What's A Good Upgrade From A Manley Steelhead?

I'm on a mission to improve my vinyl front-end. Starting point is to replace the Graham 2.2 on my Basis Audio Debut Gold Vacuum, followed by a new compatible cartridge, next will be a different phonostage.

I like the Steelhead but I'm sure there's something better out there. I've around $8K  to play with and prefer to buy used. Has anyone stepped up from the Steelhead successfully, if so, what did you buy and how much of an improvement was it?

Appreciate any thoughts/ideas? 


Dhcod, you are certainly entitled to your opinion, regarding the superiority of the Lamm phono stage over the steelhead. My opinion is different. I have heard them both, and I do think the steelhead is a bit superior, although not by much. I certainly think the question is debatable, and not a certainty. A few things to keep in mind regarding the Lamm phono stage are as follows: it uses an internal step up transformer for moving coil gain levels. And maximum gain is 60 DB. The step up transformer has a 1 to 20 step up ratio, so you must take care to use it with moving coil cartridges that have a very low internal impedance, 10 ohms or less is advisable. Second, it has a rather high output impedance of 2800 ohms, I think. Or certainly in that ballpark. That means one ought to be careful about mating it with a downstream line stage, although most linestages would probably work OK. The Steelhead has three pairs of phono inputs and does not require a step up transformer in order to accommodate moving coil cartridges with low output. The total net gain is 65DB, so a little higher than the Lamm. Further the Steelhead has a built in linestage and costs a few thousand $$$ less than the Lamm. like I wrote earlier, in my opinion, the major factor that holds back the steelhead from being as good as it could be is the mediocre coupling capacitors used at the output, which are easily upgraded. With upgraded capacitors, I think one would find the steel head to outperform the lamb, clearly.

@lewm Did you ever talk with the factory about the coupling cap upgrade? I’d be tempted to send it back to them if it’s something they would be willing to undertake.

 I know it’s relatively simple to do, I’d just rather it were something factory installed.


The short answer is no, I never talked to them. My unit is out of warranty anyway, and there’s gobs of room for the caps inside, so I just went ahead and did it myself. I understand why they chose overly large value capacitors; they are trying to account for users who might mismatch the unit to downstream devices.