based upon michael fremer's review, i'd say the camelot fono-stage would be at the top of my audition-list. based upon the comments of others a short while ago, when i was also looking for a reasonable fono-stage, i'd say the aragon 47k would also be worth a listen - a couple folks said that its lesser sibling, the anthem p10, smoked the musical surroundings phonomena & the lehmann black cube. i tried teh phonomena & found it too dry for me - even drier than the fono included in the linn kairn preamp. i"m now *really* happy w/my pentagon ps-3, which retails for ~$1750, but i picked it up for a song, cuz no one in the usa has ever heard of it - it's very nice. it used to be distributed here by discovery cable, mebbe they know how to get one. but, it's a full-sized piece. for a smaller unit, also check out the benz lukaschek - also highly touted.
I enjoy my Phonomena very much, and it only lacks a small percentage of the dynamics available with the Audio Research PH-3SE (and little if anything else that the AR has), in my opinion. Mine is the latest version, and it has matched FET output devices. I use it with my Benz Lo4, with 55 db of gain, loaded to 384 ohms (the way Michael Fremer loads lower output mc's, he is correct as usual). Works great, very liquid, very musical, very detailed, plenty dynamic, very deep subterranean bass with excellent rendition of pitch and snap; very low level retrieval of attack transients, microdynamics, and hall ambience. Anyhow, don't discount this thing till you try it...good luck and happy listening, Dhillock!
The latest version of the Lukaschek from Switzerland, has a retail price of $1350. I do not think it would be a problem to find a dealer to sell one at the $1200.00 limit you set. This tiny phono is designed and built by Albert Lukaschek, the same guy that manufacturers the Benz Micro line of cartridges. I have heard this phono, and for its price (and size!) it is amazing. If you audition it, check your system phase. Last time I listened to one, it was phase inverting. Best luck!
I bought a used PH-3(900ish) and I think it sounds wonderful. Just the right mix of accuracy and tube warmth. I also heard the Lehman Black Cube ($500used - $700 new). Heard it. It's excellent but doesn't have any tube euphony like the AR. Small enough to hide behind a component.
The built in phono stages in the CAT SL, Ayre, and Audible illusions preamps are supposed to be great.
Soundstage have reviewed the Audiomat.Go to their web site.
hands down the sonic frontiers phono 1.
I would also look at the EAR 834 tubed phono stage. It's mm/mc small and has a wonderful sound with enough gain for even low output mc. Good luck.
I did read the Audiomat raves in UHF and SoundStage... that's why I was wanted to know if any of you actually owned one. Thanks for the suggestions. Keep them coming...
I have an Audiomat and chose it over Lehman, ARC and E.A.R. It is a neutral, noiseless unit. It also fits your need to have a small unit (I have mine behind the preamp). I highly recommend it.
Try the Blue Circle BC23. A real neutral pre that has received many great reviews and is right in line with your $$ limit.
I upgraded from a Black Cube to an Audiomat Phono 1. The soundstage is better, and it passes much more low-level information. It's on an entirely different level from the Black Cube, but also very different. It is very detailed (though musical), and not very kind to imperfect or over-affected recordings. It is a solid state unit, but has more of a "tube" sound than the Cube. I'd say that the Audiomat is technically "better" than the cube, but the cube sounds much more immediate and dynamic. I have also had a bit of experience with a stock COunterpoint SA3000 preamp, and the Audiomat has a somewhat similar sound. I'd say a bit more refined sounding (and a bigger soundstage), but a modified SA3000 might be better.
It really comes down to personal preference. The Black Cube is great, but I'd probably recommend the cube for rock, pop, dance music, or anyone looking for a dynamic phono stage (and it costs almost half as much as the Audiomat). Any classical/jazz listeners looking for a phono stage in the $1000 range should consider an Audiomat.
For your information, the Camelot is connected with Mel
Shilling, famed audio dealer and enthusiast at one time
in California. He made a moving coil preamp during the
Seventies, which I still use, and it sounds great. He has
highly recommended the Camelot...available I believe through
a large mail order house...Knowing his ear and his reputation, you can probably rely on the Camelot as an
excellent pre-preamp for moving coils. Just don't use the
lowest output moving coils with it..I don't own one, but
plan to get one soon...
Electrocompaniet ECP-1 $995,MM and MC very musical its not a tweakers phono preamp but probably one of if not the best phono stages under $1200 I've tried McCormick, Audio Researh, Lehmann Black Cube.
At less than $650 new, this one is quite nice.
New EAR 834P, used Sonic Frontiers Phono One.
(not the older SF model, the current Stereophile class A rated model)
For what it's worth, with my ho-hum analog set up (Shure V-15 cartridge and not-very-audiophile Denon 'table) I have heard the Rotel, the Lehmann Cube, and the Phenomena. The rest of my electronics are tube. The Phenomona was my favorite of the phono preamps I heard and I bought it. Black Cube was impressive in its dynamics and detail, but I liked the Phenomena better because it sounded harmonically richer, made the music more coherent and flow more naturally, did less to emphasize surface noise, and had better esthetics, not requiring an outboard power cord. I think it's a bargain for $700. I have not heard the Phenomenon with its optional battery pack, which is supposed to raise it to even greater heights.
I'm using a Wavelength Audio Cotangent phono preamp. I also tried out the Audio Research PH-3 and the Sonice frontiers phono 1 and the Black Cube from lehmann and found the Wavelength to have a very engaging delivery. It is dynamic and very quiet for a tube unit. It sounds most like the AR but to my ears has a more toe tapping presentation with natural deep bass. I'm not sure Wavelength makes it anymore but it sold for $1000.00 Just my opinion of course.
jc, when i was looking for a fono-stage a year ago, one of these cotangents came up on the used market at a great price; i called gordon rankin, owner/designer of wavelength, to ask him about it, & he said to forget about it w/a low-output mc. now, i wonder if i coulda gotten away w/it - my preamp has so much gain that i run my 0.35mv-output ortofon mc25-fl (gordon sez it's really <0.2mv) on the fono-stage's lowest gain setting...
You can always find used Audio Research PH3s for $900 - $1100. These blow all of the competition away. No contest