I've heard the EAR and the Allnic, they are both pretty special...both of these companies know how to wind transformers right...
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I can only speak to about the bigger brothers of the Allnic and Manley but I think one could reasonably extrapolate: I owned Steelhead RC for several years and liked it; then I auditioned an Allnic H3000 in my system and thought it in a completely different league. I sold the Steelhead without a second thought.
WRM57 and I are dopplegangers~ I also ran a Steelhead for a number of
years and rolled the tubes- found that NOS Teles gave it the most
holographic sound using it through the MM inputs, and bypassing the gain
control into a separate line stage. It was a very good phono stage, but its
chief virtues, aside from build quality and incredible support, was its
flexbility- being able to change settings from the front panel. At the time,
and for the price, it was considered a state of the art piece.
The H 3000 sounds significantly more organic than the Steelhead in my
system and also does a better job of placing the instruments in defined
spaces, not just laterally but front to back. (It also took a couple hundred
hours to burn in).
It has an ease that sounds less 'reproduced.'
Whether these differences are as marked in the entry level models of each
company's products is something I don't know- I haven't heard either the
Chinook or the H 1201. I can tell you that the build quality of the Allnic is
easily on par with the Manley gear, and that I've gotten first rate support in
the States, though the product is manufactured in South Korea.
I don't usually get on these forums to say 'buy what I have' but if you can
extrapolate, as WRM suggests you might, the Allnic would be a winner.
I spent a couple of weeks with the1201 in my system comparing it to my Audio Research PH 5. The Allnic was in a different league, just way more of everything. I decided to go with big brother and bought the H3000 and could not be happier. The 1201 has many of the same characteristics, clarity, openness, and organic feel. It is also quite dynamic. The 3000 just give you a bigger dose, but you get a nice taste with the 1201.
I have never heard a manly in my system
Even tricked out, I wasn't as happy with my EARp as many of the other tube phono preamps I've used. Nice unit but not really in the league of the Allnic. The Chinook was pretty dry sounding in my system. I'd buy the Allnic in a second, although I'd probably look in the used market first before I decided. I think there are always some incredible values in phono preamps available. The other day a Herron VTPH-2 popped up at a good price, which in my opinion is better all around the the 1201. You can even sometimes find a ASR Basis Exclusive with the blue boards for $3000. If you have the space, that unit shames pretty much everything up to the H3000.
Ohno...Buy what you can afford...Everything is system dependent...! I've had the had the H-1201 in my system for a year now fully broken in and it's getting better & better every time I flip the switch. You can't go wrong with it! BTW---I sold my Chinook for the Allnic and haven't looked back...Always enjoy the MUSIC!
I've had the Allnic 1201 for about 6 months now and I'm thrilled with it. I upgraded to it from a JTLI and, although I did enjoy the JLTI, the Allnic beats it by a long shot. Much fuller, richer sound but still retains all the detail that was the JLTI's strength. Bass was much fuller and more defined, too. I haven't heard the Manley or EAR, but I think you'll be happy with the Allnic. I do confess that it makes me wonder what an H3000 would sound like in my system...
Worldcat, I haven't heard anything that competes with a Herron VTPH-2. I own one. And I make that statement objectively, independent of owner pride. IMO, at its price, it embarrasses the competition. Without consideration for price, to my ears, it stands alone at the top.
It's detail and precision are amazing. Everything comes from a very quiet background. Every instrument has its own unique musical signature even within its section. Timing, a characteristic of all Herron gear, is spot on making dynamics sharp, tight, precise and of "correct" amplitude, never blurred or imprecise. It does not favor a specific cartridge but seems to brings out the best of whatever source it is handling.
My sonic preferences place a high value on precise imaging and soundstage presentation. That comes through clearly on the VTPH-2. Instruments are positioned on the stage as it was recorded. The better the recording, the better the image.
Vocals are reproduced accurately.
The Herron VTPH-2 does not have a sonic signature. It doesn't sound like a tube phono stage, nor does it sound like solid state. It is just transparent to the music. It just corrects for RIAA and amplifies. It is true to the signal, true to the music.
BUT... It will not hide or correct for the failings of a poor recording. It will expose those flaws, not cover them. But the music will still come through.
I can find no fault or weakness in the VTPH-2.
Just my opinion.
From a technical perspective, the Herron VTPH-2 handles both MC and MM input through separate inputs. MC loading is easily adjusted externally using RCA plugs with resistors soldered in place.
In the Herron price range, there are quite a few good-performing phono stages. I have not heard them all. But I have no driving compulsion to upgrade from the VTPH-2. I haven't heard anything better.
Just my opinion.
System includes a VPI Aries Extended (original), JMW-12 arm, AT-OC9/II, Herron VTSP-3A(ro2), Herron M-150 (2). Speakers change too often to list.