Pick A Tube Phono Preamp, but not just any Tube Phono Preamp


I am hoping some of the experts will help with the decision, I'm an audiophile newbie but learning much from the people here!  One thing I have learned is that everything is in synergy, so a $30K preamp is out of place with a $1K amp.  I already know I don't have the money to purchase truly exotic audiophile quality, somewhere I read you can get 90% of the way there at 30% of the price.

The tube phono preams are in the $1500 - $2000 range, but of course less $ would be OK if the quality is still there, and purchasing used here extends the possibilities.

I have a HOMC cartridge, Dynavector 10X5.  I can't ever see getting a truly exotic LOMC cartridge, but maybe at some point I'd look for an upgraded MC cartridge.  The 10X5 seems truly excellent though, but that is for a different time.

I'm thinking of an Allnic H1201, a bit beyond the upper $2000, the Eastern Electric Minimax Phono, which even new is $1500, and used is less, the Audible Illusions Modulus 3A, which used is in the range, but I'd be using the MM input, the Decware ZP3, and the EAR 834P. I'm thinking there may be others in the range that people here know of to think about.

The Modulus 3A has several other inputs besides the phono, which seems to be a benefit, but maybe then the phono portion has been a lesser focus than on a strictly phono preamp?  The downside is to go to a LOMC cartridge it needs a new replacement board, which isn't tube based so that is a question.  I'm thinking people would use a SUT and keep using the MM input, but I could be wrong.

The Eastern Electric just seems to be excellent quality, but it seems a fair amount of the price for it, as many of these, is to accommodate the LOMC cartridges.  With the Decware ZP3, if you go with a LOMC, you then have to buy an additional ZMC, and get the correct one based on the cartridge.  But that means the ZP3 is focused completely on the MM and HOMC cartridges, which seems to be a good thing.  The end result though is that in the end the Decware may end up costing much higher than the $2000 upper limit.

The EAR834P seems to be highly recommended, but many of those recommendations are from people who've had it heavily modified.  In factory stock condition it is still well thought of though.  It is also possible to get the 834P for only MM, but once again in the long run that would be a questionable choice, it is probably better to get the MM/MC version at a higher price.

So it is a question, and I'll appreciate the opinions.

the_treble_with_tribbles
I have used $200 (Pro-ject) phono pre amps and $1200 (Musical Surroundings) ones as well, also ones inside some McIntosh preamps. But once I made the jump to the Manley Labs Chinook, now this is a whole new level! Really... in terms of detail and just feeling like instruments were in front of me instead of nice music playing. The Chinook uses 4 6922 tubes, warm easy presentation nothing harsh or grainy or noisy very quiet, and versatile it will play any cartridge I use a .3mv low output Dynavector 20x2 and I want for nothing in terms of soundstage, depth, rise and decay, beauty of tone and low and upper end extension is all there. Unless I win the lotto this is my last phono pre amp. :-)

Matt M 
 If you already have a line stage then out of that list I would  go with the allnic. If you dont I would go with the audible illusions. 

There’s a K & K Maxxed Out Phono on Audiogon right now, priced at $2000.

If you have no plans on using a low output mc cartridge this Quicksilver is what I use. It is all tube and you can use any cartridge from .5 mv and up. Point to point wired and made in USA!
http://quicksilveraudio.com/products/phono-preamp/
I'm not able to do any of the comparisons you ask about unfortunately but I've used the Allnic H1201 for several years and am very happy with it.

 As you mention, synergy is the most important thing. Two great sounding pieces may not sound good together. There are a lot of good phono preamps but which ones will work best in your system. The only real way is to hear them in your system. I would listen to everything I could. Make a long term plan and work toward it. T

 I would suggest you look for a used Fosgate Signature phono preamp. All tube and highly ajustable. Trully an excellent sounding phono preamp. Being tube, you can tube roll if you want to dial it in even more. And it has no problem running even LOMC. They go for around $1200. used. They can be hard to find because people tend to keep them. Hifishark is a great place to start when looking for used gear.


Tithe Modulus 3A and 3B has a great phono preamp. That is the main reason most people buy the preamp, plus it is very versatile. 
I have the  Eastern Electric Minimax, typically you don't see them used because no one sells them. I have no idea how much I'd have to shell out to better it. I've used it mostly for HOMC carts (SAE 1000LT, Ortofon Quintet Blue, Benz Micro Silver) and also LOMC (Denon 103R). It's a quiet and neutral phono pre that is astonishingly good for the price.
+1 for the quicksilver
or
arc sp-17
or vtl 2.5
or....long list of nice stuff out there
the $895 Dynavector is killer in front of many a simple tube linestage
there is also a rare Brinkman Fein for sale here on the gon right now, killer sound
The most important part of phono stages is matching with a synergistic cartridge. If I were you, I would find the best VFM phono pre for your current cartridge. That would be, imo, the Dynavector P75. You can find these being sold all the time on this site. Also, the Lounge Audio LCR will match up nicely without breaking the bank. Try not to complicate matters further than needed here...
The P75 can be used with all of the DV cartridges to good effect if you choose to upgrade to a LOMC in the future.
If you really want to try a tube unit ask your dealer for a demo. If you fall in love then you will most likely be moving to a LOMC. Is your turntable capable to handle this upgrade?The DV 10X5 is a fine cartridge  but imo you will really start to hear significant differences when you move to a LOMC. Just adding a tube phono stage will not transform your listening experience with your current cartridge. Different -yes, but might not be all that you may think it will be. Just my .02
ATB,
Mark
Might as well swing for the fences and get a Herron VTPH-2a.  Nothing better, few if any as good.  Can directly handle HOMC and LOMC.  Easy external loading.  Best phono stage I've heard.  I own one and wouldn't own any other.  Any other would be a step down in performance.  Will cost a few dollars over $2,000 but you don't have to worry about upgrades or improvements.

Disclosure:  I am not employed by Herron Audio.  I am not Keith Herron.  I have no financial interest in Herron Audio.  I am not a member of the Herron family.  My phono stage, preamp, amps, and interconnects are all Herron Audio.  I have owned Herron Audio equipment for over 20 years.  I have never had to replace a tube in ANY Herron Audio component.

Wow, I knew there were many experts here, I appreciate that so many people are also kind enough to reply!  I was thinking maybe two responses!!

First response to the Herron VTPH-2a, and that concurs with my research.  Also, I have read many praises for Mr. Herron.  Actually tried to purchase one used, but the guy never responded.  That is really stretching past the $2000 limit, although, as stated, it is probably worth the reach at that point.  I'm thinking that's true too with the Allnic H1201.

So that is the second aspect of this search, many of the excellent ones I've found, and the other excellent ones I didn't know about, are rarely sold used.  As nitewolf said, " typically you don't see them used because no one sells them."

I don't know if I'll be able to follow varyat's good advice, as I tend to complicate everything, and then even with all of that still end up wondering if I did something wrong.

I am wondering just how much dB gain the Dynavector 10X5 needs from the phono preamp.  From the specs, it is 2.5mV, but I'm not sure if that is the only spec I need to look at.  The specifications for the Decware SE34I.5 state it needs "2.5 volts for full output."

I have also heard the many praises of the LOMC, but at least for now I'll have to attempt just to get this HOMC working.

+1 on the Herron. I, too, am not Keith Herron--just one of his many loyal adherents.

From all I'm reading about Keith Herron, I'm starting to wish I was him!!!

Now, Jim Fosgate and Steve Deckert are pretty much up in the stratosphere too from what I can research.

All extremely talented people.


Hagerman Cornet III

I have the Cornet II and it is a great tube phono pre
Another recommendation for the Herron. Hard to beat and the service/support are superb.
I might suggest that you give Keith Herron a call.  I have found him most engaging.  Maybe start talking pricing options.  What's the worst he could say? 
Get a PH16 from VTA - http://tubes4hifi.com/PH16.htm

You won’t find a better phono preamp anywhere. You can buy it as a kit and build it yourself for $700 or fully assembled and tested for $940.

The value in building a kit is that you end up being much more deeply involved with it, and frankly, you get a lot more pleasure out of it. If you don’t know how to solder or just don’t have a place to do the work, then get the assembled unit. Hit the web page at the link above.
I use a Jolida JD9 II phono preamp (2 X 12AX7 tubes) with the level 1 upgrade ~$800. It has low and high RCA outputs and enough dip switches for nearly any cartridge set up. I am very happy with it.

My other gear is a Jolida Fusion 3502S integrated with 4 X 6550, 2 X 12AT7 and 2 X 12AX7 tubes. Jolida Foz XT-R, VPI Scout II with 300rpm motor, classic platter and Ortofon 2M Bronze cartridge. MartinLogan Motion 60XT speakers (bi-wired).  Audioquest cables all around. Phoenix Engineering Eagle and Road Runner speed control for turntable. Everything works well together. For about $12,500 it is as much stereo as I’ll ever need considering I’m 64.
+ on the Manley Chinook, have used it with a Soundsmith Zephyr and a Soundsmith MIMC Star to great effect. Super adjustable, tube roll if needed, super quiet, built like a tank and an informative, educational owners manual. Sounds great and u can get it used for good prices. 
You may want to post this on the Analog section as well since some hardcore vinyl members don't leave that section. That aside, I'll throw in Mapletree Audio and Aric Audio as two more options for all tube preamps. I have one of Aric's line stage preamps and it sounds wonderful. Not fancy outside but high quality components inside.
Just a FWIW... if you are planning to use a phono section, consider a full function preamp.

The issue is connectivity; to get the signal the real world the preamp has to have a low output impedance so as to control the interconnect cable. Otherwise the cable becomes part of the system sound- a cable that sounds good with one phono section may not with another!

The solution of course is to have the connections between the phono section and line stage as short as possible and soldered in place. This allows the phono section to have less circuitry and so a simpler signal path can be the result, which aids transparency.
The Audible Illusions 3A is simply one of the greatest tube preamps ever made for phone .... stop your search and go listen.

They also still get complete support, something you will appreciate over the years.
I am a newbie!  I was reading varyat's previous posting, where VFM was mentioned.  OK, that was an audio term I hadn't known, except I think it is "Value For the Money."  

There was actually a Manley Chinook on eBay, but I didn't jump in.  It did look good.

I think I'm understanding atmasphere's advice "consider a full function preamp."  Which I'm thinking the Audible Illusions Modulus 3A is.  It has 28dB for the phono, and then 30dB for the line stage, so the total of 58 is very close to the 60dB gain I had somehow come up with for the proper amount for the 10X5.  And, thinking of what harrylavo said, the headquarters is in Daytona, which is within driving distance from me.

I am still wondering though about the VTPH-2.  It is a FET/tube hybrid I guess.  From TheNeedleDoctor review, "  It offers a level of vacuum-tube engineering (carefully combined with solid-state circuitry) that's rare at any price, unheard of at this one."  So that is calling for more research, as I'm not sure what aspect the solid-state circuitry is doing.

One aspect I'm starting to wonder about as I search used is how robust are these tube phono preamps?  Should they last 8 years, 15 years, or many decades?

And, I'm thankful for everybody who's taken time and replied, every response is helpful for me, and also appreciated too.

Should they last 8 years, 15 years, or many decades?
Decades, provided the filter caps and tubes are serviced out in a timely fashion.
Post removed 
I have an Icon Audio PS2, which is a stunningly beautiful combination with my Soundsmith Carmen and Audiomods arm.  I think Icon gear is still available from Music Direct.
First,  I haven’t listened to most of the phono preamp‘s listed above, but I have listen to and studied the eastern electric phono preamp. And that’s what my vote would go towards, because of quality and bang for buck.
That’s why they’re incredibly hard to find on the used market, if at all, as mentioned above. I’m not even sure if they make them anymore. I sent Bill an email to MorningstarAudio a couple months ago Asking if they still made these, and I never heard back.
But if we look at the design, we see 4 transistors and 4 tubes. Transistors are expensive to manufacture and put in audio gear, so $1500 for this unit is an incredible value IMO.  

It is the transistors that flesh out the details,  especially at the frequency extremes. E.g.  If you had 4 tubes and1 transistor, then you wouldn’t get any extension of the sound that you were trying to reproduce from the tubes!! 

Transistors are expensive to manufacture and put in audio gear, s
Transistors are cheap compared to tubes; this statement is false.It is the
transistors that flesh out the details,  especially at the frequency extremes. E.g.  If you had 4 tubes and1 transistor, then you wouldn’t get any extension of the sound that you were trying to reproduce from the tubes!!
Tubes have no problem doing bandwidth. Keep in mind that the old analog tube television chroma amps had to have bandwidth from DC to 10MHz. The real issue is execution which has nothing to do with tube or solid state. We usually cut off our phono sections at about 2Hz since the tone arm mechanical resonance is the lower cutoff of LP reproduction; we spec them to 100KHz. IOW its usually not about extension- its about how natural the result is.
I meant transformers, not transistors Atmosphere. And yes, transformers have a lot to do with SQ and extension, just as the quality of the tubes do, and just as the quality of the circuitry does.

Wow, I was checking, and atmasphere makes equipment out into the ionosphere!!

I appreciate the input on my humble thread.

I went down a similar path recently.  I had a Jolida JD9 for years, and was pretty happy with it mated to my Primaluna HP integrated.  When I got my 10x5, it became more obvious that the preamp is a little noisy with everything else I have.  

Here is what I auditioned:
-Musical Surroundings Nova II - had it for about 6 months.  Found it to be smooth, warm, and quiet.  But, rolled off at the high end.  $1200
-Lehmann Black Cube - sweet, but laid-back bass; clear highs, a bit lean in the midrange $1k
- JD9 - had it for 6 years.  Fully upgraded.  Nice, warm tube sound, but clean and clear overall.  Some "fuzzy" around vocals which I think can be typical of 12AX7.  Vocals a little forward.  $900
- Project TubeBox DS2 - auditioned next to PhonoBox RS.  This is a nice tube preamp, but not much different than the JD9.  It has a nice, sweet overall sound, good bass, clear highs, but it's a little noisy.  It's a lower end tube phono, and performs well in that space.  $750
- EAR834 - considered but didn't audition, because as you say it's all about the mods.  Having done that with the JD9, I don't want to go down that rabbit hole again.  Get one that's good out of the box.
- Decware - I briefly considered, but it seems like everyone ends up waiting a very long time for them to deliver.  I am impatient, and cannot wait months.
- Project PhonoBox RS - liked it a lot.  Bought it and had it for three months.  It's quiet, smooth, great bass, clear highs, nice midrange.  But, after having the demo a few months, then getting a new one and returning the demo, I decided it wasn't enough of a step up from the JD9.  I paid $1k, and would sell for less (see the classified ads on 'gon).  Let me know if interested... it only has about 10 to 15 hours on it.  
- Finally bit the bullet, and went for the Manley Chinook.  This one is a major step up.  It's still breaking in, but I can tell it's more musical, taut bass, sweet vocals and great highs.  It's what I've been looking for.  $2400.

You said the budget is $1500-$2k, which is the same as my budget.  I think that's a good budget to match with the 10x5.  I was able to find a Chinook under the $2k mark, and I think that's a fair price.  You have good recommendations above, but many are double your budget.  I suggest you consider a used Chinook, in your budget, or you can buy my RS, which is very good for under a grand.  :-)

Happy hunting, hope my notes are helpful!

The Manley Chinook is really something. 
I had a Manley Chinook for a while and really enjoyed it.  Out of curiosity I auditioned a Rogue Ares and preferred it to the Chinook.  I don't see the Ares recommended as much as I think it deserves to be.  It's quite a nice sounding phono stage, and you can adjust the gain by using 12au7, 12at7 or 12ax7 tubes.  Outboard power supply and has a 100kOhm setting that I much preferred to the standard 47kOhm for MM carts.  Certainly worth an audition at the 2k price point.  
This is interesting, as I'm still trying to figure this out after a fair bit of time, and the continuing comments are all appreciated.

Yes, I had started to focus on the Chinook, as so many have said, and had now been looking at the Ares too.

One thing I'm wondering a bit is that the Ares has four different gain settings but the Chinook only two.  (And four has to be better than two?? LOL )

I read too about the Ares, and in the Stereophile article 1/13/10, by Erick Lichte it stated " The preamp can be run in all-tube or hybrid tube/solid-state to allow it to work with any cartridge you might want to throw at it.
Read more at https://www.stereophile.com/ces2010/rogue_ares/index.html#i45xHSlAKojYqjzD.99";  So apparently at times it is gain only from the tubes, but other times it is not?

And is the Chinook gain only from tubes, or is it also at times solid-state?  

And then finally, is that really a big deal anyway if the MC cartridge has gain increased with solid state?

What is terrible is that I still can't find a definitive answer or a chart to how much gain is really needed with any given cartridge mV output.

I then also wonder, as there is Ares and Ares Magnum, which one magazine said definitely improves over the regular Ares, but in the real world is that a huge benefit?  I am thinking though that the quality of the parts being improved must be of some benefit even if it sounded the same?

So, in a way I'm still fairly uncertain and still trying to figure this out.

2.5 MV cartridges from Dynavector have two gain options in the Dynavector phono P-75 preamp ( mk 4 ) ....

40 and 46 db

.and the reality is you can and should listen to each and decide....

all this from the great company that made your fine cartridge !!!!


@atmasphere

Ah. Right, then :)

tough crowd over here on Agon! :)
better get my sh*t together! LOL
Thx Atmas
What is terrible is that I still can't find a definitive answer or a chart to how much gain is really needed with any given cartridge mV output.
Check out the KAB gain calculator https://www.kabusa.com/pregain.htm


I read too about the Ares, and in the Stereophile article 1/13/10, by Erick Lichte it stated " The preamp can be run in all-tube or hybrid tube/solid-state to allow it to work with any cartridge you might want to throw at it.

I see the value in the flexibility here.  But, you are paying for electronics you won't use, since you'll only use one of those options.  And, that also means there are a lot more electronics and switches in the signal path.  I don't know... but at this level, I'd think that may be sub-optimal.  

I think the same holds true for 4 gain settings vs 2.  I had the Pro-Ject RS with four settings, and found that the difference between each is small, and you'll pick one that works for your cart and stick with it.  For my 10x5, the 45db of gain is plenty. 

I also noticed that 45db on one phono preamp isn't necessarily the same level as 45db on another.  Case in point, with the Musical Surroundings, 50db was good, but with the Manley and the Pro-Ject, 45db is good, and carries a similar volume level.