If you can find one in good shape, I can highly recommend a vintage Quicksilver full-function preamplifier. The phono stage has sufficient gain only for high output cartridges (2 to 5mV), but the performance is top drawer. They can be found for $900-$1100 when in perfect shape. And in the bargain, you get a great linestage. The unit is built like a tank and sports a very high quality power supply with tube rectification, choke-loaded input filter, etc.
In order so that we can provide you with a useful answer, please describe the rest of your system: what TT/tonearm/cartridge, amp/preamp, speakers and your room?
+1 to BR3098's question.
In particular, without knowing what cartridge(s) you plan to use it's impossible to say which phono stages would be suitable. For instance, the Quicksilver mentioned by Lewm would be suitable for MMs and many HOMCs, but would be inadequate for a LOMC (as he noted).
I have no relationship to them, but I recommend the Liberty B2B. It works great and is in your price range. It does MM and MC. I have one and it outperformed the Krell KRC-HR Reference, Krell KPE, Jasmine and Cullen Modified GCPH. The problem with recommendations is that no one has heard all phono stages, so people just recommend what they heard. If you hear them at shows, they are always in different rooms with different gear and you can't tell what is phono stage and what is the other stuff.
The Liberty B2B has excellent, speed, clarity, and plenty of slam. There is one for sale here on AudioGon:
Pass XP 15 is absolutely wonderful with jazz. It sounds so sweet late at night playing intimately recorded vinyl. Whatever the venue it will be portrayed in very accurate and specific physical space but with the correct musical flow. An alto sax is an alto sax, cello a cello, but you get the specificity of the musician's own style and touch. Wonderful with piano and any keyboards and percussion is amazing. I recommend it highly. Extremely clean, pure, deep, wide and jfet smooth. Lots of gain and loading options and ability to run balanced out which I do. I am good with this pre for long term. Does everything right. Good luck!
Just purchased an ear834 with classic 1, dv10x5. The ear does not seem to be as in favor as it once was, but I liked having a tube in the signal line.
I am sure there are better units, but the options to mod the EAR down the line is appeling to me. Good sound off the bat, and a better/different sound after a year for change up.
Haven't spent a lot of time with it, but so far, Saxaphone Colossus, Lush Life, and Tonight at Noon paired with the ear have delivered.
using a denon 103r on Pro-ject 2xperience. Tube integrated amp. Briefly used a pro-ject phono box S, disappointed about the narrow soundstage and lack of clarity. Listening to Pop and Rock with this phono is ok but listening to classical is a mess. The instruments cluster together and there is no imaging at all.
Used to use an old accuphase Integrated amp and the internal phono is much better than the pro-ject. Since I have swapped in the tube amp, I need an external phono.
I have a BMC MCCI phonostage which is a great piece of equipment with good VFM as well.It is MC only if it's an issue for you.Your budget will fit for a used one. The MCCI got glorious stereophile reviewes lately.
I second Lewm's recommendation of the Quicksilver; excellent phono stage. For the sake of perspective, and for whatever it may be worth: I remember years ago, while shopping for a phono stage, going to a local audio emporium and comparing (same system) the Audio Research SP-14, the recently released Audible Illusions M3 and the Quicksilver. The Quicksilver was, hands down, the best at presenting natural tonal colors within a stable and detailed soundstage; very, very musical in the "sound of live acoustic instruments" sense. A couple of phono stages later, I have settled on the EAR 834 (now heavily modified) which shares a very similar sound to the Quicksilver but with MC capability. Good luck.
Congrats! Not in favor as it once was, in part because the trend continues toward the more and more analytical on the assumption that it means "better"; and trending away from the natural sound of music. Given your choice of music (great!) I think you will be very happy with the EAR.
Be sure to try real Telefunken 12ax7's all the way around, and keep in mind that it sounds better in MM; so, carefully weigh the potential benefits of a low output MC vs the advantage of the intrinsically better sound in MM fed by a somewhat "inferior" higher output cartridge. Enjoy!
Thanks for the advice Frogman!
I am researching the Telefunken but haven't found any NOS outside of ebay. Is there any place you recommend (not sure if you need to pm me).
I was wondering about the mc/mm debate. For crude comparison, I tried the 10x5 on mc (which is too high output for the ear), but it sounded worse than I anticipated. I think you are right, I'm sticking to hi output mc/mm on this one.
I'd call Keith Herron at Herron Audio and ask if he has any VTPH-1s still available. Maybe he has a few from trade-ins?
I am going to give you some *free* advice and (hopefully) save you a ton of money. Try replacing the Denn DL-103R with something else; I suggest an Ortofon 2M Blue MM or maybe a Denon DL-110 HOMC cartridge.
The DL-103R is a wonderful cartridge, but it is not well suited for the tonearm on your Pro-Ject 2 turntable. The DL-103R is a VERY low compliance cartridge, and the Pro-Ject tonearm was designed for a cartridge with medium-high compliance. Designed for radio station and transcription work, the DL-103 and R versions are well suited to heavier, well damped tonearms. While the DL-103R is attractive from a price perspective, if you are not using it as intended there will be no egg in your beer.
Also, and pardon me if I sound like I am talking down to you, but does your integrated amp support MC cartridges, or are you playing the MC DL-103 through an MM-only phono stage?
Abp689, the Herron suggestion is also excellent. It is a great sounding phono stage and I have heard both it and my modified EAR side by side extensively. If I had to choose between the two, IN MY SYSTEM, the Herron would come out on top. I did precisely what Bpolleti suggests and almost pulled the trigger on a trade-in. I didn't for two reasons:
I use both MM and MC's and the Herron does not accept both. To be clear, my comments about the EAR in MM mode should not be taken to mean that it will always sound better in MM mode. I believe that in the cartridge league that the Denon 103 and the Dyna are in (IMHO), as good as they are, there are better alternatives in the HO camp for similar money; issues of tonearm compatibility aside, which are very important as br3098 points out. With a great MC on the appropriate arm, it may be a much better sound for you. The other reason is that as great as the Herron is, the MC version is not a pure tube design and it does have vestiges of ss sound; the EAR is a pure tube design and sounds it. Neither is perfect, and since I prefer the pure sound (EAR's shortcomings and all) I stuck with the EAR.
Re Telefunkens: it's been a while since I shopped, but you may try Kevin Deal at Upscale Audio. Another to try in the EAR which I liked very much and can be found inexpensively are Raytheon's (look for the 7023 variant; most don't know what they are and can be found cheap and worth trying). Good luck.
Frogman, thanks for the extensive write up. It got me thinking about system add-ons. I would like to either grab a spare pre or another cartridge to change up the sound and the Herron sounds like a good place to start.
But first the Raytheon's.
br3098, both the accuphase and project phono S do support MC. it will be very obvious if you are using a MC cartriage with a MM only phono amp
is there something i can do to rememdy the mismatch, blu tec a nickel to the tonearm some people sugguest?
unfortunately, I have to stick with what I have for a while?
No, you really can't overcome a fundamental compliance mismatch between cartridge and tonearm. Adding mass will simply add mass where neither the tonearm or cartridge designer wanted it, and still won't overcome the basic mismatch problem.
You can order a Denon DL-110 HOMC cartridge (plays through the MM stage) for just $87. I would give that a try first and see if it sounds better than your DL-103R before dropping some major gelt on a (possibly unnecessary) external phono amp.
If you think that you need a new phono amp on a budget, I have had heard good results with the Lehmann line. They have units in all price ranges from <$500 to approx. $2K.
Having said that, there are lots of guys who use and enjoy the sound of their DL-103 cartridges on lighter-weight tonearms. I'm just not one of them.
I used a much cheaper pro-ject rpm 1.3 genie which came with a factory installed ortofon 2M Red. The result and the dynamics was surprisingly good.
That's why I upgraded to the current 2 xperience with the denon 103r.
What are the symptoms of a cartridge / tonearm mismatch?
Many people said the Rega tonearm matches well with the denon 103r. But the Rega and Pro-ject tone arms are having more or less similar weight.
Many people said the Rega tonearm matches well with the denon 103r
I have found this to be not true, at least to my ears. I suspect that the DL-103x gets used in these situations mainly because they are one of the, if not the, least expensive MC cartridges on the market.
In a nutshell, a compliance mismatch will result in less than optimal sound (duh!). This can include the system sounding overly bright or dull and lifeless, depending on if the cartridge is over or under-damped by the tonearm. What is less understood is that a severe compliance mismatch can also result in poor stylus tracking and a smeared or "inaccurate" soundstage presentation.
Re: Herron VTPH-1, That phono stage can handle either MM or MC, but the changes need to be made at the factory. IIRC, the VTPH-1mm is pure tube while the MC version uses quiet FETs to amplify the low level MC signal.
Symptoms of a compliance mismatch (low compliance cart on a low-mass arm) usually include uneven frequency response and a lack of bass. Can also include blunted transients.
The higher mass arm is needed to keep the cartridge body in one place while the cantilever and stylus track through the groove. Insufficient mass allows the cartridge to vibrate and move with the cantilever rather than the cantilever transmitting the signal to the coils.
Adding weight via an arm wrap may help increase effective mass and damping. There are other considerations such as bearing load and counterweight mass that might not work well with the new arm mass.
All that said, there are some very nice MM and MI carts that would be a good match to a low mass arm.
Frogman- It sounds like the 834's built in SUT can be bettered. Maybe a Lundahl or Bobs devices matched w/ the right cart, could be worth a shot. The only EAR I have heard was the 912. Very good, as it should be for the asking price. I am thinking about an 834P for an Amadeus and DV 20X-L. Another that always comes to mind in this range is the K and K. I think an assembled standard (non-maxxed) version costs less than the 834 dlx. The latter is now $2600 US.
I can endorse a Pass phono stage on any type of music. I would be very cautious on any phono stage that only sounds good on limited ranges of music.
I have never heard the Liberty but I have personally dealt with the head of the company and think he's exemplary to deal with. I would be shocked if he put out a bum product.
I do know someone who has the Liberty and he did not choose the Liberty because it fit a budget. This person could have gone for a far costlier phono stage but didn't. He thinks it's that good and he's not one to spend $ for the sake of it. He will spend big $ if he thinks it will get him sonics he can't get for less. In other words, I do value his feelings on gear.
Can't go wrong with anything phono related from Audio Research.
Anything Rogue will be excellent as well and also very high value.
Also recommend the Liberty phono pre. Think you can do an in-home demo, which is always nice. Also saw a nice Herron and Parasound JC 3 for sale here in your price range that very likely would not disappoint. Best of luck.