Phono pre amp recommendations? - upgrading from ICON AUDIO PS1 MK II

hey everyone, I am kindly asking for your phono pre amp recommendations, especially if you have experience with my current amp (icon audio PS1 MKII).

for the first time in my audio journey right now my system is so close to perfect (to my ears) and im incredibly happy about that. my current set up is Marantz tt15 turntable with dynavector 20x2 cartridge, primaluna prologue premium integrated and elysian 4 speakers. its very transparent, detailed, smooth, open, and in my opinion pretty neutral. when I swapped out my phono pre amp for one that my friend made(also tube design), it was like everything came to life, I couldn’t believe I was listening to the same system as I was 5 minutes ago. everything had more weight, and was more life like, it was darker and yet more lively, the vocals jumped out in front: so detailed and life like yet smooth and warm and not edgy or sharp or fatiguing like I often hear. it is currently the sound I am chasing (my friend will not sell this amp, or make another one like it, some friend huh?).

can anyone recommend a phono pre in the 3-4k range that can accomplish most or at least some of these qualities? my conclusions are that the icon audio is great, tonnes of headroom, detail, smooth, super quiet, big soundstage, but that it is too neutral for my ears and system and not warm enough, or its too polite, it seems to disappear in the system which may be a great quality for some.

does anyone have experience with this amp and can make a recommendation for an amp that has more warmth richness and weight (and forwardness?) in the midrange without giving up the other qualities I mentioned? I’m not looking for that vintage mushy sweet tube sound, more looking for what I have with just a hint more of that magic lol.

a couple of amps I am looking into are the modwright ph9, lab12 melto 2, and Allnic h-5500 (although a bit out of my budget).

I would appreciate and advice you can give me or any experience you can share with me.

thanks so much




Why not buy an Audio Research SP6? All-tube circuitry in a classic design. I have one! William Zane Johnson said it was the preamp that he always wanted to make!

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Iam familiar with your Icon. This phono preamp response well with tube rolling.Call upscale audio they can guide on what sound you want to hear.You can save a lot of money by just doing tube rolling.I own the Icon ps3 phono pre.Grant fidelity from Canada do have quality tubes as well.

I'm not familiar with the phono stage you have, but your tastes sound similar to mine.

There's a Cary Audio VT-500 available below your budget or you can buy one new from Cary direct for just a little over your budget.  I replaced my Herron VTPH-2A (which I thought would never happen) with the VT-500 and am very happy with it.  It's on the warmish side, but has plenty of detail and is very dynamic.  I use MC cartridges on my main table, but have a second table with a MM cart on it.  MM carts sound better on the Cary than any other phono stage I've owned by far.  Being able to switch back and forth between the two tables is a nice feature.

For reference, I've also had a Manley Chinook, and the Herron phono stage was a big step up from that.  I still have the VTPH-2A, but it got moved to a second system.

I haven't heard the MW PH9, but did own a LS100 preamp.  The Modwright sound leans a little more towards neutral and might be a sideways step.

Your friend phono preamp just happen to match your system and your ears taste. It does not mean it’s better than your Icon.I tube roll and use silver phono cable till I get the sound preference I like.Buying new components, there is no guarantee it will match your system.

About a month ago I bought a ModWright PH9.0XT and I'm very happy with it. It replaced my Aesthetix Rhea which was a great phono stage but after about 10 years I was going to send it in for an upgrade to the Signature level. That upgrade would have been $4K. I sold the Rhea and purchased the new ModWright from The Music Room. I played the new MW pre for a couple of weeks then being the tube roller that I am, I replaced the Sovtek 5AR4 rectifier tube with a 1962 vintage NOS Mullard GZ34 (Euro equivalent for 5AR4) and the JJ 6922 tubes with 1961 vintage NOS Valvo 6922's. That rolling payed off with deeper bass and bigger soundstage. I know that the unit is still breaking in, but again I am greatly satisfied. For what it's worth, I also have a Primare R35 and a Modsquad Phono Drive as solid state backups.

Given what you’re looking for I’d put Allnic high on your list of models to explore. Best of luck in finding what you’re looking for.  Or, better yet, have your friend build you another one of his phono preamps!

I would recommend the most current Audio Research phonostage you can find. SP8 would be great… or SP7 or SP6. For me the SP8 finally completely removed the phono stage from the equation and no longer held back my turntable.


Audio Research has been known for their audiophile phonostages and preamps for decades. Detailed, dynamic and musical. 


I would recommend the most current Audio Research phonostage you can find. SP8 would be great… or SP7 or SP6.

Those are full function preamps. The SP7 is solid state.

I think @ghdprentice is really recommending the PH6/7/8 phono stages.

@palutena Tighten up on this investigation and let the Forum know the Valves used in the Friends Phon', in general these will be a healthy proportion of the sonic that captivated you.

I feel confident it was not from a obscure Valve Type, but interesting if it was, it might be even easier to home in on the Circuit used.

Check out DS-Audio entry level. I have the the DS E1 on my vintage Kenwood 

 KD-650. Contact Dr. Vinyl, tell him Dave sent you. 👍


I went from the icon preamp to an Aric audio preamp. I Did not like The icon. 
Aric audio Super 6SN7 Linestage. $4000.. superior!


im picking up my friends tomorrow to borrow for a little while, ill let everyone interested know what tubes are in it. 

thanks everyone for the recommendations, im looking into all of them, other than the few line stage recommendations lol 


A web search for “ Abbas Audio RIAA Tube Preamplifier EF86/EL84 “ will explain a very particular hand made build philosophy that may fit your bill:


I compared this device last week to a friend’s Luxman RIAA (7000 GBP !) . I heard notably greater dynamic force, beauty of tone and open, magical atmosphere with the Abbas. I hear this character with his tube DAC 2.4SE+, also. I own the DAC and the RIAA and they are special.

You definitely need to check out Audio Research. As a current owner you will be equally amazed. 

check out Decware - they make great tube amps and pre-amps in Illinois. All pt-to-pt hand soldered wiring. I have had a couple of their amps and their phono preamp. 

I'm an Allnic fan, so anything Allnic produces in a fan of. I went from the H5500 to the H3000 and I couldn't be happier. I just picked up the Van Den Hul The Grail and am adjusting to the solid state sound and how that compares to tubes. Definitely some give and some take, but I can recommend Allnic and VDH as viable options. 


OP is looking for phono with a warm sound…would you say Allnic phono’s especially H-5500 has a warm sound and not neutral sounding like ARC. Did you do any tube rolling or stock tubes are good enough. I got my eye on H-5500, hopefully a used bargain shows up soon.

@lalitk the Allnic I'm not sure I would call "warm" per se, but it is definitely romantic. Tonally with brass and metal instruments sounds better than I've ever heard with any other phono. Awesome depth and it just feels very human and natural to listen to. Going to a transimpedance phono, I've gained a vastly quieter sound with tons more detail, but it has a little bit too much in your face detail and transient swings. Not bad, just not what I'm used to. The Allnic, at least my H3000 is incredibly human sounding and very soulful feeling. Tube rolling in the power supply is supposed to yield great changes, but I've only swapped in a cheaper $40 5AR4 RCA so far. 

couple thoughts, based purely on my own experience:

1) Synthesis Roma 79DC - Synthesis has beautiful stuff, always tilting warm.  I have its predecessor, the Brio, and use it with a Koetsu!

2) Leben RS30-EQ - I have this one in another system, paired with my Leben CS 600X, and it’s beautiful, remarkably quiet for a tube phono stage.  Very high output impedance so preamp matching is important.

Both of these are right around $3k I believe.


Appreciate the great insight on Allnic phono. I guess, there is going to be some trade-off between tube vs ss phono’s. Based on what you said, Allnic phono is appears to be in line with my personal preferences. 

Tavish design adagio, however there is a waiting list. It’s a reference component in a few stereophile reviewers systems, Herb Reichert and Ken McCullough. I own the classic model, and have no need to upgrade as it sounds great, especially when used in conjunction with my Jensen SUT, which by the way, the adagio employs (Jensen sourced transformers).

For a lot cheaper, you could grab the music hall analougue A3 tubed phono preamp. Go read the stereophile review on that one, reviewer; Herb Reichert. I own one and it sounds fabulous, especially when Connected straight to a power amp of your choice, as it has a built in alps volume control. 

Have had just a few phono preamps, will say the BAT VK p 10 had the most weight. Dynamics were off the chart but mine became noisy and BAT said the age of it-20 years- precluded any worthwhile attempts to correct that.

Now own an Allnic H 7000 and BAT REX 2 preamp and run the system balanced throughout. Gives me everything. And some. The Allnic is quiet, beautiful timbres but until I went balanced the weight and depth of soundatage was not all I had hoped for. That problem has been solved.

@dentdog ​​​​​​ Tell us more about going balanced with the Allnic! I was under the impression Kang Su Park implemented his circuits to be run single ended, but offered the balanced option for convenience. I believe I heard this from a dealer and he mentioned the "magic was lost". I don’t take it as gospel or truth, but I wrote off running balanced because of that knowledge. Comparing my H-3000 to a transimpedance phono, I’ve noticed the H-3000 does sound a little recessed and doesn’t have as much detail and is very relaxed. Does going balanced help with this or do you have any opinions?

Had my doubts as well. Actually thought I might look at a more recent BAT phono given my prior experience. Whether it was the BAT Rex or the going balanced throughout my impression was that the presence overall as well as the weight of presentation improved in a big way. It took the relaxed nature of the Allnic,and I agree with you there, and put some muscle behind it.

Going balanced helped with everything. At the other end I have Audiopax M 100s also single ended with balanced connections. Of course balanced in both instances requires a transformer. Can't see KS Park using substandard transformers.  I can only surmise that both the Allnic and the Audiopax transformers are high quality. Regardless, many things fell into place and the overall SQ has taken a big leap. 

after spending a good 3/4 hours with my friends phono pre amp, with more critical ears than the last time, there are things I like and dislike vs the icon audio ps1 MK II. 

there is less bass in the homemade amp but more upper bass (I think contributing to the warmer sound)

it is less transparent, but its very smooth, no grainy-ness and less fatiguing to listen to (not that the icon is fatiguing at all, just more so) 

there seems to be more density in the sound with the homemade amp which is another thing that's a positive. and the instruments and vocals just seem so anchored in their position. the tonality of this amp is to die for, organic is the only word I can think of to describe. even though its not "detailed" im hearing things in ways I never heard before, such as the way a bass string vibrates and the note decays. pretty eye opening for me. 

however the big downfall which I didn't notice the first time is that the vocals are a little recessed compared to the icon. with the icon, the vocals are always either right in line with the speakers, or a good 4 inches in front of the speakers depending on the recording. with the homemade, its ,at best, in line with the speakers, or a good 4 inches behind the speakers again depending on the record. this is a pet peeve of mine in audio because the instruments playing in the left and right channels sound clearer sharper and closer to me than the vocals, and this doesn't portray a realistic performance in my opinion, and is a dead giveaway that im "listening to a system" and not "at the venue of the performance" which I like to feel (suspending belief a little bit of course). 

I have a chance to drive about an hour to audition the Allnic h-5500 at the very very top end of my budget. is it worth a listen?

@j-wall can you comment specifically on the vocals of the Allnic? I don't mind if the entire presentation is a little laid back, but I don't want to feel the vocals recessed in comparison with everything else. I would appreciate your insight. 

thanks again everyone. I've gotten more help and suggestions than I thought! 

The Icon ps3 is way better than ps1.I heard the ps1 Iam so impressed, that’s how I end up buying the ps3.

@palutena I don't mean recessed in a bad way to be completely honest. More of a descriptor than a negative mark. What type of music do you listen to? If there are varying and more real world instruments, I'd jump at the chance to hear it. I'm not a jazz guy so I can't comment there, nor am I a blues guy, but I did just pick up King Bee by Muddy Waters and the tonally accurate sound of the guitar, room interaction with his performance and instrumentation is just on another level on my H-3000. I feel Allnic is a brand I could stick with for a very long time, so I feel if you're looking for tonal accuracy and density, you can't go wrong. The one thing I'm not a fan of is the tanking of value when buying new. You will definitely be able to find a buyer but expect to lose a ton of the purchase price when going to sell. And I only purchased a transimpedance phono to hear what they sound like and to also see what cutting tube heat will do for my room. A definite move to suuuuper low heat and crazy dynamics, but I lost some soul, heart and richness in the process. Can be good or bad, but I'm struggling to even think of selling the Allnic. It really is that good. Plus, I haven't even gotten to the crazy rectifiers and Stillpoints yet. Time will tell. 

@dentdog I think you've convinced me to pick up my long desired Shunyata Alpha XLR's to test. Im in trouble now....

I'm using Purist Neptune's bought through Albert Porter. The run to my amps is 27 ft and perhaps the balanced aspect is part of the improvement. Had my first long listen last night and enjoyed. Can relax now. Open and just so musical. 

+1 for audioguy85  's recommendation 

I have the Tavish Design Adagio , it uses 6 tubes for MM cartridges  and adds Jensen SUT for MC  cartridges ( upgrade to the 1 to 1.12 transformers ) .

The great part about them besides the extensive variety of sounds you can achieve with tube rolling iare the resistance and capacitance switches up front with on the fly changing !   I found the capacitance  switch very handy in determining the right sound with a Soundsmith MI cartridge .

The Allnic 3000 has it's merits for sure. Very telling is the amount of time they sit on HIFISHARK before selling. 2-3 days and they're gone. 

I owned a Icon Audio PS1 and took advantage of an offer from Audioarcan to upgrade it to the PS3.   All i remember about this upgrade was that the PS1 had a darker background than the PS3,  the PS3 had a better soundstage. 





what is everyones thoughts on a used aesthetix rhea signature? 

slightly concerned about age of the unit, and the 3 stages of tube gain instead of transformers, is this a particularly noisy amp? every review states a sound signature that sounds like it would be perfect for what im looking for. and in my budget on the used market. 


If you want all tube phono performance the Primaluna Evo 100 is at the max of your budget.

Presently using one.

Competent to handle a $10k+ table/cart. 

It will match up nicely with your PL. . A "final/done" piece until your ready to blow some serious cash and split hairs.


Intended for original post:

Early model Rhea @1/2 MSRP is a great choice.

It can also be sent back to update I believe?

$2-3K used can get something that keeps up with next turntable/cart upgrade.

Recently sold a 12 year old tube phono. Would still have it, if I didn't stumble into a smoking Ebay deal.

The proceeds from the sale+ can't pass up Ebay deal fortunately worked out for both the new owner and myself. 

palutena, I didn't own a Rhea. 

The noise issue with just about all the competent brands IMO is negligible. The unit I sold was all tube(no transformers) and the PL is all tube. 

If you're one of the "listen for noise/put your ear to the speaker" type, you will hear noise in ANY tube unit. Tube hiss is only heard in between cuts and the volume maxed-who does that?

There's plenty of SS units with "tube like" performance/whisper quiet. I'm not aware of the ones that are in your budget.

I have the same DAK that you have from PS Audio

And for the money they have a phono amp for about $3,000 that punches way above its weight class. Also, the customer service I have received over the years is second to none. I feels great to pick up the phone with a question and have a friendly person who goes out of the way to help you. I first got associated with PS Audio purchased a DAC that had to be 8-10 years out of warranty and was trying to do a software update after spending an hour on the phone with a young man trying to help he said let me send you a memory card so you can do it yourself. Thought to myself if that's the kind of service you get for no cost on a DAC that was old as the hills I should consider buying something new and I purchased a BHK 250 amp and a BHK preamp very happy


I have been auditioning the Allnic H-5500 and the icon audio ps3 signature in my system for the last two weeks, if anyone is interested in a comparison I can report back with my findings.