i haven't heard it, but the sutherland phd is in your price range and i've read good things about it.
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I have not heard the other phono stages you list but I own the Xono. It has tons of detail, huge bass, incredible dynamics, and abounds in detail. It does not sweeten the sound up, so if you like things glossed over consider that. Also I believe the bottom end is not rolled off so you need to have a pretty quiet turntable if your speakers produce the very low frequencies.
From the Pass website-
"The Xono is adjustable to very high gain, 76 dB @ 1 KHz, which makes it capable of delivering .5 V line level output for cartridges with 80 micro volts output. This appears to be the best figure in the audio industry. Moving Coil cartridge loading ranges from 5 to 1000 ohms to 47 K ohms using eight switches with binary weighting and providing 256 different values. The moving magnet loading default is 47K ohms. Gain for moving magnet cartridges is a fixed at 40dB and may not be adjusted".
Build quality is top notch, and the pieces are great looking too. Single ended in, balanced and single ended out. I am listening to "The Sixties" by T-Bone Burnett off Proof Through the Night. The dynamics of the drums will make you jump!
You might want to consider the AQVOX 2Ci. It's half of what you are looking to spend, but the reviews place it as serious competition for phono pres in that higher range.
Another combination worth considering is the Graham Slee Era Gold Reflex w/ their EXP Elevator "transformerless" stepup. I did a direct comparison of the preceding Era Gold mkV + EXP vs. the JLTi in an extremely revealing and well put together vinyl system and the two were nearly identical in performance. With the newer Reflex, GS would have been the clear winner.
My personal favorites are the Pass XOno and Vacuumstate JLTI. I compared the JLTI a while ago to the Sutherland and the Graham Slee Era Gold. I preferred the JLTI to both: the Sutherland was too polite slightly lacking the dynamics of the JLTI, the Graham Gold was not that refined IMO. Overall both stages did not come close to the resolution of the JLTI.
Between Pass and JLTI is comes down to your cartridge - I preferred the tightly controlled bass and extra dynamics and control of the Pass with my Allaerts. With a Lyra Argo (i) I slightly preferred the JLTI.
I did hear good things of the Heed audio too, but have never compared it.
You folks have given me some interesting alternatives to check out.
I have bought stuff fom Jay before and he has recommended the JLTi or Whest to me. I do trust his opinions and he's a really nice guy, too! I came up with the Pass Xono idea on my own. It's interesting that the JLTi and Xono apparently sound similar. They sure are physically different! LOL... The Pass is two large boxes and the JLTi (w/power supply) is two tiny ones. I am fortunate that I do have much vacant rack space, so size doesn't really matter to me. The JLTi is kind of 'cute', though! How's the build quality on the JLTi? Are the RCA jacks of high quality? I'm not concerned about the Pass Labs build quality. The Whest is totally an unknown to me, and there isn' much info about the PS.30R on the web, likely because it's newly released, I think.
I actually compared the JLTi to the Era Gold at Jay's(Audio Revelation) house on his truly great system(s). In his system, the only difference we both could discern(although, he may have been polite and not mentioned more) between the two was a very, very, slight hard edge to transients with trumpets and sax on the Era's side. But, my unit had not been powered up in quite a while and had no warmup at Jay's. Graham Slee recommends a minimum 72 hours, and suggests his units be left on 24/7. When I got home a gave the Era/EXP the recommend warmup, I could no longer discern the "blattiness".
Cannot praise Jay highly enough, he is one of the "good guys" in this industry and his musical and equipment taste/opinion is very, very, good.
Look for a used Walker Signature phono stage. It's discontinued, and rare, but it sold for $6650 new and can now be had in your price range. Sonically, I preffered it to my BAT VK-P10SE w/ Super-Pak phono stage.
I haven't heard the Whest or JLTi, but I have heard the Pass Xono. If you're looking for a warmer, sweeter sound the Pass may suit you best. If you're looking for better articulation and transparency, the Walker cannot be beat.
Three in your price range that I have had in my system are the Xono (for a month) Ayre P-5xe, and Simaudio LP5.3/PSX5.3 combo. (owned these two) I preferred the Sim even with out the outboard power supply to the other two, and its better now with the new power supply. To me it just has a more natural sound. A little more full bodied and not quite as dry as the other two. That is IMO of course. but it is quieter. All three have everything your looking for, as far as being flexible and well built.
The most flexible and accommodating cartridge wise phono-stage I have tried in the past few years was Consonance Reference 40. Yes, Consonance got a LOT of bad rap lately but I for one am very happy, problems free with my Consonance phono-stage, Droplet CDP and Cyber 800 monos.
I am not trying to convince anyone into buying into a brand which locks U.S representation and had other problems but if you can strike a great deal on used market for this phono - I would say go for it.
Many phono-stages came thru my door lately and Ref.40 is still around.
I have tried it with few carts - Cartridgeman, SoundSmith, Dynavector Karat 17D3/17D2, Denon 103R and it did great with all of them.
I almost sold it ones before - now I am glad that it work out.
(of course, like with most tube gear - tube rolling is fan and effective it tailoring the sound to ones taste)
Just a thought
Here's my bargain tip: The SS best phono stage I ever heard was a the integrated phino stage built into the Motif MC-8 preamp. Motif was Conrad-Johnson's high end experimemt in the 1980s, and it was fantastically built. They typically go for less then $800 used if in great shape. Use it as a dedicated phono stage if you already have a pre you like. No remote.
If you want/need a remore, the Conrad-Johnson PF-R is essentially the same thing (albeit not built quite as well) and includes a remote. Used for less then $1K.
Are you kidding?!
No mistake, and I don't need to do a search, I've learned to trust my own ears over others opinions.
Now understand this, I'm not saying the Pass Xono is overly ripe, but when you compare it side by side with the Walker, the Walker is more revealing, the Pass fuller sounding. I'm also not saying one is better than the other, just different. The Walker works better in my system because my speakers (Verity Audio Parsifal Encore's) lean toward the warm side of neutral, so the added speed and nuetrality of the Walker stage sounds better in my system. If your speakers are more neutral or leaner, you very well may prefer the Pass Xono. It's all about synergy. Have you heard the Walker Signature or Reference phono stages?
Clear enough? I did not intend to step on the toes of Pass owners. I have respected Nelson Pass' work for a couple of decades now. In fact I think they are one of the best overall manufacturer of SS gear. Pass would be high on my list if I ever decide to return to SS. For now, I'll just enjoy the glowing fire bottles.
Thanks for that Graham Slee recommendation. That stuff looks really nice! I read all sorts of informative rambligs on their web site. I hadn't considered Graham Slee before, but the Reflex and Elevator are definitely on my list of potential choices now. I could probably start with just the Reflex now and continue to use my MM cartridge for a while. That way I could spread out the expenditures over time and add the Elevator and an MC cartridge later when my wallet recovers a bit. Perhaps that is the path to take...
You can pick up a used Reflex for around $750-1k and EXP for ~$750 around here fairly often. Just be patient, one of each pops up every 2-3 weeks or so. There were both available just a few days ago.
They are a great choice that perform far above their price level(especially used).
As I mentioned in my posts above, leave Graham Slee products powered up 24/7 and wait at least 72 hours before giving any serious listening,
I had the Xono for about 5 years then the Thor TA-3000 for a year then the Audfio Resrch PH-7 for two years and now the Allnic H-1500 II. All of these these were good but I think the Allnic beats them all. There is a used one for $3,000 for sale now.
I have a Davinci turntable and arm with the new low output Tranfiguration Orpheous cartridge. One friend told me it is the best system he has ever heard and he has a very high end system and has heard hundreds of systems. The rest of the system now consists of the Einstein pre-amp. Art Audio Vivo tube amplfier and Bosendorfer VR7 speakers.
All of these other components are much more expensive the Allnic, but it is not embarrassed in any way. Makes me wonder what their top model must sound like.