An affordable step up from AR SP14 is?

Hi All,
My main system consists of a Oppo BP 83SE, Audio Research SP14 pre, Hafler 9500 amp, Linn LP12 with a Talisman Virtuoso Boron cartridge and Apogee Centauris Slant 6 speakers. I am very happy with it overall, but lately have been thinking about upgrades. My personal opinion is that the preamp is an absolutely key component, so in hope of an improvement, I recently got a Threshold FET 9 pre from a fellow Agoner. It is in perfect shape and sounds really good, but clearly not as good as the SP14. I had thought since it was an A rated pre and the AR was high B rated the Threshold would sound better, but the AR has just as much detail with noticably more air and holographic imaging.
So, do any of you know of any used pre amps with a really good MC capable phono stage that can be bought for under $1200 and would be a step up from the SP14?
I would especially appreciate hearing from folks actually familiar with the sonics of the SP14.
Thanks in advance!
I owned one for a number of years, and was quite happy with it. Find a NOS, pre-mid 60's Siemens CCa(no internal date code/grey plate under getter support), or(at least) an E188CC. It's very easy to install an IEC socket in the SP14 chassis, which will enable you to upgrade the cheesy, stock power cord. Synergistic's Reference AC Master Couplers work nicely with the unit, and are inexpensive(used). Replace the fuse with a HI-FI Tuning Supreme(they weren't available when I had mine, but- their performance enhancement is without question and you obviously have the ears). If you feel competent with a soldering iron: replace the diode rectifiers with FREDs. I strongly believe you will pleased with the upgrade in sound staging, freq response(both directions), dynamics and organics that these simple mods/tweeks provide, and - they can be done in stages. The money saved can go toward a nice MC phono pre(plug it in the, "Spare" input).
As far as I know there really aren't any preamps in that price range with MC phono stages, especially if it's a low output moving coil you're wanting to use. I would suggest a high output moving coil and possibly a used ARC SP-16. When new, you could order them with or without the phono stage so make sure the one you purchase has the board installed. Good sounding preamp with remote. I would not attempt to modify your current preamp if you plan to sell it, as you will not get your money out of it.