I am using a PHD with a Sumiko Celebation cartridge, BAT 5SE pre, Walcott 220's, Sound Labs M-2's- wonderful! Can't comment on the CAT. Acoustic Sounds sells the PHD with a 30 day return policy.
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I have a CAT SL-1 Reference that has been modified to be phono only. I haven't tried the PHD, but I recently purchased a K&K Audio SE Stereo phono kit with volume control off Audiogon. At first, I preferred the CAT as it seemed to impart more realism to the music, especially voices. The K&K also seemed bright at first. However, after about 3 weeks of listening to the K&K, I'm going to keep the K&K and sell the CAT. The K&K doesn't have the tube "warmth" of the CAT, but it imparts a larger and more realistic soundstage and also is also more detailed. It also seems to be more extended at both the top and bottom of the frequency spectrums. BTW, the K&K is a tubed unit with two 6N1P tubes. The build quality is great. The best part? The K&K is only $1549 in kit form. I'm not sure how much more the volume control and assembly would be. You can check with Kevin Carter at K&K. K&K actually runs a discussion forum at www.audioasylum.com.
Of course, the comparison I made was to the CAT SL-1; I've heard that the newer versions of the CAT preamps are less "tubey" sounding. Of course, they are also much more expensive than the K&K. If you don't have other source equipment, I think the K&K is a fantastic choice.
>>do you think that the SL-1 MKII might be hugely better than the original SL-1..??
Yes! I'm assuming that Reb had the CAT SL1 Signature Mk2 on loan. If that is the case, then the Signature Mk3 is the best version of the 3: SL1 Signature, Sig Mk2 & Sig Mk3. The Sig Mk3 uses 6922 input tubes which are much better & quieter than the Sig Mk2's 12AU7. Also, the Sig Mk2 "ate" 12AU7 tubes - tubes must have been biased hard. I had researched this before committing to the Sig Mk3 myself. Never looked back & feel little compulsion to try anything else. FWIW. YMMV.