Decware ZP3. Hard to beat value, lifetime warranty, and with MM you won't need a SUT but if you ever do they have you covered there as well. Send a PM to oldhvymec he just got one pretty sure he is happy but see what he thinks.
I also think the ZP3 is a great fit based on your listening preferences. "I prefer to be engaged with the music" is right up their alley.
I chose the Hagerman Trumpet MC and am very pleased.
ZP3, I'm happy it took about 250 hours to settle a bit . I had new tone arm wires, cables and a Soundsmith Carmen Med Compliance cart. MI not MC or MM . No SUT needed.
I'm hearing one thing.. What's on that record. Very little influence from the cart or the phono pre. Transparent is a very good description. Clear bottom, ZERO microphonics and one QUIET phono stage.. I mean dead quiet.. Valves and ZERO noise.. Point to Point..
Somebody knew what the heck they were doing AND at a very reasonable price.
Visually it is a bit of a let down. BUT it would be very easy to doll up IF that is your thing... I'm for the most part.. Run what you brung, kind of guy.
BUT bling is cool..
For reference, I'm running TD124s in heavy wood plinth with 3012s and 3009s SMEs. Not to fancy BUT just about zero rumble. Very sound, quiet units..
I think that settles it. I’ll get in line for a ZP3 tomorrow.
"I prefer to be engaged with the music and try and not listen to the equipment but do require a certain level of sound reproduction."
For the money, and it's appears to available NOW, this listing is quite good. I speak from a personal perspective of currrently using one and having demoed units equal in MSRP and above.https://www.audiogon.com/listings/lisabdgc-fosgate-signature-tube-phono-preamplifier-tube
What's unique is it's TRULY an all tube unit-meaning NO step up transformer (for MC gain)no FET's like all the rest, and tube rectified. Very rare to see this topology.
This is the version to own-2nd(and last) It doesn't have the cheesy blue lights under the tubes as the 1st generation. It just has one annoying blue LED on the front panel(I disconnected mine)
It WILL NOT be whisper quite during quite passages with the volume at 12:00 or higher, if that's your thing. Otherwise, the Foz will do all the things tube phono stages are known to do-organic/believable presentation.
It seems to respond to changing one tube in particular and a decent power cord(not as much)at least to my ears.
Here's an informative thread from 10 years ago https://www.avsforum.com/threads/fosgate-signature-all-tube-phono-preamp.1357153/#post-20881960
Sure an interesting design.. Boy oh boy quit the looker.. The Fosgate.
BUT I gotta have quiet.. I’d like to hear one.. Tube rectified and a good power supply.. plenty of Horse power for a MC cart..
Good price for sure. I wonder if a little better valve selection would net a quieter unit???? Grid picky?
Yea OP you won't be unhappy that I can assure you.. The cool thing. They resale for MORE than new.. no kidding.. IF you can ever find a used one, it will reflect a LONG WAIT, a good breakin, and usually a good tube roll.
That's worth a few quid..
Dead quiet is what I’m looking for. I’ll just have to wait and be happy with what I have until it gets here.
Sun Valley SV-EQ1616D. Save yourself some coin and buy it as a kit or have the folks in Japan assemble it for you. Just read the Stereophile review if you need convincing. Even mentions trying it with an Ortofon Black.
Buy a used Ear 834p. Tubed with a lusciuos midrange. Otherwise, a Tavish Design classic or vintage. The Ear already has you covered for MC, as it has built in step up transformers.
I've been using a NVO all tubed unit for many years and love it. It's rare they come up on the used market but something to keep an eye out for or at least do some research on.
"Dead quiet is what I’m looking for."
You are looking for a SS unit, if that's what the expectation is.
ALL tube units will have a degree of noise when the volume is cranked and you're "listening for it."
The reviews also mention the Foz as VERY quiet considering it is, an all tube unit.
The Decware will have the same characteristic-if you "listen for it" you will hear hiss at high volume, during quiet passages/ in-between cuts. Should be very little, but it will be present.
My pre "amo" (sorry - couldn't resist) is a JJ 243 tube preamp. Fantastic preamp with a great phono stage. The phono stage has
several input impedance and capacitance loading options for MM and MC cartridges.
Love my ZP3. Also have had his small 2W SE84 and currently own his Torii Jr., driving his 8" open baffle design. ZP3 is pt to pt, very clean design. Excellent sound. Am using a VPI Prime with Sumiko Blackbird. I also listen to lots of blues with stand up bass. My best upgrade was a NOS Telef 12AX7 in V1 on the ZP3. All I can say is WOW. standup bass REALLY comes out now, as do ALL instruments on ALL my records. So now I have to listen to all my albums all over again. I may not come up from my man cave for weeks.....
The other thing I love about Decware is you can contact Steve directly and he will answer your questions. The website is excellent and they have a good forum about all sorts of audio stuff. Plus the annual DecFest - have not been to it, but sounds great.
If you want Dead Quiet, the ZP3 is dead quiet. I have had it with both my amps and it is quiet. I found that it is sensitive to the tubes. In an earlier post I mentioned a NOS 12AX7 I installed in V1. The new tube is quiet with zero hum. I noticed my two 6922 input tubes on my amp also make a difference in noise. The original EH I thought were quiet. Then upgraded to some Russian 6H23N EB and then to a pair of NOS Siemens 6DJ8 - with each upgrade, the sound improved and the noise level/hum is zero. There was a very very low level of hum with the 6H23N - its disappeared with the Siemens.
I'm building a Sunvalley SV-EQ1616D because its one of two that Bob at Bob's Devices likes. I bought one of his SUTs and that by itself was a big step up for my MC cartridge.
Since the OP wants to stick with MM carts I suspect he will have no issues with achieving "dead quiet" with the Decware or any other competent tube phono preamp. Tube hiss tends to become factor when running very low output MC carts where high gain is required or if running high sensitivity speakers. But at ~40dB gain or under for a MM cart I can't believe OP will have issues with tubes regardless of his speakers....and I totally agree that tube phono preamps are much more engaging to my ears!
Add a Hagerman Trumpet MC to your consideration. I’ve used it with a 2M Blue and it makes it sound shockingly good. Also works extremely well with very high end MC cartridges like Benz LPS and Koetsu. It’s got twice the signal tubes as the other phonos you’re looking at (6 vs. 3) because the internal circuitry is balanced. And it costs less ($1085) too. Mine arrived in about 1 week from order time, even coming from Hawaii.
It has a warm, open and musical sound, very much like the older wood paneled tower version. I find it is more than quiet enough for most applications, and it has NO trace of hum (thank God, hum drives me crazy), but no it won’t as dead quiet with lo-MC’s (not your application yet) as the multi-kilo-buck phonos. That and its very basic, utilitarian chassis are why it costs less.
I have to say the Decware looks very, very beautiful in its various chassis options (the Zerbawood one makes me feel...things). The Space Tech labs...not so much.
I've had the ZP3 and put many different tubes through it (RCA black plates, sylvania, matsushita, telefunken smooth and ribbed plates and ECC803S). It's pretty great and worked well with the K&K Lundahl LL1931 step up transformer but I got curious and tried the Allnic H1201 and it was MUCH quieter. I don't know what really made the difference, like if it was my equipment layout or what, and I might someday try one again. The ZP3 is super fun to roll tubes through as it uses all common ones (the rectifier is especially fun to swap). The Allnic uses obscure Mullard-built tubes for which there is almost no substitution (though they are very long life and readily available for about $40 each from dealers). I personally think the ZP3 does look cooler since you can always see the tubes though I hate the top mounted jacks (especially with heavier power cables).
If you want just about the quietest possible, and you have a suitable cartridge, the transimpedance/current mode phono stages are about as quiet as it gets. I wouldn't say they're noticeably quieter than my Allnic 1202 though they do sound very different.
Anyway, my point is that the ZP3 sure does compare favorably to much more expensive preamps.
You can look for Solid State design based on MOS-FET transistors with tube-typical harmonic distortion characteristics!
Not necessary to buy tube phono stage.
MOSFETs are excellent for an amplifier output stage. I don't think they'd be generally useful in a phono gain stage, because they generally are not high gain devices. FETs and bipolar transistors work best. I am not a big solid state guy, so I could be wrong.