Liberty Audio B2B-1 and Yes I do make them :-)
Now that we have the obligatory. "Liberty Audio, I make them" comment out of the way (a feature of every "What phono stage?" thread these days), I will plug the Avid Pulsus, which is the best phono pre I have heard in my system. I preferred it to the SimAudio LP5.3 with optional external power supply I had. Just under your stated budget is the new entry level Avid phono preamp. Haven't heard it, but mighty curious about it.
how important are the cap, resistor, and gain settings? it seems odd that at 1500 to 2000 if they add a couple caps or resistors they might as well add the others. gain staging seems a bit more complex.
is there any carts i wouldnt be able to get working good with the EAR or the Manley?
The EAR seems nice if i skip a line pre and go straight to a power amp as i am 100% vinyl and am unsure if i realky want to run movies thru my rig.
but if i ever add a pre, then i have a volume knob tied to the power switch it seems and i feel i will be fighting optimal levels on the phono/pre having a volume on each rather than the phono being set. maybe i am wrong?
I wouldn't worry about two volume controls possibly down the road, but running a phono pre direct to your amp is a whole nother world. you need to have a higher gain amp and the impedances matching well for it to work properly. The Manley is far more adjustable than the EAR. The EAR has a little more gain for the ultra low MC carts, but the 60db of the Chinook would be fine.
I picked up a Manley Shrimp last week here for about 1200. I am very pleased with how that sounds so far. I also picked up an Adcom 555 to hold me over until I get the funds for a nice pair of mono blocks. But the money I save on this and the Manley will open the doors a bit more on the amp selection now.