If you go with the MMF-7 a Lehmann Black Cube phono preamp is very nice and will keep you in your budget.
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Dave, see if you can get Classe to install their phono board. I'm using a Classe CP-60 with phono. It is a very nice built in phono board. IMHO, Rowland was the only preamp I've heard that I like the built in phono better. E-mail Armin at Classe and see what he can do. If this is a no go, then I'd just get a phono preamp. Every once in a while you'll see a Klyne SK-2A(?) go on sale on Agon for $200-350. They can't be beat for under $500. In fact, they're hard to beat under a grand. If you can't find or can't wait for one of them, try a McCormack Micro phono drive. You can get a new one from The Stereo Trading Outlet (www.tsto.com) with 3 year warranty for $349 (MSRP $599). My buddy bought one of these and is very happy.
I hope this helped.
I had a CAP-100 with phono and thought it did a good job, It was in character with the amp. As for the black cube, Music Direct (amusicdirect.com) has recently discontinued it because (they say) There are too many other units at that price point that are better. I have always liked Grado Cartridges, for their, warmth, detail, dynamics, and great mid-range. I recently mated my Grado (sonata) with Grados new phono pre, and really love the smooth, effortless sound. They retail at 5, but sell at around $400. and of course will work with any cartridge. There are two gain settings for Grado's .5 mV and 4.0 mV cartridges.
If that comment was made by Music Direct; all I can say is I am tired of dealers who trash products they don't sell, before they tell you all about the supposedly better stuff they do sell.
There are lots of fine phono stages at every price point.
If they did say it, I'll never buy from them. To paraphrase the comment....There are too many other dealers at that price point that are better (more honest).
Many audiogon posters are also guilty of this when making recommendations.
Bowbow, you're right. That was said by Music Direct and it is a low blow. Especially considering how many of those units they sold over the years by MD. They've basically told all of their customers that our opinion (MD's) today is meaningless, it could change tomorrow, so don't listen to our opinion. This issue made a big stink at the Asylum. Low class, IMHO. Not that I ever took their (MD) opinion seriously, but some do.
My return to analog was with an MMF-7 and Monolithic PS-1 phono stage. I later added the HC-1 power supply. I thought it was a terrific combination. Amazingly quiet. The MMF-7 comes with a high output moving coil cartridge that is very good (and set up is a no brainer) and the Monolithic has plenty of gain to play it without strain. The power supply improved the sound substantially, but it is still acceptable with the wall wart that comes with the PS1. Together the Monolithic's cost about $700 but you can find them used. Also, as budget allows, Modwright has a modification for them that I have never heard but upgrading parts usually means better and quieter sound. I think the MMF-7 is a great way to start. I found that my percentage of listening to vinyl vs cd quickly began to significantly move to the vinyl side. The MMF-7 set up is good enough to better most cd players.
If you are handy, you might consider assembling a tube phono stage kit. Check out the Hagerman Technology web site at www.hagtech.com. You can also buy them from him assembled, if, like me, you are all thumbs.
To tell the truth, my set up, a REGA Planar 3, a Musical Fidelity XLP phono stage and a Dynavector cartrige are great!!! all purchased for Under $1000...give that a go.
I have a question for you...how do you find your Signature 2 speaker cables? I am thinking a pair of those for the lows and the signature threes for the highs..please let me know what you think about the cables.