I've owned both as well and to me the 3A is worth the difference especially at the price I've seen some going for lately. The 3 is very musical, just not as dynamic and not as well controlled in the bottom end. You will want a phono cartridge with 1.5mv output or better. I use a low output Grado Reference (1mv)and it works, but you need to turn the volume up close to if not all the way and that gets a bit noisy. I use an EAR 834P for phono but would be very happy with the AI phono stage if my cartridge had a little more gain. The AI has a great sounding phono stage, which is one of the reasons the AI is such a bargain. With regard to Timo's comments above on the C-J PFR, keep in mind that the AI, particularly the 3A, is one of the best regarded preamps available at any price and for good reason. The PFR has never come close to the reputation of the AI and if it were a "much better performer" as Timo states you would hear a great deal more about it. All I can remember was a positive review in Stereophile many years ago. The ARC PH3 is an excellent piece and well regarded, but that will cost you more than a used AI 3 and will exceed your budget. You just cannot go wrong with the AI. You will have to spend some serious money to improve on it.