Budget Phono Amp / Stage Recommendation?

Hello all, I have decided to take the plunge into analogue!

I intend to purchase a used Thorens TD-150 and would need your recommendation for a budget (under $200) phono amp / stage (new or old?). I do hope for it to be MM and MC, just for the flexibility to test the differences.

Some recommendations have been: 1) NAD PP2 or PP3, 2) Pro-ject Phono Box II, 3) Cambridge 640p, 4) Bellari V130, Graham Slee Gram Amp 2 SE.

I need a strong push to a specific model based on the current system that I have. Any comments would be appreciated.

My current system:
CD source: Rega Apollo
Amp: Primare A10
Speakers: Mission Cyrus 781
Musical Fidelity X-LP (the version 1) used. They can be found for ~$160 and are mm/mc switchable and excellent.
I'm quite happy with my cambridge 640. It's way better than the 540, bellari, parasound and more...
I had a Cambridge 640p and was very happy with the sound great performance for the price and it dose both mm/mc.
Musical Fidelity V-Lps is a good choice as well.....
Pro-Ject phono box SE used; Simaudio Moon LP3 used - probably around $250.
My vote goes to the Cambridge 640P. Great performance for the price. I've owned it along with NAD PP2, Bellari V129, Musical Fidelity V-LPS and Parasound zPhono. In my system, the Cambridge was quieter, had better detail, better low end, and better midrange than these other units. I was using a Grado Sonata at the time.

What cartridge are you planning to use?
I'm currently using a Vincent PHO-8.It is the best sounding inexpensive phono preamp I have used since selling my Lehman Black Cube SE.The Vincent lists for $399 and can be purchased for a little less.Sounds great,seperate power supply,attractive,well built and easy to use.I have tried inexpensive phono preamps from Bellari,NAD,Trichord and others and prefer the Vincent!
Thanks for all your valuable recommendations! Good stuff! I was tempted to go for the Cambridge Audio 640p new but then I saw a used NAD pp2 for 1/3 its price, I thought I might give it a try first and if I am not satisfied with it, the CA 640p would be the next upgrade. Since I am just starting out, I am very mindful of the cost. As for cartridge, I am starting with Grado Grey MM, and possibly much later a Shure M91 and if i want to try out MC, maybe a Benz Micro Ace MC or AT150? I am really not familiar with cartridges at the moment. What would u recommend for the Thorens TD-150 mk2? Budget under $100 first and move up the ladder later when I want to compare the SQ. I am aware that both MM and MC have quite different sound character, quite subjective, not necessarily MC is always better. Have to complement the TT and phono stage as well right? So far, my research into the analogue sound brought me to this understanding. Hope it is not too far from the truth!
I would recommend the Clearaudio Nano, which I used for 2 years with a Rega p3-24 and a Benz MC20E2 cartridge. Sounded great. It goes for $350 retail, but look for it used you should be able to get it for close to your $200. Read the reviews as well. Let me know if you want additional detail.
First, congrats on a great turntable choice! You are starting out with a classic that sounds just marvelous.

I have owned the Gram Amp 2SE, Creek OBH 8SE, Musical Fidelity X-LP with X-PSU and Ault power suppplies, 640P, Lehmann Black Cube and a few others. Not all at the same time, I might add. My first choice would be a Bottlehead Seduction or AES PH-1 hands down.

If one is set on picking from the list above or has an aversion to tubes, my choice would be the Creek OBH-8SE. Second would be the Gram Amp 2SE, and many would prefer it's greater clarity and openness, but the Creek has more weight and that just makes it more balanced in my opionion, though darker, more shut-in and less detailed. Neither hold a candle to the Seduction or PH-1 though.
Try an Acurus P10. It should be available at the high end of your price range. It has internal DIP switches and no power switch, but once you get the settings right, it sounds great for the price.

My vote Cambridge 640. Its their best unit and is in a quality range slightly above budget. So it may suit your needs for a while.
Updates: I had to return the Thorens TD-150 mk 2 as it produced a cracking sound when on 45rpm. The lever is raised much higher than what it was meant to be and it interfered with the platter rotation. The ground connection is also very loose, producing loud humming. I am sure these minor issues can be fixed but I did not want to fuss with it. The overall condition was not very good. The face was sprayed painted silver and the original ink work are all covered with stickers. Sound wise, it's fantastic! Very musical as many have mentioned. The seller was very kind to take it back with full refund. So it's back to square one in my search for my first TT.

As I am in Singapore, not many reasonable price vintage Thorens are available. I may consider a NEW rega p3-24 or another better condition Thoren that comes my way. Tough!

All the nice phono stages mentioned here are really very hard to find in Singapore. If I buy from ebay, I would need to convert the voltage to 220v here in Singapore with a transformer. Locally, only the Cambridge Audio, NAD, Pro-Ject, Thorens phono, Rega, Denon are easily available new.

For used items:
Someone is selling an old Trichord Dino mk1 for SGD$450 (singapore $, which is about USD$350). Found a used NAD PP-2 for only SGD$80 (USD $62), tentatively I have bought it from my dealer.

The Cambridge Audio 640p goes for SGD$230 (USD$178) NEW.

So, it does look like it's between the used NAD PP2 or the new Cambridge Audio 640p. I would really like to try out the Graham Slee Gram Amp 2SE. Alas, hard to come by. Bellari ships internationally, but it would cost me over SGD$360 in all for the V130 (with shipping).
Get the 640P. It's in your range and it seems to compete with anything up to around $400. I've had mine for 2-1/2 years. It's very dynamic but is also good at teasing out inner detail. I never noticed "barely there" vocal harmonies mixed into some recordings until I got the Cambridge.
Lots of 640p supporters! Looks like that is the ONE!. :) Thanks everyone! Also, I managed to get a nicely restored Thorens TD-160, will be picking it up tonight. I am very excited!
I have used both the PP-2 and the Dino.The Dino was better.I have not heard the 640P but it seems like its worth a try.I have their new DACMAGIC D/A converter and it is astoundingly good! I'm surprised that Vincent(or an identical unit with a Chinese nameplate)is not available in Singapore.
Updates: After returning the old Thorens TD-150 mk2, decided to take up my dealer's beautifully restored Thorens TD-165 mk1 (initially thought it was 160 mk1). He helped me upgraded the power cable and the phono out cables with Ampenol plugs! Brought the TT home and immediately set it up with the used NAD PP-2 with the Grado Grey series MM cartridge. With all the cables and switch all set, I put on Eva Cassidy's Songbird (analogue press, 180gm)...No music came on. Tried other lps, still no sound. What a downer! Called my dealer and check if there is sound emitting from the rotating platter. Very faintly, it did. I was quite amazed that there is actually music enjoying from the tip of the cartridge on the LP.. Wow! So at least we know that the TT is working. Then he asked me to switch to MC on the NAD phono stage and it worked. The MM channel on the phono stage was faulty. Later that evening, he came by my place and lent me a Project phono box MM while he took back the NAD to check on it further. I think if this NAD cannot be fixed. I am going for the Cambridge Audio 640p.

Next horror story: I put on my favorite Jazz at the pawnshop LP (2007 reissue) and after listening to the first side on LP 1, I removed it to blow off the dust on the LP, thinking that that might clean up the static. Using my camera blower, I successfully blowing clean side A, I carefully flipped it over to side B blow clean it. As I was turning it, the LP slipped and in my attempt to catch it from failing to the ground, the tip of my rubber blower accidentally made contact with the LP and made two long scratches on side B! I was super pissed and very very upset! One one hand, I was angry at my own clumsiness and on the other hand, I ws glad that i had not bought the original 1977 orange Propius version of the same LP!

Took a minute to mourn about it. Decided to put it back on the Thorens to see what was the damage. Surprisingly, the two scratches did not affect the sound quality of the LP! No ticks or skips. So, now, at least, I am not so paranoid about getting my first scratch on my LP, and relaxed about handling LP for future. Hold it firm. Initially I was afraid of breaking it and so I held it quite gentlely and lost my grip on it, causing the fall. A not too expensive lesson in handling LP.

That was my first day with TT! Other than the mishaps, I am pretty happy about the analogue music flowing through the air. I did a A/B test with the LP and SACD of Jazz at the pawnshop. In very simple words, sacd is much cleaner, clearer and brighter as most would say. The LP sounds mellow and warmth (honestly, i am still trying to understand what this word actually mean musically). I do like both. They are just different. But there was something which stood out very obviously when I compare both formats. As I increase the volume for sacd, I feel the music to be loud and jarring and it sort of hits hard on my head. When I increase the volume for the LP, it does get louder, but it is not jarring and it does not hurt my ears or my head. I guess this is what they call fatigue. Hmmmm...very interesting experience, nonetheless.

I am still loving my Rega Apollo and do not have the intention to sell all my CDs and buy only LP. But I am enjoying the two distinct sound from two great music players.

Thanks audiogoners for your time and advice. I'm on my way to more music discovery. Focus on the music, not the gadgets!
I very much enjoyed your last post.Glad there was no audible damage to the LP.A carbon fiber brush(about $20)is the best way to remove dust.You can do this while the record rotates on the platter.

As far as the vinyl sounding warmer:There are cartridge/phono stage combinations that will produce music that sounds brighter/more forward/more detailed than many CD players.Don't assume that all vinyl will sound the same as it does coming from the Grado and played through the Project Phono Box.
The "scratch" you saw, made by the rubber blower, may well be material from the tip of the rubber blower itself (assuming it's not metal), and not a scratch per se. As such it's a deposit on the ridges and not in the groove itself, and should be inaudible as you found. Polyvinylchloride (what LPs are made of) is pretty hard, especially compared to most rubbers and plastics.

It also means it may clean off with some record cleaning fluid and a brush or microfiber terry towel.
That is a relief. Yes, the tip is not metal, thank goodness. It is some plastic. I have tried to clean it using using just water and a soft micro-fibre cloth. Some did come off, but the scratch is still there. I will look for some LP cleaning fluids.

To Transnova: Thanks!

01-13-11: Silverthorn11
Some did come off, but the scratch is still there. I will look for some LP cleaning fluids.
My philosophy is: if you can't hear the scratch, leave it alone. I have added noise to a record when I tried to scrub a record blem a little too hard--with a micro-fiber cloth.