Help me choosing Phono Preamp


I need suggestion in choosing a quality phono stage (SS or tube, new/used) under $3000 to mate with Denon DL-103 cartridge. The cartridge has very low output voltage around 0.18mV. Few pre I considered are Manley Chinook, EAR 834P, Liberty B2B-1, and MF MX-VYNL. All of them seem to require a step up transformer to work with DL-103. I don't like the idea of outboard transformer, and also I want to keep number of boxes as minimum as possible. Is there any outstanding pre out there (full function or stand alone phono stage) with input sensitivity close to 0.15 V to work with DL-103 ? Other qualities of the preamp I am looking for are: utterly transparent, extreme resolution, but not lean/thin/weak in sound, MC and MM both options will be a plus . Any suggestion will be greatly appreciated.



Take a look at the Allnic H1201, I think it hits all of your requirements. Good luck in your search! Mike
The DL-103 standard version is rated at .3mv output, incl the DL-103S
I have, a few of the other DL-103 versions are rated at .25mv so I am not sure what your .18mv figure is from.
A used Herron VTPH-2, if you can find one.
A used NVO but good luck in finding one!
I agree with michaela, the Allnic H 1201 will work very well now and in your future.
I second bdp24.  IMO, nothing tops a Herron VTPH-2.  Even an updated VTPH-1mc will top pretty much anything else out there. 
I just bought a VTPH-2. I've owned a ASR Basis Exclusive and the Alnic 1201. Enjoyed them both. Like the Herron much better than the Alnic and at least as much as the ASR which is double the cost. 
i hope this helps  the new Mk2 phono amps from Tom Evans Audio are great not cheap but fantastic to listen to without added noise

The specs are truly world class, even on the modestly priced Mk2 Groove A, it's signal to noise ratio ( noise and distortion ) is an amazing -114 db @ 68 db of gain !

Ifurther up the range you go the lower the distortion and noise, 50% per model. I just read this recent review (below), from what Jason Kennedy (the editor) said about the way it performs it looks like it's the real deal and he gave it 'best buy' award.
as for Tom being untrustworty he has always helped and if you require an upgrade he will help with that too ,
I third the Allnic 1201 and I haven't found a cartridge it wouldn't drive, also is dead quiet to boot. Contact Albert Porter in Dallas, he advertises here on audiogon and he will deal. Good luck.
Agree--the Herron is awesome. You can configure the gain with different tube combinations. Check with Keith about whether the highest gain configuration will be enough for your cartridge, given your loudspeaker sensitivity and listening preferences.
I would recommend an Avid Pulsus as a fabulous option. Or if you can find one used, look into a Musical Fidelity kW phono stage. No transformers and can handle such low output LOMCs just fine. 
How much better is the MF kW phono than the MF MX-VYNL ?
I owned the Manley Chinook and Liberty B2B-1 phono preamps. Still have a EAR 834P MM only and upgraded to Manley Steelhead for MC. For a second system the EAR has turned out to be a keeper. I simply love its warmth and punch. It is one of the best values in tubed phono stages. The Chinook and Liberty were also fine components, but to me, the Steelhead in the main system beat them both for the sonic picture I sought.
No direct experience re: how the kW compares to the MX-VYNL but based on the MSRP of the VYNL vs the much higher MSRP of the kW of the kW when it came out, I'd guess that the kW bests it. 

The kW replaced the excellent Avid Pulsus in my system, though the improvement from the Pulsus to the kW was not as large as the jump from the Simaudio LP 5.3 with optional outboard power supply to the Pulsus (perhaps the Siumaudio would have performed better if I was going balanced). 

Hope this helps. 
What is your current phono preamp?

Maybe you should consider a higher output cartridge instead.

jperry,   I dont have a phono preamp now. My line stage is Coincident Statement.

Thanks for lot of very good suggestions.

Can anybody comment on Accuphase C2810 (It is a full function pre with phono and line stage) and its sonic personalities compared to above discussed phono stages(e.g., Steelhead, VTPH2, MF kW, Allnic, etc) ?  Probably I can get a C2810 under $3000 (but can not audition it before purchase). It comes with a line stage as an added plus.

Herron on top and occupies the first twelve positions on the list.  Then the Allnic, followed by the Manley, then the Accuphase. 

Spend a few dollars more on the Herron VTPH-2 and you won't have to worry about upgrading. 

I need to also indicate that this is my opinion.  Others may differ.  YMMV, but I doubt it.
I had an Allnic H-1201 and it was amazing with the carts I used, Dynavector XX2-mk11, Ortofon Cadenza Black, Ortofon 2mblac mm. Allnic Puritas, Benz Micro, Grado. Then went to Allnic H1500 and it is the phono to beat at its used price point, Upgraded with NOS 417A Western Electric tubes was a revelation in musicality.. to my ears , in my system. Allnic H1500 a keeper for sure. Quiet, dynamic, very nice musicality not analytical. Lots of useful features for running two tonearms. I would buy another one or go up the Allnic line if I was in the market.. 
I would look for a used Coincident Phono Preamp to go with your Coincident Preamp. If you only need one line input it might be able to replace your preamp.
If you’ve got the balls to build it yourself, get the phono preamp Aikido board from Glassware Audio. $199 for the board and parts

Or you can buy a full kit with all parts (board, parts, power supply, tubes and chassis) & instructions from tubes4hifi for $590.

Personal satisfaction is thrown in for free.

Of course you won't be able to brag to anyone about what a great deal you got for $3000 from the name brand.

Tavish Design  - Did you see the review in Stereophile? The Tavish Design Adagio compares favorably to a Shindo pre-amp costing 10x more.

A less expensive model -

And the owner/designer uses a Denon DL103, among other carts, so his gear will work well with it.
rwhowe11 - Don't know about others, but I never use reviews to decide what units to consider, only units that get crossed off the list. Too much bias and personal preference involved. Too many other factors that may influence a review. Read into that whatever you think is applicable.

I only trust my own ears and how a given piece of equipment performs in my system. That’s all that counts for me, all that matters.
I agree with Derrick, allnic 1500 mkii Plus is magician. 2mm, 2mc cartridge, you choice.
But if you don't like step up transformers , don't go for him. First stage are suts, and then, amazing tubes stage. 
Run with him, Koetsu Rosewood, Audioquest 7000, Denon 103 dl II and recently added one Ortofon Cadenza Black.
Never noise, hum. The best of two worlds, musical and analytics.

Good find.
Unless you are absolutely committed to a tube unit, I urge you to audition the Parasound JC3+ (retail = $3000). It's an excellent phono pre designed by John Curl, and it works very well with both MM and MC/MI cartridges. 
I have a Denon DL-103R cartridge that I have run with an ARC PH3 phono amp.  I have tried it with and without a Cinemag SUT and I actually prefer the sound without the SUT even though the PH3 only has 54 db of gain.  I found the sound to be edgy with the SUT and there was an annoying ground hum that was difficult to eliminate.

The ARC PH3 is a tube/SS hybrid that is quiet and has a neutral sound.  Soundstaging is also very good.  The turntable is a large plinth Lenco L75 and phono cables are Audience Au24Se low z.  The newer ARC phono stages are said to be even better.  If I were to replace my PH3 I would look for a used ARC PH5.
I would highly suggest you check into the two offerings from Kevin Carter at K and K Audio.  These arfe under $3K  while his designs have included a world class 20K piece.  His work is all about the music.  I personally have one of his Phono stages and it is outstanding.  No problem with the DL 103.  He will amaze you with the service and direction to get exactly what you need.

Lkv Research phono 2sb
Pro-Ject Phono Box RS
Gain, MM / MC RCA: 40, 50, 60 dB
XLR: 46, 56, 66 dB
Agree with the K&K. There are two models, the Maxxed-out and Trio. The Trio is available in kit form if desired. Both are designed around SUTs and therefore can handle the lowest of output MCs. No extra interconnects needed. Both utilize two inexpensive Russian tubes. I tried rolling some more expensive 7308s and found the stock tubes far better suprisingly enough. My Maxxed-out has 2 sets of gain switches internally and the load switch is on the back. There is a mute and polarity reversal switch on the front. Kevin is the best to work with. Rapid response anytime it seems.
Other choices include the new baby TRON phono stage - the Convergence. This comes either as MC only or MM only. They are built to order. You should be able to specify a 1:20 internal transformer, which should suit your Denon perfectly. I have compared this in my home system to my TRON Seven Reference and I would say that it delivers 90% of the performance for a tiny fraction of the Seven cost. The really good news is that the cost is GBP1000 i.e. less than USD1400 given the precipitous fall in the value of Sterling.
An other alternative might be the Paradise DIY 4 box phono stage (size of Naim shoe box units). That is also said to be stunning. One of the guys on Pink Fish builds these for forum members for about GBP1500.
Cary 302 if tubes are your preference
Parasound if ss is what you prefer

spending more is an option but either of these are excellent and after which it's the vinyl quality that matters

of course the tonearm and table are crucial, but if you go the route of either of the above you are headed in the right direction 

Also just saw a rave review of the iFi iPhono 2 by Fremer on Analog Planet 

jtsnead, interesting that you mentioned LKV.  While searching the internet I came across this one. While the spec looks good but the gain is little low side (max gain 62dB). Is this gain amount  ok ? I noticed other phonos like Audio Flight phono has gain 72dB. I am not sure if the low gain of LKV would be a problem. I would appreciate any impression from its owner.
topoxforddoc, I will also look into the baby TRON. thanks for the suggestion.