After listening to NAD, Project, and Creek, the Rega fono was the best. Used = $180. Not easy to find though.
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Hagerman Bugle, although it is a DIY 1/2 KIT. About $100-125 for the 9V battery power. About $175 to build one with the 15V AC power supply. You'd think with parts cost alone you'd be ahead off all the commercial <$200 units and probably a lot of the <$500 ones as well. It's supposed to be in "Black Cube" territory from what I've read.
I agree with Nrenter and Viridian: The Musical Fidelity X-LPS is a great inexpensive phono pre. I had one on loan from a dealer two years ago while I waited for a Krell KPE Reference to arrive. It was very smooth, detailed and dynamic, much better than the Parasound ph100 I hed been using up to that point. Plus it has the small military tubes to ptovide that great bloom and warmth quality.
I an mot an expert but, if you dare with the DIY, I'v seen what seems to be quite good. Just go to the following page:
You also have an english version of the page
Is a solid state pre phono, if you want ia a vacuum tube preamplifier here you have one:
As I understand it, and audiogoner "Newbee" might be better at explaining it, the symmetrical structure of a vacuum tube allows for addressing two distinct signal paths. In the case of the VP-129, one would have to count on a high degree of structural symmetry between the two halves for channel balance.
If the stock Sovtech 12AX7 is found wanting, you can always roll another one in. One could always question whether a two tube circuited preamp is providing identical signal handling capabilities without a matched set - and even then ...
The review in HI-FI+ gave it a thumbs up on channel separation, but in the end you're right - we are talking about a $160 (street) phono stage. But for those whose systems don't provide tape outs and headphone jacks, I think this little puppy is worth a look.
Using the two elements of the tube in different channels should not compromise channel seperation. Usually, capacitive coupleing of components on the circuit board compromises channel seperation in multi-channel circuits. Don't forget, records are not cut with particularly high seperation, nor do phono cartridges have high seperation either. It is hardly the forte of phono replay in general.