Lehman Black Cube SE is a highly regarded $900+ versatile device that can frequently be found used here for $4-500. I love mine.
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Agree with Simon74 on the Camelot Lancelot about its sound quality, not that I've tried the others. It's a bit homely though, and ungainly to place with its two boxes and umbilicals. The preamp itself is so small, lightweight, and unconventionallly shaped that it may not lend itself to easy placement even though you'd think it would. (It can be pushed around by attached cables for one thing, and doesn't have any feet of its own.) And as he suggests it's over your budget new at $1K. If you get one, the sound can be improved by replacing the supplied swap-able loading and gain resistors with better Vishays, an easy and inexpensive upgrade.
I've used a Creek OBH 15 and for the money it's nice but not in the same ball park as a used Camelot.
Creek & Clearaudio Basic - much the same not worth the extra for the Basic imo.
Clearaudio Basic Ltd - a really nice stage, crucifies P75 & most others in it's price range imo
I'd still say a used Lancelot or if you were really lucky a Quicksilver - not the dearest stage I've ownd by a long chalk but still my favourite!
Have to admit I'm not a solid state fan when it comes to phono stages but I could live with the Clearaudio Basic, Camelot and for the dosh , the Creek was surprisingly pleasant.
I find far to many people spend a shedload on the cartridge and then skimp on the stage, silly really as the cartridge wears out and in most instances the stage is not good enough to allow them to hear what the cartridge is doing, be it right or wrong.
Having had dozens with no complaints, I would buy a used stage of here and get a good deal up the ladder than buying new. Most in your price range will sell on for much the same price if you don't like them?
& physical animal.
Without going into mega detail which is only my view in any case - the Quicksilver just seemed to give the best approximation of 'real' music.
I listen to lots of live recordings and the Quicksilver was the one that had me pulling out albums for hours on end.
Paints a with a broad brushstroke but vocals,soundstage -width, height & depth and a nice solidity without being overly warm still makes it my favourite phonostage.
Sold it now as my Supratek has a built in pre so could not justify keeping it (her indoors on the case).
It is also a very quiet stage whether used alone with mm or used with the step up for lo mc.
It also, to my ears, does not have the grain/edge and un-natural dynamics of most of the ss designs I have tried.
Not saying valve wins every time as I enjoyed the Creek, Clearaudio Basic Ltd and Camelot very much, mainly because they manage to minimise my negatives about ss phonostages.
Even though I live in the UK , I got great service from Camelot and Quicksilver - never had any problems , only some queries and requests for advice. That fact that these were answered speedily and enthusiastically led me to believe both companies would address any problems with their gear as a matter of urgency - not always the caes in my experience.
I also found that some stages will give their best with a wide range of cartridges and some are very picky.
My favourites tend to be in the former camp .
I've been living with a Musical Fidelity X-LPS for the past year or so. It's funny how blind we can be. I've been singing its praises since it arrived. Well, I just picked up a Musical Surroundings Phonomena earlier tonight for $300. Here's my impression after a couple of hours of listening:
Grateful Dead's Touch of Grey has never sounded more three dimensional. I've listened to this album many times, but Jerry's voice has never sounded so real and throaty. Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon has never sounded so open and airy. In particular, Breath felt huge with lots of space around it. There's a completely new spaciousness going on in my living room. Sound is coming from behind and to the sides of my speakers where it's never come from before. I've been waiting for this upgrade for a long time, but didn't know where to find it. The skeptic in me has kept me from looking for it in a phono preamp. I've been let down so many times with "must-have upgrades," that I've become numb to the hype. This one has proven me wrong and it's exciting. My bass has improved too. It's hard to pin it all down, but there's a significant improvement going on. "An Evening with Windham Hill Live" (1983) has never sounded so absolutely real. It's one of the best recordings I've ever heard, so it sounds good on any system, but it took on a whole new dimension tonight. I was listening to Fleetwood Mac Rumors last night, so it was fresh in my mind. I heard something new on "Dreams" that sounded like someone was outside howling. Stevie Nicks does some sort of echoed scream that sounds like it's coming from somewhere else. It's very cool! My speakers are disappearing like they've never done before. I just found the component that brings my system to a new level. I thought it would be an expensive cd player, but when that didn't happen, I thought it would be a tube preamp. When that didn't do it, I thought bi-amping would clinch the deal. When that didn't do it, I bought different speaker wire. On and on and on... In terms of upgrades, this one ranks at the very top. My X-LPS is going up for sale as soon as possible. I've never felt so detached from a piece of old equipment. I usually want to keep it for sentimental reasons, but not this time. I'm in love with the Phonomena! I'm running it with a Denon DL-103 on a Micro Seiki DQX-500 with an RB300 arm rewired with Incognito. -Mark
Mark - thanks for your suggestion on the Musical Fidelity X-LPS; I will definately check it out. I'm in the process of getting a Nottingham Horizon with an RB300 arm and will be running either a Ortofon X5 or Denson DL-160; may have to look into going back to the Denon 103; had that with a Linn LP-12/Ittock years ago but was using a cheap Denon stepup transformer at the time. I see our musical tastes are very similar; I've been listening to stuff like Cat Steven's Tea for the Tillerman and Alan Parson's Gaudi; just picked up a bunch of used albums at a local antique dealer for $1 apiece that look like they've never been played. Many of these old albums sound better than the CD.
Bob, I want to add one more thing that struck me last night and that you reminded me of. Vinyl now sounds significantly better on my system than cd. This wasn't the case before the Musical Surroundings Phonomena. Most people will find budget phono preamps (like the X-LPS) to sound good. It's difficult to destroy the airiness of vinyl, but the X-LPS won't seduce you like the Phonomena. The Phonomena opens up a whole new dimension. With the exception of "An Evening with Windham Hill Live," all of the above albums were standard issue. I often buy used vinyl for one or two bucks.
If you're going to buy a new cartridge, go with the Denon DL-103R, not the standard 103. The DL-103 and 103R are leaps and bounds better than the Denon DL-160. I encourage you to read this Agon review:
Review: Denon DL 103R Cartridge
Mingles: Not that I've heard it either way, but the Phonomena has an optional outboard power supply upgrade available, which as I recall Michael Fremer felt took the performance up significantly. (If I remember correctly, I believe he wasn't as impressed with the unit in its price range without this upgrade, but felt it became competitive at twice the price once the PS was installed. You might want to look up the original reviews.)
Thanks Mark; I obviously was not quite awake early this morning when I read your comments. I will definately check out the Musical Surroundings Phonomena and the Denon 103R cartridge. Was hoping to be able to stick with high output moving coils but can go either way since the Jolida has outputs for both high and low output cartridges.
re the Musical Fidelity - I ran one of these for years, added the X-PSU and was stunned by the difference.
Asked long and hard on here re thoughts on Phonomena vs. Camelot - varied opinions as one would expect.
Just occured that buying a stage that has the option of a power supply upgrade at a future date has to be a sensible idea as every time I have went this route, the improvements far out stripped my expectations.
I think any review you read be it Musical Fidelity, Musical Surroundings, Channel Islands, Creek and all, will say the same thing.
Bob, I was using the standard walwart with the Phonomena. The fellow I bought it from owned the battery power supply at one point in time. He said the sound improvement was subtle at best and, in his opinion, wasn't worth $600. I don't think you can go wrong with the Phonomena. It's much better sounding than the X-LPS, in my opinion. Good luck on your decision. Best, Mark