If you are still planning to use the Harman Karman HK990, I wouldn't bother to go with a separate phono stage. Your 990 has a built in phono stage, correct? Just enjoy it until you are ready for a full electronics upgrade.
If you desire an upgrade, I would look for another integrated amp with built in phono stage and upgrade that way. Maybe an integrated amp from Ayre, Plinius, Belles, Krell, or BAT would probably be a significant upgrade over the HK. YMMV.
It does have a phono stage but I believe there is better phono stages / preamps that would provide even better sound.
Eventually, I will move up from the HK990. By having a stand alone Phono Stage I'll have more choices from which to pick. In the future I want to move away from an integrated amp. As I understand it's best to have an exterenal Phono Preamp anyway.
I may sound dumb but what is "YMMV" Been trying to figure it out.
No doubt there are better phono stages than the one in your 990, but I don't know how much more you would get out of it by running a better phono stage through your 990 amp.
It would be sort of like putting a $5000 cartridge on your Scout turntable. A chain is only as strong as it's weakest link.
Don't under-estimate integrated amps either. I have been on both sides, and for me, there are some mighty fine integrated amps out there these days. I've owned monoblock amps, 2 chassis preamps, 2 chassis phono stages. Believe me, you can get as many boxes as you want.
I'd have to go to at least $30K in separates to beat my VAC integrated amp. I know, I've been there. Then you have to throw more money in for the extra interconnects and power cords. I'll take a great integrated amp over good separates any day.
If you are stuck on a separate phono stage, the Allnic H1201 is very nice, and I would recommend it highly. Maybe overkill right now for the rest of your system, but maybe one day you may upgrade your analog front end and electronics to be able to take full advantage of the Allnic.
The Modwright PH150 is one of the best phono stage out there.
It really depends on your budget. I just upgraded from a Trigon Vanguard / Volcano combination to a Herron VTPH-2. The Trigon combo is a great ~$1k phono stage. The Herron is a great ~$4k phono stage.
You can check out a review of the HK on the Stereophile website that includes measurements. I wouldn't say the VPI, Ortofon or HK are weak points, but the Stereophile review does imply that the phono stage could be better. I don't know the speakers, but they are Revels, so can't be bad.
You are looking for an interconnect from the turntable to amp with low capacitance. Again, it is a case of budget. Cardas makes some that are very good. If you don't have the budget, try the Blue Jeans LC-1's.
To be honest, I would look at setting up the speakers first and working on integrating the sub and speakers properly.
Hi, meambler, I guess my perspective differs from the others but I think you might find a noticable improvement in sound using a separate phono stage, depending on what you get. The HK 990 is likely a fine integrated amp (based on what I've read about it and having used HK amps in the past) and I wouldn't be in a big hurry to replace it. The onboard phono stage may be slightly less "audiophile" than the rest of the amp but that's no more than a hunch; it may sound pretty darn good as is. But if you're serious about upgrading, read on...
The biggest problem is that there are a bunch of great phono preamps in the $1000 -$1500 price range. Even up to $2000 over the long run. That's the range I'd be considering given the system you're running. The range could drop to $750 and there are even more options that would be worth looking into, but I think your current system could benefit from a quality phono preamp, especially when/if you upgrade the cartridge. (But that's a whole 'nother story. '-) Used phono stages are a low risk purchase in most cases so you could stretch your dollar that way.
You'll have to do some research and ideally you'll have a chance to listen to some examples, but here are the phono stages I'd be looking at if I were replacing mine (AcousTech PH-1P with Michell Gyro SE/SME 309):
Rogue Audio Triton (SS) $1000 (I use a Rogue Stealth with a mmf-7)
Musical Surroundings Nova II $1200 (LOTS of flexibility in this one! I almost bought one before going with the PH-1P.)
Avid Pellar $1200 (Has a slot for custom resistors, like my PH-1P.)
Sunderland Insight $1400 (Mainly because I like Sutherland's designs.)
Rogue Audio Ares (tubed) $2000 (The only tubed preamp on my list.)
LIberty Audio B2B-1 $2000 (My first choice if I had the money)
There are other quality phono stages that I had considered at one time but they have limited options for LOMC cartridge loading and gain so they weren't on my list. The EAR 834P is one of them.
It probably goes without saying, but I caution you about putting too much importance in someone's suggestions. Too many variables to be able to know your system and room acoustics and listening preferences. Suggestions are just a place to start your research. Have fun!
PS: I've used a Jolida JD9 for many years and I like it, but I don't recommend it because it has too much gain. It's just not set up very well for MM and high output MC cartridges. If Jolida reconfigured it to provide a wider range of gain settings (eliminating the attenuated "LO" output) they'd have a winner. Of course they'd probably have to charge more money so it would be competing with some very capable phono preamps. One of Jolida's selling points has been value for cost; that would change if the price goes up much more than it already has.
I believe Meambler is on the right (his chosen) path in searching out a stand alone phonostage. I like the flexibility one provides and within the context of his system, the stage within the HK can be improved upon. He has also indicated that he is inclined to upgrade beyond the HK at some time. Until that time however, the analog pre/amp within the HK is no slouch and can well serve him as he does so. I believe the pre can be separated from the amp which may prove beneficial towards this end.
Regarding the separates vs. integrated approach, I agree that there are many very good integrated amps available, and within a budget he likely would be considering, makes for a solid recommendation. Now, in support of a stand alone phonostsge, the field of integrated amps opens up substantially when not including one. That said, there are many reasons/benefits to going with separates.As one example, I researched his speakers and found them to be at the upper end (my thinking) of a budget allocation toward speakers, again within the context of his existing system. I am a fan of using a tubed preamp with a SS amplifier and can’t help but wonder how the right combination of same would sound driving the F52s.
Count me as one of those that thinks your current system using the HK990 will greatly benefit from an external phono stage right now. It will only make an LP played on the very good system you have now, sound even better!
Most externals offer far better performance and cartridge loading options than built-ins. And when you do upgrade your amp to something else, an external phono stage is portable and can go along for the ride.
You have been given many good suggestions so go for it.
The Allnic, Modwright, Herron, and Manley Chinook all have rave reviews. However they are out of my price range. If I was going to spend $4000 to $5000 I would probably do as jmcgrogan2 suggested and get a better integrated amp.
I’m looking to top out at $1500. Riffer, I’ll read up on the Trigon Vangurad / Volcano comb.
Other stages that have been recommended are the Sutherland 20/20, Audio Research PH6, Ear834p, Jolida Jd9mkLll, Musical Surrounds Nova Phonomena. The Musical Surrounds can be run off of batteries that it charges when not in use. I wonder if that makes a big difference?
You can get a Manley Chinook used for under $1500. Highly recommend this phono stage.....tons of loading options and of course some tube rolling. Good luck.
(I'm posting, therefore, this comment must be about the Herron Audio phono stages.)
I personally own and have heard NOTHING better at any price than the Herron VTPH-2. To my ears, it is not bettered by any phono stage, though I admit I have not heard the Allnic. Nor have I heard the latest ARC reference phono stage. Previous ARCs I've heard didn't beat the VTPH-2.
As a second choice, the Herron Audio VTPH-1. They are available on the used market at a steal based on their performance.
A call to Keith Herron might uncover a bargain. He sometimes takes VTPH-1s in trade. Getting a used VTPH-1 that has been refurbed and upgraded by Keith Herron is probably the best deal on the market today.
I agree with adding an external phono stage to your set-up. The HK is a good integrated. However, with rare exception (like the Croft Phono Integrated) the phono stages in 2K integrated amps simply don't compare to a good external phono pre. I love my Manley Chinook and can also recommend the Croft mentioned in a previous post and the Heed Quasar. I've heard all three and they will all be a huge step up in sound. I second the concerns about the Jolida - good sounding unit but way too much gain.
Good luck, Scott
Much good but conflicting advise above, so I'm not going into a specific recommendation, but want to raise a couple of concerns that you want to address with whichever you choose.
- Low level phono signals are much more susceptible to environment noise from radio frequency interference(RFI), EMI, etc. If you live near radio or cell towers, etc. fighting noise is often a huge battle with phono playback. Solid state phono stages are generally much quieter than tube in such environments. Many tube-aholics have concluded that even with tube amps & preamps, the most practical solution is a solid state phono stage. Tube phono stages require the lowest noise tubes and often carefully matched pairs(i.e. often rare, expensive or both)
- Matching of each of these is important, so read up!:
a) tonearm compliance with cartridge
b) cartridge output with phono stage gain
c) cartridge impedance loading with phono stage options(or lack thereof)
This stuff doesn't come easily without much study, so take your time or find someone you trust who can guide you through it. Most of all, trust your ears and try to listen to as much gear as you can if opportunity allows. If not, go slow, buy used so depreciation doesn't kill you, and then treat your purchases as long demoes. Cheers,
Another vote for the herron. I too have heard nothing better at any price. Some that may be just as good but nothing better. If I were looking in the price range you were I would get a bottlehead Eros kit. That's what I would buy if I didn't already have a herron. The kits are super easy to assemble with a support group if you need help. I bought a beepre preamp for 1300$ and with a few mods it is the best I've heard. It replaced a 7k retail vacuum state which is well regarded. Plus the pride in ownership cannot be overlooked. And you will learn a little on the way.
So I made a decision and picked a Herron VTPH-1 mm. I took your advice bpoletti and found one at a great price. I was considering the Manely Chinook, Allnic -1201, and the sunderland 20-20 but for the money I think I made the right choice. Lot's of anticipation here!
I'll let you know how it sounds once I get it into my system.
Thanks to all of you for your insightful suggestions and advice.
Audiogon forum is only as good as those that participate and you guys represent extremely well.
Great choice! Please keep us posted on how it sounds when you get it all set up. Enjoy!
I've had the Herron VTPH-1mm in my system for about a month and a half. The improvement of the overall sound over the Harman Kardon on board phono stage was immediate and dramatic. (Not that the HK phono stage was bad.)
I'm very happy with this purchase… the cost to sound improvement value ratio is excellent.
Now onto the next step in my search for music listening nirvana.
Thanks for the update. Someone said tube phono preamps are not quiet. I have to respectfully disagree as long as it is well designed and the tubes are not faulty.
Glad you're happy with the VTPH-1. It is a fine piece of equipment. Before I got my VTPH-2, I had many hours of pure listening enjoyment with the VTPH-1.