Is it time for a phono stage?

I've been back into vinyl for a year now after almost a 40 year break and love it. Started with about 180 and now have around 800. The problem I find is it is hard to listen to equipment before buying. My system is a Mac MA6600 integrated,VPIPrime with Ortofon 2M black and a set of Revel F-30. Most of the equipment I've purchased has been based on reviews and reputation. I'm looking to spend in the 2-4k range and am leaning towards tubes. Current choices are The Chinook and the Herron ftph-2. I also was thinking about the Asthetix Rhea but was told it might not be a good match due to the Mac's input impedance being low. Honestly a lot of the technical stuff can be overwhelming but I know it's important. Looking for advice. Thanks.
I'm in the same boat, Rkbcpa55. Listening in the store doesn't help much, as your system will be much different and the room setup could impact the sound. That said, based on reviews and hearsay, I've never heard anything but great things about the Herron VTPH2. In fact, this is the one I will get when money allows. It seems to be the quietest and most dynamic/musically engaging Tube phono stage under $4k. I also have the VPI Prime Turntable and Ortofon MC cartridge. I've called Keith Herron and Oswaldo Martinez from Let There Be Sound in Weston, FL - I would highly recommend calling Oswaldo, as he is very knowledgeable with the VPI Prime and the Herron and loading. he will answer all questions and gives great after care service if you purchase from him. Just google "Let There Be Sound" and he will be a great resource if you run into any issues. Tell him David from Pittsburgh sent you!
Liberty B2B-1 Phono Preamplifier

Stereophile Review

Analog Planet, Measurements

Positive Feedback Review

AudioGon review

From its maker

Good Listening

Of the 3 that you mention, the Herron VTPH-2 is probably the best option, and maybe overall in that price range. One more option that I'd consider in that range is the Allnic H-1201.
Buy used so that you can easily trade it out if it is not a big enough improvement for you. Take a look at K&K if you can build it yourself.
Quicksilver makes an outstanding phono preamp for under 2 grand.
If you can find one, a used Modwright 9.0 SE phonostage is what I'm using, and I need look no further. The suggestions you've already received are good choices too.

Best of luck, enjoy,
The K&K comes fully assembles as well and is a great value.
If you're keeping the Mac, then you don't need a full function preamplifier (like the Aesthetix Janus), so that's a beginning. Of the phono only units mentioned, I'd vote for K&K (which can be purchased pre-assembled for not much extra), Herron, or you could consider the Aesthetix Rhea. More or less, they are all in the same price range. On the other hand, the Liberty B2B is said to be a "bargain" for much less money. Pity, the industry seems to be struggling, yet there is a lot of good product out there.
For the time being I plan to stay with the MAC. However I do see going to separate Amp Preamp in the future. That being said I would anticipate not going with one with a built in phono stage so I want one that is flexible. I appreciate all the responses to date. I plan to attend the NY audio show in Westchester in November hoping to be able to listen to various setups.
Tough decision. I have a McIntosh C2300 preamp and was looking for an outboard phono stage but I could not find anything under $3500 that could better the Mc's adjustable on-the-fly (with remote) phono stage. My turntable is a VPI Aries 3 with 3D arm and Ortofon Cadenza Black MC cartridge.
We make a full function preamp, the UV-1, that falls in this price range...
I will make this easy for you. GO WITH THE MANLEY CHINOOK! You will not be disappointed.
Miner42. have you tried any separate phono pre yet. My amp also has a built in MM phono which some have told me is pretty good. However without comparing it to a separate phono pre there is no way or me to know.
The Herron always looked like the best value and best tube phono stage, but I've looked more into the new Zesto Andros 1.2, as the reviews are raving about with its new updates and versatility with cartridges. Does anyone have any experience owning or hearing the Zesto Andros with the new updates of the 1.2? Seems like all the forums of it are of the older model.
There are a lot of fabulous phono stages in the price range you mention. I haven't heard them all; I have heard a large sampling of them.

But I have heard the Herron VTPH-2 and it bettered everything in its price range. Bettered them by a large margin. I own one because I haven't heard anything better.
Rkbcpa55 - I have not yet purchased a phono stage. I am very pleased with my C2300 MM/MC and have yet to find one that can better it for under $3500 (that's a lot of LPs).
Not tube, but I have really enjoyed my Musical Fidelity kW phono stage (there's one for sale here now, no affiliation with seller). It replaced and edged out an Avid Pulsus which I also quite liked. Both of these I liked considerably better than the SimAudio LP3.2 + optional external power supply.

I haven't heard it myself, but yes the Herron gets massive amounts of praise here. If I get the itch to try a new phono stage, that's at the top of my list.