Help search for a phono stage that fits my system

Dear All,
Here are my components:
1)Preamp linestage: Conrad/johnson CT5
2)Amp: McCormack DNA500
3)Speakers: Andra II
5)Digital: McCormack UPD1, Deluxe ( very nice redbook)
6)Cables: Acoustic Zen
7)Analog: VPI Super Scoutmaster with signature arm w/ Dynavector Karat cartridge.

I am looking for a nice phono stage that can be optimized with my system and flexible enough to accept a wide variety of cartrides. I just bought the Conrad/Johnson,CT5, and have been thinking about buying their matching phono stage, premier 15 which retails for 5K, but the question is can I do better at that price or LESS?At the moment, I am using the dynavector 17D Karat. Please take a look at my system and give me some recommendations. Your help is greatly appreciated.
I seem to gather you like tubes, and perhaps would like a tube driven phono stage as well, but do notice you have chosen the DNA-500 for your Amp, and I'm sure this puppy delivers some fantastic sound, and takes control of your speakers with vice-like authority!

No doubt an absolute killer amp-speaker combination!
Over the last couple of weeks, I've noticed some who seem to have noise problems with tube driven phono stages, and also commonly note the tube rush sound typical of most tube phono stages.

I'm sure many of these offer sound beyond compare, especially units like the BAT VK-10. If tube rolling, or tube rush doesn't inherently bother you, or you think will be a problem, then shoot the works, but I myself have just bought a very wonderful unit, and that Unit is the Sutherland PhD.

Stereophile rates this unit as Class A, yet goes on to say that it isn't the last word in phono pre-amplification, yet one thing all seem to quickly acknowledge, is absolute dead quiet. Not a peep from this puppy to hear. RFI appears to be a non-issue with this unit, and EMI won't ever be a problem, as the Unit operates from 16 D-Cell Batteries, and doesn't require chargers-whatnot. It automatically turns on, and turns off, had a myriad of loading, and gain settings, and custom boards-additional boards can be gotten from the distributor if the supplied boards can't accomodate an odd cartridge.

There's reviews online of this unit at acoustic sounds website, and my buddy Thomas M Back own one, and gives a comment on the site. He's using a Clearaudio Master Reference Table, with top of the line Clearaudio Arm, with Lyra Titan Cart on board, and of all the different phono stages he's tried, this has been the quietest, and the best performing of all.

I'm enjoying CD-like Dynamics, and dead silence with mine, and it was a very worthy, purchase. Mark
I have a Benz L2 cartridge rated at 0.3mV. I'm using a Hagerman Trumpet (MM only) with a K&K Audio (Lundahl) step-up transformer. The step-up allows for multiple gain and load (you can plug and play resistors freely with no soldering) configurations to suit all catridges. Had I not gotten a deal on the Hagerman, I would have gone for the K&K Audio phonostage. Kevin Carter is great to work with and designs and builds quality gear. I just had him build me a custom TVC preamp and am very happy with the results. I may yet get his phonostage to compare against the Trumpet. If you're inclined towards tubes these are two good options in the $1600 - $2300 range that will test well against higher priced competition.
I am currently using a CD92T, and it replaced a Cambridge CD500SE. In my system, I’ve found the Arcam to provide a more linear presentation; with significant improvements in the frequency extremes. The Cambridge was a bit too loose in the bass for me; whereas the CD92T is tighter and more resolved….cello and acoustic bass sound more like a bow across strings with the Arcam, rather than the indistinct drone that came from my Cambridge.

That said, some might prefer the rounded, warmer presentation of the Cambridge or the Rega players; which roll off the top end a bit. As with everything else, it depends on what you’re after and how it gels with the rest of your system.
If you could go alittle higher, the Manley Steelhead is a simply awe-inspiring tube phono stage. As good as it gets.

Also, my compliments on your mating of a tubed CJ pre-amp with the DNA500. Perfect match of tube and SS attributes.
You might want to look at the Aesthetix Rhea. It's enormously flexible as to loading and allows up to 3 cartridges in simoultaneously as well as 2 or 3 line out for multi system use. It also sounds great and falls into your price range.


Mine seems to chew through tubes, gettin noisy with time. I've seen other posts to similar effect. My unit is currently back with Aesthetix for a full check up and due back in a couple of weeks, at which time I can share Jim White's findings. Hopefully Jim can let me know whether the tube consumption and subsequent noise issues are due to some other problem with my unit or are inherent to the design.
Hi all again,
While I've never heard the Aesthetix Rhea, it was initially on my short list of phono stages to purchase.
I'm sure when one has a good compliment of sound quiet tubes, this unit no doubt is awesome.

Tubes though can get very expensive nowadays I've found. I'm sort of thankful I didn't go the tube route. I just can't see paying $150-$175-$200 for a decent matched pair of Sylvania 5751's, Mullard 12AX7A's, etc.
Other tubes while noted to he very good like Telefunkens can be a real crap shoot. I've heard of counterfeits, bum tubes, and the like.

While I won't knock anyone who loves tubes, they can become a hassle, interfering with your musical enjoyment. If one has to constantly monkey with something as simple as a phono stage, you might find the medium more a hassle than its worth, and now recieve less enjoyment, than more due to noise, and decent tubes issue.

Sort of like buying a white elephant 20" Telescope to see the heavens. Sure, it can offer wonderful views. but if it's a nightmare to put into operation, it won't get used. (or used as often as it should)

In that case, you'll be reaching for your CD collection more often than not. Ultimately the choice must be yours to make. Mark

Take a look at the Herron Audio VTPH-1mc. I thought it sounds fantastic with Dyna lo-mc carts. I used to use it with the Dyna TeKaitora until mine went dead in one channel, after which I swithced to the Denon 103R.

Matching of the phono stage should be done with the cart, not so much a question of matching with the rest of the system as the phono has to have sufficient gain for the cart.
I have good results with a Pass Labs Xono paired to a CJ ACT2. It has plenty of gain available at numerous settings along with mucho flexibility in load to accomodate a very broad range of cartridge choices. I thought long and hard about a Prem 15 mk.2 fronted with Bent Mu trannies. You should be able to find a used Prem15 in the $2.5-$3k range. Step-ups have pros and cons, but I think the Prem 15 needs a bit more gain to avoid tube rush for lower output MCs. It should be a v. nice combination. I'd also look at the Artemis Labs PL1. Lastly you should be able to get a used Steelhead for less than $5k, though current models don't come to market that often. There is no dead-on easy choice until you get to the $7k+ range for new - the choices for phonostage inevitably bring some trade-offs. Best of luck - let us know what you narrow down.
My BAT Vk P10SE does have some tube noise as I use a LOMC but when the needle hits the record the music comes alive. Used 3.5K-4K. Has gain to spare. Solid bass.


I would strongly recommend that you seek out Modwright PH150 phono stage.  I have one plus an Allnic H3000. The Modwright sounds much better to me. You can check out "The Absolute Sound" review on it. You should at least give it a listen. If you can't find one ti audition please let me know, I might be able to help you. No promises though.

IMO, Herron Audio VTPH-2.  It's currently the last word in phono stages.  Period.  Nothing better regardless of cost.  And it doesn't cost that much, well under that $5K point.  Works great with the DVs and pretty much any other MC, MI or MM cart.  Easy external adjustment of MC loading.