Tube preamp with or without phono stage?


I’m looking to add a preamp to my two channel system. Currently I’m using an Audio Alchemy DDP-1 as the pre fed by a Simaudio Moon 110LP as the phonostage. My amp’s a Benchmark AHB-2 and speakers are Paradigm Persona 3F. The Personas and Benchmark are recent purchases and I’m rebuilding backwards. I’ve been targeting a clear, detailed, neutral and dimensional soundstage. Very low noise and distortion.

I’d now like to add a tube preamp and have a few questions. What are the pros and cons of the phonostage built into the pre vs as a separate? My amp only has balanced in’s but I can use an XLR to RCA adapter if necessary, are there any concerns with using the adapter? Finally, any recommendations up to about $3-5k with some flexibility?

Thanks
jszei
Post removed 
I was PM'd with a response I thought I'd share.  One of the benefits would be to eliminate the interface type and cables associated with a separate phono stage.  I see how this could reduce noise and interference.  Another point was that some integrated phono stages can be limited in their ability to change between MM and MC, and issues with gain can result.  I'll need to be careful about this.

Some models I know have a phonostage option I'm considering are:

BAT VK23-SE
Vinnie Rossi LIO

I'm also considering, without an onboard phonostage

Backert Rhumba
Shiit Freya
Rogue Audio RP-5,  It has tubes, a great mm/mc phono stage that is fully adjustable and many inputs and outputs.  IMHO, it is the best 3500.00 preamp out there.
If your budget allows it, go for a external phono stage for maximum flexibility. Or else, Dan at Modwright can install  phonostage option for $300. 

You may consider following pre, 

ARC LS27
Modwright SWL 9.0 Anniversary Edition

Cheers!

If your budget allows it, go for a external phono stage for maximum flexibility

Do you think an external phono stage will diminish the sound quality by requiring additional interfaces and set of cables?
Take a look at Atma-Sphere MP-3. I don't have personal experience but it does seem to have what your looking for. Full function pre w/mm, balanced, and a huge deal for me are the dual L/R vol controls and I'm pretty sure I could run the Statement Grado with it. There may be newer versions in your price range I'm not that up on it. 

Find an old Counterpoint SA-2000 and have it modified.  Or I can built you a DHT preamp with any option you prefer.  Happy Listening.
Take a look at Atma-Sphere MP-3.

Thanks, I hadn't heard of Atma-Sphere before.  Exactly what I'm looking for.
Do you think an external phono stage will diminish the sound quality by requiring additional interfaces and set of cables?

No. I have found quite the opposite to be true.
A separate phono stage, with it's larger, isolated power supply, and gain/loading options, has always seemed to out-perform any on-board phono stage that I've tried.
https://www.audiogon.com/listings/tube-modwright-llc-ls-100-w-phono-stage-2017-05-06-preamplifiers-8...
 I own this and highly recommend it. Excellent phono stage.



IMHO, this is similar to the issue of integrated amp vs. separate amp and pre-amp. I tend to generally agree with jmcgrogan2, although my Aesthetix Janus pre-amp, which combines most of the separate Calypso line-stage and Rhea phono-stage, does have on-the-fly gain and loading. Advantages are cost and shelf space. Separates would likely sound better, but I am satisfied.
I've had a working belief in my short audio enthusiast life that less is more. But I get that seperates and their power supplies can and are also beneficial. However in my experience thus far a 2k phono pre didn't come close to making that worth it though in my case. 
Iv had VAC, CJ, Jardis, Purity Audio Design Top of the Line and a few others which were SS state.

I would highly suggest you look into Atma-Sphere Preamps. Either the MP-3 or if you can swing it get the MP-1.

So far no other pre-amp I have come across sounded so pure.

The VAC Pre-amps were nice and sweet sounding but honestly the Atma detail retrival, soundstage, dynamics just were a few notches higher.

@dragon_vibe did you have the phono stage in the Atma-Sphere?

It sounds like there can be benefit from using a separate phono stage if that separate is superior to the onboard, and that is dependent on the specific preamp phono stage as well as the separate phono stage which would need to be compared.  The comments so far indicate there is no overall better way of handling the phono stage.

I'm out for highest possible quality within my budget.  I don't have concerns about size or space.  If a pre's phono stage is only around $3-500 additional I can always start there and get a separate at a later date.  However, I think the most important thing is to get the best possible preamp regardless of whether it has an integrated phono stage option, because I'm hearing the integration doesn't bring any quality benefits.
Check out the Coincident Technology preamp $3,295 : https://www.audiogon.com/listings/tube-coincident-technology-statement-line-stage-pre-amp-2017-05-19-preamplifiers-49783-sault-sainte-mar-mi

A review by James L. Darby.
I do have a Phono stage in mine. This debate about which is better could go on. If you are seriously in pursuit it would be a shame not to demo the MP-1.

I have a Pre-amp up for sale on Audiogon, I believe the add may have been over. Need to check. This is a Tube Pre-amp with a tube VTPS Power Supply and performs well above its asking price. The Atma Pre-amp are superior to my current pre-amp for sale but the price difference rightly so.
I was very happy with my preamp phono stage until I tried a better dedicated one. Unfortunately the dedicated phono stage cost more than the preamp. I feel it all depends on how much you want to spend and how everything works together in your system. I feel systems are only as good as their weakest link. I also feel cables and vibration control make a difference so take that into consideration.
I also feel cables and vibration control make a difference so take that into consideration.
This is a pretty big argument for having the phono section built-in.
Mcintosh c-2500

Two phono stages MM and MC
Internal DAC
Multiple line level inputs

Outstanding warranty and customer service.

"New Old Stock" units are listed on this site in your price range and come with Manufacturers 3 year warranty. 

I purchased one not long ago and it's the best audio purchase I've made in years.  

@atmasphere do you work for Atma-Sphere or is it a naming coincidence?  If so, what's your take on whether there are any sound quality benefits to an integrated phonostage, all things being equal?
@atmasphere do you work for Atma-Sphere or is it a naming coincidence? 

LOL! @jszei, meet  Ralph Karsten of Atma-Sphere.
He has been a very valuable asset on these forums for many, many years now.

Ralph doesn't just work for Atma-Sphere, he IS Atma-Sphere!!

Cheers,
John
There is only one advantage of having a built-in phono and that is, it saves space, one less box. However if you are looking for the ultimate sound you will find a quality external phono head amp is the only way to go if you're serious about good sound! Here is another thing, if you are not using the internal phono preamp, do not remove the tubes from the circuit for safe keeping as this will damage the phono circuit.
Not to steal the thread, but to add to what John wrote... Just recently,  I mildly slapped a retailer for starting a thread that peddled his goods.  Ralph consistently offers true advice to all type of issues and helps resolve issues for all.  I have seen him give very good advice on all types of tubed equipment when I felt that his own product was clearly better.  Ralph CONTRIBUTES non selfishly... (are you tearing up Ralph?)
Atmosphere products are top notch.... Overall,  you can't go wrong with his products and Ralph has proven his word to be trust worthy.. Tim 


There is only one advantage of having a built-in phono and that is, it saves space, one less box. However if you are looking for the ultimate sound you will find a quality external phono head amp is the only way to go if you're serious about good sound! Here is another thing, if you are not using the internal phono preamp, do not remove the tubes from the circuit for safe keeping as this will damage the phono circuit.
I don't find this to be the case. The problem is the connectivity- if the phono section is built-in you don't have a connectivity issue. But if its external you do, which means the cable has to do a pretty good job.

You can certainly install a first class phono section in a preamp. Its all a matter of design; that preamp should be easily capable of keeping up with an external unit. What matters is not whether the phono preamp is internal or external so much as the intentions of the designer.
@atmasphere and others, as I'm considering the MP-3 I'd like to ask both your objective and subjective opinions.  What would you consider to be the key specs of both a preamp and phono stage?  My simplistic understanding is low impedance, noise and distortion.

Your website states:
"By incorporating the phono into the preamp, we eliminate the variables of interconnection between the phono section and the line stage and we offer one of the best volume controls available in the industry."

What variables of interconnection are being referred to here?

This is my first tube component.  I'm very familiar with solid state and digital.  I'm interested in finding out what a tube component can do with the sound of both my digital and analog sources.

Atmasphere, some manufacturers of very good sounding preamps install a phono section as after-thought or they don't install one at all. I realize that this is not always the case but I am very satisfied with my external phono preamp.
What variables of interconnection are being referred to here?
The issues are the sound of the interconnect that you have to use with an external phono section, how well its power supplies are built, how well its grounded and so on- just like what happens when its built-in.

some manufacturers of very good sounding preamps install a phono section as after-thought or they don't install one at all. I realize that this is not always the case but I am very satisfied with my external phono preamp.
Good!- and very true- like I said, its all about intention!  I've experienced some of the preamps as you describe above and one of them had a phono section so bad that I'm convinced one of those off-the wall phono sections Radio Shack used to sell in a bubble pack would sound better :/

We've been asked to do an external preamp quite often. The way we see it, the biggest issue is the connection to whatever the phono section is driving. Some people don't want to have anything to do with digital and in a purist way want to hook the phono section right to the power amp. To really do that right, the output of the phono section has to have enough voltage to drive the amp to full output and also have some sort of volume control system. Right about that point a full-function preamp starts to make a lot of sense! We've been doing balanced line with our preamps in order to eliminate the 'sound' of the interconnect cables involved, but in order to do that the circuit that drives the output has to have some guts (our preamps can drive 600 ohms no worries and is a direct-coupled output); if you are going through that trouble to build that into a phono section so you can do the hookup properly, at that point you have 99% of what a full-function preamp is already!

We built our preamps to essentially be stand-alone phono sections that can drive power amps properly but we added enough switching so that the line drive can be used as a line section. Anyone that knows me knows that I really am analog first; heck, I don't even have a digital setup in my home system.
atmasphere,

Have not had time to email you about the Technics/ Triplanar but will. Still recovering from back surgery. 
Anyway; I use a Manley Steelhead to drive Pass XA 160.8s directly.

Norbert
Hello, my friend makes a awesome preamp that I highly recommend and it sounds like something your looking for. Except the only characteristic you didn't mention, and now I'm concerned that it might not fit what your looking for is - musical. It's everything you mentioned along with being a full musical piece. In fact, after being one of his helpful ears for years while he voiced the item, I purchased one for my sons system when I believed he got it right. I presently own older stuff because I've sorta been around the block with the hobby for close to 30 years. My preamps are the Audio Research SP11 mk 2, Marantz 7 early serial number, Stevens & Billington Silver Transformer passive, and for vinyl I use  the phonostage of the Marantz 7, a Conrad Johnson PV-9a, CJ EF-1, and a K&K maxed out. The preamp my friend makes is awesome and his company is called Miracle Audio. Look him up, his name is Mark- will won't be sorry. 
http://www.miracleaudio.com/
With that budget, I'd buy the SP14 and PH16 kits from VTA.  Talk to them about building the SP14 with balanced outs if you like.  Not all that hard to build and a major ton of satisfaction  you can't get from any standard commercial preamp at any price.  AND the quality will be every bit the equal or better than anything else mentioned here.  Check 'em out at:

http://tubes4hifi.com/
I picked up a Conrad Johnson ET5, which is now discontinued, but I think is a top-tier piece.  Got it from Dick Moulding at Spearit Sound in Mass.  I got it from these guys for a couple of reasons.  First, a demo with a new warranty (and when it arrived it looked brand new).  Second, they had the best price.  Third, all of the other dealers tried to differentiate themselves from Spearit, thereby confirming to me that they were probably the best dealer out there.  Finally, they willingly said they would take it back within a week of getting it if I didn't like it in my system.  Right now, the ET5 is about $5,200 and I think it's among the best deals out there.  Check all the reviews.  Note: this is not a balanced preamp, but I am not running cables 300 yards long, either.

From there, you can get the outboard phono stage of your choice, depending on the type of music you like to listen to, and be on your way to a working-man's reference system for under $8,000 for these two components.

Happy listening.
I have a Decware CSP3 and the Schitt Freya.  The tube output of the schitt is nice with upgraded tubes but doesn't hold a candle to  the Decware.  The Decwares ability to control the gain on the output and input tubes is amazing.  I use the balanced inputs and outputs of the Freya and the volume control.  If I could go back in time I would get the Decware ZTPRE with 2 balanced inputs for my W4S DAC2 DSDse 2V2 or Schitt Yggdrasil and one unbalanced input for the phono pre amp.  
Great guys at Spearit.....I have purchased a number of components from them over the years and they always treated me right....

I purchased my c-j Classic 2 SE from them, and while I didn't take them up on a home demo, they had their demo in a seriously good system and it sounded fantastic so I was prettty confident it would sound great in my system.   

I do regret not getting the optional phono stage ,  but at the moment I have no turntable.  Fortunately I did not sell my records so someday......
Like i said before, the MP-3 with phono or MP-1 with Phono not only will give you many years of trouble free operation. The Pre-amp is dead quiet, Musical, Conveys emotions to the listener in such a way once you settle down with this gear their is no going back!! 
You will get everything in spades. This is a Pre-amp and Phono in one box and in my opinion its a more superior setup than having 2 box version as you are adding more variables to the equation.

Iv been in this hobby for over 25 years.  Spent more money on this hobby than I have on anything else in my life.  I came to a point of giving up and just sticking to commercial electronics then I found Atma-Sphere.

What ever you go for, at least hear the MP-1 and 3 before you decide. I know for a fact once you hear a properly broken in unit setup on a nice system doing A and B testing you will come to a realisation. Kind of like your elevated on a higher spiritual plane. Everything just becomes clearer.



Hi jscei,
I have the Benchmark amps - I have paired them with several preamps, including very high end ones (Esoteric Grandioso C1), but the best association I have so far is with the Coincident Statement Line Stage, which has true balanced connects. You also have the model with the phonostage included. I have the one without phono, and using upgraded Psvane WE101D tubes. Absolutely fabulous. Never heard so much high and lows and beautiful mids, just an excellent combination of tube with transistor - it will enhance the qualities of the Benchmark (clear and detailed sound with enormous attack and dynamics) playing very close to a very high end system. In time, if you can add a second Benchmark bridged in monos, you would have total control of the speakers and added image/soundstage precision.