At one time, I owned the Adcom GFP-565, and found it to have a very satisfactory phono preamp. Infact, the review article published in either Stereophile or TAS stated that the phono section was as good as a number of much more expensive preamps. You can often buy used 565's for $275-300 (there is one currently listed here on A-gon).
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Well, I have a Rotel, and it isn't very good. It isn't much on sound stage, doesn't have much bass authority, and is not particularly detailed although it's not bad in that category. I suppose what does one expect for $90 new? It is certainly functional, and it is certainly adequate for recovering access to that old vinyl collection, but I certainly would not call it hi fidelity.
I am not sure of your definition of "budget", but there is a Lehmann Black Cube phono preamp, with an optional power supply, on Audiogon, right now, for $475.00.
This is a great little phono amp, and to me, for that price, would be a bargain.
I use one now, and I find it to be mighty fine, for the money.
If you are going to change your whole preamp, there are a lot of good phono stages in some pre's. Far better than the rotel, creek, etc. That is definitely the best value for the money in that price range (the stuff you mentioned). Outboards become a better value when you have already invested money, or time, into a line stage and you want to upgrade one or the other without having to buy both, or switch both.
You are on the right track. While some of the pre's you mentioned might be questionable, as far as your taste and what you expect, as blw states, these budget phono's were meant to get your records going, and they are what they are. The real bargain would be found in obtaining phono's that were really made to get you farther than that.
Thanks for the replies, guys. Yes, I recall the 565 phono stage being complimented - know anything about the 555's? My gut feel was to shy away from the very low priced stand-alones like Rotel, NAD, Creek, etc, and you've confirmed that. The more I think about it, the more I'm leaning to a standalone, since it will broaden my range of options for a preamp acquisition and future upgrades. I'm also getting more interested in a DIY project. Anyone exposed to the PH-1 in any way at all?? Here's a link for info. AES PH-1 Anyone know of any other DIY phono preamps? Thanks!
Another canidate to consider is the Monolithic phono preamp (PS-1) w/ or w/o the dual mono power supply. I see that the preamp + power supply is available in the a'gon classifieds for around 400. I have the PS-1 w/o the stand alone power supply, and I like it a lot. Good soundstage, a bit weak in the bass (tho apparently the the power supply helps with this). It's also very flexible in terms of what carts you can use, and it's easy to operate as well. Looks nice too, IMO.
According to an EE friend, also a pre designer, the hierarchy is:
1) top class phono, integrated or not (the stand-alone is also available with the line companion at a price). VERY expensive.
2) (Top) quality DIY. Cheaper in asking price, more expensive in effort.
3) All others, acording to musical taste of the moment.
Caveat: phono pre's require cables= extra expense.
I had DIY phono (tube). Cables cost 50% of phono (because I don't know how to DIY the cables whereas the DIY has excellent instructions!).
It's your call!
Wanted to thank you for your input, and let you know where I'm heading. Sorry to leave you hanging ... been mostly incommunicado for a while. I've decided to go the DIY standalone route. I'm going to look more closely at the Curcio, but will probably end up with the AES, since the Cary guys are just down the road. Not the best match for my medium-output (1.6 mV) MC cartridge, but I have to finish making some sawdust before I can make soldering fumes, and the whole table/arm/cart will be upgraded in the fairly near future anyway.