Best phono preamp under $500

JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
What did you settle on?
I have two phono stages, a solid state one and a tube one. Solid State is a Primare R32 and the tube one is a Juicy Music Tercel II, I like both a lot. A little bit more than the budget here but not much. Both are usually used with one of Nate’s SUTs if I use LOMC. I also have an iFi iPhono2 with a big linear power supply that’s really nice but I haven’t used it in awhile and actually I’ve not been using any of them for a bit as I like the phono stage in my Luxman L507u integrated and it’s just kinda nice not having an extra box around.
 
I still have my Phonomena II+ and for the money it's fairly good. But if you have an ultra-low output like the Audio Technica ART7 (0.12mv), it will be noisy (transistor rush). Noticed it with the Dynavectors I used also (XX2, 10D3), but not quite as intrusive. Linear power supply made no difference whatsoever in sound and noise level, so I went back to the stock power supply. It does provide a nice full-bodied sound, though.
 
I missed this thread. I'm not a phono guy but I did a tour for clients on another forum of the Vista Audio Phono 2 and it got really strong results. A few ended up replacing their own units with the Vista.
 

JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
I still have my Phonomena II+ and for the money it's fairly good. But if you have an ultra-low output like the Audio Technica ART7 (0.12mv), it will be noisy (transistor rush). Noticed it with the Dynavectors I used also (XX2, 10D3), but not quite as intrusive. Linear power supply made no difference whatsoever in sound and noise level, so I went back to the stock power supply. It does provide a nice full-bodied sound, though.
I’ve always found running a SUT even with a nice MC capable stage like the Nova is the way to go. The MM part is still better than what came before, and then you get the SUT goodness on top.
 
I wasn't impressed with my foray into SUTs, so I'm sticking with moving iron. Much more "drive" to the music, better tracking, stable imaging (yeah...I just like the sound of the Nagaoka way better), and no fussing around trying to get everything to work nicely together. 😉

BTW, who wants to buy a couple of MC carts? 😁
 

JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
I wasn't impressed with my foray into SUTs, so I'm sticking with moving iron. Much more "drive" to the music, better tracking, stable imaging (yeah...I just like the sound of the Nagaoka way better), and no fussing around trying to get everything to work nicely together. 😉

BTW, who wants to buy a couple of MC carts? 😁
I never found it to be a magic bullet, and it's been very SUT-dependent. But when I got it figured out, there was no contest. But its also subjective, which I think is the best part about vinyl playback. There's so many ways to sort of flavor or season the sound without it sounding like you're really straying from accuracy.

The last cart I used before my seemingly permanent switchover to LOMC and SUT was my Nagaoka MP-500, a very nice cart. Though in my setup it had much less drive and worse tracking and imaging so... like all this stuff, mileage varies.

It's also of course not as easy as just one way or another. I wouldn't trade the MP-500 for, say, the DL-103 or Supex LOMCs I have had. And I think it does a lot of things better than the OC-9ml2.
 
There are so many variables in vinyl playback that the cartridges can sound vastly different when mounted on specific combinations of turntables, arms, etc., along with the electronics they are being fed to and the interconnects between them. And don't get me started on the torture called "alignment." (The one thing I dread about the whole process--bad eyes and fumbling fingers are two things I didn't suffer from 25 years ago.) I liked the MCs but felt as though I was missing something with all of them, part of it being that they were detailed but perhaps a little too "polite" for my taste. The Nagaoka in my setup just has the cojones the MCs couldn't touch, and it seems the music flows much better for me. I find it handles classical and acoustic music quite well, without falling short when grabbing one of the hot-cut 12" singles from the 70s and 80s.

That's probably the long way of saying the tired corporate term "synergy."

And that's almost why I hate to be looking at replacing the turntable...upsetting the apple cart, as it were. 😁
 

JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
There are so many variables in vinyl playback that the cartridges can sound vastly different when mounted on specific combinations of turntables, arms, etc., along with the electronics they are being fed to and the interconnects between them. And don't get me started on the torture called "alignment." (The one thing I dread about the whole process--bad eyes and fumbling fingers are two things I didn't suffer from 25 years ago.) I liked the MCs but felt as though I was missing something with all of them, part of it being that they were detailed but perhaps a little too "polite" for my taste. The Nagaoka in my setup just has the cojones the MCs couldn't touch, and it seems the music flows much better for me. I find it handles classical and acoustic music quite well, without falling short when grabbing one of the hot-cut 12" singles from the 70s and 80s.

That's probably the long way of saying the tired corporate term "synergy."

And that's almost why I hate to be looking at replacing the turntable...upsetting the apple cart, as it were. 😁
I struggled with LOMCs for years and as recently as 2015 wrote them off entirely after several disappointing rounds with them. But I'm also not all-in on either type. I just really like my Ortofon Cadenza (and the Dynavector that's getting sent off for a retip).

To bring this back to the thread, I'll also add that I think the phono-preamp is far-more important than the choice between MM/MI and MC.
 

JP

Junior Member
In very broad strokes with MM load capacitance is something that needs to be considered, resistance second. MC the load usually isn't all that critical, though SUTs need specific loading on the secondaries so that the transformer behaves. Typically accomplished with a zobel, and specific to the electrical characteristics of the cartridge. Almost no one does this. Nailing these things can get you to well-behaved characteristics, at least as good as the cart is capable. If that matches with your preferences is anyone guess, as is what'd be required to get to those preferences.
 

prime minister

Site Owner
Staff member
My ASR really taught me what can be found in the grooves of a record. Its incredibly adaptable to any cartridge you can have. MC or MM. Low or High output. Any and all loading options, to bring the best out of any cartridge. Of course, its lists at pushing ten times the price the OP is wanting to spend. But, it's also the last phono preamp I will ever buy.

Hmmm. Not much use to my post in this thread, is there? :)
 

Audionut

Next Round Is On Me
My ASR really taught me what can be found in the grooves of a record. Its incredibly adaptable to any cartridge you can have. MC or MM. Low or High output. Any and all loading options, to bring the best out of any cartridge. Of course, its lists at pushing ten times the price the OP is wanting to spend. But, it's also the last phono preamp I will ever buy.

Hmmm. Not much use to my post in this thread, is there? :)
We could start a best phono preamp under $5k?:)
 

Tedrick

Junior Member
In addition to the previously mentioned Musical Surroundings Phonomena, some other good options within your budget on the used market include the following:
  • Musical Surroundings Nova (or Nova Phonomena) - same as the Phonomena but with a rechargeable battery.
  • Sutherland Ph3D - powered by 16 D-cells, so never any worry about power supply noise. The batteries are good for ~1200 hrs between changes.
  • Dynavector P-75 - current model is the Mk IV. Mk I thru III can be had for <$500. Very good, small-form-factory LOMC- capable phono stage.
  • Aragon 47K - superb build quality.
I've owned and used all of these. My favorite of the 4 is the Sutherland.
 

S0und Dragon

Moderator and Circus Hand.
Staff member
In addition to the previously mentioned Musical Surroundings Phonomena, some other good options within your budget on the used market include the following:
  • Musical Surroundings Nova (or Nova Phonomena) - same as the Phonomena but with a rechargeable battery.
  • Sutherland Ph3D - powered by 16 D-cells, so never any worry about power supply noise. The batteries are good for ~1200 hrs between changes.
  • Dynavector P-75 - current model is the Mk IV. Mk I thru III can be had for <$500. Very good, small-form-factory LOMC- capable phono stage.
  • Aragon 47K - superb build quality.
I've owned and used all of these. My favorite of the 4 is the Sutherland.
That Sutherland is surreal. The Batteries get annoying though. Buy from Costco or BJ's and you are all set!
 

Audionut

Next Round Is On Me
Well, after much thought and research (and great input from everyone here), I decided to pick up the Cambridge Duo. The build quality and size/shape are impressive. I just hooked it up and may have some late night listening yet. Right off the bat I’m happy to have one component instead of two (mm phono and SUT). Makes for a cleaner and simpler setup. More to come!
 

Audionut

Next Round Is On Me
I offered an extra AD797 phono stage with a Pete Millett linear PSU to @Audionut (as I built three of them for some reason I can't quite fathom). :)
Who knows, I may still take you up on it! Although my Cambridge does sound good so far (do you need to listen to it more though). I do feel it lacks a little bit of drive. This may be more to do with my preamp being taxed with the extra set of outs going to the stereo subs.
 

sachu888

Junior Member
Who knows, I may still take you up on it! Although my Cambridge does sound good so far (do you need to listen to it more though). I do feel it lacks a little bit of drive. This may be more to do with my preamp being taxed with the extra set of outs going to the stereo subs.
Listen to AD797 phonostage to believe it.

Regards
Sachin
 
Top