What will beat ear 834p by a margin

I may be barking up the wrong tree. I was considering going for the GSP AUDIO ERA GOLD, or PASS XONO, OR ACOUSTECH PH-1P, OR AESTHTIX RHEA, or WHEST P20, or K and K kit, or SUTHERLAND PH.D. But I am wondering if this is a worthwhile expense? I am getting the impression that what I have is perty darn good! I can't look at the boulder or aesthetix for obvious reasons ($), so what is there that will beat the ear 834p by a big enough margin to justify the added expense? I am guessing that these may be better but which one stands out? My top choices were: GSP but EAR834P topped it, RHEA but heard its noisy, EAR 324 but heard it lacks bass headroom, PASS XONO but not quietest, WHEST but lacks micro-detail, SUTHERLAND PH.D not dynamic, EVANS GROOVE, AUDIO RESEARCH PH5, BAT VKP10, HAGERMAN TRUMPET, ART AUDIO, CARY 302, etc. Other than manley steelhead what would be considered 2nd best after boulder 2008 and aesthetix io signature. I am guessing maybe EVANS, CARY, BAT VKP10SE, AESTHETIX non signature, PASS XONO, K and K, AUDIO RESEARCH PH5 or REFERENCE, HAGERMAN TRUMPET, ASR BASIS, AYRE, CONRAD JOHNSON 15, LINN LINTO, CLEARAUDIO, HERRON VTPH1, ARTEMIS, ROWLAND CADENCE or do I stick with EAR834P. . And can the IO be upgraded from non to signature, and the BAT VK P10 to an se. And is the K and K really that good, is it much better than an EAR834P?
I am interested in another phono stage like yourself. At this point, a retube of the 834 is due for mine. When the day comes that I have disposable income for another phono stage..........I plan on keeping the 834. Haven't heard all the phono stages you mention.....keep us updated on what you decide on.

I have the Gram Slee Amp 2 with upgraded power supply. I understand that the Era Gold would be an upgrade, but it is difficult to imagine anything getting that much better. With the Gram Slee products you will be retreiving more data off the disc that you would imagine.
The nod goes to the Era Gold.


How many of those listed have you personally compared to the 834P in your own system?

Please realize that everyone's comments on these extremely fine mid-priced to high-priced phono pre's are heavily weighted towards personal preference and overall system synergy/goals.

A perfect example of how opinions can very is that in my own system, I preferred the Gram Slee Era Gold over the 834P by a very, very, large margin. The 834P was great, but in it's stock form, I found it veiled, bloated, and slow compared to the GSP.

Yes, I know the 834P needs new tubes and all the upgrades to sound it's best, but when I factored in that the 834P cost 30% more stock and nearly 50% upgraded, there really was no contest for me. At that point, I'd go for a used Art Audio Vinyl One over both of them in a heartbeat.

But, realize that my system is pretty esoteric(see it listed here) compared to most systems - meaning , low wattage SET amps(6-12wpc), high-efficiency/crossover-less single drivers(97dB), high mass acrylic turntable, etc. The Fostex drivers in my speakers are ruthlessly revealing along with my DRD 300B amps and Art Audio PX-25 amp. In this situation, they(along w/ my TVC preamp) tend to reveal or overemphasize the shortcomings of the EAR much more than the GSP.

** I have a inkling that the 834P might yield greater benefits in a solid state system than a SET tube one**

Take the same two phono pre's and place them in a moderate to high power, multi-way speaker w/ higher order crossover, solid state system and the verdict may be the exact opposite. Or, even place them in a higher efficiency(101+db), compression horn, system running push-pull amps and it may be different.

Anyway, what I am trying to say is that all the phono pre's you listed range from fantastic to superb(along w/ prices from $$ to $$$$) - in the right sytems. There isn't a bad one in the lot. But, there is no way to know until you try them in your own system.

BTW, the way to beat your balanced output requirementis to use unbalanced to balanced line transformers at one end of your interconnects. I use Jensen JT-11P4-1-1 line tranni's(~$140) to run the balanced outputs from my S&B TX-12 mkIII transformer volume controls across the room to my single-ended SET amps next to my speakers.
wow. talk about audiophilia nervosa. Take a step back and ask why you want to upgrade. I'm guessing for a noticable across the board upgrade, right? I'd tell you my pick, but then you might snatch up what I am looking at (I assume you are buying used, unauditioned). You also need to define to us and yourself what "by a wide margin is." Depending on your definitions this might be easy or impossible. I'd also only strongly consider gear you can see, feel, and audition. Then maybe pretend the other gears don't exist.

Sorry I can't answer your question. I hope my guidance was somewhat useful.
Of the ones listed, the few I know do better. I don't know the BAT, Cary, Herron, Rowland, Artemis. The Linto is borderline.
-You can also modd yr EAR if you feel like it (Thorsten Loesch has excellent suggestions)
-The EAR is reasonably priced.
The K&K Audio phono stage will beat the 834 by a country mile. I have owned both and still have the K&K.

In numerous posts you keep asking what essentially is the same question. The answer is, there are a large number of phono stages that exceed the performance of the EAR 834. Only you can determine whether the increased performance is worth the added costs involved.

Also, phono stage performance is very dependent upon what cartridge is used. Even with flexible loading and gain, some cartridges work better with certain phono stages. You could easily acquire a better phono stage and not realize its full potential because it doesn't mate well with your specific cartridge.

Finally, as asked above, what exactly is making you so unhappy with the 834?
There is a Hagerman Trumpet on Audiogon right now for $1250 that includes NOS tubes. That is a steal assuming it is in excellent condition. You may need to run a step-up with it, I use the K&K Audio step-up with mine, but the sound is phenomenal. It will trounce the EAR, although if you do like it, then Mitch Singerman can make that unit sing for you. He is famous for his EAR 834 mods.

I don't own and have never heard the K&K phono, but I have a K&K TVC passive in addition to the step-up. If I hadn't gotten a great deal on the Hagerman, then I would have gone with the K&K. Kevin's work is excellent.
It really depends on the rest of your system and what your preferences are. I found that after sending mine to GNSC that the sound of the 834P really opened up quite a bit, the bass got tighter and the frequency extremes all got wider. The modded unit also has such a low noise floor you need to put your ear right next to the speaker to hear that it is on. Not a small improvement for the money spent. While retaining all the qualities I like with the stock unit. The total cost of that investment cost me $1200, which included a new volume pot from Dact plus the cost for a set of NOS Mullard CV4004’s. In my system running it through an Audible Illusions M3A with 1960 Siemens CCA's has made a great combo. I'm hoping to upgrade the AIM3A by year-end with a First Sound Presence Deluxe Mk.2. Then we'll see where the 834p stands. I’m thinking of going with the Manley Steelhead if it becomes time to upgrade. But in my current system it mates quite well with my M3A. At the end of the day the 834P is a great preamp that can be made even better with some mods, NOS tubes and some careful system matching. Best of luck in your quest…
I haven't heard a number of the ones you mention but I did a listening comparison a few years back with the Conrad Johnson Premier 15, The Pass Xono, the Herron V?SP, it's been a while, and the Thor TA-3000. The C-J almost made it, the price was right, but with my moving coil cartridge it just did not quite get me there. The Thor did, hands down, I just put it in and the music flowed, for me, it may not for you. I have a C-J Premier 16 pre and Legacy Focus 20/20 speakers, hope this helps. I go by what my ears say and I would advise the same for you.

DON"T JUMP!!!!!!

Good grief man, I think you just listed every phono stage ever made. Sit down, take a deep breath, relax, you are going to be OK.

First of all, quit reading so many reviews. Secondly, you are at the point now, as others have stated, that things become very system and personal preference dependent. You are going to have to figure out a way to audition some of these in your system. Probably the only way to do this is to buy one you are interested in on the used market. Compare it to what you have and sell the one that comes in second. Buy another used one, repeat. Be patient and buy for a good price that you can re-sell without taking a loss. It will take some time to work your way through the maze but that is half the fun.
stick with what you have, there are lots of good phono pre's....yours included.......it is extremely neutral.
it looks to me like you wanna try'em all dude...
not an easy task i recon...
Hey guys you are great, especially since you understand what I'm after. Again I agree with what everyone is saying especially that it's about synergy and taste, and that I'll know for sure after I have the phono preamp in my system. But what I was hoping to hear is that there is one preamp or two that approach the excellence of aesthetix or even boulder and cost a fraction, wishful thinking, no. Well I own the sim p-5 pre and w-5 power amp, and I 'm bringing my vpi tnt to hr-x level with a 12.5 arm. The speakers are merlin and the cartridge is up for grabs. So are there any suggestions as to which phono stage would mate well to this set up? Music by the way is: classical, jazz, opera, vocal and rock. thanks again
I've owned the fully modified (Mitch) 834P and Rhea. I did not think the Rhea was noisier than the 834P. In comparison, the 834P isn't really all that quiet. The Rhea was more dynamic across the frequency range. Much more bass extension. However, I think the 834P was more even in the presentation of the frenquency range it does support. The mid-market Aesthetix gear tends to push out, or emphasize the mid-range which can work very well depending on what music you listen to and the rest of your system. I could be wrong, but I don't think battery powered pre and phono stages will be fast enough to respond to really dynamic passages. Maybe with enough capacitive storage.

I would venture to guess that the K&K is better than the 834P (even modified), but it is just a educated guess based on Kevin's work. The only way your will ever answer your questions for yourself is to get some of these into your system.
I'd like to comment some on the Sutherland PHD, as I own one. It was an upgrade from a McCormack Micro Phono Drive. Before I continue about the Sutherland, I'd like to say that the McCormack was a nice little Unit, felt is was very good for the cash outlay, was dead quiet, was musical, had good dynamics, and good clean bass response. Certainly a Unit one could easily live with, but also certainly no doubt there's better, and much much better out there if you want to drop the $$$.

When I got the Sutherland PHD (Used, but like new-mint)
I did not notice any loss of dynamics, so if you're referring to Michael Fremer's review of the Unit, it may not be a wise decision to take stock in just one man's opinion on the Sutherland, and if you can, audition the Unit yourself.

Please don't get me wrong, no, I'm not being insulting to Mr. Fremer, as I'm sure he knows mucho more than I do in evaluating Phono Stages, and when he commented about the Sutherland (Yes, I read the review too) was specifically comparing the Sutherland to other world class, Stereophile Class A no holds (or cost) barred Units.

The immediate differences I noticed in comparison versus the McCormack (with my own HW-19jr w/MK-IV Platter Upgrade AQ PT-8 Arm-Benz Hi-Output Glider)
were better separation of instruments, and vocals, each seeming to have better individuality, dynamics were much improved, giving Bass, and Mid Bass more slam, definition, articulation, coming very near to my CD set-up as far as dynamical sound, the Mids, and Highs did not lack in any way, but definitely were smoother, purer, with less grain. The Sutherland also prooved as others have noted, and absolute dead silent background.

I believe this one characteristic quality of the Sutherland definitely helped contribute to much better analog playback. My take is, no matter how good a phonopre-amp sounds, if you can audibly hear background noise, it's going to cloud, an unfavorably influence the presentation-recording. Many in RFI infested areas claim to finally be free of these maladies with the Sutherland (Such as my own personal freind Thomas Back who's done a mini-review of it on the Acoustic Sounds Site)

I personally love tubes, and I know many do, and swear by tube driven gear, particularly Phono Stages, but I'm also glad of one fact, and that is I'm not ever going to be tied down to the hassle, and expense of Tube Rolling, or ever have to be at the mercy of the Tube Dealers, with their exhorbitant prices.

Just the other day, I saw an ebay auction end that I was eyeing myself for a pair of Sylvania 5751 3-Mica BlackPlates for my CAL Alpha DAC. The auction ended at what I feel is an absolutely ridiculous price of $179.02 for two tubes. Geesh! Mark
Well since you want a poorman's Aesthtix, I suggest you audition the K&K Phonostage to start with. Other than that, just save up 10% of your paycheck every two weeks until you can afford a Aesthtix (this may take several years).

There is no such thing as a free lunch. Best as I can tell there appears to be three things the K&K does not do. 1. walk on water. 2. cook you dinner 3. walk your dog. Although the right woman does at times seems to be able to do so. At least mine does. (the woman, not the phone stage. My phone stage isn't near as good as yours.)
Pedrillo sez:
(a phono)... is about synergy and taste
I don't think so (well, taste, maybe).

A phono has to equalise and strongly amplify a small signal with as little loss as possible, as wide-bandwidth as possible and in as linear a manner as possible with as few phase anomalies as possible.

The "synergy" with the source is achieved by playing with the phono's input (the "loading").

It's a tool: an equaliser with powerful amplification. It's a somewhat complicated tool, at that:)
My comments on battery powered stages has nothing to do with any reviewer's comments. I don't read any audio magazines. My opinion, and again I may be wrong, is my own. I am an electrical engineer, not that it makes me an expert or anything. There are very sound reasons why many very well regarded pre's and phono stages have massive, seperate power supplies. But in the end it all comes down to how it sounds and in my own experience the differences can be deceiving until components are compared head to head in the same system. As always, everyone should decide for themselves based on listening and not on what I or anyone else says.
Pedrillo - I know this thread is about phono stages... but I think you can make a much more important improvement to your playback at this juncture...

I love Sim, but every system I've heard with the P-5 have sounded cold, dry and non-musical. Swap in a quality tube preamp, and it is night and day - the music has returned. This is all the while with the excellent w5 amp.

So - if you arrived at the P5 by careful auditions and comparisons with other quality tube preamps in your system, then I apologize for the irrelevent opinion.

However - if the P5 arrived in your system another way, I would really try to borrow a respected tube preamp, and swap it in for a comparison. You may lose interest in finding a better phono....
Good point Goatwuss,

Upgrading one part of a system often has the disadvantage of revealing weaknesses in other parts. Or, at the very lest, throwing off the "synergy" that existed before.

For me, getting better speakers required better amps, which required better sources, which required better cables, which all led to revealing how horrible the AC power in my house was. Which required balanced isolation transformers and filtering, etc.

Gotta love this neurotic hobby and the damage it does to retirement accounts.
Is there a tube preamp that goes well with the sim? I thought I had a very good preamp but I am open to suggestions. Of course you realize I want only the best but not at stratospheric prices.
Pedrillo - By no means am I trying to "diss" your equipment, this is just what I found in my experience.

I've heard the Hovland preamp at about 5k, the Supratek Syrah at around $3k, and the Nagra PlP which is a bit more, all sounded AMAZING with the w5.

I'll bet something like BAT or CJ would be quite nice too.

If someone you know has a good one, or a local dealer is good with home auditions, I think it would be very interesting for you to give it a try.
Pedrillo - Analog, you got to love it! Take a hard look to see if any of the rest of your equipment chain, synergy matching between cart, arm, phono is limiting or shaping the music in a way you want to change. If and when the phono is the weak link, I would think it would be worth checking out the new Graham Slee Reflex or Revelation (if you any have older jazz and blues recordings) in your system if at all possible for your direct comparison. Remember you are the chef! Modify your recipe to your taste, just remember all ingredients interact and affect the outcome....and only you have your unique biological / neurological hearing capabilities, skills & preferences.
Enjoy your music!
Just replaced my EAR 834p with a Rhea and the improvement is SIGNIFICANT. Just installed it last night but immediately there was greatly improved, imaging, bass extension and texture, dynamic range, timbre accuracy, three dimensionality, ease of listening, width and height of soundstage, separation of instruments and vocal resolution and clarity. Everything.

Much, much improved.

Tron Seven and the EAR88pb
Coming back to your original question, the VERA phonostage beats everything!