Looking for phono stage recommendations

I have recently ordered a Sota Cosmos, with a Tri-Planar VII arm and a ZYX Airy 3 cartridge. A friend of mine is interested in my Pass Labs Aleph Ono phono, so that leaves me with nothing (thanks a lot Paul)to use for my new frontend.

Several friends have made recommendations. The Pass Labs X-ono, the Manley Steelhead, ZYX phonostage, and a Supratek(?) have been recommended. The Zanden and Boulder are out of my price range, so don't bother...

Are there any other phonostages that I should consider. I don't have a preference of Solid State vs Tube.

I have used and/or heard the Krell KPA and KPE already and they're not really in the running. Not that there's anything wrong with them, they are very good, I'm just looking for something better.

I want something quiet that will work for low output cartidges.

Don't overlook the EAR 834P just because it's cheap and tubed. Its an excellent little unit.
How about the Aesthetix Rhea?

My friend uses that and it sounds fantastic, and it is very user friendly, as it allows remote controlled adjustments to the loading and gain. (Too Cool.) There is a bit of tube noise, but if you don't mind that, I think that is a good choice. (Unless you can afford the IO, in which case, that would be a real step up, at least from what I have read anyway, as I have not heard it, yet.)

I have seen the Rhea's used for under $3,000 quite a bit. New they are $4K.
Another vote for the EAR834P - it doesn't sound "tubey" -just good and being very flat to low frequencies would be a good complement to the Airy 3. I have a Supratek Chenin pre (very good indeed) but still go back to the EAR.

I also suggest you consider a Hagerman Trumpet phono stage (www.hagtech.com) with Bent Audio step up transformers. Both Chris Brady (Teres) and Thom Mackris (Galibier) use these. I have heard both and they are awesome!
What did you like about the Pass...and what was it lacking that you would like to get with a different product? How much gain do you anticipate you will need? Would you like a unit with balanced ins/outs?

There seems to be much praise over the new ARC PH5. I have not heard this. I had the PH2 for many years and liked it a lot as it was extremely low noise, very tonally coherent and with the bloomy ARC LS5 line stage, there was a very good 3-dimensional presentation. When I brought home the PH3, the sound was too fatiguing and forward to me.

If you can afford a BAT VK-P10, that is a mighty fine unit and goes for around $2k on the used market. This replaced the PH2 as the BAT had more gain. They were very similar tonally but the BAT had a little more dynamic authority; when you take the top off a BAT unit and see the power supply, you can see why this is the case.

If you can go up a little more, and you really like decay of the notes and awesome portrayal of space, the Aesthetix Io comes in. It is more susceptible to a higher noise floor so you have to put a lot of effort to find low-noise tubes and try many types. The Telefunken 12AX7's work beautifully here. The standard (non-signature) unit sells now and then in the $3k range.

The highly praised Counterpoint SA9 also comes around now and then in the $3k range but these don't last long at all on the market either.

So there's a handful of models to consider in the $2-3k range.

Second on the Rhea. Very flexible. I really don't hear much tube noise from mine at all and I tend to listen at around 90 dB most of the time. Another I would throw out for consideration is the BAT VK-P10, great sound and lots of options for tube rolling and about the same price as the Rhea. I had an 834P and it really is a great performer for the money, especially after having it fully modified, but I'm not sure how good the internal step-ups are for handling low output MCs. You could always run it in MM with a quality step-up externally.
A vote for the Thor TA-3000. I can say I tried a number of different ones in my system before hearing the Thor and saying YES. It is my ears so take it with a grain of salt or two. I listened to the Rogue, Herron, Pass, and Conrad-Johnson. The later surprised me becuase my amp and preamp are C-J, but for a MC cartridge they just did not do the job, for me. I have a Zoethecus stand so the Aesthetix would not fit and was not listened to. Perhaps I should have listened to both the EAR and Manley which are highly regarded but I was tired of not really enjoying what I heard and less than five minutes was enough to convince me. Hope this helps.
Have you seen this written about the Eastern Electric MiniMax phono preamp.

Good luck in your searh.
The Burmester 808, is a awesome little unit. doesn't get much better, imo.
Nrchy,you are really cute!Why do I get the sneaky suspicion that you already know what you are going to buy before you post the question?Well you seem to be a good guy,so I'll play along,again.I have to admit that I love this anyway!!

I have heard that the All solid state and battery driven AR Basis is a Killer unit.This I have read in TAS.Recommended by HP,himself,as the best,as of last issue,and we all know that could change in a month.Just thought I'd throw it out there.

The only advice I can offer up,based on real experience is to REALLY be careful of the "latest hot product" issue.This is the plague of this hobby(remember TENOR).

Make sure the mfgr has a track record and will be around for a while.I have heard the latest CJ/Sutherland/Aesthetix/Lamm/BAT etc.All these units are superb.The potential taste variances are even greater than those of the tonearms and cartridges, IMO!As with the arm issue,you KNOW that you are not as inexperienced as your thread question implies,so you WILL make a good choice.

Lastly,once you have made a final choice,if it is a tube unit,you can squeeze even more performance from many of these phonostages,by doing a bit of tube rolling with NOS types.No matter what the mfgr claims.Sorry,but true!This I have a great deal of experience with,in quite a few differing tube driven stages,in a number of differing set-ups.Not a necessity,but a cute little upgrade path for future consideration.Good luck,even though you don't need it!
Check out the Klyne Audio Arts 7PX5. It's a solid state unit with a wide range of gain and load settings. Here's a link to their website but it hasn't been updated in a while. I'm using this with my Airy 3x SB with good results (although I only have about 20 hours on the cart). Mehran used to own a 7PX3 which is the previous model. List is about $5k but it's hardly seen in the used market.

I am using the setup that Flyingred has suggested, the Hagerman Trumpet and Bent Audio stepups. This is a great sounding setup. Sirspeedy is right as using NOS tubes on the Trumpet elevated the performance to an even higher level. The Bent audio stepups allow you to easily adjust for loading of any value resistor which is real plus.
Hi there,
for my tuppence worth the Quicksilver stages are great & cheap.
Just bought a Syrah (which is lovely) but the phono stage does not compare with my Quicksilver & step up transformer.
I have listened to EAR stages & these are great but I would reckon unless you are using one of their amps, the Quicksilver is better.
The only ss stage I ever liked was the Lancelot Camelot but sold that as I prefered the Quicksilver - just sounded more like live music. Listened to Dynavectors, Dinos etc souless imo
Using zyx cartridges and after much fooling(never before having the option to change loading before the Syrah - well the Camelot but that was a pain to fool with) - imho 47Kohms still best.
NOS tubes, creatura dampers & cvc damping made a huge difference to the Quicky and just as an afterthought - ha, a decent power cord - a Shunyata Python made a difference to the DC powered Camelot I would not have believed !
--VERY good
Sirspeedy - I really don't know what to get right now. I talked to Mehran about the ZYX, but he's only ever had one of them and I don't think he ever heard it in his own system. It sounded like he sold it right from the factory. He does have three other (It think) pre-orders, but...

I forgot to list the Rhea, but the only one I can find here is from Zhusain who was rather snippy in response to a question I asked him once, so I prefer not to deal with him. I love Aesthetix stuff and if I could afford it I would get the IO or the signature.

The problem with most of the recommendations is that I can not hear them within four hours from my home, and some not even that close.

I never thought about the Klyne, but I do have the 7LX3.5 that was upgraded a couple of years ago by Stan Klyne. I might have to give that some serious thought.

Keep the ideas coming.
I am driving an ZYX UNI through a Tom Evans Groove Plus (used of course), and it sounds awesome. The Evans replaced a Herron tube pre.
The Aesthetix Rhea from Jim White would be a nice option imo.
Aesthetix Io Signature, or Aesthetix Rhea.
Never heard a Groove - I'm less than 4 hours from Wales - tried to get a part from them for a friend in the States and their customer service is appalling - can't answer e-mails, promise to phone back and never do.
Must be the language barrier - personaly I'd give them a miss!
Look at the K&K Audio phonostage with Lundahl stepup transformer(essentially identical to Art Audio Vinyl Reference). It is a solid state/tube hybrid (best of both worlds). I have been using mine with ZYX Airy 3 and it is the only component I have never thought of upgrading. A real keeper and somewhat of a bargain at ~$2k.
Nrchy,one thing I did not mention,and you may want to(actually should)consider,is the "ergonomic" aspect of everyday use,regarding heat dissipation.Believe me all of the experienced guys in my little part of the world take it SERIOUSLY!

Tube units can be fabulous,and I too lust for the IO/Callisto combo,but the heat given off by these,and other units do not make life very pleasant in summer heat.With a full blown unit like the Io/Callisto you are going to increase the room temp considerably,not to mention the electric bill.Even with A/C,like I have in my dedicated room,I used to sit in my "Speedo" in the dead of winter when I was more tube oriented.Trust me --the kids at "trick or treat" time thought I was in an "Olympic Diver" get-up,though their parents thought I was weird,and all I wanted to do was listen in comfort!!Now I have moved to,only a three tube phono section.These considerations should be looked at,although my extreme example may be a bit overboard,though true(except the "speedo" at Halloween,I just wanted to be a bit creative).I do have some Tube loving friends(entire system,and obviously a tubed phonostage is not a real heat banger,except the Io/Callisto pre/phono)that will not listen in summer,sadly,as they have a few dozen tubes in the set-up.That's what drove me from a tube amp to my Rowland.

I know we are considering a phono section,but when conditions are right a tubed unit can put out enough heat to force a "speedo" on a Harley guy,like you!Best of luck.
There is one of Lloyd Walkers' Signature phono stages available on AGon for $2900 {I think-about}.It has enough gain for cartridges down to .15mv and can be loaded any way you like.The loading and gain resistors are user replaceable.Give Lloyd a shout:610-666-6087.
EAR 324 - MC/MM - small footprint - out of this world sonics - Input impedance/capacitance adjustable by a switch on the front - chosen over Aesthetix because of much smaller footrprint.
Flyingred is spot on with his offering of the EAR834P and you could have plenty of cash left over to buy more vinyl!
Like Brnlaw, I use the K&K Audio phono and find it to be to be an excellent choice. It is dead quiet, detailed, tonally balanced and projects a large soundstage. Typically, the K&K phono is supplied as a kit. If you have a DIY bent, here is a chance to get a $4K MM/MC phono stage for about $1600 plus assembly time. For a couple hundred more, you get a stepped attenuator which allows you run directly into your amps. Although K&K gives fine support, in my opinion this kit is probably too hard for a novice.
Speedy has a good point about tubes and heat. I think you would be fine with a seperate tube phono as these don't seem to put out much heat at all, at least the ones I'm familiar with. Now preamps are a whole different ball game. That is where the heat really comes from, forgetting about amps for the moment. Even my CDP with tubed output stage cranks some BTUs. I'm forced to run the AC constantly this time of year even with things in the standby mode as I get about a 5 degree rise in temps after about 1 hour of listening. Still, the touch of tubes in the front can be magical.

The biggest heater I have encountered has been a SS amp that went out of bias. Took me a while to track that one down but I kept wondering why the room was soo warm in the middle of a New England winter. Didn't even have to turn on the heating zone to that room as the temps would hover around 78. I had to open the sliding door for twenty minutes at a time to get breathable air back into the room.

Back OT, I do seem to recall that as far as noise goes the EAR was much noisier than the Rhea. I'm sure tube selection will affect this. The guy I bought the Rhea from was looking to try a Steelhead and I admit a strong desire to hear one as well.

You're making alot of changes in the analog chain at the same time. I did that a while back. Talk about a rush the first time I cranked it all up! On the other hand I did miss experiencing what each new component brought to the sound. A small price to pay for a good case of goose bumps. Have fun!
I have been using an X-ono for a couple of years with a koetsu black on a nottingham anna 12'.Just recently have completed a dual mono K+K using billington step up transformers and have added an SME3012-R with an ortophon spu royal to my nottingham dais.switch phono leads from X-ono to K+K and most discernable differences are the arm + cartridge characteristics taking into account cartridge loading and gain issues.Listening mostly to the K+K ortophon combo so its got to be doing something right and the close to maxxed out K+K cost less than$2000 to build and was a fun simple project less work than a dynaco in the good old days.and playing something you built adds listening satisfaction.
Just moved from California to Oregon and just before packing it all up the Jolida phono stage arrived. It will be another month or so before the stuff in storage gets delivered to a new house and then set up, so stay tuned. This is sort of an experiment to see how this relatively low priced stage stacks up against my Krell KPE Reference but $425 it didn't seem like too great a risk. I will write up a review of this unit when I have it up and running with a VPI Aries2, JMW 10.5 and Koetsu Urushi. Hope it sounds good; we'll see. I may have to do some tube rolling too...
Aesthetix Rhea is the best I've heard for the money, period. Built like a tank, artfully. This I do affirm.

Maybe a listen to the Hagerman Trumpet. Probably need a step up with low output cartridges. I have one that I enjoy totally. With NOS tubes (the stock tubes sound very good), I have never felt I have missed anything from my phono.

Unfortunately, I will be selling the Hagerman plus my Jensen step up transformers. Retirement and other priorities necessitates that I sell my equipment: Atma-sphere MA1s, the Hagerman, AES DJH Super Preamp, Merlin VSM Millenium speakers with Magic Mod upgrade, Sistrum amp stands, and Argent Room Lens (3). I'm keeping my tt/arm/cartridge.

Please peruse the Hagerman website www.hagtech.com. I think.

Sirspeedy - your comments on the Aesthetix gear raising the room temp gave me an incentive to do an experiment today. Unlike many other Audiogon members, I do NOT keep my tube gear on 24/7.

The system is in a basement room, 13x18x7.5, fully closed with only a stairway entry which can be closed off with a door atop the stairs. Before powering on any components, the room temp was 68 degrees; the thermostat is on the ground floor. The A/C has been running much of the day but there is only one very small ceiling vent which is above and just a little off axis of the CAT amps. The rest of the audio system is on the opposite end of the room.

The Callisto and the Io were powered on; I only have one power supply for each. An hour later, the room temp had risen to 69. I checked an hour later and still 69. And then another hour ..... still 69. From this I would conclude that the Aesthetix preamp components do little to affect room temp and again, this is a rather small and confined area. In a more open living room or family room setting, I suspect it would not be noticeable at all.

I then powered up the CAT amps. An hour later and the room climbed to 74! Another hour has passed and now the room is sitting at 75. Having 32 power tubes radiating makes for quite serious floor heaters. Clearly the amplifiers are an issue in this room whether it is summer or not. But at a local audiophile's home, I noticed how much heat the solid state Plinius amps were producing. It's the price some people pay for this kind of musicality. And there is much shared here about the Pass amps as serious floor heaters as well. So it's not only an issue with tube products. But I think that tube preamps are not going to influence room temps very much if at all.

John,I totally agree with you,and was just offering up some overall insight into the possibility of, really, any heat based design.I happen to love the Aesthetix stuff,big time.I have a dedicated 13x22.5x8 ft room.A/C and heat/humidity are controlled by a dedicated system.No prob,but the room is sealed,and since it was added on,specifically for music(it was built with it's own roof as a separate addition,so there are 4 sidewalls that are exposed to the outside,except for a door entry from my den)it is quite sensitive to any heat generating source.I'm not complaining,and love the configuration,but if I were in my basement,there's no doubt any heat issue would be greatly reduced!Best of luck!
Sirspeedy: Oh yes, having a room with an ambient temp much cooler than the rest of the house is a great benefit. But it's only a matter of time (3-4) hours until the amps take over the room. I then need to leave my basement to cool off when most people are heading to their basement to cool off. In any case, you and I are fortunate to have a dedicated room like this....heat and all.
Have you looked at the TRON Syren tube pre and phono from the UK (www.tron-electric.com). It's had rave reviews from 6 moons and is thought to be better that the Kondo kit, but cost much less. I have the TRON Meteor (Syren predecessor) and this is fantastic.
Have a look at the battery powered Sutherland PhD phono stage. Superb sound and very quiet. Worked great with both my Ortofon Jubilee and Denon DL103. Details on the PhD can be found at http://store.acousticsounds.com/browse_detail.cfm?Title_ID=11728

I have considered the Sutherland, but the report I heard back about it was that it lacked detail and dynamics.
sirspeedy, in Wisconsin we don't typically worry too much about heat. It's usually the lack of heat that's a concern. I have a basement listening room so it tends to stay cooler there anyway...
I have an ear 834p and a fi phono (mm only). Have decided to sell ear as fi is slightly less veiled and instruments are more solidly in the room with fi, and fi is seriously visually cool (3 fins). tested using grado platinum cart, black widow arm, lenco l75 modded tt, nuance pre, leak tl12+ monoblocks and quad esl57 speakers. since upgraded leaks to home made triode monos. Yummy. Ps prefered OL Silver with Denon103 in above setup, but need a step up for the fi. Ear 834p's can be extensively modded with great results. Lost the link, but a bit of websearching will reveal.
I haven't sent the money yet, but it looks like I will end up with the Pass Labs X-Ono. It was very well reviewed, and the friend who owns it say it is fantastic. If it's better than my Aleph Ono I will be happy, and by all accounts it is quite a bit better. Wish me luck...
Ah shucks, no tubes hah?
I hadn't really looked at it tubes vs Solid State. I was looking for the best phono for the money. I am still considering ordering a Supratek Cortese, but it takes about five months to get one.
If I go that route, I can sell my Klyne and the Pass Labs to go to the Cortese which has the best phonostage that Supratek makes.
Time will tell...
Has anybody heard the Ayre phonostage? I believe they only make one.
take a look at the decware all tubed phono preamp for 1500 including moving coil step up trannies
hi I am in the market for a better phono stage, I just got into vinyl recently and am using an ear834 deluxe. I was at someone's show room the past weekend with my phono stage to compare to his and at first for me the sound of my ear and his martinson from germany at $7000.00 sounded the same, but on closer listening I noticed his phono got me more into the music like as if I was hearing it live which is what I am after obviously. I want my system to be more revealing and lifelike. And so I was wondering how do you like the xono? Is it approaching the best of what is out there?
I do think that the X-Ono is one of the best units available, but it is not the best. Since it can be bought used for around $3000, I would have say, at that price it is a steal! It is very quiet, dynamic, fast, and versitile.

I think I have a pretty good system, other than my speakers, but I continue to hear new things as I'm listening to more vinyl. I replaced my table/arm/cartridge recently so I am going back to things I haven't heard in a while, but in doing this, I'm learning a lot about my system, including the Pass Labs. I have some serious upgrades in the pipeline on the front end, but even now, my phono sounds amazing. At least to me...

I'm not really sure what you're looking for, but if you were looking at a $7000 phono section, I would check out the Manley Steelhead. If you want to spend a lot less, but get darn close, the X-Ono will do it for you.