Looking 4 a high quality phono line stage $5k-$8k

I'm considering moving away from my Ayre K-1xe preamp with phono and going to a dedicated phono pre instead. For table I have a Clearaudio Champion II with a Graham 2.2 arm and ZYX Airy 3 cartridge. The one thing I would like is a phono pre that accepts balanced input. Can anyone make suggestions on possible options and I'd also welcome any feedback on positive and negative attributes associated with a dedicated phono preamp. Thanks!
I would recommend the ASR Basis Exclusive. It is the one phono preamp I would consider to replace my phono boards in my K-1xe! (My friend uses one, so I am very familiar with it.) New they go for $7K, and used they go for about $4K, (and sometimes a little less).

Similarities to the Ayre K-1xe:

It is designed to use balanced cables as it is a fully balanced design.

It is extremely quiet.

It has lots of gain and loading options.
(And it is easier to change than the K-1xe as it is done with DIP switches, rather than swapping resisters.)

It is very musical.


Differences to the Ayre K-1xe:

It can handle two inputs, as the unit actually has two separate phono preamps in the same chasis.

It operates on batteries, rather than directly on the AC line. (It has an AC cord, which it uses to automatically recharge the on-board batteries whenever the unit senses that an LP is not playing. When the unit is playing an LP, it switches the AC off-line. Pretty cool, huh?!)

It needs a separate interconnect to connect to your preamp. (That is about the only negative thing about the unit I can say.)

As you can see by the fact that I know this unit very well that I am a big fan of the ASR Basis Exclusive!

It has been very favorably reviewed by most reviewers, including Fremer (see link below), as well as Harry Pearson with TAS who gave it a Golden Ear Award.

Stereophile Review

My two cents worth anyway.
Thanks Kurt! That's good info.
If willing to accept tubes and buying used (to stay in your price range):

Aesthetix Io Signature (add the optional volume controls with the single high level input and your back to one integrated device)

Atma-Sphere MP-1 (a full function preamp with an excellent phono stage)

Manley Steelhead (single ended)

For purchase new within your price range:

Aesthetix Rhea

Herron VTPH-2 (single ended only)

I'm curious about your criteria for balanced input from the cartridge (if I read you correctly). The Atma-Sphere preamps are one of the few I know to use a true balanced input. I believe the BAT VK P10SE may have balanced input, as well. The Aesthetix has a DIN connector input, but it converts in first gain stage to balanced and then is fully balanced from the second gain stage on.
The original VK-P10 is single-ended in the first gain stage(even when using XLR phono inputs.) The later VK-P10SE is fully balanced from input to output.

In this price range I second the recommendation of a used Atma MP-1. If you can live without a remote control, this might be your last ever preamp.
I have to agree with Rushton, the Aesthetix IO Signature is a great option, finding one used will be the problem. They show up every once in a while, but go fast.

I have to disagree about the recommendation for the ASR Basis Exclusive, it did not harmonize well with me or my system, it seemed to sterile sounding as I recall. It was very detailed but I thought it lacked some naturalness and thus caused my listening sessions to be somewhat less exciting then I thought they would be. Believe me, I wanted to like the ASR as I live in Germany and can get a great discount minus the VAT and pay the non-export price, but it did not happen. Good luck.

Rushton- Thanks for your comments. I'l explain what I meant as my current arms (RB300 and Graham) both terminate in Din connectors. I have a Cardas GR phono cable that terminates in XLR so I want a phono stage that accepts XLR connectors, and is truly balanced.

Thanks everyone for the recommendations. So far there are a lot of similarities between the suggestions which is great. I know a big component is listener preference but I plan to buy something used and try it.

BTW my $5k-$8k price is new. My budget will top out at about $4500 used.
Correction: I was mistaken about the Aesthetix Io connector. The Aesthetix Io has both XLR and RCA jacks for the phono inputs (no DIN). But the first gain stage assumes a single ended input (whether XLR or RCA) and converts the signal to balanced at that stage. The Rhea has RCA inputs only and similarly converts to balanced at the first gain stage.

Thanks for your clarification, Mmike84, and good luck with your search.

My arms terminate in DIN. My cabling is DIN (from the arm to XLR at Preamp). Since the signal is balanced to start with I would prefer to maintain that as opposed to converting in the preamp. Any other suggestions?
I also own a ASR Basis Exlusive...and It is simply amazing. Not only can you adjust gain/capacitance...but it has a separate batt power supply. You can go from batt to electric. 2 Inputs with separate adjustments for each. If you want resolution, dynamics, and dead silent operation...this is the way to go. I use mine with a origin live TT with ZYX cartridge...Thiel speakers...Rowland pre....the combo is fantastic. Good luck

What did you compare it to?
My vote goes to Einstein "The Turntable's Choice" phonostage. My wealthier (or crazier) audiophile friends have played with IO, Rhea, ARC PH7, ASR Basis Exclusive, ART Audio Reference. We had in term listened to all of the above in various systems, and compared them side-by-side at various times. They all had different flavors and really came down to system synergy and personal preference. The Einstein is probably the most non-descript of the bunch. It's really laughable when you look at it. It's a tiny, light-weight soda can on a stand. On the marketing material, it says it is made of some premium selected "aged" transistors. Pound by pound, this would be the most expensive of them all. But once we gave it a listen, we were all surprised how good it is. My friend started with a single-ended version and had just recently received the balanced version which sounded even better. The wait was like 8 months.

It may be due to component synergy as two of these guys were using ARC linestages (Ref 2 Mk II and Ref 3), but the ARC PH7 also sounded phenomenal. My beef with it is that the output is just too low to be used with low-output MC cartridges, and that it does not have balanced input/output.