I need help choosing a budget phono stage gift

An older relative recently had an old technics turntable fixed. He is using a Rega carbon cartridge with an older pioneer integrated amp and its built-in phono stage.

I want to gift him a phono stage to help him hear more music from his system.

For $200, I keep seeing the Ifi Zen, Rega Mini A2D and the ProJect Box S2, but I can’t decide.

Any guidance is appreciated.


I had an iFi on my short list for a while.
(It was the only one at that price point that seemed like a solid option, but I did not do an exhaustive search.)

  • How would one tell if that the Pioneer already has a decent enough phono stage?
  • And how would one tell if a different cart might be a better use of the $200?

ideally I suppose one might find one that they could demo?

I imagine if I bought on Amazon, I could return it, but I guess it is a bit of a crapshoot. At worst, I suppose I could return to amazon or there is always selling on ebay. 

Or maybe someone, or a dealer in your city, would have one available to try?

Yes, buy from Amazon, keep the packaging, free return for 30 days!

Anything to do with Phono chain, from anywhere: return option!!!

I tried iFi, nah. Cambridge DUO, nah. Pyle $14. beat both of them, in-line, out of sight. Gave that to a friend when I didn't need it any more.

Previously, had a Technics AT120 with optional RIAA, a dinky thing to be sure. I liked it's sound more than my McIntosh SS C28 Preamp.

Now, McIntosh mx110z tube tuner/preamp, love it's phono, just try to pry it away from me. 



Michael Fremer just posted a very positive review of the Schitt Mani 2. $149 and a significant upgrade from the original Mani to paraphrase MF

Post removed 

Another vote for Schiit


Pyle $14. beat both of them, in-line, out of sight




I would definitely recommend a phono preamp, especially on the old receivers.

I do most of my record playing in my “listening room” with a Schiit Mani/Technics turntable/AT100E cartridge and old Pioneer SX-1500T receiver I bought when I was still in High School (late 60’s). Simple toggle switch to turn it on before firing up receiver  Much better than aging Pioneer phono section.

In the living room I use a iFi Zen with a Music Hall turntable/Vessel cartridge and old Sansui 5500 receiver i bought at the Sub Base Pearl Harbor in ‘73. The Zen is more refined and dead silent. It also has a subsonic filter I leave on all the time.

Hagerman Bugle3. It's right in your price points and, because it uses socketed op amps, you can upgrade it later by swapping out the op-amps with discretes (Sparkos would probably work best). 

U-turn Pluto 2 may be worth considering. It is firmly is your price range. 

The Lounge @$349 is in my 10 K system.  It's that good. Handmade by Robert in LA. call him. Awsome sound from this pricepoint.

Go ahead and laugh. But I heard the Bozak-Madison phono preamp. It punches way above its price point. $14. NOT made in China, either. I prefer it over the Mani-2. Sometimes simple is best. 

I consider buying a sentimental gifts for him. This is good idea for a gift. Recently I gave Artblox Soundwave art gift to my friend on his birthday. He is a teenager that's why I preferred a teenager gifts. Otherwise, a good teenager smartwatch or a gaming console also works.

I would recommend the Pro-ject phono box. I have had one for the past 12 years since my second turntable is further away from the Mcintosh preamp. No issues and good value for the money. Can't go wrong with amazon. 

I really like the Zen, but I only use it for moving coils. The MM output is a bit lean for my tastes (36db), especially for my AT vm95sh, and I think that the Rega cartridge output voltage is even lower than that one.

Post removed