The BAT VK-P10. I saw one just sold for $1675 here on the 'Gon.
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World class sound, fully balanced phono in the $3k or less range? Wow, that is asking a lot but it is there. Keep your eyes out for the Aesthetix Io (non signature version) which is every now and then in the $3k zone. For just a little more than the going prices for the Rhea on the used mkt, the Io has the tubed power supply which gives it the rich full sound. ANd there is endless improvements to be done with all the various tube rolling in the audio and PS chassis.
And the Io is way ahead of the BAT VK-P10 and the EAR. I owned the BAT for a couple years and auditioned the EAR a number of times at a local dealer. Both are good but not "world class sound" vs. the Io.
The game is very different in the $2k or less range. And for under $1k, the ARC PH2, a fully balanced solid state unit is an incredible steal of a deal but only works for cartridges in the 1mv or higher range.
The Basis ASR Exclusive has been going for just a little more than $3K, used, and it truly is a world class phono preamp. My friend upgraded to this from the Aesthetix Rhea. (The Rhea was very good, but not quite in the same class, as the Rhea had a bit of tube noise that was distracting during the quiet passages. However, the Rhea is the most user friendly Phono Preamp I know of.)
Throw some NOS Telefunkens and/or Siemens into the unit and the noise floor of the Rhea drops considerably. I agree the stock Sovteks are miserable. Unless I crank the gain and volume way up, my unit is rather quiet. Tubes add a sense of air, realism and palpabilty which will be absent from solid state phono amps.
K&K Audio sells a phono preamp kit for about $1500 which offers balanced as well as single ended topology. I own one. In my opinion, it is much better than the EAR 834p.
Perhaps you should consider the K&K kit; then take the money that remains in your budget and upgrade your cartridge. I suspect the improvement from those two purchases would exceed the improvement from any phono preamp you could buy for $3K.
Thanks for the correction. I was sloppy in my choice of words. With respect to Pedrillo's question, the points I wanted to make are (1) the K&K can deliver balanced output; (2) the cost savings (substituting elbow grease) are significant without compromise to the ultimate performance of your system; and (3) the cartridge, like the preamp, can limit the performance of the system. Pedrillo, I think, can obtain a better cartridge for his system.
The clearaudio Balance + for $2,500.00 new is fully balanced for input and output along with rca. I own one. Very quiet and dynamic.
They do. With my Clearaudio Universal arm, Balance XLR's can be an option. I have RCA though as I don't see the sonic advantage going from tonearm to phono-pre. My system is fully balanced on the digital side and the pre-amp to amp is balanced connections.
Manitunc, The reason for the general lack of balanced connectors on the ends of tonearm cables seems to be the general lack of balanced inputs on phono stages. Very few phono stages are truly balanced internally, so in most cases there is nothing to be gained by using XLR male connectors and XLR input jacks for phono. Where the phono stage is truly balanced, it is a worthwhile modification. So, I might add, if your phono stage is not electrically balanced, don't bother.
OK, lets assume your phono stage IS balanced. In that case you want to be sure that the signal from each end of the phono cartridge is being carried on conductors of equal quality. In typical RCA phono cables, the "hot" output from the cartridge is carried on a quality conductor surrounded by a shield. However, the "ground" output is often connected to the shield itself, and both are connected to the ground side of the RCA jack at the other end (the phono stage input). If you put an XLR connector on that cable, you would want to separate and isolate the shield and the lead from the cartridge from each other. This may require running another conductor inside the shield. I don't think all RCA-terminated phono cables are constructed this way, but some are.
I haven't read all the posts here, so if this is redundant, I apologize.
Both my PS Audio GCPH and SimAudio LP5.3 have balanced inputs and outputs. My Classe 30 has balanced inputs and outputs and my Classe CA100 has balanced inputs. I assume they are electrically correct. So if I run this balanced phono cable from my SME345 to either phono preamp, I should have a fully balanced output at the end. I think
Manitunc, the advantage of running the cartridge balanced is the fact that the balanced cable will have no effect on the sound.
The balanced system was in fact devised to eliminate cable artifacts. In doing so cable length is less important as is the cost. So if you have spent either a great deal of time auditioning single ended cables, or have spent a lot of money for the one you thought sounded right, with a balanced setup neither the former or latter will be necessary.