Phonostage recommendations under $3K


Folks,

I am looking to step up from my current Parasound ZPhono XRM (still under 60 days audition trial). To be honest, I am quite pleased with its performance, feature set and flexibility. I mean what else you can expect from a $600 phono. While I enjoyed listening to vinyl through XRM, I feel there is room for improvement and XRM may be the weakest link in my vinyl setup. And since XRM is the only phono I’ve experienced in my setup, I don’t have quite have a reference point. So what else should I be considering under $3K?

I prefer a relaxed and slightly warm sound since I mostly listen to jazz genre.

I started to put together a list list based on sound quality and flexibility with gain and impedance settings.

Parasound JC 3+ Phono Pre
Allnic H-1202
Leben RS30 EQ (requires a SUT for MC Cart)

I hear high praises on Herron VTPH-2A but it’s bit more than I would like to spend at this time.

My current vinyl setup, Thorens TD1601, ZPhono XRM, Hana ML (low output - 0.4mv), Accuphase E-650 and Tannoy Canterbury’s.

I would really appreciate some recommendations based on your personal experiences. Thank you!
Abc875d5 dd7e 46b7 9d49 3e8463938063lalitk
For only "a bit more than you would like to spend at this time" you can have a phono stage that is on a whole other level from anything else you are considering. A phono stage so good (and well built) it may well serve you the rest of your life. A phono stage you would probably have to double or triple your budget to find even slightly better. In other words I would not sell myself short. I would seriously consider the Herron VTPH2A.
“A phono stage so good (and well built) it may well serve you the rest of your life.”

Thank you @millercarbon for your feedback. Well, it’s not only the initial cost, I am also considering the additional cost of NOS tubes. I guess that’s all can come at a later time. I couldn’t find any info on stock tubes (2 x 12AX7, 3 x 12AT7) being included with the phonostage. In any case, it seems VTPH-2A offers a lot at $4K price point.

Did you tube rolled your VTPH-2A yet or still using stock tubes? If yes, what tubes you have tried and found to be best with VTPH-2A.
@lalitk 

Brian from audioadvisor has listened to a few in your price ranges 

he said best said best selling is parasound jc3 jr
and that chord Huey &  musical Surroundings are all pretty close 

jc3+ was larger bass output was his top thought for higher price point 

IVE listened to Esoteric and Audio Research phonoS and they are better with bigger bass( Lyra & Purpleheart cartridges ) 

the higher up you go the bigger bass is what I hear. 
My thoughts 

Have good journey 

jeff

I would suggest you call Keith Herron and tell him your rig, listening habits, and price range. If you're within a few hours of St. Louis, see if you can arrange an in-home audition. Oddly enough, millercarbon is right in just how Herron products are. They will best even the JC3+
I recommend looking at the Pro-Ject Phono Box RS, Bryston BP-2 MM/MC, and Simaudio 310LP. And then tuning for your preference of warm and relaxed sound with the downstream electronics.
@lalitk 

Did you tube rolled your VTPH-2A yet or still using stock tubes? If yes, what tubes you have tried and found to be best with VTPH-2A.

Keith designs the VTPH2A around inexpensive EH tubes.  I tried rolling other more expensive tubes in the Herron and always came back to the stock EH tubes.  It's the only piece of tube gear I have that doesn't respond well to rolling. Keith will tell you that himself. Cost of future tubes are a non-issue with this pre.


@simao 

Oddly enough, millercarbon is right in just how Herron products are.

Actually MC is exaggerating here a bit as he almost always does.  I spent 50% more on a Luxman EQ-500 which substantially betters the Herron in every respect.  The VTPH2A in my view is hands down the best performing phono pre at it's price point but as you move up to the ~$6K range there are definitely better phono stages out there....not all at $6K+ are better but some certainly are - much better. The weakest link in the VTPH2A is the FET-based MC gain stage.  The VTPH2A sounds best with a decent SUT if you're using a MC cart.
Jeff@frozentundra & @nekoaudio,

Thank you for your recommendations. I will check them out.

@simao,

I had a great conversation with Keith about an hour ago. He is going to look at my system and get back with a recommendation as far as what loading plugs to experiment with in my system. I will say this, the one on one consultation with the designer is priceless.

@three_easy_payments,

It’s good to know VTPH-2A is immunize to tube rolling :-)

“The weakest link in the VTPH2A is the FET-based MC gain stage. The VTPH2A sounds best with a decent SUT if you’re using a MC cart”

This is definitely a cause for concern. I prefer not to use a SUT. This opens a can of worms...extra set of cables, shelf space and above all the quality of the transformer.
I would recommend ModWright PH 9.0 phono amp. It uses two 6C45 and two 6922 tubes and a separated power supply. It has flexible gain and impedance settings in the front. The sound quality is excellent, very organic with good sound stage.  Currently I am also using a Manley Chinook in my other system (Dr. Feickert Volare TT with Hana ML cartridge), and I would certainly recommend that as well. It's very musical and matches with Hana ML cartridge well. Chinook uses four 6922 tubes.  
Lots of good option in this range. Personally, I would purchase my Sutherland 20/20 if given the choice again, and at under $3K you can add the linear power supply within your budget. I haven't upgraded to the LPS yet, but it's on my radar. 
Display name , I regret waiting too long to get LPS for my Sutherland 2020 . The improvement on my system is huge....
TRON Convergence - used to great effect by Jeff at High-water Sound in his recent system at RMAF, garnering much praise. Also available, I believe, directly from TRON in the UK
+1 on TRON Electric Convergence. Exceptional build and parts quality. MM-only and MC variants are available, and the Signature versions are within your budget.

I'm a TRON dealer so please take this recommendation with the appropriate amount of salt.

Cheers,
Colin

https://gestalt.audio
Check out the Tavish Design Adagio and you can roll tubes to get the degree of warmth you want. The only downside is that there is a 5-6 week wait for them, but occasionally, a used one will pop up for sale. : )
You should look for an Aesthetix Rhea (used) in your price range. 

At under $3K a great phono stage.

Also a +1 on the Luxman Phono.
Check out the Simaudio Moon 310LP with or without the power supply... very nice PS that will give you that warmth you are looking for. 
+1 for the Moon - I have the LP 5.3 RS - basically it’s an earlier version of the 310LP

I didn’t get the associated power supply, but I installed the best cables and it rewarded me with exceptional sound quality
- extremely detailed
- stunning clarity
- balanced/neutral tone - i.e. not pushy at any point across the frequency range
- great bass reproduction
- superb imaging
- very quiet - no hum - even at full volume (no music playing)
- can configure to most MM or MC cartridges

My only complaint is - you have to remove the cover to get to the switches to configure the unit to the cartridge - , but I’m not one for changing my cartridges, so basically I "set it and forget it"

Been using it for around 7 years and it hasn’t skipped a beat

Simaudio Moon is a Canadian company with a stellar reputation for quality designs/builds - they ripple the latest developments down to their lower end models.

I looked a photo’s of both the 5.3 and the 310 internals and I could not see any difference - so the model # change was not due to a significant internal revamp

If you are lucky you might find a previously enjoyed model.5.3 or 310

I found this demo 5.3 model
https://www.musicdirect.com/phono-preamps/simaudio-moon-lp53-silver-demo
And these used 310 models
https://tmraudio.com/simaudio-moon-310lp-mm-mc-phono-preamplifier-310-lp/
https://www.ebay.com/itm/224165209480

Regards - Steve


Working with the same budget and some of your choices, I recently purchased a PS Audio Stellar Phonostage. So far, so good. Good sound and versatility. It’s my first PS Audio product. 30 day in home trial and I was able to trade in some older gear sitting in a closet to lower the price. 


A Herron VTPH-2 just came on the A'gon in your price range. It is being sold by TMR--I purchased from them and had a good experience.
Thank you everyone for the recommendations. I’ve made a list and going to explore the what’s available for in-home audition.  
@williewonka agreed. I too have the 5.3. I demo’d the 310 and really liked it, then found a 5.3 for a really good deal and saved some $$$. I think the primary differences are the faceplate, and perhaps a few minor  others... sonically, pretty much the same. Great little phono stage!
@geof3 - thanks for that feedback.:-)

The problem with this hobby - when a later model of a component you own is released, you can spend time wondering what’s so good in the latest version.

Based on your feedback there would not appear be too much difference.

I just looked at the internal photo’s and could not see any changes, so I stuck with the 5.3, which still improves with cable upgrades

Perhaps they had a plan for introducing the 110LP and thought the 5.3 should get a new name and faceplate to match.

I did recently upgrade my Bluesound Node 2 to the 2i - but Bluesound had revised the circuit board which made an appreciable improvement, so that was one case where upgrading was sonically worth it.

Cheers - Steve

.
Look for Aurorasound VIDA and read why it's not a conventional phono stage from the list above. 


A current revision, one year old  Herron VTPH-2A with grey/titanium faceplate is on AudoMart for $2549.
I own both the Herron VTPH2A and the Parasound JC3 Jr.    Honestly, you’d probably be happy with both but the Herron is one of my favorites.
@chakster,

The Vida is on my top 5 list but I can only afford it used :-) 
Used VTPH-2A

Good luck. When my search was narrowed down to a few contenders I started looking at used. Never did see a Herron for sale. Saw one that had sold the day it was listed and before I started looking. Then kept looking a good 6 months after deciding it would be the Herron. (I buy components, not deals.) In 6 months I saw zero listed but two times people had them listed as WANTED.  

Its actually one of the things I have noticed having done this a long time. If you think you've found the best highest value component and they're on the used market, keep looking. Its not nearly as good as you think. Or nobody would be selling, and there would be way more buyers than sellers so they would be snapped up fast. Everyone has an opinion. Only one counts: Mr Market's. 

Keith Herron by the way, unless you live near one of his dealers, he gives a small discount. 10% I think. But they sell used for near that anyway. So when Keith told me I'm far enough from a dealer to qualify I said, "Sold!"

I’d look very strongly at the new just released Hagerman Trumpet MC for only $1K. Previous versions of the Trumpet sold from $2K to $7K - it seems Jim has really focused on getting the cost down while keeping that level of sound quality. I used to own the old wooden faced “tower” Trumpet, and it was lovely at $2.2K+. At 1K it would be a stone cold steal. I currently own a Rogue Ares Magnum, Herron VTPH-2A, Sonic Frontiers Phono 1SE+, and VAC Renaissance SE (the VAC is far and away tops in both price and sound quality), but I kinda want to buy the new Trumpet to play with too!
Aural Thrills Serenade at $1200 or their absolute best 'the Beast' at $2500 with the best parts used.  The Serenade was the Absolute Sound's s Product of the Year a couple years ago.  The Beast is a very large and even better sounding unit.  Tom Kenny is the designer and has Benn building phono preamps while trying various parts, wires, etc. for over 10 years.  

Bob
The Herron vp2h-2a has traded over 70 times in the US used market since 2017 (source: hifi shark), some of those are duplicate postings though, but suffice to say there is a TON of secondary market activity on this unit and avg price is ballpark $2,500, so if Herron floats your boat, then just buy used. 
@lalitk

@chakster,

The Vida is on my top 5 list but I can only afford it used :-)

Prices for used VIDA are fine, I have no problem to buy used phono stage. 

Aurorasound home page



I owned a Herron VTPH A for a bit. And while I thought it was great for classical and jazz, I felt that it lacked "pop" or sufficient transient response for rock. (Perhaps Keith Heron's training in classical music made for that difference?) I ended up selling it and the new owner was very happy. The Tavish Adagio plays all genres quite well.
Some people are married to that Herron, they are not allowed to look aside. 
I took delivery of a VTPH-2A about a month ago (running a Rega P10 through it). It is lovely and lives up to all of the praise heaped upon it in this forum. Keith also deserves all the kind words mentioned about him. It’s worthwhile to contact Keith and get a conversation going even if you don’t decide to buy from him. I’ve put about 30 hours on it. It’s wonderful out of the box and continues to open up. I haven’t even started to play with the capacitance plugs yet.

As to the post mentioning lack of impact for rock, etc., my stepson loves his vinyl hip-hop and I sit there and listen to it as well - and enjoy much of it - because the production value of those records with massive transient dynamics is amazing.  While I lean towards well-recorded acoustic these days, I've listened to much of my old rock as well as some wonderful classical organ.  The Herron does not lack for dynamics.
Anyone here have any experience with E.A.T.  E-Glo S or E-Glo Petit phono stages? 
Good luck. When my search was narrowed down to a few contenders I started looking at used. Never did see a Herron for sale. Saw one that had sold the day it was listed and before I started looking. Then kept looking a good 6 months after deciding it would be the Herron. (I buy components, not deals.) In 6 months I saw zero listed but two times people had them listed as WANTED.  

They come up for a sale used much more frequently these days.  Over the past 2 weeks I've seen two listings alone.

https://i.postimg.cc/pLfmt3KJ/Herron.jpg

I may consider selling mine in the $2500 range as it sees very little use since getting my Luxman EQ-500.



I just ordered the Fern & Roby Maverick, the collaboration with LTA and Berning. Will see if it beats my little Octave. 

Manley Chinook or Gold Note PH-10 + PSU-10. The PH-10 is $1600 and can be used as a standalone unit or you can get the outboard power supply (PSU-10) for ~$1100 more.
@keithr,

Please post your feedback once you get situated with Maverick. I did look at the phono when I was considering F&R Montrose turntable.
sumadoggie-
I took delivery of a VTPH-2A about a month ago (running a Rega P10 through it). It is lovely and lives up to all of the praise heaped upon it in this forum. Keith also deserves all the kind words mentioned about him. It’s worthwhile to contact Keith and get a conversation going even if you don’t decide to buy from him. I’ve put about 30 hours on it. It’s wonderful out of the box and continues to open up. I haven’t even started to play with the capacitance plugs yet.
Resistance. But yeah, its an impressive phono stage. Michael Fremer reviewed it as being comparable to anything in Class A- and that was the previous version! I actually think one of the bigger obstacles to wider acceptance is its low price. Nobody wants to believe you can get a $10k phono stage for $3500! Have you looked inside? If you do then its even harder to believe. How he sells it so cheap I don’t know.

At 30 hours the bulk of the big improvements are done. But don’t be surprised if you notice a hundred hours from now it sounds even better. The improvements sneak up on you. For a real treat leave it on all day and listen late at night. You’re right about dynamics but probably the biggest surprise to me was how utterly "right" it gets the timbre and tone of every instrument. Keith tells me this is timing. Not something I ever thought of as timing before but when he started explaining and got into the Fourier Transform he lost me. Suffice to say the guy is absolutely obsessed with this stuff, and it shows in his work.