The Manley Steelhead is a very flexible phono amp that can switch to a line level input when desired. Sonically, I would characterize it as having quiet backgrounds and colorful dynamics.
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Your correct that a "stand-alone" phono preamp, which used to be known as a "preamp", before the rise of CD and the (temporary) eclipse of vinyl, gives most bang for the buck. Not only are the phono and linestages on one chassis, but also you don't have to buy and/or fret about an IC to connect them. I wouldn't do it any other way. You mention the Counterpoint SA9, but in fact I always thought that was a phono stage designed to be used with the SA11. Perhaps it does have a volume control but it may not have enough hi-level inputs to do the trick. Nevertheless, there are many, many excellent full-function preamps to choose from, both tube and ss types, starting with Ayre and perhaps not even ending with Zanden (if you can afford it). I use an Atma-sphere MP1 (which I now see would alphabetically precede Ayre) and love it. The full function preamp has made a major comeback in recent years due to the uptick in interest in vinyl.
A "stand alone" phono preamp would presumably have no inputs other than for phono, as distinct from a "full feature" preamp, which, unlike a "line stage" one, would have provision for phono along with other inputs for CD, AM/FM tuner, and so on. An integrated amp would add a power amp to all this. There are dozens of "stand alone" phono preamps, some with and some without a volume control, which will be needed if the phono preamp goes straight (except for the volume control) into a power amp. I use "stand alone" phono preamps with (to control volume) so-called "passive preamps"--a misnomer, as often noted, since they don't amplify. I'm one of those who prefer the transparency and immediacy of a good passive to the seductive additions of even the best active preamps--for example, the CAT SL-1 Signature I used to own. Passives can use potentiometers but most would agree that the best use rotary switches and resistors in a "true ladder" configuration. www.goldpt.com is a great website for learning about several types of resistor-based passives, while www.bentaudio.com at least used to offer the makings for a transformer-based passive that some prefer. I've made both types and like the transformer-based type even better than two "true ladder" types I've built, one using Holco resistors, the other Audio Note Japan tantalum resistors. I like all three of them better than any active preamp I've ever heard; others disagree.
Thanks for the answers so far but to clarify, I was wondering if there are phono preamps with volume control (like the counterpoint SA-9) that don't need a separate amp. A typical integrated with a phono stage and line stage would be an example but I'm wondering if there are such units w/o a line stage. The counterpoint SA-9 is a phono "preamp" that doesn't need an amp in an all vinyl setup.
Checking the altavista site the SA-9 is referred to as a "phono-only phono amplifier"
I owned a Jadis DMPC before,the one for sale now is not by me...it is valve based and very musical ,but NOT for real low MC's outputs...has a volume control and had plenty of gain to drive my passive...most others use a j-fet or transformer to step up...plenty of good transistor based phono's around...I agree with Tom ,transformer based passive is the way to go,if you need also a CD input...matter of fact I did take the volume control on the Jadis DPMC out of the circuit and ran into the passive which was a improvement...now I am using a transistor based phono,with a valve amplifier...nice...hope this helps...
Hi and geetings again from Australia...
The Jadis had a tendency to have a bit of a warm sound...I used RAM "quiet" tubes in the first stage and NOS in the second...still,it was never entirely neutral,compared to my transistor ones ,but very musical and therefore easy listening...great soundstage...not entirely quiet ,some tube noise,but not enough to bother me...very good match for a passive line stage...
FWIW The MP-1 MkIII and the MP-3 preamps are both built with the intention of being a stand-alone phono preamp with volume control. There has been enough passive circuitry interjected prior to the final stage of gain so that gain stage/output buffer can be used as a line section. But the primary intent has always been as a phono reproducer.
So for the Atma-Sphere doesn't need an amp in an all vinyl system? Is that recommended?
The Atma-Sphere phono mentioned by Atmasphere does require an amp. The Counterpoint SA9 is a phono that also requires an amp, plus it has very limited volume steps and no ability to accept inputs from tape or CD.
Even though Mike Elliott refers to his SA-9 as a stand-alone phono amp, he saying "a phono stage with gain (amp)", not an amp that's capable of driving speakers.
I owned three Counterpoint SA9 and two Counterpoint SA11 and the Magnum Opus that Mike built for a very short time when Counterpoint was about to close it's doors. The Magnum was built under the name EASE. Elliott Audio Science (&) Engineering.
Mike never built a phono stage that was capable of driving speakers directly.