Phono Preamplifier Redux .. Damn This is Getting Expensive

I posted previously in search of a phono preamplifier, but as I put together a system I refined what I was looking for.

My current Analog food chain consists of Technics 1200G turntable, Hana ML cartridge, unknown phono preamplifier, McIntosh MA12000 integrated, Sabrina X, pair of REL S/812 subs.  Also, Shunyata Everest 8000 power conditioner and a mix of Alpha V2 NR and Venom V10NR power cables.  Other cables: AQ Earth balanced interconnects, William Tell full range speaker cables.  Also, had to make some room acoustic modifications.

So, here is the problem.  I just got a Holo May DAC DTE and have been streaming by Roon, mostly purchased and ripped files on a Synology NAS.  The problem is that my digital side sounds much more musical than my analog.  Part of the remedy is on the way with 3" Tiger Maple equipment rack, but digital and analog are not close.  My Sutherland 20/20 LPT is going back.  It has limited front/back sound stage and the upper mids and treble are a bit shrill.  I say this because the Holo is just beautifully musical throughout.

Music Direct will be taking Sutherland back and has suggested the Esoteric E-02 Balanced as a solution.  So this post I'm raising my budget to 9-10K new, or used and prefer balanced out.  Looking for detail, dynamics and silent background.  I just can't have the digital so much more enjoyable... of course there is always selling all analog and staying digital, but that doesn't feel right.  

So, where do I go for balanced out and more musical, but retaining micro detail and dynamics?


Exotic wood racks, cable and other doo dads is not the answer.

Demo as many different topologies as possible, and go with what your ears like.

All the usual suspects have something in your price range. 

The heavy wood rack is part of my effort to get the bass under control, as well as a large heavy padded rug, full size low back sofa and nine large bass traps. I need to reduce the transfer of energy to the cartridge and other components.. I suppose.  If that isn't happening, I'll have to locate the turntable/phono preamp on the side wall and this will require longer balanced interconnects.

nice stereo. definitely not a component you can achieve excellent result with mediocrity. i would look at tubed phono pre's. 

My concern with tubes is the problem that I'm having with cartridge vibration... worried about the tube microphonics.

i've never had issues with vibration and tubes. they are certainly not sensitive like a cart. 

Question -- when you chose the Hana ML cartridge, what did you hear that convinced you to buy it over another cartridge?  Also, what phono preamp was being used at the time?  The easiest suggestion to my mind is to try the same preamp that impressed you when the cartridge was selected and work from there.

I never heard the cartridge.  I purchased based on reviews.  I just don't see the point of auditioning with different speakers, etc..  I really was intending to start small and things got out of hand,  The only pieces of equipment I purchased by audition were the MA12000 and Sabrina X which I heard as part of a system.  That particular shop was not into vinyl...or at least my salesperson and his supervisor were not into vinyl.

To complete with with that DAC you're going to need both more phono stage but also more turntable rig in my opinion. You're gonna need to spend 15-20k on a turntable, arm, cartridge and phono stage. I have a brinkmann Bardo with the 10.5 arm and an ortofon cadenza black running through a Rodgers high fidelity PA-2. It's outrageous with detail, soundstage, but more than anything it's musical. Other players when I was looking we're the kuzma stabi r with 4 point or j sikora initial. I agree that a tubed phono stage is the way to go for musicality. Get some tube dampers and NOS tubes and you'll be smiling

The Hana ML is an incredible value. It excels in tone, detail and soundstage.  
To beat it you’ll probably need to spend 2-3x more for the cartridge.

Funny how we chase this…I’m in the same boat. My analog set up (MoFi UltraDeck/Hana ML/Sutherland KC Vibe II) sounded better than digital (benchmark DAC 3 HGC). I upgraded the DAC and now the digital sounds awesome and the analog is lagging slightly behind. There’s no end to it. You’re most likely going to end up beating your digital with your next analog upgrade and be on a mary go round with the DAC. 😂

On a serious note though…assuming your current analog set up is properly done, you might need to swap your table for something like Dr. Feichert with Kuzma arm, swap the ML and get Umami Red or mid tier Koetsu and get a phono amp like ARC Ref3SE. And then you’ll be right where I predicted…

if you want to get rid of all the bass vibrations going through the floor up your equipment and back up the speakers again check out the Townshend podiums, they're the best speaker isolation on the market they're not cheap but OMG do they make a difference, when I put them underneath my monitor audio platinum 200 ll it was like I had upgraded to better electronics and any room problems just totally disappear.

You might find you'd get more responses if you had this in the analog forum. 

What settings are you using on the Sutherland with the Hana. If you are using 64 dB of gain I would immediately change the gain to 58 dB and loading to 100 ohms and at least try that before sending it back. 64 dB of gain with that cartridge would definitely contribute to what you're describing and hearing IMO. 

If you are already set at 58 dB and 100 ohms (which should be essentially ideal for that cartridge) I'd carry on and look elsewhere at other equipment but that is a rabbit hole of course. Typical of the hobby. 

Consider looking at the Zesto Audio line of phono preamps. It is a smaller brand but consistently get great reviews. They are tube based amps that perform well above their price point and can be found within your price range. 

Stop worrying about an upgrade.  Hold out for a used Herron VTPH-2A.  There are no further upgrades available.  

@hdm I have Sutherland KC Vibe II set at 60db gain, 200ohm load with my Hana ML. Hana recommends >100ohm but to your point, there’s no harm in trying and may be worth a shot for the OP. 
One other thing I discovered with the ML is it’s super sensitive to VTA. Also, on my table it sounds better with 2.04gr of VTF which is slightly higher than the Hana recommended max of 2gr. 

@vonhelmholtz that holo audio dac has upped the ante on the analog side of your rig. would agree with your idea to send back the Sutherland. You may want to look for a used VTL TP 6.5. Its the best phono stage I have heard until you get into the Boulder 2018 which is better but does not blow the vtl away. 

also if you can, come out of the 6.5 phono stage completely balanced into your pre. Have tried it both ways, makes a huge difference. 

@vonhelmholtz Before you change a thing, please move your turntable out of the sound field. Your speakers are blasting your poor cartridge like Captain Kirk flying through an asteroid storm. That can't be helping and I'm surprised you're not getting feedback from the speakers into the analog playback.

To be candid, you've made many purchases of gear you haven't heard before. That's always going to be a risk. Most electronics need 100hours or more of break-in. Are you judging the phono stage before that? If you aren't near a number of dealers and can't demo stuff, you should seriously consider buying used gear with the mindset that it's just a longterm home demo, with little risk. Take your time and change only one piece at a time.

If you can demo gear, bring your music that you know well, is well recorded and make appointments to listen on slow days/times when you won't be rushed. The gear that "wows" for 30minutes, may not be what moves you over a longer listening session. Musicality & detail are yin & yang. Short demos make detail win and long term enjoyment suffer. Cheers,


I suggest that what you are hearing is not the fault of the Sutherland which is a very capable phono preamp. There is nothing shrill about its sound.

It does take ~ 200 hours for all of the capacitors and electronics to be burned in.

I suggest your issue could also be that settings are not ideal for the cartridge. Try setting it to 100 ohms and a lower gain setting than you have now. What your hearing sounds like too much gain and possibly the cartridge is not yet broken in or properly aligned.  

FYI I am currently running a 20/20 with Technics GR and Lyra Delos and the sound is phenomenal.

Patience is advised when setting up a vinyl system.

If you feel you must have balanced connections, the Parasound JC3+ at Music Direct ($3199) does support them.

in no way do you need to consider a different turntable/cart. both are very capable! a used herron phono pre would be my choice but a rogue ares magnum is wonderful sounding.

I looked at your system and it’s possible that the way it is positioned It is causing noise through the TT. It’s also VERY possible that you like digital more. Some people try to make us feel like we can’t hear if we feel that way but there are virtues to both digital and analog. I like both but could happily live with my Holo Spring DAC.

I'm in same boat with digital so much better no longer listen to vinyl, and this with well over 3500 albums. I estimate I'd have to spend upwards of $10K on phono pre and cartridge to get back to something like level playing field. Not sure I'm going to ever do this as digital sound quality entirely pleasurable and now hooked on new type listening session, what with ease of selecting music via streaming.

Agree that the 1200G or the Hana is not the issue.

I have a stock 1200G with the humble AT33PTGII and it edges out my digital: Audiolab 8200CD with dual differential 24 bit DAC. 

I have a Hagerman Trumpet MC and I like it a lot. I would say that it's equivalent to a $2k+ phono preamp. You need to spend in that neighborhood or well upwards to not get the upgrade bug a few months down the road. My digital sounds great but even my old Project Phono Box RS ($1000) did better with MM.

It's definitely the phono stage. Very careful cartridge setup helps too. I use a very thick TT mat to get the tonearm parallel.

There is a lot of good advice in this thread. However, before you end up spending thousands more on a turntable (which I don’t think is the issue), process of elimination is called for. If it’s even a possibility your vinyl rig is susceptible to vibration or EMI, fix that first. 

I love the Parasound J3+ and you can easily dial in your cart settings without dip switches, and it’s balanced although that output adds (6db) of gain. 

Based on my personal experience, and as another mentioned above, you probably need to spend 20k in analog to get SQ like 10k in digital, but from what I’ve read 60-80k in analog is better than 120k in digital.  So, at lower prices, it’s hard to beat digital, and at higher prices it’s hard to beat analog.

+1 @urbie Townsend speaker Bars were a game changer for me. Will not resolve your analog woes, but helps define your bass and isolate your speakers from the floor. Can’t say enough about them. Podiums would have been my preference, but I would have had to have them custom made for my speakers, so the bars were a more economical solution.
also agree with the Feickert / Kuzma suggestion. Even the little Volare in the Feickert line is an incredible table. Put a Kuzma 4point 9 on it and you have a giant slayer.


Agree with VTPH recommendation, and I’ll throw in the Manley Steelhead as another good one to look at as well as Pass Labs if you don’t want tubes. But the one that really intrigues me is the Allnic H5500. Here’s a review from PTA, and the reviewer actually uses your TT during the review and very highly recommends the combo. And as others recommended Townshend, I’d strongly recommend considering their Platforms definitely under your turntable and maybe under your phono pre as well.  Best of luck in your search.

Nice system.

Looks like there are opportunities for repositioning… but I am sure that is your plan.


I have been into vinyl for over 50 years. I would stick with your TT now. The Phonostage is critical. I would look at Audio Research, Conrad Johnson, VAC, and Presto. Absolutely get tubes. They will not be a problem and will bring out the strength of vinyl. I am a ARC fan. And have owned and compared them for decades… highly detailed with great midrange bloom and bass.

My general rule of thumb is put equal investment into the amp, preamp, TT/arm, DAC, and phono stage. This gives you some feel for what is needed. Today, you should be able to get better sound from vinyl than digital in the $10K - $20K system… then about equal further on until the high end where vinyl jumps ahead again. Poorly chosen components… the rule doesn’t work.


Of course you could just invest in digital and increase the sound quality of your existing system.



That Brinkmann Audio Bardo Performance Edition is sure a beautiful piece and you might be right about upgrading table/arm/cartridge, but I'm going to hold off on that due to funds and concentrate on reducing cartridge vibration and look for a preamplifier and then look at table..etc..after I sell my Camaro ZL1.  So, I resisted tube phono stage because I have a tube preamp and fear of loss of detail, but I gather that better tube phono preamplifiers retain detail, mico-detail..and have the dynamics of modern solid state..or do you give up something moving from solid state.


I think that the Townshend Podiums look like a good idea with the REL subwoofers.



I used a lower gain setting when I first setup the Sutherland and preferred the higher gain setting, but I took your advice and lowered the gain and at this point after many hours of breaking the lower gain sounded better and the soundstage filled out more.... always been on 100 ohms.


I've moved the turntable to seven different positions and it has the least interaction against the wall and near the sitting position and this might, in the end, be where it ends up, but that requires 4 meter interconnects, so I decided to go for very heavy rack with cones at each shelf resting on the next and I have a 3"thick tiger maple isolation stand on cones... rack weight, 5 sets of cones going to the floor, 108 pounds of integrated amp will be my first step and I will try the Townshend Podiums if that doesn't do it.  I'll go long interconnects and wall mount as a last step if needed.

You've gotten some good suggestions on better isolating your turntable from feedback. If it were me, I'd want to have that issue settled before chasing some new electronics.

One other last comment from me -- there is the possibility that this cartridge just doesn't fit your taste.  Any mechanical-to-electrical (or the other direction) transducer, whether a cartridge, microphone, headphone or speaker has an enormous number of variables that can color the sound.  Think of all the speakers with rave reviews you've heard that left you unimpressed.  Every piece of audio gear out there has its fans and detractors.

Just a thought...

@vonhelmholtz 👍

best to hold off and set everything up properly on the rack either between speakers or on the side wall. Like I said earlier, the ML is a phenomenal cartridge. Also, the 20/20 is a great piece. Don’t go buying anything on impulse.
Good luck and keep us posted. 


the podiums will actually get rid of analog problems because you won't have the vibration going through to your turntable I don't know if the bars will help that but the podium is definitely will, best upgrade I've ever done.

Also, think about where to position the equipment rack - between speakers with all components close to one another gives you an opportunity to buy short cables of better quality vs. setting up on the side wall and running cheaper and longer cables. Ran a 15ft Mogami XLRs from pre to amp with rack on the side. I’m back to everything between speakers and my 2 pairs of 1m Acoustic Zen Absolute Copper XLRs connecting DAC to pre and pre to amp. Mogami was fine for a while but ultimately they’re not on the same level. 


The review of the Allnic is very positive,  but no balance out and class A tube phono stage with just 8" space per shelf in my rack wouldn't do.


The VTL TP 6.5 has great reviews.. The newer version is $$$


I've read many of your posts and you always seem to have a firm foundation and much experience. Audio Research, Conrad Johnson, VAC, and Presto seem like great suggestions, but I do want to stay with balanced outputs.


I think that many others offered similar advice to the ones that I referenced.  From what I'm seeing above, most think that a tube phono stage would be more musical.

Be aware that VTL’s customer service is legendary for being awful.  Personally I’d never support a company that doesn’t support me, especially when there are so many other excellent alternatives.  Just fyi and FWIW. 


If money solves problems, then the Townshend Podiums should solve all of life’s problems. I’ll revisit this if other solutions fail.

My equipment stand only has 8" space between shelves.  This alone eliminates many tube phono stages.  Are there tube phono stages that can give good results and stay cool with only 8"?  Are there quality solid state phono stages that have a musical presentation without loss of detail and dynamics?

I don't know if the Townsend podiums will solve all life's problems but they sure solve a lot of the audio problems especially room problems. LOL

I’ll say I’ve rarely seen such consistently glowing reviews from both customers and reviewers of a tweak product as I see with Townshend Podium, Platform, etc.  One of the few products I’d buy with confidence that it’d make a significant positive difference in my system, and I very likely will when budget allows.  I’m thinking of buying a cheaper audio rack with posts that are sand fillable and putting a Podium underneath that to benefit all my electronics in one shot. 

i keep my tubed dac and tubed phono pre inside a credenza without issue. can't say i'd do this with my SET amp. the little tubes do not generate heat like an output tube. tubed sources are great!


I believe you, but I want to see where I’m at after the equipment stand before I spend $4000 on $5500 worth of subwoofers. It is good to know that there is a solution should all else fail. It may be the only way.. We will see.

@vonhelmholtz If you are willing to spend that level of money on a phono stage, and looking at the rest of your vinyl rig, I would suggest looking into a Modwright PH9.0X, which is a tubed yet completely non-microphonic stage, and the best one I’ve tried with a retail value south of $10K. I’ve advocated for this stage multiple times on this forum, and any time someone chooses it, they are always amazed with how well it performs. I can even give you references to those threads and users but a simple search on this forum will do. we have also debated most of the other stages mentioned above across these threads as well. With the rest of your money, I would suggest you invest the $3-4K into a better, used turntable and tonearm that will get you more out of your Hana.

Should you truly want to rather invest that kind of money all on a phono stage, well I will contact you direct over PM next. 

Consider a cheaper, (not cheap), phono stage and a SUT. Another solution is an RCM 2 Sensor 11. This is a great phono stage and provides precise RIAA equalization for cartridges in the range of 0.3 mV to 5 mV, and outputs a line level signal of 2 Volts at 1 kHz.


The 20/20 comes with load set at 200 ohms.. you probably need to adjust to 100 per your cartridge specs 

Yes, the series II of the 6.5 is not cheap. But you can pick up a series I for 3-4K. 

I have both, the series II is better, but the series I is no slouch. 

Spend some time researching the benefits of room treatments.

I use ASC tube traps to control base and 1st reflections. Best investment I’ve made. 

If I could do it all over again, I would have started with optimizing my room acoustics before buying a single component or speaker. 


Did that.  I returned the 20/20.


Have 9 large bass traps..corner and wall.  Made a big difference.

+1 Townshend. I have they seismic platform under my table.Make sure to get the right tension podiums for the weight of your turntable. They need to compress somewhere midway between all the way down and not compressed at all.

The difference in clarity was like a nice turntable upgrade.

When I decided to changed my phono stage a year ago, I have similar requirement like you, it must have true balance output, and I need multiple input, flexibility of input impedance and gain control, because my Van Den Hul Black Beauty MC cartridge seems to sounding better with higher impedance such as 500 or 1K ohms, with my limited budget, I finally settle for the Gold Note PH-10 with PSU-10 Power supply. The PH-10 alone is performing well for what it asked for, but adding the PSU-10 really makes the PH-10 improved to another level.

With 1k ohms of input impedance, the VDH tonal balance, coherence, extension at both ends are much better than what I experience with this cartridge before! Other than the VDH cartridge, it does sound well with my other cartridge such as Supex, Dynavector, Ortofon, Technics MM series, SAEC and many others. Changing impedance and gain level is extremely easy, just rotate the knob and press it, the LCD  screen will show all the info, no need to guess or flipping the manual to confirm!

If you just need ONE input with balance out and a well built and musical phono stage, and don;t mind to play with those DIP switch, you may try Whest Audio phono form UK!! It is one of the more musical phono stage I ever audited before, high in resolution and details, but you will not distracted by the rich information and inner details of the recording, you will just wonder why you never heard those details before, and yet you would be indulged in the music.

To me, Hana cartridge is just another OEM cartridge with successful marketing scheme, with the same amount of money, I would spend it on those brand having long history or only focus on phono cartridge and analog stuff production. If you finally decided to have another cartridge, I would suggest you pick one meeting your budget from Ortofon, Benz Micro, Dynavector, Soundsmith, I have audited various model from these brand, they are all have strong background of producing musical cartridge and would match well with your Technics Turntable tonearm.




I have the same combination of Hana ML and Sutherland 20 20 phon. 
 I too, find that indeed my digital setup sounds better.  Very disappointed after the expenditure.  But, maybe as someone said, I prefer the precision of the digital sound.

I have not heard any of the Hana cartridges but it sure seems that dealers push them and buyers regret buying them. This is based on a combination of people I know and the fora. Analogue is a microcosm of an audio system-it is all about proper set-up and synergy. It takes patience and trial and error. It seems to me that the OP thought he could assemble his vinyl rig like ordering off of a Chinese menu. I am also no fan of the Technics decks. The tonearm is the weak link. My advice would be to buy a Dynavector 10x5 Mk2 or an Ortofon Cadenza Blue, re-examine your choice of cabling from deck to phono stage, and focus on proper set-up.