Phono Preamp upgrade


New to vinyl playback but have some equipment that I'm really enjoying and others I'd like to consider upgrading.

My current set up is:

Audio Research VSi55 tube amplifier

Kef LS 50's

Pro-ject Debut Carbon w/ Ortofon Red & upgraded acrylic platter.

Schitt Mani phono preamp.

 

I'm happy with my amplifier and speakers but am curious about trying out different cartridge's, including MC. I would like to upgrade the TT, but am thinking of starting with the phono preamp. I'm looking at the following:

QHW 'The Vinyl'

Dynavector P75

Sutherland KC Vibe

All can be had for under $1k which I'm comfortable with paying and I've found retailers for all that allow returns so it's possible to order all 3 and have them at the same time to hear them in my system.

They all have multiple settings for MM & MC cartridges, so should be able to handle different cartridges down the road when I upgrade my TT.

I've read positive reviews about all. Do 1 or 2 stand out considerably above another? Or is just getting all of them and picking my favorite the best option? Any other that I should consider?

 

Thanks for your responses and advice!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

boywondr84

My friend uses the Sutherland KC Vibe with a low output Dynavector MC. I doubt you would go wrong with the Vibe. BTW, you can get a used one for about $600.00 or less!

I’ll always bring up the pre I decided upon when replacing my Mani; The Hagerman Trumpet MC. Can handle any cart you want to throw at it. A bit more than $1k @ $1,098, free shipping.

Really like the Trumpet. I have changed out the tubes, and depending, that can increase the overall investment by a good chunk, but worth it, can ‘flavor to taste’, better be able to fit your set-up, and fun. That said, the stock tubes are fine too.

My advice, don't mess around with baby steps. With digital, okay. That stuff gets old so fast. A good phono stage though, well worth the money. 

I get you are thinking, "$600 turntable, $1k phono stage, sounds about right." If this will be the end of it, maybe so. But already you are talking about a better table and cartridge. So in 6 months, a year tops, out goes the phono stage, back to square one. 

Basically what I am saying, instead of buying for the system you have now, buy for the system you want to have next. Buy the one you will want when you have that better table and cart. Because soon enough, you will.

Best part of doing it this way, you will be shocked how much difference a really good phono stage makes.

@boywondr84  - I previously owned a Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Esprit SB. The only difference between my TT and yours is the built-in speed box in the Esprit. It included the acrylic platter which you've already upgraded.

I replaced the Ortofon 2M red stylus with a 2M Blue Stylus and I replaced the phono cable with an Audio Sensibility Impact SE (w/factory burn-in). I found these to be good upgrades at a reasonable price.

However, I have since replaced the Pro-Ject with a Pioneer PLX1000 turntable with a lowly Ortofon Concorde mkII Mix DJ cartridge and I feel it is better than the Pro-Ject. Once I put a more audiophile focused cartridge on the Pioneer, I think it will be a significantly better setup.

I think the Hagerman or Sutherland phono pre-amps would be a good upgrade for you. However, I feel you are ultimately going to be limited by your TT.

You've got great amplification and speakers (although I've never heard the KEFs). I think upgrading both your TT and phono pre-amp are in order. You could do either one first, but probably plan on both over time.

@reubent 

However, I feel you are ultimately going to be limited by your TT

I would agree with that. I purchased a Carbon Debut to see if getting back into vinyl would stick the second time around (after a very long absence). It stuck. Think I had it less than a year before I dove in deeper than I thought I might. It was well worth it. Actually the Mani was the last thing I replaced. I had my SOTA Sapphire/Jelco 850/Soundsmith Zephyr running with the Mani before I ultimately replaced it. That combo was heads and tails above the Pro-Ject in every way, and I was quite pleased with it even with the Mani. The Hagerman was icing on the cake.

It’s a good point @reubent makes. You may want to rethink your table/arm/cartridge first. But, I would be prepared to spend a lot more than a thousand bucks. 

Agree with the above. Upgrade turntable first. 

@millercarbon +1 nailed it on the head. Phonostages are really important don’t skimp… get a destination phonostage or your not going to know what’s happening when you upgrade tt and cartridges.

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I appreciate the feedback and recommendations from everyone. My follow up questions are then:

What TT & cartridge and phono preamp's would you recommend to add to the VSi55 amplifier and KEF LS50's? Does a Gyro SE or Technics 1200G paired with a Sutherland 20/20 (I'm just throwing out items I've drooled over while reading about them but am unlikely to ever own) still make sense with that speaker / amp combo?

Or is a Rega P3 or P6, or maybe a Clearaudio Concept better suited for my Kef / Audio Research system?

I just don't want to get into chasing after gear, and I really like my speaker / amp as it is (and have had for about 4 years now) and am considering upgrading the TT & phono preamp to their level.

Thanks in advance!

Digital does not get old fast. It gets better fast.

Try a Parks Puffin. It will match all carts you through at it.

I'm not going to make any specific phono recommendations.  I'll pile on and encourage you to consider a better turntable/cartridge. 

Your components need to be of similar quality.  Adding a better phono stage would no doubt help with sound quality, but you'll be leaving a lot on the table so to speak by feeding it a not so great signal from an entry level turntable.

Return Options for Phono is Imperative IMO.

Based on my experiences (below), I endorse your current plan, order all 3, listen via existing TT/cartridge, keep one.

Later, a different Cartridge.

Later, a different TT.

Later yet????

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My basic TT, AT120, with MM Cartridge, (great starter TT IMO) I could easily hear the difference between the McIntosh SS C28 Preamp’s MM Phono and the AT120’s built-in optional phono eq. Surprisingly, I preferred the dinky built-in one. Meaning: you can hear the differences thru your existing amp/speakers.

Changed preamp to McIntosh Tube Tuner/Preamp, mx110z, now much prefer the sound of the preamp’s MM Phono. I changed TT and advanced to 3 tonearms (MC Stereo; MM Stereo; Mono arms ready to go) via a SUT to keep using the mx110z’s MM Phono.

Upstairs, office system, tried Pyle $15. MM phono temporarily, just to get listening. Bought Cambridge Duo, preferred the Pyle, returned the Cambridge. Tried another moderately priced highly recommended one, didn’t like it, returned it, kept the Pyle. Got Luxman Integrated with built-in MM and MC, prefer it to the Pyle.

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Note: for a MC cartridge, I got my first MC last year after advice here.

I recommend first getting a MM phono you like, and using a SUT to simply boost the signal strength to keep using the MM phono you already like. Make sure it has PASS so you can run a MM or MC thru it (i.e. one tonearm/change headshells, MM Stereo; MC Stereo; Mono.

A SUT with optional loading/x-factors gives you more flexibility in the future. a SUT with multiple inputs gives even more flexibility if you think you will ever have more than 1 tonearm.

Your amp and speakers are going to reveal the different ’color’ of the phono preamps IF they vary (probable). Later, a different cartridge will be revealed thru your preferred color.

Let us know what you hear,

Elliott

 

I was really impressed with Hagerman value after I bought a Piccolo head amp from them to replace a step-up transformer that was introducing some noise. Dead quiet and no change in sound (the phono stage I use was a $5000 unit when new).

For a phono stage I would recommend a used Audio Research PH… as high a number as you can afford. I have owned PH 2, 2se, 3se, 5 (?), 8, and now a Reference 3. There is a substantial market and you will be getting a real audiophile piece of gear… well, you know, It’s audio research.

 

Rega are very popular and well respected. I had one many years ago and a friend has one, never did much for me. Didn’t have much bass, didn’t seem to be very quiet… but they get great reviews, so beats me. I would consider Clear Audio or a used VPI… put a couple grand into a VPI (non-suspended) and you are going to have an amazing table (tremendous bass, quiet, flexible arm.).

Cartridge choice is going to depend on the table and the kind of sound you want.

Right, I had PH3SE, $2500 back in the day, at 20 years old it sold for $1k, probably find one under $900 today. Don't know what you would find for $900 today though but that would be one fine phono stage.

+1 @millercarbon  I was going to chime in but you beat me to it.

Great minds, etc etc.

why jump the shark on a phono pre…before you know how much gain you need ? i agree with @big_greg  get a better table / arm / cart@bkeske gave you a great hint on a SOTA. Find a nice Sapphire with a Sumiko or Jelco on it, add an Ortofon Black or equivalent $ Soundsmith … and then mess around w phono stages. You have a great amp and revealing intimate speakers…you are well on the way. have fun, enjoy the journey. Btw i have heard the Sutherland and the DV both are super quiet, dynamic and neutral and pair well with ARC tube gear.

Jim