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!
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@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....