Which phono preamps among these three?

1. Manley Chinook Tube phono stage
2. Whest PS.30R
3. Aesthetix Rhea

I picked these three because they are currently available for sale in audiogon, and all three have very good reviews. All three are a bit over my budget at the moment, but I expect to get enough fund in the short future.

I mostly listen to Jazz (50s-60s) and classicals, occasionally pops and rocks. Rhea is more expensive than the other two, but Rhea supports three inputs while the other supports only one input, switchable to MM or MC. The other two cost about the same as used Rhea.

If you are to pick one, which one? For what reason? Is one definitely better than the others? Or, they are pretty much in the same league with different characteristics?
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I've heard the Chinook and Rhea, in systems I know well though not the same system. I've not compared them directly but did compare each to a (much costlier) Doshi Alaap. The statements below relate my impression of each vs. the Alaap. As a comparison this is unfair, but knowing how each performs against a higher fidelity standard might be useful. So, compared to an Alaap...

... the Chinook was highly susceptible to microphonic pickup and amplification of airborne vibrations. This happened with several different tube swaps. If we played the music at all loud, the Chinook inserted quite a bit of feedback-based mud. If one's setup permitted the Chinook to be isolated/protected from external sounds, including sounds emanating from the speakers, this would not be an issue, in which case the performance is pretty good.

... the Rhea's useability/adjustability are a joy but compared to the Alaap it sounded fairly muddy at all volumes. This was the original Rhea with the stock tubes.

Haven't heard the Whest. Hope this helps.
If you're just going by reviews and comments, get the cheapest one.
Much depends on the cartridge(s) you intend to pair them with and the preamp you will use. Gain and impedance compatibility are the key elements.
I had the Chinook and it was somewhat sensitive to microphonics and noise issues, but generally it sounded quite musical and respectable.

I also owned a Whest PS 30RDT (early version) for a while and it was quite good sounding although I believe I had to remove the cover to get to the gain and loading adjustments.

One sleeper you might want to consider is the PS Audio NuWave Phono Converter. It's a very good performing solid-state piece that has externally accessible adjustments, polarity reversal on the front panel and a built-in A to D converter so you can record your records direct to a laptop or PC (@ up to 24-bit, 192kHz resolution). In fact, in addition to the USB record output it has an RCA S/PDIF output if you want to run it into a DAC (although I liked the pure analog playback a bit better).

Another thing about the PS Audio piece is that it's fairly immune to acoustic feedback. I have my turntable and phono stage only a few feet from my Legacy Focus SE speakers that go down to 18Hz in the bass (and are generally very strong in the bass). Even at fairly loud levels with crazy bass the PS Audio NPC remained totally focused, clear, and noise free. I was amazed how taut and powerful the bass could be out of a basic Michell TecnoDec sitting so close to the Focus SE speakers!
I own the Manley Chinook and have no acoustic feedback issues. I also own a Sutherland Insight phono preamp which you should consider ($1400 MSRP). The Chinook has a lively sound with good detail. The Sutherland has more refinement, better detail but less dynamics. I like both and switch between them periodically.
Further to the comments from Dougdeacon regarding the Rhea, I want to note that I thought the Rhea was much improved by using NOS tubes. I purchased my tubes from Andy at Vintage Tube Services.

I saw that the Rhea currently listed has NOS tubes from Andy, so that is a plus.
I will throw another monkey wrench in the plan and suggest that you consider the K&K Maxxed Out Phono Preamp.

I hate it when an OP asks for opinions about a particular component or asks for comparisons between two or among three components, and THEN the responders suggest other completely different options. But, yes, I'm guilty. I agree with Shakey. You might take a look at the Maxxed Out.
I have a PS 0.2 and that is superb. I am told by James Henriott that the 0.3 is an altogether more impressive animal. I preferred the Whest to the Tom Evans Groove in my system. I know that Michael Fremer had to backtrack on an initial review of the Whest 0.2 that was compared to be on a level with the Manley Steelhead - he wrote a rather bizarrre follow up where he then put the Whest on a par with the Graham Slee Era Gold. Do bear in mind that the Whest is very solid state and you are seeking to compare it with two tube amps - they are not cut from the same cloth from what I have read
There is an Allnic 1201 listed right now for $2200. I listened to the Liberty B2B at T.H.E. Show last weekend, and it sounds great and is really well built.
Is selling your line stage, and going with a full function preamp an option?
I see someone went off topic and gave you another suggestion, so I won't feel guilty.Referencing the Manley price point, if you see one listed-Fosgate v.2. Get one for a deal(under 2k)and do an extravagant NOS tube splurge if you don't feel the stock setup isn't enough.
I'm enjoying mine and won't part with it!
Thanks for all tips.
I don't mind to know more about other great phono stages at similar price points. The problem is, harder to decide with more to choose from.
I one time listened to Plinius M16P preamp with phono. That phono was exceptionally good. Much better than the phono card that came with BAT VK30. So, I would not mind going for a full function preamp with phono if the phono section is at least as good as Plinius M16P.
have you auditioned a Herron VTPH-2?
I also had my Rhea re-tubed by Andy. Major improvement!!!!
"I one time listened to Plinius M16P preamp with phono. That phono was exceptionally good. Much better than the phono card that came with BAT VK30. So, I would not mind going for a full function preamp with phono if the phono section is at least as good as Plinius M16P."

In that case, I suggest you try and hear a Shindo Aurieges MM. However, if you run an MC cart, you will need a transformer. I have also heard the Kevin Carter designed Art Audio phono stage. It was very good, so the K & K suggested above should be excellent.
Re the standard bone stock non-Signature version of the Rhea: I am a fairly advanced DIY guy. From where I sit, the Rhea uses pedestrian REL polypropylene and metallized polypropylene capacitors at critical points in the circuit. Indeed, my inherited Janus did not blow me away with its performance in a very full out system, albeit the Rhea seems to sport a more elaborate phono circuit than does the Janus. I probably heard it the way Doug describes it somewhere here. I then replaced the coupling capacitors of both the phono and line stages with some polystyrene film and foil types that were lying around in my stash of parts. The results were a revelation; in every way imaginable the sound was far better. So good that I decided to spend a little more money on Vcaps. There's not much else you can do to the Janus/Rhea because of its very sophisticated switching circuitry. So far as I can tell from photos, the main advantage of the Signature version is a capacitor upgrade. If you can afford it, go for that version. OR, get a competent tech to upgrade the capacitors in the plain Rhea. I think this latter strategy will go farther than tube rolling can ever take you, for less money.
It's a testament to the experience and civility on this forum that comments like mine are followed by nuanced insights like the posts from Plato, Nestell, Jperry, Rwd and Lewm. On some forums, comments like mine might attract antagonism from outraged owners who won't tolerate anything but adulation of a favorite component.

Re-tubing or (especially) upgrades of pedestrian coupling caps would unquestionably improve the Rhea's clarity, speed and dynamics. Glad to hear that some have done so. I'd actually hoped that mentioning that I'd heard only the base/stock version would bring this out and you guys came through.

This thread demonstrates just how complex and individual audio improvements can become. It's either the bane of this hobby or one of its joys. ;-)
So far, I've had (and heard extensively) Clear audio micro basic MM/MC, Cary Audio PH-1, Yaqin MS-12B, BAT VK30 with its phono, and NuWave Phono pre phono converter, and Plinius MP16P with its phono. MP16P is by far the best, far better than VK30's phono. Yaqin is pretty close to VK30 phono. PH-1 and Clear audio were less than others. NuWave is very convenient for recording LPs, but I feel other $1000-ish phono pre can do better (it is currently for sale).

Currently I am using SPU Gold, SPU mono, Ortofon SL-20, SL-15E, MC20, and Denon 103R. I also have Ortofon MCA76 and Hashimoto HM3 SUTs for MC cartridges.
So, my experience on phono preamp is quite limited.

My rest systems are: Plinius SA102, CD-LAD preamp, Garrard 301 with two tonearms (Ortofon RMG309/SPU-Gold and AS212/SPU-mono arms), and Clearaudio Bluemotion/other cartridges, and Tyler Linbrook Signature Systems, and Apogee Diva.

K&K Maxxed Out, Fosgate, Herron VTPH-2 all seem to be within my grep (for used with stretch), but used ones of those don't seem to come often for sale.

Allnic 1201 looks appealing too.

I might decide within a couple of weeks.

Again, many thanks for all suggestions.
Any particular reason why you are limiting yourself to the units mentioned?
No particular reason. As I said in my first post, I just picked those three because
1. They are on sale in audiogon
2. They are within my budget (with stretch)
3. They all seem to have very good reviews and followings

So, I might go for any other phono that falls into $1000~2000 with good reputation. Up until 6 months ago I was pretty happy with BAT VK60, VK30 with phono, Yaqin MS-12B, and Budgie Cinemag SUT. Since then my amp has changed to Plinius, and I acquired Hashimoto HM3 SUT. A phono pre that works well with Hashimoto SUT would be a plus.
I tried once manley Chinook with a great result.

I was always asking this question why Atmasphere doesn't have any stand alone phono preamp??!! I like very much so their products and Mp-1 is in my list for next line stage!
I'm emphatically withbpoletti. Go for the Herron. I heard a rhea signature with a premium tube set against the Herron and it was no contest. I few people have mentioned muddy and that echoes what I heard. The Herron was open and musical and there is a good reason why they do not come up on the used market.
The Herron will get you off the merry go round. If I had to choose from the 3 you mentioned I would go for the Chinook.
When a used Herron VTPH-2 comes up for sale, it would be mine! I cannot afford a new one at the moment.
I wonder if Herron's MC would be bettern than Herron's MM + Hashimoto SUT. Then, I can sell Hashimoto.
I was always asking this question why Atmasphere doesn't have any stand alone phono preamp??!! I like very much so their products and Mp-1 is in my list for next line stage!

It looks like we will finally be producing a phono stage for one of our larger distributors.

I've always held the opinion that building the phono section into the preamp with the line stage allows for better performance, on account of the fact that all the connections at the output of the phono section are hard-wired. Both our MP-1 and MP-3 were initially built as stand-alone phono reproducers with built-in volume control and input switching.
If you look on the Internet for blogs on that Whest model you will find that the rdt Se is the one to own.It is head and shoulders above the model you have listed.Go to there Web site and click on B stock. You can get one for less than the model you have listed. I bought a Titan Pro for less than a regular Titan and it was brand new . awesome Phono pre amp.If there isn't one contact James and ask him to put you on a list.
Ihcho have you ever heard or considered the NVO brand? I've listened to them and find them just so natural sounding with the best 3D presentation I've yet heard.
I'd call Keith Herron. There's no predicting what could happen.
I did not know about Atma-Sphere preamps with phono unit. Pardon my ignorance. If its phono section is as good as $2000~$3000 external phono, I might consider it, well, in the future.
Whest RDT SE is over my budget, as is NVO SPA.
Bpoletti, how would rate Herron's MC? Would it be better than Herron's own MM + an external SUT at around $1000, like Bob's device or Hashimoto HM3 SUT? I am particularly interested in x20 and x40 SUT for 0.2mV and 0.1mV MC cartridges.
I wonder if I can try out Herron. If Keith allows it, then I would give a try in the near future.
A used VTPH-2 just became available on AudiogoN last (Sunday 6-7) night.
It looks pretty good a deal.
However, I've realized that its MC only supports medium output MC cartridges (0.5mV ~ 1mV). I have three very low output MC cartridges (Ortofon MC20, SL15e, SL20, which are all under 0.1mV, SPU Gold (0.2mV), and Denon DL103R (0.25mV)). None of those can be used with Herron's MC input. I have an SUT with x20 and x40 gain, so I can still use Herron with the SUT, but I am not sure whether that is what I want to do.
If you're going to use a transformer anyway, you'll need only a low-gain phono amp. Most of the improvement of the PH-2 over the PH-1 is in the moving coil section I believe, and if you're real lucky (and patient) a PH-1mm may come up. Not from me, however!
Ihcho - The Herron VTPH-2 has different gain options. You should call Keith Herron to see if one of the options fits what you need.
All u have to do is change tubes from the 12ax7 to the 12at7 to lower the gain. Or vice versa to increase. I run a 103r no problem.
Just called Keith and asked about using 0.2mV or lower gain MC cartridges with vtph-2. He said it should be fine. He said that even 0.1mV catridges would work fine without too much noise.
Well, that is a good part.
Then, I found out that the one for sale in Audiogon is no longer available. Well, to be honest, I could not pull the trigger since $2500 is still a bit over my budget and I needed to wait until I sell some of my audio gears.
There is now a BAT phono stage listed for $1295, I believe it is.
I had VK60 and VK30 with phono card for several years, and I was mostly happy until I had a chance to compare them with Plinius SA102 (which I have now) and Plinius M16P with phono section. Plinius was a clear winner for me, especially M16P's phono was much better than VK30's phono.
I always thought that VK-P5 is not much better than their phono card, maybe I am wrong. So, VK-P5 is not under my radar. I don't have M16P any longer.

I just grabbed Whest PS.20 out of whim since my budget situation is not improving and I didn't want to wait for too long. It is with Plinius CD-LAD and SoundTradition's Live! MC-10 SUT. I feel Whest PS.20 is at least as good as M16P's phono. So, currently I am happy with my system.
I will stay with what I have for a while until next upgrade for a tube phono stage.

Thanks for all comments and suggestions.
There is now a Quicksilver phono amp on AudiogoN for cheap.