Graham Slee amp 2 SE for MM or HO MC is incredible. Don't buy the line that a tube phono only, is the best phono, to buy, trust me on this. I am otherwise all tube and a die hard as far as tube power amps and line pre amps go. If you are using MM or high output MC this phono stage is a giant killer. If you are using an MC low or typical MC output a new Graham Slee is above your price range, but the MC version used is in your price range.
You will save money using the built in phono of course, that is a given, but the Graham products are just phenomenal, especially in terms of giving you all the bass the recording has in it. Try it you will hear what I mean.
My current phono preamp is the Jolida JD9, having started with the built-ins in my Advent 300 and NAD 7140 and moving through a Hagerman Bugle, Monolithic PS-2/HC-2b, and Vista Audio Phono 1. The JD9 was slightly better than all of them until I upgraded the op-amps to OPA637; after that, it was majorly better than all of them. Tube rolling makes a difference, but my experience is that it changes the flavor, not the quality of the sound. Any tube needs to be quiet, though; the JD9 will plainly reveal noisy tubes.
Plenty of gain for even the lowest output MC, plus high and low gain outputs plus plus resistive and capacitive loading plus unlisted unlisted DIP switch combinations for in-between loadings.
Lots of other tweaks possible besides the op-amps if you really want to get into it - hexfreds, output caps, better resistors. A pretty amazing piece for $450 retail.
If you just need straight, no muss no fuss MM 47K, the Vista Audio is tough to beat. It's the past one I've kept as backup and if I can ever get my second tonearm mounted.
My research of Phono preamps in the $350-$500 range produced a list almost exactly the same as yours along with Mechans' suggestion of the Graham Slee Phono preamp. The only ones to add would be the McCormack Phono Drive that can be found used in the $300 to $400 range. A used Bottlehead Seduction phono pre or the Bellari VP 529/530. These suggestions came from other members I e-mailed seperately, looking @ other audio forums and calls to various online e-tailers specializing in vinyl.
I took a page from your playbook and ended up getting a Cambridge Audio 640P to go long with the Technics SL-10 TT I got.
Good luck with the hunt.
Ive been using a jolida jd 9 for a few months now. Its great. Transparent and accurate i love the sound from this guy. Ive replaced the stock tubes. I like that youve got a lot room for this guy to grow with you in your system. It has a lot of control and variability.
I have the Jolida JD9 with GE 5751 triple mica blackplate tubes in place of the stock 12AX7 tubes that came with it and have been very, very happy with it. It's hooked up to a Cayin A88T integrated amp and a Music Hall MMF-9 turntable.
For what it's worth, the built-in phono stage in my Rogue Audio Cronus gets along amazingly well with my Rega P3-24/Exact 2/TT-PSU analog front end. Wonderful music from my LP's.
I have the Jolida JD9 with GE 5751 triple mica blackplate tubes in place of the stock 12AX7 tubes that came with it and have been very, very happy with it.
Hmmmm... I have a pair of those NOS GE 5751's lying around somewhere. I'll have to give the JD 9A some further consideration.
I'd consider it for sure. Also, jolida has pretty good customer service. I've had good experience with them in the past.
Well, that did it. I did a bit more reading and some calling around, and finally pulled the trigger on a Jolida JD 9A. Got a demo unit for some bucks off but still get factory warranty and free shipping. Yee-haw. It should be here next week.
Thanks to all the respondents. It seems there was a plurality of Jolida enthusiasts here. I had been considering a Musical Surroundings Phonomena II, but the deal-killer for me was that my cartridge (AT150MLX) wants to see a capacitive load of 100-200 pF, and no more. The Phonomena II only lets you select between 200 and 300 pF, which--when added to the 100 pF in the turntable cable--raises it too much. In this cartridge the higher cap. causes a rise in the high treble, which is the last thing I want.
So that finally tipped me for the Jolida. Now I gotta hunt down those GE 5751's. :)
I just hunted down my 5751's. One was in the piano bench and the other was in my nightstand. They're not GE's, they're Sylvania Gold Brand. A vintage tube dealer I've bought from in the past has this to say about the Sylvania Gold Brand 5751's:
... Fine, early military type tubes with gold lettering on the glass. Among the best 5751 types ever made and, lately, huge audiophile demand is making these scarce. Try this legendary tube out while you can, as stocks are vanishing! SINGLE TUBES ARE $120.00.
I bought mine about a dozen years ago at a local NOS dealer (now long gone) for $10 ea.
Oooh, I can't wait 'til that Jolida JD 9A gets here.
Johnnyb, as I mentioned to you on another thread, the tubes in a JD9 are not in the gain stages. In the JD9, they're used just as 'cathode followers' at the output, in the hope of warming up the sound a little, but that's way different from the "sound of tubes" when the tubes are actually used to amplify the signal.
Anyway, because the tubes in the JD9 aren't providing any gain, it really shouldn't make any (sonic) difference which 12AX7's are used (assuming they're quiet and not microphonic ;--) So there's not much point (IMO) using premium NOS tubes. I tried using 3-mica blackplate RCA and Sylvania 5751's in my JD9 and couldn't hear any obvious change. Except the 'better' tubes seemed less prone to picking up radio stations with the volume wide open ;~))
The op amps are another matter, and I might try changing those. Right now, the sound can be a bit tinny or grainy; especially on loud passages with female vocalists. Only there seems to be some confusion about WHICH op-amps. Here they recommend 637's and the JD9 mavens on AA recommend 627's. Does anyone know what's in the stock unit? It says 'OP37G' which is a low noise, high precision Texas Instrument op-amp. So maybe Jolida has already upgraded the op-amps in their current release units?
If you go here
and scroll down a bit, you'll see three levels of mods for the Jolida JD 9A. Mods for this unit also show up in DIYAudio and other places.
Six months after taking delivery, I still like my JD 9A a lot and have no desire to change. I think it's one of the best at the price if only because it is so configurable for capacitance, resistance, and gain, while most others in this price range are not.
While I swapped the stock tubes for Sylvania NOS 5751's, that's because I had a pair lying around the house. I put the tube dampers on because I think controlling microphonics in a unit with this much potential gain is a good thing.
Still, I wouldn't be surprised if I look into the mods sometime, though.
Yes, I'm aware of the two levels of the Underwood mods; but the latest (as of last week) factory-modded JD9's now incorporate most of those mods, and for far less money. In addition some items that Underwood performed as "mods" on earlier vintage JD9's have been incorporated in the basic stock model. So if/when you consider upgrading your own unit, I suggest you send it to the factory who (I'm pretty sure I read somewhere) will upgrade older units. PLUS: Jolida seems to be suddenly using better stock parts, e.g. really good op-amps: the Texas Instruments OP37G which I mentioned above, and which came as quite a surprise when I opened my JD9 to 'have a look'. So no need to upgrade the op-amps in the latest model (IMO) -- and that's VERY important, because the op-amps (not the tubes) represent the "heart" of the JD9 ;--) Also, my "stock" unit came with the Russian made Tung-Sol reissues, which are more than adequate for a buffer stage. The folks that are madly tube-rolling buffer stage tubes, and imagining they hear sonic improvements, just crack me up because their O/C energy is so completely misdirected! ;--))
BTW, regarding tube dampers. First of all, the stock tube shields are spring-loaded and provide BETTER damping than EAT's or Herbies. Second, far more important, and almost impossible to cure, this phonoamp design seems to be susceptable to RF interference, at least in my area. And although I CAN (barely!) hear a radio station at high volume (no signal), it still bugs me. So use those tube shields and get RFI protection and damping too!
I agree with you that the JD9 is a really nice phonoamp for the price. Especially for use with low output MC's. If one is only going to use MM or HOMC cartridges, then I think one can do better for the same money. I also think a lot of new audiophiles get seduced (by other newbees and dealers like Audio Advisor) into buying relatively inexpensive components and then going "tweak-crazy" -- imagining they can upgrade them to 'Stereophile Recommended A' status . . . . NOT! So with a unit like the JD9, the trick is knowing when to stop tweaking; enjoy it for what it can do, and eventually, buy something that needs no "improvements"!
So I'm going to sell my JD9 very soon because I don't need two solid state phonoamps; and the one I already have exceeds the JD9's performance by a wide margin in every way except versatility/convenience (which I don't particularly need.) Anyway, I never would have bought the JD9 in the first place, if Jolida hadn't lied (yes, LIED!) by calling it a "Tube Phono Stage"! Because all I wanted was to (inexpensively) compare the sonics of a (real) tube phonostage with the sonics of my solid state phonostage -- and thanks to Jolida, that task is still on my agenda!