A new phono stage

Soliciting feedback on phono stages. I know, the best way is to audition each candidate in my system, but this is difficult where I live.

I'm presently using a highly modified Counterpoint SA-5.1 for the phono stage, into Lamm L2 preamp, Counterpoint SA-20 amp, and Alon Circe speakers. The source is a Micro Seiki RX1500 / SME 3012R / Shelter 901. I want to replace the SA-5.1 with a dedicated phono stage and use the 5.1 in my second system.

My criteria:
- tube or ss is ok
- highly reliable (prefer less tubes to more)
- very low noise
- remote control NOT necessary
- multiple inputs NOT necessary
- signal purity preferred to convenience (while I recognize the convenience of front panel adjustable loading, I am willing to remove the cover and insert a resistor myself for the sake of signal purity).
- > 60dB gain, prefer w/o mc step-up transformer (*this is difficult!)

My list of candidates:
Lamm LP2, Pass Xono, TE Groove or Micro Groove, EAR 834P (with Thoerston parts and circuit modification). I realize that all of these do not meet all of my criteria.

can anyone with direct exposure to these units share their experience? Even better if you have compared units in a controlled setting.
Why don't you put the EAR 324 on your list ?
This ss-unit works great, see reviews in Positive Feedback and Stereophile.
you should check out the Rogue Stealth unit as well. So new that reviews are still rare. The company started with a SS design, planning to make a tube unit later at a higher price. They liked the SS so much that they scrapped plans for the tubes even though all their other gear uses tubes.
I used the Lamm LP2 phono stage in my system for an extended period, and I ran it into the Lamm L2 preamp (grat preamp by the way). The Lamm LP2 is an outstanding phono stage. The only reason I moved on to the Manley Steelhead was for additional flexibility to run low output MC cartridges. If the Lamm's fixed gain (57.5dB) and impedance (40 ohms) are compatible with your cartridge plans, then the LP2 would be my first choice among the various phono stages that you mentioned.
I totally agree with Cincy_Bob. Out of the choices you have mentioned, I would recommend the LP2 Deluxe.

While the LP2 Deluxe is wonderful, it lacks flexibility. The Manley, which I sell, has the ability to change loading, gain and impedance all on the fly. It is beautiful sounding with great foundation and grip while being very delicate at the same time. While it might lean slightly toward the warm side, the sound can easily be tailored by a change of tubes. It is my favorite all around phono stage.

The other benefit the Steelhead has is it's ability to run directly into your amplifier. You might prefer running it without the L2 Reference preamplifier and if so, you might save a bunch of money.

Direct comparisons between the LP2 Deluxe and the Steelhead had both equally as quiet. The Manley was airier on top. The LAMM was a bit more neutral before swapping tubes on the Steelhead. Both have incredible bass resolution and control.
Check out Stan Klyne 7 PX 3.5 Phono amp.
It meet all your criteria. It is very flexible and is one of the best sounding Phono amps out there.
Cincy_Bob and I are in agreement about the Lamm, and I think Jtinn's description is pretty much spot on. The Lamm is a special piece, but it does only have 57db of gain and loads the cartridge at 40 ohms, so make sure your Shelter has enough output for your usual listening levels. The Lamm also is perhaps a little "rounded" or soft in the highest frequencies, so if you're looking for the last word in razor sharp highs you might be disappointed; I myself, as a classical music fan, find this a good thing. The Lamm works well with my very low output Koetsu Rosewood Signature Platinum, but on some records cut at low levels I could use a little more gain (for those I switch to the MC stage of my JP200, which gives overall about 100db of gain, including the line stage), so check the output of your Shelter before deciding.
How about Tron Syren preamp (http://www.tron-electric.com). The Trons are designed to be silent - like absolutely silent with tubes and Avantgarde Horns. Edward Barker has just named it as one of his finds of 2004 (http://www.6moons.com/industryfeatures/b004/b004edward.html). The gain can be altered to suit any MC cartridge. It's even sensitive enough for the Allaerts MC2 Formula 1 (only 0.1 mV output), but still silent. I'm impressed enough to buy one of Graham Tricker's preamps (I'm buying his own demo Meteor - predecessor of the Syren). In the US, I think Hart at Audio Advancements distributes. However Graham Tricker does supply worldwide from his base in the UK
The Plinius M14 will give you adjustable loading and gain from a ss unit for a lot less than a Steelhead or EAR 324 - of course, it's up to your judgement whether any performance difference is worth the added cost.
dynavector p-75...$600 new and will blow away anything up to twice it's price for low output moving coils. do a google search. im using one with a benz ref2, and it's fantastic.
Call Lloyd Walker:610-666-6087.He has a few of the older Walker Signture phonos left.Very quick and detailed with good harmonics.Adjustable loading with nude Holcos and gain to 60+db.
Thanks to all here for sharing. Also for inputs on phono stages I had not considered - you have some great ideas.

I have closure now, because an EAR 834P became available yesterday, in the version I wanted (no volume or mc transformers, seldom seen here), at a fair price. I bought it. It was coincidence that I found this unit the same day as this post.

No - I don't expect that the EAR will go toe-to-toe with the Lamms, Xonos, Grooves, etc. But it is a classic product, and one that I can afford to keep as a benchmark and reference to compare with others in the future.

I plan to roll some tubes (Telefunkens) do some of the Thorsten mods (coupling caps, etc), which many report having good results. Some say the modified EAR is on the same level or better sounding than some of the others listed here. I am skeptical, but it will be a fun experiment to listen for myself!

Again, thanks for sharing - I really appreciate it!

Hi Skushino

I have an EAR834P with a lot of mod work very similar to the Thoerston mods. In fact the guy that did it used them as a guidline for many of the changes he made to it. This preamp is fairly cheap used and can be improved upon in so many different ways for a modest price.

The modded unit is light years ahead of a stock unit...in fact not even close for that matter and is the last phonostage I will ever need.
Well, the EAR 834P sale fell through (buyer withdrew the offer to sell). So I am back where I started.
How about a Tron preamp with phono on money back terms if you don't like it. I picked up my Tron preamp from Graham Tricker at GT Audio in the UK today. I asked him if he would let US buyers buy one and return it they weren't satisfied. He will, providing the unit is returned in as new condition with the packaging. The preamp comes as a dual mono unit. The only shared components are the mains transformer and choke. The line stage has one valve and the phono stage has one valve 12AX7. All the components are top spec eg input selector USD 90 component price alone! They sound fantastic and they're silent. However, I don't know if your budget will stretch - they're GBP 6000-7000, say USD 12-13k. As you were considering the LAMM, I presume your budget is ok.
Of the phono stages you list, I have only heard the Lamm and EAR - in two very differenct systems, neither were my own. The phono stage you didn't list and which meets all of your criteria is the Herron. It has, in the MC configuration, 66 db of gain and is hassle free. I'm running it with a ZYX Airy with 0.24mv output and it is dead quite. I have spent hours listening to my friends system with all Lamm electronics. They are certainly good - as they should be for what they cost. However, I don't feel the need to upgrade when I come home and listen to my Herrons.


check this out: http://cls.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/cls.pl?preaphon&1111215181

not affiliated with seller, and if i didn't love my dynavector p-75 and had the scratch, i'd be on this fast. supposed to be a terrific stage.
The H-Cat P300 phono has proven clearly superior to two of the three phonos you mention. It costs $2995. I am tempted by no others.
Tbg, I just finished reading the long discussion thread re: H-Cat. Very interesting... The product has strong proponents, but the managment and support seem tenuous. I look forward to reading feedback from some of the new owners, like Baranyi!

Thanks for the original thinking...