Best Phono Stage

Hi all,

I need some advise on a really good sounding phono stage to go with MC turntable set up in the $5k or so bracket. I am completely new to vinyl and realise there a lot here in terms of arm/cart matching MC,MM and I think moving iron but if you could point me in the direction of some good sounding units I can investigate compatibility etc. I don’t own a table or cart yet. I was looking at the Zesto Audio 1.2.

My goal is a liquid engaging sound with deep tight bass and air and separation on top.

Thanks in advance.



You want to spend 5k on everything or just on the phono stage?  Personally, if I had no experience with vinyl I would seek out a local dealer so they can assist you with selection and setup. Don’t worry about an endgame vinyl rig first time out. Just buy something that’s easy to deal with and sounds good and you’ll figure out later what your real priorities are. 

@chayro it would be 5k for phono stage. Id like to get it right and not go down the constant upgrade route. Thanks

@lance23 👍10 week waiting list....

was once Herb Reicherts reference phono preamp. 

What is great about it is the fact that it has a built in SUT, utilizing a pair of Jensen transformers, and front panel adjustments for both capacitance and cartridge loading, no dip switches, and you can roll in any tube you want. Also, available in multiple finishes.

Zesto & Allnic seem to be 2 of the newer players which have garnered praise  in this market. The Tavish is a class B recommended component  so you can make what you will of that. The Sutherland Little Loco may also be something to look into.

Post removed 

I would recommend the highest quality Used Audio Research phono stage either PH8 or REF you can find for your budget. If you like a bit warmer sound then a used Conrad Johnson. Zesto are a newer company but highly regarded.

I second Zesto.   I have their Leto preamp and it sounds incredible   Their service is probably the best I’ve ever experienced.   I had it upgraded to the new ESP power supply and it is even better.  That preamp transported my system to a different level.  It is good stuff

Solid state:

Avid Pulsare II (used)

BMC MCCI Signature (if you plan to use low impedance MC carts)


Modwright PH9.0 (new)

Audio Research (Ref2 phono used)


These absolutely top of the game for their price. Don't get into exotic stuff like Allnic and such. You will want to upgrade soon :-)

I have a Zesto Andros II and I love it. I sold my Mac 2600 after getting it and added the  Zesto Leto preamp. Sweet, solid sound. Not mega detailed but not too soft either.  Very flexible. I did some tube rolling to get even more to my liking. 

@chayro  nailed it, IMO. Patience is your friend here. It's hard to do, but it pays big dividends. Right now I'm tuning my DIY tonearm, and desperately want to put a big expensive cartridge on it - just to see what it can do. But I'm holding back until I sort out all the quirks. So I understand your impatience.

But consider - until you live with something you don't really know what you like; that only comes after you realize that you've been listening for 5 hours and still want more. Not the piece of candy that dazzles you for 20 minutes in the showroom. Patience, I say, and only get serious on your next attempt.

@lance23 I think you are going about this backwards to a degree. What is your total budget? Cart, table, tonearm, associated cables, etc? If you buy a 5k pre and a Rega P1 it’s kinda silly. That’s an extreme example. You really should investigate a table, arm and cart then go from there. There are so many pre options, SS, tubed, SUT. All have advantages and disadvantages. Some depend on your overall setup. I believe your order of operation should be table, arm, cart, pre, cabling.

You're gonna get lots of good info here about high-quality products that suit each of our own personal preferences. For instance, I love my Rogers PA-2 which you could get used for about 5k. I'd strongly encourage you to find a couple local audio shops and go and listen to stuff and see what you like sd it might not be what I like or someone else on here likes. I guess what I'm saying is take what you find on here and find places to go listen. 

Aesthetix Rhea Signature Phono Stage is strong contender. Used would be in your price range. 

As a newbie I went through a few phonostages from $1200-$2000 and am glad I did for the experience. My phono upgrades have been my favorite upgrade. I landed on a Allnic H-3000 and am at my endgame phono unless I hit the lottery. Buy used and do lots of research. 

Spending $2k-$3k is jus money down the drain. You’ll need to spend $15k, minimum, on a phono pre just to get into the minimum required performance from any cart/arm. Spending less is just a leap into the rabbit hole.

I run a Herron, I believe it's the ph2 or something like that but it is the best tube phono stage I've heard and I've tried many. The sound I have could be attributed to the vintage telefunkens but this Herron really does something special. 


The post for the aesthetix rhea is correct.  Great liquid sound.  Even though it has high gain I don’t recommend it for lomc as the gain is all tube.  I replaced the critical last three tubes with nos Hammond organ 12ax7 from a vendor.  If you use high gain, it requires great tubes to avoid tube rush.   Sold mine when I downsized.  Recently restarted with qhw the vinyl for 800 dollars.   Totally satisfied and you get 3 week free trial 


You should post photos of your system under your ID. It is very helpful in understanding where your opinion is coming from.

Balanced Audio Technology (BAT) makes fabulous phono stage components.  The latest model, VK-P90 ($13,000) is on my radar for later this year.  That will complete my main electronics by matching with my other BAT components; preamp and power amp (and replacing my Manley Labs, Chinook phono stage).  The just-recently-discontinued models that the VK-P90 replaced is the VK-P12SE and the VK-P12.  Those can be found for a price range within reason of your budget.  Do a little research on BAT products regarding the build quality and the sound quality.  I believe you will find them to be a worthy consideration for what you are looking to achieve.  BAT is a very high-end manufacturer, right here in the USA.

Pleased to see the recommendations for the Zesto Andros.

Before I went with my Atma-Sphere MP-1 full function preamp, I almost bought a Zesto. Ever since I heard one at RMAF, I was sure that it was about the best phono stage ever. Beautiful, luscious tube sound. But also it would be good to find a used AR.

+7 Zesto for tube.

For solid state, the Coda 06x is my favorite under around $10k - $15k.

Finally, if you can find one, the Herron (hybrid( is excellent as is the Reference line stage.

If you can find a Herron Audio VTPH-2A used (no longer available new), you should buy it.  IMO, it's the best.  Otherwise you can settle for a lesser performing phono stage.  

I think you’re getting some great rec’s here. Another +1 for the Modwright 9.0x. I love mine and expect to stick with it for a long time. Admittedly have not had the chance to A/B it with many of those mentioned here - I suspect many are great. 

You should post photos of your system under your ID. It is very helpful in understanding where your opinion is coming from.


That would do no good, other than fuel derogatory comments. Let’s just say a court settlement went my way. 



Or give your statement credibility because you own something better than Schiit and have a system to justify your opinion.

Or give your statement credibility because you own something better than Schiit and have a system to justify your opinion.


So credibility is measured in $$$$$$$$ now, right? 

I spent over $200K on my system. Another $50K on my listening room addition. Finished it up late last year. I designed the edition to my house, but I didn’t build it. I’ll be trading out my Wilson Audio speakers next month; they don’t suit me. I auditioned and ordered a  pair of FR30s, in custom Evening Sahara Sand finish, to match my listening room. 

I really couldn’t care less if I have “credibility with you.


You will have credibility with no one without knowing where you are coming from… you are the one hung up on cost. Fantastic systems can be fashioned out of modest components. One can make a judgement based on the thought that has gone into your system… the synergy. But refusing to show what you have only discredits you as a honest contributor. 

Lets see your credentials. This inexpensive knowledgeably put together system or top of the line assault at the best possible.

You should consider purchasing an Audio File or Stereo Review magazine for their issues on best equipment of the year. Listen to some who experienced reviewer  vrs someone pushing what they have😵‍💫



Good idea, although I would recommend The Absolute Sound,  Stereophile, and HiFi+.

Listen to some who experienced reviewer  vrs someone pushing what they have😵‍💫  


It's not all that bad hearing someone's review of the equipment they own.  Sure it can be bias but also there are alot of good reasons why they own it.  

Posted just wo days ago, by wolfie62 (see below), in another thread.  It seems that his reference system is an integrated amp from 1980.  Nothing wrong with that, I'm all for people enjoying to their fullest possible extent.  I just don't like to see people say they have a $200K system, telling others they are wasting their money if not spending great sums on their system, and in reality, have nothing greater of their own than a vintage integrated amp.  And the kicker, that this 1980 integrated amp is "world class", including its phono pre.  I usually don't post a response like this, but when a "loud-mouth" speaks up it's only fair to everyone else by exposing who they really are.


I’ll keep using my 1980 SAE Two A14 Integrated. Designed in CA, manufactured by Luxman. Dual mono construction. A real sleeper! Parametric tone controls, world class amp and MM/MC phono pre. 

You should consider purchasing an Audio File or Stereo Review magazine for their issues on best equipment of the year. Listen to some who experienced reviewer vrs someone pushing what they have

Welcome to 1995....