubes if you want to try to refine your sound in one direction or another.  Anyway, that's what I'd do at your price point.  Best of luck. 
An excellent  suggestion from Soix.
Thanks for the amazing recommendations Soix! I looked at both and they seem like exactly what I'd want out of my components at this point in time, plus the price points are right on the money! I'm excited to see it all come together when I get back home and get everything situated. Again thanks for the great information and recommendations. 
One could use a separate phonostge into a Schiit SYS passive into the STA200. Passive and Phonostage could easily be had for $300 (SYS=$50).

I own the SYS and the STA 200. The STA200 delivers full power with 0.65 volt input. 
For the phono preamp I like the idea of the Schiit Mani, but my only concern is the gain that comes with the various settings. I'm not too certain on how important this is considering it's the gain in the phono preamp versus the passive Saga preamp (I've been doing some reading up on the Schiit Saga and I honestly love it at this point). Assuming the Mani phono preamp gain is a non issue then I'd have no problem picking it up, if nothing else for the cartridge flexibility, but I don't know if it makes the 12-15db gain sweet spot that lowrider was kind enough to explain, a non issue since the preamp would be a passive one with the Saga... If that makes any sense anyways
The following website is pretty popular for calculating gain between cartridge and phonostage...
https://www.kabusa.com/pregain.htm

FYI, the volume setting on the preamp will never be exactly the same as a digital source.


bacom15

Being in a remote area and patient my advice is order yourself a copy of Robert Harley's Complete Guide to High-End Audio https://www.amazon.com/Complete-Guide-High-End-Audio/dp/0978649362  That's what I did, and it not only saved me a lot of time and money, but helped me become a much better listener and better able to evaluate components. Its well worth the time and money just for what you will learn about listening.

And budgeting. You really need to learn about budgeting! Everyone, but everyone, gets it all wrong. Except Harley. Who by the way, was one of the all-time great reviewers for Stereophile many years ago.

Let me give you an example about how budgeting works. Actual example. Friend at work wants to buy her husband a really nice present, whole stereo, $2500 budget. Wants me to do everything. (Good call.) 

So with that I budget out more or less as follows:
20% speakers $400
20% integrated $400
20% CD $400
20% speaker cables & interconnect $400
20% power cords & Cones $400

If you notice those numbers don't add up to $2500 that's because I take $500 right off the top for my time and expertise.

Those figures aren't carved in stone. In this case I happened to know of speakers that cost a little more but are so much better its worth spending a little more there even though it means spending a little less elsewhere.

Now the guy I made this for, he's no audiophile but he works in a line of business that gets him into the homes of a lot of people who over the years have exposed him to some pretty high end systems. He knows what they spent and what they sound like, its not like he's coming from nowhere. And what he tells me, when he heard his he was sure his wife had spent way north of five grand. Way north. So sure in fact that he asked me, "man to man" how much she really spent. Then when I said $2500 he said, "well I hope you were taken care of." He was sure whatever I was paid had to be on top of the $2500.

Mull that one over a while. Not the only time I did this either. Sure ain't what the other A-goners will tell you. In contrast to the party line this actually works. You could have a system beyond your dreams for a whole lot less than you would ever think possible right now. Get the book.


I agree that the Mani is considered a high quality budget phonostage and would be a good choice. It is very flexible regarding cartridge gain loading. The 4 gain settings, ranging between 30 and 59dB, would allow use of the Saga in either active or passive mode. Most moving magnet cartridges have a output vo;tage between 3.5 mV, requiring ~49dB gain from phonostage, and 5.5 mV requiring ~ 45dB gain from phonostage to reach 1 volt output. This output is thought to be reasonable to expect from a phonostage without providing noise.  This is more than that required by the STA200 which makes use of a passive with it a viable approach. 

I have no issue with the Saga, and am sure it would be fun to explore it's use as mentioned by soix. My thought was that the Schiit SYS and Mani could both be had for under $200 including shipping. Also if your budget was raised to $500, I wonder what the additional $300 might return sonically if used toward a different phonostage. Increased price doesn't always translate to improvement, however often does. I doubt there is a detectable sonic difference between the SYS and Saga used in passive mode.

Most digital sources provide 2+ volts output therefore the differential volume settings alluded to by lowrider57. This creates the problem balancing loudness levels between the two sources. 
Wow! Just saw millercarbon's post, 2 minutes prior to my post. My primary system budget pretty much equates to his proposed ratio. Given $2500 I would probably spend somewhat more on speakers and amplification and less on the cables/cones, and avoid the consulting fee. :-)

I am sure the husband and wife are very happy with their system. $2500 well spent. 
Forgot to add that I believe the recommendation for the Complete Guide by Harley is 'spot on'. The best single reference for home audio I know of.

Also, Blue Jeans LC-1 interconnects are great for passive use. 12pF/foot. Can be ordered for very short links.
You really need to learn about budgeting! Everyone, but everyone,gets it all wrong. Except Harley.
@millercarbon -- Wow! Really??? That is just an incredibly ignorant and arrogant statement. Sorry, but the only absolute in this hobby is that there are so many important variables that there are absolutely NO absolutes. PERIOD!!! Including Mr. Harley.

As proof, I dare you to list all the equipment you recommended to build that $2500 system here, and I’ll bet you’ll get tons of responses as to how you could’ve done it much better and/or much cheaper.

Just because you read a book doesn’t mean you’re the end all be all of building audio systems. The best teacher BY FAR, IME, is hearing as many systems and pieces of audio equipment as possible (optimally in your own home and in your own system) to build your own real world perceptions and mental inventory of how things really sound and work. Even then, that’s just your own personal opinion based on your tastes and how you hear. Saying there is some "magic" formula to build a great-sounding audio system based on one guy’s opinion is just pure poppycock and something less-experienced listeners need to tell themselves to make them feel better about not going out and putting in the time to really figure things out for themselves. Peace out.