Building my 'first' system - Advice on Phono preamp please

Hi all,

I'm in the process of building out my first proper 2-channel system. I'm now looking to build a good analog front end.

What should I spend on a phono preamp?

My thought process:
a) Schiit mani for now, then upgrade later
b) Used Pro-ject Tube Boxc) New Space-Tech-Labs phono preamp (I live close to store)

Current Setup:
Speakers: Nola Boxer 3
Integrated Amp: Tsakiridis Aeolos
Dac: Schiit Bifrost 2
Streamer: Allo digi One signstureTurntable: Rega Planar 2 (2m blue cartridge)
Cables: Audioquest Golden Gate

Nice streamer. You running Volumio? It really improves with increased DAC quality.   
Look at Parks Puffin. It does more tricks than a trained monkey.
Your first proper system is a key statement. Don’t start out too exotic or your mis-match may end up costing you dearly. In the beginning it may behoove your interest by sticking to the basic’s and eventually add a little flair. The manufacturer has most likely done most of the compatibility research for you. Add a good set of speakers and it’s off to the races. Usually the manufacture will recommend what impedance to look for when selecting speakers in order to achieve maximum performance for their particular system. Many of the newer units have built in DACS and offer a wide variety of I/O’s for expansion. There’s nothing worse than finding out a few weeks down the road that your system can’t support the add-on. Quite honestly it’s your listening pleasure that should be driving what to look for in a system. It’s only my opinion but I found over time that tube systems offer more resonance and warmth for an instrumental genre while solid state systems have more defined edges that enhances hard rock music.
If I lived near the Space-Tech Labs store, I would go there and audition their stuff and buy from them if you find it a good value. Always loved checking out their stuff, but I'm half way across the country and unable to audition their stuff.
Two similar but somewhat different approaches. Right now you and everyone else is on the approach of the common wisdom (aka stuck in a rut, running a treadmill, etc) approach of finding a phono stage that is about as good in price or performance as the rest of your system. Perfectly natural if misplaced assumption approach.  

This approach only works if you are contemplating a static system, one where seldom if ever will anything be upgraded. One and done, run it till it don't run no more. In that case follow their advice. Might as well. Won't matter much either way.

The other approach is if you plan on gradually over time upgrading one thing after another. It can be very slow and gradual so it takes years to do the whole system. Still this merits a considerably different approach.  

In the first you can buy any of the mid level things recommended above. In the second you might want to stretch a bit for something quite a bit above average. Phono stages, turntables, analog in general is a completely different animal than digital. A good phono stage can last you many many years. It did me. The ARC PH3SE lasted me 16 years through multiple CDP, amps, even turntables, arms and cartridges. When new it cost more than my speakers. For years it was the most expensive component in my system. But that whole system grew up around it, so by the time it was replaced with a Herron it was a completely different system.

Little bit more strategic planning than you were expecting, I bet. But there it is.
+1 I got an ARC PH3 later upgraded to SE for about the same amount of time... I had first tried “highly reviewed” less expensive ones and was incredibly disappointed. Finally made enough money and purchased  a ARC PH8, kept it for about ten years and now I have a ARC Ref 3... a fantastic journey (once I stretched and got my first ARC PH.
I did NOT want to spend $2500 on a phono stage. And remember this was back in 1995 or thereabouts, back when $2500 was real money! I tried Lehman Black Cube, EAR 834P, on and on, at least 8-10 different phono stages- all home auditioned. Several months if not a year of this until finally broke down and tried the ARC. Thus I learned in one fell swoop both just how critically important a phono stage is, and how unimportant and misguided it is to give the common advice of having all components around the same level of cost/performance. 
Dynamic, The used Profect will do fine just be prepared to get new tubes. Order them from Upscale Audio or RAM Audio. Both test all their tubes and grade them so you know exactly what you are getting. On a phono preamp you do not want to skimp on tubes. Get the quietest ones you can afford. I highly recommend these if you can afford them. There are less expensive tubes available. As long as you stick to "Kevin's Stash" you will be fine.
Thank you all for your thoughtful advice...glad I asked!

As you can tell, I'm not that experienced with analog and wasn't sure where the phono preamp should sit within the chain. 

@millercarbon I really appreciate you're insight on not having all components around the same level of cost/performance AND about static true.

My gut tells me to save a bit more then audition the best Space Tech Labs tube phono I can afford and go from there.

Is the Rega Planar 2 a reasonable entry point to TTs?
@millercarbon.   ”I did NOT want to spend $2500 on a phono stage.”

Exactly the same for me. I started at a highly recommended $200 one then all sorts of sub $1,000 ones. Finally held my breath and  purchased the (in today’s dollars $4,000) ARC. 
Been a while since I did that, technology seems to have elevated what can be achieved at a low price. But back then the differences were staggering staggering. Some very well regarded ones like Lehman Black Cube were awful. Even EAR 834P was awfully colored. Some of the much more expensive ones weren't all that much better. As it turned out even the ARC was colored, it just took 16 years and a Herron VTPH2A to reveal this. It was so much better than anything else I tried, it was by comparison very neutral!

The phono stage when you think about it has the hardest job of anything in all of audio. Because of RIAA it amplifies absolute minimum 20dB, more than just about any power amplifier. And it does this starting with the smallest weakest signal in all of audio, measured not in volts but millivolts- in many cases fractions of a millivolt! So really it is 45-65dB. Then it also has to perform equalization to a precision far greater than any room EQ ever done anywhere. Finally, because the input is so weak it has to accomplish all this with incredible attention to noise, shielding, grounding, and vibration control.

No surprise then I guess it really pays to stretch to buy as good a one as you can possibly afford.
One common mistake is to spend on cables and cartridge.

1. Cables are the least bang-for-buck in audio. IMO. Buy super cheap (say $10 / pair) and then, in 6 months or more, make any upgrade prove itself before you buy.

2. Cartridges wear out. Also, with an entry level TT no-one can hear much difference between cartridges costing $100 and $1000. The reason is that to hear the difference requires the table to be very quiet, and the tonearm to be both very accurate and very adjustable - and that's not what you get with entry-level.

Then upgrade - after audition - and enjoy each advance! (worked for me for 60 years)
When you are trying to fill a price point, it is very difficult to find a good sounding phono section. The best comparison I did early in 1988 was to get a chance to hear several components from different companies. I did the same with speakers back then, hoping to find a giant killer. In speaker at hi end store, I did not find the speaker that floated my boat. But then the owner of the store put on a  different preamp that I had never heard of. He then started playing the same set of speakers I heard before. They all sounded MUCH more like live music as the preamp seemed to illuminate the sound with life. I wanted to buy new speakers, but that change in preamps made my attention do a 180 and realize it was the full preamp with a phono stage in it that was the ticket for the whole system. That preamp was an Audible Illusions 2D preamp. I happily keep that preamp for over 15 years as the best part of my system. I changed only to go to the one model up 3A w/ John Curl phono stage for low output MC cartridges. Even better sound than the 2D and it was my main part of the system again for 6-7 years more. The AI preamps are very long lasting, and have 4 tubes in them. This was my first tube anything, but I heard other less good sounding tube preamps at the dealer. The Audible Illusion preamp are the best full preamp and deal in the market. They are still making them, they still sound very good, and have a very good phono section in them. Depending on the model, you could get one for somewhere used in the $500-1700 range. The lower price would be the 2 series such as the 2C or 2D that will play moving magnet cartridges. The high end would be a 3A w/John Curl MC phono. A 3A with moving magnet capability would be at about $800 to 1400. It would be money well spend, the AI’s all have excellent reviews, and you would not need to upgrade either preamp or phono section unless you stepped up to extremely high cost and performing gear. Another thing I learned in my quest for great sound is to make sure the tubes are in like new functioning condition. I may have made an error not knowing this when I had a Herron VTPH 2A for a few months. It MAY have had tubes that needed replacing--I never did get them checked out first. I now have an awesome TRL DUDE tube preamp with a phenomenal power supply in it. I was the 3rd owner of it and after owning it 5 years, the sound just got way worse one day. I figured I’d do all 5 tubes over with NOS tubes. When the DUDE got fitted with these tubes, the sound became way better than I ever heard it at any time. It took the DUDE to make a significant jump in performance from the Audible Illusions 3A. It was even harder to find an equal replacement for that wonderful phono section. It was also WAY more expensive to make this jump in performance--like 4 times more not counting the extra ICs needed. Long post--sorry. But...there is nothing in combination to do a full preamp cost wise that can compete with the AI preamps. You’ll have to spend way beyond your budget to do so.

thanks Everyone for adding your thoughts.
Now I'm learning the critical importance of a phono stage. Great detailed advice guys!

Follow up question: Unless I plan on spending over 1k on a cartridge, is there any point in a moving coil cartridge or should I buy the best MM phono stage and cartridge?
I do have 2 small kids so I wasn't planning on spending more than $300 on cartridges until the kids get older:)
I would do the latter, unless I had a good reason to do otherwise (like a great opportunity from your dealer).
The advise to reach beyond the standard level of designs within a certain budget and acquire a Phonostage that has a well respected status is a good advice.
From experience it is important for the end user to have heard the choices prior to making a decision, and even better if a final Choice on the shortlist can be used on the home system.
Phonostages are able to create very different impressions on a Room Full of Attendees at auditions/demonstrations.
My experiences of being an attendee at such events has moulded my thoughts on how sensitive individuals are to a Presentation.
I agree about the EAR 834P being coloured in the presentation, I have heard it over the past 20+ Years as the original model from Ear and in a variety of Clones with Power Supply and Circuit Modifications.
To my Tolerances the Colouration seems similar on all models heard, but I will not say the same.
Others were quite impressed by the Oversized Presentation.

I also heard a Modwright Valve Hybrid Phon' at a Bake Off where a EAR was in the demonstrations, even though both designs are noticeably coloured and the Antithesis of a SS phon's presentation.
The Modwright got my vote as for being the most acceptable colouration and the colouration seemed almost as if was an attractor to me.
I was very curious as to how it might work within my system.

When the Phon's from this event went into the £10 000+ Purchase Price, these models were shown to be extremely wanting. 

A careful investigation and time spent trialling out different Phon' Designs and Brands will be very beneficial to help an individual discover their preference for a presentation, SS, Valve Hybrid or Valve Input>Output.
How Lean and Clean or Bloomed will also be a important factor to a end user, it is they who will be sitting in front of it.   
Follow up question: Unless I plan on spending over 1k on a cartridge, is there any point in a moving coil cartridge or should I buy the best MM phono stage and cartridge?
I do have 2 small kids so I wasn’t planning on spending more than $300 on cartridges until the kids get older:)

You need a cartridge with user replaceable stylus. 

It can be MM or MI
This might be a little steep, but considering what you have might be a pretty good fit- Decware ZP3  Not a lot of gain but should be fine with your MM Blue at 5.5mV output. 

Couple nice things about the ZP3- it is triode, so rich and captivating presentation. Should be a nice combination with your integrated amp. Decware only sell direct. Retail margins are typically around 60% so companies like Tekton and Decware selling direct typically get you at least twice the quality for your money compared to retail distribution. Decware comes with a lifetime warranty to the original purchaser. 

The main downside is they are around 3 months out. oldhvymec just got one, or should be getting it very soon, his order time was around 2-3 months.   

Unlike most other companies Decware has a sort of modular philosophy or approach. Instead of building a phono stage with a lot of gain and MC/MM inputs they build what is basically a MM phono stage and then have their own optional step up transformers to allow you to select the right one should you upgrade to MC at some point. Check them out, they are very interesting design and come with the same lifetime warranty plus an exchange program making it easy and affordable to change should you go to MC with different output levels. 

This is another way you get more for your money, not paying for RCA connectors, wiring and circuits you won't use. Haven't heard one yet, don't expect it will be in the league of Herron but all things considered bet it is a lot of bang for the buck. Like I said oldhvymec should be getting one soon so won't have long to wait if you want feedback from him. He is the guy who turned me onto Decware in the first place, so will be good to hear what he thinks. 
thanks for the Decware recommendation...looks interesting and gorgeous design. I'm going to look into it further.

dynamic_driven, yes, you want to stick with a moving magnet cartridge.
The Audio Technica VM95ML is an amazing cartridge for the money.
To not let appearances fool you. Manufacturers know many people shop with their eyes and not their ears. Warning bell should ring when you see a manufacturer clearly going out of the way to make their equipment look sharper than it really has to be. You want to spend your money on performance not fancy chassis and CNCed details especially at the lower end of the market. The great value manufacturers like NAD and Parasound go out of their way to spend as little as possible on appearance and as much as possible on the circuitry. Parasound in particular has a habit of building very reasonably priced equipment that challenges and even betters equipment costing 5 to ten times as much. 
Space tech Labs is very interesting, I owned a space tech lab and Don Allen long ago with great results. If your looking to stay under $500 used the PS Audio GCPH with volume control is a great value and if you can find one with Parts Conextion mods even better performance. The volume control is very handy and phase switch, it can also be used as a preamp. A Pass Lab Pearl 2 or a 1 if using a MM cartridge.
Maybe check out the Cambridge Audio Duo. You already have a Head amp but the Duo is very quiet and capable at a pretty incredible price for the performance. I’ve also run a TTL labs ph-01 at a point as well but the Cambridge unit will take you further. On the very budget friendly end and a great leaning experience I’d recommend briefly and laying with a cheap Rolls, it won’t be great but it’s a good leaning experience. 

Personally I would hold off on more pre-amp than the Cambridge Duo until you’re ready for more cartridge, unless you can find a used DynaVector P75 (mk3 or 4) they are a great stage, though I’ve only run MC, in phono enhanced mode.

Yes, someone could spend less ultimately by spending $10k on a endgame setup now but they’d miss out on the journey and growth of the process.
@6yo my son could competently handle an AT-OC9ML/mkII, it’s a great performer.  He’s 7 but I’m not ready to let him on the TT anymore since I loaded an AT-ART9xa. ;)

If you do try an MC make sure your platter is non-ferrous, some low end allow platters are still magnetic. :s