Your Ultimate Phono Preamp: Which One Would You Choose?

Imagine you’re in the market for a high-end phono preamp (your ultimate, at least for the moment) and have the budget to splurge.

Which one would you get?

Perhaps you've already got it, which one?


I would pick something quite long out of production: Lyra Connoisseur.  I would then have comparably priced tube and solid state phono stages which might be interesting.

Interesting that the notion is that to achieve a High End Phohostage, there is a need to spend excessively.

This might be the case if the Phonostage is to be sourced from a Brand.

There are other options to achieve a Phonostage that can thoroughly impress, as a result of the design and BOM.

The type of BOM one might just be lucky enough to find is attached to a Branded Phonostage purchased costing between $20K - ,$+++

Mine is the BMC MCCI Signature ULN current injection phono stage. In the end I preferred it over a Simaudio Moon 810LP, Audionet PAM G2 w/ EPS, and ModWright PH9.0X. I don't ever forsee myself wanting a different unit. Current Injection stages work best with very low impedance moving coil cartridges, and I'm using mine with a My Sonic Lab Signature Gold which only has a 1 Ohm internal impedance.

If you have interest in reading on my journey to this stage, here's the thread where I documented it.

I already have a world-beater preamp with phono stage: the RGR 4 from 1980. Designed by Roger Grodinski of RG Dynamics. Mr. Grodinski claims that most phono stages suffer from poor dynamic headroom so he designed his to have superior overload margins. His earlier version was the RG Dynamics Dimension 3. It received a stellar review in Audio in 1979 where it was praised for its outstanding ability to unveil an expansive  sense of 3-D space from recordings. I bought mine on eBay seven years ago for $199 - list price new was $650 in 1980. It has been in daily use with no problems. 

Maybe, for fun, ones that allow use of other equalization curves.  I don't care if RIAA was completely adopted a long while ago, I've heard use of other equalization curves, and there are some records that happen to sound better in a specific setup with a different curve.  Zanden makes a nice tube unit with built in SUT that sounds pretty good.  For solid state, the FM Acoustic phono stage is really interesting because it allows an infinite variety of equalizations.  One uses two controls, one selects the turnover frequency, the other selects the slope of the curve.  I only briefly heard this thing at a show, but, it looks like it could be fun to try some unique equalization curves.

Convergent (CAT) SL-1 Legend Black Path Extreme. It’s never failed to sound anything less than stellar in any system I’ve heard it in.

Audio Research Reference 3SE. After purchasing my first Audio Research phono stage, the PH2 around 1989 which finally sounded great.  I then upgrading multiple times over the following decades.. I finally got to the REF3 about five years ago, analog never sounded so good.

@jasonbourne52...thanks for the RGR mention!  I was an RGR dealer and became good friends with Roger.  He was quite the character.

I still have an RGR 4 somewhere in storage.  I remember when that hit the market and got all the great reviews.  We couldn't keep them in stock.  Sold a batch of them.

As far as my end game phono stage:  Modwright PH150.

This is incorrect question. Ultimate in one system may not be ultimate in another. And I don't mean just different cartridges. I do suspect though that in most or all systems tube phono stage will win.

The Herron VTPH-2A seems to be the top performing phono stage. Though discontinued, it still ranks at the top and is the one other competing units are measured against.

Just got to brag. My DIY battery powered SS with only air caps (variable) and vacuum caps in the signal path. Discrete nude Vishay resistor selector for volume control. Variable cartridge loading. Adjusts for some deviation from RIAA.

Every bell or whistle that I want and nothing else. Could scarcely afford the parts cost, can’t imagine what it would cost from a dealer.

DIY  forever!

My two cents worth goes to the Parasound JC 3.  Have had mine for several years and it’s a great piece of gear.

I’ve never heard another good phono stage w/ my t vinyl set up so I can’t say it’s better or worse than anything else mentioned but I’ve really enjoyed my Art  Audio Vinyl One for over 20 years & it’s still in production today. It’s tubed, plenty of variable gain for low output MC’s , built well & sounds great. I think it’s about $7500 today. 

In the middle '70s Tom Holman looked at the interactions between phone carts and preamps and designed a photo stage that addressed those, and many other issues including an 18dB/octave subsonic filter that effectively kills low frequency woofer flop.That was the Apt 1, and to my ear, a revolution. He combined that with the most intelligent and useful control section I've ever found, like the A-B/AB/A+B knob that let's you dial the image in like nothing else.  thorough makeover a few years back, and it is as extraordinary as ever. 

I am a fan of Michael Fremmer. Believe his current phono stage is the CH Precision P10. Think it is about $80K

It was not $80k to him, I guess, or he would've never bought it. He knows all too well that the very best phono stages are tube not transistor ones. Unless he lost his hearing, which is a possibility.

Apt 1 was a great preamp in the day.   I bought one used , it was my first real preamp.   I regret selling that and the Amp 1

I'm very happy with my GoldNote PH-10 w/PSU-10. I'm using balanced outputs, and it is dead quiet.

I was recently tempted by a killer deal on PH-1000 but I've got other priorities right now.

Now I'm intrigued by the BMC MCCI and glad the extra one that @blisshifi had for sale sold so quickly, or I might have jumped on it and then had some splainin' to do when my wife got home. 



I use Lehmann Audio Black Cube Statement High-End MM MC and am very pleased with this Phono Pre-amplifier

I mostly listen to vinyl so the phono preamp is important for me. Next what is ultimate to one person is basic to another. My budget for a phono preamp is around 6k. So I have no experience above this. For 5 years I listened to an E Glo S. Overall a very good sounding phono preamp. I’m selling it now on Audiogon with an upgraded linear power supply. I switched to the ModWright PH 9.0 X-T. This is another great phono stage. I’m very pleased with it. 

Post removed 

I have a Modwright PH9.0XT and I suppose it's made the rest of my system a bottleneck.

If my system could keep up, I would go Modwright PH150 or if I hit the lottery, Zestos Andros Tessera.

I'm very happy with my PS Audio Stellar Phono Preamp designed by Darren Myers and implementation done by the fine engineering team over there.

It's actually a bit overkill for my purposes (two MC Cart's only in my arsenal).

Prior to that I had the Mofi StudioPhono designed by Tim De Paravacini. IMHO the best phono Preamp under $1k. The PS Audio bettered it in the midrange and a bit sweeter treble response (to my ears anyways). Bass response for both Phono Pre's were similar again to my ears.

While there are the Sutherland's (I'd love to just try one justto see what the hype is all about). My "Dream" Cart/Phono Pre would DS Audio top line Cart. with the Ed Meitner modified Phono Pre.

Now I just need that winning Powerball ticket !


I bought the Parasound JC-3 and sent it back for a refund....Then purchased the PS Audio Stellar Phono Pre.......Still have it. Great sounding, Great Value.....Darren Myers knows what he's doing!

Audio Research Reference 3 Phono in my system and no desire to go any further. Analog never sounded any better with my ears. 

The Herron VTPH-2A is an excellent unit - we did an A/B against the Vendetta SCP2-D in my main system and it was pretty much a tie.  Now discontinued, but a lot easier to find than another John Curl Vendetta.

I also use a Conrad Johnson Premier 15 which is a good performer and you can find a new one for a lot less than the new price of $4K they originally sold for.

I have had a half dozen fairly expensive phono preamps mated to my relatively low output phono cartridge (currently an Ortofon A95) and the clear winner for me was a relatively inexpensive Paradox Phono 70 Signature.  Michael Fremer reviewed this unit a while back, comparing it to his very expensive reference phono preamp costing 10 times as much.  My only comment on the Paradox Phono 70 Signature is that it does require some break-in when new.  Good luck with your search.

Darren Myers now works as a V.P. for Parasound.

I am currently using an Accuphase C-47  phono preamplifier. Quiet and powerful. I like it.

I have a vinyl-only system and I'm lucky enough to own a Tom Evans Audio Design

Master groove SR mark 11 phono stage.

This was Tom Evan's absolute top phono stage but has now been superseded

by the Mastergroove SR mark 111 which Is slightly better than the already fabulous-sounding mark 11.

(OK, so I'm a TEAD dealer but I listen to and enjoy what I sell!)

My cartridges alternate between an Audio Note IO Gold (used with a custom 1:3 SUT) Ikeda Kai. Rebuilt Denon DL103 with shabita stylus and an

Ortofon SPU GM 11 e (for playing early digital vinyl!).

Paradox Phono Signature 70 Models can be found for as little as $1800 if buying used is being considered. A search carried out will find such sale price offers.

If prudent spending is being considered, this might be one model worth learning much more about.

In recent searches I have found US produced Phon's produced that were close to $15K when new, that are offered for sale or sold recently close to $3K as used items.

I will make a large Wager, these Older released models as basic will stand ground well against modern $15K Phon's.

If the used Older released model was to have some minor mod's, where exchanges to the circuit was carried out, using state of the art Components, there is the possibility, the race will look very different, as to who is out in front. 

One thing for sure, $1000's will remain in ones coffers.  

Aesthetix Rhea Eclipse. I've had it for 6 years. Adding this was the biggest one time improvement in my analog playback system.



 Van den Hul, The Grail w/Koetsu, Rosewood Sig... there are better combos I'm sure but for me, this is top of the mountain

Having compared the Emia to several others directly in my system for an extended period including the VDH Grail SE and the BMC ULN as well as extensive listening in my system to an Allnic unit. Lino 2.0, and the latest Esoteric, it is not even close. All of the others sound wonderful, but the Emia takes it to a new level, the Emia with their silver SUT  sounds like music.



I've tried several phonostages in the $6K and under class.  I would say my current favorite is the CODA 06X FET, with the Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista Vinyl just behind it.  The MF is technically a tube phonostage with the Nu-Vista tubes, but those are not like the classic glass-body tubes.

For the classic glass tubes, I have a Herron VTPH-2A, and also a Bigbottle BB3.  Both of those units use RCA loading plugs for impedance, and have fixed capacitance.

Fixed capacitance is not ideal for me, since I have several MM carts, which vary in desired capacitance loading.  That's why the CODA and the MF get my overall nod, since they have switchable capacitance loading options.  The CODA has internal DIP switches for loading, whereas the MF loading is handled with switches on the front panel - very convenient.  Both units have the option of XLR/balanced or RCA/unbalanced outputs.

Anyway, for overall sound, I like the CODA best.  It has gotten me interested in the CODA line of other amps/preamps.

After going through a dozen preamps, I am in love with and will never let go of the internal phono pre in my Levinson 585.5. 

No joke (and with the caveat IMHO) it has bested Pass, Para, Boulder.

Pass labs XP27. Does everything with ease. Plenty of power and all controls for loading , gain and capacitance  on the front of the unit. 
they are also built like a tank, hefty and good looking. 

If pure analog joy is your end goal, I would point you towards the Sutherland TZ Direct (MSRP $8500) Transimpedance phono stage mated with a Mu-Tech Cart (MSRP $4900).  A heavenly pair.  Ron Sutherland is quite brilliant, and he hits this one out of the park.  Happy hunting.

Audio Research Reference Phono 10 is probably my end game. The thing sounds fantastic! And am totally happy. 

i would agree about the cat legend phono if you have a conventional cartridge,but the ds audio optical system-phono stage($3500) and cart($2500) of course run into my cat line stage gives the cat phono/line lyra atlas or vdh colabri a run for the money.

I've had the Rogue Audio Ares tube phono amp for years and loved it.  You can really dial in the exact settings for your cart.  But a couple of days I sent it off to have it upgraded to the Ares II Magnum.  Can't wait to year the improvement I've read about.  Nick Fitzsimmons at Rogue even sent me a prepaid (by me) UPS label from an outfit they use called Pirate Ship.  Saved me about 40% on the insured cost of sending the amp back to them.

My very long term experiences had with Phonostages, allows me to say assuredly that ' Probably' is the best word to use in conjunction with 'end game Phonostage'.

I myself like to think the experiences had and learning as the outcome, has led me to Phonostages that reiterate the search is now lesser of a requirement and the Phonostages in use are foreseen to have Longevity in their role. 

Aesthetix Io is hard to beat, especially the Eclipse version. I was lucky to find a basic version for a fair price used, twenty years ago, and liked it so well that I upgraded to Eclipse and two power supplies. This was costly, but I have no regret. My version has aux as well as phono input, and volume control, so it can be used as a stand alone preamp, for analog plus a digital source (sounding very good). It has a personality however. The better the tubes, the better the sound. If you use costly NOS tubes - especially - it needs to be shut down when not in use, and it takes half an hour or so to warm up when you turn it on. It is a pure tube solution, and you need a fairly robust output from the cartridge to avoid background tube noise. Mine is 0,56mV, but I’ve seen claims that it works fine with less output also. And you need space for two - or three - full size boxes.

If you cant find (or afford) an Io, consider a Rhea, as a first step. If you like that sort of sound, you can later trade it for an Io.

The following is a review I have very recently read on comparisons of Phonostages costing between $2K and $30K. The reviewer is seemingly very confident in their assessment of he closeness of the performances in relation to the vast separation between the purchase values.

Even though I don't have experiences of these models in any guise used, there is nothing new here to me. I have experienced very well thought out design and component matched Phon's costing much much less than more expensive models in A/B Comparison. My assessment being the Phon' produced as above by a competent EE, will stand out above numerous Phon's met costing much more. It looks like this reviewr has stumbled on such a experience.

_____________________________________________________________  ,    

Since I am used to listening to LPs played back via solid-state equipment (Jeff Rowland, Pass Labs, and more recently CH Precision) the Lejonklou suits me perfectly. The Entity has clearly been tweaked so carefully that it simply has no sins of commission. While it is even-handed and superimposes no character of its own it is also highly rhythmic, expressive, and articulate. Add to that its immense transparency and its free-flowing and highly refined delivery on a level that I have so far only heard from the Jeff Rowland Cadence and the CH Precision P1 and this starts to look like something of a bargain. The Entity may well be the phono stage to beat in its price range.
Postscript June 2021
The Entity has been updated to 1.1 version. Having heard the new model in comparison with a couple of other preamps but not its predecessor, I was impressed to find it still has superlative transparency, low-level detailing, treble air, and refinement but now coupled with massively improved solidity, robustness, and dynamic slam. In its latest guise priced at 1.875 euros, it comes highly recommended.