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Sub $500 Phono Stages?

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by Go Mifune, Oct 14, 2020.

  1. dividebytube

    dividebytube Forum Resident

    Location:
    Grand Rapids, MI
    YMMV but my recently bought Schiit Mani has been dead quiet. But it is placed in the bottom portion of my bi-level house, partly in the "basement" so it could be somewhat shielded from RFI. I run two turntables, the Thorens goes into my Classe Five preamp, while the second, cheaper Dual uses the Mani which in turn is plugged into the Classe linestage.

    How does the Mani sound compared to the Classe? In a word, not as good - less depth, less lower bass, and overall it doesn't do the hi-fi tricks as well. However, given its low price, the Mani is a fantastic deal. It has a forwardness that works well with a lot of pop music and it has decent resolution too. If I was starting out with a new, more budget system a Mani phono with Schiit linestage and amplifier would be a good starting point.
     
  2. Cyclone Ranger

    Cyclone Ranger New old stock

    Location:
    Best Coast USA
    Musical Fidelity LX2-LPS (not to be confused with the LX2-HPA headphone amp).

    Think you can still find it for $299 USD if you shop around.
    .
     
  3. terzinator

    terzinator boots lost in transit

    Location:
    Minnesota
    Van Alstine Vision Q. One dollar under your budget at $499!

    Made by Frank Van Alstine in Woodbury MN.

    MM & MC, variable loading, etc...

    Vision Q Phono Preamplifier

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
     
    bluemooze likes this.
  4. Phil Thien

    Phil Thien Forum Resident

    Location:
    Milwaukee, WI
    I really like my little MoFi StudioPhono.

    I would never consider a model without a subsonic filter. The mono switch is a nice bonus at this price level.

    It does well in third party reviews and lab tests and has some pedigree to it (the designer is famous for his phono stage designs).
     
    bluemooze and Gabe Walters like this.
  5. GKH

    GKH "Its Jake, from State Farm"

    Location:
    Somerville, TN
    No. No problem whatsoever. The Hagerman Cornet3 works beautifully in my system. I haven't rolled the tubes yet. But; I've been considering buying JJ tubes to try out. Those are the brand of input tubes in my Jolida JD302CRC Integrated Amp. Very pleased with those. They run about $25 each.
    My previous phono stage was the Rega A2D Fono Mini. I used that since 2011.
     
  6. G E

    G E Forum Resident

    Jim Hagerman just released his revised Trumpet phono.

    I believe he has an intro price of $999. That’s double your budget but it’s a big step up. I have his last “big chassis “ version the Classic Reference Gold. That one listed $3800!
     
  7. Go Mifune

    Go Mifune Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    Portland, OR, USA
    This speaks to one of my "dilemmas." I'm trying to decide if I should use a Mani (or similar) for now and then make a bigger upgrade to something in the $1000 - $1500 range in another year or two or if I should stretch my budget now to get something solid that I should probably expect to live with for a bit longer.
     
  8. DVinylFan

    DVinylFan Well-Known Member

    Location:
    UK
    +1
     
  9. Go Mifune

    Go Mifune Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    Portland, OR, USA
    Any idea how the Gram Amp 2 compares to the Era Gold? I could probably get the latter used... The Graham Slee products get such rave reviews it is hard not to have them high on my list.
     
  10. Mike70

    Mike70 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Uruguay
    It depends ... depends on the system. The Era Gold certainly is better, but also a Hummer is better than a Toyota ... but maybe to go to work and back home in a big city it's not better.

    You need to go to higher league mm cartridges and very good speakers to say "yeah ... much better".

    So, in an absolute term, yes, it's better. In your system, i don't know.
    What I know is that GS are very transparent and faithful to the grooves, some people want that horrible 70s rock records sounding good ... they need tube preamps ... something really colored.
     
  11. Go Mifune

    Go Mifune Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    Portland, OR, USA
    Really great points. I wonder how to quantify whether my system "needs" the better phono stage. In fact, this question you hit on is probably what is really driving me crazy. I can listen all day long to people tell me which phono stage is better than which but at some point, even if they are spot on, I may outpace my system. I'm in the odd place of building a system from scratch. My 30 year old SS amp died which led to wanting a tube amp which led to needing new speakers and so on. I'm getting a pair of Omega speakers. Super high efficiency, easy impedance. It will be driven by a 45 based tube amp (super low power) and an all tube pre-amp. I currently have a Denon DP-30L turntable which while maybe not amazing is a really well regarded piece of equipment. I have an Ortofon 2m Blue cartridge. It is hard for me to figure out where the sweet spot is for me. The system is going to be pretty revealing, I suspect, so each choice really does matter.
     
  12. UTP

    UTP Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Rotterdam
    I ran a 2M Blue into a Cambridge Audio Duo for a while. At $299 it's well within your budget and on par with cartridge.

    The built in headphone amp was a nice bonus for me. I've completely upgraded my turntable setup since then but I felt the CA Duo really brought out the best of the 2M.
     
  13. Mike70

    Mike70 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Uruguay
    I have had the Ortofon 2m blue, good cartridge ... until I bought the AT vm540ml on the same price tag. The Gram Amp 2 shows clearly the difference between them.
    I think a higher preamp can be a tiny improvement.

    If you go to 2m black, AT vm750sh, Nagaoka mp300 ... now the Era Gold must be a better deal.
     
  14. Mike70

    Mike70 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Uruguay
    I don't like the budget mm / mc preamps ... You're paying for mc amplification (a tough job) ... and usually a so and so mc amplification.

    I prefer all the money on good mm amplification. If I want mc cartridges, you later add a good SUT.

    A good mm / mc preamp under 1k is like a white fly ... really strange.
     
  15. Go Mifune

    Go Mifune Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    Portland, OR, USA
    Right now the three that I'm most intrigued by are all MM only. Like you, I always feel like if you need to do other things not needed for my use then what I'm paying for is not all for me. The three are a used Graham Slee Era Gold, a new Lounge Audio MK III, or a new Hagerman Cornet 3. Obviously used pieces are somewhat based on availability; right now there are a couple of Era Golds out there.

    On the lower end, I've considered grabbing a Schiit Mani or a there is a used Creek OBH-SE for around the same price right now. There are a few others I'd consider at that price. The reason to go that route would be to save for an even nicer piece of gear in the future.
     
  16. Go Mifune

    Go Mifune Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    Portland, OR, USA
    The Ortofon was a present from a good friend for my new system. I'm not sure if I'd have chosen it, but it seems a great place to start. I was planning to save up for a cartridge a step up from there so I could hear the difference, though I don't feel pressured to do so any time soon.

    I'm curious, what sorts of differences did you notice between the ortofon and the AT?
     
  17. UTP

    UTP Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Rotterdam
    Fair point but if OP goes this way he has a possibility to explore MC carts. I plugged a DL103R into the CA Duo and it was very good. No hum, hiss or ringing.

    Fremer likes it too: https://www.analogplanet.com/conten...headphone-amplifier-outperforms-its-low-price
     
    Go Mifune likes this.
  18. Boltman92124

    Boltman92124 Fish tacos.

    Location:
    San Diego
    I know it takes flak for it's 220pf capacitance but I've been very happy with the Emotiva XPS-1 ($200). Both MC and MM. My Denon DL-103 LOMC sounds great with it at 60db gain. Has adjustable MC loading options too. And my AT carts sound just dandy with it. I've seen at least a few threads comparing it to the Mani here and vinyl engine and many liked the Emotiva more(check out Amazon reviews too). But I'm just a budget guy anyway.
    XPS-1 High-Performance Phono Preamplifier
     
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2020
  19. murphythecat

    murphythecat Forum Resident

    Location:
    Canada
    ifi zen phono
     
    Technocentral likes this.
  20. Mike70

    Mike70 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Uruguay
    The AT is a glorious tracker with 0% IGD (even on very difficult last tracks) and it's more of everything, more detailed, more alive.
    The higher end 700s series must be serious players ... and the price tag is very appealing compared with other brands.

    if your system it's very revealing, maybe the AT can be too much ... but on a neutral to warm sounding system, surely the AT will add more transparency, detail and "liveness" to the sound.

    everything is relative in audio, even some people push to closed truths.
     
  21. Go Mifune

    Go Mifune Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    Portland, OR, USA
    For those Graham Slee fans in here... it seems that all of his products are quite old designs that he's been selling for 20 years. Am I mistaken? If not, is that something to be concerned about? And alternatively, does that mean the Era Gold IV for sale used might still be worth owning?
     
  22. Phil Thien

    Phil Thien Forum Resident

    Location:
    Milwaukee, WI
    I believe the designs have been updated/changed. I know he has made some adjustments due to some RFI issues.
     
  23. Go Mifune

    Go Mifune Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    Portland, OR, USA
    Any idea how to tell when looking at used ones whether they are updated or not or is that just a crapshoot?
     
  24. Dignan2000

    Dignan2000 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Memphis, TN
    Graham Slee has a loaner program that will allow you to try out one of their phono pre's in your system. The only cost is shipping (and insurance?). Here's a link to Graham Slee's user forums where you can get more information and arrange a loan. There are some excellent posts in another thread where @patient_ot discusses his impressions of at least one Slee pre and discusses the loaner program.
     
    patient_ot and Go Mifune like this.
  25. LARGERTHAN

    LARGERTHAN Forum Resident

    Location:
    Eire
    Don't sweat it - virtually all phono tech is a known quantity at this stage. There are refinements, additional feature-sets and now DSP implementation. Indeed, many stages of yesteryear are very good and sometimes better than contemporary offerings. Slee stages are very well regarded.
     
    patient_ot likes this.

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