Herman, I am currently using a MFA Magus preamp with a Cotter step-up transformer. This is quite a nice setup, and I chose it because of much the same reasons that you are looking at. It was a good unit with an excellent phono stage at a reasonable price. I think that you could do alot worse than a unit like this for about the $500-$600 they cost on the used market. That would leave a little more money for a good step-up and maybe some mods, like I have done to mine. The caps and jacks and pots and wire are good places to make improvements on this unit, as would be the case with any older model preamp you would choose. I think in the ARC line, you would be better with the SP6 model range than the SP9. But again, they are older and need some mods to be "right" again. Others that would be good candidates, are the Counterpoints SA3, SA5, SA-3000, SA-5000, or maybe some of the older Audible Illusions Modulus preamps with phono sections. They are all good units with good phono sections that would cost about the same as a mediocre standalone phono stage, perform better, and give full function preamp capability. They will all perform better after cap upgrades and such. I went that route, and was not sorry about it.
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