Is there some reason you're not considering a Herron VTPH-2? It can handle MM and MC. To my ears, it would be the solution.
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Thanks guys for your response. I would like to consider the 47 labs phonocube and the ZYX Artisan but can't find any on sale at the moment. There was a ZYX Artisan on audiogon a few months ago. I committed to buy but the seller backed out. I have no idea of the Herron VTPH-2 but will look into it. I have a friend who has the Zesto and while it is good, I feel it is not my cup of tea.
Not heard the wavac, but the Tron is truly excellent. Yes I agree it is tube like, but not lush or coloured at all, I would say lifelike. Graham tends to spec the units for a particular cartridge, so if you change cartridges a lot, that may be a problem. I do like Wavac, but I feel they are crazily overpriced
Raul visited my home several years ago with his Essential 3150. We A/B'd with my Doshi Alaap (the two chassis version, not the four chassis version). There were no Doshi version numbers then, but it would be a 1.x (upgraded by Nick as far as a version 1 can go).
All listening was done with the components listed in my System, using a large variety of LPs. Listeners included Raul, Dan Edmundson, my partner Paul and me.
After two days of intense listening by four experienced audiofools, it was agreed that:
1) these top end SS and tube preamps sound more alike than different, each was superb in its own way;
2) the Essential offered stronger, tighter bass;
3) the Alaap transmitted more musical information (low level detail and subtlety, instrumental harmonics and complexity).
Which you'd prefer would be a matter of taste, but the presentations are different.
The Alaap 2.x improves on all the above. I've not heard the 3160.
No experience of the Wavac or Tron except briefly in shows, with too many unknown variables to draw valid conclusions about a preamp.
Hope this helps.
Of the units listed above, I have owned the Alaap V2.1 full function preamp (i.e, with the customized MM/MC stages) and the Zyx Artisan. The Doshi is entirely in another class (as is should be given the price differential), particularly when it comes to the frequency extremes, resolution of low level detail, and more lifelike timbre. I would further echo Dougdecon's comment above - he did a nice job of capturing what the unit does well. I have heard the WAVAC at shows, but too little experience with it in a controlled environment to comment (other than that it is very attractive looking gear).
Another unit you may consider in that approximate used price range that shows up on Audiogon is the Basis Exclusive IIx with the gold boards - extremely quiet, outstanding bass performance, solid macro and microdynamics - it is the only solid state unit I have heard in extended sessions <$15k that really impressed me.
Best of luck.
Unfortunately, I don't recall comparing the Doshi and Essential phono stages only. We could have done by sending the output of each phono to either line stage, but we weren't considering your particular scenario.
That said, the standalone Alaap phono stage (which I've heard in several systems including my own) is certainly a standout. It's superior to my two-chassis, full function unit in dynamics and bottom end punch, while giving up nothing in subtletly and harmonic richness.
Nick's attention to grounding scheme, power supply stability, impedance matching between gain stages and hand-picked/bespoke parts pays sonic dividends. Gain is sufficient for even the lowest output MCs. Dynamic range, speed and impact are genuinely shocking, yet the sound floor is the lowest and subtlest that I've personally heard. MC input impedance levels are switchable and individual settings can be customized to your choices if you wish.
Owner support is... what one expects at this price point. Nick has made many improvements since I bought my generation 1 (before Doshi Audio went "public"). Paul and I helped him evaluate several internal components and grounding schemes before he rolled them into production models or offered them as owner upgrades (often for free). In addition to being one of the smartest men I've ever met, Nick's also one of the nicest and most modest.
I'm sure Raul's owner support is similar. He did, after all, fly 2000 miles just so we could hear his (then new) 3150, even though he knew we weren't in the market for another preamp. He just wanted to put his creation up against the best, in other people's systems.
I've been told (but haven't heard) that some of the improvements in the 3160 are in areas such as sound floor and harmonics, which is where even my older Alaap bettered the 3150. Similarly, some of Nick's improvements are in areas such as low frequency tightness and oomph where the 3150 was stronger. It seems that the best SS and tube units are gradually converging as their respective designers strive to produce the perfect straight wire with gain from different but valid topologies.
I heard Wavac in the Paris show a few years back on Marten speakers and sourced by the Zanden integrated. I still remember what i heard this day. In the same room there was the zanden separate drive and DAC on full Zanden pre and mono blocs.
The Wavac had something "physical" that was astounding. The all Zanden was all beauty but did not drive you the same way in the musical event.
I'm sure you will he happy with that.
As with any fine tube amp, the effects of tube rolling in the Doshi preamp are very audible. Which tubes you'd prefer are of course a matter of taste.
That said, Nick designed and continues to upgrade the circuit to perform optimally with current production, readily availabe tubes. You can chase costly NOS tubes if you wish but it's in no way required or suggested by the Alaap's design or designer.
My preference is for tubes with the sturdiest, least resonant internal structures. This minimizes tube "bloominess" and solidifies dynamics and bass. Having tried a variety of tubes, I prefer the best quality current production models from JJ or ElectroHarmonix. No showoff factor. No impressing anyone with exotic, only pair in existence rarity. Just clean, extended, tight frequency extremes with a harmonic/timbre reproduction that sounds realistic to me.