Phonostage Question

The piggybank is getting close to what I need to finally get my vinyl playback going again and I could use some advice. I'm currently running a VPI Scout/JMW9/Dynavector 20XM with 1mv output. In considering a phonostage, I want something that will work well with this setup but that will also allow me to upgrade my table/arm/cartridge at some point without having to replace/upgrade the phonostage. I've noticed that some designers/companies are content to produce phonostages that offer medium to high gain but not enough to run a very low output moving coil. (I'm thinking of Audio Research here whose models seem to come in around 57db). Others (like the new Pass XP15 which is on my list) offer a wider range of gain selections from the mid-40's all the way up to the mid-70's and so allow you to put just about any output cartridge in front of them. Here's my question: Is there any disadvantage in using a phonostage that tries to offer such a wide range of gain options? Put another way, do some manufacturers shoot for medium/high gain (i.e. 57db or so) because that is the most gain that can be produced without distortion and assume that if the consumer is running a really low output cartridge they will buy a separate step up transformer because this is the only way to run a low output coil and not introduce excessive noise, distortion, ETC. Certainly, it would be nice to have a phonostage that does it all (including all those nifty cartridge loading and resistance settings) but what do you give up with the "one size fits all approach"? Finally, let's say I decided to swear off really low output coils--who makes the best (preferably solid state) phonostage for higher output coils or moving magnets like the Soundsmith (2.2mv), Dyna 20XM (1mv), Musicmaker (4mv) and such? I'm thinking that it is less expensive to get a REALLY good phonostage for higher output cartridges--so who makes the best for this type of application?

I hope my question makes sense and thanks for the assistance.

Oh, one final thing I should probably mention. My ARC LS26 linestage has three different gain settings so I can tailor the gain at the linestage as well.
Check out the Art Audio phonostages

Quality made, performs above they're pricing and can be customized to your needs plus Joe Fratus stands behind EVERYTHING about his products!

Good luck
I second Art Audio. I'm totally pleased with my Vinyl One.
I am totally pleased with the Graham Slee Era Gold Reflex solid state unit I own. Highly recommended!
You did not mention a budget. Jumping to a wild conclusion based on your
table, the stages on your list, and a desire to get something which could survive
multiple upgrades...

I recently saw a ZYX Artisan advertised here on Audiogon for $1500 (new it's
quite a bit more but Mehran at Sorasound may have or two left in inventory at
lower than the newly-raised retail price). It is SS, has a high gain MC head amp
built in, and I have no desire to replace mine. Describing the sound is hard - the
closest I can come may be that it sounds like my ZYX cart - very detailed and
very smooth (I'm a 'tube guy' and it sounds like it should, which is not
something I say about all SS designs).

As for why mfrs choose different gain... ya got me...
I would highly recommend the Einstein - the Turntables Choice Phono Preamp. It is one of the best that I have heard.
I recommend the EAR 834P but I would like to hear how the Art Audio compares to this phono pre.
Cartridge output is a function of how the generating system is configured to operate. There are a lot of variations to choose from, hence the number of different phono stages available.

Manufacturers offer different types of phono stages for different applications. If you buy a unit with a lot of gain options you are paying for flexibility in cartridge choosing. While there is nothing wrong with that approach, it is just more expensive.

With respect to the one-size-fits-all approach - simpler is better. So if a manufacturer chooses complexity (lots of options) the cost must by high to maintain sonic integrity of an otherwise simpler device.

You are correct – it is less expensive to buy a really good MM and forgo the transformer or electronics required for a LOMC. This approach may not sound as good, but you get what you pay for when it comes to cartridge types. If you think you would ever move up to MC territory, then you will be kicking yourself if you don’t have enough gain.

Always a tough choice...

I'm using an ARC PH5 and have run it with a high output MC - Sumiko Blackbird and low output Ortofon Jubilee. My CJ premier 14 linestage is fairly quiet so I have experienced no issues with either cartridge. Seems like that would be a good match to your LS26.
Clearaudio Nano (Paste from description), $350:

It sounds just as great with moving magnet cartridges as it does with moving coils. Includes switches for MM/MC, a subsonic filter on the bottom and a unique gain level adjustment to mate the Nano with any cartridge you choose.


Mode: MM and MC mode; switched by jumpers on the bottom of the unit
Input Impedance: Almost any cartridge can be used, through the use of input impedance jumpers: 50Ω, 100Ω, 400Ω, 1kΩ, 47kΩ
Amplification: Gain control from 34 to 67dB
Frequency response: 10Hz - 100kHz
Dimensions (W/D/H in inches): 3.1 x 3.9 x 0.79
Manufacturers warranty: 3 Years

Just a suggestion, not a recommendation. I haven't heard it but reviews are positive.
Whatever you decide to get, based on your budget, try to stretch a bit and truly get something special. I believe the phono stage is the most important piece of equipment in the analogue chain. You can't hear what the TT or cartridge are capable of unless your phono stage is up to the task. And there's a big gap between a "good" phono stage and a great one.

I also second the motion of going for something capable of supporting a LOMC if you have any plans of upgrading over time. The best HOMC's come in under $1000, and they are good, but not in the same league with the bad boys above that price point. Of course a tubed stage capable of supporting those (or a decent step up) is more costly than a SS version of the same.

Good luck,
In my case I tried out a few phono stages before settle with Modwright 9.0 SE phono stage. I like the sound stage, wide and open, and it has a wopping bass that matches the music I listen to (jazz, R&B, reggar, and soft rock). The phono stages I tried are SAP, Graham Slee Era V Gold, and the built in on in my McIntosh C2200 preamp. The Graham Slee is great at that price level, but it does not have the "Punch" like Modwright. Therefore I highly recommend the Modwright. I am using it with VPI Scout and Dynavector 20XH cartridge.
Thanks everyone so far. Seasoned, you seem to get at the main thing that perplexes me--whether you necessarily give up performance when you add features and the flexibility to run the lowest output cartridges. Following on from Bob's comment, how much then do you need to spend to get something truly excellent in a full featured phonostage that will handle low output coils AND how much would you need to spend to get the equivalent performance from a phonostage with limited gain for moving magnet or high output coils only? Bob--your not the only one who has extolled the importance of a really good phonostage and I'm inclined to agree. I'm trying to approach this decision systematically so I end up with something I can enjoy for years ahead. Someone asked about budget--I'd like to stay below $5K and am assuming I can get something at that price point that I can grow into when I get around to upgrading the table/arm/cartridge.
I recently purchased the Aesthetix Rhea and love it to death. I have tried BAT, ARC, Rogue Audio, REGA, Pro-Ject Audio and by far the Aesthetix Rhea offered the best overall sound quality and the most options in terms of flexibility. The Rhea allows you to run three cartridges and just about any MC or any MM cartridge. The Rhea retails for $4,000 but can be had used on Audiogon from $2,500-3,000 dollars depending on the condition, age, and tubes that were used. The Rhea is rated Class A from Stereophile, and recommended by TAS! You can also adjust gain, cartridge loading for each cartridge, and even de-mag your MC cartridge all by remote control. It was a close race between the ARC PH7 and the Rhea. But, for the difference in price and sound quality I chose the Rhea. I use a Benz Glider SL at .4 mV and even at the highest gain setting over 70db I can not hear any tube noise from my listening position. If you are very near the speaker, the noise is audible, but from the listening seat the sound is excellent. Hope you find the right phono-stage that gives you as much enjoyment as I have received from my Aesthetix Rhea.
A general rule in this hobby is that when you decide to take the plunge to MC cartridges - it gets expensive.

Many excellent phono-stage choices have been listed in the thread, my personal choice would probably be a manley steelhead (you can find them used here, now and then, for <5K.)

If you want excellent MM, I have had wonderful results with a Clearaudio Maestro and EAR 834p (modified). That combination is about $2200 + connectors and cords. The Maestro is one of the very best MM available - I can attest.

Dodgealum, if you have $5000 to spend on a phono stage, you can go extremely far when buying used.

As to your original question about whether one gives up something with all the doodads attached. The first and obvious answer is "Yes." Add-on options cost extra in every domain so with a fixed cost point (note I did not say price point), the more doodadegadgetry, the less is spent on the main thing. The second, also somewhat obvious, answer is "Yes." When you add switches to change MM to MC, and you have a selector knob to change inputs, another to select input impedance, yet another to set capacitance and another to set inductance, and then maybe others to change the turnover and rolloff (for phono stages with multiple possible equalization curves), and then maybe a final switch to select gain, in each case you are adding an interruption to the signal path, which creates yet another wire connection to oxidize, to deteriorate, another solder point, you get the picture. Given perfect impedance/capacitance/inductance matching between cartridge and phono stage and phono stage and downstream linestage, the best phono stage will be the simplest. Adding on switches interfering with extremely low-level signals (especially the ones affecting LOMC signals) will create the potential for signal degradation.