Best cost no object tube phono

Hi Agoners,

just upgraded everything to SS Accuphase, loving it and have no intention to go back to tube pre/power. However, I have to admit that I miss a bit of tube sweetness particularly on mid. What is the best cost no object tube phono stage?

Thanks in advance for any advices
Dear @uwiikz : This is my response to almost the same question that I posted in other thread and I can tell you that even at 100K there is no tube phonolinepreamp that can’t do it.

Cartridge needs can’t be fulfilled by any tube alternative, tubes was not for this very specific task.
Do it a favor and wait till you finish your today overall room/system new " adventure " and if after  you did it and tested in deep ( say: after 3-4 moths. ) still think in tubes then come back again , only an advise:

""" For me the functions of a phonolinepreamp first than all is that can achieve an accurated inverse RIAA eq with zero frequency deviation at each phono stage channels ( both channels should have evenly frequency about. ), other main target is to have active high gain to handle any output level cartridge ( LOMC or MM). As a fact phono stages exist because these two main targets/functions.

We need that high gain but we need it along very low noise. These 3 targets are the heart of any phonolinepreamp and the true challenges to any manufacturer because it’s really a hard task to achieve those targets at the same time ( even for SS electronics. ).

I like many phonolinepreamp in the market some of them already mentioned here: FM Acoustics, Gryphon, Spectral, CH, D’angostino, etc, etc.

Yes only SS because tubes in this specific function can’t do it and I owned from humble ( Jolida. ) to top design tubes electronics by around 10 years so I’m not speaking of my preferences but audio devices that its technology can in true be nearest to those targets..

This is only an opinion and I think is valid as any of your opinions.

I don’t like very much to talk about tubes in phono stages but I will put an example through Aesthetix IO ( I listened the first time at A.Porter house and latter on 3 more times in other systems. ) where they say the unit has active high gain with low noise and yes it has 80db of gain that’s a tribute for an all tube design but unfortunatelly failed on noise level that was measured a poor A-weigthed 57db and where the RIAA eq. deviation has ( by manufacturer spec. ) a high 0.5db swing deviation.
That frequency response goes even worst because it depends of the control volumen that at different volume position different frequency response.

RIAA eq. frequency deviation levels is critical because in theory must be to mimic in inverse way the recording RIAA eq. to we can have a flat frequency response.
Not an easy task even for SS designs because that eq. is not a " delicated/tiny " one but goes from around -20db to +20db, this is a huge equalization with several problems not only about frequency response but phase and other issues.

Look, graphic equalizers in the audio market as Accuphase, Soundcraftsmen, Crown, Klark-Teknic, etc, etc. ( I owned all and other ones been parametrics. ) in the best case its control levels by octave or 1/3 octaves can give you a range between: -15db to +15db and the RIAA demands -,+ 20dbs ! ! """

Here an all, 35K+ dollars, tube design by Lamm and you can see that is not really accurated on the RIAA inverse eq.:

but the Aesthetix I/O is over 16K dollars and can’t do it.

So, it does not matters an all tube can’t mate those 3 phonolinepreamp targets. Today the best you can do is to go with SS.
Today SS electronics are really good designs and way different to the 20-30 years ago designs. """

Tubes in phono job never can gives you the rigth bass range with high quality levels even the high frequencies are really deficient in this specific task that's the handled of a cartridge signal a very low level signal. 

Regards and enjoy the MUSIC NOT DISTORTIONS,
@rauliruegas WOW man!!! Your post made me believe immediately. All made sense to me, let me ask you a direct question. FM Acoustic or Accuphase C-47 for phono considering the rest are Accuphase??. 
Shindo is the ne plus ultra of tube preamps! Ken Shindo has passed on but his son is carrying on the tradition!

There are a few threads on this. As Raul points out it is very difficult to get very low noise in an all tube phono stage. Most phono stages use a SUT or FET for gain in front of the tube amplification. That being said, there is something about an all tube phono stage if your cartridge has enough output to stay above the noise floor.

Aesthetix Io and SPA Nova are all tube phono, and there are others. You should work with your dealer to audition some phono stages before making a selection
Also, Miyajima makes a SUT that would presumably be a perfect match with your cartridge.

Using that you would only need a MM phono stage or could use a MM phono input.

Your dealer may have the SUT in stock or a loaner if he caries the Miyajima cartridges
When you say money no object - do you really mean it?

Omni Gon
Audio note
Ko do 
TW ACUSTIC RPS100 uses four tubes 2 12ax7 and 2 6dj8 Very well made with a great large dedicated power supply.You are able to select loading,riaa curves light on or off etc.Sounds wonderful dynamic,quiet with great midrange,great bass dynamics,soundstage and detail.I have had others this is by far the best and most versatile.
That’s a Scott Frankland item, as far as I can tell. (Wavestream Kinetics)

his comment about requiring a 250kz-300khz basic or fundamental bandwidth, is true.

for, when one applies a equalization circuit of any kind known, to a circuit, to change the gain of the circuit as we scale the frequency ranges, we get an interaction with the LEVEL of the signal, at the same time. thus the unit is not stable in EQ level as we change the signal levels at high speed (class D output filter problem, and in the passive crossovers of speakers and so on, and on, and on) or when we try to create a dynamic and large leading edge to a transient.

Scott has put a sequenced (apparently) pair of individually overall 250-300khz bandwidth circuits.. into a pair of eq’d circuits, to recreate the RIAA curve. It’s why the better RIAA preamps break up the eq into two curves, so as to get past the transient phase and frequency integration problem. It’s why some circuits use a very large voltage (comparatively speaking) single rail power supply system for their RIAA circuits.

In the case of tubes it can be a +300 volt single rail. this, so that when the signal goes to a very high transient level, all the complex aspects of linearity have a chance to come into existence, all while unencumbered (as much as possible) by these gain circuit derived distortions. Again, the gain distortions are alleviated (strongly relieved) by the

circuits design (staged gain),
high bandwidth,
and high voltage rail... as a set of three fundamentally important things.

In the case of tubes, we also end up with an originally linear gain on the devices (tubes) themselves and avoid the generation of odd ordered harmonics in this overall complex in situ (for tubes) environment. Solid state is all odd harmonic distortion creation. very bad. (only the SIT and the V-Fet fix this impossible to ignore odd ordered distortion problem that exists with ALL known solid state electronics.)

four things, actually....

high voltage single rail power supply, (complex reasons why)
actual linear gain devices (tubes, SIT, or V-Fet)(complex reasons why)
High bandwidth circuits (complex reasons why)
staged gain circuits (complex reasons why)

so, FOUR things for ’best RIAA", on this planet the known world of functional physics... as applied in an engineering application.

Thus dynamic and micro-dynamic scaling becomes linear at as well. something that solid state cannot do, as it is all non linear gain devices with solid state. Due to how the ear works and it’s innate sensitivity to absolutely minuscule amounts of odd order distortion, this point becomes at least as important as anything else, or in effect, truly fundamental in importance. like a functional rope requiring a middle part, this gain circuit requires a linear gain device to be in place, in order for the output of the overall system to be complementary to how the ear works.

Thus: RIAA? Done correctly, done in the most functional and perfect way known to humanity, for human ears?

Low noise high voltage rail power supply, staged gain circuits each with very high bandwidth...done with tubes.

Accept no substitutes.

And that’s all she wrote.

Problem is, human ears and the associated interpretive intellects, are all individual. Some will arrive at other ideas and solutions, and promote those ’solutions’..... even if those solutions are incorrect.

If those people live long enough,and continue working the problem long enough, and if their intellect and associated hearing capacities are good enough, they will eventually arrive at the place and space I’m talking about.

Since this combination is NOT the bulk norm in overall human society, you will find very few people doing it correctly... and very few people buying said correctness... and very few people accepting or promoting said perfected correctness.

The seeker of the esoteric limit is the odd person out.. and will be either maligned by the (audiophile) masses or not recognized to exist or both at the same time.

The pinnacle, in idealization and acceptance... of the mass center of the given group (yes, even here in high end audio)...will be what they recognize as perfection, which will not be correct. It is just their (mass as a group) limit peak, is all. A thing that their limits tell them is the full reach of reality. well, that’s just wrong. human growth as a continual action, illustrates this to them, if they bother to continue to grow.

The norm... is to not reach the limit... and to have the few peak people and peak situations be considered freaks ---by the larger mass of those less prone to do the work involved in seeking perfection.

Might and mass by no means has ever made right... and this certainly applies here, in spades. Sadly, it also applies to the greater world.
Like in your DAC thread, Ypsilon is insanely good but there are a million options for great tube phono stages. When you say cost not object, are we in the $25K-$50K range? Their stage with the right SUT is going to be at a best in world level. Key is just matching to your cartridge. Ypsilon has some incredible SUTs that a lot of folks use.

At a more reasonable priced unit would be the Jadis JPS3. Again, some best in world type performance for $16K.

Aesthetically, moving forward with Jadis DAC & Phono or Yspsillon DAC and phone would be brilliant and offer a contrast to your accuphase gear.

Here ARC, Allnic, VAC and a million others are available. It is just a matter of finding the right unit.

Again, PM me if you want to dig in and discuss anything.  
For tube try and get a demo with the EMT JPA 66.

Oh and if you do many users prefer its sound from the active preamp outputs ( it has a volume control function or direct out ) even if being fed to a preamp...
Teo, nice piece of writing. You realize it’s all assertions on your part, I’m sure. But you have left us all hanging. Is there any piece of commercial manufactured equipment that meets your very high stipulations? Or are you saying the wave kinetics unit does that? You talk about our sensitivity to odd order harmonic distortions. Does it matter if solid-state devices produce odd order distortions, if the level of those distortions relative to signal is extremely low, lower if done well than that of tube- based phono stages? If a tube-based phono stage were to have the band width that you deem to be necessary, then it would also be able to produce odd order harmonic distortions on out to super high frequencies, which might be a downside, or not. Alan Wright who designed some very fine phono stages wrote a booklet on this subject, where he also was in favor of very wide bandwidth in (tube) phono stages. He claimed to hear a difference between 1MHz bandwidth and 750kHz, using his RTP3C phono. The RTP3C used a balanced hybrid cascode input stage, a bipolar transistor on the bottom and a high Gm tube on top. This gives huge gain, very low noise, and megahertz bandwidth, not to mention balanced operation. Best of all, it could drive both tube and Ss purists nuts, because it was both. I’ve never heard the RTP3C, but I’d like to.
Hello rauliruegas,

You have a fair opinion that, for you personally, the noise level of an all-tube phono stage, like the Aesthetix Io, is too high to satisfy your preference versus a stone dead quiet solid-state phono stage. But this is a matter of personal, subjective preference, not an objective fact. With all but the very lowest output moving coil cartridges, most people report no noise at all with the Io.

I have used, and loved, the Aesthetix Io for over 20 years. For me the sonic realism and emotional engagement I hear from the Io vastly outweighs a very slight tube noise, if any at all, with extremely low output moving coil cartridges.
A little of topic, but still relevant...

This brand isn't discussed much, but it is a true all tube unit, AND available without second mortgage. Tube rectified.

Anyone heard one? For the price, it appears solid.
I have heard a decent line up of Phonostages over the years.
I have gone out of my way to listen to them in all design Topologies,
SS, Valve Hybrid and Valve Input/Output.

I listen with my ears and not the Math, even though tweaking the loadings is a useful option.

I am a Tube Amp person, but failed for many years of investigation to discover Tube Phonostage Designs that were offering a acceptable Transparency, and did not get to be trialled in my system.

There are Tube Phonostages available 'now' that offer to me everything I have been on a quest for.
As a result I have in use today, a Valve Hybrid and Valve Input/ Output Phonostage available for use in my system.

If I were to decide on one only it would be a Valve Onput/ Output with SUT.
My experience of Valve Phon's is that there is a market catered for that very much enjoys a catering for those who seek a obvious 'richness' in a presentation.
This leaves a broad avenue for assessments, one mans Nirvana (Richness) is for sure another mans Nemesis if seeking (Transparent) .  
The best phono stages I have ever heard are the Atma-sphere MP1, Raul’s and Jose’s 3160 phono line preamp, and the Ypsilon phono stage, if you only need enough gain for MM cartridges. With modifications to its output stage, I would add the Manley steelhead version 2.0 to that list. I have never heard the Wave Kinetics phono stage, and I looked hard to find one on the used market the last time I was shopping, but I would sure like to hear it.
So on my list I have all-tube, all-ss, and hybrid designs. I have heard the Io, the Dolshi (not the latest), and a few other highly regarded ones, and in my opinion they fall a little short of the ones I like best, mostly due to noise. I have also owned two different examples of the MFA luminescence, and those did not rise to the highest level. I never heard the “legendary” CTC blowtorch or the Vendetta.
@tablejockey I have the Icon PS2 MM Pre in my system and it is fantastic.

Have Thorens TD145 with a MP200 cartridge.

Great combination.
I have to say I have heard Trons at shows and they are superb.
if you have multiple arms/carts get urself a Thoress.
what is in the rest of the system?
You said you miss the mid range sweetness.   Know one so far has address that.  Do your self a favor and have Dave Slagle  build you a LCR all tube phono.  I had accuphase integraded  100 watt amp for 25 years.  Not even close to my All DHT 4 stage all interstaged transformer push pull 845 amps.

Enjoy the ride
lewm8,595 posts02-14-2021 11:42amTeo, nice piece of writing. You realize it’s all assertions on your part, I’m sure.

Tell us what you really think lewm :-)

Implementation is everything and it is very easy to measure these claimed distortions. At these signal levels, wide open loop bandwidths with SS provide more than enough gain to cancel out distortion.  Remember tubes and the listed SS devices are only linear because of inherent feedback. 
A couple people who live on your side of the planet have this unit. I have not heard it, it is quite expensive, and but as Ferris Bueller said, "if you have the means...": 
@uwiikz, you want quiet? Check out the Channel D Seta L20. If you have money to burn this is the one. It is the quietest phono stage on the market and gives you a choice of current or voltage modes.
If you have to have a tube unit go for one that has at most 56 dB of gain and add a SUT. With the right tubes this kind of set up can be very quiet.
I have personal experience with the following;  please consider the following, 

Boulder 2008 or 2108
Ypsilon , all silver if possible. 
DSA Phono - full of features.

You won't regret either one of these. 


One more to consider,  however I have not owned this particular unit is the too of the line VAC phono.

One was available here on Agon, however,  I didn't buy it....

EAR-Yoshino 912, which throws in a line stage for free. Read the 5-man tribute to EAR designer-builder Tim de Paravicini in the new Stereophile.
These are all child toys. Cost no object who gives a damn phono stage is custom built for you. Choose any designer. Some won’t do for less than $1 million. Too much ? In any case, any aligned and calibrated Studer with master tape dub will outperform any million dollar phono stage along with that funny 300 pounds rotating platter.
Don’t waste your money, even if it is your money. Get any of those for double the cost of your cartridge and that will do it.
And if you want real high performance - that’s tape, my man.
There are a few threads on this. As Raul points out it is very difficult to get very low noise in an all tube phono stage.
Difficult but not impossible. To get low noise with tubes you do some of the same things that are done in solid state preamp- particularly those that have opamps:
1) have a tightly regulated power supply2) use differential inputs3) use effective constant current sources for those differential circuits
In addition you simply parallel tube sections as part of your means of reducing noise.

The reason differential gain stages are used in solid state (and in some tube phono sections) is that for every stage of gain that is differential, theoretically you get 6dB less noise. This adds up- if you have two stages of differential gain, that's 12dB lower noise. But to that theoretical limit the constant current source really has to work.

If you do this then its no worries getting a phono stage to work fine with a cartridge of 0.2mV with gain to spare.

I would be interested to know with paralleled tube circuits, how can you ensure the tube sections parallelled are matched, and stay matched over a reasonable time. If they are not perfectly matched, then I would assume smearing of signal occurs.
This solution is not cost no object (cost always matters;). It is a non-plus ultra scenario for realistic people. Perhaps the best designed phono stage that had more thought put into it than money-oriented no object designs. Adding the SUT will just kick dynamics into a whole new gear.. their combination is just superb!

I see this path as a straight ticket to audio heaven: Expressive Technologies step up transformer + Hagerman Violin phono stage (tubed, with choke input dual power supplies and separate filament supply. You can choose between 4 RIAA curves, and it has polarity switch, so listening in correct polarity is not an issue anymore). The Violin is an extremely unerrated phono stage, never got fame because Jim sold it waaaay under its performance value. He had to stop making it because he did not break even. Still, the price tag was not cheap, but it was what the unit packs... opposed to "cost no object pricing", inflating the real value by a factor of x10 - x20, and spending more on a shiny chassis than for the goods and technology contained. Just a sad fact of life...I’m always on the look out for "thought no object" designs, where there was serious thought about realistic performance, instead of breaking barriers on unavailability. 
Adding the SUT will just kick dynamics into a whole new gear.. their combination is just superb!

Low gear. SUT's have phase shifts that vary across the frequency spectrum. They cannot preserve accurate time & phase relationships across the full frequency spectrum accurately. They can achieve high gain/low noise, but they cannot preserve speed and coherency. Their endemic phase shifts and colourations provide a rose tinted view of the world, but not accurate reproduction of the signal.

Wavestream Kinetic link offers to truly take care of you...

"For those less technical, we can help you select EQs if you can provide us with:

  • Record label
  • Year or matrix number
  • Images of the markings in the label surround (groove run-out area)

Yet another alternative would be to send us a sample record for testing at The Audio Archive."

realworld, I am an admirer of Hagerman, have long been interested in his Trumpet phono stage, yet I never heard of the Violin phono stage.  You imply it is no longer available.  When was it made, during what period of time?  Have you got a schematic?  Thanks.
While I am also an admirer of the Wavestream Kinetics, I think the need (not the occasional usefulness) of all the extra equalization filters is over-rated, at least with respect to my own LP collection, which mostly post-dates the use of anything other than RIAA.
This is an interesting topic, as it forces one to conjure up old time highpoints in audio design and designers.
I would be interested to know with paralleled tube circuits, how can you ensure the tube sections parallelled are matched, and stay matched over a reasonable time. If they are not perfectly matched, then I would assume smearing of signal occurs.
It turns out that they don't have to be matched so much as screened for low noise. The paralleled sections behave as a single tube section so there isn't any 'smearing'.

By using a cascode you can easily get the gain needed for LOMC and getting bandwidth isn't an issue.
Maybe not the most expensive, but the Tavish adagio is a great phono preamp. 
If you are now interested in SS phono cost no object, I cannot recommend FM Acoustics highly enough. If there is one FM piece to have, in my opinion, it is their phono stage. 

If you are still on tubes, my cost no object in tubes would be Conrad Johnson. Though that VAC Statement is pure eye candy. 
Dear friends: Many information in the FM Acoustics data sheet is an " open eyes " interesting for any one of us and take a look to the last 2 pages of the data sheet that’s where the unit specs comes and you will know what means a true cost no object design. You can download at the end of the link pages.

No one SS/Tube electronics units at even higher prices that FM Acoustics units comes with that high knowledge levels information and probably several if not all manufacturers not even " imagine " about.

Well, IMHO, you must have a valve or tube in the signal ( in at least one component) to get this beautiful sound
I have pretty good system with 4 arms including Axiom & Kuzma14 inch.
Cartridges including Clearaudio Goldfinger..etc.
Phono stages include Burmester 100 & Thoress Phono Enhancer MK2, which has 6 inputs & Equalizer . It is one of the best. Now it is Mk3 & it has 3 valves  ( down from 5 valves in MK 2). It is Hybrid Design & have been told  it is even better than the excellent MK2
However, the reason, i am giving you this boring introduction, is to inform you about the new Thoress Silver phono Signature Enhancer
It has the following ;
1. 2 separate boxes, each one channel with its own power supply.
2. 6 inputs , obviously with different loading to suit individual customers.
3. Equalizer to adjust the sound according to your system
4. All Resisitors , even in the power supply, are Audio Note Silver Tantalum each including VAT is 70 US$.
5. All Signal Caps are all Audio note Silver , 5 Caps in each box ( 10 in Total) , the most expensive of them is 2000 US $
6 . All wires are silver soldered by hand  & all of them , including the power supply are 5N Silver
7. All Phone inputs & outputs are made of  Silver
8. Power Caps are massive Paper in Oil Caps good enough for signal path 
9. each box has 3 valves
10 Hybrid Design
11. Isolation; the feet of each box are Stillpoint Ultra 6, Each box has 4 Ultra 6, each retail for over 1000 US$ ( 8000 US $ for the feet or isolation)
More information From [email protected]
The price is not yet fixed.but it will be 75,000 US $ PLUS
Fawzy Issa

Nagra new classic phono stage with psu power supply is absolutely stunning it does it all perfect balance!
Dear @issak121212 : Thöress is in reality a parametric equalizer with many faults no matters what the owners post in sites as WBF and the like.

Audio Note silver parts are not guarantee of anything about quality level performance but only a " candies " for poor knowledge level people, same of those " paper on oil " caps that were used in the radios 70 years ago and the Tantalum named. All those are a kind of BS marketing and nothing else.  
About the silver wire I can tell you that in my system all the electronics external power wires connected to the electrical source are KCAG by Kimber Kable. I’m not talking inside the electronics but the power cables.

""" you must have a valve or tube in the signal ( in at least one component) to get this beautiful sound """

Which beautiful sound?

First mistake in the unit you are talking about is that is not a true balanced design but single ended.

All what you posted is only bla,bla, bla. and we music lover/audiophiles needs some facts so where are the specs at least of the inverse RIAA eq. deviation and noise levels as frequency response.

Certainly something wrong with its other designs because in the new one decided for hybrid one.

75K for that equalizer? come on and ve serious.

Btw, do you read the FM Acoustics link I posted ? if not do it you a favor and do it and please download its data sheet at the end of the link pages. We all need to learn, including me.


@rauliruegas i agree, the 223 is the one to go for and probably the finest phono stage in the world. I have the 123, and hope to one day have the 223. Unfortunately, it is MIGHTY expensive. And the 123 is entirely satisfying.
reading through that data sheet, what the FM lacks in flash and flair, is made up for by an incredible knowledge and passion by the man behind it.
I got a invitation from an Audiophile to listen to his FM Acoustics System... 223 Phono, the biggest preamp and FM mono amps linked to Grand Utopia Speakers. Turntable was Techdas AF1, Graham and Techdas Cart.
It was not a pleasure to listen to. Very analytic, aggressive, pale ....far away from a real thing reproduction. But each his own ...
... EMT.... yes

for ME, it is like a „Equalizer“ ..after listening, I closed that chapter and never looked back