Looking for the best Preamp with a phono circuit built in


I have been using a Belles 28A preamp with a  built-in phono circuit for about 10 years...no complaints but I'm getting to the point of wanting to make some quality audio system purchases that will stick with me for the long haul. I'm 66 years old and not made of money; just want to relax and listen to the music.  I really don't want to go the separate phono pre / base pre route.  Please offer suggestions.
I live in Minneapolis and thus far at the top of my list is the Van Alstine (local company) Fet Valve CFR Preamplifier for about $2500.
I thank you for your feedback! 
mdrummer01
The Van Alstine is a solid choice and Frank will let you try it for 30 days.  
Frank makes great gear. He started out modding Dynaco PAT-5 preamps back in the day.

You should consider Audible Illusions Modulus 3, 3A or 3B. Great used pricing available on the A’Gon market site for a M3 preamp right now.

Here is a link to AI’s website:
http://www.audibleillusions.com

Look for a used Ayre K1xe.   There was an option for phono (excellent one) and remote.
There's a "near mint" Audio Research Sp-9 Mk III (heavily upgraded) for sale on this site for about $1650.00
https://www.audiogon.com/listings/lis9bijd-audio-research-sp-9-mkiii-near-mint-preamp-tube

I would look for a used CAT preamp.
I would search for a used Atmasphere MP3 unfortunately they are like dinosaur teeth....hard to come by.
The Croft pre with phono is amazing, if you can do without a remote.  
@mdrummer01

Do you need balanced or single-ended? All phono cartridges are balanced sources for what its worth.
I've never understood this penchant for designers for treating phono as a separate and distinct entity..  Somehow we got on this train and still, in 2019,  can't get off (with rare exceptions).  Besides the added cost there is the insult of adding another set of cables, another power cord, more space used.  What a royal pain.  



1) Hovland 100 preamp with mc phono.  you should get the old series.
2) Audible Allusion
3) CAT preamp
4) Atmophere 

i would pick the atmosphere hands down!  


I saw a David Berning preamp here the other day which would probably be awesome.
Agree with celander.  The Audible Illusions have a very good phono section.  I had a 2D for 18 years and a 3A w/ John Curl MC phono section for 5 years.  23 years of AI enjoyment.  I finally decided to go all out and do the preamp, and separate phono preamp.  It's been very tough to find a phono preamp that could equal my TRL DUDE preamp in sound.  I'm on my 5th try with the phono pre.  The AI's are VERY reliable if you stick with AI's best matched set of tubes.  I only had to change tube sets 2 times in the 18 years and none in the 5 years of the 3A.  The latest Audible Illusions 3B is supposed to even sound better compared to a 3A as the 3A did compared to a 2D.  If you go used, the AI 3B will be around $2500-2700 for MM phono.  Add about $600 for the John Curl phono section.  Not many 3B's are showing up used, maybe one per 6 months.  The 3A's will appear used once a month or so.

Bob
Get an older Counterpoint and upgrade the parts.  Just as good or if not better than anything mentioned above.
Here's the problem with the CAT, to find one in your general price range it will be pretty old.

I owned an Audible Illusions for a couple years before opening a dealership in NYC almost 20 years ago. I just accidentally stumbled on a factory refurbed #A WITH THE JOHN CURL BOARDS in Silver on Galen Carol in Dallas site https://www.gcaudio.com/products/category/amplifier-preamplifier-tube/.

Superior product. The price of the one they have is $1900.  You won't get more for your money in the price range you're looking at and you'll have some money left over.

This way you get a product from a reputable company and a long-in-business and very reputable dealer. They are built very solidly, can do MM or MC--never a MM fan here but you may be and you have your choice here. External power supply as well, an added benefit.

Run, don;'t walk for this one.  The only caveat if it means anything to you is manual volume adjustment.  Much less distortion is the benefit.

And to the guy who said that separate phono pre's are a an insult because you will require an extra cable...just because you are cheap doesn't mean that you know what you're talking about. There can be a massive benefit and few manufactures know how to incorporate well. AI is one of them.
I currently own a McIntosh C220 tube pre amp that I bought for 2,500 used.  It fits my ears and system well.

And you can always get your money back out of it as one side benefit of McIntosh is how most of their gear holds its value over time.
Dobnbav,

How does the manual volume adjustment operate?
I’m very happy with my McIntosh C2300 tube preamp, very audiophile sounding.
Manual volume means the AI has two volume knobs, one for each L&R channel, so they are also the balance control. I used to have one and it quickly became second nature to turn them together.

 I’ll also add my vote for the ARC SP9 III, great preamp and a really nice built in phono stage. You can change the cartridge loading by soldering different resistors in a spot that’s designed for easy access. 

Not endorsing these two over other recommendations here, but I had good experiences with them.  
OP: I have no reservations with any preamp the posters rave about. Go try to listen to them if you can. 
Check out the new McIntosh C47 or C52 preamps. I own the c47 because I didn’t need the equalizer. Both of the preamps have inputs for 1 MM and 1 MC. These also come with a built in dac.
Used Atma-Sphere MP-3 would be my choice.  
Lukaske... excellent preamp, phono options are excellent.  Preamp stand-alone is very musical, optional phono built in can get very expensive.  The M5 w/phono also one of my favorite.  
+1 croft pre ..... I had one made
with single volume pot .... but no remote just deliscious sound 

rich

I’ll put my two cents in...…..

Everyone here might roll their eyes about my suggestion but...… I run NAD vintage preamps and find their phono sections to be among the best I’ve heard..... In particular the NAD 1020A or the NAD 1130. I’ve restored many and continue to be impressed.....

I know they aren’t considered "high-end" but not everyone has super deep pockets.

Manual volume means the AI has two volume knobs, one for each L&R channel, so they are also the balance control. I used to have one and it quickly became second nature to turn them together.
Maybe, but some AI preamps have three knobs.  One is labeled as volume and the other two are labeled as left and right.  How does that work?


Maybe, but some AI preamps have three knobs. One is labeled as volume and the other two are labeled as left and right. How does that work?
Pretty well.

That's how our preamps are set up. The individual Gain Trim controls are used to set balance and overall gain. The Master control then makes adjusting the volume very easy.
All the AI Modulus preamps that I have owned (2B, 3A and 3B) have had a dual mono configuration, which included 2 separate volumes pots—one for each channel. So channel balance was adjusted by the two separate channel volume pots being at different levels. The other two large knobs on the Modulus 3, 3A and 3B are input selector and source/tape controls. The Modulus 2 handles those input and tape selections by a set of push buttons rather than rotary knob controls.

The simplicity yet pain of a two knob master volume control is adjusting the overall levels of output voltage to the amp(s) will require one to also maintain proper signal balance by adjusting both volume pots to a given level and then making slight micro adjustments to correct the balance if needed for a given environment. As shown below, this is alleviated by having two channel level trim pots under the control of a third “master” level volume control that maintains the relative levels set by the 2 channel trim pots as the overall volume level is increased.

Now the Modulus L1 through L3A units are line stage preamps lacking a phono stage circuit (hence these units have 2 tubes instead of 4 tubes found in the full preamps). These line stage preamps devote 2 knobs to control voltage signal levels to each channel (designated “left” and “right”) that act as a balance control when used in combination. Another knob, labeled “volume” is the master volume control for the outputs to the mains (1 and 2) as well as the headphone amp section built into this unit. I have this setup on my Juicy Music Blueberry Extreme full function preamp (2 channel trim pots and a master volume control pot). The other (4th) large knob on the AI L1-L3A line stage preamps is the input selector. The source/tape switching is handled by a set of push buttons, akin the the AI Modulus 2 series preamps.

(Note added in edit: This is a popular circuit design set up, as Ralph explained above for his preamps.)
That's how our preamps are set up. The individual Gain Trim controls are used to set balance and overall gain. The Master control then makes adjusting the volume very easy.

The hearing in my right ear is ever so slightly better than my left ear and I usually notice that the sound stage favors the right side.  Can that be due to slightly better hearing in my right ear or might it be room acoustics?  Would a preamp with trim controls and a master volume be useful in this situation?  It seems like it would.

@ketchup

The one must be the source with its choices--the other 2 are left and right volume control. Should help your problem in hearing significantly as I’m sure your hearing varies on different days. This will enable you to get ’er done quickly and adjusted equally with some practice. Some recordings seem to be off on that too--so you can fix a poor mix. Plus, you get a little extra exercise without the remote.

@dobnbav--Well said. 24 years with AI preamps and I loved them.

Bob
Do yourself a favor and take a close look at the Peachtree Nova 300, this unit does it all and has a fantastic soundstage, gobs of power and looks beautiful. I'm sixty one and believe this is the last piece of gear I'll ever need to buy. Could not be happier.
https://www.peachtreeaudio.com/nova300-amplifier-with-dac.html
ketchup, the Positive Feedback pic is of the AI line stage, not the full function (with phono circuit) preamp. There is a reason why AI did this for their line stage. The left+right trim pots control balance and enabling a third pot to control master volume provides convenience for the headphone amp (plus the 2 main outputs).
ketchup, per discerning your hearing differences vs environment, go listen to music reproduction in several different environments. That should resolve the hearing differences vs environment differences issue. 
You might want to rethink the choice of a combo pre amp/ phono amp. My thought would be to get a nice preamp like the deHavilland Ultraverve and the a separate phono i.e.. Dynavector makes a nice one that is not expensive and so does Graham Slee. Under a grand and very small foot print that will fit along side your preamp or table. Much much better sound then an combo.
sra, 

Have you actually owned or had an Audible Illusions full preamp in your system to know if what you say is true?  I now have a TRL DUDE with many upgrades, plus I've been looking for the phono preamp that can do equal justice and sound as goo as the AI John Curl MC phono section did.  Forget about the extra expense of high end power cords extra, hi end fuses, and extra hi end interconnects.  My clarity has picked up along with the dynamics with my step up from the AI 3A, but the DUDE is among the finest sounding preamps out there, even now.  That phono section is still great sounding as was the CD input.  
 That phono section is still great sounding as was the CD input.  
IME the phono section should sound better...
Shindo Auriegies mm is superb imo
Atma-Sphere MP-1 is with out a doubt the finest sounding phono system available within reasonable price....(under 20K )........Will
I would go and audition a EAR 834P.  It is a wonderful Phono Stage...

https://www.stereophile.com/phonopreamps/797ear/index.html
You should look no further than Conrad-Johnson. They have excellent build quality, a very fine phono pre and the line is a wire with gain. They make one in your price range and sometimes they can be found used.
Rollin
+1 on Brown Audio Labs SP1b
Another vote for the Croft Micro 25...very nice pre/phono but MM only phono. If you have MC, a step up transformer from Bob's Devices would complete the system. https://www.bobsdevices.com/
Luxman CL38U-SE all tubepreamp and phono. The Phono has 4 SUT's 2 for MC High and 2 for MC Low.
Hi Zipost, he’s connected on the GamuT D200. Great!! And the Ilumnia Magister speakers:Superb!!!
  Marv,  When you say  looking for the best of something.   hit the Deck   get ready for 100 different products 
Ralph’s preamps look great. Every time I visit his site, they look better every time. I had a BAT VK50 preamp back in the day. All balanced design from inputs to outputs. I’ve gone back to SE RCA’ed designs, but my heart lingers for that balanced purest design.