You may want to try a bellari - have not heard it in my system but was sounding really nice at " in living stereo" audio shop in nyc. You can swap out the tube, and upgrade the power supply for upgrades.
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At your budget, normally I would suggest the Phonomena II too. But running your great table & cartridge though the Phonomena into an AVR is simply negating all the 2 channel performance you can be enjoying.
So I agree with Truemaineiac and save up for a quality 2 channel integrated that already has a good phono section. Make sure the integrated has a HT Bypass or "power amp" direct feature so you can easily incorporate this unit into your existing surround sound system.
Sorry, but I have found the 2 channel preamp sections in modern AVR's are merely an afterthought. There is 2 channel stereo that dedicated stereo components are designed for and then there is HT Surround sound. Two different things entirely and with the table and cartridge you have invested in, I have to believe you are more serious about the former.
My system consists of
VPI Aries Scout TT with Ortofon 2m Bronze
Polk RTi12 Fronts
Polk CSi A6 Center
Polk CSi5 Surrounds
My budget is around $1000. I would be okay with a unit that was $2000+ but a couple years old. It seems you can always pick them up unused at 1/2 the price or so once the newer models come out.
Thanks Meambler. Your speakers are reasonably efficient at 8 Ohms and 90 db sensitivity. An easy load for most amps to drive. A couple integrated amps immediately come to mind. These have the HT bypass feature I spoke about and quality MM phono sections. Install one of these in your system and it will be dedicated to driving your L/R Mains full time - for your 2 channel analog listening as well as multi-channel. Your Onkyo AVR will drive your center and surrounds when you wish to listen to strictly multi-channel HT stuff. All at the push of a button.
Music Hall A70.2
Either of the above will get the job done and sound superb with your table/cartridge and rest of your system. You should be able to find these models new or as demos with warranty at your stated budget. Hope you get some other suggestions. Good luck!
Thanks for the help.
I'm always amazed and humbled at the generosity and willingness of people who help others.
What would you recommend as a step up from these models?
The one I end up going with will be my systems brain and as I upgrade the rest of my system I would want it to be capable of handling better speakers and such as I continue down the rabbit hole of the audiophile world.
You're welcome Meambler.
I have read good things about the HK 990. I don't know if its better than the Marantz but it is more feature laden and powerful. If it has a HT Bypass feature and your interested in upping your budget, I would sure put it on my short list.
I am usually quick to recommend the Marantz PM8004 because like its more expensive big brothers, it is built at Marantz' reference factory in Japan. Its quality and construction is first rate. So since you are now asking about more expensive models, consider the PM15S2 LE that is now being closed out because a new model has taken its place.
This is the integrated I use and could not be more happy. It drives 4 Ohm VA Bach Grands and I don't plan on upgrading for a long time.
Other integrateds to consider are the Creek Evolution 5350 on sale too:
But with this one, you would have to get Creeks plug in phono section or a separate phono pre. Nevertheless, a good quality amp at a great price. It has the HT Bypass feature too.
Hope all of this helps. Good luck in your journey to get the VPI Scout singing at its very best.
There are a large number of 2 channel integrated amps that are high quality but do not always have a built in phono section. Since you were considering a separate phono stage you can always use one of the inputs (on your new 2 channel integrated) for you TT/phono stage. I like the Graham Slee Gram amp 2SE for $4-500, as a MM free standing phono section.
It may well be much less expensive to use an integrated with a decent phono section but it might not have the sound quality that a separate phono would yield. Something to consider. There are some vey inexpensive phono pre's to tide you over while amassing the funds for the project I am suggesting.