Phono preamp, all suggestions welcome

I currently have a well updated Linn TT with a Ortofon 2M Black which should be updated soon. This yr. I acquired a Belles Virtuoso Preamp. I need a phono preamp which is lacking in the preamp. Some of my preliminary choices for cart are Hanna SL or SH, Dynavector 10x5 or 20x2. Ortofon Quintet Im trying to stay close or lower than $1000. However, my question is which phono stage best matches my TT. Choices are Schiit Mani, Moon LV 110 V2, Pro ject tube box S2 and the Clear audio Nano. All are around $500 which is my budget. I'm inclined toward the Project because its tubed and will bring that warm sound to my system. The rest of my system is Belles Virtuoso 200wpc amp and Vandys 2CE sig. Can anyone comment on any of these phono stages or suggest others.

Schiit Mani 2 for ~$160 is the best value here. I recommend going for transparent rather than "warm" - which is really just added harmonic distortion.

Schiit now has a higher end phono preamp, the Skoll, for $400.  I don't have a phono setup anymore, but I am very, very pleased with the sound quality of the several Schiit items I've bought. Great sound at a very good price.

My vote is for the Pro ject tube box S2   
I am pairing with my Mac 6700 and it sounds warm and wonderful. 
I have paired the S2 with many amps and it has never let me down. 

I can highly recommend Audio Research PH3, a tube phono preamp which I once owned. There is one currently available for $825 which is a bargain compared to what I paid. It uses 3 tubes from 6DJ8/6922/7308 dual-triodes tubes. There is a lot of NOS tubes options for this family and tube rolling can become addictive! Yes it is bit more expensive that your allocated budget, but you will be well rewarded for your extra $.


I can definitely recommend the iFi phono3 in your price range. I bought one after reading the reviews and it is incredibly quiet, dynamic, and has really good sound staging at this price. I also see that Music Direct has an open box now at $699.




+1 for Schiit gear. I have a Mani, Mani 2 and getting a Skoll for Christmas. My understanding is that there is a lot less noise on the Skoll compared to the Mani. The music comes from a blacker background. I'll try to post some impressions once I get it set up.

Also on your list should be the musical surroundings units, the phenomena and novaIII. These are not tube but extremely clean, quiet, and true to the source. I have a project I use with my 2nd system and it's ok but if I still had my nova iii I'd be using it instead. My experience is that you want a really clean phono pre. The signal is so small and trying not to color it all that early in the chain is preferable. If you're going to seek out tube based units that really have enough gain for a lot output MC cartridge many will need a transformer built in. These get expensive. They're worth it if and when you get there but my feeling is that within your budget, a good solid state unit will serve your need better. 

IMO, you should rearrange your budget to spending less on the cartridge and more on the phono preamp!

IMO, Phono Stage is the most subjective component, think ’preferred’, not better.

I recommend buying from a source that allows returns. You may try 2-3 before you find one you truly want to keep!

And, keep future flexibility in mind.

At your budget level I suggest throwing the Parks Waxwing into the mix.  The Musical Surroundings Nova Phonomena is a good choice if you can find a used one.

Darlington Labs MP-7 IMO the best mm phono stage under $1000.

If you go MC you can pick up a SUT later or get their SU-7.

Another great option is the EAR834 clone.

I’m using an Ortofon 2M Black, and at the other end have 2ce Sigs as well. I’ve enjoyed a Darlington Labs MP-7. I’ve had a ARC PH3, and an Aleph Ono. I admit I prefer the MP-7, for dynamics above a black background. It’s a bargain. 

For the Vandy owners, be sure to also visit the Vandy owners forum at Vandy website. 

Vandersteen is a time and phase correct speaker best paired with low or zero negative feedback designs?

Candy is dandy.

Check out Lounge Audio LCR III $349 , read the reviews I have one in my backroom system. Can't go wrong..

@lobinero A Phonostage to match a TT, I am not familiar with this as a approach.

I myself am a Linn TT owner and have not used it for numerous years.

I myself have plenty of opportunities for receiving Demo’s of a substantially upgraded Linn TT. Along with the Linn I have access to other BD’s, ID’s and DD TT’s where experiencing them in use is quite regular occurrences, these same TT's evolve with different Tonearms (TA) and Cart's as well as differing Phon's being  included.

I have heard these drive types become quite a attractive experience, especially producing a Sonic that is much wanted, when the selection for a TA >Cart' proves to be a exceptional choice to produce the Vinyl Replay Trilogy.

I have heard numerous Phonostages over many years and have not yet been at a Demo’ where I have come away convinced the Phono>TT is the combination to aspire to. I have always been convinced the Phon'>Cart’ is the interface where the magic is occurring and the choice of TA and Down Stream Ancillaries are what are enabling the magic to be conjured to the extent of being very much wanted.

Your TA is not made known, but if you think that your shortlist of Cart’s is a ideal interface for the TA, then all is well.

I have investigated Quintets as a rebuild option, especially the Black, and have knowledge of these as presenting as a Lucid Analytical Cart’, this can be taken to a further intensity towards this sonic if used naked.

The Nano might just reign in the Quintet a bit, at the Top End. The Clear Audio Cart’s might be a better place to look to use in conjunction with a Nano.

Might be worth asking if any of your Cart’ selection are with user reports from being used with your TA.

FYI, I have a Hana SL, which was bought as a 'act in haste repent at leisure reaction' to the Cart's launch euphoria. I did not go with my usual passed on guidance and get to hear one in use.

After a very short period of usage the SL was taken out of service, I struggled to endear myself to it, to date if has cost myself £700 for 50 - 100 hours of usage (OUCH), maybe the TA I had selected to be used could have proved to be the issue???

I bought a Donor Cart', had it Rebuilt for about 30% less in cost than the SL Cost, and this has held it own in use in comparison with Cart's up to £4K in purchase value, I would not be without it. Maybe food for thought.  

Tread Carefully and Purchase Sure Footedly

I’ve tried a few in the under $500 range and none has been as quiet and detail oriented as the iFi Zen Phono. A $2K tube EAR is only slightly better/more engaging. 

This is a rabbit hole I went down recently as well. The widely diverse responses can be bewildering!  I ended up getting lucky and finding a black ice audio f159 for under $1,000….its wrapped under our tree so I’ve yet to hear it!!!  That said it’s a tube hybrid model and some of the reviews have me salivating for her debut. 
that said, I has close to pulling the trigger on a hagerman cornet (MM) or trumpet (MC), which are tube based.   

First of all I think you should reconsider your plan to replace your 2M Black.  To wit, I am currently comparing two phono stages, C-J TEA 1 series 3 and C-J 88, both very expensive (well above those you are considering), and one of the cartridges I am leaning on heavily to do so is the 2M SE, which is the 2M mono based on the Black.  My point is the 2M Black a very fine cartridge, well suited for use with any of the phono stages you are considering, and very near tops at it's price.

Next, are any of the units you are considering offered with return privileges?  If so, I strongly recommend that you start with those.  Given that all of the ones you mentioned have good reputations it really comes down to which one sounds best to you.


a list phono-preamps I compiled a few years back up to $1k (cheaper is used):

Make    Model     Price 
Schiit    Mani     $129 
Parasound    zphono     $150 
Rega    Fono Mini A2D     $175 
Hagerman Audio Labs    Bugle2 - Phono Preamp     $189 
Music Fidelity    V90-LPS     $230 
Cambridge Audio    Alva Duo     $299 
Vincent PHO-8    Vincent PHO-8     $299 
Rega    Fono MM     $395 
Music Fidelity    M1LPS     $399 
Parks Audio    Budgie Tube Phono Preamp     $399 
Pro-Ject Audio    Tube Box S2     $410 
lehmann    lehmann black cube statement     $450 
ifi audio    iPhono 2     $499 
AVA    Vision Q Phono Preamp     $499 
Musical Paradise    MP-P1 MM MC Tube Phono Preamp     $499 
Tritschler     TPAD Model 1000     $599 
lehmann    lehmann black cube      $630 
Musical Surroundings    Phonomena II + phono preamplifier     $750 
Sutherland    KC Vibe     $895 
Jolida    JD9 MK II Phono Preamp     $899 
Magi Phonomenal Tube Phono Stage    Magi Phonomenal Tube Phono Stage     $975 
Channel Islands Audio    PEQ-1 MKII     $995 
Aural Thrills Audio    Serenade     $999 
Elac    Alchemy PPA-2     $1,000 
Clearaudio    Basic Plus     $1,000 
lehmann    lehmann black cube SE II     $1,099 

Still obtaining information and suggestions. any experience with the Heed Quasar phono stage?