Looking for best phono preamp under $1,000

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by rightovers, Feb 9, 2020.

  1. rightovers

    rightovers New Member Thread Starter

    Encinitas, CA
    Looking for a great preamp for $1,000 or below. I've looked at the Vincent unit, the Pro-ject Tube Box, the Parks Audio Puffin (although I'm wary of DSP), and a variety of others, but since I haven't actually heard any of them in person it's hard for me to know what's best. The posts on this subject seem to date back a few years, so I figured I'd start a new one.

    My buddy has the Parks Budgie and that sounds pretty killer, but I don't see them around secondhand very much.

    My setup is:

    Technics 1200 MK3
    Marantz PM6005 Integrated Amp
    Focal Aria 905 speakers

    I listen to a variety of stuff, but a lot of My Bloody Valentine, IDM and other electronic, and post punk.
  2. Tom Littlefield

    Tom Littlefield Forum Resident

    New Hampshire, USA
    Look at the Sutherland KC Vibe, great unit for $900....
    slazechko and displayname like this.
  3. Gramps Tom

    Gramps Tom Corby, you are forever loved.

    I have utilized this Cambridge unit for a couple years. I scored it Like New on Ebay for about $125 incl. shipping & tax. I have it going through my MARANTZ SR-4320, TECHNICS SL-1900, ORTOFON 2M-Blue (and sometimes RED), EPI 150 speakers.

    The CP2 offers MM & MC inputs, and delivers significantly upgraded sonics over the phono section of my receiver. It retails for about $230 new. To my ears, it's more than satisfying on a wide variety of music projects, and I would definiyely buy it again even at retail. I only listen to 2-channel - no surround.

    Anyway, here is a link incl. some photos:


    Hope this is helpful...

    Soundsense likes this.
  4. patient_ot

    patient_ot Forum Resident

    What cartridge are you using? You may want to consider giving the Graham Slee loaner program a try...
  5. terzinator

    terzinator Well-Known Member

    paulieb00 and slovell like this.
  6. BrentB

    BrentB Forum Resident

    Midwestern US
    I have a Vincent PHO-701 and could not be happier with the purchase.
  7. mkane

    mkane Musics a Passion

  8. Helom

    Helom I'll take the monkey coffins

    If you're willing to spend $1K, there's no point in settling for a $400 unit. If phono stages were like DACs, then I'd say go buy a $300 unit and spend the rest on music, however, they're not. Something about Equalizing and amplifying those tiny signals makes for a wide range of performance levels. Those charging $1K for their phono preamps are well aware of their deserved place on the field. Same for the benchwarmers charging $200.

    If you're not too cash-strapped, do this, buy something like the Sutherland KC Vibe from Music Direct and also a $300 unit from the same, Amazon, or some other seller that allows no-hassle returns. Compare the two and return the one that doesn't perform as well. My bet is you'd keep the higher-priced preamp.
    macster, displayname and Glmoneydawg like this.
  9. rightovers

    rightovers New Member Thread Starter

    Encinitas, CA
    Using the Ortofon Blue...sorry should've mentioned that
  10. HiFi Guy

    HiFi Guy Forum Resident

    Orlando, FL
    I’ve seen a couple of recommendations for the Sutherland KC Vibe. Having heard one on my system, I wouldn’t do it.

    It was nice, but I found it light on bass. That said, I did like it enough to try an Insight, which I love and still have today. A good friend of mine tried a Vibe and made the same jump, also with no regrets.

    I’ve seen a couple of used Insights around the $1k price point.

    Sutherland makes some fantastic phono stages though. If I were to get the itch to upgrade, I’d likely buy another Sutherland.
    displayname and Helom like this.
  11. GoldprintAudio

    GoldprintAudio Forum Resident

    Lexington, NC
    Lehmann Black Cube SE II or Rogue Audio Triton II...... 2 of my favorites right around the $1000 price point.
    eflatminor and Strat-Mangler like this.
  12. patient_ot

    patient_ot Forum Resident

    You can find more info about the loaner program here:

    US Loaner Program - Graham Slee Audio Forum | HiFi System Components

    The loan is 2 weeks minimum, with no purchase obligation. The loaner units are not for sale. You pay shipping both ways to test out the loaner units. At your price point I would recommend auditioning the Reflex M and maybe the Era Gold V. If you can stretch a bit, consider getting a loan for the Accession M also.

    Not many other manufacturers offer this service. If you have a local hi-fi dealer they may let you take a demo unit home from one of the brands they sell, but expect to put down a deposit for that privilege.
    bluemooze likes this.
  13. AKA-Chuck G

    AKA-Chuck G Forum Resident

    Washington NC
    Or, for a song you could get this used Aragon 47k stage for $250. Compare that to any new 1k stage and keep the one you like. You will have no trouble getting your money back on the 47k. Find a Aragon IPS power supply and it gets even better.

    Aragon 47K - Audio Asylum Trader
    The Dragon likes this.
  14. brubacca

    brubacca Active Member

    Sorry for sounding out of turn here, but I don't think your integrated amp will do a $1,000 phono pre justice.

    Also you don't need to spend $1k on a phono pre for the 2m blue.

    Sorry for speaking out of turn, but save up another $500 and go buy a Rogue Audio Sphinx v3. It has all the phono pre you'll need and a tube hybrid awesome amp combined.
    WapatoWolf likes this.
  15. KT88

    KT88 Forum Resident

    True, but for only 440 he could get a 2m Bronze which sounds worlds better than the Blue.
  16. avanti1960

    avanti1960 Forum Resident

    Chicago metro, USA
    The Lehmann Black Cube SE II sounds very close to a $2K phono preamp.
    Outboard Linear Power Supply trumps most sub $1K units.
  17. psulioninks

    psulioninks Forum Resident

    Midwest USA
    I think a recommendation depends on the features you want/need. Mono? One set of inputs/outputs? You have a moving magnet cartridge now. Do you want the ability to adjust for capacitance? Do you want a unit that allows you to adjust gain and/or loading in case you change to a moving coil cartridge in the future?

    This information would be good to know if you're looking for recommendations.
    patient_ot likes this.
  18. Dane Argentini

    Dane Argentini Well-Known Member

    You owe it to yourself to check out the Tavish Design phono preamps if you want a MM/MC tube design in the $600 to $700 range that performs way above its price point. Smooth sounding and quiet units with loading adjustments and dual input switching. I love my Tavish Vintage model with TungSol tubes and use it with both my Planar 6 and Denon DP-52f turntables. My wait time for delivery was only a few weeks and well worth the wait.
    JohnCarter17 and oregonalex like this.
  19. Davey

    Davey made a machine by describing the landscape

    SF Bay Area, USA
    Lot of choices in the under $1000 price range, I'd be inclined to try the Japanese Phasemation EA-200, they make some nice gear, in this case, all discrete, high input overload, no opamps, no negative feedback, no external wall warts, no digital circuitry ...


    Recommend a phono preamp : Rega P9 and Plinius 9200

    My favorite in that price range would be my own Conrad-Johnson EF-1, if you don't mind used gear, and can live with 40/46/52 dB gain selections, one of their rare SS designs, this from the mid 90s, no negative feedback, no electrolytic capacitors, very natural sounding, one for $600 right now on USAM in California (think that is what I bought mine for too a few years ago). Full size unit, so that's probably a disadvantage in todays market, but like all of the CJ gear, it needs space for the big film caps inside. And plenty of room if you want to add some nice stepup transformers later for your future LOMC upgrade. Below an inside shot of my unit, more in my profile...

    Last edited: Feb 9, 2020
  20. rightovers

    rightovers New Member Thread Starter

    Encinitas, CA
    Thanks for all the recommendations so far. Sounds like I'll firstly want to upgrade to the 2M Bronze. Still would like to improve phono stage (I have some wiggle room money wise) and am enjoying checking out all of the units mentioned.
  21. patient_ot

    patient_ot Forum Resident

    Odds are, it'll do just fine.

    One doesn't "need" to spend $1K on a phono preamp for any cart. Even for LOMC, there is DIY, or you could buy a 9V power Leach design type step up device for ~$100. Is there different/better/more expensive out there? Sure. That's what OP asked about.

    And it sells for less if you know where to look. I would tend to assume OP is going to upgrade their cart if they are asking about $1K phono stages.
  22. HiFi Guy

    HiFi Guy Forum Resident

    Orlando, FL
    A matter of opinion that not all subscribe to. The Bronze on paper is far superior, but I’d rather have a Blue.
  23. slovell

    slovell Retired Mudshark

    Chesnee, SC, USA
    I've got one, love it.
  24. Davey

    Davey made a machine by describing the landscape

    SF Bay Area, USA
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2020
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  25. Mike70

    Mike70 Well-Known Member

    +1 with Graham Slee ... I have the Gram Amp 2 SE and it's fantastic, superior to the Mofi and Project that i had before. You don't need much more to the Ortofon Blue ... at least you'll upgrade the cartridge later.

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