Preamp-phonostage selection for analog lover

This is my first thread here. Maybe it should go on the amp/preamp board but I am hoping that analog lovers, like me, will have a specialized knowledge base and be gracious enough to provide me with some help.

I really, really like the sound of vinyl. Several months ago, I bought a VPI 16.5 and since then have cleaned about 1,500 of my older LP's. I have a very nice McCormack SS amp, a Clearaudio Champion TT with an average AT cartridge (that I will be replacing), and a pair of Aerial 8 floorstanders. I have been using a borrowed Lehmann Black Cube from a friend. The Cube is okay, but I want to buy my own different from the Cube. Now I want to buy a USED TUBE preamp and a phono stage or a combination pre/phono (I know most people like the separates but I would like to go combo if at all practical). I will, of course, be using the TT and also an older Sony analog tuner. I will be using a run-of-the-mill CD player from time to time, but a high quality digital front end is NOT important to me, nor is it in my future.

Can those of you with more recent experience than I in analog give me some recommendations that would match with this amp, TT, speaker combo. I am also open to cartridge choices. I would like to stay with a good MM for now but would like to have a phono stage with the flexibilty to use an MC in the future. Oh, yes, and I'd like to spend between 1200-1800US on USED component(s)(I prefer someone else to take the knock down, I refuse to buy new in this area)! Please try to suggest units that fall within my price range USED not new, Bang for my buck, you know... Maybe 500-750US on a NEW cartridge - this lot I refuse to buy used! HA)

Thank you
Check out the Kora Eclipse, there is one that just came up in the classifieds here. Not only tube with MM and MC, it's Fench to boot! (however the phone stages are ss, in a tube pre..)
The Audible Illusions M3A might be your cup of tea- Choose the standard phono section for medium and high output cartridges, the "Gold" phono section for low output cartridges.

Thanks, but I will have to admit that I have no experience with or knowledge of Kora. Gonna have to hit the web!
Barbara, good to see a woman joining our ranks, especially one that loves vinyl. I expect that you'll start seeing some marriage proposals via email sometime soon : )

I would think that an ARC preamp would work well in your system. As to a specific model, i'll have to bow to the Audio Research / Tube experts on this one. I'm sure that someone else that is more familiar with their product line could single one out that would be a good match for your specific amp / speaker combo.

As to cartridges, what aspects of the Audio Technica would you be looking to improve upon ? So that I and others know where you are coming from, how would you describe the sonic characteristics of the AT and what do you find "wrong" with it ? Sean
I would recommend a Audible Illusions Modulas 3a preamp. Killer phono, with MM and mid/hi output MC, great line stage, definitely in your price range, and very well built. Check out Galen Carol ( for a used, mint condition trade-in AI M3A. Great synergy with your McCormack amp. Musical as all getout, huge focused soundstage, boogie and PRaT, Tubes.......mate with a Arum Beta S, or a Grado Sonata,.... Now if we could get you some Tg Audio cabling........
Hi, Barbara. I join Sean in welcoming you. I'm not going to add much to this conversation, except to pose a question, and make one comment. You state that you have been listening to the Lehmann Audio Black Cube -- is it the version with the original power supply, or the newer, much larger power supply called the PWX?

If you have not heard the Black Cube with the larger PWX power supply, you should audition it. I own a Black Cube that has been upgraded to the new power supply, and I must tell you that it this "SE" version is a really significant improvement over the "standard issue" Black Cube. My wife, who is not particularly attentive to my system changes, commented on how much better the upgraded version of the Black Cube was over the original. The Black Cube has two gain stages, one intended for MM (40 db gain), the other for MC cartridges (60 db gain).
Scott, you added quite a bit to this thread as i was unaware that the Lehmann had two different gains that are switch selectable. Good to know for others that ask about such things.

As to the other comments, I had forgot all about the AI Mod 3A. Good suggestion and a worthy contender. Sean
Barbara, in order to narrow down the many many choices in your price range it would be helpful to know what kind of music you listen to and whether a remote control is important to you. Off the top of my head, the Audio Research SP9 MkIII is a great preamp with a wonderful phono section for around $1000. Some folks like the Conrad Johnson gear but I really don't know much about their preamps that include phono sections. Perhaps consider a lower-end Balanced Audio Technology preamp with the optional phono module? BAT stuff is wonderful. Cartridges...I'd lean toward the higher-end Grados or a Benz Glider.
Hi Barbara, My nod for preamp/phono stage also goes to the Audible Illusions M3. You may want to consider an original M3 instead of the M3A. I've owned both for a long time and have gone back and forth with the "upgrade" option. The first Audible preamp I owned was the M3. I bought it because
it sells in the $600+ price range. When I put it in my system, I could hear only great things coming out of it!
A real winner. Upgrade fever compelled me to buy a M3A and
also an M3A with gold phono. With the exception of the gold
boards higher output, it was hard to justify the extra money
spent on the M3A. My turntable is a VPI TNT3 with JMW10" arm
and a Benz ruby2 cartridge. My rule of thumb is to buy a piece of gear at a price you can sell it at if you're not happy. It's a great feeling listening to a piece of gear
that I paid pennies for, verses the other guys thousands!Joe
Vinyls and tube gears go hand in hand. If you like the sound of vinyls, tube amp and tube preamp would make it sound even better. For your budget, I would go with ARC SP8 and stay away from SP9. The only things about SP8 is you need a high output cartridge or a step-up unit. Once you get into tube preamp, you will eventually get a tube amp.
Someone here once said the difference between digital vs vinyl, solid state vs tube, is like having sex and making love. Good Luck.
Thank you so much for the responses to my post. I must first address the borderline seductive post of Blptwp. Both of the enjoyment avenues you mention (NOT referring to the D/V or SS/T debate) can be thrilling and exciting but needn't, necessarily, be mutually inclusive, so your analogy doesn't exactly "grab" me! ;-) Although I do have an EX husband, so that might temper my opinion. Just kidding, Blptwp. Say, are moderators lurking on this board? Hee Hee

I am happy with my McCormack at this point and do not plan to exchange for a tube amp in the immediate future. My ex and I had a SERIES of stereo gear including both SS and tubes, so I appreciate the sound created by both. I hasten to add that I have always had either integrated amps or (close your ears) receivers, so this is my first fling into the preamp/stage world. The McCormack is very clean and powerful enough to fill my room and drive most any speaker. I am satisfied with the choice. I want to go with a tube preamp and phono (or combo) because the Mc does about all I expect on the low end and is just a slip bright at the top (but not harsh). The middies, in my mind, is where it could use a nice smooth and lifting hand. The staging of the Mc is great and the imaging is the best I have heard on any amp I have owned or I have auditioned.

It seems like there is some consensus about Acoustic Research and the Audible Illusions. I thought there would be more CJ and Rogue recommendations. I am pleased though, in a way, that the responses have been somewhat the same. I also assumed there would be a different opinion at every turn and I would just get even more confused.

A couple of kind people have asked me questions that I should address.

Sean - I am using a very old AT cartridge that was lying about unused. It was meant for a Pioneer direct drive table we had many years ago. I only use it because it is all I had that wouldn't damage my records. I am fully open to most any cartridge within my price range.

Sdcampbell - the Cube I have borrowed is of the old power supply incarnation. I would be interested to hear the difference. It is a good unit as it stands, though not the one I would buy again.

Jeffloistarca - I can live with or without a remote. I would prefer to have it but, if not, oh well. When otherwise involved with either of the things Blptwp mentions while listening, it is nearly mandatory, though! :-)
I mostly listen to jazz/rock/blues. I am a creation of the late 50's and came of "musical" age during the late 60's through the 70's when most good music was made (even if the recording quality wasn't always good)! I like and listen to such a variety that it is hard to specify. I will say that Disco sucks, and I have no fondness for metal bands, pop, rap or hip-hop. Other than that, I like Sinatra to Sting; Miles Davis to Larry Carlton; Beach Boys to Led Zeppelin; Perlman to Bela Fleck.

Sean - I have not received any proposals via e-mail as yet, though anyone who would propose "digitally" would have to queue, and remain, at the back of a recently growing line! I have resolved that any future proposals will be posed by me and accepted or rejected on the "other" end! HA HA.

Thanks you one and all. Now it is time to visit a few garage sales for that lurking vinyl gem!

Good comments and suggestions have been offered. I'd like to share just a note of caution. Making the right choice in a preamplifier is profoundly affected by your priorities (what is important to you) in music reproduction. This can include the type of music to which you most often listen.

For my tastes and for what I value in music reproduction, I have always preferred the musical naturalness of Conrad-Johnson equipment, particularly with "later" PV-9 or PV-10 models and models designed thereafter. IMHO, these two full-function preamps are two of the most satisfying tube preamps available in the "lower-cost" used market, both of which typically sell in the $600-900 range. The C-J equipment will not be happy with a low-output cartridge, but performs quite well with cartridges in the 1.2mv and higher output levels.

If you've like the Black Cube, the ARC recommendations will work well for you. For my tastes, I have simply never found the musical satisfaction with the ARC preamps that I find with comparable Conrad-Johnson equipment. It's a matter of one's priorities in listening, not an issue of which is better or worse.

For point of reference, I listen almost exclusively to acoustic music (acoustic instruments and voice), and 90% of my listening is to classical music. Also, I have a strong bias in favor of tube electronics based on my priorities and my listening experiences over the years. Most important to me for sound reproduction are: midrange accuracy, reproducing correctly the timbre of the instruments, harmonic integrity and capturing the delicate harmonic overtones, and soundstaging. The C-J equipment has always done these things superbly.

Best of luck as you pursue assembling the right system for you! And congratulations on your dedication to vinyl!
Barbara, since you opened the door for more propositions - oops, proposals - err, ideas, there's a Rogue 99 Magnum preamp being offered for sale in the classifieds for $1800. It's a great unit (and it does have a remote).

I'm not familiar with the specific ARC and C-J units others have mentioned, but these older units have the virtue of a cheaper price, hence more to spend on that cartridge or vinyl.

BTW, which tonearm are you using (I presume a Rega)? Prefer moving magnet cartridges or open to moving coils? Type of sound - highly resolved and detailed vs lush and warm? Burgundy or cabernet? Oops, did it again.

There are add-ons for tts that will automatically lift the tonearm at run-out, so you don't have stop and interrupt ... well, you know.

Sorry, but old grandpas get a little light headed when certain subjects are raised.

Good to see your focus is vinyl. I have extensive experience with this medium and am fortunate enough to hear most of the phonostages and some of the top carts out there. Considering where you came from and desire to improve I offer the following suggestions. Phonostage- Conrad Johnson EV1 (tube)- List price $1500 used ($800-$1000 if you can find) I have compared this with the big boy 15 premier and just could not open my pocket book to send the extra. This stage has 49 db gain, more than enough for any MM and handles most MC's down to 1mv. Another good unit is Quicksilver phono (tube) about 40 db gain (works with MM's) they also offer a transformer which increases gain about 20 db and works with all carts down to .25mv. ( cost new about $1000 for the stage and $450 for the transformer). Another great unit used is the pass aleph ono (SS), once plugged in and warmed up for 24 HOURS it sings and will hang with all but the very top (used approx $1000-$1300).

As to carts, what is wrong with used assuming you are buying from a very knowledgeable source. You are able to get much more cart for the $ than new. But in your price range for new The benz line and dynavector are very hard to beat for the $. I have used both lines and rank them amoung the best for the $. The dynavector XV-1 I rank as the best cart out there. Once you get a cart buy a wallytractor to set it up properly. That really makes a difference.

As to preamps- Conrad johnson (14, 17 etc) and the quicksilver linestage has remote and a $1000 price new.

Anyway, I hope this helps and that you are not to overwhelmed by all the inforamtion you will get. I have used each of the above mentioned items in a $70K system and they truley do not give up much to the top. But as you know or will know getting 90% of the way there is pretty easy that last 10% is a bitch and very expensive.

Good luck & be well
haven't read what others have said but EAR and Acoustech seem to availible used in pretty large quantities and fall in your range if you keep current pre.But AI Modulus has the "All that you really need" standard bearer for awhile.I have had CJ pre but the phono's can be noisy.Spend a little more and get yourself a BAT VK3i or the AI.Too bad your spekers aren't more efficient.Some tube intergrateds like Rogue,VTL,Cary have nice Phono's.Oh yeah Rogue!!!!Get a 66 pre!!!!I like Cary,VTL,Rogue because unlike a number of companies there prices don't insult our intelligence.Get the Rogue then got for a set of matchin M120 Mono latter.As Austin Powers would say "Tubes Baby!YEAH!!!" or somehting to that effect.
try the Thor TA3000 phonostage pre-amp (retails $6500) but can be bought on audiogon when they rarely come up for $2800-$3500 range. Just magical no other words to describe. Only better heard was $35,000 audionote series 7 phonostage . If you see one get it you will never regert it. I went through 5 phonstages before settling with this one. I also have the Thor TA1000 linestage preamp which is another killer .Good luck
CHeck out the AUdible Illusions M3A pre-amp. It includes a phono stage. Two versions available- one for MM or high output MC and another version (called "Gold Board") for low output MC's. The MM version's phono section is very good, while the "Gold Board" is excellent. The preamp and phono sections are tubed and are compatible with just about any SS or tube amp. Typical price range is $1100 to $1600 depending on version and age. Extreme Value!!!!

Barbara, in your stated price category, the MFA Magus, the Counterpoint SA-3000 or SA-5000, or maybe even a Manley Reference preamp, all have very fine phono stages and are great sounding tube preamps. The Counterpoints have some Solid State in them by way of buffers, but they do a good job with them. Audible Illusions is also very good, but they have low gain in the phono stage making them suitable for MM, but not low output MC, without a transformer.
I understand that the AI goes through tubes rather quickly and that Sovteks are the only ones that are rugegd enough to "stand tall" for any real length of time. Is this true in anyone's experience?
To clarify, when I mention "I understand", this "understanding" comes from what some have said, not from MY personal experience. Thus, the question to others.
Yes. It is true. However you can try a variety of tubes and the sound will be significantly better or worse? The experimentation is fascinating. I've tried 6H23, PCC88, Tungsrams 6922, 7308, E288cc etc. Some tubes are quite expensive others are not. Some of the cheapest tubes have sounded the best.