Looking for a great phono pre-amp in the $1000 or less range

I’ve a vintage Kenwood KD-500 DD turntable (concrete base), and grace tonearm.  Currently running a grado gold MM cartridge running through the built-in phono preamp section of my NAD C658 preamp, into an Anthem MCA 225 mk 2 amp and Martin Logan Classic 9 electrostatic speakers.  Streaming Tidal can give me some stunning results but my music through the turntable is far less compelling.  Hence the desire to try upgrading my phono preamp section (and eventually move to a MC).  After substantial digging I’ve got a few higher level candidates, there are obviously many out there. 
the two front runners I’m considering are:

the Back Ice Audio F9 mk and the gold note PH5.  The black ice is intriguing but not nearly as well known or reviewed as the gold note. 
others I’ve considered:

sutherland KC Vibe mk2

moon audio 110 LP V2

parasound zphono XRM

feedback from the community appreciated!


Depends mostly on what improvements you’re looking for and what sound characteristics are most important to you.

I had the Kenwood Kd500 with the Infinity Black widow tonearm back in the mid 70’s. 

Here's the best value ever in phono stages: Schiit Mani 2 for $160. No need to spend $1000! 

Value does not always mean best lowest cost model. At $1k used an Allnic H-1200, Bel Canto e.One and Linn Linto are tough to better.

I have the Mani 2 and it’s an incredible value...though very curious about the new Schiit Skoll phono stage that’s  $399 ...

@jl35 Thank you! Diminishing returns set in quickly for phono stages! Money would be better spent on a cartridge upgrade! The OP should consider the Hana SL for ~ $700. That and the Mani would keep the cost ~ $1K.

I have the Sutherland KC Vibe.    It's a great sounding unit.   Super quiet too

I’ve owned a Sutherland insight, moon lp110 and IFi iPhono3 black label in that price range. The moon lp110 was a while ago so I don’t remember a lot about it to be honest, but it was the least impressive of the ones I’ve owned. The Sutherland was excellent - warm and full sounding, more traditionally ‘analog’ if you know what I mean. Out of all of them, my favourite - to my taste and system - was the iFi. Detailed, clear and transparent, with incredible black backgrounds. It was super versatile, with a range of different gain and load settings. And I t was the size of a few packs of cards so easily hidden. 
That is my experience, but it kinda goes without saying that demoing - at a dealer or better, in your own system - is the best way to decide. Synergy of components and the wildcard impact of your personal tastes and room is often overlooked or underrated.

Do a little research on the Hagerman Trumpet. It is currently 1300,.00 and on sale 15% off Black Friday. Hard to find used. I sold mine as soon as I posted it. 

Have you considered the Rega Aria mk3? It has both mc and mm options for 1600. When comparing different phono pre amps in the past, somehow I always went back to this one because to me it sounded the most natural, along with a good cartridge of course.

Rogue Triton 2 is really nice. Haven’t heard a lot of phono pres but it is worlds better than the ones that has been in integrated amps I’ve had or the cheap Emotiva one I had. Well reviewed and AudioMart has one NIB for 1050 obo. 

Return Option!

Of everything in the chain, I think Phono Stages are the most difficult to find one you love. You simply cannot rely on specs; reviews; advice; other than to make a hopeful choice and put it in your system.

I recommend you only buy from a source that allows return/refund, so you can either get lucky with 1st choice, or finally fall in love with the ... 5th one.

To complicate matters further, a unit might not sound great, until you find a cable that brings it to life as happened to my friend recently.


+1 Sutherland

My friend has one and thinks it’s great! BTW, Many moons ago I had that same arm and table and it was a cut above many others that I've owned!

I have an ifi iPhono3 Black Label and have been very happy with it so far. Very quiet, very dynamic, and has a wonderful soundstage presentation. Not sure of course how well it will work in your system, but is right in the price range.

Also, is very flexible for both MM and MC cartridges, so if you decide to upgrade there down the road, you’ll be able to so easily.


If you’re looking for solid state the Hegel V10 sounds great. A pre owned one can be had in the $1,000 range. 

The Grace 707 arm is a low mass masterpiece, and you are better off with an appropriately compliant MM cart.  Find a Grace F9 body and buy a Soundsmith Ruby stylus for it.  A tube hybrid phono stage like the Black Ice Audio F159, or even  The budget priced Bellari VP130 Mk 2 should have you smiling.

The Schiit Mani or the iFi Zen Phono would be your best bet with that cartridge.  Grados are not detail-hounds, nor are they particularly accurate, and you will not benefit from a higher-end phono stage.  I have the Mani 1 and the iFi Zen and use them with a Grado Red, Shure V15 IV, AudioTechnica Pro14S, and Dynavector Ruby moving coil.  I prefer the iFi over the Schiit, but I have not heard the Mani 2 or the Skoll.

I tried 4 different ones including the Parasound and Moon. I kept the Moon, it was the best all around Phono stage for $600

The Rega was not good and I have a Rega TT. 

I found that my turntable was constantly held back by my phonostage for at least several decades. While when I finally got it out of the way with the purchase of a Audio Research PH 8… I had a better table… so that isn’t helpful to you.

Phonostages have been produced for a very long time, so buying used is a great way to leverage your money. I recommend spending as much as you cane on a used Audio Research or Conrad Johnson… as contemporary as you can get.

Does one really need to go to the expense of close to $2000 to surpass the Tidal Streaming Experience with a Vinyl Source.

A new MM with a different presentation to the Grado might just suffice, if extra is desired a MM Input Phonostage may be the final ancillary required.

The ESL's should help with making differences in Cart' Types quite discernable. 

@tmortsd gives good turntable advice 

here are some <$1k phono amps that perform quite well, some ive owned and some i still own, some i havent:

tavish vintage $800

hagerman cornet $590



sota pyxi

van alstine vision Q+


darlington labs MP-7


project s2, DS2. i believe these use jfets for the first gain stage. sound damn good and very flexible. esp good for HOMC because of the gain features

Tube? I'd go to Trischler Professional Audio Devices TPAD $849 all tube, made in Ohio.That is what I have in my main system. In my back room, I have the Lounge Audio LCR MkIII, solid state $350. read the reviews. Both are great and affordable

Thank you everyone for your input!  I’m intrigued by the Hagerman Cornet 4, on sale currently for $500, the downside is it’s MM only with zero adjustments.  I don’t want to rule out a MC cartridge in my future (without having to buy more gear).  I do think a tube / hybrid approach may be my best bet here and so I’m likely to pull the trigger on the Black Ice F9 hybrid preamp, while I’d love the F159 which is much more known and reviewed, it’s twice the price at nearly $2k and used ones seem unicorns. 

Addendum…the hagerman trumpet while listed as a MC preamp can be used for MM too, currently on sale for just outside my $1k threshold….hmmm!

If you ate compelled to purchase a Phonostage, the Mr Nixie Digna is going to be hard to beat at your price range.

I have owned this Phon' for many years and have also taken this to Bake Off's, where its small size has been a deception to its performance, it has been a show stopper where the Values of comparisons have been up to £5K. 

I still use it regularly as I thoroughly enjoy what it does, even though I have a Bespoke Built Phon' in use now, that was designed to offer plenty of what the Digna Offers and surpass it in other areas.  

If you're patient you can find an E.A.T. E-Glo Petit for less than $1K. Sounds great, provides tube rolling options, dead quiet, and all the adjustments can be made from the front. Highly recommended.

I agree with ghdprentice; "Phonostages have been produced for a very long time, so buying used is a great way to leverage your money."

The used hybrid phono preamps from Audio Research are hard to beat.  They have a J-FET input for low noise and a vacuum tube gain and output stage for great sonics.  A PH3, PH3-SE, PH5 and PH6 are great values for the money.

So I got really lucky and found a Black Ice Audio Fusion F159 hybrid tube preamp on US Audiomart ($1,875 retail), within my budget.   It’ll be delivered tomorrow but it’s a  Christmas gift (from the wife to me), so I’ll not get to try her out until after Christmas!  Reviews for this are very positive.  I’ll follow up with my listening impression!. 

The Sota Pyxi replaced a highly regarded tube based phono stage that I’d had for 12 years. My prior stage is very popular and the customer service was great.  I was able to sell it for over $2,500, but prefer the Pyxi by no small margin. I’d swap in my tube stage just to be sure, and it came across as soft and unfocused without the detail, resolution or low noise floor that the Pyxi has. Frequency response issues like brightness, glare or lack of midrange "thereness" simply don’t come up. It sounds like real music. Bass is accurate and tight too. It has MM and MC inputs, load and capacitance are adjustable, and it's only $300. At that price you’re not going to find many dealers who’ll recommend it, there’s just not enough margin in it for them. That may sound cynical, but if I ran a store I’d probably do the same. Cartridges - Myajima Shilabe and Ortofon Cadenza Bronze, so these observations are from listening to the MC input.

Audio by Van Alstine make a very good unit that won't break the bank but will work well with either MM or MC cartridges.

A list I compiled from positive reviews:

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 
Trichord Research    Dino Mk3 +      $1,132 
Lejonklou Gaio+ Hagerman Piccolo "head amp"         $1,174 
Heed Audio Quasar    Heed Audio Quasar     $1,200 
Musical Surroundings    NOVA II PHONO PREAMPLIFIER     $1,200 

Owned a Schiit Mani, then Mani 2, now the Schiit Skoll.

A very detailed, strong, warm, slam, freaking fantastic 👏 

Take a look at the Lounge Audio LCR phono preamps, hand made in the Los Angeles area by Robert Morin (https://www.loungeaudio.com/hi-fi), and they get great reviews.  Prices begin at $380 for the MKIII, go to $560 for the Silver, and $810 for the Gold.  I bought the Gold version, made to order, and I am extremely pleased with the phone preamp.  I am using a Thorens TD 126 MK II and an Audio-Technica VM540ML MM cartridge, and playing some high-quality LPs from the 1980s (Sheffield and others, including a couple of 45 rpm LPs) the sound is simply amazing--superb tonal qualities, incredible imaging, both laterally and in depth--the sound seems better than most of my CD collection.  I am exceptionally pleased with my purchase and recommend it without reservation.  If you want moving coil capability, he also sells a hand-made step up transformer for that purpose.