Which is better, gain in phono stage or pre amp?

I have a Shelter 501 MC cartridge into a Plinius M14 solid state phono stage and a Lamm LL2 tube pre amp. The phono stage has adjustable gain on the front panel so I can easily adjust between high and low. The Shelter is a moderate gain MC (.4MV) so I have been using high gain but this only allows me to adjust the volume on the pre amp up 1/4 turn for reasonably loud levels. If I use the low gain on the phono stage I get a notch or two more range in the pre amp volume adjustment which is nice but is it better to amplify the signal from the cartridge through the step up transformer of the Plinius or by pass this and use the gain in the pre amp? My own listening suggests minimal difference but I am interested in a technical explanation of the difference of phono stage gain vs pre amp (I'm not an electrical engineer).
(If it makes any difference, my amp is a Plinius SA102 and my speakers are B&W Nautilus 803 which are fairly sensitive at 90Dbw)
My opinion is that if you're running the level control of your line stage only a little open, you're risking overloading its input stage with the HIGH output of the phono stage. I'd use the phono stage's low-gain setting.

PS. It's a 'moderate-OUTPUT' cartridge, not 'moderate-gain'. Gain stages, not cartridges, have gain (= voltage amplification). :-)
typically you are looking for the least 'noise'. try turning up the volume with the arm raised. which combination of phono stage gain and preamp gain is the most quiet?

at the various gain settings of your phono stage; are there variations in the clarity and transparency? is the inner texture better? dynamics? tonal balance? soundstage? noise is only one issue.

i used to own the Aesthetix Io which had adjustable gain all the way up to 80db. i found that it's noise became excessive over about 66db......so i kept it under that level. (to be fair to the Io, which i loved, i'm told that tube rolling reduced this noise considerably).

personally, i currently use a resistor based passive pre (Placette RVC balanced) and the Lamm LP2 Delux (57.5 db of gain) phono stage with my vdH Colibri XCP cartridge (.85mv output). i find that this combo puts my typical listening right in the middle of the gain range of the Placette.

i also own the Koetsu RSP II (.2mv) and the vdH Colibri XGW (.65mv) and they both work fine in my set-up (although the Koetsu is on the edge of it's ideal gain envelope in my system).

for most pre's unity gain (the least attenuation) is the most quiet......although the Lamm LL2 should be particularly linear at any setting (assuming it's like the L2 which i have had in my system).

there is no one answer to your question.....except maybe that any reduction of noise in amplification will yeild benefits of additional musical message. in fact, i can say that as you lower your noise floor in all parts of your vinyl system you will continue to reap the benefits.

there's lots of music in those grooves.
Oops, you're right, I meant output not gain. Thanks Mike and Jeffrey for the helpful input!
Jyprez, in your situation with a SS phono section and a tube preamp, I'd say you are doing the right thing already.
The SS phono section is generally quieter than most tube phono sections when High Gain is selected, because there is no tube noise. You can use all the gain you want in the Plinius phono section. The Lamm preamp is tube, and tube input sections generally are very forgiving of any overload on the inputs. Also, the tube preamp may have some tube noise if you have to turn it up high.

So, your combination of high gain in the SS phono section and using less gain in the preamp, will likely give the least noise, and low probability of overloading the inputs of the preamp. Also, amplifying the very weak phono signals earlier in the chain typically gives less losses from lines, and connections, that can cause the very weak phono signals to lose low-level information before they get to the amplification stages.
I have found that the best set up to my ears was when I switched from a VTL Ultimate pre-amp and built my own dual mono line stage, with very expensive parts( kept to a minimum ) used 8 mallory high powered batteries to get enough gain to not lose detail, and combined that with a Vandenhull 2 High output cartridge. Whene you use batteries, that sense of electronic interference when your are listening into the soundstage dissapears. I'm supprised that complete battery powered systems never cought on in the high end audio arena. At one time, many years ago, I had my entire system powered by 24 batteries, and it sounded incredible. My VTL amps and vanderstein subwoffers were driven by ac. I had eight seperate lines run to my system. NO filtering, because no matter what system I used, I noticed and very small loss of information and a rounding off- a kind of pleasent softening of the music-but missing something,( as opposed to rolling off ) of the notes.
Ever try batteries?
later this summer DarTZeel will be introducing a battery powered preamp with a phono stage. i heard the prototype at CES in Janurary. it was amazing.....possibly the best i've yet heard. this was in a system using a pre fairly well known to me (and pretty damn good itself). the DarTZeel made the other pre sound BROKEN.


i have been a passive preamp guy for the last 4 years and have yet to find an active pre that does it for me. the battery powered DarTZeel seemed to do all the great things my passive did but went even further with naturalness and dynamics.

at this point i see batteries in my future.
Textbook logic: use the step-up trannies in the Plinius rather than an active stage, for the extra db.

Unless, of course, you wish to change yr preamplification altogether as Mike suggests