Best phono preamp? Want world class the best

I recently started to listen to vinyl, my set up is clear audio emotion table/arm grado cartridge. For phono stage I am using an ear834 deluxe.I was happy with what I was hearing on my merlins driven by sim w-5. Until I brought my ear to a show room to compare to new components, on first listening it appeared the same but then I realized there was a sense of life like sound on his $7000.00 martinson phono. This is just to high of a price for me. I am seeking to get the best sound out there, the martinson is solid state so I realized I don't have to go with tubes. My budget is up to $2000.00 for used, BUT I want the best sound possible. I will be upgrading table and cartidge soon.
Perdillo, either you want 'world-class'...'the best'....or you want the best phono stage for around $2000 used. they are not the same thing.

if you want world class they will start around $7k and go up to $40k at retail.

OTOH there are some wonderful used phono stages for the $2k used. at around $3k+ used you will start finding used phono stages that had retailed for around $7k; some of these will get you close to world-class phono stage performance; but not quite all the way there.

some examples of excellent $3k to $4k used phono stages would be the Manley Steelhead, the Aesthetix Io, and the Lamm LP2. any of these would get you to the level just below world-class. there are likely a few others to consider.

i am less familiar with the best used phono stages around $2k, as those would have had to be about $4k to $5k at retail.....i have not spent time with any units in that are currently in that price range.

BTW, there are some 'giant-killers' out there to be sure; and also clever mod jobs and even DIY phono stages that can be very special. my above comments refer to off-the-shelf units that are known to me.
There are many to listen to. I like the BAT vk-p10se, and was very impressed with the EAR 324. You do not have to spend the most to get great performance.
If you can find a used Blue Circle BC23, Gilbert Yeung will rebuild it into something way beyond what he sells retail. There are three major levels of upgrades and some others.

Upgrades to BC23

While I sell Blue Circle this is something from Gilbert you can't buy in a store.
Pedrillo, that phono stage you have is an excellent one. Are you sure you are not in that zone of "gotta have something else?" The reason I ask is that you didn't mention the rest of the system that you heard that $7K phono stage with. Could it be that it was the SYSTEM that convinced you to desire a COMPONENT and if so, perhaps upgrading your cartridge or other component could be the single most cost-effective means to improve your SYSTEM.

I too often get into that "mode" and am just trying to prevent you from falling into a situation I have found myself in more than once; the outcome that, after I installed an expensive component, I was sure would tremendously improve my system, I found myself asking, hmm, what have I done and, maybe I should have invested more wisely.

Hopefully that is not the case for you but just wanted to help if possible. $7K is a lot of money to drop on a phono stage alone, and believe me I pine for a Aesthetix Rhea or Manley Steelhead but for now, I'm gonna live with my lesser stages.
You may want to try to try and audition the new Artemis phono stage. This phono stage has a very lifelike sound and can compete with some of the best.
The EAR is a decent unit and should not be hard to improve upon. At the highest levels of performance perhaps one would consider custom solutions tailored to your equipment and listening tastes.
Buy a s/h Pass Xono. plenty of variable gain so will give you the choice of LOMC, unlimited loading choices and it sounds very very nice.
Buy the Whest PS.20 Phono in the classifieds for $ 1900.00 and be done for a while. (considering your 2K budget now)
There are several options for you here, both tubed and solid state. I have just gone through a review of several phono stages for my system and learned a lot from the experience. I have recently settled in with a Hagerman Trumpet tubed phono stage which is at $2k, but you'll also need a step-up transformer for it so that will add another $300 or so. Well worth it in my opinion and Hagerman offers a 30 day trial. Another option is Decware which makes some nice phono stages for the money. Their top unit is around $1500 and is also tubed. Decware offers a 30 day trial period as well. I also tested out a Whest phono stage which is a solid state design and does a remarkable job in reproducing the music. These are going used for under $2k.

One other option you might want to consider is upgrading you EAR. Mitch Singerman in LA is legendary for his EAR upgrades and this would be your most cost effective option. If you like the EAR, but want it to sound better in your system then you should contact Mitch and discuss your options with him. One thing for sure, you are not doing your phono stage justice comparing it to a $7k unit, especially when your budget doesn't allow you to upgrade to that level.
So much depends on what you listen to(acoutic or electric) and what you listen for. I tend towards tubes and C-J's Premier 15 just did not quite cut it with an MC cartridge with your grado it probably would be more than fine. Just a thought. BTW I wound up with a Thor which is above your price but nothing else worked for me

Where'd you hear the Martinson? I have heard that it's supposed to be very good.

Pedrillo, I'm sure the Clearaudio is an excellent turntable, but there's something out-of-whack about your question: you shouldn't be looking for "the best" phono preamp in the world for a $1000 turntable, that is, unless you're planning to greatly upgrade it in the near future. In fact, even your $2000 new/used budget seems far too high for that level of gear.

If I were you, I'd be looking more in the $1000/used category, or new if that's your preference. Personally-speaking, my VPI Aries 2 plus arm cost around $4K new, and I mated it with a used BAT VK-P10 for around $1400--that is, less than half the cost of the 'table.

Believe it or not, I swear that I was going to recommend the EAR, until I looked at your post again and realized that you already have it! I would suggest not comparing your components to what you hear at audio salons, which is mated with different equipment and tweaked/modded to the max, often by the designers themselves. With those standards, you'll *never* be satisfied.

So I suggest you stick with the EAR, which is a very fine piece of equipment, and learn to enjoy it on its own terms. I'd guess that you wouldn't get the same sound you heard at the store even with a $7000 phono amp. You know what they say about the grass being greener on the other side? Well, it's just as true of audio.
Pedrillo, sorry: I missed your comment about upgrading your setup soon. Nonetheless, I still recommend that you stick with the EAR for now: 1. you need to know what the replacement 'table is before making decisions on the preamp, rather than the other way around, and 2. you may *still* find that the EAR is your best bet, even with an upgraded setup. My analogy to my own system applies with equal force here, even if you're thinking about a multi-kilobuck turntable.

Take it easy! :-)