Truly top flight? Closer to 10 times your budget will get you very good phono stage performance. But it will probably take closer to 20 times to get "truly top flight".
Are your heels back on the ground? ;-)
Let us know what kind of music you prefer and what the rest of your system is. Based on that I'm sure someone can offer you good options within your budget.
Sorry, Andy. You're going to have to spend more than $350 for "truly top flight performance".
Currently, there is a Musical Fidelity X-LP + X-PSUv3 on the 'gon for $450 and a Musical Fidelity X-LPS v8 for $325. Both would be good placed to start within your budget. I've owned an XLPs before and thought it was very nice for the money. Good resolution. Low noise. etc.
However, I have to say that, IMHO, your budgeting priorites are a bis askew (re: budget for cartridge vs. budget for phono stage). However, perhaps it's me who is off-base - I run a Denon 103R through my Ayre P-5xe phono stage.
The cheap Project solid state phono stage is MUCH better than their cheap tube phon stage. I got to hear them both in the same system.
Andy I feel your pain. Now on a more serious note. I would be looking at a fabulous phone pre-amp and very over looked one at that an Adcom GPS 565. The phono section was I believe engineered by John Curl and has gone up against many audiophile biggies such as the Audio Research SP-10 and
SP-11 and almost smoked the 10 and bettering the 11. I will admit that it is not a looker or a center piece and it has no remote. But it is built well,the phono section is dead quiet and should give you the performance that you just might be looking for.
On your budget, if your looking for a phono stage to compete with the ones around 2K, you should consider the PS Audio GCPH. You can pick one up for around $700 (there's one going for $625). If you can get a Cullen Modified one, all the better.
Thanks for the input. I know my system is askew. I was going to sell everything and then decided to keep my sources. I have a peachtree decco and era 5 speakers. They are good for the price point. I listen to bluegrass, country, classical, hawiian and world music.
I saw a ps audio III on the gon. Is that similar to the Gcph?
Andy, for bluegrass in particular I would look for a phono stage with high slew rate so that the plucks will sound right. Ask about this when you talk with designers/manufacturers.
Go for either the Phono Box 11 SE or the Dynavector 75. I have the latter currently in a system that would retail for above 30K and it is not disgracing itself.
I'll echo Stanwal on the Dynavector P75. Unbeatable for the money, both for sound quality and flexibility.
Gram Slee Era Gold mkV - a little above your price range on the used market at ~$450, but I owned it and compared it with a few other phonos in the $1.5k-2.5k range(new) and it held it's own.
Thanks for the advice on the Dynavector p75 and the Gram Slee Era Gold mk v. I'll be looking into those.
I don't know if there's still one up for sale here, but the phono stage in the Klyne SK-5A is a very nice one indeed and the whole preamp is a find at its going price of around USD$1200.
March 2009 was Abso!ute Sound's big analog issue, and they reviewed three phono stages priced at $350, 600, and $1095/1350.
The $350 one is the Clearaudio Nano
, and the review was a rave for its musicality and versatility. It has variable gain and comes with various resistors to adjust loading and jumpers to configure for mm or mc. The review ends with the sentence, "At its price, the Nano is a well-crafted, entry-level miracle."
If you decide to move up from that, consider the $600 unit they reviewed, the Musical Surroundings Phonomena II
. What really impressed me is that reviewer Neil Gader directly compared it to the Graham Slee Era Gold V ($1095) and Reflex ($1350). Although the phono stages sounded different, it was obvious that Gader considered the Phonomena at least the equal of the Slee, demonstrating better warmth, lushness, and soundstage. The Slee has long been considered the one to beat at around $1K, but the Phonomena may have bettered it at half the price.
If you are talking used, you can probably get a Lehman Black cube for that money, and if you desire, upgrade to the SE power supply at a later date.
I really enjoyed the SimAudio LP3 when I listened to it recently. I though it preserved the music's essential heart and liveliness wonderfully well. There's one up for sale here at exactly your price.
For right around your budget, you could purchase and build a Bottlehead Seduction with C4S upgrade.
Thanks T bone,
I was just looking at the possibility of the Bottlehead Seduction. What is the likely hood that I would screw that up? How much work is it to build?
My long disclaimer on the products is that:
1) I have never built a kit, Bottlehead or other.
2) I am about to because I just ordered a few things from them.
3) So far, I have nothing but good things to say about Bottlehead and the community which inhabits the Bottlehead forum. I have been a lurker on that forum off and on for a few years, and never cease to be impressed by the amount of assistance available through the forum.
4) Apparently, the instructions are first-rate.
5) If you go to their site, they have a page called 'Skill Levels' which tells you what skills are needed. My bet is that anyone with a basically steady hand and a willingness to set aside a few hours each evening over several evenings can get a Seduction up and running. I have done a few minutes of soldering work in the last ten years and that probably gives me more 'experience' than many have when they order one.
The biggest giant-killer of a phono pre I'm familiar with is the EE MiniMax.
One good hit to the side of the head with the MiniMax took Lars down (for good) - Lars was easily 6' 6" and 300 lb. (It was self-defense.) It's those step-up trannies.
Seriously, my #1 recommendation, if you can solder, would be the Bottlehead Seduction. Despite what others will say, this unit, with the C45 upgrade, does compete with units far, far above its price range.
The Graham Slee is also really superb. As is the Black Cube - I think the Cube may even have more saturated tonal colors.
And the MM honestly is great but certainly above your price range used.
Paulfolbrecht, how would you say the seduction compares to a hagerman cornet or ee minimax? I have a seduction with c4s and mundorfs and I love it but I am looking for something with a touch more WAF and of course, better performance.... I posted a thread 'minimax vs. Cornet' and I haven't had any definitive answers yet. Thanks Harv.
If you want your Seduction to have better WAF, well... These things take practice...
In all seriousness, have you thought about building a different chassis? You could design/oder something from frontpanelexpress.com and do a lit of different things (jack field in back, better knobs, OPT under the chassis. My bet is the Bottlehead gear lends itself very well to rebuilding/re-chassisying.
I will second the rec for the GCPH. I've used it for three years and it will do whatever you need it to quite well. Mine has had the Cullen mods and they really improve the performance. Ridiculous bargain IMHO. Currently, I'm considering several units as upgrades but they all cost much more. Will my Cullen modded GCPH be up for sale this year? Not sure I can part with it but stay tuned.
Tbone, I'm looking for a step or two up in performance over the seduction as well as waf. I love the seduction, but I am ready to upgrade and I'm thinking minimax or cornet.
I've never had or heard a Cornet. I've owned the MM but long before the Seduction. I'd say quality is quite close to par between the two. MM uses 12AX7s which tend to have a bit more tone than the 6922 family, which some prefer as 'faster'. The MM has step-ups which is a big boon if you're going LOMC but a waste if you're not.
Both units are dead silent, extended, with correct tone & timbre. It would take a side-by-side to say more.
And, yes, people do all kinds of creative things with Bottlehead chassis; the sky's the limit.
Thanks to all for the posting. I decided to go with the Seduction with the c4s upgrade. Any Tube rolling advice for this setup?
Hey andy! Good choice, you won't be disappointed! I have some nos tesla tubes, and some amperex holland orange print tubes. The amperex are magical in my setup.
If you just need MM, then check out the Yaqin MS-12B, change out the horrible tubes for some NOS and you will be rocking in no time.
How would the phono stage in a fully-restored Threshold SL-10 or fully-restored ARC SP-6 compare?
Sorry to resurrect this , but I believe this is very important topic and thread should survive as more sleepers are being discovered by vintage audio adventurers.
Here is a list of worthy vintage phono preamps:
Leak Delta 75
Jasmine LP 2 mkII used for $400.