MM Phono Stages With Greater Than 40 dB of Gain?

One of my favorite phono cartridges is the Ortofon MC 2000, I have it with the T2000 SUT. Even so the combined output is still low, and going into my Esoteric E-03 phono stage I have to add a lot of additional gain from the pre amp.

Since I no longer use the Esoteric for direct input of moving coil cartridges I thought I might see if there is a better choice for a MM style phono stage that offers greater gain.

I have looked a bit, but not seen anything jump out. Anyone have run across an excellent MM only phono stage with higher than 40dB of gain?


I still have an MC20 in a drawer, which also has that insanely low 0.07mV output. I remember a long time ago, I enjoyed this cartridge when I had a combination of extremely high gain preamp > 20dB) and power amp gain (> 30dB) to make up for it downstream. Very different sound from modern Ortofon. I sometimes consider how I would handle that cartridge today.

First, you can upgrade your MM gain above 40dB, as you mention. The ARC Reference series phono stages (Ref 3) are pricey but get you a whopping 52 dB in low gain / MM mode on the balanced outputs (6dB less in SE). Many other tube phono stages offer 42 - 46dB, like various VACs (some built-in to preamps), Rogue Ares, Hagerman Cornet / Trumpet. The Herron VTPH-2 is a good one, especially if made with the 4x 12AX7, 1x AT7 configuration which gets up into 48dB MM (drops to 43dB with the 3x 12AT7, 2x AX7 configuration - note a unit’s RIAA curve will be factory tuned to one config or the other; you shouldn’t just swap tubes). I believe EAR 834P also has a very high MM gain.

Then I’ve also been considering - what about using a low ratio SUT in combination with a moderate gain MC stage? It sounds "wrong" but on paper there’s no reason it can’t work great. For example:
EAR MC-4’s 40 ohm tap (10x = 20dB gain) plus a Benz Lukasheck PP-1 62dB (all solid state gain) results in a whopping 82dB gain, should be very low noise, and 220 ohm net load. You can use RCA splitters and loading plus if you want to lower the load further. OR how about a nice low noise hybrid MC stage like Sonic Frontiers Phono 1 (came in 54dB and 64dB variants) or Manley Chinook (60 or 66dB) should also work well like this. Their lead stage is JFET so the loading is flexible. You definitely CAN’T stack two SUTs in series (because of loading and Ohm’s law) and you shouldn’t stack two MC gain stages (because of noise) but a SUT into a JFET MC stage is fine (kind of seems like an audiophile “life hack” here), as long as you set the input loading above 1K!

So - lots of options!

Manley Steelhead offers minimum 50db of gain on its single MM inputs, and that can be cranked up as high as 65db, not that you would need it. I too love the MC2000, and I use mine with a custom built outboard pre-preamp into the Manley MM inputs with gain to spare. (The Manley linestage adds no gain, so being able to access 50db via the MM phono inputs is critically important.) I assume the less expensive Chinook would also provide 50db of MM phono gain, but you should check. This is with my Beveridge system. On my Sound Lab system, I use the same outboard pre-preamp into a modified Silvaweld MM stage and thence into the linestage of Raul’s 3160 Phonolinepreamp, which adds at least 20db of gain. I do not own any SUT.

So far it seems to get that level of gain is going to be had with tube based phono stages. 

Are there any solid state alternatives?

@mulveling The MC2000 . .05 mV, so a bit lower. I have the T2000 which is listed as having 35 dB of gain. I think its somewhere around 1:50 ratio. 

When I did find a T2000 I had hoped that I had my gain issue put to bed. It's not qute that easy. 

So far it seems to get that level of gain is going to be had with tube based phono stages. 

Are there any solid state alternatives?

@mulveling The MC2000 . .05 mV, so a bit lower. I have the T2000 which is listed as having 35 dB of gain. I think its somewhere around 1:50 ratio. 

When I did find a T2000 I had hoped that I had my gain issue put to bed. It's not qute that easy. 

Yeah - I like to listen loud and 35dB from a SUT might not be enough for my liking with 0.05mV. That's still only 2.5mV hitting the MM stage, which is on the low side. 

Again, I think a 10x SUT is underrated here - that makes the 0.05mV into 0.5mV, which is in the range of a "normal" MC. Then you add a normal MC stage, being sure that it's "active" MC gain and not another SUT - loads of solid state MC stages would do well here. 

Dear @neonknight  :  " Are there any solid state alternatives? "


Yes it's. Essential 3180, please contact here




I answered your post on AA but will repeat it here. I am having Aric build me a custom 300B amp and later he will build me one of his phono stages with some upgrades including Sowter step up trannies. But in stock form it is MM only with 45 db of gain. I highly recommend Arics work  as I’ve owned two of his fabulous amps, listening to one right now.





You can email Darlington Labs and order an MP-7 with higher gain.

It's listed as +40db but I believe I've heard of customers ordering 42-44db.

My EAR 834 clone is pretty close to my Modwright which is supposed to be 56db.

My Sutherland KC Vibe has 40, 45, 50,  55,  60 dB settings.  Some of their other offerings have even higher gain on the top of the setting 

If you have the bucks, do not ignore Raul’s mention of the new 3180. I own the 3160, and it is superb (and all solid state, in a tube guy’s system).

As to the Manley phono stages, the gain stage is a hybrid cascode (transistor on the bottom/tube on top), not purely tube devices, if you want solid state.

Mulveling’s suggestion of using a 1:10 SUT into an MC stage, in order to derive enough gain for the MC2000, is interesting. I don’t know of anyone who has ever tried that. The MC2000 has an internal R of 2 ohms and so could theoretically drive a 20 ohm load in voltage mode. To achieve that minimum acceptable load on the cartridge, you would have to use an MC stage with at least a 2000 ohm input resistor. (square of the turns ratio of a 1:10 SUT is 100. 2000 ohms/100 = 20 ohms.)

40dB of gain was the standard back in the pre-moving coil days, and very few phono stages DON'T provide that amount of gain for moving magnet and moving iron pickups.

The Herron VTPH phono amps (both the VTPH-1mm and VTPH-2) provide 42 or 44dB of gain (depending on the use of 12AX7 vs. 12AT7 tubes), but are no longer in production. They come up for sale occasionally, and are real nice phono stages, priced below the sound quality they produce.

The Passlabs XP-27 starts at 56db of gain (selectable in three 10db increments)  and is has adjustable resistance and capacitance from the front panel.

I use the Parasound JC 3 jr. with adjustable gains of
40 dB / 50 dB / 60 dB (unbalanced output) and 46 dB / 56 dB / 66 dB (balanced output).

@neonknight - Take a look at Simaudio Moon phono stages

  • Their gain is selectable to match almost an cartridge and exceeds 40db
  • They are dead quiet and extremely detailed without sacrificing musicality
  • they produce exquisite music
  • they require the best cables (power and interconnect) for best performance

I purchased their LP 5.3 RS ( same as their current 310 LP model) some 12 yesrs ago.

I did not purchase their external power supply, but opted for extremely good cables instead. The cost was about the same, but I figured the cables could be used on the next phono stage I purchased - HA! - I’ve never considered uprading🤣

Regards - Steve

Pick up the Zphono XRM Phono Preamplifier from Parasound with MM gain of 40 or 50dB they only cost around $500.00


The Black Ice Audio Fusion F159 Tube Phono Preamplifier has 40/60dB gain stages that will handle MM, MC, and Dynamic head cartridges.

Folks are now recommending general-purpose MM/MC phono stages. OP’s specific cartridge is NOT a normal MC. It’s a 0.05mV mega-ultra-extreme LOW output and needs something more specific. He already has a matching 50x SUT (35dB gain), which ideally would be paired to a ~ 45dB - 50dB voltage gain stage at 47K (or higher) load to hit the electrical "sweet spot". Any lower than 47K load will not work well. 40dB gain is probably not enough (without a lot of downstream line gain available).

That configuration should work well; lots of nice options for that. I’ve been proposing an alternative, in the form of a 10x SUT plus an active voltage gain stage in the range of 60 - 64dB, with load of 2K or higher (as @lewm pointed out). It is very unusual to feed a SUT into a full MC stage, but I think that might work nicely here due to the very unusual circumstances. Loading is very crucial here!

No active MC stage on earth of going to amplify that 0.05mV on its own, without the help of a SUT and without rendering a MASSIVE noise floor!

@bdp24 the Herron VTPH-2A specs 43dB or 48dB gain MM mode and 64dB or 69dB MC mode (depending on tube configuration). Were earlier iterations lower in gain? The 48dB MM model would be absolutely ideal for OP with his 50x SUT and a 2K (or higher) loading plug (or no loading plug!). However, I was under the impression that you cannot simply swap tubes (pair of 12AX7 vs 12AX7) to go from one configuration to the other - I thought the RIAA EQ was tuned at the factory for one or the other, so it would have to go back to Keith (or take instruction from him) to properly change config - because the 2 tubes in question are part of the RIAA eq circuit? My VTPH-2A is the lower gain config, 3x 12AT7 and 2x 12AX7. This config was Keith’s typical recommendation. It would be great if I could just swap tubes to change config (if 12AX7's were food I'd be set for life). And I’ve definitely come to appreciate the VTPH-2A’s virtues more with time!

Dear @mulveling : " No active MC stage on earth of going to amplify that 0.05mV on its own, without the help of a SUT and without rendering a MASSIVE noise floor."


Not exactly the 3180 can do it and even that you don’t own the MC2000 that phonolinepreamp can do that your cartridges will glow/shines as never before along your lovely Tannoy's that I like it ( I own a Tannoy ST and incredible quality build quality. ) ). If you wish we can start a private dialogue. I posted contact in this thread.


Thank’s @lewm .



In addition, there are a slew of current drive phono stages that easily handle the MC2000 with no SUT. (Of course, you can’t use a SUT with current drive.) For only one example my BMC MCCI set at +11db gain. In further addition there is the Sutherland outboard current drive pure gain stage that in essence subs for a SUT into an MM stage. Because the MC2000 makes a fair amount of current owing to its very low internal resistance.

mulveling: The Herron VTPH-1mm produces 44dB of gain when fitted with four 12AX7’s (plus one 12AT7 for non-gain functions), and 42dB with two 12AT7’s substituted for two of the 12AX7’s. The 12AX7’s and 12AT7’s are user interchangeable; Keith sent me enough of each to configure it either way.

A VTPH-1mm sold this past July on USAM for $500! The seller said the unit was a pre-production sample, hence the low price.

The VTPH-2 (in three iterations I believe) I’m not sure about. The bulk of the improvements incorporated into the VTPH-2 over the VTPH-1 were in it’s mc section, which was (and is) of no consequence to me, so the VTPH-1mm met (and meets) my needs.


Moon 110LPv2

Up to 66db gain both mc and mm. I have the same circuit in a Moon 390 and I like it. Worth a look.

In my direct experience, you want at least 80db of total voltage gain (phono + linestage) to get the most out of an MC2000.  More is even better.


Sounds reasonable. Tracks with I would expect for total gain needed on the phono stage combo to allow the cartridge to be at its best. With the T2000 supplying 35dB then I need 45 to 50 dB from the phono stage. 

Cornet MM has a fixed gain of 44dB. You can't change it, as both passive EQ and gain are tied to 12AX7 parameters. It is what it is.

If you need 64dB gain at 47k loading, Bugle MC? Trumpet MC can do 74dB at 47k load... 

80db gain would give you 500mV or 0.5V from the MC2000, marginally enough to drive most amplifiers. So you can include the gain added by any linestage to get to 80db+ total voltage gain.  My 3160 Phonolinepreamp almost does it alone, because of the gain added by its linestage, but not quite enough oomph. It's very quiet and clean even at full output, however.  What I settled on is either an outboard solid state current driven module custom made for me by Dave Slagle (Dave estimates its gain at 32db, I think), into my Silvaweld tube phono stage driving the linestage of the 3160.  Or the BMC MCCI driving the 3160 linestage.

@lewm  : You are right, your 3160 came with the normal gain but the MC2000 it's not a normal output level MC.

It needs 85-86db that the 3180 does it with very low noise, a beauty or through its MM stage that comes with 100k fixed impedance that likes to SUT's.



@rauliruegas The Essential 3160 looks lovely! I’ll have to look more into it.

I hate that most MM stages don’t offer loading options beyond 47Kohms. Opening this up to 100K, 500K, or 1MEG would afford SO much flexibility.

Mulveling, it’s a simple matter to change the load resistance of an MM phono stage. I use 100K ohms in all of mine. Anything higher in value than 100K must be for the case where you want to use a SUT with a high turns ratio (>1:10) and the cartridge has a high-ish internal impedance (>>10 ohms). I’ve not encountered that situation.

I also use the wonderful parasound JC3 JR. If you want to have a bit of fun, you can pick up a Fossi audio tube based phono preamplifier for around $50 on eBay. It has a selectable gain switch. I believe the top game is 45 db. The thing sounds surprisingly good!