phono pre-amp being replaced

Hi guys long time no talk to.

So I'm reaching out to the community to get some feedback. I recently purchased a Lyra Kleos phono cartridge. Love the cartridge by the way. One of the best sounding carts in its price range and more that I have heard. With that said I currently have an ARC PH-7 phono stage. Love that piece also. Its very natural sounding and just produces a lovely sound. However in regards to cartridge loading its just not the best match for the Kleos. I understood that when I bought the cartridge, but I really wanted the Kleos so I pulled the trigger. Don't get me wrong the sound is amazing with the two however the PH-7 has a fixed gain of 57.5 DB. with the Kleos being a .5mv output I have lost about 8-10 DB of gain in reference to my medium output Dynavector that the Kleos replaced. I think the optimal gain for .5mv is somewhere in the neighborhood of 60-61DB. So that is a little background. Here is my question. I'm looking for recommendations for a phono stage to replace the PH-7. I don't want to shell out the money for the ARC Reference which is around $10k plus. I think I can get just as good a sound for somewhat less. So as much as I LOVE my PH-7 I am ready to part with it at this point to better match the Kleos.  So I thought I would ask. So any suggestions would be helpful. I'm looking for something maybe with variable gain or at least maybe a high and a low setting for future cartridge upgrades. I would like it to be vacuum tube, and of course have a very natural sound. So that should narrow the field. I have  been so happy with what I have that I have not even entertained auditioning anything else until now so Im a little behind the 8 ball on the available models out there other than ARC of course. May have a little brand loyalty there, but I'm willing to give another brand a try to keep things in my price range of 3-$6k.

Thanks in advance


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Keep the PH7 and the Kleos! Get a good SUT (stepup transformer). This will optimize the match between your phono stage and mc cartridge. And give you a lower noise floor too! 
I have been using mc cartridges and SUT's since 1977! This combination has always sounded better than any SS or tube gain stage! 
I presently have on hand six SUT’s. A Mike Sanders Quicksilver, a Bellari, a Denon, two custom-made with Altec mike transformers. And a rare pair of the Sony direct plug-in SUT’s. I like to experiment with different combinations using my various mc cartridges!
Even the best active tube pre-pre amp (the Counterpoint) had a noticeably higher noise floor than any SUT. And the problem of finding suitable low-noise tubes!
Get a Herron VTPH2A Phono Preamp. $3650. 64db or 69 db by switching tubes. By the way what resistor loading are you using for your Kleos?
Another vote for getting a step-up (though it doesn't have to be transformer-based).  Two reasons:

1) You obviously like the sound of the ARC, which is indeed a very competent phono stage, so just getting rid of it without having tried a step-up seems at best very hasty.

2) If the step-up solves your problem you'll have saved a lot of money.  If you don't like it you can sell it at a minimal loss and continue the search for a new phono stage.  Unless for some reason you're in a terrible rush this would appear to be a far more sensible option.

Several transformer-based step-ups have been mentioned, to which I'll add the Rothwell Audio MCX.  With 10x/20dB gain and a 100Ohm input load it should match your Kleos well.

If for some reason you absolutely want to go ahead and get rid of the PH-7, my suggestion would be to check out the Allnic H-1202.  Albert Porter here on Audiogon can no doubt supply you with one at a nice discount vs RRP, as he did for me.  If you're in the US perhaps there is also a loaner unit available.
The last six months I’ve been using the Herron VTPH-2a. It destroys my last phono stage by no small amount in every category (a PH-7 with either Amperex or Telefunken NOS tubes. ) No contest. Call Needle Doctor and get 10% discount just for asking.   Sell the ARC for about $2K, ad the price of a decent SUT you'll have the cash for the Herron.

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I agree with @roberjerman  If you like the PH-7 then it's well worth it to buy something like a Zesto Audio Allasso SUT (which is what I have paired with my Herron VTPH-2A).   The gain on your ARC PH-7 is 57.5dB for both moving-magnet and moving-coil cartridges. So you will have plenty of flexibility with something like the Zesto which has 10 different load settings that can be applied to 4 gain levels (12, 16, 18, and 22dB).  40 settings in total.  So now you can not just tailor your rig to one beloved 0.5mv can practically run any cart with your PH-7, including MCs in the 0.2 range.  I'm running an 0.28mv Dyna XX2 MKII and it sounds spectacular through the Zesto/Herron combo.
57.5 dB of gain will give you a signal voltage of about .38V from the Kleos. Do you use an active linestage? A linestage with even 10db of additional gain would do the trick if the input sensitivity of your amplifier is typical. So you don’t need a new phono or a SUT or a prepreamp.
I love a *well implemented* SUT too. I use Silvercore most often.

If you want to try a new phono pre on the scene just pm me and I will send you a demo 'Audiospecials Phonolab' to try no cost no obligation. Its in your price range and is two preamps in one box with outboard ps, made in Germany. Super quiet. My demo has both preamps MC but it can be ordered MC/MM if you wanted one input with a SUT etc. Oh and rca plus xlr outputs (and the xlr outputs can be configured for higher 'pro' 1.55v for more gain...)
I have a commercial interest in it as a dealer so will refrain from subjective comment on sq.
Interesting replies. I have considered  a SUT however I was trying to keep from adding another component to the chain, but  maybe I will try it. As a matter of fact the dealer I purchased it from suggested not. Someone I trust so I left it at that. I really do like what I have and think I will at least give the SUT a try. 

Someone asked about loading. 

Im loading the Kleos at 100 ohms which it really would do better at 50 However the lowest the PH-7 will allow is only 100 so in that regard it’s not the best match. At 100 it does not sound bad or to bright so that is not not really a show stopper. If I would buy another PS though I would look for one with more loading options.

I'm running an 0.28mv Dyna XX2 MKII and it sounds spectacular through the Zesto/Herron combo.
3 EZ payments,
I have the Dyna too but not tried it with the Herron.  How is the (all tube) MM input with ($3K) SUT vs. the hybrid MC input?  The Zesto looks interesting.  Thanks.
Keith, go here Two of these transformers, one for each channel cost about $250. They are perfect for the Cleos matching their impedance and are the lower 1:10 gain version perfect for the PH 7. They are the raw transformer and can be mounted internally in the PH 7 and wired to the same input jacks or new additional ones if you do not mind drilling holes. There is loads of real estate in the PH 7 for this. I did one once without additional input jacks making the transformers switchable. Not only is this relatively inexpensive but these transformers sound wonderful. I doubt you could find transformers that sound significantly better at any price.  
What about what @lewm said?

my main pre is a Mcintosh C2600

two thoughts on that. I’m about to board a plane, but let’s chat about that later this evening. 
@lewn and tooblue 

good point and I would agree. It’s not that I am not getting decent volume however I do have to turn up the volume quite a bit in reference to my other sources even with the input level that that the PH-7 is plugged into turned up. Which by the way is basically the same as turning up the main volume. Which brings me back to my main problem. . 

We can chat later. 

I have a Kleos on a Linn LP12 currently paired with an Art Audio Vinyl One Copper Reference. It pairs perfectly with the Kleos and has variable gain via a dial on the back.

This was a step up for me from the PS Audio NuWave Phone converter and was A LOT better and the PS Auido also has adjustable gain. In the photo on the website, the Vinyl One has a remote volume control on the front as it can be used in place of a preamp. I have a separate preamp and just have the variable gain dial on the back.

The only issue is that it lacks a subsonic filter built in and you will want to add in an external. I use this subsonic filter:

 I agree with Lewn.  You don't have a problem.  You said the setup sounds great.
I agree why buy more stuff when it sounds great. turn it up more. 

 you could add loading resistors to the input if you want to change the loading or see what would be the best load for the cart, at least you will know what load setting your shooting for maybe you'll discover you don't need anything more then you have.

3 EZ payments,
I have the Dyna too but not tried it with the Herron. How is the (all tube) MM input with ($3K) SUT vs. the hybrid MC input? The Zesto looks interesting. Thanks.

I greatly prefer the flexibility and performance I get from the Zesto through the MM input. The gain increase really helps the dynamics while still sounding realistic and neutral with no coloration. The loading choices make a huge difference as well. Using the 22dB gain setting on the Zesto lets me select the following ohm loadings: 20, 30, 40, 60, 80, 100, 130, 180, 240, or 300 (all selectable on the fly while music playing). I think Dyna recommends 30 (or >30) and I find 40 sounds best to me on most recordings. Keith included a handful of loading pins and I think 30 was one along with maybe 100, 300, 1000, and 47K. I would never have known that 40 sounds best with this cart just using that array. I’m really happy with it plus I get the great advantage of knowing how easy it is to handle pretty much any cart I desire in the future. Oh yeah, the Zesto also has a mono switch to handle mono cartridge hum. It does this by taking the left mono input and sending it to both outputs.
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Apart from all else, why do you think you need to load down the Kleos to 50 ohms?  The Kleos is said to have an internal resistance of 5.4 ohms, so technically, it could drive a 50 ohm load, but 100 ohms is fine.  Higher than 100 ohms might even be finer.  At 50 ohms and below, you start losing signal voltage to ground; even at 50 ohms there is a little of that effect.  That's the last thing you want. Plus, high frequencies begin to roll off into the audio range, the lower the ratio between the load resistance and the internal resistance of the cartridge.  I'd advise against going below 100R.

I looked up the specs for the Mac 2600. It has 15 db of gain available at its high level inputs.  Your phono plus linestage gain is 72.5 db (57.5 + 15), more than ample for the Kleos, unless you have a really unusual amplifier that requires much more than 2V input for full output.


actually you are correct. 91 ohms is the manufactures recommended loading. Not sure why I was thinking it was 50. I looked at so many carts before deciding on the Kleos. That plus old age I guess. Anyway you see correct. I stand corrected. 

In regards to the gain. I feel that I have to turn the volume up to high to get the output out of it. For example. My reference listening volume (for me) on my pre amp is around 38% on the 2600. That to me is almost to loud. Now this is in relationship with my other sources and my previous Dynavector cartridge that was medium output at 1mv. With the Kleos paired with the PH-7 yo get the same volume I am at 47%. The C2600 attenuates on overall percentage as opposed to DB so just giving you an idea. At that volume I would think that with records especially you are further amplifying more noise, friction between the stylus and the record etc. maybe I’m totally wrong here but that’s what I’m thinking. At that volume especially on quieter passages and yes the cartridge is setup correctly. 
Look, if you just WANT to get a new phono stage, by all means do so.  Don't let me rain on your parade.  But for sure I do not see the need for a SUT here. You used the word "think", as in "I would think that with records especially you are further amplifying more noise, friction between the stylus and the record etc. maybe I’m totally wrong here but that’s what I’m thinking."  Are you actually hearing more noise? 38% vs 47% is not much of a difference, but we don't know what it means in terms of voltage or db. However, we do know from those data points that you are having to attenuate the signal from the Kleos in order to achieve the SPLs you are used to, not a sign that you need more gain.  "Friction between the stylus and the record" is not a source of noise unless the LP is dirty.  Otherwise, on a clean LP, the friction produces the skating force and not much else.
Thanks folks for all the comments and recommendations. I will take a closer look at the Pre amps discussed here and also possibly the SUT option. Need to do a little more research on that. I understand how they work, but I have never used one and want understand the pros and cons a little better. Who knows I may even just stay with that I have. It’s possible I’m just over thinking this as I said outside of having to run my main volume up higher I’m not “really” having a problem. At some point when I get the itch to upgrade again I would like to try some of the higher end lower output carts and that will not be possible with this PS. So many things to consider here for me. I will let you know what I decide to do, but this conversation has been enlightening. Any other ideas I’m listening. 
Not sure why you are still looking for another solution apart from some notion that you have to level match with other sources.
For the price of a good SUT plus the PH7, you could get the Herron.
So I spoke with Keith at Herron. Very nice guy. He is actually the person who designed the VTPH-2a so I suspect that he is a small outfit (personnel wise) We had a long discussion about the VTPH-2a. I have a question for you Herron owners. Are using the loading plugs that he offers with the pre? He suggested trying  it without any loading, and said that a lot of people are running it un-throtled. However he said he would send the loading plugs in case I would want to load my cartridge. Just curious if anyone else is using this configuration. 

I am also looking for flexibility. I have decided to forego the SUT option. Trust me I’m not just looking to spend money. As much as I love and I don’t mean that lightly the PH-7 it’s not going to give me the flexibility I need to move to other cartridges in the future. So it’s not just one thing that is leading me down this path. 

Consider the Liberty B2B-1, and Yes I do make  them :-)

Good Listening


Thanks I will also take a look. 
I'm using home made loading plugs with my Herron.  They're an RCA cable connector with screw terminals rather than the solder type, cover removed.  

You are going to really enjoy the Herron vtph-2a, I adore it.
I run my dynavector 20x2L - full throttle, wide-open, and unloaded 😊
like mad max! 


Lol. Interesting. Yeah I have not read a bad word about it. Definitely has my interest peaked. We will see. Keith told me that if I Am not impressed that he would refund my money. I’m definitely considering giving it an audition. 
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"Now that you've actually spoken with Keith Herron, you might consider his support as an additional reason to get a VTPH-2A. You get Keith Herron along with it."

Very true. I enjoyed the conversation I had with him. Very smart, seems to be very easy to deal with, and very personable. Anytime you can deal with the owner/designer of a product (Im just assuming he is the owner) you can forgo a lot of BS. It really makes a difference. One of the reasons I have stuck with Mcintosh is Chuck. While he is not the owner I know I can call him anytime and ask a question and usually get a correct answer. Im sure that there are other companies out there that provide that level of customer service as well. 
Interesting position in regards to the system sounding better with the volume level higher on lower output devices:

The comments are basically a combination of you guys comments, but I thought it was interesting. 
Have you compared to the MC input on your C2600? You have 60db there. I used the C2600 MC/MM inputs and found no fault as they were very quite. I recently upgraded to the MP1100 which has 64db gain. 

yes and while the phono stage in the C2600 is indeed EXCELLENT  it’s just not as good as the ARC IMO. However to be fair I typically will evaluate a change over at least two weeks and the comparison I did was only about a day. I felt sonically the ARC had more clarity and a bit deeper sound stage. Granted the C2600 phono stage had never been used and maybe if I played it over a longer period of time I’m sure it would have gotten better. I think I am going to keep things separate. 
Dear @barnettk :  "  So as much as I LOVE my PH-7 I am ready to part with it at this point to better match the Kleos. """

A priori you don't have a true/real problem to " better match with the Kleos " because you already have a good match.

"""  It’s not that I am not getting decent volume however I do have to turn up the volume quite a bit in reference to my other sources ...""

the other sources are different, for me makes no sense try to even the different sources levels especially when we are talking of cartridges.

A SUT means adding transformers ( " many meters of wires. ), input connectors, cables and output connectors where at each one the Kleos great and sensible signal suffer a true degradation losting recorded music information that you can't recovery at any place: the cartridge signal has to pass trhough to all those additional links. The heavy degradation is for ever. Why do you want to do that?, makes sense to you?

From my point of view the PH-7 is no problem with the Kleos. If you want to spend those 3k-6K maybe could be better making the VPI Prime upgrades offered by VPI and maybe too you can get better quality improving the IC cables between the AR and 2600 and/or between the VPI tonearm and the AR.

You have " land " to improve your analog quality level performance other than what you are thinking to do.

Well that's me, only an opinion.

Regards and enjoy the MUSIC NOT DISTORTIONS,


The difference in output (volume levels) between sources has become less of a concern since I starred this thread. Maybe I needed someone to bring me down to earth a little You know how it is with this hobby.... you get the itch to spend money and any excuse will do right. As I stated initially I am totally happy with the SQ in the gear I have. My thinking at this time is, it will be some years before I change carts because I LOVE the Kleos. If at that time a change is needed I will cross that bridge when I get to it. 

I am not going to knock ANY of the above suggestions they are all great ideas, and as I’m sure they all make sense to the persons offering them up. I respect that and appreciate you sharing. 

Thanks for ALL the feedback. 


the above comments are not intended to shutdown the conversation. I do enjoy reading your opinions. So if anyone has other opinions, suggestions, etc on this topic please continue. Just to be clear.