Clearaudio Nano. Made in Germany. Small high quality and neutral sounding.
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I've been on the same quest for the past few months. So far, I've tried a few different ones:
$200 Cambridge 651p
$200 Musical Fidelity V-90 LPS
$450 (Original) Jolida JD9 (used, from the Maryland factory)
For the money and performance, you can't go wrong with the Cambridge or the MF. I demo'ed each for about a month and to my ears they are both great units. I think I prefer the MF by a hair, but would take both in a heartbeat .... even over the JD9 in my case.. Read on...
Don't get me wrong, the Jolida is nice -- I currently have that setup now and am demo'ing it. The thing is, the Jolida is not right for my setup. I have a high output cart at 5mV. The JD9 has a ton of gain on hand. My cart is at the low end of the range on the Jolida requiring 36dB. You can make it work by using the low outputs and the trip pots (trim is only on the earlier ones), but from what I understand this isn't the optimal use case. Anyway, as you might expect, with the JD9 being a tube hybrid its presentation is a bit warmer to my ears. I did swap tubes when I got it (i'm a guitarist and have a just few NOS tubes laying around). This made it even better. The JD9 with stock tubes (Chinese) is brighter than either of the two others before the tube swap.
Quite honestly, right now, the JD9 is close to being ebay'ed. I'm not getting a huge amount of improved performance (certainly not $250 worth) out of the JD9. I'm almost positive that it's my setup. I just don't want to spend another $200 on a cart though. Currently, I have a Technics 1200 w/ AT120ET (which is bright to begin with).
Anyway, so ymmv -- just note that the setup plays a huge role in how these sound. The Cambridge and MF seem to both be tolerant of upstream choices. So, i'd probably have to vote for the MF.
Thanks for the feedback everyone. I forgot to say that when it comes to hi-fi, I prefer to avoid Chinese made equipment. Impossible to do in everyday products, but in the world of high end electronics it is still very feasible and practical. I'm not a snob nor a hypocrite, but I do what I can, when I can.
Bajaed, you mentioned an upgraded power supply. Which one and where do you go for that? Which tube did you switch to?
u could try the Adcom GFP 565. They can be had for less then half of your looking price. They have a fabulous phono and the line stage is excellent to. I would also look for a Classe DR-5 model pre-amp for about $500 or a little more and have a world class front end. Both are excellent in there price and neither will leave u thinking your being short changed.