Phono preamp worth it with MM cartridges?


I've had conflicting advice from dealers so hoping for some clarity here. How much do phono preamps offer with sound quality and MM cartridges? (I understand they have a huge impact on sound quality with MC). 

My current setup is Rega P3/Neo/Exact/Groovetracer RS, Rega Elex-R amp, and Spendor A4 speakers and I mostly listen to classical, jazz, and light rock.

Will buying a Rega Aria phone preamp (or  iFi iPhono 3? Avid? Graham Slee? in the sub $2k range) make a worthwhile difference or should I wait till I buy an MC cartridge before splurging ? 

Thanks, Roger
wqgq_641
A good phono stage is always a good idea for MM or MC

In the sub $2k range I would take look at Simaudio Moon 110LP or 310LP.

I have the LP 5.3 RS (basically the same as the 310) and I’m pretty sure it’s my last phono stage.

They are extremely quiet, great dynamics/sound and can configure to almost any cartridge - MC or MM

You can add a separate power supply to the 310, but with good cables - either would both sound amazing.

Regards - Steve
Roger, Listen to the one you have. If it sounds OK to you then don't spend any money. Once you need more gain then you will be forced into buying a new Phone amp. Spend the money on getting a better cartridge.
There are some fine MM cartridges available. 
What we think sounds good is not the point. It is what you think. 
There are some killer MM cartridges, but not your Rega, you'd better change a cartridge first.

Some MM or MI phono cartridges are more expensive than MC.

A phono stage is important for all types of cartridges.
There are many inexpensive MM/MC phono stages on the market, the one I really like is JLTi mk4 (now mk5 available from the manufacturer).

Different loading for MM is also a very nice option, so the loading is NOT only for MC.
Loading for MM must be from 30 to 100k Ohm. A phono stage with RCA-Plug resistors for MM is nice to have, but internal resitors in the phono stage must be very high in this situation (500k Ohm) to load it down with parallel RCA-Plug resistors .


@chakster thanks, what to your ears would be a better sounding MM? My local dealer offered me the 2M Black which I'm open to as a long time fan of Ortofon but he thought it comparable to the Exact. I guess there's no point buying a better cartridge than the deck/arm I have can do justice to?

I really wish the dealer had talked me into a getting P6 to begin with. The other option at the back of my mind is to do neither and move the Exact to a new P8 and sell the upgraded P3.
Seriously....not just bashing...but get rid of the Exact cart...literally, every other cart I’ve had (including less expensive ones) has sounded better (at least to these ears)....my opinion is that it may be handicapping everything else.

Makes me wonder how many Rega Exact purchasers have been unnecessarily turned off or left unimpressed by vinyl.

For sure though...this is just my experience/opinion....So, grain of salt...


wqgq_641, your arm is a light intermediate mass arm. The 2M black should work well. The Clearaudio Charisma would work perfectly. IMHO it is one of if not the best MM cartridge available today. It is also priced that way. The Clearaudio Maestro V2 is a bit less expensive and also excellent. There are the Grado cartridges. The Ref 3 is a standout. The Master 3 is about the same price as the 2M Black. Then there are the high output Soundsmiths. The Carmen MKII is about the same price as the 2M Black. I think you get more for your money with the Grado Master 3.
I prefer cartridges with fixed styli. There are trade offs in making a stylus replaceable.  
what to your ears would be a better sounding MM? My local dealer offered me the 2M Black which I’m open to as a long time fan of Ortofon but he thought it comparable to the Exact. I guess there’s no point buying a better cartridge than the deck/arm I have can do justice to?

I really wish the dealer had talked me into a getting P6 to begin with. The other option at the back of my mind is to do neither and move the Exact to a new P8 and sell the upgraded P3.

Can you adjust VTA of your tonearm to properly set up another cartridge?

There are many amazing MM cartridges, but I prefer those best from the 80’s (they are crème de la crème of MM). Depends on the budget, under $750 I always recommend Pickering XSV/4000 or cheaper XSV/3000SP. Wonderful cartridges, especially the XSV/4000 with Stereohedron stylus. If you can’t find NOS ask me! The Pioneer PC-1000 mkII is another favorite at the same price as the XSV/4000. What else? Sony XL-50 is very special for reasonable price (Boron Pipe cantilever!). And I like Grace LEVEL II but it’s very expensive!

I hope you can change Rega to Technics GR :)) 



If he has a Rega arm/table...he may need spacers, etc. ...depending on the cart.

As they tiredly say...been there, done that.
Chak, do you really think an MM phono stage needs the option of 30 ohms loading? Or was that a typo, and you may have meant 30K or 30,000 ohms, which does make sense?


Buy the very best MM phono stage you can afford, but don’t assume cost and quality are proportional. If you succeed in reaching that goal, you may never need to “upgrade” if you purchase a LOMC cartridge, because you can add a SUT or pre-preamp for more gain. To get where you want to be is a process of trial and error for each one of us. No one can tell you what you will like. I’d suggest Sim Audio, Herron, Hageman, K&K units with at least 40db gain or any excellent used unit to save money.
A good phono preamp will definitely be worthwhile for MM cartridges as well. The best we've heard in the under $2K price point is the Vertere PHONO-1 MkII.
Thank you - between you you've given me a lot to think about
@lewm  As I said 30-100k Ohm (which is from 30k to 100k). 
When you will look at the manuals for MM cartridges from the past you will see a range of recommended load from 30k to 100k. I'm not gonna say 30k is better, I prefer 100k Ohm nearly for every MM. But when the best MM cartridges were designed the loading range from the manufacturers was 30 000 - 100 000 Ohm.

Today 47k Ohm is standard, but today's MM cartridges are 95% junk.  
Forget all the fancy specs and numbers people are spewing out. The P3 with Exact combo is a very lively and fun sound.With this set up you dont need a $2000 phonostage, you will wind up wanting a new table! Then things just start going sideways....different is the new word not better. So, having a phono preamp such as a Musical Surroundings phonomena (with tons of settings) or even the $1200 Nova would be a perfect match with your setup, AND this would allow a upgrade for any cartridge in the future you would desire.

Matt M
good phono stage still matters, for sure

it is still absolutely critical amplification, earliest in the signal chain

the rega aria is a very good $1500 phono stage but its mm portion is actually relatively ordinary... people buy the aria for the flexible and very high gain mc stage it provides

suggest you consider a lehmann black cube or graham slee - not too expensive, very quiet, superbly clean and non-editorial to the sound of the signal being fed in ... then make sure you are running a damn GOOD mm cartridge
Before you put down any cash for a cartridge, get the tonearm spacer issue sorted out.
I agree with the cart upgrade first. Try a Soundsmith Carmen Mk2. You can find the older body ones on sale for a very reasonable price for what they achieve sonically. Will be dramatic upgrade from the cart you have now. The Rega Phono stage is good for sure. But get the cart changed first. Then see from there...

MC cartridges are extremely low signal output (less than 1 mv) cartridges and therefore need very expensive front end phono preamplifiers. Inherently, their signal to noise ratios are usually worse than MM (3 - 6mv) cartridges due to this reason (-70db or so vs -90 db typically)

These days, a $500 - $700 MM cartridge with a very inexpensive but excellent Schiit Audio Mani ($150) phono preamp would be almost indistinguishable to MOST ears. Plus, you can replace an MM stylus but not an MC stylus, which needs expensive re-tipping.

Get a Nagaoka MP500 and/or an Ortofon 2M Black and you will be more than happy with the sound AND the money that you have saved.

Do not fall down the black hole of very expensive esoteric cartridges to gain another 5% of better sound, especially if you are over 40. Your ears will most likely not hear it.

If you insist on the absolute best phono preamps however, Pass Labs Xs phono ($45k)and/or Avid audio Pulsare ($8k) cant be beat.

When to take the step to MC? I would say you would get the most bang for buck by staying with MM. Get the 2M black (or bronze which you can upgrade to black for little money in the future) and partner it with the schiit mani. The mani is amazing sound for the price. That combo will sound so much better on your Rega turntable than your current set up. I loved that combination on a similar priced project deck a few years ago. I only moved to MC when I could afford to upgrade to rega P8, apheta 3 and rega aria. Aria is great but haven't tried it on MM. Am keeping the mani if I ever get the chance to have a second deck with MM. 
Yeah, all you need for LOMC is sill a decent MM phono stage and external SUT to match cartridge impedance. I’ve been using this pair of SUTs and it can cover all types of LOMC (from low to high impedance).

MM stage and SUT is a classic combo.

A great MM phono stage is a must have, in my opinion great MM stage should not cost more than $1200 (many available withing this price tag).




If you have a friendly dealer take the $2k and your P3, and exchange for a P6 with the Ania MC + Sutherland KC Vibe phonostage. THAT will be a very noticeable upgrade to your record collection.
@chakster, "todays MM cartridges are 95% junk." 

That is quite some generalization chakster. Do you have any additional references on that? Granted, the cheapest of the cheap cartridges are moving magnet cartridges but I do not think any of us take a $15.00 cartridge serious. 
Since you think MM cartridges are superior to MC cartridges does that make 99% of them junk? 
I share the general disrespect for the Exact, but defend the MM pre in the Elex-R.  What you want is a better cartridge, perhaps a Benz Ace HO?  Boron cantilever line contact nude stone, for under a grand. Another good one is a Hana SH.  And order a set of AS shims. 
Roger,
a good phono stage makes an improvement with either a MM or LOMC cart.

There are quite a few good ones out there, just depends on how deep you want to go into the woods. In the sub 2k range look for a used Manley Chinook. Does very well with both MC and MM carts. Have owned two of them over the years, you can pick one up used for 1400 to 1700 range.
The latest model has a switcher power supply so would avoid that, all the earlier models have a big fat toroid in the power supply section, which is what you want.  


I have personal experience with the elex-r built in phonostage as well as a rega p2 with the exact. The exact in all honesty had more "attack" than when I moved up to my Clearaudio Concept Wood table and the entry level Concept MM cartridge. I will go ahead and call the concept MM cartridge junk. Detail was improved, but everything else it offered was a step backwards. I accidentally broke the cantilever after too many drinks one night, which lead me to the sub $500 Hana EH which is a high output MC cartridge and I could not be happier.

Also, the Elex-r phonostage isn’t great, but it is decent. I moved to the Musical Surroundings Nova III and this phonostage is superb. I almost went Lehmann Black Cube but no local dealers stocked it. Michael Yee and Musical Surroundings have phonemal phonostages and even offer the option to add a liner power supply. This added even more "Identity" to the phono. I can highly recommend even calling Musical Surroundings as they have someone named Ken (I believe?) That you can talk to and won’t BS you into buying their products.

All in all, get rid of the exact, avoid the entry level Clearaudio MM and pick up either the Phenomena or the Nova III and don’t look back. That’s what I did.


Chak, To be clear, I was only questioning the "30"; you left out the "K".  I now see how you meant it.  Of course I do agree that for some MM cartridges 30K might work fine or even optimally, but not 30 ohms ever for any MM cartridge.  I just did not want the OP or anyone else to be confused.
On the subject of Clearaudio MM cartridges, some of them are excellent but at least one of the best is just a re-branded and externally altered version of a less expensive MM made by a main line Japanese company. Do some research on that, and you can save a significant fraction of cost.  I don't know if this applies to more than one of their MMs.
@lewm MM cartridge manufacturers in the 80’s clearly stated 30k - 100k Ohm range for their best (top of the line MM) in the manuals. Why?

Now it’s just 47k

Flexibility is a range, so user can try what’s the best.

@mijostyn You don’t have any of the best MM or MI from the past and never owned any of them, I don’t know what can I say ... You must try! If you wish you can try not MM junk like your old Shure V15 MK-whatever, but a proper $1500-3000 MM. I never said MM is better than MC and I own some of the best LOMC ever made too (and I like them). Do you have some? Please post. If you think cartridges getting better and better every years you’re wrong. The problem with LOMC is the price, repair/retip is nonsense. MM are practically better and best vintage MM are cheaper and often better than most of the modern MC.

Modern MMs are junk because the cantilever and styli are always the same (from the same jewel manufacturers in Japan). Nearly all of them are nothing special. Maybe 5% is an exception, but not what you guys are posting here, not a Nagaoka, not Ortofon and not a ClearAudio with dirt cheap Audio-Technica motor inside.

SoudSmith cartridges are not MM, they are MI and it’s another story.

If you like expensive stuff buy this one.
Prepare to spend over $10 000 for this, it’s NOT an MC.
Then tell us how do you like MI or MM :)  


Chak, I hope you understand that I am agreeing with you about 30K ohms.  Got that?  I personally have found most often that 100K ohms sounds best with many of my MMs.  This started with the Grado TLZ or XTZ which I know we both like. The TLZ sounded best with 100K ohms load.  I have actually never tried less than 47K ohms.  Also, in many cases it's a trade-off with capacitance.  If you increase R above 47K there would be a corresponding change in the best capacitative load.  If you don't want to mess around with C, you can just play with R (more or less) until you get the best result with whatever is the total C load seen by the phono stage.  You don't even have to know exactly the value of C, just change R until you are happy.
No Love for the MoFi Carts?

Seems like the 500 dollar cart range is just as packed as the 500 dollar TT market.
Chakster sold me a very nice AT ML150-OCC MM cartridge that I would be willing to let go if you are interested?  Send me a PM. He highly recommended this cartridge and it is a good one especially at the less than $500 price point. It betters most MM sold today. 
i agree as mm's go the at ml150 is excellent

need a loading kit to make the treble sound right though... it did not like 47k iirc
jjss49 you bring up a good point. I did try a few different settings. What did you decide on worked best in your setup?  
You need a phono stage to play a record. Don't understand the question.
Give a look to the Ray Samuels F117 phono. It is a very good value. There are some very favourable reviews on the net. And I confirm. Its is really good.
Unless your amplifier already has an in built phono stage, you MUST get a phono preamp in order to be able to listen to anything off a phono cartridge, regardless of whether it is MM or MC.

So it is not a matter of whether it improves the sound, it is essential. The reason is because while almost all other audio sources generate signals which are appropriate for an amplifier to handle, a phono cartridge’s output signal is very much lower and hence needs a lot more amplification.

In addition, the phone amplifier provides something called RIAA equalization without which, the sound would be awful, which only phono preamplifiers provide.

Furthermore, the output signals of an MM and MC are very different. MC signals are even less than MM signals by an order of magnitude. So, ideally, the phono amplifier you must buy should be able to handle both types.

Luckily, in today’s marketplace, there are literally hundreds of very good different types of phono preamplifiers, ranging in price from $100 to more than $45,000. Your choice depends on your budget.

Some that I recommend are the wonderful Schiit Mani (its price does not do it justice) at about $150, Rega Aria at about $1500 and at the absolute ridiculous top end, Pass Labs phono preamp at $45,000.

If you don't want to change tables, upgrade the arm of the P3 to an RB880. I did it when I had a P5 and was blown away (I subsequently but the bullet and got the P8 which includes it).  If you add a PSU if you don't have one, the table will be very good. Depending on the dealer trade value of your P3, it might be worth it to jump to the P8 which of course includes the PSU. Rega is known for their arms. Take advantage of them.

Cartridge upgrade would help too. The need for a phono stage is more apparent with MC cartridges, although they can also help with MMs. Since most MMs today are junk, I would recommend a reasonable MC and a Sutherland phono stage, the highest level one you can afford. That's all they do.
The very first post suggested SimAudio Moon phono stages ,
My first external was a 110LP replacing the wall wort with a linear power supply  and can say that the improvement was very rewarding compared to the built in found in the pre-amp that   I was using at the time, 
along with Grado Wood cartridges on a Rega 300rb arm .

A few years ago I upgraded and went with tubes and purchased a
Tavish Design Adagio , this unit is under your $2,000 limit .
I'm now using a Soundsmith Carmen mkII on the same Rega 300rb arm .

Tubes are great but they can be expensive ,
the Moon 110LP is a great unit for it's price but has limited settings .
Either way using an external phono pre-amp will benefit any MM cartridge that you'll use .



Sound, flexibility, price: iFi.
@samzx12

jjss49 you bring up a good point. I did try a few different settings. What did you decide on worked best in your setup?


iirc i settled on 22k ohms for the at ml150
Except for speakers, I have almost the exact same gear. First off, I think the Exact is excellent, and I’m on my second one. I run a Parks Audio Budgie as my phono amp, and couldn’t be happier with the sound. They don’t come up for sale that often, but with some reasonably priced vintage tubes that I got off of EBay, it sounds really nice. Just another option. And I’d love to hear the A4’s with my gear.
Hey vair68robert- if you go from the RB300 to the 880 you will be blown away. Now there is no intermediary step in terms of arms from Rega. It goes from the RB330 to the 880 to the 3000. $600 to $1200 to unavailable ( they all go in the P10 table but will be available soon) $2200. Arms make the biggest difference IMHO (assuming amp &speakers are a constant) then cart/phono stage and then table (assuming table spins accurately) so I would focus on that. 
iirc i settled on 22k ohms for the at ml150

Wow that's low. I think 42k ohms was the lowest I tried. 
Chakster sold me a very nice AT ML150-OCC MM cartridge that I would be willing to let go if you are interested? Send me a PM. He highly recommended this cartridge and it is a good one especially at the less than $500 price point. It betters most MM sold today.

Sam's AT-ML150 OCC was nice, here is full description in my old sold listing. 

The ultimate in this series are the AT-ML170 and AT-ML180, but they are more expensive. 



Thank You @sokogear 
I've upgraded the 300's wiring with Incognito wire and Cardas RCAs,
also am using an Expressimo weight .
A new tonearm is in the future , thinking about an AudioMods VI .
But wqgq_641 is looking for a pre-amp recommendation to go with his MM cartridge ,  the Tavish Design uses tubes only for the MM input
and is within his budget . 
One more thing wqgq_641 I am using a passive pre-amp so I am hearing
Cartridge , phono pre-amp , volume control/selector ( passive pre-amp ) and Amp, as minimal and pure as possible .
As far as minimal goes, Sutherland has a pretty expensive phono stage that can be plugged directly into an amp (not an integrated one) for less signal degradation. He believes in simplicity. The volume has like 47 settings and no remote control, and of course you can't play any other source (which I would have no problem with). Just don't want to spend 5 figures on a phono stage (even if it eliminates the need for a preamp).