I've not had extensive experience with the other options you listed, but I did have an Allnic H-3000 here for about 9 months. I really liked it, and hope one day to compare it to the ARC Reference Phono 2SE.
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The octave Phono Module i tried was very good too. The dynamics impressed me but it didn't attacked me. That was very good. It was very transparent and with a lot details. But sometimes it was to transparent for me. I like it more when i can touch it, maybe more hollographic is the right word. But in all reviews i've read they don't give good dynamics to the AMR. That would be very important to know.
I really like my Allnic H3000. I have no experience with the others you listed. I think alot will depend on how it matches up with the rest of your gear and taste. I had the Pass XP-25 in my system for a month before I bought the Allnic. While there was alot I liked about the Pass it was too agressive in my system.
The Octave Phono Module is a versatile product, with the added luxury of being able to upgrade later on because of the modular concept. I used the integrated version in the Octave HP500SE, in which the Octave Phono was based on, and was totally satisfied, for years. I put the Einstein and ASR head to head with the Octave and stayed with the Octave. It was not until I heard the Aesthetix IO Signature, that I was finally swayed to make a leap to another phono stage, which cost me more than the Octave Integrated.
I have also heard great things about the Allnic.
02-25-12 Agucela writes:
Output is either via single-ended RCA or "convenience" XLR (ie, the single-ended output is available on an XLR but there is not an actual balanced output).
Lamm provide the same on some of their equipment. On my ML2.1, there is an XLR input - Lamm call it "pseudo-balanced". If you prefer XLR plugs to RCA plugs, then you can use them.
The AMR PH77 is dynamic like crazy. When you have a major reviewer with a broken XLR ground lead (and he has reviewed countless phono stages without knowing his review tonearm (a very expensive tonearm has a disconnected ground) ) and he didn't hear it... That is very telling. Any phono stage which is single ended would have had a "buzz" hence (perhaps) his love of balanced stages since that would mitigate his faulty tonearm and love of balanced stages. After AMR checked their product and finally found the fault in his wiring it was remedied; by this time a new NON broken in PH77 was sent and not given enough time to run in and yes they can sound tight when new. It was a huge disservice for this individual to not come forward and admit the fault in his very expensive table and that because of his tables faults a new non broken in PH77 was reviewed in order to make a deadline.
I can assure you that the PH77 is magnificently dynamic on a very grand scale and not at all sterile as some of the other phono stages that this person has waxed poetic over.
Agucela, What that means is that the circuit inside is single-ended (often abbreviated "SE"), but the maker has also provided an XLR jack for output to some other device that may have an XLR input jack. It's well that the manufacturer admits this; many just stick an XLR jack on the back and leave the end user to figure out whether or not the circuit inside is truly balanced. Hooking an SE circuit to an XLR jack is very easy to do; only one pin in the XLR jack is needed to carry the SE output signal. Balanced operation is a different deal, and there is much controversy among audiophiles around what is best, balanced vs SE. Operation in true balanced topology requires nearly a doubling of the parts count in the circuit and thus is more expensive to implement. Theoreticians and engineers will often argue that balanced topology is superfluous unless you are running very very long runs of cable, like hundreds of feet, as in a recording studio. However, audiophilia is not always a logical disease, and some audiophiles are staunch advocates of balanced topology even when using much shorter runs of cable. Balanced operation does afford a kind of noise cancellation that is not available in SE operation, called Common Mode Rejection (CMR), which is why it is preferred with very long runs of cable. Whether that is a critical advantage or not in home audio is the subject of debate, but in true balanced mode one seldom runs into problems of hum due to ground loops or differences in voltage between one ground and another in a connected system. On the other hand, those who prefer SE devices say that the complexity of balanced circuits leads to colorations of the sound. (I've never heard such a phenomenon.) I own two systems; one is basically balanced from input to output, including the cartridge hook-up to the balanced phono stage. The other is SE all the way. Both are very quiet. I love them both. Bottom line: I would not let the topology (balanced vs SE) determine what phono stage you choose, unless the rest of your system is also truly balanced, in which case I would tend to favor a true balanced phono stage.