Phono Preamp suggestions $2000 (pre-rabbit hole tire kicking edition)


Next on my upgrade list is a new phonostage. I have been using and enjoying a Lounge LCR MKIII which doesn’t do anything wrong. But, I feel its not an end game piece even for my (mid-fi at best) system.
So, ideally I would like:Fast and dynamic.Some warmth"muscular" type of presentation."You are there" type of clarity

Bonus points for:Mono switchFront/rear face controls (loading/cap/etc)MM only
Budget: $2000 or less
I have been searching all the various forums to come up with a list, and some are well reviewed and very popular but I am not sure they will be what I would like. Basically trying to narrow down a list and then try to get a demo (if thats even possible)
--Odyssey Suspiro Reference - fairly certain this will do the job beautifully, Klaus will send a me a loaner to try out. Fremer loved it.
--Sutherland 20/20 (used) - people fall over themselves for this one so its undoubtedly good. The consensus I get from all I have read it that it has no sound. Also that it doesn’t have the best bass, but that having subs remedies that (I guess?)
--LFD LE MM phono stage - recently caught wind of this one. Great reviews.
--Manley Chinook (used - 2012 version) - people seem to love this one. Googling seems to indicate it might have the type of sound I’m after.
--Aural Thrills Serenade - sporadically mentioned. The builder seems......super confident. TAS award winning so thats good.
--Rogue Ares Magnum (used) - Rogue gear is popular. I have no experience. Seems like a very good piece of equipment however.
--Don Sachs Phono - Super interested in this one. MM only, Could probably get a mono switch. Haven’t seen anything negative about it. I like thats it build to order (specs).
At this point I’m just looking to get a list of gear to rabbit hole and try to demo if possible.
Thanks in advance.
gochurchgo
Decware ZP3 https://www.decware.com/newsite/ZP3.htm Please note- depending on cartridge output you may need the optional SUT. If you do that will put you a little over budget. Read the info, search comments, take your time. Might as well. Wait list according to oldhvymec (who just ordered one) is six months.
Luxman E-250. Mono switch also a built in cart demagnetizer and a built in SUT. In your 2K price range. 
Add to your list a Gold Note PH10 with outboard PS. Around 2k with discounts.
@luxmancl38  I had not thought of the e-250. That seems solid if I ccan get one used. thanks.
@rsf507 I keep looking at that one but the screen and software part worries me. When the screen craps out then a functioning unit is rendered useless. I will look at it again. I have never seen it with PS for $2k or under though.
@rsf507  Do agree with the assessment of the TAS review of the Ph-10?
https://www.theabsolutesound.com/articles/gold-note-ph-10-phonostage/?page=3
I'm just curious
Yes pretty accurate but I don't find it lacking extension in the top end, I find it very even top to bottom.
@rsf507  good to know. You’re using the power supply as well?

also, what preamp did you have before the PH-10?
Yes with PS. Atmasphere MP3
@rsf507  thanks. The Atma is a pricey piece. I'll keep digging.
Pd around 4k for a new Atma MP3
I have a Sutherland 20/20 with outboard linear power supply.  
Super clean and noise free, dynamic and transparent.  
Sounds incredible driving a 0.2mv LOMC cartridge at 64db gain as well as .5mv LOMCs and does a great job with MMs too. 
My keeper.   
@avanti1960 heresy for sure but my concern with the Sutherland is that its so transparent that its not really there. I don't mind imparting on the sound a little, its the spice that makes the dish tasty. The 2 power cord/IC's 18 feet apart is a distant second concern.
Its really only my list as many, like you, absolutely love the thing so its has to be good.

Its still up for consideration of course. I'm just not as interested in absolute fidelity as I am in a pleasing sound.
So you only need MM?

If so, I would for sure add the Leben RS30EQ to your list.  It would have to be used (and likely a bit hard to find), but it's a fantastic MM phonostage.

I also love the Line Magnetic LP33.  It's quite good on both MM and MC.
@goldprintaudio  yes. I am currently running mm carts and will someday get into MC so I figure I can just  go with a matched SUT and cart when that time comes.
I love the thought of tubes but there's a strain of thinking where I keep returning to solid state for convenience and silence. Always on and ready to go. Always quiet. Like a ninja!
I really never know when I'll get a chance to spin a couple sides so warm up time could be a factor. Plus in my mind solid state = slam and dynamics (which I know isnt true). So theres that. So for those reasons the Suspiso and 20/20 keep finding their way into my psyche.
I really never know when I'll get a chance to spin a couple sides so warm up time could be a factor.
Most tubes in a preamp take 20 seconds. And then about 1/3 hour to an hour to sound their best. By contrast most solid state preamps don't sound right for about a day; I found I had to leave my solid state preamp on 24/7...

As far as 'dynamics'... IME when audiophiles talk about 'dynamics' they are most often (about 90% of the time) actually talking about distortion, and if you swap the word 'distortion' for that of 'dynamics' the meaning of the conversation is unchanged. The brightness of solid state is caused by distortion, since the ear assigns a tonality to any form of distortion- its literally the difference between tube and solid state. But FWIW, the dynamic character of the music comes from the recording, not the playback circuit. If it appears to come from the latter, in all cases its because distortion is masquerading as 'dynamics'. If you want lower distortion, seek 'smooth and detailed'. Smoothness is a lack of higher ordered harmonics, detail is often associated with brightness but it really doesn't work that way! When its **both** smooth **and** detailed that's when you are really making progress.
@atmasphere it would be left on 24/7 like my current one.
Regardless of semantics, which I’m not going to debate, people know what is meant by "slam" and "dynamics" which is why I use the terms.
I agree about 'slam' but seriously, 'dynamics' usually means distortion. This is because the ear uses the higher ordered harmonics in order to sense how loud a sound is. When the electronics is adding higher ordered harmonics even in very small amounts, the ear interprets this as both brightness and 'dynamics'.


Real musical contrasts (dynamic contrast) can only come from the recording. It really isn't a property of electronics unless those electronics have problems with higher ordered harmonic distortion. This has fueled the tubes/transistors debate for 60 years. Its why tubes are still around decades after they should have been obsolete.

If you want a solid state preamp that isn't bright, you'll want one that is op-amp based and probably doesn't has less than 20dB of gain for any opamp in the circuit. To do this requires quite a lot of feedback (over 40dB) and this allows the opamp to not generate the higher ordered harmonics. But it won't sound 'dynamic' either because its not making distortion- it will simply sound like the music its reproducing.
@atmasphere I'll take your word on it because I don't know anything (I really don't). Music is my way of not setting myself on fire and jumping from a bridge or tall building (anxiety is fun).
So any recommendations then based on the criteria you outlined?
The problem you are up against with a phono section is that the cartridge and tonearm cable have an electrical resonance that can really mess with the front end of a phono section. The resonance can easily overload the input section of the preamp, generating a tick or a pop that sounds for all the world as if its on the LP surface!

The first time I experienced this was about 33 years ago with an employee’s preamp using a Grado cartridge. To be clear, with a MM cartridge that peak can be about 20dB, which with a MM cartridge can be about 5 Volts! Many MM phono sections can’t handle that sort of level, so they make distortion. The thing is, the peak is ultrasonic, so most of the time you can’t hear it (unless you have a tonearm cable that has high capacitance- the higher the capacitance, the lower the frequency of the peak). The distortion is heard as a tick or a pop.

Its far easier to design a phono section using tubes to get a nice high overload margin. With opamps and discreet transistors it can be difficult. So if an opamp is used, its gain must be kept low so it won’t be overloaded. Many designers just don’t think about the implications of this electrical peak, so many inexpensive solid state designs have this problem. It seems that Pass Labs has built good phono sections that have good overload margins- I don’t know if they have one in your price range but its worth a look. 47 Labs makes a very competent phono section that features a current-mode input, and its gotten good reviews. I mention that one becaase it appears that the current mode input has some advantages with reducing the effect of the electrical peak.


If you google ’current mode phono preamp’ you’ll find that 47 Labs is by no means the only manufacturer using current mode inputs. If I were going solid state that kind of phono section is what I would look at first!
@atmasphere  reading about the 4718 and seems positive but very little info out there. Will research current mode phono preamp’  further
I enjoyed my Graham Slee Accession MM phono-pre for a number of years before I just switched to the MC version.
@dsockel  thanks. I had not looked at Graham Slee. Results Nee crazy positive and the price is good. I will look into it. Have you compared it to other phono stages?
You might want to have a look at the Musical Surroundings Nova Iii Phono Stage with the Linear Charging Power Supply. Just over your budget at $2150 but you might be able to get a discount from your dealer.

It's very flexible and easy to use and works for both MM and MC cartridges. Sounds great with the Hana ML or my AMG Teatro. I don't think you mentioned your turntable or cartridge or the rest of your system so I am shooting blind but this is a great phono stage in this price range.


I entered the tube phono stage world with a Rhea Asthetix a few years ago and it blew my mind.  I just upgraded to an Allnic H3000 and am thrilled.  Used Rhea's should be available for what your looking to spend and I don't think you can find much better.  Good luck with your search.  Its definitely fun.
PS Audio just came out with a new Phono Stage but its $2.5K  But they will take your current stage in on trade and do have a well regarded audition program.

https://www.stereophile.com/content/ps-audio-stellar-phono-phono-preamplifier

I have really been enjoying my ELAC PPA-2. Fremer had a nice review on Analog Planet a few weeks back. The price has dropped to $999 at most retailers. https://www.analogplanet.com/content/easy-warm-elac-alchemy%E2%80%99s-1250-ppa-2-phono-preamp
For MM, I’d recommend the Croft Acoustics RIAA Phono Stage. It sells for under $1,000 (£500). Highly underrated.

Tubes: 2 x ECC83
Sensitivity: 2 mV for 0.5 V rms
Input impedance: 47 kΩ

It's magical with my London Decca Super Gold cart.
I heard a Sound-Smith phono at Cap Audio Fest. You'd expect it to be good, and it is. Comes in well under your budget too.
Anyone heard the Luxman e-250? There’s much chatter on the e-500 but little on the 250.
@nordicnorm thanks. I recall reading reviews on that a while back as they are very inexpensive used. 
@rooze  interesting. I’m look into it
@gochurchgo         
i agree about the 20 20.  for me the fact that it is so neutral is a positive.  i want my phono preamp to be completely neutral, clean and dynamic.  
this lets the character of the recording and mastering shine through.  i add character elesewhere, in the cartridge for example. 
the 20 20 lets the character of the cartridge be heard in full bloom.  
Musical Fidelity M6 vinyl phono pre. I have had it over a year. Two tables. Marantz TT-15 with Sumiko Blackbird MC cartridge and Music Hall MMF-5.3 with Clearaudio Virtuoso Wood MM cartridge. I can keep both turntables hooked up and change them with a flick of a switch. The M6 has a great sound for $1,800. Here is a link: 

https://upscaleaudio.com/collections/musical-fidelity/products/musical-fidelity-m6-vinyl-phono-stage
What about PS Audio Stellar?