Phono Stage Pre Amp

I'm looking for recommendations on a decent phono stage so I can try vinyl in my system. From the posts I've read, it looks like a vpi scout is a good entry level tt. The question now is how much do I have to spend on a phono stage to surpass what I'm getting out of my current system?
Of course, it depends on how much you want to spend, and what kind of cartridge you are going to use.

Many people like things such as the Black Cube, Monolithic, or similar ones, that are around $350 used to $700 new.

Others want tube phono stages which are typically more expensive, and generally have less gain, so more care in selecting cartridges is needed. Or you might need a step up device.
the general rule of thumb for phono pre-s:

the more you spend on the phono-preamp/cartridge the less expencive will be upgrades and time spent for it.
black cube, monolithic, phonomena, dino, plinius-jarrah are approximately in the same level of performance and are pretty descent phonostages but nothing realy serious. if you skip this level you can enter serious level of performance and dig from the grooves so deep that no CD-player for zillion bucks can.

the next level is the following: ARC PH3/PH3SE, BAT VKP5, Pass Aleph Ono, Pass X Ono, AudioSynthesis...

...and the next one is >$5k reference level.

the middle i believe has the best value per performance factor and very difficult to upgrade.
vpi scout even among vpi line is not an entry level table imo. in the same price route you can also try out Michell gyro SE or nottinham spacedeck
For tube/hybrid, ARC's PH3 is a great phono pre with about 56db of gain.
I would recommed a used EAR 834P in the $600-700 range. These are far better than the aforementioned Black Cube, Phenomena, Plinius Jarrah or other similarly priced solid state phono preamps. The EAR is easily one of the best phono stages you can own and they only retail for $995. The Audio Research will give you more extended highs and a tighter bottom end than the EAR, but it is not any more musical than the EAR, and it may be out of your price range. Expect to pay around $900 for a PH3 and $1400 for a PH3SE. Because of their price and the universally excellent reviews, there are many more EAR phono stages available used than the Audio Research. If you are looking for the best bang for your buck you cannot go wrong with the 834P.
I have to also specifially point out that just by looking under the tube cover of both PH3 and EAR834P phono preamps you can see a huge difference in built quality between these two components (DIY members will understand me) certainly in the favor of ARC PH3.
ARC PH3 is simply built to be perfect and nearly for life.
I own a ARC PH3 now and have auditioned the EAR834P before I bought the PH3. The 834P sounds very decent for the money. After all, it is only half the price of PH3. It also gives you additional advantage of having MM/MC selection so you have more freedom on cartridge. However, if you can afford the PH3, the sound is more refine, it will last for a long time and very good resale value.
I used to have EAR834P and now own ARC PH3 with DIY modification to SE using infinicap and caddock resistors.

EAR 834P has more gain but less flexible than ARC PH3 due to no good way to load the cartridge. But if your preamp does not have much gain, I wouldn't recommend ARC PH3 with low output(<0.6mV) cartridges, EAR 834P has little more gain. There are component modifications information available to improve EAR 834P sound but still not comparable to stock ARC PH3 sound.

ARC PH3 stock version sounded much better than EAR834P(EAR 834P is not a bad sounding preamp either). I now upgraded some of the components(using Infini caps and Caddock resistors) of my PH3 using SE schematics. Simple as changing a few stock resistors with Caddock or Vishay resistors gave a new life to ARC PH3 and Infini cap upgrade brought the ARC PH3 to another level. NOS tubes always make difference as well.
You might want to consider the Art Audio Vinyl One as well. You get plenty of gain (~65dB as I recall), tube regulated power supply, output volume control, and an all-tube circuit design. On the used market it is an especially good buy. It's just a thought. Good luck.
If you just want to "try it out", then the $25 "Little Rat" that runs on a 9 volt battery. Or get two and run them as dual-mono. Ask Dekay about it.

Can you e-mail me the information about DIY upgrade path to SE?
Though I've never heard it myself, I have read and heard great things about George Wright's tube phono stage. I believe it is the WPP100C. I am intending to get back into vinyl again this year and that will be one of the options I'll be considering at that time. No one has mentioned it yet, so I thought I'd add it to your suggestions.

What amp are you feeding this into? This may have some bearing on the best phono pre. There are many good suggestions here already. My inclinations would point me towards the ARC and the Pass Labs as well as the Wright Sound I mentioned. The Wright Sound is $825, while the other two are quite a bit more. I think it has been implied already that you may not get a sense of just how great vinyl can sound if you don't push the envelope a bit, and go for the mid-range phone stages. I tried a rather inexpensive, but well-reviewed Creek OBH-8SE, a short while back, and was not really impressed at all. I sold it and went back to listening only to CD's. I'm sure I'm missing something by not giving vinyl the chance it deserves, and now wish I'd sprung for a better pre. The Creek is certainly an entry-level solution. Hope that helps. Good luck!