Which Phono Preamp for my System????

I'm looking for a decent phono preamp for my Linn Axis Turntable. I am primarily listening to digital CD sources though my Arye C-5xe, but want to re-connect my turntable for the 100 or so odd LP's I have in the closet. My associated equipment is the Aesthetix Calypso preamp and a YBA 2 Alpha amplifier. I'm considering the following:
Creek OBH18, Bellari, VP129, Graham Slee Amp 2 SE, Music Hall, Pro-ject Phonobox SE, or the Pro-ject Tube Box II

Any suggestions as to what would be a decent match for my system/turntable?

In order to properly give you advice, we need to know what the output is on your phono cartridge. (i.e. is it a MM or a MC, if the later, a high output or low output?)

Also, in reviewing your system, and looking at the list of phono preamp candidates you listed, it appears, (to me at least), that the rest of your system is well beyond these phono preamps, in terms of sonic quality. I would consider increasing your budget. Given that you are already listening to music on near SOTA components, to go down to merely good components might not really give you the sound you are looking for. (I believe that the phono preamp is the cornerstone of a good analog system. IMHO anyway.)

PS If you have not used your turntable, and therefore your cartridge, for a few years, it is possible (probable?) that the suspension on the cartridge has lost it flexibility, and therefore will not function as it once did. You will probably need to get a new cartridge, which means you should tailor the cartridge to your new phono preamp. (I highly recommend getting a MC cartridge myself.)

What cartridge are you using? If you have a lower output moving coil, gain may be an issue with some of your choices. Two others you might consider are the Cambridge 640p and the Monolithic PS-1/2. I'm currently using the Monolithic PS-1 with the HC-1b power supply and it's been great for that price range.

In any event, the rest of your system is pretty nice, so I would counsel not spending much at this juncture. If you decide you like vinyl and the whole ritual, I suspect you'll want to upgrade the Axis, cartridge, and phono preamp very quickly. If you decide vinyl doesn't work for you, you won't have much invested.

It's always worth the effort to try vinyl - you might just love it. I do!

Shortly after reading Grado's white papers on their PH-1, I found one at Echo Audio in Portland, OR and bought it. Grado's design made sense to me and I liked the price and fact that it works with low to high output cartridges.
I haven't seen much feedback on the web on this unit, but I am very satisfied with it's performance and aesthetics.
Thank you for your reply. I purchased the Linn Axis many years ago, and obtained the Linn K9 moving magnet (I believe this was Linn's entry level MM) cartridge to pair up with the turntable. I know it's not SOTA, and I'm not sure if the turntable, itself, warrants an upgraded cartridge OR a phono preamp beyond the <$500 models I've listed in my original thread. If I were to get an MC cartridge, it would likely be a high-output MC. I'm just planning on using the turntable the odd time I get nostalgic and want to listen to some of my older tunes.

I have very little experience with turntables other than what I've told you. Without having to change turntables (assuming my Linn Axis is still ok...???), what would you recommend for cartridge/phono-preamp? I would prefer not going over $1000 for both (used phono-preamp along with new cartridge) if possible. There must be some good bang-for-your-buck values out there! If I absolutely need to go beyond the $1000 price point to get something decent, what would you recommend?

Thanks again,

In my experience, MM cartridges are far less susceptible to age related degradation than MC, so your K9 may be just fine. I'd stick with a solid state phono preamp for now, and stay under $200 used, which would cover most of your list. If you want to buy new, the Cambridge is a steal here:


If you taste vinyl and like it, you'll want to replace your whole analog front end to bring it up to the level of the rest of your system - it's very seductive!
If you want to keep the budget down, there are some excellent choices without spending anywhere near $1000 for cartridge and phono pre.

Serious bang for the buck are the following:

DB Systems Phono Pre $165 U.S. (direct order from manufacturer). A review on the MC version of the phono pre is here:


Both of the DB Systems phono preamps come without a subsonic filter but you can add a basic subsonic in simply by asking David Hadaway at the time of order for an extra $5 or $10 and I would definitely recommend doing that.

I have both the MM (in a system for my son) and MC versions and they are very good phono preamps for very little money. Not a well known name so resale down the line may not be great. If you're thinking resale, I'd look at the Cambridge 640 or the Project Phonobox SE, although I doubt either one will be better than the DB Systems (one user that I know of prefers the DB to the Lehman Black Cube with upgraded power supply.) I have a basic original Project Phono Box that I am selling for about $60, but frankly, the DB MM stage mops the floor with it.

You can mail order an Audio Technica 120E from Garage-a-Records for $59 or a Shure M97XE if you look on the web for about $69 U.S. Both excellent cartridges-the AT is livelier, more exciting, the Shure is smoother, more laid back. The new AT 440MLA is supposed to be a truly outstanding cartridge around $100 U.S. if you shop carefully.

At the most, in these cases you are looking at $265 U.S. plus a bit of duty and taxes if you are in Canada (as I am) and maybe another $40 or so to have the cartridge professionally installed and aligned. Any of the above cartridges are going to better the Linn K9, which was an AT sourced cheapie with a huge markup courtesy of Linn.

If it's just an experiment to see how much you'll be spinning vinyl that would be a good place to start.

I set up my son with a $5 garage sale Pioneer PL-12D, the AT 120E and the DB MM stage and it is a very adequate performer. Not as refined as my Gyrodec/FT-3/Denon 103R combo, but surprisingly very good and engaging for very little money.
If your into vinyl to stay you will eventually get a little better cartridge. I would recommend the Dynavector p75. More $s than your other choices but not crazy money 595 new. You have nicce equipment and might even get a better table. The p75 competes with much more expensive preamps.
Thanks for all your responses.

I've received a couple emails suggesting the Dynavector P75. It is a bit above my price range, but as Rello and Armstrod suggested, if I get hooked on to vinyl, I may very well want to upgrade perhaps to a better cartridge (maybe even a MC cartridge, which the P75 can accomodate) or even a new turntable.

Kurt_tank, do you have any other suggestions if I were to increase my budget a bit?

Also...just thinking ahead here....If I were to get an upgraded cartridge, how good of a cartridge could the Axis accomodate before it would make sense to upgrade the whole turntable? For example, would it be a total mismatch to get something like the Clearaudio Virtuoso Wood cartridge to pair up with the Axis???? Is it overkill for the turntable?

Hdm...I didn't realize the K9 was that horrible a cartridge. I paid around $375 Cdn for it new!

I'm just tossing ideas around. Any further discusssion or input would be greatly appreciated.

Calgarian: The K9 was based on a very inexpensive Audio Technica (Linn is only one of a vast number of high end companies that source(d) their cartridges from Audio Technica), in all likelihood the AT95E which still sells today for under $40. It did have a more sophisticated stylus but was ultimately limited by the cheap internals. I'm not saying it was a bad cartridge, only that the AT 120E and 440MLA would, in all probability, be superior and can be had for $59.95 and $99.95 respectively.

Here is some interesting reading at Audioasylum for you.


You may be a little reluctant about the Clearaudio after reading that as well but it's your money!!!
Why not consider a Sonic Frontiers phono 2nd hand? They stretch your budget a bit but they do have a very good MM all tube gain stage good for all moving magnets and most hi output coils which will cover your present requirements.If you fall for analog more then just have it upgraded to its max by parts conneXion.They can accomodate L/O coils but I think its a fet gainstage and they sell from $750 to $1200.There is one in Oregon right now for $750 obo.I dont know the seller.I dont think you should aim higher than a Sumiko Blackbird for the Axis and they retail full list at $700 new.There are lots of good new Denons and Dynavectors for less.You could look at 2nd hand cartridges.Next month I am going to have a garage sale and will put an older Blue Point Special an ancient Grado tlz an Empire M/C and a Koestu black on the table all will out perform your K9 and the BPS will be $45 the Grado $50 the Empire $40 and the Koetsu $500 its a bit of a crapshoot with 2nd hand analog source components as they are easily damaged if not handled well.But say a cartridge like the tlz has an easily replaceable stylus and is the basic design Len Gregory used to build his music maker.If I were making the choice I would grind a deal on that SFP-1 and look for a deal on a new blackbird.$1400 ish and at the least a match for your more expensive digital equipment and if you decide to go with a better table and arm you dont have to dump your phono stage and cartridge.
A very good alternative is the new Lehmann Black Cube Statement. In my opinion it is a best buy.
Best regards Thomas
You do not need to spend $800 to get a nice cartridge for the axis. Vwood is nice but get a better phono amp and a nice cartridge. Dynavector 10X5 380 and the p75 595 - only $200 more than the v wood.
Since you asked, I will give you my opinions.
(Remember, these are my opinions, based on my sonic tastes.)

One, I would consider getting a decent tube preamp. Look for one that will accomodate both a MM or a medium output MC. (i.e. it has around 50-55 db of gain.)
I recommend a used ARC PH-3. They are a little bit noisy, being a tubed preamp, but since you already use a tube preamp, this will probably not be a problem for you. (On the other hand, it was a problem for me. I am particularly sensitive (overly sensitive perhaps?) to tube rushing for some reason, so I have gone the solid state route myself. The sound of the ARC PH-3 is very good, and used you can usually pick these up for around $700-800, and they have 54db of gain, if memory serves, which means it will work fine for MC cartridges with outputs of 0.4-0.8 MV or more.

Two, As far as the cartidge is concerned, I recommend that you contact Briankutch about his Koetsu Black that he will be selling for $500. (It would mate nicely with the ARC PH-3 by the way. I know this, because I had exactly that setup!) FYI, the Black is not without its limitations. It has a slightly rolled off treble (not bad mind you, just very slightly rolled off, and if you had nothing to compare it too, you might never really notice), and the bass is a bit loose (this is more of the limitation, as it is not deep and tight, and if you listen to classical music or jazz, you might be concerned. It works fine with Rock 'n Roll, IMHO, as the bass is there, it is just not incredibly deep and tight. But for Rock, who really cares?! And I say that as someone who listens mostly to Rock.) On the other hand, the mid-range of the Black is classic Koetsu. It sounds incredibly lush, especially for vocals. (I will point out that I am a fan of Koetsu cartridges, so you can take my recommendations with however many grains of salt you like.
An alternative would be the Shelter 501. It has better frequency extension than the Black, but not as good a mid-range, IMHO. It has a very good mid-range though, one that is just a bit more neutral. Used, you can probably get the 501 for around $500. (It is a tossup as to which cartridge I would get for $500.) The one nice thing about the Koetsu line is that they have a lower noise floor, so the music has a blacker background. (The Shelter is good, just not Koetsu great in this regard.)

FYI, I currently use the Shelter 90X. A very good cartridge, as it has great frequency extension, espeically in the bass response, and very good, almost a great, mid-range. I prefer it slightly to the Koestu Rosewood Signature I used to use, because of its bass response. (Although, the Koetsu had a great mid-range, very good treble extension, and good bass response.) But the bass response on the Shelter 90X is tough to beat, IMHO. Someday, I will find a cartridge that combines the bass response of the Shelter, with the mid-range of the Koetsu line. (I have heard that the Koetsu Jade Platinum does, but that is WAY beyond my price range!)

Three, and this is the most important piece of advice! Get a RCM. Even a cheap Record Doctor or a Nitty Gritty (which is what I use), will do a good job on cleaning the records. You'll also need a set of decent brushes (the disk doctor brushes are good), and some RCM cleaining fluid (I recommend the Record Research Lab (RRL) Super Vinyl Wash, and most of the people here use it.) Having clean records is very important, as it allows you to remove all the grundge in the grooves, which means a quieter, blacker background to the music.

Well, those are my thoughts.
Good Luck in your quest!

Thank you for your response! I'll look into the ARC as well. Thanks for your other suggestions as well. Do you think my Linn Axis is a good enough turntable to take something like the Koetsu Black? I was thinking the Koetsu cartridge might WAY outclass my turntable.

Well, the table itself is a decent table (not great, but not bad - somewhere around the Rega P3 class, based on my research). However, your weak link is the tonearm. A Rega RB300 would be a step up.

However, in as that as you are just trying to get something to play your records on, I would think trying out the (used) Koetsu Black would be a good idea. (Hey, at only $500, which is 1/3 the new price, that is a good price, assuming it is in decent shape.) The Black tends to make all music sound good, as it is a very lush cartridge. (Kind of like tubes makes all music sound good.) If you eventually decide that analog is something you want to get into more, you can always upgrade the table (and its tonearm), to something better, and you'll still be able to hang onto the cartridge and phono preamp. The Black is a high end cartridge, but it can be bettered, albeit not for $500! The same can be said of the ARC PH-3 phono preamp. However, they both can be the cornerstone of a very good analog system. (If I was to put them in a Stereophile class system, I would put them both somewhere in Class "B", with the ARC being a solid Class "B", and the Black being a "B-" - IMHO.) Certainly not in the same class as your digital gear, but close enough that you will not feel you are missing a great deal.
And if you get into this in the right way, and if you don't mind the record cleaning rituals, you'll discover that analog really is better than digital. (My friend has a Audio Aero Capitole II cdp, (one of the best CDPs available), which sounds incredible, but his analog system just sounds better all around.

I was in your shoes exactly a few years ago. I was trying to find a decent turntable to play all my LPs from 20 years ago on. I had pretty much decided to get a Rega P3. I went and discussed this with my local dealer (Brian @ The Analog Room), and he basically said that while the Rega is a good table, it would not be up to the level that I was trying to achieve. He recommended that I jump up to the next level. I ended up with a Basis 1400 and a Rega RB300 tonearm. (FYI, the Rega Tonearms are tough to beat until you start spending some real money. The 300 is good, but the 600 is really good, as it has better cabling.) Brian recommended the Koetsu Black, but I did not want to spend the money, and so I got a Benz Micro Glider II. (A decent cartridge, but a bit too analytical for my tastes. It was kind of like listening to a CD, which is okay, but not what I wanted.) When the Benz got accidentally broken, Brian gave me 50% credit for it, on a trade in, and so this time, I took his advice and got the Koetsu Black. All of a sudden my eyes were opened as to what analog was all about! Since then, I have upgraded my turntable to the Basis 2001, and I have upgraded my tonearm to the Basis Vector M3. (I already told you about my cartridge upgrades.) I have also upgraded my preamp/phone preamp to the Ayre K-1Xe, with the phono boards. (The only thing that bugged me about my system was the tube rushing. As my analog source got better and better, I was able to hear the tube rushing more and more. Therefore, I went solid state, and I have never been happier. However, IMHO, to get solid state to sound as good as tubes takes a large amount of money, so beware of just heading in that direction. I recommend tubes until you can spend a couple of thousand $ on a phono preamp.)

Again, I will point out that the biggest thing you can do for yourself is to get yourself a RCM. Even a cheap vacuum RCM system will make your listening enjoyment skyrocket. Trust me on this. (I can't believe I just said "Trust Me" on election day!)

My two cents worth.
Thank you for all your replies.

I just placed my order for the PS Audio GCPH phono stage. In the end, I decided to increase my budget and get a better phono stage for the following reasons:

* the GCPH has a great deal of flexibility and can accept a wide range of cartridges with varying outputs

* should I want to upgrade with a better turntable and cartridge, the GCPH can be modified (upgraded) by Underwood HIFI/Parts Connection here in Canada

* the GCPH has balanced XLR outputs to match my Aesthetix Calypso preamp or it can be used directly from the phono stage to the amplifier

The cartridges I am considering upgrading to in the next few months include: Benz Ace/Glider, Sumiko Blackbird, Dynavector Karat, Clearaudio V wood, Shelter 501, or possibly a used Koetsu Black! The last upgrade (probably next year) for my system would be the turntable itself. I have my eyes on a VPI Scout with signature 9 arm.

Again, thanks for your help. I hope I made the right decision. I hate buying stuff without getting to audition them...!