Best value phono $1-1.5k

I've been having thoughts about setting up a 2nd budget TT and need some ideas on what would be considered the best buys in phonostages now. Best if it also had stellar musicality, could play LOMCs, MMs, was flexible with loading and capacitance. Yes, we wants it all... Inputs anyone?
PS AUDIO GCPH $995 retail.
You might consider building the KandK kit (It may be a little more than $1.5k). It is the proverbial giant killer. Jeff
Simaudio LP5.3-$1500 retail.
SimAudio LP5.3, bought it as a hold me over and instead it has won me over. I just wish they would hurry up and get the outboard PSU on the market.
EAR 834P; I have two, one each for primary and secondary systems.
Has anyone done a comparison between these units:

1) PS Audio GCPH
2) Sim Audio LP5.3
3) Aqvox Phono2 MkII OR
4) Modded PS GCPH?

I only have experience with the Aqvox at a dealer's shop, and was impressed - one of those that "got on my radar" so to speak.

The PS unit is also interesting in that it is also fully balanced and comes with a volume and remote control.

Unfortunately I haven't seen any shoot outs.
Wright Sound AG Phono with NOS tubes.
I haven't, unfortunately, compared to the other units, but I have owned the Aqvox for well over a year now and am extremely pleased with it.

The Aqvox is unique, I believe, among those you mentioned in that it has both balanced inputs and outputs (the others have only balanced outputs). If you heard it at the dealer without the tonearm leads being modified for truly balanced connection then you only heard about 80% of what it's capable of. The balanced input is much more critcal than the balanced output in terms of getting the most from the Aqvox.

If you were going to go MM (at least long term), I probably wouldn't do the Aqvox. For MC's (either high or low output) going balanced from the cartridge, it is literally plug and play with the current injection mode (I believe the only phono stage in the world offering both fully balanced inputs/outputs and current injection mode); you will never have to even worry about loading.

To say I've been happy with mine is an understatement.
From my experience over the last 6 months, I would say Vacuumstate JTLI is easily the best value in this range without any hesitation.

Over the past months I have heard the following ones in direct comparison to the JLTI:

- Wright WPP200C
- Trichord Dino
- Dynavector P75 II
- EAR 834P Deluxe
- Sutherland Ph.D.
- Aesthetix Rhea
- Mac C1000

The following I heard many times but not in direct comparison
- Artemis
- EAR 912
- PS Audio GCPH
- Tom Evans Groove

Cartridges heard through the JLTI so far:
- Denon DL103R
- Lyra Argo (i)
- ZYX Universe
- Grado Sonata
- Dynavector DV20X

So far it is my top pick regardless!! of price to my very surprise. I actually didn't want to believe that this one is that good - thus the long list of opponents. Also, a friend who has heard most of the above will wholeheartedly agree. It depends a little on what you are looking for - the EAR834 and Wright WPP200C are very good if you are looking for a smooth midrange oriented, full sound. The JLTI is very neutral but most importantly has more resolution, better attack and decay, flow, image layering, separation between instruments, and realism that I have not heard from any phonostage so far. The Ph. D., Artemis, and EAR912 have slightly different strengths and it would come down to preference there.

The last version of the JLTI is very flexible with loading as it uses RCA plugs that are easy to make yourself. Gain is closer to 60dB in the MC setting and 40dB in MM -simple but effective. No capacitive loading changes though.

There are a few that I would still like to hear, e.g. the Pass Xono, K&K, ASR Basis Exclusive, but I guess they may be out of your range.

Just my experience though...

Rene, thanks for the recommendation, the JLTI sounds interesting. I did a bit of searching and it appears to have gone up in price a bit.(?) The website has 2 versions, one black one with the RCAs on one side, and another with the silver faceplate. Which was the one that you are using?
ASR mini Basis with chip upgrade, head and shoulders better then the Sim Lp5.3...
Are you sure that the JLTi 60db of gain is going to be enough for the low output MC cartridges you are considering?
There were a couple of different versions (prices have been pretty stable over the last three versions) and Roger Gordon has done a nice job describing the physical differences between the different ones:

Positive Feedback review of JLTI

Also, Jay at Audio Revelations can answer some question to comparisons between the JLTI, ASR Mini Basis, and Sim LP5.3 since he had all of them. The ASR seems interesting. There have been some comments on comparing the big ASR Basis Deluxe phono and the JLTI in the Tone Audio Review (Issue 11). That issue also has a review of the Simaudio LP 5.3. Interestingly Tone Audio picked the JLTI over the LP5.3 for an award a few issues later for value for for money.

The JLTI was supposed be a kind of a stop-gap for me until I could get a top phono - now I am not so sure I will see improvements. The only real downside of the JLTI is looks - it doesn't look like it could compete with the big ones.
Tom, all of the cartridges I ran into the JLTI were LOMC with outputs from 0.25mV to 0.5mV. Unless you go all the way down to below 0.25mV or want to use a passive preamp you will be fine with the MC gain.

Also the specs state 55dB gain for the JLTI. Using the same loading the JLTI played louder than the Dynavector P75II at the 60dB setting or the Ph.D. at 60dB. Seems like the specs are quite a bit understated and the actual gain of the JLTI is around 60-62dB.
CMK, what cartridge are you considering?
I just bought the Musical Surroundings Nova Phonomena. It sounds great. Quiet, detailed (without sounding harsh), and great imaging and soundstaging. I have nothing to compare it to except my old "built-in" phono stage on my current amp.
K&K Audio has a new "budget" phono pre you might consider.
Heed is another option at $1k.

dealer disclosure.
Heed is in the right price bracket and the review sounds interesting though I've never heard of it before. How does it compare with other phonos like the PS Audio?
The Heed is an extraordinary value IMHO; very neutral, perhaps erroring slightly, if at all, on the side of "musicality", with no noticeable additive undesirables, and extremely flexible; bettering most phono stages up to $3k. An excellent company for cost effective compact solid state electronics, very well known in Europe but not so well known here yet. I have not compared the PS Audio directly. I would guess a more interesting comparison might be the newer Musical Surroundings Nova Phonomena, but again, I'm guessing the Heed would win out there as well. I plan on making both those comparisons in the near future.

dealer disclosure
RE: Heed Quasar, have you heard it compared with your Hagerman Trumpet then?

Otherwise, which TT playback system did you listen/demo the Quasar?
I have demoed it here in my own system, compared to my (upgraded caps, nude Vishay loading resisters and other tweeks) Trumpet. As you might expect, the Trumpet had that special tube magic, with a bit more textural finesse; but the Quasar was very nice indeed, much quieter and was much more flexible in terms of gain and loading.
Which unit was more dynamic?
Which had a bigger soundstage?
I would say that the Heed was more dynamic, likely because of the gain
structure, as the Trumpet, essentially a MM stage being driven by a medium low
output MC cartridge, is being used at it's limit. I don't remember my
impressions of the soundstage differences except in terms of how the textural
finesse translates into a more refined sense of space.
Just a thought about there being no capacitive loading changes in the JLTi. You can of course solder caps as well as resistors into the RCA Load sockets. But IMO, when capacitive loading was required, it was either to tune the top octave of MM cartridges, especially the older types that had high Z and high inductance, but MMs like Grado are quite a lot lower Z. Also the capacitance was needed with some MCs into input stages that were prone to slew rating (distortion - MCs are fast and have wider bandwidth) and then the added capacitances slowed things down a bit by forming a low pass filter with the cartridge source Z. It didn't necessarily make the MC sound better, just helped prevent distortion on the electronics side. Joe R.