Phono Stage upgrade to complement Dohmann Helix One Mk 2

Thanks to the recommendations from many users on this Audiogon blog, I think I was able to make a more informed purchase of a turntable, the Dohmann Helix One Mk 2.  I've really been enjoying the turntable for the past month!  

The next phase of my system now needs attention:  the phono stage.  Currently, I'm using a Manley Steelhead v2 running into an Ypsilon PST-100 Mk2 SE pre-amplifier (into Ypsilon Hyperion monoblocks, into Sound Lab M745PX electrostatic speakers). 

I've been told that I could really improve my system by upgrading the phono stage from the Manley Steelhead (although I've also been told that the Manley Steelhead is one of the best phono stages ever made).  
Interestingly, two of the top phono stages that I'm considering require a step-up transformer (SUT).  I'm not fully informed about any inherent advantages or disadvantages of using an SUT versus connecting directly to the phono stage itself.  

I suppose my current top two considerations for a phono stage are the Ypsilon VPS-100 and the EM/IA  LR Phono Corrector, both of which utilize an SUT.  I don't have a particular price range, but I find it hard to spend $100k on stereo components, so I'm probably looking in the $15k - $70k price range. 


"have 10-15 years left of good hearing, so I may as well spend my money on something I can enjoy for a while. . . "

We're only here once.


Hopefully your diagnosis ISN'T correct, and deterioration is MUCH slower. For me it's MASSIVE tinnitus/7K khz and above is all but gone for me. Compliments the rest of my medical baggage(plenty)

While this  isn't  in the upper echelon of "higher fi," it was an Agon darling 10 or so years ago. The build quality looks a little cheap, but all reports seem to say the same thing-excellent all tube phono stage.

Happy hunting.





I have heard the DSA Phono2 in my own home, demonstrated for me by its creator. I compared it to my tweaked Atma-sphere MP1.  The DSA did everything well, best of all, I thought it was not especially "solid-state" sounding compared to the MP1.  The best SS units these days should not be distinguishable SQ-wise from the best tube or hybrid phono stages.  The MP1 is another unit worth your consideration.  Drawback would be it only offers one phono input pair.  Advantage would be it has a built in linestage of very high quality.  The Phono2 was incredibly flexible; if the Phono3 sounds even better, maybe you ought to audition it.  Then there are the many megabuck full function preamplifiers and/or phono stages from Solution (Solution 750), Constellation (see their Reference Series), DarTZeel, and others.  Plebeians like those of us who inhabit these forums are unlikely to have validated opinions on those stratospherically priced units, except maybe for Mike Lavigne.

@drbond, I cannot separate one or the other systems in terms of performance. Like my two children (lol). They have different design philosophies yet they both arrive at outstanding levels of music reproduction. Both extremely dynamic, natural and engaging. In good recordings, you are certainly part of the audience in the front table. They can reproduce equally well large scale events or a duet. The FMA will provide more fine-tuning on the spot for cartridge matching but so can the Ypsilon with custom or special order SUTs, if you have difficult loads. Regarding A/B comparison of the phono, I have not done as the two systems are in different continents. Even though the FM122 is easily transportable and works in 100-240V, the turntables and cartridges would be different. Therefore, never done. I enjoy both systems equally as I have tried to maximize performance for the budget and space. Apologies for not being as concrete as you would have liked. In any case, I would recommend an audition before you buy. When I was selecting my systems, I visited both manufacturers for audition as there were no dealers near me. They were both kind enough to facilitate. Hopefully, you do not have to do so. Good luck

@drbond , I also have Sound Labs speakers, 645-8's. They are 8 foot tall speakers that are 36" wide. Yours are 40" wide. lewm also uses Sound Labs speakers. I am also waiting patiently for a Lyra Atlas Lambda SL. It seems we have similar tastes in transducers. I'll side with Lewm here. A current mode or transimpedance phono stage is the way to go. The CH Precision P1 phono stage is the one Michael Fremer uses. It is very expensive but falls within your limits. I think the finest phono stage currently available is the Channel D Seta L 20, an amazing piece of work. It is hands down the quietest phono stage ever made. It has a self charging battery power supply and will run in either current or voltage modes. I think it is $60,000. I plan on getting the Seta L plus set up for current mode operation. With an RIAA board it goes for a more reasonable $11,000. It is also battery operated but is not quite as quiet as the L20. It is not near as versatile as either the L 20 or the P1. But, I am one of those straight wire with gain people and prefer fewer switches and less wiring. Running a cartridge in current mode has one very major advantage. Cartridges are a type of generator. They produce current at a certain voltage by moving a coil in a magnetic field. Any generator can also be a motor, you just reverse the process by putting a voltage across the coils and you create a force that causes movement. Voltage across the coils of a moving coil cartridge affects the movement of the cantilever (tracking). A transimpedance phone stage has a vanishingly low input impedance thus there is very little voltage and there is little if any affect on the cantilevers movement. Tracking and the dynamic performance of the cartridge is improved. The Sutherland Phono Loco and BMC MCCI are other examples of current mode or transimpedance phono stages. The caveated is that you have to have a cartridge with a coil impedance as low as possible, certainly under 10 ohms.  Your Atlas is 7 ohms I believe. 

Dear @drbond  :  In the analog system chain I think that the phono stage perhaps is the hardest challenge for any designer/manufacturer because they have to deal with design special characterisitcs that at some time has a intrinsecal relations ship in between that is really complex to satisfy all them and the challenge is acomplish all those characteristics.

I already talked of the firs characteristic that's the inverse RIAA eq challenge the oner main phono stage characteristics are a design with high gain ( with some LOMC cartridges is need it around 80db. ) and at the same time with the third characteristic that's very low noise.


So the scenario is the worst one for all tube electronics, no one can fulfill the main phono stage targets to fulfill too the cartridge needs. No, SUT s can't do it due that are frequency bandwindth limited and develops too its own kind of " distortions ". I know that not only you but several audiophiles like the tube kind of didtortions/colorations but as with my RIAA explanation the issue is to stay truer to the recording that puts us a little near to the live MUSIC experiences. This is the target, try to mimic live MUSIC experiences, if this is not the main target of any one of you then follow doing what you did it all your life: " this is what I like it ". No problem at all.

So, the best phono stages must be SS active high gain/low noise designs. Till today no one all tube design fulfill the phono stage needs no matters what when exist some SS alternatives.

FMA and Boulder can do it even the Boulder little brother 1108. CH is an option too I listened one of its model designs and makes good job ( its top of the line goes for 90+K dollars. ).

IMHO first than all you have ( I think you already did it. with tubes.) to re-think your main system reproduction targets and go for the ones that fulfill it.


Btw, I listen the Nagra VPS in tube mode, not a unit that puts me near to the live experiences. I never had the opportunity to listen the Classic line but its measured characteristics are exactly the same as any tube phono stage:


FR: 20 Hz – 50 kHz     +0.6 dB    RIAA

Output impedance 500 ohms.


In this thread named the Audio Noote Kondo and the EMT. Both the same " history ". No one of this kind of unit designs really can honor true MUSIC. Yes, can " honor " what we like it that's a different issue.


@mijostyn  the humble BMC MCCI outperforms the Channel D at noise figures levels and its RIA deviation is beated by the FMA units and even the Boulder's. I never heard that phono stage that you like to much and I think is a good contender.

Good point from lewm, Dartzeel is other option.


No SUT's in the SS I named all high gain active designs.