Phono stage for Benz Wood H2

Hi there,

I have a Benz woodbody H2 that I have mounted to a VPI Scout and was wondering what anyone thought would be an appropriate phono stage to matchup with this cart that wouldnt break the bank. Currently I have a NAD PP-2 that I am sure isnt doing this tt/cart combo any justice. Any input would be appreciated.

I have two EAR 834P deluxes that I use with either a Lyra Helikon or a Shelter 501 mk2; one on the large solid state system and one for the smaller tube system, and they don't have me feeling for a minute that I should upgrade. These really are exceptional value phono stages, albeit with no impedance or capacitance adjustments. Warmth, dynamic range, quiet, top to bottom coverage.
The new battery powered Musical surroundings Nova Phonomena is great for $1K, a bit under the price of the EAR.
Thanks for the suggestions. I will probably look for something on the marketplace here. Any suggestions around the $500 used range? I read somewhere that Cary makes a good pre to match the Benz Hi-Output MC.
It's called the PH 1 DJH under their Audio Electronics brand. It has 36 dB of gain so you might need to be a bit forgiving of noise with the Benz which has a 2.5mV output at 3.54@cm/sec. Not a bad choice though.
What about a Benz Micro PP-1 phono stage? It's beautiful and very small and around $1k new. I think i've seen them from around $600 used. Works perfectly with Benz carts.
I was wondering if someone could educate me on the importance of gain in the pre-amp. What would be an optimal level of gain to look for?
I use a Benz Micro PP-1 with an L2. The PP-1 is a fixed device and might have too much gain for the high-output version of the cartridge, but maybe not.
Drubin may be right, I'm not sure. I misread your cart as a low output benz which i was using with my PP-1

The amp used to be sold at musical surroundings but i don't see it on their site anymore and don't have my amp for the stats.
The phono stage you're refering to is the Benz-Micro Series 2 Lukaschek PP-1 and is still on the site under Benz. At 62 dB of gain it is way to high for that cart. Optimum would be about 40 dB. The issue with the Cary is the combination of relatively low gain, the noise inherent in tube designs and the output of the cart being a little on the low side for a MM. If you don't mind a bit of tube hiss it might be just fine.
Thanks Piedpiper. If you think the AES Cary PH-1 would be a noisy, then do you have any other suggestions to match this cart? I have no experience with tubes, so I am not even sure what the noise you are referring to would be. Does it eminate from the pre-amp itself or though the speakers? What are some stages that have 40db of gain? The AES is at 36, so that seems close, but it sounds like I should be looking at ~40 or a little above.

The function of gain in a phono stage is to boost the voltage level of a cartridge's signal up to a level your line stage can handle.

Line stages are designed for components with outputs in the 300mV range (more or less), as is typical of CD players, tape decks, etc. MM and HOMC cartridges like your H2 have outputs in the 2-5mV range, roughly 1/100 the voltage of a CDP. LOMC's have outputs 1/10 of that, just 1/1000th the voltage of a typical line level component.

Here's a good resource for calculating the phono stage gain needed for a particular cartridge output, or vice-versa.

Click on "Preamp Gain Computer". (Note: when they say "preamp" on that site they're referring to phono stage gain only.)

One option for a phono stage in the range you're seeking would be a used full function tube preamp from the likes of ARC, c-j or others. The MM phono sections (what you need) of those preamps were often serious overperformers compared to what's in today's entry level units. Even the line stage might impress you, and these vintage preamps can be had for far less than $1K. There are two c-j preamps in the classifieds now, both for under $700. Either one should outplay your PP-2 by a pretty large margin.
Tube noise or "tube rush", is usually a very quiet but constant sshhh sound through the speakers. With some designs it can be accompanied by a low level hum as well. The amount of noise depends on the design of the circuit it is placed in and the quality of the tube. At normal/acceptable levels you can hear it when you put your ear within a foot or so of your speaker with no music playing. This is not significantly audible from the listening position and obviously doesn't compete with the music. Nonetheless, it contributes to a subjective sense of dynamics not leaping out from as black a background. Tube afficianados value the sound they impart above issues of low level noise. In your case, as I said, it may be a borderline issue.

Tubes specially selected for low noise or super low noise can be purchased expressly for use in phono stages. It is generally thought a waste to use them in line level situations where the input signal sufficiently overwhelms whatever low level noise the tube may be contributing.

As far as the gain being possibly insufficient for that cartridge, that depends on the cartridge output and the combined gain of the Cary, your line stage and amp, coupled with the sensitivity of your speakers as well as your habitual listening volume. Your cartridge's output is listed as 2.5mV but this is measured @ 3.54 cm/sec. This is perhaps more often measured @ 5cm/sec which would give you about 3.5mV. Most MM carts are rated between 3.5 and 5mV@5cm/sec with some up to 7. The other issue is, as I said above, the gain may be sufficient but with the volume turned up higher than usual on your preamp, which may begin to reveal the tube rush a bit. If you typically, or at times, listen very loudly and you have speakers with below average sensitivity (below 89 dB) then the tube rush may get to be more than you are willing to put up with.

Aside from explaing the whole picture, this is also to say that I can't answer your question without more info. If you want to play it safe you can avoid tubes. That hasn't been my choice and, in fact, I am battling a noise situation of exactly this type at the moment. Mine is more extreme than yours in that I am using a cart with a .4mV@3.54cm/sec output, which translates to about .56mV@5cm/sec output, with a 42dB gain tube phono stage into a low wattage tube amp driving speakers of 89dB sensitivity. For some records I am barely at the desired volume with my volume knob all the way up. At this setting my amp is starting to add a bit of noise as well. Dynamics begin to be affected also. Ideally, I would be using a cartridge with twice the output or a phono stage with another 6-12dB of gain or speakers of 94dB sensitivity or more, although having more sensitive speakers wouldn't be as effective at reducing noise. A doubling of voltage is required for every 6dB of gain so something like 1mV@3.54cm/sec or 1.4mV@5cm/sec to twice that output or a phono stage with 48 to 54dB of gain would suit me better.

Incidentally, all circuit components generate noise, even resistors and transistors. It is always necessary to choose low noise components when designing phono stages and they are usually more expensive. For instance, Vishay bulk metal foil resistors are $4 to $25 as opposed to the average high quality metal film resistors at about 20 cents.

Given your system, I would be looking in the $1k plus range for a phono stage. There are many good contenders at this price: EAR, Musical Surroundings, Heed, Sutherland, Acous Tech, ASR, AES, PS Audio, Graham Slee, Sim Audio, Wright Sound and others. Wright Sound and AES (Cary) are the only tube designs in this price range I can think of.

I hope this helps clarify your situation. Good luck and enjoy!
There are a couple Audio Research PH 3s here for sale as well as a coule AESs.
This is really excellent information. Thanks for everyones input. As it is now with the stage I have, I really need to crank up the volume, esp on some particular records. I had been operating an ancient Marantz 6300 w/ a Shure M91 cart and recently picked up my current setup here as I started to upgrade my sytem. I will look into the suggestions listed. Obviously, any follow up comments are appreciated. Thanks!
The Wright WPP200c has variable gain control (up to 60 db) without using a step-up. It works equally well with MM as it does with LOMC. The gain control allows you to use it as a stand-alone preamp connecting directly to your amp. It's modest price ($845 new/600 used) belies it's stellar performance. It conjures up an impressive soundstage, and IMO, does so better than the EAR 834P.
I am using the AES PH1 DJH phonostage with a Benz Micro H2 Wood - noise is not an issue! Stopping listening so I can go to bed is!