I'm really happy with my Pro-Ject Phono Box II.
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It's really hard to make a recommendation when you don't outline your system. Kind of like asking what the best tires are when you don't mention what car you own.
I have owned many of the entry level phono preamps and my two favorites at your price point are the Musical Fidelity XLP and the Creek OBH-8SE. Not, not, not, the regular OBH-8. It is a completely different animal. Both are on the darkers side, with good drive and great pace and a lack of etch. If you want something brighter, the Cambridge Audio 640P may fit the bill, but I would rank it behind the other two.
So if I have warts and gray hair and bad breath I need to get the Cambridge as it is obviously a cure-all?
Here're the specs on the system to which it will be connected, in case it changes any assessments:
AR XB in transit, not sure if I will put new cart on it or not yet. Has the factory Shure 91 and a Pickering XV15-400E. The Phono pre will be connected to this table.
Denon DP-7F with Audio Technica AT450 w/ brand new Shibata stylus on the Phono line of the existing preamp.
CD, Reel, cassette & CD Recorder, and ADS D to A USB converter
Optimus STAV 3400 acting as preamp. (on the to be replaced soon list)
Adcom GFA-545 Mk2
I'm all but decided on the Cambridge. The raw specs for both the 640 and 540 are the best in my price range. But I don't have the option of auditioning equipment so I am trying to balance my research and inexperience with the experiences of everyone here. I enjoy the range of opinions I see in reading both my threads as well as others that pertain to my interests. I am quite satisfied with the replies I get to most of posts.
Thanks to all who took the time to join in the thread!
Hi Hawkeye, I own the 640P and it was my starter phono pre. Since then, I moved up to an ARC PH-7. In my opinion, the 640P is a nice way to get started with vinyl and IMHO I think it performs well over its price point. I will be looking to sell my 640P in the next day or so. The unit is in pristine condition and I have the original box and manual. If you are interested, send me an e mail through A'gon. Good luck
Got the 640 and really like it. Interestingly enough have discovered by comparing using the same table that the phono stage built into my Optimus STAV-3400 is actually quite good. There is almost no discernible difference at normal listening volumes. Of course the built-in cannot do MC like the Cambridge can.
I just recently purchase a Parasound JC 3 Phono Pre-Amp.
Very happy with my purchase.
It got some very good review in Sterophile a few issues ago. Glad I made the purchase.
It is driving my very low output Denon DLS1 (0.15mv) very well. For the price I think it is a real deal.
I hate to resurrect a very old thread, but there as someone looking to get back into vinyl very soon there is a point here that surprises me:
" Interestingly enough have discovered by comparing using the same table that the phono stage built into my Optimus STAV-3400 is actually quite good. There is almost no discernible difference at normal listening volumes. Of course the built-in cannot do MC like the Cambridge can."
It surprises me that an Optimus can approach the quality of a Cambridge phono stage! Is there an intrinsic advantage to a built in phono stage? Or are the differences between phono stages modest? Or am I reading too much into this? I have a Lexicon Mc-12 and a Citation 7.0 for preamps, but I will need a phono preamp for either/both.... Otoh, I have an ADS integrated amp with a phono stage (I think MC and MM, don't recall
at the moment). So this might change how I set things up. Thanks!
I use the 640p with a Pangea P100 power supply and it sounds great. Worth the 100 bucks for the Pangea. The 640p has been replaced by a new model (641P) that might be better, but I haven't compared them (the new one is basically the same price as the old one). I assume the Pangea works with the 641p. I see no reason to buy another phono pre myself as this 640p sounds so good with my system and it is one of the few out there with the rumble filter I need, but if I replaced it I'd just get the new one.
Aewhistory: Remember that both the internal phono stage and the Cambridge are being run into the same line-level preamp. I have never heard this Radio Shack product, but I can't imagine it offers resolution high enough to allow the listener to hear differences among phono stages. Perhaps gross tonal differences would be apparent, but I would imagine that the Optimus line stage is the bottle-neck in this system.
I think anyone getting into vinyl would be well-served by looking at older preamps that included phono stages as a matter of course -- before line stages were common.
I know that my Adcom GFP-565's price here on Audiogon is way below what any comparable recent stand-alone phono stage would cost if bought new (or used). Awesome phono stage. And you get an entire preamp to go with it!
I use a Jolida JD9. This little beauty of a phono preamp is under $500 and performs on par with much more expensive models. Also, it is very easy (and inexpensive) to make some DIY upgrades that take it into the realm of multi-thousand dollar phono preamps. I wrote a little review here of the JD9 including upgrade instructions.
Bondmanp, I feel so silly. For some reason it didn't occur to me that the phono preamp would, of course, be plugged into the Radio Shack. And yes, this would almost undoubtedly lack the resolution to make out much difference. Ugh.... So often the simple answers elude us (by which I mean ME).
Clockmeister, I will probably give my ADS preamp a go with my turntable before investing in a phono preamp, but if I like getting into vinyl I will definitely get a phono preamp. I already have some nice equipment and don't want to spend more. The way I see it, there really isn't any reason to spend 'x' number of dollars on a preamp with a built in phono stage when I can use my Citation 7.0, for example, and get a good phono preamp. The citation is an excellent analogs preamp already, so I'd have to spend a lot of better it.
BTW, thank you all for the other responses. I haven't bought anything, of course, but if I do I am leaning toward a Cambridge Audio 540p. My main reason is that it is cheap and gives me a way to take another step into vinyl while keeping my investment low. However, I'd gladly take opinions on this piece. For instance, would it really be worth going up to the 640p for someone still experimenting? Things like that.
I would skip the 540P as RIAA EQ is active and it uses ICs. My vote would go to the vintage Radio Shack 42-2101A phono preamp, which you should be able to buy for around $30.00.
It is all discrete, no ICs or op amps and sounds wonderful. I had it at the same time as the 640P and preferred it by a wide margin. It does not have a high gain stage for MC cartridges however. Then again, using a $200.00 phono stage with a low output MC may not be the best idea either.
My 640p is a thoroughly vetted inexpensive item that got some of the best reviews I've seen for ANY phono preamp, has one of the most accurate RIAA circuits ever measured, is built like a tank, and sounds amazing. It also has a (rare these days) 20hz rumble filter that I seem to need, and I stuck a Pangea P100 power supply on it simply because I had one on a DAC and liked it. The Pangea is much better than a "wall wart", cost less than a decent tire, and now that the 640p has been replaced by a new model you may be able to find one for peanuts. Remember...if somebody hasn't actually heard a piece of gear in a system, their opinion of its sound quality is utterly meaningless.