I recently purchased a vintage ARC PH3 SE, for $900. It’s quite nice. I don’t know if it’s worse - same - or better than your current unit, but I love it. I like it just as much as my Parasound JC 3+.
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I just sold my PH3 SE after nearly 20 years. One of the contenders was the EAR 834, both were compared in my home system so I'm familiar with the sound. A used PH3 SE will definitely fit the bill, be a big step up yet with the liquid sound you crave. I actually think it is more liquid than the 834, with better dynamics and presence. The 834 seems not so much warmer as darker by comparison. Although the ARC definitely has that tubey magic and is much better than any SS stage I've tried still it is a fair bit less colored than the 834. Imagine your 834 with a few muffling veils lifted. I think you will like it.
Another nice benefit, it is well below your budget leaving plenty of room for tweaks. The Synergistic Research PHT Green Dream on your cartridge will take you to a whole new level of "warmish liquid" while at the same time dramatically improving soundstage depth, dimensionality, and focus. (Black Widow is more dynamic and neutral. Use them separately or combined to get just what you are looking for.) You would still have funds left over for a set of BDR Cones. The Mk3 are a bit warmer than the Mk4. Then with the right power cord, something like the venerable Synergistic Research Master Coupler, used under $200, wow. All that for well under your $2k budget. I think you will be shocked at the cumulative upgrade.
I would consider this new unit, at your price.
I've used my Foz V2.0 since it was introduced. I have demoed it against a few current, popular tubed units. Subjectively, the Foz is isn't overshadowed by its contemporaries.
If you find one, get the 2nd version(orange lights, not blue)
I have seen them cheap-$1200-1500.
When I was shopping for a new phonostage, I found this, and the Cary is mentioned.
I too have a VPI Classic, going thru the Foz and tube amp.
If you are willing to stretch your budget then there can be no doubt the Herron is the way to go. Even the oldest, earliest Herron is leagues better than anything mentioned here, and if you can reach the new VTPH 2A it is as good as anything that COULD be mentioned here. Its what I sold my PH3 SE for and have been enjoying the last three months or so. Its not warm, except when compared to a lot of what's supposed to be in its class. Its just.... right.
The Herron VTPH 2A is the only component I can think of that can honestly be considered a steal even at full retail.
I have a VPI Classic 3 with Hana SL cartridge right now. Looking for a warmish/liquid sound for mainly vocal focused recordings.
First you have to do before you will find a new phono stage is to replace the tubes in your EAR phono.
If you’re looking for something special find NOS vintage tubes from the top contenders, you can change the sound of your existing phono stage completely if you will find a nice NOS tubes (Telefunken, Mullard, RCA, Sylvania, Matsushita... ). There are 3 tubes in your phono stage as i can see.