Budget phono stage- advice appreciated

I would appreciate any opinions/advice you may have. I need to add an outboard phono stage to my home office system. The system as is stands right now: Audio Refinement Complete Integrated, Magnum Dynalab tuner, Oracle Alexandria/Sumiko/Grado Platinum, NAD Reference Series CD Player, Totem Rokk speakers. I considered adding the NAD PP-1 phono stage, but my local NAD dealer tells me it's barely adequate, he recommended the Creek OBH-8. I've read mixed reviews on the Creek. I don't want to spend a lot of money on the phono stage, it's really casual listening while I work. Ideas? Thanks, Jeff
Get a used Lehmann Black Cube for around $400-$450 It will blow away all under $1000 or more.Takes up very little space also.Stereophile CLASS B......Can handle any cartridge also.Dont get the NAD or Creek! I have been through them all.The Cube is music,the rest a waste of $$
I think the NAD is outstanding. It holds up to some of the best. The design is excellent. Curt
I second the recommendation for the Lehmann Black Cube. It's worth the $695 retail, but it's REALLY worth $400-$450. It may not be perfect, but it can't be beat for the price. I haven't heard the NAD or the Creek.
Jeff, You have a pretty good office system.I admire you for having a Turntable there.YEA!! GO ANALOG!! Spend a bit more on the Cube,your system deserves it.
Thanks so much for taking the time to answer. $400 is a little more than I'd prefer to spend, but, my vinyl deserves a good step-up. Perhaps once I sell my Audio Research SP9 II pre-amp, I'll go fer it. David, yeah, can't shake my love of analog, I'm used to my Oracle Delphi IV/SME/Grado Reference in my main rig and I'll be damned if I'm forced to live exclusively with them shiny little discs whilst I toil away. Again, thanks guys...Jeff
If you want to keep well below $400, I'd recommend Parasound's phono preamp, MM or MC, for not much over $100 new, under $100 used if you can find one. (A "Wanted to Buy" ad might get one out of the woodwork.) I have one in a dining room system and am quite pleased with it.
Try the Rotel RQ-970. Handles both MM and MC Cartridges. Got a good review in Stereophile a while back. Retail list is $200. I've seen it used from $100 to $140 I used to have one and was very pleased for the money spent. Sorry for you, but I sold it already.
I have the Creek OBh-8, and it works and sounds just dandy to me. For the price you can't beat it. Good Luck! Jeff
I have the same question as Jeffloistarca. Has anyone tried the McCormack phono stage? List $600 but you can get a used for half-off. Any good for a budget-size analog system with a cheaper Signet MC cartridge? My trusted dealer also recommended the Lehman, but I couldn't see spending $700 (new) which is about the total cost of my lower-end T-table & cart. already. The $100/$200 models seem just a little too inexpensive-sounding (get what you pay for) but I'm probably wrong?
Hi Jeff, news from the land of the cube (that is Germany): I´m using the cube and it´s fabulous. I maybe drop it only because I will get a Klyne PX2.5 soon. But man, try it - you will not regret it! And if I will keep the Klyne (I´ll probably do that) I might sell mine. Try to find out wether the PSU can be easily adjusted to 110 volts (check under lehmannaudio.de/entec/ - Mr. Lehmann is always helpful!). If you can, that might be the ticket, because I could sell mine for under $400. Anyway, whatever you do try to get a hold on this wonderful little amp, you´d regret it if you wouldn´t. Best wishes from Chris
ok - shameless plug: i have a musical surroundings phonomena, only ~2.5 months old, for sale; i'm asking $450. i bought it from audio outlet, ny - they recommended it over the black cube, which they also carry - said the phonomena was *much* nicer. i'm only selling cuz i got a *steal* on a ~$1900 pentagon p-3 - couldn't pass it up! ;~) if ya don't wanna spend that much money, check out the acurus p-10; i recently had a conversation w/a guy who said it was much better than the black cube - he had both in his system, & returned the cube. i tink there's one on ebay rite now...
I Love analog, but really, for casual listening to me implies in the back ground. Why bother with the vinyl, stick with the CD's. If you have some lp's that you can't replace but don't listen to often, get a used Creek or a NAD, or Musica Hall. all are cheap, sound ok, at least they will beat what is in most AV amps today.
Take note. The Lehmann Audio Black Cube sells for a MSR of 678DM in Germany (tax included). At today's exchange rate, that is about $350. Whenever my friends come over from the USA to visit me in Germany, I always recommend to them to buy a Black Cube here and change the power supply once they get back.
I'm surprised that no-one has yet mentioned the E.A.R. 834P; having auditioned most of the components suggested above, I humbly suggest that the 834P is in an entirely different, and much higher, class, for about the same cost. With all due respect, the Lehmann just cannot compare, having many additive shortcomings, including falsely etched "detail" and a hashy and sibilant treble. Simply, it is very hi-fi sounding, but not very true to the music -- it produces a couple of sonically spectacular effects at the cost of the live emotional vibrancy of music. After a live concert the E.A.R can still satisfy; the above alternatives will, by comparison, sound much more like a poor and mechanical reproduction.
I just placed an order for the DB Systems DB-8 phono preamp. I also did not want to spend alot. Check out the review at Soundstage, it was convincing enough for me to place the order. As the review says, this is a no brainer. MM is $150 and MC is $175. You can upgrade to teflon jacks for additional $25 (I chose not to). They have no web site but you can call them for literature.
Musical Surroundings Phonomena. Does absolutely nothing wrong in my pinion. Probably will be somewhat too noisy for extremely low output cartidges, but then, so are most phono stages...Anyway, you ought to hear my Phonomena, with my Lo4. But, it will COMMAND your attention with musical invlovement, Jeff, so you might want to get a less involving stage. I get very easily distracted by music while I'm working, and of course would never consider using a vinyl source as a "casual" medium for music at any time. A casual, hands free medium with less performance already exists: FM radio.
Mjm forgot to mention how much the Black Cube compresses the dynamic range. The E.A.R. 834P is in a different league, being twice as expensive as the Black Cube, at least in my country. I thought that the price range of the phono preamp in question in this thread should be below $400.
In support of Carl, the German Audiomeca agent used a Musical Surroundings Phonomena to preamp an Audiomeca J1 linear tracking turntable (a very serious turntable) at the latest Frankfurt High End exhibit. It sounded very musically involving with the cartridge they were using.
i found the phonomena a bit dry for my taste, but mebbe it was my linn kairn pro? i had an earlier kairn (w/o slimline-version of the brilliant power-supply) - its built-in fono-stage was nicer than the phonomena, even tho the slimline p/s in my later kairn had better sound on cd & tuner. (btw, carl, you can get *excellent* sound from a good tuner, if the station is uncompressed, & you have a decent signal). in defence of the phonomena, tho - it had *no* problem w/noise, being used w/a 0.18mv mc cartridge. i replaced the phonomena w/a pentagon p-3 which is a *lot* nicer, imho. but, it is ~3 times the price. fortunately for me, no one in the usa knows this product, so it dint cost me much more than the phonomena.
I concur with Mjm and Slawney. The 834P is in an entirely different league and a steal even at retail. I've owned many phono stages over the years, most recently a Sonic Frontiers SFP1 and a Joule Electra OPS1 which the EAR beats. Harry Pearson was quite impressed with it. Yes, it's a bit over your budget, but can be had used with a volume control for around $500-550. So if you don't need a preamp for anything else in your office system it is a very reasonable way to go and so much better than the other offerings here. Unfortunately, you may have to wait a bit to find a used one, but it will be worth the wait for a guy who actually has a turntable in his office! Good luck and enjoy.
Slawney -- about the cube's dynamic limitations, you're right, it's very noticeable. I never really came to grips with what the cube was doing wrong, as while dynamic compression was audible, in my listening sessions the compression seemed to affect different pieces unequally. Nothing so gross to permit saying it can't do a particular frequency range; strangely, it squashed different pieces, different types of music, differently, if that makes sense. Maybe someone here has heard that too and can explain it?
Hey Mjm, It's a fine thing to find someone who agrees with me on this problem of the Black Cube squashing the dynamics of different recordings. It says somewhere in the Lehmann Audio promotional literature that Lehmann designed phono preamps for recording studios before he turned his attention to the home market and the design of the Black Cube. Studio engineers regularly use limiters and compressors during mastering for certain tracks (usually the vocal track and the drum tracks in a rock or pop recording) to smooth them out in the mix. I have a feeling that there is some of this philosophy in the Black Cube. Also, there are points in playback when the Black Cube suddenly seems to change the balance of the instruments all at once. Usually this is exciting, like hearing a new recording all at once in the middle of a piece. It is usually well-placed, musically speaking, on the very first beat of the first bar of a new section in the piece. But it also sounds like a recording studio console that has its different EQ and volume settings for the different tracks stored on computer--an auto-pilot mixer. As far as frequency linearity, it is incredibly difficult for me to EQ bad vinyl recordings through the Black Cube. (I sometimes use a Z-systems rdq-1 digital equalizer to correct imperfections on vinyl recordings that I want to archive on CD.) Yes, the Black Cube sometimes makes a grand appearance on particular occasions (with MFSL and high-quality vinyl); but it can also crush and squash and bend recordings, and then it sounds like the cheap stuff. In general, it sounds better late-night--like all analog.
I own the Black Cube and have been VERY pleased with it. I bought mine used for $450 and think it's a superb buy at that price. I find the comments about "compression" of the audio signal by the Cube interesting, since I have NOT experienced such a phenomenon. To the contrary, I think the dynamics of this preamp are excellent. I am using a Shure V15VxMR cartridge, which has sufficient voltage output that I use the lower gain setting on the Cube. Are the people who think the Cube compresses the signal using low-output MC cartridges?
A second thought I should have included in my previous post. The Black Cube is now being sold in an upgraded version, which I am told has an improved op-amp stage. The Cube I currently own is this later version. Are the other writers on this thread using the older version of the Cube?
Compression is very apparent on dynamic recordings: try percussion ensembles (E. Varese, Xenakis), some Decca reissues (Bartok, Resphigi), some Harmonia Mundi France ("Atrium Musicae de Madrid" recordings) if you want to experience it. Even ride cymbals are compressed on most jazz remasters. My Black Cube--the one with the compression problems--is old. It still has the old company name on it: Entec. What is the name of your upgraded version? I heard from a friend of Lehmann that he has been trying to develop a more expensive top-of-the-line phono preamp for years. But all of them sound like the Black Cube. Despite my criticisms, the Black Cube is probably the "best bang for the buck" (the type of product that Lehmann Audio explicitly wants to produce anyway): I prefer it to the Creek, and the Musical Fidelity.