I'm enjoying a second hand Audio Research LP1 that I think is very satisfying. Would be interested in others perspectives on this.
"The LP1 has 47dB of gain, perfect for higher output (>1.0mV) MM and MC cartridges. It is a hybrid design utilizing one 6H30 tube, special low noise JFETs, custom Audio Research designed power transformer (made in the U.S.), and multiple stages of regulation. There is no overall feedback, and it is noninverting. Inputs and outputs are single-ended."
I loved my Musical Fidelity MX VYNL. It's gonna be really good if you are choosing cartridge above 0.4mV. I sold it only because of my new cart is operating at 0.2mV (Ikeda 9TT). It's upgradeable, full balanced, with excellent sound stage etc. Buy only used.
I have been a big fan of parks audio and the new Puffin is a pretty dang good product for the money. I replaced my parks audio budgie and step up with it and it is great. Parks audio has seriously under priced the unit. It allows for MM and MC with no need of a step up and you can fine tune the living heck out of it to match your cartridge exactly. The quality of sound makes me understand why the designer has a cult following. For what it is worth; I actually saw the puffin hooked up to a 50k turntable and the owner tell me that he preferred it over his high ticket price tube phonostage that he had hooked up before. That was a good enough testament for me to drop it into my humble system.
I bought a PS Audio Phono Converter when the price dropped to $1000. It's very good AND can rip ytour LPs to HiRez (including DSD). It also has a line in so you can rip with another phono preamp if you wish. I'm using it with very tweaked Linn tables and various arm/cartridge combinations. The rips I get are fantastic.
Assuming a MM preamp is enough for your needs , there are many who swear by the Transcendent Sound vacuum tube phono preamp for $999 assembled or $699 as a kit . Some swear it's his best sounding product as well .
Another vote for the Jd9. Out of The box it’s pretty good; with great tubes (brimar), modified caps and op amps... way above what you’d expect at the price point. A bit much on the gain, so a quality attenuator helps a lot.
I haven’t heard a word about it, but worth looking into is Frank Van Alstine’s $599 stand-alone phono amp. Alstine’s an excellent designer, one who took a look at the ARC SP-3, found what he considered correctable flaws, and came up with cures for that pre’s RIAA inaccuracy, non-linearity, and power supply weakness.
I make no claims as to it being the "best", but you can find used Musical Surroundings Nova Phonomena units for well below $1K. It's a very neutral unit, very quiet, and has a ton of loading and gain settings. I also like the Jolida JD9 in that price range.
I've been considering one of the Parks Puffin units. I've seen and heard it and the demo system it was in sounded fantastic. I don't need another phono stage, but I love its compact size and versatility. It might replace one of my JD9s or one of the Novas.
I'm obsessed with phono stages! I have so many! Most just sit around collecting dust but the one I come back to the most is the Wright WPP-100C. Not only does it look cool with it's copper chassis but to my ears it just sounds magical. They hardly ever show up on the used market. I will probably never sell mine. The Wright gets my vote!
I have some experiences for you. The tube box SE is killer sounding, you get a low noise floor and the bloom of tubes, it's great sounding and cheap in comparison to others. The musical surroundings nova is also very good sounding, it has lower level detail retrieval and a blacker background than the tube box SE, it's also a litter darker sounding (in the mids) with less bloom, the bass has great control and the treble is very clean. Rogue audio Aris you can buy used for around that price and it betters both of those, it's just amazing sounding, with a huge soundstage and great layering, and musical enough you can listen for hours and just get lost in the music.
I'm strongly considering the Parks Puffin to replace my Rega Fono Mini A2D. That little phono preamp has been in my system since 2012, and gets the job done! But; I'm ready to upgrade. I'm running a PolyTable w/ Digital Motor Drive, Jelco arm, and Ortofon 2M Bronze through a Jolida JD302CRC tube integrated (50 watts per). My towers are Paradigm Monitor 7 V5. For more bass, oftentimes, I'll turn on my Mirage 10" 200 watt powered sub. All is good, really good! But; I know the little Rega is the weak link here. I've just read so many good things about the Puffin that I'm thinking for under $500, it might very well be a good move. I was considering a Sutherland Engineering KC Vibe, and even the Insight ($1,399). But; if it's true that the Puffin has a really low noise floor, and big soundstage, what's to lose? Not to mention, all the other features like pop and click reduction..
I've had the Puffin for a while now and at its price point, it's a great unit. I've since made some phono stage upgrades in my main system, but the Puffin wouldn't be embarrassed if I put it back there. It doesn't really do anything wrong and is really neutral. It just doesn't
have the dynamics of my Manley Chinook or Pass XP-15, but they both cost multiples of what the Puffin does. I haven't upgraded the firmware, so I'm not sure how well it deals with pops and clicks.