Phono/Preamp Discussion: The Missing Link

I have been reading the threads about the best phono/preamps sections on planet earth, and the same names keep popping up. Most of these amps are in the $5000+ price bracket and are direct plugins for MC carts.

Builders are putting themselves through the ringer to come up with ways (multiple gain stages, Fets, Tubes, Passive EQs, interstage, zero feedback, dual mono, balanced, separate power supplies, balanced etc blah blah blah) to amplify an MC cart without noise in the most transparent way possible. The specifics of their ingenuity is only partially understood by me but the results are evident. Along with this comes the price tags that are big enough to keep most people to only be able to dream of one day having one of "those" preamps.

What is absent from these discussions, often, is: why not just get a good step up transformer and MM Phono section?

Are there any MM phono preamps, or even full function preamps with an MM section that can compare to the "uber" preamps when used with a step up transformer?

It just seems like there is a HUGE cost premium for the ingenuity required for those transparent and noiseless extra DBs of gain (MC over MM), so you can plug in your cartridge without a step up, and I am curious if that same ingenuity is needed for a MM section. Because if not, one could simply seek out a stellar MM preamp for a significant cost saving and connect an excellent SUT.

What am I missing here. Please correct me if my logic is flawed I am very interested in hearing your take on this. Thanks.
SUT isn't missing link and often built-in in various MM/MC phonostages.
I prefer no SUT as it inflicts additional loading problems and performance limitations.
I also prefer to have pick-up with sufficient output not to use SUT.
A great MC phono preamp need not cost $5000 +

This one Liberty B2B-1 is a great value. Several great reviews available online, even here on Audiogon

From its maker

You could buy a Leben phono preamp and use it with a SUT. I have heard it with an Auditorium SUT. Very good sound.
The Auditorium/leben set up is pretty much my dream set up, though I do throughly enjoy my Allnic H 1201.

What it comes down to Dfel is that even if your wanting to buy a good setup transformer and a good MM stage your still going to be spending around the same as you would for a combo unit like the Allnic I have. That Auditorium Hommage SUT costs $4k which is a grand more than my whole pre.

That all being said if you do happen to own a preamp with an amazing MM input then by all means buy a 2ishk SUT and you will have a fantastic sounding setup.
Czarivey -> I am referring to the uber models everyone knows about that often do NOT have a built in SUT. Those are the ones that opt for the "Ingenuity" route.

Pbnaudio -> Gruvy award winner, from Fremer, no prices on the site however. I know nothing about it, but it looks essentially like an all FET amp, not so hot on the tubeless designs to be honest.

Jperry -> Have heard that configuration and it did sound excellent to my ears, of course this was at shows and shops and I have not heard it shot out or against anything else. According to the review of the Leb Phono it has pretty poor response measurements, but is in the end a fraction of the cost of the "Uber" phonos.
Use Violectric by Lake People phono and you will have sufficient adjustable gain,load impedance and no need for SUT at affordable price for any MM/MC cartridges from .2mV to 6mV outputs.

I have no affiliation with this company at all, but would praise the proven quality of German Electronic engineering.

Pricing right on the front page Liberty Audio

Good Listening

Did you hear the Leben/Auditorium with a EMT TSD cartridge? That is a great combination. You can look at my system if you are interested in what I have for comparison.
The Herron VTPH-2 is an outstanding phono preamp. It has inputs for both MM and MC. I think it compares to the very best phono preamps. I have not heard it used with a high-output cartridge, but I doubt the performance would be less with a MM than with a MC.
Jperry, yes it was, think it was a 15 not sure.
Thanks for the replies. I have to say I was hoping some designers would weigh in on the main question:

Is it worth paying mega bucks for the + 20ish db gain provided by an uber high end MC phono/pres everyone is listing in the best MC Phono/preamp threads, or can one be better of with a SUT + MM input?

Is the SUTless MC Phono/Pre, that requires the ingenuity to achieve VERY high gain noiselessly worth its huge price premium in a world where one could also noiselessly implement a SUT + MM Input?

Is the added ingenuity for the 20db gain for a MC input over an MM input what commands the high premium or is it just as difficult to implement a good MM section?

Well, Ohnofiasco I disagree. I am not trying to start up a pissing contest but a good SUT does not have to cost anywhere near 4K. There are many new production and vintage models to chose from that are stellar. I can see how that option is a turnoff for most, it requires math and a soldering iron often times since you usually just get a pair of cans.

Ohnofiasco: In terms of the hommage, it is excellent, with CERTAIN cartridges (SPU...). I do not see the OUTSOURCED item as anything particularly special, beyond its synergy with the carts suggested. However, generally people who purchase that unit are far detached from the DIY crowd and will pay for the convenience to have the absolute best match. If I was ready to spend 4k on a trafo I would take the set it and forget it approach as well, but I am not.
I think equivalent or even better trafos can be had for much less.
"I think equivalent or even better trafos can be had for much less."

What SUTs do you think are comparable to the Auditorium Homage for significantly less?

I am not familiar with that many, but would like some other suspects to check out and hear.

I don’t think the price/cost has anything to do with full active MC gain vs mm gain + SUT, after all you can find ultra expensive and no so expensive samples of each. Just look at the Kondo MM phono + SUT, and you can see this route can get very expensive too!

So, which one is more cost effective depends on which particular models you are looking at, and more importantly, your preference in audio reprodution.

Like many other things in audio, CD vs LP, tube vs SS, some audiophiles just prefer active MC gain while others SUT. You just have to pick your poison!
Dave (Dfel) I have to agree with Ohno's general statement, once add up the cost of the MM phono stage, cables, SUT you will be pretty close to 5k.

Take the Leben for example, that retails at 2600, add 1500 for a good step up, and another couple of hundred for cables and sundries and you are pretty close to 4k. 1k premium for set it and forget it convenience!

As for 4k for a step-up, seems a bit excessive but to each his own.
OK- here is why not an SUT and basic phono section.

In a word: transparency.

We have auditioned every SUT we could get our hands on and they all have a signature. We also identified several other problems.

One of them was the use of feedback to equalize the RIAA curve. This often contributes to enhancement of surface noise. In addition, we found that if we used single-ended circuits we had more noise per stage of gain than if we went balanced (actually, balanced differential). Further, we found many differences in the sound of interconnect cables that connect between the tone arm and the preamp; since the cartridge is a balanced source we found that by accepting the signal in the balanced domain at the input of the preamp, we could reduce the artifacts imposed by the cable.

So we built a zero feedback, fully differential, passively equalized LOMC phono section. It has two stages of gain, so the signal path is actually simpler when compared to many preamps.

So far we have only built our phono sections into our preamps- there are two reasons for this. The first is connectivity- we don't have an interconnect between the phono section and the rest of the world so there is less artifact on that account. The other reason is that our line section has a direct-couple vacuum tube output (that is also balanced). This not only gives the line section more transparency and bandwidth on account of no coupling cap at the output to mess things up, but it also allows the preamp to drive really long interconnect cables (100 feet being no worries) so the power amps can be placed close to the speaker to minimize artifacts from the speaker cable.

If you get that we are concerned about the effects of cables then you have an important understanding about why our designs are the way they are. That is why everything is balanced, as balanced cables, if driven correctly, have essentially no artifact at all.
All I was saying is that after all is said and done between the extra cable run and the the two components, phono pre and SUT, that you will be close to the same price.

I would never pay 4k for just a SUT. ha

Sorry for the confusing statement.