Buying a phono preamp under $500, and why we need another thread about them

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by spacecoyote, Sep 11, 2019.

  1. spacecoyote

    spacecoyote Astral Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Central NJ
    I did various searches here, and elsewhere. Took what I could to narrow down my decision, and got lost along the way.

    Long story short, my Clearaudio Nano v2 has developed a hum, so I need a second to hold me over until this gets resolved.

    Models I’m considering:

    Schiit Mani
    Pro-Ject Phono Box Ultra 500
    Graham Slee Gram Amp 2 SE
    Rega Fono MM MK3

    Any and all comments welcome.

    Cheers.
     
  2. Agitater

    Agitater Forum Resident

    Location:
    Toronto
    I think the Slee Gram Amp 2 SE earns consistently high praise for all the right reasons. In my own comparisons, to my ears it provides notably better fidelity than the others - fidelity that is closer in quality to higher end phono preamps.

    I’d add the Parks Audio Puffin and the Lounge Audio Copla to the list of considerations too. The Puffin is very, very good - my personal favorite in the under-$500 range - and terrifically versatile.
     
    morinix, SandAndGlass and CBackley like this.
  3. mkane

    mkane Musics a Passion

    Location:
    Cloverdale,CA
    Ever consider DIY?
     
  4. Ontheone

    Ontheone Forum Resident

    Location:
    Indianapolis
    bluemooze likes this.
  5. spacecoyote

    spacecoyote Astral Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Central NJ
    No, but only because I want it to work.
     
    Cyclone Ranger likes this.
  6. CBackley

    CBackley Chairman of the Bored

    I just acquired a Parks Puffin and it has been amazing so far.
     
  7. spacecoyote

    spacecoyote Astral Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Central NJ
    Thanks for the recommendation, it’s out of my price range but may be worth making an offer.

    Another side of this for me has been trying to determine whether or not I should focus on MM preamps, instead of MM/MC preamps. By the time I’m ready to move up to MC I’d like upgrade the amp as well.

    That said, I’m not committed to one or the other yet.
     
  8. Kevin j

    Kevin j The 5th 99

    Location:
    Seattle Area
  9. Boltman92124

    Boltman92124 Gratefully Listening

    Location:
    San Diego
    Emotiva XPS-1 is what I use. Adjustable loading for MC carts and excellent sound. Price has gone up to $209 from $150 though.
    [​IMG]
     
  10. Big Blue

    Big Blue Forum Resident

    Location:
    Wisconsin
    So, are you looking for a holdover while the Nano is repaired, or are you just replacing it? I ask because you are shopping in the same price range, so I am thinking ahead to what happens when you have two working <$500 phono stages.

    Just a thought: While I wouldn’t normally prefer something like the Puffin with its DSP as my only phono stage, I think it might be fun to have around as a second phono stage to play with. So, if you’re fixing the Nano, maybe consider that so as to avoid ending up with possibly redundant <$500 phono stages?

    Otherwise, maybe go the cheapest route and try a Mani while your Nano is being repaired?

    If you are actually just looking for a replacement, I’d leave specific recommendations to others, but I do personally think at the <$500 level it makes some sense to maximize MM performance unless you are expecting to use MC cartridges with it in the near future.
     
    russk likes this.
  11. spacecoyote

    spacecoyote Astral Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Central NJ
    Agreed. I’m not quite sure if I want to permanently replace it, but knowing how temperamental our analog systems can be, I want to be prepared in case I send the Nano out for service, only to find out there’s nothing wrong with it. In the event of that outcome, I don’t want to be stuck with a preamp that “doesn’t like” my system, and something that I’ll want to upgrade sooner rather than later.

    It’s a pickle, that I’m in.

    What do you suggest by way of maximizing MM performance?
     
  12. Ontheone

    Ontheone Forum Resident

    Location:
    Indianapolis
    I can't imagine spending up to $500 on a phono pre and not having both MM/MC capability. You should give yourself the flexibility.
     
  13. 500Homeruns

    500Homeruns Peaceful Punk

    Location:
    Lehigh Valley, PA
  14. Big Blue

    Big Blue Forum Resident

    Location:
    Wisconsin
    I’m not in a position to make specific recommendations, but it seems your list includes two of the primary options (Graham Slee and Rega). I know the Lounge LCR is popular here, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the best value among those three (only $300, whereas in the US we pay kind of an import premium on the GS or Rega). But I haven’t heard any of these, so I’m hoping somebody else can chime in with some head-to-head experience.
     
    spacecoyote likes this.
  15. Big Blue

    Big Blue Forum Resident

    Location:
    Wisconsin
    It can be a tough choice, and I really think it depends how soon OP would want to try MC and whether he wants to do so without moving to a higher-tier phono stage.
     
  16. Not Insane

    Not Insane You talkin' to me?!

    Location:
    Kentucky
    Heh. My third turntable is the (in)famous AT LP120 usb. I bought it because of the built in pre-amp for plugging directly into my PA mixer. So I think all your choices are better than I think I need.

    That will be my only valuable contribution to this thread. :)
     
  17. When an outboard phono stage develops a hum suddenly the phono cables must be disconnected from the inputs and shorting plugs must installed into the input jacks. Then power everything up and if the hum has gone away then it's not the preamp. It's very common that it's not the preamp.

    See the two videos below

    Shorting Plugs Part II - How to Use
     
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2019
    bluemooze, SirMarc, Big Blue and 2 others like this.
  18. Boltman92124

    Boltman92124 Gratefully Listening

    Location:
    San Diego
    My Emotiva XPS-1 transformed my LP120's performance!
     
    Not Insane likes this.
  19. spacecoyote

    spacecoyote Astral Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Central NJ
    That ain’t me, brother. That ain’t me.

    You want me to run a supply chain, analyze metrics, brew beer, then I’m your man. But if you give me a soldering iron I’m likely to do more harm than good.
     
  20. spacecoyote

    spacecoyote Astral Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Central NJ
    Just got home from work and tinkered around with inputs and settings. The preamp hums, no matter the input on the main amp, and it hums even with the turntable powered down. But the hum kicks in to high gear when the stylus hits the wax. The higher the gain on the preamp, the louder the hum.
     
  21. Achn2b

    Achn2b Well-Known Member

    Location:
    N. Conway, NH
    If its just a placeholder, I'd say just go with the cheapest, good sounding option available. Mani, or Uturn Pluto, or similar.
     
  22. spacecoyote

    spacecoyote Astral Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Central NJ
    The future is uncertain.
     
  23. Cyclone Ranger

    Cyclone Ranger New old stock

    Location:
    Best Coast USA
    Nicest thing about the AT-LP120... after you rip out the terrible and useless built-in preamp, you can take it skeet-shooting. :evil:
    .
     
  24. spacecoyote

    spacecoyote Astral Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Central NJ
    Now considering the Lounge LCR as a viable option.

    Of all the ones mentioned so far, by myself and others, this one appears to have the best bang for the buck.
     
    bluemooze likes this.
  25. BayouTiger

    BayouTiger Forum Resident

    Location:
    New Orleans
    iPhono should be on this list, though I guess it has crept up to $550. Could also probably find a PhonomenaII used in that range.
     

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