Phono stage for tube system - recommendations?

I recently swapped my Blue Circle driving Merlins for the well regarded Ars Sonum Filharmonia integrated. I have gained a fair amount of air and presence but lost a smidgen of attack especially on higher spectrum of frequency. Front end is a Shelter 901/SME-V/Orbe SE.

I was previously considering moving from my modified GCPH to a tubed photo such as the K&K Maxxed out, Herron,JLTI Artemis, or Aesthetix Rhea, but am now having second thoughts going all tube, and contemplating upgrading along the lines of a Solid State Phono stage instead.

On the solid state side, the candidates are the usual suspects: Pass Xono, ASR, Whest, Tom Evans.

I'm sure at least a handful of members have come to this fork and have some experiences to share. Thoughts welcome!

63910b34 3c12 410b ab09 e8718e4ff94apureretro
For the price range you are in I would stay with a tubed phono pre like a Manley Steelhead (which I do own) or go with a soundsmith strain gauge for a non tube. The strain gauge is absolutely amazing. The best phono reproduction in any price range and includes the strain gauge cartridge.

I already own the Manley and have both MM & MC setups. Otherwise I would go to a strain gauge myself.

Audition one you will be amazed
There is no reason to back away from consideraton of the Aesthetix Rhea, it is a superb unit. If you can afford the Signature version, it's even better.
I was shocked how good the Graham Slee stuff is. I have an Elevator now, and I plan on buying an Era Gold early next year when I switch to a line stage (Cary SLP05 or ARC Ref3)
Shelters works well with the Graham Slee Era Gold and the Elevator step up.
Tom Evans Groove x is another candidate.
Ear 324 solid state is another good one.
Get the K&K, you won't regret it.
I think the K&K is very special.
Never seen the K&K's and I just looked them up, they look really cool, and well designed, but I don't see a tubed phono stage?
I have the Art Audio Vinyl One and find it to help produce wonderful sound. Warm, rich, revealing.

I also have the Shelter 90x. It's affixed to an Origin Illustrious arm, on a SOTA Nova V table. I only heard about K&K after my purchase. I understand they build the Art Audio equipment.

I spent only a short time with an Ear and a GCPH (std. version). I didn't care for the GCPH at all. I find the Vinyl One superior to both of these others for my taste.
which model of the K&K are you guys referring to ?

I'm running a Whest PS.30 into an ARC LS26. The Whest has got great transient attack, detail, dynamic swings and PRaT. Tonal balance is spot on with good dimensionality feeding through the LS26. A nice combination which outperforms some of the tubed units I tried before settling on the Whest.
There is basically only one K&K. It is a tubed stage and uses the 6NP1. It is available in various configurations ie. with or without stepup etc.

Am looking at their website:

Is this the one that cost $899 with the enclosure or the maxed out kit for $1899 w/ the enclosure ?

Thanks... this is interesting!!
Thanks for the enthusiastic responses. I failed to mention budget, which is around $2-2.5K used. At that price, a used Xono, new K&K Maxxed out with all the fixins', a used Groove, etc.

A strain gauge setup is probably beyond budget for now.

A mono switch is definitely a nice to have, and that brings the candidates to even fewer.

Keep the ideas coming!
Nolitan, Its the same circuit. The differences are listed.
For example do you want their step up or do you have your own or do you not need one?,etc.

Thanks, i did look at those specs, etc...
Something to consider if to go tubes.
How do these stack up against the EAR834p or other tube phono amps ? Art Audio Vinly is another beauty.
I bought a used Aesthetix Rhea a year ago and have had zero problems. An extraordinary phonostage, and its three sets of inputs, choice of balanced or unbalanced inputs/outputs, remote-controlled loading, gain, and demagging are icing on the cake.
Bucketjr, the current model of the K&K uses a pair of 6H23P (the Russian 6922 equivalent). The differences in the basic vs. Maxxed-out K&K are rather significant, and the website illustrates the differences quite clearly. That said, I find my Maxxed-out K&K delightful, and have heard it against some fairly lofty competitors without feeling a huge desire to change, especially considering the price difference. YMMV.

At least one of the competitors that Palasr mentions was my Doshi Alaap. IIRC, Richard's K&K held up very well for overall presentation. The Alaap was a much larger sound overall. We both felt that it was a difference mainly in power supplies. My Alaap has separate phonostage and its own massive power supply.

If you want syrup and "musical", you may want to look elsewhere as the K&K is every bit as neutral as the Doshi.
A couple of years ago I owned an xono and built a first generation K+K[no longer available]I played them in my system side by side as my table had two arms.It was close but to my ears in my system I preferred the K+K and I sold the Pass.I decided to remove my passive bent tvc volume control and its cables from my system and got kevin to build me a maxxed K+K with a stepped attenuator using audio note tantalum resistors.He installed all the goodys available at that time the Cardas caps and 1931 x formers and the audio note resistors on the board and a cartridge loading board.It just killed my homebuilt unit and although I no longer owned the Pass I assume it would have been a similar result.Considering the cost I dont think you can get a new unit with close to the performance of the K+K and if retofit upgrades are available no one is more approachable for advice or help than Kevin.
I am in a similar situation. I'm currently using a VAC Avatar Super integrated tube amp with a Walker Audio Signature solid state phono stage with great results. I have used tube phono stages before, but I tend to agree with Lloyd Walker on this issue, at very low signal levels, SS is better.

I've been to Lloyd's home, and he has tube amp and preamp, but SS phono stage. His theory being that signals at very low levels are even more prone to 'unbalance' in the dual triode tube stage than even low level signals in a tube preamp. It's hard to find perfectly matched tubes, and tubes that will stay perfectly matched over their lifespan. This is more audible at lower signal levels. YMMV.

For SS phono,don't overlook the Aqvox 2CI.It is a sleeper.Great soundstage,timbre and PRAT.I use mine with a tube integrated-simply delightful.
Jmcgrogan2, if what you say is true, then Lloyd has not spent a lot of time working with tubes! The 'unbalance' issue is literally a red herring.

Since our get together, I did both the Audio Note tantalum resistor upgrade, as well as a MOSFET upgrade on the CCS...if anyone out there with the K&K still uses the old Supertex part, switching to the IXYS part is a massive upgrade (all for 89 cents from Mouser).

I wouldn't mind another friendly sit-down with your Doshi ;-))

Richard, I can see that happening with the other things going on pretty soon.
Kevin of K&K Audio has a new, fully balanced differential phono stage in beta form. I have one that replaces my original K&K phono pre (by original, it was the first full kit that Kevin sold). In just about every way that you can imagine (sound staging, attack, transparency, flow, pace, weight, color, etc.) it surpasses the current kit, in some ways by a large margin. In the context of a full K&K system (line stage, PP parallel 6550 mono-blocks) it is really pretty awesome. If you think tubes can't get the leading edge of notes right and do attack, you have to hear this set-up. One good thing about dealing with Kevin: he's always trying new things and improving his products, then passing it on. He recently mentioned to me in a phone conversation that dropping the value of the grid-stoppers from 100 ohms to 10 ohms in the phono pre and line stage made the music more dynamic, incisive. I went out and replaced them and his description of the changes was accurate to the T. FWIW, I have used the Shelter 90X. Currently I have a Shelter 9000 mounted and the difference is not trivial.
Looks like the K&K is a worthy consideration.

Anyone here by chance have used the K&K maxed out w/ another brand of step up tranny like the ones offered by Bob's Devices ? the altec or sowther type ?

I would second Rushton's recommendation.

And I own and have loved the performance of my Aesthetix Rhea and I'm having the Signature upgrade by Jim White.

Once you step into the light you will never go back.

Happy Listening!