Phono Preamp Suggestions?

I have a Sota Star table, with SME IV-VI arm, and a Shelter 90X cartridge. I would like to upgrade my current phono preamp (Music Fidelity X-LPSv3).

I am using the Denon Prepro as my Preamp, Classe CA-M400 amps, and B&W 802D speakers.

I would like to get something nice that is a good match for the rest of my system, for $1000-$1800. Used or new is fine. Do you have some suggestions?

Additional Info:
- The Shelter cartridge has an output of .65mv
- I am open to SS or Tubes.
- Currently, I think my system is pretty neutral. I would prefer a neutral phono preamp, or maybe something with just a very slight hint of warmth.


Audio Research is amazing. extremely detailed with a bit of warmth.
You can't go wrong with an EAR 834P, buy a used one on Audiogon and if you don't like it (but I know you will, I have two of them) you can easily sell it to another member.

A great value and sonically one of the best in its class.

I have owned your table,arm and cartridge.At the time my phono stage was a Linn Linto.This combo worked well.I also like the 47 Labs Phonocube.But this is much more then you wish to spend.If you do find a Cube on the used market note
that when new they are set for the intended cartridge they will be used with and cannot be changed by the user.At least I couldn't.
That's a pretty nice setup you have all the way around. A different/better preamp might yield you bigger improvement overall than just your phono. At least, it might do a better job of revealing improvements in phono and/or cartridge in the future.
I've used a 90x for over three years. It's a very good cartridge. In the price range you name I would say the EAR 834, Ayre P5xe(I think that's the name), or possibly PS Audio GCPH. I bought the GCPH when I bought my whole analogue front end at once as a way to keep the cost down and it works so well I still can't decide when, or if, to upgrade from there. As long as you have a good power supply, accurate RIAA curve, and flexibility with gain, loading and other adjustments along with quiet performance, I'm not sure spending more money really gets you much of anything. Even though it's not sexy, the GCPH covers all of this at a price that leaves enough to budget some really nice vinyl.
I agree w/ Darkmoebius. Upgrading your preamp will improve the sound of your whole system and put you in a better position to choose the right phono pre. Heck, after upgrading the preamp you might not even feel the need to upgrade the phono pre. If you've got a mixed HT/2ch system there are excellent stereo preamps with HT bypass that will integrate seamlessly into your system.

I used to use a Rotel pre/pro as my preamp and continued to use it for HT duties, but a good stereo pre really brought my system to an entirely different level. Benefits were across the board and included a much more natural, full, and dynamic sound, better tonality/timber, dramatic increase in overall size, width, and depth of soundstage, quieter background, much improved high frequencies and increased refinement across the board. Overall the sound just became much more real and involving. This is why I said after improving your preamp you may not feel the need to upgrade your phono stage right away.

In any event, hope this helped and best of luck.
Thank you all for the responses so far.

I have considered upgrading the preamp to a 2-ch preamp with HT bypass, but the Denon prepro actually has a very clean preamp. While this may be my 2nd weakest link, I have thusfar assumed my current phono preamp is the weakest link.

Now, if I found a 2-ch preamp with HT bypass and a very good phono preamp, that would be an option.

But, at this point, I don't want to by any "compromise" pieces. I want to buy something now that I can be with happy for several years.

So far there have been some good suggestions on phono preamps. Where would the Pass Ono (used), compare to the current suggestions?

Are there any Preamp with included phono stage, and HT bypass, that campare with the EAR or Pass for example, in the $1000-$1800 range?

IMO. The path you are on is full of compromises. I don't care what any HT guru tells you, HT gear is not going to do 2 channel as well and especially not vinyl.

But, it is your system and your budget and you are the one who needs to be happy with the sound in the end. I suggest you stay with SS as you'll not really get the full benefit of tubes. IMO.

Thanks for the inputs. So do you have any suggestions along the 2-ch pre that is within my price range?

My original plan was to spend $1000-$1800 now and get a phono pre that will last for several years.

Later, if I decide my Prepro needs to be replaced, I planned to scrape up money and do that. If the Prepro is indeed my weak link, of course I will upgrade that before my phono pre.

For those that are recommending that I buy a 2-ch first, is this because you assume the Denon Prepro does not have a good preamp, or because all Prepros have subpar preamps?

Hi Dmccombs,

While your Denon HT preamp may be pretty good, it is most likely the weakest link in your system. It was designed with home theater and convenience in mind, first, and 2-channel audio as a secondary priority. Whereas, the rest of your system was specifically designed for 2-channel reproduction. You have really great components, just that the Denon is not in their league.

You can find yourself a much better used preamp for ~$1.3k range and still have money left over for a better phono pre, if necessary.

There's a VTL 2.5 line stage with MM/MC phono stage($1.2K) made in 2002. It is the current version of the preamp.

- 6 line inputs, 2 pairs of outputs, 1 record out, 1 tape loop, 1 external processor loop, currently set to MM

Supposedly, this later version of VTL 2.5 can be switched to MC cartridge loading(and gain) by simply switching an internal jumper.

Some other good used choices (and keep your phono), would be:

Balanced Audio (BAT)
Audio Research
Bel Canto
EAR linestage

Anyway, try a nice tube preamp and see what it does for your system, overall. Might be just what you are looking for, and more.
What Darkmoebius said. I have owned BAT, EAR, and Classe. I would add to his list Hagtech and K&K Audio. Even if you are not into DIY. You can have the preamp built for you, or build it yourself if you are able.

Even so, since you are searching for your right components you may also consider watching the used preamp listing here. Most often you can pick up a good used item, use it for several months and resell it for little to no loss. It is a pretty good way to sample what's out there.

Either way I would vote for starting with the preamp.
The benz lukasheck PP1 T-9 for sale here at A-gon is a great MC pre-amp.
Art Audio Vinyl 1. Best value. However you will want to upgrade your speakers after that.
Just want to share my late experience.

I quite agreed with Sonofjim.

Moreover, you can connect the GCPH directly to your Classe Power amp. No need to connect the phono to your curren Pre amp. Just switch the RCAs between the Pre amp and the phono. I prefer my GCPH connecting to my Power amps, ASL hurricane, to connecting it to my Preamp Hovland HP100.

Although GCPH gives me a lot of flexibilities (I have got the latest one that came with a remote control), I found it sounds a bit coarse, thin, and flat sometimes. I recently plugged in the K&K SUT between my TT and GCPH, and it changes the sonic dramatically. The female vocals (Carol Kidd, Jacintha, Susan Wong and etc) are so sweet,lively amd focus. Instruments are also very musical when play Jazz LP.

I am planning to explore my GCPH more with more expensive SUT like Bent or EAR MC-3, etc....

Good luck.


PS. I am using Benz Wood L2, and Zu 103DL, on Nottingham 294.
I would recommend the Allnic H-1200. Great sounding piece. 2 mini tubes /ch for MM and uses apair of SUT's for MC. Unit is very quiet and the sound easilly rivals many $2000-4000 pieces I have used.
Glad to see someone else appreciates what the GCPH can do. I never noticed a lean sound with mine before but certainly not since the Cullen circuits mod. It's not real cheap but I think the mod makes it hard to rationalize spending thousands on a "better" phono stage. It does everything it should and nothing it shouldn't.
Thanks all for the comments so far. You've given me a lot to think about.

A friend may be upgrading from his Pass Ono soon. How would this compare to the other phono preamps mentioned here?

All I can say is I sold my Pass XONO after I listened to the Allnic H-1200 (on loan to me). The XONO sounded clearer/sterile while the Allnic sounded more organic, more open and magical. It did not have that typical hi-fi sound. If you like the hi-fi sound, the Pass XONO will have it in spades.

No, I did not end up getting the Allnic H-1200 but got it's bigger brother the H-1500 SE and will be getting the H-3000 when funds permit (hopefully soon).

I see someone from Canada has one for sale here, and they also upgraded from the 1200 to the 1500. this wouldn't be you would it?

Not me. I know this guy too. I am in Toronto. He too got the H-1500 and is happy with them.
Just curious about the prices of these Allnic pieces. I've never heard of them and can't find prices on the net. If they're as good as you say and reasonably priced, I'd like to know more about them. From the site they appear to be well designed and built.
The H-1200 retails around $1600 and the H-1500 around $5000 and the H-3000 approx $10,000 and yes, they're that good. I have tried many phono stages in the past 12 months...many big names where people and magazines raved about and none actually floats my boat until the H-1200 came around (on loan from a buddy whom also had many great stages come and go) and make me realize how live and magical my LP's could sound.

I ended up buying the H-1500(which I bought unheard). The H-1500 I have now has a certain magic and life to it's sound which makes it very hard to describe. People often associate equipment being warm, bright or neutral. The Allnics is none of the above. It's one word....."natural". It could be due to the LCR networks in the RIAA it uses which is very uncommon at these prices. The unit is very quiet with enough gain for my Dynavector XV1s and my Audio Note IO2v.

Lately, I have done a head to head between the H-1500 and the H-3000. If your source and system is capable, there is definitely an appreciable difference between the units.

Other phono stages that are value for money is the PS Audio GCPH which others have recommended. I have heard great things about this unit. More so of the underwood modded ones. Have not heard the EAR 834 in a very long time. The last time I owned one, it seemed to have a very dark and thick sound. I believe there are many mods out there (google) that you can do to make this unit sound better.

Lastly, if you're looking for musical enjoyment, the Allnic is all you need.
did you try to upgrade the 1500 to WE417a tubes and a mullard 5ar4? Makes a world of difference for the better over the stock raytheon tubes and JJ 5ar4 included with the \unit.
Agree with Genesis on EAR 834. It gave nasal sound on my pre - power tube amps set up, weak bass. I had one, deleux version, and sold it to a friend a year ago. It may be OK on the SS set up.

Cjfrbw, I have not tried the WE417 tubes yet. I did however change the rectifier tube with a Phillips miniwatt metal base and it made a huge difference. I am holding off the tube rolling and saving my $ for the H-3000 upgrade.
While I have been mulling over the preamp and phono preamp options, a friend let me try his Pass Ono phono preamp.

It was very detailed without coming off as dry or analytical. The soundstage was wide, and the instruments were well defined. It was a marked improvement over the Mobile Fidelity I have.

If I can try a tube preamp, I will. Then I will have a better idea weather a new preamp or phono preamp will be better bang for the buck.

If you're happy with what you listened to, then just stick to it. That's the best piece of advise I can give you. We're all looking for different things. What might be best for me might not be what you're looking for.
Sounds like good stuff but even the 1500 is higher than I'd like to go any time soon.(I've got 4 little kids to support...not to mention their mom)Oh well, the modded GCPH really is quite good. Meanwhile, maybe I'll be watching for your 1500 to show up here Genesis.
Might just sell my 1500 when I go all out (hopefully soon). Start with the 1200. It has that same magical sound as the 1500 with less scale and body.

Comparing the 1200 to the XONO is like looking at a great photo/picture(xono) vs the looking at the real thing (allnic). Don't get me wrong, the pass is a great piece but it was not what I wanted.
The Allnic sounds great by your description, but I am not able to find much info on it via the web, and I don't have a way to demo it.

I could buy one used, then try to sell it if I don't like it, but since it isn't a mainstream piece, it makes me a little leary.

I appreciate the recommendation.
I had the same thoughts like you had before I got the 1500. Lucky for me, I got the 1200 as a loaner and all it took was 5 minutes. I could easilly keep the 1500 as long as I am in vinyl land that's why I took the plunge.

Now after hearing the 3000, I will try get more $$$ together to make it happen.
Please e-mail me with your impressions of the H-3000 when you get it. The 1500 has large room for improvement by using either the WE417a or the Amprex gold pinned 5842. I found the raytheons very detailed but somewhat bleached and body-less sounding by comparison.
I'm using the Allnic-1200 and I really like her alot.
There is one for sale on Audiogon.
You should consider upgrading the 90X to the new 9000. I used a 90X for 3 years and was surprised by the difference that I heard when I switched to the 9000. Made me think the 90X was defective. Cleaner, quieter, more involving. Well worth the cost of a change. Set-up easy; same VTF, same loading, same anti-skating. Plays nice with the K&K phono with 38 ohm loading.

Thanks for the suggestions. You mentioned you ran the 9000 at 38 ohms loading. Can I ask what loading you used with the 90X?

38ohms. That is the impedance reflected by the Lundahl MC trannie wired 10:1. I have a 3.8K resistor in parallel with the secondary. Divide that by 10 squared you get 38 ohms. In my set-up the highs were a little too pronounced with less load (42 ohms). 20 ohms "killed" the sound stage. The 9000 really is a significant improvement.
I currently have an Allnic 1200 on loan from a HiFi dealer. I really am in 2 minds about it - on some music it is sublime on other music it seems a bit unconvincing. I'm thinking my next step will be to listen to a good piece of rock and roll, maybe The Who with Won't Get Fooled Again, listen with the Allnic and then with the Black Cube I currently run and make up my mind.

Do any owners of Allnic 1200 phono stages listen to much rock? The higher models are probably out of my reach money wise so any opinions would be appreciated.