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What's Your Favorite Under $1000 Phono Preamp?

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by Davey, Jan 14, 2022.

  1. Davey

    Davey NP: Kikagaku Moyo ~ Masana Temples Thread Starter

    Location:
    SF Bay Area, USA
    This seems like a popular price range for a good phono preamp these days, the topic often comes up around here, so thought it may be fun to capture current thinking.

    Let's keep it to products that can be bought in new condition today for under $1000, though that upper limit isn't too firm for me, so use your own judgement. If you have a big favorite that may cost $1200, no biggie, go ahead.

    If looking to buy new right now in this budget range, I'd probably go with the Darlington Labs MP-7 and roll it with a good SUT in the $400 range, but paired with their new SU-7 would be a nice and flexible combo as well, albeit a bit over the $1000 budget.

    I'm partial to the zero loop feedback designs like the DL, and have also seen some good reviews for the Origin Live Discovery 1 phono stage. It sells for £990 direct + shipping for the UK, but just checked their site and delivered to the US is about $1158 (since VAT is removed). So could fit here with the previously stipulated limit extension. It's a MM/MC design with variable loading and gain in a compact package. Be interesting to hear from any users around here, if there are any, I think this new model is pretty new, just introduced last year.


    [​IMG]


    I'm also a big fan of the Phasemation EA-200, at least the design, I haven't heard it, but it's another compact MM/MC stage with built-in AC power supply. Hard to source in the US, and the price can get too high, but available from Japan for under $1000, and used on ebay and other places. It would require an inexpensive 100V transformer for the US, though. Was just checking their site and the EA-300 has now been updated to the EA-320, looks pretty nice, that would be a really good contender if the thread was under $2000.

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2022
  2. Davey

    Davey NP: Kikagaku Moyo ~ Masana Temples Thread Starter

    Location:
    SF Bay Area, USA
    Probably should've posted a picture of the Darlington Labs MP-7 too ...

    [​IMG]


    Lot of ways to go for using it with LOMC carts, could go for their own SU-7 active option, I think that is gonna be around $600, or the less flexible SU-6 would bring it in closer to the budget. But I'd be inclined to go the SUT route, and in the interest of keeping it built in the USA, I'd get a couple Cinemag 1254 transformers for $185 each on ebay from their Studio Electronics supplier, and one of the $30 chassis kits on ebay for the 1254 by themazurs in Pennsylvania, just wire it up with the little PC boards and throw a coat of paint on it and you would be set for right about $400, so under $1000 for a really nice MM/MC phono stage...

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2022
    bluemooze, Djohm, MCM_Fan and 3 others like this.
  3. grass-fed

    grass-fed Active Member

    Location:
    Germany
    Thanks for pointing out the EA-320, wasn't on the site last time I was there. Can't wait to see under the hood!

    Lehmann Black Cube SE II would fit right in the price range in Europe. Would've landed there if I didn't decide to go cheaper with the Schiit Mani and save/wait for something better.
     
    gakerty likes this.
  4. JackG

    JackG Forum Resident

    Location:
    NJ
    I don't have vast experience in this range but I've owned the Darlington MP-7 for about 5 months and it seems flawless to me. I'm MM now but I have an old Cinemag 3440A SUT for MC use.
     
  5. ubiknik

    ubiknik Forum Resident

    Location:
    Chicago, IL USA
    That Origin Live pre looks interesting, how does that sensitivity dial work?
    I also wonder about the capacitance.
     
  6. hoytis

    hoytis Forum Resident

    Location:
    Oregon
    I love the Vincent PHO-701.
     
  7. gakerty

    gakerty Forum Resident

    Location:
    California
    The Lehmann Black Cube SE II is a fantastic phono pre for the price (I paid ~$1000), I had one for a year or so a few years back. It was dynamic, quiet, with solid bass and midrange, and a good amouunt of loading options. I used t with a Clearaudio Concept MC and a Lyra Delos. The SE II just did almost everything right, although there was a TOUCH of treble grain in my system. I moved up to a Pass XP-15 which was better, but at 3x the price of the SE2 the Pass certainly wasn't 3x better in any way.
     
  8. Davey

    Davey NP: Kikagaku Moyo ~ Masana Temples Thread Starter

    Location:
    SF Bay Area, USA
    Yea, the EA-320 looks nice, just below $2000 from some Japan sources, don't imagine it's too much different inside from the EA-300, but looks good on the outside ...

    [​IMG]
     
  9. terzinator

    terzinator boots lost in transit

    I've fallen in love with my EAR 834P. Just got a minty used one off USAM used for $1200, so a hair over your budget. Three 12AX7 tubes. MM and MC but MC loading isn't customizable. (I think it's fixed at around 500Ω.) I'm using it with a Shure V15 Type III. Made in UK.

    [​IMG]

    For $500 the Van Alstine Vision Q is a pretty good deal. MM & MC with dip switches for custom loading. Minnesota-made.

    [​IMG]
     
    bluemooze likes this.
  10. ubiknik

    ubiknik Forum Resident

    Location:
    Chicago, IL USA
    I also have the Lehmann BC SE 2 and it's a great phono pre, I got it used for 700.
    I also have the Channel Islands (US made) PEQ-1 which is right at 1000$ new, for an extra couple hundred I got the separate power supply, this stage has 275, 100 or zero pf settings which makes it very AT friendly.
    The Channel Islands is easily the equal of the Lehmann -they are both nice stages.
     
  11. Davey

    Davey NP: Kikagaku Moyo ~ Masana Temples Thread Starter

    Location:
    SF Bay Area, USA
    Sensitivity is the same as gain, so in this case the sensitivity dial corresponds to 46, 56 and 66dB gain. I don't know about input capacitance, I don't think they spec it and haven't seen any measurements of the Discovery 1 or 2 (the 2 is the balanced model with external power supply). I doubt MM users would be looking at it anyway, but would be nice if some of these companies provided more detailed specifications.
     
    ubiknik likes this.
  12. Davey

    Davey NP: Kikagaku Moyo ~ Masana Temples Thread Starter

    Location:
    SF Bay Area, USA
    But it was about $2500 new, was hoping to keep the thread centered on what is readily available new in this $1000 price range or it could get out of hand with talk of all the great deals people have scored on used gear.
     
    AaronW, DryWhiteToast and patient_ot like this.
  13. patient_ot

    patient_ot Senior Member

    Location:
    USA
    I suppose a lot depends on your needs/wants and what kind of carts you use. Certainly there are a lot of choices out there, especially if you start looking at gear that is not well distributed in the U.S., but is available through online ordering.

    Personally I think home audition is the way to go for phono stages, but that can be difficult for certain models/brands.
     
  14. Leao

    Leao Forum Resident

    Darlington Labs MP-7 is the best solid state phono preamp I have heard in my systems.
     
    bluemooze and MCM_Fan like this.
  15. Simoon

    Simoon Forum Resident

    Location:
    Los Angeles
    The vastly underrated Margules Audio Magenta FZ47DB, is worth checking into. My friend has had one for several years, and it sounds great.

    I believe it is $849.

    Fully adjustable loading.

    Quite a few reviews of this, all very positive.

    [​IMG]
     
    bluemooze and Davey like this.
  16. thetakeout

    thetakeout Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Texas
    I’m a caveman. What is zero loop feedback? Is that another name for negative feedback or global feedback?


    Why are you partial to a zero loop feedback design?

    You’ve got my attention. I’m here to learn!
     
  17. fried

    fried Forum Resident

    Location:
    Paris
    You'd think at that price they'd give you more than 2 feet
     
    Simoon likes this.
  18. Davey

    Davey NP: Kikagaku Moyo ~ Masana Temples Thread Starter

    Location:
    SF Bay Area, USA
    Yea, generally the same as global negative feedback, but depends on the circuit topology. Some designs have more than one gain block with feedback around each one separately, or some combination. All designs have some negative feedback, even if just a bit of local feedback to improve linearity, but when we say no feedback, or zero feedback, it is usually implied that it's in reference to loop feedback around one or more gain stages. The feedback is primarily used to reduce distortion, but can have other benefits as well.

    I first started experimenting with removing loop feedback in some of my own designs in the mid 90s, and eventually that became my preference in the audio gear I use. I just find the sound to be more natural without the feedback, and it can be especially obvious in phono preamps, so I stick with no feedback discrete designs now, mostly Conrad-Johnson tube designs at this point. There are many designs using high feedback opamp circuits that sound great and are loved by others, but for me, given the choice, I just prefer a different path, and so I tend to highlight those designs around here too since they aren't that common anymore :)
     
  19. haz2000

    haz2000 Well-Known Member

    Location:
    nowhere
    I like the Atoll phono stage. Sounds great and well made. Had mine for 2 years now.

    [​IMG]
     
    bluemooze, Naka9 and Davey like this.
  20. MCM_Fan

    MCM_Fan Senior Member

    Location:
    Oregon
    Another vote for the Darlington Labs MP-7. I'm also third in line for an SU-7, as soon as they go into production.
     
  21. Dewey M

    Dewey M Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Chicago
    Parks Audio Puffin phono DSP. Parks Audio . Usually more into inexpensive, older, used gear, but love the Puffin.
     
    Technocentral and 500Homeruns like this.
  22. Davey

    Davey NP: Kikagaku Moyo ~ Masana Temples Thread Starter

    Location:
    SF Bay Area, USA
    Yea, that is a nice phono stage, I remember talking about it in another thread, never heard it myself but looks very well designed, good to hear that it continues to please ... Help choosing a Phono stage
     
  23. Doctor Fine

    Doctor Fine Meat and Potatoes all day long

    I bought and kept the Lehman Black Cube SEII with LOMC and no transformer it has lots of clean power with oversize power supply sounds great with my Denon DL103r cartridges.
    But the best "deal" I have is a pair of SimAudio Moon 110LPV2 phono pres at the $500 mark they perform amazingly well.

    I also own a similarly priced Rega Fono MK3 MM and it sounds like crap in comparison.
    Which is shocking considering all the praise heaped on the Rega.

    The 110LP has zero capacitance input for AT carts.
    Lots of gain settings.
    Lots of impedance choices.
    Incredible low noise for the money.
    Terrific power and strong fast clean bass unlike the Rega which sounded emaciated no matter what I did with it.

    So for ME---either spend $500 bucks and go with the Moon or spend a grand and go with the Black Cube SEII.
    Both will give tremendous satisfaction with practically any cartridge ever made.
     
    bluemooze likes this.
  24. Phil Thien

    Phil Thien Forum Resident

    Location:
    Milwaukee, WI
    Am I counting four regulators there? I wonder if the L/R each have two separate stages with a dedicated regulator, or whether they're using two stages for each channel to further reduce noise.

    Looks pretty impressive.
     
  25. Davey

    Davey NP: Kikagaku Moyo ~ Masana Temples Thread Starter

    Location:
    SF Bay Area, USA
    It has + and - voltage regulators for each channel, it's a fully dual mono design.
     
    Phil Thien likes this.

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