Phono's $2100 to $2600


Dear all I would be interested in hearing your thoughts for a phono upgrade.  What is driving this is that I recently got a Lyra Delos and a Nordost Heimdall phono cable as presents- the sound is simply in another league than before (prior cartidge was Benz low output glider).  So now hooked- all I want to do is spin vinyl all day and all night!

The rig is VPI Aries 1 with upgraded footers, separate flywheel, and synchronose drive- the phono stage is a Trigon Vanguard II and this in turn is hooked into Prima Luna Dialogue premium (using nos 12au7's).  The amps are Pass labs xa60.5 mono's driving Thiel 3.7's.

For a long time I was looking to upgrade the preamp but now I think I will got for the phono 1st and consider a new line preamp later on unless I find a full function preamp to do it all in one shot- obviously I would have to up my budget.

Anyway, assuming I just look at the phono I think I have narrowed my choices to the following with my budget:
1. Zesto Andros (about $2.1k used)
2. Sutherland 20/20 ($2.2k new)
3. Allnic 1202 ($2.6k used)

Potentially I could also look at the PS Audio Stellas phono (the advantage here is that I can trade in my trigon for full retails $500).  And lastly, completely out of left field I have to say I have this urge to try a Sutherland PHD which just sounds like a wonderful phono that made a mark (and would be about $1k or so).

I should also add the Herron that seems to have quite a following but they simply do not show up used so I have put that one aside for the time being.,

I realize I should listen to these in my system but if buying used I can't always do that so I would very much like to get your opinions.   The system sound good but I would like better soundstage depth and texture/detail- but without going overboard on the latter.


pgastone
PL HP user here.

I'm in the tube camp. I've tried the Zesto,Herron and Allnic. All nice pieces. 

I would include the Manley Chinook in there, since they seem to appear in the used section more often than anything else. Good prices too, close to half of MSRP.

Wallet limitations always influence my purchases, so I kept my current tubed Fosgate, which I purchased new 7 years ago?
They show up now and then for cheap. A wee bit noisier than the your choices, but not a deal breaker.

They are all more similar,than different to my ears. I don't have hyper "audiophile" tastes, so I'm sure someone will respond with the "X" is inferior to ""Y" because...

Tube phonostages just seem to make a more convincing presentation than solid state. Ever notice reviews of really good SS units will include something like..."it sounds like a tube unit?"
Yes, I have been torn re ss vs tube.  Since I have a tube pre and my current phono is ss I thought ss might be ok if . the phono is superior to what I have now.
Between the Zesto and the Allnic did you notice any particular strength of one over the other.
I often find that with well designed equipment it is after a matter degrees in different areas of performance unless we are looking considerably different price ranges.  And the upgrade to my trigon at these levels should be substantial.
Even the PHD which I mentioned should be a very considerable advancement.
pgastone-

Sorry, you're on your own,as far as dissecting the differences between units.
My aging ears, along with tinnitus disqualify me to give any useful help.
Very subtle, to my ears if any.

As mentioned, I thought they all were nice. When I did a side by side comparison with my existing unit, I forced the S.O. the listen, she did hear differences, but she too said they were subtle. 

System/room differences also factor in one's own opinion?

I got more a "you're kidding right?  look more than anything! She said this one sounds a little more this.. but really, it's so damn subjective, I'm useless after giving you my $0.01 cent.

If I were to get something right now, I would get a Manley Chinook and call it a day. They seem to be the best value on the used market. 

I'd look for a used PL Dialogue Pre to go with your amp as well. You will have a smokin system. You then obsess about the rest of the system.
I forgot to mention in my original post-

Lyra Delos AND Nordost cable for gifts?
If they were given to you by wifey, she's a keeper!

I get practical and useful stuff-wallet  or a belt.. who needs that stuff? I want a Koetsu or vintage tubes or an original Beatle SP!!
@pgastone You were looking for a phono earlier in the $1000 range. Well done on moving up the ladder. I would get the Allnic if you like a tubey sound. It supports 2 arms if you use a MM+MC.
However, it uses SUTs. This means you could buy a SUT like a Bob's Devices Cinemag 1131 and use a MM tube amp-widening your choice if you get my drift.
That's a good point- decisions decisions.
And yes I had been looking for $1k phono but after the other upgrades I decided to go for a more significant improvement.  I just love how my records sound now- very close call with the digital side (I have a Simaudio 280d dac also hooked up with a Nordost usb cable- the cable was a major step up)....the streaming sounds more defined and dynamic but I feel the vinyl sounds more organic; there is less of an electronic sheen if that makes any sense.  And with the Thiels you have to be careful with trebble- can become too forceful and electrnic hash can easily be heard.  That said, both are very good but if I can get qualities of the digital playback without the downside I mentioned it will be heaven....I think.

@ tablejockey
as for the presents I basically said I wanted one thing and one thing only....so I managed to avoid wallets and socks and belts for presents on my bday and xmas.  My wife thinks I have gone off the deep end.

Anyway, thanks for the very interesting feedback.  Btw, I do indeed use a PL Dialogue pre-amp driving Pass labs mono's- works great.  I think I could take the system a lvel further with a higher end preamp but now I am focused on the analogue upgrade.

So nobody seems to keen on the idea of an older Sutherland PHD?  I have to say I am very curious about trying it after everything I read and it certainly would be a cheap option compared to what I listed above.

pgastone-

I misread your original post. I see you use a PL into the Pass amps. I initially read it as you had a PL amp. Oops. Did you do the tube rolling/power cord stuff?

Comparing what you get for your money, the PL raises the bar. An American made unit with identical build quality is going to cost a bit more?

I wouldn't be worried about the Southerland not delivering the goods. They always get good reviews. You just won't hear the tube "orgainc" vibe, which only a tube unit offers.

I would think you can expect very quiet, precise performance. Maybe it may have some the tube virtues that really nice SS units offer?
I like the Zesto very nice sounding  unit well built as well.Good luck enjoy!!
@tablejockey 
The PL is really a wonderful preamp- and yes I do switch out NOS tubes a lot...I'v been going between Brimar's, Amperex, and Telefunken's- and they do all sound different.  The first sound more lush and full, the Amperex more defined in the reproducing the sound stage, and the Telefunken's somewhere in between. I cannot say which sounds better vs the other as it really depends on the source material ; I would probably say the 1st two are my favorite.  I have yet to try Mullard's.  What I can say is that I just love the whole experience.

I would like to try to upgrade from the PL just to see what a preamp with an upgraded volume control could do vs alps pot.  If I where to identify where my system falls short is soundstage depth- it is there but I think it could be significantly deeper-  and slightly better soundstage placement.  I think this may indeed be related tin part to the volume control and other better internals.

That said, right now I am focusing more on the phono.  

After doing a little more research I think the PS Audio for SS is a worthy alternative- with my current phono as a trade in it would be $2k.

As for tube option I am not quite sure which way to go.

And then between the two- SS or tube- I am still pondering.  A lot of other members are suggesting the Allnic is the way to go.


pgastone-

I know that feeling of "what to buy?"  Glad i'm done with the madness, and just buy records. Been on the wagon few a couple of years now. Just buy consumables-phono cart and tubes.

I tried the Allnic, it's a very nice piece. The latest model is revised, so you can find the previous model at decent prices. 

If you can find one of these-grab it
https://www.6moons.com/audioreviews2/nvo2/1.html
This was a flavor of the month, a few years ago.
Out of your choices, I would go Allnic.  But, in your price range, I would investigate the Modwright PH9.0.  There are too many good reviews and user feedback to not consider it.
I have been using a Andros 1.2 for over 12 months now, feeding a BAT integrated and very happy with the results.  Your Delos should provide enough output to pair well with the Jensen 44 trannies (10:1) used in the Andros MC stage.  When I I use my ZYX Airy3 and a Dynavector XV-1s, much lower output than the Delos, I feed it through a DIY SUT with Jensen 347s at 24:1.  I'm guessing that the line stage sensitivity on your PL is higher than my BAT so probably not an issue.
Over the years and prior to the Andros 1.2 I used a ARC PH3SE with and without a SUT depending on cart, a Cary PH-301MM with an SUT, ARC SP-11 MkII with and without an SUT.  All with various carts.  It really gets down to system matching.

Interesting that the Zesto, Allnic and Modwright all use transformers for their MC inputs.  Not sure if you're looking at a Andros 1 or 1.2 for $2,100 but if you can get a 1.2 at that price, I'd buy it. 
Agree with @tablejockey I've been using a NVO for many years (as well as a GN PH10) and couldn't be happier. You can still buy them new but it is rare they come up used, that should tell you something.
hello all- apologies for not responding sooner but work was been crazy.

Thank you for the great suggestions- I did a bit of reading on the NVO and it really does sound like something I should consider- and lo and behold! there is a used one for sale.  BUT it is a tad out of my range at basically $3000.

@baralobrain
If I could get a 1.2 at $2k I would dealt- I have only been able to find the PS1 used at that price- actually not even that that price but more like $2100 or so.

Since I can get an Allnic 1202 for $2600 I kind of feel that would be the smarter proposition (it would be new open box).

I also came across Art Audio Vinyl Reference for $2000 and have heard and read very good things about it.

Lastly, do you have any experience with the phono module for the Vinnie Rossi LIO?  I could get a LIO which I have always been interested in trying against my PL- and spoke to Vinnie and he has some of the phono modules he could install.  The interesting aspect of his Phono module is that he uses Cinemag transformers for the MC gain (goes to 60db).  It is an interesting alternative.  So in ine shot I could do a preamp and phono test.

If I don't go this route and don't find an older PHD at a good price I think that for SS I may go with the PS Audio Stellar Phono Micheal Fremer loves so much .

Tube- really trying to nail down an alternative to go with.  Allnic is more that I'd like to spend if I can help it- so then there are all those others you mentioned.  And it just isn't easy!  So many good suggestions....

In terms of system synergy I think many are always trying to find the right balance between brighter and dynamic without spliing ober to overly detailed and etched,  Other situations where the phono tends to be more laid back is sometimes considered a bit boring.  For my part, with the Thiel 3.7's which are lively of themselves I am less concerned about that aspect-  what I do want to achieve is greater texture, and a deeper more defined soundstage.  As an example I was recently listening to Chet Atkins/Mark Knopfler Neck and Neck- wonderful record.  The system presents very very well- I am amazed at some of the nuances in their playing you can pick up from the grooves; and the speakers just disappear.  However I think there could be a more defined separation between Chet and Mark in a more 3 dimensional stage.  It is there but you have to follow closely to make sure you understand the intricate back and forth- I think this could be better portrayed without having to make as much of a mental effort.

Anyway, sorry I am rambling.

Just wanted to explain in a bit more detail where I am trying to go.....





Just an FYI the NVO listed on Agon is an older version the newer units (same price) have a separate power supply which makes it even more dynamic. Still an excellent all tube phono unit.
I paid two Benji's under your upper limit for my Andros 1.2,.  It was an Agon ad for a brick and mortar store in the Boston area that's been around forever.  Made an offer and they accepted.  As a buyer and seller, phono stuff does not fly out the door.  What I found as a seller is that very few people make offers.
I like tubes in my phono pre's but having had a lot of tube equipment, I know that I have a weakness to tube roll and wonder how much life was left.  I had a tube tester so you know it was bad.  The NVO and something like the Aesthetix Rhea would drive me bonkers.  The Andros is pretty simple and ECC83s are cheap.  All the units mentioned in this thread will give you listening pleasure and based upon your description of what you listen to and listen for are what you want.  I believe the PS Audio unit will give you the most flexibility for the future, be reliable and provide ease of service being made in the US.  Good luck with your decision. 
As barlobrain as mentioned,  you can find the earlier model Zesto Andros, every now and then in the listings. I liked what I heard, when I had one, in my system. Just wasn't groundbreaking, compared to my current unit.

barlobrain also mentions the counteroffer. If you're buying a used piece, NOT making a counter is like leaving money on the table. I never pay listed price. If a seller balks, move on. You would be surprised.Now and then, after just hearing crickets for awhile, they may contact YOU, to "make a compromise"

Used is used. It's not worth whatever a buyer is asking, whatever they think.

Just to get it out there, anyone with the NVO SPA II for $2K shipped, I'm ready to hit the buy now button.

Yeah, ridiculous offer, but just in case.....?

I'll offer $2001!! :-)

Tablejockey- you are using a Fosgate right?
I will also look into the modwright and chinook.  On the latter I kind of got the impression that maybe the zesto might be a better choice- that said a chinook popped up at the right price I would seriously consider it.
I had a Chinook and Zesto 1.2 for several months and favored the Zesto by a fair margin. I sold the Chinook.

I now have the Zesto and just received the Allnic H1202 which I’ve been using almost nonstop since it arrived a few days ago.
The Allnic is in a different league than the Zesto IMHO. It’s a fantastic phono, I wasn’t expecting that level of performance given that it’s less expensive than the Zesto.
I’m using a ZYX Ultimate 100 0.24mv and it’s dead quiet on the highest gain setting and sounds fantastic.
 I have an Allnic linestage too so maybe there’s a synergy thing happening.

Anyway, I reviewed the Chinook and Zesto side by side on www.AudioResurgence.com and I’ll review the Allnic alongside the Zesto in a couple  weeks. The Allnic is awesome, if you can find one within your budget grab it.

If anyone wants a mint Zesto Andros 1.2 then pm me or contact me through AudioResurgence.com

Rooze


"Tablejockey- you are using a Fosgate right ?"

pgastone-affirmative. They pop up now and then for cheap.This thread peaked my interest when I was shopping. I purchased mine when the V2 was introduced a year of so, later.https://forum.audiogon.com/discussions/fosgate-signature-phono-preamp

I can see why- it sounds like an excellent piece of equipment- I was not familiar with it.  This might indeed be the way to go if a used one popped up.

Btw, I spoke to Sutherland engineering that sell a replacement board for the PHD but using wallwart instead- basically it is a PHD but without using the batteries as Ron Sutherland is now doing with his other phono stages like the Insight, 20/20 etc (in fact the inside looks like the current circuit boards Ron is designing).  The board sells for $750 which seems like a very good price and I may just have one of those mounted in chassis- as I have mentioned earlier I was always intrigued by the PHD.
If it doesn't work out I would think I could sell it without too many issues- I might give this one a wing in the meantime. 

Deep down though I think tubes my suit me better but still, The PHD should be a very interesting experiment considering the mark it has left on the audio community since it was introduced.

pgastone-
I don’t think you will experience buyers remorse with the Sutherland.Super quiet and precise performance, especially high volume when desired.

If you do find a listing for the Foz, they are typically version1. I have the V2, which I rarely see listed? Purportedly a quieter design(very quiet, for an all tube design) Not as quiet as the any of the current, popular models though.

Side note- I used this SS unit before going tube-https://www.stereophile.com/content/heed-audio-quasar-phono-preamplifierThis was several years ago, when they were $700!
Very nice. Never did a side by side comparisons with other SS units like I did with the Foz, but I’m thinking it will duke it out with costlier pieces.Discrete build with transisitors, no op amps, separate power supply.Cool SS phonostage, at the price point.
Thanks tablejockey.

and thanks rooze- that was super informative.

So here's where I am at-
I have also been in contact with a Sutherland N1 seller...so,  the N1 phono should be quite something as it based on the duo with a lighter power supply.  And the N1 should have pretty impressive line stage- would be interesting to compare with Primaluna; (both line stage and phono have their own mono boards). It is a very very intriguing alternative although my understanding is that the N1 uses a chip volume control which usually loses some bits.

If not I might do another tube preamp with better volume control than the PL and "new" PHD or ultimately a tube phono- Zesto or Allnic with Allnic really seeming to be the way to go but of course at a total price- linestage and phono would be considerably higher.


Sutherland N1-WOW!  It must be serious piece. It better be, with a $8K MSRP!
It's SS, so it will be lacking the "organic" tube vibe, but not in a bad way?
What's the deal with the volume control being the Achilles heel on the PL?This is a first read on such a concern? I've heard them a zillion times.
The chip volume control is mentioned on the PL website. If Sutherland uses one, I would imagine it's a "premium" version, not the "throw away cheapie" as mentioned? Again, an $8K unit, and a cheap volume control? I hope not!
I would go with a Sutherland.  The sound is exquisite.  Ron is very good with customer service and support.  Phono amps are his specialty.  I started with the Hubble and now have the PhonoBlock. Not having to change batteries is a big plus.
To offer a different view, also from a Delos owner - you should more strongly consider a new Herron. Keith is an absolute joy to work with and offers a return policy. I am only ten hours into mine but it is already very 3D and organic.
i looked and listened to all mentioned so far including others Rogue, ARC, etc...
at this level they are all strong - consider factory support in your calculus

have fun, enjoy the music !!! The Delos is capable of a lot - enjoy it!!!
Thank you tomic601- I would love to consider the Herron but new it is out of my price range and used they just don't come up.

Glad to hear you love Sutherland- when the PHD came out I had always wanted to try one of his designs.  So mow I just might.

@tablejockey- yes, the N1 better sound pretty spectacular;  I would pay much much less- what is interesting as having an all in one solution.  The entire unit consists of seperate mono boards for phono and preamp respectively.
As for volume control a lot of engineers got to great length  to improve on potentiometers in their higher end models- stepped attenuators and the like.  I suspect it does make a considering difference e to the purity of the signal but I would have to compare side by side.